Above you see many of the comics included in Chris Ware’s new release with Pantheon – Building Stories, a box jumbled all full and fecund with 14 unique comics, representing the artist’s preferred vision of his fragmented chronicle of several years in the life of a young woman. I notice a whole range of expert posts on the project is expected at the site this week, and while I am not *actually* part of the symposium, do consider this column header to be a veritable Shakedown Street outside the walls of the venue, where everyone is selling drugs and pottery. And $500 or so of new comics releases.
Because while I agree with Martha Kuhlman that the multifarious inclusions of Building Stories represent “frameworks through which a multilayered, intricate web of stories and relationships emerge,” I think we’d also do well to consider Ware-the-collector, and Ware the critic of collectors. To me, chief among the artist’s many skills is his often unheralded aptitude for recombining past works into new and more comprehensive packages – never have I felt a pang of anxiety re-buying Chris Ware comics in collected form, because books like The ACME Novelty Library (the big red one) represent a deft and judicious editing of older material into a more thematically unified experience. Indeed, some of Ware’s weekly serialized works had already been through this process in finding themselves transformed into comic books, much in the way bits and scraps of Building Stories originated in small magazine segments before becoming incorporated into something like ACME Novelty Library #18.
This I see as the impulse of a collector, who after arranging his best ragtime records into a smart little arrangement seeks to mix and match his own works into ideal, intuitive presentations – increasingly permanent, so that the wear and tear of age will become nearly irrelevant. It was destiny indeed that Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth effectively launched the bookshelf comics wave in 2000, because what other direction could Ware’s velocity suggest?
Ah, but now we see a breaking away. All pronouncements of its tribute to the enduring might of print aside, Building Stories does a number of things that might piss off the expectant Ware collector. Above, for example, I’ve made a little comparison between ACME Novelty Library #18 and the slightly larger, un-titled, un-stampled ‘facsimile’ edition included in the box. It deletes the two title pages and adds a new double-page spread of story, but other than that it looks to be the same book you bought once before. “What happened,” you might ask, “to the sense of unity Ware once pursued?” Why so many little books, so beholden to their original forums?
The answer, I think, lies in a parallel evolution. Ware has always experimented with upsetting the notion of chronological sequence on the page, but while the occasionally-deployed past-present-future ‘film strip’ effects of Jimmy Corrigan sought to underscore the inter-generational focus of the narrative, the Building Stories segments — scattered as they were throughout the ’00s — saw the artist experiment with page layouts that would often force the comics-savvy observer to read against their better instincts, following arrows clear across the page or grappling with circular layouts that trafficked in panels that could be read clearly in alternate sequences: left-to-right or right-to-left. The format of the ‘completed’ Building Stories, then, seeks to frustrate not only the temporarily of paneling sequence, but the very notion of having a ‘start’ and ‘end’ to a book: the fundamental linearity of book packaging, so pronounced in Ware’s prior harder-than-hardcovers.
Moreover, I feel Ware is also saying something about collecting books and comics. The salty collector might accuse the artist of laziness upon opening this fifty-dollar box, as most of the 14 items are fairly similar in makeup: they’re folded broadsheets, paper accordions and rather typical folded-stapled comic books, albeit generally without cover stock. This is not 14 unique flavors of print; more like a gun that squirts different flavored syrups over a vanilla custard base. They are flimsy items too, prone to ripping and ruination, or easy misplacement. But if Building Stories is a collection of anti-chronological memories, it makes sense that its physical components are delicate; everything you need is presented in the box, but everything is just as likely to fall apart, or become mixed up. They will fray, as print frays – in this way, Ware reemphasizes the ephemeral nature of holding items, teasing at a greater resonance to be had from packing them all together, but at the same time holding out the possibility that they could all just as well live, function and die on their own. You can just delete Bramford the Bee from the story if you choose. That you have obtained him doesn’t mean you need keep him.
Do you listen to records all the way through? Do you rip your albums to digital and trash all the tracks you don’t like? Someone made a joke yesterday about waiting for this thing on Kindle, yet I think Ware’s working through the same issues, in the only way an old luddite can: a tribute to print that’s rueful and bleak. Perfectly in character.
PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday, or, in the event of a holiday or occurrence necessitating the close of UPS in a manner that would impact deliveries, Thursday, identified in the column title above. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting.
Building Stories: Right. Building Stories; $50.00.
Hmm, let’s do three this week.
The Understanding Monster – Book One (of Three): I’m no closer to adequately summarizing this book than I was last week, so let’s just say it’s the latest from artist’s artist Theo Ellsworth, a 72-page, 9″ x 11″ Secret Acres hardcover album seeing a lil’ critter guy undergo a very intense inter-dimensional journey at the beck and call of powerful beings. One of the profoundly immersive comics of 2012, a demanding work of psychotropic whimsy best experienced by those piqued at the implication of Pixar fusing with Fort Thunder in a happy quantum storm. Samples; $21.95.
Young Albert: If there’s anything that hit me acutely from Journal contributor Sean T. Collins‘ unexpected Heavy Metal namedrop in Rolling Stone’s Chris Ware/Dan Clowes/Jaime + Gilbert Hernandez roundtable, it’s that a lot of folks who even remember that rag seem to have the idea that it was mostly (a) Richard Corben and (b) dudes trying to be Richard Corben, a glamor not exactly dispelled by the forum’s traditional presentation on America’s newsstands, often to the left of Swank. So please indulge the holy mission of the column as I note that not only did Heavy Metal itself transmogrify into something of a clearinghouse for all manner of post-underground Euro/American sci-fi-ish strips as the ’80s began, but it also pulled away distinctly from the mission of Métal Hurlant, its French progenitor, which itself was beginning to downplay the ’70s avant-garde SF dominance of Moebius, Druillet, etc. in momentary favor of the Atom Style, an oft-ironic revival of ’50s BD aesthetics promulgated by Dutch artist (and Chris Ware favorite) Joost Swarte in the late ’70s.
Riding near the top of the wave was the late, great Yves Chaland, whose various contributions to Hurlant included Le Jeune Albert, a gag feature that began in 1981, utilizing slick, friendly clean line visuals to lay out dicey moral concerns and serve up some good old absurdity. This is a deluxe (read: expensive) Humanoids collection of those strips, 80 landscape-format pages at 16″ x 12″, in a limited edition of 550 pieces. To be honest, I wish Chaland’s stuff was made a little more accessible; this is only the third collection of his work ever released in English — following Humanoids’ prior publication of two volumes of the Chaland Anthology in the mid-’00s — and so much of it is fun and discomforting in equal measure. Nonetheless, we have a little more now than we did last week. Samples; $89.95.
Pippi Moves In!: I am pretty goddamned stoked for this Drawn and Quarterly hardcover collection of late ’50s Swedish comics derived from Astrid Lindgren’s beloved tales of Pippi Longstocking, a mighty little girl who’s full of tricks. The artist, Danish illustrator Ingrid Vang Nyman, has a terrifically angular look to her pages, with hazardously sharp-edged characters jutting diagonally across fields of solid color to unnerving effect, as if their slapstick antics command such primacy to render the decoration of a wider community null. Hand the kids this and the Ellsworth above to grow ‘em up right, or perhaps inspire a lasting resentment that will lead them into prominent adult duties on highly mainstream entertainments that will support you financially in your dotage. Either way, you win! Preview; $14.95.
The Best American Comics 2012: Yes, it’s time once again for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to release a sampler of the last 12 months, again culled from a master list assembled by Series Editors Jessica Abel & Matt Madden. The culling itself has been performed by Françoise Mouly, of the all-time great anthology RAW, no doubt sending expectations soaring, though of course there are unique restrictions in place for a bookstore browser-aimed package comprised in no small part of judicious clippings from longer works. Contents; $25.00.
Blab World Vol. 2: Meanwhile, as if sensing the partial reemergence of one of the old anthologies, Monte Beauchamp issues the second edition of his follow-up project to the storied BLAB!, a 128-page Last Gasp hardcover mixing and matching comics and illustrations in a manner that couldn’t help but burbling up into memory while I paged through the thoroughly hyped new Nobrow anthology from the UK. Peter Kuper, Drew Friedman and Denis Kitchen contribute art to topics ranging from homage to the afterlife; $24.95.
Once Upon a Time Machine: This one’s a totally new anthology, if working off an old premise – fairy tales, reimagined. Art by Farel Dalrymple and Brandon Graham is advertised among 432 pages(!) of stuff. The editors are Andrew Carl & Chris Stevens, and the publisher is Dark Horse. Official site; $24.99.
The Graphic Canon Vol. 2 (of 3): From “Kubla Khan” to the Brontë Sisters to The Picture of Dorian Gray: Another Russ Kick-edited 512-page brick of reprinted/excerpted comics adaptations of fine literature, this time from all over the 19th century (the literature, not the comics). Selections from John Porcellino, S. Clay Wilson, Dame Darcy and others. A Seven Stories Press release. Samples; $34.95.
SpongeBob Comics #13: Lucky number thirteen marks this Halloween issue of United Plankton Pictures’ licensed series, noted here for an ultra-rare interior art appearance by Stephen R. Bissette, joining Tony Millionaire and Al Jaffee in realization of terror tales from beneath the ticklish waves; $2.99.
Monster Turkey: Also in kid-friendly thrills from consummate stylists, NBM/Papercutz wraps up its English publication of Lewis Trondheim’s 1999-2004 line of Monstrueux comics with a 32-page story of kidz ‘n their pet beastie fighting off mutated crazy animals out in the woods. An 8″ x 10″ hardcover; $9.99.
Liō: There’s a Monster in My Socks: Kids also allegedly enjoy the daily newspaper funnies, and consistent among the picks for best new-ish strip is Mark Tatulli’s Liō, an absurd collection of macabre mischief starring an imaginative little boy. While obviously fit for general consumption, Andrews McMeel Publishing has nonetheless elected to put together this 224-page package of strips appropriate for the wee ones, best kept locked away from the feral children swinging their copies of Pippi Moves In! That shit is really dangerous, I once felled a prowler with John Stanley’s Nancy; $9.99.
Moomin: The Complete Lars Jansson Comic Strip, Book 7: Oh god, another avenue for calamity! It’s 8.5″ x 12″ of sheer peril as the man of the title brings those gentle Finnish trolls and their British newspaper strip 112 pages deeper into the 1960s. (The publisher also has two new 48-page softcover recalibrations of creator Tove Jansson’s stuff readied: Moomin’s Winter Follies and Moominvalley Turns Jungle.) Samples; $19.95.
Finder: Talisman: Speaking of recalibration, this is a new Dark Horse hardcover edition of a Carla Speed McNeil storyline already in print via the Finder Library vol. 1 softcover, though admirers may prefer its 96-page entirety be seen at 8 1/2″ x 11″. A limited signed edition is also available. Preview; $19.99 ($75.00 limited).
Saga Vol. 1: How much of a nerd am I? As soon as I saw that ‘facsimile’ edition of ACME #18, I immediately flipped through to see if Ware preserved Brian K. Vaughan’s cameo, which was originally facilitated through some charity auction in which the winner would become a character in a new Chris Ware comic. Indeed, Vaughan endures. Which reminds me – this is the first compilation (issues #1-6) of Vaughan’s new Image series with artist Fiona Staples, a family drama set against the backdrop of a fantasy/sci-fi clan war, and probably the biggest orthodox comic book serial out there at the moment not owned by a large corporation or beholden to the threat of zombies. I confess, Vaughan’s blend of rat-a-tat quips and gale-force sentimentality is viscerally not for me — or, rather, it wasn’t in the one issue I bought, I’m told it gets better — but curious eyes will find an engaging price point for sampling; $9.99.
Mattias Unfiltered: The Sketchbook Art of Mattias Adolfsson: I dunno, just a 128-page Boom! Studios facsimile Moleskine by Mattias Adolfsson, a Swedish artist with some really cool images to his name. SIDEBAR: How many fucking books are out this week? And I’m only planning to make some stupid joke about the Marvel (not-really-a-)relaunch; $16.99.
Batman: Odyssey: Being a 368-page hardcover compilation of a notoriously offbeat 2010-12 Neal Adams bat-project, careening from gory urban action to ‘early years’ flashbacks to Vernian exploits beneath the Earth’s surface, communicated via circuitous stories within stories and rambling conversational text. Definitely a singular experience, with Michael Golden & Bill Sienkiewicz among the guest inkers. Adams is not resting on his laurels, as his First X-Men series continues at Marvel, albeit with Christos Gage on board to level out the scripting. Hey, did you hear Marvel’s (not really) relaunching a bunch of stuff? That’s starting tomorrow too; $29.99.
Haunted Horror #1: A less weighty reprint project, in which IDW replicates their Popeye strategy by putting out an ongoing series of 48-page comic books stuffed with vintage reprints, here mid-century horror stuff from the likes of Jack Kirby, Jack Cole and Jay Disbrow (of The Flames of Gyro) (as if any parenthetical is necessary on the point!). Samples; $3.99.
Ghost in the Shell 1.5: Human-Error Processor: Pretty much the last stop before Masamune Shirow dove into eerie-slick digital art and drowned himself in porn, this is 176 pages of clipped subplots from Ghost in the Shell 2, all of which closely resemble the original series’ b&w pen-drawn future cop scenarios, rather than the fearsome glass wall of tech jargon and crotch renders we slammed into face-first in the twilight of our youth. A new Kodansha edition, picking up from Dark Horse; $17.99.
Paradise Kiss Vol. 1 (of 3): Actually a lot of ongoing manga series this week — Vertical has a self-contained Drops of God storyline from later on in the wine tasting series’ run, while Viz brings sports manga in Slam Dunk and manga-creation-as-sports-manga via Bakuman — but I’m really feeling this Vertical repackaging/re-translation of an older Ai Yazawa series, a TokyoPop license rescue concerning a girl who really wants to get into the world of fashion. Salve your aching for more of Yazawa’s Nana with 280 pages of this; $16.95.
Rookie Yearbook One: Man, I remember Tavi Gevinson as a columnist for POP Magazine around the time they had Takashi Murakami art-direct a Britney Spears photo shoot that turned out to be an elaborate homage to smut mangaka Seiji Matsuyama (don’t click that) in protest of Japanese legislation prohibiting sexual images of virtual children. Those were the good days. Gevinson struck me as a perceptive, funny writer, and I was only very briefly thrown into suicidal dismay upon learning she was literally 14 years old. Then the next year she started an online teen magazine, of which Drawn and Quarterly is now publishing 352 color pages’ worth of highlights. Your not-a-comic pick of the week, though I sure did sweat to find a connection! Eiken, god. Samples; $29.95.
Marvel Comics: The Untold Story: WAIT, THIS ISN’T A COMIC EITHER. And if you’re like me, you’ve sat transfixed for every single gossip-glazed excerpt out of Sean Howe’s massive missive on history re: the House of Ideas, be it bits ‘n pieces from the official tumblr or that huge slice of herb-scented ’70s at Grantland, or the Big ’90s shit posted just for me, here, today. I can only imagine the havoc 496 pages will wreak; $26.99.
New York Drawings: Okay, seriously. Chris Ware, Yves Chaland, Lewis Trondheim, new Blab!, a Françoise Mouly-edited anthology, multiple Nordic countries in hardcover, a huge doorstop of superhero backbiting red meat, Stephen R. Bissette drawing a comic you can buy in a brick & mortar retail facility – it’s a pretty busy week, and I’ll just wrap it up here with yet another entry that may well have sat at the top of a similar list at some other time: Adrian Tomine’s complete contributions to The New Yorker to date, annotated by the artist with additional sketches and illustrations relating to NYC. It’s 176 pages from Drawn and Quarterly, in hardcover at 8.125″ x 11″. Samples; $29.95.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: Oh wait, we’ve still got $100+ of good-looking Fantagraphics books to cover. I’ve heard a bunch about Steven Weissman’s Barack Hussein Obama, a cracked fantastic vision of the contemporary political scene, and now it’s time to witness its 112 pages on my own; $22.99. Roy Crane proffers 228 pages of vintage derring-do with Buz Sawyer Vol. 2: Sultry’s Tiger; $35.00. Lou Reed & Lorenzo Mattotti rise again with a softcover edition of their collaborative The Raven; $19.99. And Robert Crumb inspires us all with a new paperback edition of selected dispatches in Your Vigor for Life Appalls Me: Robert Crumb Letters 1958-1977; $19.99. Crumb, Ware, Chaland, Mattotti, Trondheim, Mouly, Ellsworth, Jansson, Adams, Beauchamp, Bissette. 10/10/12.