Birthday book: Real

Hey, today is the birthday of manga superstar Takehiko Inoue! How, oh how, shall I choose to observe this special occasion? Well, since I never pass up an opportunity to do so, I’ll suggest you celebrate by once again recommending that you buy yourself a volume or seven of Inoue’s brilliant Real (Viz).

If you’re sick of hearing me make recommendations of this kind, well, that’s just tough, because it truly is one of the best series of any provenance to be published in English in the last ten years. It just is.

And if that’s not enough, I’ll simply have to hit below the belt, because you know what? You people owe Inoue, not just for his own great comics, but for the fact that, were it not for Inoue, there might be no Fumi Yoshinaga as we know her. Yoshinaga came from the world of doujinshi, fan-created comics. And do you know what one of the series was that she repurposed to her own glorious ends? That’s right. It was Inoue’s Slam Dunk.

So if the fact that Real is amazing isn’t enough for you, if the fact that it’s Inoue’s birthday isn’t enough for you, do it for Yoshinaga. There must be sufficient incentive in there somewhere.

Birthday book: Get a Life

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so perhaps I should reintroduce the concept. Tom Spurgeon wishes some creator of comics a happy birthday, and if the stars (and my tastes) align properly, I recommend one of my favorite books by that creator in celebration. Today, it’s Philippe Dupuy, and I have to confess that my exposure to Dupuy’s work is somewhat limited, though I don’t think that’s really my fault.

And honestly, when that work is limited to the excellent Get a Life (Drawn & Quarterly), I’m not going to complain. Get a Life collects some of the Mr. Jean comics created by Dupuy and Charles Berberian. Here’s a bit of what I said about the book when it first came out:

“Dupuy and Berberian, who divide their duties as creators equally, strike a wonderfully balanced tone in their stories. They’re witty without ever becoming arch and warm without being cloying. As Mr. Jean moves through the highs and lows of everyday life, he encounters friends, family, and neighbors who all provide distinct comforts and frustrations. Chance encounters trigger memories that can be both painful and nostalgic. Each story is a snapshot of a life that feels very real.”

Drawn & Quarterly has also published Dupuy and Berberian’s Maybe Later, a look at their creative process and private lives, and it’s also very good. I’d recommend that you start with Get a Life, and if you like it, follow up with Maybe Later. (Fans of hairy forearms might go right to Maybe Later. You know who you are.)

And since I’m on the subject, why not fold a bit of a license request into this birthday book entry? I’d love it if Drawn & Quarterly published more Mr. Jean comics. There seem to be at least seven volumes available in the original French, and I would love to see more published in English.

Birthday book: Little Nothings


Little Nothings: The Curse of the Umbrella

The Comics Reporter notes that today is Lewis Trondheim’s birthday, and I would recommend that you all celebrate by buying a copy of Trondheim’s delightful Little Nothings (NBM). If you haven’t read the book, here’s what I thought of it:

“The one-page cartoons illustrating Trondheim’s everyday observations and encounters are really delightful – witty, astute, low-key, sweet, and polished, but never fussy. He doesn’t seem to be in love with the sound of his own voice, and he doesn’t abandon his instincts as a storyteller because the content is casual and unstructured. It’s just so perfectly in scale, and the ultimate effect is one of effortlessness.”

Chris Butcher is understandably pleased that a third volume is on the way and points to the announcement at NBM’s blog. I’m a little surprised; NBM usually drops a really good book during the last week of December to mess up everyone’s hastily posted “Best of…” lists, but it looks like they’re getting a jump on 2010’s editions instead.

Birthday book: Tekkoninkreet

tekkonkinkreetThe Comics Reporter notes that it’s Taiyo Matsumoto’s birthday. Matsumoto’s GoGo Monster won’t be available for a couple of weeks, and it’s certainly on my must-buy list, but I can happily recommend his Tekkonkinkreet: Black and White to tide you over. It’s a gorgeous, absorbing book that I like even more now than I did when I first reviewed it. (The animated movie is a snooze, to be honest, but the book is a joy.) The manga won the 2008 Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Japan over some very stiff competition, and it’s a legitimate win. I’d have been equally happy if Osamu Tezuka’s MW or Fumiyo Kouno’s Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms had taken the price, but I think that just illustrates how good Tekkonkinkreet is that it can sit comfortably in company with those excellent, excellent comics.

Birthday book: Shirtlifter

shirtlifterYou know, this has been kind of a bishie-heavy day. There’s nothing wrong with that, but a balanced diet never hurt anyone. Fortunately, a birthday notice at The Comics Reporter gives me the excuse to point you toward an artist who renders menfolk with actual secondary sex characteristics beyond the vague suggestion of an Adam’s apple.

The creator in question would be Steve MacIsaac, who writes and draws about men who definitively left puberty behind ages ago and never looked back. In the twink-heavy world that guy-on-guy comics can be, this is a welcome addition to the eye-candy landscape. At least I find it welcome, I can’t speak for everyone.

So if you like this sort of thing (i.e., grown-up gay men doing what grown-up gay men do), I’d recommend as a starting point MacIsaac’s Shirtlifter, the first issue of which “concerns an expatriate gay couple stationed in Japan and the strain this cross-cultural adjustment place on their relationship.”

Birthday book: Salt Water Taffy


The Comics Reporter notes that it’s Matthew Loux’s birthday, and while I’m rather fried this evening, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to remind you that Loux’s Salt Water Taffy series of books (published by Oni Press) is an awful lot of fun. Here are my reviews of the first and second volumes. Need additional persuason? Here’s what Greg McElhatton had to say about volume one and volume two. And here’s Kate Dacey’s review of The Legend of Old Salty at Good Comics for Kids.

Birthday book: Paris

I didn’t even have to check The Comics Reporter to find a birthday book. Via Twitter, I note that it’s the birthday of gifted illustrator Simon Gane. I’ve mentioned this particular title, and I’ll probably mention it a million more, because it’s gorgeous and I love it and I’ll never be entirely convinced that enough people have read it.

parisIt’s Paris (SLG), illustrated by Gane and written by Andi Watson, and it tells the story of a romance between a bohemian artist and a society girl who meet in the titular city. Instead of repeating myself, I’ll point you to nice things that other people have said about this lovely book:

“Andi Watson and Simon Gane have crafted something unmistakably cool, elegantly beautiful and full of the romance and mystery of the place. Setting the book in a Paris of the 50s automatically makes the whole place redolent in the style of the time, all bohemian chic grooving to a jazz soundtrack.” Richard Bruton, Forbidden Planet International

“As wonderfully as Andi Watson builds these characters though, it’s Simon Gane’s art that completes the book. Without a single word of dialogue, we get the sense of these characters through Gane’s depictions: Juliet’s weary longing, Deborah’s innocent beauty, Chap’s stiff unfriendliness, Gerard’s arrogant awkwardness, Paulette’s naughty wit. You know these characters and what they’re thinking as soon as you see them. And the city Gane draws for them to inhabit…” Michael May, Robot 6

“I think I would have enjoyed Paris no matter what Gane had brought to the book, but I was surprised by how much more versatile, visually pleasing and attentive to narrative detail his art had become. His art ended up a perfect match for what’s essentially an old-fashioned romance of the kind they keep telling us need to be made more often.” Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter

Click on any of those links, and you’ll see lots of samples of Gane’s gorgeous, gorgeous work.

Birthday book: Arrowsmith

arrowsmithHey, it’s Kurt Busiek’s birthday! He’s written a lot of comics that I’ve really enjoyed. He’s responsible for the last pleasant memories I have of Avengers comics, so I could recommend something like this. His first dozen issues of Thunderbolts were great, too, but I can’t even seem to find collections of those on Marvel’s web site. There’s always Astro City, that sideways glance at shared super-hero universes. I have a lot of respect for Busiek’s ethics of scripting super-hero fiction, I really do.

But for this edition of Birthday Book, I’m going to recommend something a little more obscure: the collected edition of Arrowsmith, written by Busiek and illustrated by Carlos Pacheo. This is one of those stories where actual events are reframed with an insertion of fantasy elements. It’s basically a world war with magic added, and it’s a very successful example of that genre. A small-town boy goes to war and becomes one of the military’s fearsome group of dragon wranglers. It’s a neat idea executed very well by all parties.

Birthday book: Leave It to Chance

Today’s Birthday Book fills me with nostalgia, not just for the book itself but for the work of Paul Smith in general. His run on Uncanny X-Men (collected here) remains one of my favorites in super-hero comics, packed with watershed moments made even better by his terrific pencils. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it was the title’s last great huzzah.

leaveittochanceBut today’s title is actually an independent work Smith did with James Robinson for Image: Leave it to Chance. It ran for a mere thirteen issues, but it was really terrific while it lasted. I like the Publishers Weekly description on the book’s Amazon listing so much that I’ll just crib from it:

“Like the Nancy Drew mysteries that inspired it, Robinson’s newest work is a paean to the resourcefulness and spirit of a curious tomboyish type who’s addicted to adventure. Chance Falconer is a 14-year-old only child born into a family of municipal sorcerers that has protected the city of Devil’s Echo for centuries. Chance can’t wait to start training in the family business, but her father decides he doesn’t want a girl joining the family’s dangerous profession… This is a girl power comic written with a younger audience in mind. The smartest cops are female, the violence is G-rated and the story is fast-paced, brightly colored and as wholesome as it gets.”

I’d be reluctant to use the word “wholesome,” just because nobody could possibly take that as a compliment, but the rest is spot-on. I’m horrified by my suspicion that it’s out of print, because I would have pegged this as an absolute perennial. Surely someone should have an omnibus edition in the offing, shouldn’t they?

Birthday Books: Joann Sfar


The Comics Reporter notes that today is the birthday of Joann Sfar, the wonderful and prolific French cartoonist. I haven’t read any of Sfar’s comics that I wouldn’t happily recommend, so I’ll cheat and suggest two.

First up is Klezmer (First Second): “Klezmer tells a wild tale of love, friendship, survival, and the joy of making music in pre-World War II Eastern Europe… Tragic, humorous, violent, and tender, Klezmer’s rich watercolor art and simple but moving story-telling draws you into the lives of these fascinating characters.” Here’s my review of the book.

Next is a companion piece of sorts, The Rabbi’s Cat (Pantheon): “The preeminent work by one of France’s most celebrated young comics artists, The Rabbi’s Cat tells the wholly unique story of a rabbi, his daughter, and their talking cat–a philosopher brimming with scathing humor and surprising tenderness… Rich with the colors, textures, and flavors of Algeria’s Jewish community, The Rabbi’s Cat brings a lost world vibrantly to life–a time and place where Jews and Arabs coexisted–and peoples it with endearing and thoroughly human characters, and one truly unforgettable cat.” Here’s my review.