Birthday book: The War at Ellsmere

I learned via Twitter that today is the birthday of one Faith Erin Hicks, so I would suggest you celebrate this occasion by picking up a copy of her fun look at clique warfare, The War at Ellsmere (SLG). Here’s a bit of my review of the book:

“For all of the book’s easy charm, it’s very tightly written. Hicks finds a solid, compelling plot in Jun’s first year at Ellsmere. She fleshes it out nicely with well-developed characters and, more importantly, chemistry among those characters. That’s a really important next step, and I think some creators may neglect it. There also seems to be more confidence in terms of voicing characters here than in Zombies Calling; there’s a similarly metatextual quality to the dialogue, but it’s dedicated more to the characters’ feelings than the shifting rules of zombie combat.”

Just for the record, I’d still happily read a sequel to this.

Upcoming 8/18/2010

It may not look like there’s any new manga of note on this week’s ComicList, but a lot of the stuff that I mentioned last week is actually shipping this week. Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey has a handy run-down, and she also has a timeless warning on Japanese comics to avoid. (How could I have forgotten Pretty Face?) And there are a couple of very promising items due for arrival on Wednesday.

Goldilocks and the Seven Squat Bears isn’t from Japan or Korea, the usual sources for books from Yen Press, but it’s been written and illustrated by Émile Bravo, so it’s likely to be very, very good. Bravo brilliantly illustrated My Mommy Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill, written by Jean Regnaud and published in English by Fanfare/Ponent Mon.

I really enjoyed Aaron Renier’s Spiral-Bound (Top Shelf), and I sometimes find myself wondering when his next book will arrive. The answer is apparently “Wednesday,” thanks to First Second and in the form of The Unsinkable Walker Bean. Here are the details:

“Mild, meek, and a little geeky, Walker is always happiest in his grandfather’s workshop, messing around with his inventions. But when his beloved grandfather is struck by an ancient curse, it falls on Walker to return an accursed pearl skull to the witches who created it—and his path will be strewn with pirates, magical machines, ancient lore, and deadly peril.”

Update: I inexcusably missed this one, but I have to mention the new Vertigo graphic novel Dark Rain because it’s been drawn by the incredibly gifted Simon (Paris) Gane. It’s a thriller set in post-Katrina New Orleans, written by Mat (Incognegro) Johnson. There are some preview pages over at Techland.

Vive la France!

It’s Bastille Day, so I thought I’d put together a quick list of some of my favorite comics by French creators and some of my favorite comics set in France. It’s tough, because so many of them are so great, but I’ll try not to go overboard. Off the top of my head, here are some of my favorite comics by French writers and artists:

  • Aya, written by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by Clément Oubrerie (Drawn & Quarterly): Wonderfully funny and thoughtful multigenerational soap opera about coming of age in the Ivory Coast of the 1970s.
  • Little Nothings, written and illustrated by Lewis Trondheim (NBM): Really terrific slice-of-life and observational humor from a wonderful cartoonist.
  • The Rabbi’s Cat, written and illustrated by Joann Sfar (Pantheon): A rabbi in Algeria finds his cat can talk, and the cat has no shortage of distressing philosophical opinions.
  • Klezmer, written and illustrated by Joann Sfar (First Second): I really like Sfar, what can I say? I even liked Vampire Loves, and I usually hate vampire comics. When are we going to get more of this wonderful tale of Jewish musicians in Eastern Europe?
  • Get a Life, written and illustrated by Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian: Why haven’t there been more collections of Monsieur Jean stories published in English? This one’s a treasure.
  • Glacial Period, written and illustrated by Nicolas de Crécy (NBM): Still my favorite of the comics created in conjunction with the Louvre. (Holy crap, NBM is going to publish Salvatore this winter! My wish came true!)
  • My Mommy Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill, written by Jean Regnaud and illustrated by Émille Bravo (Fanfare/Ponent Mon): Deservedly nominated for a few Eisner Awards this year,
  • Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, written and illustrated by various creators (Fanfare/Ponent Mon): Half of this book constitutes an invasion of Japan by various wonderful French comic artists. The other half is wonderful Japanese comic artists telling stories about their hometowns. There is no losing in this book. I’d love to see the same group take on France as Viewed by 17 Creators.
  • And here are a couple of comics set in France that I really like:

  • Paris, written by Andi Watson and illustrated by Simon Gane (SLG): This tale of young women in love in the Paris of the 1920s is so gorgeous it almost hurts.
  • Gerard and Jacques, written and illustrated by Fumi Yoshinaga (Blu): Over time, I’ve willfully forgotten the fact that this series opens with coercive sex, because I love watching the characters natter at each other in between bouts of steamy, consensual congress.
  • What did I forget? Or what should I look into? What about comics from or set in France that have yet to be translated? Between their indigenous talent and the volume of licensed manga they enjoy, the French are sick with awesome comics.

    Birthday books: the Palomar stories

    It’s Gilbert Hernandez’s birthday, and it’s tough to pick a particular book to recommend because he’s incredibly talented and surprisingly prolific. (That’s a lovely combination, isn’t it?) I’ll let sentiment guide my choice and point you to his Palomar stories, which originally ran in Love and Rockets from Fantagraphics and have been collected roughly 36 times in about as many different configurations.

    I would recommend you go with the handsome, affordable, focused paperbacks in the Love and Rockets Library: Heartbreak Soup, Human Diastrophism, and Beyond Palomar. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Palomar, it’s a small Central American town populated with interesting, complex people. It’s also populated with a variety of kinds of stories and tones, gritty realism one moment, magical realism the next. Hernandez really builds that web of community in these stories, exploring ties of family and friendship, lingering grudges, outside influences, sex, love and death.

    It’s also fun to play “if you like” with the Palomar stories, because there are so many possibilities. People who have been enjoying the comics on Viz’s SigIKKI site might like these, not because of any specific carry-over in style or content, but because they’re so good in ways that are specific to Hernandez’s talents. People who like soap operas, particularly smart, place-grounded ones like EastEnders, will find a lot to like as well. (Full disclosure: I’m only really familiar with the early going of EastEnders when it was really ambitious in its combination of economic reality and emotional intensity. I have no idea if it’s still any good.) And fans of the sensual, dreamy, unsettling movies by Pedro Almodovar will feel right at home, especially with Hernandez’s leading lady, sexy, formidable Luba.

    And since I’m on the subject, and since Hernandez is relatively prolific, I’d love to hear which of his non-Palomar comics people would recommend. I need to catch up.

    Update: Via its Twitter feed, AdHouse mentioned that today is also Jim Rugg’s birthday, so you could celebrate that by picking up a copy of Afrodisiac, which Rugg created with Brian Maruca. I reviewed it here. Or you could pick up a copy of Rugg and Maruca’s Street Angel from SLG, which is having a sale at its web store through Feb. 3, also discovered via that publisher’s Twitter feed.

    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.

    From the Stack: The War at Ellsmere

    I thought Faith Erin Hicks’ Zombies Calling (SLG) was “one of those books that make you really eager to see what the creator does next.” Hicks rewards that eagerness (and proves me right) with The War at Ellsmere (also from SLG), which is superior in just about every way. And Zombies Calling was pretty good to begin with.

    ellsmereZombies Calling owed a fair bit to Scream for its humor and structure, and Ellsmere seems to be similarly sourced. Like good-hearted grind Rory from the early years of The Gilmore Girls, Ellsmere’s Juniper wins enrollment into a prestigious private school (via scholarship instead of grandparental largesse, in Jun’s case) and immediately draws the threatened attention of the institution’s self-appointed queen bee. On Gilmore, that queen bee was the highly strung overachiever Paris Gellar; in Ellsmere, it’s the smirking, vicious Emily,

    From those core similarities, Hicks diverges in some promising ways. Jun is nowhere near as dewy and perfect as Rory; she’s much more likely to make a preemptive verbal strike than keep her head down and her nose in a book. And while Paris was neurotically fixated on what Rory’s abilities and accomplishments said about her own, Emily is more absorbed by class differences. She has a rigid set of expectations of scholarship students and their place in Ellsmere’s elite ecosystem.

    And while Paris was one of the defining “frienemies” of her era, no one should expect Jun and Emily to be sharing secrets in a stairwell any time soon. Instead, Hicks splits the frienemy egg and gives Jun an ally on the inside. Jun’s roommate, Cassie, is just as pedigreed as Emily, and she’s been at Ellsmere just as long, but Cassie’s quirks have isolated her just as effectively as Jun’s relative poverty will. Jun and Cassie bond quickly and believably. Jun inspires Cassie to raise her academic expectations, or at least to apply herself in ways that interest her. Flakiness aside, Cassie knows how Ellsmere works, and she can advise Jun on the ins and outs; she’s a good listener and she makes Jun laugh. Cassie made me laugh, too. The Jun-Emily rivalry takes up most of the narrative, but I kept turning my attention to Cassie’s evolution. It’s measured, credible and rewarding.

    For all of the book’s easy charm, it’s very tightly written. Hicks finds a solid, compelling plot in Jun’s first year at Ellsmere. She fleshes it out nicely with well-developed characters and, more importantly, chemistry among those characters. That’s a really important next step, and I think some creators may neglect it. There also seems to be more confidence in terms of voicing characters here than in Zombies Calling; there’s a similarly metatextual quality to the dialogue, but it’s dedicated more to the characters’ feelings than the shifting rules of zombie combat.

    I was sure that Hicks’ follow-up to Zombies Calling would be an improvement, and I feel the same about whatever comes after Ellsmere. And while I wouldn’t want to paint Hicks into a corner when she’s clearly got a very portable skill set as a creator, I’d love to see what happens next to Jun, Cassie and Emily.

    While it lasts

    Before the direct market collapses and Diamond’s Previews catalog slims down to the rough thickness of two issues of Entertainment Weekly, let’s take a look and see what the February 2009 edition has to offer, shall we?

    Dark Horse offers the fifth volume of Adam Warren’s smutty, hilarious, and heartwarming Empowered. This is truly appalling fan service repurposed for good. I don’t know how to explain or justify that statement, but trust me, the book is terrific. (Page 38, FEB09 0052)

    Cherish the “Offered Again” listings while you can. They allow me to rectify the error of not ordering Faith Erin Hicks’ warmly received The War at Ellsmere (Amaze Ink/Slave Labor Graphics). (Page 198, FEB09 4023)

    One of the most anticipated graphic novels of the year is due to arrive from Drawn & Quarterly. It’s Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life, a massive (840 pages) autobiography from the founding father of alternative manga. (Page 263, FEB09 4254)

    First Second offers Dong Hwa Kim’s coming-of-age romance, The Color of Earth, which looks really lovely. (Page 270, FEB09 4289)

    It’s a good month for manhwa, as NBM delivers Mijeong, a collection of short stories by Byun Byung-Jun, creator of the marvelous Run, Bong-Gu, Run! (Page 287, FEB09 4402)

    Viz offers another volume of culinary treasure Oishinbo, written by Tetsu Kariya and illustrated by Akira Hanasaki. This installment looks at ramen and dumplings. Mmm… dumplings. (Page 311, FEB09 4482)

    Upcoming 12/4/2008

    Just a couple of highlights from this week’s ComicList:

    I thought Faith Erin Hicks showed a lot of promise with Zombies Calling (SLG), so I’ll definitely give her follow-up, The War at Ellsmere (SLG), a close look.

    NBM gives you a third chance to purchase Nicolas DeCrécy’s Glacial Period, a graphic novel created under the sponsorship of the Louvre. DeCrécy takes a fanciful, futuristic look at the institution through the eyes of a team of archeologists who are trying to excavate the cultural repository, now buried under show and ice. It’s great fun. I reviewed it here.

    Out of order

    We went to our nation’s capitol last week to get out of town and enjoy the thrill of watching costumed legislative aides and lobbyists pour out of the Dupont Circle Metro Station. There were lots of Mario brothers and a fair number of Piper Palins. (Speaking of Metro Stations, the Chinatown/Gallery Place stop is really interesting. Turn right and you can find fabulous cuisine. Turn left, and you are thrust into the Valley of Chain Restaurants and That Guy. I beg you to always turn right if you’re faced with this choice, unless you have a high tolerance for twenty-something lawyers smoking cigars and acting entitled.)

    Anyway, I stopped at a comic shop in hopes of finding a copy of Tokyo Zombie (Last Gasp), but I had no joy on that front. (I’ll keep looking, not to worry.) I couldn’t quite bring myself to leave without some satirical zombie comic in my hands, so I picked up a copy of Faith Erin Hicks’s Zombies Calling (SLG). I’d heard a lot of good things about it, and I was in a rare mood for zombie satire, so…

    It’s one of those books that make you really eager to see what the creator does next. I don’t think I’ll ever encounter what I’d consider a great zombie comic, even a satirical one, because the genre has been making fun of itself long before anyone sat down with the specific intent of doing so. Hicks takes a Scream-esque approach, featuring a devoted fan of zombie films faced with an actual infestation of the shambling undead. College-student Joss is part-horrified, part-thrilled that she can put her encyclopedic knowledge of genre tropes to practical use, trying to shepherd her friends through the hordes of the recently deceased.

    There are some very funny bits, along with evidence of some of the pitfalls of this kind of satire. At a certain point, the creator either needs to go serious – hewing closer to the tropes she or he is tweaking – or find some new direction. Hicks almost succeeds in straddling the two, blending in some smart generational satire. And even if Zombies Calling doesn’t quite hold together as a story, the general level of craft and wit is more than high enough to carry you along.

    As I said, it’s a comic that’s most notable for the promise it conveys. The prospect of watching Hicks get better with time is definitely enticing.

    If I’d read his books in the order they’ve been published, I might have had the same reaction to Matthew Loux’s Sidescrollers (Oni). In spite of wide acclaim, I stalled on picking this book up until Oni re-offered it recently. (As with zombies, there are plenty of comics about slackers, and one can’t simply pick up all of them, because they won’t all be Scott Pilgrim or Solanin.) So I read Loux’s terrific Salt Water Taffy (also from Oni) first. And while Sidescrollers offers a certain amount of wooly fun, it can’t quite compete in my mind with the sharper, more polished work on display in Salt Water Taffy.


    I’m just not feeling the ComicList love this week. So, for a change, I’ll recommend some old (or “old”) comics.

    The Walking Man, by Jiro Taniguchi (Fanfare/Ponent Mon): This is one of the most soothing, serene comics reading experiences you’re ever likely to enjoy. It’s basically about a suburban guy who goes on walks, taking in the scenery as he goes. That’s all, and that’s plenty, because the gentle spirit of the stories marries beautifully with Taniguchi’s richly detailed visuals.

    Paris, by Andi Watson and Simon Gane (SLG): A sweet, slight story of young women in love, masterfully illustrated by Gane. Watson’s observations about class and youth provide a nice enough spine, but the real appeal is Gane and his rich, odd renderings of Paris in the 1950s. I had never seen Gane’s artwork before, and there’s really nothing else like it.

    Polly and the Pirates, by Ted Naifeh (Oni Press): Is it possible to be both a proper schoolgirl and the terror of the high seas? It is if you’re being written and drawn by Naifeh, who can combine tight plotting with fanciful, funny bits that don’t disrupt the flow.

    Livewires: Clockwork Thugs, Yo, by Adam Warren and Rick Mays (Marvel): Even when working for Marvel, Warren (creator of the demented and thoroughly charming Empowered for Dark Horse) can turn out a funky, smart comic. This one’s about a black-ops group of android teens who are tasked with cleaning up a proliferation of similarly covert tech cells. Imaginative violence, smart plays on the “even an android can cry” motif, nifty fad jokes, and eye-popping art by Mays are more than enough to render the tiny, tiny lettering a non-issue.

    Only the Ring Finger Knows, by Satoru Kannagi and Hotaru Odagiri (Juné): This sweet, squeaky clean example of shônen-ai is still one of my favorites. It’s a gentle, character-driven romance between two temperamentally opposite high-school students (try and contain your shock at the novelty of such a concept, I beg). I keep meaning to read the novels based on the property.