[The Comics Journal intern Laura Pieroni put together this series of discussion questions about Mark Kalesniko's Freeway for use in book clubs. As this is intended for those who have read the book and contains spoilers, the conclusion of the synopsis and the questions can be found behind the jump. – Ed.]
Alex, Mark Kalesniko's recurring dog-headed character, has been stuck in Los Angeles traffic for longer than he can remember. In fact, Alex has been stuck in traffic through multiple time periods and alternate lives.
Freeway is a non-linear compilation of various alternate realities centered on Alex and his dream of being an animator at Babbitt Jones Studios. Alex takes readers through his memories as a child dreaming of a career in animation and into his experiences working that same dream job turned nightmare. Through the story Alex also has multiple visions of violently dying, and a fantasy of what it might have been like to work at Babbitt Jones during its Golden Age when the animators were treated like royalty instead of assembly-line workers.
This week's comic shop shipment is slated to include the following new titles. Read on to see what comics-blog commentators are saying about our releases this week, check out our previews at the links, and contact your local shop to confirm availability.
420-page black & white 7" x 10" softcover • $28.99 ISBN: 978-1-60699-356-9
"In a week dominated by republished works and more recent books once again offered through Diamond, cartoonist Mark Kalesniko gets a prize for releasing a gaint book of brand new work. It's an extended meditation on changes in the way we live and work, structured around an excruciating commute." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
"There's a new Alex book by Mark Kalesniko (Why Did Pete Duel Kill Himself?, Mail Order Bride) who you haven't seen much of recently because he's spent the last ten years working on Freeway... While stuck in an endless L.A. traffic jam Alex re-examines his life and job as an animator with a legendary studio, and wonders what it would have been like had he been born several decades earlier." – The Gosh! Comics Blog
"The graphic novel I’m most interested in this week is Freeway, Mark Kalesniko’s traffic jam ruminations of animation as a career then and now. The description of the book has a lot of hooks to relate to: work frustration, realizing even a dream job has its pitfalls, and rush-hour traffic." – Johanna Draper Carlson, Comics Worth Reading
112-page full-color 10.25" x 14" hardcover • $29.99 ISBN: 978-1-60699-407-8
"Hal Foster at full early Arthurian potency; Val was never more like young Lord Silverspoon than he was here. Bonus: a brief piece in the back of the book revealing a few 'suppressed Prince Valiant images from 1939-1940.'" – Douglas Wolk, Comics Alliance
"Let's face it, [this] nuke[s] just about every other comic you're going to buy at the store this year... I was greatly surprised by how entertaining the Prince Valiant was." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
"Prince Valiant HC Volume 3 1941 – 1942 is out, reprinting the chunk of Prince Valiant which critics unanimously reckon was the point at which Foster hit his drawing and storytelling stride. This volume also comes with a gallery of stuff at the back originally deemed too sexy or violent for print, oh yes." – The Gosh! Comics Blog
"...Chris had to go and use the words 'giant man-eating octopus,' [see below – Ed.] so Prince Valiant, Volume 3goes into the shopping cart as well." – Michael May, Robot 6
"...[I]f you happen to have $30 this week I’d recommend getting your hands on either a copy of Mark Kalesniko’s Freeway or the third volume of Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant, both from Fantagraphics. The former is a new graphic novel from the author of Mail Order Bride, about a dog-faced animator named Alex who, while stuck in a bad traffic jam, ruminates over his life and career and how he ended up where he did. It’s a pretty great book, but if you need further inducement you can read my interview with Kalesniko. Valiant Vol. 3 meanwhile, features a great, lengthy sequence that involves Val trying to get his sword back, the highlight of which is easily him facing off against a giant man-eating octopus." – Chris Mautner, Robot 6
"CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: Artist Mark Kalesniko returns to his dog-headed Alex character in the 420-page graphic novel Freeway ($28.99), while Prince Valiant Vol. 3: 1941-1942 ($29.99) collects 112 pages of restored Hal Foster and supplementary materials authored by one of the editors of this very column. Published by Fantagraphics Books: home for the website you are currently reading." – Joe McCulloch, The Comics Journal
The issue also includes the reviews excerpted below:
The Arctic Marauder by Jacques Tardi: "A strong Jules Verne flavor dominates the story’s stew of mystery farce and sci-fi adventure, from the ship named the Jules Vernez to the assortment of just-plausibly-outlandish vehicles and deep-sea mechanical apparatuses. But the real fun comes from marveling at it all in Tardi’s expansive, ice-blasted scratchboard tableaus that feature one breath-stealing scene after another, all the way through to the cheerfully villainous finale. A devious bit of far-fetched fun." – Ian Chipman
Freeway by Mark Kalesniko: "Kalesniko reprises his alter ego, Alex Kalienka, for his most ambitious and accomplished graphic novel yet. [...] Although Kalesniko’s formal storytelling devices, particularly his deft panel arrangements and intelligent compositions, are largely responsible for Freeway’s impressive effectiveness, it’s his distinctive and delicate drawing style that supplies the emotional component, best displayed in the economical character design and in the painstakingly researched, lovingly depicted scenes of a bygone Los Angeles." – Gordon Flagg (Starred Review)
Stigmata by Lorenzo Mattotti & Claudio Piersanti: "Obviously but never verbally a parable of Christian redemption, Piersanti’s story becomes extremely compelling in Mattotti’s hands. ...[H]is swirling realization of atmosphere, the protagonist’s states of mind, and human figures conjures the raw power and compassion of such great Italian neorealist films as Bicycle Thieves and La Strada." – Ray Olson
• Plug: "The Comics Journal: long known as a magazine where you can look at never before released sketches from R. Crumb next to essays about Wonder Woman’s bondage past next to in-depth interviews with superhero comics auteurs next to oral histories of underground dudes you didn’t even know you were interested in until you read about their entire lives. We could go on that tangent forever, but instead we’ll just direct you here to pre-order." – Sam Hockley-Smith, The Fader
• Plug: "In Mezzo and Pirus’ King of the Flies, characters who die in the first volume... come back to watch over the still-living – lovers, friends, mothers. Mezzo and Pirus’ undead are able to travel to Mars in the blink of an eye, and then back to the David Lynchian small-town that is the story’s main setting. Liberated from physical constraints, they are frustrated, morose, angry, holding onto grudges. ...Mezzo and Prius... have created a darkly erotic and blackly humoured book that, days after finishing, I’m still thinking about." – Shawn Conner, Guttersnipe
• Plug:Los Angeles magazine features Freeway by Mark Kalesniko in their latest roundup of books of local interest
• Interview:The Daily Cross Hatch's Brian Heater continues his conversation with Stan Sakai: "Originally, I had wanted to do a series inspired by the life of a 17th century samurai named Miyamoto Musashi, but — he’s regarded as one of the great swordsmen in Japanese history, but one day I just drew a rabbit and Musashi became a rabbit. Instead of Miyamoto Musashi, my charcter was Miyamoto Usagi — 'usagi' means 'rabbit' in Japanese. The 'Miyamoto' part I kept as an homage to the original Musahi, but everything else is pretty much original."
• Profile:Variety recently talked to Dash Shaw about his artwork in the feature film Rabbit Hole — here's a scan, uploaded by Dash
Literally, a traffic jam — but figuratively, his whole life is a mess. A dream job turned nightmare at the biggest animation studio in the world. A love affair that is not what he imagined. And possibly someone with a life-threatening grudge against him...
In his first new graphic novel since 2001’s acclaimed Mail Order Bride, Mark Kalesniko compresses an entire life into a single day as the frustrated animator, stewing on a pitiless California freeway, alternately rages, reminisces, fantasizes, and hallucinates — intercut with a series of imagined moments from two generations ago, the Golden Age of animation, when an earlier Alex made his entry into a much different professional world.
Loaded with fascinating insider gossip and historical details on two different eras of animators, skipping seamlessly among the present and several different pasts, reality and fantasy, Freeway is another step forward for a major cartooning talent.
“Kalesniko is an expert at sophisticated, visually efficient narrative renderings of complex emotions. His drawings are spare and cinematic, and each panel underscores the characters’ psychological isolation or another revealing detail.” — Publishers Weekly on Mail Order Bride
Exclusive Savings: To celebrate the release of Freeway, we're pleased to offer Mark Kalesniko's critically-acclaimed graphic novels Alex and Mail Order Bride for 25% off for a limited time!