What are you reading?

Welcome once again to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at the comics, graphic novels, books and whatever else the Robot 6 is reading. This week our special guest is Laura Hudson, editor of the Eisner-nominated site ComicsAlliance and former editor of the Eisner-nominated magazine Comics Foundry.

To see what Laura and the rest of the Robot 6 folks are reading, click the link below.


Tim O'Shea

It was fun to buy a Flash #1 that God willing may be an ongoing series for awhile (and after the Adventure Comics dual numbering, I wonder why DC did not do a parallel numbering with Barry's last series). I was pumped to take in the supporting cast after reading last week's Flash Facts one-shot. And it's a strong first issue, giving you a little bit of Barry's civilian life and Iris. But really I could do without the "Flashpoint" teaser at the end of the issue. Duly noted in 2011 all of Flash's world will change, Batman will fight him from a brick wall (huh) and Superman's logo will need a bodyguard (that's what it looks like). Take a break on the events DC, it's making you money, sure--but I'm over the events already. Give me a coherent ongoing series for once (which seems less and less likely, in this event-happy industry).

Secret Six #20 is the single most engrossing and yet admittedly also most violent comic I think I've read in a long time. What Gail Simone does Catman in this issue is stunning. I daresay this is the finest writing I've seen from Simone and we're only in part two of a four-issue arc. When Simone understands a character like she does this one, it's just a delight to read.

Chris Mautner

I've spent most of this week reading "Plunder Island," the fourth and latest collection of classic Popeye comics from Fantagraphics. This is the third time I've read this material (the first was in Bill Blackbeard's kick-ass Smithsonian collection; the second was Fanta's original Nemo collection) and it still never fails to enthrall me. In fact, I think Popeye has knocked Peanuts and Krazy Kat out of my personal canon to become my MOST FAVORITE COMIC EVER at the moment. There's just something about E.C. Segar's blend of melodrama, adventure and unrestrained, big-footed comedy that really knocks my socks off. I'm not sure I can really articulate exactly what it is about the strip that appeals to me so strongly at this particular moment in my life. It just does.

My daughter's become quite taken with the book too. She snatches it from me whenever she's able, lays it down on the floor and splays out in front of it and quickly becomes lost to the outside world. Which never fails to produce a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling in my heart.

Matt Maxwell

This week:

Stealing History - Roger AtwoodKinda like Indiana Jones minus the bullwhips and six-shooters. Okay, not really. This is an overview of the widespread looting of archaeological sites all over the world, but focusing primarily on the Sipán culture of Peru. Haven't heard of them? Well, that's mostly because they weren't spread out widely, that and the artifacts and sites that would have led scientists to their presence were thoroughly looted before the culture could even be discovered. Scary, huh? Okay, maybe scary for a culture junkie like me. Still, an engaging read, covering the entirety of the process, from the dirt-poor diggers who work for artifact smugglers and sellers, with the final part of the equation being rich collectors who then try to launder their purchases (and get the taxpayer to foot the bill) by donating them to museums when it suits them. No ancient ghosts or anything, but plenty of real-world complexity to sink your teeth into.

Comicswise, going through Kamandi again, mostly because it's usually an overlooked part of Jack Kirby's works, and it's really Kirby at some of his craziest, gleefully picking over modern pop culture (Watergate Gorillas, anyone?) and enmeshing them in his high-energy imagination. Nobody serves this work better than its creator. When are we gonna see reasonably-priced reprints of this anyways?

Also reading over Jim Starlin's Warlock. You know, the original stuff, that was actually a self-contained story that had a beginning, middle and an end long before most of you were born (I was all of 7 when it wrapped up.) Yeah, by today's standards, it's unbearably wordy. But you know what? There's something to it. Okay, maybe not narrating to the depth that Mr. Starlin did, but adding something useful to the proceedings, whether sensory or introspection or some other unforeseen connection between the text and image. And there's something to be said for having to cram so much story into so many little pages, forcing new graphic storytelling approaches by necessity. Still highly recommended.

Looking forward to reading all of Cursed Pirate Girl finally. But that's next week.

Sean T. Collins

I'm a week or two behind on contributing to this column, mostly because nearly my every free minute has been absorbed by George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series for weeks now. On Thursday I finally finished the fourth and latest volume, A Feast for Crows. This stuff is so brutal and so moving, and as the books go on it's like an exercise in bringing the terror of war that operated as a subtext to The Lord of the Rings all the way to the fore. I really hope HBO gives it the Sopranos/Wire/Deadwood treatment rather than making it a True Blood or Spartacus-style smutfest. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

But I did sneak a couple of comics reviews in there recently, both from Marvel. Nutshell versions: I liked S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 a lot and Spider-Man: Fever #1 way less than I thought I would.

JK Parkin

Area 10 by Christos Gage and Chris Samnee is part of the Vertigo Crime line, though it mixes in a little bit of science fiction-y new age-ness, and, I guess, a little bit of super powers. Despite some minor problems I had with the end, where the story pushes the game of "Oh, he did it! Wait, no he didn't! Wait, maybe he did!" a little too far, overall I think it's my favorite of the Vertigo Crime line that I've read so far. The characters are very well developed and interesting, and the science fiction elements, which could have sank a book like this, are handled well and were probably my favorite part. I can also understand why they'd recruit Samnee to draw this and not have it in color; he's a master in black and white, as anyone who checks out the sketches on his blog can attest, and his style works very well with the subject matter.

Up next for me is the second Unknown Soldier trade paperback, which I just started reading last night.

Laura Hudson

I didn't mean to like Nana.

I haven't had much interest in shoujo comics, really, since around age 15; my more recent encounters with the genre -- which again, I avoid -- have involved stories that either dissolve into froth and cliche and or grind through romantic misunderstanding after tedious romantic misunderstanding for fear of actually moving forward, and since at any given moment I'm stacks and stacks of comics behind on my reading, I tend not to have a lot of patience with having my time wasted.

But Ai Yazawa's long-running series has the kind of numbers that make you curious; it's at 21 volumes and counting, has sold over 43 million copies to date in Japan, and spawned an anime series, video games and multiple movies. It's also come with the repeated recommendations of numerous bloggers and acquaintances, although it wasn't until a male friend -- someone I would describe as a DUDE's dude -- admitted to a secret love of Nana that I finally sighed, gave in and bought the first volume. Because if he could love it, surely there was a decent shot it could get past my kneejerk reactions. And sure enough, within a few weeks I was grabbing the next volume (or three) pretty much every time I walked into a comic shop, and even found myself reaching for Nana before my favorite new superhero books. How did that happen?

The story follows two young women who move to Tokyo and share both an unlikely friendship and the same name -- Nana. One is a punk rocker seeking her fortune as a singer in the music world, struggling both with her personal pride and her feelings for her former flame, now a famous musician. The other is a sweet, but intensely boycrazy and chronically impulsive young woman who makes love and romance as the center of her universe, and also makes seemingly non-stop bad decisions about it. The two meet by accident on a train, and decide to share an apartment as they both seek their separate fortunes.

I'll be the first to admit both that it starts off slow -- I can't say I was completely hooked until maybe the third volume -- and that there's some pretty problematic gender stuff, mostly involving the perpetual romantic co-dependence of many of the female characters. Some notably cringe-worthy incidents include one where a girl gets cheated on by her boyfriend and her female friend responds by blaming her for not attending to his feelings more carefully, and one where a man physically forces a female character into sex for the second time in a row, and her response the next morning involves a super-deformed character making a comedic grumpy face.

But you know, JAPAN. And if you can get past that, there's a lot to love about Nana. Rocker Nana is fiercely independent and repeatedly unwilling to compromise her dreams for romance, and beyond gender politics, the best part about the series is that it's not afraid to let it's characters make mistakes, and make them live with them. Relatedly -- and somewhat more unusually for a romance series-- not everything always works out, even when it comes to love.

Despite the idealized swirl of "sex, music, fashion, gossip, and all-night parties" that the back cover copy promises, that's the most compelling part of the series to me, because it's a lot closer to the experience of real-life romance than so much of what you see in shoujo, e.g. making out with the designated love object in a hot outfit while flowers and sparkles appear around you.

Sometimes in life things go wrong, not to slow down the momentum towards the inevitable happy ending, but because sometimes things do. Sometimes people are stubborn, or self-centered, or weak, and they find themselves dumped, fired, knocked up, or haunted by regret. Sometimes people really do love each other, but they just can't make it work.

But hey, if you're coming to comics to escape the fact that things are often disappointing and complicated, then possibly this is not how you want to spend your free time. If you want pretty people ending up together in predictable ways, there are countless series out there waiting to deliver. If you're up for something a little messier, and a little more interesting, there's Nana.

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