Lotsa Points

*Publishing Note Dept (#1): As Brian Nicholson noted in yesterday's comments, the PictureBox online store now has Brian Chippendale's Galactikrap #2 and the newspaper-format Cold Heat Special from co-creator Frank Santoro & guest artist Jon Vermilyea. The former book will be of interest to anyone looking to see Chippendale explore a (thus far) straightforward adventure fantasy, while the latter will appeal mainly to Cold Heat readers who'd like to see some of the characters run around in a roomy, slick, almost Jeff Smith-like visual style.

*Publishing Note Dept (#2): Holy shit, Vertical seems to have licensed Osamu Tezuka's Black Jack. The fun begins in the fall of 2008. In case anyone doesn't know, Black Jack is one of Tezuka's signature characters, an outlaw surgeon who performs the toughest operations for big money -- he's basically the anti-Golgo 13 -- and his 1973-83 series remains one of Tezuka's most beloved works in Japan. VIZ put out two volumes' worth of the pulpy stuff in the late '90s, but it's long been considered one of those series that everyone seems to want, though not many think it'll sell.

Unless I'm totally off, this will be Vertical's biggest manga project ever, and a noteworthy plunge into longform pop comics from an artist they've had some success with on 'prestige' projects (whether that label even fits Buddha or not, that's how it was sold) and carefully-handled one-off books. Tezuka's probably never gonna sell like gangbusters in North America, but it will be interesting to see if the connoisseur audience that Vertical tends to court will offer them some measure of the success the general manga readership has denied other publishers working with Tezuka's lighter books. Heaven knows my money's down.

Mineshaft #20

The newest issue of this small magazine, 56 pages for $6.95. I don't have much to say about Mineshaft that I haven't said before; it's a charming hodgepodge, built on the strength of contributions from many underground-era cartoonists and fellow travelers, all of whom appear to be sending in basically whatever they want. I like the letters column, where Robert Crumb ruminates briefly (and with many ellipses) on the value of collecting, and Kim Deitch details his reading of a dime novel serial published over the course of 16 years in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

But really, the whole publication feels like an extended letters section, words and drawings and comics sent in with no cohesion beyond a desire to greet. Crumb also has five sketchbook pages, and Deitch a pair of full-page illustrations (one from his upcoming Deitch's Pictorama words-and-pictures project with his brothers). Mary Fleener reviews Aline Kominsky Crumb's Need More Love, and sends in some autobiographical Mary-Land strips. Frank Stack has his usual spicy adventure serial. A two-page strip on religious terrorism by Spain Rodriguez. A Jay Lynch illustation. An Art Spiegelman sketch, and a Jay Lynch/Ed Piskor strip about Jay Lynch and Art Spiegelman. Biographical drawings by Fly and an essay about the nation of Turkey by Jay Kinney.

It's very cozy, low-key to the extreme, and its relaxed tone will probably send admirers of these artists plucking out the interesting bits. It probably won't entice the merely curious, and certainly can't appeal to those interested in sustained works, or simply not interested in this area of comics art. I tend to find some pleasure in every issue, even as I look over this issue's special 2003-07 contributer index, and think less of pouring through pages in old magazines as sifting through a big stack of correspondence I happen to have around, even though none of it's addressed to me. Still, it can be endearing, even relaxing for those on the wavelength. If you think that's you, give it a try.


Money hates you and wants to leave your home forever.

*But before we hit the gruesome details -


Heavy Metal 30th Anniversary Special


Foolkiller #1 (of 5)

column #12 (on the topic of the silent costumed hero serial Judex)

At The Savage Critics!

*Oh god save me, look what's due out next month - Little Sammy Sneeze in a lavish Sunday Press Books edition. Collecting the complete 1904-05 color run of Winsor McCay's one-joke strip about a little boy with nostrils from hell. It's a fairly good joke, though, and every episode's four-panel lead-up showcases McCay's skill at crafting dense, lively visuals from the stuff of his everyday surroundings.

The Sunday Press edition will be a 96-page, 11" x 16" landscape-format hardcover, to preserve the original print dimensions, and will even go the extra mile of simulating the color processes of the era by presenting bonus strips in era-authentic monochrome or two-color on the back of every full-color Sammy.

These extra strips will include the entirety of McCay's Hungry Henrietta -- seemingly a fellow one-gag strip with a female lead, but actually a lampoon of upper-class child rearing values -- as well as samples from non-McCay productions of the period, such as J.P. Benson's The Woozlebeasts and Gustave Verbeek's The Upside Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo (as Tom Spurgeon once remarked, "with that title, there's no possible way to discuss the work without the risk that someone will overhear, drop what they're doing, run over and start punching the shit out of you."). Many a small sample here.

Coming this November! Only $55! Order now, and get a free tissue box cover! I'd like money to drop out of the sky right now!

*And since we're on the topic -


The Comics Journal #286: The big feature this issue is a Posy Simmonds interview conducted by Paul Gravett, which you can sample here. Further sample a ton of her strips here. There's also a chat with Gail Simone, and selections from Otto Soglow's The Ambassador (here's part of Jared Gardner's intro). I think I have a tiny review of Gabriella Giandelli's Ingatz series Interiorae somewhere in there. Much more.


Yes, Diamond is releasing all of PictureBox's books from the last financial quarter on the same day.

Maggots: Brian Chippendale's transformative visual noise machine. When you think "Fort Thunder," this is probably the closest an actual book will get to what's in your head. Review here.

Powr Mastrs Vol. 1 (of 6): Chris Forgues' partial tour of a fantasy New China, and the many potentials for adventure within. Review here. Kevin Huizenga fan art here and here and here.

New Engineering: But sometimes what English-language readers really want is swooshing skits of things being built and guns being fired and people flying around, not a drop of human concern to be found. Yuichi Yokoyama may be your hero. Review here.

Storeyville: And finally, here's a deluxe $24.95 hardcover edition of Frank Santoro's 1995 newspaper-format comics debut. Introduction by man-mountain Chris Ware. Review here (not by me, but Derik Badman... what, you think all I do is review comics? I review anime too, gang).

Heavy Metal 30th Anniversary Special: Which is actually a new, slap-your-face edition of the ol' Kitchen Sink project Melting Pot. Review here. This is not from PictureBox, by the way.

The Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories: I think this Dark Horse release debuted at SPX the other week, where the advance stock seemed to fly off its table; everyone lined up to kiss Nicholas Gurewitch's hands, and buy the first collection of his popular weekly strip, a 96-page, 8" x 8" hardcover, priced at $14.95. Forward by Jim Woodring. Aw, you're on the internet, so I don't think you need me to tell you anything further.

Southern Cross: But, as usual, there's also reprints of older stuff going around. Here's another of Drawn and Quarterly's facsimile editions of vintage picture books, this one a 1951 novel-in-pictures by Laurence Hyde, who created 118 wood engravings in protest of US nuclear tests in the Bikini Atoll. Here's a look. With new and period supplements, $24.95. Also from D&Q is Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, Book Two, featuring four more sweet and sour tales. I really liked Book 1.

MAD's Greatest Artists: The Completely MAD Don Martin: Man, the new Golden Age of reprints just won't stop. How about a $150, 1200-page, two-volume slipcased collection of every goddamned thing Don Martin did for the famed magazine (not counting the paperback original material)? And wait - Fantagraphics has Hank Ketcham's Complete Dennis the Menace 1957-1958, and their annual Bill Griffith book, Zippy: Walk a Mile in My Muu-Muu. Fuck, why not The Complete Persepolis from Pantheon? You're going to die before you can read all this. There just isn't enough time! I'm sorry this crisis had to happen in the Jog - The Blog Monday evening shipping list post, but hard truths of prosperity have moved my hand.

(by the way, I haven't been able to find Anders Nilsen's Big Questions #10 on Diamond's list for this week, so it may not be available at your local shop!)

MW: Since the new comics all arrive on the 31st this year, you've probably been expecting a bunch of horror-type books to drift in from various publishers, whether by design or chance. If the sheriff hadn't already garnished my wages, I'd have been willing to put money on this new Vertical book being the best of them - it's another done-in-one Osamu Tezuka project, this time collecting a 1976-78 saga of chemical infection, serial murder, female impersonation, foreign militarism and high living with no morals into a 584-page, $24.95 hardcover. Preview here.

Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Strange Tales Vol. 1: And here's Marvel's holiday entry for the week, a $54.99 hardcover collection of pre-Code horror works from the first 10 issues of Strange Tales, featuring the artistic likes of John Romita, Gene Colan, Russ Heath and Bernie Krigstein, the lattermost soon of EC. Also from Marvel this week is a softcover edition of its first The Immortal Iron Fist collection. And the X-Men are doing something Eventy with X-Men: Messiah Complex, featuring Iron First co-writer Ed Brubaker at the helm with penciller Marc Silvestri.

Batman #670: Not to be outdone, DC has a Prelude segment for the new Bat-crossover, The Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul, seeing writer Grant Morrison team with new artist Tony Daniel, who looks to be carrying on the current DC house style of 'Wildstorm circa 1997.' I don't think anyone's eager to be 'Wildstorm circa 2007.' Oh, there's also some Halloween grab-bag thing called the DC Infinite Halloween Special, and Crime Bible: The Five Lessons of Blood #1 (of 5), writer Greg Rucka's follow-up to his Question material in 52.

Special Forces #1 (of 6): Being Kyle Baker's new Iraq war satire from Image. It looks nice.

Apocalypse Nerd #6 (of 6): Paul Revere! John Singleton Copley! The conclusion of some serial that began in early 2005! Peter Bagge is bringing it all home to you.



It's bi-weekly now!

*This week's column is taking us way back! To 1917, when a superhero stalked the silver screen without regard for the fact that the genre wasn't invented yet! What scrapes might he get into? Also: All Star Batman's shameful secrets - revealed! The Shadow - unmasked! Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of Impressionists? Judex knows! Click link for more!



The Past is the Future Again

Heavy Metal 30th Anniversary Special

I was talking about Heavy Metal with a friend the other day. It was a little odd for the first minute, since he assumed I meant the movie from decades ago. After he realized I meant the magazine, he asked me what sort of stuff they were even publishing these days.

Truth be told, thirty years after it started, Heavy Metal is still up to just about what it was doing in the late '70s. Sure, not every issue is stuffed with nothing but bits and pieces of European comics serials anymore; those early issues practically dared you to keep reading. Then again, I believe there was a time in the late '80s when the magazine didn't publish any serials at all.

But for a long time now, it's been a steady stream of a dozen or so album-length works per year, many of them ongoing series from the French-language market but some of them from English-native folks like Pat Mills, spread out over six regular issues and three special issues. Shorts also included. It's still on most bookstore magazine racks, and in many comics stores. It remains the most visible and easily accessed source for European comics in English.

The quality varies a lot, and I don't buy every issue, but they do manage some interesting stuff. Last year there was an entire special issue (Summer 2006) dedicated to Alessandro Barbucci's and Barbara Canepa's Sky Doll, one of the slicker anime/manga-influenced European pop comics pieces, a style Heavy Metal has been promoting at least since Enrico Marini's and Thierry Smolderen's Katsuhiro Otomo-soaked Gypsy. I'm always happy to see stuff like Alexandro Jodorowsky's and Milo Manara's historical-exploitation-film-on-paper Borgia (March 2005, July 2006), or one of those Stan & Vince/Benoît Delépine batshit epics (most recent: Godkiller, November 2006).

But this brand-new special, out in bookstores now (and comics shops on Wednesday), caught my eye for a different reason. It's the 30th Anniversary Special, after all. What might Heavy Metal do to usher in its fourth decade?

The answer, it seems, is Melting Pot.

C'mon, you remember Melting Pot! A four-issue, 1993-94 miniseries from Kitchen Sink? Collected in 1995? The story of a hulking barbarian dictator on a swordplay fantasy planet (with lasers and spaceships) who catches a fatal sexually-transmitted disease, which prompts him to wage holy war on a society of religious extremists in the hope that the prophesized return of God will cure him of his ailment? And then God comes back and gets pissed at our warlike ways, but then we kill God, man?

From Kevin Eastman, Eric Talbot and Simon Bisley? The same Kevin Eastman whose Tundra publishing concern had just melded with Kitchen Sink earlier in '93, and who's been publisher and editor-in-chief of Heavy Metal since 1991? The same Melting Pot that served as basis for the animated film Heavy Metal 2000?

Eastman admits in his introduction to the issue (and here too) that it's a bit gauche to reprint one of his own comics in the 30th Anniversary issue; there were apparently some other planned projects that fell through. But this new Melting Pot has been simmering for a while, and it's not just a reprint - it's been totally rewritten (by Eastman), relettered (by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt), expanded by 45 pages (for a total of 170), and now bears the mark of four artists (Rob Prior's the new guy).

And it's not just about adding pages either. Eastman says he's never been totally happy with Melting Pot, as he details here. He and Talbot had been working on the book since the late '80s, but it didn't really take off until Bisley began playing with the 'finished' art in the early '90s. Bisley's credit in the original series reads simply "paints," but it's pretty clear that he painted assertively.

Soon, he and Eastman were putting together new pages, although Bisley worked out of sequence, and had trouble maintaining visual continuity. According to Eastman, he also eventually got bored with the book, which is apparent from simply looking at some of the slapdash pages from issue #4, which are invariably followed by something more energetic, possibly originating from a more interested time. Eastman also cites as problematic his own weaknesses as a writer: "I thought I got too artistic for my own good and I took out half the dialog that I originally had put in and a lot of people who had read the story couldn't understand it unless you were me."

So, the new Melting Pot is all about addition.

There's some all-new pages. A bunch of old pages have been split apart and bolstered with new Eastman/Bisley art. All sorts of pre-existing related art has been sewn into the body of the work, including Heavy Metal 2000 production art, and even one of the original Kitchen Sink covers. There's a new prologue. The ending is totally redone. Eastman's wordcount has to have at least doubled - captions dot former splash pages, several of which have been pasted over with tiny panels and extra bits of business. New artist Prior is credited with "digital artwork, remastering and visual effects," which means the whole thing has been fed into image software and sandblasted with color tweaks and blur effects and blood spatters and flares of light, enough so that the patchwork is throttled into something akin to visual consistency.

If anything, this accomplishes the not-inconsiderable feat of making Melting Pot even more garish than it initially was. Reading it actually gave me a headache. It is a more level work than it was before, although there's still at least one instance of a character's costume changing without warning from one page to the next. And some pages look smeary and indistinct, smothering the original's profound, clay-like Richard Corben influence under a glowy gauze.

Yet there's an interesting thing going on between incarnations of Melting Pot - both works are creations of their times, and rooted in contemporaneous styles.

The first Melting Pot may have dated back to the '80s, but much of its character was built in the early '90s, a period of action/fantasy comics steeped in visual bombast. The early Image books are usually seen as embodying the zeitgeist, and Melting Pot was part of it too. Much of its heart is in the post-underground mainstream 'bridge' work of Corben and others, but the many crushing splashes and jutting character movements mark it as then-modern type of book. Eastman's dialogue is sparse, and prone to short, declarative bellows, sitting like islands in an ocean of wordless battles. Violent visual impact is the foremost concern, supported by terse evocations of social concerns. You don't need to look hard to find echoes of AIDS and geopolitical anxiety - that stuff was in plenty of the early Image books too. It's encoded, albeit without much grace, into bone-crunching clashes.

The new Melting Pot, in contrast, reflects a more word-driven environment for this type of comic, just a ways past the trend for decompression. Eastman has cited both Corben and Frank Miller as the key influences on the work - the many captions dotting these updated pages play out Miller's writerly aspect as much as Corben's visual concern. There is more attention paid to the literary - Eastman adopts a conversational style for most characters, occasionally drifts into biblical-style verse, and even tosses in some textual allusions to other comics works (the world's god has been named Tarim, for example). The art is more concerned with page design and panel beat, with several climactic double-page battle splashes flanked by tiny panels rushing across the tops and bottoms. The coloring conveys mood moreso than tactile immediacy or candy gloss.

This is a Melting Pot for comics as often read through the lens of prose, compared to prose literature at its points of high sophistication, and criticized most often on the levels of plot point and character motivation across the board. The old Melting Pot was faster, harder, and more opaque, for a time of punch and dazzle above most else in pop action comics. Immediacy.

It's still Melting Pot, mind you. There's lines like "Well that was pretty good -- I think I came and shit my pants at the same time! Hah! Hah! Hah!" It's still the story of a muscle-bound badass fighting big-breasted religious fundamentalists over pages and pages of sex and violence. They still kill God (Tarim!) at the end, although now they talk with God too, stating the case of man's warlike ways, then pontificating on living in peace after the big feller goes down. It's still kind of hard to read, but for different reasons. Loud and overindulgent, but in different ways. Onto these walls, though we can project the desires of popular fight funnies.

It won't be hard to find, or sample. Or take an impulse-buy chance on, if you're up for it. It is a magazine-sized, full-color, 170-page comics production, ads at the front and back only, for $6.95. Tucked away somewhere in every mall bookstore you can think of. That's kind of a miracle in today's comics scene, and highlights the advantage of being a 30-year institution - they'll know where to find you.


Plunge into muscles on the internet!

*So, let me tell you about -


Powr Mastrs Vol. 1 (of 6, as publisher Dan Nadel revealed in the comments)

New Engineering (the proudly inhuman manga of Yuichi Yokoyama)


The Punisher MAX #51

two superhero comics (The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite #2 and The Programme #4)

At The Savage Critics! Go arrange your finances so you can spring on the first episode of Sam & Max Season 2 -- featuring the writing of Jeff Lester -- as soon as it's up. I love those lil' episode games.

*In case you're wondering where my newly and unofficially biweekly column is, I'm expecting it for tomorrow or Thursday. It's one I've been meaning to write for two years now, so another day or two isn't that long a wait for me...

*Good reading of the moment: ComiPress' ongoing English-language presentation of Manga Zombie, a 1997 collection of artist profiles/critical summaries by cultural commentator Takeo Udagawa, focusing on the idiosyncratic extremes of the '60s and '70s. It's translated by John Gallagher, and author-approved.

So far it's only up to the first of 31 total essays, and the author's already invented his own name for one school of visual style (Fleshbomb!!), so you know plenty of good times are ahead. Udagawa's a passionate (if somewhat fannish), detail-oriented writer, and brings a perspective to manga criticism that's otherwise totally absent from English letters: an art-oriented, excess-happy longtime reader who views the famously lucrative post-'70s system of big-time manga production as a hopeless drag on the form's vitality, and regards the rise of otaku culture with barely-restrained disgust. He rhapsodizes about works with titles like Pirate Ship of Hungry Slaves and Saint Muscle, but also knows how to connect the unique style of artist Masami Fukushima to the popular drive of later hits like Fist of the North Star.

Granted, he does fuck up the Moebius bit in his Preface - Giraud created Arzach in 1976, two years before he began working with Jodorowsky, and the latter had nothing to do with the former's visual transformation away from the Blueberry style. Still, he's a guy worth reading on his own, transformed comics culture.

*Anyway, onward to -


(note that a bunch of sites are listing a quartet of PictureBox books coming out, including Maggots and the hardcover reprint of Frank Santoro's Storeyville, plus both the books I reviewed at the links above from my SPX spending spree... note that Diamond is not listing them for this week, so they may or may not show up at your store)

Winsor McCay: Early Works Vol. 9 & Dream of the Rarebit Fiend: The Saturdays: You've gotta hand it to Checker - they're not ready to let up on old Silas. Of these two books, the former is yet another installment of the publisher's trade paperback format editions of McCay miscellany, likely heavy on illustration and editorial cartooning. The latter is an inexpensive ($19.95), limited edition (1000 copies), oversized (9" x 12') landscape-format hardcover, compiling 190 episodes of the master's famed series at very nearly their original newspaper print size. It'll be a nice choice for readers curious about the material, although they'll want to act on that curiosity quickly. Also this week, Checker has Growing Old with B.C., a 50 Year Celebration, so you can see for yourself if it really was funny back then.

Cromartie High School Vol. 12 (of 17): It's sort of hard to believe that this thing might seriously run the whole way in English. But it might!

Southland Tales: The Prelude Saga: I think this movie is actually going to hit theaters for real in a few weeks, so here's a big 360-page omnibus collection of those Graphitti Designs prequel comics that creator Richard Kelly wrote and Brett Weldele drew. It's $29.95, and seems to have photos of actors on the cover.

Foolkiller MAX #1 (of 5): In which prose novelist Gregg Hurwitz tries his hand at an extended comics storyline, following the Steve Gerber concept of a vigilante killer who acts to erase the 'fools' from society. Hurwitz has expressed great admiration for Garth Ennis' work on The Punisher MAX, and penciller Lan Medina (replacing Juan Barranco, man of mystery - that's his art at the interview link, so here's Medina's) is fresh off a recent Punisher run, so it might not be outrageous to expect a somewhat similar tone.

Casanova #10: This is a comic book that I am reading.

Streets of Glory #2 (of 6): I was none too impressed with the debut of this Garth Ennis/Mike Wolfer cowboy affair, but I'll give it a little space. Avatar also has some Warren Ellis stuff out, like issue #3 of Doktor Sleepless and Black Summer Alpha, which is a bumper edition of issues #0 and #1.

The Authority: Prime #1 (of 6): Yeah, the other one's not coming out. So let Christos Gage & Darick Robertson massage the pain out of your back. Ahhhh. Um, that's kind of all that's new and eye-catching from Greater DC this week, although the first hardcover collection of Darwyn Cooke's The Spirit revival, collecting issues #1-6 and the Jeph Loeb co-written Batman/The Spirit special. It's cute material, and as pretty as you'd expect.

Schulz and Peanuts: I had an awesome joke all ready to go about how we find out in this new biography that Charles Schultz was going to wait for three months after the strip ended and then 'out' Shermy in a q&a session, but I've decided it's so good I'm going to preserve it for a really special time, like the birth of my first grandchild or my inaugural address.



You know what takes forever to write about? Art Manga!!

"Watch out if your big-hit-manga-artist-aspiring child starts pledging his allegiance to 'Art.' Remember, Art is the spiritual cancer of adolescence. Art will first start by eating away at your child's brain; then, gradually, he will do anything for the sake of art, destroying his social life. The day he ruins the rest of his family is the day he becomes an artist.

"In order to prevent this, you must make sure you communicate with him openly every day. The entire family should get up early, turn towards Mount Fuji and chant 'Effort, Friendship, Victory.'"

- from the manga industry satire Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga, by Koji Aihara & Kentaro Takekuma

New Engineering

This little product of Glorious Nippon is flying well under the radar. How far? It was one of few imminent manga releases to warrant no mention at all in Jason Thompson's recent Manga: The Complete Guide. That won't be the last time it slips away, so let me try and hold it steady for a few minutes.

New Engineering, the creation of one Yuichi Yokoyama, is PictureBox Inc.'s first foray into full-blown manga publishing, after recently devoting half of The Ganzfeld 5: Japanada! (which was published in association with Ginkgo Press, mind you) to Japanese comics and graphic artists, Yokoyama among them.

It won't be their last dip either - they've got a Takashi Nemoto collection coming up, as well as two more books by Yokoyama, the lattermost of which will be hitting US shores almost as soon as it's done. Both artists previously appeared in front of English-language readers via Fantagraphics' ill-fated 2005 international comics anthology Bête Noire, and Nemoto was part of the excellent 1996 Blast Books anthology Comics Underground Japan, but it'll be mostly unfamiliar stuff for a lot of readers, and a sort of uncharted territory for devoted manga publishing in North America.

I picked the book up at SPX last week; I do believe it was a show debut. Naturally, it's not out from Diamond yet, although you can order it here. It's 232 b&w pages, oversized-for-manga at 8" x 10.5", and priced at $19.95. And take note, otaku of the authentic experience - the book is unflipped, and the sound effects are translated via footnotes at the bottom of every page. This is the sort of manga that'll benefit greatly from as little mucking with the art as possible.

And as for that art, and this comic... well, it's easier to have you click here first. Not only does Chris Lanier give you a dandy overview of much of this material (which Éditions Matière has released over two volumes, Travaux Publics and Combats, for the European market), but there's some nice art samples, and you really want to look at those. Go find a copy of The Comics Journal #263 (Oct/Nov 2004) too, since the always-valuable Bill Randall has a fine overview of Yokoyama's work tucked away in there. Plus more pictures.

Pictures are helpful, since it's very difficult to convey the experience of reading this book. Both Sol LeWitt and Tadashi Kawamata are mentioned as sources of appreciation or inspiration for Yokoyama, but they're not doing comics, and these are comics. There is nothing else quite like it readily available to English-language readers.

It's fundamentally a collection of short comics, culled from places like 'underground' manga anthologies such as Ax (a splinter publication from the famed Garo), or the annual art/design bonanza Comic Cue, the publisher of which (East Press) first released the package to Japan in 2004. Notice how I didn't use the words "short stories." That's because Yokoyama's comics aren't so much 'stories' as extended actions. An entire 22-page piece might be devoted entirely to weird machines rumbling around or soaring above, dropping rocks and gluing down trees and unrolling astroturf, nary a word spoken until a mighty mountain is built.

Another 19-page epic might be devoted to a parade of men undergoing brutally violent, mechanistic, ritualistic beautifying treatments, razor-sharp sound effects slicing across nearly every panel as attire is thrashed onto every stoic man: a bird costume, a cloak of saran wrap and a paper bag with a hole torn for the face, a striped shirt and fine slacks with a water-filled glass cube for the head, a parka of lottery balls, a jumpsuit of paper money, an entire automobile frame balanced atop a shirt of braided grass. The piece does not end. It stops.

And then there's the fights. A fleeing swordsman slices his way through several bookcases, ripped pages fluttering toward the fore and becoming panels-within-panels, adopting the formal properties of the page itself, but with overtly iconic character in contrast to the action spectacle off to the sides. A whole town battles gunmen in ladder trucks, pages nearly incoherent with thrusting diagonal lines and flipping bodies and sound effects of all styles, English included. Lines of dialogue include "We can't get it. It's your turn." and "Let's escape!" and "Now we are leaving." The comics end when the fights do, nothing left to say once the action's over.

This is the entire book, from its longest segments to its one-page studies of a man paying for a drink in the most manga-dramatic visual style one could hope for. And yes, keeping in mind the diversity in Japanese comics that tends to escape English-only eyes, these stretches of activity are very much manga, exploiting an exceedingly self-aware visual schema informed by a thousand lancing, clench-fisted shōnen bonanzas. It's Naruto's library of symbols, stripped of warmth and purpose, and turned into something... else.

Luckily for context junkies like myself, PictureBox has provided a total localization of the Japanese original, including all supplementary material, and even added something extra of its own: a two-page interview with Yokoyama (conducted by PictureBox head Dan Nadel), that delves a bit into his philosophy. Put simply, Yokoyama views manga creation not as crafting a story but isolating a single key image -- a painting ,as he puts it -- which is then "serialized" by building new panels forward and backward. His objective is to present these occasions as they might be viewed by an inanimate object, without any psychological representation at all. This is to avoid any trace of humanism, as Yokoyama puts it, which he sees as impotent to affect any truly new ideas.

In other words, his goal is to move beyond 'craft' or "the human trace," in order to grasp a lasting and universal impact that might give rise to an appreciation, many cultures away or hundreds of years into the future, that could continually stimulate fresh discoveries. He bluntly states that his work is not entertainment. Hope you didn't laugh at the fellow wearing bubbles!

Well, maybe that's okay. Yokoyama's art may be deliberately packed with icy approximations of comics movement and sound effects so straight and jutting that they transform every page into diabolically aware design vessels (indeed, many the one-pagers were apparently sold as posters), but he does retain a certain sense of humor, what with the absurd uniforms of his lego man characters, mouths almost always open in alarm. There's an Acme Novelty Library-style paper cut-out fun page, which effectively presses the flat, design unit nature of his characters and machines into the realm of parody.

The straight-from-Japan bonus features get pretty eccentric, with a lengthy commentary for one story dedicated solely to describing what's happening in nearly every panel. Annotations are provided for every segment, including one where Yokoyama admits that his visuals don't work and proceeds to tell us what's supposed to be happening. Another sees him dubbing a one-page effort an adaptation of The Blair Witch Project. The relevant comic concludes with a bird-faced man being dragged into a boulder's trap door by a man-gorilla with a glass bowl on its head. Fuck, that movie was too dark to see any of the good stuff.

But I can't say you'll laugh too much. Up and down and across go the furious motions of Yokoyama's figures. Sometimes he appears to be shooting for some mild social satire with his pieces - maybe the humanistic impulse of such proved crippling, but seeing a group of people labor over an artificial lake, only to build a means of looking around from the shallow bottom of it, strikes me as banal. He's better when he presses his concerns all the way through a 'story,' like seven solid pages of a media superstar being adored to smothering by fans.

I like the fights the best, though - truly these are battles without honor & humanity! Shapes and objects flung and beaten, violence and the beauty of movement thrown around like pages in a tornado. Are we all just automatons in this world? Set on paths and plugged into our environments, our every motion as predestined toward a short-sighted conclusion as the leap from one panel to the next, as striking as our poses might be? Is this the Japan of Yokoyama, building over and over to odd or negligible effect, the march of progress as melodramatic a drive to nowhere as the pomp of getting dressed in the 21st century?

Ah, you see... intent isn't everything in the world, but I might be guilty of seeing a non-humanist work (to borrow the artist's use of the word) in humanist terms. I expect Yokoyama would argue that this is not the sort of work that argues through storytelling. It argues that storytelling itself, at least in the personable, emotive form, is exhausted, and instead presents a selection of being, as bolstered by the scaffolding of the comics form. Yet I still think that his "new information" is that we are people in boxes, and still in boxes as we walk, since the frame is the context of our world. Is that how the lamp or the lightswitch might see it?


Da short post, since there's stuff at the other site...

*Notes on upcoming books:

- After a truly absurd delay, the infamous Teen Titans Super-Groovy Funtime Elseworlds Whatever will be published under the ass-covering title of Teen Titans: The Lost Annual. Oh... they lost it! Written by the late Bob Haney, with art by Jay Stephens & Mike Allred and a cover by Nick Cardy, it's finally due in January at a scant $4.99.

- This was buried in that New Yorker Festival superhero comics panel, but Grant Morrison has apparently begun writing the long-rumored Seaguy 2: Slaves of Mickey Eye (if it's still called that). The original Seaguy is probably my favorite Morrison work of the 21st century, so I'm pretty excited, although I have to wonder about its tone. The original was practically vibrating with frustration over superhero comics, perhaps attributable to troubles late in Morrison's time with Marvel. It stands as one of the writer's most downbeat superhero works, albeit still a little hopeful for the future. I wonder what that future will now feel like?

- Oh, Mike Ploog is drawing Aragones' & Evanier's The Spirit? That's pretty neat.


"They changed when shocked with plain electricity."

Powr Mastrs Vol. 1 (of 6, or maybe 10, or something else, I don't know)

I got this at SPX last weekend; Diamond doesn't have it yet, but you can order it online from publisher PictureBox. It's 120 (not 144) b&w pages, $18.00. The cover is traffic cone orange, with all its art and letters in blue foil. If it's in a store, anywhere, and you are in that store also, you won't miss it.

Powr Mastrs is the first bookshelf-ready project from writer/artist Chris Forgues, who's credited as merely "C.F." You might know him from the minicomics series Low Tide, or his work in The Ganzfeld and Kramers Ergot. He also performs music under the moniker Kites. In his SPX presentation, an interview conducted by editor/publisher Dan Nadel, he went into his predilection for alternate names, as well as his working methods. It isn't just me who doesn't know how long this series is going to be - Forgues himself expressed a distaste for planning works out too much, preferring to let things develop on their own.

That's not an uncommon attitude for comics. I once saw an interview with ultra-mainstream manga hit machine Naoki Urasawa (he of Monster and Pluto), in which he expressed similar sentiments; if I'm recalling correctly, he knows when to hit the 'major' plot points, and keeps a general idea of how long a work ought to be, but otherwise leaves a lot of room for in-project development and improvisation. Granted, he's got a publishing infrastructure around him poised to facilitate such impulses, but that's not to say that Forgues & PictureBox aren't dishing up what some insist the US comics scene could use: an extended, bookstore and Direct Market-ready graphic novel-format serial, chock-full of vivid imagination and proper storytelling values.

Ah, what's that? "Fort Thunder," you say? Yeah, Forgues knew and admired some of those folks. In 1998, he co-founded a free comics publication titled Paper Radio with Ben Jones (later of Paper Rad, and another artist who tends to get filed in with the same bunch), and their work inspired -- and sometimes appeared in -- the Thunderous free concoction Paper Rodeo. But wait, aren't those people, in the words of Leigh Walton, who's speaking in the hypothetical, "oblique pomo aesthetes seemingly disinterested in story"?

The trick with talking about the artists of Fort Thunder (keeping in mind that Fort Thunder itself hasn't actually existed as a place since 2001), or the artists that took inspiration from Fort Thunder, is just that - they're all individual artists. I do know what 'Fort Thunder' is supposed to mean, just as I know what 'The Comics Journal' is supposed to mean, even though I know that, say, Bob Levin and Ng Suat Tong and R.C. Harvey don't read a damn bit alike.

The same goes for, say, Brian Chippendale and Matt Brinkman and Brian Ralph. Sure, Chippendale's Maggots isn't a paragon of straightforward storytelling clarity, but Brinkman's Teratoid Heights is an almost documentary-like vision of monsters going about their business. And Ralph's in Nickelodeon Magazine, doing Avatar: The Last Airbender tie-in comics while working on his zombie apocalypse series Daybreak. As he mentioned several months ago:

"I think people overdo the art collective aspect [of Fort Thunder]. It grew really organically, and that was part of the beauty of it. We never had a house meeting to decide how we were going to attack the world. You had all these people who couldn't sit through a house meeting. But you had a lot of people with a burning desire to do stuff."

Forgues' work here radiates with a similar desire, and the results are appealing pages of surreal fantasy, drafted in a unique line (samples are visible at the ordering link up top) that pairs up doodly character expressions, stark outlines and sparse location interiors with lush natural settings and detailed, somewhat Kalutaesque costumes, all with a minimum of shading. I hope I'm getting this right, but I do believe everything is penciled, then run through a copy machine to rudely pop the blacks. The result looks a bit like the most beguiling b&w boom comic you could ever hope to exhume from a longbox, crossed with an eerily imprecise Winsor McCay strip from god knows when or where.

The plot has scope to burn, set in the fantatical New China of the far future. The 'main' story follows the travails of young Subra Ptareo, an expat from the vaguely theocratic living space of White Block, who's on a mission through the adjoining enchanted wood to purge impurities from his system. Everyone he meets outside somehow manages to restrain their giggles toward what seem to be mere allergies. Among them are Naphtha, an immortal child who attends "beard parties" for the thrill of pretending he's aged, and Windlass Wendy, a playful witch who's prepping for the lawless, likely magical bacchanal of Transmutation Night.

Elsewhere, submarine operators with funny mustaches trade meat for licorice with the denizens of an inexplicable polar region just outside the forest. The awesomely-named Ajax Lacewing pines after another, scantly-clad witch, over the warnings of her equally scantly-clad brother (the naked bits are equal opportunity). Lady Minirex and her maybe sinister cohorts arrange for her own impregnation by the Jellyfish Emperor, which means a full-blown tentacle sex interlude. Consensual tentacle sex, now - this is a classy book!

And all of it may or may not be tied to Mosfet Warlock, a nosferatu-looking magician/scientist (or is his science so advanced it seems magical?) who wears a human skin "mobile suit" and once unlocked the secret of chrysanthemum gas that can transform dead flesh into metal seeds that sprout into robot Mechlin Men; in the process, he puked up a smoky shadow self called Tarkey, who now only wants escape. But Mosfet as uncaring a god as he is curious.

It's all very introductory, filled with scene-setting and new characters seemingly every chapter. We're not even told what the title of the series means yet. Really, some readers might see the book's main weakness as similar to that of many 'bigger' genre comics - a slow rollout. But it's compelling, both for Forgues' reckless ambition and his one-of-a-kind visual style. It's the latter that might get him tagged as a formalist (not that I'd mind), since he's approaching fantasy adventure subject matter through a visual mode that draws out a maximum of childlike surface glee, but I see this aspect of the work as running parallel to Forgues' straightforward storytelling instincts.

In a way, the book is comparable to old friend Jones' and Frank Santoro's PictureBox project Cold Heat, another dive into genre material with a uniquely situated art style. Forgues is more visually conservative than Santoro, and not quite as adept; some early sequences (which date back to 2004) are confusingly staged, although the artist gets his bearings soon enough. I should also mention that his lettering is often excellent, expanding and shaking with characters' emotions, and, yes, sometimes lapsing into nonsense when characters are feeling extreme, much like a different comic's characters might spit out scratches and planetoids when screaming curses or something.

But it's hard not to look toward other 'Fort Thunder' and related works. Interestingly, while Chippendale's and Brinkman's longer comics tend to focus on large communities festering with life, Forgues looks at a wanderer prompted to enter a new world of small klatches and weird magic. Aw, but that's not of much use. What about Jim Drain, or Leif Goldberg, who haven't had longform comics released by publishers? And isn't that ignoring the visual design and 'fine' art aspects of the Fort anyway? The culture?

Take this from me now: Powr Mastrs is an intriguing, accessible bit of world-building, affecting in both concept and execution, with the two also affecting one another. I look forward to dipping into its world again.


Supervisor-Elect of Lazytown

*Oooh, I didn't do a ton of reviewing last week.


Golgo 13 Vol. 11 (of 13): The Wrong Man

SPX 2007 (and some lil' reviews of comics I picked up)


Aaah, not a peep from the other site. But that won't last.

*Here's this.


Golgo 13 Vol. 11 (of 13): Laffs and history alike are shot to death for money. My review. Don't forget The Drifting Classroom Vol. 8 (of 11), now inching toward the home stretch, and Naoki Urasawa's Monster Vol. 11 (of 18), which is nowhere near the home stretch at all.

AWESOME: The Indie Spinner Rack Anthology: In which the popular podcast spawns a 208-page b&w anthology from Evil Twin Comics, your $14.95 helping to fund a student scholarship for the Center for Cartoon Studies. I saw many stacks of these at SPX the other day - the covers are designed to fit together across multiple copies, thus turning any table into a large, clever ad. There's a big preview at the homepage, along with an impressive list of contributors (Al Columbia! Renée French!). Clearly worth leafing though, at the least.

Tintin and the Secret of Literature: S... say! I don't think there's many pictures in here! But devout Hergé readers will probably want a look at this, a 240-page study by Tom McCarthy of how the famed comics series might be called literature, and what the series' themes might mean for 'literature' itself. Actually, comics/literature issues have been coming up a lot lately, not to mention steady Tintin-related hype (movies!) and controversy (insensitivity!), so maybe this thing's showing up at just the right time.

Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel: Man, Chris pointed out a neat-looking book of Harry Potter fan comics at SPX. Kind of a doujinshi flavor there, which doesn't mean everyone's having sex, by the way. Not necessarily. Er, anyway, this is a 100% authorized funnybook adaptation of the first book in Eoin Colfer's teen-targeted criminal mastermind series, the script adapted by Colfer & Andrew Donkin, with art by Giovanni Rigano (lines) & Paolo Lamanna (colors). Look at it here. I don't think any sex can be reasonably expected.

Skyscrapers of the Midwest #4 (of 4): Oh no! Could this be the end?! Yes, bow your heads for the final installment of Joshua W. Cotter's much-loved series, going out on a 56-page note, from AdHouse as always. The flames of Hell, superhero t&a, and a great 8-bit NES ad parody parade before your eyes, prior to the final fade to white. Since nobody likes to be alone, AdHouse also has J. Chris Campbell's new Zig Zag #2 this week, for your pleasure.

Suburban Glamour #1 (of 4): A new Image project from Phonogram artist Jamie McKelvie, now also the writer, with Guy Major bringing it all into color. A bored teenager, playing in a band and dreaming of monsters, sees her childhood imaginary friends pop in one day to let her know that shit's going down. This is how it looks.

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite #2 (of 6): Well, I liked the first one!

Army@Love #8: God, I'm pretty glad there's a regular comic out from writer/penciller Rick Veitch. This week, Vertigo makes it easy to catch up on the wartime satire/soap opera antics, since issues #1-6 are also being compiled into Army@Love Vol. 1: The Hot Zone Club, with an intro by Peter Kuper. I guess you'll have to look around for issue #7. Maybe your shopkeeper is hiding it. He's hiding a lot of things from you. My cameras know.

The Programme #4 (of 12): Always teetering on the edge my losing interest... Milligan!

Elephantmen #11: I also buy this. Aren't you glad to know?

Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil: Hibbs really liked the looks (and features!) of this deluxe $29.99 hardcover Jeff Smith collection, what with the dust jacket turning into a fold-out poster, and the cover underneath looking just as nice, and many pages of bonus materials being included. He did not like the timing of the release, though, with the series itself having only wrapped a few months ago. If you've been holding off, it'll be a sweet package. This is a good, young-skewing series, which benefits immeasurably from Smith's grasp of childhood dream logic and latent worry, enough so that it manages to wriggle out from under heavy dollops of political commentary not far removed from Captain Planet in action-stopping blunt force. The visuals are as nice as you'd expect, though, with some great body nuance and fun character designs.

52: The Covers: Relive the magic of seeing things on the shelf, with this $19.99, 128-page oversized hardcover collection of J.G. Jones' cover art for the weekly series, along with other drawings, production materials, and commentary. Also out is 52: The Companion, a $19.95, 224-page softcover array of various reprinted solo stories featuring key members of the series cast, culled from all over the place.



SPX 2007: Raw Muscle Power

*I don't go to a lot of comics conventions, nor do comics enter into much of my working-day or social life. I've also only attend conventions (expos, whatever) focused on small-press and minicomic productions, foldout tables usually packed with stuff I'd never otherwise have the chance to hold in my hands and flip through.

As a result, I maybe bring a strange set of expectations to these shows. They're basically my only chance to actually meet most of the people I can really discuss comics with. They're also isolated, full-immersion consumerist experiences in pools of works I otherwise can't lay my eyes on. There's always an interplay between the 'marketplace' and 'appreciative' elements of shows like SPX, a megamall flea market aesthetic joined with intellectual consideration of the comics form, each side made all the more vivid from the personal nature of many of the works involved.
So I often find myself trying to catch up with people, while playing catch-up with stuff I haven't had time to locate online. There's eloquent arguments to make in favor of more art, more community, and way less selling things at shows like these. And, even in the short time I've been going to these shows, I have found myself being occupied less with the 'buying' aspect and more with observational and interactive elements. But maybe I'm just a fast shopper; my mother taught me well.

As usual for the day after these things, I find I'm most happy with having been able to see (in the flesh!) people I generally can't. I met up with Sean T. Collins, Marc Singer, Justin J. Fox, Marcos Perez, Douglas Wolk, Gina Gagliano, and many others. I was introduced to Bill Kartalopoulos, who was editor of the fine, defuct Indy Magazine, the archives of which are very much worth perusing. I said hello to a lot of different artists I'd never met, like Becky Cloonan and Gilbert Hernandez. As always, my friend and frequent traveling companion Chris Mautner was with me, and should have some pictures and stuff up at Newsarama's blog pretty soon.

It was a good time. A lot of very good talks and panels, some of which I listed the other day. I'd never been to one of Kim Deitch's talks (he had one at MoCCA this year too), and it was a very nice time. Much of it saw him reading along with panels of his comics via slideshow, performing 'voices' for all of the characters and singing all song lyrics, specifically for this song.

The theme of the talk was how his interest in 'reality' comics (like his death row reportage from Details), fed into the faux-autobiography of his current Alias the Cat, although I found the obligatory q&a session with the audience to be even more interesting, getting into his thoughts on words and pictures (he's currently working in illustrated prose with his brothers), visual appropriation (I hadn't known he'd been asked to collaborate with the Air Pirates back in the day!), and current animation (he loves Hayao Miyazaki, although his favorite Studio Ghibli movie is the Yoshifumi Kondō-directed Whisper of the Heart, which admittedly had heavy Miyazaki involvement).

I also attended the C.F. talk, which interviewer Dan Nadel ran in much the same way as the Brian Chippendale presentation from last year - broad questions on background, approach, and philosophy, allowing for lengthy, rambling answers by the artist. I liked the stories from his Paper Radio days with Ben Jones, as well as an enthusiastic appreciation of Jim Shooter-era Valiant. I picked up his book along with several other cultural blind alleys at the PictureBox table, and it's been an entertaining read so far. You know, I've heard his lettering is deliberately unreadable, but for some odd reason I actually see it as very clear! Except for one page where a character is collapsing and the letters are made scribbly for obvious added effect! Or maybe I'm just a genius. Yeah, that sounds even better!

The comics criticism panel was a good one too, very reserved and thoughtful (I hear the panel on 'novelistic' comics got pretty spirited, but I missed it); even a few jabs at Wizard's old Top 100 list culminated with the aforementioned Mr. Collins, a former Wizard editor, providing some words from the audience on the mechanics of covering a wider range of materials in a forum dedicated to select genres. I do think a partial transcript of the panel may pop up eventually, and I'll link to it when it emerges.

I wasn't paying much attention to what was hot or anything. I did notice that Nicholas Gurewitch of The Perry Bible Fellowship seemed to be mobbed whenever I saw him, and a good number of people were talking about Tom Neely's (excellent) The Blot, which I've heard sold out by the end of the show.

But as I mentioned above, I'm prone to playing catch-up at these shows. For example, I'd heard a lot of good things about Ken Dahl's minicomic series Monsters, issue #1 of which won the Ignatz for Outstanding Minicomic at last year's SPX, so I picked up both extant issues. It's very accomplished work, a funny, squirmy, well-drawn autobiographical work-in-progress about the cruel toll herpes exacts from intimate relationships. Dahl was a 2006 Fellow at the Center for Cartoon Studies, and has been active in comics since the '90s, and his work demonstrates assured visual imagination and a keen grasp of relationship dynamics. Far more info and a billion art samples can be found in this extensive five-part interview conducted by Stephen R. Bissette.

As for artists I already liked a lot, I was glad to pick up the new Brian Chippendale mini, Galactikrap #2, following up a 2005 mini titled Battlestack Galacti-crap. It's a 74-page monster -- including a pair of two-page color silkscreen sequences and some bonus gag pages by Ben Jones -- which sees Chippendale apply his interest in large casts and enveloping/omnious environments toward his most straightforward adventure narrative yet. Each page contains a maximum of two panels, detailing the experiences of varied 'teams' of fighting youth aboard the drifting space city Galacticapital Two. Cupcakes are sold, blood is spilt, outhouses teleport, evil lurks underground, and the dazzling superheroine Raw Star reveals herself! A lot closer to something like The Secret Voice or The Mourning Star than Maggots, though still very much Chippendale. I hope it's available online soon.

PictureBox had a ton of neat stuff sitting around, including no less than two special projects related to Ben Jones' & Frank Santoro's defunct comics series/upcoming graphic novel Cold Heat. There's the newspaper-format Cold Heat Special #1, plotted & laid out by Santoro for Jon Vermilyea's story & art - it's a 16-page chase sequence, executed via a lovely, animation-ready art style, suggesting what a more 'traditional' visual approach might bring to the series. There's also The Chunky Gnars: A Chocolate Gun Tribute, a 16-page minicomic-format dream sequence by Chris Cornwell, which sees heroine Castle menaced by a world-class hipster assassin and musician ("We still have an encore set to play, and I don't start killin'... TILL I'M DONE ROCKIN!!"), in pages that careen from abstract visions to 36-panels-per-page fury.

Other great stuff was around. Probably my favorite random find was BEACH PARADISE!, an imported Japanese children's book by no less than Teruhiko Yumura, aka King Terry, famed illustrator & underground manga artist, and exemplar of the Heta-Uma (clumsy skill) style since the '70s. Tom Kaczynski had Cartoon Dialectics Vol. 1, a minicomic collection of his various magazine comics (including lots of stuff from The Drama). I always love the Paping table, and I gleefully picked up the new(ish) Paping #16: The Teachers Edition, which compiles many tales of NYC public school teaching by John Mejias (and others).

So it was a very enjoyable show for me, in that all of my (possibly malformed) expectations were duly caressed. I hope you had a good caressing too.


Beauty secrets for men, in this post.

*So, I'm going down to SPX on Saturday with Chris Mautner of Blog@Newsarama, and naturally I want to try and sort out what's going on at the show, and pick out my loveliest gown and everything, and I just realized there's a lot of stuff going on. Like, I can probably spend most of the day just sitting around and watching panels and stuff. It's a good lineup. The full schedule is here, but this is how it might look for me:

12:00: Kim Deitch - a talk on many Deitch-related topics

1:00: C(hris).F(orgues). Q+A - Dan Nadel asks the Powr Mastrs creator things, and others ask him things too

2:30: The Generic and the Particular - Tim Hodler moderates a panel on 'genre' comics with Gilbert Hernandez, Jon Lewis (of True Swamp), Frank Santoro (of Cold Heat), and Matt Wagner

4:30: The State of Comics Criticism - Bill Kartalopoulos moderates a comics criticism panel populated by editors of/contributers to The Comics Journal (Gary Groth), Comics Comics (Dan Nadel, Tim Hodler), and The Savage Critics (Douglas Wolk), so you know it's got my seal of approval, which is what everyone everywhere desires most

I don't know if I'll actually go to all those events. That last one's pretty much a lock, though. Maybe I'll see you there, after having picked up the final copy of a minicomic you really wanted, thus leaving our interactions lightly pained.

Golgo 13 Vol. 11 (of 13): The Wrong Man

God, we're really nearing the end of VIZ's big Duke Togo push, aren't we? Just two years ago you had to scrape around for this stuff in English, and now there's 2000 pages of it in bookstores across the US. No word on what might be coming next. I don't recall reading anything about how this series did for its publisher in terms of sales. Will G13 vanish again? Heaven knows there's countless thousands of pages waiting after these are all gone. I'd like to see more.

I'd also like to see more stuff along the lines of this volume's File 13 bonus section, the second half of a short but fascinating 2000 interview with creator Takao Saito, conducted by excitable superfan Kunio Suzuki ("When I read Golgo 13, I get so excited I sometimes feel like turning around and punching the person behind me."). It could be that Saito might only want to have an interview with someone who'd gleefully claim to have re-read the 118 volume entirety of the series beforehand in preparation, but god I'd like to see a level-headed, career-spanning chat with this guy.

For what we're shown, there's still a lot of interesting tidbits. Saito identifies Duke Togo as the impossible ideal of his personal philosophy ("I believe that being stoic is the epitome of male beauty."), discusses his opposition to film versions of the character ("Gekiga and movies express things in a completely different way. Gekiga are not fit for movies."), goes through some personal inspirations, lays out what makes a manga artist a pro, and reveals that he has every panel of the 'final' Golgo 13 story planned out in his head, although he denies rumors that the stuff's locked away in a vault somewhere, presumably to be cracked open upon his death.

As for the stories in this volume, both hail from 1996. First off, there's the 120-page Okinawa Syndrome (Story #350, January 1996), which jumps off of the infamous 1995 abduction/rape of a young girl by a pair of US Navy sailors as its historical flashpoint kick, but quickly becomes an extended meditation on Okinawan identity in a modern Japan that sometimes seems to have traded the prefecture away for the stability of the nation. Yep, it's one of the 'serious' G13 epics, providing a kaleidoscopic view of protestors, capitalists, aristocrats and revolutionaries, everything just slightly larger-than-life, the centerpiece being a lengthy hypothetical on how a charismatic leader and a small fighting force might bring the place to its knees and hold two nations hostage.

As you might expect, it's as info-dense as anything we've seen from Saito Production. Indeed, the first 50 or so pages are so stuffed with discussion of military history, trade restrictions and post-WWII yen rates, that some readers might find their eyes watering. Even after Duke shows up (in one of his most impressive entrances yet), there remains a certain intellectual distance that's absent from other well-studied, text-heavy G13 episodes, enough so that even the 'surprise' ending isn't so much a plot twist as simply unexpected in how it affects the ideas Saito & company are exploring.

Still, there's a peculiarly emphatic tone to this set-in-Japan lesson, conjuring notions of individuals beaten down by the many, only to be exploited by the powerful when they overcompensate with revolt. When a dying man questions why Duke (who is awesome) won't choose a side to put his warrior soul behind, you can feel Saito's words from last volume: "He's not a passionate man, but is trying very hard to be so."

The second story, The Wrong Man (Story #360, December 1996), is a total change of pace from not only the story directly before but from everything we've seen in English so far, in that it's an outright comedy. Cocky traveling salesman Tony Togo bears a striking resemblance to Our Hero, enough so that he's mistaken for the hired gun by a gang of mobsters who've ordered a hit on a well-guarded rival. It's pretty much nothing more than an excuse for Saito Pro to have a Golgo-looking character grin and leer and really enjoy the typical Golgo 13 fixtures of luxury and sex, only to panic magnificently through a parodically generic impossible hit.

Even at only 45 pages, the thin, one-joke premise comes perilously close to wearing out its welcome, and it's not aided by an annoying 'clever' ending that feels mostly like everyone ran out of better ideas a few pages early, but it is kind of nice to see the studio loosen up a little, especially now that we're far enough along in the series that most English-language readers can follow along with the G13 tropes as they're trotted out for fun. Hell, even the art winds up getting away for a while; the requisite sexy female character is drawn in an off-model, almost anime-sleek style, as if some girl-crazy specialist was allowed to cut loose for a few panels as a treat. Or maybe the time crunch was on.

Who knows what secrets are buried behind the scenes as Saito Production? I'd be happy enough to start learning more about Saito himself.



The Truth is Out

*Sleep was invented by Hell to steal me.


Omega: The Unknown #1 (of 10)

Town Boy (Lat, autobiography, First Second, good)


Gumby #3

Infinity Inc. #2

column #11 (all about the manga Tekkonkinkreet and a little on its anime adaptation)

All at The Savage Critics!

*I think a mini-review has slipped into the first slot down there...


Manga: The Complete Guide: Being a nearly 600-page Leonard Maltin-type capsule review doorstop... for manga! The beauty of this Del Rey publication, however, is that the world of manga-in-English is still just small enough that writer Jason Thompson (and two dozen additional freelancing writers, Chris Butcher, Shaenon Garrity, Adam Stephanides, Otaku USA EiC Patrick Macias and the great Carl Gustav Horn among them), can actually cover everything. Not counting Korean, Chinese, or OEL works, or AniManga, or scanlations or most anthologies or light novels... but that's still a whole lot of everything. I really liked how they cover all the porn too; call me a pervert, but I think it's valuable to catalog and comment on the full breadth of 'lowdown' shit out there too. Oh, and whomever decided to include the originating anthology and years of initial Japanese serialization with every single entry in the book deserves a kiss from someone especially kissable.

The reviews are nice. Compulsively readable. A little too generous with the raves for me, but there's an interesting willingness to value especially mad and eccentric entertainment follies that I liked a lot. Also featuring some brief, knowledgeable history overviews, and no less than 38 mini-essays on various manga genres and types. I might be using it more for quick research than anything else, but it's already been worth my $19.95, and I suspect it'll be far greater a resource to newer (or simply less obsessive-compulsive) manga readers.

Town Boy: New edition of Lat's 1980 autobiographical continuation, from First Second. My review is here. The publisher is wrapping up its current line of releases this week, which will also see Sardine in Outer Space Vol. 4, the last volume of the series, if I'm not mistaken, to feature artist Joann Sfar's participation. Writer Emmanuel Guibert handles the art himself afterwards.

Mineshaft #20: New issue of the neato underground comics-affiliated magazine, filled with drawings and comics and stuff. Review coming up eventually.

Walt & Skeezix Vol. 3: 1925-1926: You know the Drawn & Quarterly/Gasoline Alley drill: another two years of gently funny, emotionally tender, and visually lovely strips from Frank King, paired up with a monster 80-page historical supplement section, this time focusing on the strip's marketing. And yes, that absolutely does mean a tour of designer Chris Ware's toy collection. What...? Chris Ware's toys aren't enough for you?

Sundays with Walt & Skeezix Vol. 1: Ok, hotshot, how about plunking down a big $95 for this massive (16" x 21") 96-page hardcover from Sunday Press Books (of the famed Little Nemo in Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays!), presenting a selection of restored Sunday pages from Gasoline Alley's first 15 years in their original color and publication size. Ware's onboard this one as designer too; check out these essays by him and Sunday Press' Peter Maresca, then leaf through these samples, knowing that it'll never be the same as owning this very costly, very tempting tome. NEVER.

Shortcomings: Collecting the recent three-issue storyline from Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve. Look, the book even has its own site. I thought this was actually one of the author's livelier, funnier recent(ish) works, but if Tomine's maladjusted lead characters, 'literary' sensibility, and icily cinematic approach to the funnybook form piss you off to no end, you're still going to wind up punching something over this book, and then you'll have to pretend you got into a fight so your friends won't make fun of you over your wounds. Adrian Tomine: Pope of Humiliation.

James Sturm's America: God, Gold, and Golems: Yes, when it rains Drawn & Quarterly releases, it pours. This is a new $24.95 hardcover omnibus of James Sturm works, including the excellent old-timey religion short The Revival, the dying-gasps-of-gold-fever novella Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight, and the much-admired baseball 'n Judaism graphic novel The Golem's Mighty Swing. Easier than ever to read 'em all.

The Complete Nemesis the Warlock Vol. 2: And at the other end of the reprint rainbow, here's a $29.99 brick of fun and games from the life of 2000 AD, presenting Books 5-7 (of 10) in the mystic/demonic war against religious and political tyranny, along with shorter things. From writer Pat Mills, and brimming with art by Bryan Talbot and Kevin O'Neill, among others.

Appleseed Hypernotes: Wow! Akira Club the other month, now this?! There must be an 'actually publishing our promised manga supplements' renaissance going on at Dark Horse. This here is the long, long-awaited collected edition of stuff that ran back in the old Super Manga Blast anthology, a bunch of character and tech info pieces coupled with an 80-page comics story from writer/artist Masamune Shirow, which may go a ways toward fooling you into thinking he's actually going to finish the Appleseed series proper someday, which he's not. $14.95 for 160 b&w and color pages.

B.P.R.D.: The Killing Ground #3 (of 5): This is always worthwhile. Say, speaking of supplements that don't show up, what of Hellboy: The Companion? Dark Horse's site says it's a mere seven months away, so start saving those pennies...

Yotsuba&! Vol. 5: Presenting more frolic from Kiyohiko Azuma's beloved green-haired pixie. Better savor this one - I don't think ADV even has a release date set for Vol. 6, and Vol. 7 just came out in Japan a few weeks ago, so we're nearing the limit.

Yearbook Stories: 1976-1978: In this week's 'random item' slot, Top Shelf has a 32-page, $4.00 pamphlet collection of autobiographical comics from... Top Shelf Publisher Chris Staros. I've read some of this stuff, and it doesn't quite stack up with Chris Oliveros' The Envelope Manufacturer, let me tell ya.

Tank Girl: The Gifting #4 (of 4): All things must pass, and thus goes the Ashley Wood incarnation of this franchise, for now. Writer/co-creator Alan Martin will supposedly next be teaming up with artist Mike (Mick) McMahon for Tank Girl: Carioca, from Titan, whenever.

Black Summer #3 (of 7): Maim for politics. Also from Avatar: Garth Ennis' Chronicles of Wormwood trade, presenting a somewhat tedious but disarmingly personal account of spiritual matters and penis jokes from the writer in the title and artist Jacen Burrows.

The Punisher MAX #51: Finally, back on track! Featuring the art of Goran Parlov, and hopefully many cute baby shots like in Ghostbusters 2. Also new from Marvel this week are Punisher War Journal #12, a World War Hulk tie-in, and Wolverine #58, which I'm buying strictly for the Blade team.

Captain Carrot and the Final Ark #1 (of 3): Well, here's the most interesting thing DC's got out this week. Really. It's a Countdown tie-in! From writer Bill Morrison and artists Scott Shaw! & Al Gordon. I don't think I need to explain it? Oh, there's a new Steve Niles/Scott Hampton ongoing Batman thing out called Simon Dark. They did Batman: Gotham County Line. The one with the jetpack? I think? Not so swell a week for DC.



Two Out of Three?

*This column is getting totally nuts. I thought this installment would be shorter, but it's the longest by far. It's about the manga and (to a lesser extent) anime versions of Tekkonkinkreet. I hope you all enjoy it, and I guess I'll have Monday's planned post up later today, because it ate all my time.


What a Lovely Weekend

*Now my weekday will hopefully(!) involve three posts in one day. This, then the rest of that new installment of my column (which seems to have bounced to an every-week-and-one-half schedule... the next one's not going to be up until next Wednesday to be sure, what with all the stuff I have to sift through for it), then the usual Monday new releases blather. But for now:

Town Boy

This is from First Second, one of the last two books of their current wave of releases. It should be in stores on Wednesday. It's a 192-page landscape-format softcover, priced at $16.95.

It's also a sequel. Last year, First Second released the first volume, Kampung Boy, which I recall Tom Spurgeon named the best comic of 2006. I also liked it. Both books are new editions of autobiographical works released a quarter of a century ago by beloved Malaysian cartoonist "Lat" (Mohammad Nor Khalid), who's otherwise invisible to most Western readers. But invisibility does not equal inaccessibility; told mainly in vast full-page illustrations, Kampung Boy related breezy scenes and fascinating details from a village childhood, sometimes bursting into bravura volleys of wide sequential action, only to slow down and take the events of a youth recalled page-by-page.

Town Boy, originally published in 1980, covers the life of Mat, the artist's stand-in, after moving to the city of Ipoh for school at the age of 10, through his later teenage years. As the young man discovers art and rock music and girls and the like, Lat mostly retains the wistful narrative style of the prior book, selecting certain key sequences from Mat's life, usually played for broad humorous impact, which accumulate into a sentimental overview of a certain stretch of life. Western readers will likely take away a sense of interplay between specific cultural details and universal human experiences, although I expect this is more attributable to Lat's preference for vivid human comedy than much of an eye cast abroad.

As before, the art is very good, although it's also slightly different. Lat's pages here are somewhat more segmented, at times specifically divided into panels (sometimes upwards of 10 on a page) so as to more sharply define his narrative 'beat' in collusion with his long splashes. Note the construction of this sequence - the first page is divided into two conversational panels, the next two pages contract into squares as Mat follows his friend up the stairs (anticipation), and then the next two pages explode into a full-bleed double splash of the new environment discovered by the boy. It then calms, and subdivides again into panels for more discussion, only to expand again with the energy of dancing. This conceit effectively juxtaposes the might of experience with the simplicity of conversation, the latter giving way to the overarching former, which dominates Lat's broad take on his youth.

These environments are also marvelously lived-in and crawling with activity, smartly reused as the years pass to indicate change and stasis, and Lat's caricature-prone drawings bristle with life. His comedic timing is excellent, and -- perhaps new to this book -- he displays a fine ear for unwittingly revealing dialogue. A sequence in which the 17-year old Mat attempts to impress a girl he's taking on a quasi-date is loaded with as much nervous give-and-take as any contemporary relationship comic, but Lat's unerringly giving attitude toward human relationships highlights the care behind such teenage encounters, and leaves us with the feeling that everyone eventually gets a little better, even for the embarrassing bits of youth.

Not a rueful bone in this body. There's also no desire for historical sweep, or epiphanal bombast; there is only fondness and wry observation here, and a visual acknowledgment of the way environments swirl around young, developing people. Sometimes, this leads the artist into some mild trouble - his cast is a little too big for his approach to realize many of them as more interesting than winning caricatures, and his account of Mat's growing interest in art is bumpy (maybe this is due to a deviation from the artist's own experience - Lat himself was a published artist by age 13). But at its best -- and its best rises high indeed -- the book makes a great case for sweeping strokes and generosity, and the indelible force of funny drawings.


Reviews and Warnings

Omega: The Unknown #1 (of 10)

Let me start this off with a very big caveat: I haven’t read the original 1976-77 incarnation of this title, as written by Steve Gerber & Mary Skrenes, and illustrated by Jim Mooney.

And the reason that’s a very big caveat is because I know enough about the original to discern that the first issue of this new Omega: The Unknown, written by Jonathan Lethem (“with” Karl Rusnak), drawn by Farel Dalrymple and colored by Paul Hornschemeier, is hewing very close to the source. Same first-issue plot. Same primary character types. Same total series length, if we want to look toward the future. I use the term ‘total’ loosely, by the way, since the original series was sometimes pushed away from its writers for fill-in work, and was cancelled before it could reach any definite ending. A different writer (Steven Grant) did provide a ‘solution’ to the series’ mysteries in a different comic (The Defenders), but it clearly wasn’t the intended finale.

The very first page of this new debut issue informs us that it’s “A version of an unfinished dream by Steve Gerber, Mary Skrenes, and Jim Mooney.” Therefore, I think it’s safe to presume that there’s going to be some interaction between the two versions, perhaps in the form of metafictional commentary, or recontextualization of some type, and it’s probably going to get heavier when we approach the fill-in bits and the ending, if things keep going at the pace set here. Or maybe the new series will veer off somewhere else entirely starting next issue.

It’s already different on some obvious levels, even to someone who hasn’t even read the old stuff. Certainly Dalrymple’s wrinkled features and bowed postures instantly set the new work apart from Mooney’s muscular Marvel house style. As Tim Hodler wrote of the '70s original in Comics Comics #2: “It’s a book that looks like a superhero book, but reads like the diary of a maniac.” This new book doesn’t look much like a superhero book, although Dalrymple does add some winning lithe grace to the action pages, and reads like a distanced mental processing of a maniac’s diary by an imaginative biographer. Which may well be the point.

The story concerns young Alexander (James-Michael in the original), a highly mature home-schooled young teenager, who dreams of a mystery superhero battling things by firing beams from his hands, and wakes to face the sorry reality of his parents carting him off to New York City so he can socialize with other kids his age. Lethem & Rusnak adopt a mannered, often gut-twitchingly precious style for the erudite clan's dialogue (some of it visible at the first Dalrymple link above), only to have them all caught in a car wreck and Mom & Dad revealed to be literal robots. I understand the plot point's from the original, but it's transformed into a decent little gag here through its pairing with such overtly 'literary' dialogue.

The rest of the issue shows less wit. Alexander is checked into an NYC hospital with caring nurse Edie Fallinger, who's eventually set up as his guardian. A typical fame-hungry superhero called The Mink takes a likely nasty interest in things. The dialogue tones itself down somewhat, but often wanders into the painfully arch (sez a doctor: "Miss Fallinger, when I see a healthy patient in an extended coma, I reflect that they are surely waiting for something. There may be much to learn from this tendency of the human animal to endure and abide. Now, I must return to the war zone."). The boy wakes, the superhero returns, and the former discovers he can fire power beams from his hands just like the latter, albeit painfully. Sputters the concluding dialogue:

"Answer me. Were you trying to harm yourself?"


"Then how is it, Alexander, that the wounds on both hands... take the form of the Greek letter Omega?"

I get the feeling that this is exactly the type of comic liable to drive to frothing a certain type of superhero reader, the kind that tends to detect mockery of the genre in a wide variety of books. Lethem, it should be noted, is on the record concerning his measured admiration of the original, which he sees as a noble misapplication of novelistic narrative-aesthetics to a soap opera form (of course, he also called the contemporary Marvel line "a garish wasteland."). Perhaps this new-old Omega will be a stronger novel, grown in a superhero environment more responsive to such inclinations.

So, in a self-contained first chapter capacity, this is an attractively rendered, intermittently intriguing piece of heavily considered superhero noodling. But it mainly felt to me like walking in on the middle of a conversation, specifically one between creative team ‘07 and creative team ‘76. I haven’t felt it necessary to do this much online capes ‘n tights background checking since Brad Meltzer’s Justice League of America. Of course, Meltzer didn’t get me nearly as eager to actually read the foundation-setting comics from years back, so that’s some mark in Lethem & company’s favor, I guess.


Fast Post on the Way Toward a Manga/Anime Column

*Ok, I totally had no idea until now that IDW was getting into manga publishing, and that their first project will be Reptilia, an all-in-one presentation of a 1966 horror serial from Kazuo Umezu, he who would craft the wonder that is The Drifting Classroom about half a decade later. Luckily, heaven created press releases for times like this. It’s out this month (on Halloween!), and will run ya $14.99 for 320 pages. With new cover art by Ashley Wood, who describes the interiors as "An insane story, crazy shit." Yep, sounds right. Sweet preview here.


October Dawns

*But my eyelids were heavy for days.


Batman #669


Column #10 (the story of Starstruck, from Elaine Lee and Michael Wm. Kaluta)

short reviews (an Annual special with The Punisher MAX Annual #1, The Immortal Iron Fist #9 and The Immortal Iron Fist Annual #1)

At The Savage Critics, which had a lot more going on at it.

*It's kind of big out there...


Comic Art Magazine #9: Every issue of this upscale, lavishly-designed publication (from Buenaventura Press since issue #8) is a treat, packed full of dazzling visuals and uncompromisingly erudite, sophisticated writing on a wide range of comics topics. You will know many new things after you're done. Here's this issue's contents, with previews at every link. It's 176 pages, plus an 80-page bonus Cartooning booklet by Ivan Brunetti. Absolutely worth the $19.95 cover price.

Injury Comics #1: Also from Buenaventura, this debut issue of comedy and fantasy and truth from Ted May and company is finally out through Diamond. My review.

MOME 9: Fall 2007: The Fantagraphics anthology continues. My review.

Omega: The Unknown #1 (of 10): Finally, the long-awaited Marvel series from writer Jonathan Lethem (with Karl Rusnak) begins, featuring art from Farel Dalrymple and colors by Paul Hornschemeier. Preview here. Easily the most interesting new superhero thing I can find this week. In other Steve Gerber-related news, we've also got a new Howard the Duck #1 (of 4) out from Ty Templeton & Juan Bobillo. He now looks like this.

I Killed Adolf Hitler: The latest Fantagraphics release from Jason, this time a full-color, 48-page romp through the ages, concerning a hired gun who zips back to 1939 to take out the title villain, only to see der Führer whisk himself away to the present, leaving Our Hero to grow older in the 20th century, until the day they meet again. Contains action! I can't say many of Jason's recent works have reached beyond pithy amusement via masterful craft, but this one may have some extra potential. According to Fantagraphics' Kim Thompson, an omnibus collection of Jason's early, human character(!) comics is forthcoming, plus one of those cherry NY Times Sunday Magazine serials.

Reflections #3 (of 3): Worth highlighting as the first of the Fantagraphics/Coconino Press Ignatz projects to reach its conclusion. I've not actually read this Marco Corona series, but it does sound neat, and looks very swell. The mega-pamphlets always travel in threes, so we also get Niger #2 from Leila Marzocchi (it looks nice; see also Dick Hyacinth on issue #1), and Grotesque #1 from Sergio Ponchione (wacky pictures ahoy).

Sock Monkey: The "Inches" Incident: Oh, I liked this newest Dark Horse installment of Tony Millionaire's all-ages series. It's a little chunkier and more cartoony than Sock Monkey often gets, and somewhat reminiscent in tone to Millionaire's Billy Hazelnuts. At $9.95, it's worth checking out.

Empowered Vol. 2: More of Adam Warren's quasi-softcore superheroine bondage gag satire, which I clearly recall a lot of people liking a lot. From Dark Horse. Preview. For those hungry for manga-from-Japan type manga stuff, Dark Horse also has a collected edition of Ghost in the Shell 1.5: Human-Error Processor, featuring a quartet of old-school Section 9 focused GitS stories that writer/artist Masamune Shirow cut from the collected GitS2 after serialization.

Eat the Dead: I had no idea that Virgin Comics was starting up a proper horror line until now, but here's the initial one-shot release, dealing with a bunch of teenagers who encounter their karmic pasts in a haunted temple. Have some pages. Also up and about it Guy Ritchie's Gamekeeper #5.

Gumby #3: Hey, a new issue of this is always welcome. I know nothing more about it.

Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #2 (of 5): Yes, here the Claw is again.

Infinity Inc. #2: The first issue of this Peter Milligan thing wound up prompting some of the most mixed reviews I've seen from a superhero debut in a while. I'm still on to see where it goes.

The Black Diamond #4 (of 6): In which this AiT/Planet Lar series gets splashier than usual. Review coming soon.

Lloyd Kaufman Presents: The Toxic Avenger and Other Tromatic Tales: Man, I remember when Troma used to put out tie-in comics for a bunch of their upcoming productions/recent video acquisitions. And I just ran into a bunch of Marvel's old Toxic Crusaders issues in a bargain bin! Here's the latest chapter of the sequential Troma saga, a 144-page, $18.99 full-color production from Devil's Due, featuring 15 stories adapting, expanding, riffing on, or simply being about various Troma features, like Teenage Catgirls in Heat, Class of Nuke 'em High, and My Neighbor Totoro. Unless the rights to that last one have expired. At least they fit Beware! Children at Play in there. Some nice talents are attached, like Sean McKeever, Ivan Brandon, Andy MacDonald, B. Clay Moore, the late Daniel Robert Epstein, and others. Much more here, including preview images and a full contents list. I've seen every goddamned one of these fucking movies except for DeCampitated. God.