Monday, March 04, 2013

Graphic Novels I Read Three Months Ago and Want to Put Away Now

As the post title says, I read these three books in December/January and still have them stacked up on top of the printer. Time to make 'em go away!

Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland by Bill Willingham, four artists, and at least one full year

I'm not as connected to Corporate Comics as I used to be, but even I noticed that this book was supposed to come out a good year before it actually did. The creative credits hint at possible reasons -- layouts are by Jim Fern, pencils by Craig Hamilton and Fern, and inks by Hamilton, Ray Snyder, Mark Farmer, and Fern -- but I don't know what happened, and frankly I don't care: I paid for a book, and it's that book that matters.

Too many cooks did not add up to a great stew here: much of the book is fussy and over-rendered (particularly the mania -- I couldn't trace it to any of the four inkers, so it may be a collective mania -- for drawing each individual body hair on werewolves and hairy men alike), and even the panel-to-panel storytelling is clunky and obvious. After the usually sinuous, casually beautiful art on the main Fables book (which, of course, took massive work by main series artist Mark Buckingham to accomplish), Werewolves of the Heartland looks a day late and a dollar short.

Willingham's story gives up with the art, as well -- he must have planned this to be something special, but it's just dull. Bigby Wolf -- one of the main characters of Fables, the wolf from fairy tales and also a son of the North Wind -- is wandering across America, and comes across Story City, an isolated town with an usual relationship to him and a uniquely unified population. (I'll avoid spoiling the whole point of the book, in case any of you still want to read it.) Stuff happens, things blow up real good, and Bigby walks out alone again in the end, just like an old episode of The Incredible Hulk -- though Bigby has more control of his alter ego than Bixby did.

If you've read the whole main Fables series and all of the better spin-offs, this will be an only slightly disappointing trip to the same well. If not, go do that other stuff first.

Spleenal by Nigel Auchterlounie

Auchterlounie cartoons for several British outlets (mostly for kids, from what I've seen, in a very boyish, potty-humor style), and also at Where I Vent My Spleen, which I've been recommending ever since I found it.

This is his first book -- I think his only book so far, though I'd be happy to find out I'm wrong -- and it collects a number of longer comics from his blog (plus a few new things created for the book). Much of it is rude -- there's a "18+ only" notice on the cover for a reason, and all of it is funny, and much of it is oddly true in a way you don't expect from quick comics about a thinly-veiled version of the cartoonist retelling versions of stories from his own life and his fantasies (or, again, versions of those fantasies).

Auchterlounie also has a quirky, idiosyncratic cartoony style -- all of the characters look like Weebles more than anything else, no one has feet, some characters don't even have legs, and women have floating hands without arms -- that gives his work energy and visual pizazz; he's otherwise a very conventional cartoonist, with a lot of nine-panel grids and standard transitions.

If any of that sounds at all enticing, check out the blog -- Auchterlounie looks like a laddish British cartoonist, but there's a lot of thought and drawing chops going into his stories, which go interesting places and say unexpected things.

The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz

Wertz is a young autobiographical cartoonist who used to use "The Fart Party" as an overarching title for her work -- but that clearly palls with time (even though Wertz is still only in her twenties), and so she's been distancing herself from that. (Still, you know that in 2050 or so, she'll be a Guest of Honor at whatever the intergalactic version of Comic-Con is by then, and she'll still get people snickering as they ask her about her favorite farts.) Infinite Wait contains three long stories, breaking with Wertz's prior style: lots of little pieces that add up to a mosaic of her life.

I reviewed the first Fart Party collection for Comic Mix, noted that I read the second one without saying much else, and then reviewed her big major publisher book, Drinking at the Movies, here. (Though Drinking had the same format and style as the first two collections; Infinity Wait is actually a bigger break from Wertz's previous work than Drinking was.) I won't claim any augural powers from my saying that Wertz, at that point, "still wants to tell lots of stories about all of the different aspects of her life, instead of telling one long story about one piece of her life." Wertz is ambitious about her work -- her art may look crude, but that's on purpose, and her storytelling is smooth and assured and much more sophisticated than that art style makes it appear.

Two of the stories in Infinite Wait are long looks at one aspect of Wertz's life -- the title story covers her diagnosis with lupus at the age of twenty, and how she's lived with it since then, while "Industry" runs through all of the jobs she's had since age six, which is an interesting catalog of youthful energy and then a succession of colorful food-service job before she went full-time with her comics a few years ago. Those both clearly derive from her earlier work, though it's more unified, with a clear single voice and through-line in each pushing the narrative forward.

The third and shortest story is the one that most readers will love best, for obvious reasons: "A Strange and Curious Place" is a sweet story of Wertz's love of reading, and specifically of libraries -- and I've yet to find a serious reader that doesn't have a soft spot for large collections of books.

I do wonder if autobiography is a deep enough row for any creative person to stick to for a whole career, but Wertz is still young; she has plenty of time to find other things to cartoon about, or to start doing exciting things just to cartoon about them afterward. And I expect her snotty, post-punk attitude -- even if it, like the focus on farts, is waning -- will keep whatever stories she creates vital and energetic and real for many years to come.

(Infinite Wait is, shockingly, not available from That Voracious Bookstore Named After a River; you might have to get it in a real bookstore, like I did -- at the Strand, signed, plug plug -- or buy it directly from the cartoonist in the new 20st century web stylee. I also see that Drinking is called "a full-length graphic memoir" on the page for the new book, which doesn't match my memory or what I wrote about it. Sadly, my copy perished in my flood in 2011, so I can't check -- so we'll have to agree to disagree.)

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