What Are You Reading?

Sunday's here and that means it's time once more for What Are You Reading. Our guest this week is the incredibly talented cartoonist Rick Geary. Geary has two books out this fall, his latest entry in his ongoing XXth Century Murder series, Famous Players, and a biography of Leon Trotsky that should be coming out from Hill and Wang any day now.

Look for an interview with Mr. Geary appearing on this blog in the coming weeks. For now though, let's just see what he's currently reading ...

Chris Mautner: I'm finally, finally, finally getting around to finishing Kazuo Umezu's seminal horror classic The Drifting Classroom. One of the things I like about the manga is how it's just one damned thing after another. No sooner are the hapless elementary school kids attacked by horrible mutants than they somehow disappear and make way for a toxic gas. The best part is the mutants are barely mentioned again. Whatever terror has passed is nowhere near as horrible as the one in front of them.

I also just, just got in the mail the new book from Sunday Press Books, The Upside Down World of Gustave Verbeek. Verbeek was an early 20th century comic strip artist whose claim to fame was that his strip relied on optical illusion. If you turned it 180 degrees the whole picture changed and you could keep reading the story. I haven't gotten far enough in it yet to make any comments, but I look forward to diving into it this week.

I also finally saw the first Fantastic Four move, courtesy of the FX channel and Comcast's free movie selections. Boy am I glad I didn't pay any reasonable amount of money to see that on the big screen. A really dumb, loud, incoherent movie, with little in the way to recommend it beyond Michael Chiklis' performance as Ben Grimm. The guy playing Dr. Doom was especially horrible. I can't imagine the sequel being any improvement.

Michael May: I'm reading Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith's Dark Days again. Partly because Halloween is coming; partly because news about the direct-to-DVD movie adaptation is getting me excited about revisiting the story. It's my favorite of the 30 Days of Night stories and I keep finding new stuff to like every time I read it. Dane's emotional journey is what keeps drawing me to the book, but this time around I'm also especially curious about his partner Yuki. There's an untold story there.

I'm also revisiting American Born Chinese and it's even better the second time around. My first reading was great, but you have to spend some energy trying to figure out what the three plot threads have to do with each other. Since I already know that this time, I'm able to concentrate better on how he tells the overall story and - more importantly - how beautifully and powerfully he communicates his message. I'm really sorry that I'm almost done with it. I already want to read it yet again.

Tom Bondurant: The Marvel Monsters hardcover was half-off, but a bargain at any price. It's got a lot of great stuff, blending classic Kirby monster reprints (and one from Don Heck) with the stories from the "Marvel Monsters" event from a few years back. The highlight for me was Scott Gray and Roger Langridge's original "Fin Fang Four" story, just a gem of a thing which has the robot Elektro finding love and Fin Fang Foom working as a chef in a Baxter Building restaurant. I especially liked Langridge's page of the Thing as romance-coach. The book opens with a fun Devil Dinosaur/Hulk battle (orchestrated by a couple of middle-management Celestials) from Tom Sniegoski and Eric Powell. The new stuff is all in the same good-natured vein, like Keith Giffen and Mike Allred checking back in with Bombu and Peter David and Arnold Pander revisiting Monstrollo. The book also reprints a text-oriented special cataloging the various Marvel monsters, which is nice as reference, but I would have liked more classic reprints (like the original Tim Boo Ba story, for instance). Still, though, overall quite a nice package.

I thought JMS's first issue of The Brave and the Bold was something of a missed opportunity. From the "Death of a Hero" title I could see where the story was going. Admittedly, I wasn't expecting the twist JMS put on it, and I suppose Batman's closing speech was meant to make it all work out, but I can't help but think what a Waid, Morrison, or Busiek could have done with Batman dialing the H-Dial. At the very least I was expecting the H-Dial's heroes to be credited to readers....

Tim O'Shea: Evan Dorkin's and Jill Thompson's Beasts of Burden is even greater than I expected it to be. When I interviewed Dorkin about the series a few months back, he definitely got me enthused for the series, but he and Thompson far exceeded my raised expectations. It may seem like a simple compliment, but I love Thomspon's layout sense for how it heightens the drama and action in the book. Also the facial expressions she gives the animals are amazing. Dorkin's gift of dialogue reaches it's pinnacle for me with Pugs' line "A mother-humpin', big-ass, giant frog." It was only on my second reading that I really grew to appreciate how much Jason Arthur's lettering (particularly with the dialogue of the aforementioned mother-humpin' frog) adds to the tale.

When I was a kid, what appealed to me about Captain America was his secret identity. I distinctly remember one issue where Cap was vacuuming his apartment, cleaning up the mess after the Constrictor had driven a car through it. OK, so as a 41-year-old man, I realize my critical mind was dormant in the 1970s. He'd have to do a hell of a lot more than vacuuming to fix that apartment. Heck it's been 30 years since I read the comic, I might be misremembering the scene. As I'm older now, I realize what actually appealed to me about Cap was his relationships with folks like Sam (Falcon) Wilson, Nick Fury and Sharon Carter. During Mark Waid's run on Cap, he emphasized the friendship with Clint (Hawkeye) Barton. Captain America Reborn 3 reveals a few things to me. Ed Brubaker would write one extremely good Avengers book. Brubaker clearly loves romping through Cap's history (best part in this issue is either Cap reliving the hell of his frozen man period; or the all-out action of the Kree-Skull War). But best of all, Brubaker shares my love of Cap's relationships, as exemplified by his outstanding use of Cap's supporting cast.

Speaking of Nick Fury, another book with a great supporting cast is Jonathan Hickman's Secret Warriors. (But boy when does Black Widow sleep, what with her role in Reborn and Secret Warriors). When NormanOsborn ultimately gets taken down (please tell me that's coming soon, Marvel), I'll be curious to see if Nick gets the pleasure of dethroning Normie. As an aside, does anyone else wish that Bendis and Marvel editorial had picked someone other than Osborn to be the ringleader behind this Dark Reign malarkey? I prefer Norman Osborn as the traditional crazy myopic "must ruin Peter Parker" character. Sure it's a one-note character, but it's a damn good note. The present day Osborn just smacks of a heavily medicated Lex Luthor with a hate-on for every superhero. Sorry, went off the rails there ... really enjoying Secret Warriors.

I enjoyed the latest issue of Batgirl, mostly because a good chunk of it was devoted to Oracle. I was absolutely flummoxed, however, that they devoted so much storytime to having Oracle's servers crap out(the woman that plans everything does not have a back-up server?) so she had to drive over to the Batcave (that's right, Oracle could not just hack into the Batcave, she had to drive over there) just so Stephanie could look at the shrine of costumes (hey where's Bruce's, Dick?) and a discussion that will either please or annoy DC/"Stephanie should have had a shrine" critics.

J. Michael Straczynski finally begins his run on The Brave and The Bold with issue 27. It's not a traditional team-up with Dial H for Hero and that's actually what makes this issue work. Even better, the issue is that rare endangered comic book species--the one-and-done issue.

This past week at my pop culture blog, Talking with Tim, I interviewed Mike Sacks about his book (that I am still enjoying), And Here's the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on their Craft. Unfortunately Sacks was not able to include all the interviews he wanted to feature. So instead he's offering those four interviews for free on the book's website . Those interviews include Daniel Clowes and Roz Chast.

Both interviews are great (as is the whole book, Sacks offers snippets from each interview at the book's site, Chast talks about a variety of topics from Charles Addams to Diane Arbus. But, here's my favorite snippet from the Clowes interview, talking about his 2007-08 New York Times experience:

As far as subject matter, they never said a word, but as I said they were very touchy about language — their little “stylebook” is very important to them. Aside from “Jesus,” for instance, I wasn’t allowed to use the word “schmuck.” Mad’s been using the word for fifty years! It’s not as if I were using it in the Yiddish sense: “Wow, that guy has a huge cock!” I even found an old William Safire column from the NY Times magazine about “schmuck.” He wrote something like, “The original meaning of the word has long ago been forgotten, and it’s commonly accepted for general use.”

I showed this to the editors, but they told me, “No. We can’t run the word.” I could have acted like an asshole and told them I was going to end the strip halfway through, but this was a really good assignmentfor cartoonists. I didn’t want to be the guy who killed it for everyone else.

Brigid Alverson: I haven’t had a lot of time for reading this week, but I got a review copy of Stone Rabbit: Deep Space Disco, and that was about right for a quick read during a busy week. It’s a kids’ comic in a handy digest size, and although Craddock puts a lot of imaginative detail into his panels, including giant robots and all sorts of bizarre aliens, the pages never get too crowded or chaotic. I think that’s because he limits himself to one or two panels per page and manages to create a hierarchy, keeping the main characters in the foreground and letting everything drop back a bit. That seems simple and obvious, but a surprising number of artists can’t do that and instead let foreground and background blend into one confusing web. The story is pretty straightforward — an evil alien switches places with Stone Rabbit andwreaks havoc on earth, while Stone Rabbit is prosecuted for his crimes on his home planet. There’s more action than talk, and lots of giant robots, so it really is a great kids’ comic — it has a real Saturday morning cartoon feel to it.

On a completely different note, I also got review copies of Eric Heuvel’s  A Family Secret and The Search, two comics about the Holocaust, sponsored by the Anne Frank House and originally published in the Netherlands. At first glance, they look uncannily like Tintin — not only does Heuvel work in the ligne Claire style that Herge pioneered, but the design of the book, the page layouts, and even the lettering are similar to Tintin. However, the stories are obviously more serious. A Family Secret is told in flashbacks, and because the creator has to give a history lesson to set the scene, the dialogue is a bit stilted. Still, the characters are three-dimensional, and it’s interesting to watch them struggle with the difficulties of livingunder German occupation (without the hindsignt of history to sort things out for them). It’s also interesting that it’s written from the Dutch point of view; the main character is a Dutch girl who befriends a Jewish refugee from Germany. I am only about 20 pages in, but it looks very promising.

Rick Geary: I'm currently immersed in research on the Sacco & Vanzetti case for my next 20th Century Murder graphic novel. I've finished two books about it and now I'm in the midst of a third, entitled simply Sacco & Vanzetti by Bruce Watson. The other two books were rather dry accounts of the legal issues involved and the international uproar following the sentencing. This one, though, is a full-bodied rendering of the entire story, featuring dramatic details, and rich characterizations.

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