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Saturday, September 23, 2006

There's Got to Be A Morning After -- My wife's work had a dinner cruise on Lake George last night, and she asked me if I wanted to go months ago, and somehow I guess I was sure that in the intervening weeks I would either work up some enthusiasm for the project or somehow weasel my way out of it. Turns out, neither. So off we went, believe it or not, on a three-hour tour.

Part of my reticence, I suppose, has to do with the history involved. The first time I accompanied my wife to one of her work-related events, it was a Christmas party in the early 1990s. At the time a fairly significant (as these things go) ex-girlfriend of mine was also working at the same place, and I was reluctant to spend hours in the same room with her. "No need to worry," laughed capricious fate, "Because she'll be right across the fucking table from you." Mmm, comfortable.

The first time I agreed to one of these cruises, now sometime into the mid-1990s, it wasn't an ex-girlfriend at issue. Rather, along on the cruise was a girl who I had cheated on another ex-girlfriend with, and who, of course, in the interests of full disclosure, I had told my wife all about when we were revealing all to each other. Why wouldn't I be honest with my wife about this sordid incident from a few years in the past? It's not as if we'll all be trapped on a goddamned boat on Lake George someday, after all, I am sure I would have thought, had I thought about it much at all.

Last night's cruise didn't turn out to involve any exs or ex-co-conspirators in infidelity, but it did come after a particularly un-fun week at work, and at the end of the day on Friday I really just wanted to go home. "Ah, go and get loaded," advised a friend at work, but alas, medically it's probably inadvisable to get loaded much these days, and furthermore combining two activities known to occasionally lead to vomiting (getting loaded and boarding a large vessel bound for deep water) made the idea of drinking only a fond, futile fantasy. Just as well I didn't drink, because I'll tell you, we weren't even detached from the dock before my observations of the teeming throng of party-goers had me sunk low into an Ivan Brunetti-like loathing of my fellow man.

Oh, it all came on me at once -- I won't even elaborate on the reasons for my sinking into such deep hatred for everything and everyone around me, but to sum up the moment, let me note that as the boat began moving out onto the water and I at least could take comfort in the beauty around me...and I swear to God I am not making this up -- the band played the fucking Love Boat theme, full length, and utterly destroyed my ability to enjoy another second on that goddamned boat.

Of course, as we enjoyed the truly mediocre and utterly bland dinner buffet (someone asked me in line why I wasn't taking anything, and I kept thinking as we moved down the line that there would be something worth taking, and BAM!, here we are at the end of the line. "Would you like some roast beef, sir?"), I could not help but share with my wife my utter disgust with all humanity. My dark, sour mood was relieved only by the waitress bringing me tea, and I drank three cups in relative peace until it occurred to me that my wife might be under the mistaken impression that my barely-controlled feelings of hatred might somehow exclude myself. So I tried my best to explain that, "No, honey, it's not that I think I am better than these people, it's that they remind me of how much I truly fucking hate myself." It seemed important to share this with her, somehow.

Despite it all, she seemed to enjoy the cruise itself -- after the lousy meal we went out on the deck and watched the sun go down as we cruised the lake. The food, company and musical accompaniment -- hell, even the decor -- were all repugnant, but, the water and the shoreline were something to see. Seeing all the beautuful lakeside houses and the lights of the houses dotting the occasional islands in the middle of the lake, I was once again reminded of the fact that I wish I lived anywhere but where I do, and that I wish I was anyone but who I am.

"There's got to be a morning after," someone sang in a movie about a boat 30 or so years ago, and unfortunately, she was right.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

12 Reasons Why I Love Her -- A heady confection of conflict and romance is found in this new graphic novel published by Oni Press. Written by Jamie S. Rich and illustrated by Joelle Jones, 12 Reasons Why I Love Her is told in a non-linear fashion that convincingly immerses the reader in the reality of a romantic entanglement, with all the tension, joy, passion and sorrow that accompanies any longterm love affair. Jones has a confident, playful line and gives rich texture to the story, parsed out in 12 individual chapters. Each chapter has its own theme, mood and emotion, and any one of them provides an excellent standalone story.

Together, the 12 chapters of 12 Reasons Why I Love Her feel like time you've invested in your own love life, imperfect but exquisite experiences with someone you love and who you hope loves you. Rich and Jones perfectly encapsulate the frustrations of young adult romance, the paradoxical blending of needs and desires with the profound inability to ever really become one with each other.

I liked the characters here, and found myself pulling for them and their relationship. More importantly, I found myself sympathizing with both of them -- Rich makes this possible not through artificial narrative tricks but just by allowing both his lead characters room to breathe and the space to explore who they really are. Each of them does something stupid or unwise at some point, but you never feel that those mistakes are anything other than the unavoidable act of a human being, being human.

The final chapter of 12 Reasons Why I Love Her is the most telling -- whether the relationship between Gwen and Evan ultimately survives is not as important as that final image, the one moment in their lives when they were more one than every before or ever since. Long after the present passion fades, long after, even, you've ended it and perhaps painfully moved on, there's always that one moment that will always be a part of you.

This is a story told out of time because, ultimately, each of us has one of those moments in our lives, and we live in it forever, outside of time. The rest of it is what we call the relationship, but that one moment is the hinge around which the rest of our days will turn, and even if we never admit it out loud, we know there's nothing that can change that. Rich and Jones capture that electric transcendence in 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and that's all the reason you'll need to lose yourself in its wonders.

Note: 12 Reasons Why I Love Her will be released October 18th, 2006


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Random Thoughts While I Should Be Sleeping -- In no particular order...

1) I can't believe there are still people who draw a distinction between "TPB" and "GN." Gang, the battle's over --they're all graphic novels.

2) Upstate New York really needs a comic book convention, and it needs Rick Olney to have nothing to do with it. Sorry, Rick, but, there it is.

3) Artists who guarantee a buy from me: Tom Raney, Chris Sprouse, JH Williams, Bryan Hitch, Frank Quitely, Sean Phillips, John Cassaday, Darwyn Cooke, Erik Larsen, Gene Ha, Jacen Burrows, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Cameron Stewart, Barry Windsor-Smith. This started as a list in my head of the superhero artists who still give me a visceral thrill, and I could add a batch of qualifiers -- for example, Quitely needs to go back to fuller pencils and a real inker (himself or someone else), and Raney certainly has been mostly mis-used since Stormwatch with Warren Ellis. But these artists all still really get a rise out of me. I would love to see Ed Brubaker do something with Tom Raney, or Ellis write something for BWS. I suppose it's not a coincidence how many of these artists have done some of their best work with Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Ed Brubaker or Warren Ellis, the four writers whose corporate comics work has most excited me in the past decade. But yeah, you don't have to be a writer-artist to grab my attention, miscast as I sometimes am as an artcomix indie snob.

4) Seriously, dude, ALL TPBS ARE GRAPHIC NOVELS. Stop worrying about it.

5) You know what is a REALLY under-rated run of great comics? Wildcats Vol. 2 #8-28 by Joe Casey and Sean Phillips. GREAT FUCKING RUN OF COMICS THERE. If you like Godland or Marvel Zombies or Sleeper, and you haven't read those Wildcats issues, hunt 'em down. You'll thank me for it.

6) Also, if you love Hitch and Neary art, Wildcats Vol. 2 #5 is ALL HITCH AND NEARY, and worth tracking down. Came out in the middle of the Ellis/Hitch/Neary/Depuy glory days of The Authority, and still gorgeous to look at.

7) Studio 60 started off semi-strong; love having Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford together and back on my TV (well, computer, but, same diff), but Amanda Peet? Drop her down an elevator, Aaron, she's excess baggage. Pretty, but utterly dispensible.

8) Boston Legal is back. Downloading the first ep of Season 3 now. This is good news. Not as good as having The Shield, 24 or Entourage back on would be, but it helps. Downloading The Unit for my wife; it's watchable, but...but...

9) Confidential to Harlan Ellison -- if you had died after writing "The City on the Edge of Forever" 40 years ago, we would all remember you as a great writer. Now we will all remember you as a dirty, cranky old fuck who couldn't wrap his brain around the internet. Or much of anything else.

10) I really miss Hunter S. Thompson.

11) Back to bed now.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

New Valiant Comics FAQ -- One of my favourite comics of all time is Archer and Armstrong by Barry Windsor-Smith. Learn more about the book and the company that published it in the new Valiant Comics F.A.Q. by Andy Smith.


The Sweeter Side of R. Crumb -- Leave your sense of irony at the door, folks. While the title may recall Dave Berg's long-running Mad Magazine satire strip "The Lighter Side of [fill-in-the-blank]," this beautiful new hardcover collection from MQP is serious about offering up Crumb for those who might be intimidated or turned off by the self-confessed "nasty, negative misanthropic sex pervert" (as Crumb calls himself in his droll, confessional and explanatory introduction). Mainly, it seems, it's aimed at women, and if the pastel flowers and kitty-cat on the cover weren't proof enough, Crumb comes right out and says it in his introduction: "If I were a woman, I probably wouldn't like my work either." But MQP and Crumb and his wife Aline assembled this volume anyway, and perhaps being a bit too doubtful of his own appeal, Crumb says if the approach to female readers doesn't work, at least "maybe they'd be able to stomach it enough as a gift for their boyfriends."

Crumb is without question one of our finest living cartoonists, and beyond the targeted marketing and tongue-in-cheek self-doubt evident in the introduction, The Sweeter Side of R. Crumb is a welcome new assemblage of beautiful, vital drawings alive with the interest and respect Crumb clearly invests in his life-drawing subjects. There are a few strips, often about the early years of daughter Sophie, but the pieces that impress and arrest the eye are the mind-boggingly detailed French streets, the lovingly rendered family members, and yes, even a few pretty girls. If a nipple is evident here or there, there is nothing in evidence that would offend anyone to the left of "The Reverend" Fred Phelps, so the book actually is gift-worthy for any man, woman or child in your life, especially those with an interest in art in general and cartooning in particular.

Thankfully, Crumb's personal history pervades the collection, and I was stopped in my tracks by the portrait of Crumb's brother Charles as a young man. I defy you to study the image and not be immersed in the sense of love, respect, affection and lost potential Crumb conveys in the drawing. It is, in its way, Charles Crumb's tragic biography, rendered in a single, masterful image by the man who knew him and loved him best -- heartbreaking and awe-inspiring, all in one single drawing. I think it's the eyes that contain the heart of the drawing, but you must judge it for yourself.

Other people that have touched Crumb's life are rendered herein, from his first wife Dana and their son Jesse to second wife Aline and their daughter Sophie (and later on, it seems, a few of her friends). A smattering of hotel room still-lifes, advertising art and musician portraits are also included, but to me the most compelling images in the volume are always the people and places that have defined Crumb's life. He is, finally, one of the greatest reporters of his own life in cartoon form, a foreign correspondent from an unknown country of unique life experience that he generously, compulsively shares through his art. There's no greater proof that comics are art than the life's work of R. Crumb, and The Sweeter Side of R. Crumb is a wonderful and wondrous showcase for that art.

I suppose it might seem cynical, creating a book to market to women like this. If Crumb's self-effacing introduction doesn't eliminate those concerns, then let this: The Sweeter Side of R. Crumb may be the least-perverse, most accessible book the cartoonist has ever issued. But it is still 100-percent Crumb, and that makes it
absolutely essential.


Jonah Hex: Face Full of Violence -- This collection of tightly-written standalone stories is a welcome revival for DC's oddball outlaw western hero. I don't think I've read a single Jonah Hex story since Michael Fleischer had him stuffed and mounted way back when, but here he is again, alive and well. And if he's being sarcastic at one point when he tells a man he's "The spirit of vengeance, come to collect your soul," that doesn't mean he's far wrong.

Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray give Hex plenty to avenge in these stories, as each finds Hex falling into treachery and double-dealing. Probably the best sees him getting involved in the dire consequences of a young woman's rape, and if the twists and turns of the narrative aren't altogether unexpected, Palmiotti and Gray still make the journey sharply entertaining.

I suppose writing an authentic western story at this late date almost precludes an ability to inject the unexpected, short of bringing in supernatural or science fiction elements (which Gray and Palmiotti thankfully do not), but for me what was unexpected was just how well-done the stories in Face Full of Violence are.

Artist Luke Ross illustrates five of the six stories, and brings both realism and a welcome western romanticism to his stories. Hex co-creator Tony Dezuniga takes the art reins for one story, showing an undiminished gift for visceral, violent storytelling. A number of popular creators try their hand on cover art, and those pieces are nicely reproduced without logos or other distractions, and at full size. Among those are Frank Quitely, Howard Chaykin and Brian Bolland, all demonstrating an affection for the character in excellent cover designs.

I think the format of these stories best suits Hex as a character -- he's fascinating to observe, and Face Full of Violence shows him as an excellent vehicle for solid storytelling in a genre that, as this volume proves, is still quite vital when tackled by creators excited about telling good stories.


Friday, September 15, 2006

If My Wife's Car Was Running Better I Would Go To This -- The Modern Myths Birthday Party in Northampton, Massachusetts:

Hello, everyone,

This is your final reminder that our FOURTH BIRTHDAY party will be held this evening from 6:00-9:00 PM at the store. We'll have pizza, soft drinks, birthday cake, and plenty of door prizes for everyone who attends. Thanks are owed to all of you for helping us reach this milestone, so please join us to celebrate!

-Jim Crocker, Manager

Modern Myths is one of the best and most progressive comic shops in the United States, with something for everyone. My wife and I brought our kids to one of (I think their first?) birthday parties, and it was a blast. If you're anywhere near Northampton, you should go and help them celebrate:

Modern Myths
34 Bridge Street #4
Northampton, MA 01060

Tell Jim Comic Book Galaxy sent you!


Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Best American Comics 2006 -- Probably the best single volume of anthologized comics since the beautiful hardcover McSweeney's #13, The Best American Comics 2006 is edited by American Splendor's Harvey Pekar and thankfully is informed by his understanding and appreciation for autobiographical comics.

Not every strip in here is autobiographical, but Pekar instinctively chooses stories that carry the ring of truth and the patina of lives lived, even if they are about, say, Paul Bunyan wistfully reflecting on his secret dreams, or superhero Onion Jack's eventual fulfillment of a lifelong dream that does not involve beating the hell out of evildoers in tights.

Ah, yes. The tights.

Pekar seems a little behind the curve in his defensive explanation for not including any superhero stories in the book's 250-plus pages. One could argue superhero status for Onion Jack or Paul Bunyan, but both stories are so far above what you would generally consider "real" superhero comics that it's hardly worth the bother. No, Pekar may be trying to ride the fence between the twin readerships the book is likely to attract -- "real" book readers vs. the customers of your local superhero convenience store -- but Harvey, relax: The battle's been won. That this book even exists is proof of that.

Houghton Mifflin assembling an annual collection of the artform's best stories, and allowing someone with some understanding of what might actually constitute quality, is not the start of a revolution, but rather the most recent, obvious victory in a war that has been settled for at least a couple of years now. The public knows about comics as an artform, and while this volume is likely to further confirm the inherent possibilities, it really won't come as much of a surprise to anyone that it exists. It will mainly be bought in stores like Borders or name-your-local-indy-bookshop, not in comic book stores -- but I am sure the 50 or 60 actual, honest-to-Christ real comic book stores will carry this as well. You know, the ones that already have everything else with Pekar's name on it.

And yes, it is a good and particularly readable collection; in some ways, it is superior to the McSweeney's hardcover Chris Ware assembled a year or three back. Not in design, surely, but in that it is entirely comics. No need for high-falutin' essays to drawn in wary non-comics readers. And if there's no Dan Clowes in here, there are peers like Crumb, Ware, Jaime Hernandez and Joe Sacco.

Like the McSweeney's, some of these I've read before. But of course, I am not the ultimate, intended audience for this: The Best American Comics 2006 will make a wonderful gift for your literate friends who are curious about comics or have already dipped their foot in the pool and found the water to their liking.

Standouts in an almost flawless selection of stories include Jesse Reklaw's Thirteen Cats of My Childhood, which entirely delivers on the promise in its title and also manages to provide painfully canny insight into the makeup and eventual disintegration of an American family; one that happened to intersect over time with a baker's dozen of cats, each of which it wittily and engagingly provides biographical sketches of. Excellent.

I had previously dismissed Joel Priddy's Onion Jack story when it appeared in an AdHouse Books Free Comic Book Day release. I must have been in a bad mood that day, or perhaps it was a matter of context. Coming just pages after Pekar's introduction, it seems to serve as both a celebration and indictment of superhero comics as a genre, and worse yet as an avocation. The spare, almost non-existent artwork plays wonderfully against the rich, portentious script. It is a masterfully crafted dish of delicious irony, and serves as a rock-solid anchor to the book's intentions.

A panoply of styles and subjects throughout make for a heady, refreshing collection of comics. Each piece is followed by something utterly different, so anthology fatigue does not set in as it sometimes does when a single theme serves as anthology overlord. Each story is a palate-cleanser: Anders Nilsen's visual haiku offset from the chunky reportage of Kim Deitch; the fussy, detailed faux-realism of Jonathan Bennett giving way to the elegant line of Jaime Hernandez. Summing it all up, the street-level crazy-family reminiscences of Crumb, who finds refuge in remembering long walks and talks with a brother so troubled that he could not stand to stay in this world. Walkin' The Streets is as good as Crumb gets, and therefore as good as comics gets, and therefore utterly suited to close out this volume, a wondrous bookend to the Onion Jack story that led it off.

You might not think that two comics stories could be more dissimilar, but their unifying presence is a reminder that Pekar was the perfect man for the job of assembling this book's final form. No one alive today knows more about what is possible in the artform of comics. Harvey Pekar virtually invented the genre that represents the artform at its best, and as I say, if these stories are not all 100 percent true-to-life -- and clearly, they are not -- each and every one of them reflects the real life experiences, thoughts and perceptions of their creators. Each of their creators has allowed themselves, by their career choices, the freedom to tell the stories they want to tell, in the way they want to tell them. The Best American Comics 2006 is an elegant and entertaining showcase for their very best works, and a genuine signpost on the road to the now-obvious future of comics as an artform. Yes, there's a superhero story in here, but even that one is good, and therefore welcome.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Lone Ranger #1 -- I don't know that anyone is crying out for a new comic about The Lone Ranger, but Dynamite Entertainment has released a first issue that entertained beyond my expectations. The gorgeous John Cassaday cover created an expectation of quality that was not destroyed by the interiors. Interior art is by Sergio Carriello with colours by Dean White, and if the art isn't quite at the level cover artist Cassaday operates at, it still is far beyond most comics of this sort, with an obvious love for the material and a great deal of effort in making it look as good as possible (here's a good sample interior page).

Beginning with the second issue Cassaday is even credited with "art direction," and if it seems like I am putting a lot of emphasis on Cassaday's involvement, well, the first thing I thought of when I saw the cover was, "Cassaday's drawn some damn neat western-style scenes in Planetary." And the second was, "If this series looks as good as that work, I could actually see myself being a regular reader of The Lone Ranger," which I found a strange thing to be thinking, and yet: I could actually see myself being a regular reader of The Lone Ranger.

The story hits the beats needed to explain how a Texas Ranger lost his family and became The Lone Ranger, with nice opening sequence that, while it recalls Frank Miller's scene of Matt Murdock's childhood, still manages to explain the characters with economy and maybe even a little grace. Writer Brett Matthews deserves a good deal of credit for making this first issue so readable, even if the only reason I cracked it open was the Cassaday cover. Come for the Cassaday, stay for the comics: Not a bad way to kick off the first issue of any new series. I'll be checking out future issues, in hopes they are as entertaining and attractive as this one.


Possibly the Greatest Invention Ever -- It's Snippy!


Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Rest of The Year in Comics -- Over at The Comics Reporter, an image-assisted look at comics still to come between now and the end of the year. It's one of those things that makes the old "Comics are so boring/bad/stupid right now" arguments look so ridiculous. Hell, my running top-ten list for the year already has fifteen or so titles on it...and it looks like five or six of those listed on The Comics Reporter are good contenders, too.


Friday, September 01, 2006

All-Star Superman #5 -- Wow! Every once in a while Morrison (like Moore) takes a few issues to grab me, and this is the one for ASS, a title I had rapidly been losing interest in.

An issue-long meditation on the Lex/Superman relationship, nothing but dialogue and brilliantly staged action that comments on the divide between Lex and Superman. And finally, the art looks worthy of the title.

If you've grown weary of ASS, do give this one a shot; if you liked JLA: Earth 2 by Morrison and Quitely, this is exactly the comic you've been waiting for for the past six years.






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