Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Handsell: Comics Roundup!

As promised, I'm catching up on reviewing some of the many comics I seem to have been reading lately. This will be Handsell style: just a quick description/pitch.

A note on linking: I'm trying something new. I'm using my own images and linking them directly to the IndieBound book info page, rather than using the affiliate links, which require an extra several clicks before you get to the book. It takes a bit longer for me, but seems more likely to be click-through-friendly for you. Let me know what you think.

Miss Don't Touch Me
by Hubert & Kerascoet


This graphic novel is a study in contradictions: it combines a somewhat lighthearted tone - "prudish girl finds herself working in a high-end whorehouse, bring on the sex comedy!" - with some rather grisly plot points, including some pretty dark perversions and more than one bloody murder. The very French drawing style -- quick and flowing, almost sketchy, a la Joann Sfar of The Rabbi's Cat -- contributes to this strangeness. It's a grippingly suspenseful plot and the characters and images are very well-done and sometimes even sexy, but I'd suggest it only to readers with strong stomachs and a high tolerance for cognitive dissonance.

Luke on the Loose
by Harry Bliss

(Toon Books)

This is my favorite of the latest season's offerings from Toon Books, the comics-as-early-readers line created by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly. The plot and dialogue are intended for early primary kids: Luke, while on a walk with his dad, gets interested in chasing some pigeons and rampages across New York City like a hurricane -- but grownups will enjoy reading along for the fun of recognizing both many NYC landmarks and scenes and the unstoppable energy of a small boy. Harry Bliss, a Brooklyn native, brings this episodic tale to life with kinetic drawings perfect for the target age group, who will likely see themselves in Luke's exuberant flight.

08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail
by Michael Crowley and Dan Goldman

(Three Rivers Press)
Admit it: you kind of miss the never-ending drama of campaign season. This unique work manages to recapture the suspense and comedy and nobility and absurdity of it all, even though we know how it all comes out. Goldman, co-author of the Iraq/media/blogging satire Shooting War, is no stranger to capturing political realities and metaphors. Through the personae of two reporters who have seen it all, he and Crowley let you relive the political year moment by moment, and use the graphic novel format to get across the non-verbal subtleties as well as the rhetoric (every line of dialogue spoken by a candidate or other figure in the book is from their actual recorded words). Highly recommended for political junkies and those interested in what this medium can do with recent history.

Frankenstein: Prodigal Son 1
by Dean Koontz, Chuck Dixon, and Brett Booth

(Del Rey)
This book for me is that rare challenge: a negative handsell. I found the dialogue unintentionally laughable and the art cliched -- in fact, what amused me most about the book is that while the plot involves a still-alive Frankenstein creating an army of creepily perfect artificial people, it was impossible to tell his creations from anyone else in the story, as EVERYONE is creepily perfect, in a boring superhero comic kind of way. However, the plot kept me reading (against my better judgement) through the end of this installment, and the newly imagined Frankenstein's monster is kinda sexy. I suspect I'm just not the target audience for this sort of thing -- at ComicCon the folks behind this book touted it as a way to bring Koontz's work to teen readers, and it might work for teens. I'd sell it to those who were interested in Buffy or Twilight-style melodrama, with the caveat that there's much better work out there.

Scott Pilgrim #5: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe!
by Bryan Lee O'Malley

(Oni Press)

This is it! The big book of ComicCon 2009! So popular that you can't find it in stores! The penultimate book in O'Malley's manga/kung fu/video game/slacker culture/coming-of-age masterpiece! Could it possibly live up to the hype? Well, yes actually. Scott Pilgrim, still working through his quest to defeat the seven evil ex-boyfriends of the mysterious Ramona Flowers, is becoming a character of more depth and maturity, and the story is beginning to focus more on the limitations of a battle fighting, rock and roll playing, partygoing approach to solving the real problems of love, friendship, identity, and one's place in the world. Because it's the second to last, this one ends on an Empire Strikes Back-level cliffhanger, which means I will be in agony for the next two years or whatever it takes O'Malley to bring out number 6. But I can always go back and read 1 to 5 in the meantime, reveling in the layers of humor and visual motifs and hints about the outcome that the work provides in spades. I'd recommend you do the same, if you are the kind of person who likes fun, especially when it gets serious. Seriously, please just buy (or reserve) #1 at your local indie bookstore or comic shop as soon as possible and begin the Scott Pilgrim adventure.

Nocturnal Conspiracies
by David B.

David B. is one of the stars of the very sophisticated French comics scene; his memoir Epileptic was a bestseller and highly acclaimed here in the States. I'm still reading my way slowly through this rich, eerie, atmospheric and thoroughly enjoyable book, a compendium of some of the author's own dreams over a period of decades. It's a kind of counterpoint to another recent favorite, The Night Of Your Life by Jesse Reklaw; while Reklaw compresses other people's dreams into four surreally humorous panels, David B traces his own dreams at length through their irresistible desires, pressing demands, and French Resistance-influenced atmospherics and drama. I found each meandering episode both deja vu familiar and utterly other, as other people's dreams often are. The combination of words and pictures seems like the perfect -- maybe only -- way to convey both the visual nature of dreams and the fact that our understanding of a dream situation goes beyond what we can see (the "it was you, but it didn't look like you" phenomenon). Another example of the best of what's going on in the genre -- some nudity and dream violence make it unsuitable for the youngest readers, but for all others it's definitely recommended.