Tuesday, October 13, 2009

More From the Top Shelf

I bought a bunch of books from Top Shelf from their recent sale, so let me talk about three of them quickly together:

Tales Of Woodsman Pete by Lilli Carre -- Tales is the first book by Carre, who has since had The Lagoon published. Lagoon was a full-fledged graphic novel, and it was impressive -- even if I didn't quite think it was entirely successful. Tales is a rawer, earlier, more DIY kind of work; if it doesn't collect some minicomics it might as well have. It's a small-format book, about 5" x 7", with under eighty pages of comics. The stories are mostly about the solitary fellow on the cover, who is Woodsman Pete. He lives alone somewhere deep in these nameless woods, with only his taxidermy animals and his impressive beard to keep him company, but he keeps up a monologue much of the time, generally in the vaguely philosophical area with digressions about his dead wife and anything else that comes into his head. Tales also has stories of Paul Bunyan, the legendary giant tree-feller, who has a very similarly toned monologue -- though he's primarily worried about killing women accidentally, and his place in the world -- though he does talk to his blue ox, Babe, and so gets responses some of the time. There isn't a lot of range to Tales of Woodsman Pete; it's wistfully thoughtful all the way through, with minimal activity, and if it was much longer it would wear out its welcome. But it's just fine for its length.

Lone Racer by Nicolas Mahler -- Unlike the other books of Mahler's that I've seen -- Van Helsing's Night Off -- Lone Racer is not wordless, though Mahler's character designs are as idiosyncratically deformed here as in the other book. Lone Racer is that big-nosed fellow on the cover, our first-person narrator. He used to be a famous race-car driver, back when he won regularly. Now he's older and slower, with younger, more fearless drivers passing him all the time, and so he doesn't win anymore. He's depressed about that, and about the fact that his wife is in a hospital, and spends much of his non-racing time hanging around in a bar. Lone Racer isn't as amusing and oblique as Van Helsing was, but it's still pleasant; Mahler has a light touch and never lets this story get as serious as it might.

Trenches by Scott Mills -- This one is a WW I epic told entirely in what looks like newspaper strips -- they're usually placed on the page in a 2x2 grid, but the relentless closeups and the few panels per page give the reader an impression of seeing a big story through a keyhole. Mills' art is loose, energetic and appealingly cartoony, all expressive squiggly lines and carefully placed tone, but his camera stays close to his figures at all times. The story follows two brothers from Hull who become soldiers in 1914 and their (clearly more aristocratic) commanding officer from London. The war, of course, is hell, and no one makes it back unscathed. But Mills' art, and particularly his choice of framing, doesn't serve this story as well as it might -- his dialogue and dynamic art is fine, but it's as if he's staged the Great War in a shoebox.

No comments:

Post a Comment