Online Commentary & Diversions, back after a short respite:
• Review: "Almost to a story, the bits and pieces of Mome [Vol. 18] just suck the careful reader in. Indeed, almost every contribution practically begs for critical examination, not to mention a different frame of mind. ... Some of the individual stories are just stunning. ... This is great art, good comics, and, in my opinion, odd when taken as a collection." – Jeremy Nisen, Under the Radar
• Review: "Right up front let’s admit this: Wally Gropius is a terrifying comic book and everyone reading this should buy it immediately. Tim Henlsey has crammed more horror into these 64 pages than any comic in recent memory. ... It is also a terrifying book to talk about, because its level of craft is so high, its surface so impenetrable, that it’s like trying to write about Kubrick or something: You know it’s all in there, but it’s hard to find a foothold. ... Hensley’s drawings... and are so fluid and articulate that it’s hard to believe he could or does draw or even hand write any other way. ... In his hands [the book's aesthetic] is a complete language. It’s a bracing, enervating way of making comics because there’s so much dissonance between what I want to read the lines as and what the drawings those lines form actually mean." – Dan Nadel, Comics Comics
• Review: "[Jim Woodring] has been called one of the great cartoonists of his generation and at this point, there’s little doubt of his visual storytelling prowess. But it’s the intense, visionary images and worlds that spring from his mind and on to his pages that truly separates him from his peers. ... Weathercraft, like all his Unifactor stories, is absolutely wordless. It’s a quiet, cosmic adventure that relies on Woodring’s extraordinary control of visual language and blends his understanding of Vedantic beliefs with stylized, Max Fleischer nightmares to explore ideas about the evolution of consciousness." – Paul Rios
• Review: "Read [Weathercraft] a third time, thinking about Woodring’s video commentary, and recognize how cohesive it is. There’s a real clarity to the plot and to Woodring’s character designs and panel compositions. You will think that, in some way, the key to much of this is the artist's omnipresent wavy line, but will be unsure." – Ken Parille, Blog Flume
• Review: "Kupperman’s all over the map, and manages to amuse with all the non sequiturs more often as not... If you have a soft spot for this sort of shenanigans, kinda like much of Adult Swim but smarter than the run of that mill, you could do worse than to pick [Tales Designed to Thrizzle #6] up..." – Johnny Bacardi, Popdose
• Review: "...Sand & Fury: A Scream Queen Adventure... is a romp concocted of homage to the weird horrors of filmmakers David Lynch and Dario Argento, with a shout out even to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion. But it also features the signature Anderson political subtlety. ... A graphic text is, by nature, more explicit — graphic — than it can be subtle. So, Anderson’s love scenes verge on kink, while the death scenes owe much to the gore of recent vampire flicks and George Romero’s Zombie franchise. ... Sand & Fury is not classic literature, but it is fine pop art. Check it out." – George Elliott Clarke, The Chronicle Herald
• Review: "The story booms with Deitch's explosive composition techniques and the narrative recoil — somehow even the genetically modified beavers here make perfect sense — is no less compelling. The Search For Smilin’ Ed! offers perhaps not as discrete a narrative as those found in Alias the Cat (2002) and The Boulevard of Broken Dreams (2007), but the joy of Deitch is that his work is almost impossible to tug apart. And who doesn't want their demons, time travelers, midgets and voyeuristic aliens in one oily melee?" – John Reed, Los Angeles Times
• Review: "Did you know the Earth is honeycombed with tunnels containing archives of the entire history of popular culture, as recorded on alien-designed microchips by a council of pygmies? Leave it to underground-comics legend Kim Deitch to make that concept simultaneously deeply attractive and deeply creepy in The Search For Smilin’ Ed... The story gets more twisted with every page, though it always makes sense in a Deitch-ian way. Deitch has trod this ground many times before... but he retains an astonishing ability to tap into the deepest desires of pop-culture junkies, and to show how the satisfaction we seek from nostalgia can lead us to some dark corners of our collective showbiz past. [Grade] B+" – The A.V. Club
• Review: "The second in the proposed Billy Hazelnuts trilogy by Tony Millionaire finds the Popeye-strong, sentient cake fed up with the 'filthy world of beasts,' made up as they are from 'disgusting blobs of meat.' The first Billy was about his origins; Billy Hazelnuts and the Crazy Bird is about the responsibilities of parenthood, and how they don’t necessarily sync up with maturity." – The A.V. Club
• Review: "Everybody dies in [It Was the War of the Trenches]. It's sad, gory, brutal, depressing, visceral, and overwhelming. It brings those poor soldiers back to life and, instead of celebrating any victories or glorifying any heroic acts, just shoots them in the gut all over again and leaves them to die in the mud and filth of no man's land. It's an impressive work of art that floods the reader with a feeling of hopelessness. How Tardi managed this feat without having participated in the first world war is really quite amazing. It is worth reading." – Sandy Bilus, I Love Rob Liefeld
• Interview: Robin McConnell, host of the Inkstuds radio program, calls up Dash Shaw to catch up on his latest projects
• Review: "Whether you love the swords and sorcery genre, high adventure, romance, or any or all of the above, Hal Foster’s early work on Prince Valiant is well worth reading. ... Fantagraphics has done a remarkable job remastering these strips, which, thanks to the use of original proof sheets and advances in printing technology, are even brighter and crisper than when they were first published 70 years ago. This second volume from Fantagaphics is due to ship in June 2010." – James Henry, Mid-Ohio-Con
• Review: "In form, content and effect, [Muzzlers, Guzzlers and Good Yeggs] is a hell of a book. Coleman's intricate line drawings capture phantasmagorical scenes of horror and pathos, mixing nightmares with satire and surreal portraiture. There a strange and powerful sense of vitality at play, and a feeling of obsession mixed with a furious sort of joy." – Oliver Ho, PopMatters
• Plug:New York magazine places Wally Gropius by Tim Hensley well on the "brilliant" side of their Approval Matrix, says reading it "is like taking acid during a time-machine trip to the sixties."
• Interview:The Daily Cross Hatch's Brian Heater continues his conversation with Gene Deitch: "When it rained, we had to shove the drawings under our coats and run from one room to another. But it was exciting. We really felt we were pioneers, no question about it. These people were very intelligent and were very cultured in art."
• Plugs:Library Journal's "Graphic Novels Prepub Alert" for September 2010 releases features A Drunken Dream and Other Stories by Moto Hagio ("When Fantagraphics jumps into magna, they splash big: with the 'founding mother' of modern shojo manga and a pioneer of the BL (boys love) genre. These four decades of short stories feature gorgeous art—some in color — and intellectually subtle plotting"); Pogo: The Complete Daily & Sunday Comic Strips. Vol. 1: Through the Wild Blue Wonder by Walt Kelly ("As THE pioneering humor-satire strip inspiring countless other cartoonists, Kelly and Pogo should need no introduction"); and The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. Vol. 1 by Jacques Tardi ("A pterodactyl loose in Paris! A fetching young reporter off to tackle mummies! And that’s just the first of ten volumes. ... Wonderful for Indiana Jones fans hankering for even more over-the-top plots.")
Online Commentary & Diversions (through yesterday; we're a bit behind):
• Review: "...[E]ven [Basil Wolverton]'s throwaway work — in this case, half-page gag strips (emphasis on the 'gag') that appeared in Fawcett's Captain Marvel titles during and after World War II — is fully worthy of rediscovery. Like a Bizarro Dr. Seuss, Wolverton packs each Culture Corner with goofy, rhyming advice... While silly and inconsequential, these strips revel in the subversive, surrealist glee that would develop more fully in Wolverton's later output for Mad and others, a style that would help unlock the inner cretin inside everyone from Robert Crumb to Peter Bagge. ...Fantagraphics has to be applauded for tenaciously keeping Wolverton and his eye-gouging, subliminally influential work from slipping through the cracks of comics history. [Grade] B+" — The A.V. Club
• Review: "...Tardi’s [It Was the] War of the Trenches is the most powerful comic I’ve read on World War One since Charley’s War... The black and white art is perfectly suited to the era being covered... while Tardi, not for the first time, proves himself a master of expression, the looks on the faces of the men caught up in the war speaking absolute volumes... It’s a hugely powerful work, both moving and horrific and filled with anger for the suffering and injustices one group of ‘civilised’ humans can visit upon another... [A]s the last voices of those who were actually there are fading into silence works like this are needed to remind us of the monstrous acts we can be capable of in service to the beasts of jingoism and nationalism and hubris, that we should read them and take cautionary lessons from them. Never forget." – Joe Gordon, The Forbidden Planet International Blog Log
• Interview:Avoid the Future has an illuminating talk with Joe Daly: "The environment is surreal, in that it combines the fantastical with the urbane. I try to meld these two sides together into a continuum that supports both the phantasmagoric and the banal, in a naturalistic kind of way. On a conceptual level, I’m also interested in combining extreme stupidity with a bit of cleverness (which the title ‘Dungeon Quest’ is supposed to invoke)." There's also a glimpse of Dungeon Quest Book 2!
• Interview:The Comics Reporter's Tom Spurgeon grills Ben Schwartz, editor of The Best American Comics Criticism, saying "It's the kind of volume that starts fights... but that's okay and it's part of the fun. There's a lot of good work in the book and one or two absolutely inspired choices. Anyone with an interest in comics should at least give it a flip-through, and anyone with an interest in writing about the medium should use it as a springboard to discover a host of excellent new favorites." Schwartz on pitching the book: "Gary was the most skeptical. Early on he asked me if I seriously thought I could fill a whole book with good writing on comics. He sent me his essay 'The Death of Criticism.' Nice to know that's on your publisher's mind!"
• Interview: Canada's National Post has a Q&A with TCAF special guest Jim Woodring: "My name is Jim Woodring and I’m a cartoonist. I’m going to TCAF by invitation, with an assist from Fantagraphics Books, my publisher. I have a new book out called Weathercraft and I’m going to answer questions about it.
• Plugs: At The Cool Kids Table, Rickey Purdin runs down some recent acquisitions, including a couple volumes of Mome ("constantly entertaining") and the Weathercraft and Other Unusual Tales free comic ("...this free sample is PROBABLY about to set me on a path of Woodring fanaticism. Well played, Fantagraphics.")
• Plug: "Michael Kupperman's Tales Designed to Thrizzle is that rarest of comic books: It's actually, genuinely a comic experience, with several guaranteed laugh-out-loud moments per issue." – Paul Constant, The Stranger
• Review: "This extraordinary collection of World War I tales offers perhaps the finest work from the lauded Tardi. Each story, based on actual accounts from French soldiers, relates the often-horrific realities of trench-warfare. Disturbing yet compelling images abound: a dead, mangled horse hanging from a tree serves as a warning; rats feasting on corpses; amputations; executions; countless dead. Far more memorable are the impassioned stories themselves. Betrayal, deceit, mistrust, murder, hope, and even humor run throughout these tales. Painstakingly researched, the amazing Tardi perfectly captures the everyday despair of the World War I trench soldier. Visceral, powerful, and effective, the flawless It Was The War of the Trenches blazes a new standard for the war comic." – Rick Klaw, The SF Site: Nexus Graphica
• Review: "One of the nice things about the rise of highbrow comics is the how many genuinely lurid entertainments a gentleman can get away with adding to his library. For starters, we’d suggest Tim Lane’s Abandoned Cars. It’s the modern equivalent of the Raymond Chandler yarns that fill up the more exciting portion of your bookshelf — a string of police chases and back-alley fist fights with a surprisingly introspective thread running in the background." – Kempt
• Interview:Mr. Media's Bob Andelman talks to Gahan Wilson about Fifty Years of Playboy Cartoons: ""I said, 'I'll see Mr. Kurtzman?' 'Oh, no,' the receptionist said. 'Trump is out of New York.' The art director came up behind me and said, 'Hef would like to see you.' I didn't know who or what a Hef was." Listen via the embedded player above or at this link, or download the MP3
• Review: "The latest (13th) volume of Fantagraphics BooksThe Complete Peanuts: 1975 - 1976 is a delightful visit with that 'round headed kid' and his friends. ... The cartoons Schulz produced in 1975 and 1976 feature more lighthearted and sillier touches than usual; we are even privy to the thoughts of inanimate objects such as the school building and the pitcher’s mound. Some highlights include Charlie Brown meeting his idol, Joe Shlabotnik; sister Sally’s trials in the classroom; Peppermint Patty enrolling in a private school (not knowing it’s a dog obedience school); and the gang’s continuing efforts to play a baseball game. ... Fantagraphics has won numerous awards for this series and they deserve them all for creating such a wonderful archive of this American treasure. This series is a must have for any Peanuts fan and can be enjoyed by the whole family. I wouldn’t miss a volume." – Rich Clabaugh, The Christian Science Monitor
• Review: "Despite a slow start through [You Are There] grows in absurd outcomes of the last chapters, and the script of Forest serves as a humorous critique the excessive attachment to material things of people. Jacques Tardi draws so realistic objects and scenes while portraying the characters so cartoonish and fun. This combination of caricature and realism, though not anything groundbreaking, is executed with great talent by Tardi." – Gustavo Guimarães, Top Comics (forgive the slightly awkward autotranslation)
• Plugs: At Robot 6 Chris Mautner takes you to "Comics College" and schools you on the comics oeuvre of the prolific Lewis Trondheim, saying "both Harum Scarum and The Hoodoodad remain supremely entertaining tales featuring McConey, Trondheim's shy, nonplussed, anthropomorphic rabbit and his friends," and saying of The Nimrod "It's a great hodge-podge of some classic Trondheim material... including autobio stories, McConey tales and the great wordless piece, Diablotus (found in issue #2). The back issues are available at dirt cheap prices too."
• Reviewer: Your must-read of the day: Guest writer C. Tyler reviews her husband Justin Green's seminal comic Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary for Comic Book Galaxy
• Interview: Talking to Allen Brooks at DCist, Daniel Clowes explains the influence of The Complete Peanuts on his new graphic novel Wilson: "So I thought, what if you took that conceit of these kind of daily moments, daily jokes or just kind of emotional moments and put them together in a sequence that actually had a narrative implied. As you say, in-between the strips, that's where the story's told."
• Review: "Redressing a sad literary situation — the prior unavailability of this full masterpiece in English — Fantagraphics finally brings Tardi's wrenching tales of trench warfare during WWI [It Was the War of the Trenches] to American audiences. ... From the living hell of combat to the ghostlike calm of bombed-out villages, each panel radiates with the fear and hopelessness of hapless conscripts who strive only to retain their limbs and their sanity. Calling the war 'a gigantic, anonymous scream of agony,' Tardi skewers the concept of nationalism and drives home the banality of death. Dark, densely packed backgrounds and heavy wedges of solid black recall the dramatic shading effects of European expressionism, as do the characters' black, fearful eyes. Nearly a century after the fact, Tardi's outrage and compassion make the First World War sting like a fresh wound." – Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
• Review: "If you’re looking for a light-hearted pick-me-up, King of the Flies Vol. 1: Hallorave is not it. If, however, you’re looking for a darkly compelling, twisted, beautifully illustrated account of the broken souls and self-absorbed nihilism, Pirus and Mezzo’s album is about as good as you’ll find in the comics field. It’s a stunning piece of fiction, beautifully crafted in its prose, pacing, artistry and crushing understanding of humanity’s ugliness." – Michael C. Lorah, Newsarama
• Review: "...[Like a Dog] manages to capture the angst and anomie of a then-confused twentysomething who also just happens to be a semi-famous musician. ... His sturm und drang is filtered through a series of self-released strips and compilation projects... sometimes, as in 'You Won’t Let Yourself Be Touched,' from his self-published Recidivist comic, they transmit the otherworldly power of a vivid dream to the reader with lyrical effect. ... 'At the Scaffold'... in particular demonstrates Sally’s knack for chopping up a story into different configurations of panels, choosing points of view, and rendering architecture, shadows, odd characters, etc." – Byron Kerman, PLAYBACK:stl
• Review: "Once again, Hotwire returns to attempt to fill in that edgy alt-comix niche that was so prominent in the 80s and early 90s and has seemingly been eclipsed by the more literary, rarefied indie comics of today (sort of). If for no other reason, this anthology should be lauded for giving folks like Mary Fleener and Mack White the opportunity to showcase their work... [and] the stellar work by folks like Michael Kupperman, R. Sikoryak, Onsmith, Johnny Ryan, Tim Lane and Mats!? make this well worth your time." – Chris Mautner, Robot 6
• Comparison: "...I was of course really excited to hear that Fantagraphics was doing a series of translated Tardi books, including C’était la Guerre des Tranchées — now titled It Was the War of the Trenches. I’ve had the French Casterman edition for a while, but I got my new Fantagraphics copy last week and just for fun I thought I’d take a look at the two side by side." – Ben Towle
• Profile: Another NBC New York article on Dash Shaw & Frank Santoro, this time from Edward Carr (who also gets photo credit): "Speaking at the McNally Jackson Bookstore on Prince Street in Soho, Santoro, along with critically acclaimed artist Dash Shaw, spoke about their work and the techniques they used to keep them unique."
Luc Besson's The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, adapting the earlier volumes of Jacques Tardi's graphic novel series, opened last week at a solid #1 at the office in France (handily beating the only other major opening, the Matt Damon Iraq flick Green Zone), to generally positive reviews. There was general praise for the lead performance by Louise Bourgoin (although some reviewers familiar with the original comics lamented the "sweetening" of Tardi's cranky original), the special effects, and the fun-ride aspect of the movie, less enthusiasm for some of the broader farcical aspects, and a general consensus that the Paris-based sequences worked better than the Spielberg-ish Egypt-based ones.
Given the last few Besson movies, the reaction boiled down to "Whew! Better than we expected!"
Not many domestic reviews yet, except for the inevitable Variety. We can't link to it as this review is subscribers-only, but here are some excerpts:
"Take Indiana Jones and replace him with a knockout redhead, a slew of CGI and a somewhat bloated storyline, and you'll get an inkling of what lies behind Luc Besson's costumer/creature feature, The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec....most notable for newcomer Louise Bourgoin's captivating perf as a fearless, wisecracking heroine who — this being France — drinks, smokes and plays in the buff."
And, what we were waiting for: "Massive local rollout delivered a strong opening, and should venture beyond Francophone markets." Yes indeed!
They go on: "With handsome production values, polished visual effects and eye-popping locations (shot by Besson regular Thierry Arbogast) that include icons like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, pic smoothly blends state-of-the-art CGI with a story set in pre-WWI France."
Cine-nerd note: Arbogast shot pretty much all of Besson's movies (think the glory days of Leon/The Professional and The Fifth Element), as well as the late-career Brian De Palma masterpiece Femme Fatale, Emir Kusturica's wacky Black Cat, White Cat, the absurd but compellingly watchable Penélope Cruz/Salma Hayek megacleavage western Bandidas (admit it, didn't that description tempt you to add it to your Netflix queue?), and, uh, cough, the Halle Berry Catwoman.
Variety also cites Gilles Lellouche's performance as the hapless Inspector Caponi as "amusing" and notes that Mathieu Almaric (the villain from Quantum of Solace) is "practically unrecognizable with pasty makeup and buck teeth."
And boy, they just can't get enough of Mademoiselle Bourgoin:
"...what frankly saves pic from its convoluted plot and boilerplate villains is Adele herself, thanks in no small part to the all-consuming performance of Bourgoin (who made a noteworthy debut in Anne Fontaine's 2006 The Girl from Monaco). Delivering lines with screwball timing, while sporting an assortment of disguises like a sexed-up Lon Chaney, she dominates practically every scene and makes us regret the ones without her."
No U.S. distributor or release date yet, but I'd be awfully surprised if it hasn't been grabbed by the time Cannes finishes up late next month.
• List: Adam McGovern of ComicCritique.Com declares Miss Lasko-Gross to be Writer/Artist of the Year ("Vividly imaginative in tricky layouts, intricate patterns and hallucinatory neverlands yet starkly perceptive of everyday details and personality, immune to art-star mythology while stockpiling stuff of legend, Lasko-Gross is capable of anything — but can’t help doing right") and her A Mess of Everything the #3 Graphic Novel of the Year ("Lasko-Gross creates the least wholesome and most healthy youth memoirs you’re likely to read. Tales of adolescent insight, creativity, trauma and folly for those who like to learn their lessons with minds of their own"); Gilbert Shelton's "Last Gig in Shnagrlig" from Mome Vols. 13-15 to be Strip of the Year ("With a style that seems strung from spider-webs, popping veins, worried brow-wrinkles and tangled vines and an eye for absurd posturing, both undiminished by five decades and whatever art-supplies he’s been sniffing, Shelton’s dystopian vaudeville is a vision you can never predict of species-wide misbehavior which remains, alas, just like you remembered it"); and Lilli Carré's "The Carnival" from Mome Vol. 14 to be Short Story of the Year ("A bittersweet, tragicfunny story of the luminous, enchanting worlds just beyond the outskirts of nowhere")
• Review: "I spent most of this week reading the new, paperback edition of Blazing Combat ... [T]he artistry on display is so mind-boggling, particularly in the case of Crandall, Heath and Severin, that it seems churlish of me to not recommend this book simply because of a few overly and obviously ironic twists. The creators clearly had a real love for this kind of material, so much so that [I] wish things had tipped slightly in their favor a bit more, and that the market had made at least a little more room for war comics when as the silver age gave way to the bronze." – Chris Mautner, Robot 6
• Review: "...I love the art, with great layouts, nice thick lines, and coloring that's somehow both rich and muted. Even when I don't like the characters or find their actions believable I still love the way everything looks. And the elliptical structure was a smart choice because it adds at least a little bit of mystery; instead of just reading to see what happens next you keep going to better understand what's already happened. I don't know if the stories were published individually anywhere, but Hallorave is basically the first book of King of the Flies, with two more on the way. I'm interested to see how closely they intersect with each other." – Garrett Martin, Shazhmmm...
• Review: "Based on a crime novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette, West Coast Blues is an existential comic by master cartoonist Jacques Tardi. It's colorless crime as only the French can do it, with despicable characters waxing philosophical on film and high-risk sex even while on the run from clumsy assassins. ... Plenty of crime stories revolve around the bizarre preoccupations of its characters and just as many are centered around the plight of the common man thrust into extraordinary circumstances. But Tardi really brings it home, offering a messed up story about messed up people who do some truly messed up things. While only 80 pages, it's a robust read. ... As compelling as this short yarn is in terms of the writing, the real draw here is Tardi. ... His style is comparable to Herge's, if not quite as clean. His characters are expressive and his architecture's pretty damn impressive. ... Big ups to Fantagraphics and editor/translator Kim Thompson for assembling a really lovely English language edition of this book." – Paul Montgomery, iFanboy
• Commentary: "You would think I'd have more to say about teaching 'Human Diastrophism,' one of my favorite comics in the classroom, but this was my fourth pass at the story and most of the classroom surprises have been played out. The greatest remaining challenge is just the problem of extracting one storyline from Gilbert Hernandez's long-running Palomar setting and fitting it into a single week of class discussion." – Marc Singer, I Am NOT the Beastmaster
• Interview:In this video, Vito Delsante talks to Jaime Hernandez at Jaime's appearance at Jim Hanley's Universe in NYC last Friday, April 9 (via ¡Journalista!)
• Interview: "'Digital vs. paper? That’s a totally bogus debate,' [Peter] Bagge told Wired.com in an e-mail interview. 'There will always be both. Whichever one you want, you got it!'" Well that solves that!