Gary Panter

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.

New to Comics? New Comics For You! 8/5/09

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

Here’s some brand new stuff that came out last week 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.

Frankenstein’s Womb – $6.99
By Warren Ellis & Marek Oleksicki
48 pages; published by Avatar Press; available at Amazon.com

1816 was called “The Year Without A Summer.” In the weird darkness of that July’s volcanic winter, Mary Wolfestonecraft Godwin began writing Frankenstein on the shore of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. But that is not where Frankenstein began. It began a few months earlier when, en route through Germany to Switzerland, Mary, her future husband Percy Shelley, and her stepsister Clair Clairmont approached a strange castle. Castle Frankenstein, some one hundred years earlier, had been home to Johann Conrad Dippel, whose experiments included the independent invention of nitroglycerin, a distillation of the elixir of life – and the transfer of a live soul into an awful accretion of human body parts! Mary never spoke of having entered the real Castle Frankenstein, stark on its hilltop south of Darmstadt. But she did. And she was never the same again – because something was haunting that tower, and Mary met it there.

Fear, death, and alchemy – the modern age is created here, in lost moments in a ruined castle on a day never recorded. The newest addition to Warren Ellis’ Apparat line of original graphic novels has arrived! Following up the huge successes of Crecy and Aetheric Mechanics, Ellis turns his spark of mad genius to bring us a fantastical tale in this all-new original graphic novel illustrated in atmospheric perfection by newcomer Marek Oleksicki.

Warren Ellis is kind of disturbed. In this case, it should be a good thing. Here’s a preview.

The Gigantic Robot – $16.95
By Tom Gauld
32 pages; published by Buenaventura Press; available at Amazon.com

“A perfect little book.” – Daniel Clowes
A wry fable concerning the production of an impressive secret weapon whose promise goes unfulfilled. Elegant, meticulous and concise in both word and drawing, Gauld’s signature style graces the pages of this silver-cover board book.

This 8.25 x 10.5 inch board book format is a bit unconventional but this looks too delightful to pass up. There are pictures of the book, interior pages, and other goodies to look at on Tom Gauld’s Flickr account. (I love the mock Google ads he does at the end.) You can also order this straight from the artist’s site, CabanonPress.com.

Abstract Comics: The Anthology – $39.99
Edited by Andrei Molotiu
232 pages; published by Fantagraphics Books; available at Amazon.com

Abstract comics? Don’t all comics tell stories? How can a comic be abstract? Well, as it happens, beginning with the experiments of Saul Steinberg, through some of the more psychedelic creations of R. Crumb and Victor Moscoso, and with increasing frequency in recent years, cartoonists and other artists have played with the possibility of comics whose panels contain little to no representational imagery, and which tell no stories other than those that result from the transformation and interaction of shapes across the layout of a comic page. Reduced to the most basic elements of comics — the panel grid, brushstrokes, and sometimes colors — abstract comics highlight the formal mechanisms that underlie all comics, such as the graphic dynamism that leads the eye (and the mind) from panel to panel or the aesthetically rich interplay between sequentiality and page layout.

Abstract Comics, edited by Andrei Molotiu, an art historian as well as one of the best-known contemporary abstract-comic creators, is the first collection devoted to this budding genre. It gathers the best abstract comics so far created, including early experiments in the form by cartoonists primarily known for other types of comics, such as Gary Panter, Patrick McDonnell, or Lewis Trondheim, and pieces by little-known pioneers such as Benoit Joly, Bill Boichel and Jeff Zenick, as well as by recent creators who have devoted a good part of their output to perfecting the form, such as Ibn al Rabin, Billy Mavreas, Mark Staff Brandl, and many others. It also features first attempts, commissioned specifically for this anthology, by well-known cartoonists such as James Kochalka, J.R. Williams and Warren Craghead. Comprehensive in scope, Abstract Comics gathers work not only from North America, but also from France, Switzerland, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, showing the rise in popularity of the genre to be a true international phenomenon. In the process, the anthology highlights the wide variety of approaches taken to the combination of abstraction and sequential art — approaches resulting in work that is not only graphically bold, but also often proves to be surprisingly humorous or emotionally disturbing.

Complete list of contributors (in order of appearance): R. Crumb, Victor Moscoso, Spyros Horemis, Jeff Zenick, Bill Shut, Patrick McDonnell, Mark Badger, Benoit Joly, Bill Boichel, Gary Panter, Damien Jay, Ibn al Rabin, Lewis Trondheim, Andy Bleck, Mark Staff Brandl, Andrei Molotiu, Anders Pearson, Derik Badman, Grant Thomas, Casey Camp, Henrik Rehr, James Kochalka, John Hankiewicz, Mike Getsiv, J.R. Williams, Blaise Larmee, Warren Craghead III, Janusz Jaworski, Richard Hahn, Geoff Grogan, Panayiotis Terzis, Mark Gonyea, Greg Shaw, Alexey Sokolin, Jason Overby, Bruno Schaub, Draw, Jason T. Miles, Elijah Brubaker, Noah Berlatsky, Tim Gaze, troylloyd, Billy Mavreas

Even more unconventional and on the more avant-garde side of things. More proof that comics are truly an art form. They can be just as weird, surreal, absurd, artistic, expressive and transcendent as any other medium. Fantagraphics has put up a Flickr slideshow of pages from the book. They also have a 20-page preview (PDF). I dare you to try this.

Pax Romana – $14.99
By Jonathan Hickman
136 pages; published by Image Comics; available at Amazon.com

In 2045, as Islam has overrun Europe and the West openly shuns monotheism, the Vatican funded, CERN Laboratories ‘discover’ that time travel is possible. The Pope orders the creation of a private army, and led by a few handpicked Cardinals and the finest graduates of selected war colleges, they travel back in time to 312AD – the reign of the first Christian Emperor, Constantine. Upon arrival, conflicting agendas, ideological differences, and personal greed see grand plans unravel.

Pax Romana is the tale of 5,000 men sent on an impossible mission to change the past and save the future. At the end of the world, will they succeed, or will they fail? This politically driven sci-fi epic comes from the creator of the hit Nightly News! Collects the entire Pax Romana series with never-before-seen back matter!

“Back matter”? Ew, what’s that? Is it like back fat? No, back matter is a term that someone, I think Warren Ellis (the disturbed writer mentioned above), came up with to describe exclusive content semi-equivalent to DVD extras but for comic books. Anyway, this is significantly more conventional after Abstract Comics, so if you’re not into that, some time traveling sci-fi adventure is probably more your speed. Although Jonathan Hickman doesn’t usually take the easy way out. In fact, he might be a bit crazy, too. Fortunately crazy is pretty entertaining if you don’t have to live with it. Here’s a preview of the first four pages.

Kaleidoscope: A Mr. Toast Book – $10.00
By Dan Goodsell
64 pages; published by Imaginary World Comics; available at Amazon.com

Kaleidoscope is a visual tour of the World of Mr Toast. No story, just a potpourri of comics, photographs, watercolors and paintings. Inside you will find humor and fun with Mr Toast and his pals, Joe the Egg, Shaky Bacon and Clem Lemon. Great for kids and adults of all ages.

This looks absolutely adorable and hilarious all at once. At the publisher’s link above, you’ll find some preview pages, and you’ll also be able to buy it for a few dollars less. So simple as to be brilliant.

Kind of a bizarre mix of comics this week, but I like it. I hope you find something you like, too!