PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews (except for the bit about Beautiful Darkness, which totally is) 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. 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.
Beautiful Darkness: I loved this. In fact, some might love it *just* as a bigger showcase for the lavish watercolor art (see above) of "Kerascoët," aka Marie Pommepuy & Sébastien Cosset, two illustrators/animators known to English-only comics readers for the Hubert Boulard-written Miss Don't Touch Me series NBM released a few years back. This Drawn and Quarterly hardcover, however -- aside from being a physically larger 8.5" x 11.25" -- also boasts an original story by Pommepuy, albeit co-written-as-a-script by Fabien Vehlmann (currently of Spirou et Fantasio, and most recently in English via Jason's Isle of 100,000 Graves). And it's quite a story, reminiscent of nothing so much as Josh Simmons scripting a Studio Ghibli film, insofar as fanatically precise attention is paid to the poetics of the natural world, all in the midst of the sort of horror narrative that downplays shock scares in favor of a hideous sense of inevitability; one look at these characters, in this situation, and you know everything is going to go atrociously wrong, and that you will be spared no details.
You see, there's these hidden people - a community of pixie- or elf-like silly things who live inside a little girl, and embody little clusters of attitudes and motivations that make up the human character. And then, one day, the little girl dies in the middle of the woods, and nobody ever finds her body, and the hidden people are forced out of their decomposing home to make it in the wild. The heroine is Aurora, who loves animals and always tries to be nice and embodies a rather classically girlish desire to look pretty and fall in love with a prince, and be loved and found pretty in return, and, of course, divorced from the comforts of stable society, she suffers degradation after degradation, to a Sadian degree, which is to say that Pommepuy & Vehlmann seem to depict the misfortunes of virtue (I'd warn the animal lovers out there in advance, but rest assured, the animals give as good as they get in this one). Ah, but soon it becomes clearer that 'virtue' here is naïveté conjoined with utter faith, and when you burn off the naïveté, you are left, theoretically, with only total faith, and that is the mark of a person you'd best not underestimate.
It's all quite arch, in a way - the characters are, by virtue of concept, explicit and gladly reductive 'types,' furtively engaged in a brand of comedic antics and slapstick routines probably not unfamiliar to readers (or a writer) of Spirou; blending this with what ultimately evolves into a black metal rendition of The Borrowers risks a good deal of annoyance for readers more interested shaded and humane depictions of avarice, suffering and goodness in a blighted situation, but I appreciated Pommepuy's & Vehlmann's central depiction of gender-coded immaturity refusing to grow up, and instead refining its immaturity into a fearsome frenzy. High-toned entertainment for people whose idea of entertainment is upsetting depictions of ruined dreams peppered with gore and decay... so, me! Totally rad opening sequence; $22.95.
Insect Bath #1: And heck, we'll just have a Nasty Spotlight all around this week, as editor Jason T. Miles and Profanity Hill bring this 34-page comic book-format b&w horror anthology, featuring the talents of Sammy Harkham, Noel Freibert, Juliacks, Matthew Thurber, Zach Hazard Vaupen, and quite a few more. Distributed by Fantagraphics to comic book stores that stock comic books. Official site; $3.99.
Tippy and the Night Parade: This looks kinda spooky too, though I'm guessing the Toon Books label means it's *actually* for children, and not exciting subterfuge. Lilli Carré needs no introduction from me, save to acknowledge that she is undeniably one of these most widely-admired cartoonists to emerge in the past decade, and this 9" x 6" hardcover promises 32 new pages of work, premised on a girl having many animals follow her around in the twilight hours. Preview; $12.95.
The Bojeffries Saga: Sometimes, when the nights grow cold and the online conversation becomes aggressive, I like to think back to a time when Alan Moore made light, funny comics. But I don't think of D.R. & Quinch - those I've always found laboriously wacky and generally sort of lame. No, my exceedingly specific jam is Bojeffries, a Warrior-born collaboration with Steve Parkhouse which positioned a family of uncanny weirdos among the British working class; among Moore's fantastical works, I've always suspected this to be the most autobiographical - not in recalling specific incidents from his life, mind you, but in capturing a specific environment and attitude and way of living. Here is a new Top Shelf/Knockabout softcover collection of the material, 96 pages accommodating all extant work as well as a brand-new 24-page story bringing the characters into the modern day. Note that this appears to be a mostly-b&w edition, as opposed to the colorized variant Tundra put out decades ago. Samples; $14.95.
Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 7: This is another Simon & Schuster compilation of early Dredd stuff, mirroring Rebellion's much further-along line of books in the UK (they're expecting vol. 22 next month). Per Douglas Wolk, this one should be potpourri of small and small-ish stories written by the team of John Wagner & Alan Grant from 1983 and 1984. It's 368 pages; $19.99.
The Invisibles Deluxe Edition Vol. 1: Ooh, almost as big a page-count (328) on this new Vertigo repackaging of another 2000 AD vet's signature creation - the gangly, scattershot opus of Grant Morrison, here seen in its earliest dozen issues, with some extra stuff as well. I don't know if The Invisibles is quite as relevant to young readers today as it was when I started reading comics again in '02; that was a time of *intense* excitement surrounding the state of the superhero genre, and cockeyed adventure comics like this seemed (among many other things) an oracle's summary of the awesome state of a future which proved rather temporary. Still inspires very good writing, though, and what better a time to bring it all back; $29.99.
Royals: Masters of War #1 (of 6): But even today, 2000 AD-honed writers ply their trade in off-kilter superhero serials. Rob Williams is one of the most reliable writers on the scene, and here he teams with well-traveled artist Simon Coleby (both participated in 2012's Judge Dredd universe crossover Trifecta, while Coleby also drew last year's IDW series Judge Dredd: Year One) for a Vertigo miniseries about super-powered nobles in WWII. Preview; $2.99.
X-Force #1: I also generally like Simon Spurrier (he too is writing a dark comic about wee hidden people right now), and here he tackles the more-violent-than-usual mutant characters from the greater X-Men universe. Also notable for some strange-looking digitally painted(?) visuals from Korean artist Rock-He Kim. Preview; $3.99.
Knights of Sidonia Vol. 7: Hey, remember the time Tsutomu Nihei drew five issues' worth of Wolverine comics? Crazy days. Anyhow, this is the current series, which Vertical is releasing, and it is your manga pick of the week; $12.95.
SpongeBob Comics #29: As usual, United Plankton has assembled an interesting lineup for their prize title, this time involving Stephen R. Bissette, James Kochalka, R. Sikoryak, Hilary Barta and Chuck Dixon in various capacities; $2.99.
Moomin and the Golden Tail & Moomin's Desert Island: Two more kid-targeted 8" x 6.5" color editions of Tove Jansson Moomin stories, 56 and 48 pages, respectively, and coming, as always, from Drawn and Quarterly. Samples here; $9.95 (each).
Hawken: Melee #5 (of 5): Archaia, as you might know, is now firmly ensconced within the BOOM! banner, although the comic book-format stuff they've been releasing is pretty high-quality stuff in terms of basic glance 'n feel, and the creative choices I've bees seeing are interesting. Here, for example, is the very energetic Nathan Fox writing and drawing a self-contained tie-in comic to an online computer game of some mech-battling sort. Jim Mahfood did an earlier issue (#2) as a raucous comedy, so I'm betting the individual creations have a good deal of leeway on what to do. Cover by Bengal, who's soon to have a lot of his French-industry stuff translated via Magnetic Press... founded by ex-execs of Archaia and BOOM! Preview; $3.99.
MAD's Greatest Artists: Dave Berg: And finally... oh come on. You know you want it. A 272-page Running Press hardcover, 9.3" x 12", foreword by Drew Friedman; $30.00.