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Books To Read: Best Graphic Novels:

December 2014

Did you bake a cake? My website celebrated its 9th birthday last week, on September 25th. So I’m now embarking on the 9th year of my regular Articles and other features here - join me as we prepare to blow out the candles and make a wish on this site’s 10th anniversary next September!

So what’s new in comics for the last month of the year 2014? Well, over in the Writers’ Department of Musical Chairs in American comic books, in Shadow Show #2 the late Ray Bradbury is paid tribute to by (among others) Neil Gaiman, while Grant Morrison gives a new spin on Shazam, aka Captain Marvel, and gives his (lost, now found) spin on Britain’s version Miracleman, né Marvelman, originally reinvigorated by Alan Moore in Warrior, while Moore himself extrapolates Garth Ennis’s horror-SF world of Crossed a century into the future - and Garth, well he’s probably down the pub…

Actually, December brings us a great deal more besides, from classic geniuses like Milt Gross and Higo Pratt to spunky newcomers Philippa Rice and Michel Fiffe, as well as some great Asian comics in two manga series from Viz, an exceptional collaboration between Mamoru Oshii and Satoshi Kon, Chinese artist Shang Xiao’s robot series from France, and informative tomes on gay manga and the whole wide world of Asian comics. But forced to choose, my pick of the crop has to be Scott McCloud’s bravura return to graphic novels in The Sculptor, from First Second in the US and SelfMadeHero in the UK. All the previews promise that this will be proof, if it were possible, of his even greater mastery and maturity with the medium (in fact, it doesn’t hit the shelves officially till February 3rd). Don’t miss McCloud’s upcoming European appearances at the ÑAM International Comics and Graphic Novel Festival in Palencia, Spain next week, and at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal, England, October 17th-19th - see you there!

2014 has given us another effervescent panoply of comics of all styles, subjects and shapes. Join me next month to find out what’s in store, and in stores, as we kick off the New Year! 

Asian Comics
by John Lent
University Press of Mississippi

The publisher says:
Grand in its scope, Asian Comics dispels the myth that, outside of Japan, the continent is nearly devoid of comic strips and comic books. Relying on his fifty years of Asian mass communication and comic art research, during which he traveled to Asia at least seventy-eight times and visited many studios and workplaces, John A. Lent shows that nearly every country had a golden age of cartooning and has experienced a recent rejuvenation of the art form. As only Japanese comics output has received close and by now voluminous scrutiny, Asian Comics tells the story of the major comics creators outside of Japan. Lent covers the nations and regions of Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Organised by regions of East, Southeast, and South Asia, Asian Comics provides 178 black & white illustrations and detailed information on comics of sixteen countries and regions; their histories, key creators, characters, contemporary status, problems, trends, and issues. One chapter harkens back to predecessors of comics in Asia, describing scrolls, paintings, books, and puppetry with humorous tinges, primarily in China, India, Indonesia, and Japan. The first overview of Asian comic books and magazines (both mainstream and alternative), graphic novels, newspaper comic strips and gag panels, plus cartoon/humour magazines, Asian Comics brims with facts, fascinating anecdotes, and interview quotes from many pioneering masters, as well as younger artists. 400pgs B&W hardcover.

Assassination Classroom Vol. 1
by Yusei Matsui
Viz Media

The publisher says:
A Japanese smash hit, the irreverently dark, action-packed comedy series is finally here. Ever caught yourself screaming, “I could just kill that teacher”? What would it take to justify such antisocial behaviour and weeks of detention? Especially if he’s the best teacher you’ve ever had? Giving you an ‘F’ on a quiz? Mispronouncing your name during roll call… again? How about blowing up the moon and threatening to do the same to Mother Earth - unless you take him out first? plus a reward of a cool 100 million from the Ministry of Defense! Okay, now that you’re committed… How are you going to pull this off? What does your pathetic class of misfits have in their arsenal to combat Teach’s alien technology, bizarre powers and… tentacles?! 192pgs B&W paperback.

by Barnaby Richards
Blank Slate Books

The publisher says:
In this memoir of childhood, Barnaby Richards recounts how his family moved to Beirut in 1980 just as the already unstable situation in the Lebanon was about to turn into something worse. We see what it is like to live amidst chaos in a city where guns and bullets are commonplace, where danger lurks just round the corner. All seen through the eyes of a child who can’t get his tongue round the word Beirut–it becomes Beetroot–a world populated with his own wild imaginings as well as the reality of feeling he is living as if he were Lebanese: a blue eyed, arab boy. Dreamily-etched pictures take us inside young Barnaby’s mind as he dodges bullets and giant sentient snakes, and wanders across the city’s rooftops with his imaginary friends. Open this book and accompany him on his journeys, encountering the many unknowable people and bizarre creatures with mysterious agendas who populate the strange world of Beetroot. Ultimately this book is about the way memory works, how when combined with a child’s ability to mix reality and fantasy it leads to unreliable memories. Unreliable memories which become long-held realities. 64pgs colour hardcover. Barnaby has posted three spreads on his site here…

Cochlea & Eustachia
by Hans Rickheit

The publisher says:
Two mysterious girls (twins?) make mischief in Hans Rickheit’s creepy new graphic novel. Cochlea & Eustachia appear to be twin human girls, but this has yet to be confirmed. Their actions seem to be motivated less by curiosity than boredom and an inclination towards purposeless destruction. Any connate objective remains to be determined. They never stray apart from each other, out of an unspoken proclivity. Perhaps they keep together because they resemble each other; a mixture of vanity and comfort is the foundation of their constant companionship. They seem to consider any creature with dissimilar features as inept or untrustworthy. They are suspected of giving hypnotic suggestions to cats. They do not seem particularly malicious, just meddlesome. This new graphic novel from the author of the acclaimed Squirrel Machine is lighter in tone than his previous works, yet its myriad charms remain as sinister as Rickheit fans would expect. 80pgs colour paperback. Dig Boston has some sample pages in B&W posted here…

Copra Round One
by Michel Fiffe
Bergen Street Press

The publisher says:
“They’re ugly. They’re mean. But up until today, they’ve always been loyal. So when one of their own betrays them, the men and women of Copra have no choice but to turn their nightmarish skills back on every son of a bitch who ever looked at them funny.” Here it is, the first six issues of Michel Fiffe‘s master class in self-publishing. Copra: A superhero revenge machine. 160pgs colour paperback. Michel offers tasters from every issue of Copra here…

Corto Maltese: Under The Sign Of Capricorn
by Hugo Pratt

The publisher says:
This book, the first of twelve volumes, launches the definitive English-language edition of Hugo Pratt’s masterpiece, presented in the original oversized B&W format and with new translations made from Pratt’s original Italian scripts. Frank Miller calls Pratt “one of the true masters of comic art.” Long before the term “graphic novel” entered the popular lexicon - ten years before Will Eisner’s A Contract with God - Hugo Pratt pioneered the long-form “drawn literature” story. Corto Maltese set the standard for all adult adventure comics in Europe. By the mid-1970s, Corto was the continent’s most popular series and Hugo Pratt the world’s leading graphic novelist. Hugo Pratt’s peripatetic sailor was featured in a series of twenty-nine stories. The adventures of this modern Ulysses are set during the first thirty years of the 20th Century in such exotic locales as Pratt’s native Venice, the steppes of Manchuria, the Caribbean islands, the Danakil deserts, the Amazon forests, and the waves of the Pacific. EuroComics is working closely with Patrizia Zanotti, Pratt’s long-time collaborator, to present the complete Corto Maltese in a series of twelve quality trade paperbacks in Pratt’s original oversized B&W format. Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn collects the first six inter-connected short stories Pratt created in France in the early 1970s: “The Secret of Tristan Bantam,” “Rendez-vous in Bahia,” “Sureshot Samba,” “The Brazilian Eagle,” “So Much for Gentlemen of Fortune,” and “The Seagull’s Fault.” 140pgs B&W paperback.

Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream
by various artists
Locust Moon Press
Price tbc

The publisher says:
Winsor McCay was perhaps the greatest cartoonist of all time, and the Sunday newspaper strip Little Nemo in Slumberland was his greatest creation. In Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream, many of the world’s finest cartoonists pay tribute to the master and his masterpiece, following their own voices down paths lit by McCay. Over 100 of the world’s greatest cartoonists and illustrators — including Bill Sienkiewicz, J.H. Williams III, Paul Pope, Michael Allred, David Mack, Stephen Bissette, Craig Thompson, Gabriel Bá, Fábio Moon, Peter Bagge, J.G. Jones, Yuko Shimizu and more — pay tribute to McCay and his seminal early-20th century masterpiece with their own giant, broadsheet-sized Little Nemo strips. This is a love song for McCay, Little Nemo, and the infinite possibility of comics. 144pgs oversized colour hardcover.  Some dreamy examples online here…

Massive: Gay Japanese Manga And The Men Who Make It
edited by Anne Ishii, Graham Kolbeins & Chip Kidd

The publisher says:
This is a groundbreaking manga (Japanese comics) anthology by and about gay men, put together by an award-winning team. Big, burly, lascivious, and soft around the edges: welcome to the hypermasculine world of Japanese gay manga. Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It is the first English-language anthology of its kind: an in-depth introduction to nine of the most exciting comic artists making work for a gay male audience in Japan. Jiraiya, Seizoh Ebisubashi, and Kazuhide Ichikawa are three of the irresistibly seductive, internationally renowned artists featured in Massive, as well as Gengoroh Tagame, the subject of The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame: Master of Gay Erotic Manga. Get to know each of these artists intimately, through candid interviews, photography, context-providing essays, illustrations, and manga. Massive also includes the groundbreaking, titillating work of gay manga luminaries Takeshi Matsu, Fumi Miyabi, Inu Yoshi, Gai Mizuki, and comic essayist Kumada Poohsuke. 272pgs part-colour paperback

Master Keaton Vol. 1
by Naoki Urasawa
Viz Media

The publisher says:
Taichi Hiraga-Keaton, the son of a Japanese zoologist and a noble English woman, is an insurance investigator known for his successful and unorthodox methods of investigation. Educated in archaeology and a former member of the SAS, Master Keaton uses his knowledge and combat training to uncover buried secrets, thwart would-be villains, and pursue the truth… 338pgs B&W paperback.

Milt Gross’ New York
by Milt Gross

The publisher says:
In a mind-blowing, laugh-filled, freewheeling tour of New York, Gross’ character Pop and his sidekick son blast through the East Side, The West Side, China Town and Harlem. The demented-duo roar through Yankee Stadium, The New York Public Library, and Coney Island! A “lost” graphic novel from one of the first and most brilliant graphic novelists: Milt Gross! Listen to what Big Shot cartoonists say about Gross: “I love all his work-what a goofball!” - R. Crumb; “Still Great!” - Jules Feiffer; “He frees you up!” - Patrick McDonnell; “Dig!”- Matt Groening. Animation Resources says of this uber-rare book from 1939: “It’s an amazing time capsule into life in the Big Apple in its golden age. If Weegee’s Naked City depicts the front page view of this marvelous time and place, Gross’ Cartoon Tour tells the Funny Pages version.” Animation Resources concludes: “Milt Gross is one of the greatest comic artists who ever lived. His drawing style is direct and funny with absolutely flawless staging, composition and expression… there’s still plenty of joy in every panel!” 104pgs B&W paperback. Animation Resources give you a glimpse through the whole book here…

S.A.M.: Vol. 1 After Man
by Richard Marazano & Shang Xiao

The publisher says:
In a post-apocalyptic world where killer robots hunt humans, a group of children tries to survive. In the grim future of our world, Earth has been ravaged by sentient machines, the human race all but exterminated. Only scattered groups of children have survived by hiding in tunnels to escape the murderous robots that still scour the surface. One day, a scavenging party for one such group happens upon a massive humanoid robot bearing the letters SAM on its armour. Caught by surprise, young Ian is about to be vaporised … but the machine doesn’t shoot… 48pgs colour paperback.

Seraphim: 266613336 Wings
by Mamoru Oshii & Satoshi Kon
Dark Horse

The publisher says:
Two of the most acclaimed anime directors of all time, Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell), and Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue) came together to create a manga: Seraphim: 266613336 Wings. Written by Oshii and drawn by Kon, Seraphim is the story of a future Earth devastated by the “Angel Plague,” a pandemic that induces apocalyptic visions in the afflicted, even as it ossifies their bodies into dead, seraphic forms. A cult-ridden, army-backed medical unit journeys into the heart of a dying Asian city accompanied by Sera, a mysterious girl linked to the phenomenon itself. Have they come here to kill or cure - and is the Angel Plague a withered branch on the tree of life, or somehow a new flowering of existence? 248pgs B&W paperback.

Shadow Show #2 (of 5)
by Neil Gaiman, Mort Castle & Maria Fröhlich, and Audrey Niffenegger & Eddie Campbell

The publisher says:
In the five-issue series Shadow Show, acclaimed writers and come together to pay tribute to the work of the one and only Ray Bradbury. The first story featured is “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury,” written by Neil Gaiman with art by Maria Fröhlich, which peers into the mind of a man who sifts through his own memories in an attempt to recover the name of a famous sci-fi author. The next story, “Backward in Seville,” brings together the singular talents of Audrey Niffenegger and Eddie Campbell to tell a small tale of a woman’s regrets and the new life that awaits her. 32pgs colour comic book.

Soppy: A Love Story
by Philippa Rice
Andrews McMeel / Square Peg (February 2015)
$14.99 / £10.99

The publisher says:
The wildly popular web comic Soppy - with more than half a million notes on Tumblr - is the illustrated love story of author Philippa Rice and her real-life boyfriend. True love isn’t always about the big romantic gestures. Sometimes it’s about sympathising with someone whose tea has gone cold or reading together and sharing a quilt. When two people move in together, it soon becomes apparent that the little things mean an awful lot. The throwaway moments in life become meaningful when you spend them in the company of someone you love. Soppy is Philippa Rice’s collection of comics and illustrations based on real-life moments with her boyfriend. From grocery shopping to silly arguments and snuggling in front of the television, Soppy captures the universal experience of sharing a life together, and celebrates the beauty of finding romance all around us. 108pgs two-colour paperback. Go all Soppy with sample pages on It’s Nice That

Strong Female Protagonist Book 1
by Brennan Lee Mulligan & Molly Ostertag
Top Shelf Productions

The publisher says:
With superstrength and invulnerability, Alison Green used to be one of the most powerful superheroes around. Fighting crime with other teenagers under the alter ego Mega Girl was fun until an encounter with Menace, her mind reading arch enemy. He showed her evidence of a sinister conspiracy, and suddenly battling giant robots didn’t seem so important. Now Alison is going to college and trying to find ways to help the world while still getting to class on time. It’s impossible to escape the past, however, and everyone has their own idea of what it means to be a hero…. After a phenomenal success on Kickstarter, Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag bring their popular webcomic into print, collecting the first four issues as well as some all-new full-colour pages! 220pgs B&W + part colour paperback. Read the whole kaboodle online here…

The Sculptor
by Scott McCloud
First Second / SelfMadeHero
$29.99 / £18.99

The publisher says:
David Smith is giving his life for his art—literally. Thanks to a deal with Death, the young sculptor gets his childhood wish: to sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands. But now that he only has 200 days to live, deciding what to create is harder than he thought, and discovering the love of his life at the 11th hour isn’t making it any easier! This is a story of desire taken to the edge of reason and beyond; of the frantic, clumsy dance steps of young love; and a gorgeous, street-level portrait of the world’s greatest city. It’s about the small, warm, human moments of everyday life…and the great surging forces that lie just under the surface. Scott McCloud wrote the book on how comics work; now he vaults into great fiction with a breathtaking, funny, and unforgettable new work. 496pgs two-colour hardcover, with Diamond special signed bookplate edition limited to 1,500 copies. Eight-page taster here… and Comic Book Resources have a 20-minute video interview here…

They’re Not Like Us #1
Eric Stephenson & Simon Gane

The publisher says:
Generation after generation, it’s the same old S.O.S.: There’s no hope for the future, because young people think only of themselves. They have no respect for authority. They think they know everything. They are arrogant. They are reckless. They want to tear the world apart. In a time full of possibilities, yet rife with disappointment, the youth are changing. They look the same, but they act different, think different, and have abilities we can only dream of. They’re not like us. 24pgs colour comic book.

by Max

The publisher says:
In this Spanish graphic novel, Nick flees the city into the desert, where he witness the procession of a queen. Disgusted and appalled with today’s noisy and noisome world in which all is spectacle and surface sensation, Nick flees into the solitude of the desert. But even as he manages to recover some sort of spiritual balance thanks to an ascetic regimen of fasting and meditation, he is seduced by the most spectacular and mesmerising spectacle of all time: the procession of the Queen of Saba. In Vapor, the award-winning Spanish cartoonist Max engages in delightful philosophical mind games, starring another wildly stylised and endearing protagonist — this time deploying a striking, crisp black-and-white graphic style perfectly suited for this desert-based fantasia. 120pgs B&W hardcover. Fantagraphics treat you to an excerpt here…

Posted: September 28, 2014


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