Oh owls, go bother Batman - a year might seem like forever, but my time here is limited. What you're looking at is work by German artist Andreas Martens, whose works enjoyed some North American exposure in the 1989-94 Dark Horse Eurocomics anthology Cheval Noir. His tightly-arranged panels generally did not benefit well from comic book dimensions, however, so I was pleased to find one of NBM's 8 1/2" x 11" collections of the material -- Rork: The Graveyard of Cathedrals/Starlight (1996) -- in a discount bin over the Memorial Day holiday, its pages readying their escape from the binding.
The holiday has also assured that I don't have time for a long introduction, but I thought I'd toss up this image, one of the bookend pages that open and close each of the two compiled albums. These long vertical tiers carry a strong association with '80s North American alternative fantasy comics, particularly Cerebus, while comperable Franco-Belgian works tend not to be so self-evidently stark in isolating narrative information for purposes of design. I don't know a lot about the German comics scene of that decade, but Andreas tends to approach his pages with very crisp layouts, frequently utilizing tiers of identical panels to 'animate' action in a decompressed manner.
Unlike Japanese artists, however, Andreas then crams in additional information elsewhere on his 8, 9, 14, 16-panel pages, very regimented; aside from the occasional booming splash, these bookends provide an airy relief from the artist's intensive layouts. To raise another '80s name, the effect can be reminiscent of Frank Miller's own explorations of decompressed storytelling, particularly when Andreas captures talking heads in small boxes as a means of honing in on dialogue. Yet the results aren't quite like anything else, which makes these trips worthwhile...
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.
Monsieur Jean: The Singles Theory: In which Philippe Dupuy & Charles Berberian make their return to North American publishing with a 2000 monochrome outing for their musing titular everyman, star of genial, faintly spritzy comedies heretofore released translated to English exclusively by Drawn and Quarterly. Nothing's been seen around here since 2006, despite a decent (if not unanimous) amount of critical appreciation -- Matthais Wivel, for the dissent, once memorably summarized the artists' joint body of work as "perfectly tuned banalities and inconsequential musings on bourgeois life," though conceding that the D&Q releases constituted their best output -- so this 136-page hardcover will be welcome to many. In case you're thinking this is an odd project for Humanoids to take on, I'll remind you that the publisher, from nearly the beginning of its presence in North America, has been occasionally putting out little b&w works such as Pierre Wazem's Like a River and Marc Males' Different Ugliness, Different Madness, both of which originated in the same place as The Singles Theory: Les Humanoïdes' millennial Tohu Bohu line of L'Association-style books, where I believe Dupuy & Berberian served as creative directors for a while. Samples; $24.95.
The Moon Moth: A new First Second softcover release, acting as an extended tribute to SF author Jack Vance, a hugely respected talent in genre circles that remains somewhat obscure in the wider culture, despite his effect on current 'name' authors such as George R. R. Martin. A 2009 Carlo Rotella profile from the New York Times Magazine is reprinted, and artist Humayoun Ibrahim (with colorist Hilary Sycamore) presents a comics adaptation of the 1960 short story of the title, all in 128 pages. Artists like Moebius may have appreciated Vance for the anthropological qualities of his stories set on distant worlds, but I revisited The Moon Moth pretty recently -- it's currently available in an ebook with various other pieces -- and found myself surprised at how much comedy it derives from its likeably befuddled protagonist's inability to cope with an alien culture's unique meritocracy, where everyone's faces are hidden behind obscurely symbolic masks and all interactions demand musical accompaniment, the style of which controls everything from economic power to 'not getting murdered in the streets.' The comic is the work of a less sure talent, but I'll save the details for a different forum and instead suggest that enough of Vance shines through (it's a close adaptation) to warrant a flip at least. Preview; $17.99.
The Graphic Canon Vol. 1 (of 3): From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons: A 512-page release of Seven Stories Press, acting as an omnibus collection of comics adaptations of classic literature and poetry, including reprints, excerpts from larger works, and some all-new stuff. Seymour Chwast's renditions of The Divine Comedy and The Canterbury Tales are represented (in excerpt), as is Robert Crumb's take on Boswell's London Journal from Weirdo, plus Will Eisner's Cervantes riff The Last Knight (again in excerpt). Keep your eyes peeled for a new Rebecca Dart piece on Paradise Lost, among the original commissions. Hopefully vol. 3 will be cover-to-cover Guido Crepax. Edited by Russ Kick; $34.95.
The Chilling Archives of Horror Comics: Zombies: Also in collections is the third in Craig Yoe's line of horror reprints for IDW -- following artist-focused books for Dick Briefer and Bob Powell -- with 148 pages of undead stuff by Jack Cole, Wally Wood, Gene Colan, Reed Crandall and others; $24.99.
Empowered Vol. 7: Your superhero choice for 5/30, as Adam Warren submits the latest 208-page Dark Horse volume in his rarity of rarities - a spandex cheesecake saga beloved by audiences acutely attentive to female representation in superhero comics that's also a manga-styled digest graphic novel series enduring well after the market for that contracted beyond accommodation for Western originals. Or, to put it another way: there's about 1,500 pages of this on the stands. Today! Recap; $16.99.
Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu-Earth Vol. 1: Being one of those Simon & Schuster North American-targeted 2000 AD reprint efforts that should track exactly (or at least very closely) with an earlier Rebellion edition, specifically here a 2010 release with the same title but different cover art. A second volume will be necessary to conclude the original scenario sketched out for this 1981-born future war serial -- it's the one with the blue-skinned man-of-action searching for his betrayer on a combat-blasted planet with only the talkative bio-chips of three fallen comrades installed in his gun, helmet and backpack for company and tactical support -- but the 400 pages here will net you plenty of action art by (co-creator) Dave Gibbons, Colin Wilson, Cam Kennedy, Brett Ewins and Mike Doorey. Mostly written by (co-creator) Gerry Finley-Day, prolific shootist indeed, although Alan Moore marches in for a pair of stories drawn by Ewins and Jesus Redondo, raging unsubtly against the dehumanizing effects of warfare in one, and questioning the basic premise of the series he's been tasked to write in the other; $19.99.
Channel Zero: The Complete Collection: This was the name-making series for writer/artist Brian Wood back in '98, although I associate its gritty, rather photographic visual style with Brian Michael Bendis' Xerox-y crime comics from a little ways earlier in the decade. Both artists would eventually specialize in scriptwriting, and work on a number of poppier comics for larger publishers, if not as much in the superhero realm for Wood. Actually, at the time Channel Zero was probably better known for its politics, although there's an unease to the story itself about agitprop artists becoming absorbed into notion of media celebrity; a similar vibe was adopted in the earlier work of Jonathan Hickman, another writer/artist since exposed to a wider audience via Fantastic Four and the like. This is from Dark Horse, and includes the 2003 Jennie One prequel project, drawn by Becky Cloonan. Samples; $19.99.
The Amory Wars: In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3: I know absolutely nothing about this 2010-11 Boom! sci-fi series from music outfit Coheed and Cambria's Claudio Sanchez (writing with Peter David), but admirers of Batman Incorporated artist Chris Burnham will note his presence on more than half of it - Aaron Kuder took over later. This is all 12 issues in a big hardcover. Official site; $29.99.
glamourpuss #25: It was pretty interesting to see the prior issue of this Dave Sim project pick up some wider attention on the comics internet, largely on the basis of being visually striking and somewhat puzzling - that was one of the classic Cerebus effects too, peeking in for part 13 of a long storyline and wondering what was going on, and for how long it could keep looking as nice as it did. And while it does occasionally feel like Alex Raymond might outlive Sim at the rate they're going, twenty-five is one of the milestone numbers for any old-fashioned comic book comic, and a rare feat for a contemporary self-published thing; $3.00.
RASL #14 (of 15): Meanwhile, fellow self-publishing mainstay Jeff Smith -- and oh the delight to see these two paired up one more time -- approaches the end of his dimension-jumping suspense serial, hopefully with more instances of entrails laying spilled from popped bellies, because that got this early-ish Bone adopter's head spinning last issue, seeing it all in the signature style; I dunno, I was in junior high back then, so it was a little like Bill Watterson tossing off a non-comedic exploding head. Two panels; $3.50.
B.P.R.D. - Hell On Earth: The Transformation of J. H. O'Donnell: A lil' one-off comic from Mike Mignola & Scott Allie (also the line's editor), noteworthy for artist Max Fiumara, one of the more striking artists to do a bunch of work for Avatar in the '00s -- Warren Ellis' Blackgas series, parts of Jamie Delano's Rawbone -- though he's also (and more recently) been doing superhero work, primarily at Marvel. A new horror comic will showcase him pretty well. Have a look; $3.50.
Zombies vs. Robots Annual 2012: Did anyone see that Hero Comics 2012 benefit book last week? Aside from Dave Sim doing one of his single image panelization projects -- i.e. a single page of art is detailed from various areas, then organized as panels with accompanying narration to form a longer comics story -- Ashley Wood attempted to branch out into gag cartooning through this high concept series he created with Chris Ryall. The effect wasn't particularly successful, as I sometimes could not make out what was happening through the toning effects, though I appreciate the use of fundraising projects as a forum for experimentation. Anyway, this is an official entry in the series, again from IDW, with Wood again contributing, along with Sam Kieth and others; $7.99.
Rocketeer Adventures 2 #3 (of 4): There should be some Kyle Baker art in this IDW anthology-style continuation of Dave Stevens' concept, along with Louise & Walter Simonson and the Tom Strong team of Chris Sprouse & Karl Story, working with writer David Lapham, if I'm getting the credits right; $3.99.
Batman: Death by Design: And here's that Batman graphic novel Chip Kidd wrote, 112 pages, with a special focus on architectural design and an early 20th century visual impression of the title hero and the Joker. Art by Dave Taylor. Preview; $24.99.
Pierre Culliford, known as Peyo: The Life and Work of a Marvellous Storyteller: Finally, your book-on-comics for the week, not actually an NBM publication but a North American distribution by the publisher of a 250-page, 8 1/4" x 11", bilingual (i.e. French/English) exhibition catalog relating to a 2011 Artcurial show hailing the Smurfs creator, though the full breadth of his career as a young animator and practitioner in the golden age of Belgium comics should be covered. Not too many copies of these available, I'd expect - get 'em if you want 'em. Samples; $50.00.