BEHOLD: JIM WOODRING! Not the drawing, no - that's Gil Kane, who came into Woodring's acquaintance at Ruby-Spears Productions, eventually introducing him to Gary Groth of Fantagraphics. But there came a time in 1989 -- during the first run of Jim at Fanta -- when DC Comics, flush with prominence and willing to explore Prestige Format projects Suggested for Mature Readers, elected to publish The Ring of the Nibelung, a comics adaptation of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle at one issue per opera, headed by Kane and writer Roy Thomas. John Costanza was the letterer, and Jim Woodring was the colorist. I bought the first two issues for two bucks a hit last Friday, and when I tweeted one of the cover images the Journal's own Matthias Wivel deemed it "fun, and kind of spectacular, if not particularly great," which is apt.
It also gets pretty kitschy at times, particularly when Thomas, ever the organizer, positions Erda the earth goddess as a sort of Nordic Uatu the Watcher, doling out introductory backstory to keep us all abreast of Wagnerian continuity. Definitely, this is more Mainstream! Comics! than P. Craig Russell's Ring adaptations, although I think the texture of the material nonetheless encouraged the principals in a novel direction - more so than *any* Mature Readers DC comic of the period, this is a series that favors sex over violence. There's enough swordplay in Wagner to satisfy action comic expectations, yes, but Thomas and Kane really choose to hone in on all those overheated, fatalistic emotions and desires, with Alberich's teasing at the hands of the Rhinemaidens given an extravagant five of forty-eight pages, one of them built around a lavish glamor shot of a nude Wellgunde, head cocked back and roaring with laughter. It's silly, but kind of charming -- like something out of a '70s b&w comics magazine -- though I do wonder if stoking these flames of resentment weren't a way encouraging reader sympathy with the maligned dwarf? Then again, the joyous incest between Siegmund and Sieglinde is granted similar emphasis in Book 2, so maybe everyone was just really feeling these long operas...
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.
Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It: Many comics readers in North America were captivated by the 2013 PictureBox release The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame, in which Anne Ishii, Graham Kolbeins & Chip Kidd presented a unique body of erotic work in bara manga: made by men, for men. Tagame's work ran the gamut of subject matter and tone, although it was definitely the more violent selections that dominated discussion of the book, to the point where I feel Tagame started to be viewed as a test through which the jaded western comics reader might prove their omnivorous bona fides, without looking further into the particulars of gay comics in Japan. But now the same crew returns via Fantagraphics with a 280-page, 7" x 10" introduction to the wider swathe, profiling eight artists (plus Tagame) in a manner that seeks to pair primary source texts and commentary with the comics themselves. Definitely the premiere manga release this week. Samples; $35.00.
Monsieur Jean: From Bachelor to Father: On the other hand, most of this stuff *has* been translated before, but I think there's a risk that it might fly under the radar, so I'm putting it up top. Philippe Dupuy & Charles Berbérian have been working collaboratively on these witty slice-of-life stories (both of them writing, both of them drawing) since the early '90s, and it wasn't too long after that when the material found purchase in the English-language Drawn & Quarterly anthology as exemplary of the sophistication active on the French popular comics scene. Now Humanoids brings a weighty hardcover omnibus -- 264 pages, 7.9" x 10.8" -- compiling the first five albums, 1991-2001. I believe the initial three served as corpus for the '06 D&Q release Get a Life, while the last two were translated earlier as not-so-short-stories in Drawn & Quarterly Vols. 3 ('00) & 5 ('03), respectively. A new afterword is promised. Samples; $34.95.
Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Vol. 1 (of 3): Speaking of tricky manga contexts! Back in 2008, the aforementioned Chip Kidd fronted a prominent collection of images - Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan, which placed a good number of 1960s media tie-in comics from the pages of Shōnen King alongside photographs of toys and other exhibits from the international success of the Batman television show. The manner in which these comics were presented, however, foregrounded their ephemerality, as if only the most prominent among examples of kicky foreign merchandising; it didn't help that the comics' artist, Jirō Kuwata (co-creator of the early '60s cyborg hero series 8 Man with Kazumasa Hirai, who would later write episodes of Spider-Man for Ryōichi Ikegami), wasn't credited on the front cover, underscoring the book's emphasis on the comic-as-object, ink on paper. Awareness of Kuwata's art was undoubtedly raised nonetheless, but I'd have preferred a more straightforward presentation, as the work was very fun and lively. And now, following some smaller digital editions, here it is - 352 pages from DC itself, kicking off a comprehensive translation; $14.99.
Cochlea and Eustachia ($19.99)
The Late Child and Other Animals ($29.99)
Black Light: The World of L.B. Cole ($39.99)
Not one, not two, but FOUR new Fantagraphics releases, some of which may have actually shown up at your shop last week, but now's when Diamond's listing 'em. Cochlea and Eustachia is the latest from Hans Rickheit, a truly unique purveyor of the lovely and sinister It's an 80-page, 8" x 10" softcover edition of a color webcomic, in which weird twin girls get up to weirder business. The Late Child is a collaboration between Marguerite Van Cook & James Romberger, both of the very good 7 Miles a Second, focusing on the post-WWII youth of former, as well as the efforts of her mother. It's an 8" x 10" hardcover, 180 color pages. Vapor is the latest from the Spanish cartoonist Max, a 120-page b&w philosophical fable about a man seeking to escape the fury of the world, only to become prone to distraction. A 7" x 9.75" hardcover. And Black Light vows to burn out your eyes by presenting 272 pages of work by the Golden Age comic book artist L.B. Cole, noted for his very bold covers. 9.25" x 13.25" in softcover. Previews at the links; prices above.
Street View: Pascal Rabaté has been around in French comics since the late '80s, having been published by Futuropolis, L'Association and the like -- he even directed a movie adaptation of one of his own comics a few years ago -- but he's not been extensively published in English to my memory. This is an NBM release of a book from last year, an accordion book depicting daytime scenes on one side and nighttime scenes on the other, with various stories happening. It's an 8" x 11" hardcover, 42 pages in total. Samples; $27.99.
White Like She (&) The Shaolin Cowboy: Two reprints of very different alternative comics by veteran artists. White Like She is a 1998 book from Bob Fingerman, now reprinted by Image in conjunction with the revival of his ongoing series Minimum Wage; it's an overstuffed seriocomic romp about a middle-aged black man finding his brain transplanted into the body of a white teenage girl, and the many incidents that follow. The Shaolin Cowboy is an exceedingly decadent 2004-07 series from Geof Darrow and Burlyman Entertainment, which spent seven issues (all collected here) staring villains in the face, whipping together puns, surveying large creatures, avoiding much in the way of overarching plot, and otherwise promulgating the centrality of motion and sensation in creating action comics; $14.99 (She), $19.99 (Cowboy).
Soppy: A Love Story (&) Tiger Lung: And here are two collections of newer stuff. Soppy packs together 108 pages of popular autobiographical webcomics from the UK-based Philippa Rice, specializing in kindness, sympathy and small moments. The publisher in North America is Andrews McMeel. Tiger Lung was initially presented in the last run of Dark Horse Presents; it's Simon Roy, from Image's Prophet, drawing and co-writing a Paleolithic fantasy-adventure series with co-writer/colorist Jason Wordie - probably clever and attractive. Tiger preview; $14.99 (Soppy), $15.99 (Tiger).
The Magic Whistle #15: New stuff from Sam Henderson, one of the determined gag men of small-press comics, this time bringing guest contributions from Steven Kraan, Meghan Turbitt and Victor Cayro. An Alternative Comics release, 32 pages; $4.99.
Crossed + 100 #1: New stuff from Alan Moore, bringing his particular vision to a notorious and long-lived quasi-zombie series from Avatar, launching everything a century into the future and possibly (if last week's sampler was any indication) inventing a unique post-civilized dialect for the narration, which is guaranteed fun right there. The artist is Gabriel Andrade, of several other Avatar projects; $3.99.
The Essential Kurtzman Vol. 1: Harvey Kurtzman's Jungle Book: Starting up a new Dark Horse line of reissues for the great 20th century satirist with an episodic 1959 societal lampoon, a favorite since its '80s resurrection by Kitchen Sink press. Dennis Kitchen is present for some supplements, along with Gilbert Shelton and Robert Crumb, in case you were wondering where the Zap impulse came from. Oh, but I'm getting ahead of myself... Preview; $24.99.
Assassination Classroom Vol. 1: Mainstream shōnen manga - it's still here. Being a Viz translation for one of the more popular current Shōnen Jump serials, Yūsei Matsui's tale of an almighty alien who, for some reason, becomes homeroom teacher at a junior high school, the students of which are tasked with killing him. Both familiar and perverse, a lucrative combo - vol. 12 is pending in Japan, and a television anime adaptation is due next year; $9.99.
H.P. Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (&) Brass Sun: The Wheel Of Worlds: Two from prolific artist I.N.J. Culbard, working with two frequent publishers. Kadath is Culbard's fourth Lovecraft adaptation, a 144-page color piece from SelfMadeHero (via Abrams in North America), while Brass Sun collects the present entirety of an ongoing 2000 AD serial written by Ian Edginton as a 208-page hardback. Very curious mix of adventuresome peril and hard-edged violence in that one, seeing a young girl picking up allies and enemies on a mission to restart the power source of a clockwork cosmos; $19.95 (Kadath), $25.00 (Brass).
Zenith Phase 2 (&) Marshal Law: And here's some reprints from 2000 AD veterans. Zenith is one of the signature Grant Morrison superhero works, drawn by Steve Yeowell and now at the halfway point of this Rebellion hardcover line. Marshal Law, meanwhile, is the Pat Mills/Kevin O'Neill response to both the prevalence of American superhero comics, the militaristic connotations therein, and (at least at first) the reunification of superhero criticisms into the genre itself, here published by DC as a 480-page all-in-one softcover. Not good all the way through -- around the time it got positioned as the Judge Dredd of a weekly magazine, Toxic!, the scenarios became repetitive and the execution shallow -- but the first three storylines have some really effective, cutting stuff, and O'Neill's work looks great; $25.00 (Zenith), $29.99 (Law).
The Mammoth Book of Cult Comics (&) 75 Years of Marvel Comics: WOW, HORSECHOKING WHOPPERS. The former hails from Running Press, 448 pages edited by the British cartoonist ILYA, collecting "hidden gems of the comic world," including early works by Craig Thompson and selections from Jeff Nicholson's Through the Habitrails, a weird little workaday satire which used to run in Taboo. Dan mention the Marvel book yesterday - a characteristically huge (11.4" x 15.6", 712-page) Taschen hardcover, crammed with images and texts; $17.95 (Cult), $200.00 (Marvel).
The Complete Zap Comix (&) The Comics Journal Library Vol. 9: Zap - The Interviews: But you know what? Fuck you, Taschen, you are not gonna have the most expensive item on this list, not this week, 'cause here comes Fantagraphics with half a g's worth of underground classix, comprising the full 16-issue run of the preeminent do-what-thou-wilt forum of the age, plus an unpublished 17th number, all in the form of five hardcovers and a slipcase. Introduction by Robert Crumb, with an oral history arranged by Patrick Rosenkranz. And because talk is cheap(er), the same publisher is also releasing a separate 264-page, 10" x 12" collection of archival chats with basically everyone involved, from the pages of our own print edition. Extensive previews; $500.00 (Complete), $35.00 (Interviews).