• Review: "Strange Suspense offers page after lurid four-color page of Ditko’s weird monsters, rubber-faced crooks, and abstracted landscapes... The book is a white-knuckle trip through Ditko’s fevered imagination. [Grade] A-" – The A.V. Club (same link as above)
• Review: "[Al] Columbia’s book Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days strings together 200-odd (very odd) pages of sketches, strips, panels, and spot illustrations, assembled into one long nightmare-narrative about two loose-limbed tots wandering through a village of lusty killers and bleeding trees. There are no explanations here, and few conventional payoffs — just images designed to remind readers what it was like to be a panicked, paranoid child, convinced that every nighttime shadow contained a beast more menacing and repulsive than any grown-up could conceive. [Grade] B+" – The A.V. Club (same link as above)
• Review: "Like A Dog — a collection of [Zak] Sally’s self-published Recidivist comics, plus odds and ends — drips warped fantasy, bleak humor, and experimentation. Dynamically, the book also veers from being text-heavy to eerily wordless, even as it maintains the integrity of Sally’s stunning, stark-yet-lush linework. ...Like A Dog is a compelling slab of graphic narrative. As a warts-and-then-some chronicle of one man’s navigation through the world of underground comics (not to mention his own self-sabotaging psyche), it’s downright mesmerizing. [Grade] A-" – The A.V. Club (same link as above)
• Review: "Packaged in an ingenious VHS-like format, [Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box] comes complete with lofty intro... But the fun is paging through these lurid examples of videos you kind of forget you remember, like Streets of Fire or The Legend of Hell House." – Kristi Turnquist, The Oregonian
• Review: "[Gahan Wilson: Fifty Years of Playboy Cartoons is] a monster production, a slipcased behemoth, nearly 1000 pages in three volumes, with deliciously wicked humor on every page. ... Open the box, free the three volumes, and dive in anywhere. You will not be disappointed." – John Mesjak, my3books
Is this it for Online Commentary & Diversions today? I guess so:
• Review: "Jacques Boyreau’s book [Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box] pays tribute to... imperfection. Not only is its cover — well, the cover of the book’s slipcase, at least, designed to look like a videocassette — but the photos inside showcase boxes in far from mint condition... All of this helped take me back to my VHS days, but it’s mostly the garish art that did it — lurid snatches of visual salesmanship, many of which have been burned in the back of my mind for 25 years. ... If you own only one art book featuring a back-cover illustration of Don 'The Dragon' Wilson, make it this one. And be sure to rewind, or I’ll have to charge a dollar to your account." – Rod Lott, Bookgasm
• List: Looking at where we stand on Sandy Bilus's Best Comics of 2009 Meta-List (compiling all the year-end best-of lists) at I Love Rob Liefeld, we've got 2 in the top 20, 6 in the top 50, and 12 in the top 100 — not too shabby
• List: On Random House's Suvudu blog, Dallas Middaugh selects 2008's Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw as #3 on the Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2009: "This book came from out of nowhere to great critical acclaim, and it pushed young Mr. Shaw in the spotlight as one of the most exciting new cartoonists in the field. ... This haunting story of a dysfunctional family twists and turns and stuck with me long after I read it."
• List: At Comic Book Galaxy, Marc Sobel counts down "The 15 Best Back Issues I Read Last Year," including Birdland by Gilbert Hernandez ("vastly underappreciated") and the entire run of Hate by Peter Bagge ("This series gets better with age")
• Review: "Dreams are probably the second most popular subject for autobiographical comics, however distantly they lag behind the events of waking life. But no one, to my knowledge, has attempted to create comics arising from the hypnagogic netherworld that lies between the sleeping and the wakeful states. Until now. Or maybe not. It’s hard to say precisely, which is what gives Kevin Huizenga’s Ganges #3 so much of its unique charm." – Rich Kreiner, The Comics Journal
• Review: "What the hell is going on here? What is this book, anyway? ...[Pim and Francie] is like the inexplicable artifact of a deranged mind... Columbia has a flair for the grotesque, which, when mixed with such cute cartooniness reminiscent of old-school Disney, makes for an especially creepy juxtaposition. ... It's a cascade of horror, page after page of mostly-unfinished nastiness, enough to stick in the mind and cause nightmares for weeks." – Matthew J. Brady
• Review: "At long last, a handsome, two-volume, slipcased set [of Humbug] brings back into print a pivotal, neglected portion of the oeuvre of Harvey Kurtzman and that of a cadre of gifted pranksters bent on smart satire." – Rich Kreiner, The Comics Journal
• Review: "With a new exhibition currently on view at Tony Shafrazi Gallery in Chelsea and his remarkable inclusion in the 2010 Whitney Biennial, Robert Williams seems more than ever the most likely candidate to represent the ways that late decadent American culture will be remembered by history. ... This is a late career artist at the top of his game, a shamefully overdue entry into still meaningful discourse of what art can be when it refuses to play by the rules, a monster of the imagination whose time has finally come." – Carlo McCormick, artnet
• Review: "Portable Grindhouse celebrates the sleazy kick of killing time in a slightly crappy video rental store, minus the inevitable arguments about what to rent or the possibility of your VCR eating the tape." – Dave Howlett, Living Between Wednesdays
• Plug:Robot 6's Chris Mautner is reading his stack of Comics Journal back issues "starting with #291, which features interviews with Tim Sale and Josh Simmons, as well as a great critical thinkpiece by Gary Groth on Ralph Steadman and Hunter S. Thompson. That alone was worth the cover price."
• Plugs: Some fun and appreciated name-drops from Tom Neely and Charles Bernstein in the 5th part of The Beat's year-end survey of comics pros
• Plug/Coming Attractions:Comic Book Resources' Greg Burgas comments on the January issue of Previews (our listings from which can be seen here): "Jacques Tardi's It Was the War of the Trenches, from Fantagraphics on page 256, sounds keen. It's a World War I book, so I'm sure it will be utterly depressing, but it still sounds worthwhile!"
• Interview: The final part of Brian Heater's interview with C. Tyler at The Daily Cross Hatch: "To me, it’s underground, and there’s other people who think, 'no way, it’s Mad Magazine.' Everyone has their place where it starts. There’s people now who say, 'Kramer’s Ergot is when it started for me.' Everyone has their place when they jumped off the diving board, into the pool of comics. The fact is, it’s continual."
• Profile: Gurldoggie takes a quick look at Joe Sacco in advance of his appearance in Seattle this week
• Events: The Covered blog celebrates its 1st anniversary and announces an art show at Secret Headquarters in L.A. in March
• List: On the Forbidden Planet International Blog Log, guest critic Chris Marshall's top 10 graphic novels of 2009 places Blazing Combat in a tie for 4th place: "There was a time when War Comics told War Fact. They showed us the blood, death, camaraderie and horror. [This] series did just that and didn’t hold back."
• Review: "Fantagraphics has truly pulled out all the stops on the production of [Gahan Wilson: Fifty Years of Playboy Cartoons], giving it such marvelous style and pizzazz. ... But it’s the content, of course, that is truly king. If the 20th century was indeed the American century, then Wilson is a cartoonist who had a hell of a time chronicling it, mocking it, signifying it, and holding it up to the light—albeit through his own twisted lens... The work is tremendous and witty and, as always with an excellent retrospective, it offers the reader an excellent chance to walk back in time through decades of experiences, memories, turbulences and triumphs, and just plain old human oddities. What’s truly amazing is how, for more than 50 years, Wilson rarely misses a witty beat." – John Hogan, Graphic Novel Reporter
• Plug: At Comic Book Galaxy, Johnny Bacardi, a Jaime Hernandez partisan when it comes to Love and Rockets, says "But this upcoming Troublemakers looks kinda interesting... despite my preference for Jaime, I think I'll pick this up when I see it..."
• 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."
• List: On her Pop Candy blog, USA Today's Whitney Matheson gives The Brinkley Girls the #10 spot on her Top 10 comics/graphic novels of 2009, saying "this beautiful book introduced me to a new heroine: Nell Brinkley, an early 20th century newspaper cartoonist. Her drawings of flappers and glamour gals are sexy, strong and ahead of their time. I can't believe I hadn't seen her work before, but I'm so thrilled to know it now." Matheson also lavishes praise on Lilli Carré, who "continued making must-see work" and lands at #69 on Matheson's Top 100 People list, and whose book from Little Otsu lands at the #2 spot on the comics Top 10.
• Review: "The Wolverton Bible... is -- no pun intended -- a revelation. Though his serious work is a bit stiffer and more restrained than the Wolverton art you might be used to, it's more powerful. ... What sets [the drawings in] The Wolveton Bible apart from Crumb's Genesis... is that they come from a true believer. ...Wolverton's drawings have an intensity and sincerity that reveal something connecting him to those stories in a way Crumb just can't duplicate." – Will Pfeifer, "Books of the Year"
• Review: "...[Supermen! is] magical, memorable [and] just plain wonky... The stories range from action-packed to barely-sensible, but they all have a crazed energy you just can't fake. ... They read like the sort of stories imaginative kids would think up -- which might be why they appealed so much to kids in the first place." – Will Pfeifer, "Books of the Year"
• Review:The Hooded Utilitarian's critical roundtable on Ghost World continues with Richard Cook: "The most appealing aspect of Ghost World was the main characters, Enid and Rebecca. And much of their appeal is due to how effectively Daniel Clowes panders to a specific demographic that I belong to: geeks."
• Plug:The Beat's Heidi MacDonald, picking up on Tony Millionaire's Billy Hazelnuts and the Crazy Birdsneak peek, comments "In all the talk about comics for kids recently, we’re probably very bad for not mentioning Millionaire’s non-child-averse work more prominently. His work is not for the faint-hearted, but children generally prefer tales that are not faint-hearted." Right on.
• Plug: "Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box... is a fetishized art object/coffee table-style compendium of great VHS jackets, ranging from the campy to the sleazy to the so-bad-it's-good. Highly recommended as a gift idea for the B-movie lover on your holiday shopping list." – Audrey Hendrickson, The SunBreak
• Interview:Walrus Comix, who say "Not only is [The Pain — When Will It End?] the funniest comic strip ever, but, well, that’s it: it’s the funniest comic strip ever," talk to the strip's creator, Tim Kreider, who says, among many things, "I don’t know why you’d want to be a cartoonist if you didn’t enjoy drawing funny, cool things. If I had to draw an entire graphic novel of people sitting around talking I think I’d hang myself." (Via Journalista)
• Things to buy: Folks in Portland this weekend can purchase handmade arts-n-crafts from Andrice Arp and a bunch of other Portland artists at the Creative Creatures Bazaar at Cosmic Monkey Comics, reports Andrice on her blog
• List:Details magazine names Ghost World #10 on The 25 Greatest Gen X Books of All Time: "This caustically funny duo-tone tale follows the iconic cat-eyed adolescent Enid Coleslaw in her quest to find meaning, or at least cruel humor, in an age where everything's disposable."
• Review: "Strange Suspense collects dozens of Ditko stories from the 1950’s... Almost a decade before Ditko moved to Marvel, these stories bear his unmistakable style. His fine line work and flair for the abstract that would serve him so well on Doctor Strange particularly, is on full display. ... If you only know Ditko for his work at Marvel or later at DC, here is the chance to explore Early Ditko, unconstrained by editors or the Comics Code. While all of this work is marvelous, clearly Ditko is best at home in horror where he could let his imagination run wild, creating monsters and demons and the things that go bump in the night. Rediscover Ditko today!" – Tim Janson, Newsarama
• Review: "Brian Kane, author of the [Definitive Prince Valiant] Companion and surely the world’s foremost authority on the strip and its creator, Hal Foster, has once again done a herculean amount of work, and Fantagraphics has once again clothed that work in a sturdy, pretty volume. Prince Valiant hasn’t been treated this well since the ersatz King of England sang his praises. Those unfamiliar with the character – a young man who finds adventure, fame, and even love at the court of the legendary King Arthur – will find here all the background information they could ever want... But even long-time Prince Valiant fans will find plenty to fascinate them in this volume." – Khalid Ponte, Open Letters
• Review: "Delphine is a morbid interpretation of the symbology of fairy tales resounding with echoes of unrequited love and abandonment. This is perhaps Sala’s darkest and most intricate story ever – impressive in its nuance and ever shifting emotions. One can only hope that it is not ignored." – Ng Suat Tong, The Comics Journal
• Interview: From TCJ.com: "Every weekday from now until December 25, we’ll be posting a conversation between cartoonists from The Comics Journal #300, complete and online! In today’s installment, it’s a chat between L’Association publisher Jean-Christophe Menu and Kramers Ergot publisher Sammy Harkham."
• List:Politics and Prose, perhaps the most graphic novel-friendly bookstore in Washington DC, lists their Favorite Graphic Literature of the Year:
"Every few years a graphic novel comes around that is so good you have to stop reading for a while, because if you read anything else you'd only be disappointed. ... The Squirrel Machine... is a masterpiece of comic fantasy. When I finished this book, I immediately returned to the introduction and read the whole book again, and again. Read this book to see what heights serial art can achieve in narrative and in the creation of worlds that exist in one character's mind. Read it if you think you can handle it, for it abandons the typical narrative structure and accomplishes its ends as only serial art of the highest quality can. This is a fine, gut-wrenching book, written and drawn by a true master." – Thad Ellerbe
"West Coast Blues is an unflinching story, perfect for any fan of the thriller." – Adam Waterreus
"C. Tyler's You'll Never Know, Book One: A Good and Decent Man... is also an impressive and beautiful history of the era; Tyler creates a panorama of images that sweep across the page as she documents her father's childhood, her parent's engagement, and her own young life. Her pen, ink, and color transform her creative panels (at times evoking a scrapbook) into vibrant memories intertwined by her restless imagination." – Adam Waterreus
"[With Abstract Comics] it becomes a treat to take a page of art — or a simple panel — and consider how the shapes, texture, depth, and color interact with one another; to reflect on how, when one takes the time, the enjoyment one ordinarily finds in reading a purely textually-oriented, narrative-driven written story can — with the graphic form — be translated into something completely different." – Adam Waterreus
"From Wonderland with Love: Danish Comics in the Third Millennium... is fantastic! This amazing collection just blew me away. There was not one moment when reading this book — in one sitting, slouched and unblinking on my couch, coffee going cold — that I did not completely love. ... Mythic and dreamlike, meditative and fantastical, this is a superb and surprising collection." – Adam Waterreus
• Review: "...[F]rom the moment he showed up [Michael] Kupperman was a master of stomping around the living room of modern reality and shoving pieces of conceptual furniture next to one another to awesome, knees-out-from-under effect. Kupperman's work has always had that charge that the really good stuff has... Kupperman doesn't get enough credit for building a comic book vehicle in Tales Designed To Thrizzle that serves to facilitate those skills. ...I'm not certain anything under heaven or earth could make something greater than Kupperman's peerless ability to craft funny moments." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
• Review: "Unclothed Man delivers just the right amounts of story, whimsy, art, and heft for four two-minute entries. It offers actual nutritive cultural substance, as opposed to so much web filler one often gets. And you’ll want to go back and watch them a few more times. There’s a lot of variety behind the series’ simple elegance." – Michael Shaw (no relation), Tubefilter
• Plug: "Compiled by Portland, Oregon-based trash cinema expert Jacques Boyreau, Portable Grindhouse honors the pulp video era that inspired Quentin Tarantino." – Hugh Hart, Wired
Participants include artist Lisa Petrucci of Something Weird, the world's premier purveyor of psychotronic film (and the subject of a new art book KICKASS KUTIES from Dark Horse); cartoonist Marc Palm of the exalted Scarecrow Video; Seattle Times pop culture correspondent Mark Rahner and Robert Horton, movie critic at KUOW-FM and film curator for the Frye Art Museum, who together write the acclaimed horror comic ROTTEN. The panel will be moderated by PORTABLE GRINDHOUSE editor Jacques Boyreau. The panel will be followed by a reception and book signing.
Don't you dare miss either of these events or you'll regret it to the day you die and we'll be forced to taunt you with the infantile chant "Neener, neener, neener - we told you so." Sure, it's unbecoming, but sometimes we can't help ourselves.
[Ed. note: Click on the mural image above to download a high-res version you can use as a desktop background or what-have-you!]
(Also out this week and highly coveted by me: Dark Horse's collection of Carol Swain short stories Crossing the Empty Quarter — if you haven't picked up Giraffes in My Hair yet, why not make it a Swain two-fer?)