Monday, December 22, 2008

The Six Best Comics of 2009?

I'm going to put up my own "Best Comics of 2008" list sometime before the new year, but before I do that I wanted to talk about what I am most looking forward to reading in 2009. These are just the ones that I know about -- I am sure that there are a ton of comics that aren't on my radar yet that will be great.

Here are six books due out in 2009 that I can't wait to see:

1) Paul Pope, Battling Boy (First Second)

I really, really enjoyed Paul Pope's Batman: Year 100, and his art just seems like it is becoming more and more confident. I have no idea what Battling Boy is about, but it looks like a blast. See an incredible-looking page here.

2) David Mazzucchelli, Asterios Polyp (Pantheon, due out June 2)

This sucker has been brewing for a long, long time. And even now, they still haven't put up a cover image for it. But hey -- after what he did in Batman: Year One, David Mazzucchelli really can't do anything to mess up his legacy. According to Pantheon's web site, Asterios Polyp is "[t]he triumphant return of one of comics’ greatest talents, with an engrossing story of one man’s search for love, meaning, sanity, and perfect architectural proportions. An epic story long awaited, and well worth the wait." Can he deliver? Read more about it here.

3) Brandon Graham, King City 2 (unknown) and Multiple Warheads (Oni Press)

(click to enlarge)

Brandon Graham's stuff is unbelievably awesome, and like Pope, he seems to get better with each new page. I'm counting both of his projects as one book, because I'm not sure if King City 2 actually will come out in 2009. Apparently it's in the can, but I think the lid on the can may have been closed and the can spirited away to a deep dark basement vault -- we already were robbed of reading it this year when publisher Tokyopop slightly imploded and decided to sit on it. Hopefully that just means Graham can shop it around and get it onto the shelves through a different publisher. (To me, the fact that he started to post pages from it on his blog, and then stopped abruptly, implies either that he's got somebody interested, or Tokypop threatened him over it. I'm hoping it's the former.)

But we still have Multiple Warheads, his post-WWIII werewolf saga. That two-page spread above is from that, and it sounds like he'll be putting out several issues in 2009. How can you not buy them after seeing that picture? You must and you will.

4) Jeff Lemire, The Nobody (Vertigo, due out July 7)

I recently wrote about how much I loved Lemire's Essex County trilogy, and now he has moved to Vertigo for his next original graphic novel. Here is a sneak peek.

5) Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, untitled Batman project (DC)

(this is the variant cover to issue ten of
All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder)

Don't know much about this supposed ongoing monthly from Morrison and Quitely. (See here for the news being broken.) I didn't love Morrison's recent Batman stuff, but All Star Superman was the best superhero comic book of the decade.

6) Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, Incognito (Marvel/Icon, mini-series starting in January)

A story about an ex-super villain hiding out in the witness protection program, done by the guys who are kicking ass with Criminal? Yes, thanks. Looks fantastic. Here are the first nine pages. The question is, will it be more awesome than this?

What are you looking forward to reading in 2009?

***Edited to add: Here is my post on the Best Comics of 2008.

***Edited again to add:  And here is my post on the Best Comics of 2009 -- see if I predicted my favorites!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Review: The Lagoon

Lilli Carré's graphic novel The Lagoon (Fantagraphics, 2008, 80 b&w pages, $14.99) is an eerie musical poem of a comic. It won't knock your socks off, but this weird story manages to be both creepy and pleasant at the same time, which is kind of fun.

It's the same off-kilter feeling that Carré acheived in her short story The Thing About Madeline, recently published in The Best American Comics 2008 (here's my review). That one was about a woman fleeing her humdrum life after coming face to face with herself. The Lagoon is about a family living next to a swamp inhabited by a creature that lures people into the waters with its enchanting singing. Some of those people don't come back.

The book is also about sound -- rhythms, noises, music, tapping, etc. Carré plays around with how sound can be displayed and used in comics, and this experiment fits well with her lyrical, whimsical art.

I particularly liked seeing how the creature's siren song became a physical object, wrapping itself around people and slithering in and out of the weeds. You can see this in the following two pages (click to enlarge):

Carré raises a lot of questions about what is going on, and I guess is content to let many of them remain unanswered. I kind of wish she had gone a little further with the story, though -- I wanted to know more about this creature and this family. I guess I wanted more of a resolution, too. This was a nice way to spend an evening, but I wouldn't mind seeing her tackle something bigger and deeper with her next project.

Here is a nifty slideshow of the book:

You can buy it from Fantagraphics here or from Amazon here: The Lagoon

Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Review: Essex County vol. 3: The Country Nurse

I was hit pretty hard by the first two books in Jeff Lemire's Essex County trilogy of graphic novels, and now the final volume, The Country Nurse (Top Shelf, 2008, 128 b&w pages, $9.95), made my heart hurt all over again. It's good stuff.

Like those earlier books, The Country Nurse works as a stand-alone story, but I'd recommend reading the trilogy from start to finish, so that you really can understand how all of the characters are connected. Moreover, this volume contains a pretty key moment for the characters featured in volume 1, Tales from the Farm, that only will resonate properly if you've already read that one.

This book spends a day with Anne Quenneville, a nurse who travels about a small town trying to make the lives of her patients just a little bit better. We already met her in volume 2, but now we get to learn more about her life and history. It also reveals more about her patients, who we know from the previous books. The story flashes back and forth between Anne's day and an episode in the life of her grandmother, ekeing out a living in 1917 in the Canadian wilderness as a nun watching over an orphanage.

Here's why these books will kick you in the gut: these are very likeable, nice people, and yet everybody is unhappy because of past mistakes or ill fortune. Everyone is a little broken, everyone has suffered a loss of youthful hope and vigor; a loss of a loved one or of health; damage physical or mental. They are long-suffering people who bear it silently, for the most part. Grudges are held for years. Secrets are kept hidden. Family members go decades without seeing or speaking to each other, unable to express their love for each other. It just kills you, knowing that if they could just bring themselves to face their problems they might be happier, but also understanding that they can never really go back to the ways things used to be. What been lost for them is irretrievable.

(click to enlarge)

Even poor Anne, a sweet woman who is just trying her best to help others, has had a pretty crummy time of it.

(click to enlarge)

And the beauty of these books comes from watching the moments when some of these people, who have been grimacing their way through life, instead decide to affirmatively deal with their problems. Everything from their pasts begins to bubble up and out, unable to be contained. Will they be happier? Will they make peace with their own mistakes?

This is tremendous drama.

Oh, and I liked the art too: scritchy scratcy black ink, backgrounds that make you feel like you are living in Essex County with the characters, and expressive yet nuanced acting.

I really loved these books and highly recommend them.

Lemire currently is working on a graphic novel for Vertigo called The Nobody. I'm looking forward to that, although not without feeling some regret that he isn't making more Essex County books. I could read another trilogy about these characters and still want more.

See a preview here.

You can buy the book from publisher Top Shelf here or from Amazon here: Essex County vol. 3: The Country Nurse

Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Review: Nocturnal Conspiracies

Nocturnal Conspiracies (NBM, 2008, 120 pages, $14.95) is the most recent work by French creator David B. to wash up on American shores. It's a comic book dream diary, and as such, although there are some interesting incidents and it works as an excellent showcase for Mr. B's striking artwork, it feels a little slight.

The book's full title is Nocturnal Conspiracies: Nineteen Dreams from December 1979 to September 1994, and it really is just that: David B. has transcribed nineteen of his subconscious exploits onto the page. Each episode seems like an accurate depiction of a dream, if that is possible. Some of the dreams run in a relatively straight line for several pages and feel like short stories, with proper beginnings, middles, and ends. Others jump from one strange environment to the next weird encounter to the next off-kilter adventure, often in the space of a few panels. Almost every panel includes David B.'s narration, informing the reader what the heck is going on and helping to link each sequence together.

Most of the dreams involve violence and are peopled by armed members of dangerous groups: gangsters, terrorists, gestapo agents, armed soldiers, khmer rouge, and straight-up "killers" are all featured. There are lots of chases, lots of hiding from the bad guys. It's all a little spooky and paranoid.

(click to enlarge)

But even though Nocturnal Conspiracies does what it does very well, I didn't love it. I'd rather read a (graphic) novel, something with a plot and characters that develop over the course of the book. I believe that this originally was published from 1999 to 2000 in three volumes as les Incidents de la nuit, which means that David B. was creating this at the same time that he was working on what would become his widely-acclaimed book Epileptic. That was a pretty heavy memoir of his childhood, detailing his brother's epilepsy and his own retreat into fantasy and art. I would think that making Epileptic was incredibly draining, and I wonder if Nocturnal Conspiracies was the result of the creator just needing to let off some steam.

But that is not to say that you shouldn't read this -- it's definitely an interesting and unique work of art. It looks like David B. just wanted to let his pen to run as wild as his dreaming mind, freed from the strictures of the narrative format, freed from actually consciously thinking up stories at all, depicting everything as he remembered dreaming it.

And even though it's not exactly what I'm looking for in a comic, I still found a lot to enjoy about it. For instance, I really dug dream seventeen, which included both this page:

(click to enlarge)

and this one:

(click to enlarge)

It's obvious this guy is a major artist, but this didn't feel like a major work. Mostly, it just made me excited to read his next book.

See a preview here. You can buy it from NBM here or Amazon here: Nocturnal Conspiracies: Nineteen Dreams From December 1979 to September 1994

By the way, it looks like publisher NBM just started up its own blog. Definitely worth checking out.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Today's Required Reading: Dick Hyacinth's "Final Best of 2008 Workbook/Checklist"

I would hope that everybody reading this already subscribes to Dick Hyacinth's blog (Dick Hyacinth's One-stop Hyphen Shop, a.k.a. Dick Hates Your Blog); his blog was one of the ones that made me want to start writing about comics.

So, in case you missed his post from last night, go read it. I think it is amazing how I've spent countless hours this year reading comic books and yet I haven't read many of the books on that list. And it's not like I'm not trying, or confining myself to just reading superhero stuff either. There is just so much great work out there, and there just isn't enough time to read it all. At least this year I know about almost all of these books already; last year at this time I wasn't nearly as dialed in to the comic book world and might have recognized a small fraction of the books on the list.

Also, in case you are making your holiday shopping lists, I'd add two books that Dick didn't have in his list: 1) Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds (I'll be putting up a review of this one soon); and 2) All Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Both are certainly worth consideration when picking the top ten books of the year. Also check out Jeff Lemire's Essex County Vol. 3: The Country Nurse -- I will be reading this next, and I expect that it is just as good as the earlier volumes, which I really loved.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Review: Black Jack Vol. 1 and 2

Vertical is publishing Osamu Tezuka's Black Jack manga series ($16.95 for about 300 black & white pages per volume) at a steady clip of one volume every other month until finishing up with volume eighteen; after reading the first two volumes I'd say it's a worthy endeavor. Reading this series is a blast.

The series follows the adventures of Black Jack, a man who is the greatest surgeon in the world, able to perform marvelous feats of scalpelry while at the same time teaching a good lesson to all those who act out of greed, hate, or ignorance. But he's also got a somewhat dark side -- he's unlicensed and works illegally -- which adds a little dash of danger to his actions. Each volume contains multiple episodes that range in length from twenty to forty pages. Typically, an episode runs like this: some kind of crazy accident occurs, Black Jack is called in to work his magic, but there is an unexpected twist problem, but Black Jack overcomes it, and the tale ends with a poignant moment that lays out the moral of the story. If that sounds boring or simple, trust me, these stories are anything but: the plots are almost manic, energy bounces off of every page, and you can never guess what lies around the next corner.

(read right to left)

(click to enlarge)

It's not all fun and games and necrotic fingers -- there is some serious drama packed into these books. In one episode, Black Jack heals a killer whale that shows up on the beach every day with new gashes and bruises. Our hero gains the trust of the animal and they become friends. But then the good doctor learns that the whale might be involved in attacks on people, and he must decide whether to continue treating the animal or let it die. It might sound sappy, but I'm not kidding: the ending really, really got to me, people. This is just one story of many -- and they're all good.

The art is a big part of the book's success. Tezuka is a master of pacing, and the art zips along, suspense building with every panel. Moreover, he's a fantastic cartoonist. One of my favorite aspects of these books is the way that he spends time to make every person unique and interesting. I'm not just talking about major characters, or even the characters with dialogue -- I mean everybody in there, down to every "extra" that only appears in one panel, is lovingly drawn. This page below is the first time we meet Black Jack. It's a great entrance for the guy, but I also want you to look at the other people coming off the plane.

(click to enlarge)

We never see them again, but each one looks like he or she could be the star in his or her own series. I've never seen another comic book that gives such detail and care to the extras, and Tezuka keeps it up through every single panel. It all helps to add to the fun.

Each book roars by like a finely-tuned Ferrari. To quote Ferris Bueller, they are "so choice." If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

Go here to see free previews of the first three volumes in the series. You can buy the books here: Black Jack, Volume 1 and Black Jack, Volume 2

Disclaimer: This review is based on complimentary copies provided by the publisher.