Really really advanced reviews.

*We always retreat before we advance, though, with


Pineapple Army #9 (of 10) (Naoki Urasawa's first work released in the US, way back in 1989 - review now updated twice for your added pleasure!)

Peng (new Cory Lewis, new kicking action)

Jack Cross #2, ABC: A-Z: Tom Strong and Jack B. Quick #1 (of 6)

The Authority: The Magnificant Kevin #2 (of 5)

Lady Snowblood Vol. 1 (race and gender critique as you like it, True Believers!)

Also up - a film review of the very good Grizzly Man, which you all should see.

Ha ha those special days of yore.

*Early Promise Dept: Just the thing you need to start your week off right - two pages from a comics short published in a 1978 issue of The Galactic Outpost fanzine.

The writer/artist?

Dan Clowes!!

Working with one Pete Friedrich, granted.

He's come a bit of a ways since. (found at The Comics Journal board)

*So I was typing up some stuff yesterday, when I got a call:

Hey… I’ve got nothing to do… you wanna go to the apple festival?”

Yes, there was an apple festival going on last weekend. If you look around this place hard enough, there’s a festival for pretty much any crop or natural occurrence or whatever. I spent years living near a tomato festival. Ever had tomato wine? It’s something.

Sure. Why not.”

So I dropped what I was doing and my friend and I set off on the twenty-mile journey to the apple festival. We passed by a lot of scenic trees and farms, but not a lot of gas stations, which kind of got me nervous, but is wasn’t that big a deal. It was a nice day, just passing six in the evening and the sun was setting into the crimson horizon.

I guess we should have taken the hint when we pulled into The Official Apple Festival South End Parking Plaza (aka: a field) and almost nobody was there. Hiking up over the hill, we were shocked to see people throwing tarps over their arts and crafts, dialing down the apple fritter ovens, and rolling away the cider press.

Oh shit. I think the festival is over…” muttered my friend.

Now what sort of stupid shit festival closes at six?! When I think ‘festival,’ I think torches being lit and children frolicking around while their parents scream and try to catch up, and coin-bought corn fed to exotic beasts in a blackened petting zoo! Funnel cake under the stars! Goddamn it!

I was pretty steamed.

Shit… shit, I wanted to get some cider. I don’t even have any drinks in my fridge… I need to find some cider…”

Finally, we found a long tent. People were putting jugs of cider into shopping bags and packing them away, bet there were a lot of them still sitting around. Cheap too. I ran up to the counter.

Hey… hey there. Can I still get some cider?”

The lady at the counter looked at me funny.

Sure… how much?”

Oh, a gallon.”

She went over and fetched a gallon out of some shadowed alcove. My eyes turned toward a sign advertising the day’s special.

Ooh! Can I get a cinnamon-flavor too?”

Right there,” replied another woman.

Ok,” I said, fumbling for my wallet with my arms filled with cider, “How much is it?”


I stared at the woman.


Nothing. We don’t have the cash register anymore. Goodbye.”

Ma’am… I have money…”

Goodbye! GOODBYE!” she shouted.

I struggled to balance my cider and I stumbled back to my friend.

Oh shit… oh shit… I think I violated the apple code or something…”

What? It’s free.”

I wouldn’t have asked for all this stuff if I knew they couldn’t take my money…”

Enjoy that cider!” my friend smiled.

So that was my big day at the fair. That’s what I got at the apple festival. A gallon and a half of shame.

Cinnamon flavored.

*Oh, that really really neat thing?

The Ticking

This is the new book by Renee French, to be published by Top Shelf. It’s apparently not coming out until April of 2006, half a year from now. That’s fine; you’ve now got plenty of time to write the title down, memorize it, file it away, then pre-order the book as soon as the appropriate time arrives. It’s going to cost only $19.95 - quite a steal for a 216-page hardcover volume. Really, the phrase ‘new Renee French’ should probably be enough to get the hearts of most of you racing, but I guess I’ll get into specifics anyway, all the better to feed your enthusiasm. Consider this something to whet the appetite, in anticipation of good things to come.

French is certainly one of the more acclaimed comics artists of the past decade-plus; it’s fairly rare that a review of whichever anthology she’s currently contributing to doesn’t single her out as one of the highlights of the enterprise (several sample shorts can be accessed here), and her pamphlet-format books have garnered a strong following, from her eye-popping 1993-94 Fantagraphics miniseries Grit Bath to her 1999 Oni one-shot collaboration with Penn Jillette, The Adventures of Rheumy Peepers and Chunky Highlights. A quick scan of online booksellers reveals her essential 240-page career-spanning omnibus, Marbles in My Underpants, published by Oni in 2001 and now out-of-print, to be going for upwards of one hundred dollars per copy. She’s since published a children’s book with Top Shelf, The Soap Lady, also in 2001. The Ticking will be only her third (non-pamphlet) book, I believe; excerpts from the work have already appeared in The Paris Review (#171, Fall 2004).

As you might expect, the version that I’ve read is not final; I’m not privy to the exact dimensions or look of the package, but Jordan Crane is handling the design, which should provide some guarantee of quality. At minimum I’m sure it’ll being out the luxurious warmth and creepiness of French’s unmistakable visual style, which is as potent as ever here (why not check out a few sample images?). Landscapes are soft, fuzzy, seemingly covered in felt, and character faces are ashen and vividly rendered; it’s very much like a woozily recalled half-dream, with the glancing presence of nightmare passing over. And there’s grotesqueries, make no mistake - there’s much of that. But French’s heart is with the malformed, and her formidable visual style thus forces the reader’s appreciation of her visions of ‘ugliness,’ as we might know it.

The story of The Ticking is a simple one, and a fast-reading one at that; there’s only one or two panels per page, and all narration and dialogue appears in the white blankness outside, calligraphy used to differentiate speakers. As the tale begins, Edison Steelhead is born on the kitchen floor, killing his mother in the act of attaining life. He’s not the prettiest boy, possessing a tiny nose and mouth and large, beady eyes, placed way too far apart on his lumpy head, which is never to grow hair. In other words, he’s nearly the splitting image of his father, who spirits him away to a remote island, where the boy can grow up away from society’s gaze. But as Edison grows, he develops an interest in art; he’s drawn to strange things, drafting flies and grubs and the scars on his father’s face, and French constantly presents to us his work, gradually developing in skill over time.

And a lot of time passes in the book, several decades probably. Edison gets a sister, Patrice, who’s literally a chimpanzee wearing a dress. Edison is taken by his father to Dr. Lamb, who plans to reconfigure the boy’s face via surgery into something more socially palatable. And Edison eventually makes a big decision, and perhaps learns to take some pride in who he is, despite the best efforts of his loving but self-loathing father. Like I said, it’s a simple story of a boy’s journey to manhood, but it’s French’s execution that makes it special. Her use of symbolism is both cannily overt (the lengthy series of masks that Edison encounters, often introduced by his father) and deceptively subtle (only in a Renee French book could the devouring of juicy flies become potently representative of a youth’s growing sense of self-respect). She knows when to rely on visual aplomb for sheer emotional impact (Edison laying in bed, lines still crisscrossing his face from Dr. Lamb’s hand-drawn reconstructive diagnosis). And she nails the tinier emotions, a young boy feeling left out upon the arrival of a younger sibling, the excitement of receiving a strange visitor, and the alien feeling of staying in a hotel at a young age.

It’s going to be a while before this one arrives on store shelves, but take this as your advance warning not to miss out. The content of this book is lovely, and I expect the physical presentation to be just as fine. It’s definately one to look forward to.