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Monday, December 28, 2009

2009 in comics, some brief comments on many things that deserve longer comments

So, comics in 2009. Sure were a lot of those, in all forms.

A look at Jack Kirby related publications for the year (highlighted by a massive book of Simon&Kirby reprints)
And the same for Steve Ditko (100+ pages of new comics, some new essays and Mr. A. reprint)

Those two creators aside, book of the year is the all-new BEANWORLD BOOK 3 - REMEMBER HERE WHEN YOU ARE THERE.  Runner up is BEANWORLD BOOK 1 - WAHOOLAZUMA, collecting the earliest Beanworld adventures.  And in a surprise third place showing is BEANWORLD BOOK 2 - A GIFT COMES, collecting the balance of the original series.

Okay, I suppose you could make a case that for me, at least, Larry Marder should get the same disqualification as Kirby and Ditko (look up where the name of this weblog comes from...).  Much more on the new Beanworld from me later, either here or on Gunk'l'dunk.

Those three creators aside then, book of the year that I've read so far is THE TOON TREASURY OF CLASSIC CHILDREN'S COMICS, edited by Francoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman. In addition to generous samplings of Sheldon Mayer, Walt Kelly, Carl Barks and John Stanley, there are also some good rarely seen bits from other famous creators, plus some entertaining work from people I've never heard of. The book deserves a much longer post which I hope to get to eventually.

Switching to some new comics, I still buy a handful of things in that nameless serialized format that most North American comic books were initially published in until a few years ago.

Stan Sakai had a good year with USAGI YOJIMBO, starting off the regular series with a really good three part zombie story, then several one-shot stories and now closing off with the two part "A Town Called Hell", which is a bit of a back-to-the-basics Usagi adventure. Top notch stuff. I thought Sakai had a bit of a lull back a few years ago, but since then he's gotten back to doing some of his strongest work yet. In addition to that, he also did USAGI YOJIMBO: YOKAI, an original painted hardcover Usagi story, which teams up Usagi with the demon hunter Sasuke (who was also in that aforementioned zombie story) against a host of imaginative monsters from myth and Sakai's own imagination.

One thing we didn't see, unfortunately, was the big one volume hardcover reprint of all of the early Usagi stories from the first Fantagraphics series. Comic book publishers always seem to underestimate how much work such things will be, two or three times on the schedule seems to be the norm, so maybe we'll see it in 2010.

Meanwhile, Sakai's lettering can also be seen in the latest GROO series by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier. I've only read the first issue of GROO: THE HOGS OF HORDER so far, but it's a good start, pitting Groo's epic stupidity against an allegorical version of the epic stupidity of the recent financial meltdown.

Groo's also in a delayed reprint situation, a GROO TREASURY reprinting the first few hundred pages of Groo from the 1980s was supposed to be out a while ago, but doesn't even show up on Dark Horse's website now. Maybe someday. I vaguely recall we were also teased a Groo/Conan crossover at some point, wonder if that'll ever come out?

I still get Linda Medley's CASTLE WAITING, two issues came out in 2009, #14 and #15.  Doesn't look like anything else is scheduled for the immediate future, so maybe a change in publishing plans is likely for that series. I enjoy the individual issues, but the actual story is moving along kind of slowly, so maybe bigger chunks of story would suit it better.  Well, whatever she ends up doing, I'm sure I'll be there.

Paul Grist got one whole issue of JACK STAFF out in 2009, after doing a pretty good job of getting the book back on track in 2008.  Looks like he's relaunching the book with a new title, WEIRD WORLD OF JACK STAFF, next year, so we'll see if that takes.  And it looks like there was a one-shot spin-off for his Eternal Warrior character out a few months ago that I missed.  And he's been drawing a lot of Doctor Who related comics, of all things, which almost makes me want to buy some Doctor Who comics.  Still no sign of KANE continuing as a series of original graphic novels, as long promised, though there was a decent short story in an anthology from Dark Horse, NOIR.

Eric Shanower keeps going with AGE OF BRONZE, two issues out in 2009.  I still have to find the second one, but at this point you know what to expect, I'm sure. He's also been doing the scripts for some adaptations of the original Oz books over at Marvel. If he was drawing them too, I'd be quicker to pick them up, but I still might get them eventually.  Speaking of Shanower drawing Oz, his old original Oz graphic novels are being republished in a more compact format next year by IDW, first volume (collecting two of the original books for just $10) out soon.  I have the big collection of all five from a few years back, which is gorgeous, but this format should reach more people.

Randy Reynaldo continues to get an issue of ROB HANES ADVENTURES out once a year.  Ordering details, and links to several complete stories on-line, over on his website, where you can catch up at a bargain price, and get some news about the collected edition he'll have out next year.  This year's issue had the globe trotting adventurer stranded on a tropic island with a beautiful woman.  Poor guy...

Steve Rude and Mike Baron's latest NEXUS story made it across the finish line with a double issue wrapping up the "Space Opera" story, just slightly less than two years late. There's also a collection of the story, and a nice compact black and white collection of the earliest stories in the series from Rude's Rude Dude Publications.  No idea what the future holds for Nexus and the other characters Rude plans to publish, but I'm going to guess serialized comics in that old format might not be the most likely route.

Mike Kunkel finished up his suddenly brief run on BILLY BATSON AND THE MAGIC OF SHAZAM (or as I like to call it, CAPTAIN MARVEL) early this year.  No idea if we'll ever see him back on the book, but it was fun while it lasted.  I'd still rather he returned to his own HEROBEAR series, but that doesn't seem to be on the immediate horizon either.  Anyway, that was one of the few things that could get me to buy a new serialized comic from DC or Marvel.

Another thing was Mike Ploog writing and drawing a few issues of THE SPIRIT, #31 and #32 (since if I waited for the collection I'd have to get many non-Ploog issues with it).  Those were pretty good, some nice work in the in the Eisner vein, though obviously using many more pages than Eisner would have.  And Nick Cardy even drew one of the covers, which was a nice bonus.

That's pretty much it for me in the single issue format for the year (well, toss in some of the Ditko stuff, too).  As you can see it's mostly work from creators who I've been following for a decade or more, who sometimes despite their best intentions only get a one or two issues out a year (except Stan Sakai, who's a comic drawing machine). I kind of miss the days when I was willing to sample a few dozen new books a year to find the three or four I might really like, and I'm sure I'm missing stuff among the newer crop of books out there, hopefully stuff I'll catch later in some collection.

Anyway, on to the bookshelf stuff.  Let's start with some newly translated foreign stuff.

A DRIFTING LIFE is a massive 800+ page semi-autobiographical work by Yoshihiro Tatsumi and his early years as a comics artist in Japan, from after WWII to 1960. Highly entertaining, but at the same time a little unsatisfying, as clearly some major events occurred later to really shape the work he's most famous for.  Maybe there'll be a sequel.

After finishing up the previously published MONSTER by Naoki Urasawa, and really enjoying it, especially most of the second half (which I really should write a longer post about) I tried the more recent stuff of his seeing English translation, PLUTO and 20th CENTURY BOYS.  I haven't been as impressed with them so far, but then MONSTER took a few volumes to really click for me, too.  There's some good stuff in there, and I may get back to them when they're close to finishing the English versions so I can read the entire works in a few months.

More of Osamu Tezuka's prolific career continues to show up in English.  I've been slowly reading the BLACK JACK books, and while there's some nice work in there, it gets a bit tedious after a while, with no real character development, even with only two frequently recurring characters.  I'm not sure how much more I want to read, probably not the full 17 book series.  I kind of wish they'd put together a single BEST OF BLACK JACK book.

I also read Tezuka's SWALLOWING THE EARTH, a single volume collection of one of his earliest adult oriented comics from the late 1960s.  Very strange, very rough and with a primitive version of the same weird sexual space that he'd inhabit with somewhat more polish in already translated books like MW, APOLLO'S SONG and ODE TO KIRIHITO. Not sure I can really recommend it, especially with some of the racial caricatures that unfortunately plague Tezuka's work, but an interesting read.  I really do need to sit down sometime and re-read those books and some of the other Tezuka works I have (hard to believe back just 15 years ago there were only a few dozen pages of Tezuka readily available in English)

In some classic comics reprints, in addition to the crown jewels of the category mentioned at the top of the post, it was a good year.  Just a few highlights (some of which I still need to pick up, but barring catastrophic production just have to be good).

A complete collection of Kurtzman and Company's HUMBUG in a nice two-volume set

Various John Stanley reprints, from more LITTLE LULU from Dark Horse to various other later works (MELVIN MONSTER, NANCY) from D&Q.  And more to come next year.

Complete Eddie Campbell's Alec, with lots of new or rare stuff, in THE YEARS HAVE PANTS.

A complete hardcover of Archie Goodwin's BLAZING COMBAT magazine (with a cheaper softcover on the way).

A massive collection of Al Williamson's various stints drawing FLASH GORDON through the years.

A wacky collection of Harvey's various Little girl characters (Audrey, Dot, Lotta), finishing up a five volume bargain priced set of highlights from the early years of Harvey from Dark Horse.

The O'Neil/Cowan run of THE QUESTION continuing to be collected, although in a manner that leaves something to be desired, still some great comics.

A collection of seriously deranged Boody Rogers comics.

DC's continuing SHOWCASE PRESENTS line of cheap black and white reprints, including highlights like Bat Lash and Doom Patrol in 2009.

And that doesn't even get to all the comic strip reprints.  Way more stuff than any sane person could afford, and that's even with POGO still not coming out (maybe in 2010?  Who knows).

Some quick thoughts on a few newer books, either collections of recent comics or original graphic novels.

LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: CENTURY 1910 was a good solid read from Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill, a much nicer format than was used by their previous publisher.  I'm looking forward to the next book.

And LIGHT OF THY COUNTENANCE was a surprisingly good adaptation of an older Moore story/essay/poem about television, and about various other Moore conceptual touchstones (ideaspace, the fabric of fiction and the tide of history).

THE BIG SKINNY is a diet advice book in comics form by Carol Lay, of Story Minute fame. Which on the one hand seems an odd thing for her to do, but it works as a readable book (though I haven't improved my diet since reading it, but whatever), with her storytelling skills and humour coming through, so that's okay.  Maybe I'll defer to Eddie Campbell's thoughts on Will Eisner spending years drawing instructional manuals for the army:

Far from lamenting Eisner's long disappearance into this line of work as a waste, on the contrary I am momentarily regretting the years I myself have wasted creating fictions when I could have been giving the world something useful.

ASTERIOS POLYP by David Mazzucchelli was an interesting book.  I'm waiting for a chance to re-read it, which I'm told helps, but while I liked a lot of it I don't think the substance was nearly up to the level of the style.

GRANDVILLE is a new steam-punk funny animal hard-boiled detective story by Bryan Talbot.  Gorgeously drawn, a nice diversion, though probably a minor Talbot work in the long run, but minor Talbot is still good.

The third, and for now last, MAGIC TRIXIE book by Jill Thompson came out this year.  While the first is still the best, the follow-ups are fun, and they're nice inexpensive books that young kids would love.

Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert's BATMAN: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CAPED CRUSADER, man did that fall flat on its conceptual face.  Really, the more I think about it the worse it gets. "Goodnight giant penny"? At least it includes some decent older Gaiman stuff, especially the origin of the Riddler with art by Bernie Mireault and Matt Wagner.

TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA by Shaun Tan is one of those "not a graphic novel, percy" books, with a mix of stories, some more illustrated prose, some closer to traditional comics.  Very expertly done, a nice followup to Tan's THE ARRIVAL.  Definitely one I'm going to write some more about, got a post half-written for a few months now.

THE HUNTER adapts a 50 year old crime novel by Donald Westlake, the first with his character Parker, into comics.  Competently done for the most part by Darwyn Cooke, although he falls down a few times, and doesn't add much to the story (which is also horribly dated in some ways).  He also messes up the ending quite badly.

FINAL CRISIS, man, I just did not understand that at all.  So the world goes to hell, some unrecognizable version of Darkseid wins, Superman goes on a not quite logical otherworld adventure and picks up a magic wishing song to make everything better?  And Batman shoots a godgun and then gets sent back in time? I don't know what I read there.

On the other hand, I read the various collections of the SINESTRO CORPS WAR storyline that ran through various Green Lantern books a year or so back, and I have to say I was surprisingly impressed with how clearly they read.  Now, on the one hand, I think that they have way too many characters, with all those alien Green Lanterns who used to be just add background flavour (and cannon fodder) now having names and being joined by dozens more, plus an equal number of villains.  And some of that accumulated backstory is just ridiculous (especially Parallax and Ion, cosmic bug and fish that represent each ring colour or some such nonsense).  And the stories are at time needlessly violent.  And the whole rainbow ring spectrum thing it sets up is just right out of video game  or something.  Oh wait, I was meant to be praising it, wasn't I?  Well, despite everything, the 11-year-old in me who read the Staton/Wein/Barr GLC mini-series back in 1981 found a lot to like in these books, and the guy who hasn't really followed Green Lantern in over 20 years found he could follow most of this, even if he didn't always like where it led.

IRREDEEMABLE VOL. 1, collecting the first four issue of a comic about Superman turning evil, is a bit odd. It's not a bad start, the art by Peter Krause is nice enough, and the characters are a nice mix of transparent pastiche with some mildly original bits.  I'll be interested to see where it goes, since I don't think I've ever read a Mark Waid story that finished anywhere near as well as it began (or in the case of longer runs, where the middle was as good as the beginning, since I usually bailed long before the end), and this one has the potential to be an especially beautiful trainwreck if that's the case on this one.  And who knows, maybe he can pull it off for once?  I keep expecting the resolution to be that this was all a red kryptonite purple plutonite episode, which is solved by the judicious use of the miracle machine magic wishing rock kept at the Fortress of Solitude Citadel of Tranquility.  Yeah, okay, I'm cynical, but I'm not the one doing a comic about Superman frying babies with his heat vision, sinking entire nations, cutting out a friend's brain and all that stuff (which would probably have been fresher before Miracleman, Marshal Law, Brat Pack and The Boys, among many others).

Read the first two books of the collected LOCKE AND KEY by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez recently.  While the horror elements are a bit intense, and some of the fantasy elements maybe a little goofy, which is an odd contrast, there's something there.  I'll definitely read the next book.

DARK ENTRIES was a new Hellblazer story in the new Vertigo Crime imprint, though it tried not to look it, instead focusing on the big-name prose writer Ian Rankin.  I'd think they'd want to launch their crime imprint with a crime story, given they have a big time crime writer, but what do I know? Anyway, it was pretty much an uninspired old-school Hellblazer story, which kind of depended a bit too much on John Constantine being an idiot, and played for a fool when he should be doing the playing.  Nothing inspired, including the art (and when did Contantine get a scar over one eye?).

That said, much better than FILTHY RICH, the other Vertigo Crime book.

And there are comics all over the web (even those old newspaper comics, the web is the only convenient way to read most of them).  I never quite got used the the idea, so most of what I get around to following is from artists I know from print.

Phil and Kaja Foglio continue Girl Genius and wrapped up a newly coloured reprint of some old Buck Godot work, hopefully for an eventual print edition.

Scott Roberts continues to post a mix of new comics, reprints and unpublished file stuff over on his site.

Steve Bissette spent much of the year posting dozens of new and old sketches over at his site, some quite amazing (and one now on my wall) and recently started posting serialized comic stories, starting with some old rarely seen ones and planning to move to include new stuff next year.

Batton Lash has many stories of his Supernatural Law series continuing to go up.

Donna Barr's been running reprints of The Desert Peach on a daily basis, with page by page commentary, and is expanding that to Stinz and other series in 2010.

Colleen Doran has been running A Distant Soil over on her site for a while, still a few months away from getting to the point where I don't already have print copies.  And really, they're readily available enough that I should probably just get the books I'm missing rather than try to read them on-line.

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