Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Amulet (Book One): The Stonekeeper

Kazu Kibuishi

The first book in the new all-ages title Amulet was just released to comic shops this week, from Kazu Kibuishi, whose work readers may have seen in the popular Flight anthologies. And if there's anything you can say about this book, it's that the art is pretty awesome. It reminds me a tad bit of Jeff Smith's Bone, which is probably what Scholastic wants people to think of, since that young readers' fantasy series does phenomenonally well in bookstores. But this is no Bone. It has a very different feel to it. Less Disney meets Lord of the Rings and more Harry Potter meets Narnia. The story follows two siblings, Emily and Navin, as they move into a new house, and are quickly drawn into a new world through their basement. In this new world, they meet elves, magical toys and monsters, as they do their best to save their kidnapped mother and use their great-grandfather's mysterious amulet to make their way through the treacherous landscape. It's kind of a straight-forward, generic fantasy in a way, but there's plenty of interesting ideas thrown into the mix to keep readers on their toes. It opens with a pretty brutal prologue that may turn off some really young readers, but otherwise, it's a lot of fun throughout. And like I said before, the art is fantastic, and makes up for any shortcomings in the story. Kibuishi does a fantastic job of cartooning amid the great creature designs. And I really enjoy the atmosphere of the book. The colors at the beginning are sunny and cheerful, and grow colder and drab in the fantasy world that has an overall icy, dangerous feel to it. Some of the panels, like the parting shot, are truly quite breathtaking and probably reminiscent of the types of things people usually associate with the Flight anthologies where the creator first made his mark. All-in-all, I have to say that Amulet is a pretty well-crafted all-ages title containing some elements that could really catch on and make it a hit series.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

In Stores 1/30

Here we go, presenting the comics with the most potential, shipping to comic shops this Wednesday...

Patrick's Pick:

Casanova (Volume 1): Luxuria TP - The first collection of the acclaimed series, now in paperback.

Dave's Pick:

Amulet (Volume 1): The Stonekeeper - Available in both softcover and hardcover formats is this cute all-ages fantasy title from Kazu Kibuishi. I actually saw this in bookstores a few weeks ago and picked it up then. It has some really nice art and I'm looking quite forward to reading it.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Manga Monday: Ral Ω Grad

Ral Ω Grad (Volume 1)
Tsuneo Takano & Takeshi Obata
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Ral Ω Grad is the highly anticipated new project from the artist behind Death Note and Hikaru No Go, two exceptional manga. His follow-up is based on the video game Blue Dragon, and is written by Tsuneo Takano. The book follows young Ral who was confined into a cage of sorts as a baby, as his shadow was taken over by, well, a Shadow, a complex creature that uses living creatures to manifest itself in several different ways. Ral's Shadow is a feared great dragon, and he is the only hope of a kingdom being crushed beneath the armies of Shadows. Miss Mio visited Ral daily in his confinement, conversing with him and teaching him, about Shadows in particular, and remains in that role as Ral travels to purify the land. The way that Shadows manifest are a little complex. There are three forms known, of which Ral and the shadow dragon Grad are an exception (and Grad is a rare, but not the only, Shadow not allied with the goals of the rest of his kind). Ral is a rambunctious kid who loves, above all else, boobs. He vows to fight Shadows for girls. He wants to fondle them as rewards. He's pretty much obsessed with them. It makes for some pretty silly, immature humor that nonetheless coaxes a laugh out of me from time to time. The art is, as is usual with Obata, pretty awesome, although Ral Ω Grad suffers from some pretty elaborate designs for the Shadows that makes the already-complicated action sequences hard to follow at times, let alone make out what appendage is supposed to be what. It's also a pretty straight-forward fantasy and less thrilling than the immediately appealing, and singular, titles Obata has worked on in the past. Despite its faults, I do plan on continuing to follow the series, at least for a few more volumes. There's certainly potential, and I have faith in Obata, as I pretty much fell in love with Hikaru No Go and Death Note. That's certainly enough reason for me to give the good-but-not-great opening chapters a chance to steer the book into something more worthy of his talents.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Alpha Flight Classic (Volume 1)

John Byrne

The new “classic” collection featuring Canada’s famous superhero team features eight issues of John Byrne goodness. While Alpha Flight had appeared in other Marvel comics (particularly Uncanny X-Men) before launching their own monthly series, there are back-up stories throughout the issues included that tell the origins of the team, delving into particulars of several team members’ origins. Among the characters on the team through these first eight issues are Vindicator (who quickly changes his name to Guardian), Sasquatch, Snowbird, Puck, Northstar, Aurora, Shaman and Marrina. This is the first time that Puck really takes center stage with the team, as Heather Hudson calls on some members from the secondary Canadian teams, Beta Flight and Gamma Flight, randomly selecting him and Marrina to aid the rest of Alpha Flight on a mission. Each of the issues actually seem to let a member of the team shine once the book gets going, my favorite being the classic “Snowblind” story, where Snowbird battles a creature that bathes itself in a snowstorm, the panels all completely white, save for dialogue and thought balloons. Speaking of Snowbird, she’s easily my favorite character here. She’s a little cold, but she has a fantastic design - one of the best designs of all superheroes in my opinion, and she has some neat powers over time along with her ability to shift into various creatures of the Arctic. This is all pre-Northstar coming out, though it’s written like Byrne had his orientation in mind all along, with the “good male friends” who come into the picture and Northstar's reactions to things involving them. His twin sister, Aurora, is strange. She has some multiple personality thing going on that keeps things interesting, as she’s liable to change on the team at the drop of a hat. Marrina actually leaves the team early on, during a story where she nearly disembowels Puck, involving the Invisible Girl and Namor, the latter of whom ends up taking her under his wing. The other members - Sasquatch, Shaman, Guardian and Puck - are kind of dull, but perhaps with upcoming issues, they get their respective moments to shine and become more interesting.

While I didn’t like the first volume of Alpha Flight Classic as much as other books from Marvel’s “Classic” collections, like Excalibur and New Mutants, it was worth the price of admission and I’m genuinely looking forward to the next volume. I was a little disappointed with the lack of big villains. The team working together to battle giant clumps of earth gets a bit old. And really, there’s not much in terms of great interaction between the group yet either. It all feels a little awkward, like the vision that Byrne had in mind for the team had yet to come together, but hopefully that will resolve itself with subsequent issues.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Chickenhare (Volume 2): Fire In the Hole

Chris Grine

I really enjoyed the first Chickenhare graphic novel, so it didn’t surprise me that I liked the second one as well. Featuring the loveable half-breed animals from the first book, Chickenhare and his pals continue their voyage from pretty much the exact moment that the last book left off, and solve the lingering mysteries surrounding two of their companions, Banjo and Meg. Scabby, who was just introduced at the end of the first novel, becomes a vital character and a welcome addition to the cast of misfits as the story gets much richer this time around, while retaining many of the elements that made it work in the first place. It’s a lot of fun, pretty hilarious, and really cutesy. There’s plenty of action packed into the fantasy story, with witty banter exchanged between the loveable characters along the way. As Chickenhare bravely faces the scourges of hell and dark magic to save his friend Abe’s soul, plenty of interesting twists emerge in the plot and some deliciously evil villains are introduced. It is an all-ages title, despite the fact that it’s more violent in this incarnation, and really, it's probably one of the better all-ages titles that I've read in awhile. Chris Grine’s pencils are top-notch, proving once again just what a talented cartoonist he is, with some great new character designs, even for characters with small roles in the story, like a group of mermen. This is definitely a creator to watch out for, and if you haven’t yet, check out the first Chickenhare graphic novel, keeping in mind that it only gets better with the second installment. A lot better, in fact. It really did build on what was established with the first book, and took things to the next level. Chickenhare (Volume 2): Fire In the Hole comes out in April. Read the first twenty pages of each Chickenhare volume at Chris Grine’s site for free if you aren’t convinced.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

In Stores 1/23

Once again, Patrick and I single out the comics with the most potential, shipping to comic stores this week...

Patrick’s Pick:


Astonishing X-Men #24 - Buy this even though Jog hates it. You won’t hear me say that very often, but I think he’s wrong about this series. This is Joss Whedon’s and John Cassaday’s final issue of the regular series, but their run will reportedly conclude in an upcoming Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men special.

Dave’s Pick:

The Complete Terry and the Pirates (Volume 2): 1937 - 1938 - The first volume of these mammoth reprint collections from IDW was #2 on my favorite comics of 2007, so it’s probably not a big surprise that I’m looking forward to more of the classic action/adventure strip from Milton Caniff.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

574 Words About 365 Days

The Golden Age of DC Comics: 365 Days
Les Daniels, Chip Kidd, Geoff Spear

This book may be considered a part of two separate series of books, both the “365 Days” series of identically formatted books published by Harry N. Abrams (volumes devoted to the Beatles and photographs of the universe are included in this series), as well as the unofficial series of pop art books designed by Chip Kidd with photography by Geoff Spear (Batman: Animated and Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz, among others). It was my fondness for that second grouping of books that led me to this volume, a little under a year ago.

Yes, I’ve been waiting all year to write this review, because the way I read the book, one double page spread each day, corresponding to the calendar date ( I bought the book around March of last year, I think, so I had a bit of catching up to do in the beginning), means that I’ve only just finished the darn thing a few weeks ago. It had been a delightful constant in my life through most of the year just past, and I placed it on the bookshelf after having read the December 31st entry with not a little sadness. I’m going to miss our daily visits.

I’m thinking you’ve probably spotted this thing at a bookstore at some point. It was released a few years ago, although you may be able to find it at a severely discounted price if you hunt around a bit. I got mine from the bargain section of a Barnes and Noble. It’s a thick book, printed in what I think they call the “landscape” format favored by some comic strip reprint series, like the Complete Peanuts. The book contains a series of 365 double page spreads. On each right-hand page, artwork from a golden age DC comic book appears (or artwork from comic book companies since purchased by DC), and on the left-hand page, Les Daniels offers brief commentary on and context for the image. Sometimes the art depicts an entire page, sometimes an extreme close-up on a detail from a single panel. Covers, advertisements, anything printed in those old comics is up for grabs, lovingly presented by Kidd and Spears to create a unique view of a vitally creative period in comics’ history.

Occasionally, the camp aspects of the material is highlighted with tongue planted firmly in cheek, such as an entry featuring the absurd Ace, the Bat-Hound, or an advertisement featuring a toy Superman Ray-Gun. More often, though, the selections highlight the skills of the various golden age artists, such as Mac Raboy and his work on Captain Marvel Jr., or Jack Burnley’s work on Starman. The book features copious information on myriad superheroes, both famous and forgotten, but it also contains many entries on other genres popular at the time, such as romance, crime, western, science fiction, and funny animal comics. While Daniel’s comments are too brief and the examples too idiosyncratic to provide a definitive history of comics’ so-called golden age, the book, as a whole, nevertheless evokes what it may have felt like to have been a comics enthusiast at the time of the material’s original publication.

I greatly enjoyed spending time with this book, and urge anyone interested in high quality art books, or old comic books, to seek it out and enjoy it slowly, as I did, day by day.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Manga Monday: My Heavenly Hockey Club

My Heavenly Hockey Club (Volume 1)
Ai Morinaga

My Heavenly Hockey Club is a shojo manga series that follows Hana Suzuki, who loves two things in life: sleeping and eating (we have a lot in common). She is asked one day to join the school’s Grand Hockey Club (which is actually a boys’ team of which she is the only undercover female member), a club that she soon discovers is more about spending time at resorts and spas during away games than actually playing hockey (a sport she and the other players know little about). Suzuki’s life is really disrupted by the morning practice sessions and the handsome captain of the club, Izumi Oda, who enchants all of the women he sees except for Suzuki, who sees him as mostly a nuisance. But as she has the unnatural gift of blocking things from going into the net when she’s fast asleep, and can be bribed to do pretty much anything for food, she makes for a perfect addition to the team. This book really surprised me. It’s really a lot of fun with plenty of moments that made me laugh out loud. The characters aren’t exactly fully-flushed, but there’s a nice dynamic between them that keeps the stories pretty riveting. I usually don’t like really goofy manga, but I have to say that I really enjoy the goofy tone of this book. It can be slapstick one moment, and tender the next, and it doesn’t seem jarring. It’s pretty addictive, to be truthful. I recommend checking it out.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Long Count #1 (of 12)

Jason L. Blair, Leanne Buckley & Joshua Crawley

The Long Count is a new twelve issue mini-series that takes place in the year 2012 AD. It's a science fiction title, but it's like none I've ever read before. It's really gritty and urban, very dark. But it's also fun with some smart writing, particularly the first few pages introducing readers to the world that's laid out, a world that's unlike our own, as the Mayans and Aztecs succeeded in besting the Europeans, keeping "Colombiana" free of any more influence, and reinforcing a strong faith in tradition and legends amongst its people, a faith that blinds its residents to the encroaching end of the Mayan calendar, the end of the long count. Sports icon Carmen Sandoval is alone in listening to her mentor, the great dragon Quetzalcoatl, and his warnings. And so she faces street demons and gangs to reach her friend and discover what she can do to help her people.

I really like the design for Carmen, and when the action is executed well, she looks awesome disarming a punk or besting demons. But the action was a little hard to follow at times. It's a small gripe, but this issue is pretty much all action, so I think that it was important for it all to proceed pretty fluidly, as many of the sequences did. When I said it was dark before, I didn't just mean the tone of the book, but the art as well. It's really heavy on the black and earth tones, and I think that's part of the problem for the action, just distinguishing amid the shadows, for example, what she was doing to make black blood spurt out of a stone demon. And simply putting a little more emphasis on some black stuff that began to cover Carmen and incapacitate her would have done wonders for keeping the flow of the narrative moving smoothly - as it was depicted, I found myself backtracking to catch on to what was happening. I don't want to harp on this too much, just because the look of the book actually really worked for me and made it pretty unique. The Long Count isn't a perfect book, but I have to say that I really enjoyed entering this world, as intimidating as the backstory was. It's really fun and sharp, and I can't ask for much more from any genre comic I decide to pick up.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Engineer #1 (of 4)

Brian Churilla & Jeremy Shepherd

The new mini-series from Archaia Studios Press, The Engineer, is a rare superhero comic from the publisher, one that would fit snugly alongside Image Comics' lineup. The story follows a man who has been given the task to track down the parts of a cosmic device, the Konstrukt, that will stop a creature from devouring the universe. Three strange phantoms guide the Engineer as he travels to disorienting worlds after a little piano playing sends him on his way to another new land.

The Mike Mignola look of the art is appropriate for the strange title, one that pits the protagonist against all manner of creatures and beasts. There's a fun antagonistic relationship between The Engineer and the three phantoms, and the plot moves along at a fast clip full of action. This issue was basically set-up for the circumstances the Engineer finds himself in, and it's a decent beginning to a series with a lot of potential. But it hasn't demonstrated too much so far to make it stand out from the hundreds of other superhero titles to choose from each month. But, hey, there are three issues to go and the creators have barely scratched the surface of the premise. Check out the preview over at Archaia's website.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

In Stores 1/16

Patrick and I are back from a mini-vacation, so we should be posting a little more regularly now. And I'm happy to say that I picked up a few items I'd missed at the local comic stores recently, so watch out for those. But first things first: our picks of the most promising books shipping to comic shops this Wednesday.

Patrick's pick:

Mome Vol. 10 - In addition to work by the regular Mome cartoonists, the first issue of the new year features a cover by Al Columbia, the conclusion of Jim Woodring’s “The Lute String,” an interview with contributor Tom Kaczynski, and comics by Dash Shaw and Jeremy Eaton.

Dave's pick:

Bone (Color Edition) Volume 7: Ghost Circles - A little light in terms of exciting releases this week, so I went with a classic, in the process of being colored for a younger audience that seems pretty ravenous for the series, if sales in bookstores are any indication. Ghost Circles is probably my least favorite volume of Jeff Smith's Bone saga, but it's still a fantastic read.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Most Anticipated Comics of 2008

2007 was a great year in comics. And while 2008 has just started, plenty of announcements have made it clear that it's going to be another fantastic year for the medium. Here are some of our most anticipated titles scheduled to be released in 2008...

Patrick’s Picks:

Astonishing X-Men: Second Stage - I’ve really been enjoying Joss Whedon’s and John Cassaday’s run on Astonishing X-Men, and will be sorry to see them go. I have confidence, though, that this relaunch of the title, by Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi, is also going to be a well-crafted, entertaining superhero comic, likely as different in tone from Whedon’s work as Whedon’s was from the Grant Morrison material that preceded it.

Bat-Manga: The Secret History of Batman in Japan - Edited by Chip Kidd with photography by Geoff Spear, this book collects Kiro Kuawata’s Batman manga from the pages of Shonen King, as well as documenting the short-lived Batman craze in the late 60’s in Japan. I adore the Kidd/Spears art books (Batman: Animated, The Golden Age of DC Comics: 365 Days), and I’ve a feeling this book may be their best yet. Very excited about this one.

Black Jack - More Osamu Tezuka is always a good thing, and this year our friends at Vertical are bringing the manga master’s infamous medical adventure drama to these shores. There’ve been a few other attempts to sell this material to American audiences, so here’s hoping the time is finally right for Black Jack to take America by storm.

Cold Heat - I really enjoyed the four issues of this Ben Jones, Frank Santoro collaboration that were released before the untimely cancellation of the serialized installments. The release of the complete graphic novel is certainly something to look forward to.

The Comics Journal #290 - I’ve been interested lately in children’s picture books and their relationship to comics, so I’m really looking forward to reading the interview with famous children’s book author/illustrator Maurice Sendak to be featured in this issue of the Journal.

The Complete Next Men - If publisher IDW’s goal was to peak my personal interest in this particular project (and isn’t that really every publisher’s goal?), the timing couldn’t have been better for the announcement of this, a collection of John Byrne’s 1990’s series Next Men, a comic of which I was quite fond at the time of its initial publication but which I’ve not revisited since, in the thick, black and white format popularized by Marvel’s “Essential” line of books. With my renewed interest in Byrne’s work and my fondness for the format, this seems like a perfect opportunity to revisit an old favorite. Also, is it just me, or is IDW positioning themselves to become one of the most interesting and diverse publishers around?

The Complete Pogo - This series of reprints, collecting Walt Kelly’s classic comic strip, has been significantly delayed from its original release date of October ‘07. I’m sure it will show up sometime this year, however, and I’m very much looking forward to it. I’ve not read much of the strip at all save for a few excerpts in anthologies, so I’m taking it primarily on faith that it is as good as everyone says.

Dal Tokyo - A long-awaited collection of Gary Panter’s long-running comic strip.

Dororo - I’ve not heard much discussion of this one, but it sounds fantastic. Yet another Tezuka release by Vertical, this manga features the adventures of a young man as he attempts to recover his 48 stolen body parts from a host of devils in Japan’s Warring States period. Keep those Tezuka books coming, Vertical!

The Education of Hopey Glass - The new graphic novel by Jaime Hernandez. Need I say more?

Gary Panter 2-Volume Slip-Cased HC Set - Holy crap, this is going to be awesome. These two books (the first: an extensive monograph featuring work from the artist across various mediums, augmented by essays and an extensive interview with Panter, and the second, featuring selections from the artist’s sketchbooks) make up my most anticipated release of 2008.

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus Vol. 4 - I’ve bought the first three volumes, but I’ve held off on reading them in anticipation of the release of this final book, so that I can read the entire thing all together.

Jessica Farm - If you’ve read Josh Simmons’ first graphic novel, House, and/or his brilliant and disturbing “Batman,” then you know the announcement of a new graphic novel by the artist is cause for celebration. If I’m not mistaken, I believe this is the first in a series.

Kirby: King of Comics - As the author himself has stated, this is not Mark Evanier’s long-awaited, comprehensive biography of Jack Kirby. It is a lavishly produced art book featuring a shorter biography which can be seen as a sort of preview of that still forthcoming comprehensive book, which should nevertheless prove to be an extraordinary book in its own right, and the closest we’re likely to come to a “definitive” take on the career of one of comics’ most important creators until that second book of Evanier’s is finally finished.

Kramer’s Ergot 7 - I’m not even sure if Sammy Harkham is going to be releasing another installment of his seminal art comics anthology this year, but I hope that he is. 2007 was poorer for the absence of a new Kramer’s, and comments made by Harkham regarding a major format change for the next volume have me very excited for this book, whenever it shows up.

Love and Rockets Vol. 3 #1 - It’s going to be good to see this title again after so long an absence, and I think the change to a larger, annual format makes a lot of sense, as Los. Bros. Hernandez reposition themselves to fit more comfortably into the new comics landscape their work helped make possible.

RASL - This is Jeff Smith’s first major post-Bone project, a comic book series about an art thief with the ability to traverse dimensions. Smith is undeniably one of the major cartooning talents actively working, making this a “can’t miss” comic.

So That’s Where the Demented Wented: The Comics and Art of Rory Hayes - I couldn’t possibly be more excited about this: a complete collection of Rory Hayes comics, edited by Dan Nadel, to be published by Fantagraphics. I expect this to get a lot of attention, in the way that Paul Karasik’s Fletcher Hanks book did in the year just past.

Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko - Blake Bell’s long-awaited, definitive biography of Steve Ditko is perhaps second only to Evanier’s Jack Kirby book in terms of books about comics I’m looking forward to reading this year.

Toon Books - I’m very interested to have a look at this new line of children’s books from editor Francoise Mouly, to be released in two waves in the Spring and Summer of ‘08. Mouly has lined up some top talent for these books, including Art Spiegelman and a favorite of mine from the pages of Mome, Eleanor Davis.

What It Is - This is Lynda Barry’s new book from her new publisher, Drawn and Quarterly. Plans are also under way to reprint the entirety of Barry’s comic strip masterpiece, “Ernie Pook’s Comeek,” in a series of five books, making 2008 a very good year to be a Lynda Barry fan.

Dave’s Picks:

Amor Y Cohetes - The final volume of the Love & Rockets reprints in the new-reader-friendly (and quite nice looking) packaging collects odds and ends of the series from Jaime, Gilbert and Mario Hernandez.

ClanDestine - Just because I’m such a fan of the original Excalibur, I’m really looking forward to the series that Alan Davis wrote and illustrated that borrowed a lot of similar themes from the X-series he worked on. Both the reprint collection and the new series could be pretty neat.

The Complete Little Orphan Annie - I really love the reprinted comic strip collections that IDW Publishing has been releasing recently (Terry & the Pirates, Dick Tracy), and I’m happy that they have taken on Harold Gray’s classic strip, which they’re bound to bind in a beautiful package worthy of the work.

Giant-Sized Astonishing X-Men - The final issue of Joss Whedon’s and John Cassaday’s fantastic run on the X-Men flag title comes to an end in an extra-sized issue that’s sure to thrill and amaze.

Goddess of War - I’ve been waiting awhile for Laura Weinstein’s graphic novel from Picturebox, and it’s finally to see the light of day this year!

Life Sucks - This sounds fun - a new vampire graphic novel by First Second Books from Jessica Abel and Gabe Soria, with art by Warren Pleece.

Little Vampire - Also from First Second, in a new trim especially for new readers, is Joann Sfar’s Little Vampire, the childhood adventures of the monster featured in the recent Vampire Loves.

Serenity: Better Days - A new Serenity mini-series from Dark Horse, featuring the creators behind Serenity: Those Left Behind a few years ago, including series creator Joss Whedon.

Strangeways: Murder Moon - Werewolves in a western setting. Has a lot of potential.

The Troublemakers - Another new graphic novel by Gilbert Hernandez! If Chance In Hell and Sloth are any indication, this is going to be a strong competitor for best book of 2008.

Wolverine: First Class - I’m not sure if Kitty Pryde is going to be a regular on the new Astonishing X-Men series from Ellis and Bianchi, but at least we’ll have this on-going featuring the mutant, as she pairs off with Wolverine.
...
Anything exciting that we missed?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Picks of the Week: 1/9

Here we go, picking the most promising titles shipping to comic shops this Wednesday (back to normal, finally)!

Patrick’s Pick:

JLA Classified #50 - It seems like an incredibly light week for interesting new releases, but I’ve been on a bit of a John Byrne kick lately, so I’m going with this comic, the first of the artist’s five part collaboration with writer Roger Stern, as my pick this week. The cover (pictured) is by Joshua Middleton.

Dave’s Pick:

Black Hole Collected SC - Charles Burns’ masterpiece finally gets the softcover treatment - if you haven’t picked this up for whatever reason, this is the excuse you’ve been waiting for!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Previews: March '08 Comics

Patrick and I take a look at Previews catalogue and highlight the most exciting books shipping to comic shops in March!

Marvel:

Dave: Wolverine: First Class #1 - Bringing things back to the good old days when Wolverine and Kitty Pryde were tight, this series pairs the two up in all-new early adventures. We may not need another Wolverine book, but an ongoing Kitty Pryde book…it’s about time!

Dark Horse:

Patrick: Serenity: Better Days #1 - This first of a three issue mini-series, written by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews with art by Will Conrad (the same creative team responsible for the Serenity: Those Left Behind graphic novel), takes place before the film. Covers by Adam Hughes.

DC:

Patrick: Jack Kirby’s O.M.A.C.: One Man Army Corps HC - DC follows up their Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus project with this book, collecting the first eight issues of Kirby’s O.M.A.C.

JLA Presents: Aztek - The Ultimate Man TP - I’ve not really seen much discussion of this superhero series, created and co-written by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, which makes me think it’s perhaps something of a minor work, but I like Grant Morrison enough that I’ll probably read this at some point. It is advance-solicited for an April release.

Showcase Presents: Supergirl Vol. 1 TP - You know, I’m almost positive I spotted this the other day at the comic book store, so maybe this is being offered again? In any case, I really like what I’ve read of these comics. There’s a camp appeal to this material, to be sure, but the Mort Weisinger edited “Superman Family” comics have a genuinely imaginative and whimsical quality I really enjoy.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier - The Absolute Edition - As much as I enjoyed Black Dossier, I’m not sure I’d be willing to pay 100 dollars for this edition, particularly considering that the only extra seems to be that record Alan Moore recorded. I think it would probably have been best if DC had just released a single, more affordably-priced version of the book which included the record. Others may feel differently, of course.

Abstract Studios:

Dave: Echo #1 - A new series from Terry Moore (Strangers In Paradise) debuts this month. I haven’t actually read anything by Terry Moore, but I’m sure there are plenty of excited people out there.

Archaia Studios Press:

Dave: Cursed Pirate Girl #1 - This looks like a lot of fun. Pirates, mystical creatures and ghosts in a new six-issue series with some really nice art. Check out the preview!

Bodega:

Patrick: Daybreak Volume 2 GN and Service Industry GN - I ordered these directly from Bodega, but now these great comics, from Brian Ralph and T. Edward Bak, respectively, are available through Diamond. Pester your retailer accordingly.

Devil’s Due Publishing:

Dave: Golden Age Sheena: The Best of the Jungle Queen TP - I think this is really neat. A collection of classic Sheena: Queen of the Jungle adventures from the 1930s - 1950s, digitally remastered.

Fantagraphics:

Patrick: The Complete Peanuts Volume 9: 1967-1968 HC - Probably the highlight of a very good month for Fantagraphics, this latest volume cover features Violet and boasts an introduction by John Waters, of all people. Featuring the first appearance of Franklin.

Daddy’s Girl HC - Wow, I had no idea this was being reprinted. Debbie Dreschler, author of Summer of Love, is an amazingly talented cartoonist, and this semi-autobiographical account of a young girl’s sexual abuse by her father should be a powerful and disturbing work.

Jessica Farm GN - If you’ve read Josh Simmon’s first graphic novel, House, and/or his brilliant and disturbing “Batman,” then you know the announcement of a new graphic novel by the artist is cause for celebration. If I’m not mistaken, I believe this is the first in a series.

Rebel Visions: The Underground Comix Revolution (1963-1975) SC - Everything I need to know about the underground comix movement I learned from Patrick Rozencranz’s Rebel Visions, finally available in this revised and expanded soft cover edition.

Ganges #2 - The second issue of Kevin Huizenga’s Ignatz series debuts this month.

Highway 62 Press:

Dave: Strangeways: Murder Moon GN - I almost missed this one, but I’m glad to see it. Before Speakeasy went under, a few issues of this werewolf western comic had been solicited, but never saw the light of day. It looked like a lot of fun, and I’m happy that it’s finally making its way to stores.

Pantheon:

Dave: The Rabbi’s Cat 2 GN - I’m a fan of Joann Sfar, so I’m happy to see a sequel to his acclaimed The Rabbi’s Cat is coming out this year. I haven’t actually read the first graphic novel, but I know it was recently released in soft cover, so I’m out of excuses.

Picturebox:

Patrick: Gary Panter 2-Volume Slip-Cased HC Set - Holy crap, this is going to be awesome. These two books (the first: an extensive monograph featuring work from the artist across various mediums, augmented by essays and an extensive interview with Panter, and the second: featuring selections from the artist’s sketchbooks) make up my most anticipated release of 2008.

Raw Junior, LLC:

Patrick: Benny and Penny in “Just Pretend” HC - This is the first release from Francoise Mouly’s new Toon Books imprint of children’s comics. By acclaimed children’s book author/illustrator Geoffrey Hayes. I have a very good feeling about this line of children’s books, and want them to do well.

Top Shelf:

Dave: Hieronymus B. GN - This book from award-winning German cartoonist Ulf K. is being released through five international publishers at the same time, and Top Shelf was lucky enough to be in on it. Featuring the stories of a humble clerk.

Villard:

Dave: Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 TP - I have to wonder if Archaia Studios Press is kicking themselves for selling the rights of the soft cover version of the first Mouse Guard mini-series to Villard, what with the phenomenal success of the hardcover edition. Either way, I highly recommend this book. Beautiful art featuring cute little mice with cute little swords.

Viz:

Patrick: The Drifting Classroom (Volume 11) TP - Just wanted to make note of the fact that one of the most bat-shit insane manga I’ve ever read concludes with this volume. I pray there is more work by the great Kazuo Umezu on its way to these shores.

Dave: Hana-Kimi (Volume 23) TP - It’s also the final volume of this great shojo manga I’ve been really enjoying this past year.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Picks of the Week: 1/4

Here we go again, picking out the comics with most potential, shipping to comic stores on Friday this week...

Dave's Pick:

Okko: The Cycle of Water HC - French artist Hub's graphic novel from Archaia Studios Press finally ships to comic shops in a hardcover edition, collecting the entire four-issue mini-series that follows the ronin Okko and his band of demon hunters. The sequel is on its way to floppies shortly (five collections total is the plan), and a preview of the original series is available at Archaia's website.

Patrick's Pick:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight #10 - Joss Whedon is back.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Dave’s Top Twenty Comics of 2007

As with every year, there were some titles that I would have liked to read before the year’s end, but at some point, you just have to cut yourself off. The big titles I’d hoped to read but didn’t: Alice In Sunderland, Sundays with Walt & Skeezix, I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets: The Comics of Fletcher Hanks, and Krazy & Ignatz: The Cat Who Walked In Beauty. That being said, the following are my twenty favorite books published in 2007...

20. Cold Heat Special #1 (Frank Santoro & Jon Vermilyea) - This newsprint special of Frank Santoro’s Cold Heat features Jon Vermilyea’s pencils in a simple, yet beautiful comic that pits Castle of the regular Cold Heat series against demon-ghosts in the woods. Santoro does the plots and layouts, with Vermilyea also providing the story for an interesting interpretation of the world that Santoro has created in the Cold Heat issues that have been released (though no more single issues will be available, a collection will appear in the future to complete the story). While the Cold Heat Special is brisk, it’s impressive and quite haunting.

19. Gyo (Junji Ito) - I was surprised by just how creepy this little horror manga was. Junji Ito is the creator of Uzumaki and as I hadn’t heard of Gyo before its release and wasn’t especially impressed with Uzumaki, it was thrilling to become so mesmerized by the goings-on of this book. Fish walk the earth, terrorizing a young Japanese couple before the creeping dread of the initial chapters explodes upon the populace. Read my full review.

18. Elk’s Run (Joshua Hale Fialkov, Noel Tuazon & Scott A. Keating) - This book received a lot of buzz when issues were coming out from Speakeasy, but of course Speakeasy went bankrupt and the collection has only now come out courtesy of Villard, bringing the book to a startling conclusion. The story follows a small town where a group of Vietnam vets have created a haven void of the evils of the outside world to raise their families. When one of the citizens does something unacceptable, things get out of hand and a handful of teenagers fed up with the community attempt to escape, only to be hunted by their very neighbors. Very chilling. Read my review for more details.

17. The Walking Dead (Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard & Cliff Rathburn) - I hadn’t been too impressed with the popular zombie title The Walking Dead until this year’s volumes six and seven of the collections (issues 31-42). But I’ll be damned if it didn’t get awesome. It’s interesting how the best stuff comes from conflict with other humans, but it works for me. The character interaction keeps getting more interesting and there’s a real tension as the story builds toward an explosive climax. Read my reviews for volume six and volume seven of the series.

16. (Tie) Apollo’s Song (Osamu Tezuka) & Andromeda Stories (Keiko Takemiya & Ryu Mitsuse) - Both of these science fiction series were published by Vertical this year. Apollo’s Song, from the legendary Osamu Tezuka, follows a young delinquent with no heart who discovers love via a god who sees fit to torment him with love and loss over and over again for earlier misdeeds. Andromeda Stories blends fantasy and science fiction for a great story from Keiko Takemiya ,the mind behind To Terra (with help from acclaimed science fiction writer Ryu Mitsuse). When Princess Lilia’s peaceful kingdom is invaded by machines from outer space following a wedding ceremony to her betrothed, the top officials are quickly replaced and take steps to change the face of the entire planet, so long as the prophecy concerning the prince doesn’t come to light. Andromeda Stories is full of wonderful characters and thrilling events. Read the reviews here and here.

15. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight (Joss Whedon, Brian K. Vaughan, Georges Jeanty, Paul Lee, Andy Owens & Dave Stewart) - While I can’t say the initial story by Whedon met my high standards in wake of my favorite television series ever, it certainly wasn’t a disappointment either. And I expect the book to only get better. Following Whedon’s “Long Way Home,” where readers were reintroduced to the cast and the changes that had occurred since the show’s finale, a fantastic one-shot from the series creator, followed by a spectacular story featuring rogue slayer Faith (written by Vaughan), cemented the series’ place as one of the best books of the year.

14. Nana (Ai Yazawa) - A staple to my end-of-the-year lists for the past three years, Nana continues to thrill and amaze well into its run. While this year saw it’s departure from Shojo Beat in wake of more mature subject matter, readers can enjoy volumes as they are released quicker than ever, and laugh, cry and gasp along with the amazing characters and their situations in one of the best shojo manga out there.

13. Speak of the Devil (Gilbert Hernandez) - While only half of the six-issue mini-series from Love & Rockets co-creator Gilbert Hernandez has actually hit shelves, it’s left an impression. Hernandez’ art is as beautiful as ever as he relates the story of a young woman peeping in people’s windows wearing a ghoulish grinning mask (including watching her father and step-mother having sex). I know it sounds weird, and it is kind of weird, but this over-the-top horror title is just fun as hell. Read my review of the first issue.

12. Yotsuba&! (Kiyohiko Azuma) - I just discovered this charming comedy manga this year, though people have been rabid fans for much longer. Yotsuba&! Follows a young girl as she runs amok in her neighborhood, causing mischief and saying the wrong things, or just being utterly adorable. This book is hilarious and anyone who’s not reading it is truly missing out on something special.

11. Dragon Head (Minetaro Mochizuki) - There’s plenty of manga in the bottom half of my list, huh? Dragon Head is one of the best genre comics period coming out currently. It’s a post-apocalyptic title that follows a small group of survivors who, in wake of a collapse in a tunnel their train was passing through, find themselves striving to survive amid a harsh landscape and discover what has become of Japan. Surprising and action-packed, this manga contains some really frightening moments of horror. Dragon Head should be much more popular than it is.

Halfway there!!!

10. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier (Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill) - This ambitious new addition to Moore and O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen delves into the history of the team, as well as various incarnations. It’s a lot of fun to revisit beloved characters and meet new ones as readers are treated to a variety of different forms of storytelling, from postcards and maps to prose and comic strips. It’s a dense read, but quite rewarding. Read my detailed review.

9. The Complete Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy (Volume 2): 1933-1935 (Chester Gould) - Unfortunately, another book I didn’t get around to reading this year was volume three of this comic strip reprint project, because man, volume two was awesome! Dick Tracy is still missing many of the elements that readers think of when they drudge up images of the character (sci-fi devices, distinctive villains), but by this point, it’s an exciting read that just keeps getting more thrilling with every story. Very addictive. Full review here.

8. MW (Osamu Tezuka) - Another Tezuka translation from Vertical! I’m glad that Vertical keeps doing these, because I’m loving them, even minor works like this one. MW follows the two lone survivors on an island that was wiped out by MW gas. While one man, a priest, tries to forget the delinquent past that placed him on that island, he finds himself under the thrall of the other survivor, a man who has lost the ability to sympathize with others, indulging in murder and robbery, as he schemes and manipulates his way toward getting revenge. My review here.

7. Suburban Glamour (Jamie McKelvie) - I can’t help but love Jamie McKelvie’s (of Phonogram) new mini-series! Only two issues are out, but the art, fashion and character designs immediately captivated me, and I haven’t been able to tear myself away. The book follows a small group of teenagers from the suburbs who want nothing more than to leave it behind. And while most of the book is talking heads, it is top-notch dialogue, sharp and witty, with some supernatural elements coming into play toward the end of the first issue. Read my review of the first issue.

6. Laika (Nick Abadzis) - Laika is a graphic novel published by First Second Books that follows the first creature to venture into outer space: the adorable dog Laika. As events lead to the dog’s inevitable flight aboard the satellite Sputnik II into Earth’s orbit, readers shift between the perspectives of the satellite’s chief designer, Laika’s dog trainer, and even Laika herself, in scenes that are very moving. While Laika is pretty bleak overall, it’s completely riveting and enjoyable, and had me wondering at one point if it would be my book of the year. Full review.

5. Astonishing X-Men (Joss Whedon, John Cassaday & Laura Martin) - While Joss Whedon impressed many with his Buffy, the Vampire Slayer comic, his run on Astonishing X-Men is by far superior in my eyes. I love the addition of Hisako to the team, and he can write these characters like no one. Though the latest story arc suffered from Marvel’s decision to release issues bi-monthly, it’s an epic concluding chapter to his run with Cassaday and Martin, who have illustrated one of the best superhero comics in recent years, and my favorite of 2007.

4. Emma (Kaoru Mori) - The detailed, authentic background art of Victorian England is only one of the things that makes Emma such a standout title. This book follows a maid and her doomed romance to a man from a higher class, a romance that leads to plenty of heartache, verbal reprimands and shocking situations. This title boasts a wealth of supporting characters, and while there’s a lot of talking going on, things have a momentum to them that drive the title to some pretty brilliant places. As much as I love the title, it took a few volumes to warm up to, but honestly, every single installment of the series gets exponentially better. This is the best manga of the year, no question.

3. The Acme Novelty Library #18 (Chris Ware) - I’d read snippets of Ware’s “Building Stories” in the previous The Acme Novelty Library releases, and wasn’t too impressed, so I was surprised by how much I loved this volume, which exclusively features stories from that strip. Ware once again demonstrates his mastery over the medium as he forces readers to experience the life of a lonely handicapped woman. I love how he captures little moments in life, like an awkward situation that people try to pass off as normal, or replying to a co-worker’s inquiry of plans for the night. He does it with as much ease as he tackles the bigger things in life, like breaking up with a loved one. Chris Ware is just at the top of his game and while I didn’t think it would be the case, I believe that I like the “Building Stories” strip more than the feature of his previous The Acme Novelty Library installments, “Rusty Brown.” Read my full review for The Acme Novelty Library #18 here.

2. The Complete Terry & the Pirates (Volume 1): 1934-1936 (Milton Caniff) - The action/adventure strip Terry and the Pirates gets the complete treatment courtesy of IDW, and I am loving this reprinted classic. Terry and his pal, the lady’s man Pat Ryan, and their faithful cook Connie, battle and outwit pirates, kidnappers and murderers alike as they meet dames and femme fatales across a slew of exotic locales. Fast-paced and funny, this book is set to the beautiful, detailed artwork of Milton Caniff, and I am extremely grateful for the chance to enjoy this strip along with a new generation, in such a handsome, well-deserving package. Full review.

1. Shortcomings (Adrian Tomine) - Adrian Tomine’s Shortcomings follows Ben Tanaka as he grapples with life through his sharp-edged cynicism. He debates racism and stereotypes, and generally acts like an ass to those around him, in beautiful panels that sport art reminiscent of The Hernandez Brothers. The characters involved are really interesting and complex, and have stimulating conversations, resulting in a rich, layered work that left me spellbound and aching for an instant reread. I absolutely loved this book, obviously, and that’s why I’ve crowned it book of the year. Check it out!

That’s all, Folks! If you haven’t done so, please also check out Patrick’s favorite comics of the year!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Patrick's Favorite Comics of 2007

Notes:

1. This is not a list of the best comics of 2007. There were simply too many 2007 publications I’ve not gotten around to reading yet for me to make such a claim for the list that follows.

2. This is not a list of the best comics I read in 2007. Some of the best comics I read this year were not published in 2007, and so do not appear on the list that follows.

3. I’m pretty generous in regards to considering new printings of old work for inclusion on the list. Basically, if it felt to me as though the representation of the work was such that it sufficiently enhanced or altered the experience of reading the material, or put the work in front of an audience who would not otherwise have had access to it, I was happy to consider it for inclusion.

4. This is a ranked list. The book in the number one spot is the best 2007 published comic I read this year.

***

10. Mushishi Vol. 1-2 (Yuki Urushibara) - My favorite manga of 2007 is an extraordinarily well-crafted work of genre fiction, concerning the exploits of a young man named Ginko who travels the world offering his skills as a Mushishi, one able to control the mysterious creatures known as Mushi, beings capable of assuming a variety of forms and abilities, and whose presence can wreak havoc with human lives. The two volumes released thus far consist of self contained short stories, with little in the way of character development or plot progression. It’s possible that an overarching storyline will develop over time, but for now I find this format a welcome relief from the sprawling, continuity dependent epics that plague so much of American genre comics. Urushibara’s strengths lie in her ability to craft compelling short stories and evoke a powerful sense of atmosphere through her deft writing and lovely, delicate artwork. The final story of the second volume, “The Veil Spore,” is among the finest short horror stories I’ve ever read.

9. All-Star Superman (Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Jamie Grant) - My favorite superhero comic of 2007 was this gem of a series by writer Grant Morrison and penciller Frank Quitely, featuring digital inks and colors by Jamie Grant. Morrison’s scripts perfectly evoke the joy and wonderment of the Silver Age Superman without sacrificing any of the writer’s own post-modern sensibilities. As good as the writing is, though, I have to admit that the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of these comics is the extraordinary artwork of Frank Quitely, whose wonderfully staged action sequences, obsessively detailed renderings, and perfect facial expressions and body language firmly establish him as one of the finest cartoonists working in or out of the so-called “mainstream.”

8. Maggots (Brian Chippendale) - I had an interesting relationship with this book, which had been my most anticipated release of the year. After the initial thrill of obtaining a copy of the handsome, pocket-sized volume had dimmed, I found myself somewhat frustrated at the meandering narrative, confusing layout, and sometimes unintelligible lettering. After reluctantly abandoning my attempt to read the entire book straight through, I returned to it after a break with a new reading strategy. I decided to tackle Maggots in small increments, sometimes only reading a few pages each day. This strategy proved effective, as those few minutes I spent reading the book became the experience I most looked forward to each day, and this extraordinary work by one of our finest living cartoonists, at once epic and intimate, truly came alive for me. After finishing the book (although I’ve not really finished it, of course, as it is a work I will return to again and again), I briefly and foolishly considered writing an essay for this blog entitled “How to Read Maggots, and Why,” before realizing that nothing that I could say could accurately convey the artistic value of Chippendale’s work. Instead, I urge you to experience Maggots for yourself, and allow it to challenge, penetrate, and haunt you, as it has me.

7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight (Joss Whedon, Brian K. Vaughan, Georges Jeanty, Paul Lee, Andy Owens, Dave Stewart) - This was the monthly comic book I most looked forward to reading new installments of in 2007. If you’re not already a fan of the show, you’re not going to get much out of the comic book, but I’m not going to hold that against it. Creator Joss Whedon has successfully reimagined the series as a wide screen comic book epic, faithful to the themes and characters established on the small screen but taking full advantage of the comics medium to tell compelling adventure stories, blissfully free of the creepy misogyny that plagues too many of American mainstream comics. The book’s first year was divided between the initial “Long Way Home” story arc, written by Whedon himself and now collected in a trade paperback, and Brian K. Vaughan’s “No Future for You,” which featured popular supporting character Faith. The best issue of the series, however, was #5, a self-contained story written by Whedon entitled “The Chain,” which focused almost exclusively on characters newly created for the comic book, and proved that Joss Whedon has every intention of investing this series with all of the warmth, skill, and intelligence that made the television show such an excellent and lasting work of art.

6. New Tales of Old Palomar (Gilbert Hernandez) - This great three issue series, published by Fantagraphic’s “Ignatz” imprint of oversized, deluxe comic book/graphic novel hybrids, proved to be the perfect showcase for the continued evolution of the legendary Gilbert Hernandez. The stories presented here are both a look back at an earlier era of the cartoonist’s lifelong “Palomar/Heartbreak Soup” narrative, as well as a giant step forward in terms of graphic innovation for the cartoonist. Hernandez’s art has never looked better than it does on these oversized pages, and he takes advantage of the format to present big images of the landscape that sometimes dwarf his all too human characters as the struggle to comprehend the David Lynchian strangeness which slowly and eerily permeates their lives.

5. Shortcomings (Adrian Tomine) - While compiling this list, it occurred to me that one of the things that may characterize the comics landscape of 2007 is that there was not a single book that really seemed to herald “book of the year” status upon its publication in the way that, say, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home did last year. Rather, there seemed to be a lot of very good comics coming from all over the place, without any single book really taking prominence. If there was to be such a book this year, however, I think Adrian Tomine’s Shortcomings could come close to filling the role. Perhaps because Tomine has been something of a darling of the art comics community for so many years contributed to the fact that Shortcomings did not seem to be met with the same level of enthusiasm as was Fun Home, which was many people’s first exposure to Alison Bechdel, or perhaps Tomine’s straightforward drawing style was not up to the task of dazzling those who’ve grown accustomed to the artistic innovations and surprises of artists like Chris Ware. Whatever the case, let us not forget the extraordinary pleasure to be had in an intelligent story, executed with perfect and beautiful clarity by an undeniably talented and sensitive cartoonist, which is just what this book is. The story concerns a young man, Ben Tanaka, a protagonist who will incite revulsion and sympathy in the reader in more or less equal measure, and his attempts to come to terms with his own Asian-American identity, as well as his strained relationships, romantic and otherwise, with the people in his life. Tomine writes with sharp insight in to the larger cultural issues the book explores, while never losing sight of the human heart that beats, quietly but steadily, at the story’s center.

4. Storeyville (Frank Santoro) - Originally self-published back in 1995 in the form of a tabloid newspaper, this amazing book by Frank Santoro has been republished as an oversized hardcover by PictureBox, one of the most forward-thinking and exciting publishers to come along in recent years. Storeyville follows the journey of Will, an aimless young man who travels from Pittsburg to Montreal in search of his friend and mentor, a man named Rudy with whom he had lost touch years before, and who may or may not want anything to do with Will. The story is a simple one, but emotionally powerful and utterly compelling, thanks in part to the beautiful drawings and astonishing colors, clearly and beautifully presented, along with a new introduction by Chris Ware and a gallery of artwork culled from Santoro’s zine, Sirk. The most astounding thing about the book, for me, is that it was originally published over a decade ago, and still seems somehow ahead of it’s time. I’m grateful that publishers such as PictureBox are taking steps to ensure that the comics industry may one day catch up with artists like Frank Santoro.

3. The Complete Peanuts 1963-1964, The Complete Peanuts 1965-1966 (Charles Schulz) - What is there to say about Peanuts that hasn’t already been said? I’ll just point out that this noble publishing effort is in the midst of the strip’s golden age. It’s hard to imagine this or any other comic strip getting much better than the work presented in these two volumes. That a publisher such as Fantagraphics has committed to reprinting this classic strip in it’s entirety is a gift for which I am grateful. That Charles Schulz lived to create such an extraordinary, heartfelt, perfect work of art in the first place is nothing short of a blessing.

2. Powr Mastrs Vol. 1 - Thanks again to PicureBox, making their third and final appearance on this list (I’ve a feeling they’ll be back next year), for publishing this terrific graphic novel by the amazingly talented Chris Forgues, easily one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I’ve had all year. Read my original review for more.

1. Chance in Hell (Gilbert Hernandez) - If I was inclined to name a cartoonist of the year, it would have to be Gilbert Hernandez. The man littered the landscape with excellent comics in 2007, including the better with every issue Speak of the Devil, the aforementioned New Tales of Old Palomar, and of course his work with his equally talented brother Jaime in Love and Rockets. Truly, it was Gilbert’s year, and Chance in Hell is his crowning achievement. The story is that of an orphaned girl named Empress, raised by a loose knit community of the homeless living in a junkyard shantytown, where rape and murder are not uncommon occurrences. Empress is eventually rescued from this life by a kindly man who takes pity on her, but the trauma of her childhood haunts Empress, and it seems as though a normal life may lie forever beyond her grasp. The plot is obviously and deliberately the stuff of B-movies and pulp novels, elevated by Hernandez’s sincere commitment to his characters, respect for his audience’s intelligence, and sheer cartooning brilliance. Empress’ tale is one punctuated with shocking outbursts of horror and violence, and the ending of the story is ambiguous, inviting multiple interpretations and encouraging rereading. I don’t know if this is the best comic published in 2007, but it’s certainly the best I’ve come across, and it’s difficult to imagine a more vital, exciting, evolving, challenging cartoonist than Gilbert Hernandez currently working in American comics.