Publicly admitting you read comics means you’re willing to put up with a perplexingly persistent notion of the medium as the exclusive domain of the super heroes. Even in the current realm of savvy pop art dabblers as likely to pray at the altar of independents like Image Comics as they are the Big Two there’s this lingering idea that in the beginning there was only the cape and spandex set and it’s just in the past three decades that we’ve really let in the serious Graphic Novelists and autobio peddlers. Sneering intellectual jokesters will spit at the funnybooks without recognizing the origins of that alternate name and basement dwelling dilettantes will tell you it was only when the bearded British men came to our shores that we got hip. But comics have always been weird. Comics have always contained multitudes.On a weekly basis at the start of the 20th century, Winsor McCay cranked out surrealist panel breaking masterpieces lushly detailed enough to inspire both Dali and Moebius decades down the line, with nary a cape in sight. Before Marvel was even an idea, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created romance comics, presaging the soap operas that would eventually inspire Chris Claremont’s convoluted narratives in that other misbegotten Kirby co-creation X-Men. And then there was Herbie. Continue reading…
Posted January 8, 2009
Here they are, ten comics I liked in 2008 that I haven’t written about yet.
The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard (First Second, 2008) by Eddie Campbell with Dan Best
Monsieur Leotard flies through the air with the greatest of ease. At least until he plummets to his death and his circus scrambles to survive afterwards. Campbell’s art is painterly and, as usual, he plays with form. The story is charming, but not only charming. It’s unavoidably sad, even before World War I and the Titanic. But the talking dancing bear and Campbell’s reds are wonderful.
Good-Bye (Drawn & Quarterly, 2008) by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, edited and designed by Adrian Tomine
Koiji Suzuki wrote the introduction to Drawn & Quarterly’s 2006 Tatsumi collection. It makes sense—Suzuki’s horror scares me less than Tatsumi’s realism. Good-Bye reminds me of Heinrich von Kleist or Guy de Maupassant’s tone, radiating dread, despair, existential nausea as Tatsumi depicts Japanese society’s unsavory underside from Hiroshima to the 1970s. But what terrifies me is the characters’ desperate isolation and claustrophobic cruelty. Beautifully designed, the book is literary, elegant, misanthropic and disturbing as hell.
Hall of Best Knowledge (Fantagraphics, 2008) by Ray Fenwick
In Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, Jessica Abel and Matt Madden write, “Lettering… is not simply words…. Letterforms are drawn, not written, and when they’re drawn by the same hand that draws the art, the two elements fit together seamlessly. The reader is able to ‘hear’ the dialogue as if it’s spoken by the characters” (First Second, 2008: 88). In Hall of Best Knowledge, the voice is clear. Fenwick’s calligraphy and illumination aren’t flourishes; they are necessary parts of the pronouncements on all areas of knowledge. If I were all post-modern, I’d say the book is a satire of textual authority and the voice is the idea of a book’s voice. Which I kinda think, but not so much that it becomes less funny.
Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus (Dark Horse, 2008). Script and art direction by Mike Mignola, art by Jason Armstrong, additional designs by Guy Davis
In Hellboy and its spin-off B.P.R.D., Lobster Johnson’s considered a fictional character, an urban legend. In The Iron Prometheus’ 1930s New York City, the Lobster’s as real as a sock to the jaws of
Nazi spies and supervillain, Memnan Saa. The art is solidly in the Mignola house style. The story’s total pulp, with references to my favorite pulp hero, The Spider. “The True History of Lobster Johnson,” delineating the Lobster’s transformation from pulp magazine character to “Lobster Johnson,” hero of Lucha films, is extra neat. Fun!
Manhunter (DC, 2008) written by Marc Andreyko, art by Michael Gaydos, colors by Jose Villarrubia, letters by Sal Cipriano.
Hey, Manhunter’s back and she’s pissed about Juarez! But wait, wasn’t Manhunter canceled? Yes, it’s been canceled, un-canceled and just re-canceled. Kate Spencer’s a prosecutor who swiped evidentiary supervillain technology to give her powers—and a nice battle-ready look—to fight less super supervillains like the Atomic Skull on assignment from skull-headed G-man, Mister Bones. Her gloves—formerly Azrael’s—make this is one of two comics on my list that redeem elements of the broke-backed Batman storyline. What I like best is that I’m not sure I like Kate Spencer. She’s a person and that’s pretty rare in comics, especially rare for female characters who are usually “strong” and have a rape backstory. Kate’s just pissed about the justice system.
Secret Six (DC, 2008) written by Gail Simone, Nicola Scott pencils, Doug Hazlewood inker, Jason Wright colorist, SwandS lettering.
I first ran into the Secret Six—and Manhunter—in Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey. It’s a result of avoiding comic events, preferring trade paperbacks and loving peripheral characters. The Secret Six are peripheral—six low-level villains who’ve formed a mercenary team. They are ragged, scruffy and doing their best trapped in the cracks between villains and heroes. Nobody but Huntress much likes them. But what’s not to love? I’ve even learned to like Bane, who’s usually a reverse draw for me. The Secret Six does all the things a good comic should do, effortlessly.
Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, vol. 1-2 (hardcover), (Marvel, 2007 and 2008) written by Sean McKeever, pencils by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Christina Stain.
This comic’s so nice and smooth it’s easy to overlook its accomplishment. It’s not just Spider-Man from Mary Jane’s point of view. The POV inversion is as neat as a Tom Stoppard play, but so unselfconscious that I wonder how often young adult writers get the credit they deserve. The writing and art are effortlessly clean. And with Pete’s angst no longer creating staticky interference, supporting characters feel real. It’s a nice trick if you can work it and McKeever, Miyazawa and Stain do.
The Surrogates (Top Shelf, 2006) written by Robert Venditti, art by Brett Weldelle
Yeah, I read this in 2008, but there’s an upcoming second volume of science fiction noir splendor. It’s 2054 and virtual life hasn’t gone sleek. It’s gone 1930s sepia with a techno-terrorist in jodhpurs and exhausted detectives. In 2054, most people live online, their experiences mediated through robot bodies called, “surrogates.” And someone’s destroying surrogates. The issues are pretty common: identity, body and self. But the book’s well-written and humane. That means a lot to me. The art is luminous—scratchy, fragile lines over imperfect fills and separations, maybe mirroring the fragility of experience.
Tales from Outer Suburbia (Tundra, 2008) by Shaun Tan
Tan’s new collection of children’s stories follows its titular pun, depicting a distant suburb of alienated people as well as its small lovelinesses and connections to secret worlds. Tan illustrates his stories in different ways, from paintings accompanying text to a cut-up collage about a tumbleweed formed from discarded poems. Tan portrays thoughtless cruelty and failed communication, but also the possibility of connection and beauty.
Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? (Top Shelf, 2008) by Liz Prince
Tiny and precious, Liz Prince’ quarter-sized collection of relationship moments is sweet in a world that could use more sweetness. The art’s endearing—down to the skritchy pencil guidelines. It avoids the excesses of biographical comics, portraying a relationship without self-pity or mawkishness. It’s a good book to read in bed when the world seems too hard. It also made me feel less crazy.
Carol Borden is a satire of textual authority and the authorial voice.