By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
BLANKETS: AN ILLUSTRATED NOVEL | By Craig Thompson
Top Shelf | 592 pages, softcover | $30
Blankets deserves to be considered one of the best coming-of-age novels ever written (with pictures or without). Its greatest strength is its gorgeously fluid artwork: Snowy Midwestern landscapes never looked so inspiring. Every cartoonist I know struggles to retain the spontaneity of their roughs while meeting the specific and deliberate visual demands of clear storytelling. Thompson makes this look easy for close to an astonishing 600 pages. Blankets features Thompson growing up in rural Wisconsin. Clueless and often cruel adults and a hypocritical fundamentalist Christian church offer little in the way of moral guidance. He meets Raina, his first love, and is transformed. Raina is idealized to the point of distraction, but given that the narrator is a smitten adolescent this is a minor flaw in an otherwise heartfelt, generous story.
Primordial humanoid creatures drag, eat, maim, attack and bury one another as they move through the 12 stories that form this squat little book originally published in 2000. The drawings, scrawled marks, reconstruct a dense silent world intuitively divined. The joys of Teratoid Heights is in its rereading, like studying a sacred text, to discover the mysteries of its parables. —J.S.
The human language is running out of superlatives to describe Ware’s books. This one, excerpts from nearly a decade of sketchbook pages, includes quickly drawn comic strips (that are better than 99 percent of the comics published), figure studies (as if rendered by an old master), and hundreds of cartoon characters (deftly drawn in a myriad of styles and periods). This book reflects the humility, humor and genius of its author and forever ends the discussion of whether cartoonists should be considered artists. —J.S.
Exquisitely crafted, with its hand-lettered gold-embossed cover, this book seems like a remnant of a bygone era. Quimby is a small, forlorn rodent who travels through a paneled landscape of woe and loss. Most of these tabloid-size strips, created during Ware’s undergraduate days, are formal explorations of the medium itself. No cartoonist on this planet is more fluent in the language of comics than Ware. Each page is an aria of color, line and type that floats the reader through time and space. Ware’s formal exploration is never without a greater purpose; beneath the surface of every thrillingly constructed page is an equally powerful emotional undertow. —J.S.
Sadly, so much of what passes as examples of great comics has to be appreciated in context. Groundbreaking work, in a medium where the bar is set so low, has a short shelf life. What is astonishing about this mammoth collection (20 years of stories) is how time has not diminished its potency. It would be fair to call Palomar timeless literature. Centering his tales on a fictional Hispanic-American town and its inhabitants, Hernandez fashions a mythic soap opera that never approaches heavy-handedness. Hernandez’s direct, charming cartooning style is unaffected by pretensions and allows the inner lives of his characters to surface in all their troubled glory. —J.S.
These are the “Shrimpy and Paul” strips that originally appeared in Exclaim! Magazine, The Halifax Coast, The Montreal Mirrorand other pubs, all collected for your convenience. Bell throws in a bit of original work and some funny letters to round out, but the meat with these potatoes are the odd stories of Paul, the tall sausage with disturbing red nipples, and Shrimpy, an unpredictable character who resembles a corn dog with arms. The “friends” would include Taco, a mystical octopus, Sue the Tooth and the perpetually pissed Chia Man. The strips span several years, and you can see Bell’s characters and pen work develop as well as his wonderful, hand-drawn typography. —Bill Smith
Endless Nights marks Gaiman’s return to the highly praised Sandman series. If you’re not familiar with these stories, the title of this volume is a play on words referring to The Endless — seven sibling gods. A chapter is dedicated to each: Death, Desire, Destruction, Delirium, Despair, Destiny and the Sandman himself, Dream. But here as in Greek myth it’s truly the gods who serve the people, as Gaiman weaves very human tales, fraught with emotion and irony. There is the mercenary in love since childhood with the alluring Death; the child, traumatized, who finds temporary escape in Delirium. Even the mighty Dream suffers common heartbreak from a mere mortal (with the insidious aid of Desire). This series and this volume are some of the more entertaining and elegant stories put to comic, the individual chapters standing alone but in volumes tracing a much deeper history. —B.S.
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