Above we see the cover to a new publication by the Argentina-born artist Berliac, who's been reviewed on this site twice before. Titled Seinen Crap, it's a 16-page booklet priced at 2 euros, collecting in English the first chapter of a webcomic ("Howlong") begun in 2014. Naturally, a title like that caught my attention, but what really kept me there was not the story -- an extremely introductory sketch-of-a-prelude -- but some of the visual characteristics of Berliac's work, particularly the lettering.
Many of you will recognize the cover as a tribute to the famous Japanese comics magazine Garo. Some others may recall a recent controversy surrounding another webcomic which came under criticism stemming from its purported appropriation of elements of Japanese culture. Obviously, Berliac is also proceeding in an exceedingly Japanese-influenced direction, but I was struck and amused by the use of titling on the cover to Seinen Crap. If you look closely, all of the lettering is, in fact, functional in the manner of the Roman alphabet - it's just decorated to the extent that it appears to function as the Japanese language, which strikes me as an interesting means of acknowledging the cultural distance of the author from the material from which he draws influence.
I also liked the rather chilly font employed for the interior of the comic, which suggests the presence of translation. Granted, there is likely a pragmatic aspect to this, as Berliac actually *does* release these comics in multiple languages, yet the use of this seemingly aloof script doubles as a distancing mechanism from the 'text' of the drawn story. Moreover, as is Berliac's tendency in all of his comics that I've read, the characters are drawn with very minimal facial features, if any at all. The lead character here seems to be wearing a mask, often sweating but almost never changing, moving among a village of shadow-headed folks on a journey to locate his vanished sister; only when he closes his eyes to sleep does he become a realistically-drawn man. We might surmise that he is playacting when awake... as, in a way, is his author, who hits on several broad thematic points held by many of the Garo artists in the '60s -- a retreat from urbanity into an agrarian terrain; sexual angst and hallucination -- which not sharing the particular context in which many of those artists worked. There was an earlier English translation the artist did in this style for Vice; it was considerably less sure, reconfiguring images from the likes of Yoshiharu Tsuge as broad jokes, though at least Berliac was (and remains) adept at pairing simplified figures against detailed nature scenes a la Shigeru Mizuki and his students. Now, I think he is hitting on a uniquely silent means of underscoring cultural distance while running through Japanese influence. I'll keep an eye out for what other Crap he has planned.
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. 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.
Museum of Mistakes: The Fart Party Collection: Being a big 400-page compendium of the widely-admired slice-of-life humor webcomic by Julia Wertz - maybe one of the quintessential webcomics of the prior decade. A 6.5" x 9.25" Atomic Book Company paperback, the package should include everything from the two original Fart Party print collections, as well as 150-or-so pages of stuff that's not been seen in this format, including very early works; $24.00.
Sexcastle: I've noticed quite a bit of good sentiment surrounding this '80s action movie homage from writer/artist Kyle Starks, though I've not read it; surely, then, this Image edition of a comic which first came to print via Kickstarter is designed for people like me, who are slow and old. "The Former World's Greatest Assassin leaves the world of killing to a small town only to be pulled back in." It's 208 pages of continuing proof that Image isn't exclusively dealing with popular superhero folk decamping to better financial advantage. Preview; $15.99.
The Completely Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green: Because we all love the comic strips in here, let me direct you to this compendium of syndicated works by Eric Orner, begun in 1989, run in numerous papers, and adapted into a 2005 film. It's a comedy surrounding a gay everyman, with romantic and surreal touches. Northwest Press handles it, for 228 pages in total. Samples; $24.99.
Red One #1 (&) Batgirl: Endgame #1: I do often try and cover the European comics that make their way over to North America, but sometimes it's not as simple as a hardcover album getting translated. For example, Red One finds writer Xavier Dorison (of various Humanoids and Cinebook-released series) teaming up with the American artists Terry & Rachel Dodson for the story of a Soviet spy-turned-American superhero, which Glénat published last year; Image's English edition, however, will initially be two issues of a comic book series, presumably to be compiled later. DC, meanwhile, showcases an even more orthodox approach, i.e. the French artist's guest appearance drawing an American superhero comic, here a one-time offshoot of the new Cameron Stewart/Brenden Fletcher-written Batgirl series. The artist is Bengal, numerous French works of whose have been recently disseminated in English by Magnetic Press. Red preview, Batgirl preview; $2.99 (each).
Tex: The Lonesome Rider: Speaking of which, here a slightly older (2001) international collaboration, seeing the late Joe Kubert tackle a long-running Italian cowboy series in the company of writer Claudio Nizzi. Dark Horse is the publisher of this color hardcover production, at the price point of their archival releases. I think a prior edition of this may (or may not) have been released in some English-dominant terrain under the title Tex: The Four Killers, but this is solicited as the formal U.S. debut for the material. Preview; $49.99.
Chrononauts #1 (&) The Grievous Journey of Ichabod Azrael #1 (of 6): Lots of style from across the Atlantic here. A few weeks ago I read MPH, the recent Image series writer Mark Millar did with Duncan Fegredo, and I was pretty struck by how much it felt like an extremely lengthy variant on a 2000 AD "Time Twister," trick ending and all. Chrononauts, now, sees Millar (still at Image) teaming with the very talented Sean Gordon Murphy for an explicitly time-travel-oriented series, in which cocky looking dudes try and decide whether to benefit themselves or humanity with their technology, I think. In contrast, Ichabod Azrael is an *actual* 2000 AD serial, now part of Rebellion's occasional efforts to repackage the stuff as comic book miniseries for NA comic book store penetration. It's a pretty good western-flavored occult riff with some rather design-y, Mignolaesque art from Dom Reardon. The writer is Rob Williams. Chrononauts preview; $3.50 (Chrononauts), $3.99 (Ichabod).
Tüki Save the Humans #3 (&) The Usagi Yojimbo Saga Vol. 2: I'm pairing them all up today like I don't give a shit. Tüki, of course, is the latest from Jeff Smith, the self-published print edition of a webcomic that actually reads like a compilation of a Sunday adventure strip somehow unbound by the narrative expectations of newspaper serialization. You have to turn the comic on its side and everything. Usagi Yojimbo Saga, from Dark Horse, differs in that it collects actual older comics, although the adventuresome funny animal approach is rare enough in print today that I think the comparison holds from any direction. Expect 672 pages of Stan Sakai, mostly from the late '80s/early '90s. Usagi samples; $3.99 (Tüki), $24.99 (Usagi).
Oh My Goddess! Vol. 47 (of 48) (&) Master Keaton Vol. 2: SEINEN CRAP, RIGHT HERE. Yes, it's the comics men like, and few from Japan have been enjoyed longer than Kōsuke Fujishima's magical girlfriend wish-fulfillment opus, which ran for over a quarter of a century before ending in Japanese last year. It has also been among the oldest English translation perennials, first serialized by Dark Horse in comic book form in 1994; the same publisher offers this penultimate collected edition. Master Keaton is roughly as old, having begun in 1988 (and effectively finished in '94, though there was a later revival), but VIZ is only collecting it now because artist Naoki Urasawa is of continued interest. I *really* liked the first book: a variant on the Golgo 13 'impossibly efficient super-guy' model, caught for now in a very interesting tension between Urasawa's and editor/co-writer Takashi Nagasaki's flair for serial melodrama and co-writer Hokusei Katsushika's Saitō-Pro-honed bookish thrill-power stuffiness. Whole stories linger on characters coming to terms with their parents' personal flaws while understanding how much they love them anyway, only for a suspense plot to saunter into the foreground for the last five pages... except when it's a multi-part epic about desert survival or manly honor or something with Keaton spitting out crackpot factoids at just the right time! For 40-year old men, and 40-year old men at heart; $12.99 (OMG), $19.99 (Keaton).
Jack Kirby's Mister Miracle - Artist's Edition: Yes, another IDW monument to b&w original art printed in color, this time concerning seven issues of Kirby's Fourth World series (#2-9, excluding 4), reproduced at 12" x 17" for 192 pages in total; $146.99 (or so).
Peter Bagge: Conversations: And finally, your book-on-comics for the week - a 208-page collection of interviews with the creator of Hate, compiled by longtime writer-on-comics Kent Worcester. From the University Press of Mississippi; $30.00.