THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/30/11 – Mostly Reprints)

As you've certainly noticed by now, I tend to use this upper-half-of-the-column space to ramble on a bit about what I've been reading in the last few days; I think it makes for a nice contrast with the mostly blind notations of upcoming works that make up the second half. However, the notion of "upcoming" is pretty fluid, being premised on releases by (basically) one distributional entity to comic book stores in North America, even though comic book stores sometimes obtain their books through other means - visits to conventions or dealing directly with a publisher or whatever.

All of that's a fancy way of saying I've managed to purchase and read one of this week's major releases already: David Collier's new book Chimo, from Conundrum Press. I suspect it'll appeal greatly to admirers of an older, seemingly bygone type of 'alternative comic,' autobiographical works that assume the form of a story spoken by the artist, talking you and walking you and showing you through a specific portion of life: your Harvey Pekar/Chester Brown/Joe Sacco lineage, to pick three names out of a hat. Chimo is firmly in that mold, to the point where it functions as essentially a 105-page version of Collier's preceding narrative comics. And I've liked those works for a long time; reading this book is almost bracing in how it continues this style and sustains it across multiple digressions, reminisces, and even insertions of related works.

Dan put out a formal review of Chimo the other week, with which I generally agree, although I think the work is a bit more complex than Dan gives it credit for. Even on a basic, functional level, I'm really taken with Collier's pacing; the multiple "parts" of the book aren't actually designated as such, its just that at one point Collier transposes his continuing narrative with "in-story" drawings -- i.e. diary sketches created during the events otherwise narrated -- so as to affect a transition in setting and time. There's also a few bonus comics included as appendices, including a rather telling reprint from Collier's #1 all the back in 1991 (Bellingham, Washington - and Back), which showcases a simplified, narration-light approach to Collier's observational storytelling, more of an omniscient style that couches its digressions in a character looking at a specific book, on-panel, or a periphery character saying "I want to tell you a story!"

By now, in Chimo -- its central body bordered on both sides by sketchbook comics relating to military life, both anticipating (or recalling) the story's events while, again, existing as in-story items -- Collier is prone to drifting in and out of recollections, always distinguished from present tense action by panels with rounded (as opposed to sharp) edges. The plot follows an ultimately troublesome attempt on the artist's part to travel to Afghanistan as part of the Canadian Forces Artists Program, which eventually involves his re-enlistment in the Canadian army. However, while obviously fueling the activities of Collier-the-narrator in the story, the Afghanistan trip is really something of a MacGuffin to Collier-the-artist composing his book later on; indeed, as early as page 2 of the story proper, Collier establishes a tendency of himself to talk and talk about what he's doing -- not a bad admission for as texty an old-school autobio comic as this -- and later, while on assignment aboard a ship, reveals a most embarrassing anecdote about telling his fellow assigned artists that he's going away on an exciting endeavor, which of course never comes to be.

That's a bit of foreshadowing, and indeed references a conflict Collier illustrates on the book's cover (see below): the contemplative, peace-with-life's-chaos "CREATIVITY" of artist François Béroud, ironically positioned as both the book's special feature and a counterpoint to Collier's own grasping nature: "If only I could be taciturn like a real artist!" our man exclaims early on. But "Chimo," we are told, is an old greeting among Army engineers, a salutation by which Collier literally begins his story -- being the title of the book and all -- and seals his fate as a man struggling to fight against age and infirmity, to do Great things, and particularly to stand tall in the tradition of the great Canadian war artists, the ascendants of the program Collier is trying to enlist in, and the engine of Collier's return to his youth in the military, though he is unmistakably not a young man anymore.

It's a rich book in this way, filled with telling bits of self-reference. Is it just a function of Collier's art that, in one of several youthful flashbacks, the Commandant's lovely wife at the base library ("...an oasis of culture and beauty!") is drawn as identical to Collier's present-day spouse? Maybe or maybe not, but it is most definitely followed by a bravura sequence in which Collier -- who spends the first 37 pages of the story jumping rope at daybreak -- narrates the history of 20th century Canadian war art in tandem with "Peter" -- a flirtatious classmate of Collier's wife, existing in (perhaps imaginary) tandem with Collier's reminisce of his acceptance to the War Artists Program -- who quite evidently seems to be speaking 'as' Collier himself, ferociously pumping up the majesty and import of war artistry as a means of smothering the concerns of Collier's wife; this is a critical scene, not just in suggesting that David Collier might be on the brink of creating his own alt-comics The Saragossa Manuscript, but because Collier-as-Peter inhabits a younger form, perhaps something that can communicate with his wife more directly than housekeeping Collier, perhaps something desirable to her, and yes - perhaps something desirable to him in terms of what he wants to be, since war artistry is what drives him throughout the book.

The real battle, though, is with age. Beginning the book skipping rope and ending it cycling a bike, Collier-the-artist, author of the book, affords his in-story character some symmetry, taking him back to essentially where he started before learning of how much his body can take; it's intimated that his rigorous health regimen has done little to prepare him for all the injuries a man of his years is liable to experience. Yet still he continues, having nonetheless charted a bit of his interior and experienced some striking things. Life goes on for this autobiographical cartoonist, still checking in from a tradition not as storied as war artistry, but perfectly facilitative of his way with good conversation.


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.



Chimo: So yeah. I enjoyed this book and you might too. From Conundrum Press, 136 pages; $17.00.

Tenken: This, on the other hand, I have not read, and I couldn't even begin to guess how interesting it is, since I've never read anything of artist Yumiko Shirai, nor am I familiar with the type of books typically released by (heh) One Peace Books, although they appear to be a Vertical-like boutique for miscellaneous Japanese translation dropping their first-ever manga, a 336-page b&w softcover package. Nonetheless, I'm highlighting this as an example of a type of Japanese comic still rarely seen in North America: original self-published work, in contrast to the many species of fan-fiction popularly associated with doujinshi. The plot looks like a 'modern-ish version of an old legend' thing, with a working man struggling to rescue a pegged-for-sacrifice girl against the backdrop of a toxic cleanup; it captured an Encouragement Prize for manga at the 2007 Japan Media Arts Festival. Preview; $16.95.



Fish Police Vol. 1: The first of many beginning or continuing reprint projects out this week, presented here in no particular order. For better or worse, Fish Police was one of the signature titles of the '80s b&w boom, initially self-published by artist Steve Moncuse. I haven't read very much of it at all (which, of course, is the purpose of reprint projects such as this), but I suspect it might make for interesting comparison with other funny-but-also-serious animal comics of that particular period, Critters and the like. Anyway, it's fish, and they're police, and issues #1-4 of the original series are collected here by IDW, for 112 pages total; $14.99.

The Very Best of Dick Tracy Vol. 1: This is also IDW, diverging for a moment from their line of comprehensive Chester Gould reprints for a less expensive 128-page paperback sampling stories through the 1970s, as selected by Jay Maeder, comic strip veteran most recently of the now-concluded Annie; $19.99.

X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan Vol. 2: Yet more IDW, although all of the books I've listed so far are in different formats. This one's more typical of the landscape-aligned Library of American Comics hardcover style, snapping up September 1, 1969 through April 8, 1972 in the Archie Goodwin/Al Williamson run on the adventure strip founded by Dashiell Hammett & Alex Raymond; $49.99.

Torpedo Vol. 3: YES, MORE IDW REPRINTS. Another 144 pages of assassin fiction drawn by the fine Jordi Bernet; $24.99.

Vanguard Frazetta Classics Series Vol. 1: The Complete Johnny Comet (&) Vanguard Frazetta Classics Series Vol. 2: The Complete Frazetta White Indian: Here's two hardcover books from Vanguard Productions, collecting various Frazetta works from purportedly superior materials. The first is a 224-page collection of strips (a softcover edition is potentially still forthcoming), and the second is a 200-page collection of western material I believe culled from backups in Magazine Enterprises Durango Kid; (both) $49.95.

Strange Tales II: Alright, this isn't vintage reprints, no, but it does compile the 152-page entirety of Marvel's most recent effort at positioning non-superhero artists on a number of superhero shorts, to generally better results than its first crack. With the Frank Santoro story mentioned the other day, plus works by Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez, Kate Beaton, Kevin Huizenga, Rafael Grampá, Dash Shaw, Ben Marra, Nicholas Gurewitch, Tony Millionaire, Jillian Tamaki, David Heatley, Faryl Dalrymple, Jon Vermilyea, Paul Hornschemeier, Jeffrey Brown, Alex Robinson and the late Harvey Pekar, among others; $24.99.

Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker #1: In terms of new comic books this week, what catches my eye are mostly overt exercises in extremity. First we've got a new Image launch, with writer Joe Casey and artist Mike Huddleston following a retired superhero onto a surreal out-of-retirement scenario, apparently filled with all manner of odd and gross stuff. "Superexploitation," Casey calls it. Preview; $2.99.

Caligula #1 (of 6): Meanwhile, Avatar embraces the inevitable with a new miniseries honed in on the many legendary atrocities of the famed Roman emperor. And I do presume this is mostly a print-the-legend kind of thing, rather than a probing look into the politics of the day - hopefully they'll maintain continuity with the beloved film adaptation by having addition sex scenes drawn by a fill-in artist. From writer David Lapham, with artist German Nobile working some digitally-spackled approach. Preview; $3.99.

Howard Chaykin: Conversations: Finally, your book-on-comics (of reprints!) for the week, a 304-page hardcover University Press of Mississippi compilation of 15 interviews with the titular artist, selected by editor Brannon Costello, who also conducts a substantial new chat at the end (and, it seems, cites to an old review of mine). Featuring a 1975 discussion with a pre-Cerebus Dave Sim (Comic Art News and Reviews vol. 3 #7/8), a 1987 piece by Kim Thompson (Amazing Heroes #132) and a 2004 career-spanner by Jon B. Cooke (Comic Book Artist vol. 2 #5); $40.00.


CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: Okay, a lot of this might have shown up in earlier weeks, but Diamond says it's now. R.I.P.: Best of 1985-2004 collects works by Thomas Ott, reviewed by Sean T. Collins at this site here; $28.99. 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente is a new sporting biography by Wilfred Santiago; $22.99. The Complete Peanuts Vol. 15: 1979-1980 is a collection of superhero comics by Todd McFarlane, introduction by Al Roker; $28.99. And MOME Vol. 21 complies artists summarized by the link, although I'd be particular interested in new stand-alone Josh Simmons and a piece by Sergio Ponchione; $14.99.