Dash Shaw

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.

New Graphic Novels, Comic Books for You – 10/14/09

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

Here’s some brand new stuff that came out the week of October 14 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 any of 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.

[And yes, I’m nearly a month behind. You don’t have to rub it in.]

Disclaimer: For the most part, I have not read these yet, so I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, odds are good they just might appeal to you.

Blood + Water – $17.95
By Judd Winick & Tomm Coker
128 pages; published by DC Comics’ Vertigo Books; available at Amazon.com

Adam Heller is dying, but before he can take the big dirt nap, his best friends offer him a chance at immortality and he takes it. Now Adam is a vampire living it up on the wild side and it’s everything he could ever want. But the eternal party crashes to a bloody halt when an ancient monster awakens from the dark, forgotten places of the world and comes looking for Adam. The startling reason this monster has come looking for him may be the most horrifying realization of all.

I read this story when it originally came out in individual comic book issues back in 2003. (I can’t believe that was 6 years ago.) I find Judd Winick to be kind of a mixed bag as a writer, but this was one of his good ones. And as I recall Tomm Coker’s art is even better. It was so solid, I was kind of surprised a sequel never materialized. Maybe this collected edition is a hint that one is finally coming. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a preview. If anyone finds one, post it in the comments below.

Heavy Liquid – $24.99
By Paul Pope
240 pages; published by DC Comics’ Vertigo Books; available at Amazon.com

“Pope has embellished his stylish love story with heart-stopping action and adventure. …Pope’s drawing and page design … is both technically assured and wonderfully expressive.” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“This has the potential to attract a large audience, including serious readers, science-fiction buffs, artists, and would-be graphic novelists.” —SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL

In a future where New York has evolved into a sci-fi metropolis, “S,” a man addicted to “heavy liquid,” a substance that is both a drug and an art form, finds himself trapped in a mystery littered with love and drugs. This new edition features bonus sketch material, new coloring and more.

Another one from Vertigo’s vaults, this was originally released in early 2000. Paul Pope is one of the art form’s more exceptional storytellers and artists and this has been on my must-get list for some time. It’s great to see this re-released. DC Comics has a pretty skimpy preview here in PDF.

The Fixer and Other Stories – $19.95
By Joe Sacco
216 pages; published by Drawn and Quarterly; available at Amazon.com

“Sacco is one of the most astute war-zone correspondents working today” –Rolling Stone

“A searing and amusing look at the motley collection of reporters, war profiteers, criminals, soldiers and hapless civilians trapped in war zone.” –New York Times

“Sacco doesn’t try to lay claim to the truth. He’s simply telling one man’s story, and it makes for an excellent book.” –Washington Post

“Sacco demonstrates that the narrative arts, including comics, can gather up complicated social truths with a gradual patience that often eludes the camera.” –Boston Globe

Using old-fashioned pen and paper, award-winning cartoonist Joe Sacco reports from the sidelines of wars around the world. THE FIXER AND OTHER STORIES is a new softcover that collects Joe Sacco’s landmark short stories on the Bosnian War that previously comprised the hardcover editions of THE FIXER and WARS END.

It must be re-issue week. This reprints material from 2003 and 2005. Joe Sacco is living proof that comics can do and be anything. Even journalism. And fortunately he’s real good at it, too. It’s sorta kinda like NPR in comics.

Blackbeard: Legend of the Pyrate King #1 – $3.50
By Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Robert Napton, Jamie Nash and Mario Guevara
32 pages; published by Dynamite Entertaiment

Dynamite presents their most ambitious undertaking yet – BLACKBEARD: THE LEGEND OF THE PYRATE KING #1! Under the stunning John Cassaday, producers Eduardo (writer of The Blair Witch Project) Sanchez and Gregg (producer of The Blair Witch Project) Hale are joined by Robert Napton and Jamie Nash to present the ultimate adventure tale of a bygone age, when pyrates ruled the waters!
Beginning with his childhood and carry through to his bitter end, Blackbeard’s legacy has never been explored as deeply and illustrated as beautifully (by Mario Guevara) than now!

I don’t really consider a comic by the makers of The Blair Witch Project to be all that big of a selling point, but Dynamite has had a pretty decent track record with properties like The Lone Ranger, Zorro and Sherlock Holmes. I think this is their first comic steeped in history and based on an actual person, and I’m sure liberties will be taken. But it looks like a fun ride nevertheless. Check out the preview at the publisher link above.

MOME Vol. 16 – $14.99
Edited by Gary Groth and Eric Reynolds
112 pages; published by Fantagraphics Books; available at Amazon.com

Since its inception in 2005, Mome has served as a comics McSweeney’s. Whether exposing new talent like Eleanor Davis (author of the recent Stinky by Toon Books); featuring short stories by contemporary graphic novelists like Dash Shaw (The Bottomless Belly Button); bringing the work of international superstars like David B. (Epileptic) to American audiences; or introducing the work of legends like Gilbert Shelton (The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers) to a new generation of readers, Mome is the most acclaimed, accessible, frequent, and reasonably priced anthology on the market despite it’s high production values and mostly color format.

This issue features several of our favorite alternative comic artists of the last 15 years, bringing us great joy. Archer Prewitt is the first, with an all-new “Funny Bunny” strip created in between his active musical career. “The Moolah Tree” is the new Fuzz & Pluck graphic novel from Ted Stearn, following Fuzz & Pluck and Fuzz & Pluck: Splitsville, beginning serialization here. We are equally proud to debut new work from Renée French, whose work is also featured on the front and back cover of this issue. And Nicholas Mahler debuts to ask “What Is Art?” (translated by secret weapon Kim Thompson).

Also: the second chapter of T. Edward Bak’s “Wild Man – The Strange Journey – and Fantastic Accounts – of the Naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, from Bavaria to Bolshaya Zemlya (and Beyond)”; a new “Cold Heat” story by the team of Ben Jones, Frank Santoro & Jon Vermilyea; Dash Shaw interprets an episode of “Blind Date” into comics form; and new stories from Lilli Carré, Conor O’Keefe, Laura Park, Nate Neal, and Sara Edward-Corbett, with incidental drawings by Kaela Graham.

This highly regarded quarterly anthology is a great survey of some of the industry’s greatest and most innovative creators. If you’ve always wanted to sample quality alternative comics, here’s your first stop. Here’s a great big 12-page preview (PDF).

You Are There – $26.99
By Jacques Tardi & Jean-Claude Forest
192 pages; published by Fantagraphics Books; available at Amazon.com

The satirical masterpiece that ushered in the graphic novel era to European comics, finally available in English—the beginning of an ambitious publishing project introducing one of Europe’s most beloved cartoonists to American audiences. One of the earliest full-length, standalone graphic novels to be published in Europe, and certainly one of the best and most original, Ici Même was serialized in the adult French comics monthly (A suivre) in the early 1980s and then released in book form. A quarter of a century later, this dark, funny, consistently surprising masterpiece has finally been translated into English.

An unexpected yet smoothly confident collaboration between the darkly cynical Jacques Tardi and the playful fantasist Jean-Claude Forest (of Barbarella fame), You Are There is set on a small island off the coast of France, where unscrupulous landowners have succeeded in overtaking the land from the last heir of a previously wealthy family. That heir, whose domain, in a Beckettian twist, is now reduced to the walls that border these patches of land he used to own, prowls the walls all day, eking out a living by collecting tolls at each gate. His seemingly hopeless struggle to recover his birthright becomes complicated as the government sees a way of using his plight for the sake of political expediency, and the romantic intervention of the daughter of one of the landowners (who has her own sordid history with the politician) engenders further difficulties, culminating in an apocalyptic, hallucinatory finale.

Set in Tardi’s preferred early 20th century milieu, You Are There is drawn in his crisp 1980s neo-“clear line” style, gorgeously detailed, elegantly stylized, with impossibly deep slabs of black. You Are There is a feast for both the eyes and the brain.

As we cover in our documentary Dig Comics, the perception of comic books and their corresponding growth (or lack thereof) is notably different in countries other than the United States. This past summer, Dig Comics director/writer/host Miguel Cima discovered firsthand that France has a healthier, more diverse industry. This release from 1979 was apparently a significant moment in the growth of that industry. Here’s an even bigger 19-page preview (PDF).

The Act-I-Vate Primer – $24.99
Edited by Dean Haspiel, Nick Bertozzi, et al.
160 pages; published by IDW Publishing; available at Amazon.com

In the tradition of the acclaimed and groundbreaking anthology, Flight, the ACT-I-VATE Primer showcases a wide array of stories and talent -18 innovative creators, 16 intriguing properties, one beautiful book – and all-new, never-before-seen stories and art!

act-i-vate.com is the premier comic art collective on the Internet, featuring many renowned cartoonists who produce all-new material on a regular basis. The ACT-I-VATE PRIMER is a PRINT EXCLUSIVE anthology by many of the Act-I-Vate creators. None of the material in this book will appear on the Act-I-Vate website for at least one year from publication date.

There is a lot of good comics work being doing online and Act-I-Vate.com is one of the best hubs to find it. This anthology is another fine sampler. Here’s a 16-page preview.

That’s it for this week. Tougher than usual to whittle it down to a halfway digestible list. Yay comics!

New Graphic Novels, Comic Books for You – 9/30/09

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

Here’s some brand new stuff that came out the week of September 30 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 any of 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: For the most part, I have not read these yet, so I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, odds are good they just might appeal to you.

Johnny Cash: I See A Darkness – $17.95
By Reinhard Kleist
224 pages; published by Abrams ComicArts; available at Amazon.com

The first and only illustrated biography of “The Man in Black”, Johnny Cash, the most famous country singer of all time.

Cash was a 17-time Grammy winner who sold more than 90 million albums in his lifetime and became an icon of American music in the 20th century. Graphic novelist Reinhard Kleist depicts Johnny Cash’s eventful life from his early sessions with Elvis Presley (1956), through the concert in Folsom Prison (1968), his spectacular comeback in the 1990s, and the final years before his death on September 12, 2003.

The author’s site has a preview (although the final lettering is missing). I love that image of Cash in the recording studio.

Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth – $22.95
By Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos H. Papadimitriou & Alecos Papadatos
352 pages; published by Bloomsbury; available at Amazon.com

The innovative, dramatic graphic novel based on the life of the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell.

This brilliantly illustrated tale of reason, insanity, love and truth recounts the story of Bertrand Russell’s life. Raised by his paternal grandparents, young Russell was never told the whereabouts of his parents. Driven by a desire for knowledge of his own history, he attempted to force the world to yield to his yearnings: for truth, clarity and resolve.

As he grew older, and increasingly sophisticated as a philosopher and mathematician, Russell strove to create an objective language with which to describe the world – one free of the biases and slippages of the written word. At the same time, he began courting his first wife, teasing her with riddles and leaning on her during the darker days, when his quest was bogged down by paradoxes, frustrations and the ghosts of his family’s secrets. Ultimately, he found considerable success – but his career was stalled when he was outmatched by an intellectual rival: his young, strident, brilliantly original student, Ludwig Wittgenstein.

An insightful and complexly layered narrative, Logicomix reveals both Russell’s inner struggle and the quest for the foundations of logic. Narration by an older, wiser Russell, as well as asides from the author himself, make sense of the story’s heady and powerful ideas. At its heart, Logicomix is a story about the conflict between pure reason and the persistent flaws of reality, a narrative populated by great and august thinkers, young lovers, ghosts and insanity.

The Amazon.com link above has previews and the Bloomsbury link above has three-part making-of video series on YouTube, but there’s also an excellent website at Logicomix.com with behind-the-scenes info, a preview trailer and lots of other info. This debuted at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List and is getting excellent reviews.

Mickey Mouse & Friends #296 – $2.99
By Stefano Ambrosio & Lorenzo Pastrovicchio
32 pages; published by Boom! Kids

First BOOM! Kids issue! One of the longest-lived, most-successful comic book series in the industry’s history comes to BOOM! and brings a little magic — presenting Wizards of Mickey! Student of the great wizard Grandalf, Mickey Mouse hails from the humble village of Miceland. Allying himself with Donald Duck (who has a pet dragon named Fafnir) and team mate Goofy, Mickey’s come to the great tournament to get his revenge on Peg Leg Pete, who has stolen the Rain Crystal from Miceland! Join Mickey Mouse and his friends on an epic tale of magic and wonder! Join BOOM! Kids for a whole new epoch in Disney publishing!

Disney comic books have been missing from the market place for about a year now. This is an imported story, which has been a pretty standard practice for previous publishers of Disney comics. It was originally done in Italy but from the looks of this preview, the translation holds up pretty nicely.

High Moon Vol. 1 – $14.99
By David Gallaher & Steve Ellis
192 pages; published by DC Comics’ Zuda Comics; available at Amazon.com

The first winner of Zuda Comics’ monthly online competition, HIGH MOON is a horror adventure of cowboys and werewolves in the Old West. HIGH MOON begins with a gruff bounty hunter, Matthew Macgregor, investigating a series of strange happenings in the dusty town of Blest, Texas. While Macgregor seeks to uncover the town’s dark secrets, he tries desperately to keep his own hidden. 

The horrors of Blest ripple out to the mountainous town of Ragged Rock, Oklahoma, where another detective investigates a series of murders following a bizarre train robbery. Uncovering an age-old vendetta, this mysterious lawman is forced to do battle with a steam-driven monstrosity.

Macgregor’s tale concludes as a young woman’s dire call for assistance leads him through the Black Hills of South Dakota and into devastating battle between two warring factions. Macgregor must face down the United States government – only to discover a secret ritual that spells the destruction of the American frontier.

It’s such a relief when someone you personally know releases something, and you can be genuinely complimentary of what they’ve produced. While David Gallaher and I have “virtually” known each other for years, I’m happy to say that his web-comic holds up nicely as a thrilling horror/western mash-up. You can read it for yourself right here. And then there’s this production blog for good behind-the-scenes goodies.

Power & Glory – $19.99
By Howard Chaykin
128 pages; published by Dynamite Entertainment; available at Amazon.com

A crime fighter is genetically engineered to be a super-hero – but when the test goes awry and he doesn’t have the super-hero qualities needed, he has to be teamed up with a former CIA agent who is the brains behind the duo. One gets all the glory while one has all the power.

I’ve always thought that it was a bit weird that every super-hero just instantly has what it takes, mentally and emotionally, to actually be a superhero. I guess I’m not alone. Probably not one for the kiddies.

The Dynamite link above has a 9-page preview so you have a better idea of just what you’re getting into by entering one of Howard Chaykin’s worlds.

Prison Pit: Book One – $12.99
By Johnny Ryan
120 pages; published by Fantagraphics Books; available at Amazon.com

Prison Pit is an original graphic novel from the pen of Johnny Ryan, best known for his humor comic, Angry Youth ComixPrison Pit represents a marked departure from AYC or his Blecky Yuckerella weekly comic strip, combining his love for WWE wrestling, Gary Panter’s “Jimbo” comics, and Kentaro Miura’s “Berserk” Manga into a brutal showcase of violence, survival and revenge. Imagine a blend of old-fashioned role playing fantasy games like Dungeons & Dragons crossed with contemporary adult video games like Grand Theft Auto, filtered through Ryan’s sense of humor.

The book begins with C.F. (his full-name would be too horrifying to reveal here) being thrown into the Prison Pit, a barren negative-zone populated by intergalactic, violent monster criminals. In this first volume, C.F. gets into a bloody slorge war (a slorge is a giant slug that excretes a steroid-like drug called “fecid” that all the monster men are addicted to) with ultraprisoner Rottweiler Herpes and his henchmen Rabies Bloodbath and Assrat. The ensuing bloodbath is an over-the-top, hyperviolent yet hilarious farce worthy of Ryan’s inspiration, Kentaro Miura.

If Howard Chaykin is too much for you, you’ll never be able to handle Johnny Ryan, who is maniacally funny in the absurdly over-the-top violence. Here’s a PDF file preview.

Ball Peen Hammer – $17.99
By Adam Rapp & George O’Connor
144 pages; published by First Second Books; available at Amazon.com

The world is dying.  After most of the city succumbed to the plague, Welton’s staying inside — permanently.  But hiding in his claustrophobic basement room — the only place he knows is safe — exacts a gruesome price, and he becomes part of a collective that’s killing children.  Infected with the plague himself, with no way to find the woman he loves, Welton takes refuge in apathy — until someone knocks on his door.

Ball Peen Hammer gives us a window into life in a half-deserted apartment building in a time of raw love, sacrifice, fear, and death.

This one is a bit more serious but also not for the weak at heart. Here’s a 13-page preview.

Refresh, Refresh – $17.99
By James Ponsoldt, Danica Novgorodoff & Benjamin Percy
144 pages; published by First Second Books; available at Amazon.com

Fathers, sons, and the war that comes between them.

There’s nothing Josh, Cody, and Gordon want more than their fathers home safely from the war in Iraq — unless it’s to get out of their dead-end town.  Refresh, Refresh is the story of three teenagers on the cusp of high school graduation and their struggle to make hard decisions with no role models to follow; to discover the possibilities for the future when all the doors are slamming in their faces; and to believe their fathers will come home alive so they can be boys again.

The above says enough to get me hooked. But for more, here’s an 11-page preview.

Trotsky: A Graphic Biography – $16.95
By Rick Geary
112 pages; published by Hill & Wang; available at Amazon.com

Trotsky was a hero to some, a ruthless demon to others. To Stalin, he was such a threat that he warranted murder by pickax. This polarizing figure set up a world conflict that lasted through the twentieth century, and in Trotsky: A Graphic Biography, the renowned comic artist Rick Geary uses his distinct style to depict the stark reality of the man and his times. Trotsky’s life becomes a guide to the creation of the Soviet Union, the horrors of World War I, and the establishment of international communism as he, Lenin, and their fellow Bolsheviks rise from persecution and a life underground to the height of political power. Ranging from his boyhood in the Ukraine to his fallout with Stalin and his moonlight romance with Frida Kahlo, Trotsky is a stunning look at one of the twentieth century’s most important thinkers and the far-reaching political trends that he launched.

Rick Geary does excellent work. Unfortunately I can’t find a preview but just imagine looking at something really impressive that compels you to buy it.

The Best American Comics 2009 – $22.00
Edited by Charles Burns
352 pages; published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; available at Amazon.com

Now in its fourth year, Best American Comics showcases the work of both established and up-and-coming contributers. Editor Charles Burns—cartoonist, illustrator, and official cover artist of the Believer—has culled the best stories from graphic novels, pamphlet comics, newspapers, magazines, mini-comics, and the web to create this cutting-edge collection. Featuring the work of such luminaries as Chris Ware, KAZ, and Robert Crumb, this volume is “a genuine salute to comics” (Houston Chronicle).

This is a highly acclaimed yearly anthology that provides a great sampling of the depth and art of comics. Here’s the book’s official site which has more information.

The Book of Genesis – $24.95
By R. Crumb
published by W.W. Norton; available at Amazon.com

From Creation to the death of Joseph, here are all 50 chapters of the Book of Genesis, revealingly illustrated as never before.

Envisioning the first book of the bible like no one before him, R. Crumb, the legendary illustrator, reveals here the story of Genesis in a profoundly honest and deeply moving way. Originally thinking that we would do a take off of Adam and Eve, Crumb became so fascinated by the Bible’s language, “a text so great and so strange that it lends itself readily to graphic depictions,” that he decided instead to do a literal interpretation using the text word for word in a version primarily assembled from the translations of Robert Alter and the King James bible.

Now, readers of every persuasion—Crumb fans, comic book lovers, and believers—can gain astonishing new insights from these harrowing, tragic, and even juicy stories. Crumb’s Book of Genesis reintroduces us to the bountiful tree lined garden of Adam and Eve, the massive ark of Noah with beasts of every kind, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed by brimstone and fire that rained from the heavens, and the Egypt of the Pharaoh, where Joseph’s embalmed body is carried in a coffin, in a scene as elegiac as any in Genesis. Using clues from the text and peeling away the theological and scholarly interpretation that have often obscured the Bible’s most dramatic stories, Crumb fleshes out a parade of Biblical originals: from the serpent in Eden, the humanoid reptile appearing like an alien out of a science fiction movie, to Jacob, a “kind’ve depressed guy who doesn’t strike you as physically courageous,” and his bother, Esau, “a rough and kick ass guy,” to Abraham’s wife Sarah, more fetching than most woman at 90, to God himself, “a standard Charlton Heston-like figure with long white hair and a flowing beard.”

As Crumb writes in his introduction, “the stories of these people, the Hebrews, were something more than just stories. They were the foundation, the source, in writing of religious and political power, handed down by God himself.” Crumb’s Book of Genesis, the culmination of 5 years of painstaking work, is a tapestry of masterly detail and storytelling which celebrates the astonishing diversity of the one of our greatest artistic geniuses.

A surprisingly reverential and straight adaptation from one of comics’ most influential humorists. Here’s a preview of chapter 19.

Pretty big week for comics. Lots of good stuff to check out.