You may not be aware -- because, honestly, why? -- but editorial and extra-editorial discussions have sometimes occurred regarding the very fun and exciting CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR that often sits at the bottom of this column, whenever a book is released by a publishing entity which either pays money for this column or happens to be connected with an editor of this site. I always liked the RESERVOIR, which I instituted entirely on my own volition, because I think it's useful to have a continual and impossible-to-ignore reminder as to the rather small nature of comics publishing on hand, particularly in situations where the line between criticism and advertising is perilously thin. Hopefully, I have gained something resembling your trust over the last two and a half years, or at least as much trust as can realistically be expected to manifest giving my writing, in large part, about books I have not read.
However, the nagging anxiety remains that because I have relegated a sometimes-large portion of the week's list to a tiny paragraph at the bottom, I am not offering an entirely clear view of the week's actual releases, to the extent that some hierarchy of importance will inevitably be gleaned from the layout of such a column (even setting aside the obviously hierarchical, qualitative guesswork central to the notion of SPOTLIGHT PICKS!). Moreover, the occasional week has passed when I did genuinely feel something from the RESERVOIR was of potentially far more interest than anything in the actual SPOTLIGHT, and as a result the column hasn't effectively mirrored my direct impressions.
So, what I'm going to try to do for a while, is revamp the layout of the column a bit by adding a boldface blanket warning to the PLEASE NOTE paragraph (which I certainly set aside time to read every single week), and kneading the Fanta stuff into the column proper. Almost nobody has ever commented on the potential for such a change, but from the meager reactions I've gotten concerning this aspect of the column's format, the RESERVOIR appears to be slightly less popular than it is popular anyway, and I kind of suspect some people don't even read it.
In other words, we're gonna experiment with a fully integrated list for a while. Please note the disclaimer below, etc. etc., I love you, XOXOXOXOXO.
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 identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column. 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.
The Great War - July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme: You know, while we all had our backs turned - Joe Sacco became pretty damn prolific by graphic novel standards! This W.W. Norton & Company release is something different, however: an 11.5" x 8.8" landscape-format hardcover which folds out, accordion style, into a 54-page, 24-foot wordless panorama of the titular battle. Sacco and journalist Adam Hochschild will also have a text pieces on hand for a 16-page supplementary booklet. It's not often Sacco's drawing prowess is emphasized in the conversation surrounding his projects, though I've never really seen that aspect of his art as separable from his reportage; surely the rather cinematic sense of dramatics and staging he brings to these stories inevitably affect the connotation of his delivery. Consider the question now duly begged, though it's been suggested that the artist is now keen on a more format-appropriate discarding of perspective and spatial literalism anyway. Samples; $35.00.
Rage of Poseidon: Oh my god, what the fuck - a SECOND accordion fold-out book from a major comics figure on the same day?! I remember back when one copy of Elvis Road would last us for years. Nonetheless, do allow Anders Nilsen to spoil you rotten with this horizontal opus tracking the ancient God of the Sea as he journeys from him home in silhouette through an unfamiliar 21t century. I believe this is adapted/compiled from one or more self-published editions, which themselves had origins in a slideshow presentation of the artist's sketchbook stories. Also a hardcover, not a panorama, 80 pages at 10.5" x 8" from Drawn and Quarterly. Preview; $29.95.
Not on the release list this time around, but my understanding is that Last Gasp's new compendium of all of Robert Crumb's Weirdo contributions may be arriving in some stores on Wednesday, in case you want to relive the magic of those halcyon days, or further stoke the embers of your discontent with this most unavoidable of alt-comics overgods. Not an accordion, though I bet Crumb can play one.
The Complete Crumb Comics Vols. 6 & 8: See? I told you he's unavoidable. Fantagraphics has been pretty good about keeping their softcover collections of Crumb's oeuvre in print, and apparently it's time once again to pay some mind to the early 1970s. Vol. 6 ("On the Crest of a Wave", 156 pages) mixes 'n matches a whole lotta smut (including the one with the whole family that fucks each other), while vol. 8 ("Featuring the Death of Fritz the Cat", 144 pages) features a dude fucking Bigfoot, a cartoon kitty getting stabbed, and a lil' sneering at feminism in the big dick iconoclast style. Video previews; $19.99 (each).
Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Color Sundays Vol. 2: Robin Hood Rides Again: Mickey Mouse was in underground comics too, but this is Fantagraphics' continuation of his *official* adventures, headed up by Floyd Gottfredson and pressed into the hands of America's newspaper readers, in color, in 1936. Plus, a selection of Donald Duck gags and Disney movie art by Gottfredson, and the usual grip of bonuses across 280 pages. Note that the same publisher also has a pair of Mouse & Duck gift boxes packaging various tomes together this week at a $49.99 price point. Samples; $29.99.
Moomin: The Complete Lars Jansson Comic Strip Vol. 8: And here is a bunch of also-famous cartoons of a different stripe, as Drawn and Quarterly presents 96 more pages of the Jansson family project at 8.5" x 12". Samples; $19.95.
Uzumaki 3-in-1 Deluxe Edition: Happy Halloween, pagans. You may remember a time when Junji Ito was hot shit indeed; debuting on English-dominant shores in the pages of Viz's lamented seinen magazine PULP, the series -- an episodic tour of a bizarre outbreak of insidious spiral shapes which result in terror and madness for a luckless town -- quickly became one of the 'crossover' sensations of the millennial genre comics scene, eager to plow new paths to popular success. I liked Ito's subsequent Gyo even more: a sickening chronicle of all the fishes in the sea rising up to conquer the human world through stink and rot and peeling scaly smothering, the series showcased its artist's debts to the great Kazuo Umezu, sharing his sense of the theatrical and absurd, as well as his concerns with warfare and environmental decay. However, Ito's heavy, semi-realist style was not enormously well-equipped to cope with the imminent manga boom in North America, which re-wrote expectations of how 'manga' looked and operated to face pretty much 180 degrees away from him - later attempts by ComicsOne and Dark Horse to anthologize his older stores were cancelled midway, and he hasn't been seen in legit translation since... some readers, I suspect, may have assumed he's retired.
The thing is, Ito is still *very* active; in 2005 he released an apocalyptic SF serial with the AWESOME title of Hellstar Remina, in 2009 he compiled an insane-looking domestic pet manga (Junji Ito's Cat Diary), and in 2012 he concluded a six-volume suspense thriller, Yuukoku no Rasputin, written by longtime Naoki Urasawa cohort Takashi Nagasaki. Maybe publishers are leery about releasing this stuff because scanlators have been so active on the Ito front? I dunno, but since this column is read by literally everyone in the world, let this blurb stand as an impassioned entreaty for the artist's release from licensing jail. And let this new all-in-one hardcover re-release of the entire 648-page Uzumaki saga from Viz act as not a seasonal treat, but a vow made upon a new start; $27.99.
The Sandman: Overture #1 (of 6): Hey, remember when The Sandman was considered a major horror comic? That kind of reputation actually still hung over it as late as "The Kindly Ones"... I recall taking one look at a set of Marc Hempel panels depicting someone vomiting up a live deer and instantly deciding that I would stick to Shadowhawk for my junior high school reading, thank you very much! What's funny is that J.H. Williams III *also* started out as a very horror-tinged artist before transforming his style into a more lyrically swirling thing -- also, as it happened, under the (more direct) influence of Alan Moore -- so, clearly, Williams and writer Neil Gaiman are a perfect match for what I've been colloquially calling "Before Sandman" since the day it was announced. It's the official prequel to The Sandman! It'll probably look really attractive! I bet it's about tales 'n shit! Don't let your local retailer's giant stack of copies tip over on Wednesday, or you too may be trapped for 70 years; $4.99.
Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven and the Red Death: You know who else makes horror comics? Richard Corben. Specifically, he makes 'em at Dark Horse right now, he bases 'em off the works of Poe, and now we're getting 32 more pages of exactly that - adapted, drawn and colored by the man himself. Corben, not Poe. Samples; $3.99.
EC Archives: Tales from the Crypt Vol. 4: Whoooa, and it looks like a prime Corben influence will be in attendance on this Mischief Night day, 2013, as Dark Horse also releases the first in its new line of comprehensive EC color reprints, picking up the baton from Gemstone's and GC Press' prior efforts, hence the "Vol. 4." Expect these 8 3/16" x 11" hardcovers to fit in nicely with the 11,000,000,000 other hardcovers Dark Horse has released at a similar price point. Issues #35-40 are collected. Samples; $49.99.
Stuff About Sex... For Guys Who Are Not Like, Total Idiots: But why not head off potentially horrifying experiences with this educational comic from artist David Mellon, a hetero-targeted male sex education layout borne out of personal experience? This is notable because it absolutely blew the hell up on comiXology last year, ranking up there with all the superhero fare in terms of sales for a while. Probably, you can make jokes from that, but I will only say that Top Shelf is the publisher and the pamphlet is 24 pages in length. Preview; $3.95.
Thought Bubble: The Leeds Comic Art Festival Anthology 2013: Once again, Image releases this comics showcase in conjunction with the titular UK funnybook fest, which will be occurring in just under three weeks. I am told Judge Dredd will be gracing this one with his presence, to cross over with Image's Elephantmen series. Contributors include Richard Starkings, Boo Cook, Fábio Moon, Gabriel Bá, Ramón Pérez, Jeffrey Brown, Ming Doyle, Rafael Albuquerque, Adi Granov and maybe some others; $3.99.
No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys' Fault I’m Not Popular! Vol. 1: Abridged to the considerably more direct "I'm Not Popular" on Diamond's release list, but best known by its 'official' J-language abbreviation "WataMote," this is an ongoing manga by Nico Tanigawa concerning a full-force awkward nerdy girl's attempts to navigate teen life through lessons gleaned exclusively through the consumer items which make up the body of contemporary otaku/fujoshi culture. I'm familiar with this largely though a (financially unsuccessful) anime adaptation, which at times approached Todd Solondz-caliber in-story emotional devastation through its heroine's doomed, seriocomic attempts to cope with a wider society she obviously loathes, but which undeniably has Won. I'm told the manga is more traditionally sprightly and humorous. From Yen Press, 144 pages; $11.99.
A Distant Soil #42: Image series nearing completion #1 - my understanding it that nine issues remain in Colleen Doran's long-running SF/fantasy/proto-OEL shojo manga-ish '80s b&w boom-cum-'90s self-publishing wave Zelig-like history of the Direct Market-spanning esper extravaganza, so please update your tearaway countdown calendars to single digits. Preview; $3.50.
Prophet #40: Image series nearing completion #2 - it was recently announced that issue #45 (which is actually issue #25, thanks marketing!) will be the last 'regular' issue of this Brandon Graham-fronted Rob Liefeld deep future revival, though that nominal ending will be followed half a year later by Prophet: Earth War, a six-issue miniseries that will *actually* conclude the story. So, nine issues to go on this one as well. Preview; $3.99.
Legend of the Scarlet Blades: EUROCOMICS - so long as there is a Europe, there shall remain comics. This is Humanoids' latest, a new and revised hardcover edition of a now-OOP title from 2011, collecting the entirety of a rather lush & pretty 2006-11 Saverio Tenuta series about bloody and supernatural doings in old Japan. The size of the book has been increased to 9.5" x 12.5", and the page-count upped to 200 with the addition of a bonus sketchbook section. Samples; $49.95.
Joe Kubert's Tor - Artist's Edition: Even bigger is this new IDW production, which -- of course! -- is a color reproduction of b&w original art so as to preserve every lash of ink or untimely sneeze. The size is 14" x 20", and the content is four complete issues of prehistoric struggle, plus newspaper strip samples and unfinished pencils, all in 144 pages; $125.00.
Impossible Tales: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 4: Not so big but a bit more thick comes this 240-page Blake Bell-edited compilation of public domain Ditko shorts, 1957-59, spruced up in the now-familiar 7.25 x 10" Fantagraphics hardcover format. Samples; $39.99.
The Secret History of Marvel Comics: Jack Kirby and the Moonlighting Artists at Martin Goodman's Empire: And finally, your book-on-comics of the week, a new Blake Bell/Dr. Michael J. Vassallo chronicle of Martin Goodman's publishing exploits from the Depression up through WWII, which saw the earliest days of American comic books conjoined with pulp magazines and gossip rags, sometimes with artists like Jack Kirby, Bill Everett, Al Jaffee and Dan DeCarlo working both ways. Many illustrations are promised across the 304 pages of this Fantagraphics-published 7.25" x 10" hardcover. Samples; $35.00.