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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (9/14/11 – Image & Language)

It’s a proven fact that George Kuchar’s 1966 short film Hold Me While I’m Naked is one of the great things in life, although I guess it’s a little unfair to declare it the greatest movie ever directed by a comic book artist. Kuchar, who died one week ago today, was a contributor to Arcade, though he’d directed dozens of films already; in his 1997 Zanja Press book Reflections from a Cinematic Cesspool (co-authored with his brother Mike), Kuchar attributes his presence in comics to his living next door to Art Spiegelman, whom he cast in his 1973 film The Devil’s Cleavage as “a tenant who was raped by a sex-crazed lady next-door.” Said lady was played by Spiegelman’s girlfriend at the time, who later took up with the a producer of the notorious 1975 Kuchar co-scripted horror/comedy/porno feature Thundercrack!, precipitating (according to Kuchar) Spiegelman’s departure from the west coast to New York City: “I’d like to think that the big mess I helped cause… was, in some small way, instrumental to this success story.”

Anyway, the above image is also taken from the same book; I’ve seen little of Kuchar’s actual cartooning posted in past few days, so let’s have it stand guard over this brief excursion into yet more of the upcoming.

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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, or, in the event of a holiday or occurrence necessitating the close of UPS in a manner that would impact deliveries, Thursday, identified in the column title above. 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!

Optic Nerve #12: Ah, straight from the SPX show floor to your local new releases rack. Call it ridiculous, but the most eye-catching part of this 40-page issue for me is a two-page bonus comic waaay in the back, tracking creator Adrian Tomine’s conflicted feelings about the “floppy” format, “about as withering a term as I’ve ever heard.” It’s interesting because the term “floppy” is the innovation of an earlier time in comic book longing, accordant to the ‘Real Mainstream’ rhetoric that cropped up around the turn of the ’00s, positing that comics, to ensure its continued relevance and financial viability, should interface with the ‘real’ popular genres in wider media – probably the most lasting artifact of that is the television crime procedural style still a bit active in some mainline superhero comics (superheroes qua superheroes being the ‘fake’ mainstream dominant in comics publishing and unattractive to outsiders). Anyway, “floppy” I think came from the Warren Ellis Forum as a means of detaching the wider notion of comics from the classic wilts-on-a-table’s-edge comic book format. It all seems like such misty history now, with bookshelf-ready items common to lists like this, to say nothing of the attraction of media franchising monies shifting the emphasis of some comics away from seizing ‘mainstream’ licks for the comics form to comics merely looking as much like movies or television shows as possible in the hopes of scoring a lucrative deal.

So yeah, it’s fun to see terminology travel. The actual features of this pamphlet-format floppy story rocket — or is that just a minicomic? — are a revised, redrawn, reorganized 11-page version of Tomine’s very good Amber Sweet story from Kramers Ergot 7, along with a 19-page suite of mock ‘goofy dad’ newspaper strips, b&w dailies and color Sundays, tracking the sad/funny progress of said goofy dad’s attempt to forge a new art form out of his landscaping business, despite his crashing (and perhaps format-demanded) lack of talent or sense. And hey – letters column. Preview; $5.95.

The MAD Fold-In Collection: 1964-2010: Sure, I can go for 842 pages of and relating to Al Jaffee, though be aware that half the space is dedicated to ‘folded’ images, since nobody wants to bend an expensive four-volume slipcased gift set… and so floppiness is devalued yet further. Essays by Pixar director Pete Docter, critic Neil Genzlinger and doesn’t-need-an-introduction Jules Feiffer. From Chronicle Books; $125.00.

PLUS!

Barks’ Bear Book: Also in vintage reprints comes this new 220-page Craig Yoe project from IDW, collecting the Disney-affiliated Carl Barks’ mid-to-late ’40s work on the MGM-licensed Barney Bear character for Dell’s Our Gang comic book, definitely an obscure area of interest to many. Introduction by Jeff Smith; $34.99.

Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular and the New Land: A 240-page grab-bag of essays, comics and drama, on the theme of Yiddish influence on U.S. culture, edited by the late Harvey Pekar and Paul Buhle. Noteworthy for contributions by Spain Rodriguez, Sharon Rudahl, Peter Kuper and Barry Deutsch, among others. Is this mainstream comics? From Abrams; $29.95.

Amulet Vol. 4: The Last Council: Or how about this – the latest in Flight progenitor Kazu Kibuishi’s hugely popular YA series from Scholastic, a fusion of anime and BD design tropes into an adventuresome quest narrative goulash? I’ve read just enough to know it’s not for me, but in terms of global comics outlook it’s doubtlessly near the forefront; $10.99.

Drawing From Memory: But for more traditionally-inclined folks buying stuff for their kids, Scholastic also has this 72-page drawing/photo/narrative blend from children’s book illustrator Allen Say, concerning his fond apprenticeship with manga artist Noro Shinpei in the late ’40s and early ’50s; $17.99.

Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking: And going back even further, the Françoise Mouly-directed Toon Books recommends this item for grades 1 and 2, although older readers might be piqued by artist Philippe Coudray having won this year’s Prix des Écoles (an education-minded prize voted on by schoolchildren) at Angoulême for a collected edition of his long-running L’Ours Barnabé series of puzzle-prone gag comics, designed to promote logical thinking in children while they read. I’m not sure if Benjamin Bear is directly translated from some of this work, but it’s definitely in the same vein. Samples; $12.95.

Heavy Metal Vol. 35 #7 (Nov. ’11): As always, it’s good to flip through the longest-lived of Eurocomics forums – this month, for example, you’ll find I, Dragon, the 2010 debut installment of a projected three-album high fantasy series by Juan Giménez, artist of The Metabarons. French samples here; $6.95.

The Complete Major Bummer Super-Slacktacular!: This was a 15-issue series DC published in 1997 and 1998, seeing the creative principles of Dark Horse’s popular (and, lest we forget, wonderfully gnarled and gore-spattered) The Mask — writer John Arcudi and artist Doug Mahnke (here inked by Tom Nguyen) — turn their attentions to a comedic slacker superhero concept, albeit with all content restrictions accordant to superhero publishing. These days Arcudi is better known for B.P.R.D. while Mahnke is a well-liked DC superhero specialist, so here’s a complete edition of the stuff published by the aforementioned Dark Horse (DC also has work from both this week, with a new softcover edition of Arcudi’s 2010 superhero graphic novel A God Somewhere with artist Peter Snejbjerg, and issue #1 of Mahnke’s new Green Lantern series with writer Geoff Johns). Samples; $29.99.

Batwoman #1: Speaking of good looks, here’s the long-awaited revival of a DC Bat-family concept initially debuted in the 2006-07 series 52, from where the current lineup of 52 new DC comics takes its designation (this was a long discussion at SPX). I suspect most readers of this column will recall the concept mainly for its 2009-10 Detective Comics incarnation, which saw artist J.H. Williams III deploying all manner of fascinating visual metaphors and signals to writer Greg Rucka’s often rote superhero origin plot mechanics. Now Williams is both writer (with W. Haden Blackman) and artist (at least for the opening five-part storyline), following an issue #0 produced earlier this year with eventual alternating primary artist Amy Reeder. B&W samples are viewable at Williams’ site; $2.99.

The Sugar and Spike Archives Vol. 1: Being 240 pages of Sheldon Mayer, 1956-57, launching a long-lived feature about little kids communicating in ways adults can’t understand. I’ll look forward to seeing another out every month, along with the rest of DC’s new #1s; $59.99.

Twin Spica Vol. 9 (of 12): Your mainline manga release of the week (in that not all stores are likely to be receiving the gala final volume of Detroit Metal City), as Vertical continues with Kou Yaginuma’s outer space-chasing drama; $10.95.

Keeping the World Strange: A Planetary Guide: Finally, your book-on-comics for the week, bringing it all the way back around to Warren Ellis – a new Sequart collection of essays relating to the 1999-2009 John Cassaday-drawn archeology-of-action series. Edited by Cody Walker, list of contributors here; $19.95.

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5 Responses to THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (9/14/11 – Image & Language)

  1. Stephen Hirsch says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention Peter Milligan writing Red Lanterns #1. That seems like a weird fit on the face of it, though I know nothing about the world of the Lanterns – maybe the Red ones are the most Vertigo-ish on the spectrum? As a Milligan devotee I figure you could give us loyal TWIC readers some context/thoughts/explanation. And the candy-bar inspired Justice League Dark?

  2. Ann Hero says:

    Thanks for the heads up on HM. Its such a hit or miss,but Gimenez is a hit .

  3. Joe McCulloch says:

    Hm, mostly I’ve gotten wary of Milligan’s mainline superhero stuff; there’s typically some good work to be found in any given title — I recall liking parts of Infinity, Inc., even — but usually surrounded with off-the-shelf superhero tropes with little energy (if never a lack of competence) behind them. The Red Lanterns are the Angry lanterns… which is to say their red power comes from rage, and they puke up flaming blood as a signature power. I can see Milligan going somewhere interesting with that, much in the way I can see it going nowhere interesting at all; it’s drawn by Ed Benes, who’s one of those very mid-’90s Image superhero-looking artists…

    Justice League Dark (mmmm) will be the Milligan series I actually do mention when it comes out in two weeks, insofar as it seems to be a continuation of sorts for his recent Hellblazer issues teaming John Constantine with Shade, the Changing Man; the purpose of the title looks to be establishing the DC-owned Vertigo characters as shared-universe players again, hooking them up with other supernatural-like characters like Deadman and Zatanna to ensure (it seems to me) that absolutely nothing else is published ever again that cannot somehow be factored into a superhero schema and thereby (one presumes) more efficiently pitched for multimedia exploitation (although we did get the Keanu Reeves movie version of Constantine regardless)…

  4. HM is indeed very hit and miss but it is regularly stunning (pat mills and Olivier ledroit’s Requiem for instance) and seems to be faced with terminal sales decline. Regardless of the porno-adverts it is the sort of magazine TCJ readers should swing behind to show that fantasy and adventure comics don’t have to be brain-dead teen fodder. Much like 2000ad it is a vital part of keeping creativity going in a corporate sector. Now if only they could get Peter kuper back….

  5. Joe McCulloch says:

    Aw, what the hell, since we’re on the topic: Red Lanterns #1 is perfectly okay for what it is, and ‘what it is’ is the genre commentary segment of the DC relaunch program, a superhero-tropes-taken-to-garish-extremes kind of thing. Like, the issue opens with evil aliens torturing some smaller creature, and then a small cat in a spandex superhero costume bursts in from the void of space with a GRRRRRR, molten blood gushing from its jaws, swinging a fuzzy paw to pop the head torturer in the kisser before latching onto its head and puking its scalp off — even as dialogue insists the cat tore his scalp off, leaving me to wonder if penciller Ed Benes simply elected to draw a gooshing blood effect on his own to obscure the point of impact, him being one of those superhero artists who’re considerably better at drawing hulking dudes grunting and flexing than communicating bodies in actual contact, leaving his fight scenes kind of like pornography where nobody touches — before the comic’s nominal rage-powered hero Atrocitus explodes through a wall, musing “[i]t’s though I’m simply going through the motions” before skewering a guy on a snapped wooden pole. Naturally, Atrocitus’ motivational crisis mirrors comments by a torturer only six pages before: “Zuuq, my friend, your palate has become jaded.”

    The concept is understandable enough, particularly after Atrocitus decides to reboot his life by tapping into the endless succession of reactionary assaults that are the bread & butter of the classic superhero concept — Hawk & Dove-style seething brothers on the thug-laden streets of Harry Brown’s England are set up as audience surrogates — but there’s a hereditary problem in the form of Green Lantern franchise boss Geoff Johns. Put simply, there’s absolutely nothing that Milligan can think to do in this comic that Johns hasn’t already established in earlier Green Lantern sagas — puking space cat and all — utterly stripped of critical signal. Essentially, Milligan is superseded, because Johns acknowledges that superheroes can be violent and absurd – in fact, he embraces it. The very ‘project’ of his writing, I’d argue — and I haven’t read all of it, but I think I’ve seen enough — celebrates the jarring, surreal, potentially off-putting aspects of superheroes-qua-superheroes as part of the show, pitting his virtuous he-man squares against any aberrant threat, the nastier the better, safe in the knowledge of the devout fan that any ugly extreme can only reflect back upon the goodness of the True Hero in that final, inevitable moment of triumph.

    As such, Milligan’s work seems a little irrelevant, ragging on violent superheroes in the context of a side-series to a franchise premised in large part on violence as an attractive but eventually inferior alternative to Hal Jordan, whom Milligan is evidently not handling. Moreover — in case you don’t give a shit about all this shared universe context — it’s not a very fresh or interesting concept on its own, full of violence-as-sex and superteam dysfunction – probably the best part is how thoroughly the Sexy Girl member of Atrocitus’ Red Lanterns is framed as completely repulsive and unpleasant, her writer perhaps anticipating he’d be teamed with a penciller who can’t help but draw her in lip-parted contrapposto 2/3 of the time; the conflict is kind of funny, which is how I’d describe the issue as a whole.

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