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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (6/4/14 – Springtime Languor)

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Recently I’ve started looking at Hong Kong manhua, a rather disproportionate sample of which is represented in English by the now-defunct publisher Jademan, which flooded comic shops with thousands of pages of (mostly) martial arts comics in the late ’80s and early ’90s. But since then — as you would expect! — comics of that genre have refused to sit still. Above we see the impressive work of Li Chi Tak, who is only known in English as a name in the credits to a movie: the 1996 Jet Li vehicle Black Mask, which was based on a serial the artist created with writer Pang Chi Ming. Wendy Siuyi Wong, in her 2002 survey Hong Kong Comics: A History of Manhua, notes that Li-the-artist was once heavily influenced by the Japanese mangaka Katsuhiro Ōtomo; his work in this 1996 book, Tiān Yāo Jì (created with Yuen Kin To), seems slightly more comparable to brawny action specialists like Takehiko Inoue or Kentarō Miura, though Li himself has cited influences ranging from Suehiro Maruo to Minetarō “Dragon Head” Mochizuki. Indeed, Li has published in Japan, having done a few seinen projects with Kodansha during their ’90s period of international outreach; he also had a French translation, Spirit, placed with Dargaud in ’97, but nothing, as far as I can tell, in English. His most recent works appear to be a pair of landscape-format HK hardcover albums: The Lovers and The Voyager, both from 2011. These, it must be said, do not appear to be martial arts comics, as Li seems to be a tirelessly versatile artist. Take note of him, enterprising publishers – a lot of exciting work remains unseen.

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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.

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

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What We Need to Know: Despite its Eisner nomination, I get the impression that 2009’s English release of Years of the Elephant still remains one of the more obscure releases by Fanfare/Ponent Mon; they are publishers generally known for releasing Japanese works, and Belgian artist Willy Linthout was basically unknown in the UK and North America. Nonetheless, the work’s blend of Johnny Ryan-like rounded cartooning chops and bleak, personal subject matter (the suicide of the artist’s son) left it memorable to those who saw it. Here now is Linthout’s follow-up, this time published by Conundrum – three brothers, “who each need to cope with their own ghosts,” consult a book of lore compiled by their mother as a means of keeping themselves together. A 7.25″ x 9.75″ hardcover, 184 pages in un-inked pencils; $20.00.

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Robert Crumb Sketchbooks 1964-1982: Say, reader – do you have a shitload of money? Do you have a burning need for more Robert Crumb in your life? Importantly, did you not buy the various Crumb sketch collections Zweitausendeins released in the ’80s and ’90s? If all answers are yes, you might be the audience for this “curated” arrangement of those old drawings, now published by Taschen (presumably in a matching set with their Sketchbooks 1982-2011 release from two years ago), with all images personally selected by Crumb himself. A slipcased set of six hardcover books, totaling 1,344 pages, including a signed print and a few dozen specially redrawn images; $1,000.00.

PLUS!

Super Ego: Being the first major book release by new publisher Magnetic Press, which has announced an ambitious slate of all-in-one translated compilations of French comics series, including no less than three projects drawn by the much-respected action artist Bengal, and one of the French-Chinese hybrid efforts (Zaya) Jean-Pierre Dionnet mentioned to me last year. They’ve also tentatively scheduled a good deal of releases for Brazilian artist Caio Oliveira, and it is him behind this 112-page account of a psychotherapist for superheroes and what ensues from his advice. Colored by Lucas Marangon, and initially funded via the a Kickstarter campaign by the writer/artist. A 6.625″ x 10.25″ hardcover. Samples; $19.99.

The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression: Yes, we all shared a laugh over that “conservative mangas” piece in the National Review the other day, but what of the book Ms. Amity Shlaes was attempting to promote? Here it is, a 320-page HarperCollins comics adaptation of her 2008 skeptic’s take on the efficacy of the New Deal, adapted by looooongtime action comics veteran Chuck Dixon, with art by superhero and small-ish-press genre specialist Paul Rivoche. Is this Chuck Dixon’s debut on the nonfiction graphic novel scene? I associate him more with the general tone of certain superhero movies – The Dark Knight Rises was pretty Chuck Dixon, but Punisher: War Zone was *very* Chuck Dixon. Official tumblr; $19.99.

Afterlife With Archie Vol. 1: A lot of people I know rolled their eyes at the prospect of this recalibration of the famous Archie characters into a zombie comic, but, like it or not, if this thing’s moving 24,165 copies of issue #4, it’s outselling a pretty real chunk of Marvel/DC offerings, and I have a feeling this debut collected edition might catch on with the wider public – something about ‘wholesome’ characters going adult just captures the imagination (and it’s not like Archie hasn’t done this before). I’ve only flipped through some of these, but Francesco Francavilla is bringing some pleasing color effects to the table. Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. Official site; $17.99.

Knights of Sidonia Vol. 9: Your manga pick of this very light week, continuing the Tsutomu Nihei space battle series. Note that a 12-episode anime adaptation will begin airing in English on Netflix starting July 4. From Vertical; $12.95.

Princess Ugg #1: I’ve also (still) been reading a lot of ’90s horror comics lately, and one name which frequently pops up from venue to venue is Ted Naifeh, who is now probably best known for his gothy YA-ish series Courtney Crumrin. D- didn’t any of these damn kids read Weird Business?! Anyway, this is the artist’s newest project with Oni, an ongoing comic book series about a barbarian princess who joins a proper girls’ finishing school, and probably changes their lives or murders them. Naifeh has mentioned French artist Claire Wendling as an influence here; it’s colored by Warren Wucinich. Preview; $3.99.

The Superannuated Man #1 (of 6): Speaking of seasoned veterans named Ted, here is Ted McKeever — quite prolific with Image in recent years — with a new miniseries about an elderly man living in a world occupied by strange mutant animals. Preview; $3.99.

Sheer Filth! – Bizarre Cinema, Weird Literature, Strange Music, Extreme Art: And finally, not at all a comic, nor even about comics, I don’t think, but Diamond is nonetheless distributing this David Flint-edited, 240-page collection of materials first published in the 1980s UK fanzine of the title, “everything from XXX-rated cinema to true crime novels, from sleazy rock ‘n’ roll to experimental movies, and from pulp fiction to cutting-edge art.” From FAB Press, which has published comics and cartooning by Robin Bougie and Rick Trembles in the past, and — moreover — shaped an enormous and probably damaging percentage of my critical consciousness at an impressionable age. Remarkably few of my friends have escaped the pull of Kier-La Janisse’s House of Psychotic Women, a newer release, and every citizen of these United States will want a copy of Stephen Thrower’s magnificently excessive Nightmare USA when it finally comes back into print in a few months. Quality fun and learning; $24.95.

Yeah, that’s all. See you in my dreams.

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20 Responses to THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (6/4/14 – Springtime Languor)

  1. Zack says:

    What a stellar draftsman Li Chi Tak is. I have been trying to inch my way into the Hong Kong comics world for a little bit, because I know there has to be some great work there, but it is amazing how unavailable that still is to English audiences. This is my first exposure to Li, but I will be on the lookout for something by him soon. I know there has to be some out there, too, but I had a friend go to Hong Kong not long ago, and I asked him to find me something; he said he couldn’t even find a comics shop, but whether that was him actually looking or not is up in the air.

    Also, if anyone tells you they’ve read any Katsuhiro Otomo and weren’t influenced by him, they are a liar.

  2. Patrick Allaby says:

    When I first saw the price tag on the Crumb Sketchbooks collection, I thought it was a joke. For most of their history, comics have been consumer items, cheap, disposable, and accessible to a middle class audience. Comics like that still exist today. I can go on tumblr, and read Simon Hanselmann’s latest strip for Vice, Hollow by Sam Alden, or one of ten different Michael Deforge stories that he’s currently serializing. Not only are they accessible to me, but they’re also great comics. It’s too bad Crumb has become so far removed from one of the main factors that makes comics such an appealing art form to be engaged with.

  3. Mike Hunter says:

    I well remember and miss the days of “cheap [12 cents!!], disposable, and accessible to a middle class audience” comic books, to be easily found in drugstores or convenience-stores.

    Nowadays, those magazine-formatted comics have absurdly inflated price tags, a tiny profit margin. The market is glutted with hundreds of titles, where once a spinner rack could hold all the current offerings from Marvel, DC, Gold Key, Archie, and Harvey. They are to now almost solely be found in often out-of-the-way specialty stores; the audience for most the product skews older and older. (The last explaining the demand and acceptance for more violent/sexual material and expensive “artist’s editions” and such.)

    It’s hardly breaking news that many readers nowadays skip the serialized magazine versions of a comic for the more expensive and substantial “album” which gathers an entire story arc, sometimes with added material, and which permits “binge reading.” That other comics creators have found that graphic novels can be far more profitable and marketable than monthly “floppies.”

    There are still splendid talents producing the latter; I’m looking forward to going by the comics store today and picking up the latest issues of Bob Fingerman’s new “Minimum Wage” ( https://imagecomics.com/content/view/bob-fingerman-returns-to-minimum-wage ) and Evan Dorkin’s “The Eltingville Club” mini-series ( http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=user_review&id=7246 ).

    However, it’s absurd to blame Crumb for “rolling with the punches” of changing situations. No doubt, while toiling for four years on “The Book of Genesis Illustrated,” he yearned many a time for the far easier days of whipping out an issue of an underground comic book.

    But not only have Crumb’s undergrounds or later titles like “Hup!” never exactly been “accessible to a middle class audience,” his sketchbooks have always been a specialty item, even back in the days when Fantagraphics was publishing its very highly recommended series of collections, averaging 20 bucks for a handsome, beautifully-printed trade paperback. (Some still available: http://www.fantagraphics.com/browse-shop/r.-crumb-sketchbook.html?vmcchk=1)

    Moreover, for those who value and believe in “comics as art,” isn’t the fact that “for most of their history, comics have been consumer items, cheap, disposable, and accessible to a middle class audience” a huge reason for the art form’s dismissal as not being substantial, capable of achieving serious aesthetic worth?

    Why, at the end of Jules Feiffer’s 1965 “The Great Comic Book Heroes,” the author — who, needless to say, ought to know better — states that “comics are junk.”

  4. Mike Wendel says:

    That Crumb Sketchbooks collection is not “comics,” it’s a signed and numbered collector’s item of his non-narrative art for hardcore fanatics with money to burn. It doesn’t remove Crumb from a middle class audience any more than the offer of a signed and numbered limited edition collection of solid gold Charmin paper rolls would remove ass wiping from the reach of the proletariat.

  5. Patrick Allaby says:

    “Moreover, for those who value and believe in “comics as art,” isn’t the fact that “for most of their history, comics have been consumer items, cheap, disposable, and accessible to a middle class audience” a huge reason for the art form’s dismissal as not being substantial, capable of achieving serious aesthetic worth? ”

    Krazy Kat, Gasoline Alley, Barnaby, Peanuts, and Calvin and Hobbes all are substantial comics with serious aesthetic worth that have appeared in cheap and disposable formats. So much of the effort to give comics a serious attention is directly related to dismantling the notion that “low-art” is intrinsically inferior to “high-art.” The idea that Crumb is somehow more legitimate, more worthy of serious consideration, now that he can sell books for a thousand dollars is sickening to me.

  6. Patrick Allaby says:

    I don’t think that just because something is “non-narrative art” it is not comics, and I am also doubtful that the Crumb Sketchbooks are entirely, or even partially “non-narrative”. Crumb is also a cartoonists, so it seems likely that anything he does is, or at least directly relates to comics.

    Additionally I can not stand how having a commercially printed item like this signed and numbered gives it a sort of fetish value. How does having a few lines scrawled by Crumb himself enhance the content of this collection to such a degree? It’s ridiculous!

  7. steven samuels says:

    “and I am also doubtful that the Crumb Sketchbooks are entirely, or even partially “non-narrative””

    Someone needs to brush up on their Crumb history. The volumes are called “sketchbooks” for a reason. Similar to his “Artistic Comics,” “Art & Beauty Magazine,” “ID” etc.

    It would be nice if there were more softcover editions of his sketchbooks. But it doesn’t look like there’s a steady market for them. Fantagraphics never did any follow-up printings of their Crumb sketchbook paperbacks after all.

    Like the others have said, the hardcover sketchbook editions have been around for decades and don’t do any harm to anyone’s enjoyment of the form.

    That said, though, if someone does have the money then by all means go for it. Like Groth himself said, Crumb is at his best in his sketchbooks rather than his stories. Or just go for something like his all-sketch “Artistic Comics” periodical.

  8. steven samuels says:

    This gentleman’s insistence that Crumb’s non-comics work is comics no matter what recalls that Julie Doucet interview that Hodler linked to the other day:

    “i swear comics people INSIST to death, i HAVE to be doing comics whatever i do!! i’ve heard that kind of affirmation one million times!!! i don’t get it! why isn’t it normal to to other things?? like in visual arts, you can do whatever you like and be coherent in your work. why why why why am i not allowed to do just that?”

    Call it what you want, I guess. Kind of like Godard’s statement “Everything is Cinema”

  9. Mike Hunter says:

    ————————
    Patrick Allaby says:

    Krazy Kat, Gasoline Alley, Barnaby, Peanuts, and Calvin and Hobbes all are substantial comics with serious aesthetic worth that have appeared in cheap and disposable formats.
    ———————-

    Comic strips — appearing in publications aimed as adults, acquiring an adult audience from the days of the “Yellow Kid” — certainly have achieved their share of respect.

    However, it was Crumb — who never was a comic strip artist, but who created and appeared in comic books for most of his career — that you were charging with becoming “so far removed from one of the main factors that makes comics” so appealing. Hence the focus on comic books in my argument.

    ———————–
    The idea that Crumb is somehow more legitimate, more worthy of serious consideration, now that he can sell books for a thousand dollars is sickening to me.
    ————————

    Ah, the old “accuse somebody of saying something which they did not say, and get all irate about it” tactic!

    If one is to become nauseated, the idea that being a “cheap, disposable consumer item” which any middle-class schmo can appreciate is one “of the main factors that makes comics such an appealing art form to be engaged with” is far more bowel-wrenching.

    ————————-
    Additionally I can not stand how having a commercially printed item like this signed and numbered gives it a sort of fetish value. How does having a few lines scrawled by Crumb himself enhance the content of this collection to such a degree? It’s ridiculous!
    ————————

    I guess the idea that a “signed and numbered,” “commercially printed” artist’s print is more valuable than something xeroxed willy-nilly must be likewise absurd to some. What can I say? It’s the way of the world.

    ————————
    So much of the effort to give comics a serious attention is directly related to dismantling the notion that “low-art” is intrinsically inferior to “high-art.”
    ———————–

    One can give comics “serious attention” and still believe (as I do) that a fine piece of “low-art” IS intrinsically inferior to a fine piece of “high-art.” I yield to no one in my appreciation of Kirby, but he’s no Goya, or Rembrandt. No matter the brilliance brought to bear, if the sights are aimed lower, the art won’t shoot as high.

  10. Mike Hunter says:

    —————————–
    Patrick Allaby says:

    I don’t think that just because something is “non-narrative art” it is not comics, and I am also doubtful that the Crumb Sketchbooks are entirely, or even partially “non-narrative”…
    —————————-

    I have about a dozen of the Crumb sketchbooks (mostly the spendid Fanta editions, along with some “Waiting for Food” books, a Taschen volume, “The Sweeter Side of R. Crumb”), and they are overwhelmingly “non-narrative.”

    Of course, if you want to call a caricature “comics,” then one could call a drawing of a bowl of fruit — or Crumb’s “Vues de Sauve” portfolio (a series of architectural renderings of the French town he lives in*) “a narrative.”

    Fussy fogies feel otherwise, though:

    —————————–
    A narrative…is any account of connected events, presented to a reader or listener in a sequence of written or spoken words, or in a sequence of (moving) pictures….
    —————————–
    Emphasis added; from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narrative

    *A fine example of which featured in Robert Stanley Martin’s “The Eras of Crumb” article at http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2012/04/the-eras-of-crumb/ , where Steven Samuels comments,

    “No accounting of Crumb’s career is complete without mention of his sketchbooks. For me his sketchbook series is his strongest work by far. Without a doubt his most freewheeling and mind-blowing work, and yes more valuable than his comics. I think that’s where his real strength lies…”

    More “Vues de Sauve” at http://thevisualexegesis.blogspot.com/2010/11/r-crumbs-drawings-of-buildings.html .

  11. Patrick Allaby says:

    It’s great to hear from you Mike! You’ve clearly got a much greater education in comics than I have, but that’s ok. I guess all I was every really trying to say is that, financially speaking, this Crumb Sketchbook collection is out of my reach, and probably (if I’m being optimistic) will be for the next forty years. But, hey, I guess I’ll stick with the comics I can afford to read, and you know what, I’m alright with that, because, let me tell you, I’m quite fond of them. And, you know what, if I’m being perfectly honest with myself, I probably wont even notice I don’t have those Crumb Sketchbooks.

  12. N Savory says:

    Anyone who’s ever seen Crumb’s skethbooks wil know that there are, indeed a lot of comics narratives in them.

  13. Abigail Williams says:

    The genres considered to be part of “low-art” and “high-art” are simply different genres with different histories. The designation of what is considered “high” or “low” has to do with with its history in relationship to class, reproducibility and cultural prejudices, not quality. Claiming that all “high-art” is intrinsically better than all “low-art” is like arguing that all sci-fi is intrinsically better than all mystery fiction (It’s also an outdated classist idea). The quality of art is entirely dependent on what the artist does with their medium or genre, not the genre or medium itself. There is good and bad in all traditions. I promise you that both Rembrandt and Goya had contemporaries in the “high-art” world that made art as bad as the worst comic artists.

  14. Ramon De Los Flores says:

    Lots of ass, too.

  15. Oliver_C says:

    “Claiming that all ‘high-art’ is intrinsically better than all ‘low-art’ is like arguing that all sci-fi is intrinsically better than all mystery fiction (It’s also an outdated classist idea).”

    I have my own phrase for this: “aesthetic apartheid”.

  16. Mike Hunter says:

    In what way does that cancel out that they are overwhelmingly “non-narrative”?

    There might be “lots” of, say, serial killers among the millions of vegetarians in the world, yet that group is still overwhelmingly “non-serial-killer”…

  17. N Savory says:

    Mike, I don’t really disagree with you at all.
    I actually prefer Crumbs sketchbooks to his regular comics.

    The point I was making was that in all of his sketchbooks there is quite a bit of ‘narrative’ material, but yes, the books mostly contain non narrative material.

    I was not commenting on your post, my comment just happen to come after yours.

    The snark was not neccessary.

  18. Mike Hunter says:

    ———————
    Abigail Williams says:

    The genres considered to be part of “low-art” and “high-art” are simply different genres with different histories.
    ———————-

    Well, duh.

    ————————
    The designation of what is considered “high” or “low” has to do with with its history in relationship to class, reproducibility and cultural prejudices, not quality.
    ————————-

    Hogwash. Those other “non-quality” factors do indeed play a part, but don’t tell me that — for instance — aesthetic merit has nothing to do with Mozart being considered high-art, tavern drinking songs low-art.

    ————————–
    Claiming that all “high-art” is intrinsically better than all “low-art”…
    ————————–

    Ah, the classic “accuse somebody of making some outrageous/absurd statement which they in fact did not make, then attack them for making an outrageous/absurd statement” tactic!

    Are so many people “nuance-challenged,” or incapable of engaging in an argument honestly, or…both?

    (Certainly the massive influences of ideologies — with their “simplistication” belief systems, where you are either utterly pure or utterly foul — ADD-encouraging social media, etc., play their part in feeding these sorry phenomena.)

    My statement was, “a fine piece of ‘low-art’ IS intrinsically inferior to a fine piece of ‘high-art.’ ” (Emphasis added, for the nuance-challenged.)

    For instance, a great piece of “low-art” (like Jack Kirby at his best) is superior to a mediocre piece of “high-art” (such as the technically adept but empty Bouguereau).

    ————————-
    ….is like arguing that all sci-fi is intrinsically better than all mystery fiction (It’s also an outdated classist idea).
    ————————–

    Oooh, “classist”! Yes, we are dealing with a True Believer here… And it’s condemned as “outdated” too, as if merely being old is enough to invalidate a belief system or idea.

    —————————
    The quality of art is entirely dependent on what the artist does with their medium or genre, not the genre or medium itself.
    —————————

    Well, “duh” again! And in what way was I supposed to have argued that whether something was “low-art” or “high-art” was dependent upon “genre or medium”?

    Biblical artwork (with heavy focus on the Crucifixion) are as much “genre” as “cosy” murder mysteries, creators doing variations upon established tropes. And as for “medium,” a clown painting on black velvet and a Van Gogh self-portrait may both be oils on canvas; the former gains no aesthetic cachet whatsoever from being in the same medium as the latter.

    ————————-
    There is good and bad in all traditions.
    ————————

    Whatta brain-blasting revelation!

    ————————
    I promise you that both Rembrandt and Goya had contemporaries in the “high-art” world that made art as bad as the worst comic artists.
    ————————-

    “As bad” in what way? Most assuredly, the “high-art” world of those eras (so “classist”! Boo, hiss!) would have not even remotely countenanced the mind-boggling technical ineptitude of “the worst comic artists.”

  19. Mike Hunter says:

    Apologies; no snark was intended (check out my response to Abigail Williams for comparison), though I did indeed consider your statement to be intended as dismissive of my “Crumb’s sketchbooks are overwhelmingly ‘non-narrative’ ”comment.

  20. Jack says:

    I don’t own any of the sketchbooks, but my impression is that they consist mostly of comics in the sense that the images usually include captions and/or word balloons. When TCJ did its list of the top 100 comics and published the personal lists of several contributors, “The Crumb Sketchbooks” was Groth’s choice for #1. I think he had a point.

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