Every Comic I Read in 2013: May

House of Five Leaves by Natsume Ono (Viz)

-This is my second full read through this series, but the first time through it was one volume at a time with a few months between each, this time I read the whole series in a few days (I ended up reading the second half in one sitting).

-Only on this second reading did I consider the importance of the title and that “house” in the title. The location, the gathering point, the social connection/network that is a key element to the story, but also “house” as in family. In the end, this is the story of a family being created as much as it is anything else.

-It is also, in a large part, a story about men in love with each other in non-sexual ways. There are women in the story, but the primary relationships and catalysts of plot in the story are between men. These relationships are more than just friends, or they are not friends based on interests or circumstance, but rather some deeper feeling of connection and love.

-This has to be the least violent manga about samurai and criminals ever. There aren’t many fights and when there are Ono barely shows them. Characters are facing off. An almost close-up, maybe two. The fight is over. Characters are again facing off (or one is dying/dead). It is, in its way, wonderfully evocative of the speed and confusion of a violent conflict, making the fights a gap in the events, a jump in time from stasis to stasis that can leave behind horrible results (though, in this case, they are not graphically too horrible). Ono makes a great counterpoint to the stylistics of a volume long fight by Goseki Kojima or Takehiko Inoue.

-I do love Ono’s style: thin lines, awkward cropping, breakdowns that are often slightly confusing or abstract, nearly empty spaces, crowded narrow panels, weighted silences.

-Here are two images for you:
1) A nice almost empty panel, the emptiness echoing the text.
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2) A quiet scene, the moon foretells new growth.
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Barrack Hussein Obama by Steven Weissman (Fantagraphics, 2012)

-Weissman’s style in this comic is really appealing: off-white paper (moleskine looking yellowish), a few colored Sharpies (black, green, blue, red), a couple ziptones, the occasional underlying pencil marks.

-The comics themselves, though, veer between amusing and stupid.

Brandstifter Nr.3 and Schlaflos by Jonathan Kröll

-Jonathan sent these to me in the mail after I send him my free mini from minicomics day.

-”Brandstifter” is short and wide mini with card covers.

-The imagery is semi-abstract, I can see waves and maybe a moon, but also lines and curved brushstrokes and circles that are more enso than representational. Strokes in the last few panels almost make letters, yet elude cohering into anything recognizable.

-It’s like a stormy night.

-”Schlaflos” is scratchy and spluttery. A thin-lined figure is slightly more than a stick figure (something about it makes me think, stylistically, of parts of Cages). This mini is one page, folded in such a way, that after paging through its 8 pages, you can unfold the comic to find the panels printed on the other side. This other side is two pages of panels: eyes, tongues, insects, that same figure, beds, some hard to read words in German that end with “nothing happens” (that’s what Google Translate says it is).

Sonatina 2, edited by Scott Longo (2013)

-An anthology in two parts, one at full page size, one at half size. Really lovely covers (they are uncredited so I assume they are the work of editor Scott Longo). The smaller book has a great matching back cover. This is one of the more adventurous anthologies I’ve read. Lots of good work in here.

-Anthologies are often good places to discover new artists. A little disappointed to realize all the artists I like in here are artists I’m already familiar with.

-The little book is the weaker half, though it has back-to-back Julie Delporte and Sophie Yanow autobio comics. Both are really effective in their own way: Julie’s brightly colored, more narratively elliptical, less structured; Sophie’s more structured in her black lines that know when to come and go, leaving visual blanks and abstracted space.

-The larger book has a lot of familiar names. Jason Overby’s pages are like words and images rising out of the darkness of the large black pages, an interior monologue accompanied by collages. Collage is prominent in a few of the comics here. Dunja Jankovic’s abstract drawings have some collaged elements in them, but also look like collages in the way the parts of the drawing are composed. Leslie Weibeler’s comic has a more contemporary layered collage aspect using transparency and repetition. It’s the most interesting comic I’ve seen from her, fragmented and dense. Blaise Larmee’s 4 pages look like more of his photocopier experiments, this time with primary colored paper and those prominent window panes/gutters. His pages have a real visual depth. If Jason’s pages are rising up from blackness, Blaise’s are sinking into, separated from the viewer by a window. Aidan Koch’s four pages are painted in brilliant blue on brown paper. Shapes, textures, and objects repeat, with small text inching across the very bottom margin. It’s very beautiful.

-A big improvement on the first incarnation of Sonatina. Order a copy here.

Twin Spica v.1-3 by Kou Yaginuma (Vertical, 2010)

-I enjoyed reading House of Five Leaves so much I figured I’d reread other manga series. Like devouring full seasons of tv shows in a short period of time, there’s something satisfying about reading through volumes of manga all in a row. It satisfies the urge for narrative continuation (what comes next?) and closure (how will it end?).

-It’s also got me thinking about what I look for in comics, and how, there are different ways I read comics that vaguely correlate to other art forms: tv series, novel, poem, painting (or other related fine arts). I don’t go into a John Porcellino comic reading it the same way (or with the same types of expectations) as I would read Twin Spica or how I’d read a Vincent Fortemps comic…

-Twin Spica is definitely one to read for more traditional narrative pleasures, though, I found myself stalling out at volume 3. I read the first 3 in quick succession, went on vacation, and weeks later I haven’t picked up the fourth. I think part of the issue is that the art is not a draw. A first read through, you can read for plot/story, but the second time through you want a little more out of the art, and Yaginuma does not have a style I particularly like.

Infinite Corpse

-It’s like an exquisite corpse as a endless series of comic strips… about a skeleton. As you would expect this is more about novelty than… well any of the normal narrative pleasures. You get a mishmash of visual styles (though on the other hand, you also see how similar most of the styles really are).

-I did participate in this, as it really needed at least one photocomic. I made one that followed up a John Porcellino strip.

-I browsed in this here and there, but… in four isolated panels I don’t see anyone really able to pull anything out of the whole. In the end it’s not unlike exquisite corpse drawings, there is fun in the execution/process but little in the product.

Tamara Drewe by Posey Simmonds

-Reread this while on vacation.

-I don’t think this one is quite the success that Gemma Bovery was (but I haven’t reread that in awhile either), though perhaps my familiarity with the source Simmonds is playing with injures that (I’ve read Madame Bovary more than once, I have not read… I can’t even now recall which Thomas Hardy novel Tamara Drewe is based on).

-I do think Simmonds is a skilled artist. Her characters are expressive, her landscapes and backgrounds are attractive and successfully provide the sense of place required for her narrative. I’m just not terribly engaged by the narrative itself, which unravels and ravels back up like a nineteenth century novel, which never was my favorite period.

-Her use of text in relation to image is still almost unique in contemporary comics. Parts of Cerebus do something similar, though less successfully, as the parts of Cerebus that most interrelate paragraphs of set text with panels using word/thought balloons are done in such a way that the set text itself is a) really hard to actually read and b) not as consistently integrated with the images. (On the other hand some of the text/image combinations in Cerebus that are really effective tend to mix the set text with comics panels in a more divorced way (Jaka’s Story for instance where the two work as separate threads of the narrative, rather than as a combined narration like in Simmonds’ work).)

Alack Sinner, integrale t.1 by Munoz and Sampayo (Casterman)

-Reread this, as comics this dense with French text tend to require reading for me to really appreciate the work. Even on a second read, I still feel like there were elements I missed, or aspects I didn’t pay close enough attention to.

-These stories (of widely varying length) were created between the 70s and the 2000s (the last is post 2001). Munoz’s art changes dramatically (and quickly) from a pretty traditional comics realism to a loose black-swathed expressionism (Frank Miller was highly influenced by him, though not nearly as good), and Sampayo’s stories slowly drift away from the noir detective stories he starts writing at the beginning of the series. Politics are quickly inserted into the stories and Sinner (the protagonist ex-NYC-cop private detective) is slowly moved into stories that are not always about solving some murder or disappearance. Instead they become rather bleak existential, political stories.

-These are dense comics. Munoz, even at his most abstract, puts a lot into his images, especially the crowded New York City scenes. And Sampayo is a wordy comics writer, though not in a way that feels redundant or unnecessary.

-It’s crazy there hasn’t been a decent, complete translation of this (Fantagraphics did a few of the earliest stories as pamphlets awhile back), as I’d think the combo of off-kilter genre tale with the expressive art would appeal to a lot of contemporary comics readers.

Aria v.6-12 by Kozue Amano

-Reread some of these (in scanlated form) over vacation too. I’ve probably written enough about this series here.

Pumpkin and Mayonaise by Kiriko Nananan

-This is a 1 volume manga I read in scanlation. Since I enjoyed Nananan’s Blue so much, I searched out some of her other work. I found this one years back, but I don’t think I read it before.

-It lacks the subtlety or interesting/unusual visuals (harsh cropping, sparseness) of Blue. Narratively, the story is pretty generic and kind of annoying… it’s not even worth talking about.

-I deleted it after I read it.

Grand Gestures by Simon Moreton (Retrofit, 2013)

-When this first showed up in the mail, I just flipped through it, and was really impressed by its sparseness. The white of the page is the prominent color that comes through.

-Thematically, this feels in a line with some of Simon’s other works, like the Escapologist issues and his short in the Kus art anthology. All showcase a character escaping from daily life. The former even showcase a similar floating ghost-like figure as in this issue.

-These are in contrast with the straight autobiographical shorts in his Smoo issues.

-Simon has really been refining his rendering for a lot of his comics (not all of them, some have a denser tonality). He has perhaps not totally reached the limit of reducing his panels to a minimal number of lines–so that something is communicated, an object or scene or person is represented, without filling in details, leaving the reader-viewer to their own devices–though some panels in this comic consist of only 1 or 2 lines, which is probably the limit.

-There are some awesome abstract geese in here. Weird ovular, shapes with a curved line coming out of one end. Out of context they would be purely abstract shapes, in context… geese.

-This type of refined, spare drawing is quite difficult if you want to maintain any sense of representational imagery. At one end you leave out too much information to communicate anything, on the other, you have a drawing that looks incomplete or unbalanced. This is hardest, I think, with people, and how much you want to make them individualized (especially in narratives that have characters) or generic. For the most part, Simon succeeds quite well at this.

-I’m not sure if its purposeful that the ghost-like floating figures that seem to evoke a certain freedom of movement/escape are mostly identical to a number of the figures in the background of other panels. Is this a limitation of the drawing style, or are we to read this thematically… the protagonist (who seems to be consistent across the first two sections of the comic) sees other people as freer than he is, or it’s not what he sees, but how we, the reader-viewers, should see them in comparison with the protagonist.

-Definitely one of the best of the Retrofit releases.