THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (2/6/13 – Sensual Planet Asylum)

Well, the confetti and streamers have all been cleaned from New Orleans, and another Festival International de la Bande Dessinée d'Angoulême is behind us! As it happened, this was the first year where I recognized nearly all of the major prize winners, which I am taking as confirmation of my superior world comics know-how, and certainly not an indication of any conservative tendency on the part of the judging bodies, nor an unusual and laudatory incursion of British artists into that most vaunted of European funnybook prize arenas, including a Prix spécial du jury to Glyn Dillon and a Prix Révélation for Jon McNaught. Alan Moore also apparently made it to the final round of voting for the Grand Prix, and was presumably rejected out of concern that he'd take things too literally and devote the entirety of next year's exhibition to Roscoe Moscow and Maxwell the Magic Cat (not that I'd mind).

But rest assured, captive readers - I'm not taking my immense powers of comics identification and physical attraction lightly. Just above, for example, you'll note the cover of a new release by Humanoids: Eros Gone Wild, a 304-page hardcover anthology of erotic shorts by a wide variety of European and Euro-approved comics talents, many of whom have seen only occasional English-language publication. It's a big, colorful mass of explicit fucking, culled from a quartet of themed anthologies (Fripons) released by Les Humanoïdes Associés in 2010 and 2011, which themselves were derived from a five-album series dating back to the early 1990s. It's also one of the English Humanoids' deluxe releases, sized 9.5" x 12.5" and priced to taunt at $89.95. Nonetheless, I have bought a copy of my very own, and I think a brief survey of highlights will prove valuable - if not to prompt your own taboo-shattering purchase, then at least to afford you valuable conversation fodder for the literally dozens of European comics inquiries you're sure to encounter around the water cooler in this post-Angoulême work week.

AS SUCH - five categories that best summarize the contents of Eros Gone Wild:


1. Refugees from Heavy Metal.

And by this I don't mean artists associated with Les Humanoïdes or the French Métal Hurlant who never quite took off across the Atlantic -- although be on notice, Daniel Ceppi and Annie Goetzinger superfans, your moment has arrived -- I'm talking artists who achieved some quantum of recognition in the North American Heavy Metal, and basically saw their visibility wax and wane by the fortune and inclinations of that mighty newsstand institution. Case in point: Horacio Altuna.

I don't know what the critical consensus is on this Argentinian stylist -- and yes, I'm starting the Eurocomics post with an American, ha ha -- but I do know that Heavy Metal once devoted an entire special issue (Spring '00) to his short erotic comics, probably because they bought the rights to one or more album compilations they had to blow out somehow, but also, I suspect, because Altuna's idealized 'realist' style evokes the enduringly popular Milo Manara to a considerable degree. All it takes is a good look at the curvature of his female forms to tell - and several generous looks are provided throughout his two contributions to Eros Gone Wild.

But I like Altuna in the ways he isn't Manara. The first of his stories here, Holiday Hostages, is a dreary bit of male fantasy, seeing a hopeless nerd approaching a glamorous, lonely actress for an autograph, only for a Black Street Thug to 'force' him to have sex with the woman at gunpoint. The racial dynamics are sour as can be, but while the experienced Manara reader can mentally insert the obsessive and vindictive qualities il maestro might project onto the scenario, Altuna hones in on the satisfaction all three parties derive from this little encounter. He's the light Manara. The 'comedy' Manara. This perhaps makes the gross aspects of his storytelling more risible for their purported sweetness, but I see it as an artist who can't quite commit, fundamentally, to nastiness.

Altuna is better positioned in the story I've been detailing here: Sweet Ride, a tale of young lovers committing petty crimes and banging their way West across these United States. Their mutual fantasy is unexpectedly punctured, though, when the two of them rob a lingerie salesman and make off with his briefcase of samples. The man becomes understandably fond of the surface qualities of those fine undergarments on his lady, but the woman interprets the beauty in another way - it's quality, and comfort, and class, and gradually, then, she begins to desire something better and more stable from her life: things her boyish lover cannot yet understand.

It's not a complicated story, but well-observed and sensitive. More to the point, Altuna is attentive and sympathetic to the lady bombshell's desires in a way that implicates emotional and societal concerns that underlie base sex appeal. Even in the ostensible satire of Click!, this is just not something Manara is inclined to pursue, and the more I read of Altuna the more I'm fascinated by this humanistic variant on a carved-from-marble smut aesthetic. Which is the value of a scattershot anthology such as this: simply getting to read more.

RUNNER-UP: There's also a Philippe "Caza" Cazaumayou story in here about a sexy sci-fi lady sunning herself on the beach, only to be approached by an enormous humanoid crustacean with a huge cock. It turns out the two are friends, however, and the creature lays down to sunbathe with her, and, alas, boils himself in the heat, to the hungry girl's delight. It's all quite whimsical and vaguely misogynistic in that 'eh, such is life' kind of Eurocomics way.


2. Refugees from Catalan Communications.

Catalan was one of the great '80s/early '90s sources for translated Euro stuff that would vanish from English letters immediately thereafter, and while I'm not sure a lot of impact was seen stateside from their 1991 release of Heartthrobs, a collection of semi-autobiographical vignettes by Max Cabanes, the stories' French edition, Colin-Maillard, is held in high esteem by a number of European cartoonists.

Cabanes also has two contributions to Eros Gone Wild, maintaining something of a running theme that connects back to Heartthrobs: the gradual realizations of boys too young to understand much of anything. This is impressive, since one of the pieces, Still Upstairs?, is both a collaboration and not really a comic. Novelist Patrick Cauvin teamed with several 'name' artists throughout Fripons (Enki Bilal, Jacques de Loustal) to create one-page stories facing one-page illustrations. Cabanes' piece is maybe the most scandalous thing in all of Eros Gone Wild, depicting an adult woman embracing a young boy from behind, her hand dipped into the front of his briefs. Let's hope customs doesn't flip to that page first, as they'll probably not appreciate the ambiguity of Cauvin's text, detailing the boy's curiosity in a manner that straddles the line between spicy fantasy and the due infliction of psychological distress. "Queasy" is a word I return through in this book, though here the feeling is a matter of authorial deliberation.

Later, Cabanes launches into a solo comic, Girls Are Scared of Uncle Alphonse, which follows a similar (maybe identical) boy as he witnesses his titular Uncle veer from the attempted seduction of a pretty lady to an unambiguous attempted rape, although the boy is too young to understand much of anything. Uncle then gives him a little alcohol -- just like in Moonrise Kingdom -- and it's sort of passed off as just something men do, ya know? Right, kid? The (I will say exquisitely French) lack of explicit moral denunciation in the scene blends smooth into Cabanes' animation-ready lines 'n paint, leaving an unease in most readers, particularly those who aren't acclimated to Cabanes' similar works on the theme.

There's not a little sexual threat in this book. It's not all easy.

RUNNER-UP: Connoisseurs of smut will recall Catalan's three volumes' worth of Erma Jaguar, a gender-bending sex adventure series rendered in sinister angles by Alex Varenne. He's hardly softened up for his three contributions here, with even mutual fantasy scenarios given a menacing tilt, culminating in Chic Destroy(!!), a porno shoot set in a filthy hovel and the apex of Varenne's aloof, super-cool, potentially infuriating approach.


3. Refugees from Fantagraphics Books.

But wait - how can you be a refugee if your series is still running? Maybe if nobody talks about the series, save for the newborn devotees.

Yes! Of course! It's Pascal "Mezzo" Mesenburg & Michel Pirus, creators of King of the Flies, a trilogy of ink-heavy, pop iconography-laden horror/crime albums, the third volume of which remains forthcoming. In the meantime, Eros Gone Wild has a b&w piece that foregrounds the pair's obvious influences, as their story sees a pair of kids plotting the murder of Santa Claus, who is having very rough sex with Mommy in the next room over. It's pretty much an early, untested encapsulation of the duo's obsessions, and probably the most effective of the many, many Fripons shorts dealing with mean or randy Santas, since one of the original albums was a Christmas special. This background is left totally unexplained in Eros Gone Wild, leading to a lot of "what the fuck, Santa again?!"

RUNNER-UP: Hey, remember the time Igort edited all those oversized comic books with dustcovers and everything? Yeah, those were the days. Anyway, he has a four-page allegorical superhero short in here, matching Judaic angst with gleaming latex and beehive hairdos and lines like "...how could I ever have gauged the power of my disproportionate schlong... one that seems to possess a will of its own far beyond market standards!" An early contender for "Most Elementals Sex Special Comic of 2013."


4. Refugees from not being publishing in English at all despite Jesus, just look at it.

I don't know a single blessed thing about Michel Faure that I didn't read at the link you just skipped, but look at these goddamned paints.

Three things: (1) I really hope the Ass Balloon takes off as a major contribution to the comics form; (2) Santa; and (3) we hear a decent amount about the newer and more boundary-pushing artists out of Europe, but what's necessarily disregarded is the wide fundament of essentially 'mainstream' stylists who've built up a considerable skill set in depicting slick, pleasurable images of a texture you just don't see very often in the North American and Japanese traditions. It would certainly be cost-prohibitive for publishers to dive into all these works -- and frankly, many of them will probably turn out to be dull reading, especially with prolonged exposure -- so another great benefit of anthologies like this is to sample small hits of tremendous skill, which in aggregate create an affirmation of a tradition. From there, more pointed investigations can be made.

I felt the same way about Nelson, the Blank Slate anthology from 2011, which doubled, then, as a statement on the new vitality of UK cartooning - the kind of energy that picked up a bunch of awards at Angoulême this year. Eros Gone Wild is older comic, though, and speaks to the continued inaccessibility of certain histories.

RUNNER-UP: Art by Guy "Raives" Servais, words by Éric Warnauts (aka "Warn's") -

Detail from a sequential grid. Warnauts' story (Anguish Station) is a prolonged bit of misdirection, in which a cliché repressed proper lady fantasizes about sex in a subway, the images intermingling with her fears of rape. Eventually, a very early '90s gang of youth toughs wind up 'saving' her from a possibly lecherous middle-aged businessman, although everybody could just be caught up in their own imaginings, unable to effectively communicate. Mostly I like Raives' colors, which switch between hot/bright and the kind of confident dimness that's marked so much of the 'classic' Franco-Belgian realist comics look for me.


5. Holy shit, it's Edmond Baudoin.

No, seriously - it's Edmond Baudoin. When was the last time he showed up in English? Rosetta 2?

Nothing else in this book looks like this, its best piece - as much a testament to emotional ambiguity as so many other contributions, yet rendered in a manner that nonetheless conveys a sense of wholeness, visually and thematically. A woman is on the train, as you can see; she has little on her mind but sex, tasting her prior lover in her mouth as she appreciates a neighboring passenger's gaze. They make love at the next stop, the artist's heavy brushstrokes misting their faces and details of their anatomy into being, when not dancing around to form doodle trees and smudge shadows. But his drawings of full, intertwined bodies are reserved. For another scene.

The same woman from the train is narrating her story to a female lover. The two of them are drawn solely as bodies in motion. It is not certain if the story is true, but the lover enjoys it, and begs her to continue - and she and Baudoin do, the artist honing in on environmental details and precision close-ups of frozen points of contact -- the imagination -- while the reality remains in mutuality, of skin-on-skin, ink-on-ink, though the artist's lines swirl and curl so that we can understand that reality and fantasy and composed of the same stuff here, in the heat of it all.

You are a body, and you are a mind.

RUNNER-UP: There are no more stories from Edmond Baudoin in Eros Gone Wild, though plenty of surprises remain, including appearances by some old critical favorites. Baru has a contribution - was it really 11 years ago that Drawn and Quarterly published Road to America? There's also Miguelanxo Prado, who might be better known for that one Sandman story he did with Neil Gaiman than anything else at the moment.

Still, because I like to remain positive, and anticipate even more fine comics in the near-future, let me showcase the work of Japan's one and only contributor to this anthology, the great Suehiro Mauro, whose Edogawa Rampo adaptation The Strange Tale of Panorama Island is supposedly at the printers and coming soon from Last Gasp. For Eros Gone Wild, he re-imagines Ozu's 1953 masterpiece Tokyo Story as a pinku eiga, delighting fetishistically in the revered images of the movie's cast.

Is it a condemnation of the age? A flippant masturbatory interlude? A chance to publish in French? Even I am left baffled sometimes, my friends, and I totally knew who Christophe Blain was without even looking.


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.



Aya Vol. 2 (of 2): Love in Yop City: And what better way to celebrate comics initially published in French than with the gala conclusion to a longstanding translation effort? A six-volume, 2005-10 endeavor from writer Marguerite Abouet and artist Clément Oubrerie -- loosely based on Abouet's youth in the Ivory Coast of the '70s -- this winsome slice-of-life comedy/drama had initially been released in English by Drawn and Quarterly via hardcover volumes hewing to the French album releases. After three volumes the plan changed, and the extant material was collected into a single omnibus softcover in 2012, Life in Yop City. Now comes Love in Yop City, compiling the remaining three albums into a 384-page, 6.75" 9.5" color package, none of which has been seen in English before. Appealing stuff, and as affecting a window into another comics culture's narrative and aesthetic values as anything summarized above (also cheaper). Preview; $24.95.

Red Team #1: A Garth Ennis comic in this column?! Quel scandale! But yes, this is Ennis' new ongoing series from Dynamite, a crime comic -- indeed, the launch of an entirely line of crime comics for the publisher -- seeing a cadre of NYC cops form a secret society for the covert murder of specific criminal suspects. From looking at the cover I somehow convinced myself that Howard Chaykin was drawing it all, but no, the interior artist is one Craig Cermak, working a heavy realist look. Supposedly a subdued outing for the writer, looking close in tone to the more proceduralesque bits of The Punisher, but we'll see. Preview; $3.99.



Daybreak: Quickly! Same publishers as the spotlight! This is a new softcover edition of Drawn and Quarterly's 2011 collection for Brian Ralph's first-person POV survival horror comic, 160 pages at 8.6" 6.3". Preview; $16.95.

Jennifer Blood #22: Meanwhile, this is one of the very rare cases of a post-Ennis comic -- i.e., the sort of comic Ennis scripts for an initial storyline and hands off to other talents, a la The Shadow or Crossed -- that has changed drastically and arguably improved since its founding writer's departure. Al Ewing, one of the best current 2000 AD contributors and a rapidly-expanding presence in North America, has struck an interesting balance between broad humor and melodramatic horror, pivoting Ennis' housewife-as-the-Punisher concept into a whirl of half-parodic, half-depressing intrigue with its perfection-obsessed title character in its rotting center. I think the series is drawing to an end soon -- in fact, I think I've written basically this exact capsule once before -- but I like the contrast between Ennis starting something and something of Ennis' ending in a very different place. Also from Dynamite. Preview; $3.99.

The Tower Chronicles: GeistHawk #3 (of 4): No, not a heck of a lot in terms of new comics this week. Hellboy in Hell is coming out (#3)... so's Dial H (#9). And so is this Legendary Comics project from writer Matt Wagner and penciller Simon Bisley, which ought to be dropping another 72 or so pages of stuff; $7.99.

Multiple Warheads: From Alphabet to Infinity #4 (of 4): Image also has a bunch of continuing releases of its own, including the 'debut' of Snapshot, an action/suspense series from Andy Diggle & Jock that I didn't really care for much when it ran in its entirety in Judge Dredd Magazine for much of 2012... there's also a new issue of Paul Grist's Mudman (#6) and this, the temporary conclusion to Brandon Graham's latest solo project, which should return for more at some point in the future; $2.99.

Slam Dunk Vol. 26 (of 31): If nothing else, reading Weekly Shonen Jump (this week's page count: 232) has definitely made me cognizant of *how much* stuff comes out in even today's constrained mainstream manga market. This week, for example, brings new volumes of Naruto (60), Bleach (55) and Toriko (14), along with three-in-one omnibus collections of earlier volumes of One Piece, Naruto and Bleach. Still, my heart belongs to an older '90s legend, and a short-lived English-language serialization - Takehiko Inoue's genuine cultural shift of a sports manga. Decompression breaking out all around; $9.99.

Gantz Vol. 26: This Hiroya Oku series, meanwhile, is totally not a shonen comic, although it does run in Weekly Young Jump, the same magazine that hosts the online serialization of Weekly Shonen Jump feature One-Punch Man, which gives you an idea of how broad the seinen category can get, even 'in'-magazine; $13.99.

The Art of Daxiong Collection: And getting into your not-a-comic of the week, this looks to be a 144-page hardcover showcase for Chinese manhua artist Daxiong, published by his own Flag Studios - probably worth a flip, if you happen to encounter it, as Chinese comics remain relatively obscure around here; $45.00.

Weapons of the Metabaron: Finally, bringing it all full circle, here's a new edition of Humanoids' translation for an original story by Alejandro Jodorowsky -- who apparently had one of the stories in the old Fripons that does not appear in the new collection -- working with artist Travis Charest and then artist Zoran Janjetov for a space opera spin-off comic that eventually became a puzzle in maintaining visual cohesion over a long production process. I reviewed it here; $24.95.


CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: Comic books to hardback! One of the most widely-admired (and unfairly obscure) releases from the '90s Vertigo line sees new life as 7 Miles a Second -- a collaboration between the late David Wojnarowicz, James Romberger & Marguerite Van Cook, focused on the hard circumstances and frenzied sensations of Wojnarowicz's life and times -- finds itself housed inside a 9" x 12" hardcover, expanded to 68 pages with restored colors; $19.99. And Michael Kupperman rides again with Tales Designed to Thrizzle Vol. 2, a 176-page collection of everything in the series not covered by the first one; $24.99. Maybe the new issue of The Comics Journal will show up too! I dunno!!