Welcome once again to What are you reading? Today our special guest is comics retailer James Sime, owner of the world-famous Isotope Comics in San Francisco. As a retailer, James has the opportunity to read a lot of comics, and his submission this week reflects the diversity of great stuff you'll find in his shop.
Click below to see what he's been reading lately, as well as what the rest of the Robot 6 crew has had on their reading lists this week ....
Thanks to my beloved Multnomah County Library system, I've recently had the dubious pleasure of catching up on two iconic 1990s comics that I'd somehow missed (Well, avoided, in one case) the first time around, and it's definitely one of those "sublime and ridiculous" things: The former of those two would be Jeff Smith's Bone, which I'd only read in fits and starts, and am now enjoying in the Scholastic colored editions, and the latter undoubtedly the complete X-Men: Age of Apocalypse saga, which feels like some strange perfect time capsule of 1990s superhero comics and makes me feel depressingly old with almost every single page (Seriously, is this what X-Men comics were like when I was purposefully pretending that they didn't exist due to twenty-something snobbery? That idea kind of makes my mind explode).
Single issue-wise, I love the new Vertigo series, I, Zombie - Chris Roberson had already won me over with his Cinderella Fables spin-off, but the combination of his writing with Mike Allred's art really made this one a winner for me. I've been loving a lot of Vertigo's recent releases (Daybreakers, Joe The Barbarian, American Vampire); I think the line is as strong as it's been in years, and yet somehow still underrated. Hopefully that'll change sometime soon.
I only have one book this week, but it's a good one: Hope Larson's Mercury, which I liked for a whole lot of reasons. Larson starts with a view of a little hill in Nova Scotia and imagines how it looked in different periods, from the 1600s to the present. That foreshadows how she tells her story, which is really two interleaved stories, one happening in the mid-nineteenth century, the other in the present, both in the same geographical space. One is the tale of a teenager returning to her old school after an upheaval in her life. In the other story, the stakes are higher: A prospector finds gold on the land of a struggling farmer. Both stories have twists, and they come together with a supernatural turn at the end. I like Larson's easygoing style, but it was the story that really grabbed me, and once I started reading this I couldn't put it down.
I just read the 10th and final volume of Dragon Head, the post-apocalyptic disaster manga by Minetaro Mochizuki that Tokyopop put out back when they were rolling in money and convinced nothing would ever, ever go wrong for them. Anyway, it's a relatively satisfying end to the series that, thankfully, doesn't attempt to explain what exactly caused the constant devastation that's plaguing Japan, or give us any sort of suggestion that our protagonists will, ultimately, be alright, though they seem to be in slightly more emotionally stable shape than they were a few volumes before. Let's face it: any attempt to neatly wrap things up in a bow or explain things would have stunted the horror of the work.
I say "relatively" however, because, honestly, the series kind of took a nose dive after the fourth volume or so, when the two main characters got themselves out of the tunnel they were buried alive in and made it to the surface world. The manga never really recovered its nail-biting sense of tension after that. Still, it remained a decent read nevertheless, firmly planted in the "psychological horror" camp and well-thought out enough to keep me from regretting my time spent tracking down and reading the whole thing.
As a comic retailer it's my job to read everything that I sell and I'm dedicated to carrying a really diverse range of comics and graphic novels at the Isotope. So... I read a *lot* of comics (laugh)!
Here's some of those reads I'm really loving this week:
Jason Aaron... that guy writes some really kick ass comic books. You're reading Scalped, right? You should be. At my shop I call it the "Preacher Methadone Clinic" because it's one of the few books that you can actually successfully follow up Preacher with. Everything else just leaves you feeling hollow and wishing that a Preacher volume 10 existed. But Scalped makes you forget about how much you loved Jessie, Tulip, and Cassidy. If only for a little while. And if something can do that? Well, that's about the highest praise I can give.
Aaron's been writing a number of other great comics, too. Wolverine Weapon X, The Other Side, Hellblazer, PunisherMAX, he even made Ghost Rider great. But Spider-Man? Now we all know Adam Kubert is going to knock a Spider-Man comic right out of the park. Seriously, Adam Kubert can do no wrong. But even with one of the most stellar track records in all of comics, Aaron doesn't really strike a lot of my customers or me as a Spider-Man kind of guy, y'know?
Thanks for proving us all wrong, Mister Aaron, with one of the best first issues I've read in years with a note-perfect Wolverine and Spider-Man. Marvel, give Jason Aaron any title he wants. Not only can he handle it, he's going to make your characters really, really shine!
Originally published back in 1994, Talbot's magum opus about child abuse is a book that every comic reader should seriously have on their bookshelf. Sadly, it's been out of print for far too long and lots of folks who are new to the world of "graphic novels" who would absolutely love it have never had the opportunity to discover it. So thanks to our friends at Dark Horse at long last now they can. Personally I plan on selling hundreds and hundreds of these this year!
Tale of One Bad Rat is without a doubt a breathtaking work of comic art that was many, many years ahead of it's time. And as popular as it was inside the comic industry 15 years ago, people didn't really know what to do with a book like this back then. If it was released today it would be the toast of the town on NPR's Fresh Air like Wilson is. Or on the New York Times best books (not comics, but books) list of the year list, like Fun Home was in '06. Or winning National Book Awards like American Born Chinese did. Or burning up the Top Ten Best Seller on Amazon like Logicomix did. Or all of those put together!
There's a reason why this book has pull-quotes from the likes of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. And that's because it really is a run-down-to-the-shop-right-now-and-buy-yourself-a-copy hardcover.
WUVABLE OAF by Ed Luce
Hands down my favorite self-published comic being made today. So good!
I actually never thought of calling Wuvable Oaf the "Scott Pilgrim of gay comics" before... but that's *exactly* what it is! The story's main character is a giant hairy sweetheart of a guy who lives with a hundred kitties and is secretly in love with a scrawny punk rawker who wears a lot of Morrissey t-shirts. Every issue is jam-packed with those awkward unlucky in love moments that anyone can relate to, laugh out loud quirky personalities that instantly remind you of people you know, and plenty of references to all sorts of nifty and obscure 80's bands. Luce's charming art, smile-inducing writing, and downright loveable characters is the reason Wuvable Oaf is just as popular with my straight customers as it is with my gay customers.
As this book doesn't have any distribution at this point, there's a good chance your local shop doesn't have them in stock yet, but Luce has been working the convention circuit pretty heavily recently (The Wuvable Oaf Ultimate Sacrifice Special debuted just a couple weeks ago at Portalnd's Stumptown convention) and you can order them directly from his site here.
YES! How beautiful is it that Hellboy In Mexico came out on Cinco de Mayo?! What could be a better celebration than seeing a hard-drinking Hellboy team up with a trio of vampire-killing luchadores for a tequila-drenched excursion through Mexico in the 1950s? And it's got plenty of Aztec pyramids, vampire wrestlers, Satanic turkeys, Mayan death bat gods, zombie spectators, and all the high-flying luchador action you could ask for. And I ask for a lot!
This was one of the most fun issues of Hellboy ever. And I sold a ton of them, so "muchas gracias" Mike Mignola and Richard Corben!
You know those comics that fly just under your radar when they're first released and then suddenly it seems like everyone's is talking about how great it is? And by the time you find out it's way too late to get copies of the whole series and you just wish someone had told you about it sooner? You know, like Chew or Stumptown or Stuff of Legend or Locke & Key or Choker or Last Days of American Crime or Forgetless?! Well, Ghost Projekt is one of those books... and I'm telling you to pick it up right now.
Ghost Projekt is an excellently creepy post-Soviet horror chronicle of two American weapons inspectors uncovering strange phenomena at an abandoned weapons facility deep in the heart of the Siberian outback. Rich with politics and unsettling arms race experiments, this book pours on cold war era paranoia and shakes plenty of 21st century WMD anxieties into a cocktail glass overflowing with the kind of supernatural strangeness you've been thirsting for. A perfect allegory for true modern terror.
If you're looking for a comic that will keep you on the edge of your seat waiting for the next installment, this is it.
Grab yourself a sneak peek of issue #1 on Oni's site here, you'll be glad you did!
And this next one is "not comics" just for good measure... because I read a lot of "real" books too.
True Crime Novel. Under And Alone is the first hand account of ATF agent Queen's years as an undercover agent inside the infamous Mongols Motorcycle Club. This book reads a lot like a Brubaker or Azzarello comic, or something Elmore Leonard might write... full of dead bodies, quick tempers, deals gone wrong, middle fingers to local law enforcement, and lots and lots of sleezy lowlife characters. It's really a fascinating peek behind the curtain at biker culture and organized/disorganized criminal lifestyle.
For me there's a special appeal in lurid motorcycle tales. Growing up there was a biker clubhouse not too far from my house, and although it probably was not the best environment for 11-year-old kids, a friend of mine's mom knew one of the guys so sometimes we'd go hang around out front and look at bikes. But still, this book's appeal is universal to anyone who likes a good crime story. I'm particularly interested to see what they do with the Mel Gibson-helmed movie version of this book that is currently in production according to IMDB. And for those who are fellow fans of FX's Sons of Anarchy TV show - it cribs a lot from Queen's writing here, but these truths are much stranger and more dangerous than fiction.