Let's see what Online Commentary & Diversions are in store for us today:
• Review: "The Troublemakers is something of a titular understatement. These guys aren’t trouble, they’re a disaster waiting to happen. ... It’s an exquisite story. With the characters locked in a tussle of greed and deceit, Hernandez makes his writing craft look effortless. The script is low-key and natural, the characters three-dimensional and interesting." – Grovel
• Review: "...[T]here seemed to be something dangerous, something man was not meant to trifle with, something unnatural, in concentrating all that uncut hilarity in one place [in Tales Designed to Thrizzle Vol. 1]... At its basal level, Kupperman’s sense of humor starts with a susceptible contemporary sensibility driven into survival mode by the open floodgates of mass culture, a modern consciousness threatened by amusement and diversion. The strategic response is one of aggressive accretion, grasping at straws and flotsam and winding up with some very odd however buoyant accumulations." – Rich Kreiner, "Yearlong Best of the Year," The Comics Journal
• List:The Browser's Roland Chambers talks to comics scholar and junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows Hillary Chute about her top five graphic narratives, including Aline Kominsky-Crumb's Love That Bunch: "To me, Aline is one of the most important figures in comics, which isn’t to say that she’s one of the most well-known. She’s not. But her comics have inspired a legion of cartoonists working in comics autobiography: specifically women cartoonists, because Aline published the first ever autobiographical comic from a woman’s point of view."
• Review: "King has long been a figure so ubiquitous in American culture that little of his true self remains in his frequently invoked image and words. Anderson does the man a favor by taking a spiky, fractured approach to his subject and refusing to plant a halo on his troubled head. ... Though all the great moments of his civil rights battle are here (from the March on Washington to his less-successful housing campaign in Chicago), Anderson doesn't resort to the cheap cinematic trick of success and fadeout. There is more disappointment here than celebration, suffused with the sorrowful sense of a long, long battle just barely begun. A crowning achievement, like the man it portrays." – Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
• Review: "...Columbia's most disturbing material yet. ... he remains one of the finest horrorists (if such a word exists and I may be allowed to use it) working in comics today, far exceeding what is generally held to be the standard of excellence in the genre, via his ability to convey a terrible sense of dread and foreboding. ... As disjointed and narratively frustrating as Pim and Francie can be at times, it remains a stunning and haunting work that preys on your mind long after you've finished it. The successive wave upon wave of unsettling imagery builds upon subsequent page to suggest a world of constant pain and surreal terror, where hiding places are few and far between. ... The sheer level of craftsmanship and imagination on display makes this a book well worth reading for those who can bear its mordant message." – Chris Mautner, Robot 6
Presidents Day does not stop the Online Commentary & Diversions:
• Review: "In Hernandez’s hands, [The Troublemakers] unspools on the page like a Russ Meyer production, from the in-your-face nudity, right down to the cartoony violence played for laughs. ...[I]t sure is fun." — Rod Lott, Bookgasm
• Review: "Even if I finally accepted that [Sublife Vol. 2] did not answer any of my questions from the first volume... I still admired the growth in Pham’s work on display between the two volumes. Volume 2 shows a terrific range, beginning a Clowes-like opening series of strips about a murderous blogger with an under-read blog that shows a biting wit not on display in the first volume. The tour de force of the volume is the second piece, which picks up (for those paying incredibly scrupulous attention) on a deep space adventure from the inside covers of Volume 1. Here Pham lets his instincts for architectural design sense take off in a trippy sequence that is pure pleasure to look at. ... In some ways — in many ways actually — the first two volumes of Sublife evoke memories of the early volumes of Acme Novelty Warehouse [sic]. And that could be a very good thing." – Jared Gardner, The Comics Journal
• Review: "...I am delighted to report that The Great Anti-War Cartoons offers an impressive showcase of political cartooning. Many of its contributors have never had their work reprinted with as much care. Even the most well-informed reader will stumble across pieces they have never seen or names they have never heard of." – Kent Worcester, The Comics Journal
• Review: "[There are] ...a number of strong stories to be found here [in Mome Vol. 17], and a number of rewards to be gained by those who were following serials like Paul Hornschemeier’s 'Life With Mr. Dangerous' or the second chapters of the stories done by Renee French and Ted Stearn." – Rob Clough, The Comics Journal
• Interview:Newave! The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s editor Michael Dowers talks to Robot 6's Tim O'Shea: "I want people to see that if you believe in something hard enough and never give up that you can get somewhere in life. Here is a group of creative types who couldn’t take no for an answer and made their own world of comics."
• 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."