Friday, November 7, 2008

RECENT BOOKS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED :: After All, The Holidays Approach

As is often remarked upon online, we are in an incredible golden age of comic book publishing in actual "book" form, from high end reprints of classic material, to brand new graphic novels from the U.S. and abroad, to aggressive reprinting of never-seen-in-English Japanese and Chinese comics. It's great, although it can be pricey for those of us who prefer our comics in book form, not to mention presenting challenges as to where to PUT everything. There are worse problems to have.

Another not-so-bad problem is visibility: back around 1998 or 2000, there might be 4 or 5 really GREAT graphic novels published in a year's time, and as such each was fairly momentous. Things like Jimmy Corrigan or Ghost World were on top of a very small pile of releases, and were highly visible. These days there are often 4 or 5 great books coming out in the space of a WEEK, and it's easy to miss them as newer things appear on the racks.

Being helpful ABOVE ALL ELSE, I thought I'd point out a couple of things that you may have missed recently, at least judging by how many copies we still have on the rack. And would these books make excellent Christmas gifts for you or your loved ones? Well, sure they would:

by Rutu Modan :: HC :: $19.95

Rutu Modan is an Israeli cartoonist that is (or was, I'm never sure) a part of the esteemed Actus Tragicus comics collective. Last year's Exit Wounds was widely hailed as the best book of the year on many critics' list. But even if you don't think it was the "best" (I don't), it was still great. She has a singular style and approach to storytelling, and her stories combine societal and political issues gracefully with more quotidian elements like family, romance, and so forth.

Jamilti is her new book, a hardcover collection of short stories, and is still just a few weeks old. I haven't read it yet, so I can't say much about how incredible it is, but it's receiving great reviews so far, and is certainly a pretty little book, and at $19.95 is a cheap one to boot.

by Anders Nilsen :: FC :: $19.95

I love this book, which is a hardcover edition of a previously released (and quickly sold-out--zip!) softcover a couple of years ago. Anders Nilsen's work is hard to sum up, which is maybe my favorite facet of it. His drawings are beautiful, and the stories they tell are airy and open-ended, dreamlike to the point of being hallucinatory, and surreal without being overly esoteric. I'm not sure about that last one; I needed another "this but not that" to make three. At any rate, you may be familiar with the books he did related to the premature death of his then-fiance, including Don't Go Where I Can't Follow and The End. Dogs and Water is fictional and self-contained, although it's hard to say that it's lighter fare, it's somewhat easier to jump into, lacking some of the heartbreaking qualities of the autobiographical works.

Dogs and Water is a great read for pretty much anyone interested in comics-as-art, but I'd especially recommend this one for the "My Artsy Buddy/Girlfriend/Boyfriend/Spouse/College-Student" category for gift-giving.

by Kevin Huizenga :: pamphlet :: $4.95

Oh man, Kevin Huizenga. I could go on all day about the guy. It's easy to say that his comics are smart, or smartly written, or smartly conceived, or smart smarty smarty-pants. But the more I think of it, it's not that his comics are so well thought out (though they are) that makes them good, it's that they PROMOTE thinking, both on the part of the reader AND the author. Reading a Kevin H. comic feels like you're inside his thought process; almost as if you and he were mulling the problem over together.

I won't say anything else. Just buy the darn thing--heck, it's only five bucks.

by Tove Jansson :: HC (3 volumes available) :: $19.95

This has been one of Drawn & Quarterly's fastest selling items (at least according to their website), but it hasn't really taken off around here. Moomin is a 50's era strip that's suitable for all ages, especially that daughter or son (I think young girls would especially like it) with a creative side you're looking to tickle. To call Moomin whimsical is a gross understatement, but it's about as close as I can get to describing it in just one word. Hey whaddaya want, I'm a high school dropout--don't let this be you, kids!

Moomin is an often nearly abstract, highly visually stylized story, with all the hipness of 50's era ANYthing, but never snide, never superior. It's an immersive and strange world, the kind of thing you would have loved when YOU were a kid, but would find difficult to explain to anyone who'd never read it before. As I am finding myself.

by E.C. Segar :: HC (3 volumes available) :: $29.95

Oh man. This one just came out. Anyone who's ever heard me expound on my love of Popeye in the store can tell you how glassy-eyed and fevered I become. Reading Popeye as an adult has been one of the singular comics-reading experiences of my life. Seriously. If I were to put together an all-time top-five RIGHT NOW, at gunpoint, TO SAVE AN ORPHAN'S LIFE!!!, Popeye might be the first thing that came to mind.

It's not that Popeye is such a compelling story, or represents the zenith of all that is possible with comics, or whatever. Popeye is just good. Period. Segar's art is pretty much the standard for all "big foot" comedy strips that would follow, not to mention highly visible in the work of Chester Brown, Sammy Harkham, and dozens of other modern cartoonists. But it's his writing, his constant, apparently effortless barrage of wit and language and visual gags, that makes the strip so enjoyable. Simply put, Popeye is a great book to sit back with on a Sunday afternoon and just enjoy, turning the giant pages slowly, and taking in the whole rollicking, violent (so violent!), boisterous strip a week at a time. Check out this little promo video Fantagraphics put together:

Oh, and for you shoppers: Popeye is suitable for ANY reader. Only crazy people will not like it.

But let's talk about it--what do YOU think is an overlooked book you haven't heard enough about?


Rich Barrett said...

Nice list. Hey, can you put the latest issue of Or Else in my bag? Want to make sure I get that when I finally get a chance to hit the store (hopefully next week).

I just actually read Or Else #2 (the one where his neighbors freak out about the moon being big and red and he goes into a 10 page scientific explanation of why that happens). Great stuff.

Rich Barrett said...

Also, sorry I missed this week's new release list. Turned out to be a very busy week for me. I'll back back to it next week.

Andy Mansell said...

Jamilti-- is pretty darn terrific. Like any "early works" anthology, it is a bit of a mixed back, but when it is good-- which is quite often-- it dazzles!!
If you have read Exit Wounds or Palestine, then buy Jamilti-- if you have not, take a look through-- terrific stories from a land that looks like our own modern world, but is so different in so many ways!!

Popeye-- good gosh-- about 4 (!)years ago, Dustin asked me to name my top 5 books for a Newsletter columns and I named Popeye without hesitation. Ten years of magical output that resonates to this day.

For anyone who devoured the D&Q Walt and Skeezix collections, this is the perfect bookend.

Walt and family are the perfect everyman for the 20's explosion and the 30's depression, but it is Popeye who sets the tone for the lower middle class-- trying to keep their head above water (no wonder Segar picked a sailor), trying to have faith in the American government, remembering the integrity of themeselves as individuals (I yam what I yam) and always willing to laugh at themselves and the world.

Think I'm over analyzing? Well ignore all the political and social satire and read Popeye as the FIRST superhero-- flawed, overly violent and not perfect, Kids flocked to him. Spinach became a national craze! The syndicate felt they had to curtail Popeye's fisticuffs.

Add to that.... the single greatest comic foil in the history of comics-- Wimpy.

Next time you are in the store, pick up volume 3, page toward the back of the book and read a few of th Sunday pages.
You will be hooked.

thanks for listening!!

Rich Barrett said...

So, if I were to give Popeye a try (which I've wanted to do for a while and will eventually when I've cleared my plate of other things) would I start with Vol. 3 to get the maximum initial impact?

Dustin Harbin said...

I would say definitely start at the beginning. Don't tell Andy, but the first volume is still my favorite, just because I was so SHOCKED at how pleasurable a read it was. The strip is definitely better now in volume 3, but once Popeye shows up, the humor of the strip definitely turns strange and awesome.

WARNING: it is just a regular-old strip until Popeye shows up, so make sure you get to around 20 or 30 pages in before you give up on it.

ALSO: Rich, I will totally give you the "Dustin Harbin Money-Back Guarantee" on this one. If you don't like it, bring it back and I'll let you trade it for other stuff. No money will actually be given back.

Rich Barrett said...

Hmm interesting. By the way, this weekend I read a comic called Dharbin #1 that I really enjoyed and that, like Brown and Harkham, definitely seems to draw on Segar for artistic influence.

Dustin Harbin said...

Never heard of it. Is it Indian?

Andy Mansell said...

I would like to add DHARBIN #1 to the "RECENT BOOKS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED"

The Magna Carta page and the story about his MOM driving the kids are worth the price of admission!!!

and Rich...
If you find you are having trouble getting into the daily rhythm of the strip....Jump to the Sundays..

The only reason I prefer # 3 is because of Wimpy. Consumate mooch is an understatement. He is a villian of Dickensian proportion. I've said it before... He would sell his crippled mother for a hamburger-- well so might other arch criminals-- substitute world domination or at least the heroes girl for hamburger-- BUT, and this is what makes Wimpy soooooo great, Wimpy would wholeheartedly regret the fact that he only had 1 mother to sell.
Segar is such a master of the graphic arts that--like David Letterman-- he repeats, and repeats, first time funny, 2nd time funny, third, ok-- by the 10th time, it is off the chart hilarious.
You'll just have to experience it.

Dustin Harbin said...

I will say that volume 3 is the first one where I enjoyed the Sundays almost as much as the dailies, and it was definitely because of Wimpy.

"I want to have you over for a duck dinner. You bring the ducks."