THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/24/10 – Snow, Swedes & Orcs)
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
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.
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.