If I had to name the European cartoonist I'd most like to see translated by an adventurous comics publisher a la New York Review Comics, it would be Chantal Montellier - one of the most accomplished and individual artists present for the rapid maturation of French comics in the 1970s. A painter and political illustrator operating from a base cartoon style initially similar, superficially, to that of her peer, Jacques Tardi, Montellier made frequent and early use of cooling, distancing techniques, sapping her pages of image-to-image energy or even the liveliness typically read as the virtue of comic linework, in favor of disaffected, intellectual, often ironic scenes bent toward social commentary. Eventually -- and the above image is from her 1992 album Faux Sanglant, from her three-tome "Julie Bristol" series, among her most traditionally 'beautiful' works per mainline BD expectations -- she would elaborate upon this approach to create frames within frames: self-referential borders within the borders of pages and panels. What you see here is a drawing of a drawing, but really a collage of sorts; almost a movie poster, with the artist's pen positioned in parity with the killing saw of the red sword. It is a detective series with a strong feminist reading of historical incidents at its core.
The most recent issue of Comics Workbook Magazine (#10) has a very good overview of Montellier's major works, written by the artist Dan Mazur. He makes a particularly compelling case for the rape/revenge story Odile and the Crocodiles, an early '80s piece which Actes Sud re-released in 2008. If I was to advise as to a particular book to start with, though, it would probably be the 2003 Vertige Graphic release Social Fiction, an omnibus edition of three albums she created for Les Humanoïdes Associés in the late '70s and early '80s - two of them, 1996 and Shelter, appeared translated in bits and pieces in Heavy Metal magazine, offering the project a valuable nostalgic pull, but also an opportunity to unite and perfect these scattered chapters, which looked and felt like nothing else in that pulsing haven of Moebius and Druillet.
Montellier's only other work in English was actually created for that language: 2008's Franz Kafka’s The Trial: A Graphic Novel, published by SelfMadeHero in the UK and written by David Zane Mairowitz, who also did a Kafka book with Robert Crumb. Montellier knew this; when I wrote about the book three years ago, I was fascinated by how she would draw (as in, physically draw) elements of Crumb's book into hers, recontextualizing both Crumb's images and occasionally his page layouts to create a dialogue between adaptations. I suspect this isolation of comic elements to studied effect is a constant throughout her body of work, though I have not seen it all. I wish I could see more, without importing. I shout again for aid, deep into the void - please accept this mission!
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.
The Eternaut: Perhaps the most anticipated release of 2015 for some of you, this is Fantagraphics' 368-page compendium for one of the great Argentinian comics of the midcentury, Héctor Germán Oesterheld's & Francisco Solano López's 1957-59 depiction of cataclysmic peril as a venue for human division and cooperation. A weird snow has fallen over Buenos Aires. The slightest contact means instant death. Juan Salvo pulls on his modified diving suit to search for a way of living in what seems like a nuclear disaster zone, but his periphery vision may be limited! A 12" x 9" landscape-format hardcover not dissimilar to IDW's Library of American Comics releases, which teases at the work's structure - this is an adventure serial, stately in pace and given to carefully-apportioned twists and turns, best read slowly. But just as Oesterheld's story is deep below, its intricacies detailed in a suite of supplementary texts, the book's lavish packaging -- cardboard slipcase, transparent dust jacket *and* die-cut cover -- can be pulled away to remove Salvo's protective suit, leaving only the man staring out at you from an unadorned page, as if dropped fortuitously from a rip in time. Preview; $39.99.
Soldier's Heart: The Campaign to Understand My WWII Veteran Father: Hey, let's be shameless and make it an all-Fantagraphics spotlight... I dunno! I think the works support it! Note that while the title is somewhat different, this 364-page softcover is actually a collected edition for You'll Never Know, a hugely-admired 2009-12 (auto)biographical series from artist Carol Tyler - "Soldier's Heart" was the subtitle of the final volume. While centered around the author's efforts to process her father's wartime experience, Tyler's story bleeds out into the circumstances of her family's history, her pages racing through narrative stratagems, practically one per situation; the enormous versatility of her drawing unifies paneled pages, booming splashes and mixed media-type info outlays into a self-evident means of making sense of things you've lived with, but not actually witnessed. At 10.5" x 8.5", this book is somewhat smaller than the original hardcover albums, but there should also be several dozen new pages. Samples/interview; $39.99.
The Magician's Wife: And now, back to translations. Unlike The Eternaut, this one has been published in English before - Catalan Communications dished it out in '87, the year after it won the Fauve d'Or at Angoulême. A collaboration between French comics great François Boucq and American writer Jerome Charyn, the work can best be described as an eccentric epic romance involving fantasies, monsters, mothers, murders, and mutually-beneficial arrangements. Great fodder for Boucq's glowing color art, placing often-caricatured bodies within tidy natural and architectural spaces for terrific surreal potential. Dover publishes this 96-page softcover at 8.25" x 11"; $14.95.
A Glance Backward: More Euro stuff, this time a 2010 album from Mexican-born artist Tony Sandoval, collaborating with French writer Pierre Paquet. The story finds a young boy yanked into the walls of his house, where a fanciful realm awaits his metaphoric promenade toward adulthood, if I am getting the right impression from publisher Magnetic Press. Expect an 8.5" x 11" hardcover, with 92 painted color pages. Preview; $19.99.
Seconds Helping: A Drawing Assistant's Memoir: We don't hear very much about studio assistants outside of the manga world, so I thought it was appropriate indeed that Bryan Lee O'Malley both availed himself of such resources in the later stages of his Scott Pilgrim series, and brought them out for the end credits, as the manga series sometimes do. O'Malley's subsequent work was 2014's Seconds, which utilized the services of assistant Jason Fischer - and now Fischer has put together a 24-page b&w comic book relating stories from that experience. A Floating World production, distributed by AlternativeComics; $6.00.
Inuyashiki Vol. 2: The first installment of this most recent Hiroya Oku series was absolutely bizarre and disquieting - like a manga made by a robot from outer space which couldn't care less about realistic intricacies of human emotion yet is nonetheless obsessed with sweeping displays of agony, villainy, and heroic succor. An aging man, mocked and betrayed by his family, body and society, is accidentally transformed into a weapons-laden cyborg; he decides to become a superhero, pitted exclusively against monstrous young people who deserve every atom of the sadistic retribution blasting toward their smug little faces. Everything is pitched at maximum summer blockbuster impact. This is the comic Mark Millar keeps trying to write. Currently up to vol. 5 in Japanese, and released in English by Kodansha; $12.99.
Judge Dredd: Trifecta: Being the latest Simon & Schuster North American edition of works originally presented in 2000 AD, a 176-page storyline from 2012, which began as three seemingly unrelated serials set in the Judge Dredd universe, only to be revealed as a stealth crossover. Reading it all as a collection will necessarily detract from the effect, but they're all pretty lively, fun little SF stories regardless. The writers are Al Ewing, Simon Spurrier & Rob Williams, with Henry Flint, Simon Coleby, D'Israeli & Carl Critchlow providing the art; $24.99.
Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1 (of 8): Very unique release from DC this week - a 16-page minicomic reuniting penciller Frank Miller and inker Klaus Janson for an appropriately tiny adventure of the Atom. I recall liking Miller's take on that character in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, although this particular outing will be co-written by Brian Azzarello, and -- more worryingly -- colored by frequent Jim Lee collaborator Alex Sinclair; if Lynn Varley herself is not an option, as is presumably the case, I'd have greatly preferred a more Varleyesque colorist, like FCO Plascencia, who works with Greg Capullo over on the DC mainline. Nonetheless, you don't get much interior art out of Miller anymore, and even the bilious and self-pitying likes of Holy Terror had a few pages to remind you how he got to be a rock star in the first place. Also, as a free bonus, the minicomic comes wrapped in the first chapter of some Batman thing by Azzarello and Andy Kubert, with inks by Janson and... formally, Miller is the credited co-writer, but I guess he's saying it was more "suggestions" directed at Azzarello's scenario? I dunno, they spelled out the plot and it sounded like the video to The Prodigy's Smack My Bitch Up, but I'd hate to burden this delicate experimental project with unwarranted expectations; $5.99.
Asterix and the Missing Scroll: Also in lucrative continuations, Orion brings an English edition of the most recent outing for this all-ages French comics institution, now written by Jean-Yves Ferri and drawn by Didier Conrad, both of whom debuted in the series' prior album, 2013's Asterix and the Picts. The plot seems to have something to do with battles over information, which will surely result in romping lampoon. I confess I have not read anything by this new creative team, but from what I can tell they do not seem liable to rock the franchise boat. Official site; $17.99.
The Art of José González: Ah, but some European comics artists had to wander the globe (by mail, at least) to find their fortune. Barcelona's own "Pepe" González began working professionally with Josep Toutain's Selecciones Ilustradasas agency as a teenager, quickly finding assignments in the French market. He would initially become known in the English-speaking world through his 1960s art for Fleetway's romance comics -- an alluring and still rather obscure area of comics specialization -- and would subsequently supply stateside girly drawings for Martin Goodman's humor rags, but it is surely for the Warren magazines' Vampirella that González is best known; from 1971 to the title's 1983 demise, he was the signature artist for the title character, blending glamorous, pin-up worthy anti-heroine depictions with post-Breccia wrinkle 'n shadow for the sake of the horror mood. This 248-page Dynamite hardcover from author David Roach (also of TwoMorrows' The Warren Companion) aims to pay tribute to the full breadth of the man's work: horror; romance; book covers; commercial illustrations; private commissions. Introduction by Joe Jusko; $39.99.
Secret Teachings of a Comic Book Master: The Art of Alfredo Alcala: Warren also benefited from a strong showing by Filipino artists, among them the prolific Alcala, already popular at home for projects like his Voltar series of adventure comics. He would also work extensively for DC, becoming well-known as an inker - I personally tend to remember him in that capacity as one of the core contributors to the great '80s run of (The Saga of the) Swamp Thing. This 80-page Dover softcover reprints a 1994 book by Heidi MacDonald & Philip Dana Yeh, mixing personal reflections with an extensive interview and art samples. Introductory texts by Gil Kane and Roy Thomas; $14.95.
Providence #6 (of 12): Well, Frank Miller's drawing a divisive superhero comic, and Alan Moore's writing a 12-part series - and, politics are an agonizing horror! So, just for a minute, pretend Amazing Heroes is telling you that we are now at the ostensible halfway point of this Moore/Jacen Burrows Avatar series about a man on a mission to interview his way through a unified cosmology of H.P. Lovecraft characters and concepts, no matter how many times he must flee from danger. Last issue left him in the clutches of the series' Herbert West analogue, leaving open the very real possibility of Stuart Gordon allusions. I call this the 'ostensible' halfway point because Burrows has mentioned on Facebook that some of the later issues will be longer than average. There is definitely a lot to say about Lovecraft; $4.99.
Will Eisner: Champion of the Graphic Novel: Finally, your book-on-comics of the week, a 224-page, 11.25" x 10.5" Abrams release of work by Paul Levitz, former president of DC Comics, who "celebrates Eisner by showcasing his most famous work alongside unpublished and rare materials from the family archives," per the publisher. There are also interviews with superstar Eisner admirers and/or collaborators like Jules Feiffer, Art Spiegelman, Scott McCloud, Jeff Smith, Denis Kitchen and Neil Gaiman. I would expect an especially gushy art book, lavishly mounted; $40.00.