• List: Graphic Novel Reporter begins their Best of 2009 survey of educators and comics pros; so far A Mess of Everything by Miss Lasko-Gross ("Lasko-Gross’ words and pictures felt incredibly authentic") and Luba by Gilbert Hernandez have been named
• Review: "Rolling in like a slow, fuzzed-out guitar line from an Orange-brand amp, The Red Monkey Double Happiness Booklives up to the good vibes promised in its title. ... Having recently finished Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice and Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City, I couldn't help but consider The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book as a distant third-cousin to those titles. ...The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book is a weekend read, best consumed with your feet propped up, opposable digits or not." – Alex Carr, Omnivoracious (Amazon.com)
• Review: "Paul Hornschemeier excels at a sort of cryptic-cute comic that is better read than described. It's a blend of darkness and sharply delineated perfectionism that, whether he likes it or not, sometimes brings to mind his Chicago contemporary Chris Ware What he knows, though, is that he can go places Ware can't — Hornschemeier's style is every style. ... His diversity of styles is most apparent in All and Sundry: Uncollected Work 2004-2009... It's just a stew of stuff that, like the best sketchbooks, offers an intimate invitation to spy on the ramblings of a formidable creative." – Byron Kerman, PLAYBACK:stl
• Review: "For being a company that puts out the reprints of one of the safest comics of all time, Peanuts, Fantagraphics sure lives on the edge of the comics medium, particularly in the realm of anthologies. Blab! is just such an anthology, featuring a variety of visual quirks that hover closer to straight up art pieces than comics work, but still do not seem out of place with the more narrative pieces that slide between the pictorial pages. ...[T]here's probably someone for everyone in Blab!, if you take the time to look." – Panel Patter
• Review: "Richard Sala’s reinvention of Snow White is a sparkling macabre gem. The 2-color art glows in handsome sepia that is pitch perfect for this delightfully demented tale of a strange land. Sala populates Delphine with cast of horror carnival rejects that is diverse enough to both excite and confound the imagination. This issue [#3]’s creepy locales: dark tunnels, a creepy house, and a gloomy castle are the true stars of this chapter. They make this scary tale an absolute winner. ...[Grade] A" – Leroy Douresseaux, Comic Book Bin
• Reviewer: A new book review from Laura Warholic author Alexander Theroux for The Wall Street Journal, this time of an interesting-sounding collection of "literary invective" called Poison Pens
• Plug: "I grew up in the video age and I’m still in awe of the technology that first allowed me to watch thousands of movies in the privacy of my own home. Call me sentimental and nostalgic, but when I first got wind of Jacques Boyreau’s upcoming book Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box it made me giddy with excitement." – Kimberly Lindbergs, Cinebeats
• Review: "Monte Schulz has proven that his father isn’t the only Schulz with considerable storytelling talent. This Side of Jordan is a strong vision of the American Heartland at a time when America was a little less jaded, yet many in the country had already developed a malaise of directionlessness. Schulz manages to capture a moment in history, a piece of humanity in transition. It’s bleak, but funny, and smartly written. It may not have any pictures, but readers of good fiction should appreciate what Schulz has accomplished." – Michael C. Lorah, Newsarama
• Review: "Hans Rickheit’s The Squirrel Machine, published by Fantagraphics Books, is a beautiful 179 page hard cover graphic novel. ... Much is left to mystery in this book. We can let Rickheit’s exquisite drawings, with their ornate detail and patterning, speak for themselves. ... This is for mature readers as well as discriminating ones. And it’s also for those who love a good coming-of-age story. ... Very romantic and strange at the same time, like any good coming-of-age tale. Primarily, this is adult, dark and disturbing work provided to you in healthy doses." – Henry Chamberlain, Newsarama
• Review: "Johnny Ryan draws the bad pictures. Unapologetically and lots of ‘em and I hope to god he never stops. He has consistently put out pure and uncensored strips, cartoons, and books that defy every politically correct bone in your body. Drawings that cock-slap America. His new book is out. It’s called Prison Pit and it kinda’ sorta’ kicks serious ass. ... The story definitely puts the GORE in phantasmagorical as characters twist and mutated into strange new forms while pounding the stuffing out of each other. ... Put plain, in Prison Pit, Ryan creates art out of the steaming piles of human waste that litter our cultural landscape. The bodies and excrement are grist for his mill. He erects mountains of shit and semen, carving the faces of sacred cows in them, and then sets them afire so even if you can’t see the work… you can smell it from miles away." – Jared Gniewek, Graphic NYC
• Review: "[Pim & Francie] isn't a collection of [Al Columbia's] work up till now..., but more a collection of what 'might have been' — it's uncompleted stories and art featuring Columbia's two naif-child characters, forever hurtling into one dangerous situation after another but never reaching any conclusion. It's probably worth noting that a good deal of the pages are torn or pasted back together, the victims, no doubt, of Columbia's perfectionism. It's the sort of thing that will frustrate some, but it does offer an elliptical, sideways path into Columbia's world, which perhaps makes the journey all that more frightening." – Chris Mautner, "Pick of the Week," Robot 6
• Interview: Tim O'Shea talks to Monte Schulz about the latter's novel This Side of Jordan: "Taken all together, no single element was the most critical because I believe everything had to work together, all forms of language, for instance: poetic, lyrical, narrative, dialogue. The way the characters speak in This Side of Jordan was especially important, given that I mix ordinary dialogue with lyrical exposition and both rural and Jazz Age slang."
• History: At Bleeding Cool, Rich Johnston offers up the groundbreaking "Gays in Comics" article by Andy Mangels from Amazing Heroes #143 (June 15, 1988) as a 2-part PDF download, with commentary
• Film: Lilli Carré's animated short Head Garden plays at the San Francisco International Animation Festival this weekend; more info at Lilli's blog
• Theory in action: At Blog Flume, Ken Parille applies an Ivan Brunetti cartooning principle to a 1970s issue of The Avengers
A 16-minute video documentary of Hans Rickheit from 2005 has just recently been posted on Facebook. At his blog, Hans provides background information, apologia, and a photo of a real-life squirrel machine (warning to the squeamish: complete with carcass) given to him by a friend at his Squirrel Machine signing in Cambridge, MA.
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."
• List: At Robot 6, Sean T. Collins's top 6 "deeply creepy 'alt-horror' cartoonists" includes Renee French ("her frequently deformed (more like unformed) characters and hazy, dreamlike, soft-focus pencils recall [David] Lynch's unnerving debut Eraserhead with its dust-mote cinematography and mewling infant thing"), Hans Rickheit ("It just so happens that his 'normal' is grotesque and harrowing to the rest of us"), Al Columbia ("It's as though a team of expert [animation] craftsmen became trapped in their office sometime during the Depression and were forgotten about for decades, reduced to inbreeding, feeding on their own dead, and making human sacrifices to the mimeograph machine, and when the authorities finally stumbled across their charnel-house lair, this stuff is what they were working on in the darkness") and Josh Simmons ("one of a very few comics creators still capable of shocking... doing serious, dangerous work")
• Review: "West Coast Blues is a brilliant story, and Manchette was a phenomenal writer of the modern world, putting others to shame at times. Just that simple, really. This is a book that can’t be reduced to familiar genre markers." – Brian Lindenmuth, BSCreview
• Review: "Bruce Paley tells his tale with no frills and no holds barred. ... The book is at times quite funny and other times terribly depressing, but it is never dull and I found it hard to put down. Carol Swain’s artwork fits the mood of the book well. It’s fairly simple but it hits all the right notes and evokes the right emotions. I was completely unfamiliar with her work prior to this book, but I’ll keep an eye out for her in the future. ... I found this book to be incredibly compelling in its own laid back sort of way. ... There’s no shortage of books out there about the 1960’s and ‘70s, but this one felt a lot more personal than most. Paley’s words mingled with Swain’s artwork so perfectly that you almost felt like the guy was sitting across the table from you, sharing a beer or two and swapping stories. If you’re interested in that era or you just like a good autobiography, I’d give Giraffes in my Hair: A Rock 'n' Roll Life a shot." – Chad Derdowski, Mania.com
Blurbs, "Babe" and big bucks in this episode of Online Commentary & Diversions:
• Review: "The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book features two full-length stories, 'The Leaking Cello Case' and 'John Wesley Harding.' Both stories start off in the every day then morph into oddball mysteries that never go quite where you expect them to. As odd as some of the capers and misadventures get they are always conveyed with a kind of casual, deadpan poker face that manages to make them all the more believable. ... The art is a curious mix of cartoonish realism, and the city of Cape Town is vividly portrayed... Red Monkey Double Happiness Book is a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read for the mystery/crime comic fan looking for something a bit different than the harder noir stuff that seems to dominate these days." – Brian Lindenmuth, BSCreview
• Review: "...[T]he appearance this week in bookstores of Hans Rickheit’s comix masterpiece, The Squirrel Machine, is a genuine milestone in the... artistic business of reconciling one’s inside to one’s outside, so much so that I must confess that I am truly taken aback by Rickheit’s entire effort, in the best sense of the word. This carefully constructed tale... strikes me as being one of the few original works of art that I’ve seen published in North America over the last two decades, on a par with the better work of Dan Clowes or Charles Burns. ... This is not a tale for the squeamish nor is it a tale for the literal-minded; it is very much a bravura performance in the tradition of Surrealism, or Fantastic Art, or even Symbolism... In short, strongly recommended!" – Mahendra Singh
• Feature: Matthew J. Brady presents "12 Things I Learned from Supermen!" including "In these stories, disbelief must often not only be suspended, but strung up and mercilessly whipped, then drawn and quartered"
• $$$: Via The Beat, somebody sold a mint slabbed copy of Albedo #2 (1st appearance of Usagi Yojimbo) on eBay for $5100, making it possibly the most expensive Fantagraphics comic ever sold (corrections welcome); Stan Sakai comments on his LiveJournal
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)
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."