Hey! It's before eleven at night!

*Easy Win Dept: So let’s say that you live in a small, rural area, or just somewhere too far from and not enough connected to the East Coast news trade to receive your hot little copy of Chris Ware’s hot little strip in every Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. What’s a fan to do? Luckily, the Times has anticipated the cries of comics fandom, and has elected to post the whole shebang to their site, including Ware’s initial piece, out today. It’s very much an introduction, though handsome and thoughtfully constructed, as always. Also available, a too-cute-by-half audio thing that mercifully transforms into something interesting once it segues into an interview with Ware himself. Note that you might have to go through the Times' free registration process to access this stuff.

*Also on the current newsstands, according to The Comics Journal Message Board, is a full-scope consideration of Cerebus in the new issue of The Believer. I’ll have to flip through that.

*DC Solicitations, eh?

- Tom Strong ends with issue #36, and the return of Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse. The story will provide Tom’s point of view as to the events of Promethea #31, and explore the greater ABC universe following the conclusion of everything. In all likelihood, this will serve as Moore’s farewell to the formal ABC cast of characters. You want this. The same month sees a second Tomorrow Stories Special, also with material by Moore.

- Ahhh, a low-priced (under fifteen bucks) collection of Eisner’s The Spirit - always good news.

- Neil Gaiman writes a comics story for a change, handling one of the shorts in Teddy Kristiansen’s issue of Solo, #7. Also featuring Kristiansen’s It’s a Bird collaborator, Steven T. Seagle.

- JLA Classified: Cold Steel - Because apparently Marvel Mega Morphs warranted a response. This is a toy line too, right?

- For those just itching for a peek behind the Oz-like curtain of All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder, Frank Miller is throwing his entire script for issue #1 into a special edition re-release of that maiden voyage, with Jim Lee’s complete, uncolored pencil art (with lettering) included too. Actually, this’ll probably be sort of neat.

But Dark Horse has a real goodie: Mamuro Oshii’s original prose novel, Blood: The Last Vampire. Oshii is one of the bigger ‘name’ anime directors, having helmed the Ghost in the Shell features among other things, along with some interesting live-action projects. Blood was a multimedia extravaganza, basically an attempt to launch a ready-made franchise. A bunch of video games came out of it, a decently trashy manga by Benkyo Tamaoki, and an entirely vapid (if terribly pretty) short anime film, not directed by Oshii. It’ll be really interesting to see where Oshii’s prose takes the material; will there be chapter-length descriptions of basset hounds? Dare I dream?!

Also, Concrete: Fragile Creature is back in print, now with additional short stories, courtesy of Dark Horse’s integrated timeline approach to reprinting all of Concrete. This is one of my favorite Concrete stories, a meandering thing about movies and creativity. Apparently it’s now in b&w? The original had a slightly awkward, minimal color scheme, that sort of added to the atmosphere…

Oh, and Scott Pilgrim Vol. 3: Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness is on tap from Oni, in case you weren’t aware. And over at IDW, the T.P. Louise/Ashley Wood series Lore is returning, apparently in comics format, instead of the illustrated serial prose novel style of the last two issues. It seems Wood is still pounding away on those Metal Gear Solid comics, however.

You Ain’t No Dancer #1

Ah, the ‘themed’ anthology: always a chance for added cohesion and individual spins on a secure topic, yet always a chance for monotony and irritating repetition. I’d put this book a little closer to the former than the latter; actually, I hadn’t really figured out that there was a formal theme for the book until I checked its official website - nothing of the sort is listed in the book itself. But apparently ‘the worst of times’ was the submission requirement in effect.

Formed by Ed Brisson of New Reliable Press, You Ain’t No Dancer is an ambitious publication, an ongoing series of landscape-format softcovers built to spotlight new and established cartoonists. It’s relatively thick (96 pages) and quite inexpensive (only $5.95). And the established cartoonists it manages to attract come highly recommended: we’ve got a cover by Dave Cooper, and stories by Jeffery Brown, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Hope Larson, and Jim Mahfood. So I expect that there will be some material in it for a lot of readers to enjoy, though I have to say that the book as a whole seems strangely insubstantial, particularly given its stated theme.

There’s a good deal of autobiography (or apparent autobiography) here, which is perhaps to be expected; looking to ‘the worst of times’ naturally suggests examining the worst times in one’s own life, after all. All of the expected variations pop up: teenage ennui, romantic complication, moving to far away places, and general ruminations on family. Some of these stories, like K. Thor Jensen’s, exhibit a certain level of visual ambition, long strips of simplified action crossing over larger tableaux of buildings and bodies. Others manage to succeed through sheer command of iconography, like Nick Sheehan’s expressive, symbol-laden tale of summertime woe. But even the best of these seem to lack the punch of the less direct pieces.

And it’s not a case of ‘seriousness’ either; probably my favorite work in the book comes from Nicholas Gurewitch of that mighty online force, The Perry Bible Fellowship. It’s just a one-page gag strip, though like the best of the PBF strips it carries a nasty payload along with its joke, with people literally drowning in a cuckolded fellow’s tears. Flooding becomes a recurring image throughout the book (strange, as I don’t believe the deadlines afforded contributors time to comment on current events), and perversely marks most of the book’s best pieces. Larson offers a strange, enigmatic piece about a woman digging through wreckage and finding a corpse, then returning it to the earth in a seemingly ad hoc yet utterly fitting fashion. It’s haunting, and it feels more personal than any of the ‘straight’ autobiographical shorts. Lilli Carre also offers a decent bit of formal play, with a boy (occupying one tier of panels) tiredly communicating with his senile mother (residing in the tier directly below), unaware of what’s truly going on; more than one gulf is separating them, you see.

The rest of the book isn’t quite as effective, though there’s some other fun to be had, mostly through the straight humor contributions. Brown’s story, that of a man ordered by God to verbally insult a pack of wild beasts, at least makes for some amusing dialogue (“I have never seen animals as stupid as you! You and your stupid furry heads!”). Jen Wang’s character designs alone are entertaining enough to carry her piece. O’Malley's contribution (apparently teamed with Larson, though the book’s list of contributors omits this information) follows a cute kitty who does nothing but eat, sleep and crap all day.

The rest of it, while registering, seems to flow on by me. There’s personal disasters and imagined personal disasters and a lot of metaphors and the like. It can all come across as somewhat nondescript at times, though nothing in the book stands out as being particularly inept. That’s a hazard of working with a lot of young talents though, and at least the folks behind the book are canny enough to keep the price low, allowing for the uncertain reader to grant a bit more leeway than they otherwise might when confronted with this material. It’s a decent entry-level anthology, good for checking out some talents you might not have heard of. Let’s hope that in a couple years we can flip back through these pages and rediscover what such-and-such a popular talent was doing back than.

(and if you want to submit something for issue #2, topic: ‘youth,’ here's the guidelines - deadline is Oct. 1)