You'll Never Know

Read It: You’ll Never Know by C. Tyler

You'll Never Know Book One by C. Tyler

My final recommendation for this past week and a half run is You’ll Never Know Book One: A Good and Decent Man by C. Tyler.

This is a beautiful and moving memoir about Carol Tyler’s efforts to find out what happened to her father in World War Two. It is truly among the most accomplished releases of the last five years. Maybe ten. It is such a testament to how communicating through comics is a unique and singular creative choice of expression. From the layouts of her pages to the physical production of the book itself, You’ll Never Know holds up in service of the story from cover to cover.

Fluid and expressive, Carol takes us through her journey to unearth the secrets of her father, who after decades of adamantly refusing to discuss the past, is suddenly ready to talk. Somewhat. In the process, she discovers more about her family and herself than she expected. It’s a challenging relationship that Carol reveals with such sincerity, it’s difficult not to relate.

The design of the book is meant to resemble a family photo album or scrapbook, and that’s exactly what Carol is making for her father. The story weaves in and out of two modes. The first is what could be seen as a behind-the-scenes look at what she had to go through to get this book made. The second is the scrapbook itself telling her father’s life history. A lot of storytelling devices are employed to accomplish this, but Carol’s skills as a cartoonist and illustrator, her cohesive style, warm coloring, and personalized lettering/calligraphy, all come together perfectly to tell such a layered story.

It’s a faster read than I expected, but it lingers in the brain because of its richness. It stays with you and makes you think of your own family. This book was heavily featured in our second Dig Comics segment, where it was used to show an adamant non-comics reader that there’s something for her. There’s a really lovely moment between Carol Tyler and this woman that I will probably always remember. You can watch the segment below, as well as a look at one of the pages. Click on the image for a series of images.

This graphic novel is the first in a trilogy. It’s followed by You’ll Never Know Book Two: Collateral Damage, released last year. The third and final installment is expected next year.

Comics at the LA Times Festival of Books 2011

LA Times Festival of Books loves comics, Hi De Ho

Comic books, graphic novels, manga (whatever you want to call sequential art) was pulling in the crowds at this past weekend’s LA Times Festival of Books, the nation’s largest book fair. After 14 years at UCLA, the free open air event moved to rival campus USC in South LA and it didn’t seem to hamper attendance. The more concentrated layout, and the campus’ access to public transportation seemed to please most attendees.

(Although, it could’ve been more clear where to park and where to walk to get to the Festival as you arrived. We saw no signs at Vermont and Jefferson after heading south from the 5. Hardly an obscure route.)

That nitpick aside, all seemed to go well for the most part, and perhaps the most favored part of the Festival was comics. While I was only able to attend over half of Saturday, almost every comics booth and panel I checked in with had a heavy turnout with a good mix of what seemed like a lot of curious newcomers and some diehard (or at least familiar) comics readers.

Hi De Ho Comics & Books with Pictures, a longtime store located in Santa Monica, had a very prominent location and a big booth setup (right). This was probably one of the most consistently and heavily trafficked booths we saw on Trousdale and Childs Way. Legendary Archie Comics writer George Gladir, co-creator of Sabrina the Teenage Witch with artist Dan DeCarlo, was signing copies of Archie’s Americana series. He was particularly proud of his name getting credited in the two Best of the Eighties volumes, noting how rare it was for Archie to name the creators at the time. Adults that grew up on Archie and kids that are growing up on Archie now clustered around his table, sometimes making it near impossible to even see him. By the middle of the day, Hi De Ho had sold out of Best of the Eighties Volume 1 and George had to keep asking for the staff to replenish copies of Volume 2. It was also great to see the great diversity of people that were drawn to him, proving that Archie truly is a pervasive American icon. On the other side of the booth, graphic novelist Mark Kalesniko was providing free sketches with purchases of his books, like his latest release Freeway, about that most unique of LA experiences: soul crushing traffic. Yet just from the little I’ve read so far, it maintains such charm and humor with an amazing ability to depict movement and the main character’s emotions, sometimes with no dialogue whatsoever.

SLG Publishing was the second booth we discovered, and it kept getting waves of people checking out their great selection of graphic novels, comic books, t-shirts, posters and Ugly Dolls. In addition to their own material, they also had a smattering of graphic novels from other publishers. We easily spent the most money here, which surprised me. Nahleen actually out-spent me at SLG, which might be a first when it comes to comics.

Kids, parents eat up kaboom's Disney comics

Right next to SLG was the Boom! Studios booth, which had a constant mob trying to check out the Disney and Peanuts graphic novels from their kaboom! imprint. Boom! smartly had a buy 1, get 1 free deal going on. Kids and parents alike were asking all sorts of questions about what’s best, what’s age appropriate, and more, and the Boom! staff was great. They clearly love this material too. One kid asked which volume of Donald Duck: Double Duck was best, and the guy responded not as a dry sales person, but as an enthusiastic reader. One somewhat awkward moment came when a mother asked where Boom!’s store was located, so she could buy more at a later date. She had to be informed that there is no store, Boom! sells to other stores. She must’ve sensed it was going to get confusing so she said she would just check out their website, and I suspect she did based on her kids’ eagerness. Fortunately kaboom! has an online store, so I’m optimistic they’ll eventually get what they want.

Next stop was the booth for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. This was a pleasant surprise, because I didn’t see them listed on the exhibitor list posted on the Festival’s website or iPhone app. The CBLDF provides crucial First Amendment protection to the comic book industry, so it’s great to see them accepting donations and getting the word out about their work in this kind of mainstream venue. Unfortunately not as many people were stopping at their booth. Maybe it needed to be laid out differently, with the tables pushed more toward the front of the tent, or maybe people thought something with the word “Legal” in the title was too boring to even bother. But they had a steady stream of 2-3 people at a time, at least. (One guy abruptly stopped in and asked if there was a way to volunteer to get into Comic-Con, which seemed a little transparently like someone didn’t get tickets to the sold-out convention, but still wanted to go and maybe or maybe not cares at all about the work CBLDF does. But whatever.) They had awesome “I Read Banned Comics” t-shirts for sale, as well as signed copies of some fantastic material all reasonably priced.

The web-comic Green Pieces Cartoons had a booth with a great set-up that was constantly pulling people in: a monitor displayed to passers-by artist Drew Aquilina drawing his environmentally-friendly characters. The gag strip has been covered by National Geographic Kids and there was a near-impenetrable wall of people there when I stopped by. A print version of the web-comic was for sale, along with t-shirts and tote bags.

Lots of interest at the Archaia booth

Archaia Entertainment had another popular booth (right) with probably the best deal at the festival: buy 1, get 1 free; buy 2, get 3 free. This kind of belief in their product goes a long way and caught some off-guard. There were also a few artists on hand to offer free sketches, like Dave Valeza, artist of the graphic novel An Elegy for Amelia Johnson. It’s great cover design really popped out, and was getting a lot of questions, some from young women. Comparisons to Blankets were made. Mouse Guard and The Killer were also getting a lot of attention (The Killer Vol. 1 had sold out), and Revere got one of the best pitches from publisher Stephen Christy (“The British are coming, but the werewolves are worse”).

The team-up booth of Wondermark and Sheldon also had a wall of people in front of it. They not only were attracting a lot of interested, but they probably won the Devoted Fans Award. I overhead a young woman tell Sheldon creator Dave Kellett that she had traveled a considerable distance just to see him. The rest of the Festival, indeed the rest of Los Angeles, was apparently inconsequential. These two web-comics have a unique look and their styles are different, so that no doubt explained the big draw. They were undeniably eye-catching, which probably explains why the comics booths in general got so much attention. Graphic design skills pay off. And then the quality substance kept them there.

The only panel I was able to make was the Graphic Novel panel moderated by the Hero Complex‘ Geoff Boucher. The panelists were three amazing talents: Daniel Clowes (Mr. Wonderful, Wilson, Ghost World), Dash Shaw (BodyWorld, Bottomless Belly Button), and Jim Woodring (Weathercraft, Frank). The three had a fully engaging and frequently funny discussion about their approach to their art, storytelling, technology, their work environments and more. The panel wasn’t quite sold out but the room was definitely packed within 5 minutes after it started. It was fascinating to listen to creators with such diverse styles and approaches.

In 2009, the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, begun in 1980, added a Graphic Novel category. This year’s winner, only the second since the category was created, was the amazing debut graphic novel by Adam Hines, Duncan the Wonder Dog: Show One. Dash Shaw’s BodyWorld and Jim Woodring’s Weathercraft were also nominated, along with You’ll Never Know Book II: Collateral Damage by Carol Tyler and Karl Stevens’ The Lodger. (Both Tyler and Stevens were guests for the earlier Graphic Memoir panel.) Last year’s Graphic Novel Book Prize winner was the worthy Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli. The LA Times Book Prizes were awarded Friday night before the first day of the Festival.

For more pictures, see my Flickr set.

Print Comics: Still Awesome

My post on Monday about innovative experiments with digital comics doesn’t mean I don’t love me some dead tree comics. Print still has a lot to offer but digital means that the physical version has to step it up and offer more. Fortunately there are some good examples out there.

As a counter-point to the Johnny Cash digital graphic novel with soundtrack, there is BB Wolf and the Three L.P.’s by JD Arnold and Richard Koslowski from Top Shelf Productions. It can be purchased with a 7-song CD, BB Wolf and the Howlers: The Lost Recordings. The graphic novel spins 1920s race tension with the Three Little Pigs fairy tale. The CD brings the music of the titular blues singing main character to life, which is a very cool way to eliminate the guess work of what the music of a fictional character from a silent medium sounds like. You can also get the limited edition BB Wolf Box Set, which includes the graphic novel, the CD and a wooden box with laser engraved art on the cover and 2 shot glasses for that authentic hard-drinking blues effect.

Creating such an experience that goes beyond the pages is a compelling way to make it still matter to have print and physical product. But it doesn’t have to be about creating ancillary material. Savvy creators and publishers can find ways to have their published material be an aesthetic extension of the world they have created.

Fantagraphics Books has always excelled at this. C. Tyler‘s You’ll Never Know, both Book I: A Good and Decent Man and the new release Book II: Collateral Damage, are designed to look like scrap books or photo albums, inside and out. A visually powerful choice that is incredibly appropriate since the story centers on a woman trying to piece together her reticent father’s wartime past.

Last year, DC Comics published Wednesday Comics, an anthology of superhero and adventure stories printed on large broadsheet newsprint that folded out to 14″ x 20″ pages, approximately double the size of modern comic book pages. Reminiscent of the old Sunday comics pages from the first half of the 1900’s, it was a kick to see Green Lantern, Batman, Wonder Woman and other characters in this retro format that pre-dated nearly all of them.

There are a lot of other good examples. Some publishers, like Archaia Entertainment and Drawn & Quarterly, just have consistently great design sense in their print publications. Tumor, by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon, started its life as a digital graphic novel on the Amazon Kindle, but has ended up being a great looking physical product. Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library books (and really any of his books) are always intricately stunning.

So sure, digital comics are the future. But that doesn’t automatically mean print comics have to be relegated to the past. There are still new and creative ways to make an appealing print comic book or graphic novel. As the ratio of print to digital finds its level ground, it will be up to creators and publishers to make products in both realms that are compelling and worth a reader’s investment.

New to Comics? New Comics for You! 5/20

New Comics! For You!

Never read a graphic novel before? Haven’t read a comic book in years?

Here’s some brand new stuff coming out today that I think is worth a look-see for someone with little to no history with comics. That means you should be able to pick these up cold without having read anything else. So take a look and see if something doesn’t grab your fancy. If so, follow the publisher links or Amazon.com links to buy yourself a copy. Or, head to your local friendly comic book shop.

Disclaimer: Having not read these yet, I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, they just might appeal to you.

Johnny Hiro Vol. 1 – $14.95
By Fred Chao
192 pages; published by AdHouse Books; available at Amazon.com

Part action-adventure, SciFi and Romance, Johnny Hiro tells the story of an everyman and the challenges he faces. Challenges like the revenge of a big lizard, the quest for a lobster, or what can happen when 47 ronin go to the opera. See why the comic was nominated for FOUR Eisner Awards and one Russ Manning Award.

Looks like it doesn’t ship to book stores or from Amazon until June, but comic specialty shops should have it this week! Now there’s an incentive!

This silly comic is tons of fun while still maintaining heart. This is a good’un.

Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries – $19.95
By Christopher Mills and Joe Staton
148 pages; published by Ape Entertainment

On the mean streets of Port Nocturne, justice is blonde! This volume collects all 4 issues of the critically acclaimed crime fiction mini-series about a mysterious, gun-toting dame fighting for justice in a dark city drowning in violence and corruption. This volume also includes 2 complete bonus stories, conceptual artwork by Eisner Award-winning artist Joe Staton, and an introduction by the Shamus Award-winning author of Road To Perdition, Max Allan Collins. 

Here’s a Femme Noir mini-site that has plenty of previews, web-comics and other bonus material. Joe Staton has been working in comics since the 1970s and he hasn’t lost any of his skills. Good buy for the Sin City and/or film noir fans in your life.

Clover – $19.95
By CLAMP
512 pages; published by Dark Horse; available at Amazon.com

Kazuhiko is a young, but already deeply wounded black ops agent of a baroque, retro-tech future-pulled out of retirement to escort Sue, a mysterious waif, to a destination she alone knows. Sue and Kazuhiko have never met… yet she knows him, having grown up since the age of four with her only human contact two distant voices: that of her elderly “grandma,” General Ko, and of Kazuhiko’s dead girlfriend, Ora. And Sue has been kept in that cage all these years because of what she is, and what the Clover Leaf Project found her to be — a military top secret, and the most dangerous person in the world.

* Clover is a long-out-of-print classic from Japan’s shojo artist supergroup CLAMP!

* Never before available in its original Japanese right-to-left reading orientation, Dark Horse not only brings Clover into English for the first time, but also collects all four of the original volumes into one reasonably priced omnibus, with a brand-new cover design especially for this edition!

Look, I know next to nothing about manga, but this is supposed to be a good one. It was originally published in the late 1990s. It’s got a dystopian steam-punk vibe and stark visualization unique to other work put out by the quartet of artists that collectively use the name CLAMP. 

You’ll Never Know Book One: A Good and Decent Man – $24.99
By C. Tyler 
104 pages; published by Fantagraphics Books; available at Amazon.com

You’ll Never Know is the first graphic novel from C. Tyler (Late Bloomer) and sure to be one of the most acclaimed books of the year. It tells the story of the 50-something author’s relationship with her World War II veteran father, and how his war experience shaped her childhood and affected her relationships in adulthood. “You’ll Never Know” refers not only to the title of her parents’ courtship song from that era, but also to the many challenges the author encountered in uncovering the difficult and painful truths about her Dad’s service — challenges exacerbated by her own tumultuous family life.

You’ll Never Know is Tyler’s first first full-fledged graphic novel (after two volumes of short stories). Unlike many other graphic memoirs which have opted for simple, stylized drawings and limited color or black and white, You’ll Never Know makes full use of Tyler’s virtuosity as a cartoonist: stunningly rendered in detailed inks and subtle watercolors, it plunges the reader headlong into the diverse locales: her father’s wartime experiences and courtship, her own childhood and adolescence, and contemporary life. The unique landscape format, and the lush variety of design choices and rendering techniques, make perusing You’ll Never Know like reading a family album — but one with a strong, compelling, sharply told story.

You’ll Never Know’s release schedule and format emulate those of Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library: three beautifully designed, large-format hardcover volumes released annually to complete a trilogy of astonishing breadth, depth, and sensitivity.

“If you want to find out what happened to Willie and Joe after they got home from World War II, You’ll Never Know is the perfect place to start. C. Tyler’s graphic novel, passionately conceived and brilliantly drawn, extends the range of Bill Mauldin to cover the aftershock of the Last Good War on the warriors who fought it and the collateral damage to their families. Not since Catch-22 has anyone probed the secret heart of the Greatest Generation with this kind of raw, icon busting courage.” – Tom Mathews (Our Fathers’ War: Growing Up in the Shadow of the Greatest Generation)

“Her work has the extremely rare quality of genuine, authentic heart.” – R. Crumb

“She understands people with an acuity that is tender, wise and devastating.” – Jim Woodring

I’m really looking forward to this: a graphic memoir and family drama exploring the person we try to present to the world, and reality.

The Photographer: Into war-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders – $29.95
By Emmanuel Guibert and Didier Lefevre
288 pages; published by First Second Books; available at Amazon.com

In 1986, Afghanistan was torn apart by a war with the Soviet Union. This graphic novel/photo-journal is a record of one reporter’s arduous and dangerous journey through Afghanistan, accompanying the Doctors Without Borders. Didier Lefevre’s photography, paired with the art of Emmanuel Guibert, tells the powerful story of a mission undertaken by men and women dedicated to mending the wounds of war.

I really love the idea of this. Using Didier Lefevre’s actual photographs from the time, Emmanuel Guibert weaves in his own artwork to tell the story of the photographer’s journey through Afghanistan. As that country steps into the headlines again, it’s good to look at such an intimate and personal level of its history. Great for fans of history and photography. If you find yourself watching shows on The History Channel or Discovery Channel, you should love this.

Flinch – $11.95
By various
120 pages; published by Gestalt Publishing; available at Amazon.com

Flinch is a collection of engaging stories by established and emerging creators, all playing on their interpretation of ‘flinch’. From facing the ‘other’ within ourselves, to the tale of a prison inmate discovering what keeps him going, to a handful of stories exploring traditional (and non-traditional) hauntings alike.

With cover art by World Fantasy Award winning Shaun Tan, Flinch features stories from creative collaborations including: UK fantasy author James Barclay & Chris Bolton, Ray Fawkes & Anton McKay, Justin Randall & Chris Bones, International Horror Guild Award winner Terry Dowling & Skye Ogden and many more!

This looks fantastic, and thanks to the contracting comic shop market, this almost didn’t get distributed. Lucky for us, the oversight was corrected. Here’s a trailer with tons of peaks at what’s inside (and cool music).

Arlene’s Heart
By Victoria Frances
80 pages; published by NBM Publishing

The fantasy artist famous for the FAVOLE series of books is back with a metaphor for hope in the shape of a fable where child-like fantasy contrasts with the feeling of isolation and alienation which invades our every day life. Lyrically and suggestively painted, a visual poem of fascinating sensuous gothic beauty. For mature readers.

This eerie fantasy might be a bit abstract and/or racy for some, but others should really dig it.

The Big Book of Barry Ween, Boy Genius
By Judd Winick
360 pages; published by Oni Press; available at Amazon.com

Meet Barry Ween, the smartest living human. What does a ten-year-old boy do with a 350 I.Q.? Anything he wants. Cranky, egotistical, arrogant and foul-mouthed, Barry in general wants to conduct his experiments and be left alone, but it never seems to work out. Hurdles that Barry must outmaneuver range from time warps, to art thieves, to accidentally turning his best friend into a dinosaur.

This massive volume collects all 12 issues of hit series, The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius.

This looks like a kid-friendly comic similar in concept to Cartoon Network’s “Dexter’s Laboratory” or Nickelodeon’s Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, and I suppose it is except for the fact that there’s a whole heck of a lot of profanity and more adult humor. Not for kids, but a kick nevertheless.

Special All-Ages Attic! – There are a couple of releases suitable for all-ages this week, which is tragically so rare in modern comics that I thought they deserved their own section. These are great for kids, but all-ages really does mean ALL ages. You’re an age, aren’t you?

(I was going to call this Kids Korner, but I don’t want anyone to think they can’t read either of these because they are legally considered an adult.)

Gary the Pirate
By Scott Christian Sava and Tracy Bailey
112 pages; published by IDW Publishing; available at Amazon.com

Thirteen-year-old Judy is so sick of boys and their immature ways. One night… Judy meets a boy unlike any she’s ever seen. A real live pirate! But Gary isn’t after girls… he’s after treasure. Judy offers to help this hapless pirate and they embark on an adventure of a lifetime. 

Scott Christian Sava has a series of graphic novels targeted for younger readers. This one is specifically meant for younger girls (age 8-12) but this looks to be a cute story for anyone. Here’s a mini-site from Sava’s Blue Dream Studios, which includes a look at some of the pages.

G-Man Volume 1: Learning To Fly
By Chris Giarrusso
96 pages; published by Image Comics; available at Amazon.com

From the creator of the sold-out MINI-MARVELS digests comes the first G-MAN digest! Writer/artist CHRIS GIARRUSSO continues his signature Mini Marvels brand of comics with G-Man and his pals, the next wave of all-new kid super-heroes! 

Collects the sold-out G-Man one-shot, the G-Man Christmas story, an extensive collection of COMIC BITS comic strips and more!

I have the G-Man one-shot and it’s a lot of fun. Really funny and clever cartooning. Don’t worry about the Mini-Marvels and all other references in the blurb, all you need to know is in the book – a kid becomes a super-hero in a world full of kid super-heroes, and hijinks ensue.