Saturday, March 23, 2013

Spring Break

It's SPRING BREAK!!! Yes! So, I will be a way for a few days but I assure you that this week will give me time to make at least two new Mr. Wolf strips. In the meantime please check out the new reviews for my pre-Mr. Wolf work, Big Plans - The Collected Mini-Comics and More.

From Optical Sloth: "Before I even talk about the comic, I have to point out that Bridge City Comics published this collection, and it looks like it’s one of their first books, so reward them for doing something great by buying it! Also reward Aron for making it, sure, but jumping into publishing is always risky and people should be rewarded when they put out collections of fantastic comics like this." Read More.

From Bookgasm: "Based in Portland, Ore., Bridge City Comics has ventured into the book-publishing game (are they crazy?!?), and in my worthless opinion, couldn’t have picked a better project to launch with than Aron Nels Steinke’s BIG PLANS. And not just because of the hopey-dreamy title." Keep reading.

From Ich Liebe Comics: "Looking for something on the alternative side that scratches the itch between new comics / graphic novels by Joe Matt (Peep Show, Paying For It) and Adrian Tomie (Optic Nerve, Summer Blonde)? Well you need look no further than this new handsome graphic novel collection of Aron Nels Steinke's Big Plans mini comic of the same name" Read more.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Best Of ________

Greetings. Now, I never seem to have the opportunity to really create a "best of" list in a timely manner. Nor do I really feel fit to make a judgment of "best" when I certainly do not read "all." The reasons being lack of money, time, and care. So what I've done is taken a picture of many of the books that I read over the past year or have discovered. This will help explain why Nakazawa's Barefoot Gen appears with newer books like Brecht Evan's The Making Of. The following is in no way representative of the best, just a slice of what I read that I own and remember feeling joy, excitement, or something. Feeling something that compelled me to read them and think about them. Books are in no particular order.

1. Chris Ware's Building Stories was certainly an impressive feat from someone who continues to break boundaries. A box set is a fetish item. I hated that I had to lug this box home from Powell's (where I got it 40% off, otherwise it'd have been a comic store). But the box works to give the reader an assortment of material. It gave Ware a chance to experiment with publishing dimensions, size of text, and and overall, the reading experience. So much has already been said about this book so it seems useless for me to even put it in my list. But two stories from this book stood out for me. The first was the newspaper-sized story about our protagonist living in the suburbs of Chicago. The text is pleasantly large, and I say this because often times Ware's text is too small for me to really enjoy, raising her child, marital problems, technology, living her melancholic life, etc. Included in the box set was another story about our protagonist in a strictly silent form long-landscape pamphlet. I loved the pacing so much I wondered how much better some of Ware's comics would be without, in my opinion, over-narration. The downside of the box set is that I got too much Branford the Best Bee in the World. I read them, but for me, Branford is kind of obvious and doesn't give me the depth I want. But I enjoy that Ware does what he wants.

2. Brecht Evan's The Making Of tells the "city slicker" story of a Flemish artist who has the opportunity to host a Biennial in a country town. I've read this book twice now and I wonder why it wasn't greeted with the hype that his previous D and Q translation, The Wrong Place did. It's a wonderful narrative, that is enhanced by the author's amazing drawing/painting chops. Evans uses watercolor layering to great effect here, giving the page rich visuals that you can pour over again and again. His dialogue negates speech balloon in favor of a color-code that allows the reader to know whom is speaking even when the characters are off page. I loved this book. Truly a masterpiece.

3. Extra Time, issues 1 and 2 by Jeff Levine. Watching Days Become Years was one of my favorite publications from Sparkplug Comic Books and I was thrilled to find out that the series continues in this new permutation. Levine uses comics in a poetic, melancholic, sometimes uplifting sense, in a similar vein as John Porcellino. He walks the streets of LA, plays too many video games, lives alone, enjoys film and literature. I love Jeff's comics and I especially love the way he draws his environment, his surrounding world with brush and pen. Foliage and buildings abound. Meditative and painterly. Probably hard to find unless you order directly from him. Hard to believe both issues were published this year. Keep them coming Jeff!

4. Summit of the God's (volumes 1-3) by Jiro Taniguchi and Yamemakura Baku. Jiro Taniguchi has become one of my favorite manga artists. I actually put this series off for a while as I felt he flopped with a book with another mountain theme, The Quest for the Missing Girl. Other than that one book I really think everything that has been translated and published in the US is great comics. In this series, a crazy anti-social Japanese mountain climber and an equally crazy photographer's lives become intertwined when the photographer finds a camera in a Kathmandu mercantile that might have belonged to George Mallory who had disappeared with his partner in 1924 while trying to summit Everest. Could it be that they made it to the summit after all? Blah. As far as the story goes, I am mostly interested in the way Taniguchi draws and paces out the mountain climbing. I am not a climber but this book makes me want to be one. He draws rocks in such an interesting and beautiful manner. I would love to see how he created the art. This series, of which there will be 5 translated, is a series to obsess over, just as the main characters obsess over climbing, and each other.

5. Apartment Number 3. Actually, I've never read the English translation. I just have this L'employe du Moi publication in French by cartoonist Pascal Girard. It's short, sweet, and showcases Pascal's great, wiggly, rapidographed-line to perfection. I've re-read Big Foot many times by now and I can't wait for his next solo project.

6. The Song of Roland by Michel Rabagliati is his most poignant effort. It's a sweet tale about his father-in-law growing up in Quebec City and the family's hardship as they learn of Roland's cancer. He quickly deteriorates and moves into a home for terminal cancer patients. I did shed a tear. Rabagliati is my favorite cartoonist, and he's able to really pack his books full of emotion, from laughter, to anger, to sadness, to lightness and love. Beautiful book and I cannot wait for his next publication, translated and published by Conundrum. I was first afraid that without D and Q the publication would suffer, but I am pleased to say the book is a beautiful one. Michel, on the Inkstuds program, recently stated that he prefers to publish in paperback and has been given the opportunity for hardcover. I like that he has chosen paperback. I like books that open easy. Hardcover is nice too. I like how D and Q changed the sizes up on his previous books. I would love a collection of his D and Q anthology pieces. They exist in French.

7. The Face Man by Clara Bessijelle was quite a surprise to me. When I bought it from the going-out-of-business Reading Frenzy last month I was astounded that several copies were marked down as sale. Easy purchase. What a richly illustrated and mysterious book. I will certainly pick up anything Clara does from now on. I felt that same way when Dylan Williams first published Dunja Jankovic. I had no idea that the woman I tabled next to at Brooklyn had this book. I knew of it, but I guess I'm a snob, or something else gets inside of me, that puts me at arms reach. I knew Austin English, of Domino Books was putting out work he believed in. But I guess I wasn't ready to find out what they truly were until I had my own time and space to judge. I highly recommend The Face Man.

8. Dark Tomato by Sakura Maku is another great gem from Domino Books. I'm glad Austin is publishing these works, because they exist as comic books, and not as graphic novels. I certainly welcome a long form by both Clara and Sakura, but I'm happy that shorter works like Dark Tomato and The Face Man are being published. It's less of an investment on my part, as a reader, and it may just be the best way to experience these stories. I personally love the format and the way the books open up. Dark Tomato was a fun and richly illustrated comic as well. I got to talk to Sakura Maku a bit while I was at Brooklyn this year. We exchanged books and she was incredibly nice. Both Dark Tomato and The Face Man made me jealous. I want to draw that way, I want to break the mold of traditional cartooning. I am excited. It must be art.

9. Grumpy McBumbles by John Isaacson was rejected by Microcosm distribution because the up tight, do-goody entity that is (responsible primarily for anti-establishment sticker sloganeering) thought he was making fun of homeless people. I really think that is quite the contrary. Keep in mind, Microcosm also thought my Big Plans #1, which was full of shades of grey, was a xenophobic and fear of terrorism proselytizing machine. Yours truly was denied distribution until I had a comic that showed the Po Po in a not so positive light. Really, is that what they're all about? Well they're wrong. Grumpy McBumbles is a celebration of wacky comics, wacky vernacular, dialect, dumpstering, and smiling in the face of hardship. Fun to read comics. Cartooning at it's best!

10. Bourbon Island 1730, published by First Second, at the height of the economic implosion, is a wonderful book by one of my favorite cartoonists, Lewis Trondheim. I think many a Trondheim fan has missed this one due to the lack of publicity upon the book's publication. Apparently in France, to like Trondheim has not been hip for a while, because of his omnipresence. Trondheim has been a huge influence on my Mr. Wolf Comics. He and Norwegian cartoonist, Jason, have been my main inspiration for making animal comics. Well, here it is. Pirates, slaves, revenge, and jungle. A beautiful black and white Trondheim book, inspired by his trips to, and the history of, the French ensnared Reunion Island (near the coast of Madagascar). I love the way Trondheim draws foliage. Can't get enough foliage.

11. American Elf Vol. 4. James Kochalka is the omnipresent and influential American cartoonist that many in hipster comicdom consider un-hip. Well, I have always enjoyed his American Elf comic strip. His comics were an early influence on my own and I certainly must add that American Elf helped inspire Mr. Wolf. That should be obvious. I am astounded that for such an influential comic, the print collections do not sell well. That was the conjecture made by one of my friends in the comic shop biz. Maybe the fact that the book doesn't sell too well is the reason why Top Shelf published his fourth collection in black and white instead of the color, like the strips were presented online and like the second and third volume were printed as. Well, it doesn't make the comics any less enjoyable. Also, they make a good case for re-reading each year.

12. Barefoot Gen, volumes 1-10 by Keiji Nakazawa are phenomenal. They should have won a Pulitzer prize. I think the potential for this manga to do good, to educate, to inform our society and societies abroad is astounding. More accessible than Maus, and more charged with energy. I wish I could teach this book in my class. If I were up at 4th or 5th grade I would. Barefoot Gen makes the horrors and trials of a boy caught up in the bombing and aftermath of Hiroshiima a universal teaching tool against war, lies, and the atomic bomb. I can't believe it took me this long to read it. And I never would have if it wasn't for the time I had Raina Telgemeier come to my school to give a talk about her work. She spoke of how powerful of an affect it had on her as a teenager. I knew the story. I had seen an anime with the same title when I was a teen, but it had very little effect on me. The anime was not art, and it did not do what these books can. Oh man. RIP Mr. Nakazawa. He died this past winter. I felt somehow relieved that he did not pass away while I was reading the 10-volume masterpiece. He died about a month afterward. I cried again. What a mensch. What an amazing human being.

13. Pocket Full of Coffee by Joe Decie is a perfect example of what Box Brown's Retrofit Comics is doing right. They're getting great mini-comics out to store in the aftermath of Diamond and their minimum orders. This book is a beautiful gem of a comic. Joe's brush marks and the pacing remind me a little of Jeff Levine's. I want more.

14. Benny's Brigade, illustrated by the NY Time's illustrator, Lisa hanawalt, and authored by my friend Arthur Bradford. I love Arthur's books. His Dog Walker and Other Stories is one of my all time favorite contemporary books. Do not mistake his adult books for his children's books. I'm sure you won't in fact, as it's pretty obvious upon reading the first few pages of Dog Walker. He's had stories in McSweeney's, Esquire, and even directed films like MTV and HBO's Hows Your News and the Comedy Central hit 6 Days to Air: The Making of South Park. Arthur has begun his career in children's books with Benny's Brigade, a story about two sisters, Elsie and Theo, who happen to find a magic nut with a walrus inside. The book's charming and unpredictable narrative is fully enhanced by Hanawalt's gorgeous illustrations. Now, I'm not a huge fan of Hanawalt's adults comics. I'm just not. They're not for me. But her drawing skills are off the map and I hope she continues to make children's books, for my sake alone. It just so happens that the two girls in the story are based on Arthur's daughters, whom I had as students several years ago when I taught preschool. If you know someone with a kid, get them this book, delightful as it is. Arthur and I are supposed to be working on a book together. Maybe I'll be able to do it this summer.