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Pipeline, Issue #394

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Pipeline, Issue #394

TRADE REVIEWS OF 2004

By a rough count, I reviewed over 65 trade paperbacks and/or hardcovers in the year 2004. For 2005, I want to up that past 100. One of the niftier side effects of my recent reading Purge is that I’ll be reading more books in collected form. This should encourage more reviews of same — and hopefully in a more timely fashion.

One of the initially oddest things about the list of 2004 reviews I present here today is that the overwhelming majority of them are not superhero compilations. A part of that, I guess, would be that most of the current compilations I purchased in 2004 were of books I had already read and, perhaps, reviewed in their single pamphlet form.

The leading publishers that I reviewed were AiT/PlanetLar, Oni, and Dark Horse. PlanetLar is easy to figure, in that they really only publish thicker collections. DEMO is the exception, and I reviewed a couple of those issues over the course of the year, also. Oni has moved to a lot of original graphic novels, lately, and is busy collecting everything else at the same time. Dark Horse collects everything they do to the point where I don’t bother with a lot of it on a monthly basis anymore. What’s the point?

There’s something else, though. Those companies publish different types of comic books. There’s always something new and interesting to talk about. After seven years of writing this column, how many new things can I have to say about superheroes? Aren’t books about 19th century samurais, one man’s attempt to conquer the world from his cartoonist’s desk, and British spy dramas more interesting to talk about than a superhero? If nothing else, it removes a lot of the shorthand from my vocabulary that I’ve developed over the years. It’s new stuff that challenges me to find fresh ways to discuss. It keeps writing this column fresh to me. Hopefully, it’s also part of what makes reading Pipeline interesting for you.

The QUEEN & COUNTRY reviews from a few weeks ago were another interesting challenge — reviewing all the books in a series in the span of two columns. There are few books that easily fit into that category. I wouldn’t try it with GROO. There are too many books, and too few jokes. I might, however, try it with SIN CITY. I’m re-reading those books now, and taking notes. That movie trailer is too good to ignore. I reviewed a couple of HELLBOY books at the time of that movie, but didn’t review anything past the Mignola and movie “Art of” type books. I don’t know if I have it in me to spend that much time on Mignola’s baby. It’s interesting, but it’s not always my cuppa.

What’s possibly more surprising to me is the vast list of books I didn’t review in 2004. I read plenty more than just 65 trade paperbacks. By rough estimate, I added about 300 to my collection. Some of them, however, I didn’t have an angle on. If I don’t have something to say about a given book, I won’t force it. I don’t have to. There will always be something else to talk about. I need to review more of the European graphic novels I’ve developed a taste for in the coming year. As manga rises, I’m afraid that the Eurocomics are being ignored. In many ways, they’re the polar opposite in formatting: Oversized, hardcover, and short. Color. Not cheap. It may not have the same elusive “value” for your dollar that 300 pages of manga does, but it works for me. I don’t mind paying the $13 – $15 for 64 pages (give or take) of well-illustrated European art.

While 2004 was a good year, production-wise, for such reviews, I want to do better in 2005. It’s good to have goals. 100 collections before December 31, 2005. Wish me luck.

In the meantime, let’s look back at some of the books that came our way in 2004:

From Oni Press:

For a company that spends so much time on angst-ridden rock and roll goth horror type titles, I’m surprised by how much of their stuff I’ve read. Thankfully, a series of lighter books keeps them from becoming Slave Labor North. Please note that the reviews here skip over the Oni fetish for Brit pop.

If Rucka incorporates a British pop star into the next QUEEN & COUNTRY storyline, though, it won’t surprise me.

From Dark Horse:

There are frequent gems in Dark Horse’s catalog, but you have to sort through all the licensed stuff to get there. Here are some of the books I liked in 2004:

From DC:

DC keeps gobbling up smaller imprints, starting with WildStorm and moving this year to Humanoids and 2000 AD. This means more trades, collecting both the old and the new. I think they have close to the entire Alan Moore collection in print now with the 2000 AD books.

One of the highlight books of the year, though, was Steven Seagle’s autobiographical look at the Superman concept with IT’S A BIRD. Moore’s SMAX was one of the most entertaining volumes of 2004, a TOP TEN spin-off that kept the easter egg hunt alive while abandoning the American cop show formula for a more fantastic and fairy-tale-gone-wrong mold. Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen’s SUPERMAN: SECRET IDENTITY is second only to Seagle’s book for the Superman title of the year. The regular monthly titles still fail to pique my interesting.

The JLA/AVENGERS volume might get the award for reprint of the year. Never before has a larger sized reprint been so necessary. George Perez’s art on the series screamed for this large size edition, and the supplemental book was a welcome addition to it, even if some of the teeth were cut out of it.

From AiT/PlanetLar:

I don’t think of PlanetLar as a superhero publisher, but when I look at the list of trades I’ve reviewed from the company this year, I start to wonder. It doesn’t take much of a stretch to classify almost half of these titles as superheroic. On the other hand, none of them are straight on superhero action/adventure. HENCH is told from the point of view of a villain’s henchman. PLANET OF THE CAPES is more allegory. CODEFLESH doesn’t really involve superpowers that I can remember, although it has many of the trappings of a superhero comic.

Mixed in with that, though, you have the fairy tale that is URSULA, the autobiographical toons of TRUE STORY, SWEAR TO GOD, the humor of 1000 STEPS, and the anthology of weirdness that is PROOF OF CONCEPT.

From NBM:

With the virtual death of Humanoids now as a viable large scale European comics translator, it falls to NBM to carry that mantle of large scale reproduction house for the art-driven high concept stories that so often come out of Spain, France, Belgium, and Italy. I didn’t review nearly enough of them in the past year. Oddly enough, only two of these books are Eurocomics, but I’ll be working on that in the coming year. I promise.

I also think I was far too kind to THE RISE OF THE GRAPHIC NOVEL. I must have had an off day when I read it, because my critical faculties didn’t tear it apart the way I should have. Thankfully, other reviewers took care of it for me.

The highlight of this section is MISTER O, a book which Darwyn Cooke pointed to at WizardWorld: Philadelphia as one of his favorites for the year. The book is brilliant. It’s the Wile E. Coyote-like adventures of a little guy trying to jump across a chasm. Mister O is drawn as a circle with legs and limited facial expression. Each gag is one page and 60 panels. While certain themes develop over the course of the book, they never repeat.

As mentioned last week, THE BOOK OF SCHUITEN gets my award for most beautiful book in my collection, let alone 2004.

And you can never go wrong with P. Craig Russell adapting anything, whether it be a Wagnerian Opera or a fairy tale of Oscar Wilde. Simply beautiful work.

From TwoMorrows:

TwoMorrows does a great job of producing books celebrating specific artists. While I’m not the target audience for magazine like ALTER EGO or books like THE LEGION OUTPOST, the career retrospective books like the MODERN MASTERS series are must read, illustrated with great cross-sections of given artist’s life works. The next book out in the series focuses on Kevin Nowlan, and will see print in early 2005.

From SAF:

SAF is the heir apparent to Humanoids and is a publisher I’m keeping a close eye on for 2005. Their publishing schedule so far has been a bit sporadic, but it’s getting better and better all the time. The recently completed BOY VAMPIRE series is a great example of the work they publish — thick chunks of Euro Comics at terribly good prices. And while the BOY VAMPIRE story may not be the greatest thing in modern comics, the four volumes are a master course in black and white artwork by Eduardo Risso. I’ll be reviewing that shortly in Pipeline.

For now, though, the only book I reviewed of theirs in 2004 was the wonderful CHOCOLATE AND FRENCH FRIES, a book about a group of children who wake up to find their parents have disappeared. Their all night search is filled with the kind of imagination and hope that only little children would be capable of. The art is full color and gorgeous. It’s hard to describe, but I suggest keeping an eye out for it in the stores. The volume is an oversized thin hardcover.

From iBooks:

Competing with SAF is iBooks. They’ve been around a bit longer and have a wider variety of books they publish. Unfortunately, this makes it all a little more hit and miss. But when they hit, it’s great stuff. Clearly, they’ve justified their existence as a publisher already with the two volumes of BLACKSAD, an anthropomorphic SIN CITY that needs to be seen to be believed. It’s unbelievably gorgeous.

THE QUEST FOR ABERZEN, sadly, is a nice looking book that didn’t add up to much for me.

From Marvel:

The Punisher hardcover, Volume 3 is already forgotten. That’s about all I need to say, isn’t it? ::sigh::

The Ultimate Spider-Man Scriptbook collects Brian Bendis’ one-off stories, including the great issue #13.

Uncanny X-Men: Holy War is when Chuck Austen’s run on the title started to fall apart. I didn’t have any problems with his previous couple of volumes, but once the Pope’s mind control storyline kicked in, woe be to the mutant universe.

Wizard Masterpiece Edition: Spider-Man is an interesting assortment of stories to be called “masterpieces,” but it does include Roger Stern’s classic “The Boy Who Collected Spider-Man.” (This is published by Wizard, but I’m classifying it as Marvel for the sake of simplicity.)

From Image:

Hawaiian Dick: Byrd of Paradise is a great example of why Image is around — to publish books like this that would be too easily lost anywhere else, if you could even find another publish to chance something like this. A period detective piece on Hawaii?

Kane: Greetings from New Eden is the first volume of Paul Grist’s excellent quirky cop drama.

Lex Taliones is now a forgotten little artistic gem. The story was too simple, perhaps, to be memorable, but it had a great look to it.

Some might consider including Savage Dragon #115 to be a cheat. It is, however, a 100 page volume. I’m giving it “Graphic Novel” status based on that, alone. Besides, any chance I have to mention my Tuckerization in a comic book is one I’ll gladly take. You’ll see me laugh, cry, and weep some more.

From everyone else:

Kyle Baker: Cartoonist, Volume 2 has more short funny works from one of today’s great cartoonists.

Tim Sale: Black and White is one of the great art books we were treated to this year, along with the others already mentioned.

American Flagg! Year One is a bit of a cheat. I didn’t review the collected edition since I don’t think it’s out yet. I reviewed the original issues, which I loved a bunch. I can’t wait to see what the Dynamic Forces editions look like. Come to think of it, that book is over a month late already, isn’t it? The Image curse strikes again.

Strangers in Paradise: Treasury Edition is a behind the scenes look at Terry Moore’s series thus far, published by one of those Real World Book Publishers.

Egg Story is a hilarious graphic novella from Slave Labor Graphics. Simple, punny, self-aware, and funny.

Owly, Volume 1 is the cute all-ages silent comic that has a second volume coming in early 2005. Check this one out now.

Ninety Candles is Neil Kleid’s improvisational comic.

The Fade Trade, Volume 1 collects the first six issues of a great independent series that seems to be flying under all radars right now. Of course, publishing a new issue every now and then might help that cause.

Dave Johnson Sketchbook might be a bit of a cheat on this list, but it’s far from the biggest. See SAVAGE DRAGON #115 above.

That’s close to 70 volumes reviewed, without counting the hundreds of regular 32 page comics reviewed over the course of the past year. One of these days, I’ll smarten up and start keeping a running tally of what I’ve reviewed. Until then, I hope some of these links might be of help to you. Maybe it’ll give you some ideas as you look at those gift certificates clueless “civilian” relatives gave you for Christmas this year.

LEFTOVER BITS AND PIECES

* Christmas brought a couple of comics-themed presents at Pipeline Central. The SPIDER-MAN 2 DVD was courtesy of my brilliant grandparents, who I’m sure were warned by my mother in advance that I didn’t buy the DVD for the express purpose of putting it on my Christmas list.

Amazon.com sent me a copy of WILL EISNER’S GRAPHIC STORYTELLING & VISUAL NARRATIVE from their returns center. It was on my wish list, and I can only guess they were giving stuff away to people who spent too much money through them this holiday season. If, on the other hand, someone reading this now is actually responsible for it and Amazon forgot to include the gift card, drop me a line; I owe you a thanks.

I think UPS and the mailman are very happy that the Christmas season is over. They have a lot less bulky packages to lug around. Now, it’s the recycling center in town’s problem to deal with all those smiling Amazon corrugated cardboard boxes.

* Speaking of Eisner, I want to add my voice to those wishing him well in his convalescence. Open heart surgery is never fun, but I bet we get a great graphic novel out of it from him in a year or two. . . The man doesn’t know how to stop.

* Reviewed here last week, HERO SQUARED has a confirmed street date of January 5th. That’s a pleasant way to start the new year, I think.

Coming up on Friday: Pipeline Previews returns for a look at what’s coming your way in March 2005. Most people take this week off. Not me. I’m a masochist.

Next week: 2005 begins. After this column, you’d think I’d want to review a trade paperback or two, don’t you? In all honesty, I have no idea what’ll come next week.

Over at Various and Sundry this week: The Five Fraggles of Christmas lasted seven days. There’s a great tweak to speed up Firefox. An audio Merry Christmas in advance of a possible podcast. Is the Peanuts Christmas special really flawed? I have pictures to prove it. THE COMPLETE CALVIN AND HOBBES is announced. Festivus is a cult hit. Squirrels go nuts. A guide to film aspect ratios, and Ken Jennings’ guide to movie. Plus, a whole lot more. It was one of the busiest weeks in VandS history.

All political discussions have been pushed off to one neat side at VandS Politics.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are also still available at the Original Pipeline page. I haven’t had that account in years, but they’ve yet to delete the page space. Bizarre.

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