Recently I've started looking at Hong Kong manhua, a rather disproportionate sample of which is represented in English by the now-defunct publisher Jademan, which flooded comic shops with thousands of pages of (mostly) martial arts comics in the late '80s and early '90s. But since then -- as you would expect! -- comics of that genre have refused to sit still. Above we see the impressive work of Li Chi Tak, who is only known in English as a name in the credits to a movie: the 1996 Jet Li vehicle Black Mask, which was based on a serial the artist created with writer Pang Chi Ming. Wendy Siuyi Wong, in her 2002 survey Hong Kong Comics: A History of Manhua, notes that Li-the-artist was once heavily influenced by the Japanese mangaka Katsuhiro Ōtomo; his work in this 1996 book, Tiān Yāo Jì (created with Yuen Kin To), seems slightly more comparable to brawny action specialists like Takehiko Inoue or Kentarō Miura, though Li himself has cited influences ranging from Suehiro Maruo to Minetarō "Dragon Head" Mochizuki. Indeed, Li has published in Japan, having done a few seinen projects with Kodansha during their '90s period of international outreach; he also had a French translation, Spirit, placed with Dargaud in '97, but nothing, as far as I can tell, in English. His most recent works appear to be a pair of landscape-format HK hardcover albums: The Lovers and The Voyager, both from 2011. These, it must be said, do not appear to be martial arts comics, as Li seems to be a tirelessly versatile artist. Take note of him, enterprising publishers - a lot of exciting work remains unseen.
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.
What We Need to Know: Despite its Eisner nomination, I get the impression that 2009's English release of Years of the Elephant still remains one of the more obscure releases by Fanfare/Ponent Mon; they are publishers generally known for releasing Japanese works, and Belgian artist Willy Linthout was basically unknown in the UK and North America. Nonetheless, the work's blend of Johnny Ryan-like rounded cartooning chops and bleak, personal subject matter (the suicide of the artist's son) left it memorable to those who saw it. Here now is Linthout's follow-up, this time published by Conundrum - three brothers, "who each need to cope with their own ghosts," consult a book of lore compiled by their mother as a means of keeping themselves together. A 7.25" x 9.75" hardcover, 184 pages in un-inked pencils; $20.00.
Robert Crumb Sketchbooks 1964-1982: Say, reader - do you have a shitload of money? Do you have a burning need for more Robert Crumb in your life? Importantly, did you not buy the various Crumb sketch collections Zweitausendeins released in the '80s and '90s? If all answers are yes, you might be the audience for this "curated" arrangement of those old drawings, now published by Taschen (presumably in a matching set with their Sketchbooks 1982-2011 release from two years ago), with all images personally selected by Crumb himself. A slipcased set of six hardcover books, totaling 1,344 pages, including a signed print and a few dozen specially redrawn images; $1,000.00.
Super Ego: Being the first major book release by new publisher Magnetic Press, which has announced an ambitious slate of all-in-one translated compilations of French comics series, including no less than three projects drawn by the much-respected action artist Bengal, and one of the French-Chinese hybrid efforts (Zaya) Jean-Pierre Dionnet mentioned to me last year. They've also tentatively scheduled a good deal of releases for Brazilian artist Caio Oliveira, and it is him behind this 112-page account of a psychotherapist for superheroes and what ensues from his advice. Colored by Lucas Marangon, and initially funded via the a Kickstarter campaign by the writer/artist. A 6.625" x 10.25" hardcover. Samples; $19.99.
The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression: Yes, we all shared a laugh over that "conservative mangas" piece in the National Review the other day, but what of the book Ms. Amity Shlaes was attempting to promote? Here it is, a 320-page HarperCollins comics adaptation of her 2008 skeptic's take on the efficacy of the New Deal, adapted by looooongtime action comics veteran Chuck Dixon, with art by superhero and small-ish-press genre specialist Paul Rivoche. Is this Chuck Dixon's debut on the nonfiction graphic novel scene? I associate him more with the general tone of certain superhero movies - The Dark Knight Rises was pretty Chuck Dixon, but Punisher: War Zone was *very* Chuck Dixon. Official tumblr; $19.99.
Afterlife With Archie Vol. 1: A lot of people I know rolled their eyes at the prospect of this recalibration of the famous Archie characters into a zombie comic, but, like it or not, if this thing's moving 24,165 copies of issue #4, it's outselling a pretty real chunk of Marvel/DC offerings, and I have a feeling this debut collected edition might catch on with the wider public - something about 'wholesome' characters going adult just captures the imagination (and it's not like Archie hasn't done this before). I've only flipped through some of these, but Francesco Francavilla is bringing some pleasing color effects to the table. Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. Official site; $17.99.
Knights of Sidonia Vol. 9: Your manga pick of this very light week, continuing the Tsutomu Nihei space battle series. Note that a 12-episode anime adaptation will begin airing in English on Netflix starting July 4. From Vertical; $12.95.
Princess Ugg #1: I've also (still) been reading a lot of '90s horror comics lately, and one name which frequently pops up from venue to venue is Ted Naifeh, who is now probably best known for his gothy YA-ish series Courtney Crumrin. D- didn't any of these damn kids read Weird Business?! Anyway, this is the artist's newest project with Oni, an ongoing comic book series about a barbarian princess who joins a proper girls' finishing school, and probably changes their lives or murders them. Naifeh has mentioned French artist Claire Wendling as an influence here; it's colored by Warren Wucinich. Preview; $3.99.
The Superannuated Man #1 (of 6): Speaking of seasoned veterans named Ted, here is Ted McKeever -- quite prolific with Image in recent years -- with a new miniseries about an elderly man living in a world occupied by strange mutant animals. Preview; $3.99.
Sheer Filth! - Bizarre Cinema, Weird Literature, Strange Music, Extreme Art: And finally, not at all a comic, nor even about comics, I don't think, but Diamond is nonetheless distributing this David Flint-edited, 240-page collection of materials first published in the 1980s UK fanzine of the title, "everything from XXX-rated cinema to true crime novels, from sleazy rock ‘n’ roll to experimental movies, and from pulp fiction to cutting-edge art." From FAB Press, which has published comics and cartooning by Robin Bougie and Rick Trembles in the past, and -- moreover -- shaped an enormous and probably damaging percentage of my critical consciousness at an impressionable age. Remarkably few of my friends have escaped the pull of Kier-La Janisse's House of Psychotic Women, a newer release, and every citizen of these United States will want a copy of Stephen Thrower's magnificently excessive Nightmare USA when it finally comes back into print in a few months. Quality fun and learning; $24.95.
Yeah, that's all. See you in my dreams.