Comics Rack: picks for October 2013

Two quick things at the top, both somewhat New York-centric (apologies, everyone else): First, The latest issue of Gabe Fowler’s Smoke Signal comics newspaper has a typically incredible cover from sequential art’s resident over achieving genius Chris Ware. And if you live here, you can pick it up for free in his fantastic Williamburg comics / art shop, Desert Island (among other places). For the rest of you, however, it runs $5. Also, a quick mention of a cool thing I found at a Brooklyn Mini Zine Fest, the other month. Alisa Harris' Rock On is dedicated to bygone New York City rock clubs -- a topic that always makes me a little misty-eyed. Because, come on, the new Knitting Factory is fine and all, but magical? Hardly. You can pick that one up online through Alisa’s site, if you’re the sentimental-type.

Palookaville #21
By Seth
Drawn and Quarterly

Palookville’s a bit of a strange proposition, these days. At issue 20, the pamphlet became a book. The 21st issue is compromised of three distinct segments. The first pretty much precludes any recommendation for the uninitiated, continuing the Clyde Fans storyline Seth has been serializing since the late-90s. The next two, on the other hand, offer some fascinating insight into the sometimes guarded cartoonist -- one a standalone feature on yet another of the artist’s cartooning experiments, and the other the first part in a new on-going sketchbook serial. Seth introduces "Rubber Stamp Diary," explaining that it began as an attempt to speed up the process of daily diary comics -- dreamt up, fittingly, on a phone call with the notoriously glacial Ivan Brunetti. And, certainly, the creation of several rubber stamps to cut down on extra drawing feels like the perfect Seth solution.

"Nothing Lasts" (again, a pretty spot-on Seth title) returns to the gridded sketchbook layout the artist employed for the whimsical Wimbledon Green. The autobiographical story is as much an exercise in childhood nostalgia as it is a meditation on memory, and Seth, to his credit, is every bit as invested in the bad recollections as the good. And for a young boy with few friends, warring parents and a heavily medicated mother, the results are often brutally revealing. Like most of his serials, it will be fascinating to see how things unspool -- and a bit frustrating, given Palookaville’s now annual schedule. For anyone who’s been following the series, it’s required reading, obviously.

The Mysterious Underground Men
By Osamu Tezuka
PictureBox Books

Wow. PictureBox is doing some truly amazing work with its Ten Cent series. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that my knowledge of manga largely revolves around Dragon Balls, and as such, my familiarity with Tezuka doesn't extend too far beyond the familiar worlds of Astro Boy and the late-period epic Buddha. The Mysterious Underground Men is a 1948 adventure story that finds the young cartoonist wearing his American cartooning influences on his sleeve. Manga scholar Ryan Holmberg breaks down the story (in some cases panel by panel) in a lengthy included essay. Even more useful is a 1982 afterword by Tezuka himself, in which the artist contextualizes the story with typical lucidity, including the importance of telling stories with tragic endings (70-year-old spoiler alert).

And, of course, I'm a sucker for a story with Jules Vernian undertones and talking bunnies.

Fata Morgana
By Jon Vermilyea
Koyama Press

There’s a little bit Nemo and some of Where the Wild Things Are in these adorably nightmarish dayglo hellscapes. And while the hyperbolic grotesqueries of Basil Wolverton understandably get namechecked in most writeups of Jon Vermilyea’s work, there’s a certain Calvin and Hobbesian sweetness in his young, hoodied protagonist’s silent adventures across horrifically anthropomorphic landscapes, bodily fluids and all. If there’s a cohesive narrative in these spreads, I’ve yet to unlock it (beyond the aforementioned little boy walks through scary shit, goes back to bed), but I’m willing to give it another go by staring at each of the them for a few more hours and playing another round of spot the sweaty, flag-bearing ham.