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Books To Read: Best Graphic Novels:

PG Previews February 2014

Manga make a big impression within my recommendations for February 2014 thanks to translations of great, accessible single volumes by Moyoco Anno, about her famous husband and their life together, by Jiro Taniguchi about an Edo-period map-maker, and by Inio Asano in an unsettling psychodrama. As an unapologetic Kirbyphile, I have picked two volumes here which celebrate ‘The King’. I also suggest you look into two less-famous American underground comix creators who get some overdue acclaim - the quirky comedienne M.K. Brown and Bobby London, who helmed the daily Popeye newspaper strip.

If I had to pick just one essential purchase this month, it would have to be Just So Happens by Japanese-born, British-based author Fumio Obata. This beautiful and tender debut grew out of his 4-page entry to the Observer/Cape/Comica Graphic Short Story Prize a few years ago. It didn’t win but it was a finalist, as all of us judges instantly spotted the talent and seed within it. So now it has been carefully nurtured and expanded by him and the Jonathan Cape editorial team into a stunning graphic novel, fusing elements of manga and bandes dessinées into a unique new voice. I’ve read it and I suspect it will be one of my comics of next year.

by Jiro Taniguchi
Fanfare / Ponent Mon
$25.00 / £14.99

The publisher says:
Go with the flow: slowly but surely he takes a promenade through Edo. “Furari” could be loosely translated as ‘aimlessly’, ‘at random’, ‘bend in the wind’ or ‘go with the flow’. But our stroller this time leaves nothing to chance. Jiro Taniguchi returns with this delightful and insightful tale of life in a Japan long forgotten. Inspired by an historical figure, Tadataka Ino (1745-1818), Taniguchi invites us to join this unnamed but appealing and picturesque figure as he strolls through the various districts of Edo, the ancient Tokyo, with its thousand little pleasures. Now retired from business he surveys, measures, draws and takes notes whilst giving free reign to his taste for simple poetry and his inexhaustible capacity for wonder. As he did with the lead character in The Times of Botchan, the writer Soseki, Taniguchi slips easily into the heart and mind of this early cartographer and reveals his world to us in full graphic detail so we may fully perceive and understand. 208pgs, b&w.

Insufficient Direction
by Moyoco Anno & Hideaki Anno
Vertical Inc.

The publisher says:
From the pen of internationally renowned comic artist Moyoco Anno comes a biography of one of the animation wor;d’s biggest and most polarising names, her husband Hideaki Anno. Long before Hideaki Anno married Moyoco Anno, he was known as the creator of one of the most popular animated works of all time, Neon Genesis Evangelion. But little was known about the author’s personal life. Along came comic artist Moyoco Anno, then came love, then came marriage, and then came a comic about how she changed his life. Hopefully for the better. The comedic and heartwarming book follows their “otaku lifestyle” and also features an “otaku glossary” with 20,000 words. Anno launched the series in Shodensha’s Feel Young magazine in 2002 and Shodensha published the compiled volume in 2005. 176pgs.

Jack Kirby New Gods Artist’s Edition
by Jack Kirby
$ Please Inquire

The publisher says:
Jack Kirby’s New Gods Artist’s Edition will be released in March and feature six complete issues of Kirby’s inaugural Fourth World book, issues #1, 2, 5, 6, 7 & 8 of New Gods. Kirby, often called the King of Comics, is arguably the most important and influential comics creator of all time. His work on New Gods, which he wrote as well as drew, clearly reinforces that notion. Filled with amazing imagery and giant concepts, this book will measure 12 x 17 inches, 176 pages. While appearing to be in black and white, each page is scanned in color to mimic as closely as possible the experience of viewing the actual original art-for instance, corrections and blue pencils. Each page is printed the same size as drawn, and the paper selected is as close as possible to the original art board.

Just So Happens
by Fumio Obata
Jonathan Cape

The publisher says:
‘I still remember arriving in the city for the first time… It wasn’t easy… But here, London, is my home.’ Yumiko is a young Japanese woman who has made London her home. She has a job, a boyfriend; Japan seems far away. Then, out of the blue, her brother calls to tell her that her father has died in a mountaineering accident. Yumiko returns to Tokyo for the funeral and finds herself immersed in the rituals of Japanese life and death - and confronting a decision she hadn’t expected to have to make. Just So Happens is a graphic novel by a young artist and storyteller of rare talent. Fumio Obata’s drawing, in particular, is marvellous in its power and delicacy. 160pgs colour hardback. He’s posted a few teasers on his blog…

by Willem Samuel
Soaring Penguin
£4.95 / $6.95

The publisher says:
When you’re a teenager, life can seem a bit random. When you’re a white teenager, growing up in post-apartheid South Africa, the term you’d use is Mengelmoes: a mishmash. A casual and caustic chopping-up-and-changing of the rules that you were only just starting too get a handle on. To try and make sense of a world in flux, Willem Samuel would draw stories as they occurred to him whether the mundane (math class), the fantastical (a sermon turned zombie attack) or the tragic (Mom finding your porn stash). Volume One starts with Willem at age 14 and follows his journey through a documentary-style comic, as he takes on different guises as a young Afrikaner, as he learns to shape-shift from guilty boy to superhero, from devil to saint, from a rock god into an ageing mortal nobody. This is Mengelmoes, a six-part series covering Willem’s life in South Africa from 1994 to 2011, from a boy in middle school too a young, married professional. The first issue, The Schoolboy - taking place in 1994, the year apartheid ending and Nelson Mandela was elected - is out in February 2014, 54pgs B&W. Soaring Penguin Press will also be offering a subscription service: the complete 6-issue run for £23.50 including p&p (UK) or $33.50 (US and Canada); (elsewhere, add £5). Willem Samuel was born in South Africa and grew up in Cape Town in a very creative family atmosphere. While studying Fine Arts at Stellenbosch, he got his comic work published in the controversial Bitterkomix, South Africa’s chief underground comic publication. After 7 years of working at a local animation and comic studio, an opportunity allowed him to move to London. Using material spanning over 15 years, Willem is currently composing an in depth story of his life in South Africa, while being wonderfully supported by an adoring wife. Take a look at some pages on Willem’s blog…

Nijigahara Holograph
by Inio Asano

The publisher says:
In this manga, acclaimed cartoonist Asano tells a complex, oblique tale about how an tense atmosphere, symbolized by proliferating butterflies, lead schoolchildren to “sacrifice” a fellow student, and how that act impacts various characters across two timelines. Fantagraphics is proud to welcome the great Inio Asano (Solanin, What a Wonderful World!) to its acclaimed literary manga line. Even as butterflies ominously proliferate in town, the rumor of a mysterious creature lurking in the tunnel behind the school spreads among the children. When the body of Arié Kimura’s mother is found by this tunnel’s entrance, next to apparently human traces, the legend seems to be confirmed. Is the end of the world coming? In order to appease the wrath of the beast, the children decide to offer it a sacrifice: The unfortunate Arié, whom they believe to be the cause of the curse, is shoved into a well that leads to the Nijigahara tunnel — an act that in turns pushes Komatsuzaki, the budding thug who has carried a torch for Arié for a while already, entirely over the edge. But this is only the beginning of the complex, challenging, obliquely told Nijigahara Holograph, which takes place in two separate timelines and involves the suicidal Suzuki; Higure, his stalkerish would-be girlfriend; and their teacher Miss Sakaki, whose heavily bandaged face remains a mystery; and many more — brothers, sisters, parents, co-workers, teachers, aggressors and victims who are all inextricably linked to one another and all will eventually — ten years later — have to live with what they’ve done or suffered through. 200pgs, black & white. Comic Book Resources have some preview pages here…

Popeye: The Classic Newspaper Comics Vol 1: 1986-89
by Bobby London

The publisher says:
Famed Dirty Duck and Air Pirates cartoonist Bobby London’s more than six-year run on the Popeye newspaper strip has been hailed both as a unique original creation and as an homage to Elzie Segar’s larger Thimble Theatre vision. “Segar was the seminal influence in my career,” the cartoonist said. London updated the strip to reflect current pop culture and also brought back the extended story format favored by Segar. London gives us new yet familiar versions of Popeye, Olive Oyl, Swee’ Pea, and Wimpy, as well as Popeye’s Pappy, Olive’s brother Castor, Eugene the Jeep, Bernice the Whiffle Hen, the menacing Sea Hag, Alice the Goon, and more! Bobby London’s take on the Sailor Man has often been overshadowed by his being fired from the strip in 1992, ostensibly for presenting a storyline that was an allegory about abortion. Now, 20 years later, Bobby London fans as well as Popeye fans can rejoice with this first of two volumes that will collect every one of his daily Popeye strips. 344pgs.

Stranger Than Life: Cartoons & Comics 1970-2013
by M.K. Brown

The publisher says:
This collection is a career retrospective — and rediscovery — of the great female humor cartoonist M.K. Brown, whose work ran in both mainstream and underground venues, such as National Lampoon, The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Playboy, Wimmin’s Comics and Twisted Sisters. Women: what do they want? They might want to float into the sky while hosting a brunch party. They might want a couple of handsome cops to come over and get rid of a snake problem. They might seek a doctor’s treatment for “wise-ass disease” or fantasize about revenge and forgiveness at the dentist’s office. They might want to sing the White Girl Blues and dance the White Girl Twist. And what about men? Mr. Science just wants to carry out his pointless experiments. “Earl D. Porker, Social Worker” converses with household items and forgets the cat food. One fellow’s head is a basket of laundry. One of the funniest cartoonists of the last four decades, M.K. Brown has accumulated a body of work long savored by aficionados but never comprehensively collected — until now. Stranger Than Life is the first retrospective collection of Brown’s cartoons and comic strips from the National Lampoon from 1972-1981, as well as such other magazines as Mother Jones, The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and Playboy; and her comics from underground publications like Arcade, Wimmin’s Comics, Young Lust, and Twisted Sisters. In these pages: Read instructions for the use of glue, making a pair of pants, home auto repair, coping with chainsaw massacres, and jackknifing your big rig. Travel the globe to witness the giant bananas of Maui, strange sightings in Guatemala, camel races, and a “Saga of the Frozen North.” Learn about love ‘round the world, among eccentric suburbanites, and in a “Condensed Gothic” romance. Meet Virginia Spears Ngodátu, who (with a bit of a name change) would go on to star in “Dr. Janice N!Godatu,” Brown’s series of animated shorts that appeared on The Tracy Ullman Show alongside the first incarnation of The Simpsons. Aliens, old people, pilgrims, mermen, monitor lizards, tiny floating muggers and other weirdos feature in Brown’s side-splitting single-panel gag strips. Brown’s cartoons combine a penchant for the absurd with the gimlet observational eye of Roz Chast. Brown satirizes suburban anxiety and ennui by turning it upside-down and sideways, and her slightly grotesque yet lovable characters are perfectly captured in her restless pen line and delicate jewel-tone watercolors. 248pgs, black & white with 16 pages of color. Here are some colour examples of her comics…

Terra Australis
by LF Bollée & Philippe Nicloux

The publisher says:
One of the most incredible human odysseys of history took place a little more than 220 years ago. Approximately 1,500 men and women were deported, crammed aboard eleven ships, and transported to the other side of the planet. They were criminals, outcasts, renegades… the scum of England! After covering more than 24,000 km over three oceans, they arrived in a country that did not yet exist.  For some it was a one-way trip to hell, for others it was an unexpected chance of a new life. Bollée & Nicloux’s 500-page masterpiece is an accurate, perceptive and sympathetic account of the birth of Australia. 512pgs, paperback. French publishers Glénat have posted ten pages in French online here…

The Bojeffries Saga
by Alan Moore & Steve Parkhouse
Top Shelf Productions / Knockabout Comics
$14.95 / £9.99

The publisher says:
Jobremus Bojeffries is like any other father - trying to keep the peace in a house stuffed with two kids (Ginda and Reth), uncles Raoul and Festus, a baby, and old Grandpa Podlasp. Never mind that one’s a werewolf, one’s a vampire, Grandpa is in the last stages of organic matter, and the baby puts off enough thermonuclear energy to power England and Wales… All right, they’re no ordinary family. And this is no ordinary book, with stories spanning decades, a whole chapter written as light opera, a Christmas episode, and an all-new, 24-page comic bringing the Bojeffries up to the present day. On every page, the wry and anarchic creativity of the creators shines through: Alan Moore’s affectionate and penetrating grasp of human nature (and British culture) creates a kind of desperate poignancy in the characters, brought to memorable life by Steve Parkhouse’s deft and articulate line work. It’s all there, untutored, unpolished, ramshackle, and always on the edge of collapse. Very much like Britain itself. 96pgs, colour paperback.

The Dumbest Idea Ever!
by Jimmy Gownley
$24.99 / $11.99

The publisher says:
Jimmy Gownley’s graphic novel memoir about the “dumb” idea that changed his life forever! What if the dumbest idea ever turned your life upside down? At thirteen, Jimmy was popular, at the top of his class, and the leading scorer on his basketball team. But all that changed when chicken pox forced him to miss the championship game. Things went from bad to worse when he got pneumonia and missed even more school. Before Jimmy knew it, his grades were sinking and nothing seemed to be going right. How did Jimmy turn things around, get back on top at school, and land a date with the cutest girl in class? Renowned comics creator of Amelia Rules!, Jimmy Gownley shares his adventures as he grows from an eager-to-please boy into a teenage comic book artist. This is the real-life story of how the dumbest idea ever became the best thing that ever happened to him. 240pgs, hardcover and softcover.

The Simon & Kirby Library: Horror
by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby
Titan Books

The publisher says:
At every point, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby raised the bar. When they came to comics, Superman had been around for about a year, and the medium was still in its infancy. They took the action and made it explode, breaking out of the panels and sprinting across the page. They showed what comics could do, experimenting with layout and design, creating the first full-page panels and double page spreads. Their first million-seller was a superhero (Captain America), and their next was military adventure that outsold Superman (DC’s Boy Commandos). These two guys from Rochester and Brooklyn broke all the rules when they created the first romance comics, and they blazed trails in every genre: horror, science fiction, crime etc ... Their work in the legendary title Black Magic was acclaimed by readers. It was held up on national television by the Senate Committee on Juvenile Delinquency, where experts claimed Black Magic contributed to the corruption of American youth! Also included here are the Simon and Kirby stories from the experimental terror title Strange World of Your Dreams. 320pgs, colour hardcover.

Walt Before Skeezix 1919-1920
by Frank King
Drawn & Quarterly

The publisher says:
The prelude to the Walt and Skeezix series offers a portrait of a country in transition. Walt Before Skeezix collects the first years of Frank King’s beloved comic strip Gasoline Alley—one of the most widely read and syndicated strips of its time, which is still syndicated today. These comics, produced between 1919 and 1920, focus primarily on Walt Wallet and his friends as they engage with the then-novel automobile sensation that was sweeping the nation. This period of the newspaper strip is especially fascinating as a historical time capsule, charting a moment in America’s past when horses and buggies shared the road with cars, and when the country was making the transition from rural farmers to urban, industrialized society. King was a pioneering American cartoonist who changed comics forever by setting his strip in contemporary America and having his characters age. These lavish volumes pay tribute to the evolution of his style and storytelling. Designed and edited by the world-renowned cartoonist Chris Ware (Building Stories), Walt Before Skeezix includes a wide-ranging introductory essay from the noted comics historian Jeet Heer, the coeditor of Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium, and an essay by Tim Samuelson, the cultural historian for the city of Chicago, about how Chicago’s history is reflected in King’s newspaper strip. 720pgs.

Posted: December 1, 2013


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