Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Read in March

This was the month where my reading inexorably was taken over completely by the Eisner Awards. If you look closely, you can actually see me fighting against it for the first two weeks or so before giving up and surrendering entirely.

So that I don't have a vast trackless waste of Amazon boxes at the bottom, I'm providing all books with links (except for the ones where I haven't finished my review yet). If there's a paragraph of my thoughts beneath the book, the link is to Amazon. If not, the link is to my review, either here or at ComicMix.

I also warn you: this is probably my longest post ever, and, if you have a slow connection, it may already be choking. My apologies if so.
  • Neil Gaiman, adapted by P. Craig Russell, Coraline (3/1)
  • CF, Powr Mastrs, Vol. 2 (3/1)
  • Jeff Krell, Jayson Goes to Hollywood (3/1)
  • Liz Prince, Delayed Replays (3/1)
  • Mike Dawson, Freddie & Me (3/2)
  • Jonathan Miles, Dear American Airlines (3/2)
  • Andy Fish, The Tragic Tale of Turkey Boy (3/2)
  • Shannon & Dean Hale and Nathan Hale, Rapunzel's Revenge (3/3)
  • Derf, Punk Rock and Trailer Parks (3/4)
  • Rick Shenkman, Just How Stupid Are We? (3/4)
  • Justin Murphy & Al Milgrom, Cleburne (3/5)
  • Andy Fish, Fly: A True Story, Completely Made Up (3/6)
  • Drew Curtis, It's Not News, It's Fark (3/6)
  • Mark Kneece & Dove McHargue, Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone: Walking Distance (3/7)
  • Mark Kneece & Rebekah Isaacs, Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone: The After Hours (3/7)
  • Dean Haspiel & Jay Lynch, Mo and Jo: Fighting Together Forever (3/8)
  • Eleanor Davis, Stinky (3/8)
  • Takashi Nemoto, Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby (3/9)
  • Monty S. Kane, Planet Saturday Comics, Volume One (3/10)
  • Chuck Dixon & Brett Booth, Dean Koontz's Frankenstein: Prodigal Son, Vol. 1 (3/11)
  • David Hajdu, The Ten-Cent Plague (3/11)
  • Lilli Carre, The Lagoon (3/12)
  • Masashi Kishimoto, Naruto, Vol. 32 (3/12)
    Ninja action -- as you like it! (I've read forty or so books since this one, so I have only the very fuzziest recollection of what happened here.)
  • Josh Simmons, Jessica Farm, Vol. 1 (3/13)
  • Masashi Kishimoto, Naruto, Vol. 33 (3/14)
    More ninjas, more action!
  • Lynda Barry, What It Is (3/15)
  • Thomas F. Zahler, Love and Capes, Vol. 1: Do You Want to Know a Secret? (3/15)
  • Kazu Kibuishi, Amulet, Book One: The Stonekeeper (3/15)
  • Bill Schelly, Man of Rock: A Biography of Joe Kubert (3/16)
  • Philippe Dupuy, Haunted (3/16)
  • Blake Bell, Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko (3/16)
  • Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener, Atomic Robo, Vol. 2: Atomic Robo and the Dogs of War (3/17)
  • Eric Reynolds & Gary Groth, editors, Mome, Vol. 11 (3/18)
  • Dave Sim, Judenhass (3/18)
  • Cecil Castellucci & Jim Rugg, Janes in Love (3/19)
  • Eric Reynolds & Gary Groth, editors, Mome, Vol. 12 (3/19)
  • Frank Cammuso & Jay Lynch, Otto's Orange Day (3/19)
  • Geoffrey Hayes, Benny and Penny in Just Pretend (3/19)
  • Art Spiegelman, Jack and the Box (3/19)
  • Marc Tyler Nobleman & Ross MacDonald, Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman (3/19)
  • Adam Jacot de Boinod, The Meaning of Tingo (3/19)
    The subtitle, or title continuation, is "and Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World," which explains the point -- it's a book of words from various other languages that can't be translated into a single English word. On the cover there are such excellent examples as bakku-shan, from the Japanese, which means "a woman who seems pretty when seen from behind but not from the front" and nakhur, a Persian word meaning "a camel that won't give milk until its nostrils are tickled." Tingo itself is a word from the Pascuense language, which means "to take all the objects one desires from the house of a friend, one at a time, by borrowing them." It was a pleasant read, but I don't expect that I'll remember any of the words from it, nor do I intend to keep it for reference. (Mostly because I'm beginning to think my reference shelves -- which haven't been touched, or even dusted, in several years -- are severely obsolete in the Internet age.)
  • Todd DePastino, Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front (3/21)
  • Mia Kirshner, et. al., I Live Here (3/21)
    This is a anthology of prose, fiction, poetry and comics, published in four volumes in a case, under the auspices of Amnesty International, about four different places that have various problems. As I remember, there's a section on the war in Chechnya, one on the murder of young women along the Mexican border, another on ethnic cleansing in Burma, and the last is about AIDS in the African country of Malawi. It's a big downer of a book, by design, and exists mostly as reportage -- it's there to shove misery in the faces of the kind of people who read books like this, and not to suggest any solutions. There's a very good Joe Sacco story in it, but the rest turned into a blur of misery.
  • Leah Hayes, Funeral of the Heart (3/21)
  • Ross Campbell, Water Baby (3/23)
  • Ai Yazawa, Nana, Vol. 1 (3/23)
  • Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking (3/23)
  • Lemony Snicket, Carson Ellis, & Nathaniel Stookey, The Composer Is Dead (3/23)
  • Darwyn Cooke & Tim Sale, Superman: Kryptonite (3/24)
  • Akira Toriyama, COWA! (3/24)
  • Zoe B. Alley & R.W. Alley, There's a Wolf at the Door (3/24)
  • Rafael Grampa, Mesmo Delivery (3/25)
  • Paul Pope, Heavy Liquid (3/25)
  • Jimmy Gownley, Amelia Rules!, Vol. 4: When the Past is a Present (3/25)
  • Scott Morse, Magic Pickle (3/25)
  • Kean Soo, Jellaby (3/26)
    Jellaby started off as a webcomic, and you can still read the first two chapters of the story (over sixty pages) online. This volume tops out at about a hundred and sixty pages, but unfortunately stops in the middle -- a second volume, Jellaby: Monster in the City, is coming at the end of this month. It's somewhat reminiscent of Bone, both in Soo's clean-lined art and in the kid-friendly story -- though Jellaby is more obviously for kids than Bone was. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and I'm looking forward to finding the second half.
  • Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (3/26)
    This was nominated for the Eisners, though it really isn't eligible -- it does have a lot of pictures, but the story isn't laid out as comics in any real way. Still, my older son (Thing 1) has loved all three of Kinney's books so far, and so I figured it couldn't hurt to read it. And it is great fun for ten-to-thirteen-year-olds (and people like me able to mentally regress to enjoy it) -- Kinney captures an authentically humorous voice, and runs his hero through
  • Alfred & Oliver Ka, Why I Killed Peter (3/26)
    Another autobiographical comic from Europe, in which the author was molested (once) by the priest in the title. It didn't work for me as well as I hoped it would; it's skillfully done on all levels but didn't have any real punch.
  • Sarnath Banerjee, The Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers (3/26)
    This is another book I really wanted to like: a big and almost endlessly discursive graphic novel from India that's supposedly about retrieving a priceless heirloom book but really about the various stories told along the way. The art is inventive, with many photographic panels, and the conceit is an interesting one. But I found Banerjee's drawn art ugly and off-putting, and his writing long-winded and tedious.
  • Bill Mauldin, edited by Todd DePastino, Willie & Joe: The WWII Years (3/26)
    Not just one of the best books of comics to come out last year, not even one of the best books to come out in 2008, but an excellent, essential, carefully-designed work of real historical importance and vital art. This collects all of Mauldin's drawings made during WWII -- every last scrap that has survived -- and is organized essentially chronologically, in two big, lovingly-created volumes that come in an army-green slipcase. The second volume has all of the best stuff, but the whole package is wonderful: it's a great monument to one of the best cartoonists of the 20th century.
  • Paige Braddock, Jane's World, Volume 8 (3/26)
    The eighth collection of the lesbian webcomic; it's not quite a soap opera, but it's less grounded and more flighty than Dykes to Watch Out For. I like Braddock's drawing, which has a loose, effortless feel, but the story here is pretty lightweight.
  • John Kerschbaum, Petey & Pussy (3/26)
    Another one of those books that makes me laugh out loud and then feel guilty about it; this is probably offensive to many people, disgusting to more, but uncomfortably funny for nearly all of us. Petey is a dog, Pussy a cat, but both have the heads (and temperments, and drinking habits, and propensity to swearing) of balding, middle-aged men. They live with an alcoholic old woman and her human-headed bird, who's even more horrible than Petey and Pussy but only wants to die and get out of his misery. The stories are drawn in a tight, clean style, and are full of things I don't want to describe on the open Internet. I laughed a lot; I'll admit that.
  • Gerard Way & Gabriel Ba, The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1: Apocalypse Suite (3/27)
    This has been immensely popular, but I was happy to find that it's actually good -- that can be rare, particularly in the world of people in long underwear punching each other. Ba is a hot new artist with a style somewhere in the wasteland between Mike Mignola and Paul Pope -- but more individual than that might make it sound. And Way is the singer for some band I'm not all that familiar with, but he's a very solid comics writer from the evidence here. The story is a fairly standard "odd family has to reunite, many years after a bad breakup, to stop armageddon," but Way was willing to make this a story, rather than an episode, so things really happen here, and they really matter. It's stylish and adventurous, but has a serious core; I was pleasantly surprised, and impressed.
  • Ethan Nicolle, Chumble Spuzz, Vol. 2 (3/27)
    Chumble Spuzz is also both funny and apalling, but it's not quite as much so, on either measure, as Petey & Pussy. Some very weird-looking creatures live in what seems to be the normal world -- with lots of humans as background and secondary characters -- and have strange adventures, in this volume involving feral humans and a blues-playing Death.
  • Kevin Colden, Fishtown (3/27)
    A crime story: four teenagers are being questioned about some horrible event, which is eventually revealed. The structure is slightly confusing, but the dialogue is great and true -- in a chilling way -- and the art is generally pretty good, too.
  • Chris Onstad, Achewood: The Great Outdoor Fight(3/27)
    I've never quite gotten Achewood, but I tried again. It still didn't take: the art is ugly, the story is dull, and there's nothing actually funny here.
  • Jill Thompson, Magic Trixie(3/27)
  • Jill Thompson, Magic Trixie Sleeps Over (3/27)
    Thompson is a lovely painter, but these stories are too obviously for kids for my taste -- down to the intrusive morals. They're gorgeous-looking stories about kid monsters, and I bet lots of kids will love them.
  • Chris Grine, Chickenhare Vol. 2: Fire in the Hole (3/27)
    I read the first book in this series, The House of Klaus, as Day #141 of the Book-A-Day Project, and mostly liked it, but found it a bit tough and nasty for my sons. Book two is pretty much the same -- it looks a bit like Jeff Smith (probably because the GNs-for-kids houses are demanding that style), but it's really not appropriate for kids younger than tweens. The story has another adventure of a half-chicken, half-rabbit, who goes to hell (literally) in this book.
  • Dirk Schwieger, Moresukine: Uploaded Weekly from Tokyo (3/27)
    This was also a webcomic first; for most of 2006, Schwieger (a German) was living in Tokyo and he lived out (and then drew comics reports of) various things that people wrote in to ask him about. So he tried fugu, met a swordsmith, stayed the night in a capsule hotel, and so on. Schweiger is a decent artist, and equally solid at reporting on what he did, but it's all at about that level -- solid, professional, but not surprising.
  • Don Wood, Into The Volcano (3/28)
    Large-size graphic novel for kids, about two boys sent to a tropical (volcanic) island, where they have more adventures than they expect. It focuses on the younger brother, who at first doesn't want to do anything but eventually is forced to act heroically, and it's probably great for boys around the ages of my sons -- I read it far from them, so I couldn't use them as guinea pigs to check.
  • Mariko Tamaki & Steve Rolston, Emiko Superstar (3/28)
    Another book from DC's now-departed Minx line, written by the writer of the excellent Skim. This is a more conventional I'm-a-nerdy-teenager story, with a Janes-level heaping side order of Art (with a capital A, and typically free-form and performance-based; no one in stories like these ever spends twelve years training for the ballet or sweats over life drawing). I liked it, but Skim is vastly better in every possible way.
  • Ted Stearn, Fuzz and Pluck: Splitsville(3/28)
    I keep trying to read these stories as funny -- blackly humorous, I guess -- but they don't quite fit. I'm coming to believe that it's a misery comic, like Mark Beyer's Amy + Jordan, only much better drawn and with a coherent story. But the misery still doesn't appeal to me very much.
  • Richard E. Hughes & Ogden Whitney, Herbie Archives, Vol. 1 (3/28)
    Herbie is that Silver Age fat fury, the round kid who will bop you with this here lollipop. You know how square and out-of-touch those early '60s Superman stories are, the ones that people are always making fun of on the 'Net? Well, Herbie is twice as square, four times as weird, and eight times as funny -- and the funny, at least, is deliberate. (The others I can't vouch for.) You haven't witnessed the true grandeur of comics until you've seen a "fat little nothing" with magical lollipops make two different First Ladies swoon within about fifty pages.
  • Rantz A. Hoseley, editor, Comic Book Tattoo (3/28)
    It's a big fat anthology of comics, by a whole lot of creators -- most of whom I'd never heard of before, but all of whom do professional work -- all loosely based on songs by Tori Amos. There's no table of contents, which is annoying, but it's a very big book full of some quite good comics.
  • Sammy Harkham, editor, Kramers Ergot 7 (3/28)
    But, if I'm talking about very big books, there's nothing in comics that can touch Kramer's Ergot 7, the anthology the size of a small desk. There are some aggressively arty comics in here, but there's also excellent work -- on huge pages -- by Adrian Tomine, Dan Clowes, Kim Deitch, and, especially, Chris Ware. Ware has a stunning two-page story on the center spread; it's organized around a life-size drawing of a baby in the middle, and features what looks to me like actual happiness and positive emotions.
  • Brian K. Vaughan & Georges Jeanty, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Eight, Vol. 2: No Future For You (3/28)
    I'd actually read, and reviewed, the storyline that followed this one, so I had a better idea of what was going on here than I'd had previously. (I've never seen Buffy, or had any desire to.) I still find the dialogue incredibly overwritten and unrealistic, and I don't much care about any of these people, but I could follow this better than a similar project that I'll mention below.
  • Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely, All Star Superman, Vol. 2 (3/28)
    Quitely draws everyone, particularly his men, as if they're the smuggest people in creation, barely deigning to peer down their noses at the rest of us. It's appropriate for Lex Luthor, but it looks odd on Superman. And this is the second, and concluding, collection of stories about how much Morrison loves the Silver Age, but wants to redo it his way. It's all slightly too chilly and po-mo to work for me, but I don't have any long-standing affection for the big Boy Scout in the first place.
  • Andy Runton, Owly Vol. 5: Tiny Tales (3/28)
    Thing 1 informs that me that we do have this one in the house, so maybe I forgot reading it, or one of the boys spirited it away so quickly that I didn't have time to. It collects various shorter Owly stories, from Free Comic Book Day books and the like, along with some very early stuff in which Owly was still coming together. It's all very, very cute, and I'm beginning to think that I've seen too much of this series -- it's beginning to set off my twee meter, which the earlier books didn't. (And this is no different, so I'm just getting overloaded.)
  • Joshua Williamson & Vincente Navarrete, Dear Dracula (3/28)
    A picturebook for kids, in comics format, about a kid who doesn't wait for Christmas to write to Santa -- he writes to Dracula on Halloween! The Count shows up, walks the kid around the neighborhood, and gives him the pros and cons of vampirism. The kid makes the obvious choice in the end. It's OK, but neither the art nor the writing was quite up to what I hoped.
  • Frank Cammuso, Knights Of The Lunch Table, Vol. 1: The Dodgeball Chronicles (3/28)
    This is a graphic novel for kids, in which a boy named Arthur King -- from Cornwall, he says -- comes to a new school full of bullies, and makes friends with science teacher Mr. Merlyn, and is assigned the locker than no one has been able to open, and...my ribs hurt from all of the nudging. Yes, I get it, already. King Arthur, ha ha ha -- how droll. Now just tell your story. This is pretty good for kids, but I wouldn't recommend it for adults.
  • Douglas Praszkiewicz, Arsenic Lullaby Pulp Edition No. Zero (3/28)
    Praszkiewicz draws with an incredibly thin line, which isn't always the best choice for his one- or two-page stories of humorous woe. But this is all funny stuff, though it's often -- yet again, like Petey & Pussy and Chumble Spuzz -- the kind of funny that you feel bad for laughing at.
  • Tony Millionaire, The Maakies with the Wrinkled Knees (3/28)
    It's the latest collection of Millionaire's profane and drink-sodden comic strip, with his usual grotesquely gorgeous art. I like the art better than the jokes, but it's a nice package.
  • David Malki, Wondermark: Beards of our Forefathers (3/29)
    Unlike most of the funny stuff I read over Eisner weekend, Wondermark is not primarily scatalogical or profane -- though it does get into those areas now and then. It's also ridiculously funny and much better than I'd ever expected a clip-art strip could be. This book has a clever design as well; it's a great package for some very good content.
  • Steve Niles & Bernie Wrightson, Dead, She Said (3/29)
    This, on the other hand, is a rather tired and sad story about a zombie detective, which both Niles and Wrightson appear to have phoned in. A pity.
  • Faith Erin Hicks, The War at Ellsmere(3/29)
    It's a girls-boarding-school story, focusing on the scholarship girl who needs to prove herself; she has one friend (a girl whose jet-setting rich parents have effectively abandonded her), and a phalanx of enemies led by the queenliest of queen bees. That all is very standard, but done well...but there's a moment, near the end, when an element from an entirely different genre pops into the book out of nowhere. It's badly out of place, and made me laugh out loud -- not the aim of the book, I'm afraid. War at Ellsmere has many good qualities, but Hicks needs to tamp down her desire to do everything in one story.
  • Brian Azzarello & Eduard Risso, 100 Bullets Vol. 12: Dirty (3/29)
    This book also made me cry out, but this time it was a string of curses. I suppose I shouldn't expect to immediately understand the twelfth volume of a series, but this was utterly opaque and incomprehensible. It collects six issues, all of which had entirely different casts, and most of whom killed each other before I could figure out who any of them were. Trying to make sense of it was a pure waste of my time, though the art is very good.
  • Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez, Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft (3/29)
    Hill is a horror novelist -- author of Heart-Shaped Box and the collection 20th Century Ghosts -- who is just as good at writing creepy comics as he is at creepy prose. This is the story of a family who have something really horrible happen to them in the first issue (this collects a six-issue series) and then they try to rebuild their lives...until it comes back again. The art is quite good, and the writing is excellent; I say repeatedly that I don't like horror, which might mean that I only like it when it's done this well.
  • Kerry Callan, Halo & Sprocket Vol. 2: Natural Creatures (3/29)
    Halo is an angel; Sprocket is a robot. They live with a young woman whose name I forget, and talk about pseudo-deep topics all day long. I like Callan's cartooning better than I like her philosophizing, I'm afraid.
  • Joss Whedon, et. al., Serenity, Vol. 2: Better Days(3/29)
    A spin-off of the failed TV show Firefly and equally failed movie Serenity, this story made vanishingly little sense to me, since I wasn't familiar with the characters. As I said to one of the other judges, I could tell which one was the captain and which one was the whore -- sorry, the not-a-whore who sleeps with people for money -- but nobody else had any clear definition I could discern. Absolutely awful for anyone who isn't already a raving fan.
  • Doug TenNapel, Monster Zoo (3/29)
    Two teenage boys are at the zoo when a mad scientist changes the animals into bizarre mutated beasts, which allows the thinner one to show off in front of a cute girl and to show up her semi-boyfriend, a jock who hides in terror as soon as anything happens. Another slight and obvious book for kids, with a side order of pandering; it's nice but not great.
  • Jason, The Last Musketeer (3/29)
    I've read very little Jason, but I should fix that: this is a wry and very entertaining story about a (semi-immortal?) musketeer who goes to Mars to foil the invasion of a Ming-like conqueror. There are great side conversations along the way; Jason is in no hurry to rush his adventure plot, and the book is immeasurably better for it.
  • David B., Nocturnal Conspiracies (3/29)
    Lots and lots of comics based on dreams by a European with a single letter for a last name. It's a bit pretentious for me, though I enjoyed parts of it.
  • Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata, Hikaru No Go, Vol. 11 (3/29)
    Other judges took offense to my characterization of this as "just like Yu-Gi-Oh, only with Go," but I stand by that -- it's less bombastic than Yugi, and there aren't the array of ancillary products, but they're both the story of how an ancient ghost helps a boy compete at a complicated game against weird-haired opponents, with a strong emphasis on tediously detailed game strategies. I don't dislike either of them, mind you -- I'm just saying.
  • Ysabeau S. Wilce, Flora's Dare (3/30)
And if that isn't the most books I've read in one month ever, I'd be very surprised. I may even have missed some -- the books from those last five days were scribbled on bits of paper during the Eisner judging, and keeping track wasn't the top priority. In fact, if it was a graphic novel and published last year, there's a very good chance that I at least looked at it last weekend.

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