Back from the brink...

*...of buying too many comic books in Bethesda, MD! I am a son of anarchy.


Treehouse of Horror #15 (Simpsons horror of every stripe from the Kramers Ergot crew; it works)


Magical Mystery Tour (the comic of the movie, included with the album; the Beatles are still here, but what of their form?)

At comiXology.

*And I know I said I'd have the second half of my big Manga post up at the Savage Critics; didn't happen, sorry. Coming soon, after tomorrow's SPX report post on this site.

*Speaking of which, you just can't wait for sweet sweet SPX coverage, why not enjoy an exciting Internet 3.0 simulated con experience as follows:

1. Download Sean T. Collins' MP3 audio of the Critics Roundtable we (and Chris and Tucker and Douglas and Rob and Gary) participated in (and don't forget the separate recording of Sean's own panel on alt genre comics).

2. Visit Johanna Draper Carlson's panel report for notes and comments on what was said, plus a photographic group image you'll want to print out and hang in your locker. Tom Spurgeon raves "this looks like a black velvet painting of the Last Supper starring a troupe of circus midgets" - and just wait 'till you hear us talk!

3. Rise from your seat and flutter backward, backward up the Marriott escalator. Split yourself in half. Become news: Chris Mautner! Become observation: David Welsh!

4. Erupt your consciousness into the cosmos via Tom Spurgeon's big link page, and live forever, in the comics convention wrap-up sense.

5. You are in a car with myself, Chris and Tucker. I'm talking about the stuff I picked up from Fantagraphics' 99-cent pamphlet sale. The last issue of Muñoz's & Sampayo's Sinner I was missing (#3); various issues of Fanta's 1998-2003 attempt to translate an Eightball-style one man pamphlet anthology for Lewis Trondheim, The Nimrod (an anagram for "Trondheim"); and the 1990 Eros Comix release of Frank Frazetta's '60s smut paperback interior illustrations, Baby, you're really something!

Which raises the question: Image has been putting out one-shots and miniseries based on Frazetta's paintings for a while now, but when are they going to make a comic out of the greatest Frazetta image of all time?

That's right, you just devised a six-issue miniseries from that guy's face alone, before the hand bumped it up to a 300-page original graphic novel. Same here. Hell, if I'd made an illustration like this I'd want it laser-etched onto my headstone. I might do that anyway.

*Oh good, you're back.


Prison Pit Vol. 1: Oh yes, it's finally here - Johnny Ryan's bloody sexual fight comic, very much the 'new action' of Sean's SPX panel, a two-fisted smash-up of international comics influence and the universal joy of tight-wound one-on-one combat, so tight that everything that comes out of a body becomes a weapon, and doesn't that have a way of mixing pleasure and pain? A dangerous man is lost below the surface of a hellish jailhouse planet; violence happens. From Fantagraphics, a 120-page, $12.99 softcover; review here, preview here. I liked this a hell of a lot.

The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb: And moving along from the profane to the sacred, here's an exciting and splendid 224-page funnybook adaptation of the first book of the Good Book by Jack T. Chick admirer and debut graphic novelist Robert Crumb. It's a $24.95 W.W. Norton hardcover, so you probably won't find it on a bench or anything though. Need I mention this is by far the longest single comics work Crumb library? Jeet Heer reviewed it here, and examined the adaptation here; preview is here. That cover art is amazing.

Trotsky: A Graphic Biography: Onward to another big publisher and a different respected cartoonist, here's Rick Geary's Hill and Wang hardcover on the life of another tortured figure, following up on his 2008 biography of J. Edgar Hoover.

The Upside-Down World of Gustave Verbeek: Only the latest deluxe collection of early newspaper comics from Sunday Press Books, always a welcome presence. And god - an 11" x 16" complete collection of The Upside-Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo?? That one strip from 1903 you turn upside down and kind of cross your eyes at so the dude with a hat looks like a girl in a dress? Damn, I bet the big size helps, as a matter of fact. Also included is the complete run of something called Loony Lyrics of Lulu, and samples from the rather awesome Terrors of the Tiny Tads, which is all about wee folk getting freaked the fuck out by impossible animal, vegetable, elemental and artificial shit. Info and samples here; it'll run ya $60.00.

Aya: The Secrets Come Out: Being vol. 3 in Marguerite Abouet's & Clement Oubrerie's comedic soap opera set in the Ivory Coast of the late '70s, where writer Abouet grew up. I suspect this will be as pretty and endearing as ever; vol. 5 is due in France in about a month. Drawn and Quarterly publishes, $19.95 for 128 color pages.

Ball Peen Hammer: A new First Second original, a fairly hard-edged, dialogue-driven piece set in a small space as a plague swirls outside and humans get ugly indoors for the sake of getting by. Tucker Stone liked it a bunch. Written by playwright and filmmaker Adam Rapp with art by George O'Connor, of the publisher's 2006 Journey Into Mohawk Country and various picture books. It's $17.99 for 144 color pages.

Refresh, Refresh: From the same publisher, a comic by Danica Novgorodoff (of First Second's 2008 Slow Storm) adapting a screenplay by filmmaker James Ponsoldt adapting a short story by Benjamin Percy; the subject matter is young men in a small town with fathers away in Iraq. It's $17.99, 144 pages; preview.

Tiny Tyrant Vol. 2: The Lucky Winner: But while "Trondheim" rearranges to "The Nimrod," Paul Gravett notes that "Lewis Trondheim" is an anagram for "The World is Mine." In keeping with that, here's (again) First Second with the latter half of their re-release of this kids' work, drawn by Fabrice Parme, now in 7 1/2" x 12" softcover format for $9.99.

Ghost Comics: A Benefit Anthology for RS Eden: This is a benefit anthology aimed at helping a Minneapolis substance abuse treatment facility, with some interesting artists involved: John Porcellino, Zak Sally, Warren Craghead, Kevin Cannon, David Heatley, Jeffrey Brown, Allison Cole, John Hankiewicz and more. Full list of folk here. Edited by Ed Choy Moorman; published by Bare Bones Press at $10.00.

Howard Chaykin's Power & Glory: From Dynamite Entertainment comes a new collection of Chaykin's 1994 superhero takeoff/media satire, published at the time by Malibu's short-lived Bravura imprint. It holds a special place in my heart as the first Chaykin stuff I ever looked at -- off a K-Mart comics/magazines rack, if I recall correctly -- although it's pretty scattershot in execution, apparently looking toward further developments that weren't to be. Decent high concept though, pairing a dipshit PR-friendly superhero with a deeply unimpressed man in black who gets shit done behind the scenes. A four-issue initial miniseries and a one-off holiday special were completed, along with a short story for the premium pamphlet item Bravura #0, although I'm not sure if that last bit is collected here. It's $19.99. Chaykin is also writing Boom!'s Die Hard: Year One #1 this week.

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas: But if you like your reprints a little more current, how about a $17.95 softcover for Gerard Way's & Gabriel Bá's broken superhero team, now scattering a ways around history. JFK, family matters and more; preview.

Absolute Promethea Vol. 1 (of 3): Oh wait, I know you. You like your reprints big and slipcased and $99.99, eh? All right, how about the first 12 issues (1999-2001) of Alan Moore's & J.H. Williams III's power-of-creation cataclysm goddess saga, both its writer's personal guide to the realms of magic and the lynchpin of his work-for-hire America's Best Comics superhero universe. These early chapters focus mainly on glittering genre content, some of Moore's slickest, aided greatly by Williams and longtime inker Mick Gray building mightily on the decorative style nailed down in Chase; everyone remembers the Tarot chapters, #10's issue-length sex scene/lecture and #12 multi-level narrative clockwork, but #11 between them is a pretty great take(off) on the still-fresh vogue for 'widescreen' superhero comics. A fantastical far off place indeed, to see Alan Moore react to a genre environment surrounding him! Allow these small pleasures to slink back into view.

Hellboy Library Edition Vol. 3: Conqueror Worm and Strange Places: Ok, less money? Still big? How's $49.95 for 312 pages comprising the final multi-issue Hellboy storylines written and drawn by creator Mike Mignola to date? That's Conqueror Worm (2001), The Third Wish (2002) and The Island (2005). Like this. With 30 pages of unseen sketchbook material.

The Best American Comics 2009: I realized long ago I'm not the audience for these yearly samplers of shorts & excerpts, but I'm sure editor Charles Burns -- selecting from among pieces suggested by series editors Jessica Abel & Matt Madden while suggesting a few of his own choice, if the usual procedure holds up -- will put together a decent 352 pages, given the list of artists chosen. No time's a bad time for Matt Broersma. From Houghton Mifflin, priced at $22.00.

Berserk Vol. 31: Your forever ongoing manga of the week, Kentaro Miura's saga of blood and swords and people hiding in barrels. A little bit of that last action's in the preview, oh yeah. Vol. 34 just arrived in Japan last week, so Dark Horse is catching up.

Sleeper: Season Two: Collecting what should be all the rest of Ed Brubaker's & Sean Phillips' Wildstorm superhero-spy hybrid into a 288-page softcover, priced at $24.99.

glamourpuss #9: Dave Sim.

Herogasm #5 (of 6): Nearing the end of this supplement to The Boys (speaking of dipshit PR superheroes and unimpressed men in black), the upcoming trade of which looks to be treating it as just another storyline in the general continuity, which indeed is what it is, only quicker this way. Note that Dynamite is also releasing a $12.99 softcover of Garth Ennis' Battlefields: The Tankies, the best of these latter day War Stories by a country mile, a rambling look at the thrown-together men of rumbling armor and their greater situation. Well worth checking out.



What am I doing with my life?

*Why, on Saturday I'll be at the Small Press eXpo in glittering Bethesda, MD!

But reading comics and and thinking not a day ahead to the future is only part of the fun - at 3:30 in the Brookside Conference Room I'll be once again participating in a Critics' Roundtable, along with Chris Mautner, Tucker Stone, Douglas Wolk, Sean T. Collins, Rob Clough and the great Gary Groth. The moderator is Bill Kartalopoulos, as always.

There's lots of other things happening at the show, but this is clearly the important part; questions will be solicited from the audience, so bring your hardest math problems and Blackest Night spoiler requests. See you there!


The New Mainstream

Treehouse of Horror #15

(Ben Jones)

Yeah, I sorta loved this.

I liked Strange Tales #1 just fine too. Funny stuff by Nicholas Gurewitch, Jason and Johnny Ryan, some nice visuals by Dash Shaw and Paul Pope, something damn close to a comprehensive summary of personal motifs by Junko Mizuno, and Michael Kupperman just being himself. It was fun, nice. Overall, it gave the impression of a big superhero company, Marvel, willing to loosen its corporate tie for a while and have a little fun with its treasury of characters.

Bongo's Treehouse of Horror #15, on the other hand, gives the impression of a publisher, former alternative strip cartoonist Matt Groening, who hasn't forgotten how he blew stacks of money and a truckload of funnybook political capital printing Gary Panter and Mary Fleener comics in the mid-to-late '90s, and doesn't regret it much at all. And that makes a world of difference here, beloved world media franchise or not.

(John Vermilyea)

The table of contents of this 48-page, all-content, $4.99 annual blames Groening by name for the results, which makes sense; the Simpsons mastermind is a newly-minted Kramers Ergot veteran, so he surely knew what he was getting into with Kramers mastermind Sammy Harkham grabbing the editorial reins and picking up choice members of his Kramers krew to take the franchise out for a ride.

I haven't read many Simpsons comics, so I'm not sure if plopping Groening's signature at the bottom of the title page to every story -- regardless of how little the visual style employed actually resembles Groening's -- is supposed to be a running gag or if it's standard operating procedure, but it works perfectly as a joke either way. These are Groening's characters, after all, known to an alarming percentage of the world population, but it's all gone so horribly wrong.

That's sort of the appeal behind all of these 'alternative comics folk do big famous characters' anthology projects, granted, but this one takes it uniquely far. Strange Tales, for all its good humor, is just that: pure humor, neatly contextualizing these offbeat artists as gentle jesters for the curious, good for a three-issue laugh then ready to be put away in their happy rear-of-Previews realm when it's time to get back down to the serious comic book business of superheroes.

The Simpsons, however, already is a comedy so it doesn't have that tonal buffer; moreover, the artists here -- and I haven't read any of the prior Treehouse annuals, so hell, maybe they're all like this -- seem especially intent on toying around with narrative as well as tone, bringing the characters to truly surreal places, where texture and ideas tend to take control of otherwise Simpsons-like stories. It's often really funny stuff, but it pushes back against the characters too - Tim Hensley signals this right from the start, as the Wally Gropious author rolls out Simpsons comic label namesake and Life in Hell star Bongo to preside over a funny-scary breakdown of the traditional Simpsons opening couch gag. Not to ruin anything, but it ends with the couch in question sitting empty in an open grave.

Hey, it's Halloween. These things happen. Like with old-timey cinematographers, who only knew how to shoot things in the traditional style, until you told 'em it was a dream sequence.

(word by Matthew Thurber, art by Kevin Huizenga)

The best story in here is from Cold Heat co-creator Ben Jones, who's made excellent comics for a while now, whether alone or with others, like in Paper Rad. Here he provides a disquietingly close 10-page comics approximation of a Simpsons television episode, complete with a B plot about Lisa becoming a deeply annoying vegan, neatly boiled down to a string of awesomely blunt vegans are fucking annoying gags ("...she said while we ate pizza she would be feeding some cows her blood to offset our family's dairy footprint"). The main storyline, meanwhile, sees much of Springfield gradually dropping dead from so-cheap-it's-toxic Kwik-E-Mart candy, only to be replaced by overseas Simpsons character bootlegs, starting off with the famous Black Bart and quickly moving into weird territory.

Amazingly, the story manages to be totally of a piece with Jones' work while never quite failing to be a Simpsons thing too. Half the effect comes from Jones' perfectly on-model character images -- all the better to abuse in mutant form -- but he also nails the cadence of Simpsons conversation, which he then spikes with extra-gross humor and, once the bootlegs have taken over, finely broken language.

And while it's certainly sarcastic and political in the fine Simpsons tradition, if a bit more cutting (Apu: "We are just doing what any good American company would do... kill an entire town, then outsource and exploit the third world to repopulate it with--"), don't miss Jones' own Tux Dog popping up as a set of bootleg unlicensed costumes; after all, Jones has been known to whip up some unofficial Bart cameos in his other works. And just as with those, there's a great affection for what the characters mean to people at play, as Black Bart in his Malcom X t-shirt makes peace with a Soviet Homer, and they roam a more grotesque, sometimes awful, but certainly more colorful city.

Some of the other artists stick to what they do best, to differing effects. Will Sweeny has a mythical Bart and Homer encounter basically the same type of foodstuff creatures as from Tales From Greenfuzz series and John Kerschbaum (I think the only non-Kramers artist here) turns up the gore for a ramble through multiple fairy stories, while John Vermilyea pays homage to C.H.U.D. as a monster Hans Moleman stalks the city's children until joy takes over and the dialogue fades away.

Everything in here is at least okay, and typically filled with oh-my-god-Homer-is-saying-my-words glee -- few contributors can resist having Nelson walk on for a quick laff -- but the best wrangle with the franchise at every opportunity, like Matthew Thurber's & Kevin Huizenga's vision of a near-future Springfield ruined from financial collapse and the now-teenage-or-thereabouts kids (except for Maggie, amusingly still a baby) coping with a Green revolution apparently from beyond sanity. Digressive and rather dark, even a bit despairing of a counterculture co-opted by dark forces.


That's actually a through line in this comic, perhaps evidence of Harkham's careful editorial hand. From Jones' model sheet cataclysm to Thurber's & Huizenga's financial meltdown and shadow villains to Jeffrey Brown's line of copyright infringement jokes -- in the middle of a parody of the seminal '70s television chiller Bad Ronald -- there's a real uncertainty here about corporate, franchised, advertising-ready work, not a unified manifesto or anything but an indication that this work-for-hire stuff is getting knocked against aesthetic values, that the issue of participating in these kinds of owned mega-profit comics can't just be put away when the work is done because you've signed onto it, that art like this has its own implications. Who's name's always on the bottom?

Again, though, these notions co-exist with the comedy, which gives the anthology a depth I think, say, Bizarro Comics lacks. But then, just as Halloween is the season for going crazy, so is the Simpsons a ready enough forum for these political questions, given its long history and irreverent disposition. And ready too for cartoon frenzy, as C.F. closes the curtain with Groundskeeper Willie smashing into the living room and doing battle with deadly fake monster-military Marge & Homer. That's all there is, until next week.


Get ready for the unexpected, folks! It's an internet post about... the Beatles!


However, this particular internet post is mostly about the 1967 Magical Mystery Tour film, and artist Bob Gibson's comics adaptation of such, which was included with the EP and North American LP releases of the rather more beloved album of the same title. And it's included with the new remastered CD too, hence the column. Hope you like it!



Looking Back With Heavy Eyes (because I'm tired)

*Plenty of the overseas artists -


Little Fluffy Gigolo PELU Vol. 1 (Last Gasp's newest Junko Mizuno release, this time kicking off her first and apparently only attempt at a proper ongoing series, a keen revival of some old school aesthetics in the service of navigating the desires of women)


Manga (yeah, that's right - just "Manga," a curious anthology from sometime in the early '80s, prone to flaunting a few specific iterations of the art; this is part one of the essay, the rest will be up in a few days)

At the Savage Critics!

*In case anyone needs a quick 'n dirty illustration of the state of the Direct Market right now, Marvel's list of releases through Diamond this week is 4/5 as long as the section for every comic from the back of Previews due on Wednesday. Can't beat it.


Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror #15: Or, as some have taken to calling it, Kramers Ergot 7.5, given the presence of editor Sammy Harkham and the disposition of the art lineup - and it's $120.01 less than that big hardcover ($4.99)! Your 48 big color pages come stuffed with Harkham, Kevin Huizenga, Ben Jones, C.F., Matthew Thurber, Tim Hensley, John Kerschbaum, Jordan Crane, Ted May, Jon Vermilyea, Jeffrey Brown and Will Sweeney. Small preview here. Published by Bongo, although PictureBox will bring a stash to SPX this weekend in anticipation of a Sunday artists' signing.

Dungeon: The Early Years Vol. 2: Innocence Lost: New from NBM, collecting more of this prequel iteration of Joann Sfar's & Lewis Trondheim's expansive, disjointed-as-a-virtue fantasy/humor series (Donjon Potron-Minet). Note that one of the Dungeon series' jumps in continuity (i.e., the story 'skips' a bunch of chapters, which of course have never been made) occurs between the two volumes (tomes 3-4) collected in this 96-page, $12.95 softcover. They're also the final volumes in which artist Christophe Blain (of Gus and His Gang) provides finishes for Trondheim's guides - Christophe Gaultier took over in 2008's tome 5, the most recent thus far.

Eden: It's an Endless World! Vol. 12 (of 18): I'll be getting into the legacy of the gritty action/sci-fi seinen manga stuff that marked a lot of early terrain in North America in the second half of my Manga special later this week, but you might get a flavor for the stuff by checking out this Hiroki Endo global tech adventure; it's almost like a throwback to that serious, 'realistic' feel, and thus kind of scrapes by today, with few totally certain as to when (or if) the next installment will come. This book marks the 2/3 checkpoint. It's a 224-page Dark Horse softcover, $12.95; preview here.

Black Jack Vol. 7 (of 17): And then there's always the older, weirder stuff, care of Vertical; it's Osamu Tezuka's super-doctor and his oft-mad exploits, another 336 pages of it for your $16.95.

Detroit Metal City Vol. 2: Or, y'know, you could go for VIZ's release of Kiminori Wakasugi's ongoing comedy of a meek young man who can't let his night occupation as a sex & violence-crazed guitar demon stay confined to the stage. Vol. 8 is due in Japan next week; U.S. readers will pay $12.99 for these 200 pages.

Sulk Vol. 3: The Kind of Strength That Comes From Madness: The latest in Jeffrey Brown's miniature 'anything goes' series from Top Shelf, compiling 64 pages' worth of monsters and robots and elves and things. It's $6.00.

Things Undone: A new original softcover from NBM and artist Shane White, who previously teamed with the publisher for the book North Country in 2005. This one deals with a video game artist confronting various stresses, professional and personal. With some zombie images, and an introduction by Robert Kirkman. An extensive preview is here; $12.95 for 80 pages.

Golden Age Marvel Comics Omnibus: Look, they're even acknowledging the Golden Age of Reprints in the books' titles now. Isn't that wonderful? Maybe it'll inspire you to drop $125.00 on an 848-page hardcover doorstop collecting issues #1-12 of Marvel [Mystery] Comics, from the Years of Our Lord 1939 and 1940. Note that while the price maight not be peanuts, it's still roughly $35 cheaper than paying cover price for the first three volumes of Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Marvel Comics (2004-08), which is how this content was most recently collected.

Underground #1 (of 4): I hardly know a damn thing about this new Image miniseries -- some action/survival/chase deal set in caves -- but writer Jeff Parker's creator-owned things are typically worth keeping an eye on, and this one teams him with Steve Lieber of Whiteout. In color, $3.50; samples here.

Detective Comics #857: Meanwhile, the other half of Whiteout, Greg Rucka, wraps up the first storyline in this extended run with artist J.H. Williams III. Next up's an origin saga, I believe. Cully Hamner continues on with the Question too.

Hellblazer #259: Giuseppe Camuncoli & Stefano Landini will be returning with #261, but for now Peter Milligan is joined by no less than Simon Bisley, a rare enough sight inside a comic without restricting your search to the front of Previews.

The Muppet Show Comic Book: The Treasure of Peg-Leg Wilson #3 (of 4): More Roger Langridge, and more to come. Look see.

Madame Xanadu #15: Kicking off a whole line of finales with this last issue by artist Michael Wm. Kaluta; Matt Wagner remains to re-team with artist Amy Reeder Hadley next.

Madman Atomic Comics #17: Wrapping up this Image run for Mike Allred's creation, an often disquietingly odd stretch of work that saw the artist return to the heavy philosophical and spiritual concerns that marked his earliest work. There could either be plenty of that in this final chapter or none at all, since the focus is on bringing Allred's Red Rocket 7 concepts into the Madman universe proper. Several big guests will be present for bonus art, like Craig Thompson, Dave Cooper(!!), Dave Johnson and others. Still only $3.50. See here.

No Hero #7 (of 7): And hailing from the direct opposite side of the superhero globe, Avatar brings this conclusion to Warren Ellis' & Juan Jose Ryp's tongue-in-cheek 'superhero origin story as body horror' project, the one which left off last issue with a guy tying a fallen opponent's vertebral column to his waist to wear as a substitute penis. Who knows what hi-jinx could ensue this time? Search for clues here.

Wednesday Comics #12 (of 12): Didn't it feel like a few of these stories ended last week? Eh, a few of them haven't seemed active for longer than that, although they're always at least present. This is the proper send-off, wherein I'll expect the amusing to stay that way, the dull to fail to improve, Karl Kerschl to count is new admirers and that Wonder Woman story to keep on keepin' on. I'm rooting for you, blips of format ingenuity; by the end, the writing and the art alone wasn't enough to keep it up, though its hard not to feel for the latter in a place like this.


Oh heck, that half of the year again?

*Yes sir, ma'am! Like a profoundly unmotivated werewolf, My Life is Choked with Comics has risen again to cast off the bonds of decorum and write an awful lot of words on the internet at The Savage Critics! So many words this time, I opted to cut the thing in half; part 2 (of 2) will arrive later this week. The topic is a curious comics anthology with no cover price and no date of publication, though it has been traced to sometime from 1980-1984. It's titled simply Manga, and offers a curious and revealing vision of how Japanese comics might be seen in the days before very much was available at all. Check it out here; lots o' pictures, many more paragraphs.



Not a better titled comic this year.

Little Fluffy Gigolo PELU Vol. 1

Yes, PELU is ALL CAPS in the legal indicia, even though its traditionally capitalized as a character's name in the book itself. It just adds to the excitement, doesn't it? Makes you want to shout it. There's a theme song too, with different lyrics for each chapter. It's one of those comics.

More specifically, it's a Junko Mizuno comic. Some readers might recognize her work from a trio of strange fairy tale adaptations VIZ released in 2002 and 2003 -- Cinderalla (no, I spelled it right), Hansel and Gretel and Princess Mermaid -- although devotees could go all the way back to 2000's Secret Comics Japan anthology, released only four years after the artist's comics debut in the dōjinshi MINA animal DX, which was sold out of a fashion outlet in Harajuku. Her initial pro comics appeared in a music magazine, H, and her first longform work, Pure Trance, was initially serialized across 10 booklets included with techno CDs. Last Gasp brought that work to English in 2005; this marks their second outing with the artist.

And you might be forgiven for glancing over Mizuno's work and deeming it primarily illustrative, with self-contained pages-as-designs blending archly poised 'cute' iconography with anatomical frankness and steady-leaking gore, candied colors optional. She was an illustrator before she became a cartoonist, after all, and her background is heavily steeped in music and design, rather than the apprenticeships or contest victories or Comiket arrivals common to a young person's development into a mangaka.

(right to left, note)

That wouldn't be totally accurate, though - Mizuno knows manga, and from a remarkably classical standpoint. Her childhood coincided with the legendary '70s golden age of shōjo manga, although it's telling that she cites Kazuo Umezu's girls' comics period from the decade prior as her childhood favorite; very little of the revolutionary influence of the Year 24 Group -- their visual abstractions and layout explosions and emotions sizzling corporeally -- can be detected in her work.

Rather, it's the older, primal shōjo that holds court, the Osamu Tezuka of Princess Knight spilling into the anime prettiness of Sailor Moon (another avowed favorite). Her limber little characters romp around the page or stand and pose, brightly, with incredible energy building from these cartoon antics melded to the artist's aforementioned design sense. There's some furious drawing going in this book in particular, maybe inspired by Mizuno's adherence to old fashioned square and rectangle panels, tightly arranged. Maybe not as tightly as Umezu would wind it, but your eyes just fly nonetheless.

Moreover, Mizuno's approach feeds her storytelling obsessions: beauty, bodies, food, belonging, and relationships that veer between devoutly close and doomed to work at cross-purposes. Even her four-pager from last week's Strange Tales #1 saw all of these elements at work

Every woman is cute and sprightly and pixied, and often naked - all the better to meld prettiness with vulnerability. The only distinction between young and old in this book is how thick the women seem compared to the girls. The men, in contrast, are squat and beady, the beautiful ones often ironically so. They vary visually in a way Mizuno's women don't, although there's obviously different personalities at hand; femininity is a shared thing in this artist's world, and women are thereby troubled by the same pressures, the same image issues, the same sex issues, the same anxieties.

It's also basically comedic, sometimes due to the disconnect between the sparkly sights on display and some grim added element, be it written in or just somewhere present in the frames: little gothy skulls, boys huffing solvents or bandages covering dolly legs as their owner strikes poses seemingly ripped from a library of archetypical manga girl images, so charged with such direct emotional meaning the potential banality of the contrast instead becomes affecting, because she's going right down to some heart of the art, the building blocks of a tradition of girl stories. If all these women look young, it's only from Mizuno wielding the stuff of a young art, unadorned, all passion. But she deals with it like an adult; that's what she is.

Little Fluffy Gigolo PELU is a good place to see all of this in action, since it's Mizuno's first (and as far as I know only) experience with an ongoing series, told in chapters with recurring characters and a big concept: the quest of lil' furry Pelu to find a human woman to make a baby with so he can return to his home planet of Princess Kotobuki without feeling so inadequate.

The book's kickoff chapter tells Our Man's origin, a
hallucinatory burlesque on girlish terror/excitement of giving birth in which an all-nude civilization of humanoid girls learn from their elders that tiny male and female fluffballs are growing in their bellies, only to eventually have sex (whatever that is) and make babies pop out without the knowlege or consent of the host. Pelu is a fluffball that survived in the wild after his girl host was tragically eaten by the local Space Hippo, which itself was then struck by lightning before it could quite finish. As you'd expect, upon learning this secret news Pelu leaps into since recovered Space Hippo's magic mirror to enter modern Japan and make a baby of his own (however that's done).

This first volume was published in Japan in 2003; two more books followed in '04 and '05, though I don't know if that wrapped the series. I suspect they'll follow the pattern set by the rest of vol. 1: meek, none-too-bright Pelu shacks up with a human female -- he's a gigolo in the 'mooching off of women' sense -- who's troubled by some struggle that causes her to doubt who she is. There's a newly pregnant woman whose boyfriend pushes her to chase her dreams of singing, a schoolgirl who tells lies and longs for the attentions of her working mother and shitty boy crush, a fish diving pro whose world is disturbed when her shy sister marries a lusty sushi chef with robot arms, and a plain girl who finds herself switching bodies with a local beauty with big issues.

Pelu witnesses most of this, and never gets laid. Actually, he often fails to even comprehend what's going on, though he's sometimes an accidental catalyst to get things happening. That's part of the point: Pelu is only the most extreme of Mizuno's contorted men -- although his awesomely filthy human bum friend Su-san comes close, with whiskers drawn by simply circling his mouth over and over and over with pen -- while the women he visits suffer through their personal dramas, the real focus of Mizuno's art.

(yep, the first few pages are color)

And they're fast, effective little tales, even if Mizuno is probably a better writer of character moments and crazed set pieces than whole plots. Of the four stories, two of them eventually boil down to fairly basic ' careful what you wish for!' scenarios, with the body-swapping number in particular degenerating into horror spoof chaos as the newly hot heroine discovers the psycho status of her body's ex-owner's boyfriend (which frankly speaks more to bad taste in guys than the perils of fretting over physical beauty). Mizuno is generally better when her gags are guided by some emotional or thematic charge; she's not above lapsing into 'edgy' cute cliché, whereby the first mention of a herd of floofy poodles in teensy lil' sweaters removes any doubt as to a horrible horrible fate in store.

But she lands her characterizations with confidence, perfectly capturing the casual cruelty of a hurt young girl longing to feel superior to something in her life, or the slow burn of a woman secretly terrified that her outgoing sister will steal the man she finally fell for, particularly after she gets -- eek! -- pregnant. If the artist's female bodies seem always poised or running or capering, it's because her interest here is in the changes a body has to undergo from female biological processes, as well as the changes it could undergo from outside pressure or personal worry. Giving birth is the most extreme iteration of this theme, and it marks tiny Pelu's misunderstanding of the world of women: it's something he wants for himself, though he doesn't understand how it affects others in a more profound way.

Maybe he'll learn. Mizuno is also a hopeful artist, refusing to leave any of her short-time protagonists without a few embers of hope burning for a better life. They all become a little more honest about what they want, or at least more aware of their problems. A little calmer too, often settling back into family life, or hoping for something like that. It's a bit of a conservative work in that way, much like how Mizuno's layouts hail from a more restrained time. Yet her sights are odd and pulsing enough you'll believe it sat next to new club beats - there's anti-drug messages in here, yet one of its most excellent scenes has two girls and a horde of bunnies getting cranked on special pills.

That's Mizuno in a nutshell. Sharp enough to know the trouble behind all this, but not about to deny the pleasure of the moment.


I'm here, I'm tired, I'm behind.

*And one of the books I'm currently writing about selflessly gave its life for the online funnybook blogging cause in the midst of scanning illustrations. That'd never happened to me before; tears filled my eyes as I gathered up the remains, and I vowed that this dolorous scene would spur me on toward ever-greater feats of writing about comic books on the internet. Just you wait, readers, fate - something's coming.


Mushi-Shi (the 2006 live-action movie by Akira creator Katsuhiro Ōtomo)

I wound up keeping the pages inside the cover. It still sort of looks like a book if you don't move it. More or less. And it's not like I resell anything, ever.

*But there were happy times in the course of my research too. For example, I got to poke through old issues of Epic Illustrated, which meant exposure to one of the crucial aesthetic signposts of the era (1980). I refer, of course, to that one Champale ad where everyone is doing the classiest fucking job of boozing in a cave in all the annals of human consumption. My malt liquor memories involve playing cards on the porch when I was a teenager. I must have done it wrong:

When the time is right, and the mood is light, go with your feelings. To a cave... together.

*I'm wearing that jacket right now.


3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man
: There was a lot of good word circling around artist Matt Kindt's Super Spy in 2007; now comes his new book, a Dark Horse hardcover production following a forever-growing man through three periods, each narrated by a woman in his life. It's 192 pages of painted color art for $19.95; preview here, bonus stories here and here.

The John Stanley Library: Nancy Vol. 1: Being the latest in Drawn and Quarterly's Seth-designed 7.75" x 11" hardcover compendiums of Stanley stories, this time a 144-page shot of Dell tie-in comics related to Ernie Bushmiller's newspaper strip native. Stanley worked on this stuff for a long time, close to 40 issues (1957-62), working out roughs for other artists to finish; I'm unsure if this particular series is meant to be comprehensive, since the first volume is only 144 pages, but you never know what'll happen. Say, have you learned How to Read Nancy? Expanded edition coming soon.

Johnny Boo Vol. 3: Happy Apples: Meanwhile, in new hardcover kids' comics, James Kochalka continues his cute ghost series with a story about eating healthy. The colors sear, as I like it. Top Shelf publishes, 40 pages for $9.95.

Beasts of Burden #1 (of 4): A fun-looking spooky comics series from Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson, following suburban pets on self-contained mysteries into the supernatural. Publisher Dark Horse featured earlier stories from the same team (and of the same concept) in its Dark Horse Book of... horror anthologies, so if you liked it there (and I did) your $2.99 should be as good as spent. Have a look.

Pluto Vol. 5 (of 8): This month's Urasawa; you know the drill.

Oishinbo Vol. 5: Vegetables: Mmm, looks like an especially crisp installment of this thing about a guy who eats and his hated father who also eats, and their all-eating supporting cast, which don't eat as skillfully as the guy and his father. Unless I'm totally off, these VIZ editions are based on Japanese themed collections of the series, of which 59 are currently available. At least two more (on rice and "pub food") are due in English. It's 268 pages for $12.99.

BioGraphical Novel Series 3: Che Guevara: Of course, the truly hardcore will be saving up their $14.95 for Che: the Manga, because the pain of missing out on Anne Frank featuring Astro Boy still burns so cold, like the stab of the Witch-king. I don't think Astro Boy is in here, granted, nor is Che likely to appear in Pluto, although Urasawa does tend to get erratic as his endings draw near. This one's by Chie Shimano & Kiyoshi Konno, published by the excellently named Emotional Content. Video preview here.

APPLE Vol. 3: But maybe you want a little more color? And people maybe not wearing a lot? Sure, UDON Entertainment's release of the all-color Japanese anthology series Robot seems to be on hold, but this similarly toned Korean number -- A Place for People who Love Entertainment -- continues to steam forward, already up to vol. 4 overseas. Expect lots of glossy pin-ups and candied comics. Produced by Seoul Visual Works; it's $34.95 for 264 oversized pages. Preview here (scroll down).

Will Eisner's The Spirit: The New Adventures Archives: This is actually one of Dark Horse's Archives hardcovers, at the $49.95 price point, although I think they might intent to number it "27" to follow DC's similarly produced volumes of classic Eisner material. It's a 200-page collection of Kitchen Sink's eight-issue all-star revival of the character from 1998, featuring contributions by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (much in the vein of Moore's later Greyshirt work with Rick Veitch), Moore & Daniel Torres, Neil Gaiman & Eddie Campbell, Campbell & Marcus Moore & co. (more on Campbell's stories here), James Vance & Dan Burr, John Wagner & Carlos Ezquerra (of Judge Dredd), Kurt Busiek & Brent Anderson (of Astro City), Paul Chadwick, Mark Schultz & David Lloyd, Jay Stephens & Paul Pope, Mike Allred & Matt Brundage & Michael Avon-Oeming, John Ostrander & Tom Mandrake, Dennis P. Eichorn (Real Stuff!!) & Gene Fama, and Joe R. Lansdale & John Lucas, among others. I think Moebius even has a pin-up in here. Doubt you'll find a more happening crew this week. Preview.

Tom Strong Deluxe Edition Book 1 (of 3): And if that's not enough Moore for ya, there's always this $39.99 hardcover collection of the first 12 issues of the Magus' pulp hero fantasy future, co-created with Chris Sprouse and featuring guest art by Al Gordon, Art Adams, Jerry Ordway, Dave Gibbons (again), Paul Chadwick (again), Gary Gianni and others.

Haunt of Horror: Oooh, and don't miss this - a new $29.99 softcover collecting the entirety of Richard Corben's Poe and Lovecraft-themed b&w horror comics for Marvel, along with all of the source texts for easy comparison.

Dominic Fortune #2 (of 4): And speaking of throwbacks...

Thor Annual #1: Your Peter Milligan superhero comic of the week, following the writer's prior character one-off The Trial of Thor; I hadn't known the Thor annuals were in need of a relaunch, but here you go. Preview. The $3.99 tag also nets you vintage content from Journey Into Mystery #83, fancied up with modern coloring tricks so you don't feel ashamed.

Ultimate Comics Armor Wars #1 (of 4): Beginning writer Warren Ellis' contribution to the freshly plowed Ultimate line, an Iron Man story drawn by Steve Kurth & Jeffrey Huet. Preview.

Batman and Robin #4: Philip Tan!! Are you ready to accept the challenge of the gods?! Aw, that's a little condescending, actually; Frank Quitely hasn't been at his best here, particularly last issue, where his characteristic shortcut of leaving most of the background work to the colorist in certain bits actually got in the way of the impact of that double-page dance sequence, where I think Pyg was supposed to be menacing Robin Michael Madsen-style, but actually wound up thrashing around in a void for much of the spread. Moreover, I'm not convinced his general approach of favoring continuous, animation-like movement in the (many) action pages was entirely effective, in that Quitely's approach to character art relies so much on small gestures, which I found constantly slowing me down so as to keep the action straight on the 'how is Robin balancing on this chair?' level - it's a really studied approach, almost an action comic in quotes, and for all the fun sound effects and gore mists I never got much impact out of it, which seemed to jar against Grant Morrison's rollicking story.

And, you know, he's still interesting, obviously, and some of the problems he couldn't help - is there any artist working in superhero comics today who's worse served by ads in the story every three or four pages? But... what I'm saying is, I thought John Romita, Jr. did twice the action comics job in Kick-Ass last week with half the fuss and one-fifth the heralding, and it does nobody any good in terms of critical rhetoric, analysis or simple anticipation to posit Quitely's work as this scalding zone of achievement bound to devour the flesh of unlucky talents immediately to follow. Particularly in a superhero series where the symbols and allusions really do appear to be percolating in the background; a man of impact can do well there. Maybe this guy will, maybe he won't. We'll know soon enough.

Wednesday Comics #11 (of 12): Not all of this was great, but I'll be sad to see it go. And how's that for impact?



Delay Over

*Ok, here's the new column, concerning Katsuhiro Ōtomo's 2006 live-action movie adaptation of Yuki Urushibara's well-respected manga Mushishi (the movie, like the anime, spells it Mushi-Shi), newly available on R1 dvd.

In case you wanted more detail, the stories blended into the movie are: ch. 2 (from vol. 1, The Soft Horns, the one with the kid with the horn); ch. 7 (from vol. 2, The Sea of Brushstrokes, the one with the girl who writes down living stories); ch. 9 (from vol. 2, Rain Comes and a Rainbow is Born, the one with the guy chasing rainbows); and ch. 15 (from vol. 3, The Fish Gaze, the one with Ginko's origin) with bits of ch. 13 (from vol. 3, The Heavy Seed, the one with the rice fields and the secret tooth) blended in. Note that unlike the anime, the film switches things around, changes or omits plot points and slices 'n dices things to approximate a continuous narrative. I thought it worked ok.



Remember, no comics or diabolical literature 'till Thursday.

*It's just nature's way.


West Coast Blues (new Jacques Tardi in English; for your further noir needs)

That is all.

*Hm? Oh, right - I should have had a movie column up too, regarding Akira creator Katsuhiro Ōtomo's live-action adaptation of Mushi-Shi, but, entirely due to my own fuckery, it won't be posted until tomorrow or Thursday. I'll let you know when it's up.

*In lieu of that, however, please allow me to link to a different comiXology presentation: Shaenon Garrity's tribute to The Comics Journal on the occasion of its imminent 300th issue. A fine look back indeed, particularly the bits about the Journal's apparently very cheap ad rates, which all but assures a very special mix of micro-mini one-man ballyhoo (hell, I bought Cryptic Wit off an ad in the Journal) and projects of aesthetic value so dubious they could headline some sequential art medicine show -- and I'm not talking Captain Hadacol -- on top of the usual klatch of retailers and such.

So in this spirit of celebration, here's my all-time favorite Journal ad, from way back in November of 1979. Keep in mind, this was a full-page ad that ran right next to Martin Pasko's review of that John Badham Dracula movie starring Frank Langella:

WOW!! I mean, I know people claim Gary Groth is in league with the devil, but I didn't think he used to sell him ad space. Cheap white paper, eh? The Eighth Satanic Empire had watermarks and shit; I read that in high school theology. They're based out of Lancaster.

Still, you know what? I'd have mailed you in a heartbeat, Azathoth. Frank Brunner's cover feature kiss-off letter to Marvel had me 100% in the mood for murder, pain and/or death, albeit of a jubilant type. And after the dressing down Bill Sherman gave Star*Reach Productions' Quack! - god, why doesn't the Journal run more mail-order agony solicitations by satanists?! Did they all go online or switch to Comics Buyer's Guide? Just another mystery from the vast history of the Journal...

*I also waited until now for -


West Coast Blues: You've done the important work of reading my review; now read the comic that started it all! Seriously, Jacques Tardi is always worth reading, and this 2005 crime novel adaptation offers valuable exposure to his famed talent without the burden of the 'masterpiece' label on it. Makes a great companion piece with Darwyn Cooke's Richard Stark's The Hunter too. An oversized Fantagraphics hardcover, 80 b&w pages for $18.99; preview here. Note that there appears to be some licensing restriction in effect that limits the book's distribution to North America.

Love and Rockets: New Stories Vol. 2: On the other hand, the whole world is free to enjoy Los Bros - AS IT SHOULD BE. This is nothing less than the newest 100 pages of Hernandez hi-jinx, including the grand finale of Jaime's superhero serial and a 39-page wordless Gilbert joint. Everybody so much as glancing at this knows where their $14.99 is headed, but here's a preview anyway.

The Squirrel Machine: Yep, it's Fantagraphics week at Diamond, and I've gotta say - there's a lot of interesting stuff due. I'm unfortunately not all that familiar with the works of artist Hans Rickheit, although his Chrome Fetus series comes renowned for freakishness. This is his biggest work yet, a 192-page b&w hardcover concerning two 19th century brothers and their musical carcass creations, and the weirder things they find. Preview here; exciting video here. It's $18.99.

The Art of Tony Millionaire: Another one of these deluxe Dark Horse artbooks, this time dedicated to the creator of Maakies, Sock Monkey and Billy Hazlenuts. Contains 200 pages of color images, such as these, with an introduction by Elvis Costello. An oversized hardcover, priced at $39.95.

Yotsuba&! Vol. 6: Marking the return to print of Kiyohiko Azuma's much-loved ongoing series about a little girl's comedic antics in the world of grown-ups, surely among the most successful crossover products of the moé-inclined monthly otaku fest Dengeki Daioh. But strip away the mildly-creepy-in-context conceit of wee lil' Yotsuba having a daddy that just happened to 'find' her somewhere -- thus helpfully scrubbing the ongoing cuteness of any implication of the reader identification figure engaging in gross gross sexual congress with an actual, sweating woman -- and this really is a well-observed, genuinely funny slice-of-life comedy fit for all ages; shit, it even took home an Excellence Prize at the 2006 Japan Media Arts Festival. From Yen Press, taking over from ADV Manga, $10.99 for 208 pages. Note that despite the nearly two-year gap in releases, the series is still only up to vol. 8 in Japan; if you've got catching up to do, Yen is also dropping its reprints of the first five books, at the same price point, all on the same day.

The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book: But getting back to Fantagraphics, one of the more striking North American debut projects they had going in 2006 was Scrublands, a collection of short works by South African cartoonist and animator Joe Daly, mixing lush and fluid visual styles with oddball fantasy and observational comedy set in a sort of 60s underground comics version of Cape Town. This follow-up 112-page hardcover production is actually a two-in-one deal, pairing up a pre-Scrublands serial-turned-album of stoned-out mystery-adventure (The Leaking Cello Case) with an all-new story in the same vein (John Wesley Harding). This dude can draw. All in color for $22.99; have a look.

Giraffes In My Hair: A Rock 'n' Roll Life: And just to push your Fantagraphics tab ever closer to the $100 mark, how about 136 pages of new Carol Swain? Creator of various striking short stories (to be collected this December in the Dark Horse omnibus Crossing the Empty Quarter and Other Stories) and the Fanta original books Invasion of the Mind Sappers (1995) and Foodboy (2004) -- along with the painted colors to Peter Milligan's & Brendan McCarthy's notorious Skin -- Swain remains somewhat obscure, despite counting the likes of Alan Moore among her admirers. This particular project will serve as a change of pace, drawn from an autobiographical script by the artist's companion, Bruce Paley, an American youth that stormed through the hippie haze of the late '60s into hard drugs and punk rock. Anything Carol Swain draws is worth looking at, in my opinion. Start looking here; it's $19.99.

Grimwood's Daughter: Alright, enough with the Fantagraphics! This is a nice-looking $12.99 IDW hardcover, collecting some old Fantagraphics stories... AAAAAAGH!! Ok... ok. Hang on. Ok. Start over. Jan Strnad and Dennis Fujitake used to have this old sci-fi pamphlet series titled Dalgoda back in the day (1984-86). This was a Strnad-written back-up serial from a few of those issues, a fantasy tale of elf warfare that boasted some of the earliest published art by Kevin Nowlan. Sketches and stuff will round this new package out to 64 b&w pages. The b&w boom lives on.

Process Recess Vol. 3: The Hallowed Seam: Aaaah, no Fantagraphics here. No, this is all-AdHouse, all James Jean, a fat 248-page, $34.95 collection of sketchbook material. Like this. Sure to go fast, if tradition holds.

All and Sundry: Uncollected Work 2004-2009: Also in odds 'n sods, Fanta... fant... Those At Their Satanic Majesties Request present 208 pages of Paul Hornschemeier's uncollected work (strips, illustrations, etc.) from the past half-decade, or at least that of it that isn't bound for its own private collection (like his MOME serial). Consult; another hardcover, $29.99. Yeah, that's right: a Stones reference. Fuck you, The Beatles: Rock Band - I'm not playing real music, I'm just pushing stupid plastic buttons on a toy! And fuck you Grand Theft Auto IV - I'm not running from the cops, I'm just yanking a joystick! And fuck you Tecmo Super Bowl - I'm not playing football, I'm just screaming in ecstasy after I get the blue screen to stop! The last decent video game I played was the Police 911 motion sensor deal in the arcades - and I didn't even really get shot! What a crock of shit, gang.

Tank Girl Remastered Edition Vol. 3: Alright, enough laughs. Now we're into the serious business of dropping $14.95 on this final Titan Books collection of Alan Martin's & Jamie Hewlett's original shorts, in chronological order, with a new introduction and various bonus features. It's softcover, and 96 color pages.

Elephantmen #21: It feels like this hasn't been around for a while, although it might just be a lot of it coming out in short order a ways before. So, right, this is part 6 (of 8) in the current run of standalone short stories concerning the supporting cast, although this kind of thing is more the norm for the series than anything else. Still $3.50. Preview.

Dead Space: Extraction: Also from Image this week, a one-off $3.50 franchise tie-in pamphlet by the returning and very qualified team of writer Antony Johnston and artist Ben Templesmith. Preview.

B.P.R.D.: 1947 #3 (of 5): Mignola! Dysart & Moon & Bá! Look!

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #6 (of 8): Mignola! Fegredo & Gianni! See!

Kick Ass #7 (of 8): This too! Insert Disney joke!

Wednesday Comics #10 (of 12): Summer is almost over. Or somewhere past over if you're a teacher or in junior high or something. Um, if it's the latter, never mind all that Satan stuff above! Becasue the P.O. box probably doesn't work; look for Satan online.

James Robinson's Complete WildC.A.T.s: There's a few interesting names squirreled away in the C.A.T.s library, most of which have made it to bookshelves. I've never read any of these Robinson-scripted comics (sprinkled around, 1994-98), but you never know. A fair amount of Travis Charest art is in there, at least, with a little bit of Jim Lee and even a dab of Barry Windsor-Smith (as part of the inevitable linewide crossover, Wildstorm Rising, sure, but you can't expect such nice things for free). It's 224 pages for $19.99.

Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years Vol. 3: Hmm, these must be doing all right. And they're due to go up to 1965, so it's looking like a "we'll keep printing 'em if you keep buying" deal. for the record, this 240-page volume covers late 1949 to mid-1950, Gold Key issues #11-16. It costs the usual $49.95; look see.

The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the 21st Century: Oh, you have so much money left over! That's great. All the better for the comics economy. Oh sure, I don't recall the political message of this erratic but long-running (1990-2007) Frank Miller/Dave Gibbons series focusing too much on the free market, but surely it's in the spirit of the (unsubtle, very very very much so) allegory to exercise your personal liberty to slap down a cool $99.95 for the complete 600-page saga as a Dark Horse hardcover, newly restored with a fresh Miller introduction and commentary by Gibbons. Especially if you've already dumped all your Frank Miller back-issues into the harbor. Buy it again! Your country needs YOU!



Several Details About Violent Men and Their Artists

West Coast Blues

This should be out in a few weeks; maybe October, just as the year lunges into its final quarter. It's becoming clear that these late months of 2009 will register as something of a prime time for well-tooled pop comics from outside the North American superhero sphere, from the ultra-slick crime fiction transubstantiation of Darwyn Cooke's The Hunter , courtesy of IDW, to the honed and ready scratch attack of Johnny Ryan's forthcoming Prison Pit, published by Fantagraphics, the same folks behind this smart-looking 80-page hardcover, $18.99.

But let's get back to Darwyn Cooke for a minute, because this is a crime comic too. In fact, it's a comics adaptation of a prominent prose novel by a beloved crime writer, concieved as a period piece of the era in which the novel was written, concerning a stoic-looking antihero who loses everything, vanishes for a while, holds steady onto some cunning, then restores himself to prosperity via the shooting of motherfuckers that need it. Both books contain framing images of Our Man on the road, a socio-economic subtext, and a dénouement that nod toward the inscrutability of these hard men and their achievements. You'd swear this was a response to Cooke's book, if you didn't know it was an English translation of a French album from 2005.

And anyway, being a comic by Jacques Tardi, it has plenty of baggage all its own.

West Coast Blues marks the start of Fantagraphics' new Tardi publishing effort, the latest iteration of a ongoing, multi-publisher effort to 'break' the artist onto the American scene that's lasted essentially since the dawn of the Direct Market. It's a rare artist that can claim OG status with both RAW and Heavy Metal, but Tardi's been from there to Cheval Noir to Fantagraphics' miscellaneous house anthologies of the '90s, all the way down to the early days of the new bookshelf comics boom in the 21st century.

That last bit was iBooks' sadly limited 2003 release of The Bloody Streets of Paris, a 1988 adaptation of
French mystery giant Léo Malet's 1943 occupation detective novel 120, rue de la Gare. An earlier Tardi take on a Malet novel was serialized in one of the aforementioned Fantagraphics anthologies, Graphic Fiction Monthly. Shortly thereafter, the publisher's Pictopia anthology serialized Tardi's Griffu, an early work, from 1978, scripted by roman noir superstar Jean-Patrick Manchette. Two years prior, Manchette had published the novel Le Petit bleu de la côte Ouest (available in English from City Lights Books as 3 to Kill), which director Jacques Deray loosely adapted to the cinema in 1980 as Trois hommes à abattre, starring the great Alain Delon. And then Tardi made a comic out of it - the book we're talking about here, since things do tend to come around.

We're told in the back of Fantagraphics' edition -- Kim Thompson edits and translates -- that Manchette was a lifelong comics reader. Indeed, he also co-wrote the 1982 René Laloux/Moebius movie animation extravaganza Time Masters, and translated Watchmen to French. Among his other translations were some prose novels by Donald E. Westlake, aka Richard Stark, author of The Hunter. Later of Darwyn Cooke's comics rendition, naturally.

And to look at Cooke's take on Stark is to admire the surface. His characters are composed as polished cartoon designs, stiffly to some eyes. Sickly steel-gray monochome darkens tasteful high-'50s environments, an art directed dream. That's allegorical: the story of vengeful super-crook Parker is dabbed with parody of bourgeois economic combat, its wicked syndicate men behaving like a good American corporation, stripping solo entrepreneur Parker of his business 'till he's up by his bootstraps and back in the fight. He might be a little sad that his lover died, sure, but it's the money that hurt worse, and it's money he gets back.

You don't have to like how it looks, of course; I can understand readers finding Cooke's pages stiff, stilted, distant, boring, etc. But there is a real concept behind his swoony catalog decor, one that adds a hint of self-consciousness to his wholesale adoption of the novel's brutish way with women and goons, married to a distinct coyness with gore and sex. In this world, nary a hair is out of place unless it's necessary. A man's skull getting blown out the back if his seat leaves no more blood than a show-dressed mannequin in the same unlucky position.

(from The Hunter)

Tardi is totally different. If there was a licensing board for living legends of Eurocomics they'd waive his examination. He's made some beloved classics, sure -- Fantagraphics is publishing two of them next, 1979's surreal satire You Are Here (Ici Même, written by Jean-Claude Forest) and 1993's WWI human patchwork It Was the War of the Trenches (excerpts previously seen in Drawn and Quarterly) -- but it's especially good that this high-profile release is recent, and without the weight of expectation.

From this it's easy to see he's gotten like Tezuka. His character designs look as dashed-out natural as his own signature, happily riffing on his own prior work; the book's protagonist looks remarkably like Nestor Burma, from Tardi's Malet mysteries. The style also brings to mind Tardi's obvious aesthetic descendant, Guy Davis, in his handmade backgrounds growing out of scribbles and squiggles and doodled background personae into full-formed locations, all taken from Manchette's France of 1976 and 1977.

As a result, Tardi's places not only compliment his characters but seem grown right out of them. And these soft cartoon people gawk and undress and bleed in ways disallowed by Darwyn Cooke and Parker. Their world is pulsing with living activity and active frailty, and some exaggeration - when someone gets shot in the head here their skull literally explodes in a goosh of black matter, a stray ear bouncing away like a gag strip punchline. Cooke's frosty composure, the law of his mid-century status quo, gives way to Tardi's loose look of chaos. Parker is the perfect operator of a perfect cruel machine, while Mr. George Gerfaut, electric component salesman, must rise higher to cope with a capricious world.

The plot of West Coast Blues is not complex. One night on the highway Gerfaut stops to pick up a crashed motorist, who mutters something about someone coming back. Later, on holiday with his wife and children, Gerfaut is attacked by two men in the middle of a crowded beach, so that he's not entirely sure that he's been targeted by hit men, which we the readers know is correct. An apparently stoic man of a dispassionate people -- since this is a Jacques Tardi comic, everyone is squinting by default -- Gerfaut nonetheless proves anxious over his family life, abandoning his loved ones (of whom he does not appear fond) and setting out on a long trip of evasion and eventual revenge.

It's all very noir, and, as they say in academia, extremely fucking French. Like Parker, Gerfaut would rather avoid trouble and live in comfort, but his journey is less about revenge mechanics than existential crisis in the midst of a capitalist system. In other words, The Hunter is about violence inspired and facilitated by the system, hardly pausing to take stock of itself, while West Coast Blues is about violence in spite of the system's alleged protection, much mused upon.

Often, Tardi presents newspaper headlines rife with unrest, and narrative captions detailing calamities large and small from all over the world. The murder plot stretches to touch on atrocities in the Dominican Republic under the anti-communist regime of Rafael Trujillo. Gerfaut is to the left himself, though a salesman, devouring blues music from a culture he's apart from.

But violence:

"GERFAUT felt relatively calm and cool. He had lost the uncertainty about what needed to be done that had afflicted him these past months, ever since the attempts on his life. The hesitancy that had dogged him in his life as a salesman and spouse and father, as a student and protester and premarital lover and adolescent and very probably as a child."

So goes one of the book's many captions, which deliver each character's name in ALL CAPS, as if to afford them some necessary extra identity. It's needed because everyone in this book defines themselves mainly through entertainment and art, and possessions. Beaten and thrown into the woods, the narration assures us that Gerfaut's thoughts turn to the 1971 Richard Harris lost-in-nature picture Man in the Wilderness. Nearly as much time is spent with one of the hitmen, Bastien, who fancies his partner privately in a homoerotic way (lapsing somewhat into camp), and loves to read American superhero comics and Italian science-fiction novels, and especially the British comic book adventures of the Spider -- often written by Jerry Siegel -- whose out from the underworld ethos inform Bastien's sense of personal justice.

That's right - truth, justice and the American way, Coca-Colonization; we're assured that French couples are taking after the new U.S. trend of balling in public on the beach. This isn't a polemic, though its thematic backing can be felt in every twist of the story, from Gerfaut's eventual adoption of a new identity out in the middle of nowhere to the hitmen cruising the city, their huge stockade of weapons listed by the narration in luscious detail, things they'll never use.

If there's any problem with this book, it's that it's perhaps a bit too rich with ruminations. Tardi adapts in a rather old-fashioned style, preserving quite a lot of what I presume is the original text in copious captions and word balloons, with no concern for the narration occasionally telling us a car is passing a certain building while we see the car passing said building, let alone a moment where Gerfaut faces to the reader and thinks "Things're heating up!" The authors' bios assure us that Manchette's novels are terse and tough-minded, but Tardi's application of so many words to a plot that otherwise storms forward across a modest page count gives the work a heavy, almost self-absorbed tone.

Yet the artist is too in control to let his book talk itself to sleep from thinking aloud. Tardi's characters look so blasé you have to look twice to catch Gerfaut weeping as he talks about striking back against aggressors, though he'll also spend a luxurious three panels on an attack dog's head coming apart as Our Man shoots it over and over, finally vomiting from the activity. Unlike Parker, he's not built for this; nobody is, really, and neither quite are the drawings that are his society.

I mentioned up top that there's matching bookend images of the 'hero' in traffic. This is crucial. For Stark & Cooke, Parker's introductory trudge into the city establishes his total lack of possessions. At the end, he rides away, the challenge overcome with cash and wheels. With Manchette by way of Tardi, Gerfaut is driving to begin and driving to conclude; in fact, Tardi uses exactly the same panels in reverse. A caption reads:

"Once, under less than wholesome circumstances, he had lived an eventful and bloody adventure, and when it was over, all he could think to do was return to the fold."

He isn't driving away; he's going in circles. Parker's world loved his victory, because that's the only way to go anywhere. Gerfaut's allowed him only a vivid glimpse of the awful things lurking to doom men by happenstance, and then took him back into the fold of foreign music and the life in sales, because what else is there? Buzzed, he can't truly return, although there's nowhere to go to. Tardi, meanwhile, returns to America; does anyone really belong?