Above we see an image from Milo Manara's The Paper Man, initially released in English in 1986 via Catalan Communications, but more readily available in one of my recent holiday reading items, Dark Horse's The Manara Library Vol. 1: Indian Summer and Other Stories. This leads me to my first minor heresy of the new year. I rather liked The Paper Man more than the better-known, Hugo Pratt-scripted Indian Summer, which to me evoked Hawthorne by way of a Japanese pinku eiga - wildly eccentric, not unambitious softcore porn with a special focus on non-consensual and incest-y scenarios and a fascinatingly airy storytelling manner. My favorite panels were any one depicting a character running like mad or gazing intently at things; there's a whole page of young soldiers peering at things on a beach that I found just incredibly satisfying, possibly as a temporary respite from Manara's inescapable sexualization of ostensibly atrocious acts, a trait so evident on the page that Frank Miller addresses it directly in his Foreword ("...even though it is sometimes very unpleasant sex... still Manara's drawings are relentlessly sexy"), couching it as an inevitable symptom of the artist's aesthetic.
The Paper Man, in contrast, is less troubling -- rape is merely threatened, rather than expressly delineated -- and surprisingly delightful; I'd missed that Catalan edition. I also feel, having come from a comic book culture focused intently in other areas, that I've missed on a certain fondness for cowboy comics present among European cartoonists of Manara's generation or thereabouts. Andrea Plazzi introduces the story as Manara's idea of what a "mainstream" comic should be, and there's a real delight on the page in sorting through Old West archetypes and fooling around. Even Manara's art seems especially funny, not just in zany characters capering but in a very deadpan comedy drawn from the solidity of some of the artist's drawings; the image I posted above is so funny to me, mainly because that horse is so very properly drawn.
Yet there's unexpected depth to Manara's story as well, a brief picaresque concerning a lonesome cowboy's distracted search for the lover up North whose picture he reveres, and the many oddball characters he encounters along the way, including a sassy Native girl. She's the one who gives him his title, Paper Man, in that he's crazy about a woman on paper. Manara too is in love with paper people, specifically the cowboys & indians of a comic serial such as this. But the effort at levity is doomed: as love builds between boy and girl, the author arrives at the conclusion that he is working in fantasy, as fabled a West as any from popular literature, Indian Summer included, all historical research aside. And so, sexy antics and all the ugly possibilities therein are suddenly cast aside by Milo Manara on the final page, and we are shown that this landscape of fancy was really brutal and violent and racist as hell, as any adult can easily become aware. It's a lovely world this artist draws, but he states plainly here that he cannot really live in it.
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.
Keep Our Secrets: Being the debut release from McSweeney's McMullens, a line of children's picture books from the literary institution, as far as those go (I recall going to a talk Art Spiegelman gave in front of a crowd of 200 or so local college students and faculty, where in the process of discussing comics forums he asked "has anyone heard of McSweeney's?" - about twenty people clapped and one person behind me audibly groaned, and I thought "that's about right"). The author is Jordan Crane, always a fine stylist, and the book features heat-sensitive ink that reveals new, hidden pictures when you and/or your beloved issue roll your digits around on it. Future, not so directly interactive books will feature art by Matt Furie and Lisa Hanawalt, among others. Video preview; $15.95.
Fatale #1 (of 12): This is the new Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips collaboration, now housed at Image instead of Marvel/Icon. As always, a crime element is expected, this time blended with occult horror to span several decades' worth of potentially sexy misdeeds. I tend like the long-game, story-of-generations aspect of Criminal, so hopefully this project will offer similar sweep. Preview; $3.50.
The Cartoon Guide to Calculus: Nothing potential about the sexiness of this topic, but for an added bonus you'll want to be aware that this 256-page HarperCollins paperback comes from Larry Gonick of The Cartoon History of the Universe and several other Cartoon Guides; $18.99.
Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 4: In light of all the 2000 AD talk that's been going down here in the last few weeks, it's worth a reminder that two reprint tracks are currently running to your hypothetically UK comics-crazy Diamond-serviced retailer: Rebellion's own collections program, and Simon & Schuster's smaller, not-entirely-identical line of 2kAD books. This is their newest Judge Dredd release, a chronological (though not quite comprehensive) reprint effort currently up to vol. 18 overseas (where, again, Rebellion is handling it themselves). Progs 156-207 are covered over 384 pages, including The Judge Child, one of the series' occasional Dredd-leaves-the-city-and-has-adventures story cycles. Douglas Wolk reviewed it here; $19.99.
(Also, insofar as my rambling has no doubt inspired some of you to devote the rest of your days to Dredd studies -- and good luck, Gary! -- it's worth mentioning that Rebellion's periodicals have been rushing into whatever North American stores that carry them over the last few weeks at enough of a rate that this Wednesday's release of 2000 AD Prog 1763, Judge Dredd Megazine #318 and the 2012 2000 AD annual will put NA readers exactly one weekly issue behind the UK releases, at least until import schedules again take their toll. Rebellion also has a first softcover collection for Dan Abnett's
& Colin MacNeil's Dredd-related space revolution serial Insurrection this week.)
Eerie Archives Vol. 9: Elsewhere in stain-your-fingers b&w reprints (which admittedly won't stain anything in reprint form), Dark Horse brings issues #42-46 of the Warren horror magazine, entering Bill DuBay's tenure as editor and thus gradually nearing the point where these publications became a sort of counter-mainstream comics, filled with serials and continuing characters, but marked by a notably dark tone grown from their specific genre soil, a status Dark Horse perhaps acknowledges in soliciting their first serial-focused Warren collection for April, dealing with the sci-fi tinged Hunter (which I know entirely through a weird and funny one-off story by Jim Stenstrum and Alex Niño). Artist in this one include Richard Corben, Tom Sutton, Esteban Maroto, Paul Neary and Reed Crandall, with stories by Doug Moench, Don McGregor, Rich Margopoulos and others. Samples; $49.99.
Inner Sanctum: Tales of Mystery, Horror, & Suspense: Meanwhile, Warren veteran Ernie Colón has a new 112-page suite of b&w shorts from NBM, I believe based on episodes of the old Inner Sanctum Mysteries radio show. Samples; $16.99.
EC Archives: Haunt Of Fear Vol. 01 (&) EC Archives: Vault Of Horror Vol. 2: Oh, here's some other horror comics. Be aware that the publisher is now Grant Geissman's & Russ Cochran's GC Press, picking up this six-issues-per-hardcover reprint line from where it left off a while back; $49.95 (each).
Witchfinder Vol. 2: Lost and Gone Forever: Meanwhile, EC veteran John Severin belatedly celebrates his 90th birthday with his latest 136-page release, collecting a recent tenure on one of Mike Mignola's Hellboy-related series, here written by Mignola and John Arcudi. Look at all this stuff; $17.99.
Ferals #1: And since we're covering many horrors this week, I'll make note of this new ongoing David Lapham werewolf comic from Avatar, mainly because Lapham's Caligula at the same publisher is my primary guilty pleasure comic of the moment. Some say no pleasures are truly guilty, but they probably haven't gotten to the part where Caligula's horse, in celebration of his appointment to the Senate, declares "Friends, Romans, countrymen... drop your robes and form a line," (the horse can talk in this comic), after which Caligula has the series' nominal hero carve a man into a living swastika and pull its soul out through its mouth. So yeah, this one has werewolves. Preview; $3.99.
Seven Soldiers of Victory Book 1 (of 2): This appears to be the front half of a new two-volume softcover edition of one of my favorite longform superhero projects of the '00s, poised to replace a prior four-book series. Grant Morrison writes 30 chapters' worth (well, 14 here) of superhero revivals, dedicated to the notion of genuine evolution occurring at the margins of a big, diverse superhero world as seven(?) revamped characters become involved in an obscure mission to save humanity from endless, thoughtless cultural regurgitation. Art by J.H. Williams III, Simone Bianchi, Cameron Stewart, Frazer Irving and Ryan Sook & Mick Gray, all of whom would see their superhero prominence either enhanced or reinforced following the project's conclusion; $29.99.
Mudman #2: Contemporary Britain #1 - a new outing for Paul Grist's teenage superhero, arriving a bit less than two months after issue #2, which makes it just irregular enough to mention again; $3.50.
Tank Girl: Carioca #3 (of 3): And #2 - the final outing for longstanding 2000 AD artist Mick McMahon on the Alan Martin/Jamie Hewlett creation. Martin is the writer, Titan is the publisher; $5.99.
One Piece Vol. 60: Finally, a potential manga pick, if only to recognize the undeniable truth of there being 12,000 pages of One Piece available. Up to vol. 64 in Japan; $9.99.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: On the other hand, you could always go for Wandering Son Vol. 2, Fantagraphics' latest hardcover manga release, presenting the next 228 pages of Shimura Takako's low-key drama concerning transgendered youths; $19.99.