It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that this is not what many readers would consider to be comic, but some artists and publishers walk a different path. For example, this week brought an issue of World Literature Today with a special section guest edited by Bill Kartalopoulos on the topic of “International Comics” – it’s behind a paywall, I’m afraid, but inside there’s a really nice piece by Erwin Dejasse on the history of the Franco-Belgian art comics group Frémok, which has long sought to expand the boundaries by which comics can be understood. Apparently, the group is now preparing a new English-language anthology, Frémérika, as a means of expanding their international mission.
But know that the image above comes not from a European collection, but a forthcoming release from Minneapolis’ 2DCloud – Mirror Mirror 1, the first in a line of flagship anthologies from various editors, with each new edition reflecting (ha) different editorial values. I happened to get mine at last November’s Comic Arts Brooklyn, where advance copies were made available, but most copies are attached to a Kickstarter campaign for the publisher’s “Winter Collection” of books; with roughly a week left, they’re at somewhat better than halfway funded, which is doable for a successful drive, if very close. Even among art comics, these are not populist works — or sometimes even readily explicable — though from my own time spent with Mirror Mirror 1 I do think there’s an interesting perspective at work.
Described by the publisher as “an exhibition of 10 artists in print,” Mirror Mirror 1 is edited by Blaise Larmee, whose own 3 Books from last year has recently been released free online in its entirety. 3 Books was a fictive and very self-conscious ‘omnibus’ collection of purportedly rare and/or suppressed publications (two of which actually did exist in different forms) – it brought me back to a 2010 essay Larmee wrote on the ‘trophy economy’ of published works, with the act of publication functioning as “performance.” Inevitably, this ties in with Larmee’s frequent teasing of identity’s porous nature, both online and through the ritualized exchange of the interview. Mirror Mirror 1 is similarly fascinated with notions of publication and persona, through the varying ways its ten contributors approach words, pictures and drawings.
Just above is one of the more traditional pieces, by the artist Nou. What at first seems to be a grip of sketchbook pages, unpaneled and scarred with scratched-out words and images, is soon revealed as an intuitive narrative of emotional dismay, sentence fragments and picture details guiding the eyes around the page up and around, right to left and upside-down, as an indistinct but very raw impression of personal betrayal emerges, like an Inio Asano manga divined from the most preliminary and pre-commercial work product. The poetry segment I mentioned up top stands in the same between space – the work of Leslie Weibeler, it combines typeset verse with blue pen edits and unexplained, perhaps preparatory marks. It is not ‘finished’, and the state of being unfinished, by which the whole of a work remains liminal and halfway private, is the state of ‘comics’ as suggested by Mirror Mirror 1, if we are so determined as to view its bodies of work as such.
I am so inclined, perhaps because I am conservative, and always driven to read coherency into abstract or unorthodox works that might as well be viewed through the lens of heavily conceptual and deskilled gallery art. Several 2DCloud publications — including a few of the Winter Collection, I suspect — take the form of books of drawings, with the simple arrangement of pages left to provide the sequence typically imposed by panels, and the question lingers as to whether the reader is imposing their own narrative expectations on drawings perhaps better appreciated by the quality of their lines, their composition, etc. What Mirror Mirror 1 frequently does, though, is adopt the poise of preparation: torn pieces of notebook paper from Leon Sadler; absent and anatomic curls by Nicholas Verstraeten; digital text superimposed upon pencil drawings by Connor Willumsen; paper books by Sarah Ferrick, photographed from afar.
The objective, we might surmise, is to access a state of mind or emotion smothered beneath the gloss of ‘finished’ comics in the traditional sense – but this is an old notion, and my understanding is that many of these artists are quite young. Their works seem more like ambient considerations of what the self *is*, the art withdrawn a ways between the realms of consideration and completion. So, when Tracy Auch mixes prose and photography in consideration of cologne and tampons and genitals, and Caroline Hennessy presence images of a schoolgirl walking past a restroom with every facing page colored a solid red, the pieces cohere in their pondering of bodies. When Katherine Poe, sampled above, lays down anime drawings of girls, flanked by handwritten text: “Our identities have no bodies so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion,” we see the intermediary comic as reflecting the human self at odds with assumptions of human form. The mirror reflects and magnifies the artists, even as it reflects too what we readers presume to see.
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.
The Complete Wimmen’s Comix: In terms of prime-interest vintage comics that will be genuinely new to many, many readers, this is likely the biggest release of 2016. Founded in 1972, Wimmen’s Comix offered a prominent alternative to the male-dominated underground scene, blending politics, sexuality, and all the other stuff of daily life into its mission. The entire 20-year run of the series is included in this 728-page Fantagraphics slipcased two-hardcover set, along with the whole of a 1970 predecessor, It Ain’t Me, Babe, and additional text by project editor/series contributor Trina Robbins. Other artists include Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Carol Tyler, Melinda Gebbie, Phoebe Gloeckner, Roberta Gregory, Carol Lay, Dori Seda, Lee Marrs, Diane Noomin, Mary Fleener, Joyce Farmer, and many more; $100.00.
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye: NOT a monograph, NOT a reprint, but a new graphic novel from Sonny Liew, a Singapore-based artist probably best known for 2014’s historical superhero project The Shadow Hero with writer Gene Luen Yang, though he’s done a lot of creator-owned and licensed work; I recall buying his first Malinky Robot comic after he won a Xeric grant in ’02. The ‘biography’ of a fictional Singaporean comics innovator, this 320-page Pantheon hardcover employs mixed-media and stylistically divergent means to convey both the history of a nation and the development of a comics tradition inseparable from such. Preview; $30.00.
Kelly Green: The Complete Collection: I am going to call this your Eurocomics pick of the week, even though writer Leonard Starr and artist Stan Drake are doubtlessly best known for their American newspaper strip art on, receptively, Mary Perkins, On Stage and The Heart of Juliet Jones, both midcentury dramatic serials drawn in a realist style. However, from 1982 to 1987, the pair collaborated on a quintet of French-language albums for Dargaud – mystery thrillers aimed squarely at an adult readership, four of which were subsequently published in English. Now Classic Comics Press (of many On Stage and Juliet Jones reprint books) offers a 272-page, 8.5″ x 11″ hardcover compiling all five of these handsome confections, with Drake’s artwork presented sans color and shot, in some cases, from the original art; $59.95.
The Boy and the Beast Vol. 1 (&) The Boy and the Beast (light novel): And your Japanese media picks of the week are two adaptations of the same property: a 2015 anime film from writer/director Mamoru Hosoda, purveyor of sentimental fantasies and, apparently, the heir to Hayao Miyazaki in terms of putting together cartoon movies the general public will come out and see without the benefit of a pre-built franchise audience. The Boy and the Beast — in which an ornery homeless child falls in with a troubled animal deity, and enchantment ensues — for example, was the second-highest grossing domestic Japanese film of last year, bowing only to a Yo-Kai Watch mega-media tie-in movie. Yen Press now presents both a manga version of the concept, and an illustrated prose novel, the former drawn by Renji Asai, and the latter apparently written by Hosoda, with art by Geko Hirasawa; $13.00 (comic), $20.00 (novel).
Black Widow #1 (&) The Discipline #1: Two mainline comic book releases here from veteran talents. You will be surprised and excited to learn that Marvel is still releasing new first issues for its superhero holdings, but Black Widow also reconvenes the entire creative team from a recent and very much admired stretch of Daredevil — script by Mark Waid, drawing by Chris Samnee, color by Matt Wilson, letters by Joe Caramagna — for more in the way of slick action storytelling. The Discipline, on the other hand, is a new sexually-charged horror comic from writer Peter Milligan, whose works I confess I’ve fallen away from in recent years, though he does have at least three periods of very strong work: at 2000 AD and Eclipse’s Strange Days in the ’80s with the likes of Brett Ewins & Brendan McCarthy; at Vertigo in the ’90s with Enigma, Shade, the Changing Man and the UK-born Rogan Gosh; and in the ’00s with media-drenched progressive superhero comics, often drawn by Mike Allred. Anyway, this was going to be a Vertigo project, but for unspecified reasons it is now at Image – it’s drawn by Leandro Fernández, who did some Punisher comics I’ve liked. Widow preview, Discipline interview/preview; $3.99 (Widow), $2.99 (Discipline).
Daredevil by Frank Miller & Klaus Janson Omnibus (&) Elektra by Frank Miller & Bill Sienkiewicz Omnibus: It may be DC that has new comics bearing his name, but Marvel’s back catalog has plenty of Frank Miller to share – especially when it involves a character anchoring in a popular Netflix serial right now. The Daredevil omnibus covers Miller’s entire original 1979-83 run on the character, initially as penciller with writer Roger McKenzie and inker Klaus Janson, though he soon became a defining writer as well. The Elektra omnibus, in contrast, sees Miller as an established talent, both via the berserk 1986-87 miniseries Elektra: Assassin with artist Bill Sienkiewicz (my personal choice for the best comic ever to involve Miller’s talents, though Hard Boiled is a pretty close second), and the 1990 graphic novel Elektra Lives Again with colorist Lynn Varley, arguably the purest expression of Miller’s fondness for air-bound action violence; $125.00 (Daredevil), $100.00 (Elektra).
Mandrake the Magician: The Sundays Vol. 1 – The Hidden Kingdom of Murderers: But don’t stop there. We can go all the way back to the dawn of American superhero comics history with this 9.4″ x 12.3″, 160-page Titan collection of influential mystic exotica created by Lee Falk and drawn by Phil Davis years before Superman arrived in comic book form. I think this edition has been in the works for several years, and the material included should date to the 1935 origins of the Sunday feature. Samples; $39.99.
Graham Ingels’ EC Stories – Artist’s Edition: What would a reprint-heavy week be without another Artist’s Edition? A fraud, which should be reported to the police. I can’t imagine Ghastly Graham — maybe *the* defining horror comics artist of the pre-Code era in terms of sheer spectacle — will not benefit from having his original pages reproduced at 15″ x 22″, so IDW has 152 pages of oozing visions ready for you; $125.00 (or so).
Tome Vol. 1: Vampirism (&) Tome Vol. 2: Melancholia: Finally, so that we may prove again the viability of enormous books that are not comprised of reprints, I direct you to this additional pair of IDW releases, produced by the 44FLOOD art group and edited by Kasra Ghanbari. Both 12″ x 18″ hardcovers running to 200 pages, the Tome books blend illustration, comics, interviews, and CD-format music on designated topics in a manner that strongly recalls the sort of luxurious design aesthetic that set IDW apart at the beginning of its existence – and indeed, formative IDW artists such as Ben Templesmith (also a 44FLOOD founder) and Ashley Wood are involved, along with Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave McKean, Jim Mahfood and others; $150.00 (each).
This week’s front page image is from a contribution to the Mirror Mirror 1 anthology by Leslie Weibeler; not the poetry piece shown up top, but a second, drawing-focused submission.