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Welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading. This week I'm pleased to announce that our special guest star is Dash Shaw, who wowed the critics last year with his doorstop family drama Bottomless Belly Button and was just nominated for an Eisner for his recently completed Webcomic Bodyworld (soon to be published in book form by Pantheon).
To see what Shaw and the rest of us are reading, click on the link below.
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Michael May: I'm a little over halfway done with my second reading of Watchmen, my first time through being about 15 years ago. I purposely stayed away from it before seeing the movie and my thought so far is that I like the movie better. At least, I like the characters better in the movie. I pretty much hate the comics version of the younger Silk Spectre, but I was able to muster some sympathy for her in the film. Pretty much the same with Doc Manhatten except that I don't have any feelings about him at all in the comic. Maybe I'll change my mind by the time I finish it, but that's how I remember it from my first go-round too.
I'm also digging into Dark Horse's reprints of Marvel's Conan the Barbarian. I keep thinking about this guy on a Conan message board I used to go to. This was while Kurt Busiek was writing the new Conan series for Dark Horse and every time a new issue would come out this guy would go on and on about how Kurt was blaspheming against Robert E. Howard and how Marvel's version was so faithful and true to Holy Scripture. I stayed out of those conversations then, but I now realize that that guy was totally on crack. I also don't see the big deal about Barry Windsor Smith, but then I've always been a fan of John Buscema's version.
I'm also re-reading X-Men: Children of the Atom. I bought the paperback version of Marvel Masterworks: X-Men, Vol. 1 a couple of weeks ago and about two panels into it I decided I wanted to re-read the prequel mini-series first. I wish they'd been able to keep Steve Rude on for the whole thing, but man that's a fine mini-series.
Chris Mautner: Quickly, because it's late and I want to get this up before Easter services. I read Wolverine: Prodigal Son, which is the first entry in Del Rey/Marvel attempt to manga-fy the X-Men. The story's by Anthony Johnston, art by Wilson Tortosa. It's a serviceable but somewhat silly attempt to make the character more appealing to teen-age girls. Logan's a brash young teen, all angsty and tortured, which just makes you want to give him a hug and some chai tea. Like I said, it's not bad -- it's certainly more coherent and competent than a lot of the Wolverine stories I've come across in recent years -- but it's not terribly essential either, Tortosa's art gets muddied a lot, particularily during action scenes (he likes motion lines a lot apparently) and I'm not sure they aren't losing something by making the character younger. I kind of always thought part of his appeal lay in the fact that he was a grown-up. I give it a meh.
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Tim O'Shea: One has to appreciate the disclaimer that greets you on the first page of the 2009 FLUKE Anthology, about two or three sentences after some standard legal disclaimer, you get "Submissions drawn by crawdads, Tuscan raiders, snipes, Ferengi, narwhales or any other fantastical or fictional creatures are not eligible for inclusion in the FLUKE Anthology. It must also be noted that regular usage of the FLUKE Anthology may cause anal leakage and some hair loss." In the 80 pages of the book, you get a wooden nickel (no really) and a selection of creators, including Gary Fields, Sarah Louise, Jeremy Sorese, Joey Weiser, Jason Horn, Josh Latta, Andrew Goldfarb, M Campos and many many more (like they used to say in those 1970s variety shows...). I love anthologies like this, as they are like going to a mega mall without getting hit by perfume salespeople.
On the mainstream front, Jeff Parker was born to write Exiles. (Sorry Jeff, if you thought your purpose in life might be bigger or at least creator owned...) Parker's grasp of the Marvel universe (or universes I guess with this series...) makes him the ideal writer for an ever-changing cast that comes with this concept. And only his sense of humor can handle Hitler/Ghandi juxtaposition/alternate universe comedy. My only disappointment was that in my excitement to buy this (as well as Jason Aaron's Wolverine: Weapon X [which I need to read again before deciding if I like it]) I did not notice they were both $3.99. I have a hard time justifying $4.00 for a Marvel comic, but I'll take the hit for Parker -- particularly with the clean, engaging style of artist Salva Espin. And that's saying a great deal, as I grew tired of the original Exiles run and did not think I would ever revisit the title. Fortunately Marvel assigned the correct writer for this relaunch.
Another $3.99 comic from Marvel that I begrudgingly support (my conditional support is a fiscal complaint, only) is the fifth installment (out of eight) for writer Eric Shanower's and artist Scottie Young's Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I really appreciate the manner in which Young handles some implied violence in this issue that engages the reader while still keeping it an all-ages story.
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Matthew Maxwell: Read more actual books this week, but nobody wants to hear about that.
RAWBONE #1The funny thing is, there's no "Mature Readers Only" warning on the front of this book, when it's easily one of the most unquestionably mature books I've read in some time. I've made no secret of my love of Jamie Delano's writing. I have since HELLBLAZER, purple prose and all (hey, it was the 80s, right?) RAWBONE is unmistakably his work, blood-engorged puns bumping up against corrupt authority figures on the high seas. If you wanted more like TALES OF THE BLACK FREIGHTER, you could do much worse than give this a try.
AGENTS OF ATLAS #3Now this is kind of on the other end of the spectrum. Much more accessable, much more kid friendly, though strangely doesn't hold a corner on the gorilla/chimp market for this week's reading. And Ken Hale is a lot more friendly than the...thing that shows up in RAWBONE, particularly when drawn by Gabriel Hardman. Some nice character moments, some wry chuckles, nice dashes of spectacle and action. I don't want to say "another typical issue of AGENTS OF ATLAS," or anything, but that's what it's gonna sound like, I suppose. I'm waiting to hear about people grouching that the fight on the cover doesn't take place in the book itself, but is just sorta hinted at.
UNKNOWN SOLDIER #5, #6.I'm cheating, since I haven't actually read these yet. You know the series got nominated for an Eisner, right?
AIR, Vol. 1It's been awhile, it seems, since I've seen a Vertigo book tackle magic that wasn't horror. I'm only partly through at the moment, so I don't want to give a full review yet, but I like what I'm reading so far. G. Willow Wilson brings a feminine voice that reads as strikingly different from a lot of what's out there right now. I'm curious to see where this is going to end up. Magical realism and I have an uneasy relationship. Done well and when internally consistent, it can be very good, illuminating dark corners and entertaining in a unique way. Done poorly (and I don't think that this will be a problem for AIR) and it becomes a deus-ex-machina mess that can still be entertaining, but often only temporarily satisfying.
BATMAN: EGO AND OTHER TAILSI'm not so much reading this as I am studying it for the layouts and cartooning. But the stories here are well worth the read.
BASIL WOLVERTON'S BIBLEWow. Just wow. Only glanced over it after buying it at Emerald City, but man, that's a piece of work.
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Tom Bondurant: I finished Heartbreak Soup and am almost done with Essential Dr. Strange Volume 2. With regard to the Essential book, I was pretty surprised to see Gardner Fox writing most of a Doc-fights-"Cthulhu" arc. Sure, he was a prolific prose science-fiction writer, but he was also one of the architects of DC's Golden and Silver Ages. I had no idea he did any Marvel work.
The latest Warlord relaunch, written by creator Mike Grell and drawn by Joe Prado and Walden Wong, debuted on Wednesday. I'm only familiar with the character in passing, but it's not the hardest concept to grasp: Air Force pilot becomes power broker in barbarian-and-dinosaur-rich land. This time, a group of scientists from 2009 are the new-reader-identification characters, so about half of issue #1 is devoted to introducing them. The other half recaps the Warlord's origin, acquaints us with his supporting cast, and ends with a mysterious murder. The issue is paced nicely, with each part getting its own "cliffhanger."
Grell's script is just on the good side of being expository, but it is a first issue and there's a lot of ground to cover. (However, one character is named "McBane," apparently without irony.) The art is lively and crisp, with colorist David Curiel using a warmer palette for Skartaris than he does for the modern world. For a while now I've wanted DC to offer more variety in its main line of books, and this was a good start.
Otherwise, this week -- probably after the taxes (grumble) -- I'll be diving into Showcase Presents Doom Patrol Vol. 1, and (thanks to a timely bargain) the first twelve issues of Marvel's Micronauts.
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Dash Shaw: “Scott Pilgrim 5” by Bryan Lee O’Malley. I first read this a while ago. My initial read was disappointing probably because my expectations were really high. I LOVED volume 4. It had more of an older manga feel to it. It felt like he dove into those Tezuka reprints and came out the other end stronger. It’s cool to see him play around inside of his parameters and develop across a big project. Four’s a total fucking joyride. Smart too. O’Malley’s really tapped into the collective subconscious with this series. The melodrama’s very modern and real -- like Guy Maddin says melodrama’s “life uninhibited” -- more real than real life. I was pumped for 5 to be him blowing through the roof.
Anyway, I thought I’d re-read vol 5 this week with a calmer head. I still don’t like it as much as a single book but I have faith that this will be an important piece in the completed series. The other volumes felt more self-contained than this one; maybe 5 functions more as a connector between 4 and the upcoming conclusion. That accounts for its pace, which peaks somewhere in the middle and then putters around for a while and closes with a set-up for 6. 5’s more tonally complicated too. The tone bounces around a lot. Die-hard SP fans will think I’m nuts, but I think this series would benefit from being in color. O’Malley puts thought into the clothing of the characters, which is important for readability in manga where the character’s faces are so similar. It emphasizes their fashion as character design. But in SP the clothing becomes generalized with O’Malley’s thick brush lines and it loses some readability, especially when there are so many characters. If it was in color I think it’d make the characters and scenes more instantly recognizable and more specific. More emotional too. I dunno. Maybe I just like color comics now. I used to be pissed when people colored comics originally in B&W. I could blab more about this series and how awesome it is and nit-pick more things, but the point is that SP’s very exciting and I’m glad it’s as popular as it is.
Old auction catalogs from the Strand. 120 pages of prints for two dollars- cheaper than a comic book!
On Creativity by David Bohm. Short sorta motivational read.
Lots of blogs/webcomics/comic reprint blogs. Too many and too boring to list. I’ve plugged Forming before but I will do so again because it’s cool to watch the colors get more ambitious each week. I wonder what it’ll be like 6 months from now.
The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths by Rosalind Krauss. Writing originally published in Artforum and October. I like reading essay collections or short-story collections on the subway. I wish I read these when they came out because a lot of it is in response to criticism at the time that I haven’t read, but most of it is new too. Barnett Newman said “Most people think of subject-matter as what Meyer Shapiro has called ‘object-matter.’” People confuse the subject/meaning with the depicted objects.
I also read the April issue of Artforum and it’s got a great short interview with Artur Zmijewski. I read the article on Lawrence Jordan but I still think Jordan’s lame. The lameness is in context now. Kikuo got a shout-out for “Night Fisher” from director Michael Almereyda who apparently, when he was a kid, used to chill with Alex Toth in LA!