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Comics Rack: January's best comic books

Philadelphia’s surely got more comic shops than a city of that size requires — and book and record stores for that matter. And of course I love the city of brotherly love for it. I stumbled upon this fact by accident, traveling there for week between jobs a few years ago and cataloging a massive walking trek to all corners of the city, focused on each and every comic place I could find in between. I liked the sentiment enough to repeat it last week before starting my new gig at Yahoo — though a nasty post-CES flu abridged the trip length significantly — and the number of comic shops visited as well.

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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.

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Comics Rack: November's best comic books

The end of the year is near, and we have lots of comics to read and best-of lists to compile. Also, it’s getting cold outside, and working our way out from under the stack seems like as good an excuse as any for avoiding chapped-lipped East Coast winters. In this edition of Boing Boing's Comics Rack roundup, we have Greek gods, autobiographical wolves, nightmare goats, and punk rockers.

Couch Tag
By Jesse Reklaw
Fantagraphics

I made a sound of audible excitement when a new Jesse Reklaw book showed up at my door a couple of weeks back. His dream strip Slow Wave has rightfully won him a fair amount of acclaim in the nearly 20 years since its inception, and Applicant is really a perfect one-off zine, assembled from discarded files of PhD applicants. Couch Tag, on the author hand, is a sort of family autobiography, assembled from countless loose threads centered around objects and things, discarding any semblance of chronology. It’s painful at times, like childhood itself, but Reklaw is mostly an objective tour guide through the strange and seminal moments of his youth.

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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.

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Comics Rack: picks for September 2013 - Crumb, Bagge, & more

It’s getting chilly outside -- curl up with a good comic. We’ve got a good cross section for you below, from a hefty collection belonging to one of the all-time masters, to a pamphlet-sized volume discussing the peculiarities of scents in ants.

The Weirdo Years
By R. Crumb
Knockabout

Essential reading, obvious, from a oft-overlooked era. As the press material helpfully points out, Weirdo was, in many ways, the antithesis of Françoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman's comics-as-art anthology, Raw. Not that Crumb strays entirely from such things. Crumb's 80s / 90s Weirdo took an openly schizophrenic approach to storytelling, with the legendary cartoonist tacking whatever happened to strike his fancy that day, from a Philip K. Dick memoir outlining strange messianic visions brought on by painkillers, to adaptations of a late 19th century guide to “psychopathia sexualis” and the work of Jimi Hendrix. This beautifully-assembled collection showcases Crumb’s thinly-veiled id in its purest, unrestrained form. And it is, just as you’d imagine, some dark, dark shit, not for the weak of stomach.

Knockabout has done a fine job tossing in full-color reproductions of the series’ covers, along with a number of Crumb photo comics that seem, more than anything, a chance for the artist to galavant with his usual selection of generously-proportioned females. You’ll be poring over this one for weeks to come.

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Comics Rack: Boing Boing's comics picks for July & August 2013

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.

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Comics Rack: Boing Boing's comics picks for June 2013

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
PM Press

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.

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Comics Rack: Boing Boing's comics picks for May 2013

I’d like to use this intro to personally thank comics for helping me get through the last several plane rides, spending the sub-10,000 feet portion reading books like Victor Kerlow’s Everything Takes Forever. Really, what better way to make friends with your seatmate than fielding questions about the weird book about the guy with a taco for a head? I didn’t have any good answers, really, but I will say that, if you do find yourself walking through life with such a condition, don’t be ashamed to eat a taco. You’ll get some strange looks from people concerned about cannibalistic connotations, but ultimately they’ll appreciate your connections. And even if they don’t, who’s gonna mess with someone who has a taco for a head?

Supermag
By Jim Rugg
Adhouse Books

Man, Jim Rugg is so good. Supermag plays out like a collection of some hot new comics talents, until you realize that they’re all drawn by the same immensely talented individual. As with Afrodisiac, Rugg gets some help on the writing side, but the cartoonist’s breadth and competency of style is pretty intimidating, from the page of Vanilla Ice trading cards, to Duke Armstrong, the world’s mightiest golfer, who blows up a plane while scaling a cliff with a pair of clubs. Rugg distills erratic pop cultural juxtaposition into extremely enjoyable and crazily stylistic chunks. Ten bucks is a lot to pay for a floppy, sure, but can you really put a price tag on the continuing adventures of patriotic primate US Ape? Don’t let the terrorists win.

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Comics Rack: Boing Boing's comics picks for April 2013

Cookbook comics! Penis lizards! Worm deers! One-armed men! There’s something for everyone in this edition of Comics Rack. And one-armed foodie alternative animal enthusiasts, get ready to get your socks knocked off!

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen
By Lucy Knisley
First Second

If you find a more delightful book than Relish this year, please let me know. I’ll say right now that the odds are pretty slim. Lucy Knisley shuffled together a memoir and a cookbook into a cohesive collection of short stories that illustrate her life in food, the product of two parents who seared food obsessions into her DNA. The highlight has to be the tale of adolescent rebellion colored with pink hair and Lucky Charms -- a processed food defiance against epicurean parents. Can’t say I actually went so far as cooking any of the recipes contained here -- after five years in this apartment, I’m not entirely sure my pre-war oven even works -- but the tale of traveling to Mexico with a best friend who’s forced to leave a $200 stash of adult magazines behind a airport toilet, that stuff’s universal.

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Comics Rack: Boing Boing's comics picks for March 2013

First of all, I’ve finally caught up with the rest of the English speaking world and read Ellen Forney’s Marbles. And yes, it’s totally fascinating and deeply affecting, but I’m not telling you anything you hadn’t already heard in December’s Best Damn Comics of the year, so I’ll save you that here. Also, it’s worth pointing out that Quebec’s Drawn & Quarterly is just killing it lately -- like, more so than usual, to the point that I had trouble picking just one of their books this month, though you definitely be hearing their name in the next several of these -- unless I can trick Boing Boing into letting me sneak out reviews of the new Gauld and Hanawalt sooner.

Other Stuff By Peter Bagge. Fantagraphics

Yes. Yes, yes, yes. I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting for this one -- well before Fantagraphics ever announced the thing, and certainly Other Stuff doesn’t disappoint. In fact, the mere bringing together of Bagge’s Murry Wilson strips is worth the price of entrance alone. In fact, Peter and assorted Fantagraphics employees, if you’re reading this (as I suspect some of you are), I will be the first in line to buy a graphic novel-length biography of the Wilson family patriarch and self-appointed musical genius drawn in Bagge’s signature style. Ditto for the assorted liberty taking rock and roll tales of folks like Sinatra and Sly Stone.

And then there are the collaborations with R. Crumb, Alan Moore, Dan Clowes and the like, many of which I already own in some form or other, though my self-diagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder thanks Bagge’s publishers for collecting them all into on handy volume. It’s great to see all of this stuff together, particular those Hate b-stories that fell through the cracks of Fanta’s excellent “Buddy Does...” collections. Like we really needed another testament to Peter Bagge’s greatness.

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Comics Rack: Boing Boing's comic books picks for February 2013

I was seriously considering saving this one for Bastille Day, as by some strange coincidence, I’ve round up with 75-percent French speakers here (and for all I know, the fourth, a midwesterner may also be proficient in the language). Aside from that, it’s a pretty diverse array of titles this time out, including a entropic bike ride, a punk rock bildungsroman, camera-carrying chroniclers of seedy underbellies and a neutered gubernatorial candidate. Enjoy!

Susceptible, by Genevieve Castree. Drawn & Quarterly

“As I get older, I meet other children who have a missing father who lives in British Columbia. It’s like a mythical kingdom where dads go to disappear.” Genevieve Castree’s got a knack for knocking you flat on your ass every so often, channeling the sort of profundity that comes with the innocence of youth. It’s the story of a young woman grappling to define what shaped her -- a hard mystery to unravel, really, in a youth shaped by the influences of adult children too hung up on their own neuroses to help a young mind from developing its own.

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Comics Rack: Boing Boing's comic books picks for January 2013

Start your new year with new comics! Or slightly old comics that you may have missed toward the end of 2012. It was a busy time, after all, no one expected you to head to the comics store every Wednesday like clockwork. But don't worry, we've got a diverse array this time out, including jokey webcomics, a hilarious sketchbook, a mini-collection for film buffs and one of the most genuinely heartbreaking comic books in recent memory.

Don't Go Where I Can't Follow by Anders Nilsen (with Cheryl Weaver). Drawn & Quarterly

I usually know more about these titles from bigger name cartoonists going into them. I can't say whether the element of surprise was a good thing for Anders Nilsen's latest. A swift change from the epic mini Big Questions, which was loving compiled into a massive volume by D&Q roughly a year and a half back. Don't Go Where I Can't Follow is a swift emotional kick the the chest, that will make you bawl your eyes out to the point of dehydration or immediately phone up a loved one who hasn't received the sort of attention they deserve. Or, more probably both.

There are photographs here and love notes and sketches and comics contained herein. It's a hard thing to read, a great deal of whose difficulty comes, ultimately, in knowing just how impossible it must have been to write.

Eat More Bikes by Nathan Bulmer. Koyama Press

This might be the perfect comic for the internet age -- one-liners built into six-panel strips, crafted with sketchy artwork. Like 140 character Twitter jokes understood to be scripts for full-page comics. Sure, 30 seconds more attention span required for consumption, but, you know, pictures. On occasion, Nathan Bulmer even has the audacity to ask us to sit through a full two page spread, but don't worry too much, he'll, more often than not, spend the final panel tearing it all down, as is perhaps demonstrated with one of the best single issue comics openings in recent memory, The Noseless Great Moral Cats, a false start intended to trick parents into buying this sick funny stuff, a page after a crown of thorn-wearing Jesus is busily bleeding on a baby lamb.

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Comics Rack: Boing Boing's comic books picks for December

All of the following comics were purchased at the wonderful Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Fest. That’s the main thing they have in common, aside from all being comics and all being good. Also, all but one (The Collected John G. Miller) would fit nicely into most standard Christmas stockings, if you’re reading this, Santa. The outlier, meanwhile, would no doubt do fine beneath your standard indoor holiday pine tree.

Kicksville Confidential #1 by Avi Spivak

Anyone with a bias toward the world of wonderful things will almost certainly feel compelled to pay a visit to the Norton Records website, credit card in hand, upon finishing Kicksville Confidential. And there, you’ll be greeted with a devastating little video about the vintage label, which was slammed full force by Hurricane Sandy, doing a number on its catalog stock. Norton’s a beacon of raw cultural salvation in a river of pop ephemera and this is precisely the book it deserves, a sequential catalog of its history and the legendary and often hilarious quirks of its roster of artists.

Billy Miller (who founded the company with one-time Cramps drummer Miriam Linna) kicks off the book with a tale of the label’s founding, writing, “Norton’s got a six-and-a-half foot cyclops drag queen, a pair of singing siamese twins joined at the top of the head, an indian with one lung, at least three murders, the nation’s number one art thief” -- and it just sort goes on from there, setting the stage for the truly insane tales of hillbilly chicken enthusiast Hasil Adkins, label mascot Esquerita and lunatic rock guru Kim Fowley, amongst dozens of other rock ‘n roll inmates.

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Comics Rack: Boing Boing's comic books picks for November

Stocking stuffers? We thought about it, but in spite of what laundromat radio stations might lead you to believe, it IS too early to start thinking about the holidays. And besides, Chris Ware, for one, has clearly gone out of way to only produce work that could never in a million years be stuffed into anything resembling a stocking. So we guess you'll just have to keep these ones all to yourself. Don't say you've never done anything nice for you.

Building Stories by Chris Ware. Pantheon

Part way through the “14 distinctively discrete books, booklets, magazines, newspapers and pamphlets,” you wonder why you started reading, because you already knew that Chris Ware cuts like a knife deep into the heart of modern human isolation. And every few pages or so, like clockwork, something makes contact and utterly destroys you all over again. All that coupled with the knowledge that, try as you might, you’ll never be capable of producing something of this magnitude -- Ware is just one of those sorts of outliers who makes everyone else toiling away in a given medium feel that much worse about their own limited set of tools.

But as ever, it’s a beautiful journey, painstaking detailed and mind-numbingly crafted, without a single errant line, because we all know that a perfectionist like Ware would never be able to live with such an abhorrent thing. Thankfully, the cartoonist is fully capable of creating near perfect things, works of art that some how feel underpriced at $50 a pop.

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Comics Rack: Boing Boing's comic books picks for October

Sick of New York stories? No? Good, we’ve got a pair of those this month. And for those of you who could care less about the plights of Brooklynites in the early 21st century, no need to fear -- there’s also the tale of a big, blurry sea monster and a vampire with disablingly large canines. Comics are fun! Oh, and hey self-publishers, we want to feature your minis in upcoming columns. Drop us a line, and we'll tell you where to send 'em.

New York Drawings by Adrian Tomine. Drawn & Quarterly

There have been all of, what, three issues of Optic Nerve published in the past decade? Adrian Tomine, you’re given those of us in the indie comics trenches some serious abandonment issues here -- those of us who cite the series along with Eightball and Hate and Love & Rockets as the books that helped up our eyes to the potential of this medium in high school and college. Oh, we know why you haven’t been around a lot. We get it it. We live in a world where making a living as a cartoonist is a tricky proposition even for someone whose convention lines wrap around to the other side of the room. And yeah, if we thought for a minute that The New Yorker wanted what we were selling, we’d drop everything in an instant -- and once they did, tales about angsty 20-year-olds might not have the same resonance.

But then you open this collection and realize Tomine is still Tomine. That the sequential floppies have mostly morphed into single-page illustrations (which, wild guess, likely pay orders of magnitude more than full issues ever did), but the cartoonist has used this opportunity to condense short stories into single panel tales. Yeah, some of the content is likely just commissioned supplementals for others’ text stories that do most of the heavy lifting, but divorced of text, Tomine has become a master of conveying real world complexities in the context of a single frame. And as you stare and search, the book store is changed from a stationary object for coffee tables and dusty bookshelves into something more vibrant -- not quite a graphic novel per se, but a portrait, certainly, of the world around him.

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