ADD’s Comics in Review

Summer’s nearly here, and with it the opportunity (for most of us, anyway) to relax with a good book or two. If you’re including comics and graphic novels in your reading plans (and if you aren’t, why not?), here’s a look at some recent titles that might catch your eye.

2 Guns — This Steven Grant-written crime comic (published by Boom Studios) involves two criminals who are each not quite what the other thinks; there’s plenty of double-dealing, reversals of fortune and, toward the end, moments of revelation that were solidly planted in earlier chapters. The art is somewhat problematical — there’s a good design sense throughout, but a lack of backgrounds and an unfortunate tendency toward xeroxed panels. Grant’s story is solid enough that you’re drawn through to the end despite these flaws. Grant’s Damned with artist Mike Zeck came out a few years back, and is an even better bet if you’re looking for an excellent crime comic. You also can’t go wrong with Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, published by Marvel/Icon.

MOME Vol. 11 — Summer, 2008 sees the release of the 11th volume of the excellent Fantagraphics anthology of new and established cartoonists. This time out we get excellent offerings from Tom Kaczynski (a truly riveting tale about corporate immersion, one of his best stories yet, and he’s always interesting), Dash Shaw (an outstanding story about art and jealousy and fakery and self-deception), and an amazing text piece (illustrated, yes, but mostly text) by Paul Hornschemeier. Hornschemeier also contributes another chapter of his ongoing “Life with Mr. Dangerous” serial (actually the most intriguing outing yet), but the text piece, “The Guest Speaker,” is a real stretch, a prose exploration of a single character that feels like Hornschemeier’s creative voice, exploring new boundaries of his storytelling. Also in this volume, Gary Groth interviews lettertype cartoonist Ray Fenwick (coinciding with the release of Fenwick’s new Fantagraphics release Hall of Best Knowledge, and the result is a fascinating look at his process and creativity. Cartoonist Al Columbia is in here with four pages of mood and colour that are worth the price of admission all by themselves.

Kirby: King of Comics — Author Mark Evanier delivers a generously illustrated biography (published by Abrams) of the man born Jacob Kurtzburg, better known as Jack Kirby. Evanier was friends with Kirby from the time he was a teenager, and gives us the scoop on both the humiliations and the triumphs the greatest superhero artist of all time experienced. Kirby’s vision and contribution to the comics artform so transcend normal boundaries of accomplishment that it’s impossible to overstate his importance and place in history. Kirby: King of Comics is a treasure, a celebration of one of only five or so true geniuses of the comics artform entire.

Lifelike — Dara Naraghi’s been writing small press comics for about as long as I have been writing about comics, and he finally gets a chance in the spotlight with the beautiful hardcover collection Lifelike, published by IDW. Naraghi writes all the stories in this anthology, with a strong collection of up-and-coming artists illustrating his vision. Some, like Steve Black and Tom Williams, are welcome, familiar names; others, like Jerry Lange and Tim McClurg, are new to me. But they all bring their best work to Naraghi’s scripts, resulting in a book that is visually diverse but beautiful to look at, and held together by the strength of Naraghi’s writing. The stories in Lifelike span a variety of genres, from autobiography to EC-style suspense (the excellent “Double-Cross at the Double Down” with artist MP Mann). But virtually everything here has the spark of genuine creativity and the power to entertain. It’s twenty bucks you won’t regret spending in the least, and if you’re new to Naraghi’s writing, a very good entry into his world.

That Salty Air — Tim Sievert’s first graphic novel, published by Top Shelf Productions, is a parable of frustration, rage and grief, with a strong and confident use of black ink that defines the ocean that creates the “salty air” that the protagonist, Hugh, professes to love. The blackness of the ocean hides depths of despair and resentment, in addition to the wondrous creatures of the deep that seem to hover around the edge of Hugh’s consciousness. Sievert’s story becomes stranger the more it unfolds, and the unknowable oddness of the deepest undersea life is a fine metaphor for the ways in which we are unable to process the most profound and unwelcome moments of our life. That Salty Air concerns itself with Hugh’s choices and his ultimate decision, and is a very good first graphic novel from a very promising young talent.

Yearbook Stories 1976-1978 — Top Shelf co-publisher Chris Staros writes the two tales in this comic book, one longer one illustrated by Bo Hampton in lush black and white, and a shorter one drawn by Rich Tommaso. “The Willful Death of a Stereotype,” the Hampton-drawn story, is about Staros attempting to reinvent himself by running for 6th grade class president. Of such stuff are Afterschool Specials made of, but thanks to Hampton’s brilliant artwork and Staros’s forward-driven narrative, “Willful Death” becomes something special. Great, truthful little moments and a genuinely reflective conclusion leave the reader with real insight into Staros’s personality — hell, even into his inclusive vision of comics. Good autobio comics tell you something about their creator while they entertain you, and “Willful Death” does both. “The Worst Gig I Ever Had” is the pleasant after-dinner mint of the book, a short story about the weird things that can happen to high-schoolers who form a band. Tomasso illustrates the story in an inky sort of Paul-Grist-Meets-Kevin-Huizenga groove, and it ends on an amusing note that would shock and awe the Staros found in the previous story. Top Shelf has priced Yearbook Stories at a hugely reasonable $4.00. It’s a nicely-formatted slightly-larger-than-digest-sized pamphlet that will please anyone who’s into comics.

Have a comics-related question for Alan? Send him an email to alandaviddoane AT and he will answer it in a future blog post.

Published Wednesday, May 21, 2008 8:30 AM by alandaviddoane Edit 

Blogged with the Flock Browser

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