Welcome once again to What Are You Reading? Our guest this week is Van Jensen, writer of Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer and Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer and the Great Puppet Theater. To see what Van and the rest of the Robot 6 crew are reading, click below.
Sean T. Collins
I burned my way through a minicomic and a couple of lengthy runs this week. Click the links for reviews:
Ex Machina Vols. 1-9 by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris: Ambition trumps awkwardness in this slow-burning superhero tragedy.
Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka by Naoki Urasawa: Nakedly emotional science fiction from Japan's grandmaster. The ending doesn't quite live up to the promise of the early going, but that's almost beside the point.
Studio Visit by James McShane: A portrait of the artist as an artist. A slight but solid minicomic.
I finished the Adventures of Red Sonja reprints with Volume 3. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy this volume as much as the other two. The Marvel series took a nasty dip around issue 8 that lasted through issue 13. It was this too-long saga that involved crazy - even by Hyperborian standards - sorcery and a nonsensical quest through goofy settings for generic fantasy items that are always proclaimed to be vital at the time, but are discarded as irrelevant in the following issue. It's taxing to read. The reason that sorcery works in the REH stories is that Conan hates it and avoids it when possible, so it's used very sparingly. Claire Noto and Roy Thomas over-indulged themselves for six issues and it's no wonder that the series was canceled two issues after that. Which was kind of a shame, because those last two issues got back to Sonja's wandering mercenary concept and were a lot of fun.
Even more fun though was my re-reading the first Atomic Robo volume. I will never ever get tired of "I just used my violence on them."
I also checked out the first issue of Joe the Barbarian, which I picked up for free at C2E2. I was pretty sure I wanted to get the collected volume when it comes out, but now I'm positive. Sean Murphy's art is awesome and Morrison's set-up is much less like Life on Mars than I feared it would be.
Jog was kind enough to loan me the new catalog for the Garo Manga: The First Decade, 1964-1973, now on exhibit at the Center for Book Arts in New York City. For those who don't know, Garo was the leading alternative manga anthology for decades, highlighting works by singular, idiosyncratic artists like Yoshihiro Tatsumi. A lot of Westerners (alright, just me) tend to compare the series to Zap or some other alt-comic equivalent, but curator and catalog author Ryan Holmberg argues that is completely not the case.
Holmberg's main thrust of his essay is that Garo, at least in its early days, was driven by an interest in left-wing politics and social change much more than any sort of interest in alternate forms of visual expression in manga. Co-creator Sanpei Shirato was much more interested in giving readers (especially young readers) an antiwar, pro-democracy, pro-working class point of view via his classic series, The Legend of Kamuy, than in making any sort of attempt at avant-garde self-expression or testing the limits of the medium. In fact, he argues, many of the contributors during this period were attempting to come to terms with the still relatively new, post-war Japan and underscore a distrust with the new, modern world and their role in it, especially when it comes to sexual relations.
Holmberg's essay is succinct and revelatory. He provides a knowledge and perspective about not only Garo, but Japan itself, that is severely lacking among most manga critics these days (myself included). His thoughts on Yoshiharu Tsuge's work, particularly "Screw Style" is nothing short of fascinating (I would have never made the connection between the war dead had he not pointed it out). As Jog put it, the thing it really underscores is that we need more critics who can actually read Japanese.
If you're interested at all in manga or good criticism in general, I urge you to go online and buy a copy ($20), as I likely will once I return this copy to its rightful owner. It's one of the best critical pieces I've read all year and I can easily see myself using it as a reference again and again.
You can read more of Holmberg's thoughts on the subject here.
I'm going to be interviewing Raina Telgemeier onstage at the American Library Association annual meeting next weekend, so I re-read Smile this week in preparation. The first time I read it, I was absorbed in the story and the atmosphere of it; this time I could pull back a bit and look at how she does it. Telgemeier interweaves the story of her dental problems with a narrative of growing up in a happy, middle-class family; there are no earth-shattering events (except for the San Francisco earthquake, and that's only earth-shattering in the literal sense). The thing that sticks out for me is that Raina really remembers what it feels like to be a middle-schooler. She notes the little awkward and ambiguous moments that might be glossed over by an adult writing for kids. I'm really glad to have read it again. Also, I went over some of Raina's earlier work and was reminded of this wonderful little webcomic, Beginnings, and how in three pages Raina sketches a whole family and brings her main character to an epiphany—about comic books, no less.
My pal Dugan Trodglen was kind enough to give me a copy of The Comics Journal 293. I really wanted to read it as it had an interview with S. Clay Wilson from 2008 prior to his November 2008 severe brain injury. It's a fascinating interview and painful juxtaposition to the recent update that his companion Lorraine Chamberlain provided (thanks to Tom Spurgeon for making me aware of it). Consider this observation from Chamberlain:
"I have put together a Special Needs Trust for him, since he is no longer capable of earning a living. He receives Social Security and Disability benefits which barely cover expenses. This Trust gives him a little security for his future needs, although it is not growing very quickly. This gifted artist who has worked as hard as he partied is now in need of everyone's generous help. He is still capable of worrying about the future even though he does not fully understand what has happened to alter it."
Please read the Wilson update and consider donating to the Trust.
Marvel has finally gotten the right team to do a Black Cat miniseries. Unlike some artists who have drawn the character as damn close to a porn star (really some of the folks that drew Black Cat seemed to forget she was supposed to be a cat burglar...). But fortunately Javier Pulido is perfectly suited to convey the acrobatic nature of the character. In the first issue (in a four-part miniseries) writer Jen Van Meter gives folks a dash of Spider-Man and a healthy supporting cast.
For the most part, I've been trying to find time to read everything I picked up at HeroesCon. It's hard to pick a favorite, but the hardcover Afrodisiac collection earns that nod. I'm a big fan of blaxploitation films, and Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca take that framework and inject their overabundant creativity and energy. The humor shines through in the dialogue and bizarre situations, Rugg draws the finest ladies this side of Rob Ullman and the packaging is ridiculous. Every page reveals how much thought and love went into the book.
I also picked up the historical fiction one-two punch of Ben Towle's Midnight Sun and Chris Schweizer's Crogan's March. Both books are smart, informative and enjoyable yarns. Schweizer, in addition to growing a hell of a mustache, is one of the most talented artists with a brush and ink. He's also one of the greats when it comes to character design.
Heroes was a stellar show for mini comics as well. Dustin Harbin's newsprint Enquirer was the steal of the show at a dollar apiece, even if the stories are online for free. Brad McGinty's two new minis are hilarious (of course), as is Josh Latta's latest, A Rabbit in King Arthur's Court. Then I had to pick up everything Joseph Lambert brought down from Vermont. That dude is insane. I always come away from his work jealous of both the skill he exhibits and the uniqueness of his stories. I really recommend Food/Fall and Turtle, Keep It Steady!, but you honestly can't go wrong.
I also just finally got through the December 2010 issue of Fierro, an Argentinian comics anthology that I picked up on a trip to Buenos Aires. Argentina has an amazing tradition of cartoonists, but it has a lot of new talent as well. I'd wager we'll start to hear more from the country in the coming years. And it's not comics, but the novel The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman is an amazing book, especially for a former newspaper guy like myself.