Speed Speed Speed Speed Speed

*I have been up for all of time.


Comic Foundry #2


All Star Superman #10

the latter of which was posted at The Savage Critics.

*Nobody is coming down again.


Omega: The Unknown #7 (of 10): With special guest artist, your friend and mine, Gary Panter, creator of Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise, maybe my all-time favorite comic, maybe. He brings us the origin of him of the Unknown. Panter preview pages present pursuant. And Christ, there's gonna be too many tribute pages in this series.

Comic Foundry #2: New edition of the comics magazine, now refurbished and in color. Review here.

Tonoharu Part 1 (of 4): A Xeric-powered, 128-page hardcover start-of-a-series by Lars Martinson, about the experiences of a young Western man teaching English in rural Japan. It's $19.95; preview here. Review coming soon, god willing.

Many Happy Returns: Your oddball release of the week - a 32-page, $3.99 pamphlet-format project, underwritten by Alberta's Happy Harbor Comics and published by About Comics, dedicated to presenting new stories for some older series. That means a new Journey eight-pager from William Messner-Loebs, new Crossfire from Mark Evanier & Dan Spiegle, and more of Nat Gertler's Licensable BearTM. Probably worth a flip.

Jenny Finn: Doom Messiah: Man, Jenny Finn. If ever there was an ill-fated (if ultimately completed) Mike Mignola project it'd be this one, having known three publishers, two artists and (now) three formats over the nine years it's been around. And it's only 128 pages long! This is the first ever fully-collected edition of the stuff, from Boom! Studios, tracking the paths of whores, laborers, rippers, steampunk politicians and rampant, curling flesh mutation in a fantasy Olde England. Co-written by Mignola and Troy Nixey, the latter of which also draws just under 3/4 of the material, at which point Farel Dalrymple takes over to some loss in momentum. Still worth a peek for interested parties with $14.99 to spare. Big preview here. Just for laffs, I'll also show you my reviews of the prior incarnation. Issue #3 of Abe Sapien: The Drowning is also out.

Holmes: And since we've already gone back in time, here's a new AiT-Planet Lar collection of Omaha Perez's saga of two famed men solving a crime whilst out of their minds on shit. Preview.

Little Things: A Memoir in Slices: Diamond thought they'd be cool and different by hiding this new 352-page Jeffrey Brown release -- a collection of new autobiographical anecdotes -- down in the merchandise section with the Flash symbol red hoodies and something called a Batman Giant Buddy, but you can never hide things from me, Diamond. Never. From Touchstone/Simon & Shuster; $14.00.

American Splendor Season Two #1 (of 4): But why let the young have all the attention? Being the latest of Harvey Pekar's exploits, in the Vertigo pamphlet format, with art from the likes of Chris Weston, David Lapham, Dean Haspiel, Hilary Barta, Ed Piskor and more.

Dragon Head Vol. 10 (of 10): Just the hundredth manga series I didn't manage to quite keep up on, but here's the finale to Minetaro Mochizuki's popular survival horror tale. Er, 'popular' in internet terms; I don't know what that really means. God, did you see the (finally!) more-or-less official word that Carl Horn just put out about Satsuma Gishiden getting canned? Two volumes from the end - ARG. Don't know if that one was even an internet hit, though...

Countdown Special: Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth: I like these 80-page grab-bag pamphlets; this one presents a trio of works by the King (#1, #10 and #29), for $4.99.

Casanova #13: Continues!

Jack Staff #15: Coming out!

Infinity Inc. #8: New artist Pete Woods!

Punisher War Journal #18: Jigsaw! (the prelude)

Secret Invasion #1 (of 8): Batman is a Skrull.

Anna Mercury #1 (of 5): This is the latest Warren Ellis project at Avatar, an adventure story about a mystery woman out to save a technocratic city from itself. With artist Facundo Percio; here is one page, and other images are here.

Neopiko-2: I have no idea what the fuck this stuff is, but Diamond is releasing something like 100 varieties of it this week at $14.95 a shot, so it'll probably heal stuff if you put it in your mouth.


Quick, Swamped, Future

Comic Foundry #2 (Spring 2008)

This should be out in Direct Market stores on Wednesday. It's the new 64-page issue of the culture-focused comics-and-sundry magazine, now in full color for $5.98.

I think it says quite a lot, maybe enough, that literally the first thing at the very top of this issue's front cover is a shot at Wizard, the joke helpfully italicized so that absolutely nobody could possibly miss it. It made me smirk, but I couldn't help but think of the implications; Wizard's similar topping claim is silly enough, and I get where the Foundry joke is coming from, but it does rather presume that everybody who's going to look at the cover will be immersed enough in comics culture miscellany to 'get' the gag. Everyone else might scratch their head and try to think of other magazines that cover pop culture in a gender-neutral way, like Entertainment Weekly or something, and wonder what this magazine is trying to be. It's weirdly self-limiting.

I mention EW in particular because Comic Foundry never fails to bring it to my mind. This issue is more reminiscent than ever, what with the addition of color (it's now totally obvious how much that b&w hurt the prior issue), and the absence of the more unique features from the debut - there's no fiction, no essays on gender-in-comics. The first half (or so) of the magazine is a barrage of short interviews, highlights, suggestions, sidebars (lots of those), previews, lists and graphics. The second half (or so) contains longer interviews, profiles, in-depth lists, and other assorted features. They've even added a three-page Reviews section, of the familiar 'one feature, a smattering of capsules' type.

A friend once told me that this magazine is kind of a perfect storm of current print publication trends -- the brevity, the modularity, the sleekness -- and that seems right, from my experience as a reader. I expect a lot more comics coverage from print outlets will look like Comic Foundry's in the future, if maybe as planted into preexisting forums, rather than filling new magazines.

For what it's worth, this magazine does a good job of keeping its content current, despite the long gap between this and last issue (it's not infallible, though - have you heard, perchance, of the Haruhi dance?); it's also very catholic in its comics scope, perfectly willing to jam brief, glossy coverage of Achewood, Kevin Huizenga, noted Iron Man storylines, sports manga, upcoming New Gods toys and Dave Sim into the space of seven pages, with no fuss at all. It's actually pretty comics-focused too; the 'culture' bits mainly boil down to chats with television and film performers about their geek cred and stuff, with some t-shirt/sneaker recommendations. And a snark-free feature on LARPing!

It's all very quick and simple, and I get the feeling that's the intent; it sure reads like the sort of magazine you'd polish off in twenty minutes and toss out for recycling. Not a lot of it stuck with me, although Senior Editor Laura Hudson's feature interview with Matt Fraction is pretty substantial. I'm still not convinced that a 64-page quarterly magazine is the best vessel for such "hotness," as Editor in Chief/Art Director Tim Leong puts it; it doesn't seem to have much that stands out from what the determined reader can find online with greater speed.

Ah, but Comic Foundry doesn't read like something for that 'determined' reader, tricky cover jokes aside. As a compilation, it's affable enough. I bet you already know if you're going to read it.


Anime is released on Tuesday.

20 things to be found on the R1 dvd for the new anime OVA, Kite Liberator:

1. Bullshit.

2. Nonsense.

3. The concept of the original Kite revised into a superhero piece, its heroine armed with a cape, a grapnel line and a bespectacled clumsiness act (or is the SUPERHERO the ACT and the HUMAN the... never mind).

4. Multiple scenes set in the world's scummiest maid café, where the heroine works. Er, that actually means she's not so much disguised as Clark Kent than costuming herself in moé. Which is kind of funny.

5. A scene in a classroom where all the students have to empty their bags, revealing booze, porn, model pistols, a knife, a Mezzo Forte model figure, etc. That was also kind of funny.

6. Quasi-comedy relief rapists, which kinda squashes the funny.

7. No actual porno content, though! This is a classy production (and not the original Kite)!

8. Secret assassination orders given in the middle of a park by a guy in a fursuit who manfully continues his briefing after a child wanders up and socks him in the stomach.

9. Many panties. Many several.

10. Also: it's a-ok for men in their late 20s to ask high school girls out on dates. Keep that in mind, viewers at home!

11. Okay space station CGI.

12. Not-very-okay ethereal angel feathers CGI.

13. Globs of sticky sentimentality, on top of the ethereal angel feathers. Is that a tar-and-feathering?

14. Animation for scenes of teenage girls sitting around and talking that's honestly way more interesting than the restrained, apparently hampered-by-budget-or-time action bits. This won't do much to redeem creator/director/writer/character designer/storyboardist/co-animation director & contributing key animator Yasuomi Umetsu's reputation after the aesthetic disaster of the Mezzo DSA television series, although this project is a little smoother.

15. Lots and lots of too-slick digital panning, though. Enough so that it all seems like an attempt to do Tekkonkinkreet's 'handheld' animation style with a fraction of the means.

16. One of the odder dvd extras I've seen: an incomplete cut of the project put together for a film festival. It's the same show, only missing stuff. Like whole action scenes. Or any resolution to the romantic subplot, or any purpose to several minor characters... wait, none of that's in the full show either. The main plot still wiggles through, though.

17. Oh, the plot. It ***SPOILAZZ*** concerns a sinister men-in-black retaining foodstuffs corporation that launches a nerd into space whose special cosmic curry mixes with solar radiation to transform astronauts into bulletproof gargoyles... I'll stop.

18. That guilty pleasure hum, mixed with regret that it all couldn't have rubbed against its own limitations a little less; it's kind of like something that Streamline Pictures would have called a Video Comic in 1991, and it might resound with anime viewers of a certain generation.

19. An ending so abrupt you'll swear you got switched over to the film festival version. Although I kinda liked it.

20. The dawning realization that you've just watched an obvious pilot for a possible television or video series. Your $15 donation (unless you somehow paid full retail) was greatly appreciated!

In case anyone was wondering where yesterday's post went...

*I was without internet service from the time I got home yesterday (about 8:00 PM) to sometime after I left for work this morning (7:45 AM). Hooray for service!


RPLC #1 (not a comic, but a feature; includes Johnny Boo Vol. 1: The Best Little Ghost in the World!, Robot Vol. 4, Hyperbox #1 and Mineshaft #21)

Blab! Vol. 17

Oops! (a tale of two Chick tracts)


War is Hell: First Flight of the Phantom Eagle #1 (of 5)

at The Savage Critics.

Yeah, that's all for a few hours...


This post is your internet Easter bonnet. Put it on your head.


Well, it's Easter time for all the Christian folk out there, and since I'm visiting with relatives this weekend I thought it'd be nice for my site to 'visit' with a real comics icon, someone perfectly appropriate for the season.

I refer, of course, to Jack T. Chick.

It's no exaggeration to call Chick one of the most-read cartoonists in North America; honestly, it's something of an understatement. The man has become no less than a minor cultural icon, his famous lil' landscape format giveaway comic tracts standing as a uniquely successful permutation of the art form. He's been around for decades, long enough for many comics readers (and countless others) to become familiar with his particular brand of preaching, emphasizing the hundreds of perils that might spell damnation for even the most well-intentioned soul, and the lone footpath away from the Lake of Fire: unequivocal acceptance of Jesus Christ as your personal savior.

He's still at it today, releasing numerous fresh items every year. I've already gone over Chick's recent return to full-sized pamphlet-format comic books, a new issue of The Crusaders, which dips into the conspiratorial side of his favored subject matter, as well as his collaborative aspect. Few men can support an empire of funnies alone, after all, and Chick has long had an understanding partner in artist Fred Carter.

Well, the two of them may not share a similar visual outlook, but they're most simpatico in terms of message. As such, Carter's current project makes some sense - he's remaking a handful of particularly famous Chick tracts in his own visual style, so as to appeal directly to black audiences. From what I've seen, the process sometimes involves simple augmentation to preexisting art, though other tracts see a full-scale makeover.

Among the latter is Oops!, one of the newest tracts to see release from the Chick nerve center. And even its cover art, seen above, hearkens back to its source material:

As far as these things go, Somebody Goofed is an excellent choice for a redo. It's one of the quintessential Chick tracts, lean and mean, stomping and snorting across 20 full-page images (and one page with two panels) to deliver its simple message. No convoluted metaphors or diabolically baroque machinations here; it's Chick distilled, yet far enough along in his career that he's become somewhat self-referential, if not self-aware.

Carter's approach is understandably similar (I mean, it's a remake), but his style is so fundamentally different from Chick's that a comparison is still worthwhile. C'mon! Let's hunt for the Easter eggs! I think that's a pagan fertility thing!

Here's page one of Chick's original, already reminiscent of those later episodes of Dragnet wherein Joe and Frank would encounter our changing society and put the changes in jail. But Jack T. Chick has grander things on his mind - check out how there's two solid splotches of black on the page, both of them shirts, both of which serve to immediately grab at your eye. One belongs to poor Bobby ("Gasp!" ), while the other belongs to a local sensitive badass who's totally into Satan, motherfuckers.

Death, drugs and demons are immediately linked in this way, and the story's shock surprise ending is foreshadowed before the plot can even begin. It doesn't look like much of a crowd on that page, or even a very good suggestion of one; Chick's composition seeks only to deliver the awfulness of the situation, even going so far as to provide a handy bridge of white space between his globs of doomy black, although that clunky bottom left word balloon spoils the flow.

Carter's version, in contrast, flushes the symbolism entirely to present a sense of realistic community. This is a real crowd, the visual emphasis placed on their teeming bodies while Bobby ("Gasp!") is pushed into the background. Consequently, the word balloons -- and they're exactly the same in content, as it'll go for most of the story -- compliment the visuals by forming a circular pattern, mimicking the rustling of the people as the eye is drawn around the page, and creating a sensation of the crown surrounding the ambulance, even though Carter only draws people on one side.

What's most impressive to me is that Carter isn't just creating a similar scene to Chick's; he's recreating many of the elements of Chick's composition, even placing several characters in the same postures, while transforming the mood of the page through simple changes. Having a more realistic visual style (one now incorporating photographic backgrounds, if you look closely) doesn't hurt in creating a tactile sense of community, of course. And it was nice to not have the paramedic announcing the kid's fate to the whole neighborhood. Asshole.

Anyway, the plot of the tract kicks off soon after. The (gasp choke) fate of Bobby prompts an onlooking young boy to ponder his own mortality; a nearby religious sort decides this is the perfect time for a little intervention, but unfortunately the kid is hanging out with these guys:

I'm partial to the classic Chick 'hipster' design up top, although Carter's command of body language is formidable as always. I've mentioned it before, but Carter always sort of reminds me of Frank Quitely, a younger artist working in a more overtly stylized manner, but possessed of a similarly puffed-up approach to faces and bodies, with a fundamentally humorous outlook.

Or maybe it's this page's juxtaposition of detailed character art with a nebulous background glow that's doing the trick, like one of those bits in All Star Superman where characters converse in a shimmering void or conveniently pass in front of a blank wall; that's not really a criticism, given that both artists are obviously putting a premium on body language and facial expressions (and, in Quitely's case, a sense of incredible speed against yawning landscapes), but my preference is for the volume-adding scratches that Chick provides.

Body language is generally worth checking. On this page, Chick and Carter again provide essentially the same character positions (although the latter version can't help but change some of the former's stilted text). But look at how Carter's depiction of the religious guy changes the tone; he's reasonable, pleading, reaching out, while the other adult character turns away meanly. In contrast, Chick's guy is basically yelling at the pair, making the hipster seem a little more reasonable.

Fascinatingly, the religious guy in Chick's version appears to be a self-portrait. Which raises the question: is the same character in the new version supposed to be the even-more-reclusive Carter? It's tempting to speculate as to the dueling psychologies at work; does Carter sees himself as a fundamentally reasonable man in his witnessing? Is Chick a man of force, inside? Does he think himself pushy? Does he need to be?

That's maybe a wrong turn, though. The philosophy of the Chick tract suggests a different possibility.

Ah, the trials of the faithful! But Chick isn't one for self-pity; his works, inspired by Chinese propaganda comics, you'll recall, are containers for psychological warfare, and everything in them is typically poised for maximum effect. This story is an efficient one. Notice that Chick/Carter(?) is dropping his tracts as he's shoved; the man being rejected is the guy who handed you this comic you're reading now. Maybe he seems a little nuts; the characters say as much.

Meanwhile, the other adult appears to be perfectly sane. He notes that many modern theologians (like Jesuits, UGH) accept that the Bible is a patchwork accumulation of sometimes contradictory perspectives. He castigates the Chick perspective as extremism and fearmongering, a product of midievil thinking and anathema to a society of reason. Hell, the guy isn't even an agnostic or anything - he openly advocates a respectful generalization of Christian values ("Just follow the ten commandments and believe in the golden rule and you'll be O.K.!"), and impliedly advocates only surgical intolerance toward those who spread messages of fear and inflexibility.

But, he's wrong. He's always wrong. Worse, he's no less than a literal agent of Satan (er, spoilers). And the assholes are not only right, they're the ones who won't roast in perdition for all of eternity. It's just like the famous tract with the foul gunman who accepts Christ, and is saved, and the unfailingly good-working (if sneery) sheriff who does absolutely nothing wrong beyond not accepting Jesus, and goes right to fucking Hell, where he belongs, for unspeakable suffering unto eternity!

In that way, it makes perfect sense for Chick to portray himself as sort of a hectoring asshole; that's all part of the reversal his works feed on. The least made most, the most made least, and so on. It's proudly extreme, and always extreme, and so rhetorically persistent that it just might bore into your head after 40 or 50 times, which is part of the plan. The beauty of this story is that it blends criticisms of 'the Chick outlook' into the outlook itself! God, who said this guy was rigid?

On the other hand, Chick does make his shove look way more painful than Carter(?)'s. Look at those impact spikes. He even lost his glasses. Those inert sound effect don't help Carter's case.

But then, if Carter isn't a more restrained preacher, he certainly lacks Chick's fire for mayhem. This is the page where the boy (NOT SAVED) and the adult die while driving to a lecture on evolution or something. Just look at Chick's flair. The upper right of the panel is filled with the black of death while most of the sky is dominated with the terrific impact of the train. A whole cloudbank of smoke is vomited into the bottom left corner while the rendering of the car slashes with inky violence. If you peer in, you can see the hipster flailing inside the car, although from the looks of the collision I bet he won't get far with the engine crushing his legs.

Carter's? Same composition -- the wheels are even flying off in the same direction -- but man, it's practically a Yuichi Yokoyama panel. Cleanliness and geometry rule the day; it's clear, but incredibly detached. The impact is signified by a glowing blast, as if the car is being pressed by the train's headlights. The adult character is thrown free of the car; Chick makes you imagine the meat jelly of his hipster's body, but he makes sure you imagine it. Carter can only convey.

I think that's the key, given the type of battle Chick tracts always aim to fight. The top image here is one of my all-time favorite Jack T. Chick drawings, as the boy and the adult enter the bad place. The conflicting textures of the rock are appropriately jarring; for Chick, it's subtle. The hipster... I love his expression. He seems faintly mournful, or maybe just sorry; he can't quite understand how people keep falling for his wrong-type-of-Christian tricks, when the answer's so simple. It's always simple in Chick tracts, but so many still fall into the pit.

Carter's version is way funnier, and I kinda dig the mix of photographic flames and (modeled?) rock textures, but the Chick version embodies the Chick ethos to the fullest extent. You're so stupid, because there's only one thing you need to do.

Jack T. Chick may have been the guy getting shoved, but he's also temporarily present in our last glimpse of adult humanity, that of soft irritation.

Sympathy for the devil.

Happy Easter! You're probably going to Hell!


At Least My Sweater Hasn't Worn Out

Blab! Vol. 17

(this review first appeared in The Comics Journal #285, Oct. 2007; as usual, the formatting and paragraph breaks are different here, and I switched five or so words around)

I became oddly confused reading through this recent volume of Monte Beauchamp’s compilation of comics, illustration and design. Or maybe ‘bedazzled’ is a better word. Perplexed?

Whatever you want to call it, I was looking at the obligatory Spain Rodriguez story, an eight-page affair titled High Smile Guy in a Low Smile Zone, and I began staring at the page. Closely. It’s a finished story, yes, but I suddenly noticed that Spain’s pencils were still clearly visible around his inks, forming a sort of ghost outline that’s not immediately distracting, but eventually does the trick after the effect has seeped into the mind. Heck, I even caught a few words pasted over something else in one of Spain’s narrative captions. I’d never noticed before. A trick of intense visual reproduction quality? An intentional drawing of attention to process?

The strange thing is, while I liked Spain’s story in the way I generally like Spain’s autobiographical material in Blab!, the nature of the visuals wound up interacting in a curious manner with the story itself. It’s an account of a time spent working at a plant, especially scattered and abrupt - events are relayed in what seems like a logical (if not chronological) order, but there’s an absence of cumulative effect. Really, the story just seems to stop after it’s run out of space to fill. And I think that’s what got me staring deep into those pages, wondering if I wasn’t just looking at a Spain comic, but some procedure-focused repositioning of the essence of a Spain comic, transparent about its manner of creation in the spirit of an old comic strip exploded to such a large size that the colored dots and wrinkles are luxuriously visible.

Blab! tends to inspire reverie of that sort these days. Elsewhere in this issue, there is indeed a bout of vintage extreme close-up, as Beauchamp presents A Tribute to Bazooka Joe, an array of four gum-wrapper strips zoomed in so that their mess of lines and colors are self-evidently thatches of dabs and spots, every character sporting an awful case of the measles, and every curve of the pen made exceedingly evident. It’s a nice enough presentation, with a cute header that stretches from page to page like you’re reading an especially long, four-part wrapper, but I can’t say my appreciation of Bazooka Joe was particularly enhanced by throwing the spotlight on its design qualities and underlining its propensity for corny jokes - there’s little there I couldn’t pick up before chewing my gum, despite being denied the big-page gaze of a slick print anthology.

But Blab! keeps on trying in the way it always does, in every department. There’s also some anonymously-presented vintage roller skating labels, which offer a small bit of interest, although there’s little of the cross between cultural revelation and individual craftsmanship that existed in, say, the Krampus cards of issues past. And, moving away from charismatically cracked and faded flakes of ephemera, there’s still the design-focused, visually-resplendent drawings and stories that have made the anthology’s name over the years, from many contributors you’ve undoubtedly seen before, pursuing perhaps the same visions. One of the odder properties of the recent Blab! is that its muchly-fixed lineup of artists haven’t so much as pressed themselves into a variety of modes or subject matters, but focused on perfecting a specific plurality of aesthetics. As it goes, the book is never less that pretty, and generally accomplished, although I genuinely have trouble recalling which stories are in which year’s edition anymore - they’ve all gotten to blend into one another in a flooding Blab! effect.

There are comforts in this, yes. Just like with most recent editions of the title, you can essentially guess what you’re in for in Blab! Vol. 17 by recalling what you saw in, say, Blab! Vol. 15. You know you’ll open the book and fine something by Spain, some pages by the likes of Walter Minus or Peter Kuper and the like - none of them stand out to any great extent this time, but the skill is obviously present.

Sometimes that’s more than enough - tackling a Hurricane Katrina theme, Sue Coe’s and Judith Brody’s Hurricane provides all the apocalyptic vistas of black/white/red destruction you’ve come to expect, and the sheer calamitous authority of the visuals -- thousands of jagged items washed away by a pointed ink ocean beneath hellish black cotton clouds, and a giant George W. Bush shitting on wailing families wrapping the suffering in an American flag -- effectively overwhelms any pretense of familiarity (and, fortunately, the accompanying rhyming verse, matching ‘stinky’ with ‘kinky’ and ‘hovels’ with ‘shovels’ and the like). Likewise, Matti Hagelberg continues to pursue his mix ‘n match fable-satires in much the same way he always has in these pages, teaming Hansel &Gretel with Ernst Blofeld for a Christmas adventure in unfettered capitalism - it’s a style that still makes me laugh, and little decline in pure technical chops is evident. In anyone, really.

There’s even a few pieces that emerge as especially striking. Peter & Maria Hoey present Out of Nowhere, a nicely-mounted text piece on a recording session involving Coleman Hawkins and Django Reinhardt, perfectly designed with a ghostly blue mix of period-specific fonts and cool character drawings. Marc Rosenthal coaxes some conceptual punch out of a silly, tiny strip about cigarette smoking trees and animals set against blurry tundra landscapes of vehicles and nature. And Geoffrey Grahn crafts a genuinely fine eight-page summary of the Dutch tulip craze of the 17th century, the formation of a shadow flower economy, rendered in delicate yellows and scratches, in full-page illustrations that emphasize the futility of human invention and the beauty of the natural state. Good craftsmanship, good thinking.

Ah, but there’s hardly anything revelatory in Blab!, which is another constant among the last few editions. It’s like seeing an old friend and realizing after a few minutes of conversation that while it’s obviously nice to see them, there’s maybe not a lot to catch up on between the two of you. I’ve been reading Blab! for a while; I can vividly recall a time when it was among the first comics-heavy anthologies I could easily locate at a chain bookstore (the same chain bookstore where I became a regular reader of this very magazine, lo those years ago), and I was greatly impressed by the variety of styles on display. This was after Blab! had set its format apparently in stone, so my beginning with the book is tied to its present.

But while I’m sometimes glad to feel I’ve been transported back to that day by this anthology’s attractive stasis, I’m forced to admit that it’s never quite the same, always working off a prior state deemed preferable, and that’s maybe not a line of thinking that ought to be prompted by a collection of cutting-edge comics and illustration. There’s nothing so wrong with Blab! as the feeling that nothing can go wrong, with all that thorough preservation.


I may yet have more than three posts on this site in the next week. Sheesh.

*What I am about to do is necessary.


REVIEW PILE LIBERATION CAMPAIGN #1 (aka: the Prom Night to Tom Spurgeon's Halloween)


Johnny Boo Vol. 1: The Best Little Ghost in the World! (James Kochalka; Top Shelf, 40 pgs, $9.95): This'll be out pretty soon; it's the first in a planned series of hardcover comics for kids, and it's ok enough. Kochalka's pulsing colors and curvy, grinning characters are as good a fit as any for a book about happy ghosts who fly around, play games and make friends with a scary(?) ice cream monster while threatening to mint catchphrases from mentions of Squiggle Power! and Boo Power! There's also a barf joke, and lots of exclamatory dialogue that will doubtlessly sound better when read aloud to your lil' fraction of the target audience, although I wonder how the occasional self-aware glibness will play at bedtime? I guess that's for the parents.

I'd also like to guess that there's not a ton of appeal here for adults without tykes (or a diehard appreciation of Kochalka's visual approach), but that's the kind of thinking that Owly loves to rend with his deadly talons, so let me also say that there's an almost determined simplicity at work here, one that borders on condescension but never quite tumbles over, mostly due to the exuberance of the drawings conveying some sense of a goofy dad spinning a yarn. As a result, you, adult reader, might feel as distanced as I did; the comic doesn't seem complete when the only reader is your adult self.


Robot Vol. 4 (Range Murata, ed; Udon, 172 pgs, $29.95): In which design superstar Murata continues his quest to discover which of Japan's manga, anime and video game talents can blend the glossiest colors and the dullest storytelling into the most perfect comic-like capsule of otaku pandering. This US edition is currently six volumes behind the Japanese release, and consequently still in the 'lookit my ass' phase of cover design, but don't think the anxiety sweat will cool once you're past the cash register! No, the insides all but pulse with horrible magic, be it the comedy short that ends with a girl and her gym bloomers drenched in squid cum, or the beautiful saga of a lecherous ghost puddle that sits on a stairway to ogle little girls' panties - turns out the only way to defeat the ghost is for little girls to not wear any panties under their dresses! Ha ha, one million thanks, Robot, for the solution to that riddle! It all might have been Johnny Ryanish if it weren't so skeevy-yet-cutesy-poo.

It's almost a relief to elsewhere run into simpler, Heavy Metal things, like the adventures of a warrior woman in a black bustier who has mildly coherent flashbacks accessed via a naked evil woman kissing her with her tongue, or the tale of a young boy who goes to the forest and encounters a swarm of super-stacked pixies cavorting stackedly amidst the trees (and... that's the whole tale). I mean, don't get me wrong - if all you want is colorful graphics spattered over bland evocations of 'free-spirited youth,' 'the joy of creation,' and 'that guy from Wolverine: Soultaker drawing badasses,' you might have some fun. Yumi Tada starts up an ok-seeming coming of age story, and Yoshitoshi ABe's aimless dungeon-crawl serial is at least memorably creepy in a body-horror way, as opposed to memorably creepy in a See Above way.

As for me, I'm inevitably going to pause to bury my face in my palms as I run into some double-page spread like Vinyl Gothic Dress 2, where the drawn model looks so helpless and alarmed and altogether moé that it seems less a fashion shoot than an accident at the shower curtain factory during an elementary school field trip, and the paramedics aren't getting there fast enough. I don't know Japanese or anything, but this series is certainly the most eloquent statement I've encountered in favor of manga, as an art form, rising up to acknowledge the sexuality-and-gender peccadilloes of the 21st century otaku audience, then running in the opposite direction as fast as it possibly can.


Hyperbox #1 (William Cardini; minicomic, 20 pgs, $3.00): A simple, fun little comic; it's about some bearded guy who finds himself zapped away to the HYPERVERSE, then gets in trouble with a HYPERGAWD while visiting the transdimensional HYPERCASTLE of the MIIZZARD. Plenty of weird, fleshy curls and pointy spires on these pages, most of which are panel-free dollops of inky scene, surrounded by white. I liked the attempts to use lettering as unique, responsive elements of page design, but it's not all fitting together just yet. Still, if I'd picked this up at a con table it'd have made me smile.


Mineshaft #21 (Everett Rand & Gioia Palmieri, ed; Mineshaft, 48 pgs, $6.95): I always like reading through this small, scattershot zine, guided by seemingly nothing but the willingness of the editors to allow their prominent list of correspondents a forum to follow their interests, or to a give a little something over to print. Bill Griffith drops off an autobiographical Zippy strip, Robert Crumb offers some sketchbook pages (one's on the cover), Christoph Mueller & Joe Coleman discuss the nature of terror... it's welcoming in its clutter. I suspect the format helps.

This is a more text-heavy issue than usual, and suffers a bit from a lack of Crumb's and Kim Deitch's fine, rambling letters, but I still enjoyed J.R. Helton's slice of coke-fueled early '80s youth living, and William Crook, Jr.'s mini-manifesto on drawing scenes from a small, fading city, with several detailed samples provided. There's also a Harvey Pekar/Mary Fleener comics collaboration on the life of Beat personality Diane di Prima, primed to tie in with Last Gasp's recent book of di Prima's letters, and a Jay Lynch/Ed Piskor strip about a 1968 trip to meet Chester Gould. And if you don't like any of that, there's about five other things ready to spring out, almost all of it worth the modest demand on your reading time. It's good to know that things like this still exist, and for 21 issues.


All Various

*One of each -


Jessica Farm Vol. 1 (of 6) (and Josh Simmons will make '6' mean something)


Gutsville #3 (of 6) (this issue: indigestion!)

At The Savage Critics.

*A chicken for every pot -


Phoenix Vol. 12 (of 12): Early Works: There can only be one comic sitting at the top of this week's list, even if this VIZ release isn't quite so much part of Osamu Tezuka's unfinished magnum opus as a 192-page spread of discarded, if probably fascinating preliminary published materials. Yes, your $14.99 will net you Tezuka's early (1954-57) attempts to launch the series in magazines for young boys and girls -- including an aborted early draft of the Dawn storyline, and a trilogy of original shōjo romances -- prior to the proper 1967 start of the project in the artist's own COM anthology. If you've come this far, there's no reason you wouldn't want it.

Strangeways: Murder Moon: God, I remember doing a pre-release review of the never-published issue #1 of this project over two years ago, back when it was set to be an ongoing series at Speakeasy Comics. Now its intended first storyline is finally being released as a 144-page, $13.95 original b&w graphic novel, published by writer/letterer Matt Maxwell's own Highway 62 Press. It's a fusion of two legends -- werewolves and America's old west -- with art by Luis Guaragña and assorted guest images by Steve Lieber, Guy Davis, Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá. Extensive preview here.

The Boy Who Made Silence #1 (of 12): Joshua Hagler -- probably best known at the moment as co-artist of the Sam Kieth-created My Inner Bimbo -- won a March 2006 Xeric Grant to self-publish early portions of this fantastical color work, but now Markosia Enterprises has stepped in to publish the whole spread. It's about a deaf boy who creates zones of silence around him, prompting realizations among other people as the lad grows. Could be something to keep an eye on. Big ol' heap of preview here.

Dungeon Monstres Vol. 1: The Crying Giant: Few sprawling European comics megaseries can seem more sprawling and mega to English-only readers than Joann Sfar's and Lewis Trondheim's Dungeon, particularly when you consider that part of the project's very concept (at least, by now) is that it's so fucking big and jumps around so fucking much on its own timeline that the creators couldn't possibly finish the whole thing if they devoted the rest of their lives to it; as such, big chunks of the story are deliberately left to the reader to imagine. It's enough for today's purposes to know that Dungeon Monstres is a series of one-off albums set in different points on the Dungeon timeline, each focusing on a specific denizen of the series' fantasy world, with a unique artist filling out Trondheim's breakdowns to Sfar's scripts. This $12.95 NBM edition collects the first two French albums, showcasing the visuals of Pierre "Mazan" Lavaud and famed critic & publisher Jean-Christophe Menu. Here's a look.

Al Capp's Complete Shmoo: The Comic Books: Well, here's a 176-page hardcover collection of every damned issue (so, all five) of Al Capp's Shmoo Comics from 1949-50; surely the diehards will delight. Until they realize it's a Dark Horse Archives release, which means it's $49.95. Maybe they can check their local library? The digital restoration is also rubbing me the wrong way -- too clean, too bright -- although I don't have the book in front of me or anything, and your tastes in reproduction may differ.

Batman: The Killing Joke: Special Edition: Speaking of which, the 'special' part of this new 64-page, $17.99 hardcover edition of Alan Moore's and Brian Bolland's famed 1988 one-off is an all-new coloring job by Bolland himself, plus the addition of his Batman: Black and White story, An Innocent Guy. Moore has publicly grown sick of this quintessential dark superhero story (I couldn't say it's one of my faves either), so it makes some sense for DC to shine as much light on Bolland as possible.

With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child Vol. 2: Being Yen Press' second 528-page collection of Keiko Tobe's ongoing drama. I've seen tons of copies of Vol. 1 in every chain bookstore I've been to, although it might just have been a symptom of the series serving as the publisher's manga debut.

Princess at Midnight: I do believe this 64-page, $5.99 book from Image is an expanded standalone version of Andi Watson's contribution to The Mammoth Book of Best New Manga Vol. 1, so if you liked it there you'll probably dig it now. Peer.

War is Hell: First Flight of the Phantom Eagle #1 (of 5): This is writer Garth Ennis' new MAX project, a revival of ye olde character The Phantom Eagle as a flamboyant WWI ace who learns the hell of war (which one might expect to happen in a Garth Ennis comic of this type). I think Marvel wants to set up the War is Hell title as a general MAX-rated war comics banner, although I don't know if Ennis is attached to anything beyond this miniseries. Featuring art by Howard Chaykin, with Brian Reber (as opposed to frequent Chaykin collaborator Edgar Delgado) on colors and (huh) Todd Klein on letters. Have a gander.

Foolkiller MAX #4 (of 5): Oh, this is back. Since I have time, I might as well link to some totally unrelated MAX news: Richard Corben's three-issue Haunt of Horror: H.P. Lovecraft series has finally been given a start date, June 2008. Same format as Corben's last Haunt of Horror series - comics followed by the original stories and poems, although this time Corben will be doing all of the writing and art by himself. He's also got a Conan miniseries and a new Hellboy storyline coming up, so there's no slowing him down...

The Immortal Iron Fist #13: Penultimate chapter of the fighting tournament storyline. Co-writer Matt Fraction also has the penultimate issue (#9) of The Order this week. Oh, Fraction will now be Ed Brubaker's co-writer on Uncanny X-Men too, starting with #500.

The Programme #9 (of 12): I don't know why issue number nine of twelve gets a preview, but it does! Ha ha ha, we rule the future! Sit, humanity, on your deserved throne!

Mineshaft #21: A welcome new issue of the magazine for odds 'n ends from underground comics veterans and fellow travelers. You might just see something about it tomorrow, if this feature I'm working on actually happens.

All We Ever Do Is Talk About Wood: This is a $9.95 bunch of Tom Horacek gag cartoons from Drawn & Quarterly, and the art is pretty. I crown thee: informed!



Every word of this review was planned, considered and written out in longhand this afternoon; what you see now is a perfect transcription.

Jessica Farm Vol. 1 (of 6)

This should be out fairly soon. It's from Fantagraphics, $14.95 for 104 b&w pages. Here is what it looks like from the outside:

It's the new book from Josh Simmons, he who created last year's House, a survival horror-type comic I really liked, dragging a trio of poor souls from the bright, wide-open romantic white of discovery and romance to the broken-up, ruined-body twilight of closed spaces and encroaching blackness that is the end of your days. Life, indeed, is horror. He also made a Batman fan comic of some notoriety.

Jessica Farm will be his life's work. Indeed, he's come up with a schedule so as to ensure that, barring some catastrophe.

Simmons has been working on this story, a fusion of fantasy adventure and psychological horror, since the start of the year 2000; he released a minicomic collection of the stuff a while back. Moving at the brisk pace of one completed page per month, he has now amassed enough content to fill a proper contemporary bookshelf-ready comics tome -- lucky how the market has come around! -- with story page 96 representing the end of December 2007. Future pages will be completed at the same pace, until a total of 600 is reached. The reader is urged to look forward to Vol. 2, set to hit the stands come hell or high water in 2016; the back cover promises that a collected edition will arrive promptly in 2050, for those who'd rather wait.

I like this concept, because it's so off-handedly disquieting. Is Fantagraphics going to publish each volume? Something tells me Gary Groth & Kim Thompson personally aren't, since statistics suggest they'll likely both be dead before the Omnibus Edition hits the presses; there's a merry thought to balance the books by! Here's another: will you be around for all of this? I mean, corporally be around? Do you think? Be honest.

It's like the ultimate in Western comics tardiness -- ironically making it far less likely that the book will ever be late -- married to the most uncomfortable implications of the 'wait for the collection' mentality. Come on - have you ever considered you'll die before, say, Seth finishes Clyde Fans? Simmons forces that thought, and then goes for the punchline: if you do the math, six volumes every eight years won't be enough to hold all 600 pages. The artist is happy to note that the 20-page ending of the story will only be seen in the final collected edition, a consummate serialization dick move that actually doesn't seem very dickish at all when recontextualized like this. Diabolical!

Aw, but I'm playing up the funny consumerist implications here. I'm sure there's a lot more going on down at Simmons' end, since he's creating a record of his own growth as an artist. That's sort of what a 'body of work' is, granted, but this project presents it in time-lapse form, which maybe affords the story's surrealism a greater impact - when every twelve pages represents a year, small multi-page 'moments' are more likely to become charged with shifting style, and all the new concerns a whole 365 days of one's life commands. I think it goes without saying that the plot is heavy on improvisation, although that back cover says it anyway. Almost as a warning.

Funny. I think making shit up as you go along, or at least the illusion thereof, is underrated in those Western comics that might benefit the most from it: steady, longform serials. Freewheeling, here-now-there storytelling -- 'organic,' if you want to be green about it -- can promote vivid spontaneity, a strong notion of the artist's naturally shifting personality, and all the interesting ripples that may issue from liquidity of theme. The relative speed with which the comics medium moves, whether in terms of creation, printing or reading, seems to invite this approach.

But it's superhero comics that make up most of those kinds of comics in the West, are they're typically either beholden to a net of shared-universe cross-references (this event'll put us over the top!!) or conceived as small storylines with an eye toward an eventual, fixed collection, after which the creative team is often replaced. 'Improvisation' may be used, but seems to be acknowledged primarily as a means of hole-filling in the wider saga; band-aids applied quickly to gaping, sucking continuity wounds. I don't know if there's a pejorative connotation at work, but such things are certainly not talked about much in a place where the linewide attunement of many different works is emphasized as a grand, maybe genre-sustaining good. Hell, how could it be?

In contrast, I think some of the appeal of manga comes from the looser type of storytelling employed by Japanese artists, who have the benefit of working within an economic system that allows for long, flowing works from a steady source, capable of bending and shifting to match the artist's will, or even just to make the long haul more interesting to whomever's behind the wheel.

Not all of it's self-expression, of course; some of it's necessity. If you're working on a popular manga serial, especially the shōnen stuff that makes up a big portion of what's out in English, you're probably being bucked around by your editors, frantically waving around reader response forms as if the game show of life has surrendered the host's answer cards. If you're putting out something monthly, weekly - you've got to know how to drift with the currents of reaction, even though you're the only artist (er, you and all the people you've hired as assistants, since we're talking popular manga here), and there's supposedly an ending coming somewhere, although maybe not until Vol. 40 if the brass sees that sales are still up. And when in doubt: fighting tournament!

As such, most of the manga we see in English, in the broadest sense, springs from this mix of personal will and economic survival instinct. It's a novel blend, to us, and in some ways a preferable blend, but if you've got the nasty thought in your head that the Japanese comics industry is some haven for unencumbered self-expression -- particularly based on the stuff filling most American bookstore shelves -- you'd best divest yourself of such triumphalism straight fucking quick because it's not true.

Wait, what's this post about again?

Right. Josh Simmons and time-lapse comics. Good to see a bookshelf-eyeing project embody off-the-cuff values, even if Jessica Farm is too unique in concept to provide much of a model.

As far as execution goes, Simmons does okay. Given that the year 2000 precedes most of Simmons' published comics work, it does make sense that this book's first handful of pages are mostly awful; the title character, a sprightly farm gal, springs out of bed on Christmas morning with rocket glee and hee-haws her way through a too-cute exchange with a talking monkey, all of it ending in bitter irony as her malevolent father pops in to remind her of the hell her life can be. And just as his words seem nice, Evil Poppy is only seen as a shadow wearing big white Mickey Mouse gloves, thus revealing the yawning menace behind the bright iconography of joy, or something in that basic direction. It's very, very banal.

But, as Jessica picks herself up to take her shower and get dressed, months passing in Simmons' life, the story slowly adopts a less adorned mix of fantasy and reality. Avoiding the unwelcome prospect of opening presents downstairs, Jessica wanders the house, checking in with all sorts of odd, magical, perhaps imaginary denizens. Some of them seem to offer Jessica an escape; musical, sexual, etc. All of them are tinged with the anxiousness of a girl on edge, and some of them seek only to remind her of the ugly things lurking in the walls. Sometimes she hurts herself badly, sometimes apparently for fun, although she always seems to heal. She also matures as Simmons' art tightens itself; her accent vanishes and lines begin to mark her face.

Eventually a plot reveals itself, as Jessica encounters a being that can actually damage things in her house, including her, which sets off a full-scale quest to save the world, involving wise mentors (Gramps 'n Granny), powerful treasures (an arrowhead plucked from her shoulder and made into an amulet), odd creatures (a werewolf guy in a monk's robes) and bold comrades (a naked manservant/bodyguard/fucktoy named Mr. Sugarcock whom Jessica literally leads around by the penis when he's not seasoning dinner by dipping his balls in it).

Could it all still be an externalization of an abused girl's implacable pain? Like the beacons of color shining from her head on the cover? If so, it's a pleasingly detailed one, shifting slightly almost every few pages for another fleeting glimpse of some funny/sad thing, the texture always a little different. Heaven knows that concept keeps the pace up; those years fly by!

But Jessica Farm's makeup ensures that no reading will be very simple. Even when you enjoy the fantasy elements -- and I did, good enough -- you'll always understand that no more of it is readily forthcoming, simply by its state of being. It sure as hell isn't manga. It can seem perverse to have a story like this go on for your whole life, even though its symbol-laden nature (if it even stays in place) will probably do well to soak up the changing state of Josh Simmons. That's the rub, I guess. Maybe it's thinking about how the book's concept pokes and prods at my understanding of how comics can be made and released that's most intriguing to me.

Or maybe I'm lurching around toward a way of pegging down a cruel little fantasy comic like this, fast-moving and slow as age. Maybe you'll want to see how it affects you.


I Am Worthless

*Now, how the hell did I miss the revelation (back in January!) of VIZ's next Kazuo Umezu project, their follow up The Drifting Classroom? It's a two-volume collection of Umezu's Cat Eyed Boy, a late-'60s suite of stories about a monster child that ruins the wicked. Same Hat also has the cover art; looks like both books will be extra-chunky (around 500 pages each) and cost $24.99 a pop. Starts in June, keeping with VIZ' current 'every two months' Umezu pace...

*Bonus Miniature Non-Review Discussion Paragraph Dept: Oh man, they've turned The Punisher MAX into Cerebus! By which I mean there's a prose story written by an in-comic character providing a running counterpoint to the sequential action, a technique I always mentally associate with Dave Sim, not that the Punisher and Nick Fury are discussing the Torah at length, although they still might. And I see Ennis is going whole-hog with the politics for his grand finale -- note the focus on Vietnam in the past (prose) and Iraq in the present (comics) -- in addition to wheeling out all sorts of odds-and-ends from prior storylines, from that dude Frank left to freeze in Russia to... well, the entire finale of Born. I also like how there's still jokes. Nick Fury being tossed out a background window after calling a group of local men faggots...


Hey, I actually wrote stuff last week!

*Getting on,


Mushishi Vol. 3 (still not in comics stores; check your bookland)

Kaput & Zösky (coming soon: the conquests of Trondheim)


BodyWorld (Dash Shaw's webcomic, updates on Tuesdays)

Omega: The Unknown #6 (of 10)

All at The Savage Critics!

*Lots of curious exhibits,


Barefoot Gen Vol. 5 (of 10): The Never-Ending War & Barefoot Gen Vol. 6 (of 10): Writing the Truth: Any week in which a new volume of Keiji Nakazawa's famed semiautobiographical Hiroshima tale arrives in English is a good one for comics, so I guess this week is automatically great. Learn more here. I can't say Last Gasp has been getting this 260(ish)-page, $14.95 books out in a timely manner, but we are gradually seeing more of young Gen's struggle to rebuild his and his family's lives in the face of nuclear devastation. I hope to read them soon.

Palooka-ville #19: Pamphlet format, Drawn and Quarterly's still got your back. Another issue of Seth's one-man show means another chapter of his graphic novel Clyde Fans, which you'll recall having been in-progress since 1996. Admirers might as well dust off those back issues and plunk down the $4.95 now; I don't think this stuff'll be getting collected for a good while, and D&Q pamphlets tend to vanish from our world fast.

Gumby Vol. 1: The first collected edition of writer Bob Burden's and artist Rick Geary's idiosyncratic, oddly personal take on the famous gob of stuff, more a melancholic ode to childlike idealism than a straightforward kids' book, although it'll function well enough as gently surreal funnies for the young. Totally worth a flip for Burden fans. It's full-color, 132 pages (with a Geary sketchbook section) and $12.95. But if it's vintage kiddie komiks ya want...

Harvey Comics Classics Vol. 3: Hot Stuff: YEAH! Hot Stuff!! That's who he is! And the Devil Kids and Stumbo the Giant! Only $19.95 gets you 480 pages of hot hot stuff!! Everyone likes Hot Stuff. Everyone. He's a devil, but he's an awesome paper friend for children!! I bet he'd even look cute stealing Spider-Man's...


Nah... that joke doesn't work anymore. I'm too late.

Christ, what the hell am I going to do with this thing?

That took two months.

The Punisher MAX #55: Beginning the extravagantly titled Valley Forge, Valley Forge: The Slaughter of a U.S. Marine Garrison and the Birth of the Punisher, writer Garth Ennis' six-part final storyline on maybe his most successful run in corporate-owned character comics. I thought last issue quite neatly wrapped up Ennis' arc for the character, in that he acknowledges he's not terribly different from some of the people he shoots, then deliberately rejects his chance to restore some 'family' to his life since, hey - more shooting to do. He knows he's building his own madness, but he finally can't bring himself to halt construction; in the end, he's the fitting embodiment of Ennis' running theme of violence circling around to ruin everyone. I expect this story -- both a present-day thing bringing back a bunch of surviving characters and a Vietnam origin-flavored flashback -- to act as an extended coda. Goran Parlov is the artist. Preview here; special guest!

The Last Defenders #1 (of 6): Meanwhile, Marvel also has this new revival series, with a story by Joe Casey & Keith Giffen, a script by Casey, breakdowns by Giffen, pencils by Jim Muniz, inks by Cam Smith, colors by Antonio Fabela, letters by... shit... RS & Comicraft's Albert Deschesne. Ok, enough of that. You'll have to consult this preview to find out who the assistant editor is. In the interests of symmetry, another Casey-written miniseries ends this week with the Eric Canete-drawn Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin #6 (of 6). See it now.

Gutsville #3 (of 6): Always nice to see another one of these; Simon Spurrier & Frazer Irving continue their study of theocrats & others inside of a large thing. Image also has Madman Atomic Comics #7 this week, completing the current storyline.

V for Vendetta as Cultural Pastiche: A Critical Study of the Graphic Novel and Film: A McFarland prose volume by James R. Keller, which "examines in detail the intersecting texts of V for Vendetta. Subjects include the alternative dimensions of the cinematic narrative, represented in the film’s conspicuous placement of the painting The Lady of Shalott in V’s home; the film’s overt allusions to the AIDS panic of the 1980s; and the ways in which antecedent narratives such as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, Huxley’s Brave New World, and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 represent shadow texts frequently crossing through the overall V for Vendetta narrative." Sounds more 'film studies' than anything. It's $35.00.

Suppli Vol. 2: I haven't read any of this ongoing Mari Okazaki josei series, chronicling the intertwined work and love life of a woman approaching 30, but it's highly regarded among some critics, and popular enough in Japan to have inspired a live-action television show. It looks pretty. Maybe worth looking at? Tokyopop has it, at $10.99.

Welcome to the N.H.K. Vol. 6 (of 8): More otaku horror, as Our Hero runs through arcades and pachinko joints, and winds up homeless. Comedy and antics! I notice the anime adaptation is now starting out on R1 dvd, so maybe it'll give the series a boost (and yes, I know they're both based on a prose original)?

Empowered Vol. 3: More Adam Warren and ripping girl costumes from Dark Horse. You know it. $14.95. And don't miss your regular Mignola dump with Abe Sapien: The Drowning #2 (of 5) and B.P.R.D.: 1946 #3 (of 5).

FLCL Novel Vol. 1 (of 3): And speaking of which - yes, you delighted to the anime, sang along with the albums and scratched your head meaningfully in the direction of the manga, but are you ready for FLCL... the prose?? I suppose Tokyopop is hoping you're curious enough to lay down $9.99 just to see how the fuck this is supposed to work. At least it's by Yoji Enokido, the man behind the anime's script, and a key writer for the likes of Diebuster, RahXephon and Revolutionary Girl Utena. Try to hear the Pillows in your head.



Lewis Trondheim: He Never Stops

Kaput & Zösky

This should be out in a few weeks; it's a new 80-page softcover release from First Second, 10" x 7.5" at $13.95.

Lewis Trondheim is one of relatively few revered European comics artists to require little introduction to US readers; while only a small percentage of the hundred-plus albums to bear his name have seen English-language release, some inkling of Trondheim's versatility has nonetheless emerged among various publishers.

Just last month saw NBM's release of Little Nothings Vol. 1: The Curse of the Umbrella, a print collection of the artist's autobiographical comics blog, and they're currently prepping Dungeon Monstres Vol. 1, a collection of two side-story albums for Dungeon, Trondheim's and Joann Sfar's sprawling comedic fantasy series. Do note that Trondheim only provides layouts for the Monstres albums; his is a career that refuses to mark him as pure visualist or writer, and declines to settle on just a few subject matters.

First Second is another frequent Trondheim publisher, having previously released his 2004 one-off A.L.I.E.E.E.N. and a compilation of the first four albums (of nine total) from his 2001-05 Tiny Tyrant series with artist Fabrice Parme. Both of those projects could be logically classified as children's comics, although Trondheim himself declares that adults can read them too without getting bored.

So it goes with Kaput & Zösky, a 2002-03 series collected here in its entirety. The title characters -- originated by Trondheim in magazines like Journal de Mickey and Lapin -- are dopey-ass space villains who spend each episode visiting a different planet with often violent intent, only to be repelled in the end. Sometimes a little social satire is at play, like when the duo visit a vacation planet and find themselves unable to cope with the little inequities and social contracts at play in a resort. In another adventure, the two land on a planet of small blobs that instantly hail them as rulers, and proceed to follow their every word, without consideration for figures of speech or laws of physics. Disaster results.

Other stories (and you can read two of them here) rely on simple gags or basic, funny adventures, like extracts from an especially violent kids' cartoon show. Indeed, the characters actually did get their own show following the release of the initial stories; the series' second volume is a bit unique in that it consists of five adaptations of animated episodes, with Trondheim handing the formal art duties to Eric Cartier, co-founder of the French comics group Stakhano. This material is slicker, and not just from Cartier's more streamlined visual style; all stories adopt a uniform, six-page length, and focus their thematic attention on child-appropriate spoofs of the democratic process, vampire tales, capitalism, motherly love, etc. It feels like it could go on forever, although it's over pretty soon.

I can't say this is a mandatory purchase for Trondheim admirers; its lone unique accomplishment is in giving some added definition to the artist's willingness to participate as a player in franchise-building by ceding some creative authority to others, an aspect of Trondheim's career we haven't seen expressed quite so succinctly. Beyond that, it's amusing enough sci-fi hi-jinx with a crisp pace and some clever gags, and some nicely playful visuals from both artists. Perfectly good, not at all great.

Although, we do get the added bonus of several of Trondheim's wordless one-page gag stories. Titled The Cosmonaut (not to be confused with his 2000-04 Les Cosmonautes du Futur series with Dungeon Parade cohort Manu Larcenet), each of these pages exhibits Trondheim's formidable skill with simple, funny visuals, all in the service of sour little peeks into a universe where everybody is full of hate, violence, nationalistic bluster, piggish consumerism and general foolishness. It may not be as television-worthy, but one page of silent cosmic struggle against a turd-launching alien ass fits my bill all the better.


Every change of seasons brings new bugs to master.

*Preludes & Nectars Dept: In service to the public, Otaku USA presents - how to review manga. Every secret revealed.

Mushishi Vol. 3

I'm always glad to see a new volume of this ongoing series -- you won't see it comics stores yet, though your bookstore ought to have it -- and tonight I'm extra glad to notice that Del Rey apparently has it back on a quarterly release schedule. That's great news; Mushishi isn't exactly moving at a blistering pace in Japan, having just released the ninth of its more-or-less yearly collections the other week, so now English readers will finally have a shot at catching up.

I really like Mushishi, even when it's problematic. And one problem with this volume isn't even the fault of writer/artist Yuki Urushibara - something seems to have gotten screwed up in the printing of my copy (and probably more than that), in that every word balloon placed off to the center-leaning side of a page is partially eaten by the binding. It's readable, but you've got to bend the spine nice and hard to see everything, which is a pain.

Yet now that we're up to the third extra-sized (256-page) book of this stuff, its inherent flaws are easier to spot as well, chief among them Urushibara's limits as an artist. Her moment-to-moment storytelling is perfunctory, and occasionally confusing when she's depicting action. Her character art has tightened since the awkwardness of the first volume, but she seems to cycle through her entire library of designs every five stories or so. Her storytelling leans heavily on dialogue-based exposition; if you look closely at her backgrounds during heavy chit-chat pages, you can see they're sometimes little more than scribbled in, yet rarely omitted or stylized in a manner that might enliven a story's reading.

Still, Urushibara does have a talent for building up absorbing environments when the talk dies down, and she's excellent at throwing her weight behind those big moments when her mushi -- countless, various, primordial beings close to the source of life -- intrude on the waking human world, and spark reactions ranging from awe to chill to full-bore body horror. An eye waters up with a black tear that spreads to cover the face, a creeping rust freezes the flesh of a village in place, and a woman dissolves into sea foam, like a mermaid in a folk tale - such is life for Ginko, the magician/shaman/doctor who knows the way of mushi, and connects each story with his presence. The artist truly sells the weirdness and awe of his life at the fringes of perception, or even being.

But the merits of Mushishi are primarily literary; I bring up folk tales because the best of Urushibara's stories strike a fine balance between visceral impact, fantastical mystery and compelling fable, all of it primed to address broad human (and humane) topics. For all its words, this is a quiet series, deliberately paced and subtle. Even as Ginko restates the premise of the series in seemingly every story, pulling out just the right trick at just the right moment, the undercurrents of the work carry it far.

I can't say the best of this volume's stories reach the heights of vol. 2 (which made my 2007 year's best, after all), but there's plenty of food for thought. A sea of seething mushi snakes carry a man's beloved away on their trip to become something else; their effect on maritme travel come to reveal the intent of voyagers, even while the man's subsequent path reflects his longing. In another tale, an inkstone artisan strives to prove herself a proper heir to her father by creating her best piece, but it's one that has deadly effects when enjoyed; it seems that only in the dank stash of a collector can her art be 'safe,' but as usual with Urushibara there's another solution to be found, through thought, education and compassion.

And sometimes, it reaches as far as it can. This volume also contains Ginko's 'origin' story, or at least his first steps toward learning the ways of the mushi -- he even smokes his first magic cigarette! -- but it's really more a parable of a young boy's realizations about death. Losing his mother, learning at the feet of an isolated, white-haired mushishi, Our Hero As a Boy experiences the fright of loss, but comes to understand its inevitability as well, a lesson that defines his life, and informs the humanity underneath each of these stories, his wanderings.

It's not that he's a sweetheart, but his very makeup rustles with understanding that life, as a continuing thing, isn't going to pause to nod at any being's passing, even if it takes forever to die. But people can still work to understand its contours, and work with its odd secrets, without the waste of ignorance. This is how the world is filled in, apart from Urushibara's art.

That leads us into the admittedly tricky thing about this series; it's one of the very few manga series about which I can say the television anime adaptation -- which just recently completed its release on R1 dvd -- is better. Its 26 episodes directly adapt the first 26 stories from the manga (albeit out of order), and by god it's an intense transition. All of Urushibara's limitations as an visualist are replaced by deep, sensitive evocations of mood. Comics, obviously, cannot provide sound or movement, and the animation uses these added elements to clothe the work in atmosphere and suggestion, every aesthetic crack filled in.

But I still appreciate the comic, for its quiet grace. And there's a lot more of it than the television show; we might actually get to read it now too.


The Consumer News Returns!

*I serve you. I serve.


Well, no reviews on this site, since I spent most of the week pondering my life's trajectory.


RASL #1 (the new Jeff Smith project)

Batman #674 and All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder #9

are at The Savage Critics.

*And now, TO SERVE.


(hey, Lat's Town Boy is being offered again by Diamond, and you should pick that up if you see it; my review is here)

Service Industry: One of those long-available projects -- this being at least its third full iteration since its 2004-05 birth as a weekly magazine strip -- that's just now creeping into Direct Market stores via Diamond. It's a really fine mix of autobiography, philosophy, politics, fantasy, allegory, low-paying grunt work and infinite longing from artist T. Edward Bak, a dense blend of shifting styles and swirling color & ash. Read some pages here. I have a minicomic version, but I'll bet that this one, Bodega Distribution's 9.5" x 13" big-time edition, will be well worth the $9.95 for its 32 pages. Get it.

Daybreak Vol. 2: Oh, I guess it's 'release Bodega' week at Diamond then. This is the next 48-page chapter of Brian Ralph's first-person perspective cataclysm comic. Here ya go. Man, this has been out for months and months...

Kirby: King of Comics: Being Mark Evanier's much-anticipated, 224-page, 9" x 12 1/4" hardcover ode to the art of Jack Kirby, with 35,000 words of biography sprinkled in. From Harry N. Abrams, Inc., at a fee of $40.00. Note, however, that this is not Evanier's doorstop-sized 500,000+ word life of the King, which is still forthcoming.

C'est Bon Anthology Vol. 4: I have no idea if these $17.95 anthologies of world comics are any good, but this newest edition has a cover by Junko Mizuno and stuff from Rutu Modan (of Exit Wounds) and David Mack, among others you can find at the project's homepage.

Thorgal Vol. 3: Beyond the Shadows: New to Diamond, from the UK-based Cinebook Ltd. I mention this since just the other day I picked up a pair of the Donning Company's mid-'80s English editions of writer Jean Van Hamme's and artist Grzegorz Rosiński's long-lived French-language fantasy series (although these days Van Hamme's no longer writing it). This $19.95, 96-page album collects both the 1983 album Au-delà des Ombres and the 1984 album La chute de Brek Zarith, although I think both of them play off an earlier storyline. More Thorgal here.

Honey & Clover Vol. 1 (of 10): The manga debut of an apparently well-regarded josei franchise, focusing on the relationships of art students. From VIZ. In other manga news, Vertical wraps up its current Keiko Takemiya releases with Andromeda Stories Vol. 3 (of 3), and Nana Vol. 9 appears.

Casanova #12: Probably the best of Image for the week; two issues off from the end of the second storyline. Heat. There's also a new gaming tie-in, Dead Space #1 (of 6), from the capable team of writer Antony Johnston and artist Ben Templesmith, and Scud, the Disposable Assassin #22 (of 24), which seems to have cut down on the delays a bit. And for you art lovers, $29.99 will get you Unhuman: The Elephantmen Art of Ladrönn, a 128-page hardcover collection of elephantine sketches and drawings.

Punisher War Journal #17: Also in Fraction this week; another character-focused one-off. I did like the last one. Preview.

Infinity Inc. #7: I swear, this series has gotten kind of interesting now. Second half of a two-part story; television and beauty will ruin you.

Streets of Glory #4 (of 6): Garth Ennis shoots them down. See also: The Boys #16.

Young Liars #1: This is the new Vertigo ongoing from writer/artist David Lapham (with colorist Lee Loughridge), a defunct Mature Readers revival of DC-owned character Bullet Girl transformed into the saga of a rich girl who became mad for kicks after being shot in the head, and her adventures with a loser boyfriend amidst many antic complications, I guess. Behold.

Terry Moore's Echo #1: Shit, since we're on the topic, why not Moore's follow-up series to Strangers in Paradise (which I've never read)? It's "a black humor thriller comedy drama, with some sci-fi around the edges," according to the author, and will run for 18-30ish issues. Pages.

Dark Tower: The Long Road Home #1 (of 5): Debut debut debut. I'm sure this is the big debut in a week of several for Marvel, since it's less a license book than a license to print money, at least on the Direct Market scale. For those not keeping track, this is the second of five storylines in the megaseries, and supposedly the first to begin extensively filling in stuff only hinted at in Stephen King's original prose books. The whole crew from the last episode returns, which means more of Jae Lee's often fine pencils being transmuted into latex gobs by Richard Isanove - witness it here. Will your store be open at the stroke of midnight?

Logan #1 (of 3): If so, they might let you flip through this new miniseries -- one of those smallish, off-center ones where the essence of a popular Marvel character is supposed to be concentrated -- from writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Eduardo Risso (he of 100 Bullets). Available in dazzling full color or glorious black & white. And since we're talking Marvel first issues, writer Duane Swierczynski and penciller Ariel Olivetti have the new Cable #1, which looks like this. Hell, you might as well turn your sleepy eyes over to the Event hype of Secret Invasion Saga #1, since it's free.

Omega: The Unknown #6 (of 10): Always worth reading. Look at it.

Zombies vs. Robots vs. Amazons #3 (of 3): COMPLETION.

Otaku USA #5 (April 2008): The latest issue of the only mass-market anime/manga magazine that puts things like Bleach on the cover, while tucking away odes to Golgo 13 and the 1995-96 OVA series Golden Boy. This issue also taught me that sometimes you can find lots of fun surprises out on YouTube, so I'd call it a success on the whole.



The Most Vital Post

*Anime is Straight from the US Dept: Hey! The guy who directed Kung-Fu Love (Yasuhiro Aoki) is heading one of the segments in the upcoming Batman: Gotham Knight OVA - that's pretty cool. Well, he's 'heading' it under the supervision of chief director Bruce Timm, but I suspect the Japanese crews will be given a fair amount of leeway with the visuals.

Unsurprisingly, the lineup is mainly key animators with some animation direction experience - Shojiro Nishimi (character designer and animation director of the Tekkonkinkreet movie), Futoshi Higashide (animation director of some 2007 theatrical thing called JAPAN, Our Homeland), Hiroshi Morioka (.hack// and Tsubasa, RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE vet) and Toshiyuki Kubooka (animation director of Gunbuster and character designer of Giant Robo) are the others involved. Ten-minute making-of video here.

Note that there's only five people named for the six segments of the OVA; there's a recurring rumor that Satoshi Kon (of Paranoia Agent and Paprika) is the sixth director, which would pump up the Japanese side's 'name' value a lot, but I don't think his involvement has been officially acknowledged.

*Anime is Straight from Japan Dept: God knows I'm a big Superdimensional Fortress Macross nerd (even though I've never seen the supposedly iffy Macross 7, nor most of the western-produced, distant-cousin-at-best Robotech stuff past the original series), but I'm also really slow with my anime watching, so I'm just now getting to the first episode of Macross Frontier, the franchise's new television series. Macross overlord Shoji Kawamori is the chief director and story composer, with Yasuhito Kikuchi (who apparently worked closely with Kawamori on his last big series, the soon-to-R1 Aquarion) as plain vanilla director. Frequent Kawamori collaborator Yoko Kanno provides the music, and Mobile Suit Gundam SEED contributer Hiroyuki Yoshino is on series composition and scripting thus far.

Note that the series doesn't actually start airing until April; this debut episode was released early (this past December) in honor of the property's 25th anniversary. It's Macross, so it's bright and colorful and swooshing and pretty damned cheesy. You bet your ass there's idol singing and transforming jets, this time with an extra dose of female-friendly pretty boys gazing at one another, and even a few maid uniforms to tide over the moé faction; it's very studied in demographics. Poppy music and space violence are juxtaposed, missile trails fill the screen and several nods to prior Macross productions are made, being an anniversary project and all.

I liked it ok, although it comes off as more a loving homage to Macross tropes than a compelling start to a new story. Time and money were clearly spent on the high-energy concluding battle (which obviously loses something on YouTube), and someone on the team has a definite fondness for that green-haired girl, although the overall animation quality doesn't strike me as too far above average. Lots of folks standing around frozen while the CGI pans or characters move about in the foreground.

I might try and keep up with it, but that's more and more a tiny hope with me and cartoons these days...