Previews review – Jan. 2009

It’s Diamond Previews time again. Let’s dispense with the formalities and get right to it.

There’s a clear and present Pick of the Month (that I probably won’t pick up at the comic shop because it will be widely available at a better price elsewhere). Pantheon is releasing the second volume of Joann Sfar’s The Rabbi’s Cat, which is certainly cause for raucous celebration, at least in my house. The debut volume was my first exposure to Sfar’s work, and I’ve been watching like a hawk for more of this intriguing story. (Page 327.)

I’m not familiar with the work of Ulf K., but Top Shelf’s solicitation for the Hieronymus B. graphic novel is intriguing. The book is being simultaneously released by five international publishers, and the preview pages at the publisher’s site are appealing. (Page 354.)

I was thinking yesterday that people using “with Oscar-winner so-and-so” to entice viewers to watch a given movie should only be able to use the phrase when the cited individual actually won and Oscar for the movie in question. I’m thinking along the same lines when I see a publisher say a book is like Scott Pilgrim, even when the book is being released by the publisher of Scott Pilgrim. Maybe they could give Bryan Lee O’Malley some kind of signet ring, and he could grant approval for use of the comparison, but he’s probably too self-effacing to go along with something like that.

Anyway, Oni is pitching Lars Brown’s North World to fans of not only Scott Pilgrim, but Gross Point Blank, Lord of the Rings, and Buffy, which is some kind of ultimate ven diagram of geekery. There’s no information up on Oni’s site yet, but you can check out the webcomic here. It looks like fun in a game-logic sort of way, with Brown blending role-playing game elements with comedic slacker angst. So… yeah… like Scott Pilgrim. (Page 326.)

If Tom Spurgeon’s holiday interview with Simon Gane made you want to read something Gane has drawn, you really couldn’t do better than Paris, written by Andi Watson. It’s a gorgeous, romantic mini-series that seemed to have been conceived with the sole purpose of letting Gane draw the hell out of it, which is all the purpose it really needs. SLG offers the collected version again in case you missed it. (Page 213.)

DC releases a full-color omnibus collection of the first sixteen issues of one of the best super-hero comics of the last fifteen years, James Robinson’s Starman. It’s got gorgeous Tony Harris art, a terrific cast, and a really nice generational-hero set-up without ever seeming like an airless exercise in continuity flogging. It’s kind of pricey at $49.99, so I would probably be inclined to wait for a paperback version if I didn’t already own the collected issues in one form or another. (Page 92.)

And last but not least, one of my favorite manga series comes to an end. Tokyopop releases the final volume of Minetaro Mochizuki’s Dragon Head. Mochizuki has served up some incredible thrills and chills in ten volumes of character-driven survival drama. I still can’t understand why this series wasn’t a big hit. (Page 351.)


It’s fickle of me, but I only ever pay attention to Entertainment Weekly when I agree with it. (And I won’t link to the magazine’s site because it’s pop-up hell.) This week (the December 7, 2007 issue) they’ve put Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together on “The Must List.”

“Behold, the fourth chapter of this story of a young Canadian dude looking for love and fighting crime and rocking out. And it’s a comic book! Woo-hoo!”

They didn’t run a cover image, because we apparently need to be reminded of what Edie Falco and Jay-Z look like, and I don’t really recall Scott fighting crime, but it’s the thought that counts. I hope bookstores start stocking up so people can find it when they go to Borders and Barnes and Noble. (I’ve heard that if you special-order a book from a brick-and-mortar outlet, they’ll order a couple of additional shelf copies as well. Just a thought.)

In other Must List news, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis snags the “Reader’s Choice” slot.

Make your own Wednesday

I’m just not feeling the ComicList love this week. Maybe it’s because I’m in the midst of minor home improvement chaos and the thought of bringing new items across the threshold is kind of terrifying.

The clear highlight is a book I already own in hardcover, but it’s still exciting to see a paperback version of Joann Sfar’s The Rabbi’s Cat be released by Random House’s Pantheon imprint. This is one of my favorite works by Sfar, and it makes for lovely companion reading with Klezmer (First Second), if you liked that. Dare I hope that this means that another collection of The Rabbi’s Cat will be coming from Pantheon soon?

And hey, since I’m already in the wayback machine, I’ll take the opportunity of a lean week to mention some underappreciated books that you might want to check out if you’re hard-pressed to pull together a respectable shopping list on Wednesday:

  • 12 Days, by June Kim (Tokyopop): Kim is currently nominated for a 2007 Lulu Award in the Best New Female Talent category, and it’s easy to see why. The book is an absorbing, unconventional look at grief and healing. (I reviewed it here.)
  • Past Lies: An Amy Devlin Mystery, by Christina Weir, Nunzio DeFilippis and Christopher Mitten (Oni): I don’t think there are nearly enough murder mysteries in comics, and this is a stylish and solid example. Are we going to see a follow-up? (I reviewed it here.)
  • Sexy Voice and Robo, by Iou Kuroda (Viz): An utterly beguiling oddity and probably one of the best books Viz has ever published. Magnificent character study, amazingly fluid shifts of tone, and a real sense of discovery throughout. Lots of people should buy this so that Viz will be motivated to publish more books like it. (I reviewed it here.)
  • Mark your calendars

    It’s Manga Month again in Diamond’s Previews, and while that’s not all the volume has to offer, there’s plenty of noteworthy new stuff from all over.

    Del Rey debuts the first volume of Ai Morinaga’s My Heavenly Hockey Club. I keep hoping someone will pick up the rest of Your and My Secret, which vanished after one volume from ADV. Maybe this will provide a satisfying, substitute Morinaga fix. (Page 269.)

    None of this month’s listings jump out at me, but it’s really nice to see Drama Queen’s offerings on the pages of Previews. (Page 288.)

    The Comics Journal #284 (Fantagraphics) will include an interview with Gene (American Born Chinese) Yang, and interviews with Yang are always worth reading. (Page 292.)

    :01 First Second unveils their spring season highlight (for me, at least): Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert’s The Professor’s Daughter, a Victorian romance between a young lady and a mummy. (Page 294.)

    I know printing money actually involves specialized plates and paper with cloth fiber and patent-protected inks, but it seems like there could be a variation involving delicately handsome priests at war with an army of zombies. Go! Comi will find out (as will we all) when they release the first volume of Toma Maeda’s Black Sun, Silver Moon. (Page 298.)

    Last Gasp promises “catfights, alien safari adventures, evil experiments, and a girl who dreams of becoming a pop idol singer” in its re-release of Junko Mizuno’s Pure Trance. Since its Mizuno, I’m sure that description doesn’t even begin to describe the adorable, revolting weirdness. (Page 313.)

    Mike Carey’s work as a comics writer is hit and miss for me. I’ve loved some of it, and found other stories to be pretty tedious. One of my favorite examples is My Faith in Frankie (Vertigo), illustrated by Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel. So I’m inclined to give the creative team’s Re-Gifters (Minx) a try. (Page 109.)

    Pantheon releases a soft-cover version of Joann Sfar’s sublime The Rabbi’s Cat. This was my first exposure to Sfar’s work, and I’ve loved it ever since. And in some cultures, the release of a soft-cover means a hard-cover volume of new material might be on the way, which would make me deliriously happy. (Page 324.)

    The Tokyopop-HarperCollins collaboration bears fruit with the release of Meg Cabot’s Avalon High: Coronation Vol. 1: The Merlin Prophecy. The solicitation doesn’t include an illustrator credit, which is an unfortunate slip, and neither does the publisher’s web site. Maybe Cabot drew it herself? (Page 333.)

    I’ve been hoping to see more work from Yuji Iwahara since CMX published Chikyu Misaki. Tokyopop comes through with Iwahara’s King of Thorn. (Page 335.)

    Top Shelf offered some all-ages delights last month, which made me happy, and presents a new (I think?) volume of work from Renée (The Ticking) French. Micrographica is a collection of French’s online strip of the same name and offers “pure weirdness.” I don’t doubt it will deliver in a lovely, haunting way. (Page 352.)

    Vertical rolls out another classic from Osamu Tezuka, Apollo’s Song, displaying the God of Manga’s “more literate and adult side.” For readers wanting something a little more contemporary, there’s Aranzi Aronzo’s Aranzi Machine Gun, featuring plush mascots on a tear. How can I choose? Why should I? (Page 355.)

    I can’t read every series about people who see dead people. I just can’t. I wouldn’t have any money left for food. But Viz ignores my attempts at restraint by offering Chika Shiomi’s Yurarara in its Shojo Beat line. Shiomi is enjoying quite the day in the licensed sun, with Night of the Beasts (Go! Comi) and Canon (CMX) in circulation. (Page 372.)

    And here’s an oddity, but an intriguing one: edu-manga from Singapore. YoungJin Singapore PTE LTD (you’ll forgive me if I hold off on adding a category) releases manga biographies of Einstein and Gandhi and adaptations of Little Women and Treasure Island. (Page 375.)


    Ah, the ComicList… some weeks are famine, others are feast. Guess which kind we have this week?

    • CMX releases the eagerly anticipated Emma, which I had reviewed in proof form a while back. The finished cover is quite lovely with an appealingly antique-y paper stock.
    • Pantheon brings the new Marjane Satrapi book, Chicken with Plums. The book made Entertainment Weekly’s Must List without any mention of it being a graphic novel.
    • Tokyopop offers the fourth volume of the little book that might, Dragon Head.
    • Viz has the fourth volume of Ai Yazawa’s Nana, which gets better with every installment. And it started really well.

    Okay, that isn’t quite as burdensome as it seemed at first glance, but there’s still lots of nice stuff. The MangaCast of characters hit the highlights of the week’s manga releases. And folks like Jog and Daves Carter and Ferraro take the week’s shipping list out for a spin.

    If you’re still looking for reasons to part with your hard-earned cash, there are lots of well-written reviews floating about the blogosphere:

    • Johanna Draper Carlson covers two of my favorite books (Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators and Girl Genius) in her latest column for Comics Unlimited.
    • Dirk Deppey thoughtfully examines the excellent American Born Chinese and continues his scanlation tour.
    • Lyle keeps watch on Shojo Beat previews with a look at Tail of the Moon.
    • Updated to add: Steven Grant reviews two Del Rey books, Ghost Hunt and Q-Ko-Chan, in the latest installment of Permanent Damage. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the first volume of Ghost Hunt, but it sounds like it may be worth another look.

    From the SPX stack: LA PERDIDA 1-5

    Every time I read La Perdida (Fantagraphics), I’m amazed at the balancing act Jessica Abel achieves.

    Her characters could come off as naïve, and they are to a certain extent. They ache to connect to something larger, to immerse themselves in something they believe will fix their lives. But they pursue this immersion without fully understanding its implications and consequences. They dive into their respective pools without knowing how deep they are or what precisely is under the surface.

    But the sincerity of their desires is never in question. They may be willful, selfish, and even foolish, but they don’t mean any harm. That they end up doing harm is clearly their fault, but it’s hard to blame them entirely.

    Take Carla, the protagonist. An American with an absentee Mexican father, she travels to Mexico to see the land of her dreams. She’s romanticized Mexico, and she longs to have an authentic experience. Carla attaches herself to an acquaintance, Harry, an upper-class American who’s traveled to Mexico City to follow in the spiritual footsteps of Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. (Yes, he’s kind of a git.) They casually fall into a sexual relationship, though Carla’s clearly using him to stay in Mexico.

    Before long, Carla finds herself chafing at what she perceives to be Harry’s elitism. She scolds him for hanging around with nothing but other expatriates and walling himself off from “real” Mexicans. Carla has gone from romanticizing Mexico generally to yearning for a truly authentic experience, and her use for Harry comes to an end. (Harry may be pursuing his own posturing, romanticized notions, but at least he isn’t using anyone to fulfill them. It’s easy to sympathize with his irritation with Carla.)

    But Carla’s notions of the “real” Mexico are no better informed than her earlier fantasies. She ignores warnings from friends and acquaintances, cuts herself off from the expatriate community, and finds an apartment and a part-time job teaching English. She starts hanging around with Oscar, who dreams of international DJ fame, and Memo, a washed-out socialist who feeds Carla’s vague notions that any kind of American lens will ultimately distance Carla from Mexico (and make her morally inferior, like the expatriates she rejected). Carla goes from user to used, but she’s in too much of a happy fog of authenticity to notice.

    Abel uses amazing clarity in presenting Carla’s flaws. Her hypocrisy and narcissism are evident. At the same time, Abel uses equal delicacy in portraying Carla’s need. It’s overwhelming, obscuring consideration and common sense. It’s also very real, and it softens the reader’s view of Carla. As a protagonist, she almost transcends conventional notions of sympathy. Abel isn’t asking readers to support Carla’s choices and behavior so much as to immerse themselves in them. You don’t need to like her to find her compelling.

    All of this carefully modulated characterization doesn’t lead Abel to neglect plot. It’s driven by character, obviously, but it’s also almost immune to character. All of Carla’s certainty and passion do nothing to protect her from still another “real” Mexico, and the five-issue series builds to a satisfyingly suspenseful conclusion.

    I love Abel’s illustrations. She favors a fairly heavy line, but it doesn’t obscure any of the delicacy or depth of emotion. There’s a wonderful sense of place, too, which is obviously critical for this kind of story. Pantheon Books has a collection of La Perdida in the works, but I’m glad I bought the singles. They’re wonderfully proportioned and have gorgeous color covers. Beyond the quality of their contents, the comics have value as objects. (I was also lucky enough to pick them up from the Fantagraphics booth when Abel was signing during SPX.)

    Visually striking and emotionally nuanced, La Perdida is a tremendous book. It’s probably my favorite SPX purchase.

    From the stack: The Rabbi's Cat

    “Why are you so harsh?” a rabbi asks his cat. “I’m just trying to tell the truth, to see how it feels,” the cat responds. It’s a terrific exchange from a graphic novel that’s loaded with them.

    I could probably fill an entire review with nothing but favorite lines from Joann Sfar’s The Rabbi’s Cat (Pantheon Books), but that wouldn’t do justice to Sfar’s wonderful collection of stories. Visually sumptuous, warmly meditative, and generously humane, this is book is real pleasure.

    It’s told from the perspective of the title character, a cat who gains the ability to speak after eating the family parrot. That turn of events could have easily led to an attempt at myth or parable, but Sfar seems more concerned with the inner life of his cast: the cat, the rabbi, the rabbi’s daughter, and the various people that come in and out of their lives.

    The cat is a wonder of a character. He’s devoted to his own interests: comfort, diversion, amusement, and curiosity. His unexpected verbosity is as much of a curse as a blessing. He enjoys philosophical debate, teasing humans and undermining their assumptions of morality with his blunt perspective. But his diversions have a price, as his life, even his dreams, don’t have the same simplicity and comfort they once did.

    As diverting as the talking cat is, that novelty ends up being almost incidental to the book’s pleasures. Sfar looks at faith, family, culture, love, language, and a host of other concerns, and he does it in a gentle, almost meandering manner. The Rabbi’s Cat has the rhythms and feel of a children’s picture book but the substance of a novel. It has a very appealing playfulness, too.

    The cat’s narrative voice holds everything together. His skepticism is a wonderful counterpoint to the seriousness of the issues the rabbi faces. It leavens things, but it doesn’t diminish their sentiment and impact.

    I’ve been struggling with a way to characterize Sfar’s illustrations. The only phrase I can come up with is “ugly-beautiful.” The cat is the best example of this. At times he’s grotesquely exaggerated, but with a consistent grace and expressiveness. The daughter, while not rendered beautifully, is clearly a beautiful woman in Sfar’s visual language. The sense of place is wonderful, from the desert warmth of 1930s Algiers to the grey streets of Paris in a later chapter.

    The book adheres to a six-panel-per-page grid, but it never feels rigid or repetitive. Sfar peppers his panels with vivid dreamscapes, distinct even in contrast to the wonderfully real landscapes he offers. And he has a canny way of juxtaposing words and images, as in the last sequence of the first chapter. As the cat expostulates on human nature and his own contradictions, the images provide their own counterpoint, challenging the cat’s assertions even as they reinforce them. It’s a great piece of visual storytelling, and it’s hardly the only one on display.

    A while back, I asked for recommendations of comics that take you someplace unexpected and different. The Rabbi’s Cat does that, geographically and emotionally. It’s a real delight.

    (For those of you lucky enough to be in Toronto, Sfar is going to visit Tuesday, Sept. 20. Click here for more details.)