Sunday, February 14, 2010

Round Up: From anthologies to Detectives to Johnny Cash


The Best American Comics 2009 
The Best American Comics 2009. Charles Burns, Jessica Abel & Matt Madden, editors. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 332 pages.

Like a greatest hits collection from indy labels, this "best of'' eschews contributions from the majors, so there are no mesomorphic crimefighters, though there are several anthropomorphic animals and plenty of angst-y adolescents. Editors Abel and Madden, joined by the eminently estimable Burns, assemble stellar contributions from all-stars Clowes, the Crumbs, Kupperman, Pond, Spiegelman, Tomine, Ware and others. There's something to appeal to most every taste, though you'll have to decide for yourself if it all adds up to "the best.''

Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness 
Johnny Cash: I See A Darkness. Reinhard Kleist. Abrams ComicArts. 224 pages.
Originally published in Germany and written in that country's language, this graphic bio of the country legend is told affectionately, despite unfolding like a restless nightmare in stark black and white. Though it may not strictly stick to the facts, this visceral tale of Johnny Cash's rise and fall and rise again is lyrical and haunting.

 Luna Park
Luna Park. Kevin Baker. Danijel Zezelj. Vertigo. 160 pages.
Baker's hallucinogenic dream of Russian survival in Coney Island, Afghanistan and Dallas blends history, pulp fiction and fantasy, with Zezejl's perfect art, and a didn't-see-it-coming, jaw-dropping final twist.

Detectives Inc.
Detectives Inc. Don McGregor. Marshall Rogers. Gene Colan. IDW. 160 pages.
Don McGregor's pair of groundbreaking graphic novels, with art by the late Marshall Rogers and the great Gene Colan, is back in print in this lovingly produced collection, replete with script samples, reminiscences and more, plus stills and text from a film adaptation. McGregor's scripts may seem wordy and violet-hued to some, but his honesty, sincerity and humanity always shine through. Bits of ancillary material were obviously reproduced from secondary sources, but the stories themselves are crisp and sharp and hold up quite well, all things considered.

ALEC: The Years Have Pants (A Life-Size Omnibus) - Hardcover Edition

Alec: The Years Have Pants (A Life-Sized Omnibus). Eddie Campbell. Top Shelf.
If autobiography is the lingua franca of the graphic novel form, Campbell is its undisputed Shakespeare. The consistency and growth of the artist's narrative skills and draftsmanship are unique though unsurprising. This long-awaited collection that gathers 30 years of disparately published stories limning the life and loves of Campbell's alter ago, Alec, will undoubtedly top every year's-best list, including mine.

Talking Lines 
Talking Lines. R. O. Blechman. Drawn and Quarterly. 288 pages. $27.95.
Blechman's beautiful squiggly drawings are instantly recognizable to generations of magazine readers. This lovely and overdue collection makes an eloquent case for the prodigious talents and seriously whimsical art of a modern master. The accompanying text is similarly enlightening and almost as entertaining.

Dread & Superficiality: Woody Allen as Comic Strip
Dread & Superficiality: Woody Allen as Comic Strip. Stuart Hample. Abrams ComicArts. 240 pages.
Inside Woody Allen was a fun and funny strip when it ran in newspapers (from 1976 to 1984), though none ran front-page retrospectives mourning its demise. But this thorough collection is an unexpected delight. As a primer for would-be cartoonists, the text provides great insights into the development of this sadly dying art form. Creator Hample collaborated loosely with subject Allen, abetted by several writers, including, astonishingly, The Cluetrain Manifesto's David Weinberger, now a Harvard professor, but then a Ph.D. philosophy candidate, which pleased the Woodman to no end, no doubt.

originally published in The Miami Herald

Saturday, February 13, 2010

More reviews


Funny animals? Ugh. Though Walt Kelly, Carl Barks and even Jack "King'' Kirby embraced and elevated the genre, it mostly left me cold — until now. Talbot's tightly plotted political thriller posits an alternate universe where France conquered England in the Napoleonic Wars, and the world is ruled by anthropomorphic animals, with a few hairless apes as servants and lackeys. Following his tour de force Alice in Sunderland, the grand master of British comics' recent projects have been a bit odd. Grandville is no exception, but this wildly heady blend of mystery, heroics, politics, religion and romance is more reminiscent of his classic Luther Arkwright series than anything he's done since. If you can get past — or embrace — his archetypical menagerie of well-drawn faux-bipeds, the story, with allegorical echoes of 9/11, is further evidence that Talbot blazes his own path and is always worth following.
The Year of Loving Dangerously 

In different alternate universes, normal-looking Rall, an award-winning writer and artist, is a stud-muffin, so irresistible that women at peace protests, pizza joints and other public places invariably invite him to share their beds. Just as well: Since he was tossed out of Columbia, Rall has no fixed abode and usually bunks down in supply closets or subways (and strange ladies' apartments). The story is true, apparently, and unfolded in the 1980s after a freak medical condition resulted in Rall's school expulsion for failure to take his final exams. Rall scripted but wisely left the illustrations to Spain's Callejo, who did a great job illuminating a story as bleak as the empty experiences it depicts.
The Escapists 
The Escapists. Brian K Vaughan, Eduardo Barreto, Philip Bond, Steve Rolston. Dark Horse. 160 pages.

Stories about comics can be dull affairs. Affection for the medium and its practitioners often distorts the image. Even the great Will Eisner's The Dreamer was somewhat whitewashed and sentimental.

Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay added mysticism and religion to the mix, but his love of the genre dominated. The series of comics spun off from his novel are a mixed bag, but this standalone story is wistful, evocative and powerful as it depicts the conflict and ambiguity of art, comics and real life. Vaughn's story has all the elements of a great comics tale with clearly drawn heroes and villains, but it also transcends the medium with its great heart and spirit.
— Richard Pachter
Originally published in The Miami Herald

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Zombies, Dylan and the Bible

The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks
The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks. Max Brooks and Ibraim Roberson. Three Rivers.
Brooks' silly and self-important "historical'' zombie vignettes serve as illustrated back-stories to his popular series of expository zombie prose novels. It's a decent enough gimmick, and this graphic treatment might be entertaining and important to acolytes and fans of his other undead work. But the only redeeming feature for the unconvinced is the lithe and imaginative illustrations and vivid storytelling of Ibraim Roberson, whose craft and skill far outclasses Brooks' moribund material.
Bob Dylan Revisited: 13 Graphic Interpretations of Bob Dylan's Songs
This French collection of illuminated Dylan lyrics, illustrated by an international, non-American team of artists is a mixed bag. Some of the selections seem odd choices for graphic retelling; others represent missed opportunities. But when things click, like in Dave McKean's Desolation Row, Gradimir Smudja's Hurricane and Zep's Not Dark Yet, you can see the promise of the concept. But most of the interpretations are a bit too serious and austere to justify the effort.

Reunions are usually iffy, which is why Eisner wisely resisted revisiting his creation, The Spirit, except for a few brief encounters. But he finally acquiesced to publisher Denis Kitchen's entreaties to allow other creators to play with his most famous character. The result was an eight-issue series that's gorgeously reproduced in this volume. Artists and writers alike were canny enough to resist slavish mimicry, bringing a new energy to the strip while retaining the original noir-ish blend of innovation and tradition. Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Eddie Campbell, Kurt Busiek, Tom Mandrake, John Ostrander, Paul Chadwick and others clearly had a ball with their stellar homages to The Spirit of Will Eisner.

The good news is that Crumb tackles the Bible -- but that's the bad news too. While his draftsmanship and composition have never been better, the material is, frankly, weak, hackneyed and disjointed. Unless readers allow their own transcendent faith and suspension of disbelief to make it more than what it is, Crumb's visual tour de force is for naught.

Sikoryak's astonishing mashups take classics from Shakespeare, Camus, Bronte and the Bible and combines them with the hoary comics motifs of Batman, Superman, Mary Worth, Blondie, EC, Garfield and more. He's a terrific artist, and his awesome mimicry and maniacal imagination will startle and delight litt'rateurs and fanboys alike.

This amazing and rewarding book presents a portrait of Bertrand Russell -- of all people -- and his quest for meaning in logic and romance. The book's creative team also appears as characters in their resonant and interesting evocation, using of the graphic format in an imaginative and engaging way.
Originally published in The Miami Herald