Contrary to popular belief, I don’t just sit around watching cartoons all day; sometimes, I watch live-action films that are sort of about cartoons. You may have heard of writer/director Randy Moore’s Escape from Tomorrow – it was a *huge* thing in movie critic circles at the Sundance Film Festival, insofar as much of the film was shot in secret at Walt Disney World in Orlando and Disneyland Park in Anaheim via actors performing their scenes in the midst of actual crowds, filmed with concealed cameras at certain preplanned times of the day to ensure adequate lighting. Nothing quite aggravates the hothouse scene of a film fest like a movie that looks like it might find itself suppressed outside of Park City, and hype built accordingly. However, Disney has not made any legal challenge to the film, which seems to have performed rather poorly on its formal release this past weekend, grossing less than 1/10th of its $650,000 production budget.
Definitely not an Air Pirates Funnies situation (yet), which is apropos enough; Escape from Tomorrow isn’t that kind of underground movie. It’s more of a fable sewn from pop scraps, depicting a horny, drunken, oafish husband and father of two losing his job via telephone call on the last morning of his family vacation and gradually becoming entangled in the behind-the-scenes machinations of the Disney machine, ranging from fantasy-obsessed ex-princesses to undercover bio-terrorists to a post-human conspiracy by sentient animatronics – the fanciful nature of the plot, then, recalls another underground talent: the great Kim Deitch.
As with Deitch’s work, animation and ephemeral tale-telling exert a powerful influence on the mind – a realm of ‘fun’ accessed through drink and illness. Indeed, Escape from Tomorrow even seems to mirror Deitch’s refusal to draw especially fine distinctions between his ‘real’ world and his depictions of cartoons or fantasy occurring inside those boundaries; while I imagine director Moore had to cope, to some extent, with inexperienced or ‘theatrical’ actors to go along with his low-budget daredevil scheme, it soon became clear to me that the primary characters were behaving in a highly unnatural, exaggerated manner akin to the stretch and squash of certain actual Disney cartoons. They are *already* living cartoons, so why wouldn’t they feel at home in the artificial confines of various Disney resorts, which embody the force of entertaining narratives that control American dreams for fulfilled desires and happy endings all around.
Of course, there is a crucial difference. Deitch grew up around animation and obviously loves the craft of it — and the craftsmen too! — beyond any concern for ill societal impact. His works are eccentric, and sometimes sad, but fundamentally good-natured. Escape from Tomorrow, in contrast, oscillates between denouncing patriarchal narratives via acrid depictions of desperate male lust and branding its fantastic proceedings with sneering ironic whimsy. There are no Imagineers in this film, or even workmen who brought characters to beguiling life – all individuality is subsumed into a blanket denunciation of the dream machine. It’s the kind of film you could say is “against Empire,” but not in a ‘rallying the people’ way, because that would require it not be disgusted with the hordes surreptitiously captured against their will and turned into mean parodies of themselves.
It’s almost a prank show, in a way; looking at the actor playing the dad pretending to puke on a ride, and witnessing the dismay on the face of the man seated behind him. I doubt it’s the insubstantial qualities Disney sensed when making its plans, though; probably, its legal team looked at this blend of abnormal acting, 1940s-caliber green-screen effects and inconclusive plotting and deemed the whole thing judgment-proof. Kim Deitch, maybe, would not rank as much more of a target, if necessary, but at least we know he had to sit down and build every shocked bystander up from the ground himself. It doesn’t guarantee empathy, but you know there’s a more personal relationship with the sweat of world-building underneath.
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.
Blue is the Warmest Color: So anyway, who knows if controversy or disregard will manifest once the Beach House dims and Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or-winning motion picture continues to open worldwide, having played in France and Canada this past week. The furor did, at least, prompt Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press to alter the title of their English translation of artist Julie Maroh’s original comic from “Blue Angel” (by which it is still referred on Diamond’s list, be aware), so as to best tantalize film-savvy browsers down for 160 pages of spot-colored coming-of-age among girls in love. Very nouvelle manga, Kan Takahama-looking stuff – check it out. Preview; $19.95.
Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story: Elsewhere up north, Drawn and Quarterly presents a Peter Bagge biography of the founder of the American Birth Control League, a portrait the publisher readily characterizes as a seemingly “improbable pairing in content and in form,” though I can’t think of very many comics this year about which I’ve heard quite so much anecdotal, ‘autumnal masterpiece’ buzz. Expect it to look good as a 8.125″ x 11″ hardcover, 80 color pages in length, with a purportedly extensive bibliography. Preview; $21.95.
Iron Bound: Being a 252-page account of certain incidents concerning gang members in the Newark, New Jersey of the early 1960s, illustrated by Brendan Leach, who created a very effective large-format comics titled The Pterodactyl Hunters a few years back. This one is an 8.25″ x 7.25″, landscape-format softcover from Secret Acres, which is enthusiastic enough in the project to include a flexi-disc of original music to further aid your immersion. Pretty popular at SPX, this one. Preview; $21.95.
The Spectral Engine: Getting back to Canada, this is a new McClelland & Stewart release of a book by Ray Fawkes, adapting thirteen historically-based ghost stories into 176 pages of b&w comics. Fawkes is probably best known at the moment as writer on a number of DC superhero comics, but he’s also done some work for publishers such as Oni, like the Cameron Stewart-drawn The Apocalipstix and his solo One Soul; this will probably be the first time a lot of potential readers will match his name to his own art. Samples; $27.95.
Pachyderme: Ooh, you like those European comics too, eh? I mean, why else do you put up with me? This is the newest in English from Frederik Peeters, who’s built up quite a nice little library of available stuff, ranging from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s edition of the autobiographical Blue Pills to Humanoids’ all-in-one release of Koma (written by Pierre Wazem) to SelfMadeHero’s translation of the Pierre Oscar Levy-scripted Sandcastle. This is also a SelfMadeHero book — distributed to North America by Abrams — a 2009 solo color work recounting a woman’s surreal journey toward a hospital in 88 pages. Introduction by Moebius, which has never been a common occurrence in English. Samples; $19.95.
Wallace and Gromit Newspaper Strips Vol. 1: But if it’s English originals you’re after — and perhaps a new spin on the Golden Age of Newspaper Reprints — here is Titan Comics with a 7.5″ x 10″, 136-page hardcover collection of color strips from The Sun, seeing Nick Park’s popular duo engaged in invention-related hi-jinx from May 2010 through May 2011. Samples; $14.99.
The Complete Golden Age Airboy & Valkyrie: I saw a bunch of copies of Canton Street Press‘ debut comics reprint effort (Matt Baker’s Canteen Kate) sitting around at SPX, although I didn’t have a chance to look inside (EDIT: which is just as well, since it was a totally different publisher’s book). Because time waits for nobody, now they’ve got a
second first release, putting together 136 pages of Fred Kida art at 7.5″ x 10.25″ dimensions. I’m thinking the specificity of the title (and the low page count) means the comprehensive nature of the project will be defined by the presence of Airboy’s sexy German antagonist/ally. Samples; $24.99.
Law of the Desert Born: Never heard of this comic before today, but let’s see if I can get the lineage right. First there was a 1946 short story by Louis L’Amour. Then, Beau L’Amour (the author’s son) & Kathy Nolan adapted the story into an audio play, and then again into a (presumably unproduced) screenplay. Then writer Charles Santino adapted the screenplay into a comics script, which was drawn by Thomas Yeates, who — candidly — is the reason I’m making note of this 160-page Bantam hardcover: “[A] dynamic tale of the Old West that explores the borderlands of loyalty and betrayal with the emotional grittiness of a noir thriller.” Preview; $25.00.
Knights of Sidonia Vol. 5: One of two prominent Vertical manga series continuing this week, this one a chronicle of outer space war from Tsutomu Nihei, set to become an anime some time next year; $12.95.
The Flowers of Evil Vol. 7: This one, from Shūzō Oshimi, however, already has become an extremely polarizing animated production – one surprisingly easy to recommend to total outsiders, due to its complete rejection of virtually any surface qualities of ‘anime’ as it is stereotypically understood. The show left off well before this point in the manga, though, which starts up a new section in its story of a boy trapped in an obsessive relationship with a girl who urges him to defy all of societies expectations for decorum; $10.95.
Sergio Aragonés Funnies #10: Always worth pointing out the new issue of this, that ultra-rare example of the ‘mainstream’ one-man comics anthology; $3.50.
Über Enhanced Edition Vol. 1: Rather early in its run, this Kieron Gillen/Caanan White ongoing became pretty hard to find in stores; something about its mix of WWII alternate history, Avatar-trademarked hardcore splatter and old-fashioned ‘superheroes but REAL’ pretense struck enough of a chord to confound shelving expectations. Truly a bleak, weird, cruel little comic, the first six issues of which the publisher is celebrating here with 160 pages of supplemental features in addition to all story content. A direct market exclusive, to be followed by a bookstore/online retailer/whatever-you-want zero-extras edition in 2014; $34.99.
Adventures in Cartooning: Characters in Action!: Over on the other end of the industry, here’s another in a line of First Second releases in conjunction with the Center for Cartoon Studies, in which James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick-Frost offer focused tips on comics creation fit for middle-schoolers in a 10″ x 7.5″ softcover landscape format. This one is 64 pages, and focuses on body language, expression, and other fundamentals of character-building. Preview; $9.99.
Explorer Vol. 2: The Lost Islands: The latest in Kazu Kibuishi’s line of YA anthologies with Abrams, basically a continuation of his popular Flight series but slimmed down to 128 pages at 6″ x 9″, and aimed directly at the hungry kid audience. Raina Telgemeier will be participating in this one, which I think qualifies the whole project as a world-shattering crossover event, but probably with better sales; $6.95 ($14.95 in hardcover).
The Best American Comics 2013: Also a huge bookstore item, and, while I confess I never have an awful lot of use for these Houghton Mifflin Harcourt best-of shorts ‘n excerpts packages, I’m sure they’ll reward some concentrated browsing, even if only to remind you of which books you’ve been meaning to read for whole seasons now, you horrid sloth. This is the last time Jessica Abel & Matt Madden will be involved in assembling the big pool of potential entries — Bill Kartalopoulos will be taking over in 2014 — and Jeff Smith is the special boy (“guest editor”) tasked with picking over that mass of funnies. Here’s Smith’s final selections, and here’s Abel & Madden listing their own runner-up preferences; $25.00.
The Art of Charlie Adlard: And finally, for your book-on-comics of the week, it’s nice to see the gigantic success of The Walking Dead turn the spotlight on the fellow drawing most of it – 2000 AD veteran Adlard, who’d built up a resume of prior American indie comics works (mainly with Joe Casey) before stepping in to replace Tony Moore on Robert Kirkman’s zombie comic. I’m hoping for dozens of pages on the making of Pat Mills’ Savage, though the solicitation somehow seems more excited over “an unprecedented look at the making of [the] 100th issue of The Walking Dead,” with additional comments by Kirkman dotting 192 pages. An Image release; $39.99.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: And the deluge of expectations continues over at Fantagraphics with Fran, a simultaneous prequel *and* sequel to Jim Woodring’s excellent Congress of the Animals from 2011, a book which seemed to shatter the cyclical exploits of the artist’s “Frank” universe so as to provide an ending of sorts, though surely you want to know more about that nice friend Frank shacked himself up with for the denouement; $19.99. Then, Love and Rockets: New Stories Vol. 6 guarantees 100 new pages of Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez building up the new generation corners of their respective worlds; $14.99. And then, we’re back to where we started in the misty peaks of the Magic Kingdom with Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: Christmas on Bear Mountain, featuring the 1947 first appearance of Uncle Scrooge and a big stack of contemporaneous pieces across 216 pages; $28.99.