Sunday, November 29, 2009

Review: All and Sundry

All and Sundry: Uncollected Work 2004-2009, by Paul Hornschemeier, 2009, Fantagraphics Books, 207 pages, $29.99

Here is an easy test to determine if you might be interested in buying this book. Are you:
  1. A graduate student writing his or her thesis on the work of Paul Hornschemeier.
  2. A member of Paul Hornschemeier's immediate family.
  3. Paul Hornschemeier.
  4. Anybody else.
If your answer was 1, 2, and/or 3, go ahead and buy it. If your answer was 4, it's probably not worth your time or money.

All right, fine, that's kind of a harsh way to begin this review. Let me be clear that I liked parts of this collection of Hornschemeier's previously-uncollected work. But there simply wasn't enough meaty comics content to really sink my teeth into. And some parts of the book I just thought were boring or facile.

The first half of the book contains mostly "finished" work -- comics, art, and prose that has been published elsewhere -- while the second half is collects sketchbook-type stuff. The sketchbook half I particularly could have lived without -- it's mostly a bunch of not-completely finished portraits that isn't all that interesting. Although I did like this one (a portrait of Jonathan Lethem, one of Hornschemeier's collaborators on the terrific Omega the Unknown):

There were two pieces in the "finished" half of the book that I particularly enjoyed. First was a collection of several short (a few panels to a few pages) gag comics, originally published in Michael Chabon Presents The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist, about a superhero named "The EscapeNot" who only feels comfortable when trapped in chains, ropes, or other binding material. There's not much to them, but they're pretty funny. Second was Huge Suit Among the People, a wordless fourteen-page story originally serialized as a weekly newspaper strip, about an enormous godlike being whose magic touch turns the life of the person touched to crap.

(click to enlarge)

It was playful, interesting, and well-constructed. Just a neat little tale.

Unfortunately, when it comes to actual comics, that's almost it. There's a couple of other very short comics, but the rest of the section is art (several music album covers, for instance), and a few prose short stories that I really didn't care for at all. They were fine, I guess, but really not something that I enjoyed or thought were particularly engaging.

I will say that the comics work in the book made me more interested in checking out Hornschemeier's longer-form works. He certainly is a talented artist, and his stories are both thoughtful and have a good sense of humor. Unfortunately, I can't recommend this book.

READ MORE: Here is a 12-page excerpt.

BUY IT: From Fantagraphics here or from Amazon here: All and Sundry: Uncollected Work 2004-2009

RELATED: My posts on other books published by Fantagraphics:
Disclaimer: Fantagraphics sent me this book.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Review: Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, by Fumiyo Kouno, 2007, Last Gasp, 103 pages, $9.99

This short collection of three linked stories about young people living in Hiroshima hides some real power behind its appearance as light romance.

The first story is set in 1955, the second in 1987, and the third in 2004. The characters in all three stories are dealing with the aftereffects of the atomic bomb; the smoky tendrils of the mushroom cloud may have long since departed, but the radiation poisoning and emotional damage still linger, tinging every interaction and darkening the horizon of everyone's future.

(click to enlarge; read right-to-left)

This still does not feel like a heavy, difficult book. For the most part it's enjoyable to read, full of sweet moments and lovely characters. But merely knowing where it is taking place is enough to place a shroud over what should be the happy lives of these people. Moreover, every so often the bomb's effects come to the forefront and the book takes your breath away. It's quite amazing how the book successfully walks that line.

Kouno, in her afterword, discusses how for most of her life she felt disconnected from the bomb and its effects on the survivors. With this book, she confronted the issue and it is clear that this story became something that she simply needed to tell. The book never feels preachy, but it certainly forces the reader to focus on this issue and raises his or her level of understanding about what the people of Hiroshima have endured.

(click to enlarge)
BUY IT: From Last Gasp here or from Amazon here: Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

Monday, November 2, 2009

Is it time for the Best Comics of 2009 Meta-List already?

Apparently, Amazon and Publisher's Weekly have already put up their "best comics of 2009" lists, even though we still have two months left in the year. In case anyone was wondering, I'm planning on aggregating all of this year's lists into a single meta-list, like the one I just posted for 2008. If enough people put up "Best of the Decade" lists, I'll compile those too.

One quick note: the four books that appear on both lists -- Stitches, Asterios Polyp, The Photographer, and A Drifting Life -- have to be favored to crack the top 10 of the aggregated list.

By the way, I'm also still planning on breaking down that 2008 list in a little more detail. Hopefully that'll happen soon.