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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (2/1/17 – A Comedy for the People of the World)

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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.

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

Farmer Ned’s Comics Barn: I can’t be sober about this; Gerald Jablonski’s are comics I’ve often treated like activism, physically putting them into people’s hands. He’s been around since the 1970s, but it was 2002’s Cryptic Wit #1 — a self-published item I bought via mail order from an ad in the Journal — which I count as one of the three crucial comics that challenged my preconceptions about the form. The first was Phoebe Gloeckner’s “Minnie’s 3rd Love”, from the 1994 anthology Twisted Sisters II; I read it as a teenager, and it challenged my preconceptions as to content, i.e. what was ‘allowable’ in a comic. The second was Chris Ware’s The Acme Novelty Library #4 (also 1994), the second “Quimby the Mouse” issue, which challenged my preconceptions as to form, which is to say how a comic should read. And then, years later, Cryptic Wit #1 challenged my preconceptions as to what was ‘good’ – because it was a comic that did absolutely everything wrong, though I found it unassailable.

I’m not going to stand here like a jackass and claim that Jablonski is sitting on a hidden vein of mass appeal; this is very particular stuff, even though the artist does exploit the most fundamental, populist stuff of comics: formulaic gag strips. Every page in the Cryptic Wit series is a self-contained story, consisting of maybe 28-30 panels, with each panel typically filled halfway with voluminous dialogue. There are only ever three types of stories: (1) the schematic adventures of Howdy and Dee Dee, an uncle and nephew comedy pair who somehow always drift onto the topic of Dee Dee’s teacher at school, who is an ant; (2) the Farmer Ned tales, in which the title character often spends an enormous amount of time winding you up as to the story he is planning to tell, only gradually yielding to fables about talking animals getting into trouble; (3) wordless, psychedelic barrages, depicting the eternal struggle between an angelic boy and a mutant counterpart, frequently to obscure ends.

The result is something extraordinarily bizarre – even more so for putting to use devices that are otherwise aggressively normal; it is impossible to read more than a few of these stories/pages in one sitting, and I recommend you treat them like scripture, as much for reflection as immediate edification. And yet, they are *incredibly* transfixing, often hugely funny comics, and this 9.5″ x 13.5″ Fantagraphics compilation promises to display Cryptic Wit at more engaging (or, readable) dimensions than ever before. A 100-page softcover, with an introduction by Jim Woodring and a new interview with the artist; $30.00.

Dissolving Classroom: Veering away from VIZ’s recent release of Junji Itō’s Tomie stories — works that date back to the very beginning of the horror manga icon’s career in the late 1980s — here we have Vertical with a translation of a much newer Itō release, hailing from 2013. As you might guess from the title, this finds the artist working more in the gross-out humor vein of his idol, the great Kazuo Umezu, though I’ve always found Itō to lack the rip-the-pages urgency of Umezu at his furious best; he’s a more studied, cerebral artist, gifted at concocting small and sneaky shockers. Like Tomie, this 178-page book collects short stories linked by the presence of supernatural characters; there’s some emphasis on social satire, like the tendency to remain polite amidst even the worst circumstances. Personally, I feel Itō’s latter-day emphasis on tones in place of hatching has robbed his art of a not-inconsiderable amount of its scary impact, but drawing a huge number of bodies melting into goop, as is his passion here, perhaps flatters that smoother textural approach; $12.95.

PLUS!

Little Tulip: Your Eurocomic of the week is another release from Dover, continuing to explore the sort of books that Catalan Communcations might have put out decades ago. This 2014 album (8.25″ x 11″, 96 pages) reunites writer Jerome Charyn and artist François Boucq — previously of The Magician’s Wife (1986) and Billy Budd, KGB (1990) — for an expansive-sounding story of tattoo art, life in the gulag, and murder on the streets of NYC in the 1970s. A very adept pair… Boucq in particular is the kind of full-bore craftsman who can credibly draw anything with weight and conviction; $14.95.

Lighthouse: Being the new translation of work by Spanish cartoonist Paco Roca, an artist “at the crest of a true-to-life wave in contemporary Spanish comics,” per Morten Harper, who profiled Roca for the Journal a few years back. This is an early work, from 2004, concerning a teen combatant in the Spanish Civil War holed up in the titular structure with an older man prone to spinning tales. A 6″ x 9″, 64-page hardcover from NBM, probably being advertised somewhere off to one side of this page right now. Preview; $15.99.

Poorcraft: Speaking of valuable information, this 168-page Iron Circus release from writer/publisher C. Spike Trotman and artist Diana Nock vows to aid you with “everything from finding a home to finding a hobby, dinner to debt relief, education to entertainment,” all on an extremely tight budget – certainly a skill set indie cartoonists build over the years, along with more and more of this country; $10.00.

Not Waving But Drawing: Another new Fantagraphics release, this time a deluxe softcover (10″ x 11″, 64-page) collection of sketchbook gag cartoons (“dark thoughts, lightly rendered” purrs the subtitle) by the noted illustrator John Cuneo. Full-frontal nudity on the cover, gang, you know he’s going for it; $25.00.

Judge Dredd: The Complete Brendan McCarthy: Not a Rebellion release or a North American repackaging of such, but one of IDW‘s irregular 9.25″ x 12″ hardcover tomes where they collect everything an artist has done on the long-running Judge Dredd SF/action strip without concern for storytelling flow – if an artist only drew three of eight chapters of a storyline, you get those three chapters only. Weighing in at 200 pages, this one is dedicated to Brendan McCarthy, whose work on the strip dates back to 1978, nearly its beginning; $49.99.

Lightrunner (&) Seekers Into the Mystery: Two more from Dover, this time delving into the publisher’s unofficial mission to disinter odd artifacts from the history of the American Direct Market. Lightrunner is a real obscurity, a 1983 space opera from writer Lamar Waldron and penciller Rod Whigham, the latter a well-traveled commercial comics artist (he now draws the Gil Thorpe newspaper strip) and assistant to Bob Burden, whose earliest Flaming Carrot stories I believe Waldron published in his capacity as an organizer of the Atlanta Fantasy Fair and an editor of its official magazine, Visions. Anyway, Lightrunner was first published as a book in 1983 by Starblaze Graphics, which is probably better known today (if at all) for the legal troubles it got into with various artists; now it is available again in a 128-page edition. Seekers Into the Mystery was a 1996-97 Vertigo series from writer J.M. Dematteis and a rotating crew of artists, among them Glenn L. Barr, Jon J. Muth, Michael Zulli and Jill Thompson. The plot looks to have something to do with astral projection, repressed memories of abuse, celestial beings – honestly, I’d completely forgotten it was ever published, but all 400 pages of it are now available again; $19.95 (Lightrunner), $34.95 (Mystery).

Chester 5000 Vol. 2: Isabelle And George (&) You Might Be an Artist If…: And here’s two from Top Shelf, operating under the IDW umbrella but still releasing books that feel very much like ‘Top Shelf’ works. Chester 5000 is the popular erotic webcomic SF romance series from Jess Fink, here coming off the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign to put together a hardcover edition for a prequel storyline. You Might Be an Artist If… is a 144-page collection of comics by Lauren Purje about life in the ‘fine’ arts world, rendered in a very smooth-lined style a bit reminiscent of Megan Kelso; $14.95 (Chester), $19.99 (Artist).

America’s Best Comics – Artist’s Edition: Finally, we return to IDW proper and their popular line of gigantic original art reproductions, here organized not around a single vision, but a whole line of comics. Ironically, what unified the America’s Best Comics line (a subsidiary of Wildstorm, as acquired by DC) since its 1999 debut was the presence of writer Alan Moore, whose contributions can’t help but be downplayed a bit with so much emphasis on drawing. Expect a potpourri of stories by the many attractive artists retained for those titles, including full issues of Promethea (#10, J.H. Williams III & Mick Gray) and Top Ten (#7, Gene Ha & Zander Cannon), along with short stories drawn by Chris Sprouse & Karl Story, Rick Veitch, Kevin Nowlan and Hilary Barta. A 12″ x 17″, 216-page production; $146.99 (or so).

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8 Responses to THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (2/1/17 – A Comedy for the People of the World)

  1. Jones, one of the Jones boys says:

    First American Artist’s Edition or GTFO

  2. Joe McCulloch says:

    Haha, I can see them hitting the the entire Tomorrow Stories cast and just leaving a few out of the solicitation…

  3. Joe McCulloch says:

    ~BONUS REVIEW SECTION FOR DILIGENT READERS~

    Little Tulip: It’s easy to forget, given the prolonged timeframes involved — both that of the up-and-down fortunes of Eurocomics in English translation, and that of BD creation in general — but between Catalan Communications and Heavy Metal/Tundra, we used to have a pretty solid grasp of Bronx-born writer Jerome Charyn’s work on the French scene; in fact, with Dover’s recent publication of The Boys of Sheriff Street (1991, art by Jacques de Loustal), I do believe every one of the full-length albums from the first eight years of Charyn’s comics career are now in English. But while Charyn remained fairly prolific as the 20th century drew to a close (I’d definitely like to see English editions of two books he did with José Muñoz in the late ’90s), he’s only written two full albums since 2000: Marilyn la dingue (2009, art by Frédéric Rébéna) and this, a 2014 reunion with the artist in whose company he made he comics debut three decades ago, François Boucq.

    Boucq is a hugely reliable and accomplished stylist, weighting caricatural forms so that they accomodate a sort of pliable realism; it’s a very adaptable approach, but what mainly benefits him here is a sense of restraint – bathed in faintly earthen hues (I’ve seen three different colorists credited online, none of which are mentioned in Dover’s edition), Boucq’s pages carefully elide the most obscene implications of Charyn’s scenario, which is frankly as sordid a genre piece as crime fiction in prose cares to be. Set ostensibly in the NYC ’70s but actually comprised mainly of flashbacks to a Soviet gulag, the plot finds its hero tattoo artist-cum-police sketch artist staring at gallery art, mentoring his Japanese waitress girlfriend’s daughter, beating down a whole gang of jive-talking black muggers, and mulling over his past while a rape/murder spree lights up the streets. As a little boy in the USSR, he watched as his whimsical sketchbook drawings helped get his entire family arrested for alleged subversion; his childhood symbolically destroyed with his scribbles, he soon discovers new aesthetics – the undulating tattooed flesh of criminal men gang-raping condemned women in transit. As drawn by Boucq, they often resemble hairless apes: we are in the wild, the realm of spiritless consumption, a fallen, animal kingdom, run by hunger and nothing higher.

    What ensues is a very typical prison narrative distinguished mainly by the amount of sexual violence involved, sometimes concerning children. The boy becomes the preteen plaything of a muscular woman at the camp, eventually graduating to membership in an honorable-but-violent criminal gang (as opposed to a rival, vulgar, even-more-violent criminal gang) that affords him some semblance of dignity, though life is of course cheap. Not one, not two, but THREE beloved women are savagely murdered over the course of this book to drive our man to the feral brink, but what grounds him is his training in the art of tattoo, a verily mystic discipline that whisks the artist beyond the walls of this prison… the gulag that is life itself. Charyn has characters state these themes aloud, which I initially took as a simple failure to trust in metaphor, but it turns out he’s also concocting lore, as the story’s final 10 or so pages see the whole thing transform into a psychic vigilante comic, somersaulting beyond the grossly pedestrian into overweening absurdity… thank heaven for small favors? I’ll remember this book chiefly for its most acute statement of worldview, in which a gladiatorial knife fight has our man metaphysically assassinate Stalin by skewering a tattoo of him on an opponent’s chest, and of course for Boucq, who can still draw wriggling seas of skin like back when that’s the best people expected from these things.

  4. steven samuels says:

    ” it is impossible to read more than a few of these stories/pages in one sitting”
    Amen to that.

    Is this his complete ouevre?

  5. Joe McCulloch says:

    No – at the very least, most (possibly all) of Cryptic Wit #1 is absent, and I don’t think anything from the ’90s Empty Skull collection is in there either… everything is in color. Jablonski mentions disliking his earlier work in the included interview, though I dunno if that’s causative or anything…

  6. steven samuels says:

    That’s fascinating. He strikes as one of the more consistent cartoonists out there. Empty Skull is a fine comic. And the scattered pages I’ve seen from his more recent work seems of a piece with everything else he’s done. At least to me.

  7. Tony says:

    Speaking of Little Tulip, Joe:
    “Boucq’s pages carefully elide the most obscene implications of Charyn’s scenario”

    But only in the US edition…

  8. Joe McCulloch says:

    Gah – can’t say I expected that, though maybe I should have…

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