You don't read these comics. If you did, they'd be selling lots and lots of copies and be on charts everywhere and we'd know, wouldn't we? But you don't. Because they're not. And these are current comics I'm talking about here, that your local comics retailer can order for you. If they won't, then go to another comics retailer. If you don't know if you have a specialist comics retailer near you, click over to http://www.the-master-list.com and have a look. If that doesn't work, and you're in the USA, then dial 1-888-266-4226 as a second resort.
Alejandro Jodorowsky and Juan Giminez
THE METABARONS very nearly defies description. It's a piece of European space-opera science fiction in comics form. Accent on the opera in that last sentence. In its vast sets, broad gestures and hysterical pitch, in its sheer bloody volume, it is nothing less than operatic. Attempting to describe its berserk contents will diminish it terribly. The prologue piece in the inside front cover begins; "Castrated and suffering from having accidentally killed his own son, Othon Von Salza turns his back on pure martial arts…" Von Zalza is the first of the Metabarons, an aristocratic line of what you might call superhightech and extremely rich murdering fuckheads obsessed in particular with military prosthetics. What keeps me going back to THE METABARONS is the immense volume and speed of its innovation. There is literally a new and mad idea on every page. And the characters and interactions are just deranged. Here; see Othon literally mashing his own child's feet off in a torture machine. See his pulped, squirting stumps. See his horrible replacement steel feet. See the child smile. See Othon smile - because now the child can walk on the ground, where previously he could only float, due to the fact that an antigravity dart pierced his embryonic sac while in the womb and its operating material installed itself in his cell structure…
The writer, Jodorowsky, is perhaps best known in the Anglophone world for his deeply strange and visionary films, such as SANTA SANGRE. He's also infamous for the films he didn't quite manage to get off the ground, like a version of DUNE visually designed by Moebius and HR Giger. Juan Giminez is an immensely gifted veteran painter of comics, here given his first extending showing in the American direct market. This is what so many American sf and fantasy comics aspire to look like and never get near.
THE METABARONS is presented in the English language as a serial in sixteen parts. It is astonishingly beautiful and completely mad.
Humanoids Publishing is engaged in an ambitious program of putting excellent European graphic novels into print in English. They have my immense gratitude for putting Enki Bilal back into print in English, and for bringing such superb comics to light again. They have my complete support and my best wishes. Their website is at http://www.humanoids-publishing.com. Go and look.
Carla Speed McNeil
Another piece of science fiction for your perusal, this time from the American New Wave tradition of the Sixties and Seventies. This is sf that is more about character, social interaction and the soft sciences. And shagging. There, that got your attention, didn't it?
Scott McCloud says "It's the best comic you haven't read." He's not entirely stupid, that man. He should be a writer or something.
FINDER is a densely imagined walk in the clouds, a piece where the destination isn't always as important as the journey. It's very, very easy to leave the track of the main plotline and get lost in the details and sights and sounds of a gently mental future culture.
A Finder is a member of a secret society of superbly skilled elite trackers and hunters. Jaeger is a Finder. He's also a Sin-Eater; a scapegoat who purifies the dying by taking on their sins and being punished for them. The first fourteen issues form one large novel (that will, I suspect be collected in two parts, since FINDER: SIN-EATER, a tpb collection of 1-7, is already available from all reputable dealers); a tangled story of family, madness, secrets and visions that can go within pages from the hallucinatory to the kitchen sink and remain utterly lucid. And completely fascinating. It does that trick that all good sf novels do - it draws you into its world deeply enough for you to live within it.
There's an excellent introduction to FINDER at the http://www.lightspeedpress.com website; a short online comic that sets up the whole series for you. McNeil is currently prevented from listing her website's URL in PREVIEWS - Diamond forbids website addresses in solicitation text, reasoning that if you buy PREVIEWS and see it there, you may try to buy directly from her instead of Diamond. So do me a favour. Go directly to the FINDER intro piece at http://www.lightspeedpress.com/legends.html. And if you like it - pass the URL around. Grassroots activism works. If you like FINDER and you like this little piece, pass the URL around, let people know. Join my activist army, and do Good Works.
ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY
ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY is another of those books that's very difficult to capture in words. And that's a good thing.
Years ago, the writer/artist Phil Elliott said of his own work: "I just want to do comics that strum at the heart-strings." If you can get past the clumsy Eighties weediness of the remark, there's something important in there. Phil did pieces that less told a story than evoked a feeling and triggered an emotion. He was trying to get a real experience out of the reading of his comics. And that's what Chris Ware does.
These gorgeously designed, intricate books are machines for sparking emotion. Emotion at the miserable end of the register, chiefly. Ware isn't averse to a perverse joke, but mostly he seeks to explore and conjure an essential… sadness. Poignancy isn't quite the right word, at least for me, because it suggests an uncommitted pressing of the tear-jerk button. It's a painful sadness. A loss sadness. A lonely sadness.
Not selling this, am I?
Try this: I think ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY may turn out to be the most important work of the last five years.
There's a damn good reason why Ware's work is being collected into a hardback designed specifically for sale in bookstores. And it's this: that ACME is, in fact, one of the major works of mainstream, serious literary fiction that we've all talked about wanting and needing. It's on a par with MAUS and the few other volumes that can stand up to being read and studied by someone who didn't first grow up with The Amazing Pants Man. This is someone writing with actual intent about the forms of sadness. This is someone who knows how to use sarcasm and irony and knows where to best apply a nasty sense of humour for exquisite effect. This is someone who draws their characters as finely as a gifted novelist, using careful line as well as sharp words. This is someone who is at the top of the medium as a writer, artist and innovator - and barely any of you know about him.
And this is as close to the ground floor of a major work as you're going to get on. ANL has 14 issues out, most of not all of which you can obtain on back-order from a decent comics store. I did.
ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY appears in various formats at various prices, and is published by Fantagraphics Books, whose website is at http://www.fantagraphics.com.
I'm out of time and space, so I can't tell you about RUMBLE GIRLS (again), Paul Grist's KANE, anything by Kieron Dwyer ( and I advise you to go here -- http://members.tripod.com/~LowestComicD/ -- at your earliest convenience), or any of the other books I had listed. Another time.
I can be contacted by email about this column at firstname.lastname@example.org. My voluptuous website, recently updated with a new front-page essay and now containing an online store (carrying most things listed in INSTRUCTIONS) and a 24-hour rolling news service, is http://www.warrenellis.com/.
INSTRUCTIONS: Read WHICH LIE DID I TELL? by William Goldman (2000), listen to THE PINK OPAQUE by the Cocteau Twins (4AD, 1985), and hit the website of gifted writer and remix fiend Sean McKeever at http://www.seanmckeever.com/.
Today's recommended graphic novel is ETHEL AND ERNIE: A True Story by Raymond Briggs (winner of The British Book Awards' Illustrated Book Of The Year gong, sold in bookstores all over Britain just as if it were an ordinary - actually, an extraordinary -- novel, beloved by the British major newspapers' book review columns - heard of it?) (Johnathan Cape, 1998).