Comics Rack: December's best comic books

You didn't get everything you wanted for Christmas? Good. Go out and buy Fantagraphics’ new Peanuts Every Sunday collection. It’s big and it’s beautiful and it’s great. The first volume spans ’52 to 55, so you get all the wonderful charm of those early Peanuts collections from a few years back (baby Linus! Baby Schroeder! A Snoopy that looks like an actual dog! Glorious, glorious Shermy!), only in full color.

In seasonal depression news, the terrific Brooklyn-based indie art book and comic book publisher Picturebox is ceasing publication come the new year. There is a silver lining for you, the consumer, however: enter the coupon code “sale” and you can get half of their entire stock. I bought three books the other week, like the vulture I am: one on Sun Ra, one written by Michel Gondry on the topic of filmmaking and a Brandon Graham book I’ve been eyeing for some time. Also recommended from the new pile is Matthew Thurber’s Infomaniacs, a surrealist science fiction story about an over-connected, absurdist world.

Hip Hop Family Tree
By Ed Piskor

Before he died in 2010, Harvey Pekar was on a non-fiction kick. Expanding beyond the confines autobiography that defined most of the run of his American Splendor series, the writer explored a broad swath of subjects like Macedonia, the beat generation, Israel, and Studs Terkel’s beloved tome Working, with a number of additional topics no doubt in the pipeline before his sudden passing. But while late-period Pekar will likely never be considered as influential as the work he put out at the height of his curmudgeonly powers, working-class Cleveland’s poet laureate continued to inspire a new generation of cartoonists — particularly those who had the opportunity to work with him in those last years.

Boing Boing contributor Ed Piskor was among that group, cutting his teeth on a number of Pekar’s non-fiction projects, an influence he wears like a freshly-pressed Adidas tracksuit in the pages of Hip-Hop Family Tree, exploring the notion of sequential art as history lesson. It’s a format that can, from time to time be overly expositional, a trapping the book does sometimes become a bit too mired in, as it crams a textbook’s worth of information into a 90-page comic. But Piskor does a good job tempering those tendencies with amusing anecdotes and some truly eye-grabbing artwork. The cartoonist’s line work has noticeably improved since his Macedonia days, complimented by a love of pulp comics tropes and color period color treatments that may well have been inspired by the work of fellow Pittsburgher Jim Rugg.

The end result is entertaining, fascinating and quite stunning. Worth your $25, even though you’ve been getting it for free on the internet all the while, you cheapskate.

Yo, Miss: A Graphic Look at High School
By Lisa Wilde

The author sent me the first couple of issues of her mini unsolicited — and I’m glad she did. In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure I would have picked the book off the shelf. Lisa Wilde will likely be the first to admit that she’s anything but a professional artist, having found herself working as a baker, at BBC America and, most recently, working at a “second chance” high school in Manhattan. That latter career path got her drawing portraits, ultimately giving way to a series of mini-comics, fictionalized accounts of her experiences at the school. Wilde’s art is unrefined, but it's the work of a writer with stories to tell, an immediacy that supersedes any desire to hole oneself up at a drawing board for a few years. Wilde’s lack of formal training goes a ways toward lending a definite charm to the project — and any lack of proficiency hasn’t hampered her experimentation with composition, particularly effective when she couches exposition in lesson plan-styled layouts.

The rough aesthetic also lends a sense of realism too often lacking in Hollywood portraits of inner-city high schools. And while, for obvious reason, each issue opens with a disclaimer proclaiming that the work contained therein is a work of fiction, there’s little doubt the majority of what is found inside is steeped in the author’s own experience. Yo, Miss is far from perfect, but it’s a brave and fascinating look at the Wilde’s workplace realities, and it’s the sort of thing I’d love to see a lot more of in the mini-comics community, where memoir, more often than not, seems to involve trips to comic conventions and book signings.

Running and Other Humiliations: Comics About Exercise
By Gemma Correll

I quite like the “to be continued” note at the end. I’m not entirely sure the artist plans on doing more of these, but it’s a hopeful sentiment on the final page about the pains of attempting to exercise grownup. I suppose the choices were between that and “fuck this noise, I’m done.” But that look on Gemma Correll’s self-portrait on the cover if nothing if not self-determination — exhausted, pained self determination. Here the pug-obsessed cartoonist turns the brush on herself, chronicling her attempt to get back on the physical activity train after years of relative inactivity brought on by high school gym class trauma. It’s fun, funny and every bit as delightful as you’d expect from the artist who coined the phrase “pugs, not drugs.” Also, I finally know what Zumba means — apparently it’s things with lots of Shakira and twerking. I’ll probably just stick to the treadmill.