Every New Top Ten List is Another Step Toward the Grave

*Indeed it was... 2007.

And the only possible way to deal with it is to make a list.

The usual caveats apply. I'm only counting works that were released or completed or published in English for the first time in 2007. It sure makes life easier not having to rank Our Year in the Golden Age of Reprints too; my personal fave on that front was the wonderfully constructed George Herriman daily comics bonanza Krazy & Ignatz: The Kat Who Walked in Beauty, but many other fine things were made available.

I realize other, very worthy books might get set aside with this approach. Hands down one of the best comics I read all year was Olivier Schrauwen's outstanding My Boy, a near-brilliant homage/satire that effortlessly evokes the chromatic dawn of American newspaper comics, but it was totally not in any way a 2007 book, being an English-language import from Belgium. Good thing I have a lengthy introduction to equivocate with, eh? I mean, don't let my having read the 1995 edition of Frank Santoro's Storeyville stop you from getting the dandy new hardcover version from PictureBox. It's a good comic. So's T. Edward Bak's Service Industry, now an oversized book from Bodega Distribution.

And while I'm at it, don't see this (or any year's end list) as a finite resource for what was 'good,' with the remainder being swept off into the ashbin of mediocrity. I am always correct, even when I misspell your name or my own, but there were more than 10 (14? have I wiggled that far?) good comics released this year.

The absence of Exit Wounds from this list doesn't make the book any less a calm meditation on separation, and the lack of Alice in Sunderland shouldn't dim its thundering ambition. Don't overlook those two fine First Second books from Gipi, Garage Band and Notes for a War Story. Or Tom Kaczynski's Cartoon Dialectics. Or Andy Hartzell's Fox Bunny Funny. Or the good established pamphlet series like B.P.R.D. and The Punisher MAX. Or the good new pamphlet projects like Kyle Baker's Special Forces. Or the continuing manga drive of The Drifting Classroom.

Or the things I haven't read yet. I'd like to have found a copy of Jirō Taniguchi's The Ice Wanderer and Other Stories. I'd like to have gotten to the newer volumes of Tezuka's Phoenix. I'd like a baby brother made of emeralds and a horse that pisses gasoline. Oh well. Let's raise our glasses. You up? Up?


#10. Mushishi Vol. 2: Good old #10 spot, home of the odd work that still hit me where it counted. Last year we had the thrillingly addled Seven Soldiers #1, and tonight we've got the sophomore volume of a series that has handsomely failed to pierce the consciousness of any 2007 readership, no matter how expanded the room has gotten for manga. But this Del Rey release of Yuki Urushibara's beloved-in-Japan stories -- following the experiences of a wandering doctor-detective who's so close to the mushi, the innate, primal stuff of life and perception, that he's as much a magician as a man of the wild -- provided the year's best argument for short-form pop comics as vessels for striking allegory and mythic revision. Top honors go to the tale of a girl infected with living writing, Urushibara's concept swirling into a grander message of counterarratives pacifying the violent writ of history. Go to your local chain bookstore, wipe the cobwebs off, and enjoy. Short review here.

#9. George Sprott (1894-1975): A serial that began in 2006; one of those New York Times comics you can download for free. On one hand, it's Seth doing his Seth thing, lingering melancholically on the passing of a older, better era. But this is a consummate expression of the artist's passion, cannily adapting the 'documentary' pep of 2005's Wimbledon Green to the serial format, and exploiting each week's large spread of tiny, uniform-hued panels as a new facet of the flawed gemstone life of the titular old-time local television host and older-time boyish adventurer. Included are the death of a man, the death of his times, the passing of personal creation into collectable items, and the ways we are born anew inside each person we meet. Richly observed, warmly characterized, beautifully drafted; the best of this year's right proper literary comics crop.

#8. House: And here's the best kick to the throat of the last 12 months. Josh Simmons' wordless horror comic, a Fantagraphics production, makes keen use of the form in slowly compacting the blinding white, wide-open world of teenage exploration and nervous romance into a diabolical black coil of hopelessness and slow, lonely doom. Like the parade of life! Good quick clever nasty shit, and indicative of a growing skill in pure comics and pure visuals. My review.

#7. Powr Mastrs Vol. 1 (of 6): PictureBox is no stranger to this site's 12/31 lists, having first turned up in 2005, but this seems to have been the year the publisher broke through to the wider discussion as a force in high-end comics that seem so utterly beyond anxieties of genre and visual tradition that you'd swear a paradigm was shifting. Riding high was this longform comics debut by C.F., a sprawling act of fantasy worldbuilding in delicate, often disarmingly elegant pencil drawings, 'inked' via photocopier, and dotted with winsomely suggestive conversation and boldly surreal events. It sure sounds clashy as a paragraph, but it hangs together with visionary ease as a comic. I can't wait to see if it holds up as the story goes on. Review.

#6. The Blot: Looking at this self-published marvel by Tom Neely, you can tell it's a labor of love. And I don't just mean the sky-high production values, comparable to those of any deluxe comics publisher today; Neely's saga of a man pursued by a devouring, inspiring, live-giving, eye-popping glob of ink rings with a desire to hash out this business of creation in iconic form on every page. Wild, funny, gross and resigned, it all but burns you with cartoon force; you won't believe it's this guy's first longform comic. I talk here.

#5. New Engineering: As for this one, well... you may not believe that it's even real. There truly is nothing else in the world like Yuichi Yokoyama's comics - it's like an adaptation of Naruto's action tropes by Martians, exploding comics' very illusion of movement to spread indelible, sometimes unreadable battles and construction projects across pages of jutting sound effects as absurd, toylike characters go about their activities. No story, no human element, no problem. And thanks to the manga boom, I've seen it in every Borders I've been to recently. I can't say it'll appeal to everyone, but I can't deny the cracked effectiveness with which it forwards its strange aesthetic; it's been stuck in my head ever since I read it. PictureBox couldn't have picked a more fitting manga for its first license. Obligatory me link.

#4. The End #1: Do note that this is the only pamphlet-format comic on my list for this year, and even then in the oversized, jacketed Ignatz format of Coconino Press & Fantagraphics. Anders Nilsen uses this large, thin format for the best work I've seen from him, a patchwork showing of all his visual styles, dedicated to illustrating grief and personal loss through a wide range of approaches. Crucially, the comic's short length promotes an intimate, scrapbook feel, letting realist depictions of a fellow weeping snap into symbolist displays of a black thatch making a man into a maze. The implication is that no one autobiographical approach is quite enough to convey the loss of a loved one, so we must hope a multiplicity of perpective can convey the totality of the experience. The format serves as both terse and eloquent in its boundaries. I reviewed it.

#3. Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms: More sadly overlooked manga, this time from ol' Last Gasp. I'll forgive you for suspecting that Fumiyo Kouno's interlocking, intergenerational suite of stories concerning the legacy of the Hiroshima bombing might be a sleepy slog through 'important' subject matter, although you're quite wrong. Oh, it does have tragic sequences of illness and death, greatly enhanced by Kouno's vulnerable character art, but it's also a sly enough work to maneuver the reader into anticipating its dramatic twists from a perspective not unlike that of the prejudiced viewpoint the book seeks to correct. The result is a vital, important work, and one that remains deeply affecting for long after the story's read. A review is hidden if you scroll down.

#2. Maggots: In my review, I described artist Brian Chippendale's approach to this work, a text from the height of the '90s Fort Thunder experience, as "seizing an instrument of capital and making it radiate with personal, spiritual vision by beating the shit out of it with drawings." It's sort of an autobiographical comic drawn on top of a Japanese book catalog, but it's also an extended study in motion, a fantasy hagiography for the artist and his friends, a flurry of rustling community from a real alternate lifestyle, a screaming contraption of less than 100% efficiency that forces the reader to view it right and left and up and down, and an anticipation of the end of a society. It took years and years to get here, but PictureBox brought it in as book, object, political act, history, comedy and probably a billion other hidden things. It's hard to put into words. But it's comics at the frantic edge of culture, storytelling and visual art, and I couldn't rip my eyes away from its manic splendor and its thrilling implications. Maybe it'll have the same effect on you.

#1. Chance in Hell: Ugh, how typical! A new graphic novel by an acknowledged master of the form, and here it is on top. But I cannot tell a lie, my friends: Gilbert Hernandez's grotty tour of three stages in a woman's life, from unspeakable slums up through the seething troubles of middle class life, really did kick my ass hard. I've been told the book can be read as a catalog of nightmares Beto may be suffering from as father of a young girl; there's somthing to that, but I was most taken by the furious command of comics at work, blasting through segments of conversations so as to float their context and juxtaposing images of safety and cruelty for maximum distress. This is a restless type of storytelling, one not content to merely depict; by the end, you're going to know, and just in time for Hernandez to pull the rug out once again. Style? Substance. Books like this make it elementary. Scroll here for more.

And so, yet another year is sent away. Looking over this list, it seems to have been a strong year for bold presses against the storytelling form of comics, with full forward momentum and refinement of idiosyncratic styles alike. Or it could just be my own attentions shifting more toward the interplay of words and pictures, and pictures and pictures.

Oh yeah! This is also the year I added pictures to this site! Who'd have thought that visuals mix well with a visual medium? Not me. So let me leave you, my e-siblings, with a picture-perfect 2007 farewell in the form of the first .jpg I find on my hard drive.

I feel closer than ever to you all. See you tomorrow.


I hear lists are in demand in today's successful publications.

*Things I did today:

- Got two cavities filled. They had to bust out both the clamp and the wedge.

- Finished up a new column, this time dealing with Sunday Press Books' new Little Sammy Sneeze thing. Learn about the creations of Winsor McCay and others! Many pictures!

- Ate soup.

- Er, this was just a way of announcing the new column. Sorry.

- Completed this post.



Mercifully Light on the Christmas Money

*It was Wednesday today?


Reptilia (Kazuo Umezu from IDW)

Percy Gloom (a release from earlier this year that's worth a look)

and a movie review for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

*Comics are out in US stores on Friday, I believe. Last wave of the year, and kinda light.


ACME Novelty Library #18: Oooh, just made it! No introduction is necessary to Drawn & Quarterly's yearly edition of the venerable series, this time a 56-page, 10.8" x 8.1" hardcover collecting installments of Chris Ware's Building Stories -- aka: 'the one with the apartment building' -- although not the New York Times material that ran a while back. It goes for $17.95.

Berlin #14: But D&Q isn't done with the long-running series for this week, no sir! A friendly old pamphlet-format issue of Jason Lutes' perpetually ongoing historical fiction epic is waiting for you at the $3.95 price point.

Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story: I've been told about this one from a few sources - it's (as far as I know) the English-language debut of Swiss writer/artist Frederik Peeters, whose sci-fi series Lupus won an Angoulême "Essentials" prize this year for its fourth and final volume. This, however, is a 2001 autobiographical work about a romance with an HIV positive woman, which Bart Beaty considered for over half a decade to be the one French-language comic that needed to be translated to English. Houghton Mifflin publishes the 192-page tome for $18.95. French-language samples here. Odd that I haven't been hearing more online.

My Inner Bimbo #3 (of 5): Quicker than it took last issue. More gender identification jollity from Sam Kieth & Josh Hagler.

Daredevil by Frank Miller Omnibus Companion: Tortured as the title may be, this $49.99 brick does collect a nice stack of tangential Miller material, including the 1986 graphic novel Daredevil: Love & War, with artist Bill Sienkiewicz (if you missed it in the Daredevil/Elektra: Love & War hardcover from years back, where it was paired with Elektra: Assassin, the best comic that ever bore Frank Miller's name), and the 1993-94 miniseries Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, with artist John Romita Jr., which began life (I believe) as a screen treatment, and probably now resembles a typical back-to-basics project by a big creative team. Other stuff also included, like some Spider-Man comics. Oh, this is also the week where Spidey marries the devil or something! I wonder what color the devil's gown will be...

Dan Dare #2 (of 7): Buying.

Batman #672: In which writer Grant Morrison sorta shrugs away from that crossover (as much as he can) and gets back to the business of multiple Batmen running around. Guest star: Bat-Mite. Penciller Tony Daniel also continues. Plenty of things to pick up - next issue, for instance, will apparently wrap up Morrison's Batman subplot from 52. Also out on Bat-shelves is a hardcover collection of early Tim Sale-illustrated stories, Tales of the Batman: Tim Sale.

The Punisher MAX #53: So what's in the bundle?

Satchel Page: Striking Out Jim Crow: This is the second book to come out of Hyperion's collaboration with the Center for Cartoon Studies (the first being Jason Lutes' & Nick Bertozzi's Houdini: The Handcuff King), another 96-page biographical piece, this time a wide-ranging look at the life and times of famed pitcher. James Sturm writes and provides layouts, with Rich Tommaso as artist. Both hardcover and softcover editions are available, for $16.99 and $9.99. Lots of preview art at the official site.



Look at the Time

*It's Easter or something! Why not abandon meaningful interaction with others and listen to me blab on and on at Newsarama's blog in a brand-new two parts? It was a great yuletide treat imagining Chris Mautner putting off important holiday details to transcribe our interview. Bah! Auntie can wait. I'll have all three installments on the sidebar later on.

*And in furtherance of the holiday spirit -- reruns in every media channel, I mean -- I present to you this thrilling entertainment from 2005. I always kinda liked this one...


Holiday Eve Gloom Party (or: a graphic novel; Percy)

Percy Gloom

Do you recall this book?

Fantagraphics released it back in June. I recall some good responses appearing at the time, although it appears to have since fallen completely off the critical radar. That's going to happen with some books, particularly some of those from a relatively high volume comics publisher.

I suspect the book may also have been hindered by a lack of any journalistic 'hook' - on first blush, the story appears to be that of a depressive schlub, living at home with hardly a friend in the world, who comes to have a journey of discovery amongst eccentric characters, which isn't the sort of thing that easily attracts attention. The book does not tie in to current events, it has no visible multimedia backing, it does not provide a bridge or connection between comics and anything else, and it represents no particular innovation in publishing, marketing or what the industry is or ought to be. Moreover, it's the first longform comics work by an author, Cathy Malkasian, who has build an artistic life primarily outside of the comics arena, and not in a region typically observed by writers-about-comics - she's a veteran of the Klasky Csupo animation company, and was nominated for a BAFTA Children's Award in the category of Best Feature Film for 2002's The Wild Thornberrys Movie, which she co-directed.

But Percy Gloom needs not retire into whispers quite yet for 2007; it's an attractive, assured book, more interesting than a glance over the synopsis might promise, and well worth considering as the rhetoric turns reflective over the final days of the year.

What stands out most from my reading of this book is its strong filmic impression. Understandable, considering the artist's background. But a closer inspection of the book's visual approach reveals some fairly canny use of comics elements - Malkasian is particularly adept at using pliable word balloons as individually expressive elements, with every spoken word and sound effect given its own unique container that sags and twirls and inflates to match the tenor of whatever is happening. Objects and actions 'speak' in this way, and their voices are discernible. Only in the most intense pages do words ever escape their packages, leaping and scattering like wasps escaping a broken nest.

Yet Malkasian's narrative is paced with enough even-handed propulsion -- and even divided into three handy acts, for your convenience! -- that the comics-centered elements are absorbed by her looming environments and the wrinkled, oval characters that run through them. One can quite easily see this book adapted to feature animation with little fuss; the book's Appendix even sports a closing song, albeit not an awfully traditional one for English-language animated films, even hypothetical ones.

Proponents of comics-as-comics may still be irritated by the work's cinematographic inclination, though I can say that it's fully-formed enough that it escapes the dread label of "film pitch in comics form" - after all, any completed work exists on one level as a suggestion for its own adaptation to another form, no matter how ill-advised a suggestion that might be, so the terms 'pitch' suggests a malformed work that might only claim success through that promotional status. This book is too thoroughly developed for that.

The story concerns the aforementioned schlub of the title, a more nuanced one than expected. The child of a vital, inventive mother and a Gloom father -- a man who exercised the Gloom family ritual suicide option of Death Slap as his son entered the world -- Percy oscillates between crippling uncertainty and indigestion, although he can also literally twist his head like a light bulb to flood his body with glowing joy... getting his head together indeed! Percy also used to be married, but his beloved fell in with funnel-headed cultists, a religious experience that ended in a deadly human rockslide intended to wipe out the cult leader's extensive array of illegitimate children.

So Percy decides to renew himself by leaving his hometown and following his childhood dream of writing cautionary warning labels for Safely Now, a "Cautionary Warning Institute" devoted to divining the dangerous potential of even the most benign-seeming objects (on hairbrushes: "Handle-to-ear danger. Possible hearing loss"), and duly warning the public of such peril. But Percy's simultaneously meek and helpful nature eventually embroils him in an adventure concerning the surrounding town, its dangerous underground, the love of goats, delicious cannibalism, religion as the inspiration for death's terror in contrast with the systemic caution of a legalistic society of commodification, and a deeply unimpressive romantic interest (hers being the interest).

It's a diverting tale, at times insightful in its enthusiasm for metaphor. Malkasian is at her best in detailing how the broad concerns of her characters are supported by their environment (so again, characters running through environments), with mortality's terror being the foremost spook. Organized religion is unwaveringly presented as a destructive impetus for paralyzed thinking and unhealthy living, and the ultimate expression of humankind's natural inclination toward caution. The future, as one might expect, rests in human familial connections, and a future youth that might break down the structures through their play.

The artist is less adept at putting together the lesser embodiments of her concerns - the Safely Now sequences, while amusing, come off as obvious in their social satire and rather tired in their slapstick execution. This is not a subtle book, and some may consider it ham-fisted or sappy; Malkasian is prone to having her characters simply state everything aloud -- from their motivations to underlying themes -- and the result is a tone occasionally more lecturing than fable-like.

This does get a bit grating by the dialog-heavy climax, in which Percy doesn't so much do anything as learn more about himself, while the plot sort of resolves itself off-panel. But that's at least an appropriate narrative jam-up, I think Malkasian's dense organization of analogies and icons is individually impressive - it's a richly declarative approach, and one handled with just enough mind for restraint that her characters never seem to trip over their roles.

That's a tough act in a book like this, and reason enough to pay the work some mind. Easy enough to find online; there's no need for buying immediacy in a bookshelf comics world. The talk may fade, but accessibility lingers - keep it as a possibility.


I readily admit that the Makoto-chan joke in the following post is wholly anachronistic; I beg your forgiveness in advance.


This is IDW's first foray into full-blown manga publishing. It reads right-to-left, the sound effects are not translated (with a pair of word balloons regrettably left empty), and the dimensions leave it slightly wider than the average manga digest. The price is $14.99 for 316 pages. Just as with the publisher's prior localization of a foreign series, Dampyr, there's also a new cover by Ashley Wood.

Although the comic itself has a slightly different flavor.

It's by Kazuo Umezu, famous in his native Japan as a superstar romance, horror and humor cartoonist, and just recently 'caught on' in English-speaking environs through his seminal The Drifting Classroom, released by VIZ. It took a few hesitant early US licenses to finally hit the mark, but renown no doubt readily seeks such a man.

Don't expect this to be much like The Drifting Classroom, though. Collecting a trio of stories originally serialized more than four decades ago (1965-66), the package not only predates the man's most famous work available to English-language readers, but hearkens back to an earlier, ill-fated North American Umezu release: Dark Horse's 2006 Scary Book series of context-free horror or horrorish tales, which crawled along for three volumes before blinking from existence.

Granted, Reptilia (aka: The Snake Girl, or Hebi Shôjo) is certainly a more important selection from the Umezu catalog -- I do believe it's generally considered his first major horror success -- and it at least has consistency in its favor: its three stories chart the history of a scaaary snake woman who just loves menacing little girls. Tears are shed, pretty dresses are muddied, KYAAHs are exclaimed, and the general threat of being transformed into a gross ugly snake is duly forwarded at every opportunity. If you recall the part in Scary Book Vol. 1 where the little girl protagonist's evil mirror image threatens, with all the moment of prospective ethnic cleansing or the detonation of a bacteriological doomsday weapon, to cut off her beautiful long hair, then you've just about got the tone down.

Hailing from the august pages of Shôjo Friend, the material is vintage girls' horror through and through, hair so smooth and frame so slight, saucer eyes sparkling like a perpetual 4th of July grand finale, the type that goes out of control and injures some poor citizen's leg. I can picture Umezu screaming and cracking a bullwhip at some hapless assistant: "Sparkles, dog! More sparkles!" "But... but sensei... the human eye can only hold..." "Fool! We are not bound by human nor optic concern! Gwashi!" I don't know how traditional the narrative content is, but there's plenty of ooga-booga and shadows, but peace and normalcy inevitably restored by the end.

Manga content hadn't quite broadened to encompass the gnarled shocks that pepper Umezu's best work; the monstrous threats therefore remain mostly that, and the fear element manifests through simple, perhaps stereotypical girl-friendly impulses: fear of ugliness and gross critters runs high. The Drifting Classroom may also be nominally a children's comic, but its hyperactive pace and furious cartooning explode youthful anxieties into grand bursts of nervous mania, with the reader always aware that the madman at the helm might follow through on his threats at any time. As such, it is just the type of 'all-ages' comic that presses against every accepted notion of what the term might mean (VIZ understandably errs on the side of caution and slaps an EXPLICIT CONTENT warning on it), yet, perversely, it embodies the idea. Reptilia, meanwhile, has beasties.

(the empty balloons seen in this post aren't the actual empty balloons in the printed book, by the way)

Still, a fair amount of the Umezu nutrition is present, making this maybe a worthwhile purchase for the devout. The idea of adults refusing to listen to children isn't an old one in horror -- or just about any genre that might appeal to kids, for that matter -- but Umezu remains unique in his vehement disregard for adult authority. All of the 'good' adults in this work are ineffectual, hindering, mobbish, or prone to putting Umezu's child protagonists right into harm's way. And the lady snake figure evoked by the title isn't just a creepy monster - she's both an evil parent and an infection. In one story, a snake lady (there's more than one at work, as Umezu sets up a whole snake history) literally adopts a sparkly lass, all as part of a terrible scheme to revenge herself upon the girl's ancestor. In another, a snake lady replaces a girl's loving mother, turning the whole household against her. The remaining story sees that same girl at the mercy of a group of relatives poisoned by vampiric ways of the snake.

The metaphor actually goes fairly deep. The snake lady's impulse isn't merely to devour little girls, but to convert them into snaky life. That means being real yucky and crawling around in muck, yes, but it also stands for growing up the wrong way; the unspoken pact between parent and child is that the former will not lead the latter astray, and will provide for a healthy future to grow into. The snake lady aims to grow little snake girls into snake women, and thus ensure for them a lifetime of pain and rejection, instead of a bright future; advanced thinking for kids, but maybe not too far from the minds of little girls in '60s Japan, a regimented society with roles to fill, maybe evident from the male-dominated nature of Shôjo manga itself until the '70s. That would also be the day of The Drifting Classroom, where the atmosphere of adult authority's impotence would adopt a fever pitch, and the promise of all the doubting adults snapping into sense by tale's end no longer firm.

Being a relatively early work, Umezu's art here hasn't yet become so manic and effective. I've never found Umezu's visuals to be quite as stiff as some do - his propulsive storytelling goes a long way toward curing the halting nature of some of his character action. However, the comparatively staid pacing of these stories brings out the stilted nature of some of his action. He does manage some ink-heavy atmospherics, and does show signs of the keen grasp of build-and-release visual action he'd later flaunt, with one particular splash page effective enough that it served as the cover to a Japanese Perfection! edition of the material, although the garish coloring kinda hides all the snakes (and what's the point of that?!).

It's sometimes awkward work, undeniably old-fashioned, and formulaic even within its own contours as a story collection. I suspect there's a lot of smaller, lesser horror works dotting Umezu's '60s bibliography, the kind of stuff that needs a healthy backing of available, major work to bolster it. I wonder if Umezu's Orochi series might provide a bridge; the final installment of the sequence, Orochi: Blood,was the first Umezu work ever seen in English, released by VIZ in 2002. As it went with the artist until recently, no more of the work was ever seen.

It could come back. After all, VIZ's Classroom will be out of session as of April 2008. Although I'd particularly like to see his 1986-89 seinen opus Left Hand of God, Right Hand of the Devil. And hey, I've been begging for his 1990-95 career capstone Fourteen since 2005, although I suspect its 20-volume length might spook publishers more than anyone else. Still, I need more from this man; if we're going this far into the past, I want to see how he existed in approach of the present. Don't leave him stranded, publishers.


The Holidays Are a Great Time

*For destroying yourself! I ought to balk at all the stuff that's got to get done today; I might even get to finally buy some comics from this week! Maybe a post at the other site later, maybe a new column this weekend... I should have known that reading through David Mack's entire body of work would slow me down a bit...

*As has been stated before, the new Fantagraphics book trade catalog has a lot of interesting stuff lined up through Summer 2008. A sequel to Tony Millionaire's Billy Hazelnuts, new books by Josh Simmons (of House) and Dash Shaw, a Bob Levin book on Dwaine Tinsley of Chester the Molester infamy, a seventh Love and Rockets softcover collecting various odds 'n ends -- including Mario! -- and so much more. But most of all, there's three words that America has been longing to hear:

Rory. Hayes. Collection.

Due in June.


So It's Come to This: A pre-release movie review.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Due warning: I've never seen the musical performed, nor even listened to the whole of the thing as a single work. But I know the story. And I know my Tim Burton.

When I was 10, Tim Burton was the greatest director in the world. I loved Pee-wee's Big Adventure. I nearly had Beetlejuice memorized. I still have a soft spot for his two Batman movies; plain vanilla Batman depicted the characters with broad, pulpy fervor, and blew up their adventures and surroundings to operatic proportions, while Batman Returns mixed and matched human grotesqueries with silent film references and icy locales, kneading an iconography of apartness into a blockbuster superhero sequel.

As you can tell, my reaction to those two pictures are tied to what makes Burton a scattershot, sometimes tiresome filmmaker; his primary talent is that of marshalling production designers and art directors and makeup and the like into a recognizable, modestly mutable Tim Burton visual brand, while marshalling properly large performances from his actors and dripping his favored motifs -- damaging fathers, introspective loners, irregular flesh -- into whatever story mix he's presented with, occasionally built up from his own stock.

His camera serves to keep his vistas in focus. He can put together some attractive scenes, but his visual storytelling is fundamentally conservative and unadorned. His style isn't particularly substantive; rather, it glistens what it touches in a distinct manner, sometimes to the benefit of the whole, like with those Batman movies.

But the aimless indulgence of Mars Attacks! is another natural result, or the light-as-air action pageantry of Sleepy Hollow, or the simple, grinding boredom of Planet of the Apes. Even on the occasions where he sorta dials down the style, he's wound up with both the character-focused insight of Ed Wood, and the dreadful, sticky-sentimental sub-Gilliam wonder-of-fantasy bilge of Big Fish. He's supposed to have once quipped "I wouldn't know a good script if it bit me in the face," and I believe that as truth.

So I was a little uncertain about how this one might turn out, a film adaptation of the famed Stephen Sondheim musical about the killer barber and the woman who bakes the departed into awesome pies, the self-destructive drive of revenge powering the machine of capital until the mere humans at the controls are all used up. As it is, it's probably Burton's strongest film in a decade, in that the Tim Burton style turns out to be pretty simpatico with Sondheim's music & lyrics. It's still not a great film, nor even a great fit, but there is still something to the style mix at hand.

And believe me, the Tim Burton style is on full display in this one, and in its most familiar form. Frequent Burton costume designer Colleen Atwood teams with famed production designer Dante Ferretti and regular Martin Scorsese set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo for plenty of looming structures and whimsical/foreboding items and leather & lace and cake frosting grot, while music video and Pirates of the Caribbean vet Dariusz Wolski shoots to capture just the right pale daylight, inky shadows and chalky flesh tones necessary for that all-important 'dark' storybook texture. Indeed, Tim Burton's crew may have created the most Tim Burtonest display yet. I dare say if you so much as think 'Tim Burton,' this is the kind of look that mists into being.

There's even one of those traditional Tim Burton opening credits tracking shots, but it's a regrettably shitty one, following a stream of blood through the body disposal mechanisms of Mrs. Lovett's, complete with chintzy CGI recreations of actual sets - it's like the sort of thing you'd pull out of your pre-production work product for the Oscar show, not a good way of starting the film. Also note the absence of lyrics for The Ballad of Sweeney Todd; that and the entire Company aspect of the show are gone, totally.

Yet, it does level out. I'm in no position to appreciate the nuances of this film's vocal interpretations, but I can say that Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter don't do much to impede the delivery of the material. Granted, Depp lapses into a sort of Top 40 rock radio histrionic style for the stronger bits, while Carter has some trouble in keeping her words clear while coping with the meter of The Worst Pies in London, but I didn't find anyone to be disastrously bad. Indeed, their slightly less polished performances match up well with those stylized 'ratty' costumes and flawlessly 'messy' hairdos of the Tim Burton approach (and Carter's cleavage probably deserves its own cast listing), while still keeping much of the beauty and wit of Sondheim's work at the fore. It's possible that both of them would totally die on stage, but this is not the stage.

The rest of the cast is fine; I liked the clever stunt casting of Sacha Baron Cohen as Pirelli, in that his 'act' allows him to ham it up in the manner of one of his own characters, while his later confrontation with Sweeny Todd plays neatly off of the actor's reluctance to break character. Alan Rickman is also good fun, bringing a touch of pathetic pathos to Judge Turpin, although he's kept wholly away from singing, save for Pretty Women and its Reprise. I believe Ed Sanders, Jamie Campbell Bowers and Jayne Wisener come from the stage, and they sounded fine enough to me as Toby, Anthony and Johanna, respectively.

Of course, that leads us into maybe the core problem with this film version - it's been cut by about an hour total, and I can only presume that Anthony and Johanna took the heaviest snips, since Bowers and Wisener really don't have all that much to do. To be exact, they go through all of the necessary young love motions, but they more or less vanish about halfway through until they're needed for the climax, and their relationship carries no weight at all.

I don't know, maybe that's an aspect of the original show too, but in this movie they function as nothing more than an innocent counterpoint to Sweeney's and Mrs. Lovett's 'mature' dance of crossed signals and mutual exploitation. Ok on its own, but it does raise the question of why all that space is expended on them toward the front of the thing. It could just be a nod to storytelling convention, and I am aware that the Sondheim show contains a self-evident 'storytelling' construct, but that's also mostly absent from his version, save for Pirelli's performing and Toby's calls to various crowds. Burton instead constructs the film as a straight-ahead thriller, which I think leaves it more liable to be affected by unbalanced character work.

As expected, Burton's visual storytelling is mostly staid, outside of capturing those fine designs in attractive ways. It might be that overwhelming decoration that persuades him to sometimes go extra-big with dramatic moments - you'll get to know the scope of the city very well what with all the pull-backs from Sweeney's window, and Epiphany culminates with a full-blown movie musical cheese orgasm of Johnny Depp falling to his knees and waving his arms around while looking upward into the overhead camera, although Burton quickly undercuts the moment - if Sondheim looked to storytelling, Burton looks more literally at madness and fantasy as ongoing works of personal fiction.

He does know how to transform something like By the Sea into a crowd-pleasing comedy set piece through blunt contrasts in performance and costume, but just as often he'll have A Little Priest, where he leans on simple back-and-forth cuts to match what the characters are singing about. He certainly grasps the Grand Guignol aspects of the story, loading up on the gaping neck wounds and spurting blood. Give and take.

All that said, the core relationship between Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett does come through with some effect, and the broad themes of the work are left whole. Oddly, Burton's adaptation retains a little more closing light - while the musical 'ends' (before the final statement of the Company) in madness being passed on, the faults of some being passed on to others so as to keep the machine of industry cranking, Burton shaves the story a little closer, leaving open a bit of extra hope that the young might struggle above the sins of their parents and guardians to separate themselves from the world of murder, if necessarily through the act of murder.

Hmmm, dark but not too cynical. Smart but not too complex. Seems about right for Tim Burton. This time, the mix serves him better than his average.


These Books

*The end of the year rush is on for my life...


Octopus Girl Vols. 1-2

Popeye Vol. 2: Well Blow Me Down! and Glacial Period (that's two reviews)


B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground #5 and Chronicles of Wormwood: The Last Enemy (that's also two reviews)

at The Savage Critics!

*It won't take long for me to work through -


365 Days: A Diary: Oh, I forgot this was coming out. A decade ago, Julie Doucet was one of those names that might spring readily to most alternative comics reader's lips, if asked to name the bright lights of the form. She's since mostly stopped making comics to focus on other artistic pursuits (as have other favorites, like Jim Woodring and Dave Cooper), although when eight pages of her personal 'visual journal' were published in that Chris Ware issue of McSweeney's, a lot of the autobio comics flavor remained. Now Drawn & Quarterly has a full-scale, 360-page book of that stuff out for $29.95, for those itching after unseen material. Preview here.

Golgo 13 Vol. 12 (of 13): Shadow of Death: I note that VIZ's Direct Market releases for this week haven't invaded chain bookstores just yet, so here's a heads up. This installment has two stories from the '70s, including the one where Duke goes undercover in Mississippi disguised as a black man. As usual, also look for The Drifting Classroom Vol. 9 (of 11), and Naoki Urasawa's Monster Vol. 12 (of 18). I don't know what's harder to believe - that The Drifting Classroom is almost done, or that Monster is just now hitting the 2/3 mark.

Uzumaki Vol. 2 (of 3): And in case you missed it the first time, here's more of VIZ's new right-to-left, $9.95 digest edition of Junji Ito's name-making (in the West) horror manga.

Special Forces #2 (of 6): Yeah, I'm really interested in how this Kyle Baker war comic turns out. As this issue's solicitation reads: "We meet all the characters and they earn their nicknames. Who will be nicknamed 'Hummer' and why? Characters die in gruesome ways, and it’s just the basic training issue!" Look for the Abu Ghraib cover at your local store! And a preview here if you scroll down!

Thicker Than Blood #1 (of 3): This is a werewolf comic from Full Circle, notable for the presence of Mike Ploog on interior art, with painted color by Simon Bisley. Simon Reed writes. A whole lot of Ploog's original art for the series can be viewed here.

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite #4 (of 6): More of this.

Foolkiller MAX #3 (of 5): And this.

The Order #6: Also this.

The Immortal Iron Fist #11: This.

Army@Love #10: That.

The Programme #6 (of 12): As you can tell, most of this week for me is made up of continuations of ongoing projects I happen to be following, with little in the way of self-contained works or catchy debuts or conclusions. Doesn't make for a verbose list. Isn’t brevity the soul of wit? I guess the body of wit is 'being witty' though...

Classic Dan Dare Vols. 1, 3-7: I've seen a grand total of one of these album-format, $19.95-$24.95 Titan Books hardcovers in the US - one of the later installments (vol. 8), in a chain bookstore. But now maybe your very own comics store might stock these deluxe presentations of vintage '50s Dan Dare stories by Frank Hampson and his studio crew, extending from 1950-55, although it looks like the second half of the original storyline (in vol. 2) isn't being offered again this week for some reason, so you're shit out of luck on that front.



New and Old to Catch Me Up

*Gee, it's almost the end of 2007; that's fucking wacky. I'm drowning in 'Best Of' lists and holiday shopping guides too - just yesterday saw Savage Critics powerhouses Jeff and Abhay presenting posts of the type in various places, not to mention the barrage of Five Good Ones lists at Tom Spurgeon's. As always, you'll be getting my Top Ten in one of the closing minutes of December 31, because I am a slave to tradition.

However, there's still a ton of books from this year that I haven't posted anything about, even though I ought to. As such, I will make an effort to post about as many of these comics as I can in the remaining days of the year, maybe doubling up short reviews if need be.

*Oh - the second of these two reviews first appeared in issue #283 (May 2007) of The Comics Journal, where it did not have the pictures it has here, and some of the words looked a little different. The first one, though, is new.

Popeye Vol. 2 (of 6): Well Blow Me Down!

There's been a lot written about E.C. Segar's Thimble Theatre, enough so that it might initially seem futile to try and get anything down. This second deluxe Fantagraphics hardcover -- covering December 22, 1930 - June 8, 1932 in the dailies, and March 1, 1931 - October 2, 1932 in the Sundays -- comes decked out with an introduction by veteran strip cartoonist Mort Walker, and part one of a big essay by Donald Phelps, digging good and deep into the Segar approach with expectedly dense, somersaulting prose:

"At last, in the episode of May 8, 1932, the triumphant conqueror, the demon-self of Sappo's fantasy life, enters the tumbled Sappo fortress of conventionality: Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle, the mad inventors' mad inventor; white whiskers reaching, bib-like, the length of his black frock coat, eyes suspiciously a-glaze below or above his perpetually misaligned glasses, mouth even more suspiciously grinning and cackling, to announce the hatching of some fresh illustion-egg."

And that's just in reference to Sappo, a Segar daily strip that wound up 'topping' the Thimble Theatre Sundays for most of the Popeye era, with the titular John Sappo (at that point in the strip's life) cooking up wild inventions, often to the chagrin of his bride. All appropriate Sappos are included in this book (along with a few inappropriate 1924 dailies), and if Phelps sees them as a shimmering, escape-from-domesticity compliment to the 'main' strip's grounded fantastic, I take them as a household burlesque, effectively mirroring the home base setting of the Popeye Sundays - Popeye might beat the shit out of passerby and beasts of the field on a regular basis, but Sappo's childlike zest for creation sometimes results in massive duck casualities, unwitting chickens ground to mush, and a pistol fired multiple times in the direction of Mrs. Sappo.

But this roughness is key to Segar's success as an entertainer, at least as far as these strips go. As I implied above, there's a sort of division between the dailies and the Sundays. Obviously, the dailies offer more involved storylines with a more deliberate narrative beat - that's perhaps a natural product of their initial publication. Yet Segar took that segregation and built on it environmentally; these dailies whisk Popeye and company away to desert locales and foreign lands, for winking suspense and bits of satire. There's villains and wars, and broad canvasses for Popeye to draw on with his fists; he's a real bruising innocent abroad, a uniquely heart-of-America force of impact.

The Sundays, meanwhile, adopt a likeably shambling, "that'll do" approach to storytelling, seeing Popeye's life at home as he punches the hell out of countless old enemies, entertains children, gets into wild prize fights (a giant, a gorilla, a robot), earns and divests himself of huge sums, hangs around at the local café deluxe ("craps shot in rear"), faces multiple incarcerations, and vies for the heart of Olive Oyl. Popeye's landscape nicely compliments his activities, being a plainly depressed urban stretch, drunks and grifters littering the steps and side roads, and even the occasional park acting as a platform for sudden ass-kickings. Segar may be noted for his dialogue and characters, but here he's marvelous at place; if Popeye is an American force, his Hometown, America is depicted as just the place where he might thrive before drifting off again.

I'm sure I don't need to detail how good Segar's gags are, or how vivid those characters can be. This volume sees the debut of the famous J. Wellington Wimpy, Popeye's opposite number - soft, slothful, gluttonous, pandering, traditionally articulate, and willing to go to paradoxically great lengths to avoid honest gain. He's often brilliantly funny, and another example of a Segar creation that seemed to debut out of a random whim (he's initially a funny referee at one of Popeye's prize matches), and swiftly got locked into place as a fixed (yet evolving!) comedic creation.

That his presence in this volume is locked down to the Sundays is no surprise; one can easily imagine Segar treating his different days -- different places -- as accommodating for the different ways he might use his still-new lead sailor, and thus exclusive from one another. But just as Popeye showed up one day and simply refused to leave, so would other creations be allowed some freedom to roam.

Glacial Period

This isn’t Nicolas De Crécy’s first work to be translated to English -- he’s made a few significant anthology appearances, from the presentation of his and Alexios Tjoyas’ Foligatto in the March 1992 issue of Heavy Metal, to a recent, exemplary contribution to the excellent Fanfare/Ponent Mon anthology Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators -- but many readers will be forgiven for the name not perking them up. Hopefully this book will go a ways toward remedying that; it’s not a sprawling, dazzling work, but an exemplary light comic.

Part of a series of books designed to showcase different artists’ visions of the Louvre, Glacial Period sees a cadre of far-future explorers wander around a frozen landscape in search of a lost metropolis, eventually stumbling into the buried remains of the famed museum. None of them are aware of the true history of humankind, and all of them bring their own prejudices to the works of art they behold, from the cackling old team leader who sees only the crudity of animal scratching, to the romantic marker boy (seemingly a caricature of De Crécy himself) who’s determined to arrange the paintings into a proper sequential narrative of the rise and fall of the past. Their condescension is palpable, if friendly.

Meanwhile, one of the team’s genetically engineered talking dogs, armed with a nose that can literally sniff out historical continuity, chit-chats with famed artistic works from across the centuries that have been in hibernation, away from the changing context of life. That’s not wholly metaphor - the artworks can walk and talk as well. Groups of Jesus icons hang around waiting for a warm body to evangelize toward, and Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn’s 1655 The Skinned Ox stalks the halls like the monster out of an old chiller. It will come as little surprise that this setup eventually stretches into a hearty affirmation of the adaptive power of lasting art, with the more potentially challenging symbols explained right on the page.

But De Crécy’s keen sense of play is always palpable, and his visuals are very fine, deftly integrating classical works into his personal visual style, while knowing when to play up their otherness. Good enough a state for a book that posits the slippery appeal of aged art as a convivial aspect of the fiction of history. Quick and flip, and oh for more whimsical things like it.


Praise to the Glass Teat

*I do believe the Starz network will be debuting a one-hour anime documentary, Anime: Drawing a Revolution, this Monday at 9:00 PM. Thanks to judicious use of my famed psychic powers, I've actually already seen a mostly-complete version of the show, and it's ok. Very intro-to-anime stuff, which puts me and most readers of this site 180 degrees away from the target audience, but ok.

Do note the Drawing a Revolution title. The 'revolution' in question isn't quite referring to social forces or the internet or general aesthetics or anything - it mostly means big-time US entertainment, mostly blockbuster popcorn movies, which are apparently chock-full of anime influence these days. There's also plenty of "Anime talks like this, while American cartoons talk like this" going on, yet the ultimate aim is in showing how the awfully hip! and now! world of anime is shaping up to change the way Westerners construct their own entertainments. Fair enough ground for a basic intro, but there's a profound sense of validation-through-mainstream-acceptance running through the show (indeed, the validation of a foreign culture's work through US mainstream acceptance), implying that if Big Money Hollywood and fellow travelers like this stuff... why, it must be great!

Consequently, the program is peppered with chit-chat from seemingly everyone in North American film, television or music who's working on (or recently worked on) a project even tangentially anime-related, while the Japanese side of things consists of about 15 seconds of Mamoru Oshii, and some words by the creator of Afro Samurai. Again, this isn't all that unexpected -- I guess I'd expect to see lots of film folk and 'name' fans on the Starz network -- but I still had to wonder if, say, Stan Lee's presence was really necessary, or if the time expended on what one of the guys from Good Charlotte thinks of the art form couldn't have been put to better use.

An awful lot of Frank Miller-related clips too (although the man himself does not appear), which does initially seem to make sense - after all, Miller was one of the first hugely popular artists in American comics to really flaunt his Japanese influences, albeit coming from a fairly specific area of a different art form, and he happens to be rather big in movies right now. But then, if Miller's Japanese-influenced comics work was subsequently adapted into popular, extremely faithful movies, how does that demonstrate anything about the power of anime?

At best, this sort of analysis places 'anime' (and/or manga, I guess) at a crucial point on a creative path, aiding the artist in his journey toward an ultimate destination of Big Money Cultural Impact, which I think dilutes the individual value of those various points (and forget about the merits of individual works). Ah, I guess all workers act as one force in the Revolution!

This theme sometimes stretches itself thin. Silliness ensues when clips from The Matrix are placed side-by-side with various anime snippets, thus proving the crackling Japanese origins of scenes like 'people sitting at the controls of a vehicle.' But sometimes the problem goes deeper; I agree that Blade Runner might seem kinda anime-like, but I know the production team was strongly influenced by the towering cityscapes of Métal Hurlant and the like, just as I know the American film prompted its share of anime designs - but the program ignores such cross-cultural nuance, save for times when it absolutely cannot, like with the works of Tezuka, or the hip-hop flare of the aforementioned Afro Samurai.

Still, the canned history bits are fine - I didn't pick up on any glaring errors, save for the potential confusion of chatting up the landmark status of the original Astro Boy anime while nothing but clips from the later remakes are shown (rights issues?). Lots of enthusiasm and gloss. An anime novice could do worse, but it pales in comparison with the likes of The South Bank Show's manga episode from earlier this year - now there's a program I could get behind despite it being aimed away from me.

*And in further study of Japan's grip on today's talked-about fun: Brack on The Ultimates 3, including how Christian Lichtner's much-maligned coloring seems to be another expression of Joe Madureira's manga influence.

*Oh, the new Otaku USA is out too. Don't be fooled by Naruto and his characteristic safety cone orange approach to ninja stealth on the cover - the real feature is a nice 14-page ode to Star Blazers (Space Battleship Yamato), including an interview with original animation director and general anime legend Noboru Ishiguro, who candidly admits to having basically directed the original series himself, since first-time formal 'director' Leiji Matsumoto "was not versed in the ways of the studio" - very diplomatic!

There's also a good short essay by Tomohiro Machiyama that delves into the franchise's role in essentially birthing anime fandom in Japan, as well as its themes of nationalism and revisionist WWII fantasy, and how they relate to both Matsumoto and infamous producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki (aka: "The Nish"). It's tempting to characterize the pair as classic anime archetypes: Matsumoto the romantic, tortured hero, filled with pride and burning spirit; and Nishizaki the colorful, charismatic villain, in love with renown and prone to impossible demands. I'm sure the reality is less clean, and Machiyama outlines it well.

I also enjoyed the issue's little two-page chat (well, a little two-page chat translated from a Japanese magazine) with Rebuild of Evangelion Assistant Chief Director Todoroki Ikki, who lists cleaning Chief Director Hideaki Anno's bookshelf as among his duties, and readily admits that nobody working on the four-film series actually knows what the much-anticipated new ending is going to be yet. Good times!


It's OK to Laugh!

Octopus Girl Vols. 1-2

(this review first appeared in The Comics Journal #283, May 2007, with different pictures and formatting; note that Dark Horse subsequently cancelled the series one book shy of its four-volume completion)

One of the unique attributes of the continuing manga wave is that it offers readers consistent opportunities for evaluation and reevaluation of seemingly familiar genres. Really, when it comes to a comics environment as sprawling as Japan’s, even years of manga penetration into English-speaking environs can only afford us an obscured viewpoint of the situation, especially where there’s still very few older, establishing works available to read. With a genre as broad as ‘horror,’ our understanding of what the bloody thing could be might shift every few years, depending on which formative works arrive to fill in our educational gaps, and what new(ish) works arrive to pique our interest.

Recently, I’ve been delighted with how much humor can be mixed in to potent manga horror. And I’m not talking moments of black comedy or flashes of rueful wit; I mean loud, bold, nasty fucking humor, cranked up to match the energy of fright. It’ll be no surprise to learn that one of the modern fathers of manga horror, Kazuo Umezu, was also wildly successful in the humor field. But even if you’ve read that somewhere, you really need to actually read something like The Drifting Classroom, which until recently hasn’t been available for English consumption in licensed form, to fully appreciate the caffinated, nervy mix of laughter and dread that a talent like Umezu can manage.

You can argue that Umezu’s target audience was nominally children, and he might have felt he needed to be as tonally hyperactive as possible to keep their attention, but I find the final result to be nevertheless effective, and it’s obviously been carried forward by later artists. Who can forget the images of giant walking sharks with scuttling legs storming the land in Junji Ito’s Gyo? I can still recall a handful of panels where a pair of police officers confront a hammerhead shark on the streets, the sheer absurdity of the situation never less than obvious, yet the stinking primal dread of aquatic monsters suddenly crawling up onto land to eat us actually somewhat enhanced by the reality-gone-wrong madness of it. A big walking shark wriggling its unexpressive way down a small house’s hallway is really funny, especially with the detail Ito invests in it, but you’ll never not be disquieted by the action.

But then there’s works like Octopus Girl, that hold themselves out as explicitly comedy and explicitly horror, rather than simply mining the comedy inherent to the horror, and I have to wonder if its effectiveness has been sapped for me through exposure to the more organically presented laughs of straight-up terror. Certainly there’s nothing that’s not gleefully artificial about this series, the brainchild of writer/artist Toru Yamazaki, who has since attained a non-comics fan following for his television and music work. I haven’t seen any of that stuff (speaking of obscured viewpoints), but I’m aware that he’s openly gay and prone to gender-bending, and there’s absolutely no way to ignore that when reading his comics - there’s a constant sense of playacting present in the work, a deeply mannered evocation of feminine personality traits and shoujo manga gestures that expresses both delight and melancholy, always undermined by oozing rivers of grue and snot and shit.

Maybe the greatest appeal of these two volumes (a third is also currently available) comes from the improvisatory feel that runs through it all. There’s very little that’s fixed in Octopus Girl, save for the presence of the main characters: Takako, a bullied young girl who wakes up one night with her head attached to an octopus’ body, and Sakae, a woman whose own head was attached to the body of a moray eel in a medical experiment. Don’t get caught up on the details, since they don’t matter at all; everything is a pretext to get Yamazaki’s characters into bizarre and occasionally satiric situations, all of them awash in flowing bodily fluids, usually spilt by the heroines. These ladies are hardly simple victims; they are also vengeful, violent, vain, and vulgar.

In one chapter, Takako enters a beauty pageant and quickly sets about eliminating her competition. One girl gets centipedes in her dress, another a giant octopus leg down her throat. All throughout, Yamazaki expertly captures the grinning vapidity of idol expectations through carefully rendered facial expressions and gestures so thoroughly determined they seem like a form of dance, before undermining the whole thing with vivid, detailed depictions of screaming faces and boils forming on skin. Only in fear do most of citizens of Yamazaki’s world fully express themselves; the artist generally renders them flatly, and with little vigor. Takako and Sakae, however, are constantly expressive. Yamazaki is talented at aping the visual conventions expected from drawings of pretty young girls, but one gets the sense he’s built up that skill mainly for the purposes of subverting such expectations with copious bad taste.

One occasionally gets the feeling that things like Yamazaki’s gag strips toward the back of vol. 2, about Disney fairytale features being ruined by bodily necessities (Sleeping Beauty has bad breath, Cinderella’s feet stink), express the same point with far less fuss, but there’s some obvious pleasures to be found in his heroines' adventures with a satanic school, or as housekeepers in a sinister mansion, where the artist happily confronts the undercurrents of primal horror genre situations. When Sakae is given the opportunity to marry the handsome (and, it will come as no surprise, sinister) son of a rich woman, her eyes roll back and tears and drool issue from her face, the words “Marriage… it’s… a woman’s purpose!” splashing across the page as she drifts into a typically arch bridal fantasy. When she and Takako confront a crazed murderer who blames her own actions on everyone else’s opinion as to her ugliness, the two roar “Like you couldn’t say the same fucking thing about us, huh?” “You’ve got persecution mania, bitch!” These two are just as bedazzled by cultural and social expectations as everyone, but they’re not about to feel sorry for themselves, which is as close to a message as this series gets.

And yet, there’s an underlying weakness to some of Yamazaki’s work; every so often in these pages, he’ll suddenly attempt a lunge into ‘pure’ horror, and inevitably fail. The problem is that his humor (and indeed, the very personality of his work) is so reliant on an artificial, easy-to-undermine construct of what is ‘acceptable,’ that his seemingly genuine efforts also inevitably come off as jokes, and clanking, mistimed ones at that. Or maybe he actually is trying to tell jokes, and they’re just so bad that I can’t even be sure what they are. I don’t know what else to make of a story like that of a man who’s confronted with a choice between saving the life of either his wife or his soon-to-be-born child, and begs God to take his life instead, prompting his shriveling into a lifeless corpse. Or that of a family stuck in a falling elevator, the father so intent on not allowing his clan to die that he mystically has his own body broken into so many pieces that it's as if all the wounds of his family have been brought onto him. This is chain e-mail caliber storytelling, so dumb that you don’t want to believe Yamazaki is now trying to be serious, yet so lame you don’t want to admit how shitty his jokes have gotten.

This, I think, is what separates Yamazaki from the likes of Umezu and Ito. He’s got a lot of obvious (if particular) talent, and his sense of aesthetic mission is clear. But he can’t ever quite dedicate himself to the more delicate brutalities of those who divine comedy from horror, though it seems he’d like to. There’s value to these books, but the reader’s enjoyment may hinge on whether they want their horror laced with comedy, or their comedy charged with revulsion. The latter can only be comedy-horror. From our ever-narrowed vantage, the former can be simply a richer horror.


Your Store Shall Burst

*Up too late tonight...


The Crusaders #18: The Enchanter (the further adventures of Jack T. Chick)

MOME Vol. 10 (Winter/Spring 2008)


Heavy Metal Jan. 2008

At The Savage Critics!

*Latest Anime Dept: With the release of this trailer, I am now 95% sure that Yasuomi Umetsu's upcoming Kite Liberator OVA will be a total disaster, but oh will it be a striking one. I do clearly recall finishing with the 1998 original and thinking: "Well that was a lot of fun, and potentially actionable, but it could have been perfect if only the heroine had swung around the city on a rope like Batman and all the grotty sex had been replaced with exploding space stations and robot gargoyles." Looks like wishes do come true, gang. There's another trailer out somewhere with maids... I did like the dude with the flowing blonde locks and the pink heart on his eyepatch, though. That's the real Umetsu shit.

Anyway, speaking of Batman, I'm probably more interested in the upcoming Batman: Gotham Knight, an anthology OVA similar to The Animatrix in that it'll present a bunch of Batman stories in various anime styles to tie in with the upcoming movie. The twist here is that Bruce Timm will be directing all of the six shorts (written by various Western comics, animation and movie vets, including Greg Rucka, Brian Azzarello, David S. Goyer and Josh Olson), but the animation will be produced by big-time Japanese studios like Studio 4°C, Madhouse and Production I.G. I'll want a look at the character designers and animation directors, since a good deal of the minute-by-minute direction will likely be left up to the studios' in-house crews, but yeah... I'm interested.

*Gad, plenty of sweet things -


The ACME Novelty Datebook: Vol. 2, 1995-2002: I can't think of a sketchbook collection that knocked more people over than Drawn & Quarterly's initial 2003 Chris Ware tome. Those equipped with $39.95 will soon have another deluxe hardcover brimming with 208 pages of supreme visual chops. Expect everything from full-blown comics to life studies to seemingly complete illustrations to handwritten notes to assured doodles to styles you wouldn't have expected from Ware, but should have. I mean it - this is a potential ass-kicker, with its eye on YOU.

The Art of Bryan Talbot: But then, there are also outside perspectives on an artist's completed works. As such, NBM offers this 96-page, $19.95 softcover look at the famed Englishman's visual career, hopefully stretching back from his underground days through the current Alice in Sunderland. A few samples and several crucial misspellings are here. I think this sort of book will prove especially worthwhile with an artist like Talbot, who's maybe a little better known for his choices in subject matter and narrative approach, and could use a dedicated study highlighting his use of pure visuals. Those with unlimited funds may want to draw comparisons with this week's The Art of P. Craig Russell: A Retrospective, a 256-page, $49.95 hardcover from Desperado, focusing on an artist whose aplomb can never be missed.

Starchild: Mythopolis II #1: Ahh, sometimes they come back. Seasoned readers will most likely remember writer/artist James A. Owen's fantasy saga as a creature of the '90s self-publishing scene, although it continued on with Image until near the end of the decade, and remains available today in six small collected volumes. Owen has since headed revivals of the magazines International Studio and Argosy, plus begun two series of prose novels - the as-of-yet German & French-only Mythworld, and the popular young adult illustrated saga Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica (the initial volume, Here, There Be Dragons is new to paperback, and the second, The Search for the Red Dragon, is due in hardback next month). Now he's with Desperado, and apparently out to bring back the 'one-man' indy comics anthology, come hell or high water. This 96-page, $6.99 b&w debut sports 20 new pages of Starchild, one chapter each of illustrated prose prequels to both of Owens' book series (the Mythworld prequel, Obscuro, first appeared in Negative Burn, and I think it's gonna be reprints of that for the first few issues), and collaborations with other comics folk. Quarterly issues will follow in the same format. Certainly worth a look.

Robot Vol. 4: Also returned from the abyss, albeit the international licensing circle thereof, is editor Range Murata's glossy Heavy Metal for moé-addled otaku, now published in English by Udon. Your $29.95 will get you plenty of pretty colors from anime, gaming and manga folk, spread across 164 pages - reports of the series' Japanese demise seem to have been greatly exaggerated, since Vol. 10 is set to hit stores next month. Have a look here; Yoshitoshi ABe die-hards had better prepare to feel the temptation once again.

Andromeda Stories Vol. 2 (of 3): More visual splendor from Keiko Takemiya, although I haven't been seeing high marks for the story. Publisher Vertical also has Vol. 1 of The Guin Saga Manga, which you can see a preview of by scrolling down here.

Appleseed ID: And in other manga news, Dark Horse has this 144-page replacement item for the old Appleseed Databook, filled with plenty of notes, sketches, select color illustrations from Masamune Shirow, plus an otherwise unavailable short story (well, unless you have the old Databook). Look at it.

Dondi Vol. 1: Good day, sirs and madams! Your vintage reprints Golden Age update of the week follows... Dondi Dondi Dondi Dondi Dondi Dondi Dondi Dondi. Dondi is now a $21.95 book of 264 pages. The authors are Gus Edson & Irwin Hasen. The publisher is Classic Comics Press. The dates are Sept. 25, 1955 to March 17, 1957 (dailies and Sundays included). The love is real. All three volumes of Leonard Starr's Mary Perkins On Stage are also tooting down the mountain on the Diamond train to Direct Market sales. Thank you for your attention!

NYC Mech Vol. 2: Beta Love: Huh, didn't see this Image trade of robot affection coming, yet here it is!

Garth Ennis' Chronicles of Wormwood: The Last Enemy: Ennis' recently collected Chronicles of Wormwood miniseries was a decent enough thing; while somewhat tedious in its comedic-ironic detailing of the writer's humanist fantasy cosmology, it did register as a keenly personal affirmation of human action in the face of omnious religious icons. And it seemed complete enough that I suspect this 48-page sequel one-shot won't have a lot to offer beyond additional jokes, although I'll take a look anyway. Note that original artist Jacen Burrows is busy working with Alan Moore on his upcoming Avatar horror miniseries, so one Rob Steen (previously of a Tokyopop OEL project titled Afterlife, if I've got the right guy) will be taking on the visuals. Also from Ennis and Avatar this week is Streets of Glory #3 (of 6), with artist Mike Wolfer.

Bat Lash #1 (of 6): Further proving that just about anything can get another shot, DC brings us another revival for an old western character, this time the peaceable wit of many loves. With writing by co-creator Sergio Aragonés & novelist Peter Brandvold, and art by the redoubtable John Severin. See some here.

Speed Racer Vol. 1: My favorite thing about that official movie trailer? Definitely the Frank Quitely/Bryan Singer era X-Men-style updated leather duds on Racer X. The movie's look brings to my mind Hideaki Anno's 2004 live-action adaptation of Cutey Honey, what with all the popping more-anime-than-anime colors and self-evidently 'fake' CGI... computer graphics don't have to look real to work, at least not in Speed Racer: The Movie, I don't think. Anyway, this is neither the super-deluxe slipcased set of the complete original manga (coming next year from DMP), nor the trade-format reprints of the old American NOW series (coming next year from IDW), but actually an all-new OEL book from Seven Seas. Dwayne Alexander Smith writes, Elmer Damaso draws, and Mike Allred provides a color insert.

Elephantmen: War Toys #1 (of 3): In which the regular Image series stops for a bit while the same core creative team -- Richard Starkings & Moritat -- provide an extended b&w flashback to the cast's days as soldiers. It's 40 pages for $2.99. Preview.

Hate Annual #7: It's time once again for Peter Bagge to revisit Buddy Bradley and collect assorted odds 'n ends for 40 pages. This year sees the last of Bagge's Bat Boy strips from Weekly World News, along with a struggle for junkyard dominance. $4.95.

BPRD: Killing Ground #5 (of 5): I buy it.

Wolverine #60: Yes, I buy it! Marvel (Icon) also has the collected Criminal Vol. 2: Lawless ready to go.

Laura Warholic: or, the Sexual Intellectual: I do believe Fantagraphics either published or distributed Alexander Theroux's monograph The Enigma of Al Capp back in the day, so maybe that's how the connection was made for the comics-and-related giant to publish its very first all-new prose novel, which is also Theroux's first novel in two decades. A big 878 pages of Not Comics waits for you!



"Send a 'fucking droid' down with one of my sperm capsules."

*Endless Yapping Dept: So, Chris Mautner interviewed me for his column on Newsarama's blog, and here's the initial results. This installment is mostly about my background and stuff, so the real flop-sweat bits where Chris asks me a question and I stutter out hopeless nonsense for paragraph after grueling paragraph will only show up later.

*Er, the quote above isn't from the interview, by the way. It's actually from -

MOME Vol. 10 (Winter/Spring 2008)

This will be out in a few weeks, probably. It's the newest $14.95 volume of Fantagraphics' ongoing quarterly anthology from a semi-fixed crew of contributors. Fair warning: Eleanor Davis is absent this time around, Tim Hensley's excellent Wally Gropius has only a single teaser page (albeit a fine one) to follow up last issue's amazing events, and Al Columbia provides only the front and back covers.

On the other hand, there's three new artists brought into the fold, the most interesting of which to my mind is Dash Shaw, whose 2006 book The Mother's Mouth (from Alternative Comics) showed a lot of good storytelling potential in its interrogation of the comics form, even as the story it actually told didn't register so much.

His contribution here, Look Forward, First Son of Terra Two, shows a more assured style, being six pages of carefully tuned sci-fi concerning the interactions of people from two worlds - Terra Two, which seems much like our Earth, and Terra One, where everything moves backwards by our understanding of time and space. It's a keen allegory for cultural miscommunication, and Shaw nicely exploits the small details of how such at-odds peoples might interact, with one side growing younger as the other ages, the former responding to questions before the latter can ask them. Two such worlds can never quite co-exist, as you might guess, so Shaw codes all of the accessories of each world by color.

Besides giving the story a likeably glowing feel, Shaw's hues silently undercut every one of his characters' attempts at meaningful interaction - lives are built, money is made and loves are forged, yet it's always obvious that the understanding between these cultures is built on novelty and futile struggle. The only major deviation from Shaw's color scheme comes in a sequence of person-to-person pain and violence, blood being a universal red.

A hoary notion, that, but Shaw's stylized depiction of cross-cultural communicative struggle is beguiling enough that its eventual lunge into wartime allegory seems naturally grown, and its final notion that even the most conciliatory, peaceable understanding might never quite be grasped outside of individual social context is a disquieting one. It's the kind of story where your total attention is required -- a major storytelling jump is indicated by a small brush of color off to the side of one page, maybe too subtle a gesture -- but offers goodly reward from its short length. I look forward to Shaw's future MOME contributions, including another story next issue, as well as his 720-page(!!) graphic novel The Bottomless Belly Button, coming next year from Fantagraphics.

This volume's other new contributers include John Hankiewicz (of the Xeric-winning series Tepid and the collection Asthma), who offers Success Comes to Westmont, IL, a seven-page walk through the titular town in which the caption-based narration laments the gentrification of the area and his romantic life while the art dips in and out of symbol and various degrees of cartoon simplification, perhaps to express the changing character of the story's place. A chilly, ominous tone, although the particulars manage to be obscure and utterly familiar at the same time. More interesting is Jeremy Eaton's Winchester Cathedral, a 13-page illustrated story section (four small 'pages' per MOME page) reminiscent of Jules Feiffer in its curling doodles and playful cynicism - it's about the crimes and strife that keep a family together.

Of the returning artists, I was most taken by Robert Goodin's The Ten Fools, a nine-page reconstitution of an old Indian fable as a prolonged gag piece, with some really appealing, tactile cartooning on display.

The other stories vary, as they always do. Jim Woodring's previously Japan-only The Lute String concludes in a funny, visually striking (of course!) manner that nevertheless demonstrates through its reliance on fast narrative build that breaking it into pieces did it no favors whatsoever (the next two issues' obligatory 'seasoned vet' space will be taken by Killoffer, who'll have self-contained stories, I believe). Paul Hornschemeier's Life With Mr. Dangerous continues to putter along in presenting the inarticulate romantic travails of moody young adults - at least this chapter manages to structure itself into something sort of responsive to serialization.

But what's clear about MOME by this point is that it's reached a pleasing point of diversity in both subject matter and storytelling presentation. For every serial-unfriendly Woodring presentation, there's four pages of Kurt Wolfgang's Nothing Eve, deliberately arranged into a specific collection of thoughts that still moves the core plot forward. As drowsy as Hornschemeier's look at uncertain living can be, there's not far away another booming, bracing contribution by Tom Kaczynski, a nuanced four pages of male delusion, fetid heat and rotten industry. Kaczynski's also the featured interview this time around, and there's some great background on his personal worldview and philosophic intent. Check out his website and buy his Cartoon Dialectics minicomic collection - I'm glad to have found his stuff through MOME, and I hope its continued development leads readers to further discoveries.


Attention: The Best Product

*Oh my god, an angel appeared to me in a dream at work today (er, last night I mean) and showed me the best item I've seen in a week:

Screw-Style, the Computer Adventure Game!!

Yep, it looks like someone went and turned Yoshiharu Tsuge's famous 1968 short comic Nejishiki -- as seen in The Comics Journal #250 -- into a Sharp X68000 arcade-at-home computer production, on 5.25" floppies: the true gekiga format! It retailed for over $100 back in the day, from the looks of the label, and it came with a comic!

Man, I wonder if it ends with a boating action scene, just like in The Oregon Trail...


Mormon Ain't Nothing but Murder Misspelled

The Crusaders #18: The Enchanter

I can still vividly recall the first time I read a comic by Jack T. Chick. It was one of his famous free tracts, left on a bench at a local pizza place. The story concerned a burly trucker telling someone something about Jesus, somehow, to great effect. Er, the sensation is what's vivid, not the plot. It was a funny comic, and my brother and I laughed and laughed, and possibly drew something in the little blank spaces in the back where you're supposed to affirm your acceptance of Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The second time I ran across a Chick tract, it on a summer vacation with my family, outside our hotel. I don't remember the contents of that one at all, since my mother got ahold of it once we were in our room, read a bit, and mysteriously demanded I take it outside and throw it away. I naturally started flipping through the little comic the second I was behind the door, but this was a vital enough mission that Mom was keeping watch - it must have been one of Chick's anti-Catholic specials, because I got a sharp talking to over my disobedience. "But mom, they're funny!" I remember my brother pleading, but he was preaching to the wrong choir.

"Those comics say bad things about our religion," Mom declared. And for years after, merely spotting a Chick tract filled me with trepidation. They were scary comics, because my mother disliked them so. They were bad.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

So, it probably goes without saying that I've read roughly one million Jack T. Chick comics by now, since there's no better way to fascinate a kid with something than to tell them it's bad, especially if that something is free. My brother just picked a few up the other week. Who can resist? Giveaways are part of what makes Chick an alluring figure - born over 80 years ago and a veteran of WWII, the artist is temporally of the 'Golden Age' generation of comic book artists, although his confrontational subject matter and alternative distribution system tend to mark him as more a proto-underground figure. Hell, taking comics for free is the hot thing these days, so maybe Chick is only now seeing his time truly arrive - he's got a ton of stuff online himself.

But I'm a seasoned enough Chick reader to know there's more to him than just giveaways. He's a publisher of prose books. A distributor of videos. He's even a filmmaker, having conceived and written 2003's The Light of the World, a narrated traipse through 360 oil paintings by his longtime colleague, Fred Carter.

And it's with Carter that Chick created a full-blown, full-color, pamphlet-format you-gonna-buy-that-buddy-this-ain't-a-library comic book series. Debuting in 1974, The Crusaders initially followed the adventures of Tim Clark and Jim Carter -- possibly virile young action versions of Chick and (Fred) Carter themselves -- as they zipped around battling Satanism, Communism, suicide, evolution (Chick was on that shit in '76, slowpokes!), rock 'n roll, and other top-tier menaces to Christian living.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The thrills would often pause at some point for an illustrated history of the wickedness at hand, and the store-bought pamphlet format allowed for all the vivid imagery and bloody mayhem needed to keep the eyes open, albeit for the purposes of saving souls. As Robert B. Fowler summarized in his 2001 book The World of Chick?, regarding issue #9: "Darlene and Jeff are living in sin. Two serial killers randomly choose Darlene as their next lucky winner, but the Crusaders save her. And tell her she is going to Hell."

And then, with issue #12, Tim 'n Jim began spending what would turn out to be roughly 150 pages standing around and listening to the story of one Dr. Alberto Rivera, an alleged Catholic insider willing to detail, at whatever length necessary, the nefarious history of that diabolical empire of devilry.

In short, the Catholic Church -- and especially its subversive kill squad, the Jesuits -- are behind just about everything, ever. Alberto continued to talk until issue #17, published in 1988, after which the re-christened Alberto series went off to Rivera's wife's own AIC Publications for another issue or two. The Crusaders slept.


Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Yep, it's 20 years later, and the "classic" Crusaders are back. I haven't the slightest idea why Chick Publications is opting to put out a new pamphlet-format comic now; maybe there's a plan for Christian bookstore distribution? I certainly don't think Diamond's picked it up, and (perhaps tellingly) there's not even a price on the cover. But for $2.25, you can get it straight from Chick; with 32 color pages of story, at least the man still knows value.

A million questions are probably blasting through the heads of Crusaders fans right now, so the first thing I need to mention is that I do believe the old team is back together.

Just like in Golgo 13, no credits are provided for writing or art, but the writing certainly has the classic Jack T. Chick flavor, and the visuals do appear to be the work of Fred Carter, although he's either taught himself Photoshop or taken on some coloring/digital effects assistance - the Carter skill with caricature is still evident from the lines, but everything is slathered with shiny hues and digital textures (one guy's Hawaiian shirt is hypnotic in this regard).

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Figures sometimes look stiffly pasted against digital backgrounds, including a few panels with the drawn characters standing against photographic foliage. It's often garish, and lacking the graphic aplomb of his best work.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

But the force of Chick's writing really helps propel this thing; he's in full-tilt attack mode, and I felt the flutter of stomach nerves just beholding it.

The topic is Mormons; it will come as no surprise that they are revealed to 'drool,' whereas accepting Christ as your personal savior is all that can 'rule.' The tale begins with good wife Darlene -- not the one from the serial killer issue, but drawn in Carter's emphatic, Quitelyesque chubby-cheeked manner -- arriving home to a bloody murder scene, starring her recently post-Mormon husband.

Inside, the town's thin, bald sheriff sends a strapping "Gentile" beat officer to work crowd control outside after he dares suggest it might be murder rather than suicide; before long, the sweaty local bishop is on location, plotting a cover-up. When Darlene finally manages to see the body ("only the undamaged part of his face"), she's castigated for her somewhat tactless suggestion to the local Mormon officials that the church totally murdered her husband for leaving them. The snark begins as soon as she's gone:

"Filthy Gentile. She corrupted Jake. Good riddance!"

"At least his soul is saved now, thanks to our Avenging Angels."

"Yes, God bless 'em!"

Dangerous-looking bald and pointy-bearded men keep an eye on Darlene as she enters a phone booth; the church froze hers and Jake's bank account and took their home, but luckily she still has the quarters to call... The Crusaders! At their day jobs. Where I guess they sit in adjacent cubes.

As seemingly the entire crazy town gathers outside with bats, Darlene begs Tim 'n Jim to send money, letting them know she's extra scared. Our Heroes spring into action, kneeling down in prayer (Tim's elbows planted manfully into his computer chair) and begging God's protection of sweet Darlene. In perhaps the most lethargic display of divine intervention in 21st century comics thus far, an old dude then shows up and tells the brethren that Darlene ain't on the list (OF MURDER). In the midst of this miraculous scene, a slovenly type leers at the scared woman, and cuts loose with a "Haw Haw," because there's fans that need servicing. Jack T. Chick knows it.

Um, then the Crusaders send Darlene money and she leaves town, and that's it for the adventure segment of the comic.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The remaining 26 pages see Tim 'n Jim sitting down with David Franks, ex-Mormon, for a nice history lesson on what the church is all about. I was reminded a bit of an NPR interview I heard the other day. It was with an evangelical minister, who spoke of the difficulties in reconciling the values of Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney with the perspective many congregation members (and indeed, leaders) have of Mormanism as a cult.

Jack T. Chick doesn't call it a cult.

Jack T. Chick has establishing scenes set in Hell. With some great monster designs by Carter - the devil that vouches for Joseph Smith is bony and green, with heavy dribbles of flesh waving like gelatin raindrops from his belly and arms, bone horns set above his nose and curling around his ears, with fat purple eyes peering out from the hollowed bases. Satan himself is decked out in a sweet robe, looking and acting like Skeletor ("Of course I will, you idiot!"), no doubt already anticipating the taste of Spidey's wedding cake.

So anyway, we leard that Mormons are awful, in much the way that every religion is ultimately awful in the world of Jack T. Chick. Sin piles atop sin, past the point of dryness, with only the occasional panel of a black-robed figure confronting Joseph Smith around to break things up. I confess that many readers may get bored. But I suppose I'm too easy a mark for Chick - he scared me as a kid, and thrilled me later with his history-spanning tales of Catholics as the demons behind seemingly all the world's strife, a truly grand, era-spanning conspiracy, too wild to stay away from, starring my friends and family and neighbors.

I suspect this work may have some of the same power on young Mormons (if they find it, that is - this isn't meant to be given away, and its aim is information to the True Believer rather than conversion). It necessarily lacks in scope, though not emphasis. When Sampson Avard shows up to form the Danites, Chick knows a panel of Adolph Hitler and his SS will be in order, but only after Jim remarks on the similarities between the comic's opening murder and the Danites' vigilante activities (nudge nudge). Yet Chick is a bit too broad a thinker to let his work rest in such fetid water; he stretches his analysis outward, to compare Smith and Mohammed (you bet your ass his face is shown), to explore Masonic murder, and ultimately... well, let's just say it wouldn't be Chick without a little Jesuit revelation at the end.

"So, it appears Dr. Rivera was right again!" exclaims Tim, hooking this shit together like Final Crisis. In these moments, beyond my personal interests, Chick's chronicle adopts the character of nearly cosmic world-building, although I think he'd call it less architecture than cartography. It is redolent with the accumulation of gestures and tropes from decades of creation with as much freedom as a pair of cartoonists can be blessed with. If Lewis Trondheim wondered aloud where a cartoonist might go as he ages, Chick and Carter suggest an answer risen from outside any mainstream's oft-pilloried grip.

Addition. Skyless addition in the accidental metaphor of global conspiracy as a yearning for certainty in the immaterial. The faceless God is in the back of the book. So's the blank space to draw in. A line for the date, in case you're asked later.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

For Chick's heroes, the end is always assured.