THE FALL-INTO-WINTER MUST-READ LIST: A TOP 5 EMERGES
I was thinking back to some of the columns I have written in the past, and even my original conversations with CBR top-boss-man Jonah Weiland about the kinds of things I’d like to be able to address in “When Words Collide.” What obviously ended up happening was that the column became “whatever I felt like writing about that somehow related to comics,” but even in my earliest thoughts about the column, I liked the idea of being flexible and reacting to different needs and interests at different times of the year.
I recall specifically mentioning that though I didn’t go seeking them out, necessarily, I always liked “shopping guide” or “upcoming releases” kinds of things, basically like what Joe does over at The Comics Journal on a weekly basis nowadays, but when I was thinking about it, I was thinking in terms of a seasonal look at upcoming comics and what’s worth paying checking out. I suppose I have done a few of those columns over the past five-plus years, but I haven’t done one in a long time. Years, maybe. I guess that’s because I have so many books and comics stacked up around my house that I still haven’t gotten a chance to read, that the thought of looking at all the other stuff coming out soon fills me with a kind of weird dread. I might be afraid to look at all the things I know I will inevitably buy, or something. It’s like seeing the avalanche creeping toward you and not only being unable to move, but reluctantly compelled to embrace it. As it crushes your bones to powder.
That’s probably not a healthy attitude, is it?
Realizing that, I braced myself and explored the various lists of upcoming collected edition and graphic novel releases. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that the best way to overcome an irrational fear of avalanches it’s to read about upcoming avalanches. Or whatever that old saying would be. If there is one. About avalanches. Or comic books.
What I found was this: I’m interested in very few comics coming out between now and the end of the year. I’m sure there’s other stuff coming out I don’t know about. Some surprises along the way. But if I look at the information available, and see what’s coming from DC and Marvel and Boom and Dark Horse and Image and Fantagraphics and IDW and everyone else in between — and that’s what I did — I end up with a list of exactly five books I will be most likely to buy between now and New Year’s Eve. Just five to add to the body-and-soul-crushing stacks. I might even be able to read all five.
There is not only light at the end of this avalanche — as the other old saying goes — but it’s not even an avalanche. It’s a peppering. Like getting a few rocks thrown your way. Beautiful little rocks that will look nice on your mantle. These metaphors are becoming increasingly pointless, I realize.
So here’s the real deal. I liked the look of five comics I saw on the horizon-of-upcoming-books, and therefore what we end up with is an unexpected Top 5 List. Because I know you like Top 5 Lists! And so do I! Sure, you mostly like them because then you can yell at me about what I got wrong, but that’s okay. I won’t be able to hear you from behind my fortress of unread comics anyway.
THE TOP 5 UPCOMING COLLECTED EDITIONS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS!
Counting down toward number one (and, for the record, “Powr Mastrs” #4 and the newest volume of “Love and Rockets: New Stories” would be tied with the fifth-place entry on this list, if I were cheating and allowing more than five, but I am arbitrarily not allowing that nonsense all of a sudden)…
#5 “Grendel Omnibus Volume 4: Prime,” by Matt Wagner, Patrick McEown, and friends
Why am I looking forward to this? I gave up on Grendel around the time of “War Child,” the Pat McEown-drawn epic of laser-swords and post-apocalyptic landscapes. If that sounds silly to you, then you probably know why I’m looking forward to this volume, because it features, from what I gather, the entire “War Child” maxi-series and even more stuff beyond that. Pat McEown has gone on to write and draw well-regarded fancy French comic books that have been recently published in English, but back in the days of “War Child,” he was doing his visual riff on Matt Wagner’s universe. I’m mostly looking forward to it because I haven’t read any of it in 20 years, and I haven’t read all of it ever. And I’m a sucker for Grendel comics. As is right and just.
#4 “Prison Pit Book 5,” by Johnny Ryan
Who will I not be giving this to for Christmas? Have you read the first four volumes of “Prison Pit”? I’m not giving it to anyone as a gift. I’m keeping it for myself! Also, I don’t want people to cry and/or punch me after receiving it. Because those are the only two appropriate reactions after reading about Cannibal Redacted-face and his further adventures in time and space and violence and horror and crudity. Sometimes I think the “Prison Pit” comics are a satire of the fight-comic genre and the never-ending conflicts that power those narratives and other times I think Johnny Ryan is just having fun drawing comics. But mostly I think these are just better than the other comics that involve people hurting other people. And there are a lot of comics about people hurting other people. But barely any are as good as what Johnny Ryan can do when he isn’t held back by standards of decency. And the standards of decency are about a zillion miles in the rearview mirror of any volume of “Prison Pit.”
#3 “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ultimate Collection Volume 5,” by Peter Laird, Kevin Eastman, Jim Lawson, and friends
Why is this on the list and what kind of nostalgia are you going to bore us with this time? Trick question! It’s on the list because it’s the Ninja Turtles, but not because I have any nostalgia for this comic but because I found out how much I really like these early Ninja Turtles comics only within the past year. I didn’t grow up on this stuff. Not really. I had some of the First Comics reprints — I suppose those were the first collected editions of the Eastman and Laird comics — and, of course, I had the Palladium role-playing game, but I was never actually interested in the comics in any meaningful way. But after reading a bunch of early issues this year, and seeing how much the rough and raw Eastman and Laird issues have in common with the DIY genre comics of the Brooklyn Comics Festivals and MoCCAs and SPXes of today, I finally got it. Or, if that’s not exactly it, I was able to enjoy them on a more primal level, of seeing two guys play around with comics and use elements of various genres — and wear their influences on their inky sleeves — and, yeah, the early Ninja Turtles comics are incredibly fun to read. I know this Ultimate Collection Volume 5 is the last of the Eastman and Laird run, and those guys don’t even really draw the comics in this volume — or not many of them, anyway — but I’m still looking forward to it. IDW has done a nice job recontextualizing these comics for a new audience. And that includes me.
#2 “Celebrated Summer,” by Charles Forsman
Wait, how much do you know about this? I don’t know much at all, actually. I could ask Charles about it, but the only thing worse than hearing someone describe their own story is being the guy who asks someone to describe their own story. I’ll just read the comic when it comes out and experience the story that way I’m supposed to experience it. I don’t really care what it’s about. I’m in.
Why are you in? Two questions? Fine. I’m in because it’s Charles Forsman, and what I do know is that (a) this is a revised-and-or-expanded-in-radical-ways version of “Snake Oil” #5 aka “Wolf” and that comic is that showed Forsman leveling-up to near-almost-indie-sort-of-superstar-status, and (b) it’s Charles Forsman. He’s really good at the…I don’t even want to call it “teen angst” because that seems so trite. He’s good at depicting youth in crisis, which is pretty much the same as just regular youth, but he does it with a simple brutal poetry of line and elegantly vicious sense of narrative.
#1 “Red Sonja Art Edition,” by Frank Thorne
Is this the greatest book of the fall and winter months or the greatest book of all time? Probably the former, but I’ll reserve my final judgment until I see it. Listen, Wally Wood has an Artist Edition from IDW and it’s amazing. And we’ll never see a serious Jack Kirby Artist Edition (probably) because most of his original art is long gone. But Dynamite is jumping into the expensive-massively-sized artist edition game with this Frank Thorne chainmail-bikini comic and I am not going to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s Frank Thorne, just as he draw it, in beautiful black-and-white. I mean, if you’ve seen the “Red Sonja” reprints, you’ve seen some pretty hideously garish colors, and if you’ve seen the original comics you’ve seen muddy colors, but this strips all that ugliness away and gets to the Frank Thorne beneath. Frank Thorne is an astonishingly good artist. If not in the same league as Wally Wood and Jack Kirby he’s at least in the same conversation. Enjoy him. This is the way to do it. Oversized, original-art style. Black-and-white. The best of what’s coming soon.
In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of “Grant Morrison: The Early Years” and editor of “Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes” anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen regularly at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.