Welcome to What Are You Reading, where we don’t let a little thing like national holidays and fireworks prevent us from talking about our current reading exploits. Our guest this week is cartoonist (you can see his work in the new anthology Syncopated) and editor Paul Karasik, whose latest book is the highly accclaimed You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation! the second collection of comics by the late Golden Age artist Fletcher Hanks.
To discover what Paul and the rest of us are reading, simply click on the link below …
Matthew Maxwell: SKREEMER – Peter Milligan and Steve Dillon
Long before PREACHER would make him a sorta household name, Steve Dillon lent his pen to SKREEMER, a story about memory and recollection and fate, set in a post-crash America where the President is just the biggest gangster. You read something like this and wonder how it was even published. Invoking Joyce as easily as it invokes tommy-gun pulp and cyberpunk, SKREEMER is a remarkable work that rewards secondary readings (and entertains right there out on the face of it.)
FORT: PROPHET OF THE UNEXPLAINED – Peter Venkov and Frazer Irving
I got this mostly for the lovely black and white art by Frazer Irving, who’s one of my favorite contemporary artists (KLARION was a real high point of SEVEN SOLDIERS for me, and please for the love of all that is good and pure in the world, get GUTSVILLE back on track). The story is only so-so, probably because of my own pet peeves being invoked more than any real lack of quality. Turning noted scientific provocateur Charles Fort into a two-fisted gentleman of adventure (along with ‘lil HP Lovecraft as the imaginative newsboy) is not the way to my heart. And there’s been a whole spate of these books that take historical figures and turn them into comic characters, which I really don’t have a lot of patience for. The art, however, makes up for it, giving Irving many chances to draw cosmic creepies and alien vistas all set in 19th-century New York.
I haven’t been to a comic store in weeks, so still no SEAGUY #3, BATMAN AND ROBIN #2 or AGENTS OF ATLAS for me. Maybe I oughta open up that DCBS box…
Other reading: a couple of shared-world novels for research on a potential upcoming gig that I can’t talk about, which has truthfully taken up a lot more time than it should have.
DESERT CANTOS – Richard Misrach
Misrach photographs the American Southwest and the intersection between man and nature, often in a provocative and disturbing fashion, though not as much in this volume.
DEAD CITIES – Mike Davis
Cultural critic and thinker Mike Davis takes on the firebombing of Dresden, the crumbling ecology of the Great Basin and how cities die in this collection of essays that I often violently disagree with, but always find worth the reading (or re-reading in this case.)
And a lot of time on Google. Makes research easier, but also makes it never-ending at times.
Tom Bondurant: My biggest problem with Justice League: Cry For Justice #1 was the art of Mauro Cascioli. I think it tries too hard. Cascioli isn’t a bad artist, but his style pushes the issue’s “Very Serious” quotient into dangerous territory. I mean, look at the first couple of pages, with Hal Jordan’s perfectly-muscled frame saying it can’t take how Superman’s impossibly-broad chest is deluding itself. Even such a time-honored convention of superhero comics should be dialed back a bit when all it does is distract from the important goings-on in the dialogue.
What’s more, in that scene Cascioli tends to move around his background characters without regard to where they were earlier in the story. Consider: on page 2, when we first see Superman, he’s standing in front of the Flash, presumably facing Hal. However, a few seconds later on page 3, Supergirl’s now standing next to Flash. That’s fine — but then on the next page, when Hal’s presumably turned around to face Wonder Woman across the table, Flash has moved across the room to stand near her. Yeah, he’s the Flash, and he can do that — but why would he? Where does Supergirl go between page 5 (when we next see Superman, standing alone) and page 6 (when she’s back behind him, and so is Flash)? And look at page 7 — in panel 3, Superman’s standing behind Vixen and in front of Hawkgirl, Zatanna, and Plastic Man; but in panel 5, he’s pictured with Supergirl, Red Tornado, and Flash behind him once again. (Never mind that Reddy is apparently in front of Supes in panel 4.) Oh, and Batwoman shows up for the first time in panel 4, I suppose to justify her presence on the cover. (Maybe she’d been at the concession stand for the first six pages?) I don’t think anything pulls me out of a story quite like faulty choreography, and that first sequence really soured me on the rest of the issue.
And as for the rest of the issue … well, I have to think that Hal’s desire to be proactive, together with Ray Palmer’s newfound willingness to torture, are temporary phases which this miniseries will show them overcoming. It was nice to see Mikaal Tomas/Starman again, but it took me a little bit to figure out what happened to Congo Bill. I appreciated writer James Robinson’s use of third-person narration, even if it got awkward in the Congorilla section. I also didn’t mind his Green Lantern/Green Arrow dialogue too much. In short, I didn’t hate it, but I sure didn’t love it either.
I did, however, love Batman and Robin #2 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely). Just as Dick Grayson is still fairly new to the role of Batman, so I thought Morrison might have to find his way a bit with Dick. However, the notion that Dick-the-performer should think of “Batman” as just another role (and its corollary that Alfred-the-ex-actor should be the one to tell him so) is just letter-perfect. Quietly draws a great Dick-as-Batman, too — all squinty-eyed in public, but lanky and floppy-haired in the Bat-Bunker. Damian’s defiance echoes Jim Starlin’s headstrong Jason Todd, but B&R #2 doesn’t hit the reader over the head with the similarity. Dick’s lament (“who will save him if we don’t?”) only alludes to Jason’s fate obliquely. Of course, Quitely’s “embedded” sound effects continue to be extremely fun.
Finally, having finished the first 104 issues of Fantastic Four (i.e., the Lee/Kirby run, plus the two John Romita issues which wrapped up Kirby’s last arc), I have moved on to the 2001 tribute jam-session miniseries which men dare call Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Comic Magazine! I read the first four issues last night and was pretty entertained, although the creative teams are a bit uneven. In particular, Keith Giffen and Al Gordon really shine on the Dr. Doom segments, but Chuck Dixon’s scripting in issue #2 was oddly flat, like he was ashamed to emulate Stan’s use of exclamation points. Also, the miniseries is set during Crystal’s stint as the “fifth FFer,” which is good because I liked her on the team, and never really understood her hooking up with Quicksilver. (Of course, much later Steve Englehart brought her in as something of a homewrecker….)
Brigid Alverson: Bourbon Island 1730, by Appollo and Lewis Trondheim, just seems like perfect summer reading. The subject matter suits the season—pirates and rebel slaves battling on a tropical island—but beyond that it’s a book that demands to be read slowly. There are details to be savored and noted—the way a character clutches his hat, the fact that cattle are driven overboard to swim ashore but slaves are brought in a boat because they are more valuable. I’m of two minds about Trondheim’s art, which is all pen-and-ink, with no toning or color. Sometimes the images dissolve into a web of linework, with no distinctions between different areas, but some of his panels are breathtaking, especially when he is showing great swaths of landscape. The story took a while to get going but now I’m having trouble putting it down.
When I’m ready for a break, though, I have the first volume of The Lapis Lazuli Crown, a frothy shoujo manga about a girl who can’t quite control her magical powers. It’s cheerful and busy and silly, just the sort of thing I want to read when it’s too hot to think.
Webcomics-wise, I was chatting over the net with Gisele Lagace the other day and she pointed me to her new webcomic, Eerie Cuties, a comedy set in a school for vampires and other supernatural creatures. OK, it’s not the most original idea, but Gisele has a nice touch, and it’s a fun, light read.
Chris Mautner: I’m currently reading through the latest issue of The Comics Journal, number 298. I just finished the big interview with Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, which is nice, but I’m really looking forward to the interview with Thriller artist Trevor Von Eeden. Also, the Percy Crosby Skippy strips included in the gallery section are a wonder. If ever there was a strip that was due for a major re-evaluation, it’s this one.
Speaking of the Journal, I’m gearing up to do a few freelance reviews for the magazine, one of which concerns the two most recent Harvey Comics collections that Dark Horse is putting out — namely the Baby Huey and Little Audrey/Little Dot/Little Lotta books. My initial impression is these things seem to read a lot better in small chunks. Read together for a length of time and the repetitive formula becomes really glaring and a bit grating.
Prose wise I just started the coffee-table tome Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and Triumph of Movie Culture by Peter Kobel. It’s a very cursory look a the period, most stars, directors and films get a paragraph or two before moving on to the next item of choice, but it’s nonetheless an informative and engaging book, with lots of purty pictures to look at; great for those who don’t know very much about the silent era.
Paul Karasik: Books by my bed, July 1, 2009
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
I just finished reading this book by my erstwhile collaborator last night and need to read it through a few more times before offering up opinions. I will say, though, that this book will influence generations of cartoonists. The next step is here.
Pee Dog by Gary Panter
Recent PictureBox reprint of Panter tract from 1986 on green stock about two steps up from toilet paper, appropriately enough, given the level of scatological references within. O.K., so you could not afford Picture Box’s two-volume Panter omnibus (although I think that the price has dropped to the point where they are paying you to take ‘em away), this is a swell and affordable way to get your dose of one of my very favorite draftsman of all time. I have found that there are two Panter camps: either you think that spending $12 on this booklet would be better spent on just about anything else or you believe that there is no end to Panter’s skill and daring imagination. Oh yeah, the guy’s a riot, too.
Picture This by Molly Bang
I am in the middle of writing the first draft of “How To Read Nancy”, a book-length deconstruction of a single comic strip by the great Ernie Bushmiller. My collaborator on this project, Mark Newgarden, suggested that I read this brilliant thesis on design principles using cut paper as a way to explain how design decisions effect perception and emotion.
Syncopated edited by Brendan Burford
I have a story in this anthology about the psychologist, Erik Erikson, but I have been doling out the other non-fiction comics reportage tales over the past few weeks. There are some good pieces in here. Maybe my favorite is “How and Why to Bale Hay” by Nick Bertozzi.
Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin
I like to cook and I like to eat. And when I visit New York I try to stop by Shopsin’s General Store for a meal. If you do not know about Shopsin’s I recommend looking up Calvin Trillin’s essay from The New Yorker. Eggs are deceptively hard to really cook well … especially in a restaurant and Kenny Shopsin is a practical restaurateur who can cook the fuck out of an egg. This is a swell book of Kenny’s recipes along with a heavy dose of the wit and wisdom of a man who will kick you out of his joint if you do not know what you want and try to order something that the guy at the next table is having.
International Journal of Comic Art, Spring 2009, Edited by John Lent
A few times a year this brick of a journal lands in my mailbox with a thud. It is a place to publish academic papers about comics. I am generally uninterested in most of the articles which range from the long-winded to the short-winded but there is always one or two pieces per issue worth reading. I just finished an interesting story about Langston Hughes and Ollie Harrington and the tradition of Storytelling in African-American culture. I never knew before about Hughes fictional Harlem everyman, Jesse B. Simple.
I usually have two novels going at once so that, depending on my mood, I have something to read.
Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Over the years I have heard people either damn or praise this book, so I figured I should see what all the fuss is about. I am about 50 pages into it and have laughed aloud five times. This is a good sign.
Sunnyside by Glen David Gold
Charlie Chaplin is the central character in this well-researched semi-fictionalized novel about…hmmm…just what is it about? Well, it’s about 576 pages long and has at least three major criss-crossing plots and a huge ensemble cast. Frankly, I do not know for sure where it is going, but I am along for the ride. I admire Chaplin, but am not really a fan (Keaton is my man), and so I am prejudiced against the central character from the start and do not quite buy Gold’s sympathetic version. But this has not stopped me from turning the pages.
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