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From a quick glance in almost any bookstore or library, 2004 seemed to be the year the world realized comics and graphic novels are as viable an artform and entertainment option as any other. Sure, a lot of this was Manga-related, and sadly some of it was undue attention to Meltzer's Misogynist Ass-Rape Funnies, but paying attention to the mainstream media, there was also a lot of coverage of quality artcomics in such outlets as National Public Radio, USA Today, The New Yorker and Publishers Weekly.

With a full slate of promising titles on schedule for release in the next twelve months, let's take a look at the graphic novels most likely to entertain and enlighten in the coming year.



Absence of Ink

BLUESMAN -- This should be one of the most talked-about releases of the year. Writer Rob Vollmar tells Comic Book Galaxy it's "A twelve bar graphic narrative in the key of life and death, with CASTAWAYS artist Pablo G. Callejo." The creative team charts the course of guitarist Lem Taylor on his harrowing trek across Arkansas of the late 1920s, "with much worse than hellhounds on his trail."

The graphic novel will be serialized by Absence of Ink in three 60-page volumes, throughout the year, wrapping up in late 2005. Vollmar talked at length about BLUESMAN when I hit him with the Five Questions over at Newsarama.com. I've been privileged to read a lot of the novel already, and I can tell you that it is one of the most compelling and human graphic novels that you're going to see in 2005.



Slave Labor Graphics

Street Angel by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca. Street Angel TPB -- Expected in June, 2005, collecting Street Angel #1-5. Creators Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca plan a hiatus after SA #5 ships in March, and one of the things they're planning is to promote this collection. Street Angel is extraordinary on a number of levels, not the least of which is that it's a new alternative title that managed to get four issues out in 2004, a fairly high number for this breed of comic. Add to that the unpredictability, energy and wit of this series, and this trade is very high indeed on my list of most anticipated 2005 releases. Rugg tells Comic Book Galaxy the TPB will include "A new, short story -- sort of an issue zero, which takes place before the first issue of Street Angel. We?re going to have a pinup gallery by a number of cartoonists whose work I admire, a sketchbook section, more squids!" Hopefully it will also include the terrific short story from SLG's 2004 Free Comic Book Day offering, in which Jesse just tries to watch a little TV.



Alternative Comics

The Cute Manifesto -- Coming in June, 2005 from Alternative Comics. James Kochalka collects a number of his better works (many of them hard to find), to provide a holistic view on life, the universe and everything...and comics. Publisher Jeff Mason calls it "Kochalka's Dianetics," and I once suggested the title The Didactic Kochalka, to no avail (and probably just as well). The Cute Manifesto collects several out-of-print comics, and minicomics: The Horrible Truth about Comics, Sunburn, Reinventing Everything #1 and #2, and The Cute Manifesto are all included. Kochalka says the works have a theme in common: They are "Comics essays...well, really they're all manifestoes when you get right down to it. It's art theory and philosophy, it's politics and religion. It's serious but definitely not without a sense of humor. The book will also include a couple of my Craft is the Enemy letters to The Comics Journal." As big as American Elf was for Kochalka in 2004, The Cute Manifesto should open some eyes in regard to the cartoonists's thoughtfulness in regard to his art, and to the world around us.



Avatar Press

Yuggoth Cultures TPB -- January, 2005 from Avatar Press. Alan Moore and various artists (notably Oscar Zarate and Bryan Talbot) present assorted strange tales and wonderments.

Talbot has said about his story Nightjar, which he and Moore began decades ago and finished for Yuggoth, that "It was really bloody weird returning to and finishing a work that I'd started and abandoned when I was a young underground comic artist trying to break into the mainstream. It was definitely weird inking a page drawn on yellowing watercolour board that another me had penciled over twenty years ago. It's not that I'd forgotten drawing it: I could remember penciling those panels, on some, even the music that was playing at the time (a pretty common phenomena), but it did give me a peculiar frisson all of its own." Peculiar is the word for many of these stories, both their origins and the end result, "Peculiar," in that Lovecraftian sense, a mood which falls over many of the stories in the collection.

On a personal note, my Five Questions for Alan Moore is one of the supplemental features. It's one of my favourite interviews I've ever done, and I'm excited to see it getting into print, especially in a volume with a number of good Moore stories, and at least one essential piece that ties in to From Hell.



Fantagraphics Books

Panel from Barry Windsor-Smith's THE FREEBOOTERS from Fantagraphics Books. The Freebooters -- The second hardcover collection of stories from Barry Windsor-Smith: Storyteller. Windsor-Smith's website describes The Freeboters as being about "Axus the Great, all-but retired from his career as the most celebrated warrior of an exotic, ancient world. Having survived a life of perils beyond imagining, Axus, past his prime and living large (and larger) off his considerable renown, now spends his days as merry and melancholy proprietor of his inn and tavern, The Ram & the Peacock, regaling his patrons with tales of his glory days." Fans of the BWS Conan will find this of interest, the later days of a similarly storied warrior ending up not quite in the place you would expect. The Freebooters has charm, wit and action to spare, and I can't wait to see this August release from Fantagraphics Books.

Seeing Things -- Jim Woodring's hardcover collection of paintings and charcoal drawings. The Frank Book was a landmark release that showed how deep Woodrings talent runs, and this follow-up should show another side of his talent.

Sex, Rock 'N Roll, & Optical Illusions -- Zap legend Victor Moscoso's full-colour retrospective. Galaxy writer Marshall O'Keeffe has raved to me about Moscoso's work for years, so it'll be good to be able to see so much of it in one collection.

The Three Paradoxes -- Paul Hornschemeier's follow-up to Mother, Come Home, and his first release through Fantagraphics, now the publisher of Forlorn Funnies.

Mome -- Gary Groth and Eric Reynolds edit this new anthology. Reynolds told Comic Book Galaxy "I have every hope that this will be the anthology of the decade in the same ways that RAW was in the '80s, ZAP in the '60s, D&Q in the 1990s, etc." Look for stories from Anders Nilsen, Jeff Brown, John Pham, Sophie Crumb, Paul Hornschemeier, David Heatley, Gabrielle Bell, Jonathan Bennett, Andrice Arp, Kurt Wolfgang and others. Reynolds says "This sounds incredibly self-serving, but I really am excited to see what they do." Me too.



America's Best Comics

Art from Top Ten by Alan Moore, Zander Cannon and Gene Ha. Top Ten: The 49ers HC -- May, 2005. Alan Moore and Gene Ha revisit one of the ABC line's biggest triumphs. The original 12 issue series, and the Smax mini-series that followed it, are among some of my favourite Alan Moore works. The 49ers flashes back decades before the stories we've seen so far, to the very construction of Neopolis, the enormous, complex city that is home to the characters of Top Ten. Moore has said the book will "Be a bit like the Untouchables, but with better costumes." I'm giddy with anticipation of seeing Moore and Ha create a retro-history of one of the most fascinating series of the past decade.



DC/Vertigo

The Quitter OGN -- Harvey Pekar and Dean Haspiel tell tales of the previously little-explored youth of one of alternative comics most-respected and most iconoclastic writers. Expected release, Fall 2005.

Seven Soldiers -- By Grant Morrison and various artists. There are precious few superhero projects coming out of the corporate comics arena in 2005 that I am looking forward to. But Seven Soldiers is the exception. Coming on the heels of Grant Morrison's New X-Men, Seaguy and We3, I am ready for anything Morrison has to offer. This mammoth project is set to include seven miniseries, 30 chapters in all.



Dark Horse Comics

Hellboy: The Island -- Expected in the Summer, writer/artist Mike Mignola finally returns to comics to bring back his greatest creation, last seen in 2002's Hellboy: Third Wish (and in theatres, of course).

Conan and the Jewels of Gwahlur -- The writing and fantastic art of P. Craig Russell grace this Summer adaptation of a short story by Robert E. Howard.



NBM

A Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Murder of Abraham Lincoln -- Rick Geary's sardonic wit and sublime cartooning have never been put to better use than in this wonderful series from NBM. In July, Geary provides his perspective on the assassination of one of the nation's most significant political figures.



Pantheon Books

Epileptic -- Coming in January and collecting the entirety of cartoonist David B.'s autobiographical account of life with his epileptic brother.

Embroideries -- From the creator of Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi. Expected in April.

Ice Haven -- June sees the release of Dan Clowes's expanded re-release of perhaps the greatest single comic book ever published, Eightball #22.

The Acme Novelty Library -- Chris Ware compiles a giant hardcover collection of one-pagers and dozens of pages of rare work. Coming in September.

Black Hole -- The strange saga of "The Teen Plague" is collected in hardcover in October, by writer/artist Charles Burns.



Top Shelf

Lost Girls by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie. Lost Girls -- Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's erotic fantasy probably won't be for everyone (certainly no one under 18), but if you have a sense of humour and a taste for the exotic, this Summer release should be of interest. Top Shelf's website says Lost Girls is a "240-page fully painted story that has been in the works for over a decade...The three protagonists are the familiar faces from Wonderland, Oz and Neverland, who meet as grown women in a mysterious hotel in 1913 England. There, they embark on a journey through an erotic fantasy world of their own conjuring, all rendered in Gebbie's beautifully painted, full-color art." Lost Girls is a slipcased, three-volume hardcover graphic novel set, and for true Moore collectors, the publisher is offering a limited run of books signed and numbered by both Gebbie & Moore as well.


Super F*ckers -- James Kochalka dives into the wild world of superhero pastiche/parody/satire/tribute/piss-taking with this new series, kicking off in May. The Top Shelf site says "The Super F*ckers are the baddest teenage superhero team around, and everybody wants to join. They live in a big club-house, play video games on their state-of-the-art supercomputer, smoke their teammate Grotus's slime drippings, and fight amongst themselves like cats and dogs. Would-be heroes are lining up outside the door for a chance to try-out for a spot on the elite team. But why must they incessantly keep ringing the doorbell? The try-outs aren't until tomorrow. Somebody's got to stop them. This book is outrageously funny, vibrantly colored, and out of control."


The Ticking -- Coming in Summer, 2005, The Ticking is cartoonist Renee French's latest graphic novel, which the Top Shelf website says is "The story of strange looking boy and his journey to manhood." When it comes to Renee French, "strange" is almost guaranteed, along with "charming," "addictive," and "beautiful."

From her adult comic strips (collected in Marbles in My Underpants) to her lush, illustrated children's books like The Soap Lady and (under the pseudonym Rainy Dohaney) Tinka, French's dreamy imagery and uneasy, sometimes disturbing themes win me over every time. Give The Ticking a look and see if you aren't instantly fascinated by her work, too.


Owly Volume Two. Owly Volume Two: Just a Little Blue -- The second in the all-ages series by Andy Runton, in which, according to the Top Shelf site, "Owly learns that sometimes you have to make sacrifices and work at things that are important, especially friendship." My son loved the first volume, and this February follow-up is sure to make the top of his reading stack, as well.



Oni Press

Cover art from Scott Pilgrim Vol. 2. Scott Pilgrim Vol. 2 -- Oni Press's website says "Does Scott and Ramona's burgeoning relationship have a future? Isn't Scott still supposedly dating Knives Chau? Who is Ramona's second evil ex-boyfriend, and why is he in Toronto? Who are The Clash At Demonhead, and what kind of bizarre art-punky music do they play? Who's their hot girl keyboardist, and what is Scott's relation to her? Why are they Knives Chau's new favourite band? Fights! Drama! Secrets revealed! The answers to all these questions and more!" The first volume in this series blew me away with its charming mix of human characters and over-the-top action, taking Comic Book Galaxy's Most Surprising Graphic Novel Award in 2004, and Vol. 2 promises much more of the same pleasures.



AdHouse Books

Project: Superior -- Superheroes very likely like you haven't seen them before. AdHouse publisher Chris Pitzer compiles this anthology, shipping in February.

The long list of alternative comics greats contributing includes Jeffrey Brown, Martin Cendreda, Tony Consiglio, Farel Dalrymple, Mike Dawson, Paul Hornschemeier, Dean Haspiel, Jason Lex, Brian Maruca, Bryan Lee O'Malley, Paul Pope, Jim Rugg, Rob Ullman and more. This is kind of the apotheosis of the movement that saw the creation of Dan Clowes's Death-Ray, Jeffrey Brown's Bighead and James Kochalka's Super F*ckers. Hopefully there'll be a big cross-company crossover between all these characters. Maybe Bighead could investigate the ass-rape/murder of The Death-Ray's girlfriend at the Super F*ckers headquarters...nah, already been done.



Landwaster Books

Jay's Big Book Of Hate and Jay's Days Volume 4 -- Jason Marcy's gift for autobiographical cartooning is a particularly emotion-centered one. His comics often reveal his fears and worries, and in Jay's Big Book of Hate we'll see another side of his complex, neurotic comics persona. Marcy tells Comic Book Galaxy that the "Book of Hate digs into the bitter, angry side of [Jay's] psyche in this collection of hate-themed stories. Whether it's confrontations with wheelchair bound lunatics, punk teens, the welfare dependent, or just battling his own inner conflict of self, Jay learns that much of his hate and anger towards others burns from a very familiar source, not one to be proud of."

As for JAY'S DAYS VOLUME 4, Marcy says it's "The continuing saga of day to day life, except now there's a new baby added to the mix! How can Jay deal with his neuroses and anxieties, mortality, his flirting with teenage co-workers, the mess of home life and his own selfish nature and now being a Father?"

The just-released Pasta Shop Lothario showed a great deal of growth in Marcy's skills, as he portrayed intimate details of his marriage, his relationships with his teenage co-workers, and the birth of his son. I'm looking forward to as many books as Jay can pump out in the year ahead, and of course, his daily diary strip.



Rykodisc

Not a comic book or graphic novel, but sometime in 2005 Rykodisc is set to release James Kochalka Superstar's Our Most Beloved, a greatest hits package including some of the band's most noteworthy songs, including Monkey vs. Robot, Don't Trust Whitey and Bad Astronaut. I'm probably not cheating, because Kochalka almost always includes at least some cartoons with his CDs. At any rate, Kochalka's band's music is funny, infectious and irresistible, so be sure to keep an eye on Kochalka's American Elf site for updates on the CD's release and other Kochalka news, and best of all, his daily diary strip.



There's no question that other outstanding projects are either already scheduled or will be in the months to come. Feel free to e-mail me with details of upcoming works you think should be highlighted, and we'll mention as many of them as we can here on Comic Book Galaxy.

-- Alan David Doane

Some information was compiled from an article by Time.com's Andrew Arnold; special thanks also to Jason Marcy, Jim Rugg and James Kochalka..




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