The first Online Commentary & Diversions post of the year might very well end up being the longest:
• List: Humorist and television personality John Hodgman, asked to name his 5 favorite comics in an open Q&A session on his Tumblr blog, says "Love and Rockets: I don’t like to choose between brothers, but Jaime Hernandez is one of the greatest drawers of human faces and human want on the planet."
• List:Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Old Man by Carl Barks is #39 on The A.V. Club 's list of "most anticipated entertainments of 2012": "Only a Poor Old Man will bring Scrooge McDuck, possibly Barks’ greatest creation, into the spotlight. The bespectacled miser will dive around in his money bin and burrow through it like a gopher, and his timeless adventures will get the treatment they deserve."
• List: Tucker Stone, whose Best of 2011 previously appeared at comiXology, presents a slightly modified list for Flavorwire's "10 of the Year's Most Buzzed-About Comic Releases":
"Last year’s Love and Rockets was a huge deal, but this year’s installment is arguably even better.... Comics has yet to provide Love and Rockets with anything approximating 'competition,' but it doesn’t appear that the Hernandez brothers have any reason to be concerned about that quite yet. They’re still way better at this than everybody else on the planet."
"The big thing this year was watching all the great young cartoonists of the early 2000s carving out their places in the pantheon. Huizenga’s a perfect example — he’s been regularly turning out excellent comics for years now, and yet Ganges #4 still reads like a revelation.... It’s a fascinating experience reading these comics, and they’re gorgeous to boot."
"The continuing adventures of Johnny Ryan’s most violent fantasies run amuck, [Prison Pit] is rapidly becoming the comic that I look forward to the way a fat kid looks forward to syrup-encrusted cake. There’s no getting around the hoary old cliche — 'these aren’t for everybody' — so God help you if you can’t figure out a way to enjoy these books."
• List: The prolific Sean T. Collins, after having contributed to CBR's Top 100, runs down his personal 20 Best Comics of 2011 on his Attentiondeficitdisorderly blog AND at Robot 6, withGanges #4 by Kevin Huizenga at #15...
"Huizenga wrings a second great book out of his everyman character’s insomnia. It’s quite simple how, really: He makes comics about things you’d never thought comics could be about, by doing things you never thought comics could do to show you them. Best of all, there’s still the sense that his best work is ahead of him, waiting like dawn in the distance."
"...[T]he payoff... feels like a weight has been lifted from Woodring’s strange world, while the route he takes to get there is illustrated so beautifully it’s almost superhuman. It’s the happy ending he’s spent most of his career earning."
"Religious fundamentalism... has worn a thousand faces in a millennia-long carnevale procession of war and weirdness, and David B. paints portraits of three of its masks with bloody brilliance. Focusing on long-forgotten heresies and treating the most outlandish legends about them as fact, B.’s high-contrast linework sets them all alight with their own incandescent madness."
"I picture Gilbert Hernandez approaching his drawing board these days like Lawrence of Arabia approaching a Turkish convoy: 'NO PRISONERS! NO PRISONERS!' In a year suffused with comics funneling pitch-black darkness through a combination of sex and horror, none were blacker, sexier, or more horrific than this gender-bending exploitation flick from Beto's 'Fritz-verse.'"
"...[L]et's add to the chorus praising Jaime's 'The Love Bunglers' as one of the greatest comics of all time, the point to which one of the greatest comics series of all time has been hurtling toward for thirty years.... You can count the number of cartoonists able to wed style to substance, form to function, this seamlessly on one hand with fingers to spare. A masterpiece."
"The hype and acclaim surrounding Xaime Hernandez’s conclusion to his 'Love Bunglers' saga has been overwhelming, and every ounce of it is deserved. This is simply a phenomenal achievement in comics. A moving, thoughtful story of missed opportunities, loss and eventual reconciliation that provides in many ways a fitting conclusion to all of Xaime’s 'Locas' stories. I’d be hard pressed to think of a better comic that came out this year."
"More than the new Carl Barks collection, more than the return of Pogo, the resurrected, re-appreciated comic strip I found myself falling in love the most with this year was Gottfredson’s plunky, adventure-loving mouse, a scrappier version of Disney’s iconic creation. More to the point, I was completely taken with the stunning packaging and background information Fantagraphics and the books editor put together for this series. It’s new benchmark for reprint projects."
"Three volumes into this grand guginol series and it continues to surprise and delight, this time introducing a new character and suggesting via an end sequence that Ryan has been reading a lot of Fort Thunder comics."
"Incredibly inventive, Schrauwen, like Yokoyama, seems intent on pushing the comics medium into new and interesting directions. But where Yokoyama is concerned mainly with motion and exploration, Schrauwen is concerned mainly with perception and the interior world of the mind. This is great, mind-blowing work."
• List: Also on Robot 6's roundup of best-of lists from its writers, Tim O'Shea ranks Pogo Vol. 1 at #9: "Damn if this was not worth the wait... Volume 1 of the complete syndicated daily strips of Pogo would be enough to put this book on my list. But the fact that Fantagraphics has a foreword by Jimmy Breslin; an introduction by Steve Thompson; a piece on the Pogo Sunday Funnies by Mark Evanier; and Swamp Talk (R.H. Harvey annotations on the strips) is just icing on the cake."
• List: David McKean's Celluloid gets a "See Also" shout-out on Cyriaque Lamar's list of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Comics of 2011 at io9: "A decidedly adult erotica graphic novel with no dialogue, this is the famed Sandman cover artist going at page after page of a sexy hallucination, whipped up by a magic porno movie projector. Dreamscapes with boners."
"After 'Browntown' in last year’s installment of New Stories, there was a worry that Jaime might have peaked — how on earth was he going to top that story? The achingly beautiful conclusion to 'The Love Bunglers' in this volume was the answer. Pulling together strands from Maggie’s entire 30-year history in two pages was nothing short of stunning, with his art as cooly confident as ever, making it a real emotional sucker punch. Gilbert’s work developing Fritz’s movie back-catalogue is a real mind-bender, too, weaving inter- and meta-textual strands together that lets his characters say so much, while saying so little. It is terrifying how talented these guys are."
"Forget Pogo and Carl Barks — we already knew they were classics — the real reprint revelation of 2011 was good ole' Mickey Mouse.... To read these strips is to rediscover a love for Mickey and marvel at Gottfredson's amazing grasp of storytelling and humour, as well as his flawless artwork. Naturally, with Fantagraphics overseeing the reprints, the design, packaging and presentation is gorgeous — a real worthy successor to their Peanuts series."
• Plug: "I’m a little mortified to admit that Walt Disney's Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes is my first exposure to Carl Barks (after decades of being interested in finally seeing why he’s so revered as a comic creator), but it definitely won’t be my last. Fantagraphics’ first volume of Barks material is a great place to start; a mixture of epic quests, short stories, and gag strips that are all impressively funny and awesome." – Greg McElhatton, Robot 6
• List: On his Domino Books blog, Austin English explains why Joyce Farmer's Special Exits is his favorite comic of 2011: "Farmer's cartooning allows for her characters to act out their illness and struggles in front of the reader. Farmer's drawing of her aging father is something to behold — it's not Farmer saying 'here is what my sick father went through.' Instead we see a drawing age and wither in front of us, and speak to us with both intelligence and dementia. I’ve never seen anything in comics done with such skill — let alone see a graphic novel (often the territory of poorly conceived topical heart wrenchers) speak about tragedy with so much depth and clarity."
• List: Comics writer Vito Delsante declares Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 the Best Single Issue of 2011 on his Best of 2011 blog post: "The Hernandez Brothers, since New Stories 3, have really created the most important mythology in comics since Stan and Jack (and Steve).... Jaime Hernandez should win every single award in comics in 2012."
• List: We rank 4 entries on Renee Lott's Top 10 Comics of 2011 at her Blogwithfeet
• Review: "I've been digging the new Fantagraphics release Jason Conquers America which commemorates ten years of the venerable publisher's relationship with the Norewegian artist.... My favorite story in the collection revolves around a crow who naps in a bed in a field and wakes up obliviously in an entirely new life. (Telling any more would spoil the revelation.) In 23 short wordless panels, Jason creates a powerful and compelling commentary that proves how powerfully expressive comics can be." – Stray Riffs
• Review: "A new comic from the top humorist in comics is always welcome. This issue [of Tales Designed to Thrizzle] is the usual combination of dada and surprisingly tightly-wrapped narrative gags surrounding the sort of cultural detritus mined by Drew Friedman & Mark Newgarden.... 'Quincy, M.E.'... is one of Kupperman's best strips because he keeps adding new layers of plot to an already-ridiculous story.... I still miss the sheer density of detail in Kupperman's older work that made reading it almost exhausting, but the avalanche of ideas remains intact, as does his ability to elicit laughs." – Rob Clough, High-Low
• Review: "...Prison Pit... [is] a marriage of pro wrestling, manga, bromance and filth.... Johnny Ryan has an almost Kirbyesque level of character design, but with obviously more genitalia, and it can at times be a joy just to see what is going to come on the next page.... Johnny Ryan is a cartoonist at the top of his game right now and he may just be the closest thing the comic world has to marmite." – Taylor Pithers, The Weekly Crisis
• Interview:The Comics Reporter's Tom Spurgeon talks with Todd DePastino, biographer of Bill Mauldin and editor of our Willie & Joe books. Spurgeon says Willie & Joe: Back Home is "one of my three favorite comics-related books from 2011, and, I think, one of the year's best." From DePastino: "When I look at these cartoons, I think of literary critic Dominic LaCapra's claim that some books are good to think about and a very few are good to think with. Mauldin's postwar cartoons are good to think with. They not only provide a window to the times, like, say, good photographs or reporting might, but they also raise fundamental questions and issues that are with us still."
• Review: "These comics are beautiful. Each single-panel comic is blown up to a full page, so that Mauldin’s artistry can truly (and easily) be admired without squinting. The sentiments expressed are astonishing and bravely progressive for the time.... I’d never thought or heard about the poor reception combat vets received after WWII. (I mistakenly thought that only happened to our soldiers after the Vietnam War.) I wish I knew what they experienced. I’ll settle for giving [Willie & Joe: Back Home] to the next WWII vet I meet and hope that it sparks a conversation." – Gene Ambaum, The Unshelved Book Club
• List:Oil and Water by Steve Duin & Shannon Wheeler is #5 on Comics Bulletin's Top Ten Best Graphic Novels of 2011, with Jason Sacks saying "This book is very much about misconceptions and preconceptions, about how we all can feel inadequate when facing enormous problems and how little we often feel we can do in when facing even the small incidents in our lives -- let alone the large ones."
• Review:Booklist's starred review of Nuts by Gahan Wilson (previously reported here) is now featured online: "The scenarios include summer camp, going to horror movies, being sick and obsessing about it, making models, eating too much, not knowing the answer (or even the subject) in school, selecting comics in the local cigar store, and other normal-enough stuff that holds the potential for humiliation, failure, and maybe worse. In Nuts, that potential is always realized and, as memory colors it, so uproariously that you just about choke with laughter. For sheer hilarity, this is Wilson’s masterpiece." – Ray Olson
• Plugs:Comics Alliance's Andy Khouri runs down their Holiday Gift Guide to Deluxe Edition Comics and Art Books, including:
"You've read our effusive praise for the incredible cartooning and hilariously grim Mickey Mouse stories of Floyd Gottfredson, and this excellent two-volume set leaves you with few excuses for not reading these classic comics for yourself.... It's hard to go wrong with this as a gift for your comics fan friends (or yourself), as it's a superlative example of the form from one of its greatest masters."
"I can tell you from personal experience that even one of these books makes a fantastic present, but to give the gift of the complete Love and Rockets is to provide your friend or loved one with a reading experience richer than virtually any other."
"Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang are often associated with the holiday season (also with Halloween, and that counts), so there's no better time to give to yourself or your loved ones one or all of Fantagraphics' hardcover collections of Charles Schultz's beloved cartoon strip. Reprinted in chronological order with the highest production values, any one of these books would make an auspicious addition to any bookshelf."
• Plug: "Reading cartoons is a good way to relax and the latest volume of The Complete Peanuts covers the years 1979 and 1980.... The strips with Woodstock and Snoopy are particularly funny. This latest collection of Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts cartoons would make a nice gift." – Glenn Perrett, Simcoe.com
• List:USA Today's pop culture maven Whitney Matheson starts counting down her People of the Year at Pop Candy, with Jim Woodring kicking things off at #100 ("This year the artist constructed a seven-foot-long fountain pen that even Lloyd Dobler would be proud to own") and Leslie Stein coming in at #78 ("She had me at the talking guitar: The Brooklyn-based cartoonist's Eye of the Majestic Creatureprovided a joyous reading experience")
• List (Audio): Jim Woodring's Congress of the Animals and Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit Book 3 are among the books discussed by Inkstuds host Robin McConnell and his guests Tim Hodler, Joe McCulloch and Matt Seneca for his "Best of 2011 with the Critics" episode
• List: Librairie Drawn & Quarterly's Jade names her Top 5 Books of 2011 on the 211 Bernard blog: "Thirty years after the first Love and Rockets issue, the Hernandez Brothers continue to impress with some of their best work to date in Love and Rockets: New Stories #4. Both brothers produce storylines that are absolutely amazing... I can’t even begin to imagine what these guys will come up with next."
• Review:The Seattle Times' Mary Ann Gwinn looks at Pogo Vol. 1 and the "Playing Possum" exhibit at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery: "Kelly had an uneasy relationship with the newspapers that ran the strip. Though Pogo was hilarious, it could also be extremely pointed. Fantagraphics curator Larry Reid says the Hoover strips, featuring a bulldog with an uncanny resemblance to the FBI director, aggravated Hoover no end. 'He was driven to distraction' by the notion that the strips had hidden messages embedded in them, says Reid. 'He had cryptographers trying to decipher swamp talk.'"
• Review: At Artdish, Gary Faigin also looks at "Playing Possum": "Kelly was both famous and honored in his lifetime (over 50 collections of Pogo were published, and the strip appeared in most major newspapers), but just enough time has passed since his demise in 1973 that many people, younger ones especially, are not familiar with his work. While that’s a good reason to celebrate the Pogo show and book launch at the Fantagraphics Gallery this month, an even better reason is the opportunity to be reminded how fresh, lively, and relevant his work is, decades after it first appeared."
• Review: "These are deeply strange short stories [in The Man Who Grew His Beard], centered on ideas and effects I’m not sure I’d have come up with even with the proverbial infinite number of monkeys at my disposal; even in this short-story-saturated alternative comics climate, there’s nothing else like his gestalt of finely calibrated nonsense. It’s good to see that comics can do things you’d never think to ask of them in the first place." – Sean T. Collins, Attentiondeficitdisorderly
• Review: "Although Barks didn’t create Donald Duck, it is his interpretation that probably resides in most people’s memories.... Donald in the animated shorts was a hot-headed buffoon. Barks’ Donald was an actor called upon to play whatever role Barks needed: from exasperated parent to worldly adventurer. It was Barks’ duck comics that spurred my early interest in sequential storytelling, and probably my love of reading in general." Norman Cook, Axolotlburg News
• Review: "Love & Rockets is the only series that I don't mind purchasing and repurchasing in multiple editions... I like the way that Jaime Hernandez's stories read in different configurations. Approaching his little slices of life through flashback or in different sequences lets little details, the sort of which most readers probably miss the first time around, take new shapes and new levels of importance. I really love these paperback editions... As ever, there's just a tiny hint of extra-normal fantasy at work in the stories [in Penny Century], just enough for readers to accept that there's something very strange over the horizon or in Izzy's psyche, but never enough to overwhelm the wonderful, human reality of these beloved characters. Highly recommended for older readers." – Grant Goggans, The Hipster Dad's Bookshelf (via The Comics Reporter)
In a year-long wind-up to the end of all time (according to the Mayan calendar), Elysian Brewing Company and Fantagraphics Books, both of Seattle, are planning a series of twelve beers, issued on the 21st of each month in 2012 and featuring label artwork by Charles Burns. Taken from Burns's weirdly apocalyptic work Black Hole, the labels will adorn Elysian's "Twelve Beers of the Apocalypse," featuring the creativity and unusual ingredients for which its brewing team is known. What twelve beers would you brew (and drink) if you knew they would be your last?
First up in January is NIBIRU, named for the mysterious planet X supposedly on a collision course toward Earth. The Elysian / Fantagraphics Nibiru will be a Belgian-style Tripel, flavored with an infusion of yerba maté. Combining the tasty esters of Belgian yeast and the compelling tea-like flavors of the South American herb mixture, the beer will weigh in at around 7.6% alcohol by volume (ABV). A mixture of German Northern Brewer, Czech Saaz and American Amarillo hops round out the uniqueness of the first beer of the Apocalypse. Oddly enough there's another apocalyptic-themed Nibiru out there: a super volcano currently burbling most dangerously beneath Yellowstone National Park. It too is scheduled to end life as we know it very very soon.
February 21 will usher in RAPTURE, an ale of opulent proportions flavored with heather tips. Unlike the various Rapture events predicted by pseudoscientists and alarmist evangelicals, the beer will be very real and frankly delicious, combining the floral fragrance and slight bite of high country heather with Northwest Glacier hops in another 7% ABV beer. FALLOUT follows in March, right around the time of the vernal equinox. Fallout will be a pale ale made with green cardamom.
As Earth's last year unfolds, other beers will appear as if by dangerous magic. Persimmons, chilies, raisins, blood oranges, rosemary and other herbs will be integrated into ales, lagers and Belgian styles using the finest local and imported ingredients. These limited brews will be available in bottles and draft and at select bars and bottle shops. We will celebrate as they are released — on the 21st of every month in 2012 — with events at one or the other of Elysian's three Seattle pubs and at Fantagraphics headquarters in the Georgetown neighborhood. Once they're gone, these beers will never be brewed again. Then again, come December 21, that will be the least of our worries.
... for THIS massive Charles Burns art show. Charles tells me he has loaned over 330 pieces (!!!) for this exhibition. Leave it to the Belgians. Preview night is this Wednesday and formal opening is on Thursday, for you lucky Belgians.
Speaking of Charles, we're currently working with him on an exciting, non-comics project that will be announced by the end of the year. Stay tuned for more details; your thirst will be quenched soon enough.
Via The A.V. Club and other internet sources comes news that MTV has a new website for Liquid Television, and they've posted a whole mess of classic clips from the original run of the beloved and long-departed alternative-animation anthology show (along with some newer stuff, it seems)! Watch Charles Burns and Tony Halton's entire live-action Dog Boy serial (part 1 embedded below)...
...and many other classics. This is fantastic news, and a definite improvement over the bootleg-quality stuff that's been floating around on YouTube. (Now if the original creators are getting royalty payments from it, that's even better. I also wish they had complete credits on the site but I guess you can't have everything.)
• List: At his High-Low blog Rob Clough posts his belated Top 50 Books of 2010 list, with Megan Kelso's Artichoke Tales at #1, 4 of our books in the top 5, 5 in the top 10, 8 in the top 20, and 14 overall in the top 50 — it's a long but worthwhile read
• Review: "Calling Congress of the Animals recommended reading is a bit misleading. It’s definitely recommended, but it doesn’t technically involve reading. The entire book doesn’t feature a single word bubble. The only words are on the book jacket. What this is is a story told entirely through pictures — delightful pictures at that.... This was really an entertaining book. It was visually different from anything I’ve ever seen in a comic, the story was unique, and some parts were laugh out loud funny..." – Corey Pung, Panel Discussions (via Americaware)
• Review: "...Skin Deep by Charles Burns... [is a] true masterpiece in which Burns returns to choose the mechanisms and the language of grade-B horror films, crime fiction, pulp, the aesthetics of the 50's and Robert Crumb's comics to make a harsh social criticism.... Stories in which Burns continues to explore the darkest corners of the human condition while keeping us on edge vignette to vignette." – Jesús Jiménez, Radio y Televisión Española (translated from Spanish)
• Review: "...[T]he adventures of a group of twenty-something New York residents, like Friends but with ethnic variation and far more realistic apartments, and, you know, actual problems. The characters of Beg the Question are surrounded by ugliness and idiocy in one of the most complicated cities in the world, yet they are decent human beings who support each other. It’s not supposed to be autobiographical, but you can tell that Fingerman has lived through many of the situations and knows the characters well." – Grant Buist, The Name of This Cartoon Is Brunswick
• Commentary: "So I just finished reading Fantagraphics’ The Complete Peanuts 1981-1982, and... the vast majority of this book was new to me, having not read previous reprintings of the strips from this period (as opposed to the near-memorization of the reprint books from the late ’70s and earlier). One of the great new features of this particular reprint series, aside from, y’know, the whole completeness of the strips reprints and all, is the index in each volume." – Mike Sterling, Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin
• Plug: "Walt Kelly’s Pogo is one of the greatest comic strips I’ve ever read. It’s simply brilliant; quaint and sweet on the surface but deeper readings reveals layers of very smart political and social satire. And as you can clearly see, Walt Kelly’s artwork is magnificent.... Fantagraphics are presenting the entire strip, including the beautiful full colour Sunday strips for the very first time, in a series of 12 hardcover volumes that reprint approximately 2 years worth of material at a time. I guarantee that if you get Volume 1, you’ll be signing up for the remaining 11." – Richard Cowdry, The Forbidden Planet International Blog Log
Russ informs us that punk legend Exene Cervenka of X fame dropped by Fantagraphics Bookstore on Monday evening with Phil Alvin of the Blasters to do some record and comix shopping. Visiting Seattle to perform at Neumos with X bandmate John Doe, Exene was reportedly pleased to find a copy of Talk to Her, a collection of interviews conducted by Krisitne McKenna. Exene is interviewed, along with counterculture celebrities like Lou Reed, Joey Ramone, Allen Ginsberg, Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer, Chrissie Hynde, Joe Sacco, Elvis Costello, Walter Hopps, and Richard Hell, among others. The book includes portraits of interview subjects by Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Tony Millionaire and more. Pick one up. You won't be able to put it down.
The opening reception for the Taking Punk to the Masses exhibition on May 14 was a stellar affair - a reunion of misfits and miscreants from Seattle's grunge era together with a new generation of counterculture mavens. The show documents Seattle's grunge scene in its formative period from 1983 - 1985. I often equate Seattle's youth culture in the mid-80s to San Francisco's hippie movement in the mid-60s. Both had a singular music style, provocative graphics, and an anti-fashion sensibility. Beyond that, these movements benefited from a community of gifted cartoonists that disseminated unfiltered observations. Fitting, then, that Peter Bagge was the special guest at the event on the occasion of the release of Hate Annual # 9 and the Yeah! collection.
It's remarkable how Peterson's early works display sophisticated formal qualities while capturing the energy of the era. The halo of light in many of the candid concert shots is used to stunning effect. Also evident is the advent of his signature cinematic approach to still photography.
Comix enthusiast Bruce Pavitt's Sub Pop fanzine of the early-80s featured the work of cartoonists like Lynda Barry and Charles Burns. His commitment to the emerging "Seattle Sound' in this period led to the phenomenal success of bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney and others — all of whom released early recordings on his fledgling Sub Pop record label.
Notable horror writer Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire, editor of seminal Seattle zine Punk Lust, pictured here between low brow art collectors Marlow Harris and Jo David.
A rare public appearance by Art Chantry, perhaps the most influential graphic designer of his generation. He helped develop the aesthetics associated with grunge.
Look at this line up of kickass kuties: artist Lisa Petrucci, tattooist Sunny Buick visiting from Paris, and their art dealer extraordinaire Kirsten Anderson of Roq la Rue.
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