Upcoming 9/1/2010

It’s an interesting week in ComicList terms. Let’s go right to the pick of the week, shall we?

That would be Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, the first result of the Fantagraphics-Shogakukan team-up that’s being curated by Matt Thorn. It’s a deeply glorious book that brims with Hagio’s psychological and emotional insights. I plan on posting a review on Thursday. You can order a signed copy from the publisher.

If that doesn’t slake your appetite for classic manga, Vertical is kind enough to offer Osamu Tezuka’s Apollo’s Song in two paperback volumes. It’s an example of deeply crazy Tezuka, with the added bonus of lots and lots of sex. If you can resist that description, you’re stronger than I am.

One of last year’s big books is now available in paperback. David Small’s Stitches (W.W. Norton) offers a beautifully rendered and stunningly bleak look at a miserable childhood. It’s a really great graphic novel.

There are also new issues of three very different and very entertaining pamphlet comics. First is the second issue of Avengers: The Children’s Crusade, following the Young Avengers as they search for the Scarlet Witch to the dismay of most of the rest of the residents of the Marvel universe, who seem happy to assume that the longtime heroine is evil and crazy. Next is the penultimate (I think) issue of Brandon Graham’s King City from Image, whose website is so terrible that I won’t even bother trying to find a link to additional information on the comic. And last is the fourth issue of Stumptown, a smart tale of a down-on-her-luck private investigator from Oni.

What looks good to you?

Updated: I forgot one big pamphlet offering, the arrival of Veronica 202 (Archie Comics) and Riverdale’s first openly gay resident, Kevin Keller. I hope I can find a copy so I can be appropriately derisive when conservative groups condemn the comic.

Elsewhere in 2009

This isn’t really a “Best of 2009” list, as I don’t feel like I read enough comics from places other than Japan to make that kind of list with a sufficient degree of authority, but I didn’t want to neglect books that I really enjoyed this year. I’m not going to say that all of these books are equally entertaining or good in the same ways; I’m not shooting for an equivalent level of quality. I’m just saying that these are the books that lingered in my memory and that I’ll return to again in the future. I’ll subdivide the books into “New Stuff” and “Continuing Stuff.”

New Stuff:

The Adventures of Blanche, written and illustrated by Rick Geary, Dark Horse. Comics by Geary are always a cause for celebration, and this collection of stories about a feisty musician traipsing through genre-based dangers was one of the year’s most pleasant surprises.

Asterios Polyp, written and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, Pantheon. I’m always a little surprised when someone describes this book as technically brilliant but cold. I thought it had a very solid emotional core beyond the astonishing level of craft.

Johnny Hiro, written and illustrated by Fred Chao, AdHouse Books. This book didn’t do nearly as well as it should have in pamphlet form, so let me extend my heartfelt thanks to AdHouse for collecting the existing issues plus unpublished material. It’s simultaneously a winning genre mash-up and a warm, grown-up romance, and it’s a treat.

Masterpiece Comics, written and illustrated by R. Sikoryak, Drawn & Quarterly. What do you get when you combine great works of literature with classics of comic books and strips? In Sikoryak’s case, you get breezy, inspired work that displays great versatility, intelligence, and a sense of fun.

Mijeong, written and illustrated by Byung-jun Byun, NBM. It’s not as good as Run! Bong-Gu, Run!, but this collection of short stories is never short of very, very good and is often brilliant.

My Mommy Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill, written by Jean Regnaud, illustrated by Émile Bravo, Fanfare/Ponent Mon. Gloriously sad and sharply observed, this book offers one of the freshest looks at childhood and grief you’re ever likely to find.

Nightschool: The Weirn Books, written and illustrated by Svetlana Chamkova, Yen Press. A comic featuring vampires and teenagers that doesn’t make me roll my eyes until they water? What strange magic is this? It’s actually just Chamkova fulfilling her prodigious promise as a graphic storyteller.

Stitches: A Memoir, written and illustrated by David Small, W.W. Norton and Company. Aside from being strikingly drawn, I think this is a beautifully shaped memoir, functioning perfectly as a story in its own right. The fact that the terrible things Small relates actually happened just adds a layer of disquiet.

Underground, written by Jeff Parker, illustrated by Steve Lieber, colored by Ron Chan, Image Comics: There should be more snappy genre comics like this, you know? It’s a smartly executed thriller set in the perilous depths of a cave in the Appalachians.

Continuing Stuff:

Aya: The Secrets Come Out, written by Marguerite Abouet, illustrated by Clément Oubrerie, Drawn & Quarterly. I was briefly afraid that this was the final volume of this wistful, multigeneration soap opera about life in the Ivory Coast in the 1970s. Fortunately, there seem to be at least two more volumes still to come of Aya and her unmanageable friends and family.

Empowered, written and illustrated by Adam Warren, Dark Horse. I’m so glad that Dark Horse released a pamphlet chapter of this ongoing series of graphic novels, as that might help to build the audience it deserves. Smutty and sweet in equal measure, it’s as sharp a parody of super-heroics as you’re ever likely to find.

Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, written and illustrated by Tove Jansson, Drawn & Quarterly. This is a golden age of reprints of quality comic strips, and this is my absolute favorite of the bunch.

Salt Water Taffy, written and illustrated by Matthew Loux, Oni Press. Two brothers embrace the weird on a seaside vacation. This is my go-to all-ages recommendation, by which I mean I’m as strident in suggesting adults buy it as I am in suggesting that kids will like it.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe, written and illustrated by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Oni Press. As long as this book is releasing new volumes, it will be on any list of this nature that I write.

Yôkaiden, written and illustrated by Nina Matsumoto, Del Rey. This witty fantasy-adventure got even better with the second volume. Now we have to wait for the third.

From the stack: Stitches


Stitches, David Small’s autobiographical debut graphic novel from W.W. Norton, makes me want to use reviewer words like “searing” and “unforgettable.” It makes me want to use those words without irony. It’s just that good.

stitchesAt the age of fourteen, Small checked into the hospital to have an apparently benign cyst removed. After two surgeries, he’s left with ravaged vocal cords and a ragged scar running down his neck. That’s the nut paragraph, but it isn’t what the book is really about. Like the growth on his neck, it’s a symptom of something much more insidious and destructive.

With an almost unnerving degree of understatement and precision, Small describes the parental failings that led him to that unfortunate state. He gradually reveals the depths of his mother’s dysfunction and his father’s ineffectuality, though he doesn’t reduce them to ridiculous monsters. They’re realistic people who are damaged in distressingly recognizable ways, and Small is left to try and escape the generational cycle.

Drawing is young David’s primary source of solace, and Small visually extrapolates on what that means to the child version of himself. In his private or reflective moments, the boy remakes the world and views it in ridiculous and sometimes grotesque ways. Small renders these moments well; they have the feel of a child’s gruesome imagination and, later, a teen-ager’s derisive dismissal of the adults around him. These flights of not-quite fancy fold in well with the more straightforward illustrations, and I feel that makes them more effective.

But honestly, I find just about everything effective about Stitches. It’s as focused and shaped a work of autobiography as I can remember reading. Small has taken pains to craft a narrative that’s effective in the same ways as fiction, and if the reader didn’t know it was based on actual events, I believe it would be viewed as a sterling example of a made-up story.

There’s no self-indulgence or waste evident here, but it’s not skeletal, either. There’s resonance to the characters and impact to the way events are sequenced and facts are revealed. And most of all, there is the sympathetic distance Small the grown-up cartoonist maintains from the angry, bewildered child he was. I cringe a little to say it just on general principle, but Stitches really is a searing and unforgettable book.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)


Upcoming 9/2/2009

Time for a quick look at this week’s ComicList:

stitchesIn a given year, you usually get one original graphic novel as ambitious and accomplished as David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp (Pantheon). That splendid book will have to make room for David Small’s Stitches (W.W. North), due to arrive Wednesday. It’s an extraordinary autobiographical graphic novel about the horrors of Small’s childhood, but it’s completely without self-indulgence or meandering. Small’s ability to compose his experiences into a complex, disturbing narrative is absolutely miraculous. It’s a true story that flows and breathes like the best made-up story, and I think everyone should read it. I really, really do.

I was quite taken with Natsuna Kawase’s The Lapis Lazuli Crown (CMX), though I found myself a little less impressed with Kawase’s earlier work, A Tale of an Unknown Country (also CMX and due this week). It’s not without its charms, but it’s easy to see how much Kawase refined her storytelling skills between the two works. I agree with Johanna Draper Carlson’s review of Country.

sandchron6This is one of those weeks when Viz decides to release loads and loads of manga upon an unsuspecting public, including many of their very best shôjo titles. Those include:

  • the 11th volume of Kazune Kawahara’s High School Debut
  • the 7th volume of Chica Umino’s Honey and Clover
  • the 18th volume of Ai Yazawa’s NANA
  • and the 6th volume of Hinako Ashihara’s Sand Chronicles.
  • If the total at the cash register doesn’t already have you crying, not to worry. The comics themselves probably will.

    Spoiler warning

    Should the courtesy of spoiler warnings apply to works of non-fiction? After reading a Publishers Weekly Comics Week interview with David Small about his upcoming graphic memoir, Stitches, from W.W. Norton, I suspect they should.

    stitchesIn the introductory paragraphs to the interview, Sasha Watson rather baldly summarizes some of the key events of Small’s early life that are portrayed in the book. I think that this is an unfortunate choice, as the power of the book lies in watching these events unfold in the way that Small has chosen to reveal them. For an autobiography, the structure and pacing of events is astonishing, as is the elliptical way Small contextualizes those events – the facts of them coupled with the truth of them, which are very different things.

    Any creator of fiction would be envious of the way the story reveals itself, I would think. That this much craftsmanship and rigor has been applied to an autobiography, and that Small has been able to be so deft in crafting the mechanics of a narrative without sacrificing emotional impact is almost miraculous. But first seeing those events and the secrets behind them formatted as a sort of laundry list would, I think, undermine some of the impact of Small’s achievement.

    I can certainly understand the desire, even the necessity, of interviewing so talented a creator prior to the publication of his debut graphic novel. But wow, I’d be careful in revealing any events that are portrayed in the book, as it’s a breathtaking reading experience with little or no prior knowledge. I’m not sure how much of that thrill would survive if a reader had a checklist of key moments and revelations prior to simply experiencing them according to Small’s design.

    Previews review July 2009

    There’s quite a bit of interesting material in the July 2009 edition of Diamond’s Previews catalog. Whether it actually makes it to comic shops is always a question worth considering, but the theoretical abundance is certainly alluring.

    First up is Reversible: A Dojinshi Collection by various artists, published by Digital Manga. I’ve never heard of any of the creators involved (“Kometa Yonekura, Shiori Ikezawa, Haruki Fujimoto, Goroh, and many more!”), but the prospect of a book full of fan-created yaoi is too intriguing to pass up. (Page 241)

    Masayuki Ishikaway’s eagerly awaited, Tezuka Prize winning Moyasimon arrives courtesy of Del Rey. “You might think that life at an agricultural university in Japan isn’t exactly exciting. But Todayasu, a student, sees the world differently – he has the unique ability to see, and communicate with, bacteria and micro-organisms, which appear to him as super-cute little creatures.” I was sold on this before it was even licensed. (Page 244)

    ayaIf you haven’t treated yourself to the first two volumes of Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie’s earthy, charming soap opera set in the Ivory Coast of the 1970s, then you should catch up, since the third, Aya: The Secrets Come Out, arrives via Drawn & Quarterly. “It’s a world of shifting values, where issues like arranged marriage and gay love have Aya and her friends yearning to break out of the confines of their community, while the ties of friendship and support draw them back into its familiarity.” (Page 246)

    Every month is better with some Jiro Taniguchi in it, and Fanfare/Ponent Mon provides. In this case, it’s the second volume of The Summit of the Gods, illustrated by Taniguchi and written by Yumemakura Baku. The ascent up Mt. Everest continues, and I’m guessing Taniguchi draws the holy hell out of it. (Page 252)

    Oni Press is wise enough to devote a two-page spread to Lola: A Ghost Story, written by J. Torres, because you get to see some really lovely sample pages illustrated by Elbert Or. It’s about a boy named Jesse, who “sees dead people, monsters, demons, and lots of other things that no one else can see,” and must take up his grandmother’s mantle as protector of a small town. The mere promise of “pigs possessed by the devil” is reason enough for me to jot it down on the order form. (Page 278 and 279)

    alecTop Shelf drops a massive omnibus, available in soft- and hardcover versions, of Eddie Campbells Alec comics, called The Years Have Pants (A Life-Size Omnibus). It “collects the previous Alec books, as well as a generous helping of rare and never-before-seen material, including an all-new 35-page book, The Years Have Pants. The softcover is $35, and the hardcover is $49.95, each coming in at 640 pages. (Page 296)

    wawwI saw this on Twitter yesterday, and there it is in the catalog. Viz releases two volumes of Inio (Solanin) Asano’s What a Wonderful World! “With this series of intersecting vignettes, Inio Asano explores the ways in which modern life can be ridiculous and sublime, terrible and precious, wasted and celebrated.”

    stitchesI automatically become nervous when buzz about a book reaches a certain pitch, so I’m glad I read a comp copy of David Small’s Stitches (W.W. Norton) before that buzz became too frenzied. It really, really, really is an extraordinary book. Small fearlessly renders childhood horrors with restraint and dignity, re-creating “a life story that might have been imagined by Kafka.” That isn’t hyperbole, and the advance interest in the book is entirely deserved, as will be the raves after it’s released. Seriously, it’s the kind of book that will end up on Best Books of 2009 lists in addition to a whole lot of Best Comics of 2009 lists. (Page 311)

    yotsuba6Last, but certainly not least, Yen Press brings boundless joy to the world (at least the world occupied by people with good taste) by releasing the sixth volume of Kiyohiko Azuma’s hilarious, completely endearing Yotsuba&! Yen also releases brushed-up versions of the first five volumes, previously published by ADV. “Yotsuba recycles! She gets a bike, learns about sticky notes, and drinks some super-yummy milk which she then decides she has to share with everyone!” Bless you, bless you , bless you, Yen Press. (Page 312)