Leach’s big follow-up to 2011′s Pterodactyl Hunters is a very entertaining, tightly paced crime comic about two hoodlums living in Newark, New Jersey, in the early ’60s and the trouble they get into running “errands” for one of the local gangsters. I really liked the way Leach sets up the story, with a violent incident on a bus that quickly establishes the characters’ personalities and relationships to each other but also becomes an even more significant incident once you learn what those two were doing on that bus. Leach has an angular, slashing style that fits the grittiness of the material and also keeps the narrative moving a hurried clip, rarely taking a moment to pause. There’s at least one big plot hole that gave me pause (without spoiling anything, I find it difficult to believe that a certain ancillary character’s death would generate such a minor reaction from family members, friends and various authorities not on the take). A bit more perspective and varied viewpoints (it’s notable there’s no parental units to be found in Iron Bound) might have given the story a bit more depth, although it could also have easily slackened the book’s drumbeat pace. Overall, this is a sharp, strong book, a smart follow-up to Hunters and proof that Leach is a cartoonist to watch. The book even comes with a flexi-disc record to play during the story’s big fight/climax, a really terrific conceit, even if the nerd in me is hesitant to play it, for fear of damaging the book’s “mint” condition (you never know what might be worth money some day).
Is Noah Van Sciver the finest cartoonist of his generation? It certainly seems like he’s on the path to earn that title, as readers of The Hypo and his contribution to Alternative Comics #4 will attest. Van Sciver further underscores his considerable talent in Deep in the Woods, a two-man anthology published on newspaper. Van Sciver’s original (I’m assuming) fairy tale involves a hapless and poor young maiden who flees her evil stepmother and alcoholic father only to come across a supernatural benefactor in the shape of a floating cow’s head. The temptation to let the story delve into parody or slapstick must have been tremendous, especially during sequences like the one where the girl, Robin, attempts to feed the cow, only to have the stew slop out the back of its head. But Van Sciver plays it deadly straight here, keeping the comedy at a far, buried distance (though not so buried that it’s completely undetectable). Filling his pages with suffocating black ink, often in the form of nefarious tree branches that threaten to engulf the protagonists, Van Sciver has created a decidedly claustrophobic, downbeat fairy tale that is no less magical due to the storytelling craft on display.
Nic Breutzman is someone I’m less familiar with, or rather, I should say I’m not that familiar with his work at all. I like his contribution here though, a somewhat more modern tale involving a poor, meth-taking family, the level-headed young girl that serves as our protagonist, a grandfather who won’t come out of a well and a nefarious creature that lives in a hollow tree. I’m all about stories that place archetypical folk structures and place them in a modern setting and Breutzman does that well enough here that I’m going to keep an eye out for what he does next time.
Note: My schedule has been all goofy lately which means I haven’t been able to post on a regular weekly basis or contribute to Cheat Sheet or What Are You Reading in the manner I’d like to. I know: Wah, wah, wah.
Meanwhile, the books keep piling up. And piling up.
So, in an effort to assuage my guilt, I attempted to run through some of the titles I’ve received in the mail in the past few months. Warning: I might do this again. I might not. I’m mercurial.
You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack by Tom Gauld (Drawn & Quarterly)
As appreciative as I am that we live in an era when cartoonists are encouraged to, and do, create lengthy, thoughtful, multi-layered stories, there’s something to be said for the simple pleasures of a gag strip – the fleeting joy that a really short, well-constructed joke can provide. I didn’t realize how much I missed that sort of thing until I read You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, a collection of short strips that cartoonist Tom Gauld did for The Guardian. The bulk of the strips play upon classic stories, genre fiction or publishing in general. Gauld’s jokes are are silly enough and play upon familiar cliches well enough to make the reader feel smart even if you haven’t read, say, Zola’s “Germinal.” His minimalist, silhouetted style helps get the joke across as well. He’s also rather fond of diagrams and maps, which puts him in good company with folks like New Yorker cartoonists Roz Chast and Jack Ziegler I didn’t care much for Gauld’s last book, Goliath, which I thought milked a rather weak joke (gosh, the Biblical Goliath was actually a really nice guy!) but Jetpack had me frequently laughing out loud in the way that only my favorite comic strips do. Comics need more of this sort of “get in, get out quick” work right now and I’m happy that Gauld is here to fill that void.
It’s time once again to take a look at those comics that were unfairly ignored. With more graphic novels and comic books coming out in stores than ever before, it’s perhaps inevitable that some titles slip through the cracks, not due to a lack of quality, but simply because they got lost in the Wednesday shuffle. The books listed here aren’t necessarily my personal favorite books of 2012. Rather, they’re good — even great — books that, for whatever reason, didn’t get the sort of praise — either online or in print — that they deserved.
Hot off the heels of his graphic novel The Understanding Monster, Theo Ellsworth and his publisher Secret Acres will release the eighth issue of Ellsworth’s ongoing one-man anthology series, Capacity. The issue will debut May 11 at the Toronto Comics Art Festival, and will be in comic stores in June. You can read the full press release, as well as see a three-page preview of the comic, below. And yes, Virginia, Part 2 of The Understanding Monster is also expected for 2013.
One of the more interesting, art-focused and idiosyncratic comic conventions around, the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, will take place this weekend.
The bulk of festival will be held from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, located in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, N.Y. The show has expanded considerably, however, to include a number of other events, including gallery shows and a film festival.
“Hey Izadore! I’ve just realized that you have microscopic tribes of violent spore lords living on the surface of one of your eyeballs! One eye is at war with the other and both sides have been using your brain as a nightmare particle factory and fueling their attack vehicles with your blood! What are you going to do?”
What are you going to do indeed? So goes a sample of dialogue from Theo Ellsworth’s latest book, The Understanding Monster, the first volume in a projected three-book series. As the above excerpt might suggest, this is a trippy, almost hallucinatory comic, given to frequent bouts of digression. There’s a temptation to call it psychedelic, although that seems too limiting. Suffice it to say that that it’s an experience utterly unlike any other comic that’s out right now.
The annual Small Press Expo, better known as SPX, will arrive at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Convention Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Saturday and Sunday. This particular SPX promises to be excellent — mayhap the bestest SPX evar — so allow me to run through some of the goings-on if you happen to be in that area this weekend.
It’s been almost three years since writer/artist Mike Dawson and I last talked (back then our focus was on Ace-Face: The Mod with the Metal Arms and 2008′s Freddie & Me). In this 2012 round, we pitch a tent around his latest Secret Acres release Troop 142, the story of one week at a boy scout camp and its impact on the boys attending as well as the men running it. Dawson is a great interviewer in his own right (as we discuss briefly), so I was a tad nervous in trying to generate my queries. It was also refreshing to understand his stepping away from social media to the benefit of his creative efforts. My thanks to Dawson for his time and perspective, especially the book’s evolution from webcomic to printed bound edition.
Tim O’Shea: I gotta be honest, reading this book a week before my son goes off to scout camp was not the best thing for me to read. Many of the kids straddle the line between being insecure and total jerks (as all kids will be). But all the characters had redeeming values (of course)- – how challenging was it to strike a balance of positives and negatives with the characters?
Mike Dawson: I think that’s one of the few aspects of writing that comes easily to me. People are a mix of positive and negative values, and even then it’s subjective. It’s important to me to try to show different sides of a character. I think readers first impulses would be to dislike a lot of these characters, especially some of the adults in the beginning of the story, and my hope is to bring them around a little bit, and see them as more complex.
The greatest comics of all time don’t appear on bestseller charts or canon lists or big-box bookstore shelves. They are the property of the back issue bins and thrift store crates and convention tables of America, living like the medium itself in the unseen crags and pockets of publishing history…
Wayward Girls (Slechte Meisjes) #1, by Michiel Budel. Cover-dated 2012. Published by Secret Acres.
How acquired: Skimmed off the top of a box of books the fine folks at Secret Acres hand-delivered to the comic shop I work at last month. Sometimes the perfect comic comes to you in the perfect way.
Suggested soundtrack to this comic: Here …
Dust off your shoes and pull your tote bag out of the closet kids, it’s MoCCA time once again. The annual indie/small press comics show hosted by the Museum will take place at the Armory on Lexington Avenue in New York City this weekend. It promises to be a grand affair, with tons of publishers, minicomics, books and panels to choose from. Underneath the link we’ve put together a quick rundown of some of the more notable and interesting (well interesting to us any way) goings-on at the show this weekend.
The nominees for the 2011 Ignatz Awards have been announced on the website for the Small Press Expo. Awarded every year at SPX and named after the brick-throwing mouse from Krazy Kat, the Ignatzes are selected by an anonymous jury of five creators and voted on by attendees of the show. There’s nothing in comics quite like lugging around the actual, honest-to-god bricks awarded as trophies to the winners.
This year, cartoonists Michael DeForge, Edie Fake, and Sammy Harkham top the list of nominees with three nods apiece. DeForge’s Lose, the third issue of which was released this year by Koyama Press, earned him nominations for Outstanding Artist, Outstanding Series, and Outstanding Comic. Fake received an Outstanding Artist nomination for his Secret Acres graphic novel Gaylord Phoenix, which is also up for Outstanding Graphic Novel, while the the fifth issue of the series collected in the GN earned an Outstanding Mini-Comic nod. Harkham’s self-published Crickets is up for Outstanding Series thanks to its third issue, which is nominated for Outstanding Comic and contains “Blood of the Virgin,” nominated for Outstanding Story.
On the publishing side, Fantagraphics leads the pack with five nominations, split between Joe Daly (Outstanding Series, Dungeon Quest), Joyce Farmer (Outstanding Graphic Novel, Special Exits), Jaime Hernandez (Outstanding Story, “Browntown,” from Love and Rockets: New Stories #3), and Carol Tyler (Outstanding Artist and Outstanding Graphic Novel, You’ll Never Know, Vol. 2: Collateral Damage).
Secret Acres and Sparkplug tie for the silver with four nominations each. Secret Acres boasts the two nods for Fake’s Gaylord Phoenix graphic novel, plus another two for Joe Lambert’s I Will Bite You (Outstanding Artist and Outstanding Anthology or Collection). Sparkplug was tapped for editor Annie Murphy’s Gay Genius (Outstanding Anthology or Collection), Elijah Brubaker’s Reich (Outstanding Series), Dunja Jankovic’s Habitat #2 (Outstanding Comic), and Chris Cilla’s The Heavy Hand (Outstanding Graphic Novel).
Not to tip my own hand here, but as with the Harveys, it’s refreshing to see that Hernandez’s “Browntown” and Chris Ware’s Lint, arguably two of the best comics of all time, are nominated in the relevant categories for best comics of the year. You’d think you could take that for granted, but you’d be surprised! Moreover, DeForge, Fake, and Harkham’s books really are excellent, and Fantagraphics, Secret Acres, and Sparkplug are high-quality, gutsy publishers. Not a lot to be unhappy about with this list!
Hosted by cartoonist Dustin Harbin, the Ignatz Awards gala will take place on Saturday, September 10 at SPX in Bethesda, Maryland. See the entire slate of nominees after the jump.
Conventions | Comiket 79, the winter installment of the self-published comic book fair held twice a year in Tokyo, set a turnstile attendance record last week with 520,000 people over three days. That’s just 20,000 less than the summer record — and the equivalent of about four Comic-Cons. [Anime News Network]
Legal | Archie Comics reportedly has threatened legal action against the in-production Indian film Boys Toh Boys Hain, which, according to this description, is “based on the lines of the celebrated [Archie] comic book but set in Delhi instead of Riverdale.” However, the director now claims that, “We never made any statement which suggested that the film is inspired from Archie comics. One of my actors may have said in an interview that the film has a feel similar to Archie, but never that the film is based on it.” The publisher was dealt a blow in an unrelated legal matter in September when India’s Delhi High Court refused to hear a complaint challenging the use of the name “Archies” by a Mumbai company. The court said it had no jurisdiction in the matter because Archie Comics doesn’t have an office in India. [Hindustan Times]
Retailing | Laura Hudson surveys a handful of retailers about what part higher cover prices may have played in August’s plummeting comics sales. “This summer has underperformed, and I think [the $3.99 price point] is a big part of it,” says Chris Rosa of Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles, “but also I think the lack of an event and the fact that the big books at both [companies] are extended denouements to events. There’s nothing really inspiring people to run out to the stores. People are tired of buying four Avengers titles at $3.99 a pop.” [Comics Alliance]
Publishing | Tom Mason looks at the return of Atlas Comics: “If you were 13 years-old in 1975 when the original books were out, you’d be 48 today. In other words, the age of the average direct market fanboy. But in order for these new books to succeed, they’d have to appeal beyond nostalgia because with most Marvel and DC comics at $4.00 a pop, you’ve got to have something special and excellent to lure some of those buyers into your own circus tent.” [Comix 411]
Stitches: A Memoir
by David Small
WW Norton, 336 pages, $24.95.
I sometimes suspect that part of the reason some critics (if I can use that term) are hostile towards the recent spate of comic book (sorry, graphic novel) memoirs is due to a mistrust of the genre itself. There’s a tendency when someone is chronicling a dramatic, personal event, to exult praise merely for inherent drama of the story, particularly if it’s a traumatic one, than the skill in the telling. Some folks, in other words, get swept up in the idea of the story itself and the bravery of the person in coming forward to tell it, and ignore whether or not the work succeeds as art.
Certainly the success of books like Fun Home and Persepolis has resulted in publishers unleashing a number of bad or mediocre memoirs on the public. So perhaps it’s not surprising some folks are wary when a buzz-heavy memoir gets released.
Two such books hit the stands recently, David Small’s National Book Award-nominated (but kids only!) Stitches and the Ken Dahl’s Monsters. The good news is that both books deserve at least some, if not all, of the positive attention they’ve been getting.