Every Comic I Read in 2013: January

Over the years (particularly over the last year) I’ve been reading less comics. My tastes have been refining and I feel like I’ve reached a point where I’ve read enough in the history of comics that I don’t need to be filling in those gaps anymore (for awhile I was reading a lot of older comic books and strips for the historical context) and I don’t feel the need to “keep up” as much with whatever is going on. I try to keep a list of every book I read each year (including print comics), and I realized earlier this month that I only had 1 comic on my list so far in 2013 (I later added another one I forgot to include). I’ve added a few more in February, but, as I’ve been wanting to write again on this site, I thought I’d try writing about every comic I read this year. (We’ll see how long this lasts.)

I can’t possibly include all the comics I see online, too much zooms by in Google Reader or Tumblr or Twitter for me to list it all, let along say anything about it. But I will try to say something about the works I really read (rather than just glance at) or really enjoy.

The Freddie Stories by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly, 2013)

-This is a new edition of a collection of strips from Barry’s long running Ernie Pook’s Comeek strip. Formatted as a wide hardcover where each page spread is a four panel strip (two panels per page), on rereading this I realized this might be how my latest issue ended up with the same layout. Each strip is black and white printed on top of a few backgrounds of colored horizontal stripes.

-I used to read Ernie Pook’s Comeek in the local alt weekly. I’ve had a love-boredom relationship with Barry’s work since then. I loved One Hundred Demons (wrote about it), I was bored with What It Is and the first volume of Everything.

-This edition falls onto the love side.

-I wasn’t prepared for how dark this collection would be, Freddie’s stories don’t have as much of the lightheartedness or humor I remember from other Ernie Pook’s strips (though I could be misremembering, it’s been years since I’ve read more than a strip here or there). The first two strips are lighthearted, but it goes downhill from there for Freddie. He quickly becomes involved in numerous traumatic events and begins to show various mental disturbances (for instance, for awhile everyone he looks at has just a skull rather than a head/face). It’s hard to say whether Freddie starts out that way or it is a result of the events (though it becomes clear his mother has not helped and could be a major cause of his troubles). Either way there is little respite for him, even, in this volume, little hope.

-One of the most noticeable aspects of Barry’s strips are the way they break some of those cardinal “rules” of comics in regards the use of text. Text overwhelms a majority of the panels. Sometimes there’s barely room for the drawings at all, but it never feels wrong. Barry is a wonderful prose stylist, literary in a true sense of the word as it relates to language. The strips’ narration, all via the various child protagonists, has a wonderful, imaginative flexibility to it. The language evokes the sense of a child speaking, simplistic yet rich, but evocative and creative in a way that does not feel believable for a real child (if you really think about it). I don’t mean that as a negative criticism, rather, I think the combination of the two is what makes the narration so successful (I wouldn’t want to read something that sounded like it was really being narrated by an elementary school kid).

-Even though the text predominates, Barry manages to skillfully combine that text with the images in the panels. Sometimes the images are redundant to the text, yet in being redundant reinforce certain aspects of the story. Other times the text and images diverge to run parallel courses through the strip, creating added meaning in the comparison.

-Her almost art brut cartooning is also powerfully effective in conveying a gamut of expressionistic emotions, fear, horror, joy.

C’est Bon v.19: Interposed (C’est Bon Kultur, 2012)

-Ok, so I’m in this anthology (a silent four page comic featuring Mars, the planet), but I also did read it.

-Like any anthology this is hit and miss. It has a number of editors, so I’m guessing the range covers their tastes.

-Inside are at least two good arguments for not printing color work in grayscale. Mine is one of them. The other is the pages from Oliver East’s forthcoming Swear Down. Oliver’s images lose a good deal of effect when converted to grayscale (I have seen the color versions in this case).

-Oliver’s pages are shown as part of a collaboration with (one of the anthology editors) Allan Haverholm. Allan made his own drawn “interpretations” of some Oliver’s pages. In general Allan has abstracted and geometized (I guess I made that up) the pages. It’s an interesting effect that works better on the less abstract originals. A lot of Oliver’s images, while being representational, tend towards abstraction, and the more the originals are abstracted, the less Allan’s feel like successful pieces. The converse is true, though, that the less abstract pages from Oliver make more successful pages from Allan. These two made a whole book like this called “East Haverholm”, with Oliver also interpreting pages by Allan.

-Milena Simeonova’s “Between the Lines” is potentially interesting, but it is a potential unfulfilled. It is a series of four page spreads. Each page shows a single black and white, semi-pixellated photo (looking like images cut out of a newspaper). The two pages in each spread both have the same sentence/phrase written on them. The idea, I assume, being to create different meanings via the text-image anchoring. This is sort of successful in the first spread: “I don’t know what future [sic] may bring.” The images are of a young smiling girl and an old frowning woman. Pretty obvious. But in the rest of the spreads the combinations feel less varied from verso to recto and didn’t end up communicating anything to me.

-Tym Godek has a verbose 3 page gag comic. Lots of text setting up a final panel. Like many of Tym’s recent comics, the gag is a sort of comics meta-joke, in this case about gaps.

-I didn’t read a few of the contributions because just looking at the art turned me off (I’m not reading a comic that seems to star an ugly stuffed Frankenstein-like rabbit).

Peanuts

-I’m reading one week of Peanuts strips a day to try to catch up with all the volumes I have. I started the year with The Complete Peanuts 1975-1976 (Fantagraphics).

-Reading Peanuts like this feels more natural than just devouring page after page of strips. You feel the rhythms a little more, the way Schulz structures the strips so the week tends to revolve around certain themes, plots, variations, the way the seasonal markers both stress the passing of time and retard the passing of time.

-Like many long running strips, it can be hit and miss with the story lines, characters, etc. Though I imagine different readers will have different opinions on which ones are hit and which ones are miss. I tend to be less enamored of Snoopy and Woodstock (lots of them in this volume), though I know they were uber-popular. I love the talking school strips (a number of them in this volume, up until the school commits suicide by collapsing) because they seem so weird. We get used to anthropomorphized animals like Snoopy, but a talking building just never quite becomes familiar in the same way.

Krazy Kat

-I’m also reading a month of Krazy Kat Sundays everyday (in the form of those three large hardcover collections from Fantagraphics). In this case I started at the beginning of the strip and am going to read through the whole run. Maybe more on this strip next time.