I’m not excitable enough to declare anything the reprint of the year in April, but let’s just say I was VERY glad to discover Frémok has issued a new edition of Hortus Sanitatis, a rare early work from the artist Frédéric Coché – early enough that its 2000 initial edition was specifically published by Fréon, the Belgian art comics concern which subsequently merged with the French publisher Amok to form Frémok. I first discovered Coché’s work through Frémok’s 2005 release of The Hero’s Life and Death Triumphant, a very mysterious and unsettling bilingual French-English graphic novel formed from titled sequences of metal engravings. Hortus Sanitatis, its title taken from a natural history encyclopedia with origins in the 15th century. functions in much the same way, though its story is completely wordless. At 48 pages, it is also much shorter, and perhaps more manageable; created for a millennial program marking the city of Brussels’ status as “the designated European capital of culture,” as a short text in the back relates, the comic follows a sort of roving medieval celebration, with a skull-headed actor bringing death to all revelers in his path (to the delight of surrounding celebrants) until he encounters a pregnant woman evoking the Virgin Mary whose body provokes a nuclear/angelic reaction with the death figure’s sword, plunging him into despair as the city around them blossoms into a new, surreal, phallic, pagan state.
If you look closely at the image above, you’ll see that several of the panels have what I’ll call ‘superimposed’ figures, though I don’t really know the proper term of art here. Echo images, depicting the same figures in different positions, or sometimes different locations, as if gesturing toward a forgotten and overwritten history; certainly, this foregrounds the manufacture of the prints themselves as a human effort, along with the fact that a thick white border surrounds the inky pages, as if they’ve been laid on a clean table for perusal in an exhibition. Coché does not always publish work in this style – his 2008 book Hic Sunt Leones divides oil paintings into four-panel arrangements, sometimes accompanied or overlapped by word forms in various languages. All of this work, however, seems to speak of a history in disarray, a chaotic body of interpretation harboring the glimmer of what we once assumed was divinity…
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.
Crickets #6: Man, what’s with all the magazine-sized comic books lately? No complaints from me, though – my Ignatz collection desires for the company of peers. Also, I would never turn down a comic this good; we’ve got a real Best of 2017 contender here, In My Opinion, as Sammy Harkham unveils his 48-page latest, most of it comprised of chapter 4 (of a projected 6) of “Blood of the Virgin”, his fictional and altogether absorbing account of low-budget horror movie-making in the American 1970s. There’s plenty of trouble in store for harried editor-cum-writer-turned-director Seymour, rapidly nearing a personal meltdown… if you’ve seen Hang Loose, the short film Harkham wrote and directed with Patrick Brice, you’ve caught a glimpse of the self-destructive masculinity which permeates these events. Plus: a short adaptation of poetry by Francis Edward Ledwidge (from the 2014 First Second anthology Above the Dreamless Dead), several letters, and a hidden message of sedition. Published by the Commonwealth Comics Company, and distributed to comic book stores by Fantagraphics; $8.00.
One! Hundred! Demons!: A reissue, yes, but special attention should nonetheless be paid to this 2002 release from Lynda Barry, a fervently-admired (and perhaps not so widely-read) book that seemed like the grand testament to her talent prior to the welcome swelling of interest subsequent to 2008’s What It Is and the artist’s educational pursuits. Now published by Drawn and Quarterly, the 224-page color work lays out over a dozen vignettes of “the life moments that haunt you, form you and stay with you.” A 9.5″ x 6″ hardcover. Samples; $21.95.
Hostage: This is another D&Q release, one that’s had an author’s tour announcement on the publisher’s front page for long enough that I mistakenly thought the full title was “Hostage on Tour” for a while, i.e. until five minutes ago. I still kinda like it. But anyway, this 436-page(!) blue, white and black hardcover sees artist Guy Delisle depict the 1997 kidnapping and confinement of a Doctors Without Borders admin in the Caucasus region, primarily (it seems) to communicate the experience of being imprisoned and alone for prolonged periods. Released in French in 2016, this marks a turn of Delisle’s nonfiction focus away from periods in his life, while presumably maintaining some sense of the specificity of time and place that has brought him renown, even if that place is a small room. Preview; $29.95.
Street Angel: After School Kung Fu Special: By god, I remember buying the first issue of Street Angel with its salmon cover and the SLG logo in 2004 – at one point the story obliquely name-checked Wilkes-Barre, PA, the city where I went to college, and I wondered who the fuck Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca were. I’m still wondering about Maruca, come to think of it, but Rugg has long since emerged as an expert practitioner of personalized action comics and a keen student of historical funnybook textures – qualities well-known today through the works of artists like Tom Scioli, Michel Fiffe and Ed Piskor. Now, Jesse Sanchez — the titular Street Angel, homeless teen martial arts master — finds herself in the front of Previews courtesy of Image, which publishes this 40-page color special as an 8.5″ x 12″ hardcover album. Samples; $19.99.
Splitting Image 80-Page Giant: I remember buying this too. Or, rather, my beloved late great aunt (who’d been reading comics since the Harold H. Knerr Katzenjammer Kids in the Great Depression and helped teach me to read via Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse reprints) bought it for me I was 11 years old and crazy about the new Image superheroes like Shadowhawk and the Savage Dragon. Written and drawn by Don Simpson, Splitting Image was a two-issue parody of the foundation of Image, published by Image itself, lampooning both the personalities of the Image founders as well as the early Image comics; I can still recall Dale Keown’s Pitt, ‘after a long night of battling evil corporations,’ searching the urban jungle for a public restroom… a Pitt Stop, y’see. Also included in this squarebound commemorative reprint (Image being 25 years old this year) is the entirety of the 1994 normalman-Megaton Man one-shot, in which comedy superhero-or-thereabout characters devised by Simpson and Image’s Jim Valentino clash in a scenario concocted by the creators with help from Bob Burden (Flaming Carrot Comics) and Larry Marder (Tales of the Beanworld); $7.99.
Aliens: Dead Orbit #1 (of 4) (&) Britannia: We Who Are About to Die #1 (of 4): Two beginnings for new miniseries by artists known for severe detail. Dead Orbit is written and drawn by James Stokoe, of self-started projects like Wonton Soup and Orc Stain, but maybe better-known now for another auteurist licensed comic, Godzilla: The Half-Century War. This one may bring back memories of some of the odder, seemingly hands-off movie tie-in comics Dark Horse used to release, like the time Jim Woodring & Justin Green wrote an Aliens comic for F. Solano López (Aliens: Kidnapped, 1997-98). Britannia is a Valiant comic, albeit not set in the Valiant superhero world (or, not as far as I can tell); it’s the work-for-hire creation of writer Peter Milligan and artist Juan José Ryp, the latter known for a Moebius/Geof Darrow-informed approach emphasizing noise and fury waist-high in pits of gore, when not lunging into the outright pornographic. That said, 2016’s original Britannia miniseries (the concept concerns the investigations of a detective-of-sorts in the days of the Roman Empire) saw Ryp unusually restrained, almost in the manner of an audition for handsome bande dessinée historical adventure work – some rather muted colors by Jordie Bellaire further calmed the look. I think the whole team returns for this sequel, so we’ll see what happens (UPDATE: no, there’s a different colorist – Frankie D’Armata); $3.99 (each).
Her Bark and Her Bite: Don’t know much about this. A Top Shelf/IDW release, it’s apparently the debut graphic novel by James Albon, a British illustrator. A woman becomes resentful of her boyfriend’s affection for his new dog in a 72-page story set in a world of high-society glamor. Lots of colored pencils and some un-paneled layouts going by the samples, kind of a less-controlled Eleanor Davis, to hazard a meager comparison; $9.99.
The Book of Chaos: Not ringing a bell either, though I have a little context – it’s a new Humanoids release from writer Xavier Dorison, who collaborated with the artist Christophe Bec on a previous Humanoids series titled Sanctum, as well as with Mathieu Lauffray on Long John Silver, which Cinebook has in English. In French, he recently wrote a Thorgal album for that series’ co-creator Grzegorz Rosinski. This one is an earlier (if overlapping) work with Lauffray, a 2000-14 supernatural adventure series titled Prophet in French, presumably re-titled to reduce confusion with SF comics around here. Probably makes for a lush production, 9.4″ x 12.6″ in hardcover, 216 color pages; $39.95.
Star Hawks Vol. 1 (of 3) (&) Dan Dunn, Secret Operative 48: A pair of interesting newspaper strip reprints here. Star Hawks came relatively late to the world of new adventure strips, launching in 1977 from creators Ron Goulart & Gil Kane as a unique double-sized two-tier daily; Goulart was succeeded by a number of writers, including Archie Goodwin, while Kane received some assistance from Ernie Colón and Howard Chaykin. IDW collects 320 pages of the SF project at one installment per page, so as to best serve its unusual visual approach. Dan Dunn is also an IDW release, also presented at one strip per page, but that’s because it’s vol. 10 in the Library of American Comics Essentials sub-series, which specializes in printing noteworthy (but maybe not *extremely* salable) selections from out of a feature’s wider run in just that format. The work of artist Norman W. Marsh, Dan Dunn originated as “Detective Dan”, a 1933 original tabloid comic, anticipating the all-new contents of comic books a few years later, starting with New Fun. By the end of ’33, though, Dan Dunn had become a proper newspaper strip, serving up crime-smashing drama not entirely unlike that of Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, which had debuted in ’31. At 344 pages, the IDW book presents the first year of dailies; $39.99 (Star Hawks), $29.99 (Dan Dunn).
W.B. DuBay’s The Rook Archives Vol. 1: Of the 1970s mainstream comic book heroes, I don’t think very many people recall the Rook today, but for a while the time-traveling gunslinger character epitomized the Warren b&w magazines’ status as a counter-mainstream to the smaller, color superhero comics; while still ostensibly a horror anthology, Eerie in particular began to feature recurring characters and long serials less beholden to horror genre specifics than informed by a sense of brooding fatalism. The Rook eventually became a freestanding anthology magazine of the same title, but these 128 pages — a Dark Horse hardcover presentation at 8″ x 10″ — originate in 1977-78 issues of Eerie, the stories written by Bill DuBay (also an editor at Warren) with contributions by Budd Lewis and Jim Stenstrum. Luis Bermejo, one of many Spanish talents active in the American b&w mags at the time, is the dedicated artist here; $19.99.
The Draw of Sport: We conclude this week with a Fantagraphics release devoted to the art of sports cartooning, a practice familiar to anyone who’s researched the origins of newspaper comic strips, not not nearly so well-represented in contemporary print. Murray Olderman has been writing and drawing about sports since the 1940s, and this 7″ x 9″, 200-page hardcover offers 150 illustrations of athletes active during his career, with accompanying personal takes related in prose; $24.99.