THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/24/10 – Snow, Swedes & Orcs)


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

From A Drifting Life

No messing around – the book I’m most excited to see this week is Drawn and Quarterly’s annual Yoshihiro Tatsumi release, Black Blizzard. I’m always glad to see further Tatsumi in English, although I wonder if my enthusiasm for the the raw nerve agony of his in-the-thick-of-it gekiga work is especially transferable. I’m reminded of a short, critical piece Bill Randall, my choice for the best manga critic writing in English, did on D&Q’s 2008 story collection Good-Bye; he cites the deluxe format lavished on the work by its North American publisher, a real whiff of prestige given to obscure-in-their-time comics, mostly forgotten in Japan and “as subtle as pissing in someone’s face.”

Yes! Exactly! That’s why I like Tatsumi’s work: it’s unrefined, maddeningly dank stuff, the work of an early comics pioneer staggering bleary-eyed into a terrifying, uncertain future and lashing out nervously at every envisioned hell in a titanically blunt manner. One of the best things about 2009’s autobiographical doorstop, A Drifting Life — as lulling and-this-and-this-and-this-and-this a steady rolling comics memoir as one can imagine — is how it contextualizes Tatsumi’s status as a comics innovator as coming much earlier: a post-war, post-Tezuka appreciative reaction from longing for bigger, stronger comics, mostly ‘darker’ genre things like crime and mystery stories. Only at the very end of the book (which is apparently still continuing in Japan) do we get a hint of where Tatsumi’s dramatic picture obsessions might take him, and from that we can infer a most idiosyncratic development from slightly-more-mature genre comics into punch-to-the-mush city terror and perpetually radiating war.

Funny how American and Japanese comics seemed to link up just a little bit in the ’50s – two takes on a medium gradually maturing by way of increasingly harsh genre comics, albeit with manga a little ways behind. I think a close examination of some actual Japanese work of the time will nicely emphasize the substantive differences in formal approach, not the least of which was Tezuka’s fascination with cinematographic principles, inspiring I think an especially potent visual emphasis on early manga that facilitated the decompressed, atmospheric style Tatsumi develops (as a character) in A Drifting Life. Or, if comparative studies isn’t your thing, at least the speculation can become more informed as to how Tatsumi’s own crime/mystery/adventure comics mutated into… Yoshihiro Tatsumi as introduced to North American readers, as opposed to the sleeker genre stuff of peer Takao Saito’s Golgo 13, which started up in 1969 – the same year as the work collected in The Push Man and Other Stories.

This is why Black Blizzard may prove to be the most valuable ‘classic’ release of the year, even though some will regard it as plain juvenilia. It’s an old crime comic from a young Tatsumi, who blew through its 100+ pages in the space of 20 days in 1956, while also working on the monthly proto-gekiga anthology Shadow. A pianist is falsely imprisoned for murder, and escapes while shackled to a more dangerous man, all in the midst of highly inclement weather. Expect many slashing diagonal lines and cinematic techniques, and a perfectly handsome $19.95 softcover treatment. A few sample pages are here.

And there’s plenty more where that came from.

The Book of Grickle: Being a new hardcover Dark Horse collection of funnies-or-not by cartoonist, animator, Hickee co-founder and computer game development veteran Graham Annable. It appears to be a ‘best of’ project, maybe in the same Dark Horse Originals line of books as the publisher’s recent Carol Swain survey Crossing the Empty Quarter and Other Stories, which was very nice. Samples; $17.99.

The 120 Days of Simon: Excellent title. This is among the first releases of Top Shelf’s Swedish Invasion, a month (or so) dedicated to the release of five English editions of Swedish comics or books-about-comics. It’s a 416-page account of cartoonist/television presenter/hip-hop recording artist Simon Gärdenfors‘ daring (and scrupulously advertised) quest to live on the open road for 120 days, without staying in the same place for more than two nights. Preview; $14.95.

Hey Princess: And here’s item #2, a purportedly very straightforward slice of autobio from one Matts Jonsson, covering life and love and pop music and Swedish society in the mid-90s. Bits; $14.95.

On the Odd Hours: Continuing NBM Publishing’s English translations of the Musée du Louvre series of comics albums relating to (and co-published by) the famous museum. I’ve only read the first one of these, Nicolas De Crécy’s Glacial Period, but it was a fine, clever piece of light fun with the trickiness of building historical narratives and art analysis. I’m sure the line rises and falls on the creators, though – this one’s a 2008 piece by Eric Liberge, in which works of art come alive via digital collage, or so it appears. Preview; $14.95.

The Guild #1 (of 3): A Dark Horse miniseries tie-in to a gaming-themed internet comedy series created by Felicia Day (who scripts), noteworthy for being drawn by Jim Rugg of Afrodisiac. Have a look; $3.50.

Orc Stain #2: I enjoyed the first issue of this ongoing Image series – writer/artist James Stokoe works an appealing mix of ultra-detailed wide spaces, Miyazakian creature designs and American ’60s underground touches, both visual design-wise (Vaughn Bodé figures in prominently) and lackadaisically narrative, as thieving outside-of-society characters chit-chat and fuck around and rob the graves of their great ancestors. For those who thought odd, catchy comics couldn’t pop out of the front of Previews and wait to be discovered on the shelf; $2.99.

King City #6 (of 12): Also from Image, also in laid back explore-the-setting world fusion style in which a Cat Master encounters increasingly monstrous secrets of the city, (um, I’m clearer here,) Brandon Graham concludes the portion of this series reprinting its prior Tokyopop digest incarnation in oversized comic book form – next time’s all brand new; $2.99.

Phonogram Vol. 2: The Singles Club: But Image does bookshelf things too – here’s the newest (and, for the immediate future, final) collection of Kieron Gillen’s & Jamie McKelvie’s music-as-magic mega-metaphor, here covering 160 color pages’ worth of the experiences of various club patrons on a single night, as their interactions with and appreciation of music manifests in various telling and fantastical ways. Some pages; $14.99.

Nemesis #1 (of 4): I know some of you out there liked Kick-Ass — it certainly looked great, some of my favorite recent superhero art hands-down — so here’s writer Mark Millar’s follow-up project with Marvel’s creator-owned Icon line, a short series about a wicked genius who dresses as a supervillain, annually selects a top law enforcement official somewhere in the world and devotes himself to becoming the primary antagonist of the poor sap’s life story. But wouldn’t life seem a little more straightened out if you knew there was a final boss at the end? Drawn by Steve McNiven of Civil War and Old Man Logan. Samples; $2.99.

Hellblazer #265: Your Peter Milligan of the week, now marking the return of occasional guest artist Simon Bisley for a two-part story about young people worshiping old punk music John Constantine lived through and shit; $2.90.

glamourpuss #12: The presence of Dave Sim; $3.00.

The Newsboy Legion by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby Vol. 1: Having possibly hit bottom in the color Kirby Katalog, DC now dips into Simon/Kirby for a 360-page collection of material from Star Spangled Comics, in the hardcover format now well-known to beneficiaries of this Golden Age of Reprints; $49.99.

The Complete Peanuts Vol. 13: 1975-1976: Speaking of well-known! The intro here is by Robert Smigel, which will probably be good; $28.99. Note that this week also brings Running Press’ $12.95 Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Peanuts, which appears to be an old-timey Charlie Brown novelty book in which characters deliver profound sayings on each page. Contrast.

Donald Duck Classics Vol. 1: Quack Up: But it wouldn’t be a Golden Age without new efforts springing up frequently, so Boom! Studios brings us a 112-page hardcover collection of vintage Duck stories by Carl Barks and others – I can’t find any organizing principle, just the promise of aged fowl; $24.99.

Wacky Packages New New New: A sequel to a 2008 collection of art from the old Topps spoof cards, this new hardcover presents images from 1974-75 (series 8-14), featuring work from (I think) Kim Deitch and Bill Griffith. Jay Lynch provides the introduction. From Abrams ComicArts; $19.95.

The Art of Jaime Hernandez: The Secrets of Life and Death: And finally, your book-about-comics for the week, another Abrams production, in which Todd Hignite of Comic Art guides us through the Hernandez archives for 224 pages of oversized (9″ x 12 1/4″) imagery. Alison Bechdel introduces; $40.00.

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11 Responses to “THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/24/10 – Snow, Swedes & Orcs)”
  1. Bill Randall says:

    Oh, Jog. While I must admit the efficacy of urine as both a pedagogical and aesthetic tool, I just don’t get why D&Q seems determined to put every damn thing the guy wrote into English. When he’s not even that good. I do get a kick out of the rawness, or just how all those 50s/60s works seem drawn with a woodburner… like Tsuge’s “Rats,” a story that trades “Aguirre, the Wrath of God’s” monkeys for rats and puts them on a spaceship. Cool, but not on my hotlist. (Neither’s any EC work, which this resembles in one sense.)

    If the proper rejoinder’s “Start your own damn publishing house!” then fair enough. Much, much, much happier about the Matt Thorn/Fanta news.

  2. Oh yeah? Well why don’t you start your own damn… HEY!!

    I’m actually a bit taken with how D&Q has been going about these releases… how they’ve switched Tatsumi’s ‘branding’ (so to speak) from poetical adult funnies of literary value to more of a means for historical exploration, starting with the autobiography, which they subsequently dove into for BLACK BLIZZARD… I do think it has a special attraction as representing a certain type of manga from a certain time period, otherwise completely unknown to North American shelves, save for, ah, the samples Tatsumi presented in A DRIFTING LIFE. The only thing I can think of that comes close is Dark Horse’s releases of Tezuka’s early stuff (LOST WORLD, METROPOLIS, NEXTWORLD) – I’m sure it helps to have a name built up beforehand with these old works (and a trusted relationship with the artist), and that’s what they’ve managed with Tatsumi, bringing them to this point.

    It gives their releases a sense of… logic? I am obviously looking forward to those Matt Thorn-curated Fanta releases too…

  3. Also: I made a mistake in calling D&Q’s BLACK BLIZZARD release a hardcover – it’s actually a softcover, so I’ve updated the post to reflect that.

  4. Zack Soto says:

    I flipped through a copy of the Jamie Hernandez art book today, its one of the prettiest books I’ve ever seen in my life, no foolin. I can’t wait to actually read the text and so on.

    And I wish DC would put KAMANDI, probably my favorite 70s kirby book, out in those new omnibus style books. That format is almost perfect for reprinting old super comics and the production values on the Archives books is pretty lackluster.

  5. […] Dacey, Gia Manry, Brad Rice, and David Welsh look at this week’s new releases. Joe McCulloch is really looking forward to Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s Black Blizzard, and he sees a lot of […]

  6. Jim G says:

    Hey guys,
    I’m thrilled you’re thrilled about Grickle, and I am pretty darn thrilled about it myself, but sadly, it isn’t out until April 7.

    Sorry! But it is great, so please stay thrilled for it!

  7. Phil says:

    Amen, Zach. Why hasn’t DC reprinted Kamandi in the “color Kirby Katalog” format?

  8. Thanks Jim. I compose these posts via Diamond’s weekly list of releases, which (still) has it slotted for this week:

    Naturally, this doesn’t guarantee every book listed will actually appear, but I’ve found it’s generally the most reliable tool to go by for a broad swathe of stuff… Midtown also has it listed for release today, for what it’s worth. Errors may crop up, though!

  9. Zack Soto says:

    The Book of Grickle is out and looking great at my shop (admittedly in portland, but I know it came through Diamond, so..)

  10. Daniel says:

    Book of Grickle out in NC also.

  11. inkstuds says:

    Grickle is out in my local store. And it’s great. Talking to Graham tmrw.

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