Upcoming 10/7/2009


This week’s ComicList has some welcome, off-the-beaten-path items, so let’s dig in.

The arrival of one book from Fanfare/Ponent Mon is a welcome delight. The arrival of two seems positively decadent, but that’s what they do, and both are from master illustrator Jiro Taniguchi. Which excites you more will depend on your taste for Taniguchi. Summit of the Gods, about fateful trips up Mt. Everest, is in his man-versus-nature vein, like The Ice Wanderer and Quest for the Missing Girl. A Distant Neighborhood is more slice-of-life, kind of like his story in Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators or The Walking Man (if it had a plot). I picked up the first two volumes of A Distant Neighborhood at Small Press Expo and can heartily recommend it. I’ll cover it in more depth later, but it’s about a middle-aged man who wakes up as his teen-aged self shortly before his father’s disappearance.

masterpiececomicsThere are two arrivals that can be described as clever ideas executed extremely well. R. Sikoryak’s Masterpiece Comics (Drawn & Quarterly) was another SPX purchase. In it, Sikoryak fuses classic literature with classic comics in some extremely witty ways. Blondie and Dagwood are reinvented as Adam and Eve, Mary Worth becomes Lady Macbeth, Bazooka Joe does Dante, and so on. The juxtapositions are great, and Sikoryak’s ability to adopt such a variety of visual styles is very impressive. The book is more amusing than absorbing, but there’s an amazing amount of craft on display.

I’ve already written about The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks (Random House), mostly for its weird crediting of author Max Books and illustrator Ibraim Roberson on the review copy I received and the web listing, some of which seems to have been fixed. Brooks inserts zombies into various, far-flung scenarios – the colonial Caribbean, a Foreign Legion outpost in northern Africa, even pre-history – offering a faux-anthropological examination of zombie encounters through history. Again, it’s clever, and Roberson draws the heck out of it. I’d recommend it for zombie fans looking for a marginally fresh take on the (in my opinion) exhausted topic.

I tend to like the shôjo titles CMX publishes. I’ve heard effusive praise for Ken Saito’s The Name of the Flower, and I’ll track it down at some point, but in the meantime, I was glad to receive a review copy of Oh! My Brother so I could get a sense of Saito’s style. It’s got its strong points, mostly in terms of interesting characters and nicely delivered emotional moments. It’s about a girl who finds herself sharing her body with the spirit of her dead older brother, trying to help him with his unfinished business. That could have turned into something really unsavory, but Saito takes a sweet, sensitive approach to the material, thankfully. Some of the storytelling is a little sketchy, but there’s a nice, sentimental core to the work. I suspect Brother came before Flower, though I can’t seem to find any confirmation of that.

kiminitodoke2Viz releases many, many books this week, some of which will very likely show up on the Graphic Book Best Seller List over at The New York Times, but my attention is fixated on the second volume of Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, written and illustrated by Karuho Shiina. It’s about an outwardly off-putting girl trying to convince her classmates that she didn’t crawl out of a well to claim their souls. I liked the first volume a lot.

I couldn’t find it on Image’s web site with a sextant and a dowsing rod, but I’ll definitely pick up the second issue of Brandon Graham’s King City, as I really enjoyed the first. It’s a pamphlet reprinting of a book Tokyopop originally published as a paperback. I missed it in digest form, so I’m glad Image and Tokyopop are giving readers a second bite of the apple, particularly in a format that’s probably friendlier to Graham’s illustrations.

From the stack: A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge

adIt’s impossible to capture the scale and scope of a disaster like Hurricane Katrina, and a smart creator wouldn’t even try. Josh Neufeld is a smart creator, and he’s a talented one, and I like the approach he takes to A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge (Random House). Instead of trying to capture everything, he focuses on the experiences of a handful people who lived through the storm and are muddling through its aftermath.

His subjects offer a socioeconomic mix, from upper to working class. Some of them stayed in New Orleans through the storm, and others watched it unfold from a distance. Again, I don’t think Neufeld is doing this to try and tell “the whole story” so much as to offer different vantage points on what the city and its residents endured.

There’s Denise, who has no means of evacuating, and she ends up at the convention center, waiting for help that seems unlikely ever to come. Abbas sticks around to protect his family’s convenience store. Twenty-something Leo and his girlfriend, Michelle, evacuate, as does young Kwame with his family. A doctor stays put, confident in the sturdiness of his historic home.

Neufeld refrains from imposing a narrative on these survivors, instead illustrating their individual stories and interspersing them as they chronologically unfolded. Their testimonies are all vivid and engrossing, and Neufeld renders them with detail and restraint. There’s terror, anger, and sadness, but there’s also perseverance and hope.

It’s a durable and valuable work, and Neufeld’s illustrations hold up to the content. Like Rick Geary of the Treasury of Victorian Murder series of books, Neufeld doesn’t illustrate for photo-realism. His style is still evident, though he’s scrupulous in rendering people and settings.

I remember text pieces in this vein from my newspaper days, when a sensible reporter would get out of the way and let people tell their stories. (As Neufeld is illustrating these stories instead of merely transcribing them, there’s obviously a higher degree of difficulty.) There seem to be fewer of those kinds of meaty, personal portraits that flesh out major events. I miss them, and I’m glad to see Neufeld translate some of that same journalistic spirit into comics form.

(This review is based on a black-and-white “advanced reader’s edition” provided by the publisher. It’s one of those books with a really interesting provenance, so I encourage you to go read Tom Spurgeon’s interview with Neufeld to find out more. I nominated this book for the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens list. Anyone can nominate a title, assuming they aren’t one of the book’s creators and/or don’t work for the publisher of the book being nominated. Creators and publishers can certainly nominate the work of others.)

Upcoming 8/19/2009

astralproject4Before I delve into this week’s ComicList (which is impressive), I wanted to make sure to point you towards Christopher Butcher’s examination of San Francisco’s New People center and what it might mean for the evolution of otaku culture in North America.

Okay, moving on to the “bitter complaint” agenda item: as regular readers of this blog surely know by now, I’ve been obsessively stalking the progress towards English-language publication of Fumi Yoshinaga’s award-winning Ôoku: The Inner Chambers for a really long time. It’s included on Diamond’s shipping list, but @Toukochan informs me that the quasi-monopolistic distributor evinces a winsome disregard for residents of “the Northwesteast Corridor” and often makes us wait for a week or more for new Viz titles. So when I said to myself, “Gosh, I really want to support manga for grown-ups in the direct market, and I also want to make sure I get a copy of this in a timely fashion, so I should pre-order it,” I should have replaced “in a timely fashion” with “at some point.” Screw you, Diamond. (Update: Apparently, the problem is not with Diamond but with garden variety slapdash-ery at the local level. There will always be reasons to say “Screw you, Diamond,” but this is not among them. Apologies.)

On the bright side, Diamond will manage to deliver the fourth and final volume of Astral Project (CMX) in a timely fashion. I’m not sure how marginal and Syuji Takeya are going to wrap up the many concurrent threads of the story, but I’m sure it will be fascinating. I’m also sure that I will wish there were more volumes. (And I really need to track down a copy of Mai Nishikata’s Venus Capriccio, which has gotten a lot of review love. The second volume arrives Wednesday.)

delreyxmenDel Rey continues with the manga-fication of Marvel’s mutant franchise with X-Men: Misfits, written by Raina (Smile, The Baby-Sitters Club) Telgemeier and Dave (Agnes Quill) Roman and illustrated by Anzu. It’s all about Kitty Pryde’s admission to Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, which sounds like a promising take on the property.

Random House releases Josh Neufeld’s A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge, a journalistic look at various citizens’ experiences during and after Hurricane Katrina. I’m planning on posting a full review later this week, but Neufeld has done a fine job with the subject matter. It’s excellent graphic-novel reportage. Tom Spurgeon recently ran a meaty interview with Neufeld about the genesis and evolution of the project.

I already picked up a copy of the fourth volume of Naoki Urasawa’s excellent 20th Century Boys (Viz) over the weekend at a bookstore, which is what I probably should have done with Ôoku, not that I’m bitter or anything. Urasawa continues to fold complications into his thriller while introducing and expanding on his complex cast of characters. It’s well worth your money, though Northeast Corridor residents may have to wait. Also promising is the first volume of Shiro Miwa’s Dogs: Bullets and Carnage. I really enjoyed the prelude volume.

Upcoming 1/16/2008

Before I get started with this week’s comic releases, I just wanted to note that it’s Jakala Family for the Win Week over at Sporadic Sequential. (“But they don’t think that Spider-Man making a deal with the devil looks bad?”)

Gerard Way and Gabrial Bá’s The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite (Dark Horse) nears its conclusion with the fifth issue. I’ve really been enjoying this series in single issues, which is kind of rare given my general opinions on what constitutes a satisfying chunk of comics. I still think the collection is going to sell like crazy, and I can’t imagine Dark Horse will wait too long to release it, because they seem to have missed few opportunities to wring every dollar possible out of the new franchise.

Of all the titles coming out from Juné today, the one that interests me most is Tatsumi Kaiya’s Party, as it seems to start where many boys’-love titles end: with the relationship established and the protagonists dealing with life as a couple.

I can’t believe I forgot to put Yu Yagami’s Hikkatsu! Strike a Blow to Vivify (Go! Comi) on my “Year in Fun” list. It’s the moving story of a young man who practices appliance repair via the martial arts and the raised-by-pigeons girl who has decided she loves him.

It’s already the best-selling book of all time, but perhaps a manga version will help The Bible hold the top spot. Random House releases The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation, adapted by Siku. I made a point of reading as little of The Bible as a Catholic upbringing would allow, so I’ll point you towards Katherine Dacey’s thoughtful review at Manga Recon.

Do weaponized dead fish count as some kind of Biblical plague? If so, you can supplement your Manga Bible reading with the second volume of Junji Ito’s Gyo. Tremble before their smelly, skittering onslaught! (Silly as almost all of this book is, I think things are always creepier when they skitter.)

From the SPX stack: ELK'S RUN 1-3

Elk’s Run is a creepy B-movie of a comic. I mean that as a compliment. If it’s a bit crude in its manipulations, it’s pretty effective all the same.

In it, an experiment in utopia is falling apart, as they always seem to do. A group of people have isolated themselves in Elk’s Ridge, a West Virginia mining town, shielded from what they see as pernicious cultural influences like television, alcohol, and police. It’s not that they have a specific era in mind that they’re trying to recapture; they simply know what they don’t like about contemporary life, and they’ve been fortunate enough to find a benefactor who will sustain the town according to its own standards.

Things start to fall apart when the next generation reaches adolescence. They’re old enough to be bored by the confines of Elk’s Ridge and to dismally wonder what the future holds for them. They mouth off and sneak out in the dead of night. During one of these nocturnal excursions, one of the kids is killed by a drunk driver. The man, Arnold Huld, is drunk and distraught after being abandoned by his wife and children, and he faces the lethal retribution of his fellow citizens (all according to the town’s charter).

One of the kids sees his elders in action, and state troopers come in response to a call from Huld’s wife, reporting his disappearance. From there, it’s all about the citizens of Elk’s Ridge rising to defend the sanctity of their community. The tension builds progressively, and cracks start to form between generations and neighbors.

Each issue is told from a different perspective. The first issue follows John Jr., one of the teens. The second gets inside the head of his father, blurring together scenes of his war service with his response to the crisis in Elk’s Ridge. He sees himself as a pragmatist and a patriot, unconvincingly denying that he’s taking any pleasure in violence or retribution. Issue three is perhaps the most creepily effective, focusing on John Jr.’s mom, Sara. She’s a real monster, demonstrating none of her husband’s apparent uncertainty, relishing her authority in the community, and taking unsettling pleasure in doing what needs to be done. Things really click into place when Sara’s in the spotlight.

I think Joshua Fialkov’s overall story works a bit better than individual moments. For example, the teens’ fondness for obscenity seems a little unlikely, given their restrictive environment. And the war-and-home contrast reads as somewhat heavy-handed, though it does get its point across. But there’s definite momentum and tension in each chapter, and it grows nicely from one issue to the next. Falkov’s choice of a West Virginia mining town for his setting is a thematically inspired one, given the sad history of outside influence on those communities.

Noel Tuazon does nice work with the visuals. There’s a firm sense of place, essential for this kind of story. His character designs serve things well. The people of Elk’s Ridge look like the crowd at a county fair. Tuazon uses a nice variety of line weights, too, heavier on the more explosive moments, more delicate in subtler sequences. Coloring by Scott Keating contributes tremendously to the shifting, unsettling moods.

If Elk’s Run isn’t perfect from page to page, it’s got enough control of tone and plenty of pulpy energy to carry it through. It’s also got a very solid premise and some intriguing ideas at its foundation. I’m looking forward to future issues.

(Initially published by Hoarse and Buggy Productions, the mini-series been picked up by Speakeasy for the remainder of its eight-issue run. Speakeasy is just about to release a bumper edition collecting the first three issues and some bonus material, but I picked up the singles at a ridiculously low price at SPX.)