What are you reading?

Welcome to another round of What are you reading. JK is off enjoying the Labor Day weekend somewhere far away from any Internet connection, so I'm filling in for him this week.

And what a perfect week it is for me to fill in as we've got not one but two special guests this week! First up is Kristy Valenti, associate editor of The Comics Journal and Comixology columnist. If that weren't enough we've also got Chris Arrant, who has been kind enough to guest-blog with us all this week.

Click on the link to see what they and everyone else has been perusing lately. And be sure to tell us in the comments what comics you've been reading as well.

Brigid Alverson: I just got an advance copy of Tenken, which won the 2007 Japan Media Encouragement Prize for independent manga. The story brings an ancient myth into a futuristic scenario: The earth has been befouled by toxins following a dirty war, but somehow a special type of bamboo springs up that absorbs the poison and cleans the surrounding area, although it itself becomes a type of toxic waste. This is the setting for the story of Saki, who is the chosen bride of a demon but runs away from her village and gets a job putting up scaffolding in a big city. When the serpent comes to claim her, she is discovered and sent back to her village, but her boss, Manaka, wants to save her. The art is unusual for manga, using ink washes instead of standard toning. The result is sometimes very vigorous but other times seems to fade away. Regardless, it's a good story and complete in one handsome volume, so I'll be sticking with it.

I also am in the middle of Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft. Sometimes horror comics frustrate me because they plunge me into an imaginary world with little in the way of explanation or orientation, but this one has a clear plot, well constructed characters and an accessible art style. I'll admit it was hard to get through the first few pages, as the creators signaled immediately that someone was going to be murdered, but now the story is really pulling me along. It blends a lot of classic elements—mysterious old house, a door that transforms those who go through it, a voice in the well—but the characters are modern and react in realistic ways, so the whole thing hangs together really nicely.

Sean T. Collins: Three quiet little books, each with their own pros and cons, found their way into my backpack this week. Click the links for full reviews...

Set to Sea by Drew Weing (Fantagraphics): Adventure at sea with a heart of poetry. Gorgeously drawn, but perhaps a bit too deferential to adventure-story conventions.

Snake Oil #5: Wolf by Chuck Forsman (self-published): Down and out in '80s exurbia. Finely observed work from a promising talent.

Nicolas by Pascal Girard (Drawn & Quarterly): Not the most original art style in the world, but this memoir of losing a little brother is powerfully sad.

Chris Arrant: CUBA: MY REVOLUTION by Iverna LockPez & Dean Haspiel with Jose Villarrubia (DC/Vertigo): I'm a big fan of Dino's work, and this looks like an awesome tangent in his ouvre of auto-bio comix with other people taken into a historical setting. While Dean's best known bio work is with Harvey Pekar and his admittedly "small life", this book takes a look at someone living through the inception of the Castro regime in Cuba -- from both sides. It's like a melding of the historical genre with bio comix, drawn in Dean's style and Villarrubia's amazingly controlled color palette.

HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL IN 60 DAYS OR LESS by Sarah Glidden (DC/Vertgo): I'm continually struck about how different this is from the stereotypical Vertigo fare. This travelogue done in the ligne Claire style, documenting the authors tour of Israel that turns from a sight-seeing mission into something else. This book reminds me of Ruto Mondan's excellent EXIT WOUNDS as well as Josh Neufeld's A FEW PERFECT HOURS. I keep reminding myself this is Gladden's first full-length book, and it makes me excited about what's next -- and also digging into her earlier smaller work. This book is due out in November.

THE LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME #3 by Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini (Radical): Arguably -- no wait, I take that back -- defiantly the best book Radical has put out. This is the story I'd expect from Rick - but his storytelling in this has a sharper focus than usual, taking this caper comic and boiling it down to its essentials. And while artist Greg Tocchini has been in and out of American comics for years, whatever he's doing here puts him into a whole new level and I wouldn't be surprised if he's a big namesoon with work like this.

THB: COMICS FROM MARS #2 by Paul Pope (AdHouse). This collection of humor-themed shorts revolving around Pope's loose epic of a future on Mars hits home on a couple levels. The inaugural story of a boy questioning Ziggy Stardust really sets the tone of Paul revisiting his his younger years, first with music and then his own version of Tom & Jerry , and on to his cape fiction fight scene and everything inbetween. Really enjoyable, and the build-up to some of the panels are truly rewarding. I have to applaud the surprise nature of this; this title wasn't solicited, advertised or leaked until days before its debut at Baltimore Comicon last week. In a world of advance solicitations, massive build-ups and drawn out releases, having this pop out into the world unheralded and fully formed is amazing. Thanks to Jeff Newelt and Paul Pope for sending this my way.

Tim O'Shea: The Rucka/Van Meter family made me very happy this week.

First off, the fourth and final issue of writer Greg Rucka and artist Mathew Southworth's first Stumptown miniseries came out this week. Lead character Private Detective Dex Parios continues to take a hell of a beating in this storyline (if I can make one request of Rucka, as much as I love the unmistakable Jim Rockford vibe of this series, even Rockford didn't suffer as many beatdowns in one episode as much asParios has in these four issues).Rucka's ear for dialogue and almost David Mamet-like banter is in fine form as this issue opens. Given the struggles getting the miniseries out in a timely manner (which Rucka &Southworth have never dodged responsibility regarding the issues' delays), I was worried this miniseries would be the only one. Online, Rucka has noted that they will solicit the book differently in future miniseries. This was confirmed by Cory Casoni, Oni Press Director of Sales and Marketing (when I checked with him via email): "After an incredible reception, there's plenty more Stumptown to come. Greg and Matt are hard at work on the second arc and Oni will begin soliciting it when we're confident that our in-store dates can bemet." As exquisitite as Southworth's art is, by the way, it's worth any amount of waiting.

Part of Saturday (before and after attending the DragonCon parade) my son and I had a mini Leverage (Season 2 DVD) marathon at O'Shea mansion. As I watched the show, I thought to myself: "I wish there wasa Leverage-like comic book series." And then just as quickly, I realized that's exactly what writer Jen Van Meter has given readers with the Black Cat four-issue miniseries (with Javier Rodriquez and Javier Pulido on art). This week the tension increased with the release of issue 3, where Black Cat's team of operatives (who have proven as engaging as Felicia Hardy herself) are pulling a series of subterfuges in support of Black Cat's larger effort to save her mother.

Kristy Valenti: Fantagraphics-wise, of course, I’m in the thick of the books and projects I’m working on. In terms of just for fun, I was recently reading the Better Book Titles Blog, and I came across Teddy Roosevelt Solves Tranny Murders (i.e., The Alienist by Caleb Carr) — so of course I had to check it out from the library immediately. It dances between genre and literature: it has Teddy Roosevelt (whose larger-than-life-personality lends itself beautifully to fiction), a Sherlock Holmes Figure, a Watson figure, a Strong Female character Who’s As Good As — Nay, BETTER — Than Any Man and scrappy sidekicks. It’s also an entertaining history of the introduction of psychology and science into police work, and at one point, a character utters “bully,” which is one of my favorite slang terms: all in all, a cut above bathtub reading.

In the work/fun department, I’m making my way through my metric ton of CCI: San Diego acquisitions: I think I bought a copy of every Matt Wiegle mini Sparkplug had, plus a few things by Julia Gfrorer and Chris C. Cilla. I also picked up a lot of D&Q’s latest, such as The Selves by Sonja Elizabeth Ahlers and The Wild Kingdom by Kevin Huizenga. I always have a “To Read” pile that I never quite get to the bottom of, but those are on the top of it.

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