JULY -- Listen, I know it’s hard to resist the lure of Powell’s on a trip to Portland (believe me, I was there twice in a three-day period), but if don't visit Floating World Comics when you’re in the Rose City, it’s time to sit down and take a serious look at your life. I went to both places, of course. We hit Seattle and San Francisco on the trip as well, so my suitcase was around 10 to 20 pounds heavier than it was on the way in. It’s a sickness, really. I mean, I’m writing a comics column to partially pay for a comics habit. Maybe it’s time for me to have a serious look in the mirror, as well -- but if you really thought I was going to leave that store without picking up the new issue of Henry & Glenn Forever, you’re just kidding yourself, really. We all fill the hole of missing Comic Con in our own way.
Calling Dr. Laura
By Nicole Georges
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Okay, I’m about six months behind on this one -- and I also learned an important lesson about reading comics on a Kindle (don’t), but man, I liked the hell out of Nicole Georges’s book. Her artwork has improved by leaps and bounds from the scribbled early days of her wonderful Invincible Summer zine, which I also revisited on a recent trip to Portland, to bone up before an interview with her for an upcoming episode of my RiYL podcast. In that volume, Georges expressed interest in working on something book-length, if only she could find the right story -- at the time she was considering doing something about dogs, I think.
The perfect story was there all along, but it had only filtered through in bits and pieces. In some sense, there’s a detective story at its core, with Georges’s hazy childhood memories serving as clues, as she attempts to find out precisely what happened to the father she’d always been told was dead. In amongst the mystery is a coming out story, a search for self, a psychic and an army of tiny dogs. Really, the whole titular Dr. Laura thing is more of a footnote to these 273 pages -- though granted, it’s a pretty fantastic one.
By Charles Forsman
Chuck’s been an indie darling for a while now, cranking out minicomics and racking up Ignatz bricks. As its full-name implies (The End of the Fucking World, for the record), punches aren’t pulled for the cartoonist’s Fantagraphics debut, a study in sociopathology with shifting narrative perspectives and artwork that any amateur comics scholar will quickly point out owes a lot to Schulz' shaky line. And maybe there are more parallels to draw there -- granted, Charlie Brown never smashed a cat with a giant rock, but let’s be honest, we all knew that that poor baldheaded social outcast wasn’t going to have a particularly easy transition into adulthood.
By Joe Ollmann
An alien abduction story with no discernible aliens to speak of. It’s been done before, I suppose -- often for budgetary reasons. After tackling midlife crises, Joe Ollmann does paranoia, relationships and long hiatuses from work. I’m not sure what the takeaway is here -- only that if you go looking for extraterrestrial implants on your person, odds are you’re not going to find any. At the very least, those bastards are pretty good at hiding those things. Also, love means never having to say you’re sorry for that month and change that you spent on internet chatrooms and generally forgetting to bath, as your eagerly scoured message boards for the truth.
Snake Pit Gets Old
By Ben Snakepit
Birdcage Bottom Books
Each year Ben Snakepit declares that he’s done with comics. This time, however, you get the feeling he’s not bluffing. 2010 to 2012 was full of all sorts of life changes for the musician, even if, as he readily admits, his art hasn’t much improved in a dozen years. That was never the point, of course -- Snakepit seemingly abandoned the ghost of technical proficiency long ago. The magic has always been the prospect of watching a life unfold in amongst the monotony of day to day living. And while backstory certainly isn’t key to enjoyment with strips that start anew each day, book six probably isn’t the best way to get on-board -- and if you’ve been following along with his diary strip after all these years, you were probably going to pick this one up anyway, right?
AUGUST -- I haven’t had a summer off in well over a decade, and still I can feel the ennui of a sunny season slipping away. I certainly didn’t intend it (in fact, it’s only now occurring to me as a write this intro), but collected below is a trio of kid-friendly books that’ll help you spend the final weeks of summer the way they’re meant to be spent: on your back in an air conditioned room reading comics (you thought I was going to say something about a beach or baseball, didn’t you?). Here are three really terrific titles to pick up for the kids that may well wind up on your own pile before all’s said and done. Also worth mention is PictureBox’s loving reissue of Shigeru Sugiura’s Last of the Mohicans. That should to keep you and yours busy until that first school bell chimes.
By Paul Pope
Off the top of my head, I can’t recall the last time I waited so impatiently for the release of a comic -- Asterios Polyp, maybe? And while I’ll be the first to admit that Battling Boy isn’t a genre defining masterpiece along those line, I’m also hard pressed to remember a comic that afforded such prolonged exhilaration. Remember whizz bang, the reason we many of us first picked up funny books in the first place? Pope effective lowers the 45-year-old age restriction, like Jeff Smith’s did with his Shazam reboot. However, unlike Captain Marvel, no magic word is uttered to turn our hero from a bumbling school kid to a ‘roided, manicured hero. Nope, Battling Boy is a four-foot-nothing monster-socking machine in a t-shirt and sneakers.
With great power comes great crises of faith, of course, and the alliteratively named demigod’s got the baggage one might anticipate from an adolescent ripped from a game of throw-the-flaming-ball-through-the hoop to defend an alien city from a constant stream of menaces. The story contains grownup issues (of sorts), but the darkness contained herein is never excessively gritty -- nothing you didn’t see in the ports of Mos Eisley (not surprising from a family-friendly imprint like First Second). But there’s still monster punching and fiery swords galore.
Pope’s oft-imitated loose and inky jumbled line work is great throughout, too.
Little Tommy Lost
By Cole Closser
Like the rest of us, Cole Closser is no doubt smitten with the deluge of strip reprints we’ve seen over the past decade or so -- beautifully bound collections of works from masters like Herriman, Outcault, King, Schulz and the like. Rather than waiting 60 years for his own work to receive such treatment, however, he’s simply built one from the ground up. Little Tommy Lost is firmly steeped in the Charles Dickens / Horatio Alger model that defined so many early newspaper strips, the tale of a hardscrabble lost boy and his best friend, a scribble of a mouse who speaks only in punctuation, battling against the owner of an orphanage, who brandishes a skull cane, should any reader have lingering doubts of his true intentions.
Closser clearly studied the masters, and while the work, certainly, isn’t so proficient as the medium’s greats, it sports plenty of flourishes borrowed from the likes of Bushmiller and Segar, which, along with faded and stained color treatments, are enough to put you back in an era well before the cartoonist roamed this earth. And while the book didn’t receive the lavish treatment afforded to Fantagraphics' Peanuts book, Koyama has certainly put together a lovely paperback tribute to that ilk.
By Brian Ralph
Drawn & Quarterly
I had no idea Brian Ralph had another book on the way, but after Cave-In and, in particular, Daybreak, I’ll happily pick up anything the cartoonist puts out. Reggie 12 is the Fort Thunder member’s most playful book yet -- a lovely letter to the work of manga father Osamu Tezuka, most notably, the beloved Astro Boy. Ralph’s own monster-battling adolescent robot is less focused on the battle than the punchline, and that’s just fine. Reggie 12’s a collection of sometimes funny, sometimes corny, but always delightful single-page strips that get to the heart of life as the cat-eared protector of a planet.
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.