Milkkitten #1 (£3-00) by Tanya Milkkitten –

Found this one at a festival. The only comic on sale there and I loved it. Very silly strips in a slightly stoned, Gary Larson way. Cute and slightly cynical without any bitter aftertaste. Free gift of ‘trendy iron-on letters’.

The Man in the Moon and other stories by Ulf K (£5-99) –

Saw a copy a few weeks ago and had to get more. Simple, heavy black/china pencil art, romance and near fables. A poet in love with the moon! Stars perfectly placed in the night sky. (again) Sigh.

Little Annie Fanny vol. 1 (£18-99) by Harvey Kurtzman & Will Elder –

My first introduction to Kurtzman must have been made while I was on a school trip to London. I’d picked up a couple of the little MAD reprint books in the foyer to some museum or other and, while we were supposed to be learning about the great fire and the introduction of a sewerage system, gorged myself on references to signposts of an alien culture such as Jack Benny and the ‘lazy susan’. I must assure you that the fifties was long gone at the time (no offence taken, it’s the beard that does it, don’t worry). The late seventies/early eighties version of MAD was a pale imitation of the early days, something was missing and at the time I didn’t know what it was. It wasn’t just that no one was in a straight-legged suit and that there were precious few references Sam the Sham and the Beatles.

Reading these reprints from Playboy has bought it all back to me. Kurtzman is always heralded as one of the the innovators of the medium and here you can see how Crumb, Dorkin and most anyone who has drawn a joke are deeply indebted to both him and Will Elder. These two were joined by MAD regulars Jack Davis and Al Jaffee (highly underrated humourist) and occasionally Frank Frazetta. One time Frazetta only paints one panel but it shows through in the ripples in the water. To give ANNIE a continuity amongst the revolving artists, Kurtzman did the layouts and Elder the painted the main characters, making sure that Annie always looked like Annie. And how she looked like Annie! I’d passed over a collection many years ago as I thought that it was merely cheesecake. I mean, look at the size of those tits. Look at where it came from!  But here we have full-colour work by some of the best comic book artists. It’s the satire of early MAD, but fully painted and with a whole lot more nudity.

Battlechasers: A Gathering of Heroes hc by Joe Madureira (£17-95) –

Against all odds, I really like Battlechasers. Of all the artists going for that funky manga-inspired cuteness with the chunky inking, Madureira does it best. It’s a sword’n’sorcery yarn, unimaginable power thrust upon small child / formulaic set of heroes and villains, but it’s got a bucketful of charm and some very pleasing eye candy. The publishing schedule stinks to high heaven tho’. 

Atlas #1 (£2-95) by Dylan Horrocks –

A sequel of sorts to the beguiling HICKSVILLE starting off with Horrocks being detained in Cornucopia and deported for having a hand-drawn map to help him find his way around. One of the reasons for the visit is to track down Emil Kopen, the aged cartoonist mentioned in the original book. Leonard Batts, the writer of the Dick Burger bio, is about to start a book on Kopen and his work, a result of living in Hicksville for a while and sampling their excellent, lighthouse-based library. Little has happened so far, Horrocks is taking his time with excellent full-page panels (oh, the clouds) and setting the scene. Excerpts from Kopen’s work are introduced and the unsettling state of the country of Cornucopia is hinted at.

Two bonuses (like you need them): Dylan’s wordless story from COMIX 2000, and James Kochalka visits the Hicksville library in search of an old mini comic. Wonderful.

True Swamp: Stoneground & Hillbound (£3-50) by Jon Lewis –

“As documented on The Life of a Tree (Vandeis the Scrub Jay, Gaunt Forest) squirrels believe that by burying an acorn one can summon an oak to grow upon that very spot (Vandeis presents evidence that this is not true.) With great ceremony, they bury the acorn along with the remains, just where they lay.”

For Lewis, the currency of the animal kingdom is knowledge, it’s hoarded and eked out only when necessary. Birds swap names of cities they have visited only when they have to, some creatures designate themselves books, accumulating folklore and hearsay. This book has a bee for a research notebook, ready to spin out chapters in progress to travelers in the swamp. As in the previous UNDERWOODS & OVERTIME, Lenny the leaf frog takes centre stage but it’s a different Lenny from the original TRUE SWAMP book. His spark is gone, the wandering poet has been crushed, the reason never fully explained.

Lewis’ layouts still swing around the page, from balloon to panel bordered by crisp white space, each denizen is given his own voice (in Hale’s case, profanity-ridden), the story bursting with ideas. A very special book, keeps me smiling all day.

Dork: Who’s Laughing Now? (£8-99) by Evan Dorkin – 

The first four issues of DORK minus the Eltingville Science Fiction Fantasy and Horror club bits and the Evan & Kyle, Critics at Large strips. Vicious, bile-filled satire on on the widespread stupidity of people in general peppered with lists of things that make life worthwhile. I’ve read all of this a dozen times and it still makes me laugh. 

The Magic Whistle Blows (£7-99) by Sam Henderson –

Yup, I keep banging on about Henderson and his not so subtle brand of humour but we’ve just got hold of some copies of his third book. Contains my all-time-favourite ass-measuring-club strip and a couple of recipes for fun (distillations of ‘80s John Hughes-type comedies), 20 cartoon archetypes and their chronological appearances through the decades, Dirty Danny and a Monroe story. His art is so simple it almost looks accidental but he manages to deconstruct gag strips while actually keeping it funny in a way that Spiegelman and Sikyorak (fer instance) fail to do. It’s stupid, it’s silly, it’s childish and I love it.

Jack Cole & Plastic Man (£14-99) by Art Spiegelman & Chip Kidd –

Chip Kidd we know from the Batman ephemera books of the last few years and Spiegelman we know from RAW/MAUS/New Yorker. This is a beautiful book with a feel of the old Marvel UK “We’ve got all these back issues littering up the office, let’s bind them together and call them an annual”. Loads of full stories reprinted, on newspaper, just scanned in from the original comics. This means you’ve got pulpy paper, with discoloured images and bleed-throughs from the art on the other side. The complete opposite of all the DC Archive editions and all the better for it. Didn’t know that Cole did the art for the original injury-to-the-eye strip quoted in Seduction Of The Innocent. Well now I do and the whole strip is reprinted here.  The Plas strips are a riot of invention with each and every figure bending off in one direction or another. 

Finder: Sin-Eater vol 2 (£14-99) by Carla Speed McNeil –

I was worried that Carla was going to hold back on the second trade paperback collection. When a second book comes out the sales on both really take off and this is one title that really deserves it. As I’ve said before it’s a beautiful mix of Beto Hernandez storytelling with a dash of ‘Brazil’ and some of the most tactile characters I’ve seen in a very long time. Set in the city of Anvard, Jaeger arrives and catches up with a family he knew from his army days. The children appear to be growing up relatively untouched by their father’s obvious difficulties stemming from his military experiences and their mother’s inability to cope with the world. 

Carla has created an entire world with its own technology, customs and distinctive tribes. This collects #’s 8-14 and brings us to the end of the first story arc. All subsequent issues still available @ £2-20.

Finder #23 (£2-20) by Carla Speed McNeil –

Some of the most beautiful covers we’ve got on the shelves belong to FINDER. Have a look and you’ll see the soft lilac background and wispy white hair floating off to the logo on this one.  New story starts here and it’s focusing on Elsewhere, a sort of replacement dreamland/vr/roleplaying created by Magri White. Again, this issue is bursting with ideas. Ayo, the narrator, works in a cramped office, packed with people all standing bolt upright in formation. Each one wears a box over their head which snaps onto their co-worker and takes them to the virtual office, a spacious courtyard. It’s the perfect office environment of the future, enough room for everyone to stretch out, no claustrophobia, clean air and sunlight but the company doesn’t have to buy anymore floorspace.

Every couple of nights the employees have to log into dreamtime (“It’s a psyche hygiene thing”) but there’s always the other option of stepping Elsewhere. Magri has created a land with events and characters that the visitors are slotted into. The previous three-parter was also about storytelling, that time from the viewpoint of a reader and her needs to be taken away, transported by literature. But in that one nothing bad happened, unlike the end of this chapter.

THB 6a (£2-95) by Paul Pope  –

Great way of making the long awaited issue into a four-issue mini-series. At one point HR Watson says that even though something happened last week it seems like five years ago. I remember the struggles with the suppliers trying to get hold of extra copies of the first few issues of THB. When it took three months it was pointed out, in so many words, that this was how difficult it would be to get all those obscure little black and white comics. Then we found out that we could either wait an entire season for the Big System to grind on or order from the US and get them within a week. Hah!

This is his second THB outing since HEAVY LIQUID (a high-point of last year and his career) and it zips along at a great pace. The whole chunk is basically HR trying to outwit a Bugface robot without the help of her dehydrated warrior.

Volcanic Revolver (£6-99) by Scott Morse –

Once again, I’ve taken a while to warm to someone’s talents. Back when Morse’s SOULWIND was starting up I loved the lush, full-colour ads but didn’t fall for the b&w interiors. This one off has grabbed me tho’. 1930s New York underworld is a great setting and he packs it with the correct elements. There’s the drama dame with a score to settle, an Italian bakery, a priest and the mob. Landscape panels, four to a page, provide an enticing, romantic, widescreen feel to the tale and his neatly angular art (think Dreamworks feature animation, um.. biblical thing) adds spots of clutter amongst the shadows. And he does great woodgrain textures. And it’s printed in sepia ink. 

Locas in Love (£10-99) by Jaime Hernandez –

Characters from LOVE & ROCKETS in smaller tales akin to Tomine’s SLEEPWALK period. You don’t need to know anything about their history, just dive in. I think that I raved about Jaime’s effortless, spot-on layout and perfect, pleasing lines last month while reviewing WHOA NELLIE so I shouldn’t go on too much here but I probably will.

There are very subtly displayed influences of such artists as Ditko (layout) and Kirby (shadows, machinery) with the possibility for each and every panel to be ripped off for a current-day student Lichtenstein ‘BLAAAM’ canvas. Both brothers draw the best crowd/party scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Each figure is either in the midst of (silent) conversation, listening, on their way somewhere or just hanging out and visibly existing. Faces in the street are lit with lives outside of that one panel appearance.

The monologue of the first story comes from Ray D, detailing his obsession with Penny Century, showing off her insecurities without ever voicing them. To him, her fleeting attentions and incommunicado stretches are just part of her mystery and allure; just a section of chaos she brings to his love life. How could he say a bad word about this goddess?

“She eventually showed up, but with a twist. How could I reprimand a silver haired super woman for being tardy?”

Drawn & Quarterly vol 3 #1 (£17-99) by various –

With my Grandpa Simpson (no relation) voice on I would like to say, “I remember when the first issue came out. Times were different then and the idea of a Chris Ware cover being a selling point was the stuff of a madman’s dream…” The final issue of the second volume contains a mouth-watering Max tale of ‘Orpheus’ amidst the regular delights, and the cover of the best has been voted ‘comic most likely to make schoolboys point and snigger’.

Pentti Otsamoto kicks off the tournament with ‘The Shepherd’. A young couple returns to the apartment after a Greek vacation (and, no, that isn’t slang) to find that a neighbour has passed away. They visit the block sauna, cook a meal and realise that as they have changed during their holiday so has the world they left. Much more satisfying than his ‘Homonculous’ graphic.

Dupuy and Berberian charge in with a big Monsieur Jean story to find him looking after his flaky friend’s adopted kid while his own relationship takes time out. Full-colour, Gallic, big-foot cartooning won this story the Best Graphic Album of 1999 in Angouleme.

R. Sikyorak does his mixing of styles, retelling Crime & Punishment in the style of Bob Kane’s BATMAN.

I think that it was the final issue of RAW that reprinted a dizzying chunk of KRAZY KAT and D&Q follow the lead by giving us a good thirty sunday strips from Frank King’s GASOLINE ALLEY. The strip initially seems to be robbing LITTLE NEMO of the playful dream sequence device but it’s a gentler approach full of, again, giant insects, witches and a taste for the countryside and the changing seasons. Chris Ware provides the covers and endpapers in a homage to King’s style. Fake panels with tiny glimpses of sidewalks, trees and telephone cables. Rereading the JIMMY CORRIGAN storyline again I noticed Ware’s compulsion to link objects from panel to panel and he does it again here. The bottom line of a fence leads onto the next panel’s lower border. The middle slat of a window frame becomes a chimney top peeking up between the trees.

The find of the book has to be Michel Rabagliati with ‘Paul: Apprentice Typographer’. There’s a sense of Seth in the nostalgic city portrayed here. Paul visits his father’s typography studio, has lunch and receives accordion lessons. Black and slate blue on white, maybe a touch of ‘50s animation (Gerald McBoing Boing, anyone?) to the artwork. Glad to say that there’s a related one-shot coming in a couple of months.

Jar of Pennies (£3-75) by Kalah Allen –

Bit of a bargain, if truth be told. One hundred and twelve panels, one to a page, 4″x6″, screened cover, hand-lettered title, every copy special, every copy unique. And that’s before we get onto the story. I’m always a sucker for comics as fetish objects and that’s why I fall for most everything sent from Top Shelf, Highwater, Drawn & Quarterly. This more than fulfils that aspect, it feels so good just to hold. Inside, a call-centre worker travels to work, talking to those strange personalities that you meet on bus journeys. Straightforward, full of light and and understanding of people and how they work.

Lunkheads/Cells (£1-60 each) by Scott Mills –

Two mini-comics from the Xeric Grant winner. In ‘Cells’ two inmates talk about what they miss locked up away from family, friends and freedom. One talks too much, the other tolerates before lashing out. Scott has a simple, wavy line and a spot-on use of zip-a-tone (the best since the early days of Eddie Campbell). The second book is set in the American hardcore scene with a group of skinheads hitting a club, watching Fugazi, moshing in the pit and insulting each other.

Crum Bums (£1-90) by Brian Ralph –

Hand-screened cover for this mini from the creator of CAVE IN. Marauding gangs in a rubble-filled city terrorise the population merely looking to survive. Like most of his wood-cut-looking books, this is a silent tale lifted out of cliche by the sheer joy of his blocky artwork.

Acme Novelty Library #14 (£8-99) by Chris Ware –

The end of the Jimmy Corrigan storyline. What started out as an exercise in immobile despair and awkward silences worthy of Mike Leigh has ended with an emotional tug and near resolution. If you think that the critical acclaim poured on this title is getting a little tired, well it’s going to get a lot worse when the book comes out later in the year. This works on every level, the layouts are faultless, the pages themselves beautifully composed, colour spot on, as an object it approaches fetish. Ugh, amazing.

[You see? As always, Mark was spot-on! – ed.]

Comics Journal: Special Edition – Winter 2002 – volume one (£14-99) –

A truly Fantagraphics mix of comics, criticism and articles. There’s some great stuff here, although you’d hardly think that it were possible reading through Greg Cwiklick’s bitter ‘What’s Wrong With Comics Today’. Almost everything, in case you were wondering. Evidence to the contrary comes from a jaunty little piece on Greg Cooke, an exhaustive Gary Groth/Joe Sacco dialogue, Paul Gravett’s enlightening (and frustrating) article on the unseen work of Al Columbia and the comics themselves in the second half of the book. This includes (mostly new) work by Langridge, Cooper, Crumb, the Hernandez brothers, Burns, Dave Sim, Sam Henderson, Green and others. Forty strips in all. Highlights are David Mazzucchelli’s raw colouring, Megan Kelso’s beguiling romanticism, John Kershbaum’s touching insanity and Carol Tyler’s wayward reminiscences. The Columbia article makes you want to shake the guy by the scruff of the neck and make him publish something! Anything! Gentleman Jim Woodring lends his mighty voice to praise T.S. Sullivant and Donald Phelps showcases the humour of Smokey Stover. A strange collection with many highlights.

Trosper (£11-99) by Jim Woodring & Bill Frisell –

After getting over the, now all too apparent, realisation that this isn’t a new work by Woodring, just a reprint of the short from FRANK #3, I’ll have to admit that I’m still charmed and vaguely scared by it. Trosper is a blithely ignorant elephant/cat/dog pet, happy only to frolic and play, unaware of any threat in his surroundings. And what surroundings they are. Vibrant, primary colours in soft, curving shapes, decorate walls and soft furnishings. A multicoloured archway houses a three-eyed guard. And what happens to the guard? Well, Trosper doesn’t notice it.  Blissfully. 

Supermonster by Kevin Huizenga –

As I’ve probably mentioned before, I love to find new stuff.  It’s the excavation of a new song or a new comic/artist that really makes my day. It helps to counteract the toxicity from various crap (there’s a Comics International by my right hand, even looking at its open pages saps my strength), a good Libran attitude to life, don’t you think? This morning bought a box of joy from the USS Catastrophe shop, mostly issues of SUPERMONSTER but a few other waifs and strays included. There was a spotlight on Kevin’s work in a recent Comics Journal (which, by the way, is getting back on a more positive track as it remembers to talk stuff up and not just cast a single, flame-spouting eye on any piece of paper that limps into view) so, fired up, I ordered a bunch and there’s no disappointment so far. To be honest I find his suburban landscapes intoxicating; some of the art and sheer daring of the techniques make my head spin.

The tenth issue is based on a letter from Kevin’s grandmother, writing the usual family catch-up. Transformed into standard text and illustrations it manages to swerve into different experiments throughout. One page shows an old armchair, the dog woken from slumber and peering hazily at the viewer. We already know that the dog belongs to his uncle, there’s a towel down on the cushion, this is where the dog sleeps in the afternoon sunlight that comes through the room’s window. It’s a perfect, scribbly drawing of the memory bought forward by the letter. Midway, a monster appears, twenty stories high. Although it’s a device to explain the muggy heat before the much needed rain we get a page of diagrams, a mathematic equation about the Godzilla-like genesis of the roaming beast. The following four pages are wide shots of streets and houses as the storm gathers, you can feel the crackling ozone before looking through a rain-splashed window at grandmother thoughtfully composing the next line. Hell, it gave me goosebumps.

I’m going to do my best not to review each issue but what I’ve read so far occupies the same space as Kochalka’s diaries, Porcellino’s gentle observations on landscape and Seth’s nostalgia for places people left behind with art kindred to all three and a little loving E.C. Segar thrown in. With each story he’s trying a new angle, a new technique in storytelling, some of the diversions that occur are quite, quite magical. The stories are mostly autobiographical (very KING CAT) others purposefully employ a new cast of characters. 

We’ve got eight separate issues in, from 90p to £2-70. Issue 14 may be the best thing I’ve read all year, the centre section is one of the most audacious pieces I’ve ever read.