Online Commentary & Diversions returns after a slow news day yesterday:
• Review: "Hensley’s clean art, drawn in a 1960s cartoon style (and complete with bright color pallete) is a bizarre mish-mash of the best in ‘60s teen book cartooning with the absurdity of an episode of The Monkees and the severity of indy comics. ...Hensley’s biting humor [is] either as spontaneous on the final page…or so well timed and planned that you don’t see it coming. In all honesty, I had trouble figuring Wally [Gropius] out — I expected a nostalgic pastiche with an edge, but what I got was an unpredictable and sometimes unsettling reading experience, literally not knowing what to expect from page to page. And that’s where Hensley excels, with a narrative sleight of hand, his seemingly innocent characters hiding more base and sinister motivations, using classic cartooning techniques to conceal a darker underbelly." – Christopher Irving, Graphic NYC
• Review: "...[W]hat really defines Billy Hazelnuts [and the Crazy Bird] is a genuine sense of excitement on the part of the author, as though, like the daughters he’ll eventually read the book to, Millionaire seems eager to discover what sort of adventures await his hero on the next page. ... Billy Hazelnuts is dark and weird and funny and strangely warm — it’s a book you wish you could have discovered at a much younger age. Thankfully, it’s pretty fun as an adult, too." – Brian Heater, The Daily Cross Hatch
• Plugs: "This gorgeous softcover collection of Dame Darcy's Meat Cake comic series is a thick slice of delicious Victorian romantic, horror, humor with just a hint of Southern gothic. ... So beautifully drawn and entertaining, Werewolves of Montpellier should make members of Team Jacob consider changing their name to Team Jason." – Benn Ray (Atomic Books), Largehearted Boy
• Interview: At The Comics Journal, Marc Librescu continues his talk with Gahan Wilson: "A lot of the reasons that [today’s] horror movies are so not entertaining or not much fun, and leave you with a very yuck taste, is that they’re brutal. And I think they’re brutal because the people who are making them are brutalized, basically, putting it right smack down there on the table. And they’re kind of a little fuggy, and that’s not good for an artist."
• Review: "The graphic novel King of the Flies: Hallorave... gives us a glimpse of internal mayhem inside a controlled environment, executed with elegance and a touch of mystery. ... King of the Flies has been compared to the work of Charles Burns for its graceful depiction of adolescent suburban horror. This is a weird tale that’s easy to get drawn into..." – Irina Ivanova, The Indypendent
• Plugs: At Largehearted Boy, Atomic Books owner Benn Ray lists his picks of the week, including Artichoke Tales by Megan Kelso ("Beautiful, expansive, lyrical") and The Book of Mr. Natural by Robert Crumb ("Did reading R. Crumb’s Book of Genesis leave you now craving more? The Book of Mr. Natural is your natural (heh-heh) next step").
• Plugs: Douglas Wolk includes a goodly number of Fantagraphics releases on his Summer Comics Preview list at TIME / Techland.
• Interview: At TCJ.com's Guttergeek, Chris Reilly says "Billy Hazelnuts and the Crazy Bird is a tie for best graphic novel of the year with Jim Woodring’s Weathercraft" and proceeds to talk to Tony Millionaire: "Sometimes the story will present opportunities I hadn’t thought of (the personality of the cat for instance), and I’ll go with it if it feels right. Then I jam it all into an ending and hope it doesn’t all end up in a big pile of shit. I’m often nervous that I’m writing a crappy book. I’ve done it before and you can’t tell till it’s done and it is disappointing. So far I’m very happy with the Billy Hazelnuts books, but I’ll have to give the Crazy Bird one more read before I’m convinced of its greatness."
Hokey smokes, hope you've been saving your nickels because we've got 5, count 'em 5, brand new books slated to hit comic shops this week! Read on for more info and to see what the other new-comics-day bloggers are saying [now edited to add Tom Spurgeon].
232-page monochrome 6.75" x 8.25" hardcover • $22.99 ISBN: 978-1-60699-344-6
"I absolutely loved this Megan Kelso graphic novel — a kind of anthropological/fictional-historical fantasy/love story thing involving a fractured culture of people with artichoke leaves for hair — and I'm not afraid to say so." – Douglas Wolk, Comics Alliance
"Getting back to much-awaited new projects, here’s Megan Kelso’s 232-page intergenerational fantasy, excerpted/anticipated here and there, depicting struggle and serenity among the fleshily vulnerable artichoke folk. ...Kelso’s visual style remains appealing as ever." – Joe McCulloch, Comics Comics
"Megan Kelso (The Squirrel Mother) returns with her most ambitious work to date..." – J. Caleb Mozzocco, Newsarama
"Fantagraphics reminds us that they’re more than just awesome, Matt Thorn-curated manga with Megan Kelso’s Artichoke Tales. ... This is Kelso’s first long-form effort, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does with that length of narrative." – David Welsh, The Manga Curmudgeon
"I'm still digesting this, the oddest book I've read all year." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
104-page black & white 6.5" x 9" hardcover • $19.99 ISBN: 978-1-56097-917-3
"Tony Millionaire’s sequel to his excellent 2006 Billy Hazelnuts, a gorgeous evocation of sprawling, daydreamy adventure strip narratives pairing gritty-but-whimsical hardcases with not-too-sweet innocents. Here we find grumpy homunculus Billy adjusting poorly to helping out with animals on the farm, only to set off on a mission to reunite a baby owl with its mother. It looks really funny and beautiful." – Joe McCulloch, Comics Comics
"Maakies cartoonist Tony Millionaire's 'all-ages' sequel to Billy Hazelnuts, and by 'all-ages' he apparently means that it's the kind of grotesque slapstick farce that could potentially entertain small children while creeping the living heck out of their parents..." – Douglas Wolk, Comics Alliance
"What's MY PICK OF THE WEEK? The Billy Hazelnuts and the Crazy Bird hardcover by the one and only Tony Millionaire. ... In the Billy Hazelnuts all-ages series, Millionaire spins the yarn of Billy, a garbage-homunculus, and the family who loves him. In this installment, the bizarre Billy must return a baby owl to the woods. Rampant weirdness ensues." – Cyriaque Lamar, io9
"Prolific Maakies cartoonist and Sock Monkey creator Tony Millionaire’s long-awaited second Billy Hazelnuts graphic novel finally arrives." – J. Caleb Mozzocco, Newsarama
"The release of a new Tony Millionaire stand-alone book is an overall world good." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
128-page black & white 8.25" x 10.75" hardcover • $19.99 ISBN: 978-1-60699-352-1
"Finally(!), here’s a new 128-page hardcover edition of Fantagraphics’ 1995 compilation of assorted Robert Crumb shorts starring the famous lil’ bearded guy." – Joe McCulloch, Comics Comics
"Fantagraphics is having a pretty damn huge week (and there’s a couple more swell-looking books below)." [Yep!] – J. Caleb Mozzocco, Newsarama
"This is one of the better Christmas-gift books Fantagraphics ever made... A kind of Crumb-primer, or Crumb for people who might want to get at him from a more standard comics stories standpoint." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
240-page black & white/duotone 7" x 10.25" softcover • $22.99 ISBN: 978-1-60699-346-0
"...includes the best of comics creator, character and all-around renaissance woman Dame Darcy’s first decade of Meat Cake comics..." – J. Caleb Mozzocco, Newsarama
"No, stay in your chair, this close-to-last-of-the-classic-one-artist-anthology-comic-books isn’t going bookshelf for good – it’s an expanded 240-page softcover reissue of Fantagraphics’ 2003 (200-page) hardcover collection of the best of Dame Darcy’s comical fictions and stitched-up Victoriana, with guest writer Alan Moore popping in for a later story..." – Joe McCulloch, Comics Comics
"This collection of Dame Darcy's twisted fairy tale saga was out-of-print and gets a much deserved resurrection, replete with her collaboration with Alan Moore." – Cyriaque Lamar, io9
"Dame Darcy is the canary in the cage as alt-comics makes its way through the catacombs of modern comics publishing. As long as she has a publishing presence, something must going at least semi-okay." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
240-page two-color 8" x 10" hardcover • $22.99 ISBN: 978-1-60699-323-1
"I read it a few weeks ago, and it’s easily one of the best comics works I’ve experienced so far this year. It’s an extremely ambitious story set in a fantasy world that explores the various ways in which war and fear can tear people apart while knitting communities together. It’s occasionally touching, occasionally scary, always thrilling and remarkably complex. I hope to review it in this space sometime soon, but I’d like to give it another read or two before I attempt doing so. In the mean time, allow me to at least wholeheartedly recommend it." – J. Caleb Mozzocco, Newsarama
"...Percy Gloom was perfectly dedicated to its metaphors of human caution as aggravated by society and religion. This new 240-page work promises a similarly-conceived world, this time as built by an amnesiac war veteran forever alert to obscure but surely dire threats. Surely!" – Joe McCulloch, Comics Comics
"Russ Manning Award winner Cathy Malkasian's new graphic novel is a sprawling, splendidly grotesque-looking fable about the kinds of lies that preserve patriarchy and perpetuate war, set in and around a city called Blessedbowl whose inhabitants believe that they're afloat on a sea of fire and at war with evil forces from outside, neither of which are true. It's worth a look for sure." – Douglas Wolk, Comics Alliance
"I'm looking forward to this one because a) I know absolutely nothing about it, and b) I went into the cartoonist's previous book Percy Gloom with every expectation I'd hate it until my legs fell off from the acidic bile collected in them from my hating of it, but ended up super-charmed by like page eight." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
Still not convinced? Check out our previews and excerpts for each book at their respective links above and judge for yourself. As always, we recommend confirming availability with your local shop before toddling on down.
• Review: "This all-ages-friendly tale opens with a comical but sincere note of existential angst, but Billy ultimately discovers his orientation in the world through his relationships with others. ... The tale itself frequently veers toward the lunatic, but if it skirts the surreal it does so precisely by taking the kinds of unfettered narrative turns that characterize the best children's literature. And like those books, Millionaire's [Billy Hazelnuts and the Crazy Bird] creates a safe space for exploration that remains grounded throughout in a humane sensibility that quietly makes itself known by showing, not telling." – Publishers Weekly
• Review: "...[Temperance is a] twisted allegory... Relying heavily on pencil shadings to establish mood, Malkasian's restraint of line results in vividly drawn but still complex characters: homely Minerva is both desperate and resourceful, Pa appears both menacing and pitiful, and addled Lester retains his fundamental courage." – Publishers Weekly
• Profile: "It’s easy to toss around the word 'genius,' especially when it comes to comics. We all have our favorites and we all like to think ours are the great ones. But one look at Roy Crane's work and anyone can see that he definitely was worthy of the 'genius' tag." – Tom Mason, Comix 411
• Profile: "Among the many innovative cartoonists published by the Seattle-based Fantagraphics Books, Michael Kupperman is surely one of the most original. ... In 2005, Kupperman hit his stride with the comic book series Tales Designed to Thrizzle, of which No. 6 has just appeared, to the delight of Robert Smigel and other fans." – Benjamin Ivry, Forward
Billy Hazelnuts is back for the first time since his acclaimed 2006 Eisner Award-winning debut. Life has settled back to normal in the old house. Becky and her mom are getting used to having Billy around, as he performs various household chores, utilizing his amazing strength. Nothing could be better, aside from a jumpy relationship with the cat. Until one day Billy hears screeching in the back yard and runs out to find a very large owl attacking his housemate. “I hate that cat, but it’s OUR CAT!” yells Billy, and chases the owl off.
Billy soon discovers that the owl he has just scared off has left an egg in his nest. When the egg hatches, it’s up to Billy to reunite the baby owl with his mother, and the two head off into the deep, deep woods in search of her. The resulting adventure is a crazy potion of all-ages fun, humor, thrills and chills like only Tony Millionaire is capable of.
• Review: "There's no cartoonist out there that makes better use of expanding canvasses than Kim Deitch. Literally and figuratively. The rhapsodic spreads — one, two, even four pages — he drops into his narratives are one of comics' finest stand-alone effects, and he creates short stories that are perfectly enjoyable as discrete units but somehow defy those idiosyncratic qualities to work just as effectively as building blocks in his grander books, like this new one [The Search for Smilin' Ed!] from Fantagraphics." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
• Review: "Like Weirdo, Raw, and Drawn And Quarterly before it, Fantagraphics’ Mome has been the go-to showcase of its time for emerging alt-comics visionaries. Mome #18is another excellent installment of the anthology series — so excellent, in fact, that it’s hard to single out a highlight. ... [Grade] A-" – The A.V. Club
• Review: "At this point, no one should need any convincing that Krazy Kat is one of the greatest works of comic art ever created, and that it should form the foundation of any good collection. All that’s needed is the knowledge of where to start and what format to choose. With that in mind, Fantagraphics has outdone itself with Krazy And Ignatz 1916-1918: Love In A Kestle Or Love In A Hut. ... Herriman’s work probably hasn’t looked this good since it first appeared in newspapers more than 90 years ago. ... [Grade] A" – The A.V. Club
• Review: "Tales Designed to Thrizzle #6 looks great. The script hits all the right marks. If you’re the type of reader who enjoys self-referential nods to the comics of yesteryear, Kupperman’s title sets the standard all such titles should shoot for." – Michael C. Lorah, Newsarama
• Review: "R.I.P. Best of 1985-2004 is a nicely timed reminder that Thomas Ott has been one of the world's most interesting cartoonists for a quarter century now. ... As juvenilia goes, this stuff is ridiculously good. ... Ott's work seems both old-fashioned and completely fresh at the same time. ... As a reminder of where he's come from, the impeccably produced R.I.P. is a very valuable collection, and deserves to be on the bookshelf of any serious horror comics fan." – Bart Beaty, The Comics Reporter [Fantagraphics' edition of this book is due in early 2011 - Ed.]
• Interview:Tony Millionaire talks to Comic Book Resources' Shaun Manning about continuing the adventures of Billy Hazelnuts: "I'm not sure exactly how it will roll out, because I love to make concrete plans for a story and then as it goes along, learn something and then change the storyline a little."
Tony Millionaire: The reason it took so long between Billy books was not that I didn't have an idea. I actually have the first three books generally laid out as a trilogy and maybe I'll keep it going from there. The problem was The Drinky Crow Show, which gobbled up huge buckets of time. I shouldn't really call it a problem, I loved doing the show and though the first few episodes were kind of awkward, by the time we got to the last few we were really running along. My favorite is the second-to-last episode, which takes place mainly inside Mme. Duboursay's uterus and Uncle Gabby's rectum. I also did the Elvis Costello record album and a few one-offs like the Iron Man piece for Marvel, and of course, the weekly Maakies. There was also about 80 pages of Sock Monkey squeezed in there somewhere. I hope to get Billy Hazelnuts 3 out much quicker.
JA: Have you read any comics lately that you enjoyed?
TM: Yes, Wilson by Dan Clowes. It's the funniest thing I've read in a long time. I love the switcheroo of styles all through the book, and I love the way you think at first that it's just a collection of one-offs about an annoying loser who you can identify with because he's blurting out all the things you'd blurt out but you didn't want your ass kicked. I've read his more serious stuff, it's refreshing to see this accessible, funny version of his earlier work, I really love this book. I've also been reading Fletcher Hanks, this guy was totally out of his mind, you can see his insanity in his drawings even more than in the writing, strange peculiar man, I am crazy about his work. I've been going over the Popeye books, the hamburger jokes never get old. "Come up to the house for duck dinner, YOU BRING THE DUCKS." Also, I check American Elf every day for my dose of regular family life, and while I could stomach the Pasadena Star-News I loved reading Drabble, Family Circus and Tina's Groove by Rina Piccolo with my kids.
JA: With all the attention and care you give to draftsmanship, it seems surprising that you're as prolific as you are. How long does it take you to make a single page of Billy Hazelnuts, from blank page to inks?
TM: Once I sit down, it's all work, I just crank it out. The problem is getting down to my table. When people say I'm prolific I have to disagree, I procrastinate a lot. Then again, walking around or doing nothing is a good way to come up with ideas, so I guess I'm always working. When I'm feeling good I get between one and two pages per night drawn from pencil to ink. I found a nice technique to speed it up, I work at a size which is just barely larger than the print size. That way, they shrink it down and it looks crisp, but I don't have to use a huge illustration board. With pens you don't need all that space, but if you work with a brush you do. I don't.
JA: Part of what makes your art so fascinating is the way you combine the grotesque with more classic illustration in the vein of Herriman or Winnie the Pooh. Do you ever feel conflicted between these two different aesthetics when you are drawing, or does it all come out very naturally?
TM: Sometimes I consciously try to draw more like Herriman or Ernest Shepard, but my hand always twists back to itself after a little while. Drawing is like handwriting, which is why you can tell a fake Pollock from the real thing. I can't, but I guess somebody could.
JA: Baby birds in your works seem to be connected to themes of life and what it means to be a living creature. It plays a big part in this Billy story, and it also came up in Sock Monkey too, when Uncle Gabby accidentally kills a baby bird. What do these baby birds represent in your work?
TM: Most baby animals are adorable; kittens, bears, horses, even alligators. But the poor baby bird, even with its giant eyes and wobbly head, is usually quite ugly. The grotesque pig-like skin, sticky feathers, ugly open screeching mouth. The curled up shitty feet and bumpy head, it really looks like a malformed earthworm. But it also exudes this charming sort of helplessness, you have to help the little guys, and when you see a dead baby pigeon on a city sidewalk it makes you tear up like a blubbering waif, pity mixed with nausea. There you lie, you hideous mass of garbage, if you'd gotten past this awful part of your life, you could have soared in the sunlight on a cold February morning! But look at you now, you look like the worst dish in a bad Chinese restaurant.
JA: Why does Billy feel such a responsibility to help this baby bird if he finds animals to be "disgusting bags of meat"? What motivates Billy?
TM: Billy's story in Book One was about him being made, going through changes which depended upon who was cutting his scalp off and stuffing his head. First he's a fighting monster, then a friend to Becky, a demon influenced by that crazy Gator built by Eugene, etc etc. It was about Billy's journey to figure out who he was. In Book Two he is still a tough guy, fighting the animals in the farm, full of self-hatred because he realizes he is close to becoming one of them. In his rage he harms this little bird by driving away its mommy, he is driven by guilt to help it. Being a very passionate person, he takes this new responsibility very seriously, it becomes his duty to assist the bird, even though the bird is eating his "flesh" (suet, bread dough, mold, molasses etc) all through the adventure. It's the second stage of life, see? 1. Getting alive. 2. Having a duty. 3. Attaining enlightenment.
Our Aunt Judy embroidered a pillow for us: "Raising children is like being pecked to death by a duck."
So there you have it, I've spilled the beans about the whole book and series. Now I just have to figure out how to deal with Book Three, the whole Old Man Enlightenment volume. Coming soon!
JA: In this book, Becky assumes a much smaller role than in the first. Does she have her own adventures when Billy's away?
TM: Maybe, I haven't figured that out yet, but I want her to have a major role in Book Three. She's a very strong character and means a lot to Billy, just as all guiding angelic scientifical motherly saints do. Her presence means everything. She's the one who gave him the hazelnuts, she's an agnostical Goddess!
JA: Ann-Louise/Uncle Gabby seems to be almost the same as Becky/Billy, except of course with Becky being sassier and more involved than Ann-Louise. Do you think the relationships would be the same if genders were swapped around? Like if Ann-Louise or Becky were little boys or Gabby and Billy were girls? Would the stories still work? Or is there something about the mother/child relationship that is necessary for these stories?
TM: I think the mother/child relationship works for both genders, like me and my little dog "Whisky."
Even with me and my little girls, and vice versa. It just depends on the story.
JA: Have you received any feedback on the first Billy Hazelnuts from either children or their parents?
TM: Moms love the book, Daddies love the book, kids love the book.
When I presented my idea to Gary Groth at Fantagraphics he said, "Well, we don't really publish children's books." I said, "This is not a children's book! It appeals to the same audience that the Sock Monkey books appeal to!" He said, "I thought the Sock Monkey books were children's books..." I said, "No, they're great for kids, no swearing, but they're for people who remember being kids. Have you ever read an old favorite children's book and found it kind of lame compared to how magical it was when you were a kid? Well, Billy Hazelnuts is for that person!"
JA: Do you think there will be many more Billy Hazelnuts books?
TM: Yes, very many. I love these characters. I will always produce Maakies weekly, Sock Monkey now and then, and Billy Hazelnuts now and then. I don't like regular schedules, but I love continuation of character.
JA: Is there anything I've missed? Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?