Thursday, January 19, 2006

Graphic Lit -- 1/15 and more

The first two reviews ran in the Patriot-News this past Sunday. Everything else ran way back on March 6th of last year.

"Wimbledon Green"
by Seth
Drawn and Quarterly, 128 pages, $19.95.

Seth’s masterful graphic novella about the "greatest comic book collector" imagines a world where golden-age funny books sell for small fortunes and collectors have their own private staff and personal transportation, all devoted to tracking down rare comics.

Seth displays a looser, rougher art style here and uses smaller panels and lots of dialogue to convey the story. Characters often expound upon the mysterious Green in a head-on documentary-style fashion.

My description makes the book sound like a bore, but the result is a warm, funny and surprisingly moving look at not just comics, but the collector mentality in general. Seth has produced works with deeper emotional resonance, but he’s never been as much fun as he is here.

"Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne Vol. 1"
by Arina Tanemura
CMX, 176 pages, $9.99.

OK, let’s see if I can get this straight. A teenage girl, who happens to be the reincarnation of Joan of Arc, spends her days cracking books and her nights hunting down demons, which for some reason like to hide in paintings.

Did I mention she has a little fairy familiar? Or that her school chum moonlights as a detective dedicated to bringing her alter ego to justice?

This breezy, bizarre manga plays things surprisingly straight, with an emphasis on romance and melodrama. It’s not bad, but you wish the author had taken more chances with its incredibly goofball premise. The initial concept is silly enough to create a truly inspired work, but this one is just mundane.

"Kramer's Ergot 5"
by various
Gingko Press, 320 pages, $32.95.

Even more massive than the previous edition, this oversize anthology features an impressive array of avant-garde and up-and-coming cartoonists. Readers might recognize a few notable names like Chris Ware and Gary Panter, but for the most part the submissions here are from artists working on the fringes, creating work that varies from strikingly bizarre to psychedelic to emotionally resonant and heartfelt.

The work is stunning and inspiring. It's doubtful you'll find a better comics anthology anytime soon. Leave this book out on your coffee table, and you'll not only have a collection of some of the best young cartoonists out right now, but your hip quotient will improve considerably.

"Princess Mermaid"
by Junko Mizuno
Viz, 144 pages, $15.95.

Mizuno's style can best be described as a cross between Hello Kitty and Rob Zombie. Her comic fairy tales are full of cutesy-wootsy characters engaging in horrible, grotesque behavior. This latest story is a warping of sorts of The Little Mermaid and includes heaping amounts of sex and violence, not to mention a dour, bitter tone.

That description might make Mizuno seem like a one-trick pony, but she is able to weave an intriguing enough story, using a minimum of dialogue, to keep the reader's attention. Mizuno's work might seem bizarre to some, but in an ocean full of copycat manga, her comics are idiosyncratic enough to be welcomed wholeheartedly.

"Astronauts of the Future"
by Lewis Trondheim and Manu Larcenet
NBM, 46 pages, $14.95.

Kid geniuses Gilbert and Martina are convinced that the world has been surreptitiously taken over by robots or aliens. What starts as a humorous look at childhood quickly takes a sharp turn into fantasy when it turns out the kids' conspiracy theories might be more accurate than they thought.

The book is infused with Trondheim's trademark wit and ingenuity, with Larcenet's cartoonish visuals complementing the text quite nicely. "Astronauts" is a thrilling all-ages book that kids --especially tween boys -- will enjoy as much as adults. Let's hope a second volume is on the way as well.

"Hutch Owen: Unmarketable"
by Tom Hart
Top Shelf Productions, 192 pages, $14.95.

Hart's surly, anti-establishment, lovable drop-out returns in this collection of stories. Hart expertly skewers corporate greed and rampant consumerism. He's especially good when mocking marketing babble that too often gets taken for gospel.

Hart refuses, however, to simply throw stones at straw men, and is more than happy to question Hutch's hard-line stance and its effectiveness. It's this refusal to seek simple answers, combined with his sharp wit, that makes Hart's work so pleasurable.

"Bone: Out From Boneville"
by Jeff Smith
Graphix, 140 pages, $18.95.

Jeff Smith's delightful, enchanting all-ages comic has just been rereleased by Scholastic Press as part of their new comics line --and in hardcover and full color no less!

Actually, I tend to prefer the original, black and white version, as it provides a better chance to admire Smith's fine pen-and-ink work, but the colorization is well-done, and newcomers will hardly mind the "improvements." If you can't locate a copy of the massive, all-in-one edition at your local store (and chances are you can't), then definitely pick up these volumes. Your kids will thank you for it.

"WarCraft: the Sunwell Trilogy: Dragon Hunt"
by Richard A. Knaak and Jae-Hwan Kim
TokyoPop, 192 pages, $9.99.

Fans of the popular video game series should enjoy this Dungeons and Dragons-style romp with manga trappings. The plot involves the usual cast of characters trying to recover some long-lost artifact that will save the universe or whatnot. Yes, it's cliched, but it's a pleasant diversion and goes down smoothly enough to be enjoyed over milk and cookies before you move on to some more emotionally rewarding literature.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006


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