THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (11/17/10 – Small Lives)
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Here we have an image from one of the highlights of this week’s releases: Fantagraphics’ The Littlest Pirate King, an English edition of the 2009 album Roi Rose by the redoubtable David B., himself working from a Pierre Mac Orlan prose story (from 1921, I believe). It ‘s a lovely presentation, as thin (48 pages), tall (8.5 x 11.25″) and comparatively costly ($16.99) as the hardcover album format tends to demand; it’s no surprise, perhaps, that the slightly altered title and solicitation copy (“…a magical yarn that can be enjoyed by young and old alike”) motion toward the Young Adult or children’s books market, a potentially safer space for works in this or similar format(s).
Yet there’s also an appreciable difference between what we’ve seen of David B. in English and what we’re about to get. If this is the kid-friendly Beauchard joint, its calling card is the artist’s interest in depicting animated panel-to-panel ‘action,’ as seen above. There is a great interest here in impactful representation: huge sea creatures, sloshing waves, thick shadows and rich colors, dictative of mood.
The iconographic style typically deployed by the artist — at least in the body of work available to English-only readers — sinks into a manga-like diminution of detail, like how a character might become chibi for the purposes of delivering a joke, though for David B. it’s to blend individual forms into masses of activity, gradually shrinking in the bottom two tiers as each panel leaps forward in space and time. In closer views, the skeletal nature of David B.’s undead cast allows for some dramatic use of shadow (panel 1), while otherwise conveying the mass of humanity that is the undead. No anonymous zombies here, yet it is an effort (and damn effective) at fixed depiction, which rests this younger-targeted piece that much closer to the mainstream of genre comics art.
It is still David B., though, in several compelling ways. Above we see a more typical ‘David B.’ page, studying the growth of death from life and visually matching the diverse faces of the undead pirate crew with living folks of the day; combined with its narrative captions, the comic subtly indicates the unacknowledged omnipresence of death in human life — inescapable! — though David B. is careful to present the surface ‘story’ as the hidden adventures of the undead pirate crew. Likewise, his usage of more specifically iconographic drawings is explained in-story as just a means of conveying the information being narrated at that moment, like a documentary film cutting away to an animated graph. By panel 5 we’re back on board with dramatic perspectives, and a little concluding joke: the icon of the pirate flag is, of course, indistinguishable from the pirates’ actual faces.
Moreover, the work connects to other works of the artist in English as a more literal accessory to their themes. No reader of Epileptic or Babel (returning in 2011, sez the indicia) can misplace David B.’s dreamy fascination with spies and wars and action and fantasy, blended into the specific dream journal of Nocturnal Conspiracies. This is one of those stories come fully to life, and its plot — a human baby winds up on the undead, eternally-voyaging pirate ship, but cannot stay — suggests the eventual abandonment of the boy on the shores of adulthood, where he too may forget such imaginings in the crowd.
Yet The Littlest Pirate King is most closely allied with the metaphoric short fantasies scattered through MOME, to be reunited in English next year as The Armed Garden. Those were very adult genre comics, rich with concern for socio-religious development, transcendent and destructive. This loud, hustling color work is not so deep, but marries similar concerns to its heightened thrill power; the child may be the title character, but David B.’s attentions are devoted to the pirates, desperate to find some way to exit the mortal plane to which they’ve been damned, and ultimately given to find the presence of a living child as less a boon than a test from God, so that his painful absence might guide them finally to salvation.
Yep, even the fish in the lower right corner can’t believe he’s seeing a blue-lit, heavy-shadow David B. fight scene. But fighting, tactility – that’s the point. Ironically, this most undead of the artist’s works hones in on the simple uncertainties of believing in God, the human pain of religion, and by this we can see David B.’s present fondness for surface action as a powerful emphasis on the Moment, the textures of waking life. Throwing a punch, yes, stabbing unwitting sea men, yes, a pirate’s life, but fully in the realm of the waves and the bones, away from the artist’s world of the mind; if it’s jarring to you, just think about how bad it is for the characters stuck living in there, and trying to get out.
This and other means of exercising one’s liberty follow:
The Littlest Pirate King: See above. More images; $16.99.
The Little Prince: But that’s not all we’ve got in the ever-expanding ‘child-ready literary adaptations by French alternative comics notables of the last 20 years’ department — this time next year, that’ll be all I’m listing — as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt brings a 2008 Joann Sfar take (hardcover, 112 pages) on the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry classic. Contrary to what the link indicates, I do believe this is in English, although a slightly more expensive French-language edition should be floating around too; $19.99.
Little Maakies on the Prairie: This is neither French nor a comics version of an old children’s book, and yet it seems so of a kind! Maybe it’s the “Little,” or Tony Millionaire’s affinity for vintage cartooning and illustration, or perhaps Maakies simply goes with everything. Fantagraphics, “the joy of seeing wonderful things,” 120 pages, 2007-09. Samples; $19.99.
Castle Waiting Vol. 2: Also of related interest from Fanta comes a second thick (384-page) hardcover compilation of Linda Medley’s well-regarded folkloric/fairy story exploration, now as pertinent a bridge between ’90s comic book self-publishing and current YA comics interest as its former publishing cousin Bone. I presume this includes all of the Fantagraphics-published Vol. II material thus far, totaling 15 issues (a small portion of which accounted for previously uncollected self-published material). Preview; $29.99.
What I Did.: Being another of the week’s Fanta hardcover collections, an omnibus edition of the publisher’s first three translated books by Jason. Hey, Wait… almost certainly requires no introduction; it was still a pretty well-discussed book when I started reading comics again in 2002, the year after its English-language publication, and I’ve always suspected that the comparably cooler enthusiasms Jason would later evoke had something to do with subsequent works’ departure from the bleak human tragedy we first got from him, a rather straightforward study of gnawing guilt and adult self-destruction that interfaces with ‘fantasy’ elements in a mannered, detached style, which perhaps spoke most clearly to some readers’ impressions of how literary comics ought to behave, though the artist quickly chased his muse elsewhere.
Then again, the next two books were likewise experimental: Sshhhh! took the form of wordless seriocomic vignettes relating to one of Jason’s silent clown-type wanderer characters, while The Iron Wagon spun around for a dialogue-heavy adaptation of a formative Scandinavian mystery novel… oh wow, maybe that should be on the cover these days. I mostly recall a really nice, almost Mignolaesque use of silhouettes and red – oh, what the hell:
As with David B. above, such dramatics are uncommon to Jason, although we frankly know more of the latter than the former in English. Indeed, by now we can get a good grip on his evolution, of which The Iron Wagon is as much a tranforming moment as Hey, Wait…, which lends the present compilation (and its off-handed title) some meaning; before long, the artist’s characteristic, melancholic blend of fantasy and genre tropes would solidify, to the uneven but sometimes wonderful ends showcased in this hardcover line’s prior number, Almost Silent. Preview; $24.99.
Hewligan’s Haircut: The reprint item of the week for many, I think, coming from Simon & Schuster’s North American line of 2000 AD-culled softcovers. No doubt, the big draw for this 1990 mini-saga of altered states is artist Jamie Hewlett, but I like to think of it as a 64-page manifesto-for-existence by writer Peter Milligan, whose own catalog typically sees odd fantasies and personal masquerades crash headlong into the mess of everyday living. The story of a young man determined to finally fit in with society’s expectations, whose attempt at cutting his own hair ends up rending the very fabric of reality, Hewligan’s Haircut is an occasionally obscure and often overstated but pleasingly overheated tour of literary and artistic allusion, positing aesthetic prolificacy as a means of transcending the momentary norms of one’s cultural position. Interestingly, 2000 AD seems keen on presenting it as a potentially wide-appealing, YA-ish book (certainly a theme this week): “For fans of Jeff Smith’s Bone.” It’s Gorillaz that’ll buy this most of its ticket to any broader an audience, I suspect, but Milligan’s bluntness of theme may yet prove helpful; $11.99.
Sláine: Warrior’s Dawn: Also from S&S and the pages of 2000 AD, some earlier (and more characteristic) violent fantasy stuff featuring Pat Mills’ Celtic barbarian character, 1983-84. Art by co-creator Angela Kincaid and early primary artists Mike McMahon and the late Massimo Belardinelli; $17.99.
Vertigo Resurrected: The Extremist: Also from the Peter Milligan library, a low-cost comic book-format collection of a 1993 miniseries created with artist Ted McKeever, following a woman’s attempts to come to grips with the vigilante leather action surrounding her late husband’s relationship to SEX CRIME. Suggested for Mature Readers of the nasty superhero persuasion; $7.99.
The Great Treasury of Christmas Comic Book Stories: Also from the wide world of reprints, a Craig Yoe-edited IDW compilation for 176 pages’ worth of seasonal tidings. John Stanley, Walt Kelly, others; $34.99.
Saturn Apartments Vol. 2: Some really endearing art — soft, gobby bodies all around — in this Hisae Iwaoka series-of-stories set in an orbital ring. Also online from Viz; $12.99.
Real Vol. 9: In which Viz (again) temporarily catches up to the Japanese releases of Takehiko Inoue’s ongoing basketball drama, although vol. 10 is set to hit domestically in under two weeks; $12.99.
Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil: So titled because it’s a one-off comic book consisting of two short adventures, both drawn by Richard Corben, who tends to handle Mike Mignola’s material especially well among his front-of-Previews endeavors. Samples; $3.50.
Batman: The Return: Grant Morrison #1 – probably the final finale to the most recent bit of Morrison’s unwieldy Batman saga, and possibly a lead-in to penciller (and eventual writer) David Finch’s upcoming series Batman: The Dark Knight, apparently your new home for grim, dark Bat-sagas of bloodied rubber fists; $4.99.
Batman, Inc. #1: Grant Morrison #2 – the one and only opening to Morrison’s international adventure in Bat-franchising, as Our Hero goes about recruiting a league of heroes from many lands. With artist Yanick Paquette; $3.99.
The Starry Wisdom: A Tribute to H.P. Lovecraft: Grant Morrison #3 – a new Creation Oneiros edition of 1995 tribute collection, featuring one of Morrison’s rarely-in-print forays into prose. Also: The Courtyard, Alan Moore’s original story (and the prequel to 2010′s feel-good smash Neonomicon), with William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Ramsay Campbell and others; $19.95.
Sophie Crumb: Evolution of a Crazy Artist: Not quite a book-on-comics, I don’t think, but a potentially interesting bit of familial curation – a 272-page W.W. Norton hardcover devoted to the works of Sophie Crumb, dating back to preschool or so, edited by her parents, Aline Kominsky-Crumb & Robert Crumb; $27.95.
The Best American Comics 2010: Finally, the latest 352-page sampler from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and series editors Jessica Abel & Matt Madden, with guest editor Neil Gaiman making the final selections. List of contents; $23.00.