• Review: "Anderson’s King is most definitely NOT your feel-good, sanctifying version of King’s life that most readers are probably used to. ...[T]he MLK presented here is a multi-dimensional, gifted man … but still very much a man, nevertheless, filled with doubt, frustration, anger, arrogance, and even deceit. ... While Anderson starkly presents King’s less-than-saintly episodes... the final reaction is a fuller understanding of a great man, with inspiring ideals, and an unshakeable dedication to equality through nonviolent, loving means. ... MLK’s legacy undeniably lives on in Anderson’s King." – Terry Hong, Bookdragon (Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program)
• Review: "Dash Shaw was praised to the skies for his hefty 2008 graphic novel Bottomless Belly Button, but the 26-year-old cartoonist’s real strength so far in his career has been his short strips, which have displayed a diversity of subject matter and style that make each piece feel like something wholly new. The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century A.D.... does reveal a future master in his formative stages, working to find a balance between his interest in subtle adult relationships—teacher/pupil, flirter/flirtee, etc.—and his yen to try out new approaches to drawing and coloring. Shaw may be the cartoonist of the rising generation most capable of delivering a long-form work with the formal daring and humanity of a David Mazzucchelli or an Art Spiegelman. Consider The Unclothed Man a document of his baby steps… B+" – The A.V. Club
• Plug: "The Complete Peanuts 1975-1976 comes out in March, meaning we'll be halfway through this amazing, historical publication. I can't say enough about these collections. It's not only remarkable in its simple, truthful capturing of the human condition, but a beautiful historical document of the second half of the 20th Century." – Rob Kozlowski
• Interview: On the Inkstuds radio programme, Jordan Crane and Sammy Harkham have a feisty conversation with host Robin McConnell about their webcomics concern, What Things Do
• Commentary:NPR 's Glen Weldon, surveying some of the connections between comics and pop music, says "Love and Rockets, by Los Bros Hernandez, wasn't just about a punk band, it was a book steeped in an anarchic punk sensibility that even today, 30 years later, still seems bracing and unapologetic."
• 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 )
• 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
Today's Online Commentary & Diversions starts with a rave:
• Review: "This is a fascinating book on a lot of levels. For one, it's distinguished by Adam Grano's design work to a degree I think noteworthy: on many levels, Newave! represents better than any book I've seen the clash of comics publishing impulses now and then. ... It says something about Grano's increasingly compelling body of work with Fantagraphics that he provides the work with much of the energy that helps the reader through nearly 900 pages. It's Michael Dowers that makes that trip worthwhile. By avoiding a summary statement and roping in so many cartoonists, presenting 700 pages of their work in doing so..., Dowers lets the reader come to the material rather than shoving it into their face. His confidence is justified: a lot of these comics are fascinating-looking, and the sheer handsomeness of many of the pages, this wall of better-than-expected craft, will probably be the biggest shock to those that kind of dismissed this kind of work whenever one encountered it along the way." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
• Review: "...[Like a Dog] makes for a compelling scrapbook collection — and a beautifully-bound one at that. ... There’s an inspiring breadth of themes and styles on display here, although ultimately they all point to an artist in the depths of an existential crisis." – Will Fitzpatrick, Bookmunch
• Interview:Bookmunch's Will Fitzpatrick, whose review of Zak Sally's Like a Dog is linked above, has a good long email interview with Zak: "I actually enjoy reading comics so much that it’s slightly embarrassing. The stylistic diversity you mention was, again, not that conscious on my part: it was, again, just having this thing or idea and having to find a way to come at it that made sense, to me; and strangely enough, that often meant I had to experiment with what I thought comics were or weren’t to get there. I was just searching for a way to make comics."
Oh no, I had this Online Commentary & Diversions update all set to go and then I forgot to post it... Earth to Mike!
• List: At Bully Says: Comics Oughta Be Fun!, our favorite little stuffed bull continues the annual Fun Fifty countown. At #36, Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 1: "Ditko expert Blake Bell collects several dozen of Steve's 1950s work from Charlton and other publishers, plus plenty of amazing covers, in a thick, hardy collection with glorious gory and ghoulish Ditko comics from front to back. This thing's a gold mine!"
• Review: "...T. Edward Bak's almost comically named 'Wild Man, Chapter 2 -- A Bavarian Botanist in St. Petersburg, Part One'... is the story to which I kept returning long after the publication entire [Mome Vol. 17] should have been swapped off of my end table for something less worked over. ... I hope there's more." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
• Review: "Next to Scott Pilgrim [Prison Pit: Book 1] felt to me like the western comic that’s got closest to properly understanding the energy of manga, rather than simply aping the surface elements. ... It’s the best art I’ve seen Ryan do in his career, more focused and while it mainly maintains a four-panel-a-page rhythm, when he breaks from that to do a splash page or change the panel rhythm, he does to great effect. If you’re going to do a splash page, it might as well be of a monster made of sperm or a barbed penis." – Brian Smith, Awesome Engine
• Coming Attractions:ICv2 previews our upcoming August release of Buz Sawyer Vol. 1: The War in the Pacific by Roy Crane
• Interview:Inkstuds host Robin McConnell says "I really enjoyed this chat with Zak Sally. If you are not already reading his work, you will want to after listening to this."
• Events: For Comics Comics, Dash Shaw reports from Angoulême: "At festivals like this you find yourself jetlagged in a taxi with José Muñoz and you’re thinking 'holy shit, what do I ask José Muñoz? What do I ask José Muñoz?!' and you end up just bugging him about random things. Try to milk those ten minutes for as much as you can."
Online Commentary & Diversions have seen their shadow:
• List: Our pal Bully the Little Stuffed Bull has started his annual Fun Fifty countdown. In the first installment, coming in at #46, Blazing Combat: "War, huh! What is it good for? Absolutely nothin'... aside from bringing us this gorgeous archive edition of a classic comic every war comics fan oughta have in their library."
• Review: "Back in the days of Factsheet Five, I used to order tons of minicomix. Most were mediocre, but a few were terrifically good and that made it worth the risk to send in the fifty cents or so that they cost. ... Fantagraphics just released a massively thick (900 pages!) anthology of minicomix called Newave! The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s , and it's a treat." – Mark Frauenfelder, Boing Boing
• Review: "In Strange Suspense, Ditko already shines as a masterful designer of sinister mansions, ornate gateways and demonic doors and furnishings... And finally, there’s no mistaking those trademark Ditko faces, leering with evil or sweating and wide-eyed with terror, often lit or looking up from below. ... It is a pleasure to follow Ditko’s youthful artistic progression and there is a noticeable refining and streamlining of his drawing, going for greater clarity and impact. ... These morality fables are seldom subtle or surprising... but it’s Ditko’s artistry that elevates these mostly standard comic book nasties. ...[T]he $39.99 ticket is good value, and this is a weighty, hard-packed, deluxe package..." – Paul Gravett
• Review: "Successful art engenders powerful emotion in its observers. How do I know that Al Columbia's Pim & Francie is an amazing work of art? Because it seriously made me feel ill. Uncomfortable. It made me question my sense of aesthetics; played havoc with my expectations. It's unquestionably an amazing book. ... Rating: 8/10" – Jeremy Nisen, Under the Radar
• Commentary: At The Daily Cross Hatch, Box Brown reproduces the epochal letters page from Ivan Brunetti's Schizo #2 (reprinted in Misery Loves Comedy) as part of a new column on cartoonists' letters to cartoonists
• Review: "The third volume of this comics anthology is a whirl-a-gig of vivid color, giddy fun, black angst, and hauntingly disturbing images... The volume brings together carefully crafted stories with eye-searing artwork, packed with scatological humor, violence, and disquieting sexual acts... Hotwire Comics 3 is not for the faint of heart, but those who love underground comics or want an introduction to that world as it stands today, will embrace the volume." – Publishers Weekly
• Review: "Classic kid comics are evoked with a weird, horror-inspired twist in [Chocolate Cheeks]... Weissman has a knack for combining the cute with the eerie and the unsettling, and the art—presented in both b&w and color—is outstanding." – Publishers Weekly (same link as above)
• Review: "But even Jaime devotees should be paying attention to Gilberto’s recent work; since he closed the books on Luba, he’s been flexing his muscles with some astonishingly effective genre exercises, the latest of which is The Troublemakers. A lurid pulp excursion featuring an appropriately leering cover by Rick Altergott, the book uses peripheral characters from Beto’s other works to craft a story about missing cash, hot sex, and two-timing that combines equal parts neo-noir and sleazy ’70s-throwback exploitation. But what elevates it from being a simple mélange of clever genre riffs is Beto’s determination to load it with uneasy surrealist images and clever symbolic elements. The Troublemakers doesn’t read entirely like anything he’s done before, but it may be his best work in years. [Grade] A-" – The A.V. Club
• Review: "[The] Troublemakers follows a cast of conmen as they double-cross one another until they run out of rope and hang themselves. It too features amazing cartooning. It’s very cinematic, but it’s not drawn with attention to realism like cinematic comics frequently tend to be... Instead, the storytelling relies on Hernandez’s masterful use of staging and talent with composition. His ability to spot blacks, place textures, and overall cartooning/drawing skills made this crime story a delight to read." – guest contributor Jim Rugg, Robot 6
• Review: "If you are a student of the history of sequential art, Newave! feels like a must-have for your collection. It seems to be as perfect of a collection of mini-comix as you could ever find and it is informative as well as entertaining. It’s also the type of book that challenges your artistic side as well so that’s another bonus." – Chad Derdowski, Mania
• Interview:Publicola's Heidi Broadhead talks to Michael Dowers about the Newave! book and exhibit: "Well, there are still a handful of us who are completely driven. It is in the very cell walls of our mind, body, and soul. Some of these guys are about to hit 60 years old, me included, and we don’t know how to stop."
• Plugs:The Precocious/Manga Curmudgeon, David Welsh, recommends some Gilbert Hernandez books in recognition of Beto's birthday today: "For those of you who aren’t familiar with Palomar, it’s a small Central American town populated with interesting, complex people. It’s also populated with a variety of kinds of stories and tones, gritty realism one moment, magical realism the next. Hernandez really builds that web of community in these stories, exploring ties of family and friendship, lingering grudges, outside influences, sex, love and death."
• Plug: "...[Almost Silent] is all stellar material for the most part, especially [Tell Me] Something and You Can't [Get There from Here], which trade on Jason's perennial theme of love found and lost in rather odd settings. So if you weren't able to get these books when they first came out, I highly recommend doing so when this new edition comes out..." – Chris Mautner, Robot 6
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