Last night I had a dream I was an architectural student and one of my classmates was a talking cat.
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
WAIT, WAIT - did somebody tell you there was going to be a mini-essay up here?! Who would do such a thing? Nobody trustworthy!
As luck would have it, however, just last week I was able to participate in a Critics Roundtable with Tom Spurgeon and Jeet Heer on Robin McConnell's Inkstuds audio show (hope nobody linked to this already), at which time I brought up a little thing titled A Chinese Life. By "little" I mean close to 700 pages, since it's an all-in-one compilation of a French-published series from a Chinese artist, Li Kunwu, working with a French co-writer, Philippe Otié. Also, the English-language publisher is SelfMadeHero, the UK house behind Glyn Dillon's The Nao of Brown, so you know it's a truly international affair.
I have been punched twice after recommending this book, yet I still feel it's worth exploring; the title (and girth) may suggest some obvious comparison to Yoshihiru Tatsumi's A Drifting Life, but I feel it's an altogether better work of narrative and visual composition, if not nearly as easy a 'sit.' It's a fairly wordy, detailed account of its artist's life in China, prone to over-elaborated metaphors that nonetheless retain some power. For example, above we see a teacher schooling the young artist and his classmates on the infamous propaganda icon Lei Feng, a nation-wide educational effort the artist details as something of a classic fad, as if the soldier were the Beatles, or a famous actor. See how Kunwu closes in on the teacher's mouth, adding a certain sensual texture to the "service of the people!" This is certainly, in the aggregate, a work of feeling.
Later, in the book's overall strongest passages, the children launch a revolution of their own against the teachers, whom they have learned to denounce as reactionary whenever they should oppose the children's base desires. Again, the artist closes in on the female teacher's face, creating a sense of assault. Soon, the children's actions will be mirrored by those of soldiers wiping out the older culture of China as remnants of capitalist excess, providing a foundation for Kunwu's book-length uncertainty over his cultural place.
Formalized education is never presented in a very positive light in A Chinese Life - here, a life drawing class dissolves upon the continued intervention of a lecherous official, men gazing again at women. By this point, Kunwu is an adult, and his book has begun transitioning into a series of anecdotes detailing the growing commercial nature of Chinese life, which provokes some melancholy in the artist, who understands the abuses of his revolutionary childhood but perhaps longs for the sense of direction it afforded him and his nation. This is his work in miniature, lapping around itself and returning to the same themes, perhaps in too detailed and fussy a manner to appeal to many -- one can even call it an exact response to the fast-reading nature of stereotyped manga -- but not without points of interest.
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.
Dockwood: Keeping on the British theme, here's the newest release from Nobrow and artist Jon McNaught, a 64-page, 7 1/2" x 10 1/2" color hardcover placing "the everyday lives of three locals against an evocative backdrop of autumnal transitions," per the publisher, which also notes that Chris Ware called it "radiant and glowing." As with most Nobrow wares, it'll probably catch your eye pretty quickly once you're in its zone. Samples; $19.95.
Dante's Inferno: Ah what the hell, let's make it an all-British spotlight today on this sleeting Autumn morn. This is a new 80-page, 7" x 10" hardcover release from Knockabout, seeing veteran cartoonist Hunt Emerson once again tackling a classic (I think the last one was his Rime of the Ancient Mariner from 2008), this time the quintessentially diabolical poem. With an explanatory essay by one Kevin Jackson, for all you adaptation fiends. Preview; $18.99.
Diosamante: This is the new Alejandro Jodorowsky release from Humanoids, marking the first time since the 1978 Heavy Metal edition of Conquering Armies that an entire English-release book has been dedicated to the art of Jean-Claude Gal, an art instructor and occasional Pilote contributor who became as mind-bending a contributor as anyone at Métal Hurlant, but through sheer force of architectural magnitude, dwarfing his characters in comparison to looming, inky environments drafted in a nearly photo-realist style. Sadly, he died in 1994, in midst of working on Diosamante, his first longform project in color. This 96-page, 7.7" x 10.5" hardcover collects all of his completed work on Jodorowsky's scenario, a fairly basic Red-Sonja-on-a-vision-quest thing that serves mainly to give Gal cool shit to draw; a 2002 continuation of the series with artist Igor Kordey is not included. Samples; $24.95.
The Technopriests - Supreme Collection: Nostalgists of a different stripe, meanwhile, will recall Jodorowsky's 1998-2006 spinoff of The Incal as the very first continuing series released in North America by Humanoids itself, beginning in 1999 when the French releases were only up to tome 2. One imagines Zoran Janjetov's line art and Fred Beltran's heavy digital augmentation seemed quite futuristic at the time, at least compared to the superhero stuff with which Humanoids' releases tended to see comparison. It's a schematic series on the whole, with each chapter moving its cast further through familial strife and cultural parody, although the earlier bits do contain some of the writer's more amusing riffs on creating art for popular consumption, via the metaphor of the increasingly mainstream media platform of video games. Anyway, this is a 9.5" x 12.5" slipcased hardcover for the whole thing, 408 pages limited to 999 copies. Samples; $114.95.
Jeremiah Omnibus Vol. 2: Moving along to the Belgian side of the Franco-Belgian comics coin, we have Dark Horse's second hardcover compilation of vintage Hermann Huppen post-cataclysm stuff, compiling materials produced from 1980 to 1982. I think the first volume's already getting a little hard to find, so maybe jump on this if you're interested; $24.99.
Remake Vol. 3: 3xtra: But getting back to PROPER ENGLISH-LANGUAGE ORIGINALS, BY GOD, AdHouse brings a third collection of funny action comics by Lamar Abrams. It weighs in at 128 pages. Samples; $9.95.
Charley's War Vol. 9: Death from Above: Another 120-page Titan hardcover devoted to the classic Pat Mills/Joe Colquhoun anti-war battle comic, now with reproductions directly from the late Colquhoun's archive of original art, if I'm reading the solicitation correctly; $19.95.
Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu-Earth Vol. 3: I keep forgetting that Charley's War ran concurrently in Battle Picture Weekly with much of the vintage 2000 AD stuff - I always think of it as a predecessor, though really the opposite is true. The original Rogue Trooper scenario even ended around the same time as Charley's War in the mid-'80s, although its tale of an artificial soldier and his talking equipment on the hunt for the man who betrayed him was often detailed in the more straighforwardly caffinated war comics idiom of writer Gerry Finley-Day. This 400-page Rebellion collection picks up after the end of the original plotline and continues into 1988, with stories by Finley-Day and Simon Geller, along with art by Steve Dillon, José Ortiz and others. I understand special episodes scripted by Peter Milligan and Grant Morrison are to be expected as well, plus some of Pat Mills' stuff from the short-lived gaming magazine Dice Man; $28.99.
Century 21: Menace From Space: A very different type of action/sci-fi popular in Britian years earlier would be the similarly-weekly TV Century 21, filled with comics based on assorted Gerry & Sylvia Anderson television shows. This is a new 160-page Signum Books compilation of materials from that forum, with art by Frank Bellamy, the aforementioned Joe Colquhoun and many more; $29.95.
The Tower Chronicles: GeistHawk Vol. 2 (of 4): I can't say I was expecting this so quickly, but this does appear to be the 72-page second issue of a Matt Wagner/Simon Bisley(/inker Rodney Ramos/colorist Ryan Brown) series from Legendary Comics, presented in what used to be called the Prestige Format. Issue #1 was alright horror-tinged shadowy action guy stuff, and I'm generally up for Bisley; $7.99.
Arrow #1: PART-TIME RECOLLECTIONS #1 - Hey, Mike Grell is drawing this! Or, rather, he's drawing the first segment of this, a print compilation of 10-page digital comics relating to the new Green Arrow-derived television show. Written by Marc Guggenheim & Andrew Kreisberg; $3.99.
Masks #1 (of 8): PART-TIME RECOLLECTIONS #2 - Hey, Alex Ross is painting this! Or, rather, he's painting the first issue of this, a big-ass team-up amongst the various pulp magazine characters Dynamite has licensed. Not a Kingdom Come guy (or Marvels, really), but I've got a soft spot for 1997's Uncle Sam, so I'll probably flip through it. Written by Chris Roberson. Preview; $3.99.
Joe Kubert Presents #2 (of 6): The Sam Glanzman story in issue #1 of this was pretty fucking terrific. He's back in this one, plus Brian Buniak, plus the long-delayed arrival of the late Kubert's The Redeemer; $4.99.
Forbidden Worlds Archives Vol. 1: Of the same generation but not the same time comes 264 pages of pre-Code exploits from the likes of Wally Wood, Al Williamson, Ogden Whitney and others. Introduction by Dan Nadel, incidentally one of the editors of this column, and not the creator of Spawn, as I had previously indicated; $49.99.
Adventure Time #10: Always worth repeating - all-ages licensed comics have gotten to be a pretty huge deal in comics stores, particularly licenses with a good bit of penetration into the adult 'geek culture' (or whatever). For example, IDW is launching a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic series this week, and it's expected to be a very big seller, like bigger-than-all-but-a-tiny-handful-of-mainline-superhero-comics big. Sometimes these series also serve as gathering places for indie and webcomics folk, a bit like how the old Nickelodeon Magazine used to traffic in lots of alt-comics people - hence my mentioning this particular issue of Boom!'s Adventure Time series, as it boasts a backup story drawn by Mr. Jim Rugg. Samples; $3.99.
FF #1: And of course, there's generally a little room in shared-universe superhero comics for a jaundiced visual eye (though I guess it helps if said eye can identify an older type of superhero styling). Thus, a new Marvel launch revolving around the old idea of the substitute Fantastic Four, with art by Mike & Laura Allred, who are always worth a look. Written by Matt Fraction. Samples; $2.99.
Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #2 (of 4): Being a reminder that Brandon Graham's present solo series from Image is proceeding at a monthly clip (and note that a new issue of Prophet is also due this week). Preview; $2.99.
Matt Baker: The Art of Glamour: Finally, your book-on-comics for the week - a 192-page TwoMorrows hardcover detailing the short career of one of the architects of comic book 'good girl' illustration -- and penciller of the 1950 proto-graphic novel It Rhymes with Lust -- who died of a heart attack in his 30s, not too long after the adoption of the Comics Code. Essays, interviews with family and collaborators, and several complete stories are promised, along with the expected scads of art samples. Edited by Jim Amash & Eric Nolen-Weathington. Preview; $39.95.