We have a very special edition of What Are You Reading this week, as our guests are none other than the legendary Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly. Spiegelman, you know, no doubt, as the author of such acclaimed books as Maus, Breakdowns and In the Shadow of No Towers, while his wife Mouly was co-creator and editor of Raw Magazine, art editor at the New Yorker and is spearheading the new Toon Books line of children’s comics.
To see what’s currently in their reading stack, just click on the link below …
Matthew Maxwell: THE RACK: YEAR ONE (MOSTLY)
Kevin Church and Benjamin Birdie
I follow THE RACK on a semi-daily basis, mostly when my will is weak at those moments that Church and Birdie spam on their Twitter streams. I used to just read it for the occasional funny; the strip cut out of the paper and put on the fridge at the office, where you nod sagely and understand the person who was actually motivated to put it there a little better because of it. But there’s more than just the funny in THE RACK. Partly because it’s about stuff that I’m immersed in on a daily basis (though I only get into actual comic stores once a month or so), but my experience in stores combined with the storytelling in the strip complement each other, giving the characters life beyond the pages. That’s a fairly rare thing in comics, at least the daily comic strip. These characters actually read like they have internal lives and aren’t just doing things for the funny (‘cept maybe Aaron, stupid like a fox on a good day). Having all the strips together in one volume makes for a pretty satisfying read, maybe even surprisingly so. Makes me want a second collection, it does.
MACHINE MAN (1984)
Tom De Falco, Herb Trimpe and Barry Windsor-Smith
I won’t lie. I got this for the art. I paid all of three dollars for it at a booth at SDCC this year, and it took me a good two hours to read. Not because the story was enthralling and deep and full of surprises. It wasn’t. The story itself was pretty straightforward, not particularly inspired and unintentionally funny (the view of 2020 from 1984 is pretty sedate, specially when you consider that something as mind-warping as NEUROMANCER had come out a year or so before). But the artwork, good god, man. The artwork is nothing short of stunning, and lifts this otherwise bland Marvel mini-series into the realm of must-have. The (now) vintage advertising made for an interesting side-dish. Well worth comparing ad buys from 80s comics to those we have today, and not just for camp humor value, but for seeing the change in demographics and audience expectation. But really, just look at the artwork. Smith’s fine linework sings out for attention and earns every second of it.
Tom Bondurant: I read the Kree-Skrull War paperback, and it seemed to me to be a crossover which didn’t actually cross over into any other titles. Much of it apparently picks up from the recently-cancelled Captain Marvel title, with Mar-Vell, Rick Jones, and even a pre-Ms. Marvel Carol Danvers playing significant roles. Both the Kree and the Skrulls first appeared in Fantastic Four, so it helped further that I had read the Lee/Kirby FF not too long ago. Avengers writer Roy Thomas also mentioned a connection between the Kree and the Inhumans (again, more FF alumnae), which not only lets him incorporate the latter, but also check up on a little boy Black Bolt has befriended.
All of this tends to delay the Avengers actually getting into space to fight the Skrulls. Indeed, it tends to obscure the storyline’s central conceit, namely that the Earth is situated strategically (and, but for the Avengers, helplessly) between intergalactic powers. Revealing that the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence was behind much of it (and endowed Rick Jones with the wish-fulfilling ability to stop it) doesn’t help either.
To be sure, it’s never dull, especially under the guiding pencils of the Buscema brothers and Neal Adams and Tom Palmer’s always-reliable inks. At nine issues (one double-sized), the Kree-Skrull War probably
enchanted its original readers as the months went by and the stakes increased. Heck, it encouraged me to pick up the next Essential Avengers volume.
Tim O’Shea: First, another son cameo. He is reading the latest Marvel Adventures Team-Up (Hulk and Tigra) and is impressed with the classic ads they are running to celebrate 70 years. Upon seeing the ad where one could buy a Darling Pet Monkey for $18.95, prompting him to say: “That’s a pretty cheap monkey!”
It seems that the jury is still out on if Wednesday Comics is regarded to be a success or not. For me, it is a success. I enjoy the small moments of these tales. For instance, the lines of dialogue (mostly ignored asides) that Gaiman gives Java are hilarious. But for this issue my favorite small moment is Kyle Baker’s Hawkman distracting a T-Rex (who admittedly does not understand a word he’s saying) by taunting him with the boast of “Bet you wish you could touch your nose.” and then proceeding to touch his nose. Some people might find that lame, but the sight of Hawkman touching his nose (right before getting whammed with the T-Rex’s tail) just cracks me up. I’m easy like that.
In issue 2 of Giffen’s Doom Patrol, I’m quickly realizing that Giffen may be attempting to tap into Grant Morrison’s style of absurdist Doom Patrol tales (as opposed to Arnold Drake’s equally, yet different definitive approach). As much as I’m entertained by the lead story, I’m enjoying the Metal Men tale immensely more-mostly because of the new more piss-and-vinegar upgrade that has occurred to Tina in the current incarnation. I’m fearful that I will quickly tire of the bickering aspect of the Metal Men stories (the frequent backbone of the J.M. Matteis incarnantion of the Justice League), but maybe I should stop predicting negatives when they’re not even there.
Another effective small moment occurred in Ed Brubaker’s The Marvels Project (set in 1939), where Dr. Thomas (The Angel) Halloway observes (unseen) the police at the murder scene of the costumed adventurer, The Phantom Bullet. Halloway overhears one cop, looking at the dead hero, say: “Almost feel sorry for him runnin’ around in that outfit was bad enough..but dyin’ in it? That’s just plain embarrassin’…” With that, Halloway’s narration/internal monologue/whatever observes: “The police didn’t appreciate us. Any of us. At best we were an insult to them…At worst, we were like The Torch…A hazard.” It’s interesting to see Brubaker inject a modicum of realism (the cops’ attitude/reaction) in this Golden Age tale. Admittedly in a tale of superheroes, realism is not a common feature, but it is feasible. And I appreciate Brubaker’s nuanced approach in this story.
Chris Mautner: This week I started reading Prison Pit Vol. 1 and … I … it … um … the thing is … it’s …. wow.
Brigid Alverson: I have been reading Kitty Hawk off and on since it started, but lately I drifted off into other things. I picked it up again this week and read through from the beginning. The premise of the strip is what got me interested—it’s about a female aviator in the 1930s who is at home with a socket wrench and capable of taking out the bad guys in a second, but also has family issues and a sort-of boyfriend. Each chapter is a story in itself but is also building toward a larger story, and lately, as the ensemble goes hunting for some mysterious buried artifact, it’s taking a turn toward Indiana Jones territory. The art is pleasant but not slick; Kitty’s head sometimes seems too large for her body, but the figures are generally well drawn, as are the airplanes, and I like the single-color palette. The archives are still fairly short, so this is a good time to start reading—you can be up to speed in half an hour.
Sarah Ellerton’s Phoenix Requiem is just the opposite of Kitty Hawk — it’s slow-moving but beautifully drawn. It’s set in Victorian times in some fictional but vaguely European land. The story revolves around
Anya, an independent young woman who is assitant to the local doctor, and Jonas, the mysterious young man who is found lying in the snow near her village. With the doctor away, Anya treats Jonas and of course gets drawn into the mystery. There are supernatural overtones and some sort of horrid disease — I haven’t gotten far enough into it yet for any big reveals. The comic is rated PG-13 for horror elements, but so far it seems like a kids’ comic, partly because the characters all look young. Ellerton’s art is full-color and very slick, almost like animation art, and one of the things I like about this comic is that it is very atmospheric—I really get drawn in to her created world — so it’s good, not very demanding, escapist reading.
Art Spiegelman: When I was at the Strand last night I picked up a book that had come highly recommended by Charles Burns called The Photographer. It’s here, my jury is out yet. I’m not recommending it yet, but it’s definitely what I’m reading.
I also got and can’t wait to dive into Pete Maresca’s Gustave Verbeek book, it’s so beautiful and wonderful. It’s the Upside Down World of Gustave Verbeek published by Sunday Press. I just got it in the mail yesterday. It’s beautiful. It has information about somebody I’ve never been able to find much out about. He’s a mysteriously obscure artist.
I’m still working my way happily through the Little Orphan Annie volumes. I think they’re amazing. There’s relatively little from the younger end of the spectrum. Francoise put a book called Aya under my pile because she liked it. I’m looking forward to reading the Blechman book that just came out, Talking Lines. I have that on the pile here but I haven’t opened it yet.
Prose at the top of my stack: David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster.
Francoise Mouly: I’m actually re-reading Chris Ware. Specifically the latest three or four volumes of Acme Novelty Library, just because I’m going to work with him. We’re working on something he’s going to be doing for the New Yorker. It’s a treat to be able to go back in that world.