Monday, April 30, 2012

Baby's In Black

The Beatles are one of the most well known bands ever, with international hits that have been played now for  generations.This graphic novel chronicles a period between October, 1960 and April, 1962 when the band was in its formative years, playing shows in Hamburg, Germany and trying to establish themselves. Influenced by rock and rock artists, the lads from Liverpool went to Germany to cut their teeth in some pretty tough clubs. The band then consisted of singer John Lennon, 17-year-old guitarist George Harrison, guitarist Paul McCartney, drummer Pete Best, and bassist Stuart Sutcliffe.

The majority of this book focuses on Astrid Kirchherr, a German photographer who was responsible for shaping the band's early look and who went on to her own renown, and Sutcliffe, who ultimately left the band to pursue his art career. They have instant chemistry when they meet, and the ups and downs of the band's early career form the backdrop to their romance. This book seems an obvious labor of love, and there are copious historical footnotes in the back.

Appropriately, Baby's in Black gets its name from an early Beatles song. It was created by Arne Bellstorf, a German artist famous for his comic page for Der Tagesspiegel, a newspaper. He also co-edits an annual comics publication Orang. His homepage provides a link to many of his works. His career is relatively young, but Baby's in Black was a huge cross-over hit in Germany, attracting many readers who may not typically buy graphic novels.

Thus far, the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. The review at Publishers Weekly commented on how it was difficult to tell some of the characters apart but that "fans of the Beatles will certainly be interested in this little-told tale of their early years." Gavin Lees wrote that not only fans would like the book but that "it is obviously made with tremendous affection, but without ever becoming mawkish.  Even without the presence of The Beatles to give weight and import to its story, this is as touching and tragic a book as we’re likely to find this year." Gary Anderson called the art style "simple but evocative."

This edition was published in the US by First Second. Reviews and other links can be found here.

Thank you, Gina, for the review copy!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Paying For It: A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John

Paying for It is a provocative book, which may be a given concerning its subject matter, but it presents arguments and stories in a documentary, understated manner. It is at once a memoir and a measured argument in defense of the world's oldest profession. The story follows the author as he breaks up with his girlfriend and then over time realizes he wants to have sex but not be in a relationship. After some paranoid forays into being a john, he finally decides to drop all the pretense and just go straight forward into soliciting prostitutes using his own name. The book questions the relationship between emotional love and biological and economic needs in a serious manner. It contains interviews and explicit scenes as well as numerous footnotes, resources, and back matter.

The book's author, Chester Brown, is a well established and respected graphic novelist who broke into the comics world in the 1980s with his series Yummy Fur. This eclectic comic book contained serial stories, autobiographical material, and adaptations of the New Testament Gospels. These stories have been published individually as Ed, The Happy Clown, The Playboy, and I Never Liked You. He has also delved into nonfiction, creating a graphic biography of Louis Riel, a controversial figure in Canadian history. A multiple Harvey Award winner, Brown speaks about his career and this book extensively in this interview with Tom Spurgeon.

Reviews I have read show respect to Brown's craftsmanship and ambivalence about his arguments but are largely positive. The Comics Journal's Naomi Fry found the book to be complex and well composed, adding that "there is a commendable honesty here, to be sure: a kind of downbeat, detached naturalism. But there is something dispiriting about it too." Activist/artist Annie Sprinkle wrote in The New York Times that this graphic novel is "a valuable resource for academics, a challenge to law enforcement and politicians, and a boon to johns the world over." The Guardian's James Smart cautioned that  "Brown's honesty will put some readers off, " but "whether you agree with his suggestions that marriage is evil, romantic love an impossible dream and deregulated prostitution the way to go, his candid account offers a revealing perspective on an industry that refuses to go away."

A preview is provided by the book's publisher Drawn & Quarterly

Friday, April 20, 2012

Infinite Kung Fu

Kung fu was a huge fad in the 1970s in the US, playing out in music, movies, and television. Infinite Kung Fu is a love letter written to that genre of movie in particular, with many extra features added to make the story pop even more. The main character is Lei Kung, a soldier who sets off on his own path to learn kung fu and achieve enlightenment. He finds himself in a world where an evil emperor is trying to resurrect himself from the dead with the help of turncoat armies and a legion of zombie/corpse warriors. Of course, Lei Kung must do everything he can to keep these evil forces at bay. Along the way he meets comrades in arms, such as Moog Joogular, who looks like he came off the set of Black Belt Jones and can detach his limbs and use them as weapons. Additionally, the cast of characters includes 8 Immortals who look over the proceedings and their students, 5 of whom have been corrupted by learning "poison kung fu," a potent and manipulative brand of fighting.

With impressive action sequences, interesting characters, and a huge reverence for the material, Kagan McLeod has created a majestic, fun, and suspenseful story worthy of being called an epic. He began self-publishing this story as individual comic books in 2000 and after seven issues, he hooked up with publisher Top Shelf to put out this collected edition that has 200 added pages. McLeod began his career as a staff artist for Canada’s National Post newspaper and today he remains an in demand magazine illustrator. He speaks more about his work on this book in this interview with John Hogan at the Graphic Novel Reporter.

Infinite Kung Fu is a large and beautifully rendered book that has garnered much praise. It appeared on numerous best of lists as well as a selection for YALSA's Top 10 Great Graphic Novels for Teens. It should come as no surpirse then to see it has also been very well reviewed. CBR's Chad Nevett wrote that "Infinite Kung-Fu is so entertaining and big and just plain fun to read that its large scope never drags it down. It’s like the best kung-fu movie you’ve ever seen, unimpaired by time or budget constraints, willing to take everything about kung-fu that everyone loves and throw it all together." Patrick Godfrey called it "a fully realized genre mash-up page-turner overspilling with creativity." A collection of the positive press this book has garnered can be found here.

There is a treasure trove of information, samples, extras, and links at the book's official page. A lengthy (250 pages!) preview and more is also available from the book's publisher Top Shelf.

On a side note, this is the very first graphic novel I read on my Kindle Fire using the Comixology app. I enjoyed the book very much, and I got used to the scrolling/navigation relatively quickly. On the plus side, I could zoom in on images and see the well rendered art done large. On the minus side, sometimes the pages, especially the spreads, appeared too small and had to be re-sized, which made for a slightly clunky reading experience.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Please Consider Funding a New Graphic Textbook

People who know me know I love graphic novels but I also love gallimaufries. Both combine here in this graphic novel anthology project from Reading with Pictures. They have collected a great array of creators, from cover artist Ben Caldwell (of Dare Detectives fame) to the team of Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey (whose Action Philosophers series I love) to Katie Cook (whose online comic Gronk is excellent) to Roger Langridge (author of the Thor: The Mighty Avenger).

They are calling this collection a textbook, but do not let that scare you. It will contain twelve separate stories, both fiction and nonfiction, and it will be not just an interesting and entertaining book but also an excellent addition to any classroom or school library.

Please consider ordering this book and funding the project via Reading with Pictures' Kickstarter page. They are offering a series of rewards from original art to classroom sets of the books.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Death Ray

Watchmen started a trend with imagining what realistic superheroes would be like. More recently, books and movies like Kick Ass and Super took the idea a little farther in terms of the violence and insanity. The Death Ray is a different take on this superhero trope. As stories go, it is a slow burn, as many of Dan Clowes's tales are. More an exploration of the moral and social outcomes that would come with great power, it is a bleak portrait of a lonely, unsatisfied man and his unfulfilled existence.

The Death Ray follows the life of Andy, a pretty ordinary and unremarkable teenager who has had his share of disappointment. He is an orphan who lives with his increasingly deteriorating grandfather. His sole bright spots are writing occasionally to a girl he once dated whom he insists he still loves and hanging out with Louie, his one friend from school. The boys get picked on and called names, but things change once Andy stumbles upon the fact that he has amazing strength and powers. Instead of becoming some ostentatious figure, Andy instead leads a quieter life gaining revenge and dispatching those he and Louie consider evil. As time goes on, his deeds begins to weigh more and more on him.

This story was originally published as a stand-alone issue of Dan Clowes's Eightball. The series was a highwater mark of 1990s alternative comics, and it established Clowes as a major talent in comics. He has gone on to do much prominent work that has appeared in magazines like Esquire, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Magazine. He has produced a number of well renowned works such as Ghost World, Wilson, and Ice Haven. He has also written screenplays for his works that have been turned into movies, Ghost World and Art School Confidential.

Like many of Clowes's works, this book has been well received and reviewed. The Washington Post's Aaron Leitko called it "a clever tweak on a well-worn series of cliches." Paul Di Filippo wrote that "Clowes masterfully depicts the lives of characters who are both average and yet as majestically tragic as any Greek or Shakespearean stumblebum." NPR's Dan Kois praised the book for its unsettling take on superheroes, adding "Clowes takes his conceit seriously, and so do his characters, exploring the knotty and discomfiting intersection of teen angst and unexpected power." The Death Ray was also nominated for a 2012 Eisner Award.

For those more interested in the book, there is a great discussion about various aspects and interpretations at The Comics Journal. A preview is provided here from the book's publisher Drawn & Quarterly.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Happy 51st Birthday, Daniel Clowes!

Dan Clowes is perhaps the most visible and successful of the alternative comics artists that burst on to the scene in the 1980s. His work has been seen on major soda brands, the covers of major magazines, and record/CD covers. He even appeared as himself in an episode of The Simpsons.

Clowes's initial efforts appeared in Cracked, Mad magazine's major competitor. At first his work drew heavily from 1950s/1960s retro-hip features. He drew Uggly Family comics that followed the exploits of a ghoulish, Addams Family type clan. His next main character, Lloyd Llewellyn, appeared in various publications from Fantagraphics. Llewellyn was a hard boiled detective type who worked in a world full of beatniks, aliens, monsters, beautiful women, time travelers, and cocktails.

Afterward, Clowes started a solo anthology comic in the 1990s called Eightball. This series allowed him to draw a number of stories, including autobiographical and opinionated pieces like "I Hate You Deeply" and its sequel "I Love you Tenderly," serials such as Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron and Ghost World, and experimental work like Ice Haven. As years went on, the series began to be published less frequently and become less an anthology than a series of issues that focused on specific self-contained stories like David Boring and The Death Ray.

More recently, Clowes has forgone serial publication for the most part (an exception: his Mister Wonderful series appeared first in The New York Times Magazine) to publish graphic novels like Wilson. Additionally, all of his series and anthology stories have been collected into individual graphic novel versions.

He adapted his Ghost World series into an Oscar nominated (for Best Adapted Screenplay) motion picture in 2001 directed by Terry Zwigoff and starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, and Steve Buscemi. Following the success of this film Clowes adapted another of his Eightball stories, "Art School Confidential," into a movie, but it was less than well received.

Clowes has won many  prestigious awards for his graphic novel work, including the 2011 PEN Literary Prize for Graphic Literature as well as the Harvey, Eisner and Ignatz Comics Awards. He continues to be a prolific, vital artist and creator in a variety of media. He talks about his recent projects in this interview with Publishers Weekly.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Line, Volume 1

As someone who grew up in a family who owns a restaurant (if you are ever in New Windsor, NY, go visit!), I can vouch for some of the insanity that goes on behind the scenes in your favorite kitchens. The mix of interesting and diverse personalities, languages, customers, and stresses can make for a dynamic and even explosive combination. This webcomic collection well captures that energy as well as the idiosyncrasies of working in a restaurant. Also, although it does flirt with stereotypes, it quickly fleshes out its cast into strong and unique characters.

The Line, Volume 1 follows Linda Park, the hostess and newest employee at Chef Paul Greenfield's new restaurant. The chef is an egomaniac who does not even remember hiring her. Chase Harvey, the manager, is a heavy drinker who has no time for training rookies or dealing with most problems. As they all navigate the opening of this new restaurant, they have to deal with some major obstacles, including nearly killing their first reviewer, some dangerous and unsanitary kitchen activity, and mishaps with coupons offered via a social networking site.

The Line is written by Kevin Church and drawn by Paul Salvi. Church is building up a strong cache of work called Agreeable Comics. Included in these comics are series set in the same universe as The Line, including The Rack, which is set in the comic store, and Lydia, which follows Linda's sister at a corporate job. Other series he has written include The Loneliest Astronauts, about a couple of unfortunate people involved in a botched space mission, and the mystery story She Died in Terrabone.

I have not found many reviews of this comic online yet, but it has been covered at CBR's Comics Should Be Good blog. There Brian Cronin praised Paul Salvi for his story-telling and his "bang-up job of conveying the precise mood of each character, just by their expressions." He also added that "Church’s humor in this strip is very character-driven, so being able to convey emotions is key."

The Line is an ongoing comic and more recent storylines can be found here. This print collection offers a number of extra features, including guest strips, pin-ups, early development art, and a short strip where Chef Paul teaches how to properly season and bake a chicken. You can buy a copy of the book here.

In all, I felt this was a very hip, human, and humorous comics collection. I'll definitely be back for seconds. (Sorry I could not resist that horrible, horrible, obvious, and horrible pun.)

Thank you, Kevin Church, for the review copy PDF!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Kill Shakespeare, Volume 2: The Blast of War

Much happens in this second (and final?) collection of the popularly received mini-series where the Bard's characters all exist in one world. Hamlet finally meets his maker, and this meeting with Shakespeare does not go quite as planned. Also, the grand struggle between the forces of Richard III and Lady MacBeth and those of Juliet and Othello comes to a head in a huge battle that costs many participants their lives. By the end of the book the narrative comes to a close, but there are still enough loose ends left to suggest the possibility of a sequel.

This book is created by the same team as volume 1. Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery created the concept and wrote the series. Andy Belanger provided the art, which was energetic, expressive, and packed with Easter eggs. More information about these creators can be found at the book's official site.

Reviews of this collection have been relatively positive. David Norman wrote, "Kill Shakespeare is an excellent comic book series that rewards re-reading and which also makes you want to know more about Shakespeare plays." Gary Makries explained, "If you haven’t read the first one, I would recommend it. But truthfully, you can jump right in and catch up pretty well. I don’t often jump at dropping twenty bucks on a graphic novel but as I said before, this one rocks." The reviewer at Publishers Weekly offered a less favorable review, commenting that this book suffers from comparison to Shakespeare's works and that "the number of characters included goes beyond the book’s ability to comfortably fit them all in."

A preview of this volume can be found at More information about the series, including additional previews and a trailer, is available here from the book's publisher IDW.