Like the subject line suggests, my review pile has become alarmingly tall and precarious over the past few weeks, so I'm going to try a few lightning-round reviews of books that were at the bottom so the whole thing doesn't come crashing down on me over the weekend. I'll probably end up doing another of these next week. Anyway:
A Mess of Everythingby Miss Lasko-GrossFantagraphics Books, $19.99.
A Mess of Everything, the second in Lasko-Gross' planned autobio trilogy, is a much better and more confident book than her first entry, Escape from 'Special'. Part of that is because she displays a bit more subtlety and balance in her portrayal of her teen-age years than she did in showcasing her insecure childhood. In particular, she shows how her alienation and hormonal angst blinded her to other people's pain or sincere attempts at sympathy or help. A sequence involving a concerned teacher, for example, is spot on in showing how her self-pity keeps her from seeing how genuine the teacher's concern is.
The book also works because halfway through it narrows its focus on the author's relationship with her best friend, if anything a more troubled girl who is very likely suffering from an eating disorder. Everything suffers at times from a "me, me, me, me" perspective that can occasionally prove claustrophobic, but in its portrayal of the importance and tenuous nature of teenage friendships, it glows with sharp recognition.
Berlin Book Two: City of SmokeBy Jason LutesDrawn and Quarterly, $19.95.
If any work is better served in collected format rather than parceled out in pamphlets it's this one. Now that I don't have to constantly remind myself who all the myriad characters are and what exactly happened in the last issue, I'm able to see the interconnected layers, both thematic and narrative, that run throughout Lutes' story of pre-Nazi Germany. I'm able to better appreciate his skill at delineating characters' emotions and frustration. I have a greater understanding of what he's striving for. And I'm able to marvel at how far he's progressed both as an artist and as a storyteller.
The Soddyssey and other Tales of Supernatural Lawby Batton LashExhibit A Press, $17.95
This is a perfectly amiable and entertaining collection of amusing horror parodies that, if it never reaches the realms of the inspired, neither does it drag down into boredom or triteness.
A good deal of the problem lies in the fact that many of the jokes have long since moved past their sell-by date. Zingers about "The X-Files" were getting tired when these comics first came out in the mid-90s, and they're even less funny now, particularly since they don't say much more than "Hey, you watched this show, right?"
On the other hand, the Anne Rice parody has its moments, and Lash manages to get some clever mileage out of the old "I'm carrying Satan's baby" bit by suggesting that pro-lifers would rather see the birth of the anti-christ than another abortion. What really sells the book though, are the main characters, lawyers Wolff & Byrd (and their secretary Mavis), who prove to be a likable, engaging pair. Those last two adjectives would serve well for a description of this book as well.
Waltz with Bashirby Ari Folman and David PolonskyMetropolitan Books, $18.
I haven't seen the (Academy-Award nominated) movie that this book is based on yet, but I have a nagging feeling that it's a lot better than this rather leaden, literal adaptation. Call it a hunch.
The Raven and Other Poemsby Edgar Allen Poe; Illustrated by Gahan WilsonNBM, $9.95.
If you're looking for an introduction to Wilson's oeuvre in anticipation of that ginormous collection that Fantagraphics will be releasing later this year, you could do worse than this short collection of Poe poems, illustrated by the famed gag cartoonist with great relish. His raven manages to look both terrifying and comical at the same time, and that's no mean feat, let me tell you.
The Airy Tales by Olga VolozovaSparkplug Books, $15
It's rare that I don't finish a book or comic, no matter how bad, but The Airy Tales is filled with such twee sentimentalism and insipid moralizing that I found myself completely unable to get through it. It doesn't help that I found the art to be unbearably crude, in a manner that made if frequently difficult to tell what exactly was being illustrated and how it tied into the text. I've got nothing against cute allegories per se, but when they're presented in such an insufferable manner it makes it nigh impossible for me to interact with or draw any sort of pleasure out of them. If you can get through this book, you're a better (or at least more tolerant) person than me.