From the stack: Glister 1 and 2

November 29, 2007

Andi Watson’s Glister (Image) is set in one of those places I kind of want to live. Chilblain Hall is a big old wreck of a country house filled with oddities, yet it’s strangely inviting. Weird things happen there, but the worst of them never come close to being menacing. Irritating, maybe, but they’re nothing the titular heroine can’t handle, and life would be dull without them.

So when a haunted teapot arrives and dictates the most tedious novel imaginable to poor Glister Butterworth, she rolls up her sleeves and works towards a solution, one that hopefully won’t hurt anyone’s feelings. When a stuck-up neighbor makes disparaging remarks about Chilblain Hall and it wanders off in a huff, Glister’s imaginative coping skills kick in again.

Charming without being sickly, witty without any bite, these are really delightful comics. This isn’t really a surprise, given Watson’s track record for tremendously appealing work. His heroine sets the tone for everything – sensible but not completely without sentiment, quick-witted, and ready to roll with whatever her strange home and life present.

For all of the weirdness, the comedy is very low-key. It’s almost observational, except Glister deals with pushy bridge trolls and tourists renting the dungeon for war games instead of the line at the DMV or bad cell phone connections. What’s the opposite of magical realism? Because that’s what Glister is.

(I haven’t even tried to describe Watson’s illustrations, mostly because Tom Spurgeon described them so well and anything I wrote would seem kind of pitifully derivative.)

(Oh, and I have to admit that when I looked at the back cover and saw that this had been published by Image, my first thought was, “No, really? Image? Not Oni? Do I even have a category for Image?” My second was, “Good for them.”)

Quick comic comments: Shifts

November 28, 2007

I’m happy to report that Hiroki Endo’s Eden: It’s an Endless World! (Dark Horse) makes an exhilarating return to form with the ninth volume. Endo leaves the cartels and brothels of South America behind for a thrilling, multilayered hostage crisis in Asia. Rebels have occupied an oil facility owned by evil empire Propator. The facility itself is less meaningful to the rebels than shedding light on the plight of their people, who are the targets of systematic cultural assimilation. As Propator tries brutally to put a lid on the situation, other forces are working to broadcast the situation as widely as possible. In other words, the forces of money, politics and media are swirling around in the kind of crazily complex yet strangely humanistic way that Endo executes so very well.

Endo folds in a number of new narrative elements and characters with apparent ease. I’m particularly impressed by the introduction of the rebel group. With so many outside forces pulling the strings, they could easily come across as idealistic dupes, but Endo gives them a much more layered portrayal. They know they’re out of their depth, and the knowledge sparks dissent over method and means. But they’re strangely admirable all the same, and it’s fascinating to watch their leader, Marihan, walk a tightrope of morality, influence and survival.

On the other hand, there’s the fifth volume of Marley’s Dokebi Bride (Netcomics). I’ve always had the sense that Marley doesn’t have much of an attention span for the various plot threads she weaves together, but it’s usually part of the book’s charm. It generally seems more expansive than scattered.

This time around, the shift in focus is rather jarring. Things open with a blistering, extremely effective confrontation between troubled Sunbi and a rival shaman. The fallout pushes Sunbi’s family situation from difficult to impossible, and she runs away. Suddenly we find ourselves in what I can only describe as an Afterschool Special produced by Lifetime. Sunbi winds up in a community of runaways and fades into the background as her new, emotionally damaged roomies suck up all the oxygen. If there was anything particularly surprising about their woes or if it all influenced Sunbi in the slightest, it might not have been a problem. Unfortunately, there wasn’t and it didn’t, so I found myself clinging to the brief glimpses of what was happening back at home with Sunbi’s endearingly bratty stepsister.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Dokebi Bride a lot, particularly for Sunbi’s belligerence. (She’s earned it, to be honest.) I even like the general sense that it isn’t going anywhere in particular, or at least not very quickly. But with so many inviting side streets already on its narrative map, a big detour into social problem drama territory didn’t do the book any favors.

’til you drop

November 27, 2007

I didn’t partake in any Black Friday insanity, but I’m not immune to the lure of holiday shopping. Hence, this week’s Flipped.

Upcoming 11/29/2007

November 27, 2007

This week’s ComicList constitutes almost an embarrassment of riches. Maybe it’s because of the extra day before shipment. There’s even a three-way tie for Pick of the Week, with some serious runners-up.

Any week that offers a new title from Fanfare/Ponent Mon is going to be special. This boutique nouvelle-manga publisher has a sterling track record for quality, and I can’t imagine that new work from Jiro Taniguchi will do anything to undermine it. With The Ice Wanderer, Taniguchi seems to be channeling Call of the Wild, offering six man-versus-nature short stories. The subject matter isn’t automatically my cup of tea, but it’s Taniguchi, so it will be gorgeous.

A new paperback volume of Rick Geary’s A Treasury of Victorian Murder series (NBM) is also cause for celebration. The Bloody Benders might well be subtitled “Deadly Inn on the Prairie” from the solicitation text.

It’s a great week for Del Rey in general, but I have to make special mention of the last volume of Kio Shimoku’s Genshiken. Nothing much has really happened in nine volumes, but the characters are so great that I really don’t care. The charming interpersonal dynamics and the insanely detailed art are more than ample compensation.

As to the rest of Del Rey’s large-ish slate of releases, I’ve gone from really liking Fuyumi Soryo’s ES to absolutely loving it. The seventh volume arrives on Thursday, and the tension ratchets up considerably as Soryo forces just about everyone in her cast into dark and dangerous corners. On the lighter side, there’s the third volume of Ai Morinaga’s very funny anti-sports manga, My Heavenly Hockey Club. I devoted half of last week’s Flipped to Ryotaro Iwanaga’s very promising Pumpkin Scissors, so go take a look if you haven’t already.

I don’t think I’ll ever be inclined to read comics online if there’s a print alternative. Take Morim Kang’s 10, 20, and 30 (Netcomics). I sampled some chapters via the Internet and liked them a lot, then read the first paperback and liked it quite a bit more. Either way you consume it, it’s got charming cartooning and wonderfully rounded characters offering multi-generational slices of life. The second volume arrives this week.

I’m still kind of on the fence about MPD Psycho (Dark Horse), written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Sho-U Tajima. I read the second volume over the weekend, and while I found it less aggressively lurid than the first, I thought it was a little harder to follow. I’m inclined to give Otsuka a lot of leeway based on his work on The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, so I’ll stay on board for a bit longer.

I was quite taken with the first volume of Kyoko Shitou’s The Key to the Kingdom (CMX), a race-for-the-crown fantasy adventure. I’m eager to see what happens in the second installment.

Buckeye country

November 26, 2007

I had big plans for reading and writing over the Thanksgiving holiday, but I got sidetracked by an unusually active visit to family in Columbus. (These visits usually involve moving from couch to couch between random snack consumption, but we kept going places and doing things. I’m not complaining.)

First up was a touring production of Spamalot, which was amusing if not life-changing. By pure coincidence, I happened to be there on the same night as Mark Evanier, so I’ll just point to his description of the evening. (No matter how many Thanksgiving holidays I spend in Columbus, I always manage to forget that the Mid-Ohio Con is going on at the same time. It doesn’t really seem like the kind of convention I’d enjoy, to be honest.)

We had dinner before the show at Thai Taste. If you’re in Columbus and you like Thai food, GO. If you like pomegranate martinis and Thai food, GO OFTEN.

A large group of us hit a matinee of Enchanted on Saturday. I’m normally very pro-musical, though this movie wasn’t really on my radar before a niece or two expressed their profound interest in seeing it. A lot of reviews have described it as subversive, though I think they might have mistakenly identified cleverness. The real world that’s juxtaposed to the cartoon landscape isn’t really any more realistic, and there’s a weirdly retro vibe to everything. (It’s still reaffirming conventional relationships as much as any other Disney princess musical, so I’m not sure where the progressive, edgy underpinnings are supposed to be.) Amy Adams is spectacular, though. I’m getting sick of seeing the finest actresses of a certain generation (Michelle Pfeiffer, Meryl Streep, and, in this case, Susan Sarandon) reduced to playing vicious, oppressive harridans who hate youth even as they covet it, to be honest. And Patrick Dempsey’s appeal is entirely lost on me, apparently. He’s just grumpy.

That evening was spent at a hockey game, of all places. As far as interesting, fast-paced sports to watch, I’d rank hockey fairly highly, though I’m never going to be the target audience for any of them. And there was interesting people-watching to be done, especially if you sat there and looked for parallels to comic fandom in the puck head set. (There was this guy in front of us who was maniacally, microscopically attentive throughout and seemed utterly miserable to this casual observer, but everyone has his or her own idea of fun, I suppose.)

I did manage to work in a visit to The Laughing Ogre, one of my favorite comic shops in the entire world. Maybe it was just because I was outnumbered by staff three to one, but they were tremendously helpful and friendly and readily admitted that none of them were really big manga experts though they were happy to look stuff up for me. See how that works?

And while I did get some reading done, this week’s Flipped will still be a day late because I’m lazy and tired.

From the stack: Human Diastrophism

November 22, 2007

In the stories collected in Heartbreak Soup (Fantagraphics), Gilbert Hernandez erected the Central American town of Palomar and populated it with an indelible citizenry the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in comics. In the stories collected in Human Diastrophism, Hernandez lays siege to Palomar and its residents, introducing a daunting array of outside forces that threaten the apparent idyll. Archeologists, surfers, leftist ideology, and even a plague of monkeys chip away at the community.

The most obviously sinister is a serial killer who seems to be targeting victims at random. There’s the obvious threat to life and safety, but the crime wave is most telling in its individual effects. As one might suspect from Hernandez, it’s less a mystery or crime drama than a catalyst for personal and sociological seismic waves. There are moments that have the tension of the thriller, but these chapters are most notable for the personal and moral conundrums they trigger.

I’m perpetually amazed at how well Hernandez can juggle seemingly disparate narrative elements. The cast is absolutely sprawling, but no one gets lost. With figures as outsized as Luba, that heartbreaking, voluptuous monster, or passionate, impressionable Tonatzin, searching and failing to find the thing that will fill the void, it would have been simplicity itself to put someone in the driver’s seat. And while that still would have resulted in a marvelous comic, Hernandez’s shifting focus and diffuse point of views make things even richer.

It’s all ultimately about Palomar, even when it isn’t set there. The bulk of the second half tracks expatriates from the hamlet who are trying to build new lives in the United States but keep getting drawn back to their home, either emotionally or physically. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the bittersweet connection to a place be articulated as well as it is here. And since the characters have been impeccably and richly conceived, there’s no limit to their possibilities.

The short pieces are also marvelous. My favorite follows sexy, outgoing Pipo as she goes from being the prettiest girl in Palomar to a woman of surprising power and substance. Broken down in sixteen-panel grids, Pipo narrates her personal journey as a sort of film strip unfolds visually.

I really can’t say enough about these comics. The world that Hernandez has created is so rich in detail and possibilities, and the characters are so engrossing, even when they’re horrid. If you’ve never read these stories, you really should, not because of their place in some abstract comics canon, but because they’re spectacularly, richly entertaining.

From the stack: Maybe Later

November 21, 2007

I think I’m impossibly picky about autobiographical comics. I tend to resist them when the creators give their lives too much of a narrative arc, because it always strikes me as kind of fishy, but I also don’t like to feel like my time has been wasted with meandering, disconnected episodes. Self-deprecation is always welcome, but not at the expense of some core of sincerity and self-expression. And introspection is appreciated, as long as nobody loses perspective.

At the same time, I’m reluctant to sit down and say, “I’m sorry, but your life is just kind of dreary,” or “You really don’t tell your own story very well.” I mean, how awful is that? (I realize that it’s an artificial distinction, because surely creators care at least as much about their fictional constructs, and I have no problem digging into the strengths and weaknesses of made-up stories. Still…)

I’m also fairly results-oriented. I’m not especially interested in the creative process as I am the creative product. I tend to edge towards the door when people start talking about “the work” or “the process,” and I think there’s probably a circle of hell devoted to nothing but repeated airings of Inside the Actors Studio.

But I was really taken with Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian’s Get a Life, Drawn & Quarterly’s collection of their Mr. Jean stories. So I put Maybe Later, Dupuy and Berberian’s comic journals of the creation of a volume of Mr. Jean stories, on my wish list, and someone was kind enough to send it to me.

Alternating chunks of chapters from Dupuy and Berberian, who take an entirely collaborative approach to Mr. Jean, skirt most of my autobiography aversions. D&Q’s cover text warns that, “Above all, it’s about the creative process,” which should have had me running in the opposite direction, but my faith in the creators’ companionable charm was rewarded.

I don’t know that I’m any more informed on the actual process of creating Mr. Jean, but it’s good fun to read Maybe Later and speculate as to how the creators’ individual personalities intersect in their shared fictional creation. Berberian takes a lighter, more caustic approach to his journal entries, though he does sneak in thoughtful, amusingly framed bits on why creative people create. (They end up involving archers, divers, and the Dynamic Duo. It’s weird, but it works.)

Dupuy is more of an introspective bent. He’s got marriage problems, health problems, work problems, depression and insecurity. (He’s even a bit undone by the finished quality of Berberian’s early contributions to the journal.) His chapters are more serious and sincere, but they stop short of being mopey. It’s hard to explain, but I think if you added Berberian and Dupuy together and divided by two, you’d get Jean. I’m sure the reality is nowhere near that simple, but I like the idea all the same.

And their disconnected approaches actually end up being mutually supportive. Dupuy’s darker musings balance Berberian’s sharper, more satirical bent. I can’t really decide which I liked better, because they’re so distinct, but they flow together quite nicely.

It’s not a finished narrative by any means, but the episodes and the reflections do accumulate into something that stands on its own. I liked it quite a bit.

Upcoming 11/21/2007

November 20, 2007

If I’m up to date with my reading, it’s only slightly, you know? I’m just about done with the second volume of Gilbert Hernandez’s wonderful Palomar stories, Human Diastrophism, which I’ll probably get around to reviewing later in the week. (It’s not that you need me to tell you how great these stories are. I just feel like it, okay?) This week, Fantagraphics is delivering the third volume, Beyond Palomar. (Don’t even get me started on New Tales of Old Palomar, or I’ll be forced to admit that I’m waiting for the trade.)

I’m not waiting for the trade with Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting (also from Fantagraphics). Would it read better in big chunks? Probably, but patience has never been my strong suit.

Go! Comi sent me a complimentary copy of Aimee Major Steinberger’s Japan Ai: A Tall Girl’s Adventures in Japan, a cute journal/sketchbook detailing Steinberger’s otaku pilgrimage. I like Steinberger’s friendly style of illustration, and I almost always enjoy travel comics. (Even ones that partake of the kind of travel I’d never consider, though Steinberger seems to be as much a fan of hotels and consumerism as I am.)

“Something a child could live with…”

November 19, 2007

This week’s Flipped is up, and while I know there are probably many manga out there with worse titles than Pumpkin Scissors (Del Rey), I still can’t think of any to top it. (And yes, I’m including Banana Fish.) Nifty book, though.

And burdened with a title as bland as plain microwave oatmeal is the otherwise charming Venus in Love (CMX).

From the stack: Kimmie66

November 17, 2007

Most of the books DC’s Minx imprint has published to date have felt like drafts to me, one or two serious edits away from seeming really finished. The notable exception is Re-Gifters, one of my favorite books of this year. Now it’s been joined by Aaron Alexovich’s Kimmie66. I’m not saying that it’s a great book, but it at least feels like a completed graphic novel.

First of all, it’s got a proper story, with a beginning, middle and end, and enough sidelines and flourishes to keep it from feeling too mechanical. It never goes off the narrative rails, and it executes its premise with welcome coherence and diligence.

It follows Telly, a 23rd Century, 14-year-old girl who spends most of her time in virtual reality. Lest you think she’s too much of a geek, this is a common, even pervasive pastime in the future. There are niche environments for just about every taste, and Telly favors the goth pastures of Elysium. The pleasures of online escapism are tainted when one of her closest virtual friends, the titular Kimmie, sends Telly a suicide note. So why does Kimmie keep popping up in various virtual neighborhoods?

Alexovich takes good advantage of the vagaries of online friendships as the mystery unfolds. Is Kimmie really dead? Should Telly violate her privacy by trying to match a real person to the avatar? Telly’s investigation is constructed well, and she doesn’t demonstrate any skills or insights that tax credibility.

Not all of it works perfectly. There’s apparently a ban of some sort on frequenting more than one niche community, though I’m never really sure why. Kimmie is never really a vivid presence, so the revelations about her on- and offline lives don’t have as much weight as they seem like they should. The characters generally have distinct voices, but some of the invented future slang is a little clumsy. And there are some weird little things that stand out. (Anyone can sink into an immersive VR environment but they still wash dishes by hand? “Homo” is still a slur 200 years in the future? The work of Patrick Swayze has survived the test of time?)

But it does hang together when all is said and done, and Alexovich is a very talented illustrator. His character designs are particularly appealing, and the virtual landscapes are interesting.

It sounds like I’m damning the book with faint praise, and I have to admit that’s partly true. Noting that a book seems ready for publication isn’t that big of a compliment, and it might not seem particularly noteworthy from another publisher or imprint. But it does seem to buck the trend of the current roster of Minx books, and it’s perfectly competent work on its merits.