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PG Previews:

January 2012

You know, I am extraordinarily lucky. Sometimes, I have to pinch myself. In many cases, I can get to read amazing comics months before their eventual publication. While scrolling on screen through an advance reader’s pdf may not be quite the same as those inky, tactile, papery, page-turning pleasures of the printed object, this does mean I can delight in treats that are still in store for you in the months ahead. I’ve found yet another embarrassment of riches for you here, all due out in January 2012 (although actual dates may vary) and all based on publishers’ advance listings. 2012 already looks like being another banner year!

by Hermann
Dark Horse Comics

The publisher says:
The masterpiece by Belgian comics creator Hermann is available in English for the first time! A misanthropic European expatriate, Dario Ferrer, acts as guardian of a Tanzanian wildlife preserve. Accompanied by Charlotte, a naive European journalist, Ferrer discovers a village under fire from mysterious agents of the foreign-backed government. Ferrer and Charlotte must fight not only to protect the preserve, but to expose government corruption—and survive to see another day.

Paul Gravett says:
From his post-apocalyptic thriller Jeremiah, adapted for American television, to his historical drama The Towers of Bois-Maury, Hermann has not always been best-served by English translators, who have all too often left series incomplete. So it’s good news that this gripping one-shot album is coming out, giving this Belgian master, admired by Roman Polanski, another chance to be discovered and admired.

Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred #1 of 6
by David Hine & Shaky Kane

The publisher says:
Back from the grave! The cult hit of 2011 returns with a tale of treachery, murder and unrequited lust. When headless corpses start to appear on the first night of the full moon, ace detective Johnny P. Sartre smells a rat .

Paul Gravett says:
Hine and Kane make a great double act, on the page and in person too. Theirs is one of my few favourite amusing and satirical takes on the superhero genre out there right now and they also gave a hilarious, live, in-character performance on this Orbital Comics podcast after a screening of Steve Cook’s Shaky Kane: Unravelled mockumentary movie (see the You Tube trailer).

Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History (Second Edition)
by William Jones

The publisher says:
From 1941 to 1971, the well-loved yet controversial Classics Illustrated series brought abridged, comics-style versions of literary masterpieces such as Homer’s Odyssey, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Goethe’s Faust, and Hugo’s Les Miserables to millions of children and adults worldwide. Founded by Russian Jewish immigrant Albert Kanter at the dawn of the ‘Golden Age’ of comics, the series used the comic-book form to introduce young readers to the works of Melville, Dickens, Stevenson, Twain and other authors. This work tells the story of Kanter’s enterprise and examines the cultural significance of the most successful publication of its kind in the context of the times in which it was published. Attention is given to the evolving mission of Classics Illustrated to bring serious literature to popular culture; the publication’s ability to stand up to the anti-comics hysteria of the early 1950s; the growth of subsidiary educational series encompassing folklore, mythology, history, and science; and the unsuccessful attempts to revive the series in the 1990s. The careers and contributions of each of the artists are covered, and the text is supplemented by quotations from exclusive interviews and correspondence with such illustrators as George Evans, Gray Morrow, Lou Cameron, Norman Nodel and Rudolph Palais. Detailed appendices provide artist attributions and the contents of each issue in every Classics Illustrated-related series. More than 200 illustrations offer a generous sample of what drew millions of readers to “the World’s Finest Juvenile Publication.”

Paul Gravett says:
I wrote at length a rave review on this site about the first edition of this in-depth study, so I am delighted that William B. Jones Jr. has updated and expanded it. He wrote to me back in August: “I was particularly intrigued by your nomination of Dino Battaglia as the likely artist of the 1961 Adventures of Cellini. In the second, much-expanded edition of my Classics Illustrated book, I discuss and endorse your attribution. I conclude by saying that ‘Mr. Gravett’s argument ... is persuasive with respect to both style and circumstance; one hopes that his suggestion will prompt further examination and discussion among comics-art students” (Chapter XXII, p. 231).’ I second that and hope that this uncredited mystery artist can be confirmed.

by Paolo Parisi
Jonathan Cape

The publisher says:
John Coltrane rose from a hard and impoverished childhood in North Carolina to become one of the greatest jazz musicians of the age. From session musician to band member of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, his raw talent and passion for experimentation inaugurated a new movement in jazz. Positioned at the beating heart of the 50s and 60s jazz movement, Coltrane and his quartet created some of the most innovative and expressive music of the age, including the hit album My Favorite Things and the landmark work A Love Supreme. Juxtaposing scenes from Coltrane’s personal life - his military career, addictions, political activism and love affairs - against snapshots of his major recordings, Coltrane evokes an extraordinary life and the momentous historical events that formed its backdrop. It is a graphic novel that echoes his work in its structure and style, and forms a testament to a pioneer and legend, whose music continues to inspire to this day.

Paul Gravett says:
A stylish graphic biography of this true jazz icon by Italian artist Parisi. I had to adjust a bit at first from the moodier, rougher linework of the cover to the simpler, more cartoonish drawing he uses within, but it did win me over. I am hoping we can get Parisi over to London for a Comica event sometime to demonstrate his thrilling, improvised ‘Trane Painting’ of comics panels inspired by an accompany jazz trio. Watch a video of him in action here on his website. 

Fatale #1
by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

The publisher says:
Nothing the creators of Sleeper, Criminal and Incognito have done so far will prepare you for the explosive debut of Fatale. A reporter in 2012 stumbles on a secret that leads him down the darkest path imaginable… to a seductive woman who’s been on the run since 1935, a mobster who may be an immortal demon monster, and the stories of all the doomed men who’ve been caught in their decades-long struggle. Fatale blends noir and horror to tell a riveting epic unlike anything you’ve seen before.

Paul Gravett says:
Unleashed from Marvel’s Icon imprint and over at creator-friendly Image, Brubaker and Phillips are self-evidently having a blast here, mixing a cocktail of their regular Criminal turf of corrupt cops, police procedural, referential detective drama and noir romance with a new ‘secret ingredient ’ - horror, as signalled by the toothy, tentacled, gun-toting mobster on one of the covers. The present-day prologue introduces us to Nicolas Lash, godson to bestselling crime novelist Dominic Raines, at the man’s aetheist funeral. Hints of menace are there from the start, such as Lash’s white streak (from fear) in his hair, and his bittersweet monologue comment about his father being Raines’ “...only real friend… and Dad’s been in an institution for a decade.” And it’s not long before the fatal attraction of romance arrives with the dark-haired Jo, the granddaughter of a lover, muse and perhaps more of Raines, who instantly bewitches Lash after the funeral ceremony. Later, Lash’s day goes further off the deep end when he discovers amongst Raines’ papers an unknown, unpublished first novel, The Losing Side of Eternity, only to have two armed goons, in Magritte-like bowler hats and round Le Corbusier shades, show up intent on killing him.

After a thrilling escape and chase, the prologue shifts smoothly, via a photo Lash finds in the manuscript of Raines with presumably Jo’s grandmother, Josephine, to the first chapter set in 1956 San Francisco, where his lover is mixed up with cop Walter Brooker and in the mystery behind a massacre of a satanic cult. There’s some cracking dialogue in here, for instance at the first ghastly crime scene, “...this guy, he’s nothing but causes of death. Even before we get to the upside-down crucifixion.” This sparks a further flashback within a flashback to the dungeons of Romania in World War II, transitioning to Josephine’s nightmare. Brubaker sets up all the pieces and players and their foreshadowing, while Sean Phillips controls his black ink like a dream, leaving room for Dave Stewart’s atmospheric palettes. Expertly concocted, Fatale is one cross-genre crime-horror cocktail that will leave you both shaken and stirred. Don’t ‘wait for the trade’, buy this classy comic book and you also get a bonus Jess Nevins feature on H.P. Lovecraft which won’t appear anywhere else.

Frank Reade: Adventures In The Age Of Invention
by Paul Guinan & Anina Bennett
Abrams Image

The publisher says:
Before Jules Verne’s flying machines and H. G. Wells’s spaceships, there was Frank Reade, globe-trotting inventor and original steampunk hero. Frank Reade magazines were the world’s first science fiction periodicals, enthralling millions of readers with tales of fantastic inventions and adventures. Now many of the spectacular images from the vintage dime novel series are being reprinted for the first time in more than a century, along with excerpts from the action-packed stories. In Frank Reade: Adventures in the Age of Invention, this lost legacy of Americana is interwoven with a biography of the “real” Reade family - inventors and explorers who traveled the world with their helicopter airships, submarines, and robots, and who encountered figures like Geronimo and Houdini. This epic saga is brought to life in the multimedia style of the authors’ previous volume, the critically acclaimed Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel. Frank Reade is part - science fiction, part - alternate history, and entirely exciting!

Paul Gravett says:
In something of the spirit of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Guinan and Bennett entertain and enthrall winningly by reviving and revising this 19th century pioneer of science fiction as if he were real. Which, of course, he was. It’s also a treat to see how the future was imagined so long ago.

by Tom Gauld
Drawn & Quarterly

The publisher says:
Goliath of Gath isn’t much of a fighter. Given half a choice, he would pick admin work over patrolling in a heartbeat, to say nothing of his distaste for engaging in combat. Nonetheless, at the behest of the king, he finds himself issuing a twice-daily challenge to the Israelites: “Choose a man. Let him come to me that we may fight. If he be able to kill me then we shall be your servants. But if I kill him, then you shall be our servants.” Day after day he reluctantly repeats his speech, and the isolation of this duty gives him the chance to banter with his shield-bearer and reflect on the beauty of his surroundings. This is the story of David and Goliath as seen from Goliath’s side of the Valley of Elah. Quiet moments in Goliath’s life as a soldier are accentuated by Tom Gauld’s drawing style, which contrasts minimalist scenery and near-geometric humans with densely crosshatched detail reminiscent of Edward Gorey. Goliath’s battle is simultaneously tragic and bleakly funny, as bureaucracy pervades even this most mythic of figures. Goliath displays a sensitive wit, a bold line, and a traditional narrative reworked, remade, and revolutionized.

Paul Gravett says:
While Robert Crumb illustrates every word of the Book of Genesis, Tom Gauld zeroes in on something smaller and overlooked; he reads between the lines to imagine the untold tale of Goliath. Most people are familiar with the Bible story of David and Goliath and who won and who lost, but we know remarkably little else about this giant champion of Philistines. In his most extended graphic narrative yet, Tom Gauld playfully imagines the back story of this overlooked Biblical figure as a laconic, unthreatening, gentle-hearted soldier, who is a pretty hopeless swordsman and much prefers doing paperwork over patrol duty. Goliath’s eventual and inevitable fate is wryly foreshadowed in the opening sequence where he picks up a pebble out of the river that divides the two warring factions and drops it back into the water. When he is told about his secret mission, he momentarily blacks out, stunned from shock, a moment that also anticipates his demise. The brief passage in the Old Testament mentioning that Goliath had a shield-bearer allows Tom to add a young boy sidekick for him to converse with. The comedy is perfectly paced throughout, for example unravelling the waiting around for the tribes of Israel to respond to Goliath’s repeated challenges to send forth their champion. The camp’s captured bear used for unseen gambling fights and a pestering crow, symbol of death, also resonate with our hapless non-hero’s fate. Elegantly illustrated in black and sepia with Gauld’s signature economic linework and varied crosshatching for textures and shadows, Goliath is a charming little wonder of wit. Read a six-page sampler here and listen in on a Comica Conversation at Orbital Comics London between Tom Gauld and Anders Nilsen, author of Big Questions, in which Tom talks about this fine new book of his.

Gone To Amerikay
by Derek McCulloch & Colleen Doran
DC Vertigo

The publisher says:
Ciara O’Dwyer is a young woman raising a daughter alone in the Five Points slums of 1870; Johnny McCormack is a struggling actor drawn to the nascent folk music movement in Greenwich Village 1960; and Lewis Healy is a successful Irishman who’s come to present-day Manhattan on his wife’s anniversary-present promise to reveal the connection between him and them. The mystery originates with Ciara’s runaway husband, who disappeared after promising to join her in America, and carries into midcentury when Johnny, devastated by an unexpected romance and a lost shot at musical fame, gets a supernatural visitor.

Paul Gravett says:
I’ve not had a chance to preview this one, but from a few online sneak peak pages and a recent podcast interview with artist Colleen Doran, this historical, human drama looks and sounds stunning and I can’t wait to do so. Two years in the making, it’s luckily weathered all the recent storms at Vertigo. Look for a proper review shortly, I hope.

GTO: 14 Days In Shonan
by Tohru Fujisawa
Vertical Inc

The publisher says:
After guiding the infamous Tokyo Kissho Academy through a crash-course of his unique brand of life-lessons, a battered and bruised Eikichi Onizuka takes a well-deserved trip to his hometown of sorts, a typically quiet surfers paradise called Shonan. Unfortunately, with child neglect and abuse becoming a global phenomenon, the self-proclaimed GTO (Great Teacher Onizuka) quickly finds himself back in the saddle for what he hopes is a painless two-week long field trip with some teens in need. And while Onizuka’s curriculum may not rely on the reading, writing and arithmetic that is common in most classrooms, he has more than a few good lessons in personal development, fisticuffs and fun to teach a new generation of trouble teens.

Paul Gravett says:
I loved the hilarious, mean-‘n’-moody high-school satire manga GTO (Great Teacher Onizuka) the first time round, so heartily recommend this prequel sequel.

Herlock Sholmes: Master Of Disguise
by Zvonimir Furtinger & Julio Radiolovic
Print Media

The publisher says:
Herlock Sholmes, the hilarious creation of acclaimed Yugoslavian comic creators Zvonimir Furtinger and Julio Radiolovic, has had only limited exposure in the UK - and never before in the stunning colour that has made Julio’s work so acclaimed in Europe. First published in 1957 as the Incredible Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the character appeared in Britain in 1967 as a one-page feature in Giggle comic as well as publications in France, Portugal, Brazil and The Times of India. The comedy series is of course inspired by Sir Conan Doyle’s famous detective and his loyal assistant Dr John Hamish Watson but Furtinger’s crazy and script is enthusiastically aided by the stunning work of artist Jules Radilovic and his wife Zdenka. With intriguing plots and complications, as well as confusion among the characters it’s the most incredible detective story you have ever read in comics! With adroit leadership and often frenetic action, Herlock Sholmes is regarded as a creative triumph from duo Radilovic-Furtinger.

Paul Gravett says:
You will find Herlock Sholmes among the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die, and for good reason, as it’s a highly enjoyable, satirical riff on Doyle’s original. And here it is in English in a chunky collection. 

Is That All There Is?
by Joost Swarte
Fantagraphics Books

The publisher says:
By appropriating and subverting Tintin creator Hergé‘s classic ‘clear line’ style, Joost Swarte revitalized European alternative comics in the 1970s with a series of satirical, musically elegant, supremely beautifully drawn short stories - often featuring his innocent, magnificently-quiffed Jopo de Pojo, or his orotund scientist character, Anton Makassar. Under Swarte’s own exacting supervision, Is That All There Is? will collect virtually all of his alternative comics work from 1972 to date, including the RAW magazine stories that brought him fame among American comics aficionados in the 1980s. Especially great pains will be taken to match Swarte’s superb coloring, which includes stories executed in watercolor, comics printed in retro duotones, fiendishly clever use of Zip-a-Tone screens, and much more. (There’s even a story about how to color comics art using those screens, with Makassar as the teacher.)

Paul Gravett says:
It was such a pleasure to interview Swarte in his Haarlem studio back in 1984 for Escape Magazine 3. This compendium has taken quite a time to reach us but it’s nearly here and will reconfirm this Dutch design maestro’s brilliance. If you don’t know the work of Joost Swarte (simply ‘Joe Black’ in Dutch), you really really should and this is the perfect place to start.

La Luz de Jesus 25
by Billy Shire
Last Gasp

The publisher says:
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of La Luz de Jesus gallery, mastermind Billy Shire has organized a monumental group show featuring around 300 artists, each of whom have contributed one new piece and a written anecdote about their experience with the gallery. In 25 years of groundbreaking exhibitions, this is La Luz’s first published survey, featuring three generations of the most important artists working today. The book, a companion to the show, chronicles the rich legacy of La Luz de Jesus and the thriving art movement it helped launch. The talent involved with the La Luz de Jesus 25th Anniversary project reads like a veritable who’s-who of art, including Robert Williams, Joe Coleman, Glenn Barr, Elizabeth McGrath, the Clayton Brothers, Gary Panter, Mark Mothersbaugh, Lou Beach, Hudson Marquez, Aaron Smith, Owen Smith, Frank Kozik, Manuel Ocampo, Don Ed Hardy, Jeff Soto, Dave Cooper, Daniel Martin Diaz, Scott Musgrove, Bari Kumar, Tim Biskup, Joe Sorren, Chris Mars, Jessica Joslin, The Pizz, Coop, shag, Gary Baseman, Bob Dob, and many more. Billy Shire is best known as the prodigious owner of The Soap Plant, Wacko and the La Luz de Jesus gallery, all in Los Angeles. A couple of years after graduating from Belmont High, Shire opened The Soap Plant where he sold hand-crafted soaps, unusual trinkets, and imported figurines from Mexico, thereby popularizing the art and culture of that country’s Day of the Dead festivals. Shire gained notoriety in 1973 when he won a design competition sponsored by Levi Strauss & Company. Shire’s gallery La Luz de Jesus, is one of the most important ground-breaking galleries in Los Angeles and has garnered a considerable reputation with collectors, galleries, and artists around the world.

Paul Gravett says:
That’s quite a line-up, as you’d expect to mark a quarter of a century of this transformative Hollywood Boulevard gallery.

My Friend Dahmer
by Derf Backderf
Abrams ComicArts

The publisher says:
You only think you know this story. In 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer - the most notorious serial killer since Jack the Ripper - seared himself into the American consciousness. To the public, Dahmer was a monster who committed unthinkable atrocities. To Derf Backderf, ‘Jeff’ was a much more complex figure: a high school friend with whom he had shared classrooms, hallways, and car rides. In My Friend Dahmer, a haunting and original graphic novel, writer-artist Backderf creates a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of a disturbed young man struggling against the morbid urges emanating from the deep recesses of his psyche - a shy kid, a teenage alcoholic, and a goofball who never quite fit in with his classmates. With profound insight, what emerges is a Jeffrey Dahmer that few ever really knew, and one readers will never forget.

Paul Gravett says:
What might seem initially like some exploitative shlockumentary is actually a deeply troubling indictment of the system and a portrait of the teenager who was ignored and allowed to become a mass-murderer. I picked Derf’s original comic-book version of this autobiographical story in my 2008 book The Leather Nun and Other Incredibly Strange Comicsand at the time he told me he wanted to expand this material into a full-length graphic novel. It’s coming out at last.

by Laurie J. Proud
Blank Slate Books

The publisher says:
In Peepholes, Laurie J. Proud peers into the worlds that lie behind closed doors - where everyday stuck-on smiles are shaken off to reveal the darkness and inner-yearnings they obscure. Ten beautifully-crafted stories of the bizarre take us through somnambulant cities where businessmen walk up the sides of buildings, werewolves go to midnight screenings, love-struck hitmen are hired to kill their favourite movie starlets and literal towers of self-pity threaten to collapse at any moment. Veering in between dreams and nightmares, Proud’s oblique visions of urban and emotional chaos range from the darkly comical to bitingly poignant. Created over a ten-year period whilst Proud worked professionally as an animator and storyboardist, Blank Slate now binds these stories together in a special 122-page hardcover presentation. Fans of creators such as Al Columbia and Ho Che Anderson will find a lot to love in work that’s captivating and unsettling in equal measure. For everyone else, this is a chance to see a new UK comics talent emerge with a fully formed creative voice. Do you dare peek through to the other side?

Paul Gravett says:
I may be wrong, but I think maybe from the very first year of the Observer/Cape/Comica Graphic Short Story Prize in 2007, I’ve been noticing Laurie J. Proud’s singular entries which consistently came through to the final shortlist. His four-page painted entry ‘Aubrey’ resurfaces here, as do his earlier entries ‘Dead Laurence’ and ‘Chocolate Malted’, which Proud advises me were created before the competition existed, alongside seven other tales of high graphic sophistication. He imbues them with an obvious love for old-time American cinema, not least in his use of colour schemes of greys or of sepias and other subdued tints, the clarity of his sequential design solutions and the black or dark backgrounds behind his panels suggestive of the darkness of the cinema. Proud will show his players smiling widely, teeth bared, almost blank-eyed and sinister, similar to his rather obvious influence Al Columbia. From this impressive resumé of a decade of self-motivated work, almost a showreel of unfilmed short films, I hope Proud can go on developing his own more distinct storyworld and deliver a longer, deeper project from it. All the signs so far are extremely promising.

The House That Groaned
by Karrie Fransman

The publisher says:
141 Rottin Road. ‘A cosy, one-bedroom apartment on the first floor of a charming Victorian conversion. Newly decorated and with a separate kitchen and reception room. Located just a bus ride away from a wide range of shops, restaurants and bars.’ Welcome to The House That Groaned and the six lonely inhabitants of its separate flats, characters so at odds with themselves and their bodies that they could only have stepped out of the pages of a comic novel. There’s Barbara, our make-up artist heroine and man-made blonde bombshell; Matt, the photographic re-toucher who can’t touch; Janet, the tormented dietician; twenty-something Brian, the diseaseophile whose sexual penchant takes him to the edge of perversion; old Mrs Durbach, imprisoned inside her ageing body; and the gloriously fleshy and hedonistic Marion, agent provocateur and ringleader of the Midnight Feasters. Exploring the themes of body-image, sexuality and the loneliness and isolation of contemporary urban life, The House That Groaned is a modern-day fairy tale full of magic realism and farcical symbolism which will woo both comic fans and attract new readers to the medium.

Nicolas Roeg (Director of Don’t Look Now and Walkabout) says:
Karrie Fransman breaks all the rules of storytelling accumulated over the past thousand years. She creates a confusion at first, that suddenly bursts into the obvious and simplest fact: that all the stories of, and in our lives, are personal and private. Unlinked and unlike anyone else’s… like our DNA. The only way this wonderful ‘Book’ could have been written is by illustration… not by word… rather like the hidden stories drawn on the walls of caves.

Paul Gravett says:
The location of this ensemble piece has a telltale address, of course: Rottin Road, reminiscent of the famous Glasgow street Rottenrow, and suggesting something rotten and rotting, in decline and decay, like some modern House of Usher. From the outside, street after street, these rows and rows of apartment buildings all look the same. But what lies behind their doors, beneath the surface? Beneath outward appearances and the veneer of normality? Like the skin of a body peeled away to reveal its inner workings, this graphic novel’s cover image shows us first the brick-built, three-storey exterior of 141 Rottin Road. We then notice that the windows to its six flats and the central door and stairwells have each pane of glass cut out, to let us peep like nosey neighbours through them into yellow-illuminated interiors. These are revealed in full only once we open the cover - I can think of few other more clever cover designs to lure the reader to enquire within! Also revealed inside are the building’s structural skeleton, its hidden construction materials, roof joists, the plumbing and gas pipes, the tangled electrical wires, the building as a body in itself. It’s not the last time that we will see through its walls and floors. It’s no coincidence that another of Karrie Fransman’s comics, shown at the Comica 2010 Festival exhibition That’s Novel I curated at the London Print Studio, consisted of her own childhood dolls house, which she gutted and redecorated to narrate a creepy story, which could be read by looking into its windows from room to room.

Returning to The House That Groaned, there are also those bodies within its walls and their relationships to their own bodies, and to those of others around them. Across six chapters, we discover the other tenants in the company of newcomer Barbara as she tries to settle in. Periodically, Fransman cuts from this present-day narrative to flashbacks of formative moments from her sextet’s pasts, deepening our understanding and perhaps empathy for them. There are some arresting surprises along the way, sometimes macabre, sometimes shocking, usually saved for left-hand whole pages to catch us unawares. Karrie Fransman’s dual background as a psychology and sociology student and a creative advertiser helps underpin her skills at both characterisation and communication. She has a quirky, lively cartooning style to which you can soon adjust, for instance, the way she gives all her characters doll-like circles on their cheeks and usually large V-shaped noses. She is also adept at lettering design, filling the speech balloons of the Midnight Feast maven’s tempting phone calls with big, bold, luscious calligraphy that threatens to burst their seams. Later, these beckoning words coil around her, pulling her out of bed.

By the melodramatic finale, there is tragedy here, scars that miss their chance to heal, and yet in the face of tragedy, there is grotesque comedy too. Fransman even gives us a kind of walking-into-the-sunset happy ending for two of the tenants, and a quietly touching demise of another, bleeding and blending back into the landscape she loved when she was younger and into the ground where her husband lies buried. The House That Groaned is steeped in physical obsessions and psychological damages, and suggests that a powerful enough trauma, during childhood or perhaps later, can re-shape someone’s sense of themselves fundamentally, though with luck not always irrevocably. Oddly macabre and moving at the same time, more absurdist magic realism than gritty kitchen-sink drama, few British debut graphic novels have been as audacious and unsettling as this.

The Silence Of Our Friends
by Mark Lang, Jim Demonakos & Nate Powell
First Second

The publisher says:
As the civil rights struggle heats up in Texas, two families - one white, one black - find common ground. This semi-autobiographical tale is set in 1967 Texas, against the backdrop of the fight for civil rights. A white family from a notoriously racist neighborhood in the suburbs and a black family from its poorest ward cross Houston’s color line, overcoming humiliation, degradation, and violence to win the freedom of five black college students unjustly charged with the murder of a policeman. The Silence of Our Friends follows events through the point of view of young Mark Long, whose father is a reporter covering the story. Semi-fictionalized, this story has its roots solidly in very real events. With art from the brilliant Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole) bringing the tale to heart-wrenching life, The Silence of Our Friends is a new and important entry in the body of civil rights literature for older teens and adults.

Paul Gravett says:
This book’s title derives from the words of Martin Luther King Jr., who is quoted elsewhere in this largely autobiographical and factual account based on co-writer Mark Long’s childhood and on the experience of his father, ‘race reporter’ for the local TV station, to whom the book is dedicated. As his Dad observes, back in the turbulent Sixties, ‘The truth is wherever black live in Dixie is the bottom.’ There’s an understandable initial distrust on both sides of the deep race divide, but Larry, a black teacher protesting at the racist exclusion of the Student NonViolent Co-Ordinating Committee by his university, manages to introduce his white journalist friend to his cause. As Larry’s wife asks him, “Do you want to use him, or be friends with him?”, to which Larry answers, ‘Both, I guess.” This 190-page graphic novel follows the alliance and friendship that gradually grows between these two “men of conscience” and their families, both parents and kids, amidst a backdrop of prejudice and escalating violence. Nate Powell is a perfect choice as illustrator having proved his skill at depicting the everyday of America from the perspective of childhood so well in his solo books. As a graphic docudrama, The Silence of Our Friends will help many readers, young and old, to appreciate more fully the real effects on ordinary people of this crucial period in America’s troubled history.

The Sincerest Form Of Parody:
The Best 1950s MAD Inspired Satirical Comics

edited by John Benson; introduction by Jay Lynch
Fantagraphics Books

The publisher says:
When MAD became a surprise hit as a comic book in 1953 (after the early issues lost money!) other comics publishers were quick to jump onto the bandwagon, eventually bringing out a dozen imitations with titles like FLIP, WHACK, NUTS, CRAZY, WILD, RIOT, EH, UNSANE, BUGHOUSE, and GET LOST. The Sincerest Form of Parody collects the best and the funniest material from these comics, including parodies of movies (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, From Here To Eternity), TV shows (What’s My Line, The Late Show), comic strips (Little Orphan Annie, Rex Morgan), novels (I, the Jury), plays (Come Back, Little Sheba), advertisements (Rheingold Beer, Charles Atlas), classic literature (The Lady or the Tiger), and history (Pancho Villa). Some didn’t even try for parody, but instead published odd, goofy, off-the-wall stories. These earnest copiers of MAD realized that Will Elder’s cluttered ‘chicken fat’ art was a good part of MAD‘s success, and these pages are densely packed with all sorts of outlandish and bizarre gags that make for hours of amusing reading. The ‘parody comics’ are uniquely ‘50s, catching the popular culture zeitgeist through a dual lens: not only reflecting fifties culture through parody but also being themselves typical examples of that culture (in a way that Harvey Kurtzman’s MAD was not).

This unprecedented volume collects over 30 of the best of these crazy, undisciplined stories, all reprinted from the original comics in full color. Editor John Benson (who wrote the annotations for the first complete MAD reprints, and interviewed MAD editor Harvey Kurtzman in depth several times over the years) also provides expert, profusely illustrated commentary and background, including comparisons of how different companies parodied the same subject. Artists represented include Jack Davis, Will Elder, Norman Maurer, Carl Hubbell, William Overgard, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Bill Everett, Al Hartley, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Hy Fleischman, Jay Disbrow, Howard Nostrand, and Bob Powell. Casual comics readers are probably familiar with the later satirical magazines that continued to be published in the ‘60s and ‘70s, such as Cracked and Sick, but the comics collected in this volume were imitations of the MAD comic book, not the magazine, and virtually unknown among all but the most die-hard collectors.

Paul Gravett says:
Harvey Kurtzman’s seminal comic-book MAD did not corner the entire market for American quality parody comics in the Fifties, so it’s high time these so-called also-rans or imitators were re-assessed and appreciated afresh.

The Sunday Funnies 1
edited by Russ Cochran
Russ Cochran Company

The publisher says:
The Sunday Funnies is a monthly 32 page full size comic section, containing historic Sunday pages from as far back as 1895, and including favorites such as Gasoline Alley, Little Nemo, Krazy Kat, and many other classic Sunday pages that you’ve probably never seen before. Each issue of The Sunday Funnies will be a full size 22"x16” comic section, containing full page Sunday comics in full color. These pages are coming from the archives of Ohio State University, which, thanks to Bill Blackbeard, has the largest and most comprehensive collection of Sunday comics in existence.

Paul Gravett says:
Experiencing vintage American Sunday newspaper comic-strip pages in their original format and ‘polychromatic effulgence’ can be pricey, whether in the fragile originals or in the luxury same-sized volumes from Sunday Press Books, so this more affordable sampler is ideal to make these treasures more broadly affordable. It’s also a fitting tribute to the late, great Blackbeard, without whom so much of this strip heritage would not have survived.

Things To Do In A Retirement Home Trailer Park
by Aneurin Wright
Myriad Editions

The publisher says:
When Nye’s father phones to wish him a happy birthday, and reveals he has been ‘certified for hospice’, Nye slumps down on the nearest doorstep in shock. Unemployment means that he is free to move in to the trailer park where his father lives, and assume the role of chief carer. Their daily schedule of pill counting and medical checks unfolds into an extraordinary world where the protagonist is a minotaur, his father a rhinoceros, social workers are sea turtles and mobile homes move atop gigantic elephants. Curious neighbours and medical and social care workers - whether man or beast - become their friends, and the family comes together once more. And as the old man battles against emphysema, his shortness of breath becomes more evident until his speech bubbles, previously charged with pithy comment, are mostly filled with pauses. Aneurin Wright’s unforgettable debut is a universal tale of love and loss told in a wholly original way.

Paul Gravett says:
I first met American-born, Brighton-based Nye Wright at last summer’s Hypercomics exhibition in London and discovered he was self-publishing this extraordinary anthropomorphic memoir about him and his father Neil. Now complete and issued as a handsome hardback by enterprising British publishers Myriad, it’s worth noting that the book’s title comes with an asterisked subtitle: ‘...When You’re 29 and Unemployed.” This of course refers to the author Nye, who not only portrays himself as a big, muscular, healthy, two-horned bull, but one that comes in cobalt blue (the same skin-tone as his rhino father). In fact, only some of the characters here are animals - owls bears, lizards - or in the case of Nye’s roommate Miguel, a reddish-brown chihuahua. The rest, particularly the women, remain human. Dividing the story into three parts, ‘Arriving’, ‘Settling In’, and ‘Moving On’, Wright offers 31 different activities ranging from pill-counting, learning about hospice and caretaking to, of course, drawing, which he does especially well, limiting his colour scheme to just blues and dark oranges with shades of grey. Myriad have posted some sample pages on their website.

The story moves back and forward through the years, charting the course of Neil Wright’s smoking and emphysema - described by one doctor as “like a train going over a cliff.” There’s wit as well as pathos here, for example when Nye is perturbed by being asked to give his father an enema, and his Dad responds: “You know what your Mother and I learned when you and your sister were born?” “That you can do anything as long as you breath through your mouth.” The sheer flexibility of comics allows Nye Wright to portray the impossible and visualise states of mind. So in one chapter, Nye Wright can fantasise about becoming a vengeance-driven Dark Knight-style superhero or ‘Authorial Persona’, seeking revenge on the literally capitalist pigs of the tobacco corporations in “the sleepy hamlet of Carcinogenia”. The ending, his father’s death, cannot come as a surprise but the route the author takes us on to get there is constantly unpredictable and compelling. At 306 pages, the result is a strikingly unusual and daringly inventive addition to the arena of autobiographical, reconciliatory comics by siblings about their sometimes difficult parents, and to the burgeoning field of ‘graphic medicine’ exploring in both frank and funny terms the real, complex impact of illness and death on the the whole family.

by Ellen Lindner
Soaring Penguin

The publisher says:
Set amidst the chaos of a summer weekend at Coney Island, Undertow tells the story of Rhonda, a girl suddenly overwhelmed by events beyond her control. Her mother’s alcoholism, her best friend’s death…and now a social worker who’s intent on making it all better. Only her brother seems to understand what she’s going through, but even he doesn’t think much of her plan to escape it all by finding a career. A story of finding your way in life and deciding who you are, Undertow takes the reader on a tour of a side of the 1950’s that didn’t make it into the romance comics: heroin, sex, and hopelessness, with a dash of nightclub dancing and swimming after curfew.

Paul Gravett says:
Ellen Lindner of Whores of Mensa and The Strumpet fame takes the retro tradition of the America’s romance comic-book genre down an altogether darker, less reassuring path in her smart, elegantly drawn graphic novel, originally self-published and now revised for wider circulation. Be careful, it will pull you in.

Womanthology: Heroic
by various

The publisher says:
Womanthology is a 300-page anthology graphic novel created entirely by women for the charity The purpose of the book is to showcase the works of female creators of every age and experience levels. The Graphic Novel will majorly consist of many short stories interpreting our theme for this volume; “Heroic”. We’ll also have interviews and how-to’s with some of the industry’s top female pros, as well as talks with young girls who someday want a career in comics. A unique experience for newcomer creators to work with established ‘names’ and professionals, with tips from creators on breaking into comics, making comics, and representing yourself well as a professional. The Kickstarter for this project made its funds in record time and far exceeded its goals, becoming the most successful comics Kickstarter to date. Writers include: Annie Nocenti, Anya Martin, Barbara Kesel, Kimberly Komatsu, Gail Simone, Trina Robbins, and Samantha Newark. Artists include: Camille d’Errico, Renae DeLiz, Ming Doyle, Colleen Doran, Fiona Staples and Stephanie Buscema.

Paul Gravett says:
Bluntly, while the proportion is much improved, there are still not enough women in American comics, so pro-active promotions like this are still needed and welcome. IDW are promising me a preview pdf of this one, once it’s approved for printing, so I’ll let you know more.

Posted: December 4, 2011


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