I got a letter with this insert:
“Received damaged from abroad”.
Was it pre-destroyed?
I ordered a couple of mini-comics from Quimby’s Bookstore, and I got an amusingly large stack of … stuff.
At least I think all this was from Quimby’s; I unpacked a lot of stuff at the same time. I can’t think of where else this would come from.
First of all, the two comics I bought: Two issues of Sporgo by Laura Pallmall. Really interesting books.
And included was this cut-out mask by Dame Darcy…
Two issues (or whatever) of, er, a diary? About a guy who goes to jazz shows? Luke You is apparently the writer, and I like reading about jazz.
The second er issue is scary-looking: It’s a folded hand-written (photo-copied) sheet of paper inside a semi-transparent paper bag, stapled shut, and the envelope has been painted over with watercolour paint. I hope. At least it doesn’t actually smell anything much, despite how it looks…
Could be blood.
A little pamphlet with pictures from a Springfield Women’s March…
A folded sheet of typeset text of automatic writing, I think. Issue 127 of Friday Night in West Ealing? Will morning ever come?
Another with handwritten text about art shows, but is that issue 401 of Rut Rut Rut Rut…
Lots of bookmarks.
A minicomic. Does that say Cincignat? Unlucky 13? Perhaps.
Yet another zine (“The OneSheet”); this time it’s an interview with the guy pictured on the front there.
Two copies of the ElfQuest “ashcan”; it’s basically an ad for ElfQuest. But twice.
Some photo booth pictures; no text anywhere on the strip.
Some inhumane cards…
An issue of Witchblade! Of all random things in this package, I think that’s the randomest. (That’s a word.)
Except for this issue of the Proletarian.
Among many interesting articles, there’s one about how the bourgeois press is so focused on the environmental effects of the Standing Rock struggle: Nobody writes about the sky-high casualty rate of the people working in the oil industry, or how many people are killed by shipping oil in other non-pipey ways (every four days an oil train explodes in Ontario, apparently (I read it here so it must be true)).
The solution? Overthrow capitalism.
I approve wholeheartedly.
I can just imagine the Quimby’s employee standing at the cashier, filling my order of Sporgo, and then shovelling in random items from stacks of free zines and stuff left at the shop.
Is the employee smiling? I think so.
Robert Crumb is one of the most highly regarded American comics creators, but the past few years has seen both a backlash against his perceived sexism and downright revulsion towards his comics by younger people, as well as a free-floating discussion over teh comix blogs about how Crumb isn’t seen as a major influence over the current generation of comics artists.
I’ve always been a Crumb fan, but not a fanatical one: I’ve bought all his solo comics as they’ve been published over the years (from the late 80s on; I’m old but not that old), but haven’t really gone all in.
So some months ago these things made me wonder whether Crumb still has a significant presence publishing wise. Somebody as famous, controversial and talented as him would surely have his work collected in a series of beautifully designed and curated collections?
It turns out, while I’ve not been paying attention, Fantagraphics Books released 17 volumes of The Complete Crumb Comics, released between 1987 and 2005.
Whaa? How did that happen? I was vaguely aware of these things, but I’ve either never seen anybody talk about them, or I’ve repressed the memory. Probably the latter.
So I went shopping and bought them all, which brought back my memory:
I had bought the two first volumes in the 80s. They’re consist of Crumb juvenalia. Possibly of interest to somebody, but not a teenage me. I was apparently so turned off by those two volumes that I blanked on the rest of the series.
This surely has to be the worst way to start off a series of books: With the decidedly least read-worthy material. I can only assume that somebody very anal at Fantagraphics had decided that you have to start at the beginning…
But it’s not just the selection of comics. (Here we’re at the fourth volume and we’ve gotten to some of Crumb’s earliest published work.)
The design of these books is really unappealing, too. They’re on white, shiny paper, in approximate European album size, with French flaps. You have these 1pt borders around Crumb’s really organic artwork, and, of course, since this is a “serious” endeavour, you have the top of each and every page reminding you that you’re reading The Complete Crumb Comics, and, yes, it’s by R. Crumb.
Because that’s what “real” books do, presumably.
The juxtaposition between the mechanical layout and the artwork is jarring and unpleasant.
Either the designer left or came to their senses, but they got rid of the border around the page, at least. But the production work remains sloppy throughout the series. Most pages have the title to the left; the author to the right…
Except nobody cared enough to look for glitches.
I know, you’re starting to read this in Comic Book Guy voice now. But I found reading this stack of comics to be rather a chore, and I don’t think Crumb’s the main person to blame.
The format just doesn’t suit the material. Most of it was created with a smaller format in mind, which leaves the “enlarged” (i.e., published at larger size than intended) artwork looking somewhat amateurish in places.
Not to mention the problems with reproduction quality. Here’s a snap from a panel from an issue of American Splendor I have here.
Looks kinda nice, right? Here’s the reproduction from The Complete Crumb Comics:
All the blacks (er, I mean) have filled in greatly. Some of the finer black lines are preserved better than in the original printing, but the white lines have greatly been reduced and disappears here and there, leaving a blotchy and less pretty image.
You can see the same phenomenon on this panel from the same issue of American Splendor:
And now Complete Crumb:
All the detail in the middle lower half is missing.
You also have the opposite problem, where black lines go missing on a lot of pages.
Here’s a panel from an issue of Weirdo:
Perfect! Now Complete Crumb:
Aline Kominsky’s lettering has all but disintegrated, and her beautiful drawing looks blotchy and unpleasant here.
Now, I can only guess how Fantagraphics sourced the material for these books: Getting negatives from the other publishers? Reproing from original artwork? Shooting printed copies? Or, as here, shooting from faxes of copies of printed comics?
IT”S PROBABLY”S NOBODY”S FAULT!
But reading pages and pages of fugly reproductions is tedious, no matter if you love the artist:
The final three volumes, covering the Weirdo years, are quite different from the preceding ones: Instead of being strictly chronological, they devote the first half of each volume to printing Crumb’s contributions to Weirdo, and the latter half to misc. drawings. I’m not sure I approve; I’m not sure I enjoyed the hodge-podge feeling of the first volumes, but when it changed the organisation, I wasn’t sure that was an improvement, either.
Anyway. Crumb is still a huge name: When he adapted Genesis (from the bible, not the record shop) there was an enormous amount of attention given.
But if somebody has been curious about his older work: “Excuse me, mister comic book store guy. What’s good Crumb?” “Well, if you buy volume ten of The Complete Crumb Comics, there’s a really good five page story called ‘That’s Life’. The rest of that volume is rather lacklustre, though.” “That sounds great! I’ll have all the volumes! Thank you, mister comic book store guy!”
(Crumb was very political in the 70s.)
If I had a dime for every time I’ve read somebody saying “Well, everybody prefers the 60s stuff, but I really think the mid-80s stuff is Crumb’s best” I would probably have less than a dollar, but not much less. And I think it’s true that the 80s stuff is the strongest.
The final three volumes are beautifully reproduced, and the first half of each volume is chock full of great comics. Often a bit on the wordy side, and usually very dense, but funny, interesting and beautifully and expressively drawn.
(The infamous Crumb fumetti from these Weirdo issues aren’t included; Crumb in his introduction says that the editor didn’t want them here, Peter Bagge in his introduction says that Crumb didn’t want them here.)
The last half of each volume is filled with ephemera that only a dedicated fan would be interested in.
So to get back to the question that started me down this Crumb journey: Why aren’t young cartoonists these days interested in Crumb? I think part of the issue may be that The Complete Crumb just isn’t very good.
I’d say two thirds of the pages in this series aren’t very interesting. And, as I’ve been harping on for ages now, these books have an ugly and offputting design.
That stack of books is a turn-off, and that’s not something I thought I’d write about Crumb.
And besides, why should kids these days care? There’s more interesting things being published today that anybody could ever hope to keep up with, so I don’t think there’s any need or compulsion to look back to underground comix for inspiration.
Now, Fantagraphics stopped publication in 2005, and have lethargically kept some of the volumes in print after that. The past couple of years Crumb’s older work has gotten reprinted in more handsome volumes, like this one. Perhaps somebody can manage to curate an interesting collection of his comics in a beautiful package, and Crumb will be in vogue again?
I mean, it’s possible.
I was reading the Fantagraphics collection of Zanardi by Andrea Pazienza tonight (it’s not very good; it’s like the stuff you’d stumble upon in European underground magazines in the 80s and be amused by for a couple of pages before you’d get annoyed by the incoherence and bored by the boorish humour and skimmed the last ten pages: Only here it’s a 230 page book and the tedium is unbearable (the only review I could find of this book is more positive), but at least you can play “spot the artist Pazienza’s ripping off on this page: Ah, Caza, yes, Moebius, and now it’s Spain, and huh, two random panels by Montellier, so it’s got that going for it).
But that’s not what I wanted to write about at all! I wanted to write about footnotes, and especially footnotes when doing a translation of an older work.
Yes, mentioning that those names belong to soccer players makes some sense.
And it’s an old work, so I guess pointing out what C.H.I.P.S. is makes sense. To an American audience, though?
And, sure, pointing out that Frigidaire…
… is the magazine that this very strip appears in is more than fine; it brings additional understanding and depth to the piece.
But since the original work was Italian, is…
… translating Latin proverbs and explaining them within a reasonable remit of a footnote? Perhaps?
When a character randomly mentions an Italian city, is that the right place to point out that’s where the artist studied?
And then we get to the “how stupid does the translator (or footnoter) think that Americans are?” department.
Really, really, stupid.
* Footnotes pull you out of what you’re reading and makes your eyes skip up and down and are a general nuisance. Putting shovelfuls of them into books like this is disrespectful to the work.
Of course, the work in question sucks, so, eh, whatevs. FORGET I WROTE THIS BLOG ARTICLE!
Cast your mind back to the early 90s: *biff* *bang* *pow* Comics aren’t for kids any more!
After the amazing success (both commercially and critically) of Art Spiegelman’s first Maus volume, many publishers wanted to get in on the action.
Literary power houses like Pantheon Books (a part of the Knopf/Doubleday/Random House publishing behemoth), Penguin and Little, Brown all dipped their feet into the water and released mature, interesting work by Ben Katchor, Matt Groening and Charles Burns… but when sales failed to materialise, they mostly threw in the towels.
And then Neon Lit appeared, an imprint of Avon Books, mostly known for publishing romance and mystery paperbacks.
I happened onto City of Glass (adapted by Paul Karasik and David Mazzuchelli) on the bookshelves the other week, and I started to think: Whatever happened to the imprint that book was part of? “Neon Lit”? Wasn’t there supposed to be more books in that series? Did I just zone out during a few years in the 90s?
A google search later I had bought the only other book the imprint published, Perdita Durango, and after reading that and googling some more, I thought it might be interesting to write up the story of the imprint. Well. The bits of the story my limited googling skills reveal.
The Neon Lit imprint was published by Avon Books, a very down-market paperback publisher, mostly known for gothic romances and gritty crime novels. Somehow editor Bob Callahan (after enlisting Art Spiegelman as a designer and consultant) managed to convince them that publishing literary comics would be a good idea. Perhaps after seeing the success of Maus and the seeming prestige imprints like Pantheon brought, they gave the go-ahead? I’m just guessing.
The first book they published was Paul Auster’s postmodern classic City of Glass, adapted by Paul Karasik and David Mazzuchelli. It was a great success, getting written up all over the place (like the New York Times Book Review), and also ended up in my hands.
Rereading it for the first time in over 20 years, it hasn’t lost any of its strange hypnotic power. Auster’s novel is wonderful, of course, but Karasik and Mazzucchelli are impeccable.
It doesn’t read like an adaptation at all: It’s 100% comics, doing things with the restrictive nine panel grid that’s utterly fantastic.
It’s a fabulous book, and I guess I don’t have to write anything more about it, because you’ve either read it or will read it yourself at some point, so… Or you can read one of the other reviews or articles about it.
It’s, like, a classic, and it has later been reprinted by Picador, which seems like a more natural home for the book than Avon.
But how was it released in the first place? Let’s refer to the ur-text as found by the Comics Journal search engine: An interview with Art Spiegelman from The Comics Journal #181, October 1995, page 130-131.
GROTH: And it’s a commercial success as well?
SPIEGELMAN: Of a sort. I think it’s a commercial success by default due to the fact that Avon screwed up things so royally, that the fact that it succeeded at all in spite of their screw-ups made it seem even more successful.
GROTH: How did the publisher screw up?
SPIEGELMAN: What happened was, the person who originally took the series on, Bob Mekoy, had been the main man up there at Avon, like everybody else there left before the book came out – this happens a lot in New York publishing. But it was happening even more at that house because Avon was up for sale by the Hearst Corporation and though they finally decided not to sell, everybody was bailing out. So when we first were up there, we seemed to be with the people best entrenched and highest up in the company – and then all of a sudden they were gone! In the course of getting the book together, nobody gave us accurate deadlines. Meeting the deadlines we were actually given made us several months late. Since the book wasn’t published in time to fulfill its solicitations, it was just dropped and put on a backlist. When it was finally printed — I hate to use the word “published” — all that happened was, back orders that hadn’t been canceled, were filled. There the book could have languished because nobody was paying any attention to it, It’s from a house that doesn’t seem to be associated with high literary aspirations — it’s sort of a mass market paperback house.
When the book came out Bob Callahan and I stopped in at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. They didn’t touch it because they don’t even look at what Avon has on its list. It’s just somehow not appropriate for them. And of course a book like this can only live through independent bookstores, it’s just not ultimately made for chain bookstores.
What happened was, by sheer accident, publicity copies were sent out with that month’s pile of Avon’s Gothic romances. A freelance writer/editor at Entertainment Weekly, Matt Flann, happened to be bored enough to rummage through the box and found the Neon Lit book at the bottom. He didn’t find any press release because they hadn’t written one. But he happened to like comics and got in touch with Avon who didn’t seem to know anything about this book. Through a network of connections he got hold of my number. I’m amazed that he actually pursued it this far. I was able to put him in touch with the other people who did the book. From that, he was able to write a piece in Entertainment Weekly. The Entertainment Weekly piece was seen by people at Newsweek who ended up wanting to write about City of Glass as well. Simultaneously, perhaps also inspired by the Entertainment Weekly piece, the New York Times Book Review did a short review of it in their Crime and Mystery issue last year. All of this was unbidden and without a publicist! And it was fairly high profile press.
The result of all this was that alert bookstore managers actually noticed that something interesting was around and ordered it. Without salesmen pushing it. The result of that was that the book had an amazing sell-through. “Sellthrough” is not how many copies are printed or how many copies are sold, but how many copies of what have been ordered have been sold. Since this book was primarily ordered by people who are passionate about getting it, and had to get it over Avon’s dead body, the book had an amazing sell-through. It finally made Avon start paying attention to what they had. I think at some point they might have even written a press release for the book. So the book began to get out a bit wider and I think has gone to a second printing — even though, for the most part, this was a book pre-ordained to go into a shredder.
GROTH: How many copies does this mean if has sold?
SPIEGELMAN: You’ll have to ask Callahan, I just don’t know. I know that they’re happy enough with it to have committed to about five other books.
There you go: An editor at Avon, Bob Mekoy, apparently wanted to do it, so the project got started. Mekoy left Avon, and nobody else at Avon were particularly interested, so it received no publicity from the publisher. (And since this was in 1994, the wind had gone out of the first American wave of literary comics, my guess is that the people at Avon assumed that it was just a lost cause, anyway.)
Since no literary bookstores stock anything by *feh* Avon, it was destined for the shredder, but a diligent reviewer at Entertainment Weekly (now Publisher’s Weekly, I guess) read it and gave it a sterling review.
Things can be so random, but I think people would eventually have picked up on it, anyway: David Mazzucchelli is pretty well-known, and (a very select group of) people were really excited by his Rubber Blanket series that he was doing at the time.
So things were going gangbusters for the imprint, even if nobody had expected it to. But then there’s the next book: Perdita Durango, adapted by series editor Bob Callahan. It wasn’t as well-received as City of Glass. To put it mildly.
Quoth David Rust, The Comics Journal #184, February 1996:
Considered as a follow-up to City of Glass, as an adaptation of a good novella, and as a work in its own right, Perdita Durango fails on all levels. The graphic novel would have been much better had it been given more room to breathe, perhaps 200 pages. Hopefully, future Neon Lit adaptations will be allowed more flexibility for stories to determine their own length.
That’s rather harsh. There are positive qualities to this book, but they’re mostly confined to the scratchboard artwork.
Perdita Durango is adapted from a novella by Barry Gifford (who most known at the time for writing the script to David Lynch’ Wild at Heart) by Bob Callahan with art by Scott Gillis. Gillis had done a few short comics for Raw in the 80s, but seems to have little experience with making comics beyond that.
His scratchboard artwork is stunning: Inky, inky black goodness.
It’s mostly drawn on a four panel grid, which fits the format of these slightly-bigger-than-mass-market-paperback sized pages.
But his figurework is mostly stiff and unconvincing, and Callahan’s adaptation is stilted and confusing. For instance, if the protagonists want to become notorious criminals, why do they do the ritual murder in secret? What’s that supposed to achieve?
So it didn’t exactly generate a lot of enthusiasm, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it mentioned by anybody ever before I started doing “research” into this article.
Perdita Durango promises that Nightmare Alley would be released in 1996, with a script by Spain, Bob Callahan and Tom de Haven, and illustrated by Spain.
That did not happen. Let’s listen in to this interview with Spain, some years later.
GROTH: The project you’ve been working on for what appears to be about three years, because the first page is signed “Spain ’95”—
SPAIN: Yeah, right.
GROTH: — is Nightmare Alley, which I understand was the third or fourth book in the Neon Lit series.
SPAIN: It’s the third book, yeah.
GROTH: And the second book came out two or three years ago.
GROTH: I’m not sure if there’s even a fourth book in the planning stages, or —
SPAIN: Yeah. I think he has a contract for seven books or something like that.
GROTH: It appears that this was a major piece of work that spanned three years of your life.
SPAIN: Yes, it did, yeah.
GROTH: Can you tell me how you got involved in doing this?
SPAIN: Well, I’ve known the publisher, Bob Callahan, for awhile. And … we had done some small things together, and so this came down the line, and … the sad thing that happened is, this guy up in your area, I think his name’s Zingarelli, a real good artist, he’s done some really great things. Callahan put out a book called JFK, and it’s about all these conspiracy theories. He did the art for it —
GROTH: Right. Mark Zingarelli.
SPAIN: The thing was, he was supposed to do it, but then his kid died, so, you know, that’s not a circumstance under which I wanted to get to do this … I’m really sorry — I’d never met the guy, but I’m certainly sorry that that happened. I was really sorry I ended up taking up with a book under those circumstances.
GROTH: You know, now that you’ve mentioned it, I think I remember hearing that. He lives just north of here, and he’s a very good artist.
SPAIN: Yeah, yeah, he’s a great artist. So … I wish him the best, man, I don’t know how anybody can carry on with a thing like that, but — yeah, I took it over. He had already written a treatment for it, but I just went through the book myself, and did my own treatment of it.
GROTH: When you say you wrote a treatment, how do you mean that, exactly?
SPAIN: I wrote a rough outline. Then I penciled the whole thing. So that took awhile. And I just had a sense of the basic things I wanted to have in there. The whole book is great. His raps in there are priceless, so I had to cram as much of that stuff in there as I could. There’s a few scenes I had to leave out because they weren’t essential to the plot. The book could really go on indefinitely. But I basically banged out a treatment, and we would send them to them for approval at various intervals.
GROTH: Now, who is “them”?
SPAIN: Avon Books. They had to approve it. So they hung onto the pencils for a long time. They finally gave me the go-ahead to ink it.
GROTH: Did they give you a specific page count?
SPAIN: No, there was a general page count. We thought it would be like 111 pages — I guess Perdita Durango was 111 pages.
GROTH: Nightmare Alley is actually 128 pages. I think this is the longest thing you’ve ever done.
Spain doesn’t mention de Haven or Callahan writing the script here, because apparently Spain threw that script out:
And I guess after reading Perdita Durango, I can understand that completely (if Callahan had been involved substantially).
But what happened to the book, anyway? The last I was able to find about that iteration of the book is from The Comics Journal #204, May 1998: “To be published in Avon Books in spring 1999 as part of their Neon Lit series.”
In 1999, the News Corporation bought out Hearst’s book division. Avon’s hardcover and non-romance paperback lines were moved to sister company Morrow, leaving Avon as solely a romance publisher.
So it was not to be. Instead Fantagraphics published it in 2003:
And, good lord *choke*: Look at that horrible cover. It looks like somebody who had once seen somebody use InDesign just pasted some text onto Spain’s artwork.
There’s like no design whatsoever. Compare to the beautiful noirish design on the first two books and roll your eyes. In addition, the format is larger than the original books, and it’s printed on a nasty slick and shiny stock. It just looks and feels so cheap.
Gary Groth (the publisher) explains in the introduction that Spain finished it after Fantagraphics picked it up in 2001. For a work that took so long to draw, it’s remarkably consistent.
But the consistency is all bad, unfortunately. There are so many pages like this where you just have reams and reams of text. And that probably explains the format choice: If it had been published at a smaller size, it would have been impossible to read it. Spain does use the same four panel grid as Perdita Durango, so perhaps he did envision that it would be possible to print it at that smaller size, anyway?
I haven’t read the original novel by William Lindsay Graham, but from the jumble presented here by Spain, I think Spain felt unwilling to edit. There’s so much stuff that didn’t really need to be in here to tell the central story, so I can understand that Avon sat on it for a while, scratching their heads.
It’s also difficult to determine whether Spain is reverently transcribing the novel or is making fun of it.
Spain’s artwork is super-sharp, though. Those stark lines are very attractive. But, yes, he’s really telling her to go to a delicatessen (a place that sells food) to pick up a kitten (and that’s not slang for anything, if I read the following very complicated caper right, but an actual cat), and telling her to steal it if necessary (if the delicatessen didn’t want to sell her the cat? They do that in delicatessens?) and…
There are so many scenes in this book that are like this: You’re skirting on disbelief and flipping back and forth between pages to try to make sense of it all.
(Spoilers: He wanted fleas to do a trick, I think, so he needed a cat (I think) from a delicatessen (!), I think, because they have fleas? Right.)
In short: It’s a bit of a mess, and an ignominious end to a line of books that started with City of Glass.
Bob Callahan died in 2008. Art Spiegelman is still a very successful artist. Paul Karasik just published a well-received book about Nancy. David Macchuzzelli won all the awards for Asterios Polyp. Spain died in 2012 and Fantagraphics are publishing his complete works.
And that concludes my investigation into this Neon Lit mystery that has puzzled an entire world for decades: Somebody at Avon thought the line was a good idea; they left; Avon was sold; the line ended.
Several people mention that Callahan had a contract for either five or seven more books in the Neon Lit series, but I’ve been unable to find any mention of what those books may have been.
City of Glass has been reprinted several times and is easily available still. The other two books… Not as much.
Geez! December again.
Anyway, I thought that this had been a pretty weak year for comics, but look at how many comics ended up in my “hm; that was pretty interesting” lil bookcaselet. And as an innovation this year:
I also found room for comics that has a larger form factor! So much innovation.
Let’s have a look at the comics.
Purgatory (A Reject’s History) by Casanova Nobody Frankenstein (F.U. Press)
This little book was published by F.U. Press, which is Fantagraphics’ imprint for books that they want even fewer people than usual to know about being published. (I think that sentence makes perfect sense, at least after reading it three times.)
It’s about a black nerd growing up, and the pages are all like this. It’s apparently either a real notebook where the handwritten pages on the left have typeset versions of the text behind them glued over them (my sentences make all the sense today), and the right side is a drawing, mostly illustrating the situation being describe in the text on the left hand side.
And it’s awesome. I love the scratchy weird perspectives in the artwork, and it’s an engrossing life being told.
Face by Rosario Villajos (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)
This is a very original work about identity and… stuff…
Villajos uses a number of approaches throughout the book, from traditional panel layouts to more free-flowing “sample” based pages, and (or course) those “pictures of conversations from cell phone” pages that everybody has to use these days (see: lawn; get off; whippersnapper). And it feels insightful and interesting: It’s about blending in (or not) and the psychological effects thereof (here expressed physically).
Strange Growths by Jenny Zervakis (Spit and a Half)
Zervakis self-published these comics between 1991 and 1997, and Spit and a Half finally made good on their plan to collect them.
And it’s probably the perfect time: It feels like people are more ready to read comics like this again. Intensely personal and with a scratchy but conventional art style.
It’s a book mostly of small anecdotes. Most are funny, but there are pages like this that really make me shudder.
Some Girls by Meg O’Shea (Minicomic of the Month Club)
Hey! A mini! I read quite a few, but not that many make much of an impression.
But this wistful Australian booklet about childhood crushes is just so sweet. So sweeeet. And lovely artwork, of course.
Drone by Simon Hanselmann (2d cloud)
Hey! Another mini! How did that happen…
Everybody knows and loves Hanselmann, of course, and this mini isn’t a radical departure from his, er, bigger work. Our Heroes take drugs and start a band. Or something. The usual. But there’s just something about this format that just clicks. These antics in these teensy panels on these tiny pages…
Or perhaps I just need different drugs.
Collecting Sticks by Joe Decie (Jonathan Cape)
I’ve loved Decie’s work since I first laid eyes on it a few years ago. It’s so quiet.
It’s like if Carol Swain was doing autobiography about raising a kid instead of strange post-apocalyptic bikers.
OK, that didn’t make any sense whatsoever, but I see a kind of kinship between the silence in Swain’s work and the quietude of Decie’s comics.
This is probably Decie’s strongest work to date, and it’s about the family going camping. Cute things ensue. Impeccably drawn in this line-and-wash style.
Love it to bits. You do have to wonder whether the son is getting embarrassed by these books, though.
Touching Me, Touching You by Leonie Brialey (Minicomic of the Month Club)
Hey! Yet another mini! This is the last one, though. I think.
This is a very wispy work indeed. It’s a kind of silent rumination that leaves a pleasant echo.
And! It’s the only comic I have that includes a bag of seeds. That’s gotta count for something.
Mirror Mirror II edited by Sean T. Collins and Julia Gförer (2d cloud)
This is a very dark book. I mean, it’s very black. Even when you look at it sideways:
Now that’s dark!
Anyway, I think it was billed as a horror anthology, but it’s more a… sadness anthology.
Hey! Carol Swain! I mentioned her earlier up there. Weird.
The mood throughout the book is sombre. It’s mostly narrative pieces with the odd abstract work thrown in here and there. It’s not uniformly brilliant, but everybody’s not Carol Swain, unfortunately.
I was really happy to see Dame Darcy make an appearance, because you don’t see a lot of her these days.
Sound of Snow Falling by Maggie Umber (2d cloud)
Looks like 2d cloud is winning this year?
Anyway, this is a wordless book about some owls bringing up a chick (owllet?) and it’s absolutely spellbinding. The artwork obviously makes heavy use of photo reference, but it’s avoids the normal pitfalls of that technique (stilted, un-comicsey panels) and becomes pure comics.
That Umber’s artwork is so beautiful or that the tale being told is so moving doesn’t hurt a bit. And the book itself is a very nice object, as is the norm with 2d cloud books.
*round of applause*
Yours by Sarah Ferrick (2d cloud)
OK, I should just rename this blog post “Books by 2d cloud (and some other stuff)”, I guess.
This book pushes the “is this a comic?” thing way out there, but…
And it’s about sex and stuff. Can’t have too many books like that.
It’s a text based book, I guess. I mean, reading it it feels like the impetus for this book might have been a text, and then Ferrick illustrated it according to how each section of the text demanded. So there are some ecstatic parts, and there are some more orderly bits.
It’s a really engrossing reading experience.
What Did You Eat Yesterday? vol 12 by Fumi Yoshinaga (Vertical)
I think I may have included a volume of this series on every “best of” blog post, but it’s still best.
I’ve even found myself contemplating trying to make some of these dishes. I know that I probably won’t, because there’s like a gazillion ingredients I can’t easily get here, but still.
Anyway, this book is another 150 pages of slice-of-life (with cooking) non-drama. There’s some character development going on, but it’s all very slow and not very stressful.
Except when Shiro finds some really cheap burdock in the supermarket, of course.
She and Her Cat by Makato Shinkai and Tsubasa Yamaguchi (Vertical)
This one has an interesting storytelling conceit.
It’s a story told through the eyes of a cat. Sort of. We only witness the things the cat can see. The cat doesn’t really understand what’s going on, but the reader can partake in the work-related drama the titular “She” is going through by listening in.
It sounds awful and gimmickey, and the author cheats a bit here and there, but it mostly really works.
It’s quite a moving story.
Alone by Chabouté (Gallery 13)
I was super skeptical about this book: A heavy, portentous tome that had apparently won All The Awards in France. “Uh-oh,” I thought, “get ready for some schmaltz.”
And it is. Schmaltz, I mean. But is that such a bad thing? Can’t you have good schmaltz? Can’t you?
It’s about a hideously deformed guy (!) who lives alone (!) in a lighthouse (!!) and his only entertainment is looking up words at random in a dictionary (!!!) and then imagining what must be going on (!1!!one!!1).
Yes, I know. But the artwork is so deliciously Comès-like and the story flows so easily that I just had to give up my cynicism and just go with the flow.
It’s pretty moving.
Morton: A Cross-Country Rail Journey by David Collier (Conundrum Press)
I’ve really liked Collier’s work ever since the early 90s, but this may be his best work yet.
It’s about him and his family taking a cross-country rail journey. And the country in question is Canada, so it’s a long journey. The book purports to be autobiographical and totally true, but I think some bits may have been slightly adjusted for increased fun and interest.
Like here when he takes a poop in ex-publisher Chris Olivero’s back yard.
But we also get to learn a lot about the places the Colliers are traveling through. And amazingly enough, Collier manages to make all those facts interesting. His R. Crumb-like organic artwork helps a lot with keeping the interest up.
And the book also answers the question “why did Collier leave Drawn & Quarterly for the much smaller Conundrum press?” (raised by (inter)national treasure Kim O’Connor in a comment thread somewhere that I can’t find now) question: Because he was dumped by Drawn & Quarterly.
Venice by Jiro Taniguchi (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)
This book has a simple premise: The protagonist finds some old photos of Venice left by his father, and he goes there to revisit the places his parents must have visited.
The pages are wide drawings of Venice, large and small, with the protagonist walking, semi-smiling and kinda stiffly, thinking about his parents and about Venice.
It’s a very soothing kind of mystery book. There’s tension: Will he discover some secrets about his parents? Will he just walk around a lot?
It’s very pretty.
Paywall by Joseph P. Kelly (Landfill Editions)
This is the kind of work that would have been called a dystopia a few years ago, and is now just seems like a realistic conjecture of how our near future is going to be like.
You know: pay-for-work contracts and corporations setting up modern company towns.
The artwork is so sharp you can cut yourself, and it’s the most depressing book you can read this year, so go ahead.
The only criticism I have is that the ending seems both rushed and, well, completely bat-shit stupid. So stop reading about eight pages before the end, even if that makes it all the more depressing.
Easy Rider by Jaakko Pallasvuo (Landfill Editions)
This isn’t as good as Pallasvuo’s Pure Shores from 2015, but then again, what is?
It’s a much more abstract book. You get the feeling that Pallasvuo has lost his interest in narrative, but there’s still quite a lot going on story-wise.
The artwork has similarly grown more amorphous.
It’s an interesting reading experience.
Iceland by Yuichi Yokoyama (Retrofit/Big Planet)
And speaking of abstract experiences, Yuichi Yokoyama is moving in the opposite direction. While his previous books were all propulsion and movement, this time we get a sort of plot.
I don’t want to use the expression “dream logic” but now I did anyway and it’s too late and I can’t go back nyah nyah.
It’s a very loud book.
Park Bench by Chabouté (Gallery 13)
What?! Another book by Chabouté? In 2017? Also big enough to stun several cows? Yes, looks like the American publisher is catching up on the publishing schedule.
This time, the concept induces even further eyeball rolling: It’s a wordless book about a park bench and the people (and animals) that interact with them. We follow a large group of characters through the years and see how they change. And all while they’re sitting on or standing around that bench.
Here’s one: An elderly couple who return, again and again, to share some kind of cake or candy on that bench in the cutest way possible.
Can you guess how their story ends? Can you? I bet you can. I bet you everybody who saw these two pages went “oh, no; surely he’s not going to pull that one”. But he is.
OOPS! SPOILERS IN PREVIOUS PARAGRAPH.
But, again, like with Alone, I can’t resist. This is high level melodrama; like Douglas Sirk distilled and printed on paper.
I laughed (out loud); I cried (silently) and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Fred the Clown: The Iron Duchess by Roger Langridge (Fantagraphics)
Langridge has been doing comics for quite a while now, but I didn’t really become aware of him until last year. And he’s hilarious, which makes this a timely (for me) new book.
And I wasn’t disappointed. (Well, I was disappointed that it was a wordless book, because Langridge is also good at them verbal funnies.) Langridge’s artwork is razor sharp. I understand why they chose this paper stock, because it makes his sharp lines really stand out, but the shinyness of the covered stock is just unpleasant.
Anyway! It’s a wild and weird adventure where Fred (the Clown) and his trusty pig companion (here joined by a horse) have to rescue a girl from being married off to her evil butler (for reasons that were never made clear).
As you can guess, hijinx ensue, but there’s also an emotional component to this story that I didn’t see coming. I teared up a bit at the end.
Great fun. *sniffle*
Present by Leslie Stein (Drawn & Quarterly)
This is a collection of shorter pieces that Stein has published, er, elsewhere. (Vice, perhaps?) I enjoy her longer work, too, but these shorter bits are just more… better…
And look at that holey cover.
The stories she tells are always amusing and interesting, but it’s just fascinating to gaze at these pages. She manages to make everything nice and clear while drawing in this super-minimal way. (Well, the colours aren’t minimal, but you get my drift.)
Non 1 edited by Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics)
When Reynolds ended his previous anthology Mome, a whole world cried out in horror, because there wasn’t anywhere else to get shorter work out on a regular basis.
He’s finally pulled himself together and started a new one, and… It’s kinda good. I hate the paper, but I guess it keeps the package reasonably priced.
There’s a lot of good work here, but I can’t really see any identity to the anthology yet: It just feels like I’ve tripped and fallen into a stack of unrelated submissions.
The alternative history (above) by Malachi Ward & Matt Sheean is thrilling to read in a way that I thought no alternative history told through captions could be: Just the way that it hints at things not being talked about explicitly.
But what’s the relation to Eleanor Davis’s brilliant exploration of intimacy, either thematically, tonally, art-wise or … anything?
So it’s a good anthology, but it’s no Mome yet.
Anna & Froga by Anouk Ricard (Drawn & Quarterly)
This is a collection of (if I’m reading the indicia right) four book originally published in French. It’s ostensibly a children’s book, but it reminds me a lot of Simon Hanselmann’s Megg & Mogg saga: It’s about a group of people with apparently no jobs who just hang out, eat and do pranks (often to each other).
And just like in Megg & Mogg, there’s one asshole weisenheimer who usually gets his comeuppance.
But one thing Hanselmann doesn’t do is this story structure: The plot apparently ends there…
… but then on the next spread we get another beat, drawn in this more storybook-like style.
Byrjing edited by Anja Dahle Øverbye and Ingrid Flognfeldt Brubaker (Blokk Forlag)
Finally something Norwegian.
This is a new Norwegian anthology, and the name means “start”, which is a promising title for a new publisher. And not only that, but I think this is the best Norwegian anthology ever published. By far.
You’ve got these great abstract pieces (Ina Marie Winter Åshaug)…
These intense psychodramas (Marianne Engedal)…
And these complex puzzle pieces (Kay Arne Kirkebø). And a lot more. But it’s still, somehow, cohesive. And not a single bad strip between them.
A remarkable achievement. But they’ve published nothing since this one, which was released last winter, so outlook bad.
Alack Sinner by José Muñoz and Carlos Sampayo (IDW)
Man, I never thought I’d finally see the day when somebody would release a copy of Alack Sinner in a language I can read. Ever since Raw printed a short story back in the early 80s, I just adored the artwork and the mood.
But! It’s released by IDW. Will they screw up anything like they did with the cover design for the Corto Maltese series?
Not at first glance; no. The cover’s OK, although that logo looks a bit weird. And it’s not printed on shiny paper (it’s kinda off-white newsprintey which suits the material perfectly), and it’s pleasant to hold, even though it’s 400 pages.
400 pages of Alack Sinner! *heart attack*
So everything is hunky dory? No, of course they had to do at least one stupid thing, which is to print the stories in “internal chronology” order, which means that the first story in the book is this late work drawn in this expressive style…
… before we go to this early tight-ass “American” style…
… before ricocheting back to where we were, almost.
The stories themselves are wonderful. And, most exciting of all:
1! There’s going to be another volume! Another 400 pages!
*another heart attack*
Education by John Hankiewicz (F.U. Press)
Did I do the joke about F.U. Press being Fantagraphics even-less-publicising-than-the-zero-publicising-they-do- for-their-main-line? I did? Well then, never mind, but that’s the reason you won’t find this book on any of the other “best of 2017” lists. Because I think there’s (at most) seven people that’s aware of its existence.
It’s brilliant. There’s just so much going on here, what with nobody being on panel while they’re talking, everybody’s moving around as if they’re dancing, people taking turns wearing the same clothes, people repeating the actions of other people…
It’s like every page demands that you sit and interpret all the symbology (like did I just imagine the sexual references?), but it’s also a breezy read. And funny. And pretty.
The Ladies-in-Waiting by Santiago Gracía and Javier Olivares (Fantagraphics)
While the UN sanctioned international moratorium on comics biographies of famous artists (vaguely drawn in the style of these artists) went into effect late 2017 after 47 people working for a book distributor were crushed under a three thousand ton avalanche of these books, this one was slipped through anyway.
Because despite this spread…
… it’s a pretty good book. It’s got a nice flow, and the subject here is just interesting. And the creators find ways of changing things up by using a variety of styles so that you don’t have to endure them aping the same famous artist for 160 pages.
And it’s fun.
Tongues by Anders Brekhus Nilsen (self published?)
My copy came with this “zine” which has sketches for the characters in the main book:
Nice. But the main book is teh awsum:
It’s a floppy, so it harks back to those good old days when Big Questions was being serialised. But it’s an oversized colour magazine, which is nothing like Big Questions. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s late and I’ve been typing at this blog article for hours and hours and I’m sure nobody read this far.
But it’s really, really good.
Whatsa Paintoonist? by Jerry Moriarty (Fantagraphics)
I’ve never seen anything quite like this book. Here’s what a typical spread looks like:
You have paintings to the left (that may or may not be telling a story), and then you have this sketch-like strip to the right where the painter (Moriarty) explains what’s going on in the paintings to a girl. The rhythm established is kinda hypnotic. It’s nothing like Moriarty’s wonderful work from the 80s (Jack Survives), but it’s new and fresh.
Escape from Syria by Samya Kullab, Jackie Roche and Mike Freiheit (Firefly Books)
I thought that it was pretty likely that this was going to be pretty wretched. Not only is it on trend, but it’s got a list of creators 235% longer than the mean of the other creator lists in this blog article.
But it doesn’t suck! Instead of being a first person account (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it’s written by a journalist who’s worked with Syrian refugees. And while I think you could perhaps say that it idealises the protagonists a bit beyond belief, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be touched by the narrative.
You & A Bike & A Road by Eleanor Davis (Koyama)
Davis does such gorgeous colour work normally that when I initially opened this book…
… I was immediately disappointed. “Noo! Where are the beautiful colours!”
This is a diary comic of sorts: It was apparently (mostly?) drawn while on a bike trip from Arizona to Georgia (that lasted for two months). In addition to the usual stuff you might expect (funny and kind strangers, beautiful landscaped, knee pains) you also get this:
Davis was biking not that far from the border to Mexico for quite a while, and there’s a constant immigration police presence.
Oh, and that initial disappointment? It disappeared after a couple of pages. I just love her expressive, beautiful lines and figure work.
And the book packs an emotional wallop you wouldn’t expect from a book like this. It’s both a sad and profoundly uplifting book. And perhaps contemplative biking should become the next major genre.
Sex Fantasy by Sophie Foster-Dimino (Koyama Press)
I think this was originally published as a series of smaller books? I seem to remember having a couple of them? Or am I just completely making things up?
Anyway, this is a thick, thick book of sad and funny vignettes that seem to speed by so fast that it’s difficult to stop reeling from the trauma inflicted by these intensively emotional stories.
The act of reading this book is so physical, because you turn turn turn the pages, and it’s all just a bit too much. But in a wonderful way.
Songy of Paradise by Gary Panter (Fantagraphics)
And here’s the completely opposite of Foster-Dimino’s book: It’s huge and thin instead of squat and fat, and it’s playful and distanced instead of being sincere and emotional.
A new work by Gary Panter is always a reason to rejoice, even though I couldn’t really make heads or tails of this one. Is it as obscure as Panter’s last two Jimbo books (printed in similar formats)? Nope; it’s almost straightforward, but I guess I just don’t… understand… what Panter wants with this book.
But it’s funny and very pretty.
Boundless by Jillian Tamaki (Drawn & Quarterly)
While reading this I was frequently going “wow! that really packed an emotional punch!”, but then I went, “hey… wait…”
“That story was a bit like an elevator pitch, too, right?” I talk too much to myself in my head. But it’s like this: This book has wonderful artwork, fabulous storytelling and more art styles than you can shake a stick at. But after the, like, fourth story where, if you think a bit about what you’ve just read, it’s a bit like “did I just read the result of a pitch?”
“It’s like a mirror-world Facebook.” “It’s about a woman that grows shorter.” “It’s about a forgotten porn sitcom.” “It’s about getting bed bugs.” “It’s about a mysterious mp3 file that makes people hallucinate.”
“That sounds like a cool story,” I imagine the editor being pitched responded each and every time, and then Tamaki went and drew the story.
But if you don’t notice the pattern, these are some really awesome short pieces.
One More Year by Simon Hanselmann (Fantagraphics)
Oh, here’s another Hanselmann book. It includes the Drone story I mentioned up there. So redundant! Perhaps I should, like, edit out that entry up there… Well, too late now, since I’ve already written this bit and it wouldn’t make sense to then remove the Drone bit up there so you know.
Just like Hanselmann’s two earlier books about Megg and Mogg (and Owl), we get the usual stories about sitting on the couch and getting high while watching sit-coms on TV. But here we also get their amazing origin story! So exciting.
What can I say? It’s brash, it’s horrifying, it’s funny and it’s heartbreaking. What more do you want?
And Hanselmann’s artwork is as suited to his squirmy tales as ever.
The Collected Neil the Horse by Arn Saba (Conundrum Press)
And finally, we have probably the best book here: A a collected Neil the Horse. I adored this comic when I was a teenager, and rereading it now, in a slightly larger format and with better printing, has been pure joy.
How can you not smile?
I just love the Barksey linework, but with stark spotted blacks making everything so gorgeous.
And speaking of which, I also bought the tapes of this radio show way back when, and I put it on Youtube for your enjoyment. (If Katherine Collins or anybody objects, please let me know and I’ll remove them again.)
Anyway! This collected edition seems to have everything from the original comics (except letters pages and stuff), so it’s a cornucopia of comics, songs, illustrated stories and everything. Get thee shopping.
Aaand… that’s it! I read a lot of comics this year, and my impression was that this hadn’t been a very strong year. So I must have read a lot of crap, because this was a bumper crop of good stuff.
After writing the above, I googled around a bit to see what the major publications had on their best-of lists, and there’s a lot of decent stuff, but it’s mostly all so… respectable.
Take the one from The Vulture. There’s an embarrassing amount of overlap between that list and the books above here, but I’ve read all the other books on that list (except the Connor Willumsen one (which I now have to get)), and in every case when had read the book I was thinking “this book will end up on all of the ‘best of’ lists this year”.
Not because the books are particularly fantastic, but because they deal with Serious Subjects. It’s like Oscar season: You know those particularly Oscar-ey movies? Those are award-ey comics. If you get the reader feeling that they’re reading about something worthy (or identifying with the protagonist), the book doesn’t have to be, like, that good.
So there seems to be a consensus about a number of worthy books, but there’s a few missing that I thought would be there. Just because they seem like the stuff to be on those lists.
Like Spinning by Tillie Walden. It beautifully drawn, and I liked her previous books a lot. But I approached this one with a bit of trepidation: First Second have a tendency to make most artist suck by relentlessly editing out any semblance of life from the “scripts”. Some authors survive the process, but they’re pretty rare. And Spinning had all the hallmarks of the pitch/outline/full script/draw it already grind, so I thought it was going to go down great everywhere, but apparently not. Didn’t First Second push it hard enough? I mean, it’s not a bad book, and it’s topical, and it’s pretty, and it’s really really easy to read…
A book with the opposite problem is The Customer Is Always Wrong by Mimi Pond: Editors should (in principle) not get anywhere near a comic book, but couldn’t somebody at least have read it and given Pond some sort of feedback on basic readability? “Hey… why did the caption name that bartender but not any of the others? Is he somebody we’ve seen before? No? Will we see him again? No? WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE! THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME!” I really wanted to like this book (I did like her previous one, Over Easy), but it was such a slog in certain parts. (There were sections that were really fun.) But anyway, I thought it would end up on the “best of” lists anyway, because it’s an interesting subject and Mimi Pond has a somewhat well-known name…
And the final frustrating book is My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame. I love his artwork, and this is a mostly cute and fun book, but the endlessly recurring after school special scenes where we’re bravely being explained that, no, gay people are not monsters, were really grating. And in a way I kinda felt paradoxically insulted on behalf of Japanese people in general: The main impression after reading this book is that Japanese people must be developmentally challenged. IN THEIR HEADS. Which isn’t accurate, I think. I didn’t think anybody else would mind, though, so I thought it would be a shoo-in for these “best of” lists, but apparently nobody else found the endearing bits (and there are many) as swell as I did. (Also: The will-they-won’t-they sexual sub-plot is almost as creepy as Chasing Amy. OK, let’s not exaggerate. Half as.)
I also read some great books that weren’t published in 2017. Quite a lot, even though I didn’t mean to. Here’s some more:
Extended Play by Jake Terrell (2d cloud)
There’s something liberating about Terrell’s wispy artwork.
It’s been almost a year since I read this one, and I can’t really recall what the storyline (if any) was about, but just riffling through the pages now is very pleasant.
Nicolas by Pascal Girard (Drawn & Quarterly)
This is a book about Girard dealing with having a dead brother.
That sounds like it’s going to be very sad and heavy, and it is. If that also sounds like it’s going to maudlin and treacly, he somehow manages to avoid that almost completely. The open layout helps a lot, I think: All the characters just float in this sad, lonely void.
Iggy 4-Ever by Hanna Gustavsson (Galago)
This Swedish book apparently was nominated to All The Awards (according to the stickers on the cover here), but didn’t win?
It’s yet another coming of age tale, and those can get kinda wearying after a while. But the artwork’s charming and there’s a real sense of realness to the proceedings. I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody were to publish an English translation… Probably… Top Shelf?
Girl Stories by Lauren R. Weinstein (Henry Holt)
This was published back in 2006, but somehow remained a mystery to me until now.
And, yes, it’s yet yet another another coming of age book, but this one is told in an episodic kinda early Ernie Pook way. And you can’t have too much early Ernie Pook Komeek.
It’s funny and it’s brash.
Panther by Brecht Evans (Drawn & Quarterly)
I think this one ended up on everybody’s “best of” list last year, and deservedly so.
The artwork is completely gorgeous, and that asshole panther is really unnerving.
White Boy by Garrett Price (Sunday Press)
If I understand things correctly, Sunday Press’ thing is to reprint newspaper strips in their original format. That is, if it was running in a broadsheet newspaper, then the book’s going to be pretty large. I’ve got the Gasoline Alley one, and it’s so huge that you more resign to spend your life inside it than trying to hold it with your hands
I have no idea why they insist on all those gradients on the cover, though, it looks ugly.
Anyway, this book isn’t that big, because White Boy was a half page strip. Which means that it’s only this high, but thiiiis wide.
Just look. Goes on until infinity.
If you’re lucky enough to have long enough arms to be able to read it, you’ll be amply rewarded, because it’s kinda unlike anything else. Sure, it’s a cowboy & indian “adventure” strip, but the stories never go anywhere, and the mood and direction of the strip veers wildly.
But it’s a joy to look at, and it’s great fun.
That’s it. This blog post is now over.
I was reading Pride of the Decent Man by T. J. Kirsch, published by NBM. It’s OK, but I found myself sort of vaguely annoyed by the diary/letter parts. They look like this:
And then I started really staring at the diary (and letter) snippets.
And then it hit me: There’s really no other way to get bold handwritten text other than to have two pens: One thin pen and one thick pen.
Which then suddenly changes the image of the person writing these diary pages from the grizzled old man seen above to a 14-year-old boy, lying on his bed with a pop song on the stereo, writing his diary with different pens and dotting the i’s with hearts and glitter.
I mean, in my mind.
So, hot tip for people working with computer lettering and “hand-written” fonts (which this is): Don’t use bold. Use underlining if you want to get that insane grizzled random insistent vibe going on.
This has been a public service announcement.