Beautiful things.

*Very interesting anthology news from Ponent Mon: a seventeen-artist collection, titled simply Japan on Ponent Mon’s website, but apparently called Japan As Viewed By 17 Creators in Previews, perhaps so not to confuse it with the recent Buronson/Kentaro Miura book from Dark Horse. Featuring various French-speaking and Japanese artists, each contributing a story about a different region of Japan, it’s got a cute theme and an amazingly strong (if understandably Ponent Mon-heavy) lineup, including Moyoko Anno (Happy Mania, Flowers and Bees), Frédéric Boilet (Yukiko’s Spinach, Mariko Parade), Kan Takahama (Kinderbook, Mariko Parade), François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters (Les Cités Obscures), Jiro Taniguchi (Benkei in New York, The Walking Man), Joann Sfar (The Rabbi’s Cat), and Kazuichi Hanawa (Doing Time, Comics Underground Japan). Coming this December, 256 pages, $24.

It’s as good as bought; I mean, new stuff from Schuiten & Peeters alone would do the trick, so this is above and beyond the call of duty. (Found at The Fourth Rail - you’ll need to scroll down, though the list’s alphabetical).

Or Else #3

An interesting, comparatively low-key follow-up to the smashing, effervescent second edition of Kevin Huizenga’s ongoing series, largely dedicated to representing assorted pieces from his minicomics series Supermonster. It’s far more subdued, certainly less prone to exploding into vivid representations of the momentary human subconscious, or rigorously-rendered digressions into scientific phenomena. But concerns of the corporal and the spiritual have not fled Huizenga, even as he turns his pen toward that still much-maligned fragment of the independent comics repertoire, autobiography.

Fans will no doubt recall the gentle coda to the issue prior, a basketball-themed reminisce, rendered in a gentler, softer style than the rest of the book. That’s the primary visual approach taken here, with simple, stripped-down character designs (some of them barely sketches) wandering through a minimalist world of suggested backgrounds and dot-shading. As with prior issues of Or Else, many of these stories are revised versions of works that have been printed before, and I wonder (having no access to the minicomics originals) if Huizenga has worked to imbue these works with a united visual scheme for presentation in this series. Even the cover art is simpler than ever, presenting a full spread of human environments, bordered on the left side with a symbol of empty consumption, the meaning of which will become clear upon examining the book’s contents. But the cover is representative of the book’s tone in more ways than pure visual style; Huizenga has prepared stories that travel from the home to the workplace, family and personal philosophy both duly considered. A fine scope for a “Comics Hobby Newsletter,” as the inside front cover dubs the project.

The stage is set by brief forays into lush natural realism (Featured Tree), with a taste of Huizenga’s Fight or Run style leading us to a cute catalog of currently published works (interestingly, his significant contribution to Kramers Ergot 5 is omitted, though I suppose he was intentionally limiting himself to self-published and D&Q works). But the real content begins with March 6, 1999 (from Supermonster #12), a disarmingly frank story that follows young Huizenga on a trip home from college. There’s a lot of simple, perhaps boring events, along with a very important one, but potentially life-altering concerns are quickly subsumed into the flow of everyday life, no dramatic score swelling in the back. Life continues, the challenging coexisting with the mundane, and this will prove to be an ongoing theme for the book. A one-page gag strip, Phone Story 4 (from Supermonster #13), punctuates the proceedings with a snatch of more solidified art, and the aching question: “Are you an individual?” This concern will rise again later in the book.

Al and Gertrude is next (SM #12), a meditative selection of events from Huizenga’s time knowing an elderly couple next door, with the prior story’s elements of physical illness amidst the flow of life reprised. But this one isn’t an ongoing reportage of events; it’s a presentation of gently fragmented memories, jumping through time with the specifics of human troubles left to be inferred (granted, it’s not difficult to figure out what’s happening). It’s very much a reversal of the prior story, though the overarching theme of time’s passage holds true. It’s as if Huizenga must grasp specific memories in order to keep the flow of events from escaping entirely. But time cannot be stopped, and the story’s final image, snow falling on garbage and barely-discernible rooftops, evokes the autumnal bustle of the book’s cover. It’s a sad story, but not depressing; there’s understated humor, and a sense of things continuing, existence as defiance of sickness. “This all has been good for me - it’s given me time to think about things.”

The book’s only ‘extended’ original work (three pages, actually) follows, rendered in Huizenga’s more familiar Glenn Ganges style. Tellingly, it’s still autobiography, though not Huizenga’s - the story is taken from the diaries of Franz Kafka, who walks out into the street and amusingly encounters differing displays of human power. The piece is titled A Short Stroll, though Huizenga’s Table of Contents abbreviation (A.S.S.) perhaps serves as a better indication as to artist’s feelings toward his subject. More humor arrives in the next piece, my favorite in the book, I Stand Up for Zen (SM #13), in which hard-working wholesale distribution flyer designer Huizenga encounters a particularly vapid piece of ad copy, and becomes seized with a reluctance to even type in the hated words. “Are you an individual?” indeed; the seemingly simple task, one of ten thousand little concessions working people make each day, unexpectedly becomes a matter of personal resistance to the paving of the individual spirit (just like the paving of nature, all of those Feature Trees gone and concrete). Naturally, this leads to the reader viewing plenty of amusing charts and sample ad designs, as Huizenga begins to predict where his life is going under the knuckle of chintzy words for shoddy products. It’s funny (excellent, ultra-logical conversation with Jesus!), cleverly designed (I loved the view of Huizenga and a coworker as beads on a bracelet), and smartly affecting.

The book closes with a complimentary pair of works. First we have Library Selections (SM #12), which recontextualizes excerpts from books found in a library (oddly, only seven out of the eight are identified via citation) by interspersing them among drawings influenced by the great Floyd Gottfredson (along with a panel taken from the earlier Kafka story). Naturally, Kevin Huizenga paying homage to Floyd Gottfredson is like comic book crack cocaine to me, and the piece offers a great juxtaposition of comics sights and icons with readings on natural, human, and man-made subjects, art and prose now separated in terms of sequential interrelation, yet somehow presenting an abstract summary of the book’s running themes, nuclear missiles next to singing birds with leaping dogs and speedy clouds in between, existence proceeding in spite of all of its silly and serious contradictions. The book concludes with a new one-page appreciation of Gottfredson’s art, which Huizenga has kindly placed online (in b&w form). That Smithsonian Collection is a damn awesome book, by the way.

It’s not as bombastic a technical marvel as Or Else #2, no, but this is a moving, sensitively crafted book. It’s small in dimension, but carries 40 pages of fine comics for only $3.50; it’s probably worth more than that. I’m sounding like a broken record to my regular readers, but Huizenga is really one of the most exciting talents of today, and if the purpose of this project is to acquaint a wider audience to his older (yet newly revised) works, it’s doing those readers an enormous service. There’s no need to let such excellent art languish outside so many store racks, and there’s no excuse not to dive into this man’s body of work. Go out! Be moved and excited!