Whew, what a year! Online Commentary & Diversions returns next week.
• List:Comic Book Resources continues listing their Top 100 Comics of 2009, with Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit: Book 1 at #75 ("A huge kick to the solar plexus, not just in terms of the way-beyond-NC-17 level of gore and bodily fluids on display, but also the sheer wealth of no-holds barred imagination and utter sense of play that's on every page. The craftsmanship on display is just as striking as the violence." – Chris Mautner) and The Squirrel Machine by Hans Rickheit at #56 ("Few artists in comics can tell surreal stories with the level of clarity and precision that Hans Rickheit achieves... In the same way that David Lynch squeezes compelling characters and memorable scenes onto film amid dark and obscured circumstances, Rickheit renders a feeling portrait of a young mad scientist named Edmund in one of the 2009's most inimitable reads." – Brian Warmoth)
• List:Jeff Smith names his favorite comics of the decade, including The Complete Peanuts ("Revolutionary.") and Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw ("I was also impressed by the mysteries in the story — and really impressed by Shaw’s restraint in revealing only what he had to — leaving much for the imagination, and keeping my thoughts on the book and its meaning for days afterward.")
• List:Comics Alliance's thematic Best of 2009 list names You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation! "Best Indie Reprint Volume" ("The utterly insane adventures of the space wizard Stardust continue to be some of the most brilliantly surrealist comics around."), Pim & Francie by Al Columbia "Best Glimpse into a Terrifying Universe that will Haunt my Dreams for Years to Come," and Ganges #3 by Kevin Huizenga "Best comic to read when you can't sleep"
• List: Brian Gibson of Edmonton's Vue Weekly lists Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco as one of the Best Graphic Novels of the 2000s: "Sacco’s made comics a serious and messily truthful place for journalism."
• List:Living Between Wednesdays lists The Best of 2009: Original Graphic Novels and Collections, including Blazing Combat ("Each panel of Blazing Combat is a stunning work of art, and they are beautifully preserved on heavy paper in this hardcover book. Just as relevant now as when they were first published, these stories should still draw an emotional reaction from anyone who reads them.") and Tales Designed to Thrizzle Vol. 1 by Michael Kupperman ("It’s just something that you have to sit down and read, and when you do you’ll laugh your ass off.")
• Review: "In ambition, breadth and heft, this far-ranging compilation is the worthy companion to Gilbert’s formidable Palomar volume. While capable of standing on its own, Luba is very much the continuing story of several characters now fully transplanted, unfettered and haunted, from their celebrated Mexican town to the Greater Metropolitan Land of Opportunity. Their histories grow longer, broader, more complex and richer as Hernandez’s rollicking, remorseless social comedy rolls on." – Rich Kreiner, The Comics Journal
The year's penultimate Online Commentary & Diversions:
• List:Comic Book Resources begins their countdown of the Top 100 Comics of 2009. At #82, "Because I Love You So Much" by Nikoline Wedelin: "Found in the pages of the recent anthology of Danish comics, From Wonderland with Love, this collection of strips about a mother who discovers that her daughter is being sexually abused by her dad is one of the most harrowing and utterly stunning stories about a difficult subject matter I've ever read and easily equal to the works of, say, Phoebe Gloeckner or Debbie Dreschler." (Chris Mautner)
• List: Robin McConnell of Inkstuds re-posts his Best of 2009 and Best of the 2000s lists previously run at The Daily Cross Hatch
• List:Comicdom continues their Top 100 of the 00s with Black Hole by Charles Burns at #2: "I start, taking for granted that with Black Hole, Burns played the blues of the pelvis with unparalleled mastery."
• Review: "...[A] love letter to 70s exploitation movies. Beto being Beto, there’s a depth of visual symbolism and complexity of character that provides an emotional structure to the narrative not seen in the source material that inspired these stories. ...Elmore Leonard meets Roger Corman. ... There’s a wonderful luridness to the story that Hernandez revels in... The Troublemakers... shows the artist at the height of his powers, capable of crafting characters with surprising depth even in the basest of genre stories." – Rob Clough, The Comics Journal
• Interview:Comic Book Galaxy's Alan David Doane presents an exactly-decade-old chat with Barry Windsor-Smith, conducted on the occasion of the release of OPUS Vol. 1: "I mean, if I'd really wanted to sell it, I could have called it 'Tits Galore' or something like that." (I pulled the goofiest quote, but really, it's a substantive read.)
One part MOME collection, one part authorized IFC Channel spinoff, the first quarter of this jacketed hardcover collects the work — storyboards, scripts, character designs, etc. — that Shaw has created for a series of original shorts for IFC.com. The latter 3/4ths collect his acclaimed short stories from MOME, as well as several little-seen stories from elsewhere, and a new 20 page story.
The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century A.D. is Shaw’s first book since his breakthrough graphic novel of 2008, Bottomless Belly Button, which was named Publishers Weekly’s best graphic novel of 2008, one of Entertainment Weekly’s top ten books of 2008, and one of Amazon.com’s top ten graphic novels of the year, amongst numerous other accolades. The book also collects Shaw’s acclaimed, genre-bending short stories from MOME, including “Look Forward, First Son of Terra Two,” a remarkable story of two lovers traveling in opposite directions... in time. Also featured: “Galactic Funnels,” the 2008 Ignatz Award nominee for “Outstanding Story,” about the parasitic relationship between an artist and his lover/mentor; “Satellite CMYK,” a sci-fi mindwarp that ingeniously drives the narrative through Shaw’s masterful control of color, and “Making the Abyss,” a fictionalized story of a surreal film set filled with nuclear tanks, hot tubs, and blind ambition.
Befitting the restless experimentation and innovation of Shaw's work, this slim hardcover features a first for Fantagraphics: a clear acetate overlay dust jacket, meant to evoke an animation cel.
The acclaimed anthology continues with the concluding chapter of Paul Hornschemeier's third graphic novel "Life with Mr. Dangerous" (following his acclaimed books The Three Paradoxes and Mother Come Home), which has been running in MOME since the first issue. Meanwhile, Bottomless Belly Button creator Dash Shaw and MOME regular Tom Kaczynski collaborate on a mind-bending science-fiction story, "Resolution," where "reality" exists as a virtual world and people live through their avatars. Olivier Schrauwen delivers a surrealistic gem titled "Chromo Congo"; Derek Van Gieson delivers a horrific WWII story, "Devil Doll"; Renee French's "Almost Sound" returns, as does Ted Stearn's "The Moolah Tree" starring Fuzz & Pluck; plus new work from Kurt Wolfgang, Laura Park, Rick Froberg, Sara Edward-Corbett, and T. Edward Bak. Covers by Paul Hornschemeier.
Download an EXCLUSIVE 11-page PDF excerpt (3 MB) with a page from every artist in the issue.
• Review: "...I enjoyed the hell out of this book. ... Not only did Portable Grindhouse remind me of ye olden days, it also gave me quite a laugh. You won’t believe some of the ridiculously schlocky movies that are included in this book. I honestly can’t recommend it enough. It’s the perfect book for anyone who understands the art of the guilty pleasure and the joy in a terrifically bad movie, as well as those who took great joy in the hunt for home video entertainment. Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box gets two thumbs WAY up!" – Chad Derdowski, Mania
• Review: "...Tales Designed to Thrizzle, whose first four issues have just been anthologized as a hardcover... bring[s] a slick, hyperreal illustrative consistency that amplifies the already dreamlike mixture of familiarity and strangeness, which permeates [Kupperman's] deadpan surrealist slapstick." – Doug Harvey, LA Weekly
• Interview: The latest in this week's series of Dash Shaw interviews is with Entertainment Weekly. Interviewer Darren Franich calls Bottomless Belly Button "a genuine masterpiece" and says the stories in The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century A.D. are "gut-punchingly wondrous." Teaser quote from Dash: "Unclothed Man, to me, is about figure drawing and figure drawing classes and what it’s like to be a figure drawing model. If you pick up an old How to Draw the Figure Book, it’s always Pin-Up girls. Like, How to Draw This Reclining Hot Chick. The sexual undertones are obviously there in the drawing, but the classroom is such a weird academic repressed environment."
• Review: "The packaging... is brilliant and the actual product is no less magnificent. The quality that Fantagraphics put into [Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box] is top-notch. The card and paper stock could not be more perfect. The high resolution pictures and scans of each of the films are almost like you are holding the original. ... This is a 'must-have' for genre fans, collectors and art lovers alike." – Cinesploitation
• Review: "Huizenga delivers a quiet tour de force [in Ganges #3] that shows confident cartooning that thrills through its ease and craftsmanship,... documenting a normal life with a sharp eye and a penchant for gentle revelation." – John Seven, Worcester Magazine
• Interview:The Daily Cross Hatch's Brian Heater has a wonderful chat with Carol Tyler (part 1 of 4): "Everything is more complicated. Everything is layered. I think as you grow older, you have this experience, but then you also, exponentially, have all of these others, due to the fact that you’ve just lived longer. You’ve met more people, and you’ve been around, and done all of these things. I try to boil it down and try to figure out the best way to do this. A collection of symbols and the right words—I really try to be a wordsmith, but I’m not! Argh! I try to pick the right words and the right way to get an idea across. Sometimes you just have to shoot it out there like bullshit and other times you have to make it more poetic. You have to balance that."
It's not on the official Diamond Comics Distributors shipping list for this week, but many sources (including but not limited to, um, our own publicity department) are reporting that The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century A.D. by Dash Shaw is also arriving in comic shops this week. We usually recommend checking with your local shop to confirm availability, but especially so in this case.
• List:FEARnet names Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 1 one of the Top 9 Comic Books and Graphic Novels of '09: "Shunning the spotlight of fans and the press, the artist has chosen instead to let his books speak for themselves. They continue to speak loudly, and with a weird grace lacking in much of his contemporaries' work."
• List/Review: "Druggy noir vividly told, [The] Red Monkey [Double Happiness Book] is like watching Jim Rockford take a monster bong-hit before getting bashed in the jaw by some muscle of a rich guy in a bar bathroom. 'The Leaking Cello Case' and 'John Wesley Harding' are both contenders for short graphic fiction of the year, with pellucid plotting distorted by strange times and scary surprises. The artwork is like the more story-based finely crafted alternative comics of the 90s, and the sense of distorted place and identity as creative as fiction by Thomas Pynchon. If that seems lofty, start here and wait for Daly to one day unveil his Gravity's Rainbow." – Chris Estey, Three Imaginary Girls "Great Reads of 2009"
• Review: "Thank you, Fantagraphics, for compiling 15 years of the Love and Rockets comic series into 700 pages of punk rock, heartbreak, and self-discovery. Locas: The Maggie and Hopey Stories presents Jaime Hernandez's indie masterpiece in the entirety of its run between 1981 to 1996... a serious contender for the American comic canon." - Aysha Pamukcu, Plasma Pool
• Review: "OK, first, my initial impression of cartoonist Hans Rickheit’s new book The Squirrel Machine was one of amazement (a word I don’t bandy about indulgently) and bafflement. I am clear I am not grasping something — not an unpleasant feeling in this circumstance. ... As usual for Fanatagraphics, this book is well-designed and well-printed. Let me know if you figure out what it’s about, though not knowing made it no less fun for me." – Robert Birnbaum, The Morning News
• Interview: Alice Parker of Comics Alliance gets a whole lot of info out of Dash Shaw: "As for me, I like a lot of different things. I'm not a discriminating reader of comics, which is a problem, I think. I can read just about any comic, but I definitely wouldn't read any all-word book."
• Interview: And in your second Dash Shaw interview of the day, with Tim Needles of Short and Sweet NYC, some advice for aspiring artists: "The other thing is it’s probably going to be touch and go forever and you are going to have to do an absurd amount of work before you get a penny for it and even when you get that penny, it’s probably just going to be a penny. On the other hand it is really awesome to draw all the time and devote your life to it."
• List: At their The SF Site: Nexus Graphica column, Rick Klaw and Mark London Williams name their top 5 comics of the year. For Williams it's West Coast Blues by Tardi & Manchette at #5 ("one of the year's best crime fiction reads, at least in comics"); for Klaw it's Humbug at #4 ("The slipcased set wisely includes several insightful and interesting extras") and Tardi's West Coast Blues and You Are There tied at #3 ("one of the best crime graphic novels ever produced" and "masterfully satirizes French society and politics unlike any comic before or since" respectively)
• List:Comic Book Resources' Brian Cronin lists his Top Ten Comics of 2009, including Michael Kupperman's Tales Designed to Thrizzle #5 in the 10th spot ("continues to be a brilliantly absurd comic book every time out") and Ganges #3 by Kevin Huizenga in 4th place ("The first story is mind-boggling... Absolute top notch sequential work")
• Guide: If you've always wondered what part of R. Crumb's enormous oeuvre was the best place to start, Robot 6's Chris Mautner takes you to "Comics College" with some solid advice
• Review: "Few cartoonists ever had as lavish a tribute as a three-volume-slipcased collection, but few are as deserving as [Gahan] Wilson. Collecting 50 years worth of his monthly single page gag cartoons from Playboy, [Gahan Wilson: Fifty Years of Playboy Cartoons] is a definitive overview of a remarkable talent and viewpoint. ... Beautifully designed and printed, the books contain cut-out pages, and the slipcase itself becomes a window for a trapped photo of Wilson. Text extras include Wilson's prose short stories and an appreciation by Neil Gaiman. If these three volumes are a bit much for one sitting, periodic dipping in will always satisfy." – Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
• Review: "[You Are There] is an absurdist satire,... and a pretty terrific one. ... It's easy to picture it as one of those long-form fourth-season Monty Python episodes... [I]t's seriously a master class on creating a sense not just of place but of a claustrophobic, chaotic, unsustainable state of mind. ... Killer stuff, and more fun than you remember it from French class." – Sean T. Collins
• Review: "This time around, we get Strange Suspense by Steve Ditko, whom you may have heard of. ...[and] man! are these some cool comics. ... Ditko... had no restraints, and the stories show it. This is pretty wild stuff. ... We really get a sense of a master at work in this book, even though it was so early in Ditko's career. ... It's totally worth the price!" – Greg Burgas, Comic Book Resources
• Review: "...Tyler’s sensitive 'voice' remains easily recognizable in her latest book, You’ll Never Know. ... This book is to be savored slowly and on its own terms." – Ng Suat Tong, The Comics Journal
• Review: "...[F]or a cartoonist like Dash Shaw, who revels in drawing’s fluidity and expressive imperfections, the transition between comics and animation is a natural one. His splendid four-part animated web series for IFC.com, The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century A.D., underscores what’s best about all of his work—its eclecticism and intimate drama." – Nicole Rudick, Artforum
• Plug: "The Complete Peanuts 1971-1974... This collection of the 11th and 12th volumes of a planned 25-book set, designed by Canadian cartoonist and designer Seth, shows Schulz's staggering talent in the prime of his career and even introduces Linus and Lucy's little brother, Rerun." – Jonathan Kuehlein, Toronto Star
• Interview:Big Shiny Robot! talks to Dash Shaw: "I’ve never sold a treatment and then executed something with the expectations of the publisher looming over my shoulder. ... These comics were going to exist in some form anyway. It’s all been a combination of drawing a ridiculous amount and total luck."
• List: Matthew Price of The Oklahoman gives Ganges #3 the 9th position on his 10 Best Periodical Comic Books of 2009: "Kevin Huizenga continues to be one of comics' brightest indie creators... Huizenga uses his talents to immerse the reader inside Ganges' head."
• List/reviews/analysis: On the Inkstuds radio program, a roundtable of prominent critics (Sean T. Collins, Tim Hodler, & Chris Mautner) join host Robin McConnell for a discussion of 2009's standout books, including our two "You" books, You Are There by Tardi & Forest and You'll Never Know, Book 1 by C. Tyler
• Review: "What's better than a new story by Jason? Why, several in one volume, of course! ...[T]he more of Jason's weird energy and quirky, poignant storytelling that I can consume at one time, the better. ... It's kind of a mystery how well he's able to do it, crafting easy-to-follow stories in such a minimalist style, but luckily, they're incredibly enjoyable, so one can easily get lost in them, forgetting questions of craft and technique because those aspects become all but invisible. ... [Low Moon] is another great example of the strange alchemy that Jason has mastered, drawing readers in to compelling tales of people caught up in oddly familiar situations, even when they're dealing with something that's off-kilter from reality as we know it. That's the Jason touch, and long may it continue to grace our pages." – Matthew J. Brady
• Plug: In Richard Metzger's profile of Steve Ditko for Dangerous Minds, he says "I may be a little late to the game on this one, but I recently got a copy of Blake Bell’s Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, a coffeetable book published by Fantagraphics last year and it is a wonderful and fascinating look at Ditko’s life and work. Kudos to Bell for putting together such a volume which was clearly a labor of love and unique erudition."