• Papertoy Monsters – Build 50 3D toys with just paper and glue

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    Papertoy Monsters: 50 Cool Papertoys You Can Make Yourself!

    by Brian Castleforte (author) and Robert James (illustrator)

    Workman Publishing Company

    2010, 124 pages, 8.6 x 11 x 0.9 inches (softcover)

    $15 Buy a copy on Amazon

    As a child, I often viewed school as an evil creature that could be temporarily subdued only by sickness, weekends, government holidays, and art/craft Fridays. Among my favorite Friday activities were the various papertoys that I got to color, cut out, and assemble. Some were mechanical, some were static, some would have a specific purpose, and some would just be neat little creatures to play with. But, they all had the same feature that I found so intriguing: they were three-dimensional toys born from a single sheet of two-dimensional paper. Three decades later, I can finally relive those fond childhood memories as well as share them with my nephews.

    Papertoy Monsters is a collection of 50 monster designs by 24 papertoy artists from around the globe including the author, Brian Castleforte. Building one of these monsters is pretty straightforward, and the only required tool is some glue. The author recommends some other tools, but glue is really all that is required. Inspiring mad scientists have it so easy nowadays.

    Every monster is printed on both sides, so the finished toy has colorful graphics inside and out. Pieces are perforated for easy punch-out, and pre-scored for easy folding. Even the slots are pre-cut for easy assembly (no dangerous X-Acto knives to contend with). Construction difficulties range from easy to advanced, and are recommended for everyone nine years or older . . . but, my six-year-old nephew gets a kick out of them, too.

    With 24 artists, there is a wide variety of monster styles and designs ranging from strange and cute to creepy and bizarre. In fact, just choosing which monster to build is a tough choice. As if that wasn't enough, there are ten additional blank templates that allow you to design, color, and build your own monsters. Decisions, decisions! Papertoy Monsters is a young mad scientist's dream. It's a portable laboratory with enough body parts to create an entire army of fiendish and friendly monsters whenever the mood strikes; no grave robbing required.

    – Robert Nava

  • Dharma Delight: A Visionary Post Pop Guide to Buddhism and Zen

    Dharma Delight: A Visionary Post Pop Guide to Buddhism and Zen

    by Rodney Alan Greenblat

    Tuttle Publishing

    2016, 128 pages, 7.5 x 10 x 0.5 inches (softcover)

    $11 Buy a copy on Amazon

    Peace of mind can be a hard-won trophy in the best of times. Other times, well, simply being may be the best we can do. Dharma Delight is a visual diary of one man's journey into Buddhism. Author Greenblat takes the reader through the basic aspects of Buddhism, including its founding, its core tenets, a few of the more prominent teachers (er, Buddhas, not instructors), and a few basic zen practices all accompanied by his own bright, bold paintings and drawings.

    The book is somewhat slight, more of a primer than an in-depth examination of any one part of either Buddhism or Greenblat's relationship to it, but I found this to be the most engaging facet of the book. What I mean is, the book often lays out a single concept or story or koan on one or two pages, letting the reader focus on the idea being presented rather than stuffing loads of concepts and history into a confined space.

    By allowing the content so much room to breathe, each painting or set of paintings comes into clear relief. Greenblat squeezes lots of detail and tiny, almost hidden prose messages into each vibrant piece of art; his style is a distinct form of pop art, somewhere between the neon, day-glo of the 1980s and the comic book reproductions of Lichtenstein. Yet, for all the bright color and heady concepts, this book has found a permanent home on my bedside bookshelf. Its light touch and beatific illustrations help me find just enough peace of mind to get to sleep. Which is a small delight for which I am grateful.

    – Joel Neff

  • Twisted History – A grisly page turner about history's worst despots, traitors, and murderers

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    Twisted History: 32 True Stories of Torture, Traitors, Sadists and Psychos…Plus the Most Celebrated Saints in History

    by Howard Watson

    Firefly Books

    2015, 176 pages, 7.5 x 9.4 x 0.5 inches (softcover)

    $18 Buy a copy on Amazon

    The careers of history's worst despots, murderers, assassins, and traitors are examined in this lurid and grisly page turner. The usual suspects are all featured: Hitler, Stalin, Jack The Ripper, Vlad The Impaler, and other unsavory characters. Some lesser known fiends, such as Gilles De Rais, the French nobleman who murdered 140 children in the 15th century, Lavrentia Beria, Stalin's henchman who was responsible for the execution of 22,000 Poles in the Katyn Massacre, Tomas de Torquemada, who executed 2,000 Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, and Thug Berham, the Indian serial killer who strangled almost 1,000 people, are also given a moment in the spotlight.

    Comprised of a brief overview of the villains' crimes against humanity, with Fact Files showing their history, legacy, and circumstance of death, descriptions of their downfall and punishment, often including torture, and photos of their jail cells or gravesites, Twisted History keeps things short and sweet, compelling the reader to continue turning pages to see what unspeakable horror could possibly follow the last. The mood is lightened briefly by recounting the lives of honorable figures who've made the world a better place, such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Then it's right back to the scoundrels, the outlaws, the killers, and thieves.

    Featuring bloodstained pages illustrated with vivid paintings, ancient wood cuts, and historic photos, Twisted History sums up the infamous lives and tragic death tolls of the worst people in history in about a half a dozen pages per monster, hopping from time period to time period and various parts of the globe. The book concentrates on the major bullet points, and those searching for a more in-depth analysis of the depths of depravity should probably hunt elsewhere. History buffs might be a bit disappointed that new ground isn't explored, but it's a good starting point for those interested in a brief visit to some of history's darkest hours.

    – S. Deathrage

  • Tiki Style packs a big punch full of everything under the Tikidom roof

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    Tiki Style

    by Sven Kirsten

    Taschen

    2015, 192 pages, 4.9 x 6.6 x 0.5 inches (softcover)

    $10 Buy a copy on Amazon

    This little pocket book packs a big punch full of tiki culture with flamboyant images and a fun history. The author Sven A. Kirsten is the go-to guy for everything tiki. He's the author of the Book of Tiki, which this bite-sized edition pulls from. The book takes you through the origins of tiki in the South Pacific, explains how this island culture worked its way into mainstream Americana, and highlights some of the legends like Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic.

    There's something about Tikidom that's just fun. The mugs, the artwork, the cocktails – it's easy to get wrapped up in the tropical fantasy. Maybe it was growing up in grey and rainy Seattle that made me a sucker for tiki, but I can't get enough and this book delivers. It's filled cover to cover with photographs, illustrations, and incredible island imagery. So grab your favorite ceramic mug, pour yourself a Mai-Tai and enjoy this fantastic look at the stylish world of tiki. – JP LeRoux

    Note: If you already have The Book of Tiki there won't be anything new for you here, but I'd highly recommend picking up any of Sven's other tiki books if you want to learn even more about the culture.

  • Satirist Paul Thomas mixes fiction with facts in An Unreliable History of Tattoos

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    An Unreliable History of Tattoos

    by Paul Thomas

    Nobrow Press

    2016, 96 pages, 7.9 x 10.6 x 0.7 inches (hardcover)

    $3 Buy a copy on Amazon

    A minor celebrity/reality star, whose name I can't remember, said in a recent interview that she thinks of people without tattoos as being "unicorns" because they are so rare. It's true that today tattoos are much more popular than when I was a kid. In my day, only sailors or criminals had dye permanently etched into their bodies, but according to the graphic novel, An Unreliable History of Tattoos, inking people has been around since Day 1 (think Adam and Eve).

    In his first book, award-winning British political cartoonist Paul Thomas loosely traces the origins of body art. There's definitely a focus on European (and specifically British) history in this book, but Thomas also pokes fun at a few famous Americans. Mixing fiction with facts, (honestly sometimes it's hard to tell what's real and what's made up) this book is interesting, humorous, and very unusual!

    I don't know if the Upper Paleolithic man really punctured his skin with blunt twigs, nor do I know if King Harold II had his wife Edith's name tattooed on his chest way back in 1066. Should I believe Anne Boleyn's daughter, Princess Elizabeth, had her knuckles tattooed? Was Kings Charles II's chest covered in permanent ink with names of all his many bedroom conquests? According to this parody, Queen Victoria, Sir Winston Churchill, and even President Obama love body art too. An Unreliable History of Tattoos also touches on Japanese, Greek, Roman and Viking ink. If any, or all, or some of the fun facts in An Unreliable History of Tattoos are true, the thorny roses, tribal arm sleeves, and Mickey Mouse heads that show up on today's bodies are nothing compared to what came before them.

    – Carole Rosner

  • Awkward Zombie – From the webcomic that parodies video games of all kinds

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    Awkward Zombie: We're Going To Be Rich

    by Katie Tiedrich

    2012, 164 pages (softcover)

    From $10 Buy a copy on Amazon

    Or $19 from Level Up Studios

    Awkward Zombie is one of my favorite webcomics. Creator Katie Tiedrich writes a comic that focuses on parodying video games of all kinds, with the occasional strip drawn from poking fun at her own life. Fans of video games will find a lot to laugh at here. We're Going to be Rich! collects the first 100 comics originally posted to Tiedrich's website, Awkward Zombie, and is available in softcover or special edition hardcover format.

    In this first volume, Tiedrich primarily writes about Nintendo games like Super Smash Bros and various entries in the Legend of Zelda series, with other games popping up occasionally. If you're a fan of those games you'll likely love every panel, as Tiedrich has a great ability to point out the funny logical problems present in these games. One of my favorite such comics makes a joke about the potential difficulties with surfing in Pokemon. Even if you've never played a particular game she's referencing, the jokes tend to be broad enough to understand by more general video game fans. You may have never played World of Warcraft, but if you've played any role-playing game you may understand the humor in a large character trying to fit into stolen armor that logically should be much too small for them.

    Tiedrich's art stye is perfectly suited to the sort of sideways world parody she excels at. The first couple of comics may seem crude, but they become more refined as the book progresses. It's kind of funny actually because as Tiedrich develops her own style and the characters begin to resemble each other, she even further exaggerates the physical attributes that make them unique. Being a parody, each character resembles the character it parodies just enough to get the idea, but it isn't as if Tiedrich is trying to do copies of those characters. She usually makes them even more cartoony than they already are, with fun results (look at how goofy Luigi looks, but it is still clearly Luigi).

    One thing I wish was translated into the book a bit more frequently is Tiedrich's tendency to explain the comic with a note underneath. She self-deprecatingly references this in one of the comics, but it only pops up a few more times after that. Tiedrich seems to think it's a hokey device, but those are some of my favorite bits of comedy and I miss them here.

    If nothing else, it is my hope that you may read this book and follow Tiedrich's work on her site. She has many more comics available and updates semi-regularly. Fans can even suggest comic ideas on her forum, which she periodically produces. Sadly, We're Going to be Rich! is the only book she's released so far, but hopefully there will be more to come.

    – Alex Strine

  • Bone is possibly one of the best fantasy series ever told

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    Bone: Coda (25th Anniversary Special)

    by Jeff Smith

    Cartoon Books

    2016, 136 pages, 6.4 x 8.9 x 0.5 inches (softcover)

    $13 Buy a copy on Amazon

    If you haven't read Jeff Smith's Bone series, just stop. Stop reading right now, mid sentence, and go pick up his masterpiece. It's wonderful. Quite possibly one of the greatest fantasy stories ever told. Once you've read that and fallen in love with Smith's humor and characters, then you can appreciate this follow-up that gives you a reason to revisit the Bone Brothers.

    If you aren't familiar with the Bone series, this coda won't interest you. It's a companion piece that includes interviews of Smith, an oral history by comic historian Stephen Weiner, and early illustrations of the Bone characters. I found it compelling to hear that Bone was a story that almost wasn't. But through determination, some luck, and careful maneuvering, Smith was able to get the comic off the ground. It's great inspiration for any independent artist out there.

    But the best part about this book is that there's a new Bone story to be had! The brothers and Bartleby are still in route back to Boneville, when in true Bone fashion things go awry. It's not a long story, or a deep one, but it's a reminder about everything that was so great about this series. It's a little heartbreaking that Smith makes a point to define coda as "the concluding passage of a piece or movement, typically forming an addition to the base structure." Hopefully we'll see more from this world, but for now this is a pretty good sendoff. If you're a completest, you're going to need to pick this up.

    – JP LeRoux

    August 26, 2016

  • Heart and Brain have extremely different view points but always remain best buds

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    Heart and Brain: An Awkward Yeti Collection

    by Nick Seluk

    Andrews McMeel Publishing

    2015, 144 pages, 6.5 x 8 x 0.4 inches (softcover)

    $9 Buy a copy on Amazon

    Heart and Brain is a wonderful collection of the lovable characters from Nick Seluk's The Awkward Yeti webcomic. This special print edition features over 75 exclusive comics, as well as dozens of previously published fan favorites. The exclusive comics are the real draw, since they'll be totally new to you even if you've read every single comic online.

    If you're new to Heart and Brain, the title says all you need to know about the characters. Brain is the rational one, always looking out for the logical, safe thing to do, while Heart is all about passion and seeking out the things he loves. Seluk creatively captures the constant push-and-pull between these forces in us all and externalizes them in some of the most endearing characters in comics. It's hard to not fall in love with Brain's neurotic over-worrying, and Heart's blissful aloofness. They're a perfectly matched odd couple because they come from such extremely differing viewpoints, but they always manage to meet in the middle.

    The comics themselves are hilarious. I don't think a single joke misses the mark in the entire book, which is pretty incredible. Seluk understands his characters on such a fundamental level that everything they do and say feels authentic. They're just as endearing as other comic duos like Calvin and Hobbes, and their stories have the every day simplicity of Peanuts. The Awkward Yeti is an extremely modern comic, constantly addressing technology and common modern life issues. It can do the office humor of Dilbert, the slice-of-life ease of Peanuts, and the simple punchlines of Garfield. The main appeal to the comic is thinking "I know that feeling!" after seeing Brain humorously stress about past regrets just before going to sleep, or Heart being overly excited about something silly. Seluk's ability to poke fun at his hang-ups on just about everything makes it easy for the reader to relate their own idiosyncrasies. Seluk will be releasing another collection in October and you can be sure I'll be picking up a copy.

    – Alex Strine

  • The Sweetapolita Bakebook – Transform baking staples into (edible!) fine art

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    The Sweetapolita Bakebook: 75 Fanciful Cakes, Cookies and More

    by Rosie Alyea

    Clarkson Potter

    2015, 208 pages, 8.6 x 10.5 x 0.5 inches (softcover)

    $15 Buy a copy on Amazon

    Since she was a teenager, Rosie Alyea has been obsessed with "whipping up a sweet life." She began as a professional baker and then veered into the world of entrepreneurship, launching a decadent beauty product line. In 2010, Alyea began dreaming up creative confections for her blog, Sweetapolita. Her ribbons of Swiss Meringue Buttercream piled up rave reviews, and with each colorful cake creation she cultivated an adoring crowd. Today, Sweetapolita has nearly half a million followers on Facebook, and now Alyea is also an author with her first cookbook, the The Sweetapolita Bakebook.

    This bakebook is a showstopper, full of bright, vibrant pastels. Rosie obviously has a passion for color, evident in the line of every dazzling dessert she fashions. Her cookies transcend bakery staples into the realm of fine art. The buttery rounds are swimming with swirls of watercolor frosting and then dipped in edible gold so that they look like gilt-edged framed paintings, worthy of gracing any museum wall. Her infamous cakelets stand like fairytale towers, adorned with charming children's fondant doodles in carnival colors.

    If the Sweetapolita recipes look daunting, don't despair. Rosie has included lots of basic baking and decorating techniques, as well as an extensive section stocked with easy favorite frostings and simple cakes. Even beginning bakers will find bite-sized inspiration in the shape of Jumbo Frosted Animal Crackers. If you appreciate the art of baking, this beautiful, drool-worthy book will become a source of inspiration.

    – Kaz Weida

  • How to cook Japanese hot pot dishes

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    Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking

    by Naoko Takei Moore and Kyle Connaughton

    Ten Speed Press

    2015, 328 pages, 9.4 x 9.4 x 1.1 inches

    $20 Buy a copy on Amazon

    Donabe (doh-nah-bei) is Japanese for clay pot. It is traditional Japanese earthen cookware and its popularity has waxed and waned with the centuries. Today donabe cooking is a family (and friends) activity, bringing people closer together with communal dining. The book features traditional as well as modern donabe recipes created by the authors and takes readers through the history, manufacture and culture of the donabe.

    The authors Takei-Moore and Connaughton create an intimate communal experience with the narrative and sharing of stories. Each recipe begins with a bit of an anecdote, such as "I've been making this dish for years, and it's also one of the most popular rice dishes in my cooking class." Then the instructions follow with tips and reminders, and include serving suggestions. We can almost hear Ms. Takei-Moore gently instructing her students, "Using a paring knife, score the skin of the duck breast … Be careful not to penetrate the meat."

    Aspiring donabe chefs need not think they have to acquire many different donabe (although that might be fun!). The authors encourage experimentation and provide instructions for using a classic donabe or even a dutch oven if you do not have the type of donabe specified. The book itself is a delightfully sumptuous eyeful with beautiful photographs of different donabe, ingredients and finished dishes. Sturdily constructed with heavy glossy pages that are sewn in, the book falls open flat just like you'd want a cook book to.

    Donabe is delightful reading and the recipes are authentic, delicious and most are not complicated or difficult for the beginner to make. I loved reading and leafing through the book, trying out the recipes and extending my knowledge of "hot pot" cooking with a Japanese flavor. Interestingly enough, until I read the book, I had not heard of shime – a recipe that uses the remaining broth of the donabe recipe if it is a soup or stew to create an end-of-the-meal dish. Don't just drink up the broth, create yet another course!

    – Carolyn Koh

  • A Wild Swan plucks at familiar fairy tales with a voice that's sardonic, salacious, or brimming with empathy

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    A Wild Swan and Other Tales

    by Michael Cunningham (author) and Yuko Shimizu (illustrator)

    Farrar, Straus and Giroux

    2015, 144 pages, 6.4 x 8.5 x 0.7 inches

    $16 Buy a copy on Amazon

    A few pages into A Wild Swan and Other Tales we're stopped short by a narrator who is either supremely cynical or just brutally honest: "End of story. 'Happily ever after' fell on everyone like a guillotine's blade." But that abrupt point of stoppage, it turns out, is the vulnerable moment onto which Michael Cunningham can graft fresh possibilities. In this case, he builds on Hans Christian Andersen's version of "The Wild Swans" by imagining a trajectory for the least fortunate swan-brother, the one whose incomplete coat of nettles transformed him back into a man but left him with a "linty, dispiriting" wing where his arm should be.

    In this collection of eleven stories, the Pulitzer-winning author of The Hours plucks and tweaks at familiar fairy tales in a variety of ways – through POV changes, time shifts, reimagined elements, and most especially an irresistible voice that's by turns sardonic, salacious, or brimming with empathy. "Little Man" gives us the motivations behind Rumpelstiltskin's baby mania. "Jacked" believably paints the beanstalk climber as dumb and lucky. "The Monkey's Paw" locates another haunting angle on W.W. Jacobs' tale about the cruel side of wishes.

    Based only on its literary merits, A Wild Swan would already be worth your time – but this book is special. Masterful pen-and-ink illustrations, drop caps, endpapers, and cover art by award-winning illustrator Yuko Shimizu elevate A Wild Swan to exquisite object. Where your stereotypical fairy tale collection might boast lush colors, ornate bindings, and metallic accents, A Wild Swan is elegant. Restrained, but not spare, its quality emerges in sedulous attention to detail. White space explodes into knots of intricate line on carefully composed pages. A swan's silhouette stands out in relief on the embossed cover. Cunningham's canny, contemporary voice is made more timeless with decorations that hearken back to, but don't simply imitate, famed illustrators from Walter Crane to Harry Clarke.

    I've loved Shimizu's work since a friend pointed me to her public page on Facebook a year ago. (Come for the behind-the-scenes illustration techniques, stay for the adorable Chihuahua pics.) A Wild Swan and Other Tales gives the Japanese-born artist the chance to shine in tandem with a talented major author secure in his powers.

    – Lisa Barrow

  • The Creative Cottage – Small spaces rehabilitated by adventurous homeowners with vision

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    The Creative Cottage

    by Steve Gross and Susan Daley

    Gibbs Smith

    2016, 160 pages, 8.5 x 11 x 0.8 inches

    $25 Buy a copy on Amazon

    The Creative Cottage features 13 fabulous small abodes that house collections of many types. Each chapter highlights a cottage that has been rehabilitated by adventurous and artistic homeowners with vision. The cottages are art themselves, with thoughtful architecture, and they are filled with wonderful upcycled, found, and renovated components, both antique and modern blended together, feeling curated and purposeful as opposed to random and slap-dash. The creative souls behind them are artists, pickers, and normal folks too, who just needed someplace more special to live.

    The text reads like a menu in a fancy restaurant, in which every ingredient has a special designation, treatment, and provenance. The painting from the lobby of an old theater in upstate New York. A salvaged stained-glass window. A zinc rain barrel holding antique canes. A soapstone sink from a high school lab. A red vinyl 1940s barbershop chair. Striped tea towels hung on a twig. A 1930s school locker sponge, painted to look like wood. A bed platform made from painted license plates and metal Alabama road signs. Sculptures fashioned from beaver-chewed wood.

    Even if you're not planning on renovating the shotgun shack on the back forty or the tiny abandoned building by the edge of the local harbor, the photographs are fun to look at. Finding each ingredient discussed within the accompanying photographs is like playing Where's Waldo with 19th-century furniture and Barbershop ads from Nigeria. This might be a book for you if you enjoy seeing how others live, are interested in architecture and interior design, or need some inspiration to create something beautiful in whatever space surrounds you.

    – Aaron Downey

  • Print Workshop – Print up all kinds of fun stuff with this step-by-step handbook for the DIY artist

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    Print Workshop: Hand-Printing Techniques and Truly Original Projects

    by Christine Schmidt

    Potter Craft

    2010, 176 pages, 7.5 x 9 x 0.7 inches (softcover)

    $16 Buy a copy on Amazon

    A year after moving, I am still finding miscellaneous books tucked into previously unpacked boxes. Luckily, that means I get to rediscover favorites like Christine Schmidt's Print Workshop: Hand-printing Techniques and Truly Original Projects. With step-by-step instructions, project templates, and illustrated project and resource guides, this book serves as both an exhaustive guide for the DIY-er just starting out in printmaking, as well as a jumping-off point for artists who need a nudge toward new ideas.

    Schmidt, the creative force behind San Francisco's Yellow Owl Workshop, organizes the book into several helpful and easy-to-navigate sections. She opens with a brief but thorough introduction to the processes of printmaking, followed by a comprehensive guide, complete with photos and drawings, to setting up a home studio and choosing materials. These initial images of materials-for-making reappear in the technique chapters, plucked from the original grid shots to become part of each project, transformed into visual verbs for the printing process.

    As someone who has no formal training in printmaking, I was especially interested in the breadth of the form. The "Relief Printing" chapter, for example, hosts a wax seal project, and "Image Transfer Printing" includes refreshingly simple pin-prick stationary. This book is full of fantastic gift ideas (I'll be making the sweet-potato-printed picnic set for a wedding present, and my holiday preserves are about to get gussied-up with water-slide decal jars), and because printing is made for multiples, I plan to make a whole cache of go-to homemade presents to pull from throughout the year.

    – Marykate Smith Despres

  • Building Stories – Chris Ware's magnum opus includes 14 lavishly presented stories in different formats, all in one box

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    Building Stories

    by Chris Ware

    Pantheon

    2012, 260 pages, 11.7 x 16.6 x 1.9 inches (hardcover, softcovers, boxed)

    $31 Buy a copy on Amazon

    Chris Ware is renowned as the kind of comic artist who makes you expect more from the genre. For nearly three decades, his unfussy, formalized style has given birth to cult strips such as Rusty Brown and Quimby The MouseM. Despite his style being modeled after the simplicity of Tintin in order to express emotion in as universal a way as possible, his style is a vehicle for the minutiae of human struggle. Building Stories is no different.

    Largely comprised of strips previously published in national newspapers, but also featuring unreleased material, Building Stories is Ware's magnum opus – 14 lavishly presented stories in one beautifully designed box, itself adorned with extra strips and illustrations. The separation of the stories into physically distinct objects is intended to allow the reader to acquaint themselves with the characters in any order they choose.

    Revolving around the lives of the inhabitants of an apartment block in Chicago, his pet themes of social alienation, excessive rumination and the pervasive feeling of being railroaded by mundanity are all present and correct. A number of archetypes populate the building – the lonely old lady, the bickering couple, the single young woman, but Ware imbues each with its own identity.

    Arguably the most prominent character is the young woman who has a prosthetic leg, observed at various unassuming yet pivotal moments in her life, whether she's summer house sitting, lying awake at night thinking of her newborn child, or trying to overcome her anxiety in a writing class. It is tough not to feel empathy for her directionless existence, constant anxieties over wasted potential and the recursive spikes of past trauma. A soap opera in the best sense, there is more than a touch of Charles M. Schulz about Ware's existentially preoccupied, neurotic characters.

    Ware also experiments with layout to sometimes dizzying effect. The effusive nature of Branford the Best Bee in the World is matched by spiraling circular panels, whereas our aforementioned heroine wearily lives out her life inside row after row of regulation size square panels.

    The presentation of the strips in wildly differing formats makes this a true collector's package – pamphlets, news sheets, hardback book, comic on a fold-up "game board," and more. If you happen to be looking for the graphic novel's answer to Ulysses, then look no further. If not, buy it anyway. You'll believe a comic can do amazing things.

    – Nick Parton

  • Only What's Necessary – A whole lot of Peanuts and Schulz stuffed into one volume by Chip Kidd

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    Only What's Necessary: Charles M. Schulz and the Art of Peanuts

    by Chip Kidd (author) and Geoff Spear (photographer)

    Harry N. Abrams

    2015, 304 pages, 12 x 9 x 1 inches

    $27 Buy a copy on Amazon

    Here's a quick list of everything to be found in Chip Kidd's Only What's Necessary: Charles M. Schulz and Peanuts:

    Intro by Jeff Kinney

    Foreword by Jean Schulz

    "Behind the Door" by Karen Johnson (Director of the Schulz Museum in California)

    Preface by Chip Kidd

    Brief biography of Sparky Schulz, including pictures of his first published drawing in Ripley's Believe it or Not

    Photos & drawings of and from Schulz's WWII Sketchbook

    Early cartoons Schulz drew for the Saturday Evening Post

    Schulz's first printed comic strips (1947)

    Li'l Folks strips

    Peanuts strips

    Process of drawing Peanuts

    Rare, unfinished strips

    Subscriber promotions for newspaper editors

    Ads for Peanuts coloring books, viewmaster collections, color by numbers kits, candy bars, etc.

    Pictures of the Peanuts board game

    Vinyl dolls

    Covers from the first collections

    Advertisements featuring Peanuts characters

    Braille editions

    Correspondence with Harriet Glickman resulting in the creation of Franklin

    Unpublished watercolors & other art

    Intros and backstories for other characters (Spike, Woodstock)

    "The Last Strip" by Paige Braddock (Creative Director at the Schulz Studio in California)

    There is, in other words, a whole lot of stuff packed into this one single volume of ephemera. And it's a heck of a package. Heavy, glossy pages bring out the differences in color between hand-drawn strips and their pasted-on title cards as well as the fine printing notes scribbled in the margins. Likewise, the color printing serves to show that these are photographs of the original strips and artwork rather than digital reproductions or post-processed scans.

    The attention to detail and care that has gone into curating this book is obvious, considerable, and welcome. Special effort is made to not only display the various pieces of ephemera but to provide context for them. It's easy to get lost in little stories and minutia detailing phenomena from a time gone by; I've been through the book several times now, each time going down one rabbit hole or another, becoming fascinated by some aspect or another of the Peanuts story that began (and sometimes ended) well before I was born.

    Said aspects are fascinating (the production process), interesting (the board games and braille books), weird (the vinyl dolls), and, of course, just a little heartbreaking (the final strip), and served well by the top notch production values and curation. But I'm biased.

    The title comes from Schulz himself, who referred to his cartooning style as keeping only what's necessary. The designers of the book have equated this to simple, which is beautiful and eye-catching. But necessary can also mean everything: every line needed to show the characters' feelings and reactions, every word needed to express the artist's vision, every single thing needed to show why we still need Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, and Lucy now, and for many years to come.

    – Joel Neff

  • The White Donkey – From the online comic series about the existential crisis of a military experience

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    The White Donkey: Terminal Lance

    by Maximlian Uriarte

    Little, Brown and Company

    2016, 288 pages, 7 x 10.5 x 1 inches

    $15 Buy a copy on Amazon

    Maximillian Uriarte served four years in the Marine Corps infantry and went on two combat deployments to Iraq. While on active duty, he created an online comic strip, Terminal Lance, which grew from a small following to being published in official armed forces publications. In The White Donkey, which he calls his "thesis project," he tells a story about the existential crisis of the military experience and what it means to enlist during a time of war. Subjects like hazing and PTSD are covered in the course of the story as he explores what might drive a Marine to suicide.

    We follow Abe, a young, white middle-class kid who enlists after high school for want of a direction, trying to find something better to do with his life. He makes a friend in another "grunt," Garcia, who's there because there are no better paths for him. The contrast is stark. Garcia: "I didn't have shit else going for me, you know? I was with the wrong crowd a lot, I'd probably be in prison by now if not here."

    Abe's privilege is shown by his encounter with an Iraqi policeman who tells him: "I have met many of your type over the last few years, coming here to fulfill some personal conquest, but you never stop to think about how arrogant you are. You seek some enlightenment at the expense of my people." The story follows Abe through training, his experience of the tedium of war, his need for validation and legitimacy in the eyes of fellow Marines, and finally, the horror of combat and the alienation of the returning veteran into his previous society. There are encounters with the locals, mistakes made, and the surreal encounter with the White Donkey, which holds up an entire column of armored vehicles as it plods slowly along in the middle of the road.

    The art employed in The White Donkey is minimalist, stylized and realistic. Uriarte makes excellent use of color and story-board style to convey dramatic scenes. He makes use of color washes to separate different episodes of the stories. The pages of boot camp and training in Hawaii is a verdant green, Abe's trips back to the civilian life is rendered in shades of blue-gray and the scenes in Iraq are in shades of brown and olive. White space is deliberate and used to great effect.

    The language is punctuated with frequent profanity and the story is spiked with humor that is at times bitter and obscene. In other words, situation normal for a story set in today's armed forces. This book hits you right in the gut. If you've ever wondered what it's like to serve in the Marine Corps and the experience of deployment in a war-torn country like Iraq, this book will help you understand.

    – Carolyn Koh

  • How to Talk to Girls at Parties – Neil Gaiman at his best

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    How to Talk to Girls at Parties

    by Neiman Gaiman (author), Gabriel Bá (illustrator), and Fábio Moon (illustrator)

    Dark Horse Books

    2016, 64 pages, 6.9 x 10.5 x 0.4 inches

    $12 Buy a copy on Amazon

    How to Talk to Girls at Parties is an adaptation of the Neil Gaiman short story of the same name, originally published in his collection Fragile Things. As adaptations go, this one tells the story pretty exactly as it was done by Gaiman. Two teens named Enn and Vic go to a party with the intention of picking up girls. Vic is handsome and confident, while Enn is shy and awkward. Enn doesn't know how to talk to girls, and this becomes the central problem of the story. His attempts to seem cool and desirable are both humorous and relatable to anybody who has ever tried talking to a potential love interest. As the night moves on, it becomes clear that something is amiss at this party, but exactly what is unknown to Enn, and a little ambiguous to the reader.

    I really like this book. At first glance it might seem like an odd choice for a comic – the story doesn't reach the heights of some of Gaiman's other work, for example. But it's short and sweet and so unique. The story is Gaiman at his best in terms of information release and character moments. You're never completely ahead of the plot and it is so easy to sympathize with Enn's awkwardness. The charm of the original story was Gaiman's ability to play with a young man's feeling that girls were practically another species, and that aspect thrives in this version. In terms of visual storytelling and artistic prowess, Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá are absolute masters, and I cannot recommend their work here enough. They have an incredible ability to draw worlds that look like reality, but maybe just a few degrees more fantastic. What perfect partners for Gaiman's work.

    How to Talk to Girls at Parties gets my highest recommendation, both for fans of Gaiman and/or Moon & Bá as well as fans of unique sci-fi. It's a short book you can breeze through pretty quickly, and then immediately restart to find more hints of what's really going on. A film adaptation directed by John Cameron Mitchell (Rabbit Hole) is set to debut in 2017, so at the very least this interesting comic will prepare you for the film.

    – Alex Strine

  • Dark Night – Paul Dini's chilling autobiographical Batman tale

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    Dark Night: A True Batman Story

    by Paul Dini (author) and Eduardo Risso (illustrator)

    Vertigo

    2016, 128 pages, 6.9 x 10.4 x 0.5 inches

    $14 Buy a copy on Amazon

    Batman the Animated Series was perhaps the cartoon of my childhood. I remember watching it when it premiered, and followed it through its entire run. While I've loved the movies, and the comics, Batman for me will always be the voice of Kevin Conroy, and the Joker will always be Mark Hamill. I owe my love for Batman to this wonderful show that Paul Dini helped create, which is why I was so struck to read his chilling autobiographical Batman tale.

    Like myself and many others, Dini too was hugely influenced by Batman through his childhood. The beginning of the book establishes how comics became a coping mechanism for Dini as he navigated through the world with social anxiety. His lonely but successful life is thrown upside down one night when he was mugged and beaten within an inch of his life.

    Dini's story is all about coming to grips with a world that can be cruel, dealing with demons, and finding a way to overcome. It's a Batman story that doesn't take place in the Batman universe. I found it tremendously moving, the artwork beautiful, and I highty recommend it.

    – JP LeRoux

  • Unseen photos of Ciro's Nightclub stars snapped by a cigarette girl and her best friend

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    Ciro's Nightclub of the Stars

    by Andra D. Clarke and Regina Denton-Drew

    Arcadia Publishing

    2015, 128 pages, 6.5 x 9.2 x 0.3 inches

    $22 Buy a copy on Amazon

    In the 1940s and '50s, everyone who was anyone went to Ciro's Nightclub on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. The famous and infamous came to dine, dance, and perform during its 15 plus years in business. Regina Drew was a Cigarette Girl and photographer at Ciro's for eight years. Her best friend Nancy Caporal was the head photographer from 1940 to 1957. These women were part of the glitz, glamour and decadence of the Ciro's era, and they seemed to love every minute of it.

    Regina's daughter, Andra Clarke, worked tirelessly to research and cull through both women's photographic mementos. As tribute to what Regina called the "best job of my life," Andra created Ciro's Nightclub of the Stars, a compact coffee table book filled with photos and stories that capture the semi-private lives of Hollywood's elite.

    Most of the pictures in this book had previously not been seen by the public. Some of my favorite photos include Elizabeth Taylor dining with President Nixon and his daughters; Bing Crosby photographed with his sons; Ray Bolger (from "The Wizard of Oz") joking around with Zero Mostel (from Fiddler on the Roof), Clark Gable chatting with (or to) a bevy of admirers, and Lucille Ball having drinks at a table with Peter Lawford, with no Desi in sight. The captions for each picture are as interesting as the images themselves. There are also Ciro's behind-the-scenes tidbits like Yvonne de Carlo having the hatcheck girls watch her pet monkey, and Errol Flynn's special food preference of octopus. Ciro's Nightclub of the Stars offers a great glimpse into the past and is much more interesting than today's tabloids!

    Fun fact not in the book: Before these photos were turned into a book, Andra's collection was appraised on the 18th season of Antiques Roadshow. Per the appraiser, the most expensive photo Andra brought in was of Marilyn Monroe. Monroe was photographed at Ciro's after her movie premiere of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Andra was told at the auction that an unseen photo of Marilyn Monroe would sell for about $100 to $150. All the other photos were in the value range of $30 to $75 each.

    – Carole Rosner

  • Infuse: Oil, Spirit, Water demystifies the art of infusing

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    Infuse: Oil, Spirit, Water demystifies the art of infusing

    Infuse: Oil, Spirit, Water

    by Eric Prum and Josh Williams

    Clarkson Potter

    2015, 176 pages, 8.5 x 8.6 x 0.6 inches (softcover)

    $17 Buy a copy on Amazon

    To infuse a liquid is to place a flavoring agent such as herbs in it until it takes on the flavor of the agent. In Infuse: Oil, Spirit, Water, authors Prum and Williams demystify the art of infusing and show us how easy it is to create infusions. Simple prose, simple recipes, clear instructions and gorgeous photographs of the tools, ingredients and finished product will guide beginners in this art and inspire the experienced to experiment.

    First make sure you have the tools: a muddler (good excuse to get one, or you can always use a pestle), sieve, cheese cloth and funnel, and of course containers – most any old jam jar will do, but recipes are tuned for mason jars, 8oz (cup), 16oz (pint) and 32oz (quart). Basically tools that most readers will have in their kitchen.

    Divided into three sections using different liquids, readers start by learning how easy it is to make vinaigrette salad dressings – four parts oil, one part vinegar – and other infused oils. Prum and Williams also provide a few recipes to use the infused oils. They then move on to spirits and a few cocktail recipes to use them in, and finally to infused waters, which are great flavorful substitutes for sugary sodas and just perfect for warm weather. The book itself is not just beautiful but practical, with the pages actually sewn in so you can open the book and flatten it to the recipe you want. This book will hold up for many years to come.

    – Carolyn Koh