Image here from writer/artist Pete Toms, and his recent Dad’s Weekend from Hic & Hoc; it’s a 28-page comic book I bought at SPX. Rarely do I read a funny comic so immersed in the minutia of online interactions – at one point a would-be movie director uses the term ‘beardo,’ which I’ve always known as extremely specific to a small subset of movie critics… actually, I think I know exactly the blog where the term was coined. Jeff Wells, right? As always, I appreciate any comic that feels like it’s been following me around for years; I am so lonely.
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, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. 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. You could always just buy nothing.
Soft City: A very much anticipated work here, despite the fact that it’s been readily available before. The Norwegian artist Hariton Pushwagner first got the idea for this book — a day-in-the-life illustrated depiction of an oppressively conformist urban environment — after a beneficial psychedelic experience in 1969; the pages were completed by 1975, but then they were somehow ‘lost,’ as in physically misplaced or purloined, though no definitive account seems to exist. Then, in 2002, the material resurfaced, immediately prompting a legal conflict over ownership which would delay the work’s publication until 2008, via Oslo’s No Comprendo Press. Since most of the text is in English, Soft City became a notable item on the international tables at MoCCA and the like, its reputation eventually spreading to the ever-prominent Chris Ware, whom I believe is the one that presented the book to the nascent New York Review Comics for the purposes of this first North American edition.
As far as ‘early graphic novels’ go, Soft City is broad and booming; though it does employ paneled pages and dialogue balloons and such, a huge amount of space is used on single and double-page splashes, mainly depicting the inhumanly tall skyscrapers and teeming vehicular traffic of Pushwagner’s world, a place specially apt to psychologically suppressing individuality for the benefit of reclining plutocrats with fingers dipped in arms and politics. The NYR Comics edition, 160 pages, includes an essay by critic Martin Herbert, who reads the work partially in the context of urban planning at the time of its drawing; indeed, its mass of thoughtless men in suits and homemaking wives suggests a rather temporally specific brew of satire. Nonetheless, in its corollary depiction of a society fed on entertainment media (appropriative, as Herbert suggests, of avant-garde and politicized art), lashed tightly to ill-understood military activity abroad, the book radiates some relevance for these election minded months in the U.S.A. And, of course, the pages are often very impressive in the ‘god, look at that’ sense. Note that this 9.7″ x 13.6″ hardcover is of basically the same dimensions as the No Comprendo softcover, but while the earlier edition was designed as its own confining entity, dropping you immediately into the city as of its earliest page turns and never letting you out, this one is much more removed, with Ware playing the Robert Osborne role of ‘hosting’ the show with a characteristic cover design and an introductory appreciation; $35.00.
Demon Vol. 1 (of 4): Not to be outdone, Jason Shiga now enjoys the gala third iteration of his two-color action/suspense serial, following a 21-issue self-published comic book series and a tactically not-exactly-concurrent webcomic release. Now it’s a set of 200-ish-page softcover books from First Second, which initially seems like an odd placement for a hard-R series like this, but – fundamentally, Demon is an ‘adult’ comic that’s really going to appeal to younger readers, in the way that manga often does. In fact, Shiga has claimed Death Note, that compulsvely-readable-until-the-moment-it’s-not opus of ’00s teen hottie pop nihilism, as a relevant point of reference, and like that boys’ comics phenom, Demon is mostly ‘about’ the appeal of itself, which is to say the enjoyment of seeing its many plot twists and manipulations of the scientific rules of its fantasy play out. It used to be that superhero comics got the credit for these surface pleasures in English, but popular manga has proven so much less burdened by lore and the provincial demands of niche business that the model best works shifted, as such. Pull quotes by Brian Michael Bendis *and* Chester Brown, folks; $19.99.
Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash: This is the new graphic novel by Dave McKean, an artist and filmmaker who will perhaps forever be associated with a certain era of comic book covers in North America by a certain kind of comic book reader, though there was a time when his Cages solo series was considered at or near the front of comics-as-art discourse. This 120-page Dark Horse release — a trade paperback, with a limited signed bookplate hardcover variant — is both an evocation of the life and art of surrealist painter Paul Nash, and, apparently, an adaptation of sorts for soldiers’ memoirs from WWI, the conflict Nash memorably portrayed in his own work; $24.99 ($79.99 in hardcover).
The Secret Loves of Geek Girls: This is a 280-page Dark Horse release that appears to blend prose and comics, toward the topic of detailing the lives and experiences of women who identify with ‘nerdy’ things. Still, some of the comics are drawn by Margaret Atwood, and there are several comics-related contributors such as Trina Robbins, Mariko Tamaki and Carla Speed McNeil; $14.99.
Last Look: Being an all-in-one softcover packaging for the recent trilogy of Pantheon color graphic albums by alt-comics institution Charles Burns, previously released in hardcover under the titles of X’ed Out (2010), The Hive (2012) and Sugar Skull (2014), now totaling 176 pages. The subject matter ranges from art and sex to injury and metaphoric travel among dimensions; $29.95.
Platinum End Vol. 1: Hey, speak of the devil – it’s the Death Note guys. Man, Tsugumi Ohba… to me, that guy is so definitively associated with the ’00s, like Bryan Hitch or David Heatley, that I have trouble even contemplating the prospect of his professional work outside of that period. I didn’t last very long with Bakuman, his Death Note follow-up, though it ran for a good deal longer. This new series — and, as always, while Ohba writes and provides page breakdowns, the artist proper is Takeshi Obata — is a little different in that it’s serialized monthly (rather than weekly) in Japan, with English publisher VIZ experimenting with chapter-by-chapter digital releases outside of print editions such as this. The story concerns a suicidal teen who its pressed into a celestial competition to replace God, where the only morality is doing whatever it takes to win. A very, very, very Tsugumi Ohba premise, anticipating its fourth collected volume in Japanese; $9.99.
Oh Joy Sex Toy Vols. 1-2: These are collected editions of the supremely popular instructional webcomic (NOTE: there is sex behind that link) by Erika Moen & Matthew Nolan, ostensibly reviewing ‘adult’ toys and sexual aids, but also casting its eyes upon other topics of relevance to sexuality in its countless manifestations. Unfailingly sprightly and positive, week in and week out. These books (268 & 328 pages, respectively) also mark the debut of Limerence Press, an imprint of Oni Press dedicated to erotic and/or explicitly adult-oriented works; $29.99 (each).
The Magic Whistle 3 Pack Bonanza: Neither a collection of the three most recent humor comics from Sam Henderson, nor limited in scope to three items, this Alternative Comics bundle includes issues #14 & #15 of the last iteration of the titular series (both 2014) with 2015’s debut issue of Magic Whistle 3.0, along with Henderson’s 2011 Free Ice Cream collection of gag panels and a bonus minicomic. Very nice bargain; $9.99.
The Library of American Comics Essentials Vol. 9: Tim Tyler’s Luck, 1933: The 396-page latest in this IDW line of low, long hardcovers, 11.5″ x 4.25″ in landscape format, presenting a year’s worth of a worthy-but-probably-not-financially-advisable-to-publish-in-its-entirety newspaper strip at one daily per page. Technically, this is also vol. 2 in the “King Features Essentials” sub-series, focused here on the work of Lyman Young, older brother of Blondie creator Chic Young and author of the “prototypical” adventure strip, per the publisher. Of interest is that future Flash Gordon creator Alex Raymond works as Young’s assistant in this period, his own style more and more discernible as he prepares to go solo; $29.99.
Walt Disney’s Donald Duck Vol. 9: The Ghost Sheriff of Last Gasp: Moving from newspaper to comic book reprints, Fantagraphics has another 240 pages of 1950s Carl Barks duck stories, with the restored coloring that all of these books get. Initially I had this mixed up with the earlier “Sheriff of Bullet Valley”, but it turns out that cowboy entertainment was prominent around the middle of the 20th century in the United States, so there were sheriffs of all types riding around; $29.99.
She Changed Comics: Finally, your book-on-comics of the week is this 160-page Kickstarter-funded production of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, profiling several dozens of women “who transformed the landscape of free expression and expanded the comics artform,” ranging from the pre-Code to contemporary eras in North American comics and taking what looks to be several prolonged dives into manga. Edited by Betsy Gomez, distributed to comic book stores via Image; $14.99.