Online Commentary & Diversions, now with more Tonya Harding than ever:
• Review: "Occasionally, there are works of art or literature that defy simple classification. The brain breaks upon them like waves and they give up different secrets with each tide but never all the secrets and never all at once. These creations challenge as much as they entertain and ask for obsession as toll on the road to understanding. The Squirrel Machine by Hans Rickheit is just such an enigma. ... Surreal, gorgeous, and both satisfying and confounding, The Squirrel Machine is a hypnotic, occasionally repulsive, always entertaining, and wildly creative graphic novel. It does not invite rereading so much as demands it, and each encounter reveals new and different details and interpretations. This book is a wonderful mystery, a basket of questions, a wealth of enigmas, and it looks utterly arresting every step of the way." – Christian Zabriskie, Graphic Novel Reporter
• Opinion: At Comics Comics, Dash Shaw has an interesting proposal for colleges that teach comics: "Instead of hiring teachers based on their achievements (and many of the current teachers are geniuses, no doubt about it), hire people who previously worked for many years in a now-defunct house style. Someone who drew Archie for years and is now selling their originals at Comic Con? Hire them."
• Review: "It’s probably not fair to expect Hernandez to issue another creative virtuoso like Palomar, but in the pages of Luba, he comes closer than might be expected. ... Although Luba doesn’t hit as hard as Palomar, it remains a compelling portrait of family in all its messy glory. Alternately sexy and vulgar, beautiful and mean, optimistic and intolerant, Luba and her family encompass all the ugliness and amazement that comes with being part of the human entity." – Michael C. Lorah, Newsarama
• Profile: "Cartoonist Bill Mauldin was a genius at bringing the experiences of World War II home to the moms and dads, kids, wives or girlfriends of the GIs on the front lines in a very human way. ... To my knowledge, none of our wars since has produced a chronicler anywhere near the greatness of Mauldin." – Wesley G. Hughes, San Bernadino County Sun (via Newsarama)
• Video: A massive Peanuts ice sculpture depicting A Charlie Brown Christmas is being constructed in Nashville; The Daily Cartoonist has the PR and a promo video featuring members of the Schulz family
• Industry: Our own Eric Reynolds takes part in a roundtable on the topic of "Comics in the Age of Digital Piracy" at Graphic Novel Reporter
Holy smokes, there's no shortage of Online Commentary & Diversions today:
• Review: "...Prison Pit... is nothing less than a continuous, no-holds barred, violent assault on the eyes. It is literally one god damned, bloody fight scene after another... The book's genius lies in Ryan's sheer nerve and imagination in setting up these battles; he constantly ups the ante in the most bizarre and inventive ways possible. ... Ryan's love of body functions goes into full gonzo mode here. ...you've got a book where body horror extends far beyond the repulsive into the truly sublime and inspired. ... Despite the gore, or perhaps, because of it, Prison Pit is a fantastic, accomplished work." – Chris Mautner, Robot 6
• Review: "Page after page [of The Squirrel Machine] features one of the brothers traversing through some odd, off-kilter landscape, either out in the woods, or, more often, in their home. Between the floorboards and walls seem to exist an endless array of paths and rooms, each cluttered with an endless array of junk, machines and the occasional disturbing, inexplicable oddity. The end result resembles more of an old-style adventure video game than a comic. It's Myst, directed by David Cronenberg." – Chris Mautner, Robot 6 (same link as above)
• Review: "Perhaps what makes West Coast Blues so captivating is how well it highlights the similarities between film and comics, while simultaneously showcasing its own unique ability as a graphic novel to capture the noir aesthetic through word and image. ... Not unlike many noir films, West Coast Blues is replete with car chases, hit-men, drinking, guns, and the occasional salacious scene. All of this is set in Tardi’s straightforward drawing style which is a good fit for the almost matter-of-fact, unsentimental manner in which violence, sex, and life in general are met with during the course of the book." – Sara Cole, PopMatters
• Review: "Most comic strips today, especially those that are humor strips, often avoid topical subjects. Schulz embraced the topics of the era. They may date the strip, but it never leaves them outdated. ... Schulz was also not afraid to carry on-going storylines for several days or in some cases, even a couple of weeks. ... [The Complete Peanuts 1973-1974 ] also features all the favorite subjects like Linus’ annual wait for the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’s trip to Summer camp, and Sally’s letters to Santa Claus. This is why Peanuts is the greatest strip ever!" – Tim Janson, Newsarama
• Review: "Jason seems to delight in building firm plots, only to swiftly tug them out of sync. The resulting offbeat dynamic is punctuated with deadpan verbal, narrative and graphic punch lines, which pin the stories down at the same time that they suggest grander meanings. 'Where am I?' asks a prisoner. 'I think I'll do some gardening,' says a murdered man. 'Which way?' a son asks his father in 'You Are Here' — the heartrending emotional core of the collection [Low Moon] — as they search for his mother on a barren planet. Each line and frame could mean nothing or could mean everything in this quiet, gripping book." – Becky Ferreira, The L Magazine
• Interview: Jason speaks frankly about Low Moon with Becky Ferreira of The L Magazine (different link than above): "Low Moon, the story, wasn't long enough for a book of its own, so I had to include some other stories to fill it out. They were just ideas for shorter stories I had lying around. There wasn't meant to be any thematic unity. Death, I guess, is a repeating theme. People die a lot."
• Interview: Tommy Hill of the Columbia Daily Spectator talks to The Comics Journal assistant editor Kristy Valenti about comics criticism and The Importance of Comics: "I teach my interns that nobody cares about them and their feelings and their dog when they were 8; while their experience and perspective is valuable, it’s just a jumping off point to get at bigger things."
• Plug: "You Are There...: More beautiful Jacques Tardi, a seminal work in comics for adults in the French-language market and a first-paragraph mention work for both Tardi and writer Jean-Claude Forest." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
• Plug: "[You Are There] is a strange, wordy, spicy satire, seeing a man struggle to live on the walls surrounding land stolen from him; maybe it's best to see for yourself." - Joe McCulloch, Jog - The Blog (read the rest of his blurb for some interesting background info on the book)
In a testament to the strip's artistic durability and lasting influence, The Complete Peanuts continued its domination of the Best Domestic Reprint Project category at the Harvey Awards, with the 1967-1968 and 1969-1970 volumes taking home the series's 4th award in 5 years this past weekend at the ceremony at Baltimore Comic-Con. It is our continuing honor to be able to bring these books to you. The Beat has the full list of winners.
Late nite link blogging for your Online Commentary & Diversions:
• Review: "You wanna talk about a gateway comic? How 'bout handing this sucker [Ganges #3] to anyone who's ever had trouble falling asleep? The whole thing is dedicated to nothing more or less than reproducing the mental and physical sensations of insomnia. Ironically it's Huizenga's most action-driven comic this side of Fight or Run or the video-game bits in Ganges #2. ... Combine it with one of the most effective uses yet of the Ignatz series' two-tone color palette--here a cool small-hours blue--and the experience is almost tactile, as though you're physically tunneling through the mysteries of your own mind." – Sean T. Collins [ed. note: I swear I'll have the issue up for presale on the website next week]
• Review: "No one is safe in Al Columbia’s world. Not the kittens (they get decapitated) nor the children (they get baked into pies) nor the bunnies (they carry scythes). Correspondingly, no one is innocent. Grandmothers are evil, grandfathers are greedy, and trees grow baby heads instead of apples and oranges. What a wonderful world it is. That’s not an entirely ironic evaluation of Pim & Francie, a collection of sketches, strips, stills and other valuable ephemera from the mind of Columbia (creator of the 1990s cult classic Biologic Show). The twisted narratives and characters are presented so deftly — with such humor and visual panache — that their wrongness becomes right; and thus is the singular charm of Al Columbia." – Molly Young, We Love You So
• Review/Profile: "Earlier this year, Fantagraphics gave readers the opportunity to encounter [Harvey] Kurtzman’s creative energy in complete form by reissuing a boxed collection of Humbug, his short-lived but monumental periodical that began publication in summer of 1957. It’s Humbug that functions as the spiritual father for magazines such as National Lampoon, Spy and The Onion, among many others, but there’s something invigorating about it because of its vantage point in the supposedly stodgy and bland 1950s. Coming out of that decade, Humbug really did break new ground." – John Mitchell, North Adams Transcript
• Review: "Even though Woodstock casts a large shadow on the cover of Fantagraphics’ The Complete Peanuts 1973-1974, it’s Peppermint Patty who should get star billing. Not to take anything away from Snoopy’s yellow-feathered avian sidekick – who does make several appearances through the hardcover tome – it’s just that Patty eventually gets the brunt of character development attention, while Woodstock exists as the perfect foil for Snoopy. ... Also of note is Schulz’s repeated use of standard gags (Lucy pulling the football from Charlie) along with a few new ones, including the consoling 'Poor, sweet baby.' Because of his tendency to keep running gags contained within a year’s span, it makes a trade collection work better than with most comic strips." – Christopher Irving, Graphic NYC
• Review: "What quickly becomes clear is that the graphic novel is a particularly apt form for inhabiting unconventional characters, and very few do this as well as The Squirrel Machine. Wielded skilfully, images are as expressive as words, and occasionally more so. Rickheit's drawings convey the boys' tortured feelings of persecution, elation and curiosity — as well as their uncouth creative urges — in a succinct and often gruesome way. Rickheit's frames vary from the cluttered to the stark, and his ability to pack detail into four square inches is rivalled only by his ingenious use of white space. ...The Squirrel Machine convinces anew that a picture is worth a thousand words." – Molly Young, Intelligent Life
• Interview: For Marvel.com, Sean T. Collins talks to Strange Tales contributor Tony Millionaire: "Just as you called, I was reading an old collection of THOR... It's funny: 'I say thee nay'? I didn't realize that was such a popular phrase."
• Review: "The graphic novel, it turns out, is a form especially well-suited to the noir genre. Maybe this isn’t surprising — comics have always run the gamut of moods from goofy to autobiographical to just plain smutty. But it still gives a shiver of pleasure to stumble upon a graphic novel that captures the hardboiled tone of classic noir as perfectly as West Coast Blues, Jacques Tardi’s adaptation of a 1976 crime novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette. ... The plot includes bursts of bruality, dark realizations, alluring women and grizzled observations from its antihero — all the best conventions of noir, in other words, preserved and reborn in a fresh new medium. File it next to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler." – Molly Young, We Love You So
• Review: "I had a significant crush on The Death Of Speedy Ortiz the summer I was 20 years old, reading and re-reading the serialized story with a passion I had never brought to a single comic story before then. ... I thought it was wonderful that summer I read it 10,000 times, and I remain convinced it's a special story every time I've picked it up since." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
• Review: "One of the many, many things I like about Kevin Huizenga's work is that a lot of his comics are about things that are not likely candidates for visual representation, and he manages to make them fascinating to look at anyway. Most of [Ganges #3] is about the process of perceiving one's own consciousness--the sort of hyperconsciousness of your own mind that happens when you're trying to get to sleep and can't--which is potentially the least interesting thing anybody could draw. And it looks fantastic..." – Douglas Wolk, The Savage Critics
• Review: "[Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937-1938] is gorgeous. ... [Hal] Foster is frequently cited as an influence on other great cartoonists, and part of it is his precise line and the way he builds a convincing world from authentic architecture, clothing and armaments. That's part of the appeal, but Foster also excels at staging. ... Unlike daily strip collections, the full, weekly Prince Valiant page ends up a brisk, headlong read... Prince Valiant is something I picked up expecting to admire. I had no idea I would love it. – Christopher Allen, Comic Book Galaxy
• Review: "Although far from all the artists represented in the new anthology From Wonderland with Love are so experimental with form and content that you must ask yourself if this can really still be termed comics, it is truly the cream of the crop who are assembled here. This collection offers a great perspective on how broad and versatile the talent pool is in Denmark." – Torben Rølmer Bille, Kulturkapellet (translated from Danish)
• Interview: At Largehearted Boy, author Jami Attenberg talks to Ellen Forney, saying "This mixture of openness and strength makes her work... extremely powerful and relatable, and probably very necessary for your bookshelf." From Ellen: "Sometimes I have to reflect and remind myself that I do have many more skills and more experience in my repertoire at this point, and to appreciate that the challenges don't freak me out so much. Still, some challenges are exhilarating and some are a pain in the ass."
• Commentary: At Comics Comics, Dash Shaw comments on and posts a transcript of a panel he was on at TCAF earlier this year
"Monte Schulz's novel This Side of Jordan shows that Like Father Like Son -both superb!"- RAY BRADBURY
"Schulz proves himself to be a handy wordsmith in this literarily ambitious novel of pre-Depression America. Hand this straight-faced and multifaceted almost-satire to fans of the southern gothic tradition, all the way from Flannery O'Connor to John Kennedy Toole."- BOOKLIST, Sept. 2009
"I just finished reading a review copy, and I think this is a truly great American novel. Certainly I have not read anything by a modern American (white male) that I have so thoroughly enjoyed in my 13+ years at Tsunami Books. I won't go into the tale; suffice to say those who read this book will bear witness to the beginnings of a great new (American) voice that upholds the power of innocence in a long, dark era."- SCOTT LANDFIELD, TSUNAMI BOOKS
ABOUT THIS SIDE OF JORDAN:
In the idyllic last American summer before the great stock market crash of '29, nineteen year-old farm boy Alvin Pendergast somehow decides he can escape a fatal relapse of tuberculosis by accepting the offer of a job across the Mississippi River from a slick-talking stranger who seems everything poor Alvin is not: smart, sharply-dressed, well-acquainted, and without a worry in the world. But beneath appearances Chester Burke is also a gangster and a sociopathic killer. On their traveling road through the small towns of the Midwest, Alvin quickly discovers how ignorant he is of life beyond the farm.
Fortunately, he finds another companion for this harrowing journey, a curious and clever dwarf whose own pathetic life has offered little resistance to fate, until the circumstances of Chester's cruel itinerary forces both him and Alvin to seek another path, if they hope to survive.
This Side Of Jordan is a story of another America, eighty years distant yet familiar, too, a vibrant and scandalous tapestry of eccentric characters from a nation embroiled in criminal liquor traffic, thrilled by Jazz Age fads and frolic, drunk amid the glittering showgrounds of a booming circus whose flag-topped tents are about to come down. Through mayhem and merriment, past the violence and hypocrisy of Prohibition, along miles of dirt roads and busy Main Streets, we see in this wonderfully evocative narrative a simple yearning for love and hope. This Side Of Jordan is about the distance we travel in America to find our rightful place.
This Side of Jordan is Monte Schulz's second novel. His first, Down by the River, was published by Viking in 1991. Library Journal raved that it compared to Stand by Me and Twin Peaks, and seemed "ready-made for Hollywood." He spent ten years writing Crossing Eden, from which This Side of Jordan is drawn as the first of three interconnected novels; the second and third, Fields of Eden and The Big Town, will be published in 2010 and 2011.
Monte Schulz received his M.A. in American Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He lives in Northern California. He is the eldest son of Charles M. Schulz (PEANUTS).
A new week brings an avalanche of new Online Commentary & Diversions:
• Profile: For the Philadelphia Inquirer, Tirdad Derakhshani looks at the past, present, and future of Prince Valiant: "The release Tuesday of Prince Valiant, Vol. 1: 1937-1938, the first in a new series of gorgeously printed, hardcover Valiant collections from Fantagraphics Books, served as a bittersweet reminder of the century-long rise and eventual decline of a great American art form, the comic strip."
• Review: "...Al [Columbia] decided to dredge up old ghosts, unfinished pieces, trifles he had thrown away then reconsidered and offered them up to us as proof that he hasn’t forgotten us. This 240-page book [Pim and Francie: The Golden Bear Days, Fall 2009]... has certainly filled in some gaps for me as to what goes on in Columbia’s mind... There seems to be something both amazing and horrifying around every corner, in any dark space, in the thick of the forest, in the bulbous eyes of maniacal creatures and the straight realistic lines of buildings that all have a dark window somewhere... It is truly a viscous treat and I am sure this one will never wash off." - Rachael M Rollson, Panel to Panel
• Review: "Though Low Moon doesn’t have the slow-building impact of Jason’s longer works, he’s still one of comics’ best storytellers, and it’s always a treat to spend time in his world of off-brand pulp clichés and not-always-so-funny animals. [Grade] B+" - The A.V. Club
• Review: "Jason is an immensely skilled artist capable of manipulating his self-restricted vocabulary to stretch space and time. Low Moon moves in a slow burn as the two antagonists move closer to their eventual showdown. In what is probably the best story in the book You Are Here, time moves more quickly as a father and son attempt to deal with the alien abduction of the father's wife. The father builds a rocket while the son grows up and has a life of his own. Eventually they pile into the rocket, and things end badly, but perhaps a bit more emotionally than with the other stories." - Michael Buntag, NonSensical Words
• Review: "Rage of a different kind in Everybody Is Stupid Except for Me and Other Astute Observations by Peter Bagge. This collection of satirical rants from the American libertarian magazine Reason... is philosophically more about punk individualism than Ayn Rand, and artistically the heir to 1980s indie comics. Indeed, Bagge is an indie star, famous for his wonderfully elastic cartooning style and punk-inflected comedies." - Roger Sabin, The Observer
• Review: "These are good comics [in Everybody Is Stupid Except for Me and Other Astute Observations], fun to read and definitely funny, definitely searing and when he hits a target he gets it right. Also there’s something to be said for the journalist tone of the writing and the structure of the strips would translate well into a proper newspaper, were he so inclined." - Ibrow
• Review: "For fresh talent in comics, you have to go to the anthologies and there's none better at the moment than Mome... the highlight [of Vol. 15] is Dash Shaw's hallucinatory story about a tidal wave, which uses swaths of colour and elongated panels to create a sense of vertigo." - Roger Sabin, The Observer (same link as above)
• Review: "Schulz had gone from a fairly grounded sense of consensus reality to Snoopy's flights of fancy to outright weirdness... That seems to be the essence of Sparky Schulz to me: even with the pressure of the daily grind and his position as the lynchpin of what had become a vast empire, Schulz wrote to amuse himself... At his best in this volume [The Complete Peanuts 1973-1974], Schulz gave the readers some of the best stories of his career." - Rob Clough
• Review: "Ace cartoonist Jordan Crane makes a curious split comic choice. The first half [of Uptight #3 ], 'Vicissitude,' is the opening chapter of a brooding adult tale of marital dysfunction and deceit, while the second, 'Freeze Out,' is a kid’s story, the further adventures of Simon and his cat Jack, who were featured in Crane’s great graphic novel, The Clouds Above. Miraculously, the pairing works — each is superior in its own genre — but you might want to wait until 'Freeze Out' is collected on its own before showing it to your kids." - John Seven, Worcester Magazine
• Review: "Blazing Combat (Fantagraphics, 2009) collects the entire run in a beautiful, incredibly well-bound hardcover book... The stories' tone is very 1960s, ironic with a cynicism stemming from brokenhearted humanism." - Carol Borden, The Cultural Gutter
• Review: "Needless to say, I love the streak of darkness that permeates [Charles] Burns' work. I mean that both figuratively and literally, as his one-of-a-kind illustration style is at-a-glance recognizable because of his heavy use of black ink... That starkness emphasizes the cruel features on the faces of his characters - deep wrinkles, harsh teeth, beady eyes and unflattering noses, to say nothing of the occasional freak. Like the look of his characters, Burns is one of a kind, and Skin Deep is a good introduction to the man's singular vision - a good way to get your toe wet before diving in." - Rod Lott, Bookgasm
• Review: "[A.B.] Frost looked like he was painting with the line…on a half-dozen cups of coffee. Trust me, that’s hard to do... Also, it looks like Fanta-Graphic Books might have brought Stuff and Nonsense back in print in 2003. [Yes. -Ed.] Pick up and copy and be ready to weep - this work is untouchable." - Tony DiTerlizzi
• Plug: "Carol Tyler's You'll Never Know is my favorite book of the year thus far. This memoir/biography/scrapbook is both formally challenging and emotionally devastating. Any critic serious about compiling a year-end list needs to keep this book under consideration." - Rob Clough, Robot 6 (guest contributor)
• Tweet: "Still, the most beautifully designed bk so far this yr is still IMO Fantagraphics 'The Brinkley Girls': http://bit.ly/CSYpH Swoon-worthy." - bookjones
• Review: "What more can I say about these wonderful [Complete Peanuts] collections? I’ve enjoyed each one immensely so far; they make me laugh and grin and even smirk a little from time to time... Top notch book. You can’t have a much better time than reading these collections. Highly recommended." - Todd Klein (link via Robot 6)
• Review: "[Prison Pit: Book 1] is the best comic Johnny Ryan has ever drawn. And I'm the guy that ranked the last Angry Youth Comix in his Best of 2008... This really needs to be experienced on its own. It's rich, clever, energetic, funny - I don't think I've purely in-my-guts enjoyed another comic so much in 2009... You've gotta see it to believe it." - Joe McCullough, Jog - The Blog
• Plug: "...[O]ur favorite comic book artist is Mr. Johnny Ryan!... Johnny continues his brilliant legacy with an 120 page epic tale named Prison Pit... Next to Jughead, Johnny’s about the best thing going on in comic books these days, so don’t be a chump and wait until they make some perverted documentary about him and he’s some hipster darling! ACT NOW!" - retroCRUSH
• Profile: For the Los Angeles Times, Tobias Carroll profiles artists who straddle music and comics, including Zak Sally, whose "surreal and compelling series Sammy the Mouse, begun in 2007, is a kind of existentialist's Bloom County," plus our pals Archer Prewitt & Ron Regé Jr.