Monday, August 17, 2009

Reviewing the Mail, Week of 8/15: Part One: Comics and Graphic Novels

There's usually one week each month where the mail is much heavier than the others, and, for August, that would be this week. (Unless one of the next two weeks turns out even heavier, which would be awesome in more than one way.) So my usual single post is being broken into two pieces; the second half will cover SF and Fantasy books, and should be popping up here in a couple of hours.

Here's the deal with these posts: as you can see, I get a lot of stuff in the mail (a lot of bloggers/reviewers do), and it's unlikely that I'll have the time, energy, and will to read them all and write official reviews. But I can -- and do -- note all of these books as they come in, and say whatever I can about them from a cursory glance. It might not be a lot of attention, but my hope is always that it will help books find readers that will enjoy them. And, with that said, let's dive into this long list:

One of the buzz books -- there's usually a small handful, no more than half a dozen, books that nearly everyone seems to have read and be enthusiastic about -- from this year's BEA convention was David Small's comics memoir Stitches, which W.W. Norton will publish in hardcover on September 8th. I've only just seen it now, because I only got to BEA on Saturday, after the buzz had gone around the hall several times and the galleys had evaporated. Small is an award-winning children's book author -- he got the Caldecott, among others -- but this is his first work for adults, and his first graphic novel. Small grew up in the '50s, in one of those families we now call dysfunctional, but were just "families" back then. It's one I'm really looking forward to.

On a whole different level -- but also wonderful in their own way -- are three collections of Antonio Prohias's long-running "Spy Vs. Spy" feature from Mad magazine: Danger! Intrigue! Stupidity!, Missions of Madness and Masters of Mayhem. If you read Mad any time from the '60s to the '80s, you know Prohias's work: those two color-coded, beaked agents of destruction, forever scheming to destroy each other and neither of them ever being successful. Prohias's strips are reminiscent of Chuck Jones's Roadrunner cartoons -- only with two coyotes and no roadrunner. Each of these three medium-sized trade paperbacks -- a little bigger than a mass-market -- collects nearly two hundred pages of wordless Spy Vs. Spy strips, with all of their attendant inventive violence and intrigue. They're all available this month from Watson-Guptill.

The Big Kahn is a new graphic novel by Neil Kleid (Xeric Award-winning author of Brownsville) and Nicolas Cinquegrani. It's the story of a beloved Rabbi -- except that, after his death, his family and congregation learn that Rabbi David Kahn wasn't Jewish in the first place. The book description mostly talks about Kahn's two sons, and how they deal with the revelation...but (and I'm sure I'll have to read the book to figure out how this comes into play) Judiaism is determined matrilineally, so they're still precisely as Jewish as they were before, and that all depends on their mother (who, presumably, is just as Jewish after her husband's death as she was before it, no matter how Jewish, precisely, that was). The Big Kahn is being published in September by NBM.

Adam Rapp is a writer in various media (plays, novels, films) who seems to specialize in the horrific and the unpleasant -- his one adult novel is called The Year of Endless Sorrows, for example -- and he's now come to comics with the graphic novel Ball Peen Hammer, joined by George O'Connor on art. (And can I complain about the credits on this book? It's a graphic novel, not an illustrated piece of prose, so it's insulting to O'Connor's work to credit it as "by Adam Rapp; artwork by George O'Connor" unless Rapp actually laid out the damn thing and O'Connor just followed his thumbnails. The art in comics is as important as the words; turning a script into a page is more than just "illustrating.") Ball Peen Hammer takes place in one of your obligatory nihilistic near futures, in a conveniently nameless city where the survivors of "war and plague" (why not throw in famine and death while you're at it?) form "diseased deranged mobs that roam the streets." I warn you: the publisher calls it "an unflinching meditation on art and human nature," which usually means that none of the characters are pleasant, that most of them die in hideous ways, that the ending is bleak and depressing, and that you may not be able to understand large stretches of it. Of course, I may be wrong. Ball Peen Hammer will be published October 1st by First Second.

Del Rey and the Dabel Brothers extend their beachhead into graphic novel urban fantasy (already established with the Jim Butcher books together, and with other Dabel projects with other co-publishers) in Mercy Thompson: Homecoming, an original graphic novel in Patricia Briggs's popular werewolf series. It's written by Briggs and David Lawrence (an editor at Dabel and the creator of the Ex-Mutants) and has art by Francis Tsai and Amelia Woo, and it will be on shelves as a hardcover on August 25th.

The rest of this list all comes from one big box, crammed full of wonderful stuff from Fantagraphics, that I found on my doorstep a week ago today when I came back from Montreal. (And there's very little that's better as a welcome-home gift than that, particularly since Scarlett Johansson keeps refusing to wait behind my door in a bikini.)

I've only seen Johnny Ryan's work -- which is deliberately offensive in nearly every possible way, showing an impressive comprehensiveness -- in small doses before, but now I have a concentrated shot of Ryan at his best/worst. Prison Pit: Book One is the first in a new series about ultra-violence among a group of nasty characters inspired equally by pro wrestling, Fist of the North Star, and Grand Theft Auto. I expect epic levels of scatology and violence with a vague SFnal skin, all in Ryan's only slightly grown-up version of the notebook drawings of that creepy boy we all knew in seventh grade. Prison Pit is publishing on October 20th.

The Squirrel Machine is a major graphic novel, in a vaguely steampunk style, from Hans Rickheit. I don't know Rickheit's work, but it looks to fit in well with the general run of Fantagraphics' creators: careful detailed art slightly reminiscent of Rick Geary, and a deeply symbolic, surreal story that follows image much more than narrative. It's also coming October 20th.

I complain about the world sometimes -- who doesn't? -- but it's hard to find fault with a world in which Love and Rockets: New Stories, No. 2 lands on my doorstep when I didn't expect it. That's a world that still has grace and surprise in it, a world I can believe in. The current incarnation of Love and Rockets -- one of the best comics of all time, with separate but compatible universes of story created by brothers Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez for the past almost thirty years -- is a yearly trade paperback with about fifty pages of comics from each of them. It's also coming on October 20th.

The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book includes two new stories by South African cartoonist Joe Daly, both of them featuring stoners Dave and Paul. I don't know Daly's work -- his previous book is Scrublands, from 2006 -- but Fanta describes this one as "stuffed to the gills with mystery, suspense, action, adventure, conspiracy theories, cool cars, and massive amounts of killer weed." It's yet another piece of Fanta's attempt to utterly dominate the comics world on October 20th.

You know, all of these books from Fantagraphics are publishing on October 20th, so I probably don't need to say that every time. Hmm. Anyway, next is Giraffes in my Hair: A Rock 'N' Roll Life, by Bruce Paley (who lived it) and Carol Swain (who drew it). Paley and Swain "live together in London," according to the publicity materials for this book, which I guess means that Paley is still far too rock 'n' roll to get married. Giraffes tells stories from ten years of Paley's life, from the late '60s through the late '70s, from his late teens to about thirty. Swain is an acclaimed British cartoonist, and this book was well-reviewed when it was originally published in France.

Last from the 10/20 Fanta box, and last for this week, is the first book in their program reprinting a huge swath of the work of the great French cartoonist Jacques Tardi. It's West Coast Blues, a noir graphic novel adapted by Tardi from the novel Le Petit Bleu de la Cote Ouest by Jean-Patrick Manchette (the novel has been translated into English as Three To Kill) and originally published in 1976.
Listening to: Josh Ritter - Golden Age of Radio (live)
via FoxyTunes

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