Another January has dawned, which means that it's time to revisit the great year of 2016 and all of the comics we've missed. For instance, did you know that a new translation of work by Chantal Montellier is now available? Maybe not, since it isn't in print - only through the Europe Comics digital portal can you obtain Lara Vergnaud's English edition of 2011's Marie Curie: The Radium Fairy, a split-format educational album pairing a 24-page illustrated timeline of the titular scientific icon by Renaud Huynh of the Musée Curie with a 20-page color comic by Montellier. It's the comic with which we will concern ourselves, accepting for now that these biographical projects seem to be the only avenue by which Montellier is allowed into English anymore; indeed, we may even find contentment in our reading 2008’s Franz Kafka’s The Trial: A Graphic Novel, an English original authored with David Zane Mairowitz, that Montellier does unusually interesting work with flatly declarative or pedagogical books.
The above image is Steve Ditko-like in its unsparing dichotomy -- Montellier notably worked in political illustration before her entry into extended narrative comics in the 1970s -- but especially vivid in its absolute disregard for visual harmony; the extreme foreground figures on the left not only seem to have been digitally enlarged, but give the impression of having been outright cut and pasted from some unknown and considerably pulpier, more generic source than the rest of the milling accusers. Such recontextualization was at the heart of Montellier's The Trial, in which she re-drew portions of applicable works by Robert Crumb, Jacques Tardi et al. into her own narrative for the purposes of allusion and irony.
But then, Montellier has always been dedicated to graphic dispassion, her crime, mystery and science fiction works often providing depictive gestures toward violence and sensational passion while never 'correctly' delivering the thrill. There is frequently an awkwardness to her drama that is a product of deliberation, drawing attention to the mechanics of what she is doing to assemble the page and thus demanding the reader pivot to an analytic state; to connoisseurs of genre, weaned on comics' fury of line and simulacrum of movement, this also imparts a distinctly surreal texture. Yet there can be a genuine disquiet to her comics, a deep and unnerving sense that something has gone completely wrong with the seeming order of the world - this page is extremely odd, and also menacing, its historical figures' faces reproduced at times from what looks like archival photographs and pasted atop taut bodies, the wheels of their bicycles like clip art, like something from a hellish episode of Wondermark, uncoupling and tilting, enlarging, juxtaposed against a similarly reproduced human image and a scanned(?) drawing of a horse-drawn carriage: the equation of a historical figure's death, perfectly ascertainable in hindsight. And god, her Lurid Tears!
This, granted, is nobody's idea of a major work; Montellier deserves a much larger translation push - a New York Review Comics edition, for example, of her acclaimed 2005 true crime album Les damnés de Nanterre, or her 1990s Julie Bristol series of art world thrillers (her most traditionally 'beautiful' narrative pages), or the early SF comics collected by Vertige Graphic under the omnibus title of Social Fiction in 2003, including some pieces familiar to readers of the early Heavy Metal magazine. Marie Curie, in comparison, serves primarily to illustrate the intellectual communion between Marie and her husband, Pierre, and how it is weaponized against the former upon the death of the latter by the social expectations in place - all this amidst a cascade of historical facts. Still, all of these pages are good, odd or both, and their unusual quality again commends more from this rare master.
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.
King-Cat Comix and Stories #76: Ooh, and speaking of works just now appearing in this column - the new comic book from John Porcellino is now available in stores serviced via Diamond. The small-press institution's latest promises lists, small stories, and lots of correspondence - very pure, communicative expression, as I think you'd expect. Distro by Alternative Comics; $5.00.
Six Days in Cincinnati: And then there's the world of explicit reportage on a historic event, here a survey by artist Dan Méndez Moore of unrest in Cincinnati following the 2001 killing of an unarmed black man by police: "A Graphic Account of the Riots That Shook the Nation a Decade Before Black Lives Matter", per the Microcosm release's subtitle. Originally released in 2012 under the title Mark Twain Was Right: The 2001 Cincinnatti Riots, if I'm not mistaken; $11.95.
A Mysterious Melody, or How Mickey Met Minnie: Another in Glénat's 2016 line of unusual Disney comics to see release in English via IDW, this 64-page release finds the veteran Swiss-born cartoonist Bernard "Cosey" Cosendai centering Mickey Mouse in a historical fiction as the scriptwriter for proto-Disney protagonist Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Unlike the series' previous number, the Lewis Trondheim/Nicolas Keramidas collaboration Mickey's Craziest Adventure, this one looks to hew very closely to an on-model period style, albeit washed in autumnal coloring. A 9" x 12" hardcover. Preview en français; $14.99.
Box Office Poison Color Comics #1: Speaking of IDW and vintage materials, here the publisher begins an ambitious re-serialization of the 1996-2000 name-making comedy/drama from Alex Robinson, a blend of pop-culture reference-dabbled urbanite struggles and inside-comics politicking launched by Antarctic Press into the dead zone of a post-crash industry and collected by Top Shelf just in time for the dawning of graphic novels in wide exposure. One Pat N. Lewis will be handling the colorization process that affords this project its reason for being. Samples; $3.99.
The Ring of the Seven Worlds: Chemists? Mickey Mouse? Bah! How about a big space war serial created by Italians, published in French, and now translated to English? Written by Giovanni Gualdoni (a Dylan Dog regular) & Gabriele Clima, with art by Matteo Piana (colored by Davide Turotti), this 2014 series promises manga-informed voyaging across 244 pages. Published in English by Humanoids; $24.95.
Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 28: In which the the future lawman grimaces his way through a good portion of 1998, as written by co-creator John Wagner throughout, with a solid chunk of work by fellow co-creator Carlos Ezquerra on a 72-page serial that I think is the longest thing in here. It's 305 pages in total, courtesy of Rebellion; $24.99.
Vinland Saga Vol. 8: Mostly continuing series among Japanese comics this week, so I'll highlight this ongoing and very attractive viking adventure series by Planetes creator Makoto Yukimura, its continued translation not always assured. Now that Kodansha is up to its eighth two-in-one hardcover packaging, I believe the project is only one release away from parity with the shorter Japanese collected editions; $22.99.
Chris Samnee's Daredevil - Artist's Edition: Presumably one of the benefits of doing a super-deluxe original-art-in-color presentation for newer work -- here a quintet of 2013 issues from a popular run on the Marvel superhero by Samnee and writer Mark Waid -- is that a good number of production materials are still readily available. Hence, this 12" x 17" endeavor is actually two books in a slipcase: a 160-page hardcover offering both the original art and scans of Samnee's layout drawings, and a 60-page softcover collecting the artist's hand-annotated copies of Waid's complete scripts, across which he assembled his page breakdowns. From IDW; $146.99 (or so).
David Bowie: Color the Starman: Finally, your not-a-comic release to comic book stores for the first week of January, 2017, is a Feral House entry into the presumably lucrative adult coloring book market sweepstakes. I'm making note of it here because the contributors include such alt-comics names as Mike Diana(!!) and Tony Millionaire, as well as folks from the wider art and illustration world. An 83-page, 8.5" x 11" softcover; $15.95.