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*'Best Of' lists are total horseshit, of course, which is why I don’t feel all that bad about posting mine on the entirely arbitrary date of December 31, 2006, which isn’t even really the date this is being written on. I mean, Christ - what is it about the last day of the year that makes any of this so important? Why don’t I just wait until mid-February or something, when I’ll actually have finished reading things like Ode to Kirihito (just to name a totally random example), and I’ll be equipped to comment on its relative worth in comparison with other books?

I suppose it boils down to my knowing that I’ll get to the book soon enough. Best Of lists are a fun exercise (I like horseshit, you see), and they’re a nice vehicle for self-reflection, and pursuing a type of external critical summary, a chance for reexamining the gaps as much as what’s there before you, but in the back of my head I know the books I didn’t get to will be waiting for me. No list of this type is ever entirely comprehensive, as I know all of you are aware, and I feel I ought to have some moment where I stop and flip the switch.

So, now is switch time. Comments are open for questions about anything. No, I did not finish Lost Girls or Shadowland yet. C’mon, here we go. C’mon, c’mon.


#10. Seven Soldiers #1: I am nothing if not bloody predictable, eh? That’s another thing - if you happen to have been following a particular critic’s writing long enough that you’re actually looking forward to reading their Best Of list, there’s a really good chance you already know what’s going to show up. I mean, it’s a simple matter of extrapolation and numbering, right? So yes, here’s Seven Soldiers #1, and yes I’m specifying issue #1, because I think it ably encapsulates the stormy, silvery makeup of writer Grant Morrison’s sprawling megaproject, furiously throwing together dangling plot ends while spewing forth loud and vivid thoughts on heroic reinvention, personality mutation, and the vainglory of the author’s hand in as flexy and mutation-prone an environment as the DC superhero universe. It’s no total success -- and neither is the megaproject -- but its hammering, all-for-everything pace has a momentum so ferocious it’s downright romantic, and I shudder to think of anyone less able than J.H. Williams III handling the necessary visual juggling act. The best superhero mess of the year, bar-none. Original review here.

#9. The Drifting Classroom Vols. 1-3: Speaking of loud and fast, here’s a lost soul from the misty shores of early ’70s manga, here to tell us what a great fellow writer/artist Kazuo Umezu can be, and how utterly staid supposedly ‘modern’ manga can seem next to as hyperactive a work as one well should expect from something aimed at spooking and subverting the minds of Japan’s young. The adults and the authority figures are worthless, kids. They’ll flake out and try to kill you. Your friends can be spineless. Society itself is prone to self-destruction, and should you and the rest of your school happen to be warped off to a hazy hell dimension, well, don’t be shocked if everyone wets their pants and you get left to the tender mercies of giant monsters. It’s vintage survival horror, drafted with often marvelously alive style, but the real suspense comes in seeing if any of society’s sacred cows -- the love of a mother, the security of the group -- will be left standing as the curtain closes, or if we’ll all be jumping off the school roof hoping we’ll magically change to birds and fly away, our peers really believing we did as the ground mercifully crushes our faces. Original review of Vol. 1 here.

#8. Billy Hazelnuts: Just total delight from Tony Millionaire, that’s all. An original graphic novel from Fantagraphics, evoking the brawling comedy spirit of classic newspaper adventure strips with seemingly effortless grace. Some of the most fun dialogue of the year, typically gorgeous art, disarming modulations of Millionaire’s varied tones from Maakies to Sock Monkey, intense love and affection. Who couldn’t go for that? Original review here.

#7. Fun Home: Oh dear, I think we’ve all heard a lot about this one, and there’s only more to come in the future I’m sure. You’ll get no scalding dissent out of me - Alison Bechdel’s patchwork bonanza of memories and anecdotes and mental notes and location references is all the more impressive to me for how its rueful emotional kick lands so firmly through such a thick cushion of intellectual distance and wordy self-summary. It’s one of a set of works I enjoyed this year that act as hyperlinked constructs of their authors' interior states and subconscious brooding, but Fun Home also provides the brisk pacing and canny mainstream genre appeal that a comic probably needs to succeed as grandly as this one has in the market. And there’s no arguing with its beauty with me. Original review here.

#6. Solo #12: Of course, I mean structural beauty in that context. The elegance of construct. There are some books out there that also offered more dazzling surface pleasures, even as their linked interests drifted elsewhere. No offense to Sergio Aragones, whose issue #11 was also a treat, but Brendan McCarthy’s issue of DC’s late, lamented artist showcase series was the best of its run, a tornado tour of personal iconography and outstanding, shifting visuals. It’s hardly a one-man show -- McCarthy recruits a whole slew of writers and art assistants to help out -- but it’s as intimate a three-dimensional portrait of an artist’s pop-addled brain as one can hope for, drifting in and out of corporate characters, some familiar and some radically re-imagined, everything spattered with glitter and glue. It’s a bunch of random stories, it’s one story, it’s an artist dreaming of being dreamed of by beautiful fiction, it’s short and sweet and will kick you good. Original review here.

#5. Ninja: A very large book, but still seemingly not big enough to hold Brian Chippendale’s saga of countless conversations and interactions relating to (or entirely separate from) the looming specter of bleaching and superficial renewal. Stunning enough a comics object that everyone who’s seen it since it’s been in my possession has asked to flip through it. I talked a bunch about this the other day, so original review here.

#4. The Ticking: As simple a story as one can imagine: a young person journeys from home and overcomes a discomfort with their own skin, transmuting seeming ugliness to art through their gifts. The grace of Renee French’s own art is what seals this work as superior, her innate sense of the grotesque delicately molded into a creepy externalization of self-esteem foibles. You’ll feel all the queasiness young Edison Steelhead does, but by the end you’ll appreciate his quietly-delivered perspective on aesthetic grace. Fine, fine book. Original review from an advance copy provided in 2005 here, though you’ll have to scroll through some bullshit about apples.

#3. Or Else #4: Being Kevin Huizenga’s “100-page procession of events and intrusions, naturalistic observations gradually crowded out by noise and information overload - the saturation of organic and psychic nonsense into the natural world, and thus the comic itself.” In my own words. But words don’t really do this one justice; it’s Huizenga’s knowingly futile attempt to catalogue the natural world and the way the chaotic nature of humankind and technology work to interrupt any hope of harmony, or even simple observation. Words get mixed, advertisement besieges lyricism, and the book gleefully breaks apart right in front of your eyes as we plunge farther down the road to annihilation. Many funny jokes along the way to the gallows, and the comics form is stretched in the way that only Huizenga can quite manage. Original review here. For the record, the artist’s short story collection Curses would probably be somewhere in here too if I hadn’t already read nearly everything in it prior to this year.

#2. Japan As Viewed by 17 Creators: As Tom Spurgeon mentioned the other day, Fanfare/Ponent Mon “might as well be dropping their books from planes” their US distribution is so spotty, but it’s totally worth digging this little specimen out of its crater. Superb stories from a wide variety of artists, many of whom rarely if ever have work presented in English, shot through with curious commonalities, myriad opportunities for cross-cultural comparison and contrast, and a muscular sense of purpose, a mission that’s lacking from many anthologies. If we’re in the midst of manga pollination, here’s a vital stock-taking of what might grow out of the process, and there’s no more thrilling a vision of what might be available in 2007, 8, 9, etc. Original review here.

#1. The Fate of the Artist: And we’re back to the grand mazes of the self; maybe this little list says more about me than anything else? Oh well. The book I enjoyed most this year is Eddie Campbell’s whirligig contraption of a graphic novel, hell-bent on exploring all the permutations of the art it can in the hopes of locating its own missing author. Yes, Campbell is lost in sequential art and stylized prose and fotofunnies and newspaper strip homage, and ironically found only in the land of a comics adaptation of an entirely different work, and all throughout he and we are stalked by the phantom of futility, and faced with the prospect that the artist’s life is maybe not worth all the sacrifice that putting order to imperceptible things entails. Several comics this year (some of which are on this list) sought to give form to the vastness of the artist’s interior; Campbell’s command of the form is so great that he can do so while simultaneously striving to embody the million possibilities that comics itself can offer us, and his wit is so bold that he can drop it all and declare himself dead, with unassailable authority, while never once losing sight of the tiny things that make life and art worth slogging about in. The best thing he’s ever done, and the best of the year. Original review complete with stupid Marvel joke title here.

Ok, that's enough for one year. Since I'm also back to work, my usual morning blogging schedule resumes tomorrow. Don't worry if you miss this; it's going right on the sidebar.


The Year in Movies (for one paragraph)

*Tomorrow is the ultra-sexy Best of 2006 spicy review post, which will focus monomaniacally yet appropriately on the books I happened to have read. I guess I feel a little odd not having some sweeping post ready on the trends and hot topics of 2006 in the comics world, but then I tell myself that interview was probably good enough and I manage to get to sleep, provided I have taken my drugs.

*I also wish I could say something about the movies of 2006, but... well... I haven’t seen very many. Like, I can probably count my total visits to the movie theater all year on my fingers, and not all of them were choice. If I was to attempt a Top 5 list of films I saw in theaters, I’d probably wind up including stuff like Superman Returns, which I couldn’t say I hated, but was flawed way past the point of simple enjoyment. Shit, it’s not like I could manage a proper Bottom 5 either. I really did enjoy A Prairie Home Companion a lot, The Departed was bloated in several ways but still quite successful on the whole, and I’m really going to have to see Children of Men whenever it shows up around me.

At least I have dvd. I’ve noticed that becoming a common refrain among a number of people. Thank heavens there’s enough material out there for me to indulge myself on all my pet interests, like, say, silent comedy. Man, how did time pass you by, Snub Pollard? Neither popular nor uniquely obscure enough to warrant your own dvd set, but you’re always a welcome sight. I watched this new package of slapstick miscellany earlier this week, American Slapstick, and I’ll be damned if Pollard didn’t knock ‘em all off the screen. One of these days, Snub. You and Ben Turpin...

Another thing I just recently managed to chop into was my Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1894-1941 box set (speaking of my getting to things late - this sucker came out in 2005), and there are many awesome things within. It’s a supremely eclectic set of work, arguably stretching the term ‘avant-garde’ a bit far, but I’m generally willing to play it fast and loose with what is and is not ‘experimental’ or ‘vanguard’ work in the birth thralls and adolescence of an art form. It’s very holistic, willing to spotlight the visual innovations of questionable items like 1936's Melody on Parade, a sing-along short subject stuffed to bursting with reverence-bordering-on-awe for military pageantry, pandering appeals to the innocence and beauty of American youth, old-fashioned picaninny imagery, and a hearty appeal to unquestioning acceptance of The Leader, specifically Franklin Roosevelt, but really every US president who ever was. Hey, if they’re in charge, they’ve gotta be right! I love a parade!

But even items like this are capable of uniquely progressive visual techniques, visual collage and polished editing rhythm. It’s a convincing set of discs, more than anything, and it’s generally very good with finding new stuff.

For example, lots of Joseph Cornell, whose cinema excursions tend to be elusive, even when they’re available for viewing. Cornell is probably best known for other projects (like his famous treasure cabinets of carefully arranged items and fragments), but his short films are intriguing, albeit largely in spite of themselves. Often they’re strange mixes of ‘found’ stock footage edited together into narratively suggestive stretches, accompanied by sometimes-discursive, sometimes-complimentary soundtracks. You can see some of his most famous work, 1936's Rose Hobart, on YouTube, but Unseen Cinema unearths some real obscure material, including stuff that people don’t seem to be sure actually came from Cornell but bears many of his signatures, plus some of the slapstick stock footage comedy newsreels that inspired him. One of his works is titled Thimble Theatre, which gave me a momentary heart murmur, but I couldn’t see much E.C. Segar influence, even in the grand slow-motion kangaroo boxing finale. We do, however, also get Edwin S. Porter’s 1906 film Dream of a Rarebit Fiend, which has shown up elsewhere, but why not see it again (and in a nicer print)?

There’s lots of other stuff too, like the often dazzling early works of Robert Florey, who later moved on to Hollywood features like 1932's Murders in the Rue Morgue (not to mention The Coconuts, the Marx Brothers’ first feature), and episodes of television’s The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. His experimental films were made quite cheaply -- his famed satire The Life and Death of 9413 - A Hollywood Extra (co-directed with Slavko Vorkapich) supposedly cost under $100 in 1927 money to make -- and veer from expressionistic paper sets right out of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to extensive use of elaborate miniatures and mirror effects of actors standing against black screens. His work is very ‘pop,’ clearly aimed toward quick accessibility and amusing storytelling, but he’s no less fascinating. It’s also much more successful then the liked of Orson Welles’ and William Vance’s 1934 The Hearts of Age, which looks precisely like what it is - a bunch of young people fucking around without a great deal of purpose. It’s no Citizen Kane, but fans might find some interest (and both it and 9413 are also available in Kino’s much smaller Avant-Garde - Experimental Cinema of the 1920s and ‘30s package).

And I’m still only finished with two out of seven discs. Maybe when I’m old...


Last thing on recent pamphlets for the year.

*52 Dept: The old year must pass to make way for the new. So in 52 terms, that means DEATH! Villains DIE! The Black Marvel family thought they could reform?! Soon DEATH will be thrust in their faces! And speaking of faces, the Question's is twisted - with the ravages of DEATH!! What of the new year? Of the famous countdown? DEATH will rain from the sky! DEATH to all the new superheroes!! Let the streets pile with corpses, unless the cliffhanger turns into something else!! There's 21 pages of story, plus Brian Bolland! ONE MORE PAGE FOR DEATH DEATH DEATH!!

Summary: death.

*In other recent comics news, I concur with Tim’ O’Neil - Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage had a nice first issue, but #2 was pretty awful. And I tried to draw an important distinction with issue #1, that the comic is inevitably going to appeal more to admirers of writer/artist Howard Chaykin doing his signature thing than continuity-interested fans of Guy Gardner as a character. Certainly I thought the book worked well in the former sense, and I’m ill-equipped to comment on the latter. Maybe one helps the other? Hell, at least one commentator felt the book could have stood to go a lot farther into Chaykin territory, though Dirk also admits that such things aren’t as easy a sell in the superhero environment of today. Still, I liked the issue.

Not this one. This one, I would like to stress, does not succeed on any level. There remain a few flashes of cute political play, what with the Rann/Thanagar War prompting a nasty explosion of ancient conflicts between less politically visible peoples, but the whole thing swiftly descends into an opaque mass of egotistical braying, jarring plot lurches, grotesque (seemingly rushed) facial contortions, and the sort of splash-fueled superhero fisticuffs that Chaykin’s never entirely been able to crack with his visual approach. There’s still some good, bouncy dialogue, and the occasional impressive page (nobody will ever draw neon-laden building exteriors like Chaykin, and I do enjoy a good head-crushing), but even the artist’s design sense seems to have been temporarily subsumed into the sort of airy, comparatively loose layouts that have marked Chaykin’s recent art-only projects. Too bad.




This hardcover project is published by PictureBox, Inc. You can order it from them, or elsewhere online (Amazon has it). It’s $34.95 for 144 dimensionally huge b&w and color pages.

There’s a lot of things that can be said of this. It’s an art showcase. It’s a graphic novel. It’s a billboard, in that it’s so big (11" x 17") that merely carrying it around at SPX provided constant advertising. It’s autobiography. It’s superhero-tinged fantasy. It’s domestic apocalypse comedy. It’s a pleasure cruise across visual noise and the dance steps of scratches on paper. It’s labored-over and scribbled to the hilt. It’s naive in both its (literal) engagement with its author’s preadolescent worldview and its angry cries against a largely unshaded force of injustice. It’s sprawling in the way that only unfettered worldbuilding can be. It’s the only comic I can think of that comes with instructions on how to read it. It can be called Ninja. Or, you could call it Maggots #6, as the title page happily notes, just to tie everything in to writer/artist Brian Chippendale’s wider body of work, not that much of it is easy to find.

Chippendale was a co-founder of Fort Thunder, which was both the name of a structure that housed a number of artists in Providence, Rhode Island starting in the mid-‘90s, as well as the name applied to the artists themselves as a collective. The latter were eventually evicted from the structure in the midst of local redevelopment; the former was torn down about five years ago, and the former site is currently occupied by either a grocery store or its parking lot. Sources vary. This is important to keep in mind while reading through Ninja, the first lavish bookshelf-ready Chippendale solo project, since its story is obviously autobiographical in part, what with its sprawling cast of comers and goers and folks hanging around the fantasy city of Grain, which becomes a target for bleaching and re-creation for the pleasure of a growing, affluent population.

Chippendale has tackled the topic before, but the breadth of this project will inevitably distinguish it; if the entrance of Fort Thunder artists into the wider comics consciousness constitutes a new, altered ‘first’ flowering of their aesthetic in unmolested fields, then it’s fitting that Ninja should be so large and prominent, so sprawling and unwieldy, a big ‘n tall collection of stuff that seems in superficial character to be the opposite of the handmade minicomics that formed much of Fort Thunder’s output, though the work itself is no less personal. It’s just been reconstituted in a form responsive to the bookshelf atmosphere of today, though don’t bother looking in Borders; this is too idiosyncratic a work for now. It’s a large hardcover book because it seems, upon reading it, that it couldn’t be anything else, despite its own origins as a series of minicomics. Which is how it should be with reconstituted works.

Ninja is divided into four chapters, all of them separated by copious amounts of Chippendale’s drawings, much of which has been drawn on graph paper - this setup is complimented by Chippendale’s comics, which are executed mainly in the form of single-page episodes, mathematically precise panels carefully laid out in tight arrangements. There are sometimes 50 panels on one page, each of them stuffed with scratches and lines and shading and stuff. This arrangement nicely facilitates the unique approach to reading that Chippendale asks of his audience, as mentioned above - you begin a page by reading left-to-right, but once you reach the rightmost panel you move down one panel into the next row and begin reading right-to-left, until you reach the leftmost panel of that row and move down again, and so on and so on until the page is done (handy illustration here, though note that in this book you return to the top left upon completing each page). This may initially seem rather odd, but it fits into Chippendale’s attitude toward comics-as-movement, his art often dedicated to characters moving and interacting in animated ways from panel-to-panel. When asked by Chris Mautner at SPX, Chippendale replied (and I heavily paraphrase) that with this type of reading setup, the reader’s eyes never have to break in movement from one panel to the immediate next. That makes some sense to me in preserving the sequential motion of drawings, and it’s not a difficult mode of reading to get into (especially if you’ve been reading lots of unflipped manga).

And indeed, much of the pleasure of Ninja comes from Chippendale’s sheer joy of drawing, and building things. Sometimes simple, unwavering environments host elaborate character actions, like a stage play - Episode 69 (lol) is nothing more than an extended sex sequence, with the reader’s point of view barely shifting as the participants go about their activities. Sometimes characters are plunged into strange realms of horizontal stripes, and sometimes the panels break open into large landscapes and vistas as characters travel. There’s a quietly bravura page (Episode 48) in which the panels are subdivided into half characters watching things on a surveillance monitor and half what they’re actually seeing, the two viewpoints coalescing by episode’s end. Another one (Episode 68) drifts from a character’s torture to semi-related moments of difficulty and embarrassment throughout his life, past and present knocking together like drumbeats. Always, Chippendale’s sense of page design emboldens his character art, sometimes reminiscent of Gary Panter’s most recognizable styles.

Also like Panter, Chippendale is interested in mixing genre. Ninja is not Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise (which, in the interests of disclosure, is one of my favorite comics ever); it’s too scattered and geometrically precise for that. It’s also not Cold Heat, another PictureBox series, from Ben Jones (whose Tux Dog ‘open source’ character pops in for a cameo) and Frank Santoro, which is basically an effort (so far) to do a pretty typical pamphlet-format fantasy/action genre comic in the delicate visual style usually attributed to ‘art’ comics; Ninja is obviously informed by genre comics (Chippendale is a big reader of current Marvel superhero books), but its author does not conform the book to seemingly any standard of pacing or plotting his own, so much that the work as a whole emerges as a truly unique mess in terms of plot and genre accouterment.

Indeed, it’s often difficult to tell where the hell the plot is going, and let that serve as a warning to those who value such characteristics to a great degree. Chapter 1 is actually pretty easygoing; a large number of its episodes were created by Chippendale when he was a preteen, and it’s typical enough sixth grade stuff about a mighty ninja killing the shit out of villains for profit. The adult Chippendale happily works around his own past work, adding in new episodes that essentially expand on silly notions he had as a child, up to and including his sudden abandonment of the work, the page left blank. Turns out that was all part of a wicked plot to suck the essence out of the Earth itself, reducing a childish (if fun) reality to whiteness (a visual motif that’ll recur when the town of Grain is bleached of grime). It’s affecting stuff, building retroactive continuity into past stories in the Mighty Marvel Manner while ruminating (through visuals only) on the inevitable end of childhood.

The Ninja and his foes then disappear for much of the rest of the book. Chapters 2-4 proceed to explode into a bonanza of events and semi-plotlines and new characters on almost every page. Chippendale just keeps throwing stuff out, some of it building into a story, some of it apparently just there for color. What emerges is the plot against Grain, the abuses of development, evictions and homogenization, plus added broadsides against torture and foreign wars and other international concerns. It isn’t complex at all -- the ‘bad’ characters are occasionally capable of goodness sometimes, but the good v. evil lines are probably more clearly drawn than in most of today’s actual superhero comics -- but that’s not much of a problem since the story is basically a conveyance of Chippendale’s inner state anyhow, as much a representation of a frantic youth as Chapter 1 focused on childhood. But soon the bleach drips in, and maybe only the Ninja and what he represents can save us.

Once parsed, read and re-read, climbed over and devoured (though at 11" x 17" the book sometimes seems it could devour you), Ninja seems to be a rather simple story about the haven art can afford those willing to cast aside the myriad troubles of life to return to the garden of creation, the innocence of a child as inhabited by adults in Chippendale’s view (needless to say, it looks like a void to the outside world). And, fittingly, the key appeal of the work is Chippendale’s joy of creation and drawing, furious and sometimes dazzling, characters and concepts out of control like a superhero world with no constraints of commerce or format. It's as individual and unique a book as I can imagine from this very good year in comics, and offers great joys for those ready to drink it in.


If I'm going to be posting late in the afternoon, I might as well look at new things.

*Review Nuggets Dept: Nothing is more beautiful than the books of this very day. Or the other day, or whenever it was these fucking things hit whatever bookstore. It varies.

- Upon putting down Warren Ellis’ Wolfskin #2 (of 3), some sad, muttering corner of my brain really wanted the whole of me to believe that the ludicrously contradictory philosophy of warfare on display in this Avatar barbarian miniseries is actually a cunning bit of political commentary on writer Ellis’ part, giving his muscle-bound swordsman antihero a chest-thumping badass speech about how there’s no rules in the art of war and crime is a fantasy on the battlefield and the ends justify the means and the strongest survive, only to have him grimace in self-righteous indignation when his enemies use treachery and stealth against him. But then the smelling salts came out and I realized that I’m probably putting more thought into this toss-off miniseries than Ellis did, choked as it is with factoid-laden exposition, stilted he-man dialogue, and just about the oldest wandering warrior plot one can imagine. The sole saving grace is Avatar stalwart Juan Jose Ryp’s art, flavorfully creased and gruesome, though his storytelling clarity is still occasionally lacking – nothing quite flies the white flag like plopping arrows atop the page to guide the reader from panel to panel. Also: plenty of beefcake and all-male nudity for those interested in that; real swordsmen don't have a single hair below the chin, it seems...

- More successful is Ellis and Stuart Immonen’s Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #11 (of 12), though be aware that 12 out of 22 pages are devoted to following in the glorious footsteps of Shaolin Cowboy and All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder – yes folks, it’s decadent splash time! It’s not a single panorama, nor a literal foldout, but a spread of six double-pagers depicting the team wordlessly battling miscellaneous villains in the heart of Beyond Corp. HQ, as the friendly Nextwave logo pops up to offer helpful information, like the fact that you ought to buy six copies of this very issue, a notion Ellis has been repeating in various places. Maybe it's just joke hype, but part of me hopes Marvel is pulling the ol’ variant interiors trick - that’d be just what this issue needs to push it right over the top of conspicuous comics consumption. My favorite splashes were the one with the guys in wheelchairs and the one with the Wolverine monkeys teaming up with snakes on planes. Er, that’s kind of all there is to say about this one.

- Crowded House Dept (wait, can I have departments within departments?): Not only does The Immortal Iron Fist #2 sport Travel Foreman & Derek Fridolfs on prologue art, but none other than John Severin drops by for a three-page WWI flashback. Maybe it’s all a clever way to take a bit of weight off of primary artist David Aja, but it works very nicely for writers Ed Brubaker’s and Matt Fraction’s plot, swirly as the background designs that occasionally appear when Aja’s characters get disoriented. It’s Iron Fists throughout history, including rival Immortal Fists in one timeline, and plenty of somewhat arch banter between Danny Rand and Luke Cage. A well-worn plot twist shows itself, and Civil War is nodded toward. There are pain boxes, circular species. I don’t know where this is planning to go, but the moments and the aesthetic of this book carry it very nicely.

- And finally, we have The Drifting Classroom Vol. 3, which did not come out today but should be obtained as early as it’s convenient (unless you don’t have the first two volumes). Writer/artist Kazuo Umezu devotes a solid 1/5 of this installment to what’s going on back home away from the Evil Future (where a classroom full of kids have been warped to, in case you’re not familiar), and it turns out things are no less hyperactive back at home, as one devoted mother strives to follow the voices from beyond time to rescue her lost son in a particularly choice bit of cross-temporal absurdity. Sure, it’s not particularly logical even in survival horror fantasy terms, but there’s something pleasingly pure about a mother’s instinct driving her into a taxi in her nightgown and up toward the hotel room of a bunch of foreigners, all to save her son from his psychotic teacher in a post-cataclysm future. Later on a scary monster shows up, a vicious barefoot JD girl asserts the superiority of girls over boys by crunching a fellow student in the distinguishing spot, and the first graders totally lose their shit in a staggering final five pages that demonstrate how lyrical revulsion can very easily exist right on the edge of camp. What a comic!


World's most on-time posts.

*Follow Up Dept: So, you might recall I asked a question a week or so ago, concerning the Bravura #0 giveaway premium released by the eponymous short-lived creator-owned imprint of Malibu Comics. Basically, I wanted to know if the material in Bravura #0 was new, or reprints of other stuff. It was kind of a specialized question, requiring one to own not only an actual copy of the bloody hologram-weighted thing, but enough supporting Bravura material so as to determine what’s new and what’s not. I wasn’t all that surprised to not get an answer. Actually, the only comments I got were from my younger brother, who doesn’t read many comics but occasionally lurks here anyway, presumably because he enjoys confusion.

Well Christmas came and went, and then the day after Christmas came, and lo and behold, what should arrive in the mail? Yep. One of the benefits of running a site like this. Makes family gift-giving easy.

In conclusion, the Howard Chaykin and Walt Simonson bits of Bravura #0 definitely did not appear in any of their other Bravura books, though I’ll leave open the possibility that the stuff might have popped up in Wizard or something (oddly, Simonson’s contribution also gives away the ending to his Star Slammers miniseries, which wouldn’t actually conclude during Bravura’s lifespan, presumably under the assumption that nobody would actually be able to get a copy of Bravura #0 until Star Slammers was done - I guess he didn’t read the giveaway rules closely enough, or maybe he was just in the mood to throw his hands up by that point). I can’t speak for Jim Starlin’s story, or Ernie Colon’s pin-ups, or Steven Grant’s prose story with Gil Kane's illustrations, save for the fact that they’re all in there. It’s good to know!

And thank you, Ryan.

*At the rate I’m going today, this’ll be posted while you’re walking out the door to New Comics Thursday...


Atlas #3: Yeah! They’re rolling out like clockwork now!! Drawn & Quarterly presents the third issue of Dylan Horrocks’ current solo series, which technically started back in 2001, but it actually hasn’t been that long since issue #2. More intrigue concerning the lives of cartoonists in the lands Horrocks introduced in Hicksville. Only $2.95.

Drippytown Comics & Stories #5: Another installment of the pamphlet-format anthology series, dedicated to fun and frolic and joy for all. Tony Millionaire and Marc Bell contribute, along with many others for only $4. More info at the Drippytown homepage.

Mister i: In the event that the recent MOME piqued your interest in more Lewis Trondheim, NBM has a fresh hardcover collection of Trondheim’s big, wordless, violent gag pages (9" x 11 ½ "), featuring a little fellow shaped like a letter of the alphabet. Preview here. The prior volume, Mister O, is also being offered again. NBM should also be releasing Nicholas De Crecy's Glacial Period any week now; some sources have it down for this week, but Diamond doesn't. You should look at that if it happens to show up, since De Crecy was the highlight among many in the excellent Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, and his stuff pretty much never shows up in English. This one's a comedy about post-apocalyptic explorers discovering the Louvre under a frozen tundra, and attempting to extrapolate what pre-cataclysm human life was like from what they find. Looks great.

Cromartie High School Vol. 9: At least ADV is dedicated to keeping some of their series rolling at a semi-steady pace. Heck, they’ve even been dropping hints that the much-lamented Yotsuba&! might be resuming release with Vol. 4 in early 2007 (it’s up to Vol. 6 in Japan now, still ongoing). Till then, there’s still Freddy...

Project X: 7-Eleven: Meanwhile, there this thing, new in DMP’s line of educational manga dedicated to Japan’s contributions to world culture. Comics about the historical shifts in international retailing? Why not?!

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #11 (of 12): In which the mock Civil War branding on the cover just might fool a few dozen people into bugging the clerk at their shop about whether this issue is actually an official for-reals Civil War tie-in or not. C’mon, you know it’ll happen somewhere.

Warren Ellis’ Wolfskin #2 (of 3): Also in Warren Ellis news, we finally get the new issue of his Avatar barbarian book with Juan Jose Ryp that somehow got lost in the ether for over half a year. The story revolves around people getting cleaved in detailed ways, so it’s sure to please those looking for an in-depth study of that.

Gumby #2: I definitely enjoyed the first issue of this franchise revival from writer Bob Burden and artist Rick Geary, a disarming mix of good-natured chaos and understated melancholy, so I’ll be sure to pick up this new one.

The Immortal Iron Fist #2: Same general feeling toward this, though the chaos is more of the ‘pain boxes and people turning into birds’ variety, and the franchise revival comes courtesy of Ed Brubaker & Matt Fraction writing with David Aja on art.

Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage #2 (of 2): Whether you wish there was more Guy, less writer/artist Howard Chaykin, or more Chaykin, less G’nort, or maybe just less G’nort no matter what, I think there’s one thing we can all settle on - that’s a nice-looking suit.

52 #34 (of 52): Someone dies or is found dead or something to ring in the new year. Featuring a back-up story by whoever turned their stuff in recently.

BPRD: The Universal Machine: Dark Horse’s new collected edition of the latest and best BPRD storyline, although I’ll add the caveat that a lot of the book’s effect depends on your familiarity with the BPRD cast and their recent adventures. Still, there’s some big plot payoffs here, tethered to a surprisingly delicate reflection on the impermanence of death in a fantastic universe, and the elusive joy of fading away, never to return. Fine art as always from Guy Davis, with a special guest popping in to polish off the last few pages.


A few thoughts on newspaper strip identity.

*I had to take a holiday rest, but I still had a few things for


Lucky (new Gabrielle Bell collection from D&Q)

MOME Vol. 6: Winter 2007 (Fantagraphics house anthology, featuring new-to-English Lewis Trondheim)

*Christmas! They gave the coffee away for free at the gas station on Christmas! They gave the employees of the grocery store a turkey on Christmas! They loaded up the papers with shopping advertisements for Tuesday on Christmas! Just like Thanksgiving, I ate it all up.

*Having not a ton to do in the afternoon, I flipped eagerly back and forth between all the vintage newspaper strip books I brought home with me. Thimble Theatre to Dick Tracy, Terr’ble Thompson to Gasoline Alley. I found myself fascinated by how each book goes about portraying the strips’ creator, although I really shouldn’t be; it’s natural that the biographical information included in these things (not to mention the general aesthetic thrust) should reflect the overall ‘vision’ the publisher would like a reader to take from the project, although these notions can only truly emerge in as bright a time for reprints as this one, where adoration is lavished upon books that serve not only as compilations of comics but as testaments to a particular worldview. The total package is what counts.

Hence, the Frank King in Drawn & Quarterly’s Walt & Skeezix emerges as a consummate sensitive artist, a gentle soul greatly affected by familial ties and lingering tragedies, a man appreciative of the natural world and dedicated to preserving a fragment of that ephemeral thread of beauty that constitutes a happy afternoon’s lift. His diaries are sometimes quoted at length, pages are bedecked with large, haunting photographs of mountains and children - all the better to lead in to a rediscovery of Gasoline Alley as an exploration of parent-child tenderness and wispy concern. Co-editor Chris Ware’s delicate cover design is but the icing on the cake; contrast Ware’s work here with his jazzy, spacious work on the similarly-titled Krazy & Ignatz set of Fantagraphics’ Krazy Kat reprints. In those books, George Herriman is set up as more of a spicy character, a man of towering whimsy and muscular artistry, and not a little bit of mystery. It fits: Krazy Kat can be difficult to grasp, while Gasoline Alley is pure straight-talking.

The recent Popeye book from Fantagraphics is even bigger than the Krazy Kat tomes, and pops with even deeper colors. Folks are punched in the face right on the cover. Jules Feiffer gleefully details creator E.C. Segar’s portrayals of nasty, hypocritical behavior, and the inarticulate fighter that serves as a moral force while handing out ass-kickings. Bill Blackbeard later emphasizes Segar’s talent for improvisation in focus, and how the general became more specific in the years covered by the new book - Popeye thus emerges as rollicking and (wonderfully) garish and punchy and capable of turning on a dime. Dick Tracy is also a violent strip, but even IDW’s decidedly unoriginal cover design for its collection gives way to a unique focus inside: Chester Gould as American success, a long interview setting out the story of his industrious rise to prominence through hard work and long hours, his prominence as popular influence on later generations duly affirmed. And what better a mood for good old two-fisted crime fighting with no muss or fuss.

These are hardly the only personality traits these people exhibited, obviously, but it’s what serves the overall aesthetic mission of these books. Moreover, everything does seem to radiate from the strips themselves, the selective ‘personality’ imprinted upon an artist’s work reflected back upon them via archival revival; truly, you are what you create. Excuse me if all of this seems elementary, but it really leaps out at me upon direct comparison, and I’ve had too much free gas station coffee...


I got tasty popcorn and coffee for the holiday.

*My presents are opened, so Christmas is over. Reason for the season - GONE.

MOME Vol. 6: Winter 2007

Obviously the big draw for this new issue of Fantagraphics’ ongoing anthology series, with a semi-fixed roster that seems markedly less fixed with every new volume, is the new Lewis Trondheim serial, At Loose Ends, which will run through Vol. 8. Well, I guess ‘serial’ is not entirely accurate, since L’Association released the project as a single volume in early 2005 under the title Désoeuvré (reviewed by Derik Badman), but if you can’t read French it’s both new and a serial to you. And while the too-few contributions of one David B. remain the gold standard of MOME special guests handily outshining the regular contributors -- probably an inevitable situation when you pair up a bunch of mostly young and/or less-exposed creators with one or two seasoned, acclaimed veterans -- Trondheim’s contribution nonetheless emerges as the high point of this particular tome.

But I’d have a few reservations about recommending Trondheim’s 20-page contribution to just anyone. At Loose Ends is a very particular type of sketchbook-style autobiographical comic, one entirely fixated on its author’s other works and his overall career in comics. It’s essentially a self-exposé on why Trondheim stopped drawing Dungeon (Donjon) and concluded his McConey (Lapinot) series, and why he’s been saying he’s ‘retired’ from comics since 2004. As such, a preexisting interest in Lewis Trondheim comics would be very helpful, as would a working familiarity with some of the more common bande dessinée authors of note (though Fantagraphics kindly includes a bonus glossary of names for those less familiar, complete with info on who’s been published in English by whom). It may, however, prove compelling enough to hook entirely unacclimated readers through sheer force of craft and disclosure and comedy, if those readers are generally interested in comics artists fretting about their work and having conversation with other artists about aging and becoming irrelevant. And if they want to see Lewis Trondheim crush a man’s head under his boot.

There is certainly a high level of craft present. As I noted above, this is a loose, sketchbook-type story, one without panel borders or an excess of gloss. But Trondheim is too talented to let that get in the way of a few impressive landscapes and gorgeously expressive character art (everyone is drawn in a ‘funny animal’ style, in case you didn’t know). Plus, it gives him extra freedom to play with icons and such, which is necessary since the story is set up as a lecture/rant in which Trondheim presents to an occasionally-seen audience his theories on how comics artists decline as they grow old. A somewhat world-weary, even rueful tone is at work; Trondheim killing members of his audience is a recurring motif, and the specter of irrelevance is prominent throughout. He composes a list of creators who met with bad ends or fled the art in their latter years, takes a gratuitous jab at Alejandro Jodorowsky, literally turns his back on his most famous creation (who rises from the grave to nag him), and at one point tears down one of his own theories mid-explanation, finding it suddenly unsatisfactory.

The scent of improvisation rises from the work; part of the comedy is that Trondheim’s day-to-day accounting of events can’t quite keep up with things like setting (“Huh. Now we’re on the train.”) while the author is busy raving about artistic decline. One gets the feeling that the work is at least partially intended as self-criticism, the outside elements rising up to confront Trondheim prominent enough that one can’t help but feel he realizes that he’s being a little silly. Regardless, he’s undeniably compelling at silliness.

The rest of MOME is the usual mixed bag, generally striking in visual skill while sometimes lacking in storytelling flavor. Of the self-contained stories, Gabrielle Bell’s is probably the best, a sweet little set of associations between nature and parenting. Anders Nilsen does one of those arch, illustrated monologues that I believe his book Monologues for the Coming Plague is composed of. Émile Bravo applies some impressive visual storytelling skill to a wordless story that serves to make some of the most crashingly obvious points about the Israel/Palestine conflict one can possibly imagine, though at least the jokes are good. I’ve basically given up on following the serials volume-to-volume, though Kurt Wolfgang’s Nothing Eve does sort-of work as a single chapter, and promises better things for the completed project. There’s other stuff that largely failed to register.

Except, of course, for Tim Hensley’s Wally Gropius, a continuing story composed of quick bursts of pages scattered between other features (Hensley is also this volume's interview subject). It’s basically a non sequitur-laden evocation of old ‘teen’ comics (the art is evocative of John Stanley’s Thirteen Going on Eighteen), and... well actually that’s kind of it. But I just loved it; Hensley’s got a great ear for stylized dialogue (“I know the type -- combs his hair with a fork, all halitosis and premature ejaculations.”), and he’s willing to take a questionable joke or routine as far as it can possibly go. And I learned so much about the national anthems of foreign lands in the process! Thank heavens there’s educational comics to keep us all edified while waiting for the next special guest to cruise in to MOME. Next issue: the return of Al Columbia! OMG OMG OMG!



*Provided you celebrate Christmas, or don't happen to be sitting in a time zone that would render a different date. Note to internet historians from the year 2523: the date at the top of this post may be December 23, but that's because I'm silly and I back-date to the end of yesterday. I did celebrate Christmas Eve on December 24. Hope you're enjoying the flying cars and comics you inject into your veins in the future. XOXOXO.

So happy day, regardless. Just general happy day. I finished my shopping and wrapping, so I won't be put in jail. Hope Nana enjoys her copy of The Land Before Time VIII. Back to comics tomorrow. Holly/Jolly.


Roller Coaster... OF HOLIDAY!!

*I'm not entirely sure how many people are even going to be reading internet comics sites this weekend, considering the numbers that'll (by simple average) by going through their Christmas things, so I'm not going to post very heavily. I've done a surprising amount of planning ahead this year - I've already cooked up my Top 10 thingy, which (as always) won't actually get posted until December 31, since I always want to leave room for me to, say, obtain and read Ode to Kirihito in the span of a few days and see what I think of it.

Anyway, last night's adventure was simply driving home at night for two and a half hours through the high winds, heavy traffic, swirling fog (some of it dense enough to warrant the entire highway's putting on their flashers), and pounding, whipping rain. "Well, I could have been hit with a blizzard," I tried to rationalize as another gust hit my vehicle, causing it to swerve in the water toward the shoulder. I bet the car behind me liked that one. But still, it's better than a lot of snow. Having gambled with my health, I then went with a bunch of friends to the local casino (only two in the commonwealth, and one's a ten-minute drive from my parents' house) and promptly lost twelve dollars. I'd have been better off at the horse track...


Another one of those deluxe-looking Canadian books.


This is one of a recent suite of new books from Drawn & Quarterly that I’m pretty sure have been floating around since SPX, though it just came out through Diamond a little while ago. It’s $19.95, 112 pages.

Gabrielle Bell is a familiar name among readers of comics anthologies, having contributed extensively to Fantagraphics’ MOME, as well Kramers Ergot 5 and Drawn & Quarterly Showcase: Book 4, just to select from a few the more prominent titles of the last few years, but this collection is actually culled from her minicomics of the same title, some of which also appeared on Serializer.net under the title Bell’s Home Journal. That latter title is useful to keep in mind - while some of Bell’s work is inclined toward the fantastic, these comics are fundamentally autobiography, some of them as unadorned as one can imagine. But Bell’s work is not static, and Lucky the D&Q collection is best taken as a portrait of an artist approaching her work from different angles, conceptualizing autobiography in one way and then changing her approach before too long.

The first section of stories presented are straight-up, narrative-heavy, incident-focused, no-frills autobiographical comics, covering roughly a month and a half of time in Bell’s life as she lives and searches for work in Brooklyn. Dates are provided at the top of each new segment. The upper quarter or third of nearly every panel is stuffed with words. Tight six or eight panel grids, all the time. You can see some examples here (though it’s maybe not safe for work). The events depicted are specific, albeit very low-key. Bell helps her boyfriend look for an apartment while living in tiny, greasy spaces with a plethora of roommates, all she can afford through her procession of small jobs. She particularly loathes nude modeling for art students, though she finds herself continually coming back to it; this forms something of a frame for stories that otherwise don’t stretch for any narrative direction beyond the virtue of a good anecdote you might hear from a friend over coffee. Fortunately, Bell does know how to relay an anecdote, and her distinctly cute, simple art style manages to offset the text-clogged nature of her panels quite nicely with its crisp grasp of space and perspective. As a result, it’s never unpleasant work to read, but it tends to drift out of your head as soon as its done.

And yet, when it’s done, and it’s time for another chapter, Bell refuses to return entirely to the style. Some of it appears to be happenstance -- as is explained in the story itself, Bell literally lost the sketchbook she was drawing her newer material in while at the airport -- but Bell herself deems the latter stories in this book “more considered, less immediate,” indicating that she was taking her storytelling “more seriously.” Interestingly, this doesn’t mark so much of a major departure in Bell’s in-panel visual approach -- there’s more solid blacks and a greater variety of angles -- as an alteration of how her stories are structured and conveyed from page to page. There’s now only four panels per page, and individual anecdotes cover the space of several days. After a while, the narration peters out, leaving sequences to alternate between dialogue and silence. One might argue that the reins of fiction are seized; there’s comedic beats, an occasionally wandering narrative ‘eye,’ even a little bit of symbolic imagery. Which isn’t to say that all of it isn’t still fundamentally quiet autobiographical comics, featuring Bell trying a yoga class or attempting to sell comics on the sidewalk, but the difference in narrative approach is patent. There’s more resonance to Bell’s work, and definitely greater space for her to build an environment for her stories.

Perhaps I’ve simply been conditioned by the mechanics of fiction to respond (like a dog salivating) to certain visual cues in comics. Earmarks of permanency, letting us know that heavy-narration autobiography is less weighty than stories with the ‘silent’ bits interspersed and the occasional close-up of someone’s face. But I think the decompression of her narrative style aids Bell’s sense of humor, and her evident gifts for character dialogue. One can hopefully be forgiven for presuming that she feels the same way, since this is the approach she’s also used in a number of her MOME contributions, and it’s not exactly a mile away from her wholly ‘fictional’ work in books like D&Q Showcase. Indeed, if anything, Bell demonstrates that the line between conveying true events and fictional stories is a thin one, especially when one seeks to enliven the true events via pace and beat.

If Bell begins the book toward Harvey Pekar, she’s drawing closer and closer to Eddie Campbell by the book’s third and final major segment. By this time, there’s very little sense of ‘when’ Bell’s stories are taking place, though we can safely presume it’s the present. She takes on a variety of odd jobs, many of which are interrupted by flights of imaginative fancy. While working at a jewelry factory, the background dissolves into fuzz and noise that reflects Bell’s interior state, before she whisks herself away on a nervous, imaginary trip to France where horses and cats kiss one another on the cheeks in greeting. Elsewhere, Bell becomes an art tutor to a pair of precocious French kids who’ve read a few too many vintage underground comics; it’s a nice little story, essentially untethered from the burdens of autobiography save for the fact that we recognize Bell as the lead character, and it’s in a book where things are presumed ‘true.’ And even after that, Bell breaks off into examining completely different characters, introducing overt fantasy elements, apparently getting into her childhood, and more.

As you can no doubt tell, I found this book to get better as it went along, more pleasing as Bell adorned her narrative approach while stripping down her actual page constructions. Some might feel the exact opposite. Some might simply not like any stripe of low-key tales of urban youth looking for jobs and interacting with others, and they probably shouldn’t buy this book. Others can look into this with the confidence (or uncertainty) that comes from knowing an artist won’t entirely sit still with her minicomics or true-life adventures. It's all for the better in this case.


This is pretty much all of my new pamphlets impressions.

*Sort of uninspiring week at the old Direct Market in terms of pamphlets. Which is fine, since I have plenty of other, bookshelf-format things to go through, especially once this week is over and I suddenly have time in my life.

*52 Dept: Christmas is a good enough hook to stick a whole bunch of character moments on, so that’s pretty much what happens here. It works pretty nice, if only for the seemingly completely random selection of characters that show up in the big gift-giving spread. It was pointed out to me at the comics store that nobody ever explained how Hawkgirl got back to her normal size, though my first thought upon seeing her panel was “Crutches… you shouldn’t have…” Still, I liked Red Tornado’s head laying in a heap of garbage for the holiday, and the framing Animal Man panels, one of the series’ relatively few moments of genuine design flourish, and in an issue with comparatively weak art no less. Sort of undone by that atrocious sheet of paper Luthor reads, but hey…

Other than that, little character snapshots that either encapsulate things or give the slight impression of nudging the plot forward. Ralph getting lectured on his drinking habits by Dr. Fate’s helmet while walking boozily through his Justice League memorabilia collection, Black Adam and Co. probably taking things one step too far in the other direction, Alfred polishing off the last of those community service hours just as 2006 closes - shoplifting's not such a thrill now, eh? Complimentary throws of a boomerang projectile in the Nightwing (I’m somehow glad they’re running with this little subplot, don’t ask me why) and Suicide Squad sequences at the beginning and end. Pretty good.

*And The Punisher MAX #42 draws another of the ‘big picture’ storylines to a close. In sum: soldiers hide dark hearts, the blood of honor runs through even atrocious veins, evil with honor is preferable to evil through avarice, human affairs are a bleak cycle of warfare, violence is overarching and capricious, some can pray to detach themselves though money smoothes the separation, we are all fallen and probably going to hell, though some will arrive quicker than others. And Garth Ennis is apparently willing to carry both his signature themes and a particularized motif (Frank as death’s avatar) as far as they’ll possibly go over years and years of corporate-owned comics, and somehow, against all odds, it won’t get old on this particular Marvel-published title, when it does seemingly everywhere else. I liked the last page.


I think 9000 words of me at another site is enough for one day.

*Interaction With Others Dept: In honor of the holiday season, Tom Spurgeon and I had a fireside chat on the year in comics and other things, and now the results are up at the Comics Reporter as part of Tom's Holiday Interviews series. You’ll have to imagine the fire, or maybe keep a window full of animated GIFs open off to the side. It was fun to participate in, and I hope it’s also fun to read.


Delayed Reaction:

*It's apparently less than a week until Christmas. I should probably try and finish my shopping, though I'd hate to miss out on the fun that'd await me at the mall on Saturday the 23rd. I don't think I'm the only one who's been caught off-guard.


Kramers Ergot 6

The Spirit #1

review nuggets (52 #32, Blade #4, Ghost Rider #6)

Moomin Book One (of five): The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip

*Another varied time at the shop,


The New Adventures of Jesus: The Second Coming: Fantagraphics is well known for their various collections of classic strips and publications, and this one’s particularly striking; Frank Stack’s The New Adventures of Jesus is arguably the first of the ‘underground’ comics from that famous generation, having originated as a strip in Texas student and counterculture papers, which was eventually compiled into a 50-copy collected edition to be distributed among friends in 1964. This 160-page, $19.95 paperback collects a whole lot of Jesus from across the decades, as Stack sends the Savior out to bring the message to a particularly fallen world. If you only know Stack from his work on American Splendor, you may well want to look into this.

Robot Vol. 3: And now we switch gears to the most different comic imaginable. Robot, as you well know, is editor Range Murata’s deluxe full-color anthology of pretty pictures and things often resembling manga stories, though US publisher DMP tellingly lists it in the ‘illustration books’ section of its website. That’s because, provided that this volume’s like the two before it, Robot is all about luxurious color and surface appeal, which is probably to be expected from an anthology populated significantly by anime and video game designers. Also likely: disconcertingly young women, not fully clothed.

Action Philosophers Giant Size Thing Vol. 2: Collecting issues #4-6 of the much-liked series, covering a crapload of people you can read about here, since it’s easier to link. Ahhhhh, links.

MOME Vol. 6: Winter 2007: More from the Fantagraphics house anthology, this time debuting a new autobiographical comic from Lewis Trondheim. The rest of the crew (or at least as many as generally show up in one volume) is around too, and you can look at a list of contributors here.

Terr'ble Thompson: As if stretching to cover all of their bases this week, Fantagraphics also doles out a fresh newspaper strip reprint project, this done-in-one compilation of Gene Deitch’s short-lived mid-’50s feature, dailies and Sundays, the latter newly recolored by the creator. Deitch abandoned the strip fairly early to work at Terrytoons -- this paperback book is but 112 pages -- but the sense of graphical sophistication evident in the work went on to inform his later moving pictures. You may have seen some of this stuff in Dan Nadel’s recent Art Out of Time collection, but here’s it all. As an extra bonus, Deitch and Fanta have made free for download (scroll down) a 1955 musical production of Terr'ble Thompson, recorded for a children’s Little Golden Record.

Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Vol. 7: More newspaper strippery. I’m pretty sure this is the concluding volume of Checker’s effort to reprint the entire Alex Raymond run on the seminal newspaper strip. Hardcover, landscape format, as usual.

Golgo 13 Vol. 6 (of 13): One Minute Past Midnight: Man, now that VIZ has somehow managed to synch up their bookstore and Direct Market releases for once, I couldn’t even tell you what’s actually in this particular volume. The safe money’s one someone being shot. At night?

Naoki Urasawa’s Monster Vol. 6 (of 18): This is here too. I sure wish I had something thrilling to say about all eighteen volumes, but no.

The Vault of Michael Allred #3 (of 4): Continuing the publication of Allred’s scrapbook in pamphlet format; last issue ended with the publication of Red Rocket 7, so we’re moving a little closer to the present and (most fortunately) away from the hype tsunami that was the breakthrough of Madman. Not that I mind that Allred had a very successful book (I like Madman fine myself), but page upon page upon page of seemingly everyone in the comics universe (except the Comics Journal) all but inventing fresh English terms to heap additional praise onto the title does get a little numbing after a few dozen pages of it in a collection like this. But that frankly says more about the contemporaneous comics press’ status as booster and buzz factory as it does about Allred, who’s nothing if not a comprehensive compiler of stuff from aboveground publications and his own output.

John Woo’s Seven Brothers #3: Ok, I think we’re almost through with the premise-setting. And by that, I mean sequences of characters literally sitting around and hearing another character explain to them the premise. Hopefully done with that.

Ramayan 3392 AD #4: Meanwhile, here’s a Virgin book that’s captured my attention without the benefit of familiar names on the creative team (at least beyond a supervisory level). A blood and thunder dim future retelling of the legendary exploits of Rama; not the freshest idea in sequential art, but fairly entertaining in execution.

Ghost in the Shell 1.5: Human-Error Processor #3 (of 8): Starting a new storyline, despite what Dark Horse’s online solicitation says. Please consult this preview for large guns and explosions and girls in skintight glowy suits and tall buildings. And footnotes, can’t forget those.

Elephantmen #5: Just an ongoing series I’m reading.

Criminal #3: Same here.

52 #33 (of 52): It’s the obligatory Christmas issue, featuring Batwoman. You can also enjoy a ho ho horrific origin of disfiguration and madness with Mark Chiarello’s Two-Face backup. Unless the Joker one shows up, which I think would be even more festive.

The Punisher MAX #42: Last issue was a particularly good one, underlining the sense of futility and half-comical resignation as to awful human affairs that runs throughout this book, in between the bringing down of planes and the hiding of handy blades inside oozing wounds. Sometimes you save the village, sometimes you step on an unexploded landmine in the middle of a conversation. This is the last issue of the storyline, and I’m going to wager that absolutely none of the recurring cast members are left standing save for Frank and probably that British guy who had a cameo a few issues ago.


Today's Post of Mystery

*Winnings Dept: A truly fine contest is up right now at the Comics Reporter, in the way that every truly fine contest involves giving away large amounts of random free stuff for no discernible reason. So click over now, for your chance to win the entire run of the mid-to-late-‘80s Marvel series Strikeforce: Morituri (except for issue #31), and its 1989-90 miniseries sequel Strikeforce: Morituri - Electric Undertow. Written by Peter B. Gillis and James D. Hudnall, with plenty of early art in there from Astro City’s Brent Anderson, Wetworks’ Whilce Portacio, and Ultimate Spider-Man’s Mark Bagley. When was the last chance you had to win that, eh?

*While we’re on the topic of miscellaneous comics giveaways, I have a question to toss out there into the internet ether in case anyone knows: what was in Bravura #0? More specifically, was the material in Bravura #0 reprints, or new material.

For the purposes of explanation and background, I recently managed to fish the Walter Simonson miniseries Star Slammers out of a discount bin. Star Slammers the miniseries was actually a mid-’90s sequel to a Marvel Graphic Novel that Simonson did back in 1983 (it was Marvel Graphic Novel #6, I believe), set many thousands of years after the events of the first book. Simonson presented the miniseries as part of Malibu’s creator-owned Bravura line of books; he was a founder of that effort, though Star Slammers didn’t arrive until a ways after the other books, and wound up taking nine months to release four out of its intended five issues. The Bravura line then folded before the last issue could be released, but Dark Horse eventually published it as a one-shot special over a year later. It’s kind of a goofy, familiar sci-fi story, but there’s some fun characters and some really nice Simonson art, especially in issue #1.

That’s not the point. The point revolves around one of Bravura’s ploys to get people reading more of their books: included in most Bravura books were tear-out stamps, which could be pasted to cards included in many titles, as well as assorted comics magazines. Completing a certain amount of stamps and sending the card in would get you prizes. Most of the prizes were simply ‘rare’ variant covers for various issues of books you’d have already read, but one of the prizes was something called Bravura #0, a collection of stories by various Bravura creators (Simonson, Howard Chaykin, Jim Starlin, Ernie Colon, Steven Grant & Gil Kane). It was apparently only available by pasting down those lousy stamps.

Woe be to the poor collector who wanted to fill out every empty space on their card. That wound up being impossible, as certain Bravura miniseries (like Star Slammers, for example) never released enough issues to allow for that. However, enough stamps went out to make Bravura #0 possible, and I know the damn thing exists, and I’m just curious as to whether the stories in there are new or reprints or whatever. Someone help me out.


Any comic strip in which the lead character's ass is compared to "a big dangerous bomb" is ok with me.

Moomin Book One (of five): The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip

This is really good stuff.

One of the great pleasures of the recent proliferation of vintage newspaper comic strip collections is that there’s a chance of discovering for yourself something that was once immensely popular, and experiencing first-hand the day-by-day machinations of a comic that has long since probably entered the public consciousness in an idealized state, if it’s still remembered much at all. But that already-considerable pleasure is heightened with something like Moomin; the strip was hugely popular in its prime, yes, serialized in 40 countries, but it never managed to break through to North America. Drawn & Quarterly claims that this is the first time this particular material has ever been published on this continent. Thus, not only are we privy to a phenomenon that met with great success long ago, the North Americans among us (like myself) are actually better off then our own comics-reading ancestors, who never had the chance to enjoy the stuff contemporaneously with its initial wave.

And there is much enjoyment to be had. I know several US folks hold Finnish creator Tove Jansson’s Moomin(troll) children’s books in high esteem, having apparently read them when they were little; I’ll confess I’d never run across the stuff until D&Q announced these comics, so I couldn’t offer any comparison. The comic began in 1954 in the pages of the London Evening News, after gentle cow/hippo/troll thing Moomin and his extended family had been established in book form; Jansson stuck with the writing and drawing duties herself for the rest of the decade, ultimately handing it over to her brother Lars for another decade and a half’s continuation (D&Q only plans to collect the creator’s run on the strip). Apparently, the strip was an attempt to extend the characters’ appeal to adults, and obviously it met with success at the time. It is ‘all-ages’ in the truest form, something that strives to appeal genuinely to every age. Much as I don’t have any of the children’s books for comparison, I also don’t have any children laying around to test the material’s cross-generations appeal with, but I’ll again repeat that it all worked very nicely with this adult.

There’s four storylines in this book. The Moomin strip is primarily comedic, but there’s day-to-day continuity and overarching plots. Much of the fun in Jansson’s storytelling style is the way in which she wanders with the narrative, often drifting away to explore some curious subplot or becoming sidetracked with an extended bit of character business. Nothing sounds more simple than ‘the Moomin family is stuck on an island,’ but that discounts the playful contortions of Jansson’s storytelling.

You know, like how the Moomins initially plan to go on a picnic, so they hop aboard a sentient talking helicopter their rich aunt owns, but the helicopter abandons them after a tornado so they’re stuck on an island. Tolerant homemaker Moominmamma then decides she needs to kill a nearby pig for dinner, and feels awfully guilty about it (in Jansson’s fantastical but not entirely idealized world, even the dinner animals are anthropomorphized), but then the pig’s wife shows up and admits her husband was (get ready) an awful bore anyhow, though she forces the Moomins to give his bones a proper burial. At that point, they find a secret hatch to the underground where they seem to discover the remains of their ancestors, Protomoomins, except they’re actually still alive and also smugglers and have a thing for luring nearby ships to ruin on the island rocks. A pirate ship then gets wrecked, and Moomin encounters the lovely once-captive Mymble, much to the consternation of his semi-faithful girlfriend Snorkmaiden. Actually, both of the girls are obviously titillated by the idea of being kidnapped by manly pirates, so they go looking for some, but Moominmamma winds up putting the somewhat non-manly pirates to work in her garden in exchange for booze. Plus: the pirates were smuggling fireworks, the Protomoomins want to blow up the island for no reason, there’s an asshole professor that looks like Brian Bolland’s Mr. Mamoulian, and much more.

And that’s only 74 individual strips worth of stuff.

It’s gorgeously casual, whimsical work, with a great appreciation for slapstick and gags, but an obvious sophistication to its characterizations and themes. Moomin himself is generally a very sweet fellow, but Jansson realizes that sweet fellows can be taken advantage of, and are prone to jealousy and anger when their personal buttons are pushed. Moominpapa loves adventures and distractions, but there’s an obvious irresponsibility to his actions that Jansson is thoughtful enough to bring up, though you can tell her heart’s behind him.

Though it all there’s gentle parodies of art and aristocracy (an acclaimed painter by her 20’s, Jansson doubtlessly had some experience with both), clingy relatives and the ecstasy of materialism. The Moomins are at-heart good, but they are very easily tempted by seemingly nice things, and none of them are held up as avatars of virtue for children (or adults) to emulate. A literal package of profanities is sent to a mean relative as a prank, parents temporarily abandon their children to find themselves, and several creative insults are deployed (“That glossy-faced sissy!”). Through it all, the gentle surrealism of the world affords a type of chaos that nevertheless fails to crush the feeling that life can be sweet.

Jansson’s visuals are simple and attractive, creature designs almost always somehow cute, yet often distinctly menacing when the need arises. Lots of round, curvy lines against white space, with clear storytelling and funny expressions, an approach that would have seemed well-suited to already-contracting funnies pages in the US, though it perfectly fits the tightly-knit nature of the Moomin world. But so what if it never made it to North America then? It's here now, and ready to be discovered, and totally worth finding among the many new old strips hitting the shelves with welcome frequency.


Presenting the Internet's Finest Weekend Whimsy

*Rare Bit Fiends Dept: Very odd dream the other night.

I had apparently just gotten out of work, judging from my shirt and tie, but I was standing on the grounds of some large university I'd never seen before. I intuitively realized I was there for an art show at a nearby on-campus gallery. The theme was abstract art inspired by early ‘90s Image superhero comics, and it didn’t seem to be going over well - standing right next to me was some type of campus protector-of-aesthetics preparing to lead a small group of students into the gallery and verbally mock the show. No way I could miss that.

So I walked behind the crowd, toward the building that purportedly housed the gallery. It was a really big place, very airy. Very contemporary in design. The gallery was down the hall, but off to the side there was a very large Borders’ bookstore, and I decided I should look around in there before taking in the art.

The Borders had a giant door that slid open to the side as I approached. I was surprised to find out that the inside was quite dark, and that there was no carpeting, and that someone had cleared all of the shelves of books away from the center of the store to make room for a performance space. A college rock band was getting ready to play. I immediately felt really overdressed, looking at all the kids in there. But my attentions were swiftly distracted by one of the shelves pushed off to the side.

Holy shit! Certain Borders locations apparently have shelves filled with used anime VHS tapes! The band began to play and some students began to dance. Most of them sat around drinking and looking cool. I rustled through the videos like a happy child. God! Streamline Pictures’ release of Robot Carnival for one dollar!!

I should have realized there was trouble when my hand passed right through that particular tape, as if it were an illusion. At that point, I became aware that I was dreaming, as I often do. However, I’m very much the worst lucid dreamer among all of the human race, and even when I realize I’m dreaming my subconscious still manages to guide my thoughts, so instead of doing something neat like shaping reality to suit my fancy, I decided that I was actually going to solidify the dream world into reality itself, all so I could pick up that stupid fucking anime tape and buy it for only one dollar. My head may have had a message about my consumerist nature somewhere in there for me.

But you know? My plan worked! I picked up the tape as easy as anything after concentrating on it. I picked up a bunch of other tapes, paid about $4.00 for all of them, and merrily pranced out of the Borders/concert while everyone else was getting to know one another and forging friendships and camaraderie, or at least enjoying decent drugs.

I decided then I’d better get down to the gallery, even though my hands were full of VHS tapes. I walked further down the hall, until the entrance was in sight. An elderly bearded man in a camouflage jacket was standing in front of the door.

Son… you got a dime I can borrow?

I shifted the weight of my tapes to one side to reach into my pocket, and suddenly felt the old man grasp my shoulder.

With an effortless flick of his arm, he sent me flying off my feet, my videos flying into the air. I executed a perfect sideways roll before landing on my ribs, facing the old man. He reached his hands out into the air, and caught my tapes as they fell. They landed in a perfect stack.

And I woke up.

APPARENT MORAL: Don’t ever fuck around with your subconscious, or it’ll send someone to imaginarily kick your ass.


In which famous older artists draw today's Marvel comics.

*52 Dept: As Douglas Wolk points out, there’s actually 21 pages in the main story this week. Maybe it’s an attempt to balance things out with that one issue the other month where there was only 19?

Save for a puzzlingly stilted sequence with Osiris and his hoodie-wearing crocodile pal trying to join the Teen Titans and a wholly generic ‘oh my god this major new villain is so major and villainous’ bit in space, this issue is all Ralph, all quest for enlightenment. I liked the scary bald guy (especially when his eyes roll up into the back of his head when he laughs - “HAHAHA”), and we’re at the point now where storylines can pretty smoothly crisscross one another without seeming forced, but the final result doesn’t seem like much of anything that Ralph hasn’t arguably learned before. Ah well, at least we had a secret Neal Adams guest appearance…

*Review Nuggets Dept: All-Marvel edition.

- Call it a personal preference, but I can’t help but feel Howard Chaykin could have handled the old concept of a spirit villain hopping between bodies with a lot more panache had he given it the full effect, rather than his now-usual semi-airy approach for super-comics he’s not writing like the most recent issue of Blade (#4). Can’t you imagine the layouts? I suppose Marvel’s more-ads-than-comics initiative (yep, I counted again - 24 vs. 22) would have messed up the reading experience anyway. Still, there’s some swell moments (the shifting colors on the wall of televisions, pretty much everything set in the past, that last page), writer Marc Guggenheim has settled into a curiously effective pattern of clipped, downbeat tales of futility loaded with death and regularly ending with Blade running away from everything. Merry Christmas!

- Meanwhile, it’s Richard Corben and José Villarrubia on Ghost Rider (#6), a series I’ve not read at all in its current incarnation (for comparison's sake, I made it through one issue of the prior Garth Ennis miniseries version). Writer Daniel Way is doing some kind of originish story, set against a big fight sequence in the present, though it’s odd that the two-parter’s half over and the pretty obvious backstory barely seems to have begun. Corben draws some great, shifty-looking longhairs sitting around in filthy prisons in filthy small towns, though, and he has good fun with Ghost Rider’s unmovable, unblinking countenance (check out the cracks that temporarily form when he’s KROKKed on the head). The best part, however, was that one panel Johnny Blaze smirking at his own joke as a cop bashes him over the head with his nightstick. I’m not seeing much that’ll keep me around once the art team’s gone…


Creator Owned

The Spirit #1

Probably about what everyone expected from writer/penciller Darwyn Cooke’s ongoing revival of the Will Eisner character: a playful, respectful slice of entirely straightforward costumed adventurer comics, with some attractive visuals. No more, no less. A little seal of quality on the cover promises Action, Mystery, and Adventure, and all three are present in some quantity, though none of them to excess. Does right was it says on the label, this one.

You’ll be forgiven if you still don’t really know much about the Spirit or his cast by the end of both this thing and the recent Batman/The Spirit one-shot; Cooke handles everyone on the level of pure archetype, so it’s sufficient that the Spirit is a masked hero, and Commissioner Dolan is an authority figure who trusts him, and the villains are bad and ugly and need stopping. The point right now is obviously not character work, it’s offering up slick, light superhero exploits with lots of pretty pictures. The story is ultra-simple: Ginger Coffee, ace television reporter, is kidnapped by the Pill, a villainous gangster, and the Spirit must save her under the 24-hour eye of the news media. Light jokes about annoying news personalities and the like abound, someone die in goopy (though not off-putting) circumstances, and the day is duly saved by issue’s end.

The trick with this comic is that its not as much convincing a revival of Will Eisner’s classic character as it is a convincing revival of Darwyn Cooke doing a monthly comic. Frankly, after (essentially) two issues I’m not sure the new reader can pick up anything particularly noteworthy about the established cast of characters, or the premise, or much of anything Eisner-specific. Cooke treats it all for now as sort of a machine for gallant, old-school superhero comics, the type that goes on for much longer than the average Eisner Spirit epic (though still wraps up by issue’s end) and doesn’t have much in the way of visual invention (as Eisner’s pages are famous for).

It has a lot in the way of visual beauty (inks by J. Bone, colors by Dave Stewart), and Cooke’s action storytelling is as clean and strong as ever, but the overarching feeling is more ‘Darwyn Cooke doing a genteel superhero book’ than anything property-specific, which maybe wouldn’t have stood out so much if this particular property hadn’t been so closely associated with its creator. Batman can be whatever Batman he really wants these days, but the legal indicia happily notes that the Spirit is still owned by the Will Eisner Studios, and applying the character to easygoing-if-unspectacular urban superheroing never feels entirely right outside of Eisner’s hands, even if Ebony has a great entrance. Hey, I felt the same about The New Adventures of the Spirit the last time they tried this.

Still, I’d be silly to claim that you wouldn’t probably be satisfied with this book if uncomplicated (in every way) superhero comics is what you hunger for, especially if your hunger is Darwyn Cooke-specific. Indeed, like I said above, this is pretty much what everyone expected anyway, so there's little use in quibbles. It doesn't really matter if you like the Spirit much at all - if you like Darwyn Cooke, and his overall approach to superhero comics taken on the level above specific characters, you'll probably be into this. The title seems almost optional.


Remember: There's Never an Apostrophe in Kramers

Kramers Ergot 6

As you’re no doubt already aware, Kramers Ergot is a very highly acclaimed anthology of comics, probably most famous for its engagement with creators who’d mainly been known in minicomics circles prior to being published in a big, thick, colorful book of this sort. Which isn’t to say that getting published in Kramers is some sort of mainstream big time -- I’ve rarely even seen copies in comics stores, forget about chain bookstores -- but Kramers does have a particular force of presence on the scene, an authority of production let’s say, and it’s carved out a name for itself among comics anthologies as probably the most cutting-edge and forward-looking and consistently high-quality, always willing to show you something you’ve never seen before.

All this was accomplished over essentially three volumes (Kramers 4 being when the title unquestionably hit its mature form), from the mind of publisher/editor Sammy Harkham, who’s now joined in this volume by an associate editor, Alvin Buenaventura, and a co-publisher, Buenaventura Press. Kramers Ergot 6 is 336 pages of mostly color work, 8.75” x 10.75”, for $34.95, yet it still retains the close-knit love of a tiny project. Maybe part of its appeal is that it’s a testament to what a few interested people can accomplish through hard work and dedication, something that can stand tall production-wise with anything a large publisher can manage, yet reflect an idiosyncratic, avant-garde taste in what’s worth publishing.

In terms of content, Kramers 6 marks a turn back to some of the less narrative, more purely visual works of Kramers 4. That’s not to say there isn’t a great variety of styles on display (even within the hopelessly indelicate categories of ‘visual’ and ‘narrative’); Harkham’s and Buenaventura’s tastes are too wide-ranging to even get the book locked into any particular form of comic, and the variety of approaches on display is still quite vast. But there’s a bit more emphasis on purely visual work, and even the more straightforward narratives seem interested in breaking up their flow and telling their stories through temporally disconnected snatches of story. This is evident in Harkham’s own contribution, Lubavich, Ukraine 1876, which follows a few events in the life of (presumably) an ancestor of Harkham’s, a Jew in the titular region. Lots of carefully observed character moments and much attention paid to historical-cultural detail, though the story is far more interested in presenting cuts of experience than any overarching plot.

But Harkham is nothing if not visually direct, his eleven pages perfectly clean in twelve panels per page. The same goes for Ron Regé, Jr., whose story Fuc 1997 otherwise could not be more different; his is sixteen pages with tight grids of varying size, and entirely concerned with romantic relationships, metaphoric or (seemingly) autobiographical. But even though Regé’s work is as bright and color-coded as can be, ultra-cute characters frolicking around with a theremin (the music of love!) and prancing through fields, there’s a similar motive at work: conveying the experience of living in a very particular time and place though fragments of authentic-seeming life and unassuming formal properties. A lot of works in Kramers have this sort of mutual understanding between them, and stories often seem positioned to compliment one another’s themes and approaches, resulting in a great sense of coherency to what’s fundamentally a very diverse group of works.

To give another example, two of my very favorite stories in this volume are placed right next to each other. First there’s the brilliantly-titled Ejector Seat Cadence by Bald Eagles (alter ego of one Victor Cayro), an absolutely stunning blend of art polemic, confessional autobiography, macho pop culture free-associating, and feverish, twisting b&w visuals of writhing muscles and flesh and blazing guns, brushes of red blood and yellow fire coursing through everything. If anyone ever felt like Kramers Ergot could use more gunfights and near-abstract combat scenes, they’ll be happy with this; it’s the only contribution that could have been equally at home in Robert Crumb’s Weirdo or Tim Vigil’s Raw Media Mags. Pages are constantly clogged with mental flotsam, whether words or images. Classic movie villain Clarence Boddicker (of RoboCop) shows up as a recurring manifestation of everything awful in the world, and Cayro draws inspiration from the likes of John McClain to transform himself in Bald Eagles, an S. Clay Wilson fever dream of an action superhero that’s both a defense mechanism against the shit of the world and a living embodiment of artistic ferocity.

And then, right after that, there’s Paper Rad. Which couldn’t initially seem more different, but Harkham’s and Buenaventura’s positioning of the work reveals how much it has in common with Cayro’s work: an eagerness to apply beloved pieces of popular culture to the creation of a personal cosmology, even a spirituality. The results are vastly different, but then Kramers Ergot wouldn’t be much if it wasn’t diverse. Paper Rad’s effort is titled Kramers Ergot: Fuck You, but it quickly becomes evident that it’s Kramers Ergot telling something to the world, not Paper Rad making a declaration toward Kramers Ergot. The story (as it is) concerns Kramer from Seinfeld, who consumes a bit of Ergot (a mold known to grow on bread that gives the consumer hallucinations), and becomes aware of the possibilities of art beyond Jerry’s apartment, a familiar character literally deciding to voyage away to something different.

There much more to be found. We also get two excellent bits of contrasting historical comics (all of them gorgeously re-lettered in English by Tim Hensley): selected pages from the gentle, surreal Dutch underground work of Marc Smeets, and a generous 30-page slab of the pure pop manga stylings of Suihô Tagawa, one of the pre-Tezuka Japanese comics artists and a brilliant stylist from before the Tezuka cinema influence, his furious funny animal combat comics no less impressive for being obvious militaristic propaganda aimed at children from straight out the pre-WWII era, but certainly a good deal more disconcerting.

And then, right after Tagawa, a similarly flat-visualed work by Souther Salazar, done in an impressive collage style, and almost as ominous as the prior work, but in a slightly softer way. Later on we’ll see more fabulously surreal visions of war and destruction of Elvis Studio. Past and present is drawn together across cultures by this book; the act of reading from start to finish is more sheer experience than with any other comics anthology I can name. It’s almost too much, but it doesn’t seem like enough when you’re done. You’ll only want more of Shary Boyle’s stunning drawings of fantastical debauchery, or Dan Zettwoch’s detail-oriented tales of contraptions and the people who construct them. Kramers Ergot is big, but the next one can never arrive soon enough.