Comix 2000 hardcover (£50-00) –

On the way to work the other morning I was thinking about those best of lists that happen every year. Each magazine will devote a sizeable section to this event. This year, of course, it’s worse than even, never mind the best of 1999 or even the best of the nineties, this time each medium has a list of the best of the millennium. And, for most things, that’s got to be ‘The Best whatever EVER!!!’ There’ll be a curious mix of the old standards, the ones that will always be there (Citizen Kane, Strawberry Fields) and, if voted for by the public, obvious attacks of mass voting (Angels by Robbie Williams, Star Wars – Phantom Menace). I tried to contribute recently and I was stuck. How could I say that ‘a’ was the best whatever, when ‘b’, ‘c’, ‘d’ and the rest all seem essential in their own way? I’d have a breakdown before selecting my Desert Island Discs.

A few years ago, we learn from the introduction, L’ Association bandied around the idea of producing a two thousand page collection of new strips from the best artists around the world. After a long search for addresses they sent out 1300 letters requesting a wordless tale that could be read by anyone around the globe. Three hundred and twenty-nine cartoonists from 29 countries accepted the challenge and it looks amazing. The range of styles, stories and textures in here is mind boggling. Are there any ‘greats’ missing? Of course there are but that’s missing the point, this is an opportunity to discover new voices.

Poot #s 1-4 (£2-20 each) by Walt Holcombe –

The first time I saw Holcombe’s work was when he sent me a copy of KING OF PERSIA completely out of the blue. Chris Ware had written his first introduction for any book, praising the styling and pointing out that occasionally it will take an extra few glances to work out what is going on in a given panel. We bought in a huge bundle and I proceeded to recommend it to good souls, emphasising that it was a great love story, full of unrequited desire, stolen gems and hyper-tweaked language and sly, expressive panels brim-full of detail and stretched time. Some folks came back and observed that for my ‘great love story’ it was a shame that everyone died miserably at the end. I guess I forgot about that bit.

Anyway, time rolled on, I made up a corking, four-foot display piece for the window (which I’m still rather proud of) and then Fantagraphics announced that they would be publishing a new series by Walt called POOT. The main story, serialised over the four issues was ‘Swollen Holler’, again about nigh-disastrous love and the games we play in that little mine field. There are great lines (‘My stomach dances a jig when I’m near her! Without her, the moon don’t shine and my heart feels like a big bag of dirty marbles!’ or alternatively ‘I turn my back one second and you’re in the alley grinding sailors to matchwood’ – god forbid that I’m ever in a situation to use that phrase, but none the less it’s stored away for future use) and wonderful scene-setting panel with expansive star dotted night skies. His characters are always blocky and archetypal, pulled right out of thirties movies with none of this grey nonsense that passes for realism this day and age.

There are other diversions (for example, the third issue took a break for a wordless jaunt with a drifter as he bargains with what he has to get what he wants) but ‘Swollen Holler’ is the headlining act. The series was cancelled after Holcombe won the award for best newcomer in either the Harveys or Eisners. I remember that Steven Weissman won the other and then YIKES ground to a halt. Sigh.

[Editor’s note: you can still enjoy Walt Holcombe’s work in THINGS JUST GET AWAY FROM YOU – see shopping area.]

Dan & Larry (£7-50) by Dave Cooper –

Wrong, very wrong. Like the mighty CRUMPLE, I somehow had the willpower to avoid this as it was serialised and wait for the (very handsome) collection. The full title of the collection is DAN & LARRY IN “DON’T DO THAT!” which gives it an almost misplaced feel of a Laurel & Hardy romp.

Dan is a young duck and Larry is a large whatever with a bulbous head, tiny mechanical arms and a small centre parting perched on his dome. Dan helps him out by inking his tales of small warrior boys and their adventures. This could be set in a suburban area of the CRUMPLE world, the title character seems to pop up in the background of one panel. The Dave Cooper head image reappears, this time at a garage sale.

Before the big wrongness of the story occurs there are plenty of signposts that all is not well. A bird watches her hatchlings as they forage for rotten meat in a compost heap. A shepherd delivers a lamb with boneless legs. The (animal? vegetable?) ‘nulluck’ (surely a visual reference to Woodring’s ‘rolling cabine’) that Dan and his brother find half-buried in the garden wasn’t ready to be shelled. Now I’ve put them side by side I can see what they were pointing to.

Oh, but let’s talk about Cooper’s art for a moment. Here it’s a lot closer to the denser crosshatching of some of the darker panels in SUCKLE. Exaggerated shadows give objects great weight.

Geisha by Andi Watson (£6-95) –

Joni is an android, adopted by a family yet not accepted as ‘real’ by society. Her paintings don’t pay the rent but then she’s offered a forgery job that will get the pennies in and pull one over on the critics who sneer at her work. Then she’s offered a job as a bodyguard to a wafer-thin model. Then it really shifts into gear.

ZZZ #1 (£1-75) by Alan Bunce –

Bouncy little silent tale finding a somnambulist discovering a cave full of treasure and accidentally rousing a Genie who torments him through the rest of the book. Objects change from panel to panel, reminiscent of the morphing backgrounds in KRAZY KAT, meaning, for one example, Bunce had to come up with roughly twenty different chairs to draw. An obvious parallel would be Woodring, but with none of the creeping discomfort and deja-vu that he conjures. Funny, sweet and beautifully designed. Hopefully he’ll follow this up with more.

Escapo (£6-95) by Paul Pope –

Once you get past the not inconsiderable excesses of the New York ego-stroking and stylish design at the front (including photo of creator) you get a tale of love and daring. Power, grace and scale sweep the tale alongside showing his sheer love for using the brush. The characters are circus archetypes, stemming from ‘30s Hollywood and all the better for it.

Amy & Jordan h/c (£13-50) by Mark Beyer –

A welcome reprint of the King of angular paranoia and depression’s most famous work. The two characters drift through the oppressive city, seeing dead things and generally having an awful time of it. Beyer’s intricate, naive lines, obsessive patterning and diamond panels drip with nausea and unease. Lenore for grown-ups.

We’re Depressed by Mark Beyer (£21-99) –

Amy & Jordan return. There seems to be a resurgence of the Raw alumni, Spiegelman’s got a new catalogue coming out. The Burns reprint library continues. I’m even wearing my Gary Panter watch.

Rubber Necker #1 (£2-60) by Nick Bertozzi, Forlorn Funnies #1 (£2-95) by Paul Hornschemeier –

The last twelve months have seen a rise in the idea of the single issue comic as an item of beauty in the same way that the last five have seen it happen to the graphic novel. Enough artists must have stared up at the copy of JIMMY CORRIGAN on their shelf, or (more likely) the very pleasing display in Waterstones, and thought ‘that’s how I want to look’. But then they’ve looked back at the individual issues of ACME and realised that just because you leave your self-published work behind, abandon the copy shop and go to a real printer and get someone else to staple the damn things, you don’t have to make it look like a regular comic. Let me quote from Jordan Crane:

“The most important thing in making books or comics or anything, for that matter, is to f*****g ignore the status quo. You’ve spent months laboring over that comic, why in the world would you print it on newsprint with that flimsy glossy standard comic cover? Don’t make it look like every other crappy rag out there. Mainstream comics are printed the way they are because it’s the cheapest way, not because it’s the best way to present the art.
Treat every comic like it may be the last thing you’ll ever do. Imagine you’ll die after you finish it, and this will be your last words on this green earth. Make it f****n’ nice. Huh? Aim for the coolest damn thing you can imagine.”

And so to the reviews. Following his excellent, if overlooked, MASOCHISTS graphic novel, Nick offers smaller chunks to ensure that you’re not frightened away by excessive quality. The main story is a detailed drag through a day in the life of a minimum wage slave visiting his son and generally scraping through the town. Charming in the small things that are pointed out and inventive in its small panels and sweet, chugging rhythm.

Hornschemeier is going to be one of those artists that the lazy will accuse of ripping off Chris Ware. Just because Ware’s magpie eye has the highest profile it doesn’t exclude others from gleaning inspiration from other sources outside of the comics canon. I managed to miss out on his SEQUENTIAL series. FORLORN FUNNIES is a joy. Less story-based that NECKER but the quality of art and the attention given to the subtle colour used gives a feel of other places enough to disregard that point. What we have here is three (or four) separate stories that flow into each other as you’d tune the radio dial. It starts with a self professed evil-doer (resplendent in Dick Dastardly moustache and high, old west hat) tracking down a victim in the desert. Python-like turns of humour slowly fade to the present day as an unnamed character heads back to her apartment. he art style has changed slightly, less cartoony, but we’re only with her a short while before we’ve tuned into another character and his escape from skull-headed bosses and their terminal take on the word ‘fired’.

Non #1-4 (£2-10 to £4-95) by various –

Anthology book, edited by Jordan Crane. Matt covers with an appealing use of earth tones and flourescents for a very striking effect. Contributions from Brian Ralph (using his character from CAVE-IN), James Kochalka, Dean Haspiel and others. Some parts are very OPTIC NERVE, particularly Crane’s own ‘Floating’ serial, some parts are very art school. If you’re missing DRAWN & QUARTELY or have enjoyed any of the Highwater books, this one is for you.

NON #5 edited by Jordan Crane –

I wish I had this for you, really I do. It’s one of the most beautiful artefacts I’ve seen in a very long time. The whole package (and it is a whole package) is wrapped up in a silk-screened outer case with the requisite NON cover stars lounging with a few beers and some comics as an anthropomorphic cats staggers about with a window frame. Once inside, you lift the three hundred page book up to find another, smaller book underneath. And then there’s another book under that. The main tome has what must be Crane’s fantasy comic league wish list of current creators. Megan Kelso returns to give the first instalment of ARTICHOKE TALES, showing that the latter strips from the joyful QUEEN OF THE BLACK BLACK were no fluke. This tale of wartime among a strange little tribe has a touch of the personal obsessions of Donna Barr when she’s at her most pure. James Kochalka pops up doing what he usually does and does it to great effect. Ron Rege Jr is allowed an extra colour and weaves a half dream of lost friends and worrying pressures. Then there’s Brain Ralph carving out big chunky shapes under new perspectives. And then there’s more.

The smaller books are done by Crane himself and Kurt Wolfgang. First up, Kurt tells us WHERE HATS GO in a tale of a lost possession and memories of a loved one. This book is in stock now. Jordan collects the COL DEE COLA story from the Highwater website about minimum wage living from the junior school perspective. Sweet, funny and touching.

The whole book is not available. I tried to get copies but, for one reason or another, they were out of my grasp. I managed to get a couple sent over from the States but that’s it.

Weasel #1 (£3-50) by Dave Cooper –

More good stuff. From the guy that gave us SUCKLE: THE STATUS OF BASIL comes more slightly worrying delights. His shorts in Dark Horse Presents and DH Insider have been way too short. There’s also a strange strip by Pat McKeown which plays around with the form in a way that Art Spiegelman would approve of. It’s set in four storeys of a building and you have to find a panel with which to start and then follow the action up and down the stairs and read backwards and forwards. There are no instructions so I’ve sorta spoiled it for you, but Hey!, try and forget what I said, m’kay?

Maison Ikkoku
by Rumiko Takahashi –

Takahashi’s RANMA 1/2 is still one of the most inventive comedies, up there will L’IL ABNER for pure, maddening, situation upon situation insanity and ever-growing love triangles but I never got to grips with this, one of her earlier works, at the time.

The basic plot revolves around the titular rooming house in Tokyo. The focus is on college student Yusaku and the manager of the house, the widowed Kyoko. Viz’s tagline for the series is something like ‘a boy, a girl and the drunks who interfere’ and that gives you a good idea of the goings on, the drunks being the other residents. As ever in Takahashi’s stories, someone likes someone else but is reticent to admit it; as soon as there’s a chance another spanner is thrown in the works or someone gets the wrong end of the stick. The manners and morals are quaint, there’s a lot of agonising about having the right salary to be an worthy mate, parental demands are adhered to but it works. You end up rooting for Yusaku even tho’ he’s so weak willed, unable to tell the right people about his feelings and you end up caring for the characters knowing that some will be very hurt by the final page. The fourteenth and final book comes out soon and I can guess the ending but the journey’s so delightful that it doesn’t matter.

Akiko vol 4: The Story Tree (£10-99) by Mark Crilley –

Last night I dreamt that I was walking through a city inspired, in parts, by AKIKO, Tattoine and Marrakech. There were great, bone-white, carved stone alleyways twisting this way and that leading to a final courtyard two metres square where you could make out the clear blue sky above you. In the courtyard there was a small door, about knee high; I didn’t go in, it was so beautiful outside.

Sharing again? Well, with purpose. It’s that scenery in books like this that have the biggest affect on me. A city hanging on the underside of a mountain ledge or an ancient temple, all those double speads that Crilley indulges in are great, great images. Like Woodring (“Oh, for heaven’s sake, will you puh-lease leave out the references to that man.”) he draws the places I dream about. This book has four self contained stories, one each for Spuckler, Gax, Poog and Mr Beeba. For a back-up strip we are bestowed with ’24 Ways to Draw Poog’, including Hello Poogy which is a great phrase in itself.

Epoxy #2 (£2-20) by John Pham –

Had to wait until the second issue to review this gem just in case the first was a one-off, a fluke. Pham’s art is pitched midway between the rush and layout of Paul Pope and the tidy humanity of Dave Lapham. Three stories dwell in this title and he’s managed to vary the art for each one.

‘Shiva’, with an opening that I’m sure is cribbed from Shirow, has a guy racing through the city, a version of Pham’s own Los Angeles, followed by a magnificent dragon. Nice touches of telekinesis (oh, boy, the spellchecker’s going to have fun with that one.) In ‘Elephantine’, a one-armed boxer prepares for his next fight, the rough shadows perfectly expressing the dark confines of the unlicensed match. The real jewel here is ‘Modesto’, a rambling piece with Olive’s parents getting ready for the big family get together. Where the first two had very tight, ruled borders and slanted, manga layouts this one is more of a scrapbook with panels layered over each other. Some of the relatives are translated from Vietnamese and there’s a wonderful sense of community and childhood.

We’ve still some of the first issue and hopefully we’ll get some restocks. It’s so rewarding when something like this springs out of nowhere.

Epoxy (£2-95, £2-20, £8-99) by John Pham –

Three stories. ‘Elephantine’ features Jack, the one-armed boxer with heartbreak in his past. Rough, angry lines place him in the murky unlicensed boxing rings driven by an unmentioned desire, able to memorise his opponent’s weaknesses. His only friends are his ringside coach and the coach’s daughter. ‘Shiva’ comes on like the big guns of eighties manga. The cities and destruction of Otomo and Shirow boiled down to an angry dragon hunting an android over the night-time rooftops of Hue City. The semi-human Nik fleeing something that was his friend. ‘Modesto’ is entirely down to earth. Olive’s family are having a get together, the adults sitting down inside while the kids run wild outside the house. Olive is a bundle of ideas, to be around her is to be subjected to wild rants, hare-brained schemes. She’s a ball of light that draws people closer.

So there you have it. The three stories start off in the first issue and rotate, two at a time for each one after that. Different styles, pacing and layouts for each. Then you notice that they’re linked. Characters reappear. Maybe they don’t share a world but it’s like a theatre group with the same players in different stories. Then phrases and objects pop up from one story to the next. Olive’s sister buys a duck to fatten up for the upcoming feast and in ‘Shiva’ someone is accused of stealing a duck with the same name.

The third issue is an absolute marvel. The format jumps to magazine size, squarebound with a delicately drawn three-colour cover print combining threads from all the stories. Inside we’re given backstory to ‘Shiva’ with two friends getting ready for a talent show at a local farmer’s market. Pham manages to splice together three separate narrative threads (the story proper, the story Binh tells during their performance and the fable an old-timer is spinning by the side of the stage) into one glorious twenty page sequence.

If you like STRAY BULLETS, LOVE & ROCKETS, OPTIC NERVE or ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY you should look at this one. You also get ‘In Search of Astro Girl’ as a back up which ups the Acme content nicely.

There were copies of the first two issues lying around upstairs for a year or so. I’d tried to get some more with no luck, almost forgot about it until the Face (off all places) ranked it #1 in their top ten comics. The third (bumper) issue hasn’t been been through the distribution system yet so I don’t know how many places will actually have it. We’ve also got the ASTRO GIRL mini comic (£2-99, the A3 silk-screened cover is worth that alone) and the JACK model kit

Invisibles vol 3 #1 (final issue) by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely –

Uh, sorry? That was it? This is nothing more (and I include the last two or three issues) than pickings from Grant’s notebook, filed under ‘good lines I will slot into storyline later’, bundled together. At the halfway mark I decided to take it a little slower, ’cause stuff was not settling in. I thought ‘one panel at a time’. Nope, that didn’t work. Then I tried each sentence. Is there an editor for this book? If you want to inspect my tangential credentials, I survived READS, MINDS and GHOST SHIP, so don’t try that one with me, sonny/flossy.