Yes, this may look like a detail from a newgrass album cover, but it's really a very different kind of album - an authentic French comics album from Bedescope translated to English by the Amsterdam-based Rijperman/Drukwerk and released into unsuspecting North American comics stores in 1982, the same year the French edition dropped. It might have been an ill-fated attempt at a simultaneous release; certainly it's the only R/D release of this sort I've seen in the U.S., just as its the only translated work I can think of by the man in the picture, Belgian cartoonist Jean-Claude Servais, who created the album, Iriacynth, in collaboration with dialogue writer Jacques Cornerotte. Here's the front cover:
I found this book sitting pretty on the top shelf in a small comics store in Elizabethtown, PA, in the company of the Journal's Chris Mautner, who only wanted to catch up on his pulled issues of The Boys and instead had to put up with my sticking my nose in the air and sniffing the parameter like a dubious obscure comic bloodhound. The top shelf in question was the Bad Girl shelf, and this hardcover item seemed so out of place it was like honorary bad girl Evil Ernie was specifically pointing to it. The shop owner had absolutely no idea what the book was; he didn't even recognize it, and theorized that it might have preceded him as a tenant of the retail space. There was no price listed, so he charged me five bucks. "This is how you buy a cursed book," I thought, "now I'll finally remember what it's like to live!"
The story of Iriacynth is a real tradition of quality affair, a 'mature' work set in a specified historical period heavy on low-key intrigue and partial-to-full nude scenes for every female character under the prospective age of 35. Baron Alexander du Boisier is one of those good-hearted noblemen who'd rather hang out happily with the estate help than deal with his completely awful noble family, who'd like nothing better than to relieve him of his inheritance. Opportunity knocks when the Baron encounters Iriacynth, an effervescent and luminescent woman wearing a sheer curtain, flowers in her hair and not a stitch more; she's a diabolical fairy -- really a siren of sorts -- tasked with leading Our Man off a cliff and to his death, just like his lovesick father. All that stands in her way is a family of psychic witchy ladies split into the classic maiden-mother-crone setup, albeit with the mother more of a potentially fertile 15-or-so-years-old, all the better to provide a period-appropriate love interest in defiance of American puritanism. No wonder it got slotted on the Bad Girl rack!
There's pointy-hatted gnomes and frolics in the lake, and a climactic psychic war between elderly women drawn in a lush, if somewhat stilted realist manner; Servais isn't quite so distractingly a cartoonist of poses as, say, a lot of modern superhero artists, but his figures aren't particularly good at conveying movement, and his usage of extremely small, unobtrusive sound effects seems less poised to assist the narrative than acknowledge expectations of the form. Everything is very handsome here, stately - it's a serious fantasy comic, of a rather undistinguished type. Yet there's some residual magic to it, from wondering about the circumstances that brought it to American shores - what its bountiful flesh and copious leaves and shadows might have meant in a still-young Direct Market, and how what it meant might have changed as more and more comics flooded the scene, and sex became more cordoned off than before. Certainly it was a transmission from a foreign tradition, seemingly so deep in visual expectations to me that it could have been in media res. That's an experience worth five bucks, and a tip of the hat to Lady Death and all those other revised contexts up near the ceiling.
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.
Before the Incal - Classic Collection: A 9.25" x 12.3" slipcased comprehensive hardcover, 304 pages, constituting what I believe is the first-ever English-language collected edition of writer Alejandro Jodorowsky's 1988-95 prequel series to his and Moebius' The Incal to feature the work's original publication colors; Humanoids previously translated the material in full as a 12-issue comic book series (2001-02) -- confusingly titled simply The Incal, as they'd hoped to include the entirety of the franchise's content under one banner, but dropped the series after the prequel content was done -- and then as a pair of softcover collections (The Incal Vol. 1: Orphan of the City Shaft, 2002, and The Incal Vol. 2: John Difool, Class "R" Detective, 2003), but those contained new 'modern' colors and content edits to cover nudity (which I'm presuming have also been removed for this new edition, though I don't actually know). Truthfully, the re-coloring scheme made a bit more logical sense on this project, as artist Zoran Janjetov -- a Moebius assistant who served as a colorist on The Incal proper -- developed rapidly over the course of the series so that his close adherence to Moebius' look in early chapters gave way to a heavier, more overtly 'realistic' style in later chapters, which digital artist Fred Beltran would eventually augment into the gleaming artifice of The Technopriests, Jodorowsky's & Janjetov's next project and an Incal spin-off. Given that Beltran guided the general Incal re-coloring effort, you can sense, then, the impulse to have the preceding work grow into its own latter visual state. Even in Moebius' own aborted Après l'Incal album in 2000 (since remade and continued by artist José Ladrönn as Final Incal), the Beltran aesthetic was palpable, signaling a poignant, doomed desire to have everything fit together perfectly.
But even in restored form, this poignancy will hover over Before the Incal, perhaps the most troubled and uneven of Jodorowsky's series to see English-language release. It does have a pretty terrific first chapter, perhaps the cruelest thing its writer has done in comics, heaping abuse and degradation onto child protagonist John Difool as a means of intensifying the inhumane character of society; it's like one of those Mega City One stories in 2000 AD satirically focusing on wayward future citizenry, taken to the millionth power. But the series subsequently launches into a prolonged, fitfully amusing tale of the maturing detective DiFool's first big case, a massive parodic conspiracy that smashes into setting up the continuity of The Incal so abruptly that you get the feeling Jodorowsky became bored with his own plot. Or maybe he realized that his characterization of DiFool had developed so far away from the character who'd eventually have to anchor the Moebius series that drastic measures were necessary to synch the works up; continuity is not just a killer for American comics, and its telling that most of Jodorowsky's later work on the franchise was in the form of looser spin-off projects that would give him more playful latitude. Still, there are moments of power and great fun, and its good to see a (probably) unmolested edition on shelves. Samples; $99.95.
The Steve Ditko Omnibus Vol. 2 (of 2): And speaking of deluxe (costly) hardcovers, here's DC with pretty much the remainder of Ditko's short-form work for it, highlighting the non-optional '68 trilogy of Showcase #75 and The Hawk and the Dove #1-2. Also featured over 384 pages are stories from Man-Bat #1, Detective Comics #483-85 & 487, Adventure Comics #467-68, Legion of Super-Heroes #267, 268, 274, 276 and 281, The Outsiders #13, Legends of the DC Universe 80-Page Giant #1 (Kevin Nowlan inks!) and the 2008 Tales of the New Gods trade paperback, which boasts a very 'that certainly just happened' teaming of Ditko with writer Mark Millar; $59.99.
Spera Vol. 1: I know virtually nothing about this new Archaia hardcover, save that it's a princess-on-a-quest fantasy thing derived from an earlier series of webcomics, with different artists handling different chapters of a 'main' story while other artists contributing standalone shorts. The preview images look pretty nice, and I recognize the generally fine Emily Carroll among the primary talents. Written by Josh Tierney, with character designs by Afu Chan and art by Kyla Vanderklugt, Hwei, Olivier Pichard, Jordyn F. Bochon, Cécile Brun, Luke Pearson, Leela Wagner and Matt Marblo. Preview; $19.95.
Monster Mess: Any time's a good time for Lewis Trondheim, so few will likely mind that NBM/Papercutz is releasing his four-album Monstrueux line of kids' comics for Delcourt out of order. This is the 1999 first of the French series and the second English edition after last year's Monster Christmas, concerning some kids who can make the creatures they draw spring to life; $9.99.
The Smurfs Vol. 10: The Return of the Smurfette: NBM/Papercutz also has their latest Peyo release, this time produced (if the text I saw on Amazon was correct) with longtime Spirou contributor Roland "Gos" Goossens; $5.99 ($10.99 in hardcover).
Bokurano: Ours Vol. 5 (of 11): Your manga pick, the newest in Viz's collections of Shadow Star artist Mohiro Kitoh's saga of giant robots and the fucked-up shit kids do with them. Plenty is online all legit and stuff; $12.99.
Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #1 (of 5): Do you ever get the feeling someone drops a gigantic heap of recent comic books into Mike Mignola's lap at a certain time every few weeks and he flips through them rapidly going No No No No No No No and every so often, like twice per year, he jerks up and goes GET ME SOME OF THAT? I do... but then, I dreamed I was trapped in a comics store in Berlin last night. Anyway, artist Tonci Zonjic attracted a lot of attention last year for his Toth-informed approach to the Image series Who Is Jake Ellis?, and now here he is working with Mignola and John Arcudi on the Hellboy universe's 1930s pulp magazine maniac hero. Preview; $3.50.
Whispers #1: I know some of you have enjoyed the Luna Brothers' assorted projects at Image (Ultra, Girls, The Sword), so here's the first issue of Joshua Luna's debut solo comic (also from Image), a horror story about a disturbed man who can leave his own body for the purposes of social coercion. Preview; $2.99.
The Shade #4 (of 12): This is writer James Robinson's present Starman-related project at DC, one of the very few comic book-format titles at the publisher not easily slotted into its line-wide revamp. I'm mentioning it here because this particular issue has guest art by Darwyn Cooke & J. Bone, who are always welcome; $2.99.
Batman: Through the Looking Glass: And here's the next project by busy Sam Kieth, eternally on my give-it-a-look list. Hallucinogenic visuals are implied as Batman confronts the Mad Hatter over 112 pages, in a scenario by longtime horror comics mainstay and lingering superhero presence Bruce Jones; $22.99.
Batwoman #5: In other Bat-news, note that this is the last issue of the Batwoman series for the immediate future that J.H. Williams III will draw -- it's been planned that way for a while -- though he will remain writer with W. Haden Blackman while Amy Reeder takes over as primary artist; $2.99.
Preacher Vol. 6 (of 6): Also in conclusions and getting into reprints, here's the 384-page last of Vertigo's thick hardcover editions for writer Garth Ennis' career-defining 1995-2000 series, with all periphery materials included. I've always felt Preacher was something of a victim of its own success, in that it became so wildly popular for a while in the dog days of the mid-to-late '90s that overzealous superfans wound up hyping it up a ways higher than an efficient, clever, and frankly uneven pop comic could stand, to the point where I still sometimes hear folks grumble about the series in a way that seems less steeped in the text than bruised by expectations. Heaven knows there's complaints to be made from the text! Maybe this new line will provide some correction by way of exposure; $39.99.
Brooklyn Dreams: Speaking of DC imprints, this J.M. DeMatteis/Glenn Barr project hails from the 1994 launch of Paradox Fiction, the (for lack of a better term) 'literary' comics counterpart to the publisher's Paradox Mystery line of digest-sized serial crime comics. I've not read it, but know that its dreamy adult-reminisce-of-youth content has now been relocated to IDW, which offers a 384-page complete hardcover; $39.99.
Tarzan Archives: The Jesse Marsh Years Vol. 10: Finally, you know it's a Golden Age when we've passed page 2,000 of compiled Jesse Marsh jungle comics. To commemorate this occasion -- or, really for totally unrelated reasons -- TCJ online editor Dan Nadel writes an introduction. Samples; $49.99.