A little semi-abstract page here from Michael DeForge’s Big Kids – “semi” because in the context of the story it’s a literal depiction of events. A teenage sex scene, actually, though I think you can sort of tell right off the bat from those hesitant caresses. I’ve managed to read both comics in the spotlight this week — pre-ordered the first, while the publisher sent me the second — so lets count those as informed exhortations regardless of what the warning below implies…
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.
Ganges #5: I went through this in some detail last week, but yeah – Ganges, the new release from Kevin Huizenga, continuing the ‘Ignatz’-format series (formerly of Coconino Press & Fantagraphics) as a self-published work, still magazine-sized and 32 pages. Still the tale of a man trying to get to sleep, but still expanding to encompass elements of metafiction, pastiche and… geological history. Try and believe me when I say the modular nature of this series makes any issue a pretty good jumping-on point – its cerebral humanity will register quickly. Distributed to comic book stores by the aforementioned Fantagraphics; $8.00.
Big Kids: Being the latest Michael DeForge comic from Drawn & Quarterly. I say ‘comic’ because the very prolific DeForge’s work can take many forms – this, however, is a very orthodox comic-comic, not really unlike what you’d find in an issue of Lose, but self-contained as a 4.5″ x 5.8″ hardcover. Across 96 color pages we encounter many of the artist’s favorite themes, particularly the tension between a person’s evolutionary capacity and the resentments that invisibly guide their actions. I think DeForge’s particular sense of psychedelia tends to obscure how unsparing his worldview has gotten in recent years – here, a bullied gay high schooler awakens one afternoon to discover that he’s transformed into a ‘tree,’ which is to say a select human of advanced sensory capacity, yet much of what he experiences only serves to root him in miserable self-importance. You can read this as a critique of the familiar ‘chosen special kid’ devices of popular youth fiction, or even nerd triumphalism as a cultural force, but it remains unwavering on the DeForge continuum; $16.95.
Zap Comix #16: In which the famous underground comic book anthology (est. 1968) lifts anchor and sails off into antiquity, but not before introducing unusual-to-Zap innovations such as color pages and a female contributor. They’re still doing jams, though. If you happened to buy the Complete Zap Comix box set from 2014, you’ve seen a lot of this stuff, but know that some of its 96 pages are original or revised. Contributors include Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, S. Clay Wilson, the late Rick Griffin, Robert Williams, Victor Moscoso, the late Spain Rodriguez, Paul Mavrides and Aline Kominsky-Crumb (who is also in the new Complete Wimmen’s Comix boxset, which may or may not be appearing in certain comic book stores this week). A Fantagraphics release; $14.99.
Octopus Pie Vol. 1: Quite a winding path this extremely popular Meredith Gran webcomic has taken in print – self-published small collections subsequently picked up for an omnibus edition by Villard Books, then shifted to the webcomics merch consortium TopatoCo for a second big edition. Now the series restarts itself at Image with a 200-page definitive collection of the early work, in the form of an 8.9″ x 6.3″ landscape-format softcover. It’s slice-of-life comedy and drama (I think mostly comedy at this point) about young denizens of Brooklyn in the early 21st century; $14.99.
Corto Maltese: Celtic Tales: IDW’s Eurocomics wing is gearing up for a big 2016 – I am particularly pleased to see the first Alack Sinner omnibus now formally scheduled for July. But for now, we have the publisher’s third compilation of Hugo Pratt’s short adventure tales from the pages of Pif Gadget in the early 1970s. Corto Maltese has counted prominent names among its admirers, the recently-departed Umberto Eco perhaps most famously, but all you have to do is read these comics to know that there has never been anything else quite like them. A 140-page softcover; $29.99.
Snowpiercer Vol. 3: Terminus: For real, I’d not realized there was more of this. Snowpiercer has its origins in a 1982-83 Jacques Lob/Jean-Marc Rochette series from the pages of the influential Casterman magazine (À SUIVRE) – a grim SF commentary on the futility of upheaval in a stratified society. The series was later revived by Rochette and new writer Benjamin Legrand for a pair of millennial albums, and then adapted into a kitschy and overwrought 2013 Bong Joon-ho motion picture (which did at least manage a nice homage to T. F. Mou’s 1988 political/exploitation movie classic Men Behind the Sun with the frozen arms bit). Now, perhaps spurred by said film, we have this 2015 added installment, written by Olivier Bocquet and drawn, as always, by Rochette. Titan publishes the 232-page(!) English edition; $29.99.
The Ark (&) Last Man Vol. 4: The Show: Two additional European comics options for this surprisingly stocked Wednesday. The Ark is the latest from the ever-prolific Humanoids, presenting a 164-page b&w “allegorical fable of man vs. nature” from artist Stéphane Levallois, first released by Les Humanoïdes in 2000 as part of their Tohu Bohu line of ‘alternative’-type albums. Despite this, it looks ’70s Heavy Metal as all holy fuck, imho. Last Man, meanwhile, continues the shōnen manga fistfight stylings of Bastien Vivès, Michaël Sanlaville & Yves “Balak” Bigerel for another 208 pages, with First Second still the English edition publisher. Vol. 8 just arrived in France a few weeks ago, so there’s plenty more to come; $24.95 (Ark), $9.99 (Last Man).
Belushi: On a Mission from God (&) Amulet Vol. 7: Oh my god, there’s more! Okay, I’m gonna package these as a ‘bookstore mainstream’ duo. Belushi is a graphic biography – very reliable approach, translated by One Peace Books from a 2014 work from Italian creators Alberto Schiavone & Matteo Manera, the latter working in a rather eye-catching swoop-doodled style. “Doodled” is not a word I’d use for Amulet, Kazu Kibuishi’s exceedingly lacquered and very popular Miyazakian YA fantasy series, which is now approaching the endgame set for its ninth projected volume. Published by Scholastic, forevermore. Amulet preview; $18.95 (Belushi), $12.99 (Amulet SC), $24.99 (Amulet HC).
FukuFuku: Kitten Tales Vol. 1 (&) Tomodachi X Monster Vol. 1 (of 3): A pair of manga picks for this week, from waaaaaay opposite ends of the Japanese comics spectrum. FukuFuku: Kitten Tales is Vertical’s newest cat manga release from Kanata Konami, creator of the popular Chi’s Sweet Home; it’s part of an extensive cat + old lady = heartwarming comedy franchise that Konami has been cultivating in josei magazines since the late 1980s, though I’m not really sure when this material was created. Tomodachi X Monster, in sharp contrast, hails from Futabasha’s long-lived and oft-licentious seinen forum Manga Action; the 2014-15 creation of Yoshihiko Inui, it’s a dark and bloody rendition of the monster fighting concepts familiar from Pokémon, Digimon, Yo-Kai Watch, etc. In case you thought that impulse was exclusive to American superhero comics. Seven Seas is the English publisher there; $10.95 (Kitten), $12.99 (Monster).
Neil Gaiman’s Mr. Hero: The Newmatic Man – The Complete Comics Vol. 1 (of 2): This is another Tekno Comix reprint from Super Genius, a 232-page collection tackling the steam-powered 19th century primary hero of the shared universe Tekno had going for a little while in the mid-1990s – a fish out of water romp. What’s notable is that the series was written by James Vance, of the graphic novels Kings in Disguise and On the Ropes; a few years ago, Vance put together a really good series of blog posts on his and (Omaha the Cat Dancer writer) Kate Worley’s travails at Tekno, which will disabuse you of any lingering idealism you might hold about alternative-mainstream corporate comic startups behaving better than their establishment counterparts. The primary penciller is Ted Slampyak, who would later become the final artist of the Little Orphan Annie newspaper strip; $14.99 ($24.99 in hardcover).
Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #11 (&) Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #1 (of 6): Unusual action here. Transformers is Tom Scioli’s passionate and apocalyptic rendition of toy license comics – maybe the most consistently unique and vision-driven ‘mainstream’ serial on the racks today. John Barber co-writes, and IDW publishes. The Coming of the Superman is a little different, in that its auteur, 74-year old writer/artist Neal Adams, used to define the popular form of spandex comics. The prevailing superhero trends having since shifted (several times), Adams’ approach now captures attention — some of it fascinated, some of it mocking, some of it uneasily lodged between — for its chatty eccentricities. Anyway, this new miniseries (scripted with genre fixture Tony Bedard) is a double throwback – both to older, fanciful Superman stories, and to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comics, as Darkseid and Lex Luthor menace a whole group of Kryptonian heroes; $3.99 (each).
The Maxx – Artist’s Edition: IDW is still running recolored versions of creator Sam Kieth’s 1993-98 signature series as individual comic books (#28 drops this week), but the eyes of monied ’90s kids will surely fall upon this 12″ x 17″, 168-page hardcover collection of the first six issues, written with William Messner-Loebs and drawn with Jim Sinclair. As always, the publisher reproduces the b&w original art in color, so that you might will yourself into the Outback of these pages’ very creation. I was 12 when The Maxx started, I adored it, and there’s still tremendous sentimental value for me here, but I also think Kieth’s blend of Frazetta licks and ultra-muscled Image superhero jutting stands as a pretty unique concoction of those heady days; $100.00 (or so).
Jonny Negron Selected Works 2012-2013: Finally, your not-a-comic of the week is a new 48-page Floating World collection of pin-up illustrations by the unmistakable cartoonist and illustrator of the title, a 6″ x 8.5″ softcover distributed to comic book retailers via Alternative Comics; $12.00.