Happy Read Comics in Public month! In honor of the world's fourth favorite made-up geek holiday (August 28th -- happy early birthday, Jack Kirby!) here are some picks to help you get started on your outdoor sequential art consuming skills. This time out, we've got something for the history buffs, something for the kids, something for the metal heads and, of course, something for the unemployed turtles.
The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln
By Noah Van Sciver
That’s short for “hypomania,” Lincoln’s self-prescribed melancholy, a lifelong battle with depression that hit like a ton of bricks in the young lawyer’s mid-20s. For those who have had some trouble accessing one of the most mythologized figures in American history (a category I'd imagine applies to most of us), Noah Van Sciver offers a pretty good place to start -- a young Lincoln moving to a new city, confused and awkward in love and life, given to bouts of darkness and moody poetry. It’s a short small snapshot of the future president’s life -- and it’s in this limited scope that the book finds its success, not beholden to the birth to death summations that often entrap graphic biographers. Instead, The Hypo's relatively limited scope afford the cartoonist the ability to approach the historical giant as a human, offering an empathetic examination of a troubled individual destined for greatness.
Van Sciver also touches upon, but doesn't dwell too heavily in some of the more controversial speculations from the period -- Lincoln's rumored homosexuality and rendezvous with prostitutes -- but only in so much as they help paint a larger portrait of that period of Lincoln's life, struggling to gain an occupational foothold in Illinois's new capital and to find a wife. It's all a grand departure from the standard fare that populates Van Sciver's consistently hilarious series Blammo, but it's clear that his heart is in the material, offering a well rounded and human portrait we don't often get of figures of this magnitude.
Snake Oil #7
By Chuck Forsman
Meet Witchzard (Witch plus Wizard), your new favorite, excessively angsty high school metal band. Listen and fall in love, as they take you down to the "Blood Pond" ("When I was six years old / daddy took me down / He made me swim / He pushed me in / Whoa-oa-oa Blood Pond"). They hate their parents, they hate their school, they huff gas and see demons. But maybe attempting to bite the head off a rat for the climactic solo isn't the wisest choice when playing the big high school dance. You can lead a horse to the blood pond, but you can't make it embrace the torture of small animals, a lesson Chuck Forsman imparts upon Witchzard the hard way in the latest issue of his excellent Snake Oil mini.
High school is hard. And so is metal. Foresman knows these things, and while the cartoonist sometimes peals off a joke at his characters' expense, the tale of Witchzard is never excessively cruel or unsympathetic.
By Raina Telgeimier
Middle school, however, is even harder, and Raina Telgemeier's followup to her smash kids comic Smile is, like middle school itself, all about identity. Like its more expressly autobiographic predecessor, the book is targeted toward young readers (ages 10 to 14, by Scholastic's estimation), but has a good deal to offer those who've somehow made it out of all of that alive -- particularly readers who've done time on the other side of the curtain of school theater performances. Hampered by a glass-shattering singing voice and driven by unbridled enthusiasm, young Callie throws herself wholehearted into the crew of a middle school musical, a comedy of errors, quite naturally, in her wake.
Telgemeier's single word title is as apt as one would expect, as her cast attempts to stage a play in amongst struggles with unrequited love, burgeoning sexuality and general adolescent confusion. But while hers is a tale, fittingly, rife with youthful drama, the book avoids adding a "melo-" prefix to the proceedings, on a whole, playing smartly to its readership without pandering (a fate that too often befalls the genre) and always tempered by her delightful cartooning style. For anyone who's ever put themselves on the line for the sake of middle school theater, there's plenty of cringeworthy moments amongst the triumphs, but it certainly beats cracking open your own yearbook.
Turtie Needs Work
By Steve Wolfhard
Do you really think you're going to find a better home for the three dollar bills burning a hole in your pocket than Koyama Press's re-printing of Turtie Needs Work? That price comes out to roughly $0.21 a laugh -- a jaw-dropping bargain in this rough economy. Really, you can't afford not to pick it up -- like poor Turtie himself, servant to a Factotum-like job hunt. And really, is it any surprised? Certainly the tiny turtle isn't dressed for the job in his oversized letter "T" t-shirt. But thankfully we can all learn and laugh as the diminutive reptile fails at a diverse array of careers, two panels at a time. At least there's some peace of mind in knowing that turtles are anatomically incapable of going homeless.
Brian Heater (@bheater ) is a senior editor at Engadget and the founder of indie comics site, The Daily Cross Hatch. His writing has appeared in Spin, The Onion, Entertainment Weekly and The New York Press. He hosts several podcasts and shares an apartment in Queens with a rabbit named Sylvia.