New Comics Wear Me Out

*Out today is the new issue of The Comics Journal, and I have to say it’s particularly worth reading through the lengthy Best Comics of 2005 feature, as the Journal has gathered up 20 writers of great variety and asked them to talk about their favorites from the past year. Some provide simple lists. Some provide annotated lists. Some write in essay format. Some gather things up into lots of categories. Some bust out upwards of thirty different books. Some openly state that they’re not really providing a 'Best of' list. Sure, there’s a good deal of expected choices involved in all this - take a drink every time Epileptic or Black Hole shows up, and make sure you don’t need to drive anywhere.

But there’s also a good number of surprises - Tom Crippen, for example, spends the majority of his segment laying out his impressions of Countdown to Infinite Crisis. Highly divisive books make favorable appearances, like Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface and All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder (which pops up twice, though it never gets directly discussed). A lot of stuff is covered, touching on just about everything, from high-end graphic novels to pamphlets to minicomics to works that have yet to be licensed for an official English-language release. It’s great to see the recently-finished Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou getting some in-print love on Dirk Deppey’s list!

And speaking of manga, we also get another installment of Bill Randall's great Lost in Translation column, something I recall flipping through a huge stack of Journals to re-read every installment of when I was trying to soak up as much manga information as possible. Always good to see it around.

*Team-up Dept: I see Howard Chaykin, perhaps jazzed up with illustrating Hawkgirl with writer Walt Simonson, will now be embarking on his fourth art-only project in over a decade, providing visuals for a single issue of the Brian Michael Bendis-written New Avengers, #21 (I knew he was doing the cover, but I hadn’t realized he was handling interiors too). It’s a self-contained thing, as much as anything can be self-contained when attached as a tie-in to a mega-crossover like Civil War. Chaykin says “I definitely want to do some more with Brian after this issue,” so I’ll keep my eyes peeled. Some b&w art samples accompany a short interview here.

Shaolin Cowboy #5

In which a gigantic lizard erupts from beneath the desert, devouring our titular hero.

That’s about it as far as the plot goes, although if there’s anything Shaolin Cowboy has made abundantly clear over the course of its run, it’s that looking determinedly for plot movement is a mug’s game between these covers. This book is all about the journey, and not in a ‘character development’ or ‘thematic’ sense, as there’s very little of any of that in here - it’s basically seeing how many ridiculous puns and visual flourishes writer/artist Geof Darrow can stuff onto every page, how he builds up the comedy and crafts a skewed sense of place, 24 pages at a time. It’s really a perfectly logical extension of Darrow’s detail-obsessed brand of comics art - no longer content to merely blanket his vistas with hundreds of tiny bits of miscellany, Darrow the writer slows down the movement of the story itself to snap up every intriguing angle, seize each opportunity for cliff-hanging, and explore all possible textures for his landscapes, dirt or rock or flesh.

A goodly number of Japanese artists practice a similar approach, stylized action stretched out over chapters and chapters, but none do it with quite as eccentric a wit, or as unique a sense of composition. Truly nobody draws a giant tongue like Geof Darrow (not even Frank Quitely, whom I just heard compared to Darrow today at the comics shop), and nobody else could offer up anything quite as disarmingly beautiful and entirely vile as the Cowboy navigating a cow’s carcass down a sea of gastric juice, rowing via a bo staff balanced with twin chainsaws on either end, as a flock of birds flap by him to feast on the innards of floating corpses. Often this is an antic book, an absurd number of items pouring out of the Cowboy’s small box of tools, or the characters taking the time to explain one of their jokes during an action scene. But it’s also very canny at times, like an issue-length running gag about an annoying talking head ultimately paying off in terms of character action. Of course, that just leads to more silliness, and the characters never really progress as much as they enter new places and take on new forms.

Not in any way a book for everyone, especially those who don’t care for glacial story progression or huge blasts of scenery or rancid puns. But then, I get annoyed with such things too when lesser hands are behind the wheel (save for the puns) - Darrow makes this work so well, imbues his 24 pages per quarter-or-so with so much damn panache, that he merely proves that just about any conceptual approach to comics entertainment can work with enough sequential chops and dazzling creative energy. Be sure to look closely at Darrow's cover, simulating a ripped up paperback prose novel, every fragment of every page bearing different bits of a now-jumbled story. The overkill even spills over to after the comic proper, where we get not one, not three, but five advertisements for the V for Vendetta film, forming a de facto bonus poster gallery.

Hell, the man even gets away with milking a whole double-page spread out of simply blowing up a detail from another double-page spread from elsewhere in the issue.

Unless, given the blow-up’s centerfold position, he’s planning to pull a Solar: Man of the Atom and construct a single, ludicrously big panel over the course of the next five issues.

That be right up this title’s alley.