Spot the common thread in today's Online Commentary & Diversions:
• List: At The Truth About Comics Mario Z. Alipio (aka MZA) posts his top 11 comics of 2009, including You'll Never Know Book 1: A Good and Decent Man by C. Tyler at #6 ("A brilliant and disarmingly vulnerable historical memoir that converts a family's personal anguish into adult wisdom and grace. Part documentarian and part emotional wreck, Tyler examines her secretive father's WWII past and her own disintegrating marriage w/ an enviable balance between sensitivity and fearlessness"), Pim & Francie by Al Columbia at #9 ("Gorgeously reproduced — rough pencil marks, taped edges, discolourations, and all — this might be the sweetest thing to stare at, dumbly, in my whole library"), and Ganges #3 by Kevin Huizenga at #10 ("Huizenga conceives brilliant new methods of shorthand comix communication the way monkeys learn sign language to get the banana") (via The Comics Reporter)
• List:The Browser's Roland Chambers talks to comics scholar and junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows Hillary Chute about her top five graphic narratives, including Aline Kominsky-Crumb's Love That Bunch: "To me, Aline is one of the most important figures in comics, which isn’t to say that she’s one of the most well-known. She’s not. But her comics have inspired a legion of cartoonists working in comics autobiography: specifically women cartoonists, because Aline published the first ever autobiographical comic from a woman’s point of view."
• Review: "King has long been a figure so ubiquitous in American culture that little of his true self remains in his frequently invoked image and words. Anderson does the man a favor by taking a spiky, fractured approach to his subject and refusing to plant a halo on his troubled head. ... Though all the great moments of his civil rights battle are here (from the March on Washington to his less-successful housing campaign in Chicago), Anderson doesn't resort to the cheap cinematic trick of success and fadeout. There is more disappointment here than celebration, suffused with the sorrowful sense of a long, long battle just barely begun. A crowning achievement, like the man it portrays." – Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
• Review: "...Columbia's most disturbing material yet. ... he remains one of the finest horrorists (if such a word exists and I may be allowed to use it) working in comics today, far exceeding what is generally held to be the standard of excellence in the genre, via his ability to convey a terrible sense of dread and foreboding. ... As disjointed and narratively frustrating as Pim and Francie can be at times, it remains a stunning and haunting work that preys on your mind long after you've finished it. The successive wave upon wave of unsettling imagery builds upon subsequent page to suggest a world of constant pain and surreal terror, where hiding places are few and far between. ... The sheer level of craftsmanship and imagination on display makes this a book well worth reading for those who can bear its mordant message." – Chris Mautner, Robot 6
Online Commentary & Diversions have seen their shadow:
• List: Our pal Bully the Little Stuffed Bull has started his annual Fun Fifty countdown. In the first installment, coming in at #46, Blazing Combat: "War, huh! What is it good for? Absolutely nothin'... aside from bringing us this gorgeous archive edition of a classic comic every war comics fan oughta have in their library."
• Review: "Back in the days of Factsheet Five, I used to order tons of minicomix. Most were mediocre, but a few were terrifically good and that made it worth the risk to send in the fifty cents or so that they cost. ... Fantagraphics just released a massively thick (900 pages!) anthology of minicomix called Newave! The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s , and it's a treat." – Mark Frauenfelder, Boing Boing
• Review: "In Strange Suspense, Ditko already shines as a masterful designer of sinister mansions, ornate gateways and demonic doors and furnishings... And finally, there’s no mistaking those trademark Ditko faces, leering with evil or sweating and wide-eyed with terror, often lit or looking up from below. ... It is a pleasure to follow Ditko’s youthful artistic progression and there is a noticeable refining and streamlining of his drawing, going for greater clarity and impact. ... These morality fables are seldom subtle or surprising... but it’s Ditko’s artistry that elevates these mostly standard comic book nasties. ...[T]he $39.99 ticket is good value, and this is a weighty, hard-packed, deluxe package..." – Paul Gravett
• Review: "Successful art engenders powerful emotion in its observers. How do I know that Al Columbia's Pim & Francie is an amazing work of art? Because it seriously made me feel ill. Uncomfortable. It made me question my sense of aesthetics; played havoc with my expectations. It's unquestionably an amazing book. ... Rating: 8/10" – Jeremy Nisen, Under the Radar
• Commentary: At The Daily Cross Hatch, Box Brown reproduces the epochal letters page from Ivan Brunetti's Schizo #2 (reprinted in Misery Loves Comedy) as part of a new column on cartoonists' letters to cartoonists
• Review: "Imagine then what yesterday — or today's — right wingers would say about The Great Anti-War Cartoons... Sadly... what these cartoons have made us 'see' is how little things have changed 'round the planet, or within our species. ... And while being the spark for various brilliant cartoons over the decades doesn't justify the institutional addiction to war (or its always-looming threat), these cartoons can at least provide some solace. Or good fallout shelter reading." – Mark London Williams, The SF Site: Nexus Graphica
• Review: "Jaime Hernandez’s side of the Love and Rockets anthology may have started in a world of futuristic fantasy, but [The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S.] is the volume where he finds his feet and hits a groove. ... Jaime’s illustration is beautiful and effortless. His characters mix a near perfect clear-line style with cartoonish expression, used with particular aplomb when emotions are running high. It’s a masterclass in comic illustration." – Grovel
• Plug:Library Journal features May 2010's Artichoke Tales by Megan Kelso in their inaugural Graphic Novels Prepub Alert: "A coming-of-age story about a young girl from a family caught between sides in a civil war, set in a world similar to ours but where people have artichoke leaves instead of hair. ... Its delicate, rather impish black-and-white line work comes from the creator of the subtle and poignant Squirrel Mother."
• List:Paul Gravett names "The Best of 2009: Graphic Novels": No. 9 is Giraffes in My Hair: A Rock 'n' Roll Life by Bruce Paley & Carol Swain ("Paley combines so perfectly with his partner Carol Swain to capture Paley’s walks on the wild side as he journeys through sex, drugs and rock’n'roll, from hippy to punk. ... Hers has always been an utterly singular approach."); No. 13 is (appropriately) Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days by Al Columbia ("These distressed, distressing comics and illustrations repeat and escalate like a stuck record or never waking from a recurring nightmare."); and No. 14 is You'll Never Know, Book 1: A Good and Decent Man by C. Tyler ("A tender, bittersweet tribute from a daughter to a father and his military service in a beautifully crafted, tactile memoir.") (via The Comics Reporter)
• List/Review: At The HeroesOnline Blog, Dustin Harbin explains why Popeye Vol 4: Plunder Island is #5 on his Fave 5 of 2009: "These Popeye books are made with the kind of love and care and attention to detail that’s rare in comics — it’s clear that their publishers treat this material with reverence, and it makes it even more pleasurable to crack a new volume open each year."
• Review: "Though [Like a Dog] may seem like a hodgepodge of bits of [Zak] Sally’s work, there is consistency in the overall feeling. Much of his work is a collection of personal demons -- his insecurities, self-doubt, anger, pain, sadness and darkness -- that are exposed in obvious and subtle ways. ... The grit of this collection lies in the sense that one has had a sideline view of an intensely cathartic therapy session." – Janday Wilson, two.one.five Magazine
• Review: "This is warts and all stuff, a young artist learning with every six pager. ... There is some juvenile pleasure to be had in the fact that these stories [in Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 1] all predate the Wertham/Comics Code era, so there's quite a bit of blood, some severed limbs, and grisly comeuppance. And although still oscillating between styles and influences here, there is substantial growth... [E]ven in its infancy, Ditko's art is increasingly potent." – Christopher Allen, Comic Book Galaxy
• Review: "Strange Suspense offers page after lurid four-color page of Ditko’s weird monsters, rubber-faced crooks, and abstracted landscapes... The book is a white-knuckle trip through Ditko’s fevered imagination. [Grade] A-" – The A.V. Club (same link as above)
• Review: "[Al] Columbia’s book Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days strings together 200-odd (very odd) pages of sketches, strips, panels, and spot illustrations, assembled into one long nightmare-narrative about two loose-limbed tots wandering through a village of lusty killers and bleeding trees. There are no explanations here, and few conventional payoffs — just images designed to remind readers what it was like to be a panicked, paranoid child, convinced that every nighttime shadow contained a beast more menacing and repulsive than any grown-up could conceive. [Grade] B+" – The A.V. Club (same link as above)
• Review: "Like A Dog — a collection of [Zak] Sally’s self-published Recidivist comics, plus odds and ends — drips warped fantasy, bleak humor, and experimentation. Dynamically, the book also veers from being text-heavy to eerily wordless, even as it maintains the integrity of Sally’s stunning, stark-yet-lush linework. ...Like A Dog is a compelling slab of graphic narrative. As a warts-and-then-some chronicle of one man’s navigation through the world of underground comics (not to mention his own self-sabotaging psyche), it’s downright mesmerizing. [Grade] A-" – The A.V. Club (same link as above)
• Review: "Packaged in an ingenious VHS-like format, [Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box] comes complete with lofty intro... But the fun is paging through these lurid examples of videos you kind of forget you remember, like Streets of Fire or The Legend of Hell House." – Kristi Turnquist, The Oregonian
• Review: "[Gahan Wilson: Fifty Years of Playboy Cartoons is] a monster production, a slipcased behemoth, nearly 1000 pages in three volumes, with deliciously wicked humor on every page. ... Open the box, free the three volumes, and dive in anywhere. You will not be disappointed." – John Mesjak, my3books
• List: On Random House's Suvudu blog, Dallas Middaugh selects 2008's Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw as #3 on the Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2009: "This book came from out of nowhere to great critical acclaim, and it pushed young Mr. Shaw in the spotlight as one of the most exciting new cartoonists in the field. ... This haunting story of a dysfunctional family twists and turns and stuck with me long after I read it."
• List: At Comic Book Galaxy, Marc Sobel counts down "The 15 Best Back Issues I Read Last Year," including Birdland by Gilbert Hernandez ("vastly underappreciated") and the entire run of Hate by Peter Bagge ("This series gets better with age")
• Review: "Dreams are probably the second most popular subject for autobiographical comics, however distantly they lag behind the events of waking life. But no one, to my knowledge, has attempted to create comics arising from the hypnagogic netherworld that lies between the sleeping and the wakeful states. Until now. Or maybe not. It’s hard to say precisely, which is what gives Kevin Huizenga’s Ganges #3 so much of its unique charm." – Rich Kreiner, The Comics Journal
• Review: "What the hell is going on here? What is this book, anyway? ...[Pim and Francie] is like the inexplicable artifact of a deranged mind... Columbia has a flair for the grotesque, which, when mixed with such cute cartooniness reminiscent of old-school Disney, makes for an especially creepy juxtaposition. ... It's a cascade of horror, page after page of mostly-unfinished nastiness, enough to stick in the mind and cause nightmares for weeks." – Matthew J. Brady
• Review: "At long last, a handsome, two-volume, slipcased set [of Humbug] brings back into print a pivotal, neglected portion of the oeuvre of Harvey Kurtzman and that of a cadre of gifted pranksters bent on smart satire." – Rich Kreiner, The Comics Journal
• Review: "With a new exhibition currently on view at Tony Shafrazi Gallery in Chelsea and his remarkable inclusion in the 2010 Whitney Biennial, Robert Williams seems more than ever the most likely candidate to represent the ways that late decadent American culture will be remembered by history. ... This is a late career artist at the top of his game, a shamefully overdue entry into still meaningful discourse of what art can be when it refuses to play by the rules, a monster of the imagination whose time has finally come." – Carlo McCormick, artnet
• Review: "Portable Grindhouse celebrates the sleazy kick of killing time in a slightly crappy video rental store, minus the inevitable arguments about what to rent or the possibility of your VCR eating the tape." – Dave Howlett, Living Between Wednesdays
• Plug:Robot 6's Chris Mautner is reading his stack of Comics Journal back issues "starting with #291, which features interviews with Tim Sale and Josh Simmons, as well as a great critical thinkpiece by Gary Groth on Ralph Steadman and Hunter S. Thompson. That alone was worth the cover price."
• Plugs: Some fun and appreciated name-drops from Tom Neely and Charles Bernstein in the 5th part of The Beat's year-end survey of comics pros
• Plug/Coming Attractions:Comic Book Resources' Greg Burgas comments on the January issue of Previews (our listings from which can be seen here): "Jacques Tardi's It Was the War of the Trenches, from Fantagraphics on page 256, sounds keen. It's a World War I book, so I'm sure it will be utterly depressing, but it still sounds worthwhile!"
• Interview: The final part of Brian Heater's interview with C. Tyler at The Daily Cross Hatch: "To me, it’s underground, and there’s other people who think, 'no way, it’s Mad Magazine.' Everyone has their place where it starts. There’s people now who say, 'Kramer’s Ergot is when it started for me.' Everyone has their place when they jumped off the diving board, into the pool of comics. The fact is, it’s continual."
• Profile: Gurldoggie takes a quick look at Joe Sacco in advance of his appearance in Seattle this week
• Events: The Covered blog celebrates its 1st anniversary and announces an art show at Secret Headquarters in L.A. in March
Apologies for the late late Online Commentary & Diversions update:
• List:Comic Book Resources continues listing their Top 100 Comics of 2009, with Pim & Francie by Al Columbia at #33 ("A totally creepy homage to the ink blot stylings of the early animation era, the book works as part horror comic, part abstract tour de force, part satire and all face melter, cementing Columbia's place as one of the most unique and mysterious voices in comics." – Kiel Phegley) and Ganges #3 by Kevin Huizenga at #20 ("a brilliant, insightful comic with inventive layouts and dead-on emotion" – John Parkin)
• List: Don MacPherson of Eye on Comics names the short list for the 2009 Glass Eye Awards for Best Original Graphic Novel: "Gilbert Hernandez’s The Troublemakers was no doubt a delight for fans of the Love and Rockets writer/artist, but as an only casual reader of his work, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The quirky combination of slice-of-life elements and a crime drama worked incredibly well, and while The Troublemakers boasts a connection to the world of L&R, one needn’t be aware of it or versed in those other comics to appreciate this graphic novel."
• Review: "[Hal] Foster’s classic tales of knightly derring-do are a beloved part of the newspaper comics section. It’s difficult to laud Foster too excessively; he was one of the undisputed masters of the craft. A new effort to reprint the Valiant epic in sequential order is off to a roaring start with Prince Valiant, Vol. 1: 1937-1938, a handsome oversize volume reprinting the first two years’ worth of the Arthurian saga’s Sunday strips. Despite its creation in the late 1930s..., the comic strip’s otherworldly setting and taut characterization keep this an evergreen favorite for readers of all ages, an American epic born of a tale of European romance." – Aaron Ragan-Fore, Eugene Weekly
• Plug: Jason Pettigrew, editor-in-chief of Alternative Press magazine, lists our forthcoming Joost Swarte collection as one of the 5 things he's most looking forward to in 2010 — except that the book is now on tap for 2011 and the title has changed from Modern Swarte to Is That All There Is?
Whew, what a year! Online Commentary & Diversions returns next week.
• List:Comic Book Resources continues listing their Top 100 Comics of 2009, with Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit: Book 1 at #75 ("A huge kick to the solar plexus, not just in terms of the way-beyond-NC-17 level of gore and bodily fluids on display, but also the sheer wealth of no-holds barred imagination and utter sense of play that's on every page. The craftsmanship on display is just as striking as the violence." – Chris Mautner) and The Squirrel Machine by Hans Rickheit at #56 ("Few artists in comics can tell surreal stories with the level of clarity and precision that Hans Rickheit achieves... In the same way that David Lynch squeezes compelling characters and memorable scenes onto film amid dark and obscured circumstances, Rickheit renders a feeling portrait of a young mad scientist named Edmund in one of the 2009's most inimitable reads." – Brian Warmoth)
• List:Jeff Smith names his favorite comics of the decade, including The Complete Peanuts ("Revolutionary.") and Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw ("I was also impressed by the mysteries in the story — and really impressed by Shaw’s restraint in revealing only what he had to — leaving much for the imagination, and keeping my thoughts on the book and its meaning for days afterward.")
• List:Comics Alliance's thematic Best of 2009 list names You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation! "Best Indie Reprint Volume" ("The utterly insane adventures of the space wizard Stardust continue to be some of the most brilliantly surrealist comics around."), Pim & Francie by Al Columbia "Best Glimpse into a Terrifying Universe that will Haunt my Dreams for Years to Come," and Ganges #3 by Kevin Huizenga "Best comic to read when you can't sleep"
• List: Brian Gibson of Edmonton's Vue Weekly lists Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco as one of the Best Graphic Novels of the 2000s: "Sacco’s made comics a serious and messily truthful place for journalism."
• List:Living Between Wednesdays lists The Best of 2009: Original Graphic Novels and Collections, including Blazing Combat ("Each panel of Blazing Combat is a stunning work of art, and they are beautifully preserved on heavy paper in this hardcover book. Just as relevant now as when they were first published, these stories should still draw an emotional reaction from anyone who reads them.") and Tales Designed to Thrizzle Vol. 1 by Michael Kupperman ("It’s just something that you have to sit down and read, and when you do you’ll laugh your ass off.")
• Review: "In ambition, breadth and heft, this far-ranging compilation is the worthy companion to Gilbert’s formidable Palomar volume. While capable of standing on its own, Luba is very much the continuing story of several characters now fully transplanted, unfettered and haunted, from their celebrated Mexican town to the Greater Metropolitan Land of Opportunity. Their histories grow longer, broader, more complex and richer as Hernandez’s rollicking, remorseless social comedy rolls on." – Rich Kreiner, The Comics Journal
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