Before her comics were serialized in the New York Times Sunday Magazine (“Watergate Sue,” 2007) or released by Fantagraphics Books (Artichoke Tales, 2010), Megan Kelso was a classic DIY cartoonist/publisher, who crafted and self-published her popular minicomic Girlhero from 1991 to 1996.
Queen of the Black Black, which collects these early Girlhero strips (as well as a few from other sources) and was originally published in a limited edition 12 years ago (now long out of print), provides an engrossing chronicle of an ambitious young cartoonist carefully developing her own unique style and approach.
In this volume, Kelso scrutinizes bicycle messengers, venereal diseases, infidelity, unwanted pregnancies, temporary work assignments, family reunions, and classroom daydreams in subtle and unexpected manners, setting herself technical challenges such as depicting music in comics (the virtuoso “The Daddy Mask,” with its sensuous gray swirls of sound on the page), integrating lettering into artwork in creative ways, and generally working her way toward what would become her mature style.
The title story, “Queen of the Black Black,” rendered in lush gray tones, explores the fraught relationship between the ageing, demanding queen of a fairy-tale realm and a hornblower whom she takes under her wing.
There is even a vintage “Artichoke Tale,” predating Kelso recently released graphic novel by a decade and a half. (“I am planning to do a whole book of artichoke tales in the future,” she wrote presciently in her original story notes.)
Queen of the Black Black shows the first flowering (or sprouting) of a major cartooning talent, and its return to print (fully redesigned) is welcome news for the many readers delighted by Kelso’s subsequent graphic novels.
Download a 13-page PDF excerpt (<1 MB) with two complete stories.
• Review: "Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: Race To Death Valley kicks off Fantagraphics’ latest series of vintage newspaper strips... About halfway through the [first story] arc, ...Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse begins to develop the characteristics that would sustain it for decades to come: a fast pace, frequent narrow escapes, and an industrious hero who throws himself fully into every endeavor, in ways that both get him into trouble and help get him out. ...Gottfredson... took the broad idea of a good-natured mouse and sketched in his own attitudes about hard work, courage, and the importance of having reliable friends when the jams get especially sticky." – Noel Murray, The A.V. Club
• Review: "[Gilbert] Hernandez’s latest book Love from the Shadows is a confounding hybrid, inserting Love And Rockets’ watermelon-chested, lisping Fritz into a violent dream-novel that combines the fluid reality of Luis Buñuel with the two-fisted crime sagas of Jim Thompson. ...[T]he beauty of comics as a medium is that it invites re-reading; and Hernandez’s mastery makes Love from the Shadows easy to pore back over, savoring how its meaning shifts from page to page." – Noel Murray, The A.V. Club
• Review: "There’s fiction, there’s Meta-fiction and then there is Gilbert Hernandez.... Now he returns to his eccentric sideline to translate the wildly experimental independent/exploitation/sexploitation tale Love from the Shadows into a stunning graphic rollercoaster ride of broken families, counter-culture angst, embezzlement, greed madness, obsession, charlatanry, psychics and mysterious aliens in possibly the greatest tribute to scurrilous lowbrow movie maestro Russ Meyer ever seen." – Win Wiacek, Now Read This!
• Review: "Speaking of confounding comics, Leslie Stein’s bizarre Eye of the Majestic Creature collects the first four issues of Stein’s self-published comic.... Stein riffs on loneliness, relationships, creativity, family, and intoxication via cutely psychedelic art and short vignettes that are heavy on fancy and light on explanation. At times the book comes from so deep inside Stein’s head that it reads almost like notes for a comic, not a finished work. But then Stein pivots into a moment or image of deep emotional resonance and beauty... and the loose narrative style pays off. These four issues do get better as they go, so consider this a promising introduction to a potentially major new talent." – Noel Murray, The A.V. Club
• Review: "...Peter Bagge is back... with Hate Annual #9, the latest in his yearly reports on the life of his slacker-turned-entrepreneur character Buddy Bradley. Usually Bagge fills out the Hate annuals with strips he’s drawn for other publications throughout the year, but #9 is nearly all Buddy, and it’s one of the best Bradley stories in years... The story is wonderfully digressive in the best Bagge tradition, too..." – Noel Murray, The A.V. Club
• Review: "An overt attempt to bring back the silly rock-’n’-roll fun of Josie & The Pussycats and Jem & The Holograms, Yeah! follows the adventures of a girl-group that’s wildly popular on other planets, but can’t get any attention on Earth. ...Yeah! is... a pleasure to read, with an anything-goes storytelling style and an infectious affection for pop music, as well as for pop culture about pop music." – Noel Murray, The A.V. Club
• Review: "...[T]he comics in Approximate Continuum constitute a highly amusing portrait of that mostly under-explored time in a person's life when things become more important and more ridiculous in equal measure and we find ourselves constantly and even quietly adjusting to wholesale changes in life and attitude and orientation that we once had hopes to master. It speaks to how well-observed the book is that you could pick it up sans context of any kind and find much to enjoy. ...Approximate Continuum Comics consistently hits the pleasure points afforded by great cartooning and a wicked sense of humor, and should be fair comfort to anyone that feels they're at a point in their life when they need to give themselves a good talking-to." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
• Review: "Even if you’ve read the first volume [of The Steve Ditko Archives], Unexplored Worlds offers plenty more surprises.... While the 'twists' rarely match up to the initial imagination of any given piece, Ditko’s art is solid throughout. As always, Fantagraphics’ top-notch presentation makes the publisher the go-to stop for comics preservation." – Rod Lott, Bookgasm
• Interview:At the official R. Crumb website, Alex Wood quizzes Crumb on various historical and pop-cultural figures, from Obama to Tommy James and the Shondells to his underground comix contemporaries to Mozart: "I love the movie Amedeus about him, but the actual music, nnnaaaah."
• Interview:The Daily Cross Hatch continues serializing Brian Heater's MoCCA panel conversation with Gahan Wilson: "...[T]he world for a kid is often very scary. It’s a huge challenge, and it is often scary. I mean, people die, and what the hell is that all about? I explore that sort of thing in Nuts. The stuff that happens to grownups happens to kids, too — these amazing, awful things. And these often terrific things. And they have to somehow wrap themselves around it."
• Feature: The guest contributor to this week's "What Are You Reading?" column at Robot 6 is Dave McKean (who, with his erotic graphic novel Celluloid coming out, weighs in with his thoughts on the erotic work of his sometime-collaborator Alan Moore, Lost Girls)
On his blog, Drew Friedman posts: "My illustration for an article in the latest Billboard magazine about late night talk shows competing for musical guests, re-casting the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. Left to right: Paul (Jimmy Fallon), Ringo (George Lopez), George (David Letterman), John (Conan O'Brien)."
Jason reports on his blog that he is finishing up the lettering on "Tom Waits on the Moon," the last story to be completed for his next book Athos in America. "No, there is no Tom Waits and no moon in the story. Possibly there is a guy called Tom," he says. Dang. In an earlier post he says he's bringing the pages to Paris tomorrow for scanning — then Hubert colors them, Jason draws the cover, and that's a wrap for the art on the book!
This second of four volumes reprints in full color the rare Captain Easy Sunday pages from the 1930s. Roy Crane’s Soldier of Fortune, Captain Easy, fights for gold in the frozen north, is mistaken for a bandit, protects a formula for artificial diamonds, is stranded on a desert island, visits the tiny Balkan country of Kleptomania, and faces a firing squad. Captain Easy hobnobs with millionaires and bums and beautiful girls (of course), and winds up in the middle of a full scale war. In short, it’s another rousing series of adventure and humor encapsulating the gallantry, derring-do, and rough-and-tumble innocence of a bygone era and a bygone genre, written and drawn with panache, and practically painted in a vibrant spectrum of colors that you have to see to believe.
Special features of this volume include a foreword by series editor Rick Norwood, an illustrated introduction by fellow cartoonist and Crane aficionado Paul Pope, an essay by the late Bill Blackbeard, and a gallery of rare Captain Easy comic book covers.
Long before the first superhero, Roy Crane’s courageous, indomitable, and cliff-ganging rough guy served as the template for characters that later defined comic books, and set the aesthetic standards for the newspaper strip. Crane’s mastery is why Peanuts creator Charles Schulz said of him (circa 1989): "A treasure. There is still no one around who draws any better."
• Review: "21: The Story of Roberto Clemente brings together comics and baseball, two of America's most popular conveyers of epic mythology. Author Wilfred Santiago also incorporates elements of classical and avant-garde jazz in his sinuously illustrated narrative of Clemente's life. It takes an imagination as rich as Mr. Santiago's to tap into various mythological languages to tell the Pittsburgh Pirate's iconic story... Instead of dwelling on sources of obvious resentment, Mr. Santiago defaults to illustrating Clemente's humanity. We're treated to close-ups of his most noble and ignoble moments. The artist refuses to treat him like a plastic saint, because a perfect Clemente would make boring reading, indeed. ...Wilfred Santiago has done as good a job as anyone ever has in reintroducing the longtime Pittsburgh Pirate to a new generation." – Tony Norman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
• Review: "You’d be hard-pressed to find a more downright affable character than blithely blitzed Larrybear, the young female focus of Leslie Stein’s ongoing semiautobiographical comic [Eye of the Majestic Creature ], whose first four issues are collected here.... Stein gives us the slackerly, star-eyed alternative to a cadre of 'misanthropic, self-pitying comics about unappreciated cartoonists,' as Tom De Haven characterized it... But where the aforementioned Crumb-descended misanthropes have all more or less grown up, Stein’s Larrybear is a naïve woman on the verge of Whatever, a cute Candide floundering about in an increasingly complicated world. ...[T]his book [is] such a pleasure..." – Richard Gehr, The Comics Journal
• Review: "Lewis Trondheim is one of the world’s best cartoonists.... Approximate Continuum Comics is some of Trondheim’s earliest autobiographical work, dating mostly from 1993 and 1996. If you’re read his more recent slivers of life observations... then you already know the sublime wit and casual self-deprecation of Trondheim’s cartooning. Approximate Continuum Comics is where that [tack] begins." – Michael C. Lorah, Newsarama
• Review: "Love from the Shadows is a very strange story. Surreal is such an overused word, but it is the best description I can come up with to describe the tone of the work. There is a disjointed, dream-like progression to the narrative.... As with so much of Hernandez's work, it is beautifully illustrated. The art is suffused with emotion and atmosphere and eroticism. The work Hernandez does is a critical component to his examining all of the societal, psychological, and sexual issues. …Love from the Shadows [is] an intriguing, offbeat story that is open to examination and interpretation. …Love from the Shadows is an intellectually stimulating read. And the artwork is magnificent." – Benjamin Herman, Associated Content
• Review: "The Littlest Pirate King is a wonderful phantasmagoria, as likely to entertain a ten year old as a thirty year eight year old (and I say this having had the book pulled off my lap and spirited away by my own ten year old). There is a lovely innocence to proceedings, a seemingly uncalculated desire to thrill and chill and transport... that has had me flicking back through the book a good dozen times since I’ve read it. This is the kind of book that got me reading books when I was a wee nipper, and it’s the kind of book that keeps me reading now that I’m the furthest possible thing from a wee nipper." – Bookmunch
• Review: "Blazing Combat is a book I'm quite proud to have in my collection. It's a work of art, has a message that's strong even over 40 years after the material was first created, and I'll come back to this at least once every few years." – Philip Reed, BattleGrip
• List:Library Journal's Martha Cornog gathers recommended graphic novels dealing with themes of Health & Medicine, including:
Special Exits by Joyce Farmer: "An excellent alert for those new to the path (for themselves or for relatives) and a validation for those already familiar with this normal yet seemly so abnormal life stage."
Alex by Mark Kalesniko: "This exploration of depression, futile escapism, and the healing power of art has been described as a difficult read but very funny."
Giraffes in My Hair: A Rock 'n' Roll Life by Bruce Paley & Carol Swain: "Hanging out here and crashing there, Paley narrates vignettes of debauchery and daily life in a Woodstock version of American Splendor. Partner Swain's smudgy, black-and-white drawings carry his grimy, nostalgic account."
Mother, Come Home by Paul Hornschemeier: "An exquisitely written and beautifully drawn exploration of grief."
Rip M.D. by Mitch Shauer, Mike Vosburg et al.: "A 'full-color, all-ages adventure' with an animated cartoon series in development, and a promising bet for reluctant readers."
• List:Robot 6's Chris Mautner names "Six noteworthy debut comics," saying of R. Kikuo Johnson's Night Fisher "this tale of disaffected adolescence and drug dealing in Hawaii is certainly compelling and suggests that Johnson is an artist capable of producing great work. Unfortunately, he has yet to follow up on that initial promise. But Night Fisher still marks him as an artist to watch out for."
• Profile:Time Out Chicago's Web Behrens catches up with Paul Hornschemeier: "'It is one of those names: You’re destined to either be a writer or scientist,' says local author-artist Paul, the man both blessed and saddled with the brainy surname. 'You’re not going to be a rock star with a name like Hornschemeier.'"
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