NEW NBM

NEW NBM

Written and Drawn by Various

Published by NBM

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Three new books worth your time…

invincible days

After a long absence from the shelves, Patrick Atangan returns with INVINCIBLE DAYS, a fascinating look at his youth. Told via anthropomorphic characters, Atangan relates numerous emotionally involving stories that the reader can easily connect to on an intimate level. Whether it is the rawness with which he presents his feelings of isolation as a child from Asia being raised in America, or the dramatic heft of the ongoing saga of his grandmother’s deteriorating health and passing, everything here has a deep truth to it. It is the anthropomorphic characters, along with the day-glo color scheme Atangan uses that keeps the book from feeling too heavy. INVINCIBLE DAYS treads a line that combines autobiography and pure art comix, and does so pretty damned well. An easy recommendation for those whose tastes run toward those genres.

beauty

The writer/artist team of Hubert and Kerascoet (MISS DON’T TOUCH ME) once again grace American shelves with BEAUTY, a classic tale of a wish gone wrong. A young, plain commoner known as Coddie believes (and is treated like) she is the most unattractive girl in the land. But when she frees a trapped fairy, she is given a chance to change her life with a wish. Her wish: to be beautiful. Unable to physically change the girl, the fairy changes everyone’s perception of the girl, and suddenly all men across the land believe she is the fairest of them all. Unfortunately, this leads to violence, jealousy, vanity, and lots of other problems. Wittily scripted by Hubert and gorgeously drawn by Kerascoet, BEAUTY dives below the surface to tackle our obsession with looks, both our own and everyone else’s, in an interesting and entertaining way. As with their earlier work, the outcomes aren’t always pretty and the answers aren’t always easy, but the journey this excellent hardcover takes you on is well worth taking.

zombillenium2

Volume 2 of writer/artist Arthur De Pins’ ZOMBILLENIUM is subtitled “Human Resources”, which is a spectacular pun in many ways. Zombillenium is a horror theme park that is staffed by actual monsters and creatures of the night. Here in book two, the park faces trouble on two fronts: one, the nearby locals aren’t too keen on the monsters in their midst and are plotting some good old fashioned terrorism in order to do something about it; and two, a rather disturbing woman arrives at the park with her son, and there is something far too familiar about her in the eyes of management. In both cases, the rather… hot… aspects of Level -9 of the complex are about to come into play.

Funny, profane, rude, beautifully drawn, and highly creative, this second entry in the series is absolutely terrific. If they remain this good, I’ll keep reading them until the end.



NEW NBM

NEW NBM

Written and Drawn by Various

Published by NBM

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Three fine new efforts from the NBM gang…

dogbuttscov

Cartoonist Jim Benton sees his Reddit work collected together for the first time in DOG BUTTS AND LOVE. AND STUFF LIKE THAT. AND CATS. The pieces in question range from single-panel gags to short sequential pieces, but the thing they share in common is the level of intelligence and cleverness on display. He is consistently darkly funny, often touching a chord with a tough truth at the heart of the cartoon, such as one amazing effort that finds a man who has been a total moron his entire life celebrating the fact that people believe he is wise just because he’s old now. My personal favorite involves a child whose mother guilts him into eating his food because there are starving children elsewhere actually writing one of those hungry kids to tell him what a jerk he is because of how his mother made him suffer. It’s a damn-near perfect encapsulation of the entitlement generation. The whole book is worth your time.

magentacov

Nik Guerra’s MAGENTA: NOIR FATALE actually comes out of the Eurotica imprint, but there is no explicit sex involved. Instead, the story revolves around Magenta and her friend Lucretia, two burlesque-style models who also work as investigators. Their exploits take them into a case involving a number of missing models and the sicko who is using them for sport at his estate. The story isn’t anything you haven’t seen before – pretty standard stuff. But the art? Whoa. Guerra’s work is absolutely stunning. His evocative black& white figures absolutely jump off of the page. Also, the level of detail extends far beyond what you would expect from material of this nature – his backgrounds are textured nicely, giving an almost 3D quality to the book. The dialogue has some zip to it, and he takes care to make sure that Magenta and Lucretia are never victims. They are strong, controlled women. A notch above the usual, for sure.

bilia-LOUVRE

Last but not least is the latest entry in the Louvre Collection: PHANTOMS OF THE LOUVRE by legendary writer/artist Enki Bilal. The old master took photographs at the Louvre, printed them on canvas, then added his phantoms. With that, he wrote their stories – 22 of them. Look, I could spend a lot of breath telling you how amazing this stuff is, but honestly: why? It’s Enki-friggin’-Bilal drawing and writing about the greatest museum on Earth! What the hell else do you want from comics? Unless your taste resides solely in your mouth, you need this like you need oxygen.



GRAPHIC NOVEL ROUNDUP

GRAPHIC NOVEL ROUNDUP
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Various


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Taking a look at four new books from the last couple of months…

There’s a lot to like about THE JOYNERS IN 3D (Archaia/Boom) by writer R.J. Ryan and artist David Marquez. Set about fifty years in the future, George Joyner is the world’s finest creator of new technology, and he has a new breakthrough ready to happen that will change the world again. He also had a family that is falling apart and a gift for philandering. That second part is, as you might guess, going to bite him in the ass. Ryan creates an interesting group of characters here, the leads well-rounded and multi-layered. Neither George, nor his wife, is entirely good or bad and each one bears part of the blame for the disintegration of their union. Marquez’ art is equally adept with the character stuff as it is in designing the future milieu, and his storytelling is crisp. What doesn’t quite work here is the gimmick: the 3D. Sure, it’s well done, but there’s no real need for it. This is a quiet story, really, and not a single sequence in the book feels truly enhanced by the 3D experience. I liked the book overall, but I would have liked it a little more not having to wear the glasses.

Writer/artist Danica Novgorodoff, who impressed so much with SLOW STORM, returns with THE UNDERTAKING OF LILY CHEN (First Second), which is the best double-meaning title I’ve seen in recent memory. The story involves “ghost marriages” – an old Chinese tradition that involves marrying the dead so that they may be happy in the afterlife. While this sounds like something that would have only happened a long time ago, there has been a resurgence in the last decade or so. Here, the book follows a young man named Deshi who is sent by his parents to find a female corpse who can be married to his newly deceased brother. Along the journey, he meets Lily Chen, a young woman who wants to leave her rural, sheltered existence behind and live a life of her own, as she attaches herself to him. To Deshi’s hired “matchmaker” (grave robber) the solution is simple: kill Lily and marry her off to the brother. But things are rarely that simple, and they certainly aren’t in this story. Novgorodoff creates a story that fires on all cylinders; her characters are interesting and gain depth as the tale moves forward, she offers up an even-handed look at a culture that could easily be misunderstood or mocked, and the sense of design in her artwork is stunning. The journey does drag in the middle, but it recaptures its energy later in the book and delivers a strong, solid ending. Fascinating stuff.

It’s nice to see writer/artist Jesse Lonergan back on shelves, as it’s been a while since JOE & AZAT came out. ALL STAR (NBM) tells a deceptively simple story of a small town high school baseball star named Carl Carter. He’s the kid the whole community rallies behind, the one with a chance to play college ball on scholarship. His best friend, Edsen, is different, though. Edsen’s from a broken home, has a track record for screwing up, and is going nowhere. This fazes neither of them, though, until in a moment of pure stupid, they pull a “prank” while drunk that sees them get arrested by the cops. That’s when Carl begins to truly see the world and its double-standards for the first time, as he and Edsen are given wildly differing punishments. Lonergan does get things right at every turn. His town feels right, the people who live there feel right, the reaction to what happens feels right, and the angst Carl feels over it feels right. There’s a universal recognition of the human condition here that works. Having grown up in a town like this, I saw the truth in it. The art has a crisp, cartoon-y look about it, and the ending, while feeling a little manufactured, resonates in the final panels. Solid stuff.

The GRAPHIC CLASSICS series continues to be an evergreen for Eureka Productions, as the 3rd volume (of 24!) heads back into print, now with 80 new pages of work. GRAPHIC CLASSICS: H.G. WELLS offers up “The Time Machine”, “The Island of Dr. Moreau”, “The Invisible Man”, and “The Inexperienced Ghost” in one volume, and the material here is quite strong across the board. Not only are the stories done well, but they are ones that any fan of Wells’ work would want to read. Creative types like Simon Gane and Rich Tommaso can be found doing some of the art, so the book looks fantastic. This series of books is not likely to ever make an enormous splash in the comic shop market, but it is just about perfect for bookstores and libraries. It’s a smart move by GC majordomo Tom Pomplun to target those markets and fill a severe need. Recommended, as always.




NEW NBM

NEW NBM
Written and Drawn by Renaud Dillies
Written and Drawn by Rick Geary
Published by NBM


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Two new excellent works hitting shelves…

BETTY BLUES is actually one of Renaud Dillies’ first graphic novels, originally published over a decade ago, just now making its North American translation debut. But you’d never know it by reading it. Much like ABELARD and BUBBLES & GONDOLA, BETTY BLUES is a powerhouse piece of work, a rich, textured, emotionally wrenching journey that challenges the reader at every turn. The story, as usual, is deceptively simple: Little Rice Duck, a professional trumpet player, sees his girlfriend Betty leave him for a richer man. From such heartbreak, both he and Betty begin dark journeys down new paths. His sees him leave music behind, while hers sees her discover life as someone else’s trophy. Both have made horrific mistakes, but will they be able to fix them in time? Structured like a classic blues song… well, if you know how blues music works, you know that some things cannot be undone. I was captivated by BETTY BLUES from beginning to end, even knowing that it would likely break my heart by the time it was over, because Dillies knows how to create characters you can truly become invested in as a reader, and he never takes cheap shortcuts or the easy way out in describing their plight. I’m sold on this man’s talent, and I’ll keep reading them as long as NBM keeps bringing them across the pond to the English-speaking audience.

I’m not sure what’s left to be said about Rick Geary and his TREASURY OF 20TH CENTURY MURDER series. Time after time, Geary has delivered absolutely incredible volumes of work, telling sublime stories about the evil that men (and women) do in a way that massively entertains and yet also intelligently informs. That is the case, once again, with MADISON SQUARE TRAGEDY, which tells the sordid tale of the murder of architect Stanford White. What makes this book different than many of the others is that we know who committed the foul deed: a deranged Pittsburgh millionaire named Harry Thaw. The meat of the tale comes in the hows and the whys of the story: why did Thaw do it? How did he get away with it when dozens of people saw him shoot White? Freed of the whodunit aspect, Geary seems to revel in building character studies of the two men and their foibles, especially as they pertain to the femme fatale who was at the focal point of their conflict. Evelyn Nesbit. Honestly, maybe the most remarkable thing about all of these books is just how consistent Geary is: each one is beautiful to look at, thoroughly researched, and delivers maximum entertainment value to the reader. If you’re looking for a good stocking stuffer for someone this holiday, MADISON SQUARE TRAGEDY would be a solid choice.


SCIENCE-OMAHA

SCIENCE/OMAHA
Written and Drawn by Margreet de Heer
Written and Drawn by Reed Waller, Kate Worley, and James Vance
Published by NBM


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Two new very good efforts from my former employer…

SCIENCE: A DISCOVERY IN COMICS is the second of these reference volumes I’ve seen from writer/artist Margaret de Heer, and as with the one on philosophy, it is absolutely terrific. Originally published in the Netherlands, and translated from the Dutch, de Heer uses the sequential art format to inform and enlighten the reader about the history of science itself, the meaning and origins of some of its disciplines, and even the foundations of theory. Heady stuff, to be sure. Yet de Heer has a way of presenting the concepts in such a manner that they never feel like they’re going over one’s head. Instead, SCIENCE feels truly like a book for the masses, a work that brings scientific principle to the layperson in ways it hasn’t before. Her art is simple and straight-forward, and she always chooses function over form: everything works to service the lessons she is trying to impart. When people ask me about how comics can serve a purpose in the classroom, this is precisely the kind of book I use to demonstrate that very thing.

After a loooooooooong wait, the serialization aspect is over, and the final volume of THE COMPLETE OMAHA is now available. A classic comicbook soap opera renowned for its sex positive approach to the cast’s graphic on-page couplings, what started out as a humble little thing shook the industry to its foundations. For those who don’t know, it was OMAHA causing a comics retailer to be prosecuted for carrying it in his store that eventually led to the foundation of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! Here in this final volume (finished by Waller and Vance using notes from Worley before she left us too soon due to cancer) Omaha, Chuck, Shelley, Kurt, and the rest are put through their final paces as the story heads for an appropriately explosive climax. Plotlines are tied up, villains get their comeuppance, characters fins emotional resolutions… it’s everything you’d want if you’ve been reading the book from the start. Waller and Vance’s work stays true to everything that had come before, and the last couple of pages are just about perfect. A nice job of sticking the landing.



POTPOURRI

POTPOURRI
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Various


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Random new stuff that came across my desk…

NBM delivers another lovely Euro-sized graphic album with ZOMBILLENIUM by writer/artist Arthur de Pins. The setup is a corker: a man named Aurelian, upon discovering that his wife is cheating on him, decides to rob a bar. It does not go well, and it only gets worse when he steps out into the street and gets run over by a car. The occupants of the car just happen to be a vampire and a werewolf, and they both bite him to resuscitate him. Now confused, and turning into a supernatural creature, Aurelian winds up working at a theme park with a dedicated horror theme. Strangeness, oddities, death, love, vengeance, and a lot of confusion follow. ZOMBILLENIUM is a hoot from start to finish, with funny situations, great characters, witty dialogue, and art that is utterly gorgeous. de Pins drew the entire thing in Adobe Illustrator, and the large format the book is printed in really enhances the work. This is the usual great-looking package from NBM, and it does a stellar job of introducing another French superstar to North American readers.

The latest book from Graphic Classics is NATIVE AMERICAN CLASSICS. This volume delivers adaptations of work from some of America’s earliest native writers, and as usual, the book is a pretty solid package. The talent involved is very good, including folks like Toby Cypress, Afua Richardson, Terry LaBan, and Tim Truman. And unlike some of the earlier volumes, the best material here is the poetry. Not only is the original work really good, the artists illustrating the background for those words turn in some seriously incredible efforts. David Kanietakeron Fadden’s piece for James Harris Guy’s “The White Man Wants the Indians’ Home” is frame-worthy. Twenty-four volumes in and going strong, the Graphic Classics line has proven time and again that it has the goods. Always worth a look.

A bizarre beast lumbers out of the woods, his presence causing an accident that sends a school bus over a cliff. A speechless boy communicates with the beast, saving himself and his classmates. Suddenly, the world around the young boy is opening wide, his secret ability to communicate with creatures beyond our ken now known. That is the tale at the heart of Erik T. Johnson’s THE OUTLIERS #1, a gorgeous new effort that will see distribution from Alternative Comics in August. The story is intriguing, sure, but Johnson’s art is the real star here. His use of shadow is terrific, and by sticking to only one color on the page, he gives the work a mood that is palpable on the page. He also does an excellent job with detail on the page, giving the book more of a heft than you might expect. I was really impressed with the overall package here.


NEW NBM

NEW NBM
Written and Drawn by Christian Durieux and Etienne Davodeau
Published by NBM


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Let’s talk about the good stuff. I mean the really good stuff.

Two new graphic novels from my old employer, NBM Publishing, recently crossed my desk, and not only are they two of the best books I’ve seen from the company in a long time, they are also two of the best books of the year so far.

First up is AN ENCHANTMENT by Christian Durieaux. This is the latest in the series of graphic novels commissioned by the Louvre, and it might be the best one yet. Here we meet the director of the famed museum, as he faces the night of his retirement party. But unwilling to go gently into that good night, he finds himself distracted by a young woman who has evaded security and has made her way into the dark corners of the building. As they tour the place, two conflicting ideas arise in the reader: the young woman is truly a living muse and is giving lift to the breaking heart of this man OR she does not exist, and he is experiencing a delusion as his life concludes on this final night of work. Whatever interpretation you ultimately subscribe to, it is a magnificent piece of work. The art is lovely, the characters and dialogue are rich, and the book sweeps you up and carries you along with its verve. Each entry in the Louvre series has been unique, and has challenged its readers as a work of art should. This one stands above the others in its power to engage.

As someone with a degree in creative non-fiction, and someone who writes that form, I regard those that do immersion journalism well with tremendous respect. The commitment required is extraordinary. So when I tell you that Etienne Davodeau’s THE INITIATES is one of the finest examples of immersion journalism in recent memory, I mean that with all due gravity. Davideau had a brilliant idea: immerse himself in the life of a winemaker friend, Richard Leroy, and in turn, have Richard learn the life of a working comics artist. For a year, Etienne would work the vineyard, studying the art of growing the grapes, fermenting the wine, learning about soil composition, and more. In that time, he began supplying Richard with graphic novels to read and taking him on trips to comic conventions, introducing him to the top artists working in the field today. To say that each man gets an extraordinary education would be an understatement. Honest, educational, entertaining, and pricelessly unique, THE INITIATES is a book that sticks with you long after you put it down. The intelligent reader knows that real life can be just as captivating as fiction, if not more, and this book is a brilliant example of that. An amazing piece of work.


ABELARD

ABELARD
Written by Regis Hautiere and Drawn by Renaud Dillies
Published by NBM


Reviewed by Marc Mason

How long can innocence survive?

That’s a heady question for a book that might initially look like it is meant for younger readers. Abelard, a tiny bird who lives in a small country swamp, meets a traveler named Eppily and falls head over heels for her. Upon discovering that there are machines in America that allow creatures to fly high into the sky, he sets off into the world so that he can ride one of those machines, capture the moon, and deliver it to Eppily as a sign of his affections. The journey takes him into a gypsy carnival, alongside a grumpy bear, and onto an ocean voyage, but what happens as he discovers the truth about the world is far from a pleasant tale.

ABELARD starts off feeling somewhat quaint and unassuming, and by the time you realize where it is heading, it is far too late to stem the tide of heartache that the book makes you feel. You come to care about this crazy little bird, and you adore his innocence, but as it gets stripped away, it becomes painful. Yet that is also what makes the book so fantastic: the creators find a way to make you genuinely care about what happens to the poor little guy. You get deeply invested in his quest.

Put that together with superior presentation (hardcover, large-size printing, thick paper) and you have a book very much worth your time and money. This is a high-quality piece of work.

LE DONNE

LE DONNE
Illustrated by Liberatore
Published by NBM/Eurotica


Reviewed by Marc Mason

What is eroticism?

Is it a look? An attitude? Is it an aspect of someone’s physicality? These are questions that each of us has a different answer to, and they certainly provoke interesting conversation. Perhaps the very idea of being provoked is something that you find erotic. If so, then Liberatore’s work would certainly be to your taste.

LE DONNE is an intriguing – and provocative – collection of Liberatore’s work. Here we see his portraits of feminine sexuality in all of their power. Their strength. Their mystery. They are thin women, curvy women, women of all colors and backgrounds; they are relaxed, they are violent, they are in the throes of passion, and they feel nothing at all. They are nude, they are naked, they are clothed in things meant to make us uncomfortable. Liberatore thrusts his women at the reader and dares them to look closely and see them for all that they are, something people are generally terrified to do in regular life. We mask ourselves as we pass through the world, mask ourselves as we fear our identities and bodies, but Liberatore is only interested in tearing the masks away.

It is revelatory to see what lurks behind those masks. His paints, his pencils, they dare us to keep our eyes open. If we do, then we can see the questions that Liberatore is putting in front of us, primarily: what, within these pages, do you find to be erotic?

I can answer only for myself.