Hark! A Vagrant

by Kate Beaton

Drawn and Quarterly, 168 pages, $19.95.

The thing that amazes/impresses me the most about Kate Beaton' comics is how much everyone loves them. OK, not everyone -- I do know one or two stragglers that refuse to find anything amusing in her sly little comics -- but a lot of people from disparate fan bases really like her stuff. Indie readers like Kate Beaton, Superhero fans like Kate Beaton,, and (perhaps most notably) people who hardly ever (if at all) read comics like Kate Beaton (like my wife). She crosses boundaries in a way I don't think I've seen any modern cartoonist do, let alone a webcartoonist. I think that's even more impressive when you consider how often she relies upon (relatively) obscure historical figures and literature as the basis for her strips.

Other than that I really don't have much to say, except that those who own her first book, Never Learn Anything From History, and haven't bought this one yet because they're worried it reprints the same material can relax; it doesn't. Basically if you appreciate intelligence, wit (or smartassery) and the chance to learn something on the side, then this is the book for you.

More reviews after the jump ...

Pope Hats #2

by Ethan Rilly

AdHouse, 40 pages, $6.95.

Man did I love the hell out of this comic. Just about every aspect of it appealed to me -- the pacing, the dialogue, the plot, but especially Rilly's assured, graceful line which manages to combine cartoonishness with a eye for realism that gives off a strong ligne claire feel but not feel like a slavish, Americanized version. It's its own thing, if that makes any sense.

The bulk of the comic follows the adventures of a harried legal clerk as she moves up the corporate ladder, questions her general direction in life and eyes her much more free-spirited roommate with a good deal of envy. It's one of those sharp character portraits that makes you long for a sequel -- you want to see where this person ends up in six months or two years down the road. Plus, the inclusion of a few back-up strips When people talk about how they miss the days of alt-comic pamphlets and the rewards, they're talking about comics like this one.

Mickey Mouse Vol. 2

by Floyd Gottfredson

Fantagraphics Books, $29.99

Gottfredson is in much stronger form here than in the first volume, drawing upon the early Mickey cartoons for ideas -- mad scientists, treasure hunts, mail pilots -- but then expanding and developing them in a way those early Disney shorts were incapable of doing. Over time, Mickey's personality becomes more refined as well; scrappier, tougher and more determined to seek justice (or an adventure) regardless of the odds.

Again, part of the enjoyment for me with this series is the rich amount of historical material editors Gary Groth and David Gerstein are able to provide. From foreign material to biographies of various ancillary contributors, supplemental art, character histories and more, this series is rich with detail, both in the strip itself and in the editorial handling of the material, that puts other reprint projects to shame.

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