Friday, May 05, 2006

The last Graphic Lit

Well, not really. The bad news is that I'm no longer going to be doing short comic reviews for the paper's Sunday books page. The good news is that today sees the debut of my new weekly comics column, the bigger, smarter and all-new Graphic Lit.

I'm really excited about this as I think it'll give me the opportunity to talk about comics in more depth and breadth and hopefully attract a wider audience. I'll post today's debut column tomorrow. If you can't wait though, you can read it here, on I also did a larger story on Free Comic Book Day, which you can read here.

In commemoration of the new column, I thought I'd post some reviews that, with the exception of the first item, weren't able to make it into the paper.

"Sexy Voice and Robo"
by Iou Kuroda, Viz
400 pages, $19.99.

Nico, a 14-year-old girl who moonlights as a telephone-dating operator, flirting with lonely, nerdy men, hooks up (though not in a romantic sense) with a 20-something doofus and goes about solving mysteries and doing odd tasks for an aging mob boss.

It sounds like an odd cross between Nancy Drew, "The Sopranos" and a John Hughes film, and to an extent, it is. But Kuroda’s manga is ultimately much deeper and friendlier than that odd amalgamation would suggest.

What’s interesting about the book is seeing how Nico’s devil-may-care attitude slowly changes as her missions become more morally complex. Bearing an art style much different from the usual manga, "Sexy Voice" is a fantastic, original work, and that is well worth your time whether you’re a fan of Japanese comics or not.

"Spaniel Rage"
by Vanessa Davis,
Buenaventura Press, $13.95.

Davis’ sketchbook diary reveals an insecure young woman struggling to find herself and deal with the hostility and mundanity of the day-to-day world. That’s not anything new in the world of alternative comics, but Davis’ loose, off-the-cuff art and willingness to show her weaknesses makes the pages come alive. Davis proves here that she’s a more than capable cartoonist. Now she needs to produce a work that moves her up to the next level.

"Masca Vol. 1"
by Young Hee Kim
CPM, 208 pages, $9.99.

A young sorceress finds herself re­ceiving a good deal of unwanted atten­tion from a handsome demon in the first volume of this Korean comic. It’s an odd little book, with the characters coming off as terribly fey, oh-so gothic and rather superficial. That the author doesn’t seem to take any of this fantas­tic romance too seriously helps under­cut the book’s ponderousness, but it’s still not something I’d recommend to anyone over the age of 16.

"Recidivist 3"
by Zak Sally
La Mano, 106 pages, $15.

Best known as the former bassist for the band Low, Sally proves himself to be a rather stunning cartoonist as well with this third collection of short sto­ries. Sally tells surreal and unnerving tales of irate surgeons, a mysterious and dangerous group of young girls and men with animal heads. The stories manage to evoke a sense of dread and general unease without ever resorting to cheap shocks or overt violence. Those wondering where all the good horror comics went should check out his work at

"Buja’s Diary"
by Seyeong O
NBM, 280 pages, $19.95.

As with the recent "Push Man" col­lection by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Korean artist O’s stories deal with the society’s down and out. Alcoholics, poverty-stricken farmers and families, strung-out war veterans all get time in the spotlight to relate their personal tales of woe.

O uses humor to far more often than Tatsumi, but he also seems to show a bit more sympathy towards his charac­ters as well. Many of the stories here are sorrowful, especially the titular tale,
but glow with a humanity and richness that few of the Korean comics translat­ed on these shores share. More of O’s work needs to be published in the U.S. And soon.


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