• List: Rob Clough's Top 100 Comics of the '00s Part Two (of Two) at The Comics Journal is chock full o' Fantagraphics
• Review: "Fantagraphics' panties-to-the-floor handsome English-language version [of Ici Même], You Are There , may blow its own share of minds some three decades after the work's initial publication. Most modern comics readers are not used to material that functions and frustrates this way. It's great work, though, well worth any effort extended in its direction. I think the key is to take the book for what it is: the kind of general satire where the beauty isn't in watching one specific thing dissected but rather several ideas and concepts collide into another in a way that makes for loud noises and then a satisfying pile of rubble. It's a lost episode of Ripping Yarns in comics form by two in-their-prime masters, the French turned up to dix." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
• Review: "...[A]t some point in the years between the release of Schizo #3 and #4, Brunetti matured into one of our best living cartoonists, an artist with an absolutely impeccable understanding of the craft and construction of comic strips. His timing is perfect; his lines are perfect; it doesn't feel stifling or over-thought or too precious. His strips breathe and choke and swoon in all the right places." – Tim O'Neil, "The Ten Best Comics of the Aughts," The Hurting
• Plug: Jill Pantozzi of SF Weekly's Heartless Doll blog recommends Castle Waiting Vol. 1 to Twilight fans: "Anyone who thinks damsels are meant to be in distress hasn't visited the right castle. Bella and Edward may live happily ever after, staring into each other's eyes for all eternity, but what happens to everyone else in the story once theirs ends? Castle Waiting is a look at all the minor players in the tale of Sleeping Beauty and some you've probably never heard of (the bearded nun, perhaps?) following her exit with Prince Charming. It's a smart, humorous story about strong women helping others and daily life at a castle that was meant for more than just love stories." (via Robot 6)
• List: I'm a little short on time so I'm afraid I'll just have to link to Rob Clough's Top 100 Comics of the '00s Part One at The Comics Journal without quoting or outlining the Fantagraphics entries but rest assured there's plenty of them
• Review: "[King of the Flies Vol. 1: Hallorave] features a series of short stories which at first seem completely unrelated but eventually begin to tie together to reveal a larger picture of depravity, lust, drug abuse and other sinister events taking place in a town that is utterly surreal and terrifyingly familiar. ... What makes this story really work is when it peels back that first layer of the onion and we get to see what’s underneath. Normal, everyday stuff takes place on the surface, but as we get deeper into the rabbit hole, a larger tapestry of creepiness and unsettling behavior is woven." – Chad Derdowski, Mania
• Commentary: Adrian Reynolds at youdothatvoodoo cites John Pham's Sublife as an example of successful storytelling, saying "...the creativity John Pham brings to the pages of Sublife makes me warm to his comics work all the more. Asterios Polyp’s creator David Mazzuchelli deconstructs the story he’s telling before your very eyes, drawing attention to the methods he’s using to get it across. Pham, conversely, uses experimental art techniques in the service of story..."
• List: At The Comics Journal, the back half of Rob Clough's Top 50 Comics of 2009 includes:
#29, The Complete Peanuts 1971-1972 by Charles Schulz: "Twenty-two years into his run on this strip, Schulz was still at his peak even as Peanuts was moving into a new phase."
#31, Mome Vol. 14: "The most consistently excellent anthology in comics, issue after issue."
#39, Uptight #3 (misidentified as #2) by Jordan Crane: "Both [stories] were perfectly suited for this lo-fi yet gorgeously designed comic..."
#43, The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book by Joe Daly: "Daly didn’t create just a story or a set of characters, but an entire community for readers to wander around in and become comfortable with. Equal parts Tintin and The Big Lebowski, this was a stoner detective story, with all sorts of absurd events popping up in everyday life and eventually making a kind of sense."
#46, Everybody Is Stupid Except for Me by Peter Bagge: "This is Bagge-as-Mencken, trenchantly tearing apart stupid ideas from both the left and the right and doing it while actually going out into the field, gathering facts, and talking to people. His hyper-expressive style was a perfect fit for his over-the-top political commentary."
And finally, #50, Love and Rockets: New Stories #2 by Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez: "Jaime’s conclusion to 'Ti-Girls Adventures' managed to combine rip-snorting action and compelling character work. Gilbert’s 'Hypnotwist' was both a callback to his New Love-style weirdness and yet another entry in his 'pulp movie' adaptations. ...[I]t’s clear both brothers were having such a good time following their impulses."
• Review: "Abstract Comics: The title is, in itself, a manifesto. It makes official the existence of these strange objects that some will reject as a contradiction in terms: 'abstract comics.' ... In the abstract comics gathered by Molotiu, sequential ordering produces nothing on the order of a story; but solidarity between the panels is established (in more or less convincing and seducing fashions) in another mode — plastic, rhythmic and so to speak musical. Personally, I do not refuse to make a place for these creations in the field of comics, because I wish that field to be as open and as diversified in its expressions as possible, without excluding anything a priori. Nevertheless, I still note that they have closer affinities with the operating modes of contemporary art that with the ordinary ambitions of drawn literatures." – Thierry Groensteen, Neuvieme Art (excerpt and translation by Andrei Molotiu at the Abstract Comics Blog)
• Review: "Perhaps the best adjective I could employ to describe Castle Waiting would be 'homey.' It’s all about the pleasures of home and the relief of being amongst family who accept you, even if they don’t happen to be related to you or even entirely human. ... Taken on the surface, it’s a perfectly cozy and enjoyable story. If one decides to delve more deeply, themes of tolerance and equality can be found gently at work, though by no means do they take precedence over the characters. Lest all of this sound a bit too quaintly domestic, let me assure you that the story is also quite funny." – Michelle Smith, Soliloquy in Blue
#1, You'll Never Know, Book 1: A Good and Decent Man by C. Tyler: "A mash-up of family portrait, generational analysis, autobiography and scrapbook, this book was not only the most emotionally powerful work of the year, it was the most attractively designed. The first part of what will likely be Tyler’s masterwork."
#6, Like a Dog by Zak Sally: "This was a stunningly honest account and collection of early work by one of the most underrated cartoonists working today. While the collected early issues of Recidivist ranged from interesting to astounding, it was Sally’s frank and emotional essay following the collection that really struck me as a statement of purpose — not just as an artist, but as a person."
#10, Tales Designed to Thrizzle Vol. 1 by Michael Kupperman: "The first collection from Kupperman’s surprising hit really helped spread the word about his unique and delightfully warped genius as a gagsmith and artist."
#15, Sublife Vol. 2 by John Pham: "This one-man anthology featured Pham fully harnessing every aspect of his skills as a writer and artist. His use of color dominated and provided a sort of visual through-line for his different narratives. Pham alternately pushed the reader away and then pulled them in, depending on the story, a tension that made this his most successful work to date."
And #17, Ho! by Ivan Brunetti: "It’s fascinating to see the two directions Brunetti was headed in with regard to these gags. First, his gags became ever-more boundary pushing, but always in service to the punchline. Second, his line became more and more simplified to the point of nearly geometric simplicity: squares, circles and triangles wound up creating most of his characters by the end of the book."
• List:Paul Gravett names The Best of 2009: Classic Comic Reprints. At #6, it's The Brinkley Girls: The Best of Nell Brinkley's Cartoons 1913-1940: "Trina [Robbins] follows up her thorough biography of Brinkley with this oversized collection of Sunday 'comics,' often more like ravishing illustrated romantic yarns of big hair, clothes and emotions, but stunning to linger over and revealing in their period mood and concerns. In their time, Brinkley’s spirited, vivacious females were as iconic and inspirational in early 20th century America as the famous Gibson Girls before her. They truly deserve this gorgeous commemoration."
• List: On the annual Fun Fifty countdown at Bully Says: Comics Oughta Be Fun!, at #15, Tales Designed to Thrizzle Vol. 1 by Michael Kupperman: "Without hyperbole, Thrizzle is simply the funniest, most guffaw-out-loud comic book they're going to have to pry out of your cold, dead hands when you die laughing. ... Thrizzle's stuffed from front cover to impressive back page blurbs with Kupperman's splendiferous pulps-meet-woodblock-print artwork and lunatic stories, it's one of those rare humor books that actually is downright hilarious."
• Reviews: Nick Gazin of Vice (link NSFW) weighs in on a number of titles:
"I love Unlovable. Take that, book title. ... Unlovable 2 is a fun and funny read all the way through. ... Girls are gonna like this book and dudes are gonna like this book. It’ll remind you of how stupid you were and also of suburban sadness and realizing that your high school crush will probably never love you back."
"[High Soft Lisp] is incredible... The world in this book is one I wouldn’t want to live in but I can’t stop thinking about the story of Fritz."
"...[Almost Silent] is a really good book and Jason is a strong cartoonist. He does a lot with his simple-but-well-drawn characters and little to no dialogue. ... For $25 you get a nice sampler of what Jason can do. This is entirely worth owning."
• Review: "The Definitive Prince Valiant Companion is the indispensable guide to the strip and a must have for its legions of fans new and old. Fantagraphics has been re-printing these original strips in chronological order in beautiful hardcover volumes and this guide makes the perfect complement. ... No matter how long you’ve been a Prince Valiant fan…one year or seventy years, you’re certain to find this book informative and entertaining. Fantagraphics has produced another spectacular book! Grade A" – Tim Janson, The Gouverneur Times
• Review: "Similar to Charles Addams and Gahan Wilson, Jason relies on the humorous side of horror in these mostly wordless tales. ... Throughout the sublime Almost Silent, Jason examines traditional relationships and social norms via a deliciously warped lens, quite probably one constructed by Dr. Frankenstein himself." – Rick Klaw, The SF Site: Nexus Graphica (spoiler alert!)
• Review: "I can’t think of a better single volume of what the period style of fast looked like in practice than last year’s Supermen! anthology. Yes, there’s an added winnowing by genre but that just sharpens the sense of the reductive visual and narrative requirements that were standard for the hot new gravy train that hit the business." – Rich Kreiner, "Yearlong Best of the Year," The Comics Journal
• Review: "As a whole, I like Abstract Comics a lot. I’d say that it works like a good art exhibition, or at least an exhibition unburdened by obligations to teach history, one in which multiple formal and aesthetic connections are there but not shouted out, rather left to be discovered (or not) by the strolling viewer according to his or her inclinations." – Charles Hatfield, Thought Balloonists
• Plug: "[Steven] Weissman's work is very often like a brain-damaged Charles Schulz... His newest book, Chocolate Cheeks, raises the stakes in a really dramatic way. I think this might be his last book in this series, but it goes out with a doozy of a book." – Paul Constant, The Stranger
• Plug: "Matt’s response to my squeeing over the announced May, 2010 publication date of Tales Designed to Thrizzle #6: 'Yes, as there were so many plots unresolved in the last issue. Who won, blimps or holes??'" – TofuPunk.com (I don't know who Matt is – ed.)
• Plug: "With new work by the likes of Johnny Ryan, Max Andersson, Sam Henderson, Stephane Blanquet, Doug Allen, Michael Kupperman, Mack White, and Jeremy Onsmith, Hotwire 3 is certain to deliver the psychic jolt it promises." – Richard Cowdry, Love the Line
• Plug: "Since Beatriz 'Penny Century' Garcia is my favorite Love & Rockets' Locas, I'm very excited to see the advance solicitation for the new soft cover Penny Century... In my opinion, the soft cover collected volumes are the best way to read Love & Rockets. They are the easiest way to follow the reading order, and with the cheap price of $18.99, you can't find a better launching point for one of the most regarded independent comics of all time. " – The Star Clipper Blog
• Analysis:Abstract Comics contributor Derik Badman posts an in-depth email discussion between himself and critic Craig Fischer about the book
• Interview:The Daily Yomiuri's Tom Baker talks Usagi Yojimbo with Stan Sakai: "I think the first few years I really tried to make him cute and cuddly like a stuffed animal, whereas the stories tended to [take] a more dramatic turn. So I think the character has changed. Most of it's unconscious on my part." (via The Comics Reporter )
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
Not many Online Commentary & Diversions links today but they're high-powered:
• List:Matthew J. Brady posts his top-20 Best Comics of 2009, with You'll Never Know, Book 1: A Good and Decent Man by C. Tyler at #10 ("It's an artful mix, matching a biographer's insight for detail with beautifully-flowing art and real emotions. If the next two volumes are this good, Tyler's work will be a modern classic, one for others to study for years.") and Low Moon by Jason at #8 ("It's funny, poignant, and, as always, full of insight about humanity, even though everyone is a strange animal creature. There can never be enough Jason.")
• Interview:Newsarama's Michael C. Lorah chats with Jason about his upcoming collection Almost Silent: "I'm grateful the books seem to have found an audience and are selling. It's not something I take for granted. There are better European cartoonits than me who have had problems finding an audience in America. I don't have a website or a blog so I don't have that much contact with readers except at signings and conventions. It's always good for the ego when some pretty girl says she's a fan."
• Tribute: In the Sun-Journal, Andy Rooney remembers his friend Bill Mauldin: "He was one of the great cartoonists who has ever been — in and out of the Army. I’ve looked at hundreds of cartoons he drew in my Stars and Stripes files, and he was a genius. His cartoons are still funny and perceptive." (via Journalista)
A quick Online Commentary & Diversions update to close out the week:
• List:Popmatters names Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box one of The Best of Books 2009: Non-Fiction: "This awesome picture book... [is] filled with a delightfully odd array of vintage video covers... VHS cassettes may be treated like toxic waste in the age of the Blu-ray, but Portable Grindhouse offers that micro minority who still remain faithful to their trusty VCR a long overdue reprieve." – Ronald Hart
• Review: "Half the fun of [The Troublemakers] is trying to figure out just who is getting conned the worst? I zipped through this fun read, filled with backstabbing, double-crosses, and the spectacular art of Gilbert Hernandez. There is enough sex, violence, and treachery for any fan of pulp fiction. ... This offshoot of the Love and Rockets series is too much fun to miss." – Joseph Jay Franco, Bookrastination
• Plug: The Geeks of Doom flip through January's issue of Previews: "The next item I’ll definitely be picking up is It Was the War in the Trenches [by Jacques Tardi] from Fantagraphics. You know how I said before that I’m a fan of military history; well this book will scratch that same itch. This book takes a look at World War I from the eyes of the soldiers in the trenches. I’m very excited to read this one."
• 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: At his blog Supervillain, Sean Witzke posts a massive Comics of the Decade roundup which includes Ganges by Kevin Huizenga ("The third one fucking rules"), I Killed Adolf Hitler ("I read this sitting in the train station in Philadelphia that they shot part of 12 Monkeys in, laughing very loudly") and The Last Musketeer ("Pompous blowhard saves the universe from Ming the Merciless by stabbing and chivalry. Stabbing and chivalry solve everything.") by Jason, and Prison Pit: Book 1 by Johnny Ryan ("Book of ‘09... If the point of comics is fucked up shit happening, this is the best fucking comic ever made.") (via Robot 6)
• Review: "Family histories isn’t a series of isolated events, in Tyler’s mind, but fluid — and sometimes jarring — tapestries of facts, memories, half-truths, and emotional resonances. Her father clearly doesn’t see things that way, and this first part of You’ll Never Know shows a potential rift in how father and daughter understand their lives, and how they think a war should be remembered. I can’t wait to read how this fracture develops, deepens, and perhaps closes up." – Walter Biggins, Quiet Bubble
• Review: "There's much to like here. I sort of assumed MOME would be more like Raw, in terms of pushing the envelope and extreme artiness and so on, but it's much more readable than that. ... Anthologies are always uneven, but this contains fewer stinkers than most, clearly a testament to Fantagraphics's editorial eye." – Hillary Brown, Shazhmmm...
• Review: "Few artistic creations merit the adjective 'lurid.' Strange Suspense leers confidently from the shadows of that small crowd. ... If the infected, deformed teens of Black Hole inspired the reader to linger on each page of that magnificent book, Strange Suspense is worth a look. And for the Ditko-curious, this isn't a bad place to start." – The Typing Monkey
• Review: "The Squirrel Mother is a compilation of stories created by Megan Kelso between 2000 and 2005, that Fantagraphics Books, faithful to its tradition, made a beautiful object, which delights the eye before the mind." – Pedro Cleto (translated from Portuguese)
• 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