Vive la France!

July 14, 2010

It’s Bastille Day, so I thought I’d put together a quick list of some of my favorite comics by French creators and some of my favorite comics set in France. It’s tough, because so many of them are so great, but I’ll try not to go overboard. Off the top of my head, here are some of my favorite comics by French writers and artists:

  • Aya, written by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by Clément Oubrerie (Drawn & Quarterly): Wonderfully funny and thoughtful multigenerational soap opera about coming of age in the Ivory Coast of the 1970s.
  • Little Nothings, written and illustrated by Lewis Trondheim (NBM): Really terrific slice-of-life and observational humor from a wonderful cartoonist.
  • The Rabbi’s Cat, written and illustrated by Joann Sfar (Pantheon): A rabbi in Algeria finds his cat can talk, and the cat has no shortage of distressing philosophical opinions.
  • Klezmer, written and illustrated by Joann Sfar (First Second): I really like Sfar, what can I say? I even liked Vampire Loves, and I usually hate vampire comics. When are we going to get more of this wonderful tale of Jewish musicians in Eastern Europe?
  • Get a Life, written and illustrated by Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian: Why haven’t there been more collections of Monsieur Jean stories published in English? This one’s a treasure.
  • Glacial Period, written and illustrated by Nicolas de Crécy (NBM): Still my favorite of the comics created in conjunction with the Louvre. (Holy crap, NBM is going to publish Salvatore this winter! My wish came true!)
  • My Mommy Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill, written by Jean Regnaud and illustrated by Émille Bravo (Fanfare/Ponent Mon): Deservedly nominated for a few Eisner Awards this year,
  • Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, written and illustrated by various creators (Fanfare/Ponent Mon): Half of this book constitutes an invasion of Japan by various wonderful French comic artists. The other half is wonderful Japanese comic artists telling stories about their hometowns. There is no losing in this book. I’d love to see the same group take on France as Viewed by 17 Creators.
  • And here are a couple of comics set in France that I really like:

  • Paris, written by Andi Watson and illustrated by Simon Gane (SLG): This tale of young women in love in the Paris of the 1920s is so gorgeous it almost hurts.
  • Gerard and Jacques, written and illustrated by Fumi Yoshinaga (Blu): Over time, I’ve willfully forgotten the fact that this series opens with coercive sex, because I love watching the characters natter at each other in between bouts of steamy, consensual congress.
  • What did I forget? Or what should I look into? What about comics from or set in France that have yet to be translated? Between their indigenous talent and the volume of licensed manga they enjoy, the French are sick with awesome comics.


    Elsewhere in 2009

    December 30, 2009

    This isn’t really a “Best of 2009” list, as I don’t feel like I read enough comics from places other than Japan to make that kind of list with a sufficient degree of authority, but I didn’t want to neglect books that I really enjoyed this year. I’m not going to say that all of these books are equally entertaining or good in the same ways; I’m not shooting for an equivalent level of quality. I’m just saying that these are the books that lingered in my memory and that I’ll return to again in the future. I’ll subdivide the books into “New Stuff” and “Continuing Stuff.”

    New Stuff:

    The Adventures of Blanche, written and illustrated by Rick Geary, Dark Horse. Comics by Geary are always a cause for celebration, and this collection of stories about a feisty musician traipsing through genre-based dangers was one of the year’s most pleasant surprises.

    Asterios Polyp, written and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, Pantheon. I’m always a little surprised when someone describes this book as technically brilliant but cold. I thought it had a very solid emotional core beyond the astonishing level of craft.

    Johnny Hiro, written and illustrated by Fred Chao, AdHouse Books. This book didn’t do nearly as well as it should have in pamphlet form, so let me extend my heartfelt thanks to AdHouse for collecting the existing issues plus unpublished material. It’s simultaneously a winning genre mash-up and a warm, grown-up romance, and it’s a treat.

    Masterpiece Comics, written and illustrated by R. Sikoryak, Drawn & Quarterly. What do you get when you combine great works of literature with classics of comic books and strips? In Sikoryak’s case, you get breezy, inspired work that displays great versatility, intelligence, and a sense of fun.

    Mijeong, written and illustrated by Byung-jun Byun, NBM. It’s not as good as Run! Bong-Gu, Run!, but this collection of short stories is never short of very, very good and is often brilliant.

    My Mommy Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill, written by Jean Regnaud, illustrated by Émile Bravo, Fanfare/Ponent Mon. Gloriously sad and sharply observed, this book offers one of the freshest looks at childhood and grief you’re ever likely to find.

    Nightschool: The Weirn Books, written and illustrated by Svetlana Chamkova, Yen Press. A comic featuring vampires and teenagers that doesn’t make me roll my eyes until they water? What strange magic is this? It’s actually just Chamkova fulfilling her prodigious promise as a graphic storyteller.

    Stitches: A Memoir, written and illustrated by David Small, W.W. Norton and Company. Aside from being strikingly drawn, I think this is a beautifully shaped memoir, functioning perfectly as a story in its own right. The fact that the terrible things Small relates actually happened just adds a layer of disquiet.

    Underground, written by Jeff Parker, illustrated by Steve Lieber, colored by Ron Chan, Image Comics: There should be more snappy genre comics like this, you know? It’s a smartly executed thriller set in the perilous depths of a cave in the Appalachians.

    Continuing Stuff:

    Aya: The Secrets Come Out, written by Marguerite Abouet, illustrated by Clément Oubrerie, Drawn & Quarterly. I was briefly afraid that this was the final volume of this wistful, multigeneration soap opera about life in the Ivory Coast in the 1970s. Fortunately, there seem to be at least two more volumes still to come of Aya and her unmanageable friends and family.

    Empowered, written and illustrated by Adam Warren, Dark Horse. I’m so glad that Dark Horse released a pamphlet chapter of this ongoing series of graphic novels, as that might help to build the audience it deserves. Smutty and sweet in equal measure, it’s as sharp a parody of super-heroics as you’re ever likely to find.

    Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, written and illustrated by Tove Jansson, Drawn & Quarterly. This is a golden age of reprints of quality comic strips, and this is my absolute favorite of the bunch.

    Salt Water Taffy, written and illustrated by Matthew Loux, Oni Press. Two brothers embrace the weird on a seaside vacation. This is my go-to all-ages recommendation, by which I mean I’m as strident in suggesting adults buy it as I am in suggesting that kids will like it.

    Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe, written and illustrated by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Oni Press. As long as this book is releasing new volumes, it will be on any list of this nature that I write.

    Yôkaiden, written and illustrated by Nina Matsumoto, Del Rey. This witty fantasy-adventure got even better with the second volume. Now we have to wait for the third.


    Birthday Books: Joann Sfar

    August 28, 2009

    klezmerrabbiscat

    The Comics Reporter notes that today is the birthday of Joann Sfar, the wonderful and prolific French cartoonist. I haven’t read any of Sfar’s comics that I wouldn’t happily recommend, so I’ll cheat and suggest two.

    First up is Klezmer (First Second): “Klezmer tells a wild tale of love, friendship, survival, and the joy of making music in pre-World War II Eastern Europe… Tragic, humorous, violent, and tender, Klezmer’s rich watercolor art and simple but moving story-telling draws you into the lives of these fascinating characters.” Here’s my review of the book.

    Next is a companion piece of sorts, The Rabbi’s Cat (Pantheon): “The preeminent work by one of France’s most celebrated young comics artists, The Rabbi’s Cat tells the wholly unique story of a rabbi, his daughter, and their talking cat–a philosopher brimming with scathing humor and surprising tenderness… Rich with the colors, textures, and flavors of Algeria’s Jewish community, The Rabbi’s Cat brings a lost world vibrantly to life–a time and place where Jews and Arabs coexisted–and peoples it with endearing and thoroughly human characters, and one truly unforgettable cat.” Here’s my review.


    From the stack: Asterios Polyp

    August 13, 2009

    asterios

    Isn’t that a great page? I love the way images and text join forces to tell you everything you need to know about the characters’ relationship. It’s from David Mazzucchelli’s much-praised, best-selling graphic-novel debut, Asterios Polyp (Pantheon). The book is pretty much front-to-back filled with great pages like that, and by “like that,” I don’t mean “told with the same visual techniques.” I mean that Mazzucchelli seems to have limitless imagination when it comes to finding inventive ways to fuse words and images (composition, line, color, style) to convey character and plot. It’s a tour de force of cartooning.

    asterioscoverIn my experience, tours de force, while breathtaking, can sometimes end up seeming a little hollow. The artistry and technique can excuse the fact that there really isn’t very much underneath. My week has coincidentally ended up being about contemplating books with diversely amazing art. For instance, I found Daisuke Igarashi’s Children of the Sea (Viz) both visually breathtaking and emotionally satisfying, so that was good. I found the beginning of J.H. Williams III and Greg Rucka’s Batwoman arc in Detective (DC) to be dazzling to the eye and unsurprising in most other ways. Asterios Polyp falls squarely on the Children of the Sea end of the spectrum.

    For all of the craft on display, and in spite of the fact that it’s about a male narcissist with relationship problems, it’s a funny and nuanced story. (New rule: let’s only allow graphic novels about male narcissists with relationship problems to be published if they’re this good. We could form a screening committee.) Asterios is an architect and professor; he’s won awards for his designs, but none of them have ever become actual buildings. He’s a paper architect, never transcending two dimensions.

    This is entirely appropriate. As the terrific page above suggests, he’s obsessed with dichotomies – life and death, organic and mechanical, order and chaos. It’s no accident that he virtually always appears in profile, a hook-nosed escapee from a cartoon from The New Yorker. It’s also no surprise that his ironically myopic world view keeps him from fully connecting with his fragile, lovely wife, Hana. It’s entirely possible that he chose her to fulfill another dichotomy – left-brain unites with right-brain, urbane weds earthy, Rea Irvin meets Osamu Tezuka. Even his nickname for her constitutes an attempt to wedge her further into his yin-and-yang perception. Fortunately for her and less so for him, Hana is not so fragile that she can put up with a lifetime of that kind of reduction.

    Mazzucchelli juxtaposes scenes pulled from Asterios’ past with Hana with his more difficult present. Disaster has followed decline, and Asterios does the sensible thing – he hits the road going as far as limited funds will take him. He winds up in a small town where the people have their own interests and obsessions and are cordially impervious to any stab at condescension Asterios might make. He doesn’t wind up in Mayberry. The wisdom of the people he meets isn’t homespun; at times it isn’t even wisdom. But they have passions and nuanced belief systems, and they’re striking enough that Asterios actually listens to them. For him, it’s progress.

    I’m reluctant to mention the plot or character dynamics in any more detail, because Mazzucchelli has a way with contorting familiar elements in surprising ways, and not just in the illustrative sense. Even if Asterios Polyp was just prose, it would still offer plenty of surprises. Of course, it’s about as far from being “just prose” as you can get, and I suppose it would be possible to be carried along by the immense craft of the thing. I don’t think that’s likely, as there’s splendid feeling to the thing as well.

    By the way, Ng Suat Tong contributed a comprehensive reader’s guide to Asterios Polyp to The Comics Reporter. As the author notes, “this article will be of limited use to a person who has not read the book.” If you have read the, and I really recommend you do, whether for pyrotechnic displays of cartooning or for the fact that they still manage to serve a moving, intelligent story, go take a look.


    Previews review

    June 10, 2009

    After a couple of months of overwhelmingly appealing product in Diamond’s June 2009 Previews catalog, the industry seems to take a bit of a breather. Here’s what caught my eye, mostly new volumes of entertaining, ongoing series.

    taleThere are some debuts. I quite liked the first volume of Natsuna Kawase’s The Lapis Lazuli Crown (CMX), so I’ll certainly take a chance on the second volume (page 121) and the first volume of another Kawase series, A Tale of an Unknown Country Girl (also CMX, page 120), about a princess who goes undercover to see if her arranged fiancé is a total asshat.

    Many people viewed Brandon Graham’s King City to be one of the great casualties of whichever Tokyopop meltdown put its future in peril. Those folks will be happy to see pages 138 and 139, which reveal that Image and Tokyopop will be presenting a floppy version of Graham’s comic. I find Image’s web site impossible to navigate, so I’ll just link to this Newsarama interview with Graham.

    Two of Del Rey’s solicitations on page 237 catch my eye: the fifth volume of Ryotaro Iwanaga’s underrated postwar adventure, Pumpkin Scissors, and the third volume of Sayonara, Zetsubo-Sensei, a dark satire of school comedies that’s more heavily annotated than just about any book not edited by Carl Horn. Sayonara also has some of the tiniest print in the history of translated comics from Japan, and some fairly impenetrable humor, but enough of the jokes work for me to make it worth the eye strain.

    Fanfare/Ponent Mon presents the second volume of Jiro Taniguchi’s A Distant Neighborhood (page 245). You scrambled for the order form right after I typed the publisher’s name, didn’t you? DIDN’T YOU?

    adI’ve enjoyed Josh Neufeld’s travel comics, though he tends to go places I would never personally consider for a vacation. My idea of roughing it is hotels with limited room service. But his A.D.: New Orleans after the Deluge (Pantheon, page 273) promises to be one of the books of the year.

    I thought IDW or someone had the CSI comic-book franchise. It isn’t exclusive apparently, as Tokyopop launches the two-part CSI: Interns, written by Sekou Hamilton and illustrated by Steven Cummings (page 283).

    Viz Udon gets its sci-fi on with the return of Kia Asamiya’s Silent Möbius in an unflipped, all-new translation with restored color story pages (page 285). Trivia note: Asamiya was first introduced to many English-reading comics fans through the dubious distinction of illustrating some of the worst issues of Uncanny X-Men ever written.

    If I’m going to be completely honest, I’m more intrigued by the Viz’s debut of Hiroyuki Asada’s Tegami Bachi (page 288), which I’ve seen described as being about postal workers called “Letter Bees” carrying the hearts of correspondents to their loved ones. I admit that most of my interest comes from the probably mistaken mental image of sacks full of human hearts and the shocked reactions of their recipients.

    In the “new volume” category, Viz offers Oishinbo: Vegetables (written by Tetsu Kariya and illustrated by Akira Hanasaki), the fourth volume of Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, and the second volume of Kiminori Wakasugi’s Detroit Metal City, which is sick and wrong and I think I’m in love with it (all listed on page 292).


    Upcoming 10/29/2008

    October 28, 2008

    This week’s ComicList offers a happy hodgepodge of choices, from cross-cultural curiosities to comic strips to creepy classics. (It also allows for a lot of alliteration.)

    First and foremost is the fourth volume of Adam Warren’s razor-sharp but still endearing super-hero and fan-service parody, Empowered (Dark Horse). Rarely is the enduring fortitude of the human spirit celebrated with such enthusiastic bad taste.

    I can rarely resist a travelogue comic, and Enrico Casarosa’s The Venice Chronicles (AdHouse) looks like an extremely pretty one.

    A new volume of Hitoshi Iwaaki’s old-school horror manga, Parasyte (Del Rey) is always a welcome arrival, and the fifth installment shows up Wednesday.

    As much as I enjoy Vertical’s manga releases, I’ve missed the design genius of Chip Kidd. I can kind of get over it thanks to the arrival of Kidd’s Bat-Manga! (Pantheon).

    While I strongly suspect The Venice Chronicles will be much more to my narrative-friendly tastes, I’m sure there will be much to admire in Yuichi Yokoyama’s Travel (PictureBox).

    I’ve heard nothing but raves about the anime adaptation of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and I keep meaning to put it in the queue, but I’m just not that much of an anime geek. And besides, I tend to like to read the manga first. (Except in the case of Inu Yasha, because that series is like 75 volumes long, so I’ll stick with the animated version for now.) But thanks to Yen Press for launching the series this week. Yen is also delivering the second volume of Satoko Kiyuduki’s four-panel fairy tale, Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro. I really enjoyed the first volume, so this is another welcome arrival.


    Upcoming 5/21/2008

    May 21, 2008

    There wasn’t much room for manga in the April graphic novel sales figures at ICv2. Only eight titles cracked the top 100, and only one (the 10th volume of Path of the Assassin from Dark Horse) cracked the top 50.

    There isn’t the metric tonnage of new manga arriving in comic shops this week, which is kind of a relief, to be honest.

    My personal highlight is the fourth volume of Yuki Urushibara’s Mushishi (Del Rey). Gorgeous, episodic fantasy stories about a wandering shaman who helps people cope with their environments and the powerful, primordial bugs that share them.

    I’m glad I have a vacation coming up, because it means I’ll have time to catch up with series like Yuki Nakaji’s Venus in Love (CMX), which releases its third volume Wednesday. It’s a sweet, low-key romantic comedy about a boy and a girl in love… with the same boy. I think I’m going to fill a whole tote with “wallow manga.”

    Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki (Groundwood Books) has gotten some good some good early response, and I must say I’m intrigued by the premise: “Depression, love, sexual identity, crushes, manipulative peers–teen life in all its dramatic complexities is explored in this touching, pitch perfect, literary graphic masterpiece.” Now that’s the high school I remember.

    And not to beat an undead horse, but if you must spend money on a comic by Jessica Abel this summer, go for the paperback collection of La Perdida (Pantheon). It’s about a young woman who tries to find herself in Mexico and ends up in dramatically over her head. No vampires, but lots of flesh-and-blood drama.