Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Graphic Lit -- 9/18

Yes, that's what I've been calling the comic review blurbs that I do for The Patriot-News. I admit, it's not genius, but it's better than "Hey Kids, Comics!"

These all ran in the paper last Sunday. Enjoy.

"Bete Noire 1"
edited by Chris Polkki
Fantagraphics Books, 96 pages, $9.95.

"Mome 1"
Fantagraphics Books, 128 pages, $14.95.

Art-comix stalwarts Fantagraphics recently published two cutting-edge anthologies featuring a wide swath of notable artists. But, neither really manages to catapult itself into the status of "instant classic."

"Bete Noire" adopts a hodgepodge, "stuff as much as you can in a small book" approach, so that none of the stories manages to stay with you when you’ve put the book down. It doesn’t help much that several contributions feel like they’re part of a larger ongoing work. I hate to pick on the book, especially since it features work by cartoonists you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else, but apart from Lucie Durbiano’s romantic take on Little Red Riding Hood, the material just isn’t that strong.

Equally ambitious but more focused is "Mome," a new quarterly that aims for nothing less than to be the "Zap Comics" for the new, up-and-coming generation of cartoonists. Rather than a constantly changing lineup, "Mome" features a regular cast of artists, giving the reader a chance to see their work grow and develop over time.

Unfortunately, the first collection is a mixed affair. While Gabrielle Bell, Anders Nilsen and Andrice Arp contribute smart, intriguing work, the pieces by Jeffrey Brown and Sophie Crumb fall surprisingly flat. Other stories feel like first chapters in longer narratives that have yet to find their footing.

Still, if this first issue fails to live up to the hype, the far-flung goal is quite admirable. And there’s enough talent in these pages to have faith that the objective will be reached in time.

"Walt and Skeezix: 1921-1922"
by Frank King
Drawn and Quarterly, $29.95.

Everyone rightly acknowledges comic strips such as "Peanuts" and "Calvin and Hobbes" as classics. Equally deserving of that title, though largely ignored, is Frank King’s "Gasoline Alley," a lovely, heartfelt strip that moved in real time, with the characters aging at the same pace as the reader.

Drawn and Quarterly and uber-cartoonist/editor Chris Ware are now attempting to give King his due, thanks to this immense first volume in a projected series that will collect King’s entire run.

What starts as a gag-a-day comic involving the early fascination with automobiles turns into something altogether different when main character Walt Wallet finds an abandoned baby on his doorstep. From there, the strip becomes a warm and funny look at parenthood and the simple joys of life that never tips over into maudlin excess. Extensive essays and archival photos of King sweeten the package. Do yourself a favor and pick up this lovely piece of early 20th-century Americana.

"Der Struwwelmaakies"
by Tony Millionaire
Fantagraphics Books, 94 pages, $19.95.

It’s hard to think of another cartoonist who is able to go from cheerful offensiveness to sublime poetry with the deftness and aplomb of Tony Millionaire. This latest collection of his weekly "Maakies" strip shows that Millionaire is a sublime draftsmen, as evidenced by his frequent backgrounds filled with wooden ships and ornate houses. The gags, at times grotesque, will no doubt alienate those with sensitive dispositions. Those with a fondness for the bizarre and outrageously funny should feel free to dive right in.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005


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