Wednesday's New Things: Being Bad at Comic Books

Saga #24 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples

I'm bad at comic books. Over the past year or so, I've lost track of three or four series I really love; East of West, Uber, and, most criminally of all, ("If Star Wars was any good," sez the sign at my favorite comic shop in the state of Illinois, "it would be...) Saga. I'm not completely sure how this happened, although before I was limiting my purchases I was buying enough that I didn't have quite the time to read all of it. It's also possible that, as I was considering new purchasing strategies, I let some of these series fall of because they would be better in trade (something that I maintain will be most true for East of West, which is so deeply built up and weird that it can be hard to follow from month to month). Saga, though, is so good, so well paced, that it deserves that monthly $3.50-- one of these days, I'll just walk into my comic shop and by the lot that I'm missing. Maybe that day is today. 


These Boom Pen&Ink books are like the IDW artists editions, in that they take established content and break them down into the process pieces that preceded their publication, but they're significantly less involved, and therefore cheaper, and they draw from material in the publisher's home stable. Vanesa Del Ray is a serious talent, my favorite new artist from last year, who toiled away on this more than decent but sort of hard to track crime noir. As is often true, it'll be interesting to see her art separated from what we generally understand to be the "writerly" and utilitarian (speech bubbles, narration, and so on) aspects of comics making.  

Set to Sea by Drew Weing

I've been following Drew Weing's wonderful and charming The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo for a spell, and, from the previewSet to Sea seems of a similar bent, although more Melville than Sendak. What unites the kids in the first with the shanghaied poet in the second is the understanding that the world is just a little bit stranger than we might be inclined to believe. The form is slightly different, though, with every page in Set to Sea functioning as an individual panel, shortening the story but also giving Weing a large canvas to explore the blocky and scratchy world he's drawn. 

Showa: A History of Japan (1944-1953) by Shigeru Mizuki 

This is the third volume of Shigeru Mizuki's history of Japan's showa period, which has seemed to be generally pretty well received. History comics, and non-fiction comics in general, are hard to pull off, which is one of the reason why I think that cartoonists have often pursued memoir instead of my straight non-fiction genres. Memoir allows folks to easily balance a work's words and pictures, and is more readily open to dialogue, while historical comics or comics journalism seems to fall more easily into looking and feeling like illustrated prose. From all accounts, the Showa volumes so far seem to work, perhaps because they are part memoir. The mix of illustrated realism and stylized drawing also probably helps, giving the pictures weight enough so that they hang with the words. 

The Leaning Girl by Francois Schuiten and Benoit Peeters, translated by Stephen D. Smith

This is the first of a series of Franco-Belgian comics series called The Obscure Cities, some of which have seen print in America and some of which have not. It's a fun concept, set on a counter-Earth where folks live in city states defined by architectural style, and where sometimes weird things happen.  What I like about projects like this one is that someone, in this case it seems like its the publisher and translator Stephen D. Smith, cares enough about these works to make sure that they see release in English. That's the best kind of endorsement. What I like about this particular project, at least in theory, is that design is specifically, rather than loosely, tied to definition of place, something that will be fun to tease out if I ever decide to pick them up. 

Wednesday's New Things: Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger

... and we're back. Wednesday's New Things features stuff I'm planning on buying in a given week, plus some other stuff of interest, with links to previews and occasional commentary. 

Tove Jansson's Moomin comics, like so many others, are a thing I know only by reputation. This new complete collection, beautifully put together by D+Q to celebrate the centennial of her birth, seems like a good place to start. For the Jansson completist, the NYRB press is also putting out a collection of her prose stories this fall.

Another import, this one is the the first book translated into English from prominent Montreal cartoonist Simon Bosse. Not a whole lot to go on, here, but the few panels of preview suggest that he's got some skill with grey tones, which is a hard thing to achieve, and imagination worth exploring, which is a thing few people have. 

Releases like this are fascinating to me-- an oversized and expanded reprint of a story that's already been released in comic form and in trade, for a relatively prominent Archie comic that's barely a year old. Who goes for this? Someone who passed on it the first time, in tow other formats? A kind of completist? Maybe a Francavilla superfan (and, if you're that, it's hard to blame you). It does have "new special features," whatever that means, but do you shell out $4.99 for a comic you already have for new special features? That doesn't make sense to me, although I guess certain consumers of DVDs and Blu-Rays behave that way; maybe comics consumers behave in similar ways. I put the over/under at the continued release of these magazines at 6. 

Chatter: John Porcellino

Always with my comics, what I’m trying to do, is to put down the thing that’s in my head as straight as possible. When I draw a page of comics it doesn’t need any color. Color would mess it up. In the olden days if I drew a scene at night, I would take some ink and fill in the sky black or use cross-hatching, but at some that even became unnecessary. There’s context there probably that tells the reader that it’s night. The reader already knows the night sky is dark. I don’t have to draw the darkness. 
I’m not trying to accurately render the world, I’m trying to transmit something from my head into another person’s head. You don’t necessarily need a lot to do that. When I talk to students I tell them cartooning is like writing. Even the drawings are writing. The letters CAT, they don’t mean anything. They’re abstract lines on paper. You learn through the process of reading that CAT is a symbol that represents the furry thing throwing up behind the couch. If I can drawn a car with three lines and the person can read it as a car, I’ll use three lines. 
Sometimes I still get that cliché, “My five-year-old could draw this.” I think to myself, “I’d like to see your five-year-old draw that!” I still get that. Reviewers will be looking at my comics and they’ll say, “But you can really draw right, can’t you? I mean, you could make this look good, right?”
via The Comics Journal

Wednesday's New Things: A Big 'Un

After last week's dearth of titles, this week is a big 'un. Here we go. 

The Hospital Suite by John Porcellino 

John Porcellino is one of the grand figures of comics who I've heard about but never actually had the pleasure of encountering.  I've been tempted to start reading King Cat, but I've never pulled the trigger; I couldn't tell you why, since its readily available from his website and, presumably, a few of the better shops around the country. I feel like I've been missing out. Hopefully The Hospital Suite, a story about a period of ill health and its aftermath, is a good place to start.

Loverboys by Gilbert Hernandez 

Two weeks, two new things from Gilbert Hernandez? What a world it is that we live in! From the solicitation, Loverboys sounds like a tale of Palomar, but without the boundaries of years of Heartbreak Soup stories limiting it to an already well trod path. Preview here, extensive interview with Hernandez here, including this excellent tidbit:
 When I did "Marble Season," I said, this is a Drawn & Quarterly book. I want this for all ages. Some of my stuff at Fantagraphics is pretty rough, visually, whether it's sex or violence, so I just didn't want to go to another publisher and do that. With Dark Horse, I think of the kinds of books they publish, so I went ahead and did this heavy, violent zombie story because they're more into that dark genre stories. Fantagraphics is more indie -- closer to the way of indie music -- than the other publishers. With each publisher, I try to focus and express myself in a different way. Sort of having a split personality with each publisher.

In a Glass Grotesquely by Richard Sala

The main attraction in this new book of stories from Richard Sala is the tale of Super-Enigmatix, the world's greatest super criminal, and his army of henchwomen. Sala initially published (and is continuing to publish) the strip on a tumblr, which is a relatively common method of low stress online self publishing. The art is bright and the story is by turns charming and violent, sometimes at the same moment; I liked that latter combination so much that I'm a little worried about myself. 

Southern Bastards Vol. 1: Here Was a Man, written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Jason Latour

A Jason Aaron writer's credit is more or less a guarantee of quality. Southern Bastards is his follow up to Scalped, one of three or four best crime comics of the past little while. This new book fills a hole left by the end of the old one in 2012 and distinguishes itself with Latour's art, which gives it a design forward quality that might even launch it past its predecessor. I read Scalped in trade, it's the kind of book that rewards the rereadings facilitated by the collected editions, and, after purchasing the first issue, I'm doing the same with this one. Volume 1 collects the first four issues; I've been looking forward to this book for a while. 

The Fade Out, written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Sean Phillips, colored by Elizabeth Breitweiser 

Speaking of guarantees, anything from Brubaker and Phillips is sure to be worth a look. The first issue was great, this one is sure to be too. 

Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier #1, written by Ales Kot, drawn by Marco Rudy

This book's a weird one, and I'm ambivalent about it. The Winter Soldier iteration of the Bucky Barnes character was created by Ed Brubaker for his run of Captain America stories, now approaching their tenth anniversary. Those were the comics that got me into comics again after a three or four year break, and they're still some of my favorites. Although the whole of Brubaker's Captain America run is worthwhile, the later issues were often of slightly lesser quality, eroded by the needs of line wide crossovers, a transition from a superhero espionage comic hybrid into straight superhero comics and, I think, by a little bit of writer's malaise. At the end, Bucky Barnes's consolation prize for no longer getting to be Captain America was that he got his own comic book, and Brubaker's year plus on the Winter Soldier title stands up against that early stuff, in part because it phased out the superheroics entirely, and what we got were straight spy stories with the trappings of the Marvel universe. Brubaker left and the series languished; they final issues are supposed to be ok (I've never read them), but interest waned anyway. 

All of that means that I'm trepidatious about this book. Part of what's got me worried is that it's a weird combination of things; Barnes is now a sort of intergalactic clean up crew, a set up which emphasizes the espionage while restoring some of the fantastical elements. It's also drawn by Marco Rudy, who gives the book a painterly feel, a quality I often find ugly and difficult to read. Because Rudy's goal is to emphasize the weirdo quality of the sci-fi, though, it looks like it works. We'll have to see what happens when that art is subjected to the utilitarianism of comics text; I suspect there will be a certain amount of dissonance. 

Still, I think that the espionage story may be the most important mainstream comics genre of the last decade or so, and writer Ales Kot has recently set himself up as the most adept inheritor of that tradition; if anyone can pull off a book like this. Kot might be the man to do it. 

Coming Soon to a Spinner Rack Near You: Two from Olivier Schrauwen

I first became aware of Olivier Schrauwen while attending the final iteration of the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics fest in late 2012 (that festival has since been replaced by Comics Arts Brooklyn, which by all accounts sounds like an excellent show). Schrauwen was a special guest, and I was able both to hear him interviewed (by Bill Kartalopoulos) and to go see a gallery show of some of his work, but I never picked up any of his books afterwards. There's no real reason for that, except perhaps that I'm on a budget and that I've never come across any of it while browsing; it's intriguing stuff, often very beautiful, and it seems to run on an alt-comix weirdness that is happily free from grotesque excesses. 

Although translations of his work are available in English, I would have to go out and seek them if I wanted to read them, and my current purchasing habits and budgeting strategy privilege new releases over already available work. Luckily for me, then, Schrauwen has two new books incoming. The first, Arsene Schrauwen, is a bit of originally self-published family history done in one color printing, which will be out at the end of the year. Fantagraphics is calling it his first graphic novel, which I think is misleading, but the work seems to be well regarded however it's packaged. The second is Mowgli's Mirror, an all or mostly silent tale featuring Rudyard Kipling's character from The Jungle Book. which will be put out by Retrofit/Big Planet sometime next year. Zainab Akhtar at ComicsAlliance has a plot summary and some preview pages; it's a looker, and I'm looking forward to reading it.