Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pick of the Week 10/27

Here is the book you should be paying attention to in comic shops tomorrow!

H Day HC - I don't really know anything about this graphic novel, but it's Renee French, so it's bound to be a visual treat.

Other Noteworthy Releases
Avengers vs. Pet Avengers #1 (of 4)
Beasts of Burden/Hellboy One-Shot
Epic Chronicles of Hagar the Horrible: 1974-1975 HC
Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman (Volume 3) HC
Geronimo Stilton (Volume 6) HC
Green Lantern Chronicles (Volume 3) TP
JLA: The 99 #1 (of 6)
The Life & Times of Scrooge McDuck Companion HC
Secret Avengers #6
Secret Warriors #21
Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor (Volume 1) TP

Monday, October 25, 2010

Manga Monday: AX

Ax: A Collection of Alternative Manga (Volume 1) GN
Edited by Sean Michael Wilson

Ax is an alternative manga magazine in Japan, a kind of go-to for exciting creators.  This new anthology from Top Shelf collects a sampling of stories that have been published in Ax since its debut in 1998.  As with most anthologies, I found myself drawn to some stories, while left cold to others, but you can't argue that this isn't a great showcase for some really great comics.  33 manga artists are sampled here, with biographies compiled in back and an introduction by Paul Gravett.  I feel like I've been waiting forever for this to come out, as it's seen a series of delays, but it has finally arrived.

My Favorites
Inside the Gourd by Ayuko Akiyama is a magical, gentle story told with soft lines, about a man misunderstood by those around him.  It was kind of refreshing to read a story like this in an anthology that offers a lot of sex and violence, illustrating that to be a part of something as special as Ax, you don't need all the bells and whistles to stand out.

Push Pin Woman by Katsuo Kawai is another story told with soft lines and kind of reads like a dream.  I almost feel like it's manga poetry - it was just kind of beautiful and whimsical.

A Broken Soul by Nishioka Brosis is an odd little story, that I don't think I really quite got, but it really stands out with its amazing art, easily the most striking pencils of anyone in this anthology.

Puppy Love by Yusaku Hanakuma follows a couple who have a litter of puppies instead of a child, but raise them as humans, and the circumstances they encounter.  Strange, but I dug it.

The Tortoise & The Hare by Mitsuhiko Yoshida is a pretty straight-forward story, but I enjoyed the fable and the little twist on it.

Mushroom Garden by Shinya Komatsu is my favorite piece overall.  It has beautiful art reminiscent of Herge, with a lot of attention to detail and just beautiful drawings of the city and plant life.  Very magical.

Kosuke Okada & His 50 Sons by Hideyasu Moto is a weird, but cool little story with cartoony art that seems kind of old-fashioned.

Alraune Fatale by Hiroji Tani is a neat sexy sci-fi story that I really liked.  Nice realistic art with a cool idea.

Six Paths of Wealth by Kazuichi Hanawa reminds me a lot of Kazuo Umezu.  Great illustrations depicting a horror story, about a greedy mother and daughter and the Tales From the Crypt-like fate that awaits them.

Ones I Didn't Care For
Into Darkness by Takato Yamamoto is very verbose, very dark and I could hardly tell what was going on in the panels.  It just kind of reeked of pretension to me.

Me by Shin'Ichi Abe is just a throw-away story.  I can't imagine anyone really remembering it after passing it over - unremarkable and uninteresting.

Les Raskolnikov by Keizo Miyanishi is another one that's dark and extremely verbose.  It kind of reminds me of those bad soapy comic strips like Judge Parker - very over-the-top, yet stiff and unsatisfying.

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience of reading this anthology.  In a perfect world (or in Japan), I would be able to seek out the artists and pick up other works by them, but for now, I suppose I need to be content with having sampled them at all, and hope for some more translations from the artists I did like.  Some, like Yusaku Hanakuma (Tokyo Zombie), have work already translated in English.  But since this is labeled "volume 1," perhaps more is on the way...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Nola's World (Volume 1)

Changing Moon
Mathieu Mariolle, MiniKim & Pop

Originally published in France, Nola's World follows Nola York-Stein, a teen who lives in the beautiful seaside paradise town Alta Donna...resulting in a rather boring existence.  Nothing ever happens there, and life has been even lonelier for Nola since her parents divorced.  Now, she hardly ever sees her father, who has his own new family to support, and her mother is a workaholic who tends to choose a night out with friends over her own daughter.  But her life gets a little more exciting when two new kids show up at school.  Nola thinks that something is funny about the brother and sister, and is determined to get to the bottom of things, if anything, for something to do.  And it turns out that her hunch is right - they are harboring a secret, one that she couldn't have imagined.  While stalking the pair (pretending she's a super-sleuth), Nola inadvertently makes friends with them, enjoying time with self-absorbed Ines, and perhaps developing a crush on Damiano.  This is a fun world that Mariolle has created, with plenty of mystery and intrigue, and a good dose of teen angst.  But being completely frank, the art is easily the star attraction of this title.  Without that eye-popping art, this would be a pretty standard story.  Nola's World has been heavily influenced by manga, with characters sometimes surrounded playfully by flowers and hearts, and with emotions clearly depicted by face-long teardrops or skulls.  Characters will also do that thing where they get tiny and cuter and more cartoony than they already are.  MiniKim arranges the story beautifully, with some quirks to her artwork, like boxy pants and rubbery arms and legs (randomly and for no apparent reason).  She produces some very breath-taking scenes and backgrounds, and has some great character designs.  But Pop's coloring brings things to a whole new level.  Using mostly pastels, Pop makes Nola's World feel really sugary and happy, and very feminine.  Nola herself sports cotton candy-pink hair and characters often don bright attire and maneuver through environments rich in color and full of detail, such as shopping malls and amusement parks.  In the back of this first volume, the creators go through the process of how their collaboration comes together in the end, with a fine final product.  Especially on the art end of things, between the drawing and coloring, the creators are perfect for each other, and the story fits in nicely with what they're capable of producing - a stunning visual treat.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Artichoke Tales

Megan Kelso

This is the first work that I've read from Megan Kelso (The Squirrel Mother Stories), and I really like her storytelling style.  She has a nice cartoony style with delicate little swirls and funny-looking characters with sprouts on their heads.  It's a story that feels whimsical throughout, with playful characters that partake in festivals to celebrate the changing of the seasons, but has a serious side, as it's a multi-generational tale that sees two sides of a civil war that has seen devastation in the south, and has put lovers at odds with one another.  The family of women that we follow comes with knowledge of the land, and have made a living through an apothecary.  We see how the herbs and ointments are collected, how they run it, and its transition through the years, at the same time that we learn of the war that has devastated them, and the cold queen that was born in the north that laid siege to their towns.  I was really excited about this book when I read the first chapter, and really looked forward to continuing the story, and it may be because I had to read it in short bursts instead of all at once(even though I understand that it was originally released in mini-comics), but I found myself confused when the story jumped back and forth in time, and eventually I found my enthusiasm wane a bit.  I still really enjoyed the book overall, and the saga of this family remains compelling, but I think readers need to pay close attention when reading so as not to lose the thread of the story and its subtle changes.  Wait for a time when you can sit down and read it cover to cover, and savor the tale.  It's kind of a quiet story, lovingly painting the portrait of this family through the years, but it's pretty ambitious as more characters are drawn in and the war weaves itself into the fiber of who these people are, prejudices and all.  Artichoke Tales is elegant and lovingly crafted by a talented artist.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pick of the Week 10/20

Here is the book you should be paying attention to in comic shops this Wednesday...

Picture This HC - A week with a new Charles Burns graphic novel AND a Lynda Barry hardcover is quite a week indeed, but I have to go with Lynda Barry as the most exciting release between the two.  I really, really loved Lynda Barry's first inspiring book dedicated to the creative process, What It Is, and this follow-up is easily one of my most anticipated releases of the year.

Other Noteworthy Releases
40 Doonesbury Retrospective HC
Cardcaptor Sakura Omnibus Edition (Volume 1)
Charles Burns' X'ed Out GN
Daniel X: The Manga (Volume 1)
Dragon Girl (Volume 1)
Dragon Puncher (Book 1) HC
God Complex Complete Collection TP
Johnny Boo (Volume 4): Mean Little Boy HC
Kick-Ass 2 #1
Luthor HC
March Story (Volume 1)
Marvel Zombies 5 HC
Saga of Rex TP
Shuddertown HC
Stan Lee's Soldier Zero #1
Y - The Last Man Deluxe Edition (Volume 4) HC

Monday, October 18, 2010

Manga Monday: 7 Billion Needles

7 Billion Needles (Volume 1)
Nobuaki Tadano

The new science fiction manga series from Vertical, 7 Billion Needles, sees introverted high school girl Hikaru Takabe joined with an alien lifeform.  At first, it's just annoying, breaking through her mind and talking to her incessantly.  Then it demonstrates unusual, and pretty amazing, powers.  Hikaru herself is one of those kids who sits in the corner of class, trying her best not to be noticed, sporting head phones as an extra incentive to get people to avoid speaking with her.  When she joins with this being calling itself "Horizon," she finds that she must interact with the people around her if she's to uncover the malicious alien that Horizon came to Earth to hunt down.  Without her help, Earth will be overtaken and destroyed by this evil alien.  So Hikaru breaks out of her comfort zone.  It's nice to see her do this - Hikaru's a really neat character, with something pretty devastating hinted at in her past that I'm sure will come up in future volumes.  The art in this book is pretty amazing - nice clean lines with a cinematic feel to it.  Of course, with a premise such as this, it's hard not to compare it to the manga Parasyte, with its similar premise of aliens joining with humans and fighting.  That series also boasted great art, and had monsters that distorted the bodies of the humans they bonded with, much like the monstrous "Maelstrom" in 7 Billion Needles.  This is a really fun book.  There's plenty of pretty art and great action, and a good dose of suspense.  I'm interested to see what's in store for Hikaru in the future, but don't expect anything too original out of the first volume.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pick of the Week 10/13

Here is the book you should be paying attention to in comic shops on Wednesday...

Nola's World (Volume 1): Changing Moon GN - Coming from France is this full-color magical kids' comic for just $9.95.  The book follows tween Nola as she investigates some suspicious people she meets and discovers that her small town may not be all that it appears to be.  Two more volumes are on the way, sure to boast art just as beautiful as this.

Other Noteworthy Releases
Angel vs. Frankenstein II
Bloom County: The Complete Library (Volume 3) HC
Celadore (Volume 1) TP
Dick Briefer's Frankenstein HC
Harvey Comics Classics Treasury (Volume 2): Hot Stuff TP
Hellboy (Volume 11): Mask and Monsters TP
Knight & Squire #1
Percy Jackson & The Olympians (Volume 1): The Lightning Thief GN
Spike #1 (of 8)
Strange Tales 2 #1
Superior #1 (of 6)
Tiny Titans/Little Archie #1 (of 3)
Vampire Boy TP
War Machine Classic (Volume 1) TP
X-Babies Classic (Volume 1) TP

Monday, October 11, 2010

Manga Monday: Five Leaves

House of Five Leaves (Volume 1)
Natsume Ono

I've become quite a fan of Ono's since Viz began collecting her material early this year.  Her style isn't like anyone's out there, and she writes such great stuff, very character-driven, which is what I gravitate toward in fiction.  In House of Five Leaves, Ono may have begun a story featuring her best characters yet, all shrouded in mystery.  Akitsu Masanosuke is at the center of the story, a samurai without a job, who begins to be pulled into an organization called "Five Leaves," first as work as a bodyguard.  But it becomes clear very quickly that the Five Leaves is a criminal organization, involved in several kidnappings for ransom money, and while he turns away from the group, his desperation for money to send back home to his family, and to fill his stomach, draws him back to them, again and again.  Akitsu is a very conflicted character, and wants very much to see the good in everybody, which is probably why he's so fascinated by the leader of Five Leaves, who's a very confident, charismatic guy, whom he senses has his own motives for involving himself in such an occupation.  While many of the members claim they do it for the money, it's much more complicated than that, as each of its members has their own history, and such a simple explanation doesn't quite add up for them.  But in the end, The Five Leaves is kind of like a family, where its members protect one another, and come to care for each other, and Akitsu, belonging nowhere, finds himself inexplicably drawn to them, probably for this very reason.  Akitsu also isn't a very good samurai.  Sure, he's quite skilled with a sword, but half of the battle is intimidating his enemy, and his slouching, innocent demeanor frightens off more potential masters than combatants.  Which is why The Five Leaves is an ideal place for him.  He doesn't look like a typical thug, but he has the ability to protect this "family," if only he would welcome them with open arms, which he can't quite do, knowing what they are.  The stories are fairly straight-forward in action in House of Five Leaves, but like Akitsu, you stay for the people.  And Ono's art looks more refined and confident than ever in her latest series, one that I recommend highly.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Previews HYPE: December '10

Wading through the phonebook that is Previews Catalogue so you don't have to... Here are fifteen choice books that you may have overlooked or that I'm just plain excited about, shipping to comic shops in December!

John Byrne's Next Men #1 - A new ongoing series that brings back John Byrne's beloved creation The Next Men!  I know a lot of people are big fans of this series, and while it was exciting to see IDW collect his complete run into two volumes, it's even more exciting to see new stories produced by the creator.

The Hidden HC - A new Richard Sala graphic novel from Fantagraphics that features eight people stuck in a snowbound diner, telling stories to one another while as a madman stalks the night.

Age of Reptiles Omnibus (Volume 1) TP - This new Dark Horse omnibus collects the first two Age of Reptiles series, which haven't been in print for a while, as well as the recent Age of Reptiles: The Journey.

Heroes For Hire #1 - A new series focusing on the street-level heroes of Marvel's New York, including a few of my favs: Elektra and Silver Sable.  Written by the Annihilation/cosmic guys, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.
Chip 'N Dale Rescue Rangers #1 - A new ongoing series featuring mice detectives, bringing the old gang from the Disney cartoon back together in comic form!  Also available this month, Darkwing Duck Classics (Volume 1) TP, collecting the origin run of Darkwing Duck comics.
Stigmata HC - A new graphic novel from master artist Lorenzo Mattotti (Chimera) and Claudio Piersanti, from Fantagraphics.
Generation X Classic (Volume 1) TP - You knew it was only a matter of time.  Finally, Marvel is reprinting the series featuring young mutants that debuted in the 90's in its Classics line.
Savage Dragon Archives (Volume 3) TP - One of the most consistently good superhero comics gets reprinted in a third volume of black and white archives in what is an inconsistent reprint series.
Wyonna Earp: The Yeti Years TP - Wyonna Earp tracks down those who violate paranormal laws, and this is a new original graphic novel featuring the heroine, from IDW.
Widowmaker #1 (of 4) - The spies of the Marvel Universe are being tracked down and killed by a new Ronin.  Hawkeye, Black Widow and Mockingbird seek to stop the killer before they're next on the list.
Marineman #1 - Image Comics' answer to Aquaman and Namor is this hunky, barrel-chested sunny character from the mind of Ian Churchill.
A Single Match HC - A new collection of short stories from Oji Suzuki from Drawn & Quarterly.
My New New York Diary HC - This graphic novel from Julie Doucet follows the escapades of his collaboration to make a film with director Michel Gondry (and contains a DVD with the film in question).
Thor by Walter Simonson Omnibus HC - Marvel's begining to reprint more classic Thor stories now that the movie is coming up, this being a biggie.
Firebreather (Volume 3): Holmgang #1 (of 4) - Firebreather begins a new adventure just in time for his animated debut on The Cartoon Network.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


Smurfs (Volume 1): The Purple Smurfs TP, and
Smurfs (Volume 2): The Smurfs and the Magic Flute TP
Peyo and Yvan Delporte

I spent hours upon hours watching Smurfs on television on Saturday mornings growing up, but I had no idea that they'd been based on a popular Belgian comic by Peyo.  Hell, until this archival project was announced, I hadn't known.  But the comics are every bit as magical and entertaining as I remember from my childhood, and are still a lot of fun to read as an adult.  The way Papercutz is reprinting them, the original story that introduces the smurfs is actually reprinted in the second volume they've released, in The Smurfs and the Magic Flute.  That story appeared in a different comic that Peyo was working on, Johan and Peewit, and eventually they spun out into their own series, spawning toys and the television show that many have come to know and love.  The smurfs don't even appear until well into the story, focusing mostly on the title characters of that series, but Peyo had pretty much worked out much of what the smurfs were going to be like, even very early on.  In this first adventure with the little blue guys, he even makes fun of their language.  They seem to throw the word "smurf" into sentences arbitrarily:  "He smurfed his way over here," or "That's smurfy," or "You have to smurf the smurf with its right smurf."  Peewit tries to make sense of it, but doesn't get very far in a pretty funny scene.  This second volume was a single story, but the first volume contains three Smurf stories (as indicated by the number of smurf profiles at the top of the front cover). 
I think it was a wise way to go, releasing the origin in the second volume, as the stories that were chosen for the first volume are more indicative of what the series is like.  The main story, The Purple Smurfs, begins the book, and sees the smurfs affected by an epidemic, causing those bitten by infected smurfs to turn purple and go mad, hopping around saying "Gnap."  The Flying Smurf and The Smurf and his Neighbors follow the initial story and are also fun comics, but don't quite measure up to that classic Purple Smurfs story.  Most of the smurfs that appear in these stories are generic white-capped and white-panted blue-skinned guys, but there are a few exceptions, most notably Papa Smurf, who was introduced as such from the very beginning, in his red outfit, often seen scolding the other smurfs.  But others like Brainy Smurf and Jokey Smurf are referred to by name, with the recognizable glasses on, and exploding gift-wrapped box in hand.  The Smurfs comics are brightly colored, with plenty of fun to be had in Smurf Village or off on an adventure in the forest.  The stories are often funny and flow easily from one panel to another fluidly.  These are great books that I'm sure kids of all ages will enjoy, as well as anyone who grew up on the Saturday morning cartoon and recall them with fondness.  So far, two volumes have been released in both softcover and hardcover formats, with a third volume, The Smurf King, on the way (featuring a certain villainous wizard and his pet cat).

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Pick of the Week 10/6

Here is the book you should be paying attention to in comic stores today...

Nipper (Volume 1): 1963-1964 TP - Last year, Drawn & Quarterly released The Collected Doug Wright: Canada's Master Cartoonist, which included the fantastic, and quite funny, Nipper strips.  Now they begin collecting the complete comic strip in a new archival project, featuring the mischievous little guy.

Other Noteworthy Releases
Art of Neal Adams SC
Batman: Hidden Treasures #1
Blondie (Volume 1) HC
Chaos War #1 (of 5)
Deadpoolmax #1
Fish N Chips (Volume 1) TP
Frankie Stein HC
Ghost Rider by Jason Aaron Omnibus HC
Green Woman HC
Kizuna Deluxe Edition (Volume 1)
Naruto (Volume 49)
Stephen King's N HC
Superman: Nightwing and Flamebird (Volume 2) HC
Ultimate Comics: Thor #1 (of 4)
Uncanny X-Force #1

Monday, October 04, 2010

Manga Monday: Sand Chronicles

I was originally going to talk about House of Five Leaves this week, but after reading the ninth volume of Sand Chronicles, I was reminded of its awesomeness and wanted to highlight that series again, so you'll see Natume Ono next week.

Sand Chronicles (Volume 9)
Hinako Ashihara

One of the best shojo manga on the market in the US right now, Hinako Ashihara's Sand Chronicles, takes a detour with the latest (and second-to-last) volume, focusing on several secondary characters of the series in three stories. For those who haven't followed the series, this is a very emotional series, full of characters with deep emotional scars. The main character is Ann, whose mother committed suicide when she was young and blames herself for the incident in some ways, and wonders if she is also too weak for this world. For the first time, we get the full story on Ann's mother in the first story contained in this volume, "Canary." I usually find myself crying at least once during each volume of this series (and often feel emotionally-drained by its end), and this volume is no exception. I didn't expect to get quite so drawn in to a side story as I did with "Canary," however. I was blind sided by the very relatable characters and their situations. Ashihara doesn't always lay everything out in the open, but rather trusts the audience to make the connections that really enrich this latest volume through things hinted about in previous volumes, as well as conveying a good amount of the emotional arcs of the characters through facial expressions and silent looks. It's takes a lot of craft on her part, but she has the chops to pull it off, and quite successfully, resulting in a story that feels real and is very rich and powerful.  The second story, "Summer Vacation," continues in the present day, focusing on Sakura, whom Ann was briefly engaged to, but has moved to America for work.  He encounters Ann's little sister while she's visiting New York and it's kind of a life-changing experience.  The volume rounds out with a short Christmas episode when Fuji was young.  The first story definitely overshadows the latter two, but it's all emotionally-packed.  I'm going to be sad to see this series come to an end.