• 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
• Interview: In an interview with The Beat's Michael Fiffe, artist Mark Badger talks about his participation in Abstract Comics: The Anthology: "It came out of nowhere. It was absolutely stunning."
• Plug: "New from Fantagraphics Books, Newave! The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s. At 888 pages this is a substantial collection of the comix art of the New Wave mini-comix movement. Largely inspired by the Underground Comix movement of the 60s & 70s, these artists produced hand-made mini-comix for the pure joy of creating uncensored self-expression without the appeasement and quench of profit motivation." – Skip Williamson
344-page black & white 8.5" x 7" hardcover • $28.99 ISBN: 978-1-60699-345-3
Ships in: March 2010 (subject to change)
Good grief, Charlie Brown, we're halfway there! That’s right! With this volume, The Complete Peanuts reaches the halfway point of Charles M. Schulz’s astounding half-century run on the greatest comic strip of all time.
These years are especially fecund in terms of new canine characters, as Snoopy is joined by his wandering brother Spike (from Needles), his beloved sister Belle (from Kansas City), and... did you know he had a nephew? In other beagle news, Snoopy breaks his foot and spends six weeks in a cast, deals with his friend Woodstock’s case of the “the vapors,” and gets involved in a heated love triangle with Linus over the girl “Truffles.”
The Complete Peanuts 1975-1976 features several other long stories, including a rare “double track” sequence with two parallel narratives: Peppermint Patty and Snoopy travel to participate in the Powderpuff Derby, while Charlie Brown finally gets to meet his idol Joe Shlabotnik. And Peppermint Patty switches to a private school, but commits the mistake of allowing Snoopy to pick it for her; only after graduation does she realize something’s not quite right!
Plus: A burglary at Peppermint Patty’s house is exacerbated by waterbed problems... Marcie acquires an unwanted suitor... Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty become desk partners... The talking school building collapses... Lots of tennis jokes... and gags starring Schroeder, Lucy, Franklin, Rerun, Sally, and that vicious cat next door. It’s another two years of Peanuts at its finest! Featuring an introduction by comedian Robert Smigel (Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Saturday Night Live).
"The Complete Peanuts has framed Charles Schulz’s enduring masterpiece about as well any lifelong fan could’ve hoped." – "The Best Comics of the '00s: The Archives", The A.V. Club
Download an EXCLUSIVE 14-page PDF excerpt (1 MB) containing all the strips from January, 1975!
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: "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
• Review: "I opened [West Coast Blues], got sucked in and blew through it in one sitting. Then I went back a few weeks later, in preparation for this review, and re-read it. I found that I liked it even better the second time around, as I was able to spend a little more time with it and take in the subtleties of the work. I suspect I will read it again soon and I would definitely recommend it. Fans of great artwork and crime stories should give this book a shot." – Chad Derdowski, Mania
• Review: "Now, as a teacher and father, I see that Schulz' reflections on childhood were more accurate than I could have understood from a younger perspective. Some characters I either didn't like or didn't understand when I was a kid are much more sympathetic now, and I still love Schulz' clean cartooning style. ... The most recent [Complete Peanuts] release covers the years 1973 and 1974, which are good years for Peanuts." – Quinn Rollins, Epinions.com
• List: Sandy Bilus of I Love Rob Liefeld names Ganges #3 by Kevin Huizenga #7 on his top 10 Best Comics of 2009: "Huizenga's comics are just really enjoyable to read. The full page image of Glenn inside his own head is really something else."
• List: Our own Eric Reynolds (and some other small press folks) tells The Morning News's Robert Birnbaum 4 books he wishes we'd published last year
If, like me, you enjoy baseball almost as much as comics, this is one of the coolest posts I've seen in awhile. Wezen-ball uses The Complete Peanuts to calculate the Peanuts gang's baseball record from 1950-1970. I love the idea of Kim Thompson's awesome Complete Peanuts indexes being useful to sabermetricians.
• 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
By the way, multiple belated hat tips to Robot 6, whose roundups of end-of-year links have been invaluable to the last few installments of Online Commentary & Diversions. On with the links:
• List:Publishers Weekly announced the results of their 2009 Comics Week Critic's Poll; among the top vote-getters are You'll Never Know, Book 1: A Good and Decent Man by C. Tyler ("I love this autobiographical family story as much for the way Tyler weaves between her own life and her father's, as for its painterly, illustrative panoramas of suburban neighborhoods and army scenes." – Sasha Watson) and Tales Designed to Thrizzle Vol. 1 by Michael Kupperman ("Milk and other liquids may come out your nose as you read one of the funniest comics ever put to paper. Kupperman's droll absurdism is matched by a stiff, woodcut-like art style that underplays the sometimes outre concepts. A comedy diamond." – Heidi MacDonald). Humbug by Harvey Kurtzman et al, Low Moon by Jason, Luba by Gilbert Hernandez, Supermen!: The First Wave Of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941, West Coast Blues Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jacques Tardi, and You Are There by Jacques Tardi and Jean-Claude Forest all received single votes in the poll
• List: At comiXology, Tucker Stone counts down his top 25 Best Comics of 2009, with Grotesque #3 by Sergio Ponchione at #23 ("...every once in a while, I get a reminder how vast the world of comics really is. Grotesque — European, unusual, brilliant — was one of those, an experimental passport to another universe"), Ganges #3 by Kevin Huizenga at #7 ("...Ganges captured the thing that all of us spend a lifetime doing — thinking — and turned it into something deserving of examination") and, in the top spot, Prison Pit: Book 1 by Johnny Ryan ("Aggro, obscene, hilarious, compulsive: Prison Pit. It wasn't just the greatest comic of the year, it was one of those comics that operated like the end result of a math equation, a definitive answer to the question of what comics are, and what they should be...")
• List: Johnny Bacardi's Personal Best of the Decade includes Eightball #22 by Daniel Clowes
• Review: "Each [panel] almost vibrates with the frenetic, desperate energy of the characters as they try to pull off their cons. That energy explodes in the final pages, as the story comes to a dramatic but ambiguous conclusion. In the end, the work offers an homage to B-movies while standing out as a graphic novel. The Troublemakers will please long-term Hernandez fans. It also should serve as a good introduction to newcomers looking to jump into the Love and Rockets universe." – Publishers Weekly
• Review: "...Giraffes [in My Hair], a collection of anecdotes from Bruce Paley's teens and twenties on America's countercultural fringe, is a breezy read. ... Swain's art rarely calls attention to or gets in the way of itself, and in that it meshes seamlessly with Paley's deadpan 'here's what happened' narrative style, his reluctance to overstate or oversell the import of the anecdote reminiscent of Harvey Pekar's." – Sean T. Collins
• Review: "...[The Comics Journal] has reached issue 300 and is celebrating with a fascinating collection of creator-chats as industry tyros and giants come together to interview, share, bitch and generally shoot the breeze about graphic narrative: a tactic that makes this the most compelling read of the year for anyone truly interested in what we all do and why." – Win Wiacek, Now Read This!
• Review: "Fantagraphics Books continues its series devoted to chronologically packaging [Peanuts] and has not missed a step along the way. ... I’m pleased to inform that the latest edition, the twelfth in the series, is as lovingly curated as the first... [I]t is nice to know that one of the form’s greatest achievements is being held up as the accomplishment it really is." – Dw. Dunphy, Popdose
• Review: "[In Sam's Strip] Walker and Dumas clearly take pleasure in working in callbacks to classic comic strips... [and] many of the metatextual gags are funny and fun. ... Dumas’s drawings of classic comic-strip characters are excellent... The result is a frustrating, compelling curiosity: the soul of an underground comic trapped in the mortal coil of a Hi and Lois." – Shaenon Garrity, The Comics Journal
• Events:Star Clipper is sponsoring a screening of Ghost World at Schlafly Bottleworks in St. Louis tonight — oh jeez, in like half an hour! — and copies of the graphic novel and other Clowes books will be on sale