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PG Previews:

September 2011

What comics are you spending your money on this September? DC Comics would love you to buy no less than 52 Number Ones of their entire superhero universe, either print or digital, for a total price of $159.48. It may be interesting to see how Grant Morrison and Rags Morales reinterpret Superman yet again in Action Comics 1. But anyone already following the DC line who feels disgruntled at everything being rebooted for the umpteenth time, why not consider these first issue re-starts not as a “Jumping On” point”, but as a handy “Jumping OFF” point? Why not take a leap and take a chance to explore comics at their fullest and spend some of your money on other astounding, enriching offerings? Let me help you to discriminate, in a good way, by shortlisting the comics, manga and graphic novels I’m most looking forward to based on publisher advance listings. These are all due to be released in September 2011 (although actual dates may vary).

A Tale Of Sand
by Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl & Ramón Pérez
Archaia Studio

The publisher says:
Discovered in the archives of the The Jim Henson Company, A Tale of Sand is an original graphic novel adaptation of an unproduced, feature-length screenplay written by Jim Henson and his frequent writing partner, Jerry Juhl. A Tale of Sand follows scruffy everyman, Mac, who wakes up in an unfamiliar town, and is chased across the desert of the American Southwest by all manners of man and beast of unimaginable proportions. Produced with the complete blessing of Lisa Henson, A Tale of Sand will allow Henson fans to recognize some of the inspirations and set pieces that appeared in later Henson Company productions.

Paul Gravett says:
I got to meet the super-talented Ramón Pérez when he was a guest at the Comica Festival in London in 2009, so I’m delighted he has a major 120-page hardback graphic novel project coming out soon. Unfilmed screenplays are great potential source material, for instance with Jacques Tati’s The Illusionist animated by Sylvain Chomet or Raymond Chandler’s Payback adapted to comics by Ted Benoit and François Ayroles. Rescuing a screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl is an inspired idea and from the glimpses of graphics so far Pérez will do it proud. As he says, “According to the archives, this is the only full length Henson script never to see the light of day. It’s been sitting in a box on a dusty shelf for almost 40 years!” For more insight, listen to Pérez’s interview at last March’s C2E2 2011 or the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo here. There is also an extensive Facebook discussion with Ben Fucik here, where Pérez reveals, “I’d never seen this side of Henson’s work before; I’d always been most familiar with his mainstream stuff like The Muppets, Sesame Street, Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. This was a new side to the guy I never knew existed and I was curious to explore it. Thankfully, the people from Archaia sent me screeners of some of his more arthouse films and shorts of the era. Watching those also drew me in and I really wanted to tackle this and give it justice in a way that a regular graphic novel interpretation wouldn’t. It had to be something that would really somehow adapt the visual voice from his independent films into the graphic novel medium and the challenge of that lured me in as well.” A Tale of Sand is set for release on September 24th this year, appropriately on what would have been Jim Henson’s 75th birthday.

A Taste Of Chlorine
by Bastien Vivès
Jonathan Cape

The publisher says:
A teenage boy suffering from curvature of the spine begins swimming every week at the local pool, at the repeated request of his chiropractor. In the interior and echoing world of the swimming pool, surrounded by anonymous bodies and in between lengths, he becomes acquainted with a girl who agrees to give him pointers on his poor technique. It is the start of a tentative friendship, one that exists only in the water, every Wednesday; a friendship made up of touches, gestures and shared silences more than conversation. As their relationship develops, the boy’s need for the girl grows, until the pool becomes for him a place freighted with expectancy and longing. One day, she mouths a message underwater - but what could it mean? Chlorine is an intimate and evocative work, revealing in simple yet beautifully-drawn and coloured panels an extraordinary world. With it, Bastien Vivès confirms his place as one of the most original and promising young writers of today.

Paul Gravett says:
At only 27, Vivès is a precociously gifted French artist and storyteller. A Taste of Chlorine was his breakthrough book, earning him an Angoulême Essential Revelation award in 2009. His subsequent albums have included the heart-melting subjectivity of Dans Mes Yeux, a man’s tender gaze at the young woman he desires, drawn in soft coloured pencils, and this year the ravishing Polina, the tale of a ballerina and her complex relationship with her teacher. Let’s hope these follow in English too. Meantime, there’s a chance to meet Vivès when he comes to London this October for a new BD & Comics Passions weekend organised by the French Institute, London in association with Comica Festival. You can watch a drawing lesson with him here. And be sure to check Rachel Cooke over at The Observer who wrote a perceptive review of this title as her graphic novel of the month.

by Brian Ralph
Drawn & Quarterly

The publisher says:
An art-house take on the classic zombie genre. You wake up in the rubble and see a ragged, desperate one-armed man greeting you. He takes you underground to a safe space, feeds you, offers you a place to sleep. And then announces that he’ll take the first watch. It’s not long before the peril of the jagged landscape has located you and your newfound protector and is scratching at the door. What transpires is a moment-to-moment struggle for survival - The Road meets Dawn of the Dead. Daybreak is seen through the eyes of a silent observer as he follows his protector and runs from the shadows of the imminent zombie threat. Brian Ralph slowly builds the tension of the zombies on the periphery, letting the threat - rather than the actual carnage - be the driving force. The postapocalyptic backdrop features tangles of rocks, lumber, I beams, and overturned cars that are characters in and of themselves. Ralph’s stunning debut was the wordless graphic novel Cave-In, created while he was one of the founding members of the influential Fort Thunder art collective. Drawing inspiration from zombies, horror movies, television, and first-person shooter video games, Daybreak departs from zombie genre in both content and format, achieving a living-dead masterwork of literary proportions.

Paul Gravett says:
Brian Ralph has been serialising this project since 2006 and you may have caught his first two volumes of three issued via Bodega. Now D&Q bring the whole 160-page trilogy under one roof, so we can see how his protagonist who is missing his right arm from below the elbow fares in this threatening environment. Ralph draws you in by having his survivor address you directly, breaking the fourth wall and implicating you in a shared day-to-day struggle and immersing you with his craggy linework in a stark, post-apocalyptic landscape. You can read a few opening sample pages online. Ralph is also featured in London at the Wellcome Collection’s current exhibition, Dirt: The filthy reality of everyday life, on till August 31st, contributing an entertaining original autobiographical graphic short story, a bohemian flashback reflecting about his relationship to dirt, for the show’s catalogue.

Dear Creature
by Jonathan Case
Tor Books

The publisher says:
Deep beneath the waves, a creature named Grue broods. He no longer wants to eat lusty beachgoers, no matter how their hormones call to him. A chorus of crabs urges him to reconsider. After all, people are delicious! But this monster has changed. Grue found Shakespeare’s plays in cola bottles and, through them, a new heart. Now he yearns to join the world above. When his first attempt ends… poorly, Grue searches for the person who cast the plays into the sea. What he finds is love in the arms of Giulietta - a woman trapped in her own world. When she and Grue meet, Giulietta believes her prayers are answered. But people have gone missing and Giulietta’s nephew is the prime suspect. With his past catching up to him, Grue must decide if becoming a new man means ignoring the monster he was. Rising from a brine of drive-in pulp and gentle poetry, Dear Creature is the love story you never imagined.

Paul Gravett says:
“Well ‘Howdyo’, fair organism!” Like some modern-day cross between Beauty & The Beast and The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Jonathan Case’s hopelessly romantic monster becomes surprisingly sympathetic. Case’s first solo graphic novel is assured and affecting. Dip your toes in the whole first chapter which Case has generously posted online for free,

Drawing From Memory
by Allen Say
Scholastic Inc.

The publisher says:
Drawing From Memory is Allen Say’s own story of his path to becoming the renowned artist he is today. Shunned by his father, who didn’t understand his son’s artistic leanings, Allen was embraced by Noro Shinpei, Japan’s leading cartoonist and the man he came to love as his “spiritual father”. As WWII raged, Allen was further inspired to consider questions of his own heritage and the motivations of those around him. He worked hard in rigorous drawing classes, studied, trained - and ultimately came to understand who he really is. Part memoir, part graphic novel, part narrative history, Drawing From Memory presents a complex look at the real-life relationship between a mentor and his student. With watercolor paintings, original cartoons, vintage photographs, and maps, Allen Say has created a book that will inspire the artist in all of us.

Paul Gravett says:
Allen Say is an acclaimed Japanese-American figure in children’s picture books and his mixed-media 64-page colour hardback Drawing From Memory deserves to bring him more attention among graphic novel readers, as well as those interested in Japanese history and everyday life. Librarian Abby Johnson writes a useful early review and Publishers Weekly commented: “Say’s account of his relationship with Noro Shinpei (who later called Say “the treasure of my life”) is the centerpiece of the narrative. As the story of a young artist’s coming of age, Say’s account is complex, poignant, and unfailingly honest. Say’s fans - and those who also feel the pull of the artist’s life - will be captivated.” Definitely one to look out for.

by Jim Ottaviani & Leland Myrick
First Second

The publisher says:
Richard Feynman: physicist, Nobel winner, bestselling author, safe-cracker… In this substantial graphic novel biography, First Second presents the larger-than-life exploits of Nobel-winning quantum physicist, adventurer, musician, world-class raconteur, and one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century: Richard Feynman. Feynman tells the story of the great man’s life from his childhood in Long Island to his work on the Manhattan Project and the Challenger disaster. Ottaviani tackles the bad with the good, leaving the reader delighted by Feynman’s exuberant life and staggered at the loss humanity suffered with his death. Anyone who ever wanted to know more about Richard P. Feynman, quantum electrodynamics, the fine art of the bongo drums, the outrageously obscure nation of Tuva, or the development and popularization of the field of physics in the United States need look no further than this rich and joyful work.

Paul Gravett says:
As the cover quote states, “If that’s the world’s smartest man, God help us.” Nuclear engineer-turned- librarian Jim Ottaviani has become the go-to-guy for science-based comics and here writes in the style of the fascinating Richard Feynman’s own writing. It’s a substantial tome, 266 dense A5-size pages, to cover a substantial life and mind, that didn’t quite make it to three-score-years-and-ten. From inquisitive boy to wrinkled sage, it’s told mostly chronologically but jumps to key moments and periods, after an opening set in 1964 at a lecture by “some fool physicist”. Artist Leland Myrick draws in refined, wire-thin lines, filled with elegant flat colours by Hilary Sycamore - he has posted some smart sample pages and you can read a 23-page chunk. If I had any misgiving, it would be that the pages and lettering are just a touch too reduced and would benefit from a slightly roomier format. But this is a first-class example of graphic non-fiction at its most accessible and attractive. Be sure not to overlook the final three-page coda following the bibliography, which adds a suitably symbolic closing to the biography of this restlessly creative thinker and human being.

Fish + Chocolate
by Kate Brown

The publisher says:
In Fish + Chocolate Kate Brown presents three short stories focusing on mother-child relationships. An uneasy atmosphere pervades each tale, culminating in a powerful portrait of love, loss, regrets and grieving. Together, these tales examine the lives we live with, through and apart from our children, and bring into question the decisions we make. The Piper Man draws us into the life of a mother struggling to cope with her sons’ longing for their absent father. The Cherry Tree examines the dilemma of a woman who finds her career at odds with her private life. Matryoshka explores a mother’s grief in the wake of her baby’s death.

Kate Brown says:
One of my main motivations was to create something I’d like to read. I was 25 when I started work on Fish + Chocolate and I’d grown out of a lot of comics aimed at teen girls which had previously been my main staple. It was hard to find comics that really resonated with me at that time. I was interested in portraying characters who weren’t perfect. People aren’t perfect. I’m very conscious of that when creating characters for my stories. Fish + Chocolate is not directly autobiographical - I’m not a mother, for instance - but the themes of loss, rejection and struggling with one’s deepest fears is something that many are touched by in their lives.

Paul Gravett says:
Here are the fruits of Kate Brown winning the first Arts Foundation Graphic Novelist Award which I helped to judge with Pat Mills and Posy Simmonds and was announced last year. That welcome £10,000 prize has enabled her to work on this 160-page trilogy of related short stories about three different women’s perspectives on child-raising, childlessness and child mortality. Initially self-published in a limited paperback edition and exhibited last April at Orbital Comics Gallery, they are now available in a general hardcover edition. They confirm Brown as a provocative and profound allegorist finding her mature voice and in total control of her precise compositions, colouring and narrative.

Holy Terror
by Frank Miller
Legendary Comics

The publisher says:
In Holy Terror, join The Fixer, a brand new, hard-edged hero as he battles terror. The graphic novel is a no-holds-barred action thriller told in Miller’s trademark high-contrast, black-and-white visual style, which seizes the political zeitgeist by the throat and doesn’t let go until the last page.

Paul Gravett says:
Oh well, I suppose for every humane, intelligent, non-Islamophobic graphic novel such as Persepolis, Habibi or Zahra’s Paradise (see below), perhaps there will inevitably be at least one shrill, simplistic, fear-mongering American counterblast, as in this case of Frank Miller’s thinly disguised remixing of his post-9/11, anti-terrorist Batman vehicle, sensibly scrapped by DC several years back but now flailing towards us in time for 9/11’s tenth anniversary. After the fiasco of directing The Spirit movie, Miller’s crossing from film back to writing and drawing comics could have been a return to form, but the hype and snatches of visuals suggest that this will be more of the same glorification of vigilanteism and cringe-making macho hyperviolence. I only hope Miller realises the absurdity of describing his “new” hero The Fixer to the LA Times as “very different than Batman in that he’s not a tortured soul. He’s a much more well-adjusted creature even though he happens to shoot 100 people in the course of the story”. Perhaps one part of today’s polarised America will cheer Miller’s vengeance-driven, politically incorrect and incorrigible psychopath, but others may be less enamoured. Of course, Miller wants to upset to get attention, like those rabid shock-jockeys and Fox News ranters. He readily admits, “I hope it shakes people up. I’m not around to mollify. We’re living in a terrifying time and it’s changed us.” Actually, it doesn’t seem to have changed Miller one iota.

Kiss & Tell:
A Romantic Resumé Ages 0 to 22

by Mari Naomi
Harper Collins

The publisher says:
In this fresh and offbeat graphic memoir, Mari Naomi chronicles her time as a misfit teen and young woman looking for love in San Francisco, while bringing to light issues of identity and sexuality. From her father and mother’s interracial marriage to “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine” moments on the playground to drug experimentation and questions about her sexuality, Mari Naomi lays bare all her hurts and loves in this coming-of-age graphic memoir that’s poignant and often hilarious. Each chapter highlights a different relationship in her life, including a heartfelt and sweet first love and an honest look at how her blunt views on sex affected her work and her relationship with her parents. Though she often admits to actions that some might find shocking, her deft writing and assured illustration make this memoir one to applaud. Mari Naomi’s words and illustrations beautifully meld together, creating a memoir that is funny and frank and marks a strong new female voice in the graphic book world.

Armistead Maupin, author of Tales of the City, says:
MariNaomi is a true original. This sometimes harrowing tale of young love made me rock with laughter and wince with sympathetic mortification.

Paul Gravett says:
Telling it like it is, MariNaomi has been disclosing her funny and frank experiences of sex and/or romance for a while now in her six issues of her self-published Estrus Comics and now they are compiled, by Harper Collins no less, into a mass-market collection. On her blog she reveals how she gave up her dreams of getting her novel published when her draft was rejected for being “so depressing” and “didn’t write another word for 4 years”. But then, a copy of Mary Fleener’s Slutburger inspires here to start making comics - “Lucky for me, my passion was stronger than my pain” - and the rest is graphic novel history. You can get to know her and her work by watching a video of her live reading at Booksmith, San Francisco last April.

Love Looks Away
by Line Hoven
Blank Slate Books

The publisher says:
Line Hoven’s first graphic novel explores the history other family, with stories from the past interwoven deftly with those of the present to show how prejudices and cultural barriers have changed over time. Beginning with her Hitler youth grandfather Erich, obsessed with his radio and the music of Mendelssohn it moves to show how her parents overcame cultural differences in a ‘forbidden’ love.

Paul Gravett says:
Bravo to Blank Slate! I am so delighted that this German graphic novel about family history is finally coming out in English. I first met Line Hoven on November 3, 2006 at the Goethe Institute in Glasgow where she and Arne Belstorf, now her husband, were guests at a graphic novel discussion hosted by Marc Baines. Her debut Liebe Schaut Weg went on to become one of my books of the year and I gave it an extended rave review. To introduce it, I wrote: “Where do you belong, where is your true home, when your parents come from two sides of the Atlantic, and your grandparents from two sides of the Second World War? Perhaps one way to understand yourself is to understand where your parents came from and what made them who they are. Line Hoven is the daughter of a German father and an American mother. She appears in person only on the last two pages of this collection as a puzzled little girl who asks, “When are we going back home, Mommy?” and is reassured, “We are at home, honey.” More a work of family history than autobiography, the quartet of tales in Liebe Schaut Weg (‘Love Looks Away’) record one daughter’s attempt to document how her parents grew up, met and married, and after her father’s struggles to cope with the English language, settled in Germany.” Read the rest of my coverage here and make a point of seeking out this gem illustrated in scraperboard images of exacting patience and exquisite detail. Some example panels are online here.

Manga Man
by Barry Lyga & Colleen Doran
Houghton Mifflin

The publisher says:
Sci-fi adventure meets love story - and East meets West - in Manga Man, an original graphic novel for teens. Ryoko, a manga character from a manga world, falls through the Rip into the ‘real’ world - the western world - and tries to survive as the ultimate outsider at a typical American high school. When Ryoko falls in love with Marissa Montaigne, the most beautiful girl in the school, his eyes turn to hearts and comic tension tightens as his way of being drawn and expressing himself clashes with this different Western world in which he is stuck in. ‘Panel-holed’ for being different, Ryoko has to figure out how to get back to his manga world, back through the Rip… all while he has hearts for eyes for a girl from the wrong kind of comic book.

Jeff Smith, author of Bone and Rasl, says:
Fantastic - in every sense of the word! Lyga and Doran have created an eye-popping fun-ride through the comics traditions of East and West. Fans of both comics and manga will love Mangaman. Colleen Doran’s encyclopedic, rapid-fire grasp of manga conventions blows my mind!

Paul Gravett says:
Now here’s a surprise, the sumptuous classicism of Colleen Doran, best known for her ornate solo sci-fi epic A Distant Soil, channelling a stylised aspect of Japanese comics to arrive at metafictive collisiion between manga and graphic novels. Together with writer Barry Lyga, Doran reinvigorates the conventions of the strange newbie arriving at a high school and falling into a star-crossed romance, in this case with a girl from the “wrong kind” of comic book. It looks like a formally inventive and fun-filled emotive fantasy from. Take a look at this video trailer and see if it grabs you.

by Marzena Sowa & Sylvain Savoia
DC Vertigo

The publisher says:
“I am Marzi, born in 1979, ten years before the end of communism in Poland. My father works at a factory, my mother at a dairy. Social problems are at their height. Empty stores are our daily bread.I’m scared of spiders and the world of adults doesn’t seem like a walk in the park.” Told from a young girl’s perspective, Marzena Sowa’s memoir of a childhood shaped by politics feels remarkably fresh and immediate. Structured as a series of vignettes that build on one another, Marzi is a compelling and powerful coming-of-age story that portrays the harsh realities of life behind the Iron Curtain while maintaining the everyday wonders and curiosity of childhood. With open and engaging art by Sylvain Savoia, Marzi is a moving and resonant story of an ordinary girl in turbulent, changing times.

Paul Gravett says:
There’s been a buzz building up around Marzena Sowa’s series, part autobiography, part history, published in French by Dupuis, since it began in 2005. It’s helped by Savoia’s fresh, sensitive cartooning and colouring (he’s also drawn an imminent Peter Milligan project for DC entitled Partners). Now a 256-page “intégrale” of the first three episodes of Marzi arrives in English from of all people, DC Vertigo, not known for importing bandes dessinées. Here’s your chance to discover the turbulent years of 1984-1987 in Communist Poland as witnessed through the wide, slightly manga-esque eyes of a girl, including the rise of Solidarity, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the rivalry between Jaruzelski et Walèsa. If this first one sells well enough, let’s hope they follow up with a second double-volume already out in French which covers the years 1988 and 1989. An ongoing series, this January the sixth single book came out and charts life in Poland after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is the sort of history textbook I wish I’d been set in school! 

by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows
Avatar Press

The publisher says:
Comic book legend Alan Moore and artist Jacen Burrows deliver a chilling tale of Lovecraftian horror!  Brears and Lamper, two young and cocky FBI agents, investigate a fresh series of ritual murders somehow tied to the final undercover assignment of Aldo Sax - the once golden boy of the Bureau, now a convicted killer and inmate of a maximum security prison. From their interrogation of Sax (where he spoke exclusively in inhuman tongues) to a related drug raid on a seedy rock club rife with arcane symbols and otherworldly lyrics, they suspect that they are on the trail of something awful… but nothing can prepare them for the creeping insanity and unspeakable terrors they will face in the small harbor town of Innsmouth. Neonomicon collects Alan Moore’s 2010 comic book series for the first time in its entirety - including his original story, The Courtyard, which chronicled Aldo Sax’s tragic encounter with the (somewhat) mortal agents of the Old Ones!

Paul Gravett says:
Yes, this is written by Alan Moore, not just reconfigured from a short story or some other source, and it evidently marks his committed return to the horror genre. I’ve been holding off on the Avatar pamphlets in anticipation of this collected trade paperback which I’ve yet to read. But judging from Alan Moore’s enthusiastic commentary below, as told to Adi Tanitmedh on May 19, 2011, Neonomicon could well be a significant addition to his oeuvre.

Alan Moore says:
Horror is obviously an incredibly potent genre. It plugs right into something very primal in the human condition and a lot of the most anicent myths are essentially horror stories, with horrible physical mutliations and terrible fates and dooms, so yes, it’s obviously an important genre. By looking at it, we can tell an awful lot about outselves and what frightens us.

H.P. Lovecraft is a rarity is a rarity amongst horror writers in that he was genuinely frightened. He was reading astronomical journals and laying there at night with heart palpitations as he thought how horrifying the black distance between stars were, how tiny the Earth was, how insignificant in the vastness of the universe human life was. And of course, Lovecraft was frightened of everything else as well. That’s what comes across in his stories. Whatever limitations there might be in Lovecraft’s writing style was more than compensated by the fact that the guy was clearly living this stuff. This was the interior of the mind unpacked into a few dozen tremendous short stories.

Since I’d enjoyed the job that Jacen [Burrows] has done on The Courtyard, and I had been vaguely thinking that there had been interesting characters, interesting scenarios that I’d brought up in The Courtyard that I wasn’t sure I was done with yet. It struck me that there might be a sequel. So when [editor-in-chief] William [Christensen] suggested that I might do something in the horror line, that seemed like a good option.

I don’t like the idea of horror as a kind of palliative. I don’t like the fact that we’re living in a society where real-life horror is piling up in our newspapers, our television screens and on our doorsteps. And yet we are going out and getting some sort of perverted, vicarious thrill out of watching teenagers being murdered because they had sex or because they were black or whatever the moral of these films is. I would prefer to actually talk about what is horrible. I also wanted to talk about what is horrible in the context of H.P. Lovecraft, in the context of all his phobias: his xenophobia, his misogyny, his fear of Sex. I wanted somehow to put in all of these elements, which are usually abridged. They’re smoothed over in talking about Lovecraft or discussing his work. What I wanted to do was to get back to H.P. Lovecraft and his very strange world, his very strange emotional world.

By making a female character the lead in Neonomicon, obviously I’m taking a huge step away from H.P. Lovecraft. What would a female protagonist do in Lovecraft’s world? I was also interested in not being coy in the way that Lovecraft is in naming the Nameless Rituals, talking about the strange interbreeding that runs through Lovecraft’s work. But Lovecraft never talked about that because he was so squeamish about sex. So I decided to just go through this and expose it, take it all in the world that existed in The Courtyard, the world where Lovecraftian Horror is a real thing where these things actually exist, and let the story play itself out from there. I was talking about the fact that Cthulu is the most humanoid of all the Great Old Ones. Why is he the most humanoid? I think that it brought H.P. Lovecraft into the present day. It opened up different areas and it didn’t flinch away. I wanted to leave people with lots to think about in this one, and I think I might have succeeded.

No Longer Human Vol 1 of 3
by Usamaru Furuya
Vertical Inc.

The publisher says:
In honor of the 100th birthday of Osamu Dazai, Usamaru Furuya retells Dazai’s most important work No Longer Human in modern day Tokyo where modern vices can bring ruin to the self-loathing. Furuya’s adaptation of No Longer Human takes place nearly seventy years after Dazai’s original. Set in modern day Tokyo, Dazai’s tale details the life of a young man originally from a well-off family from Japan’s far north. Yozo Oba is a troubled soul incapable of revealing his true self to others. A weak constitution and the lingering trauma from some abuse administered by a relative forces him to uphold a facade of hollow jocularity since high school. The series is composed of three parts, referred to in the novel as “memorandums”, which chronicle the life of Oba from his teens to late twenties. The comic is narrated by the artist, Furuya himself, making appearances at the start of each volume. In many ways, it could be said that Furuya has traveled a path that may be similar to Dazai’s. Maybe that is what led these two together after 100 years. In this first of three parts, alternative comic artist Usamaru Furuya appears to be overcome with deadlines. While he has been published by some of the biggest names in the comics industry, his star still shines brightest as a cult favorite, an underground artist whose emo comics are the voice of a new generation. To escape the duldrums of work, he loses himself in the internet and comes across the journal of a man whose life sounds very familiar - Oba Yozo. In Oba’s First Memorandum the teen is overcome by an intense feeling of alienation. This pressure is so strong he cannot cope with others making it impossible to socialize with those who surround him, even his own family. To counter this Oba plays the role of the fool in order to establish interpersonal relationships.

Paul Gravett says:
I’m still queasy from the sickly creepiness of Furuya’s Lychee Light Club and this highly personalised, partly autobiographical adaptation of a major Japanese novel promises still more powerful, uncomfortable feelings. All power to Vertical for pushing manga translations ever higher on the scale of experimentalism and mature themes.

The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips Vol. 1

by Walt Kelly

The publisher says:
Walt Kelly started his career at age 13 in Connecticut as a cartoonist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935, he moved to Los Angeles and joined the Walt Disney Studio, where he worked on classic animated films, including Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Fantasia. Rather than take sides in a bitter labor strike, he moved back east in 1941 and began drawing comic books. It was during this time that Kelly created Pogo Possum. The character first appeared in Animal Comics as a secondary player in the Albert the Alligator feature. It didn’t take long until Pogo became the comic’s leading character. After WWII, Kelly became artistic director at the New York Star, where he turned Pogo into a daily strip. By late 1949, Pogo appeared in hundreds of newspapers. Until his death in 1973, Kelly produced a feature that has become widely cherished among casual readers and aficionados alike. Kelly blended nonsense language, poetry, and political and social satire to make Pogo an essential contribution to American ‘intellectual’ comics. As the strip progressed, it became a hilarious platform for Kelly’s scathing political views in which he skewered national bogeymen like J. Edgar Hoover, Joseph McCarthy, George Wallace, and Richard Nixon. This first volume (of 12) reprints approximately the first two years of Pogo - dailies and (for the first time) full-color Sundays.

Paul Gravett says:
It’s taken some time getting here but no long now, and rest assured, this reprinting of Walt Kelly’s outstanding daily newspaper strip will be definitive and probably the most important and satisfying project of its kind this year.

Stargazing Dog
by Takashi Murakami

The publisher says:
Translated from the Japanese bestseller, this story centers on Oto-san, a man who finds himself abandoned by his family and friends with nothing in his life happening the way he had planned. He embarks on a road trip to escape it all, and he soon discovers the only one he can count on completely is his faithful, recently adopted dog, who helps him see the light at the end of the tunnel. Illustrating the valuable lessons of friendship and loyalty, this is a heartwarming tale of two endearing characters and their shared adventure into the unknown.

Paul Gravett says:
There’s only one untranslated sample page online at NBM’s site, but I am pretty sure this is not the same Takashi Murakmi world-renowned for his ‘Superflat’ fine art and sculptures currently showing at the Gagosian Gallery in London. But it sounds promisingly endearing and we need more cute doggie manga!

Tank Girl: Carioca
by Alan Martin & Mike McMahon
Titan Books

The publisher says:
The World’s Greatest Post-Modern Punkette Princess of Pandemonium returns to spread mechanized mayhem! Humiliated live on TV by her quiz show idol, Tank Girl sets out for bloody revenge on her one-time hero. But this will be no simple death, oh no. It will be long and complicated and torturous and painful, planned down to the last second and every eventuality.

Brian Bolland says:
Back in the late ‘70s, when Dave Gibbons, Kevin O’Neill and I were drawing for 2000AD, the thing that most looked forward to was our first glimpse of new Judge Dredd art from Mick McMahon. His work was unlike anything we’d seen before. It was rich with humor and packed with innovation. Ever since then, his work has continued to change. It’s still unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. And now he’s drawing Tank Girl? She’s one of my all-time favourite characters. So, once again I’m looking forward to seeing Mick’s new art. It’s a win-win situation for me!

Dave Gibbons says:
I’ve always been in awe of Mick’s work. His draftsmanship is exquisite and his sense of design and drama truly unique.

Paul Gravett says:
I can only echo these two gents. McMahon is a giant in British comics so it’s great to have him back. And he’s made to draw Tank Girl - after all, he’s always been a massive influence on Jamie Hewlett. This 52-page comic book is the first of three.

The Big Lie
by Rick Veitch & Gary Erskine

The publisher says:
A lab tech travels back in time to the morning of September 11, 2001 to try and get her husband out of the World Trade Center before it falls, but will the facts convince him before it’s too late. A riveting tale of 9/11 by award-winning master storyteller Rick Veitch that exposes “The Big Lie”!

Rick Veitch says:
The project was originally conceived by my old pal, Tom Yeates. He’d proposed it to Image and they dug the concept with myself and Gary on the creative end based on our Army@Love series. I was interested but told Tom I didn’t want to work under the Image deal, which is to do the job first then share in the after-publication profits. I’m a page-rate-up-front kind of guy. I also wanted creative autonomy but with a good fact-checker on the editorial end to help me get things right. Amazingly, Tom hooked up with Brian Romonoff, who was active in the ‘Truther’ movement and who quickly raised funds through donations to do the book. Brian and Tom (and the donors) were cool with me running the show creatively and Brian proved to be the excellent fact checker we needed. The story is a drama, not a straight propaganda piece. The questions surrounding the whole 9/11 affair are sewn into the action. Sort of like how Cameron structured Titanic.

Paul Gravett says:
It’s good to have Rick Veitch back at the drawing board, free from editorial tampering and able to offer us his original interpretation of the truth behind this tragedy. This is the first 32-page colour comic book in a serial.

The Boy Who Loved Batman
by Michael E. Uslan
Chronicle Books

The publisher says:
Is any superhero cooler than Batman? He’s a crime-fighting vigilante with a tragic past, a lawless attitude, and a seemingly endless supply of high-tech gadgetry. In this fully illustrated memoir, author Michael Uslan recalls his journey from early childhood fandom through to the decades he spent on a caped crusade of his own: to bring Batman to the silver screen as the dark, serious character he was at heart. Uslan’s story traces his path from the wilds of New Jersey to the limelight of Hollywood, following his work as producer on every Batman film from Tim Burton’s 1989 re-envisioning to 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises. Through it all, he helped to create one of the most successful pop culture franchises of all time.

Paul Gravett says:
You’ve got to admire this guy’s chutzpah! As we writes in the closing chapter, “‘Batman and Michael.’ It has a very cool ring to it, don’tcha agree? Much better than ‘Batman and Robin.’ At least to me.” Reading an advance proof of this memoir, subtitled ‘The true story of how a comics-obsessedkid conquered Hollywood to bring the Dark Knight to the silver screen’, I was soon won over by the warmth and wittiness of Michael Uslan (pronounced ‘YOU-slin’). He is a prime example and role model of someone who pursued his dream, in his case of undoing the camp parody of the Caped Crusader in the Sixties television show and restoring his reputation back to his moody, noirish origins. And through luck, determination, shrewdness and sheer self-belief, this Jewish boy from New Jersey, this complete outsider to the film business, somehow after ten years made it happen, not just once in with Tim Burton’s crucial first Batman movie, but several times since through the current film reincarnation directed by Christopher Nolan, producing every Batman movie since 1989. Uslan’s example of following your passion is an inspiring one, helped by supportive parents and one particularly encouraging schoolteacher. He is a truly engaging raconteur, an unashamed comic-book fan and a single-minded Batman fan. He’s also had enormous good fortune, amassing thousands of comics, connecting to brilliant creators like Otto Binder and C.C. Beck and attending the first comic convention in New York while still in his teens. Find out how he managed to convince the dean of Indiana University to let him teach the very first fully credited college course in comics at Indiana University in 1972. and how he goaded the media to get the story into first the local press, and then national TV news, Chicago talk shows, even Playboy magazine. Discover how this led to his being headhunted while still a college student to work over the summer bringing DC comic books direct to the kids in the DC Comicmobile. And how this in turn prompted his break into scripting comic books, starting with The Shadow issue 9. There are astounding anecdotes here, like a Warner executive granting him ALL rights to Swamp Thing, excluding comic book publishing and a split of merchandising, for free and ‘heretofore or hereafter’, thereby also acquiring John Constantine, Hellblazer.

Frankly, I also couldn’t help spotting some odd parallels with my own life, such as my childhood collecting obsession, or my wacky job on the road in a promotional double-decker bus for pssst! magazine back in 1981-82, or the fact that we both studied law but never practised. Where he and I differ, hugely of course, is in our vision of comics, with Uslan unquestioningly loyal to the Dark Knight above all else.  Still, Uslan also reveals such intriguing stories of what might have been, as DC’s one-time in-house archivist. He reproduces a letter dated January 25th, 1942 from Dave Fleischer of the Fleischer Studios to DC publisher Jack Liebowitz planning a sequel to their animated Superman cartoons, namely a black-and-white live-action ‘Bat Man’ serial, which World War II sadly stymied. Also, I’d never heard before of aborted plans for DC to compete more with Marvel’s early ‘70s monster magazine line and have Denny O’Neil and Mike Kaluta launch a Shadow black-and-white magazine, now that’s something I’d have loved to see. However, not everyone may enthuse as wildly as Uslan about his West Point Academy speech rousing Cadets to believe, “YOU are Batman!”, but Uslan writes a lot and writes well, with fervour and fond memories. Whatever you feel about Batman, and the Batman movies, I couldn’t help admire anyone who says, “I can clearly remember now what I was thinking and feeling back when I was five or eight or twelve or sixteen or twenty-one and up. I still feel like I’m in touch with the ‘me’ at all those ages.”

The Death-Ray
by Daniel Clowes
Drawn & Quarterly / Jonathan Cape

The publisher says:
Teen outcast Andy is an orphaned nobody with only one friend, the obnoxious - but loyal - Louie. They roam school halls and city streets, invisible to everyone but bullies and tormentors, until the glorious day when Andy takes his first puff on a cigarette. That night he wakes, heart pounding, soaked in sweat, and finds himself suddenly overcome with the peculiar notion that he can do anything. Indeed, he can, and as he learns the extent of his new powers, he discovers a terrible and seductive gadget - a hideous compliment to his seething rage - that forever changes everything. The Death-Ray utilizes the classic staples of the superhero genre - origin, costume, ray gun, sidekick, fight scene - and reconfigures them in a story that is anything but morally simplistic. With subtle comedy, deft mastery, and an obvious affection for the bold pop-art exuberance of comic book design, Daniel Clowes delivers a contemporary meditation on the darkness of the human psyche.

Paul Gravett says:
Clowes’ standalone Eightball issue gets the hardback graphic novel treatment, as we await the movie adaptation with Clowes’ tackling the screenplay.

The Drops Of God
by Takashi Agi & Shu Okimoto
Vertical Inc.

The publisher says:
Few comics have ever exhibited such sway over the economics of an industry as The Drops of God. The legendary wine comic that dictates wine market prices worldwide is now available in English for the first time. A wine critic and his adopted brother must compete against each other to determine who will inherit their father’s estate - a wine collection featuring 13 heaven blessed wines. Shizuku Kanzaki is the son of a recently deceased, world renowned wine critic named Yutaka Kanzaki. In order to take ownership of his father’s legacy, an extensive wine collection featuring some of the most rare labels of the last 30 years, he must find 13 wines, known as the ‘Twelve Apostles’ and the heaven sent ‘Drops of God’ that his father described in his will. But despite being an only child, Shizuku is not alone in this unique wine hunt. He has a competitor. Issei Tomine, a renowned young wine critic, was recently adapted into the Kanzaki family and is also vying for this most rare of prizes.

Paul Gravett says:
Acquired early this year jointly by publishing giant Kodansha and printers Dai Nippon in Japan, Vertical Inc. prove with this release of the power of manga to shape Japan’s tastes, as reported here. Agi and Okimoto serve up a refreshingly fruity blend of entertainment and education for wine novices or expert oenophiles/vinophiles alike. Santé!

The Fracture Of The Universal Boy
by Michael Zulli
Eidolon Fine Arts

The publisher says:
After twenty odd years making art and comics, Michael Zulli believes that there are universal truths to be found amid the struggle and calling to make art, and indeed, to life itself. Often brutal, sometimes a bit funny, and always surreal as it examines life from a different perspective, The Fracture of the Universal Boy is Zulli’s personal reflection on love, life and art; and both the damage done and the possibility of transcending even the most dire and difficult of times. Part one of a three graphic novel set called The Dream Suite, Zulli’s The Fracture of the Universal Boy is the beginning of a journey we all take in one way or another. 208-page black-and-white hardcover.

Paul Gravett says:

OK, I don’t normally do this, relist an item that I’ve recommended previously, in this case for the January 2011 Previews, but one which has been considerably yet unavoidably delayed. But Michael Zulli’s overdue return to auteur comics is an exception. Remember his utterly idiosyncratic Puma Blues and his aborted Sweeney Todd project with Neil Gaiman for Taboo? So I’m glad to report that it’s now found a new publisher who promises its release this autumn. I hope to be able to give an in-depth review shortly, but I know I’m not alone in eagerly anticipating Zulli’s long-gestating, audacious and uncompromising creation.

The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists
by Seth
Drawn & Quarterly

The publisher says:
Whenever you’re in Dominion, on Milverton Street you will stumble across an arresting array of handsome old buildings. The one with the pink stone façade and the familiar Canadian cartoon characters over the doorway is the Dominion branch of the Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, erected in 1935 and the last standing building of the once prestigious members-only organization. For years, this building, filled with art deco lamps, simple handcrafted wood furniture, and halls and halls of black-and-white portraits of Canada’s best cartoonists, was where the professionals of the Great White North’s active comics community met - so active that there were outposts in Montreal and Winnipeg, with headquarters in Toronto. Everyone from all branches of the industry - newspaper strips, gag cartoons, nickel-backs, comic books, political art, accordion books, graphic novels - gathered in their dark green blazers to drink cocktails, eat, dance, and discuss all things cartooning. Seth opens up his sketchbook to an unseen world of Canadian comics, sometimes fictional and sometimes not, sometimes humorous and sometimes bittersweet, but always fascinating in its creative exploration of Canadian comics history. Whereas Wimbledon Green celebrated the comics collectors, The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists celebrates the cartoonists the comic collectors love.

Paul Gravett says:
What a treat - another playful celebration of comics culture from Canada’s Seth, employing once more his looser, lighter approach to his craft and imagining a history all his own of his country’s cartooning and publishing.

The Simon & Kirby Library Of Crime
by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby
Titan Books

The publisher says:
The creators of Captain America and the Boy Commandos produced some of the hardest-hitting crime comics of the 1950s. Often featuring real-world criminals like Ma Barker, Al Capone, and Pretty Boy Floyd, and true-to-life events like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, these adventures were torn from post-prohibition headlines. Explosive enough to draw the attention of the congressional committee on juvenile delinquency, they remain action-packed for today’s graphic novel audience. These are the best of the Simon and Kirby Crime comics, fully restored and collected for the first time.

Paul Gravett says:
Before the censorious Comics Code Authority anaesthetised the genre in late 1954, America’s crime comic books were searing morality plays as dark and dramatic as the film noir movies of the era. In Justice Traps The Guilty, Real Clue, Headline and other title, Simon & Kirby were masters of this genre, hence my inclusion of ‘The Money-Making Machine Swindles’ by them in my highly recommended anthology, The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics. Now Titan present us with a hefty 320-page compendium of the partnerhship’s punchiest forays.

by Brian Selznick

The publisher says:
Playing with the form he created in his trailblazing debut novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick once again sails into uncharted territory and takes readers on an awe-inspiring journey. Ben and Rose secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known. Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his mother’s room and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing. Set fifty years apart, these two independent stories - Ben’s told in words, Rose’s in pictures - weave back and forth with mesmerizing symmetry. How they unfold and ultimately intertwine will surprise you, challenge you, and leave you breathless with wonder. Rich, complex, affecting, and beautiful - with over 460 pages of original artwork - Wonderstruck is a stunning achievement from a uniquely gifted artist and visionary.

Paul Gravett says:
Is it a picture book? Is it a graphic novel? Is it regular novel? Does it matter? I for one am all in favour in this blurring of categories and distinctions, as these hybrid books captivate all kinds of readers. Brian Selznick once again demonstrates words and pictures doing what they do best, and doing what they can only do in concert and co-operation.

Zahra’s Paradise
by Amir & Khalil
First Second

The publisher says:
Set in the aftermath of Iran’s fraudulent elections of 2009, Zahra’s Paradise is the fictional story of the search for Mehdi, a young protestor who has vanished into an extrajudicial twilight zone. What’s keeping his memory from being obliterated is not the law. It is the grit and guts of his mother, who refuses to surrender her son to fate, and the tenacity of his brother, a blogger, who fuses tradition and technology to explore and explode the void in which Mehdi has vanished. Zahra’s Paradise weaves together fiction and real people and events. As the world witnessed the aftermath of Iran’s fraudulent elections, through YouTube videos, on Twitter, and in blogs, this story came into being. The global response to this gripping tale has been passionate - an echo of the global outcry during the political upheaval of the summer of 2009. Zahra’s Paradise is a first on the internet, a first for graphic novels, and a first in the history of political dissidence.

Paul Gravett says:
This is an extraordinary achievement, showing how digital comics can break barriers of culture, language and cnesorship through the power of the internet. You can read the whole story online but now it’s in print as well as a 224-page black-and-white hardcover. I’ll be returning to this shortly for a more in-depth critique.

Posted: July 17, 2011


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