(By which I mean, despite Memorial Day this weekend, U.S. retailers should be receiving their items for Wednesday, although it might be helpful to make sure that the stuff won't actually be showing up on Thursday, as has been the prior practice on holiday weekends.)
In light of my eternal quest to seek out comics content in print periodical forums not customarily known as comics magazines (see last April's thrilling journey into United Colors of Benetton's special comics/superheroes issue of Colors), I figured it'd be a godsend to find a new (16th) issue of Esopus, which is a New York-based arts magazine prone to emphasizing the tactility of engagement with printed objects through all sorts of pull-out posters and projects, stuck-in booklets, multiple paper stocks and reproductions of ephemera pertinent to such-and-such a project. That's not the exclusive focus of Esopus, mind you; it also has fiction, a cd of music, etc. etc., but the primary sensation I associate with the magazine is that of touch, which inevitably raises a memory from the defunct Comics Journal message board in the early '00s, wherein I ask why my school library's copy of Seduction of the Innocent is missing all of the cool pictures and Sam Henderson tells me somebody probably tore them out to keep them. This has led me to running my finger up and down the insides of several books in my life but not, unfortunately, my copy of the new Esopus, which it turned out was missing a now very intriguing removable object -- injury to the eye? headlights? -- stolen, I'm thinking, by the same big box bookstore-browsing motherfuckers that keep messing up the manga section. Also, Dan Clowes is on the Advisory Board (of Esopus, not the motherfuckers), which gave me and my comics-flicking fingers a lot of hope.
As it turned out, allusion and influence were the most I could find. The cover story of issue #16 centers on correspondence between one Robert Warner and correspondence art noteworthy Ray Johnson, whose activities with/through/under/around the New York Correspondence(dance) School thrived on the exchange of materials through the mail. Needless to say, a field day of simulacrum is had, with many thin papers and transformed objects stuffed into a little pink folder, among them a glossy Popeye-themed boithday greeting with a cryptic reference to the Robert Altman movie adaptation drawn in pen on the back, as well as a possibly rubber stamp-facilitated envisioning of Nancy as conceived by Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Henry Geldzahler with Susan Sontag as Aunt Fritzi to Johnson's own Sluggo and a Nancy played by Andy Warhol associate Naomi Levine, whom the internet assures me was somewhere in Warhol's 1964 Batman Dracula, though Johnson -- perhaps assessed to of the iconographic force of Bushmiller's creation through the publication of Mark Newgarden's & Paul Karasik's How to Read Nancy in 1988, the same year communication with Warner began -- pledges his allegiance to fine cartooning rather than fancy movie adaptations of the same by stamping his sheet accordingly.
Elsewhere in the issue is the aforementioned obligatory cd, mostly put together by music composer Anthony Cheung on the topic of, yes, modern composition. Included is an extract from another comics-informed work -- and by this I don't mean "comics-informed" as aware of the notion of sequential images, arguably a component of such additional features as an arrangement of 100 frames from Olivier Assayas' 1994 film Cold Water or a suite of semi-representational ink drawings by Roland Flexner, I mean aware of specific components of particular comics -- the late Fausto Romitelli's 1998-2000 Professor Bad Trip series (sample here), inspired in part by the works of a namesake Italian cartoonist and illustrator, born Gianluca Lerici, died 2006. It does not appear that Romitelli, at least to my knowledge, took much from Lerici beyond the sense of time evoked by his psychedelic, American underground-looking drawings, as well as the sensuous force of the drawings themselves, which speaks more softly to a magazine devoted to feeling.
Now if only I can find the right time to steal back that ripped-out poster, which is no doubt filled with explicit spoilers for all the hot upcoming comics releases...
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.
Constructive Abandonment: Speaking of small artworks and sequence, here is a new 7" x 7" book from Michael Dumontier & Neil Farber and publisher Drawn and Quarterly, matching images with text for a work of "cohesive dissonance" which purportedly evokes the tradition of gag cartooning. Likely worth a look. Samples; $15.95.
Citizen Rex: Maybe the most overlooked Hernandez Bros. work in recent memory, this was a 2009 Dark Horse miniseries from Gilbert & Mario, sporting some pretty striking sci-fi designs of a type most closely aligned with the Tales from Somnopolis/Tales From Shock City material from Mister X back in the day. Jaime will also be along for a bonus pin-up for the publisher's hardcover collection, with a bunch of production materials. Preview; $19.99.
Hellboy: The Fury #1 (of 3): Insofar as the series-of-miniseries setup of Hellboy can occasionally get convoluted, what with the present day 'main' plot breaking itself off into chunks of about the same length as short series set in the character's extensive past, be aware that this Duncan Fegredo-drawn stretch is both a direct sequel to 2010's Hellboy: The Storm, and is set to ultimately provide some weighty turning point for the ongoing action of the series as a whole. It will also be Fegredo's final work on the series for the immediate future, after four years of participation; creator/writer Mike Mignola is set to resume drawing some time in 2012. (And note also that Mignola and frequent co-writer John Arcudi conclude their most recent collaboration with John Severin this week with Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #5). Preview; $2.99.
Moomin: The Complete Lars Jansson Comic Strip, Book Six: Eagle-eyed readers will catch the absence of Tove Jansson in the subtitle of this latest Drawn and Quarterly collection of newspaper comics based on her children's book creations, attributable to the 1961 placement of her brother Lars as sole writer/artist, as he would remain for 13 years. An 8.25" x 12" hardcover, 88 pages; $19.95.
Patrick in A Teddy Bear's Picnic and Other Stories: Meanwhile, in newer (and more age-focused) animal life lessons, Toon Books presents a new 32-page collection of comics by Geoffrey Hayes, in which a little bear learns things for the benefit of very young aficionados. Preview; $12.95.
Sláine: Lord of Misrule: Another week, another 2000 AD book release, although this one looks to be coming from Rebellion itself rather than through the long-lived magazine's North American publishing deal with Simon & Schuster. Collecting 128 pages of Pat Mills-written barbarian stuff, 1995-96, the package is worth highlighting for its feature storyline, illustrated by Clint Langley, who will be performing some kind of digital update on his original painted artwork if the solicitation is accurate, perhaps the kind of work of his Matt Seneca spotlighted a few months ago as a startlingly dissonant blend of photographic and computer graphic elements, "such a practiced inelegance of combination between the two, that I wonder if Langley isn't making a truly weird, oddly innovative attempt at lo-fi." Also with art by Greg Staples and Jim Murray; $24.99.
The Tooth: This is the newest book from artist Matt Kindt to see print, although it was started after Super Spy in 2007, from a pitch by writers Cullen Bunn & Shawn Lee that had been accepted by publisher Oni a few years before that. Still, its 200-page expanse is now finished, tracking the adventures of a calcified monster-battler. Preview; $24.99.
Criminal: Last of the Innocent #1 (of 4): The return of a well-regarded Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips inter-generational crime series, this time apparently smashing together '50s teen humor and gruesome crime comics tropes into a flashback-laden story of some autobiographical application to its writer, per this interview with Tom Spurgeon. Preview; $3.50.
Flashpoint: Batman - Knight of Vengeance #1 (of 3): I can think of no more succinct an indication of the disparity between my own tenuous current engagement with superhero comics and the actual, structural state of the genre than standing in a comics shop last weekend and hearing the owner and another customer discuss who's buying Flashpoint, the current every-DC-superhero-is-involved continuity-shaking crossover -- "You buying Batman?" "Yeah" "How about Canterbury Cricket?" "What's that? Is that someone?" "I dunno, sometimes they put something down to hide that someone's coming back..." -- and gradually realizing that the purchase of just the core miniseries titled Flashpoint is completely off the table, rhetorically. Which is to say, the very perception of how these stories work, how they're purchased and enjoyed, requires some engagement with the umpteen tie-in issues surrounding the Event -- all by various & sundry assigned talents of inevitably varying quality, 21 of 'em due in June alone re: Flashpoint -- as a crucial aspect of story being told, i.e. the megastory of the enduring shared superhero universe, a construct of greater age and presumptive importance than any specific, living person working on any individual comic book.
That's not to say that notions of quality are irrelevant -- I expect every single reader of Flashpoint can adeptly name their favorite writers and artists, and will duly avoid (or, in the case of dire completists, at least grimace in the direction of) comics by less-favored talents -- but that the recognition of crossovers of this type as of especial focusing power over an individual's reading suggests an interface with particular genre characteristics I simply don't feel commiserate with. Still, I scan the credits lists of the Flashpoint series (and those of Fear Itself, Marvel's equivalent project right now), because it's also true that the modular nature of these things can allow some interesting folks to put together some potentially interesting little side-stories. Batman - Knight of Vengeance, for example, comes from 100 Bullets creators Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso, who will be focusing on the crossover's nasty, extra-violent alternate universe version of the (sub)title character. Preview; $2.99.
Flashpoint: Secret Seven #1 (of 3): Hell, some writers even wind up with the opportunity to invoke their own individual histories in genre comics of various stripes. That appears to be the case with Peter Milligan, who's folded his version of Shade: The Changing Man into his ongoing work on Hellblazer, and now looks to be personally escorting the character back into mainline superhero comics, as Swamp Thing and John Constantine have found themselves in recent weeks. Crossover veteran George Pérez and Fernando Blanco & Scott Koblish are the artists, on separate pages. Preview; $2.99.
Life with Mr. Dangerous: Finally, close to the Conflict of Interest Reservoir but not quite, comes a Villard collection of Paul Hornschemeier's serial from various issues of MOME, following a young woman through the stasis of her emotional life. If you'd been wondering how it'd all read together, here you go; $22.00.