The first-annual Comics Art Brooklyn was held this past weekend, looking and feeling like a logical enough successor to the defunct Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, insofar as it utilized the same primary locations and occupied a near-identical space on the convention calendar. As always, many wares were available at prices ranging from absolutely free to $15,000.00; regrettably, the latter vendor was unable to break change - ROOKIE MISTAKE.
I repeated that last joke in different forms to seven or eight people -- it was almost as big a hit as the one about balloons dropping from the ceiling if Fantagraphics reached its Kickstarter goal during show hours -- but in between I also managed to procure a few items for myself, both stuff I'd stupidly missed at earlier shows and brand-new debuts.
For example, here is a selection from The Inflated Head Zone, a sturdy black comic from Zach Hazard Vaupen; how I resisted the lure of its foil-stamped cover before, I cannot say, but one look at its grimy mix of cancerous inky husks illuminated by silver nitrate-like digital bursts confirmed that it's totally the comic for me. I was struck enough by the art that I began showing it around to people - reactions were mixed as to the autumnal pattern filling the gutters, though I basically took that as a means of maintaining a certain level of visual noise while keeping the panels far apart, which carries a specific effect. For example:
This is from an earlier Vaupen comic, published in Closed Caption Comics #9 from 2010. Here there are no gutters at all, which better conveys the sense of motion from one panel to another - a corpse striking a man from behind and tumbling down a hill at the same time the man's popping eyes follow the trajectory, only to pause (via the panel of the sun) as a third flying item -- a lost pistol -- completes its own arc off-panel until the end.
I realize, of course, that Vaupen's figures aren't especially easy to distinguish; this doesn't bother me so much as it does in other comics, however, since much of the feel I get from the art is dependent on a notion of the page as stained - not so much fatalistically composed as *polluted*, like if some early '70s Tony Wong kung-fu Hong Kong manhua and its squat fighting forms had become infected with clouds of ink, leaving its depiction of gruesome corpses as less an aberration than an imminent potential.
The Inflated Head Zone acknowledges this between-state to the artist's characters, positing a fanciful society in which nearly everyone is a talking husk with a missing head, thus eliminating the most obvious sympathetic feature of any cartoon drawing: the face. It's a parable, really, centered on the last man in town with a functioning (and, ironically -- deliberately, I expect -- perpetually indistinct) noggin, as an angsty dissenter to the fluidity of identity endemic to the internet, that world with a thousand faces, suggesting no face at all, and thus tacit approval of the worst aspects of collective culture. A man on the street collects photos of young girls for masturbation, with their approval, while roving curators literally skin the tattoos off people's bodies for Tumblr decontextualization; loved ones are mystically reborn into horrible sitcoms, enacting the ennobling fantasies of Men's Rights Activists with names like trill_paxton. It's a loud, unsubtle, even moralistic piece, not entirely unlike the impassioned, self-deprecating screeds of Eightball, but processed now through popular horror means and a graphic approach that denies the more traditional pleasures of illustration. So: perfect for CAB/BCGF!
But it wasn't all comics I'd missed from earlier this year.
Above we see a show debut from Pennsylvania patriots Retrofit Comics and Washington D.C.'s Big Planet Comics: Keep Fresh by Zejian Shen (or: Ze Jian Shen), an artist I've encountered all over the place in anthology forums ranging from Leah Wishnia's magazine-like Happiness to the defunct Jonny Negron/Jesse Balmer risograph project Chameleon, to Shen's own Dimensions series of portal-themed books. Like many of her contemporaries, Shen employs a style informed outside of the North American/European traditions, though Keep Fresh takes things a little further by merely *subtitling* the story in English, a technique I associate with Finnish comics by dint of simple initial exposure.
This is from Chameleon #2, 2011; it was the first place I encountered Shen's art. Her characters are also squat with big heads, though her interests are much more direct, so far, in depicting humorous action scenes and fevered jokes, like a bit in Happiness #2 where an irate drunk snaps the neck of a fellow alcoholic with whom he's stranded on a deserted island over a bottle of hooch. Or:
From the famous smut anthology Thickness #1, in which Shen contrasts the encounter of lesbian pearl divers -- their nuzzling clitorises duly anthropomorphized and chatty -- with the above pair of oysters, obviously doomed to die, which makes the whole practice of anthropomorphization a wee bit cruel: hence, the joke.
Keep Fresh is interesting for focusing on Shen's approach for a 44-page self-contained comic, pressing it all past the point of comedy and into a disquieting brand of surrealism. A possibly-gay take-out clerk sweats over a visit from a favorite foreign customer, while a chrome-helmeted black rider smashes the heads of unsuspecting bastards in the course of making his/her own special delivery. All is accompanied by incessant television advertising -- the subtitles for which sometimes take up nearly one-fifth of the page -- conjoining fanciful and instantaneous pleasures (quick and fresh as take-out!) to appealing affronts to tradition, including nosy relatives that just want you to settle down with a nice man; in a way it's a bleak parody of its heroine mustering the strength to embrace who she really is and tell off her shithead elders, as the mechanisms of which she partakes only sows much greater discord. Still, Shen does not deny the pleasure of such fantasies.
What joins these two comics, I now realize, are their opposition to the fury of information into which both of these young cartoonists were born - tantalizing the hapless witness with the potential for being whomever you want, whenever you want, and getting whatever at any time. That I encountered both in as traditional a space as a large tabled market does not escape me, nor does the applicability of shows like CAB to capturing snippets and curated visions of the wider scene.
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.
Gold Pollen and Other Stories: Pretty intense week for manga releases, and none will prove more anticipated by some than this Ryan Holmberg-edited hardcover compilation of works by Seiichi Hayashi, the first in a new line of books ("Masters of Alternative Manga") from PictureBox Inc. - the proprietor of which, you will be glad to be reminded, is an editor of this very site. There aren't a lot of 'curated' packages of short manga out there specifically for English consumption, but Gold Pollen is a book with a mission: its three stories and an abandoned serial (composed 1968-72, both before and after the artist's longform masterpiece Red Colored Elegy) explore the relationship between Hayashi and his mother -- and perhaps Sons and Mothers, and Men and Women, at different times -- as presented through multitudinous narrative approaches, ranging from mythological evocation to bleak historical allegory to pornographically explicit slice-of-life. Among these 176 pages is some of the finest comics art to hit these shores in color in 2013, presented at 7.25" x 10.25", with historical notes by Holmberg and a significant autobiographical essay by the artist himself; $27.50.
Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan: And then we travel north, as Drawn and Quarterly continues its expansive Shigeru Mizuki reprint effort with a late '80s-born series examining the totality of the then-imminently-concluding historical period of the title (specifically 1926 through 1989); of course, the artist himself was born in the late Taishō period (1922), leaving him especially well-suited for such an undertaking, as the very breadth of his life's memories spanned the subject matter. For all his reputation as a impishly grinning tale-spinner, Mizuki tends to get pretty fucking brutal with inhumane historical details, so buckle up! I think there's going to be four volumes of this in total, as 560 pages for this debut edition should equate to the first two books in the eight-piece Japanese release. Preview; $24.95.
Delusional: Not a lot of fuss necessary for this one - it's a 232-page compilation of drawings and short comics by Farel Dalrymple, culled from all over the damn place. Dalrymple has been tending to a webcomic for over a year now, but I still get the impression he's better recognized as an illustrator than understood for his uniquely elusive and whimsical stories; maybe this AdHouse hardcover, 6" x 9", will make a statement. Samples; $24.95.
Hip Hop Family Tree Vol. 1: Speaking of online serials, Ed Piskor has been running this series of biographical vignettes at boing boing for a while now, long enough to produce a 112-page 9" x 13" softcover with Fantagraphics, modeled after the 1970s Marvel comics from which the artist has drawn some visual influence. I believe this volume covers 1975 through some of 1981. Preview; $24.99.
Bandette Vol. 1: Presto!: And on that note, I'm gonna presume you've head of Monkeybrain Comics, the agent behind the digital-first distribution of this attractive Paul Tobin/Colleen Coover superheroine/thief series, one of the reliable favorites of folks devotedly following the non-corporate manifestations of that particular genre. This is Dark Horse's 6" x 9" hardcover print compilation of the first five issues, with supplements added for a total of 136 pages. Samples; $14.99.
Other Stories and the Horse You Rode In On: Being the first bookshelf-ready comics release by Shuster Award-winner and CCS graduate Dakota McFadzean, "short stories filled with yawning skies, dark humour, and quiet ruminations on memory, aging, and time," per the publisher, Conundrum Press. I am not familiar with the artist's work, but I saw a number of copies with the publisher at CAB, where I think the book debuted. It's 188 pages; $18.00.
Anything That Loves: A themed anthology, yes, which "invites the reader to step outside of the categories and explore the wild and wonderful uncharted territory between 'gay' and 'straight,'" as the solicitation goes. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign earlier this year, the 216-page package counts Roberta Gregory, Ellen Forney, Maurice Vellekoop, MariNaomi and Margreet de Heer among its contributors. From Northwest Press; $29.99.
The Shaolin Cowboy Vol. 2 #2 (of 4): The solicitations were a little uncertain at first, but apparently this Dark Horse manifestation of Geof Darrow's signature creation is a four-issue miniseries, scheduled for monthly release through January. I liked this short chat with Darrow, who expresses admiration for everything from D&Q's aforementioned Mizuki releases to Jupiter's Legacy to the Brandon Graham-fronted Prophet to Jim Woodring-in-general; $3.99.
Old City Blues Vol. 2: And speaking of Prophet, one of its key visual contributors is Giannis Milonogiannis, who has been maintaining this '80s-style ziptone cityscape riot of Shirowesque cyber-cops as a webcomic, gradually releasing print editions through Archaia. This is the second one, a softcover this time, 200 pages at 5" x 7.5"; $12.95.
Vinland Saga Vol. 1: Man, remember Planetes? It was one of the relatively few manga to routinely cross over into English-original comic book reviewing circles back in the early-ish days of comic book blogging, maybe because it was a seinen project, and creator Makoto Yukimura kept the 'action' surrounding his outer space garbage collectors more or less unexaggerated (if still awfully sentimental, and seinen manga aimed at actual-older-dudes often get). It dragged a bit in the middle, but ended pretty strong, enough so that I remember lobbying (ha) hard and early for the author's follow-up series, a historical tale of viking action, and here, finally, it is, released by Kodansha in a two-in-one (470-page) hardcover format which should help English readers quickly catch up on the 13 extant Japanese volumes for this still-ongoing project; $19.99.
Triton Of The Sea Vol. 2 (of 2): More manga fatties! This one's the 200-page conclusion to a 1969-71 serial about a merman which Osamu Tezuka serialized in a daily newspaper prior to a television anime adaptation. Released by Digital Manga Publishing, which apparently, you'll recall, has secured the license to publish everything Tezuka has ever released that's not already taken by somebody else. Probably it's gonna be a whole lotta digital distribution, so enjoy these (rather utilitarian) print editions while they last; $19.95.
Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Vol. 3: Also - 720 more pages of Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima from Dark Horse, in case anyone has missed any of the series' other translated incarnations since 1987. Hey, new readers all the time. Samples; $19.99.
Zombo Vol. 2: You Smell of Crime and I'm the Deodorant: Ah, the simultaneous release - dream of UK popular comics looking to get a foothold in North America! Rebellion (via Simon & Shuster for our purposes) has made a good choice here, as writer Al Ewing is a rising talent at Marvel with a fondness for Kirby-like hyperbole, and artist Henry Flint has participated in some of the higher-profile Judge Dredd stories of late. It's the story of a zombie that's sort of a superhero and sort of an atrocity of the military-industrial complex, but he's gonna try and save this damned world anyway. Preview; $17.99.
Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu-Earth Vol. 2: And here is S&S again with a second collection of vintage future war stories from writer Gerry Finley-Day and a host of 2000 AD's best, include Dave Gibbons, Steve Dillon, Cam Kennedy, Brett Ewins and others. Preview; $19.99.
X-Men: Gold: Being a 64-page 50th anniversary project for Marvel's mutant line, notable for reuniting a few of the property's most prominent writers, particularly Chris Claremont, who will be doing a new Kitty Pryde story with Bob McLeod. Also on hand are Stan Lee, collaborating with Louise & Walter Simonson, and -- representing the '90s and beyond, one presumes -- Fabian Nicieza & Salvador Larroca. Preview; $5.99.
Legion of Molly Doves #1: Bliss on Tap has been releasing work by Warren magazine veteran Alex Niño for close to a decade now - odd projects that seem to blink in and out of visibility. This one is a time-travel detective concept written by Brian Phillipson & Amanda Raymond, presumably being released in the comic book format, given the price and all; $3.99.
The First Kingdom Vol. 2 (of 6): The Galaxy Hunters: Meanwhile, Titan Comics continues its distribution of this curious/notorious Jack Katz post-underground fantasy/SF saga, with improved reproduction quality and new lettering. The speed of its arrival will steel the hearts of those wondering if we just might see a complete collection this time around. It's 208 pages; $24.99.
The Chilling Archives of Horror Comics Vol. 5: Haunted Horror: Incidentally, Katz can probably also be found in this 148-page IDW hardcover compilation of content from a Craig Yoe series of comic books packing together assorted pre-Code horror tales, along with fellow oddball alternative comics pioneer Jay Disbrow, who ushered in the Fantagraphics age with The Flames of Gyro after the industry contraction of the mid-'50s forced him out of regular work; $24.99.
Peanuts Every Sunday Vol. 1: 1952-1955: Yes, Fantagraphics *has* released The Complete Peanuts before, but ah ah - have the Sundays been at 13.25" x 9.5" in exciting reconstructed color? Now you know the deepest secrets of this 224-page book, introduced by Jonathan Rosenbaum. Samples; $49.99.
The Art Of Rube Goldberg: An Abrams homage to the classic strip cartoonist and all-purpose illustrator, probably attractive at 14" x 10" and 192 pages; $60.00.
The Art of Sean Phillips: A Dynamite homage to the well-traveled UK & US genre comics artist, promising extensive comments covering the whole span of his career in 312 pages. Samples; $39.99.
Chester Brown: Conversations: And finally, your book-on-comics of the week, another University Press of Mississippi collection of discussions, this time focused on the Canadian alternative comics icon. Edited by Dominick Grace & Eric Hoffman, 256 pages; $40.00.