It's summertime! Go outside and read a comic! Or stay inside and read a comic. Personally, I like to read comics inside door jambs -- it splits the difference and is the safest place to be during an earthquake! These are the sorts of quality comics-reading tips you can expect from your friends at the Boing Boing Comics Rack.
Drawn to New York
By Peter Kuper
This book is, frankly, just too large to attempt to read on a crowded downtown “6” train on a Saturday night -- the guy leaning off the pole next to you will keep bumping into you as he sways slowly, back and forth. And all of a sudden you’re the asshole, because you’re trying to read some beautiful, hardcover graphic novel on a too hot and sticky early night in June. And then maybe a fight will break out in the next car over, between two women. You can’t hear a word of it, but it’s a sort of delicate dance of hand signals and bobbing heads still visible through pollution-frosted windows. And then a man will apologize to the car before telling the sad story of the family he’s trying to support on an income of change and crumpled dollar bills, and some break dancing teens will flip to Michael Jackson songs, their flying sneakers repeatedly coming far too close to your downward-facing head for comfort.
I don’t know that it was the best way to enjoy such a thing. Peter Kuper packs a million shapes and colors and emotions into a page, and if you look up for a moment at the two young women have a loud conversation about their sex lives, you’ll probably miss a solid 100 thousand. But it’s a book that can be taken in pieces, a wide-ranging collection of comics, sketches and commissioned illustrations lacking in an over-arching narrative arc (if that’s what you’re in the market for, I’d nudge you toward the largely autobiographical Stop Forgetting to Remember). It’s fractured and chaotic, and for those looking in from the outside, the grime may well have all the tourist appeal of Penn Station.
Unlike the stylistically similar Diario De Oaxaca, Kuper doesn’t offer the added context of a visitor to the strange land -- and, really, the New York City tourist board isn’t likely to adopt this text any time soon. But who knows, maybe by the time you reach the first stop in Brooklyn, you’ll find a thing or two that will put you back on the right side of your perpetual love/hate relationship with this city.
Aesthetics: A Memoir
By Ivan Brunetti
I started collecting Brunetti’s clever bits of wisdom, but gave up early -- there’s an off-handed bit of brilliance on every page. Though, to be fair, “off-handed” is a term that should probably never be applied to the artist’s work, everything he does is painfully deliberate -- and, more often that not, speaks to some painful truth, whether internal or reflective on the world as a whole. Funny as well, of course, but never not painful.
I’ll cop to being a bit disappointed on discovering that Aesthetics wasn’t a new work. Disappointed, but not surprised. Brunetti’s fairly notorious for his glacial approach toward cartooning, as as such, this book is “a retrospective,” despite his having, “very little retro to spect.” Though any Brunetti is good Brunetti, and odds are there’s plenty in here you’ve never seen, be it strips pulled from anthologies like Kramer’s Ergot, New Yorker covers, paper mache models or early the Disney portraits by the artist as a young boy. Each are supplemented by captions that offer insight into the artist’s process and, not surprisingly, his psyche. Also not surprising is the current lack of a happy ending to the story, with Brunetti nearly entirely disconnected from the world of drawing, thanks a full-time teaching gig and an ever-worsening problem with his eyes. Again, any Brunetti is good Brunetti.
Oh man, what a delight it is to come off a two week work trip to find a copy of the new Jason book waiting for me at home. As ever, I consumed this one way, way, too fast -- a side effect, really, of his minimalist approach to art and storytelling. And while I’ve got to admit it doesn’t rank amongst his best, pretty much everything the cartoonist has ever done is worth the purchase. Lost Cat stays true to Jason’s love of blurring genres, though here the payoff takes a good deal of time to register, buried in a surrealist detective story that seemingly owes a fair amount to Haruki Murakami or Paul Auster, unfolding slowly through an absurdist series of events.
And while the standard twist is an interesting one, it doesn't have the quick of Jason's strongest works. Start with The Left Bank Gang, I Killed Adolf Hitler and You Can’t Get There From Here. If you’re hooked, as you’ll no doubt be, you’ll make it to Lost Cat.
By Anthony Alvarado
Floating World Comics
I’m cheating a bit with this once, but I picked it up at my favorite comic shop in San Francisco, and it was published by my favorite comic shop in Portland. There are also plenty of illustrations by a diverse selection of cartoonists, including Farel Dalrymple, Ron Rege Jr. and Austin English -- some of which correspond to the text more directly than others. At the end of the day, however, this probably doesn’t fit in a comics column -- but it’s really wonderful, so screw it.
I picked this one up based entirely on name, a method that has served me just fine in the past, assuming I'd either be conjuring demons or pulling rabbits from hats on the plane ride home. A pretty big win either way. But Alvarado's magic is an entirely different thing altogether. The author describes it as, "the fine and subtle art of driving yourself insane." I'd say it's more along the lines of hacking one's perception -- going on reality trips (mostly) within the confines of the law. Apparently Salvador Dali would nod off with a spoon in a hand that would fall into a bucket below, waking him up immediately with its clamor. That blurred line between sleep and waking is said to have informed the master of surreality.
Abstinence, beard growing, and projecting questions onto birds are also acceptable forms of magic.
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.