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Thursday, January 29, 2009

 
The Sound of Crickets, Or Else -- Diamond's latest attempt at making sure everything they distribute has Wolverine in it has now claimed two titles popular with critics and artcomix aficionados. Crickets by Sammy Harkham has been the most traditional "comic book" of the two, while Or Else by Kevin Huizenga has experimented in format and content with virtually every issue.

(Digression: I think I have bought every issue of both series with the exception of the most recent Or Else, which Diamond was not capable of delivering to my retailer despite soliciting for it in the pages of Previews, making Previews even more useless than it obviously already is. I love paying five bucks for a catalog that does not deliver the items I order. That makes perfect sense to me, thank you.)

No less a commentator than Sean T. Collins has used the cancellation of Crickets to predict the end of the alternative comic book, and while I love Sean and swap graphic novels with him occasionally, I don't think he's right about this. In fact, I think, quite the opposite. This is the end of Diamond, not the end of alternative comic books.

It's instructive to note that Or Else and Crickets were so different. Harkham's title delivered fairly standard and easy-to-grasp comics (artcomix, yes, but pretty standard in terms of format) while Huizenga reserved his most oddball efforts for Or Else. We now know that Diamond has no use for either, and can presume that the distributor -- which has always tolerated non-superhero comics, nothing more -- now really has no desire to bother with anything other than superheroes, now that The Long Emergency has settled in.

Unlike Sean T., though, I don't think this spells the end of alternative comics. Certainly it is the end of alternative comic books being published and racked in superhero convenience stores as if they are the same thing, ready to compete against the latest, badly-written Brian Bendis mess or overwrought midbrow Brian K. Vaughan effort. It is the end of Diamond boxes packed with Mark Millar, J. Michael Straczynski and Kevin Huizenga as if they all represent the same thing. Nope, alternative comics will survive, and perhaps even thrive better without the Granny Goodness-like loving care of Diamond Distributors.

Kevin, it's time you and your compadres refocused and relaunched The USS Catastrophe Shop. I'd link to it, but it's far from what it used to be (the premier place to find minis and alternatives you would never, ever see ship through Diamond) and there is a claim that they are re-doing the site. Good. It's needed now more than ever. Sammy, maybe now you understand why I questioned the wisdom of a $125.00 comic book when the economy was clearly headed places that could not tolerate such a thing. I'm happy for those few who could afford Kramers Ergot #7, but the economy has reached nowhere near bottom yet and I hope you have plenty of other kindling around when the heat gets shut off and you start looking around for things to burn.

There have been alternative comic books almost as long as there have been comics. Tijuana bibles, alternatives and undergrounds have always found a way into the hands of the people that wanted them the most, and I think as long as there are people, there will be some form of alternative comics. Superhero junk may thrive in a bad economy because desperate people need facile fantasy material more than ever, but creating alternative comics just takes a cartoonist, a piece of paper and something to draw with. This batshit crazy notion of elegant, timeless comics like Or Else actually having a place in the Direct Market of disposable garbage was the artificial creation of society with too much money paying too little attention to the cliff we were all about to barrel over.

Well, the cliff is in the rear-view mirror, now. Most don't realize it yet, as they hang extended, Wile E. Coyote-like, about to begin the long descent into the true reality of The Long Emergency, but the American Century is over and the economy as we knew it for most of the life of the Direct Market is over. Cartoonists like Kevin Huizenga and Sammy Harkham and Dan Clowes and Chris Ware and many more may find themselves self-publishing what they can, when they can. The end result may be fewer alternative comics, and certainly none delivered en masse by the UPS man once a week, but the ones that do survive will be like sweet water in the desert for those of us that still care, saddened by this momentous market correction (for truly that is all this is), but secure in the knowledge that some people make comics because they have to, and I'd rather have those than the corporate superhero junk that Diamond is killing itself on. I won't miss Diamond at all, and I'll always support alternative comic books. But if those are the kind you make, or love to read, then right now would be a very good time to start figuring out how to get around in the new world we're about to inhabit. Look at how it was done before there ever was a Diamond Distribution, because that's where the answers lie.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

 
Jumbly Junkery #6 -- The latest mini-comic from L. Nichols comes as a refreshing reminder that whatever the state of the economy, or whatever Diamond Distributors tries to do to limit the market to junk superhero funnybooks, artists compelled to make great comics will continue to make them.

As I mentioned in my review of Jumbly Junkery #4, Nichols trades mainly in observational and autobiographical storytelling, a genre that when well-done (as it is when practiced by Nichols) is as addictive as heroin to me. Nichols starts off the issue with a one-page observational strip about a cat who loves boxes, and if it's a minor note on which to enter the issue, it brings a smile of recognition at the bizarre behaviour our pets indulge in and refuse to explain.

Another brilliant-rendered one-pager then gives way to the show-stopper of this issue, "Quantum." Mining somewhat of the same territory as the sci-fi shorts Dash Shaw has been creating in Mome of late, Nichols depicts a time-traveler who has seen a future where science has cracked the very secret of the human soul and used it to facilitate true love in all its myriad forms and allow people of all types to find their true calling in life. "Quantum" is loaded with subtext and resonance for anyone willing to see it, a piece of perfectly-realized fiction laying bare its authors real-life hopes and dreams. It ends with a wondrously realized comment on choosing to create art and what it means.


There's tons more good comics in here, other one-pagers and a longer piece called "Stasis" that is arresting in the empathy it creates for a stranger who may or may not be all alone in the world. Nichols at her best has a way of reaching very deep into herself to show the reader the world we all share, and "Stasis" asks us to just think about that world for a minute.

The drawing throughout Jumbly Junkery is outstanding, thick and thin lines meeting at the place where art meets the real world, gloriously chunky in spots and spare and silent in others. Nichols in one hell of an artist and a gifted young cartoonist, and you should be following her stuff. She creates some of the most rewarding and delightful comics being published today, and the economy and Diamond's half-assed monopoly be damned. You want to see the future of comics? It's Jumbly Junkery and all the other passionate comics waiting to be found out there, created not because they might create a revenue stream, but because their creators have to make comics.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

 
TCAF 2009 Announced -- The Toronto Comic Art Festival has been announced for this year. Details are at the official site, and the dates are May 9th and 10th.

I've never yet managed to find the time and necessary cash to get to TCAF, but it's the one comics-related event that I most regret not getting to, and if I win the lottery this year, you can bet I'll find a way to be there. With Bryan Lee O'Malley, Seth and Yoshihiro Tatsumi on the guest list, this is pretty much my dream comics event. That it is happening in one of the most exciting and energizing cities in North America is no coincidence, ditto the fact that it's organized by The Beguiling, the best and most diverse comic book store I've ever set foot in.

Click on over and get all the details.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

 
The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For -- Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For is the manner in which cartoonist Alison Bechdel presents dozens of sexually and racially diverse characters as nothing special at all, just everyday average people. And among this large and fascinating group of individuals, all of whom are breathtakingly individual and startlingly human, Bechdel never seems to play favourites. Mo seems to me to most closely reflect her creator's sensibilities (not to mention appearance), but no one is ever really celebrated in the narrative as being any wiser, or better, or more perfect than any other. It's almost like they were all created equal, or something.

Bechdel is perhaps better known these days for her rightly-celebrated graphic novel Fun Home, which after all garnered "Book of the Year" honours
from Time Magazine, without so much as being afflicted with a "Graphic Novel Category" distinction. And make no mistake, Fun Home was just that good.

And damn if The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For might not be even better. Dykes has an advantage bestowed by time: Bechdel has been working on the strip for over twenty years, and she knows her characters, all of them, inside and out.

There are hundreds of strips reproduced in this absolutely essential collection, and while Bechdel picks and chooses (not every strip is reprinted, although most seem to be), each page, representing one strip, has its own purpose, pacing and impact. Cumulatively, the end result is a knock-out blast of amazingly well-told stories and well-constructed characters. Collected all under one cover, it's a vastly rewarding tapestry that reveals itself over time, as in the minor flirtations that surface from time to time, only to blow up into life-altering passions. Just like in real life, see?

I took great delight in how Bechdel organically imbues the strip and its characters with a political consciousness. Whether examining the equal marriage rights some of her characters struggle for, or skewering the hypocritical relationship between NPR and some of its largest corporate underwriters, Bechdel convincingly and smoothly imparts a sense that both she and her characters live not only on the world, but in it. Their political awareness, and their frustration at the slowness of changes over time, jibes precisely with the world as I have experienced it over the past two decades. Not all the characters are progressives, though. Some want merely to live their lives in peace and relative anonymity, and one, Cynthia, wants to forward a conservative agenda even as she begins to live her life as a young lesbian adult. Bechdel plays fair with virtually every point of view in the book, and it's all the more readable for that virtue. Some of the characters may hit people over the head with their beliefs, but Bechdel is far more subtle.

The twenty-year arc of the collection also allows for the full breadth of human experience. While some of the women herein remain hardcore in their devotion to their sexual orientation, others find fulfillment in a wide range of partners and experiences. It's almost impossible to imagine a reader -- any reader -- not finding people they know within the pages of The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For, and recognizing the all-too-human weaknesses, zealotry and flaws that we all contain within us. Dykes is a vastly entertaining work, but it's also a humanizing and reassuring one. Whatever your orientation, whatever your beliefs, The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For presents you with real people and challenges you to find them anything less than human. God help you if you can't find joy, love and compassion within these pages. And God help us all.

Buy The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For from amazon.com.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

 
JLA Deluxe Vol. 1 -- The Justice League as a concept was worn out and creatively bankrupt at the time Grant Morrison and Howard Porter came along and reinvigorated the series, starting with a new #1 and the simple idea of bringing back the original seven team members, which seemed novel at the time simply because it had been so long since anyone had done so.

"Novel" is what Grant Morrison is about, at his best, and he brings just enough of his imagination to the party to make these stories vibrate with nervous energy. Nostalgia for the simpler time these seven characters represent is not invoked by the creators, but perhaps imbued by readers familiar with their earlier eras. Morrison first throws weird, even somewhat perverse opponents at the League in the first storyline, and re-reading the stories in this new collection I was struck by how cleverly he managed to both hide their true identities and make it obvious in retrospect. Clues abound, but they come so quickly that they're easy to miss. Of course these issues blew readers' minds: Morrison was actually trying to create good and inventive stories, something rarely done with the JLA.

The best story in the book comes in the standalone fifth chapter, reprinting the series' fifth issue. "Tomorrow Woman" tells the tale of a mysterious new heroine who joins the League to battle against an implacable, unstoppable foe. She comes at a time when help is sorely needed, but she has a secret. The secret is kept from the JLA, but not from us, and Morrison has some fun with the true villains of the piece. Their final line is priceless, and as close to nostalgia (the poison in the well of most present-day superhero comics) as Morrison's scripts ever get.

Artist Howard Porter is a fascinating conundrum to me. His work here is awkward, static and oftentimes outright unappealing, when considered apart from Morrison's words. Morrison is a writer whose work, from Animal Man to New X-Men to the current Final Crisis is often compromised by the presence of less-than-ideal artistic choices. On the surface you might think Porter would qualify for that description; the two chapters here drawn by Oscar Jimenez are clearly visually superior. But somehow they lack the urgency and sense of modernity that Porter brings to the other stories in the book. Howard Porter, somehow, was the perfect choice for Morrison's JLA, and a decade on these stories still, in their own paradoxical way, look exciting and fresh despite Porter's deficits as artist qua artist.

The biggest compromises, then, in JLA Deluxe Vol. 1 are not artistic. Rather, they are the same compromises that plague corporate superhero comics year after year.

As the book begins, Superman has long hair and his traditional blue, red and yellow costume. Why does he have long hair? A few chapters later, he is made of electricity and is blue and white. Not just his costume, his entire body. Morrison does some hand-waving with a line like "We live in interesting times," but only longtime readers like myself will even remember the reason for this and other strange differences from the current DC Universe. Why is Green Arrow so young? Why does Green Lantern have a crab on his face? Later on, in chapters in future volumes in this series, Wonder Woman's mom will take over for her for a while. Wonder Woman's mom.

It's not that these inconsistencies, all born out of "big events" happening in other titles at the time these stories originally saw print, hurt Morrison and Porter's narrative. Morrison is a strong enough writer that these tales hold up despite the compromises forced on the creative team. But it's a good example of why series like Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman seem so much more inventive and timeless. Writers and artists should be free to tell the stories they want to tell, in the way they want to tell them. Having to dump The Electric Superman or Wonder Woman's Mom into the middle of your otherwise meticulously-planned narrative really looks kinda stupid ten years later when your stories are collected in a deluxe hardcover.

Despite all that, though, these are JLA comics that deserve the upscale treatment. They are as close as you'll get in printed comics to the creative heights reached by the Justice League animated series, which is the very best use of these characters in any medium (and highly recommended if you've never watched the series). Morrison and Porter's run on JLA (it should take another three or four volumes to reprint the entire series) was a blast, and it actually gets better from here, with storylines bringing back The Injustice League and, oh, the end of the universe, if you haven't heard. It gets much wilder from here, but this first volume lays a strong foundation for what is to come, with unpredictable adventures that make good use of some of the most well-known superheroes in the world.

Buy JLA Deluxe Vol. 1 from amazon.com.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

 
Just the Essentials -- "I've tried to pare down my collection to just the essentials," says Seymour, an obsessive record collector clearly failing at his goals, in Terry Zwigoff and Dan Clowes's film adaptation of Clowes's graphic novel Ghost World. One look at the shelves of records, creaking under the weight of thousands of discs, and Enid, and we, know that the struggle to maintain those essentials is a futile one.

Putting aside over a dozen shortboxes of comic books, I've got four bookcases crammed full of close to 900 graphic novels now. When I was 14, I wanted to read just about every comic book published. Staring down 43, I try now to only buy comics and graphic novels that I know I will want to re-read in the future. I do this by focusing on creators I know and trust, such as Alan Moore, Eddie Campbell, Clowes, Chris Ware and the others in my personal pantheon, but of course there are always new creators being discovered, usually after they are well-reviewed by critics I trust, like Jog, Tom Spurgeon, Rob Vollmar and others.

I hate those shortboxes occupying the northwest corner of my bedroom, although I love most of the comics within them. They are not expanding anywhere nearly as quickly as the bookcases full of graphic novels, because in the past year I have whittled my superhero comics pull list down to virtually zero. Here in this fan-fiction age of corporate superhero comics by the likes of Bendis, Meltzer, Johns and the rest, everything is a huge, meaningless event typed with fists of ham and dreams of avarice. Today's best-selling Direct Market creators have pretty much devastated the North American superhero comics landscape, so the money that I would have been spending on superhero comics a decade ago now goes to buying deluxe reprint collections of good DC and Marvel comics, like the new Alan Moore Swamp Thing HCs and Marvel Omnibus editions of great comics like Ditko's Spider-Man.

The shelves are arranged with a method of sorts, although anywhere from five to 15 additions a month of all shapes and dimensions mean compromises often must be made. Most of my Jack Kirby titles are on one shelf, but the Fantastic Four Omnibus is simply too heavy to go on that shelf, so it's on one of the bottom shelves with the other Omnibus editions in my library. Alan Moore is the only creator taking up more than one full shelf; his normal-sized collections and graphic novels fill up one shelf, and larger works like Lost Girls and Absolute Watchmen and Absolute League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Volumes One and Two, of course) take up maybe a third of the bottom shelf of that same bookcase. All Ed Brubaker books are shelved with each other, as are those by Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis, but it's driving me nuts that I have three oversized EC Comics-related hardcovers that I have not yet figured out how to join together in one logical spot.

One of my favorite shelves holds mostly anthologies, from Kramers Ergot and The Best American Comics (2006, 2007 and 2008 waiting patiently for the 2009 edition) to Ivan Brunetti's two brilliant anthologies of comics stories. The shelf under that one holds a number of coffee table art books like Masters of American Comics, Art Out of Time, The Smithsonian Book of Newspaper Comics, and Seth's sublime Vernacular Drawings. You could no doubt build an actual table using just the hard covers of the coffee table art books on my shelves. I love them, cherish them, am obsessed with them.

As much pleasure as they bring me, I do know from our last move four years ago that having nearly 1,000 graphic novels to haul around is a massive inconvenience. Like Seymour, I really to try to keep it to the essentials. I make it a habit to immediately sell or trade away any purchases that I find were tactical errors toward the goal of only owning graphic novels that fall within my personal canon. But I know the next time we move that either my back will break from lugging these books again, or my wallet will break from paying someone else to do it for me.

Other than the joy I get from re-reading the very best works in my personal graphic novel library, the only other comfort I have from this ever-expanding collection is the fact that both of my kids, and many of my friends, love comics. So at least when I drop dead I'll be leaving behind something for them to cherish and battle over, and gaze in wide wonder at my awesome taste in great comics, and my profound inability to budget wisely. "At least he kept it to just the essentials," someone will no doubt note.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

 

Comics As Art: We Told You So Update -- As I was putting together my 2009 preview of most-anticipated graphic novels, I wondered what was up with the delayed publication of the Fantagraphics history Comics As Art: We Told You So, written by Tom Spurgeon. Fantagraphics Publicist Eric Reynolds brought me up to date.
Comics As Art is just stuck in the scheduling limbo at this point due to the amount of work involved with it. It's all written and about two-thirds designed, but when it went off the schedule rails we lost our window of opportunity in the art director's schedule and simply haven't been able to find it again. This was probably complicated by the fact that the editor (me) and the designer (Jacob Covey) both had children last summer and have had less time than ever to work on it. We basically just need to find a month or two in Jacob's schedule to dive into it again, at which point it should come together relatively quickly. But I honestly don't know when it'll come out, if it'll be late this year or next. We're just crazy busy and this is a really labor-intensive book.
I'm thrilled to hear the book is still in the works and hasn't been permanently shelved. Whatever year it comes out, it's sure to be one of the most enjoyable and talked-about comics-related books.

Order Comics As Art: We Told You So from amazon.com.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

 

Farewell, Number Six -- Patrick McGoohan, star and creative force behind The Prisoner, one of the all-time greatest TV series, has died.

McGoohan's brilliant, idiosyncratic performance made The Prisoner a cornerstone of my youth and a formative influence in how I look at authority and government. The series was a landmark in television; its influence is still being felt today and cannot be overestimated.

I understand a remastered DVD set is in the works. If you've never seen the series, do whatever you have to to dig into it. It will amaze and astonish you and entertain you like nothing else you've ever experienced. It is at once a time capsule of its era and timeless in its relevance and impact.

Rest in peace, Mr. McGoohan, and thank you for a lifetime of joy.


 
2009's Most Anticipated Graphic Novels -- I read a lot of really good comics last year (here's my best comics of 2008 article), and as always the past decade or so, I remain amazed at the diversity of the artform and by all the little surprises that pop up during the year (Solanin, for a recent example) in addition to the expected wonders from known talents.

[Note: As I was preparing this piece, Douglas Wolk over at Savage Critics posted a pretty comprehensive list of comics and graphic novels coming out in 2009, click on over and have a look. Thanks to David Wynne for pointing that list out to me. At the end of this list, I am highlighting just the stuff off that list that I intend to buy.]

I always look forward to any new work at all from Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, R. Crumb, Renee French, James Kochalka, Diana Tamblyn, Jason Marcy, Alan Moore, and Los Bros Hernandez, to name a few. I'm definitely hoping the Fantagraphics history book comes out this year, although "delayed indefinitely" gives me enough despair to leave it off my official list of five most anticipated books, below.

Speaking of lists, I asked some notable writers and other comics-involved folks to share their lists of whatever five comics or graphic novels they were most looking forward to in 2009. Not everybody came up with five, but I appreciate everyone taking the time to respond with their thoughts. While you're reading along, take note of the titles that stand out in your mind, and make sure you let your retailer know you want a copy of anything that catches your eye here. Recent reports suggest Diamond may be making it harder to find some stuff within the Direct Market, so it's in your best interest more than ever in 2009 to stay in top of what's good in comics, and to find whatever good sources you can to keep you supplied with the very tantalizing array of titles slated for release this year. All I can say is, if you find a good comic book store that genuinely works hard to service your needs, support the hell out of them in whatever way you can to help them make it through the current economic environment.

Here's my list of five comics and graphic novels I am most looking forward to this year:

1. A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi [Drawn and Quarterly] -- Tatsumi's series of deluxe hardcovers (reprinting his highly personal and political fiction) have been some of the best comics of the past few years. A Drifting Life is his epic stab at autobiography, and is pretty much the graphic novel at or near the top of most artcomix readers' want lists in 2009. [Buy A Drifting Life from Amazon.com.]

2. The Art of Harvey Kurtzman [Abrams ComicArts] -- If it seems like there's a resurgence in appreciation for EC Comics in general and Kurtzman in particular these past couple of years, let me tell you that it almost always seems that way. As long as I've been reading comics (hint: Nixon was still President when I started), readers have studied and loved Kurtzman's unique approach to cartooning and creating comics, and this book promises to be one of the most sought-after comics related art books of the year. [Buy The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics from amazon.com.]

3. You'll Never Know Book One: A Good and Decent Man by C. Tyler [Fantagraphics] -- Tyler's Late Bloomer (also published by Fantagraphics) was a stunning collection of autobio comics, and marked Tyler as someone on my permanent "must read" list. I can't wait to see what she has in store in this new release. [Buy You'll Never Know, Book One: "A Good and Decent Man" from amazon.com.]

4. George Sprott 1894-1975 by Seth [Drawn and Quarterly] -- It seems like a long time since we've had a new Seth volume to immerse ourselves in; this one collects strips that were available online, but I think his style quite obviously lends itself most ideally to print, and this should be one of the great artcomix delights of the year. [Buy George Sprott: (1894-1975) from amazon.com.]

5. Alec: The Years Have Pants by Eddie Campbell [Top Shelf Productions] -- Okay, if you aren't salivating already at the very thought of all of Campbell's Alec stories in one mammoth volume, I don't know how I can help you. These are the gold standard of autobiographical artcomix, and come hell or high water, I will find away to afford this in the pricier hardcover format. It'll be well worth the expense, as this is one I'll be re-reading again and again and passing on to my kids someday as an example of just how high the comics artform could aspire with the proper amounts of will, determination and talent. [Buy Alec: The Years Have Pants (a Life-Size Omnibus) - Hardcover Edition from amazon.com.] [Buy Alec: The Years Have Pants (a Life-Size Omnibus) - Softcover Edition from amazon.com.]



...and here's what others had to say.

Dick Hyacinth (Blogger)

1. The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: I feel that I need this much, much more than the Ditko or the Kirby books, and I really like Ditko and Kirby.

2. Babel #3: I'm just guessing it's coming out this year; hopefully I'm right. I think the first two issues of this are David B's best work, so I can't overstate my anticipation for this.

3. A Drifting Life: I'm guessing this will be the most-cited book.

4. The first volume of the new complete Pogo series: This really isn't coming out until November?

5. Little Nothings Vol. 2: Should be out shortly. Hopefully Trondheim will keep doing these strips for a long time to come.

Diana Tamblyn (Cartoonist)

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe, Bryan Lee O'Malley, Oni Press (due February)

O'Malley has turned the Scott Pilgrim book releases into an event. I think a lot of people anticipate these like you do a major movie release. I'm sure this will be THE book at the Feb NYC Comicon.

I am always shocked at how retailers really under-order the book though on release week (except for the Beguiling of course). They always seem to be surprised when they sell out of the 3 or 5 copies they ordered in the same day! Then shocked again when their re-order of 3 copies sells out. I really hope that they are more on the ball the fifth time around. I know I'll be picking up my copy on the day of the release.

George Sprott by Seth, published by Drawn & Quarterly (due May)

Okay, I admit I actually didn't read this when it came out in serial form in the New York Times. This is an expanded and re-mastered version though, so will be even better than that version I'm sure.

Plus you can't beat having it in book form. I'm really looking forward to it. I loved, loved, loved Wimbledon Green and this story seems to be in the same vein.

Cecil and Jordan in New York, by Gabrielle Bell, published by Drawn & Quarterly (due March)

I think this was originally solicited for November of last year and I was bummed when it didn't come out. I love Gabrielle Bell and I think she's just getting better and better. This collection of stories features full-colour work by her that looks really lovely. The one short story has been adapted by director Michel Gondry.

Nancy Volume One, by John Stanley, published by Drawn & Quarterly (due June)

Continuing in the new tradition of all the reprints coming out (Popeye, Little Orphan Annie, Peanuts), this book reprints some of the classic Nancy strips with an eye-catching cover design by Seth.

My mom's favourite comic when she was little was Little Lulu by Stanley, and I still have a few of those old comics. They are great!

Ten Against the World, by Scott Morse, published by Red Window (due Summer 09?)

Morse just wrote about this project on his blog. It's to be a 160 pg Kirby/Toth inspired monster comic set in the 1950's. He is doing the whole thing with his cintiq in two-colour. Not sure when it will be out. Maybe for SDCC? He also might release instalments online. It will be printed by his own Red Window press (which often gets distributed by AdHouse Books).

Stop right there, you had me at Kirby/Toth. I think I'm welling up here... What a great sounding project!

And finally, I will add a sixth...

Parker, by Darwyn Cooke, published by IDW (due Summer '09?)

This project was announced last year but I'm not sure when the first volume is supposed to come out. Back then they said Summer '09. Here's hoping!

It's to be four full-length graphic novels that adapt the Parker crime books.I am a big enough nerd that I even bought the promo art cards done for SDCC off of eBay.

They're gorgeous!

This is a project made for Cooke and I can't wait to get it.

Augie De Blieck (Columnist)

Absolute Superman for Tomorrow: I know it wasn't terribly good, but I think it's some of Jim Lee's best artwork. As I recall, he was in Italy while he drew this one, and there's a definite European sensibility rubbing off on his art here. Much more restrained layouts, detailed backgrounds and props. Beautiful work.

Little Nothings: The Prisoner Syndrome - Speaking of European comics...I loved the first volume: charming, humorous, easy on the eyes. I want more!

Absolute Planetary Volume 2: OK, this hasn't been announced yet. It might not be a given for 2009, but I hope it makes it. I've held off reading the last 10 issues or so of the series for the Absolute edition. I'm anxious.

Chickenhare Volume 3: It's fun, it's anthropomorphic, it's action-packed, and Dark Horse didn't pick it up. Wait, nevermind. This one can't count.

The Comic Book Podcast Companion by Eric Houston: I admit it -- I wasinterviewed for the book. I can't help but anticipate it. Published by TwoMorrows in May.

Saga of the Swamp Thing HC, Book One - I've read and enjoyed the first two trade paperback collections of Moore's heralded run on the title. But then never went any further. Put it all in hardcover format, and
I'm sold!

Brian Cronin (Blogger)

The five books I'm most anticipating (I am sure there would be more if I knew for sure everything that is coming out next year) are:

Joshua Cotter's Driven by Lemons - It sounds like a risky endeavor, working directly from his sketchbook, but I am looking forward to anything new by Cotter (from AdHouse Books).

Alan Moore's new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books - It's new Alan Moore and there are supposedly going to be TWO of them in 2009! Kevin O'Neill's covers look great (from Top Shelf).

George Sprott: (1894-1975) - I liked this Seth work while it was appearing in the New York Times Magazine, and I think it will read even better as one solid work (especially as Seth is going to go back and do some changes to make the collected work seem worth reading to those who already read the serialized story) (from Drawn & Quarterly)

Mike Dawson's Ace-Face: The Mod with the Metal Arms - I really loved Mike Dawson's Freddy and Me, and while I wasn't exactly blown away at the Ace-Face short story in Project: Superior, I bet in the long form, Dawson will be a lot more impressive (from AdHouse Books).

Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Library #20 - It WILL be out in 2009, right? Well, I always look forward to it, so it has to be on the list (distributed by Drawn & Quarterly).

Steven Grant (Writer/Columnist)

The only graphic novel I'm eagerly awaiting this year is mine, Piecemeal, from Vertigo. I haven't been paying attention, so don't know what others are even scheduled to appear.

Though now that I think of it my webcomic Odysseus The Rebel will likely be collected as a graphic novel this year by Big Head Press, so that's two...

Rob Vollmar (Writer)

The gruesome answer is I canít think of many graphic novels to which Iím specifically looking forward. I could name fifty cartoonists and/or writers whose work I will gladly pick up if they release some. The only new writers Iíve really enjoyed of late are Jonathan Hickman and Greg Pak, though Iíd like to see some non-franchise work from Pak. By and large, Iíd say that the comic strip reprint market is getting the largest chunk of my dollars so that will hopefully mean new volumes of Peanuts, Nemo, Little Orphan Annie, Krazy Kat, and a holy host of others too large to own up to. Iím excited to see new work from Nate Powell, Kevin Huizenga, Anders Nilsen, Hans Rickheit, Chris Ware, Jeff Brown, Farel Dalrymple or Marc Bell when and however it comes. There is still a wealth of good material coming over from Europe so you can throw Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim, Manu Larcenet, Christophe Blain and Guy Delisle on there too. Iím looking forward to Naoki Urasawaís PLUTO starting up and am still enjoying a few new offbeat manga like Wild Animals from Yen Press, Kingdom of the Winds from Netcomics, Bride of the Water God from Dark Horse and Sand Chronicles from Vizís SHOJO BEAT line.

Overall, my impression of the North American comics industry is that it is in a rapid retraction both financially and creatively from a peak that hit about 2005 and began actively cooling off in the first quarter of 2007. There are fundamental problems with the economic arrangements by which graphic novels are produced and eventually distributed that I donít think have been dealt with yet and are hampering the growth of the form.

Johanna Draper Carlson (Blogger)

The Big Skinny by Carol Lay (Villard), and I'm very much looking forward to Fanta's collection of Sam's Strip (originally due before Christmas).

Grant Goggans (Blogger)

1. The ten-buck Skinny Showcases coming in the summer (The Creeper, Bat Lash, Eclipso)

2. Nikolai Dante: Army of Thieves and Whores

3. Top Shelf's Marshal Law Omnibus

4. Stickleback series three

5. Playboy's Complete Gahan Wilson

Leigh Walton (Publicist)

Top Shelf is having such a big year I had to make two lists! Hope that's okay.

All-new material:
1) LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (VOL III): CENTURY by Alan Moore
and Kevin O'Neill
(http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog.php?type=12&title=583)
The legend continues! You'll have to read this with the book in one
hand, Wikipedia in the other hand, and both buttocks on the edge of
your seat.
2) FAR ARDEN by Kevin Cannon
(http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog.php?type=12&title=636)
Kevin's book blew me away. Originally constructed from a series of
24-hour comics, he welded the whole thing into a seamless,
rip-roaring, epic adventure that ripped my brain out of my head,
zoomed around the world with it, and slammed it back in the other
side.
3) SURROGATES: FLESH AND BONE by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele
(http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog.php?type=12&title=612), not to
mention the SURROGATES movie! The original graphic novel is a
perfectly executed, thoughtful thrill ride, and we're so lucky to be
getting not only a prequel book but also an eight-figure big-screen
adaptation with Bruce frikkin' Willis!
4) THE 120 DAYS OF SIMON by Simon Gšrdenfors
(http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog.php?type=12&title=648) Descend
into the decadence of contemporary Swedish youth! Well, sort of. Simon
G may just be the most adorable vagabond ever -- these are the true
stories of his four-month journey across Sweden via the kindness of
strangers willing to share their couch... or their bed! And did I
mention he's a rapper and bona fide pop star?
5) JOHNNY BOO 2 (TWINKLE POWER) and 3 (HAPPY APPLES) by James Kochalka
(http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog.php?type=12&title=606 and
http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog.php?type=12&title=644) These
aren't just comics for your inner five-year-old. These are comics that
MAKE you five years old. It might be my favorite Kochalka work ever.

New editions of past masters:
1) ALEC: THE YEARS HAVE PANTS by Eddie Campbell
(http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog.php?type=12&title=618). The
monumental edition that this monumental work has deserved for years.
2) AX edited by Sean Michael Wilson and Mitsuhiro Asakawa
(http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog.php?type=12&title=645). Remember
when people thought that manga would dry up because all the good
licenses would be gone after a few years? Ha. The age of grown-up
manga is just beginning.
3) The Complete ESSEX COUNTY by Jeff Lemire
(http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog.php?type=12&title=640). The
thrill of this trilogy is watching Jeff depict a frigid landscape full
of frigid people with art that looks like he's inking with his own
blood. The heart and soul poured into his depictions of people and
places betray the deep wells of emotion that these characters wish
they could ignore. And it's gonna read even better as a single volume.
4) MARSHAL LAW by Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill
(http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog.php?type=12&title=598).
Righteous indignation turned up to 11. I still can't really believe
that this was first published by Marvel Comics. It's the the missing
link connecting Watchmen, Dark Knight, American Flagg, and The Boys --
and somehow more insane than any of them.
5) [tie] VOICE OF THE FIRE softcover by Alan Moore
(http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog.php?type=12&title=198).
Metafiction for the masses! Somehow, after all these years Alan Moore
can still leave you shaking your head over his way with words... and
this is 300+ pages of some of his best ever.
5) [tie] LOST GIRLS single-volume edition by Alan Moore and Melinda
Gebbie (http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog.php?type=12&title=219).
One of the most notorious graphic novels ever published gets a new,
more affordable edition! A lot of people who had trouble justifying
the price of the first edition will finally get a chance to see what
all the fuss is about.

David Wynne (Cartoonist)

First of all, I'm including collections in this. I've got back into buying mostly periodicals over the last few years, so I'm just geared more that way right now. The books I'm most looking forward to are often things I'm already reading in serialised form.

Also, I'm not going to do this in any particular order- Just the order I thought of them.

1: Bryan Talbot's Grandville. A steampunk detective thriller with anthropomorphic animal characters? I can't think of anyone other than Talbot who would have my money without question for the premise. Since it's him, I can't wait.

2: Dark Entries by Ian Rankin and a, so far as I can tell, as yet un-named artist. 200 pages, black and white, digest hardcover graphic novel from my favourite living crime writer, as part of the launch of the Vertigo Crime line of books. This ticks more of my boxes than I knew I had.

3: Moving Pictures by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen, due in the spring from Top Shelf. I started following this online when they began serialising it a page at a time at webcomicsnation (like all the cool good looking people do); but a couple of months in I stopped reading it, realising that I wanted to wait till it was done and read the whole thing at once. Since then I've read the occasional page, and I can't help but at least look at each new one, just because they're so pretty. The story has me intrigued as well, apparently something to do with art-smuggling in WWII- although the writing is enigmatic enough in the early pages that I'm not certain about that.

4: Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp's No Hero. I loved Black Summer, which, in the way it married thrills and spectacle with thought provoking political and scientific questions and then wrapped the whole thing inside a surprisingly fresh take on an old genre, was the nearest thing I'd read to classic 2000AD material in a long time. No Hero seems, so far, to be very much in the same vein- and I look forward to reading the whole thing in one go, cackling like a disturbed child as I turn the pages.

5: Hellboy: The Wild Hunt by Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo. I love Hellboy, and I found the art transition from Mignola to Fegredo be not only painless, but in fact highly refreshing. Needless to say, this latest volume will be a must buy for me, just like every other book in the series so far.

I have an honourable mention, of sorts -- I agonised a great deal over whether or not to include the next Scalped TPB in this list, since I am looking forward to it very much indeed (it promises to be a doozy, too); in the end I decided not to on the grounds that Scalped is really a long-form work, in the mould of books like Preacher and Transmetropolitan, and as such I won't really regard it as a complete graphic novel untill the whole thing's done. The individual trades are just larger periodicals, really.

JK Parkin (Blogger)

Paul Hornschemeier: Life with Mr. Dangerous (Villard)
Gene Luen Yang/Derek Kirk Kim: The Eternal Smile: Three Stories (:01)
Alan Moore/Kevin O'Neill: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1910 (Top Shelf)
Jeff Lemire: The Nobody (Vertigo)
Brendan McCarthy's Spider-Man/Dr. Strange project (Marvel)

Dan Fish (Cartoonist)

1. New LOEG

2. Classic Captain Britain team-up with Black Knight (From Hulk Weekly) from Panini

3. Whatever the first comic happens to be that I'll be reading curled up with a milky coffee on my first quiet weekend after unpacking into my new house.

Various V-Hive Folks

Casanova coming back, really. [Kieron Gillen]
LoEG. Nothing else. [Nick Locking]
I am very much looking forward to Fantagraphics actually publishing and shipping the two-volume slip case collection of Humbug I've had on order forever and a day. [Brian Wells]
The new Scott Pilgrim is the only comic I'm actively looking forward to. [Andrew Wheeler]
The last issue of Planetary (Only 11 years after the preview was released). [Mark Annabel]
Habibi by Craig Thompson...and the new Scott Pilgrim. Reprints, the DC Showcase Presents: Suicide Squad collection, DC Showcase: Jonah Hex, Vol. 2, and since those two are just wishful thinking, I'll end with a real possibility, Paul Pope's Battling Boy. [Benjamin Russell]
Whatever Garth Ennis will be doing. I'd say LoEG but not if it's going to be another Black Dossier. [Robin Shortt]
Ian Rankin's Hellblazer OGN [Ade Brown]

Joseph Gaultieri

1. The remainder of Final Crisis
2. Seaguy II: Slaves of Mickey Eye
3. LoEG: Century
4. the remainder of Umbrella Academy II
5. Phonogram II

Reprints:
1. The promised collection of Morrison-influencing Bat-comics (though I suspect it's been replaced by the death themed volume out in a few weeks).
2. Showcase: Strange Adventures (those are some awesome covers. Surely the contents won't disappoint!)
3. JLA: the Deluxe Collected Edition volume II (Rock of Ages!)

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Finally, as promised way up top, and using Douglas Wolk's list of expected 2009 releases, here's my planned purchase list for this year:

JANUARY:

Lewis Trondheim: Little Nothings: The Prisoner Syndrome (NBM)

FEBRUARY:

Gilbert Hernandez: Luba (Fantagraphics)
Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely: All Star Superman vol. 2 (DC)
Bryan Lee O'Malley: Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe (Oni)

MARCH:

Larry Gonick: Cartoon History of the Modern World Pt. 2: From the Bastille to Baghdad (Collins)

APRIL:

Gilbert Hernandez: The Troublemakers (Fantagraphics)
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: A Drifting Life (Drawn & Quarterly)
Ariel Schrag: Likewise (Touchstone)
Paul Hornschemeier: Life with Mr. Dangerous (Villard)
Tom Spurgeon/Jacob Covey: Comics As Art: We Told You So (Fantagraphics)
Alan Moore/Kevin O'Neill: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1910 (Top Shelf)
C. Tyler: You'll Never Know, Book 1: "A Good and Decent Man" (Fantagraphics)

MAY:

Seth: George Sprott 1894-1975 (Drawn & Quarterly)
Jaime Hernandez: Locas II: Maggie, Hopey, & Ray (Fantagraphics)
Fletcher Hanks/Paul Karasik: You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation! (Fantagraphics)
Ben Schwartz, ed.: Best American Comics Criticism (Fantagraphics)

JUNE:

David Mazzucchelli: Asterios Polyp (Pantheon)
Peter Bagge: Everyone Is Stupid Except for Me (Fantagraphics)

JULY:

James Jean: Process Recess 3 (AdHouse)
Eddie Campbell: Alec: The Years Have Pants (Top Shelf)
Alan Moore/Curt Swan: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Deluxe Edition (DC)
Warren Ellis et al.: Planetary vol. 4 (WildStorm/DC)
Charles Burns: Skin Deep (Fantagraphics)
Michael Kupperman: Tales Designed to Thrizzle (Fantagraphics)
Zak Sally: Like a Dog (Fantagraphics)

AUGUST:

Los Bros Hernandez: Love & Rockets: New Stories #2 (Fantagraphics)

SEPTEMBER:

Alan Moore/Kevin O'Neill: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century #2 (Top Shelf)

OCTOBER:

Gary Panter: Dal Tokyo (Fantagraphics)

DECEMBER:

VA: AX Vol. 1 (Top Shelf)

SOMETIME IN 2009, MAYBE:

R. Crumb: R. Crumb's Book of Genesis (Norton)
Farel Dalrymple: The Wrenchies (:01)

Whew! Here's to hoping the economy picks up. This looks like another banner year for comics and graphic novels. I can't wait. Thank you to all who sent in their lists, and please feel free to share your thoughts and these or any other 2009 releases in the comments.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

 
ADD on Twitter -- Roger Green writing about Twitter this morning made me decide to give it a whirl. If you're into it, my Twitter profile is here.

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Monday, January 05, 2009

 
Your Essential Monday Morning Read -- There's no better way to start off your morning, your week, and your year than reading Christopher Butcher's Future of Manga essay. Butcher looks at where Manga sales are at right now, in both mainstream bookstores and the Direct Market of superhero convenience shops comic book stores, and looks ahead not only at what he expects in 2009, but how the system can be improved for all concerned.

Fact: Many comic book stores could substantially improve their bottom line by wisely developing or improving their stock of Manga. If you own a comic book store, chances are that there is a Borders or Barnes and Noble near you that is selling tons of comics (Japanese comics, yes, but so what?) right out from under your nose. It continues to boggle my mind why any canny businessperson would want to leave money on the table like that, but you don't have to visit too many comic book stores to see that that is exactly what is happening.

Anyway, go read Butcher on this. It's fascinating reading and an easy-to-digest prescription for a better comic book industry in North America. Will comic book stores swallow their medicine? Probably not, but I'm betting some of the smart ones will read Butcher's thoughts and at least start to see where their stores -- and their financial bottom line -- could be improved in the year ahead. In the end, it's a win-win for everybody from Manga publishers, to Diamond, to superhero fans whose stores would be on more solid ground with a better chance of surviving and maybe even thriving in the future.

And think, all they have to do is sell comics.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

 
The Black Glove -- The three issues comprising "The Black Glove" storyline by Grant Morrison and JH Williams are three of the best issues of Batman since, at least, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli cranked out Batman: Year One fifteen or twenty years ago.

Over the course of the three issues, Morrison and Williams play with Batman's decades-long mythology, creating an eerie and nuanced murder mystery that is visually stunning, the equal -- perhaps even superior -- to Williams's work on Promethea with writer Alan Moore. "The Black Glove" as a story is pure superhero comic book magic.

Unfortunately, DC turned what could have been an elegant hardcover collection into a massive failure by padding it out with four thematically dissonant and visually incompetent issues (another storyline entirely) drawn by Tony Daniel. It sounds like sour grapes, but having paid real money for the book (half the cover price, yes, thank you Borders Bucks, but still, some of my cash was involved in the transaction), I'd like to spend the rest of this review telling you how I would have preferred DC to present the good material from this volume:

* Option #1: Ideally, The Black Glove's three sublime issues would have been presented in a standalone hardcover, preferably oversized, anywhere between the dimensions of the new deluxe JLA hardcovers and Kramers Ergot #7 would be fine with me. Thicker paper, a sketchbook section, interviews and essays could have padded it out if the three issues worth of material weren't enough.

* Option #2: Less ideally, the second half-plus of the book (which were wasted on the Daniel-drawn issues) could have been blank. "Draw your own sequel!" That would have been less desirable than Option #1, but still preferable to what we got.

Well, I'm out of options. Most important to note, though, is this: I would have been much happier paying full price for this volume if it just contained the Williams-drawn Black Glove story-arc and nothing else. It would have been a better value for the money. Pairing it up, as DC does here, with the four-issue Daniel-drawn storyline implies quite strongly that not only are these two stories thematically compatible, but roughly equal in quality. They are neither. "The Black Glove" is superb superhero storytelling, among the best things Morrison has ever written, or Williams has ever drawn. The other stuff -- over half the book, I'm very sorry to say -- is perhaps competently written, but drawn by an artist -- Tony Daniel -- who can draw a comic book but has yet to demonstrate the slightest bit of artistry in anything I have ever seen him draw. Note, for example, a panel in which someone has the barrel of what is supposed to be a gun pressed against their head; the "barrel" is a generically-drawn cylinder resembling a Thermos more than the barrel of a gun.

In sum, JH Williams is an artist working in comics, who always gives more than is required by any assignment he receives. Daniel is a subpar superhero illustrator whose work suggests a lack of artistic training or inspiration, and whose inclusion in what could have been a prestigious and elegant volume results, rather, in an infuriating and narratively incoherent overall package. If no other point gets through here, at least know that I seriously thought about whether the book would be improved by using an X-Acto knife to slice out Daniel's pages. The fact that that thought seriously spent time in my mind is what caused me to write this review.

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