Posts Tagged ‘Recent Reading’

A Week in the Life


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

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Pondering the deep meaning in Brightest Day?

All week, over at the Paris Review site, Dan will be sharing a diary of his recent cultural diet. You can find the first installment here. It’s heavy on music bios this time around, and considering last week’s events, there will be lots of C.F. and Chippendale talk to come in future posts, I’m sure. I think it’s fair to assume Dan will forget to mention all of the crappy disposable comics he may have read…

Actually, so far, he’s been admirably forthcoming about all of the bad television he watches—often, it seems as if the participants in these things are suspiciously likely to have picked that particular week to “re-read” Proust. If you know what I mean.

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Hayao Miyazaki Talks about Gekiga


Monday, October 12, 2009

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In Starting Point: 1979-1996, Miyazaki talks about how influential the gekiga movement was, and how he moved away from drawing gekiga. It’s interesting if you’re a fan of Miyazaki and gekiga, or just Miyazaki’s mangaka years.

These gekiga presented the message that things don’t go well in this world. Drawn by manga artists who had suffered through misfortune — in particular those who hung out around Osaka (though I must apologize to people in Osaka for saying this) — gekiga were filled with their grudges and feelings of spite, so there were no happy endings. The artists made every effort to provide cynical endings. For a student in examination hell, this disillusioned perspective seemed totally refreshing.

I had already decided to spend my future drawing pictures, so I was trying to draw ones filled with grudges and spite. Yet, as I didn’t have a concrete blueprint for my future I was filled with anxiety.

As we grow from childhood into youth, this anxiety grows exponentially, and we worry about how on earth we should live our lives. Our anxiety forces us to look for an antidote that will rid us of this feeling as quickly as possible. We want to find that something will help us grab our own chair in this world and sit in it.

I chose manga as a weapon to fight against anxiety, and, as I mentioned, at first I drew gekiga, story-oriented manga. Just about that time I saw Hakujaden (The Tale of the White Serpent.) For me, it was a kind of culture shock. I began to have doubts about gekiga…

From a section titled “Manga-style thought is dramatically influencing Japanese culture:”

So why are manga now influencing so many areas of culture? I would say one of the biggest reasons is because with manga it’s not necessary to read what you don’t want to read…

People take a completely different approach with other forms of entertainment. I really don’t think, for example, that many people would leave a theater after watching only five minutes of a boring film. And it’s probably why people have such strong opinions about films. They often sit through films even while feeling angry and wondering why the heck anyone made the thing in the first place. People don’t get angry about manga because if they don’t like the stories they won’t finish reading them. I think we can say this is one of the biggest cultural characteristics of manga. It’s no wonder that manga criticism is such a barren field.

Another hallmark of manga is that an almost limitless deformation is possible. To give a somewhat dated example, in Kyojin no hoshi (Star of the Giants), an entire episode concludes while the character Hyuma is throwing a pitch. Everything about life is encapsulated in that one pitch, and the artist depicts a whirl of recollections in the time it takes for the ball to travel. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than the Japanese pulling off something like this.

(skipping ahead…)

When works created in this fashion are taken to places like Europe, where people have no exposure to what I have been discussing, they tend to go crazy over it. It was true of the Japanese manga and anime Candy Candy, which really took off in West Germany, Italy, and even France. Of course, now it’s Sailor Moon, and they say that in Spain everyone is nuts about the work, with even adults watching the show, enthralled. [laughter] This sort of thing is actually happening.

There’s a reason shojo are interesting. They depict the inner workings of the mind, so no one draws anything they don’t want to see. And in the images depicted, what we see is not the character, but what the character is looking at. And the stories become interesting because they deform thoughts and psychological states in a more pure fashion.

Anyway, it’s hard to slice out passages like this. Check out the book if you’re interested.

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Some Recent Reading


Thursday, March 20, 2008

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I’ve been a little bad about writing (as usual), but there’s a lot going on in PictureBox land and man oh man it’s hard to think. Anyhow, I’ve recently gotten into the fun habit of stopping off at my local comics shop, Rocketship, and buying some comics on my way home from the office. Oh man it’s enjoyable to do that. Lately, co-proprietor Alex Cox has been egging me on to buy various pamphlets and, since I can’t resist, here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

Punisher War Journal: Matt Fraction writes it and Howard Chaykin draws it. I have to say, I really like this title. Fraction is firmly in the Morrison/Milligan self aware tradition, but he has a sarcastic, easy style — somehow more casual than the the Brits. I like his work here, which so far concerns washed up super villains going about their daily lives. Basically these are noir slice of life stories, like a riff on Eisner’s Spirit, where The Punisher only appears at the end to, well, make it a Punisher comic. Chaykin’s art is awfully fun. He’s never been the most subtle of artists, but he’s using photoshop is some very curious/possibly retarded ways and I like it. In any case, can you believe Howard Chaykin is drawing the Punisher? Remember American Flagg? Or Cody Starbuck?

99 and 100: Well, whenever I read Nexus I think of Frank’s smiling face, so how can I resist. This is totally fun space-opera stuff. Rude is in good form and he looks more like Russ Manning than ever. This is just delightful stuff written and drawn with utter conviction. It’s nice to see a comic book that’s not snarky or “meta”, and yet still contemporary enough to hold my attention.

Powr Mastrs 2: I read the first fifty pages last week. They’re being scanned now. Let’s just say that CF might’ve learned a thing or two from Russ Manning as well. It’s his best, most exciting work to date.

The Last Defenders #1: This comic was more or less incomprehensible to me.

Omega the Unknown #6: Another great issue, as the plot deepens and some very odd formal tropes come into play. I love this series and I think the more intricate it gets (now there’s a “Watcher” stand-in) the better.

Rasl #1: This is Jeff Smith’s new comic. I was never much of a Bone fan, but I like this. Did anyone else notice the similarities between it and Sammy Harkham’s Crickets? Or Frank’s Incanto? Lone man wandering in a hostile landscape? Well, not the most unique idea, I know, but funny to see it pop up three times in recent months. Jeff Smith’s rendering can irk me a bit sometimes — it feels overdone, too knotty and muscled. But this story, which sets us in the midst of a somewhat ambiguous scenario, moves swiftly and is perfectly paced for the pamphlet format. It’s a complete story but leaves enough questions to make me want to get the next one. That’s good serialization.

By the way, I re-read Miracleman 1-6. Oh boy, it’s awesome — it’s funny to read it now and realize it’s still so much better than the million imitators still going.

That’s all for now. Back to work.

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Recent Comics Reading


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

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We haven’t done this in a while.

Jack Kirby‘s Fourth World Omnibus, Volume 1
Everything went right with this book, which collects the early issues of Kirby’s “Fourth World” comics for DC (Jimmy Olsen, Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle), with the stories printed in order of their original publication. Some have complained about the paper stock, which is superficially reminiscent of newsprint (I’ve heard this “choice” came down to a production mistake, though that may just be rumor), but it works very well, in my opinion. The coloring is as good as it gets for this kind of archival treatment. In terms of story, this is pretty close to the deep end for pure Kirby weirdness, and those who haven’t read much by him might be better off starting with his ’60s Marvel work. Or maybe not. The ’70s period finds Kirby’s art and bizarre ideas as close to “art comics” as he would ever get.

This has been one of the most widely reviewed comics collections of the year (deservedly so), so I won’t go on too much longer, but I do want to say that I really enjoy how Kirby throws in subplots and imagery with incredibly disturbing implications (the underground government cloning facility, the fact that the very first person they decided to clone was Superman (an incredibly incautious choice, I’d think)) in an almost offhand manner, barely commented upon by the characters. There are a lot more levels to these stories than might seem initially apparent.

Richard Sala‘s Delphine #1-2
I’m also really enjoying this new series from Sala, which is part of Fantagraphics’s Ignatz line. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t really get Sala’s work in time to follow The Chuckling Whatsit and Mad Night in their original serialized form, so it’s great to get another chance with this new series, which seems to be loosely based on the Snow White story. Sala’s done some great work with short pieces, but these Judex-like serials are where he really excels. One panel in the first issue actually made me jump (well, not really jump—I was sitting down—but the sedentary equivalent of jumping, anyway). Good stuff.

Rick Geary‘s Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Borden Tragedy
For some reason, Rick Geary’s drawing style has never really appealed to me—it seems too twee or something, I guess—but enough people whose taste I trust have recommended him to me over the years that I finally decided to give him a try. I’m glad I did. This narrative reconstruction of the infamous Lizzie Borden trial and the murders that led up to it is masterfully done, and a pretty obvious riposte to my ignorant lament that not enough comics were taking advantage of the form’s natural strengths for exploring historical topics. Geary uses a tremendous amount of innovative layouts and formal techniques (pretty much everything I imagined earlier, as well as others I hadn’t anticipated) to great effect, and this is a compelling true crime tale. In the end, it may seem like not much more than a well-executed genre piece, but when considered with the other titles in this series (which I definitely plan on sampling), that judgment may prove too harsh. And there’s certainly a place for good genre work, anyway. I’m still not the biggest fan of Geary’s drawings, but they do what he wants them to, which is what counts. (I’m sometimes repelled by Steve Ditko‘s art, for that matter, and he’s one of my favorites.)

Josh Simmons‘s House
I’ve enjoyed a few of Josh Simmons’s mini-comics over the years, but this is a real step up, and a very promising book-length debut. This short, atmospheric horror story follows three young people exploring a strange, abandoned house, and the first half of the book is filled with surprising and even exhilarating moments. I don’t want to give the plot away, but after being so pleased by the beginning of the book, I was a little disappointed by the ending, which felt too protracted and schematic for my taste. The author pretty clearly intended that effect, though, so maybe I’ll be more receptive after a few re-readings. In any case, Simmons displays an original voice, and this is inexpensive and impressive enough for me to recommend it to anyone interested in horror or wordless comics. I am excited to see what Simmons comes up with next.

Minetaro Mochizuki’s Dragon Head, Vols. 1-4
What is wrong with me? Everyone else in the world, from Dan to seemingly every comics reviewer on the Internet, is raving about this manga, but four volumes in, I’m still indifferent. So far, the story follows two high-school students trapped in a train tunnel after some kind of apocalyptic incident, and their struggle to survive and escape. It’s all put together extremely well, but follows the J-horror/apocayptic fiction formulas so closely that I’ve never once felt surprised. I’ve been assured by others that the series gets better as it goes, but I’m about ready to give up. This feels a lot like any number of “good” television shows (Lost, Heroes) that I don’t feel like I have the time to follow, and I don’t think the fact that these characters are drawn is going to keep me going. I am probably wrong about this series.

Finally, in the so far, so good files:

Osamu Tezuka‘s Apollo’s Song
I haven’t finished this yet, but I’m loving it, and I’m really glad that Vertical is putting out these relatively obscure Tezuka titles. When the Phoenix volumes came out, I wasn’t really ready for them. The bizarre and wonderful storytelling in this, Ode to Kirohito, and Buddha has given me new eyes.

Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman‘s Golden Age Doctor Fate Archives
This book is too expensive if you can’t find a deal somewhere, but so far, this is nothing but great, brainless, golden-age fun. I can’t read too many of these stories at once, but it’s terrific in small portions.

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Recent Comics Reading


Friday, August 4, 2006

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Sorry about the delay in posting — but for whatever it’s worth in return, the next issue of Comics Comics is shaping up very nicely.

Anyway, here are some of the things I’ve been reading recently:

Sloth, by Gilbert Hernandez
I liked this quite a bit, and it’s definitely one of his better efforts for a mainstream publisher. Not exactly Hernandez Lite, this is both far less weird than his Love & Rockets work and far more weird than anything else I’ve read from Vertigo. The story, which involves characters changing places, and revolving protagonists, is somewhat reminiscent of recent David Lynch films, like Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. It’s definitely worthwhile, but seems like minor Hernandez to me; it also cries out for a second reading before I can really make sense of it and say for sure. Which I don’t quite feel up to right away, so make of that what you will.

Forbidden Worlds #132
This is the first non-Herbie ACG comic I’ve read, and it’s a lot of fun. If you like mindless fantasy comics, this is definitely worth checking out. This issue comes late in the game for ACG, after the company gave up its long resistance to the superhero craze and introduced Magicman. It’s pretty apparent that Richard E. Hughes (who apparently wrote all or most of the company’s stories using weird pseudonyms like Zev Zimmer, Greg Olivetti, and Ace Aquila, among many others) didn’t care to put too much thought into his hero, and basically allows Magicman to be capable of anything. In this issue, Magicman has to stop a gigantic, telepathic beast called Ancient Ape, and in the process he uses his “magic” to fly, throw rocks, start tornadoes, appear to transform into a giant snake, and at one point, he even summons the Frankenstein monster and Dracula to fight on his behalf! Pretty hilarious stuff. The other two stories in the issue are basically drawn-out one-punchline gags, that are so stupid and unfunny they come out the other side and become funny again. The effect is somewhat similar to what Rick Altergott achieves in some of his Doofus strips, though the art is not in any way comparable. Anyway, I’m definitely going to be on the lookout for more of these.

Animal Man
I’m not exactly a Grant Morrison detractor, but I do find the near-constant and universal praise for him a little hard to take. All-Star Superman is admittedly fun, but it’s also pretty slight and I think its successes owe more than a little to the work of artist Frank Quitely. Seven Soldiers has some interesting ideas and concepts, but basically that seems to be almost all it has. It sometimes seems to me that Morrison just throws a bunch of concepts together and doesn’t bother trying to make any kind of coherent whole out of them, or think through all of the ramifications. That leaves a lot of work for his supporters, but they don’t seem to mind making the effort, so I guess it’s all okay in the end. But it would all go down a lot smoother without all of the near-messianic proclamations made by and for him, and I think his current hero status says more about the general state of “mainstream” comics than it does about the actual strength of his work. (Not that he’s bad, mind you, but that almost everything else is.)

Or anyway, that’s how I’ve felt so far, but I’ve never read most of the early comics he made his name with (Animal Man, Doom Patrol, and the like), and I thought I should give it a chance. This first collection of Animal Man is fairly enjoyable, and I’ll keep reading to see what he makes out of it. This collection includes “The Coyote Gospel”, which apparently is the most well-regarded early story in this series. But while the conceit of having a Wile E. Coyote clone represent a Christ-like martyr suffering for the sins of the world is kind of appealing, it doesn’t really make sense when you think about it for very long. The original Wile E. Coyote wasn’t very Christ-like in his motives or feelings, and if anything, like most comic figures, he represents base humanity itself, not the son of God. Not that this couldn’t be made to work anyway, but it doesn’t seem as if Morrison bothered to go through all the trouble of connecting all the dots, and just thought, hey, wouldn’t it be cool to have Wile E. Coyote in a crucifixion pose? (The recent Superman movie displayed similar problems.)

But whatever — this is still early in the series, maybe it’ll all make sense in the end, and I’ll try the next volume with an open mind.

Short Order Comix #2
I must have heard of this before (I’ve certainly read some of the stories here), but I blanked on it when I saw this in a store recently. (Apparently Last Gasp is distributing it; maybe they found some old copies in a warehouse?) This is the second and final issue of a pre-Arcade anthology edited by Bill Griffith and Art Spiegelman, featuring cartoonists like Joe Schenkman, Diane Noomin, Jay Kinney, and Rory Hayes. Some of this stuff is kind of dated, but Willy Murphy‘s parodies of newspaper strips hold up nicely, Hayes’s strip is reliably bizarre, and Griffith comes up with a good platform-shoe-with-goldfish-in-the-heel joke a good fourteen years before I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.

The real standout story here, though, is Spiegelman’s “Ace Hole, Midget Detective”. It’s occasionally a little pretentious, but moments here are brilliant, like a panel juxtaposing a quote from the old Comics Code (“6) In every instance good shall triumph over evil… 7) Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited…”) with a reproduction of Picasso’s Guernica. It also shows a real joy in the act of creation and innovation that has sometimes seemed lacking in Spiegelman’s more recent work. In any case, this story alone makes the issue worth seeking out.

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Stop Gaps


Thursday, July 6, 2006

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Here’s the problem with running a magazine and a blog: there’s just not enough time. I’m in the midst of closing my Brian Chippendale and Julie Doucet books and editing the next Ganzfeld. Things are hectic. That said, I have been meaning to write a lengthy blog entry on some new Manga and Scott Pilgrim. So much so that I keep carrying the books back and forth from home to office and back again, looking for the spare hours to sit down and write. I expect to find them over the weekend. Until then, here’s a totally lame list format blog entry.

Current Comics Reading List (from memory):

Enigma by Peter Milligan. This odd 90s relic from Vertigo Comics is, well, really odd. I hope to write about it extensively when I’m done.

Sub-Mariner in Tales to Astonish. Bill Everett rules.

I tried to read Civil War from Marvel, just to see…like dipping a toe in the ocean. Man, what a drag. Superhero comics these days are so dour. This is no exception. Kinda boring and short on any real appeal or insight.

Monologues for the Coming Plague: A remarkable new book from Anders…it has the kind of light hearted philosophical heft of William Steig books from the 40s and 50s. Searching, funny cartoons.

William Steig original drawings at Adam Baumgold Gallery. 13 original drawings from The Lonely Ones. These are more lush, striking and daring than I ever imagined, and I already loved the book. Steig, like Steinberg, burns so bright on the page.

Power of 6 by Jon Lewis. One of my favorite cartoonists from the early 90s boomlet returns with this superhero comic. It works–funny, exciting, and authentic. It’s so nice to see his drawings again.

Various Paper Rad mini-comics. I’m combing through for some old material for an upcoming Paper Rad digest book.

Eddie Campbell’s Fate of the Artist. I’m not sure what to think yet. Campbell is a fascinating cartoonist, and this oddly formatted tome is no exception. But I’m still reading it and wondering about it.

Oh, and also various issues of Alter Ego. Hmm.

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Some Recent Finds (MoCCA edition)


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

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Ok, there were some real material benefits of MoCCA besides the aches and pains described below. I picked up two excellent comics (and some other really good ones, but these stand out).

First, Knitting For Whitsun by John Bagnall. Bagnall is a British cartoonist who has been around since the ’80s. He tells particularly English stories with a smooth, sinewy line that’s somewhere between psychedelic and, as he puts it, ‘musty’. His attention to the particularities of Englishness brings to mind vintage Kinks songs; it’s all in the carefully chosen details and dry, bemused wit. He has some fine features, like “Disappearing Phrases”, about exactly that in British culture, as well as reprints of weekly comic strips that, Ben Katchor-like, examine Bagnall’s urban English terrain. Bagnall has something to say and a lived-in voice that makes these tales a pleasure to read. Highly recommended.

And second, Kim Deitch was sitting down the row from the PictureBox booth selling his wares and dispensing wisdom. I picked up a copy of BANZAI!, a 1978 title by Deitch and underground peers Roger Brand and Joel Beck. Kim wryly told me that he’s the only living artist of the three; Brand and Beck apparently both lived a bit too hard for their own good and passed away in 1985 and 1999 respecitvely. Anyhow, this comic book contains a couple of stories by each artist. Deitch’s central piece is a hilarious romp about a porn store robbery and features one of his more arresting images (it involves a bullet and a blow up doll). Beck’s stories are amusing anecdotal yarns, but the real surprise here are Roger Brand’s two stories. Brand was an assistant to Wally Wood and it shows. One story, “In More Innocent Times” documents Brand’s youthful excesses in Berkeley in fine lined Wood detail. Another story, “The Longstain Taint”, is a Faust-like story of compromise rendered in thick brushstrokes reminiscent of (that other icon of comics) Harvey Kurtzman’s best 1950s work. It’s compelling reading and Brand seems engulfed by it. The stories are verbose and densely rendered, reeking of a kind of desperation you don’t feel much anymore. They read like stories that had to come out. I never thought much of Brand, but these two tales make me want to explore him a bit more. I often forget that much of the underground was about telling stories of all kinds and packing as much into a short story as possible. It’s a ’50s comic book model, rather than than a literary one; constrained by the boundaries of the comic book genre at the time. The ambition was in the work at hand, not the career. BONZAI! is a great glimpse at some fine work by the still-top-of-his-game Deitch and two underground talents that never quite made it.

Finally, I got to spend some time with PShaw, the Boston-based cartooning enigma. I highly recommend all of PShaw’s comics (particularly his Strings book), and was lucky enough to have a look at his original art as well. His meticulous lines and ink washes are miracles of cartoon imagery. We hope to feature him further in an upcoming issue of our little mag.

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Current Reading List (With Notes)


Thursday, June 8, 2006

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In alphabetical order:

Apocalypse Nerd #3, by Peter Bagge
I know a lot of people have been disappointed with this series, but I’m really liking it. Definitely an improvement over his last effort, Sweatshop (though I liked that, too). The first issue was a little lackluster, but that was mostly scene-setting, and so can perhaps be forgiven. With this issue, Bagge seems to have really hit his stride, and it’s interesting to see a cartoonist who’s mostly dealt with kind of “slice-of-life” social satire (for lack of a better term) change gears and deal with a more fantastic premise. If you don’t like Bagge in general, you probably won’t like this, but if you do, and gave up early, this is worth giving another chance.

The Comics Before 1945, by Brian Walker
I started reading this mostly out of a sense of obligation (what with having to find things to talk about for this blog and all), but have ended up enjoying myself a lot more than I anticipated. I’ve only gotten through the “Turn of the Century” section so far, but this is a really nice anthology and history. Even Outcault clicked with me this time, which has never happened before. After I finish this, it’s back to the Blackbeard books.

The Great Comic Book Heroes, by Jules Feiffer
I just re-read this actually—it only takes an hour or two. If you don’t know, it’s a very insightful and pointed, if too short, essay on Golden Age superhero comics. Feiffer’s take on Superman was somewhat infamously stolen by Quentin Tarantino for a David Carradine monologue in Kill Bill, Vol. 2. Which is kind of interesting, considering what Feiffer writes about the high prevalence of swiping amongst comic book artists back in the day. (I’d hate to think the practice still goes on.) Probably fodder for a blog entry of its own, even, comparing attitudes about swiping between filmmakers and cartoonists. If I felt a little sharper, I’d write it.

Tintin in America, by Hergé
This, too, I picked up as homework. I’ve read very little Hergé (just a few albums about a decade ago) and decided to try again, starting at the beginning (or at least as close to the beginning as I could get without visiting eBay for out-of-print books). The conventional rap is that Hergé didn’t really get good until a few volumes later, but I found this pretty terrific. Gangsters, cowboys, Indians: all the great American tropes of the 1930s, seen through a slick, Continental style. Somewhat reminiscent of Jacque Tati‘s films, only actually funny, instead of just theoretically so.

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Current Comics Reading List (From Memory)


Wednesday, May 31, 2006

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Carl Barks’s Greatest DuckTales Stories, Volume 1 (Gemstone)
Russ Manning’s Magnus, Robot Fighter, Vol. 1
Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs

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Current Reading List From Memory


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

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Zippy’s House of Fun by Bill Griffith
Tales to Astonish drawn by Bob Powell and Chic Stone
Birdland by Gilbert Hernandez
Grip by Gilbert Hernandez

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