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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

 
Solanin -- "Every band has its story, I suppose." So says Meiko Inoue, the lead character in Inio Asano's Solanin. Substitute "family" or "group of friends" for "band" in that quote, and you begin to see how universal Solanin is, as it tracks the lives of the members of the band, their dreams and hopes, and where those dreams and hopes intersect with everyday reality.

The universal sophistry of youth is its belief in its own invincibility, and at least some of the members of the band possess that in spades. Coupled with the restlessness of people in their early-to-mid 20s, you can see how a group like this would be drawn together by their common love of making music. Whatever it is that brings people together, there's almost always forces aligning to force them apart, and of course those forces are at work in Solanin. The bittersweet tone of much of the book comes from where those opposing forces -- coming together and falling away from each other -- collide in the smallest moments of their lives. Meiko is living with her boyfriend Taneda, who is really the glue that holds the band together. The domestic scenes of their relationship ring familiar and true, as does the vague need for something else -- for more -- that threatens to dissolve their relationship.

The bulk of this 400-page graphic novel (part of Viz's Signature series) is the story of Meiko and Taneda and how they relate to and inspire the rest of the band members, but my single favourite moment in the entire story is an almost superfluous vignette involving the drummer, Rip. His day job is clerk at a pharmacy, and almost every day he deals with an elderly man who mistakenly thinks a frog statue in front of the store is a mailbox. The one chapter about the two of them brings enormous humanity and nuance to the story. Even if Rip doesn't get another moment to shine like he does in this one brief incident, that's okay. What we get in this little glimpse into his character is more than enough.


"Every band has its story," Meiko supposes, and at its heart Solanin is about Meiko coming to grips with her own story, and re-writing the band's. In its themes of aimlessness and looming maturity, Solanin certainly echoes Bryan O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim, and will appeal to readers who enjoy that series (like me). But Asano's approach is entirely different from O'Malley's, with meticulous images of the streets of Tokyo, and occasionally arresting glimpses into Meiko's secret heart. Solanin is about dreams, and life, and trying to bring the two together into a whole tapestry. In some places, Meiko succeeds. In some, she fails. The joy is found in-between, in the quiet moments Asano shows us that make up her life. Where she's been, and where she hopes to go in the future.

Buy Solanin from Amazon.com.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

 
Kunstler on The Year Ahead -- Here's James Howard Kunstler's predictions for 2009. 2008 was an awful, awful year from the micro to the macro. And it hasn't even started yet.

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The Monday Briefing -- Just a few random notes today...If you like Scott Pilgrim, definitely check out Solanin from Viz. It's more realistic (so far -- I'm three chapters in), but concerns many of the same themes, and the art is gorgeous.

If you like Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, but have always felt it needed more elderly Wolverine and blind Hawkeye, definitely check out "Old Man Logan" by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven, currently running in Wolverine. I read the first three issues over the weekend and found it readable, but totally in debt to Eastwood.

Speaking of which, his new movie Gran Torino is a fantastic summation of his entire movie-making career, with lots of laughs and genuine drama mixing to create a very enjoyable film.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

 
Nicolas -- On the day that I found out my mother had died, I remember shedding a tear or two in disbelieving sadness that came nowhere near touching the center of my being. Months later, lying in bed at night with my wife, we were debating the pros and cons of moving into a bigger apartment now that our second child was on its way. A fleeting thought appeared, like quicksilver through my mind, that I should call my mom and ask her what she thought of the idea. That thought was quickly followed by a freight train of grief reminding me that she was dead, and most crushingly of all, I would never get to ask her advice about anything again, ever. I still catch myself momentarily thinking her still alive, from time to time. The same with my beloved cat Spot, who was put to sleep around the same time. It's almost impossible to truly teach your brain that they are gone.

My older brother died a few weeks ago. Upon finding it out, I felt next to nothing. A strange sense of my own aging and mortality, but my memories of the man are so few and far between that grief has yet to well up inside me, and I doubt it ever will.

We are all unique in our responses to death, but we are all the same in the fact that we must experience the deaths of those we know. Slowly, in our youth, but as the years pile into decades, there are more and more names. I think of Jerry Shepard, a radio sales executive who I often describe as "the only man I ever knew." Raoul Vezina, a gifted cartoonist who also manned the cash register at FantaCo, the greatest comic book store in my personal memory. I never really knew him, but I was in awe of him, and I know that the grief caused by his death is still felt by his friends all these decades later. John Hart, a country music DJ who once helped me change a tire in 20-degree below zero weather. So many lost relationships, so many names.

Nicolas is the name of Pascal Girard's younger brother. Nicolas died very, very young, and because it happened so quickly, Pascal never got to say goodbye, and has lived with the fact of his brother's absence ever since. Pascal Girard's grief does not seem typical, as he maps it out over the course of the graphic novel that bears his lost brother's name, but it does seem unique and all his own.

Here are Pascal and Nicolas fooling around with a cassette recorder. A small moment's entertainment, one I remember doing myself with my own brother. But it becomes huge in Pascal's memory, a gift from the past that helps him process the ongoing grief that will always be a part of him.

Girard's style is simple and to the point, in the way of Jeffrey Brown's cartooning, with stylistic nods to names as diverse as Schulz and Kochalka. It's a basic and appealing visual narrative that is also open and airy, where Brown can sometimes seem closed and claustrophobic. Girard uses borderless panels much the same way Chester Brown does, and that's another positive connection. Brown, Kochalka and Schulz are all imminently readable cartoonists, and so is Girard. No trick layouts or dazzling technique get in the way of what he wants to tell you: What he has learned about coming to grips with loss, sometimes with selfishness and arrogance, and sometimes with silence and, finally, wisdom.

Wisdom is the ultimate lesson that death has for those who open themselves up to it. The wisdom to accept that death touches us all, and the widom to accept that we all not only can, but must, come to grips with it in our own way. Girard does so with humour and a bracing honesty that makes Nicolas a treasure to experience.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

 
Happy Boxing Day from The ADD Blog -- May it be filled with easy returns and little to do at work, for those of us too dumb to take a vacation day between Boxing Day Eve and Saturday.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

 
Eric Reynolds on 2008 -- Fantagraphics Publicist Eric Reynolds has maybe the best taste in comics of anybody in the entire industry. Here's his Best of 2008 list, which you should print out, take to the store, and buy every book on the list. Also: He's totally right about Dash Shaw.

Able Was I Ere I Saw Elba Note: This is ADD Blog post #1441.

Friday, December 19, 2008

 
The Friday Briefing -- And here we are, the last Friday before the Winter Solstice, Christmas and Boxing Day. Next week is packed with significant days for many people. Whatever day you're celebrating (or, heck, all of 'em), I hope you're enjoying a happy and healthy holiday season. Here are a few notes...

Majel Barrett-Roddenberry died this week; the actress who played Number One in the original Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage" went on to also play Nurse Christine Chapel and the voice of the computer on the original series, numerous roles on the animated Star Trek and the domineering but loving Lwaxana Troi (Deanna's mother) on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I've been revisiting a lot of Star Trek this year, I guess in anticipation of next year's JJ Abrams-directed movie, which coincidentally will feature Barrett-Roddenberry's last acting performance, as the voice of the Enterprise's computer. My reignited interest in Star Trek has been more or less limited to the original 1966-1969 series, because the older I get the higher I regard what Gene Roddenberry, William Shatner and the gang accomplished in those brief years. It's caused me, too, to reevaluate a lot about the original series, and to appreciate far more the contributions of people like Barrett-Rodddenberry and the others who contributed to the genuine sense that Enterprise was an enormous vessel filled with hundreds of working professionals, Nurse Chapel just one of them.

Her two best showcase episodes were "Amok Time," in which her feelings for Spock kicked off the entire plot of one of the best episodes of the series, and an even better episode for Chapel, "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" I recently re-watched that one, and it is a real gem of an episode, in its quiet way. Barrett-Roddenberry's best acting performance in all of Trek is probably in this episode, in which the Enterprise finds her former love Roger Korby and a couple of very strange assistants of his. Added Trek-value: the episode also boasts one of the show's trademarks, a dual-Kirk scene. How Shatner must have loved those episodes.

With Majel's death, we lose yet another original series cast member, following James Doohan and DeForest Kelley's deaths. As a lifelong fan of the series, and a growingly unapologetic one, I can tell you that I feel each loss personally. An era has passed, and will never come again, no matter how successful (as art or commerce) the Abrams movie is. And I hope it's a huge hit and a blast to watch, but now it will be even more bittersweet to hear the voice of the ship's computer this one last time. Goodbye, Mrs. Roddenberry, and thank you.

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Earlier this week, I received a copy of 1977's Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics. This enormous book collects hundreds and hundreds of pages of classic newspaper strips (Gasoline Alley, Flash Gordon and dozens more), and is something I've wanted to have my own copy of for a long, long time. It was nearly intoxicating browsing through its pages, and the combination of its size (allowing a good view of much of the art it contains) and pertinent but brief text material make for an excellent presentation of the material. There's good reason why it is considered a key anthology in the artform of comics, and I'm thrilled to finally have a copy.

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My posting here has been light the past couple of months and I do apologize for that. I am posting regularly at iTaggit, and I definitely want to get back to a more regular and reliable schedule here. Next year represents the ninth anniversary of Comic Book Galaxy, and history tells me that even if circumstances get in the way of things for a week or a month or a few months, sooner or later I always seem to get back into the swing of things. I'm as excited as ever about comics, I can tell you that. The news about Yoshiro Tatsumi's A Drifting Life this week has me positively giddy. Look at that picture. And it's coming in April, early enough that the end of the world may not get in the way of me reading it. Star Trek doesn't hit theaters until May, so that's more iffy, but I am trying to stay optimistic.

Seriously, things look very dark for the year ahead, and I have nothing funny or insightful to say about it. I wish people like Jim Kunstler had been wrong about oil scarcity and the catastrophe of an automobile-obsessed world. I wish I had been wrong about George W. Bush being very, very bad for our country and the world. I wish we could go back in time 8 years or 25 years or 50 years and tell people how their foolishness and arrogance squandered the post-war potential of America and shattered millions, soon likely billions, of lives. More than anything, I wish we had more than hope to count on as we say goodbye to 2008. And goodbye to a lot of other things. Maybe that's why I've been looking back to Star Trek so much this past year; in 1966 it was possible to believe one day mankind would overcome its own worst instincts and take to the stars, the races united and working together toward a better world, a better universe. As we stare down a very bleak 2009, it's hard to believe a year from now we'll have the luxury of doing anything more than struggling to survive; and it's impossible to believe we'll have the time, money or resources to talk about comic books, or old TV shows, on the internet.

I hope I'm wrong.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

 
Lame Duck Ducks -- Go read this outstanding essay on this week's shoe-throwing incident in Iraq, its cause and its deeper meaning. You won't read a better, truer political essay this year.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

 
The ADD Blog's Best of 2008 -- 2008 was a lousy year for me personally, although it ends with my immediate family healthy and intact (following bouts of pneumonia, severe back problems and other aggravating baloney) and my wife and I still employed, so obviously there are things to be grateful for. Nationally everything I've been waiting for for years finally hit the fan, the only surprise being that we never experienced an overt martial law. Unless Barack Obama has an outside-the-box plan to rescue Dick Cheney's Non-Negotiable American Way of Life early in his presidency, I do expect things to slide even further into the Karmic Abyss in 2009. So much so, in fact, that I kind of think we'll be extraordinarily lucky if there's an internet as such a year from now, and if we can all still access it as merrily, breezily and passionately as we do here at the end of '08. Here's to hopin', as mom used to say.

Comics? Comics this year were spectacular. Not Marvel and DC, which I have pretty much abandoned. Final Crisis and Batman RIP created nothing but a crisis of faith that Grant Morrison will ever not suck again, and the fan-fiction sensationalism of Bendis, Johns, etc. has by now completely infected both universes as viable storytelling mediums. At this late date, I have to believe the only people left reading more than one or two titles from the former "Big Two" are seriously impaired in some way. Sure, Marvel/Icon has Criminal to boast of, but that is it. The only other floppies I can think of off the top of my head that are worth my time and money are Buffy and Godland, from Dark Horse and Image respectively. Is Fell ever going to see another issue? If so, add that to the list. Hellboy I wait for the trade on, and man, as far as regularly-issued titles from corporate and near-corporate comics publishers go, that's it for me these days. No wonder I don't write much about floppies anymore. They might not be dead yet, but they're dead to me, and that would be my single-phrase summation of The Year in Comics 2008.

Lotta great graphic novels this year, though, as my attention turned almost exclusively to complete stories with a spine. Here's a look at some of the very, very best of them, along with handy Amazon links to help you buy them if you haven't yet. And yes, using these purchase links benefits (slightly!) this site and its ability to buy more graphic novels for me to talk about. See how it all comes back on itself like a vacation on Castrovalva?

[GRAPHIC NOVEL OF THE YEAR]
The Education of Hopey Glass by Jaime Hernandez [Fantagraphics Books]

Every Love and Rockets collection is a wonder and a joy. This one had even more nuance and humanity in its pages than you'd usually expect, and there was no better graphic novel released this year. Read my full review. Buy The Education of Hopey Glass from Amazon.com.

[STORY OF THE YEAR]
Superior Showcase #3 ("Freaks" by Laura Park) [Adhouse Books]

This story stayed with me long after I read it. I bought up every copy I could find, so I could give them away to deserving readers ignorant of the wonders within. If "Freaks" isn't in next year's Best American Comics volume, I will buy a gun and shoot it. The book, I mean. Read my full review.

[MANGA OF THE YEAR]
Good-Bye by Yoshihiro Tatsumi [Drawn and Quarterly]

No cartoonist I've ever read has better captured the soul-deadening brutality and unfairness life sometimes delivers. Tatsumi is one of the all-time greats, and his autobiographical 2009 release is the comic I am most looking forward to in the year ahead. Read my full review. Buy Good-Bye from Amazon.com.

[DEBUT OF THE YEAR]
Abandoned Cars by Tim Lane [Fantagraphics Books]

Dirty, greasy and impossible to put down, Lane's hardcover debut was the perfectly-timed summing-up of The American Dream in all its power and tail-finned delusion. Read my full review. Buy Abandoned Cars by Tim Lane from Amazon.com.

[REISSUE OF THE YEAR]
Ghost World: The Special Edition by Daniel Clowes [Fantagraphics Books]

One of the best graphic novels ever gets a deluxe, obsessive overhaul that includes pretty much everything but the DVD. Hey, Eric, I have an idea... Read my full review. Buy Ghost World: The Special Edition from Amazon.com.

[ADVENTURE COMIC OF THE YEAR]
The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard by Eddie Campbell and Dan Best [First Second]

Whimsical, dramatic, exciting and humane. Eddie Campbell might hate the term graphic novel, but he created one of the best of the the year, a rollicking good time that everyone should lose themselves in at least once. Read my full review. Buy The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard from Amazon.com.

[COMIC ART BOOK OF THE YEAR - TIE!]
Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko by Blake Bell [Fantagraphics Books]

Blake Bell does the impossible and explains Steve Ditko. I feel bad that Ditko might not be pleased, but someone would have done this book. No one would have done it better than Bell. except Ditko himself. Which would be fine by me. Read my full review. Buy Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko from Amazon.com.

[COMIC ART BOOK OF THE YEAR - TIE!]
Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier [Harry N. Abrams]

This, too, had to be done. And no one could have done it better, in this case not even the subject of the book. Thank you Mark Evanier. Job well done. Read my full review. Buy Kirby: King of Comics from Amazon.com.

[SURPRISE OF THE YEAR]
Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell [Top Shelf]

A surprise only in the fact that it's taken comics this long to give Powell the format he has so long deserved. The fact that he had this great a work within him, frankly, was no surprise at all. Read my full review. Buy Swallow Me Whole from Amazon.com.

[FLOPPY OF THE YEAR]
Look Out!! Monsters by Geoff Grogan [LOM]

Grogan uses an undead monster to prove there's still some life left in floppy comics. Read my full review.

[OTHER 2008 TITLES OF NOTE]

All of these are worthy of your attention, and more of mine than I have the time to give them at the moment:

Alan's War by Emmanuel Guibert and Alan Cope [First Second]

Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips [Marvel/Icon]

What It Is by Lynda Barry [Drawn and Quarterly]

All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely [DC Comics]

Breakdowns by Art Spiegelman [Pantheon]

Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw [Fantagraphics Books]

Mome edited by Eric Reynolds and Gary Groth [Fantagraphics Books]

The Complete Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz [Fantagraphics Books]

Where Demented Wented: The Art and Comics of Rory Hayes edited by Dan Nadel [Fantagraphics Books]

Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle [Drawn and Quarterly]

ACME Novelty Library #19 by Chris Ware [Drawn and Quarterly]

That's the comics and graphic novels that rocked my world in 2008. Feel free to name your own best-ofs in the comments, and hopefully we'll all still be around to do this again in a year.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

 
My Brother Rob -- I got the news last night that my older brother Rob had died. The funeral is today, although I won't be going. I'm recovering from pneumonia, I am needed at work, and most significantly, I hardly knew the man.

There's a lot of complicated history in my family, but the truth is I only remember seeing Rob three or four times in my entire life. He graduated high school the year I was born, was fighting in Vietnam by the time I could walk and was estranged from our family before I had to shave. I literally remember the day he came home from the war (I was probably around 6), the time our parents drove us from Florida to New York for the birth of his daughter (1978 or 1979, I think -- also the trip where I got a firsthand look at a real comic book store for the first time), and I remember the last time I saw him, an awkward Christmas Eve visit in, I think, 1985.

I remember he tried to reach out on that night, but I was really young and really stupid and really wrapped up in my own adolescent drama by then, and that ended up being the last time I ever saw him. I couldn't tell you much about him other than that he was left pretty angry by his experiences in Vietnam, and, I am sure, rightfully so. He was also angry at my mother because of some pretty fucked up family politics, and although I never took a side in their particular issue, I always (uncharacteristic of me) saw both sides of this particular issue.

My family -- by which I mean the one I was born into, not the one I created with my wife -- was fucked up beyond belief. I'd write more about it now, but it's exhausting just thinking about the tragedy, the lies and cover-ups and broken relationships. I think of that family as six people, more or less -- my parents, my older brother Rob, my older sister Deb, myself and my younger brother Wil. Of those, only the last three are still alive, and like Rob, I think we've all chosen to focus on our own lives and priorities rather than invest in the lies and bullshit of our parents.

But when your wife calls you during dinner to tell you your brother is dead, well, I have to admit that it does give one pause. Hard not to reflect on whatever barely-there relationship you had. Oh, one other memory of my older brother; he never knew he had been adopted. Everyone in the family, me included, eventually knew this, but to the best of my knowledge he never knew.

When our mother died in 1994, my sister wrote her obituary that appeared in the newspaper, and she chose to refer to Rob in the obit as "an adopted son," so he most certainly discovered he was adopted by reading about it in his mother's obituary in the newspaper the day after she died, he not having seen her for a decade or more. I remember feeling bad for him on that day, although I haven't thought much about him since. In his obituary, I learned that his daughter has had a child of her own and that she and her family live far away, in Pennsylvania.

Good for them; you can kind of see why they'd want to.

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