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Reviews: Talking Sausages, Forlorn Rodents, Sibling Gods and a Wartime Fixer

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.

—James Sturm





TERATOID HEIGHTS

By Matt Brinkman | Highwater Books

224 pages, softcover | $13

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.





ACME NOVELTY DATEBOOK: SKETCHES AND DIARY PAGES IN FACSIMILE 1986–1995

By Chris Ware | Drawn & Quarterly Publications | 208 pages, hardcover $40

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.





QUIMBY THE MOUSE

By Chris Ware | Fantagraphics Books

56 pages, hardcover | $25

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.





PALOMAR: THE HEARTBREAK SOUP STORIES (LOVE AND ROCKETS)

By Gilbert Hernandez | Fantagraphics Books | 512 pages, hardcover | $40

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.





SHRIMPY AND PAUL AND FRIENDS

By Marc Bell | Highwater Books

176 pages, softcover | $17

These are the “Shrimpy and Paul” strips that originally appeared in Exclaim! Magazine, The Halifax Coast, The Montreal Mirror and 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





THE SANDMAN: ENDLESS NIGHTS (BOOK 11) | By Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Glen Fabry, Milo Manara, Miguelanxo Prado, Frank Quietly, P. Craig Russell, Bill Sienkiewicz, Barron Storey | DC Vertigo | 160 pages, hardcover | $25

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.

THE METAMORPHOSIS | By Peter Kuper (adapted from Franz Kafka) Crown | 80 pages, hardcover | $18

In comic and cinematic retellings of classic literature, the new work can often compete with and even replace original memories of those books. This may sound like an odd way to begin a favorable review, but it’s a fair caveat, and one that Peter Kuper may have confronted as he conjured the imagery for his adaptation. Kuper’s drawings inject Kafka’s story with a quicker pace and a bit more humor, but all the while preserving the pathos and surrealism of Gregor Samsa’s metaphoric fate. —B.S.





TALES TO DEMOLISH 2

By Eric Haven | Sparkplug Comic Books | 24 pages, softcover | $3

Haven graced the pages of the Weekly’s comic issue a year ago with his story “The Glacier,” which appeared, expanded, in Tales to Demolish 1. He’s back with a story about vehicular manslaughter that will definitely appeal to comic insiders. —B.S.

THE FIXER | By Joe Sacco | Drawn & Quarterly Publications | 106 pages, hardcover | $25

Few newscasts will give you a clearer or more indelible picture of recent global conflict than one of Joe Sacco’s books. Often told in a self-effacing first person, they are not pure journalism — though journalists rarely get as close to their subjects and the truth as Sacco does. The Fixer is no different. As Sacco explains, fixers are locals who are paid by foreign journalists to translate and provide information. They are a necessary and almost never-mentioned component of wartime journalism. Through Sacco’s eyes we meet his fixer, Neven, and through Neven’s eyes we get a subjective but detailed picture of the fighting in Bosnia. This book is a gripping education and leaves you hoping that Sacco will soon buy a ticket to Iraq. See Kristine McKenna’s interview with Joe Sacco in this issue, page 12. —B.S.

Buddha, Volumes 1 & 2
By Osamu Tezuka | Vertical
400 pages each, hardcover | $25

These volumes, first published in Japan in the late ’80s, are finally making it to the U.S. thanks to Vertical. Infused with humor and history, the epic of Siddhartha is perhaps Osamu Tezuka’s crowning achievement and illustrates why, without irony, Tezuka is referred to as “The King of Japanese Comics.” His penwork is remarkable — at times resembling master etchings. Even more remarkable considering the entire story spans over 3,000 pages. Vertical is publishing all eight volumes of this amazing work. —B.S.

SOUTHPAW | By Scott Morse
AdHouse Books | 126 pages, softcover | $10

This is a beautiful little book from comic artist and animator Scott Morse. The story follows a robot-fighting tiger on a path of manipulation, betrayal, friendship and revenge. The art is frenetic and simple, akin to stories by James Kochalka. It’ll take you 10 minutes to read (the first time). You got 10 minutes, don’tcha? —B.S.

INSIDE VINEYLAND | By Lauren Weinstein | Distributed by Alternative Comics | 76 pages, softcover | $6

Is Lauren Weinstein the funniest voice in alternative comics? No, really — we’re asking. Her self-published collection is honest to the point of masochism and is probably the most humorous comic we’ve seen since Michael Kupperman’s Snake ’n’ Bacon’s Cartoon Cabaret. —B.S.

KRAMERS ERGOT 4 | Edited by Sammy Harkham | Avodah Books
300 pages, softcover | $25

We reviewed this book earlier in the year: http://www.laweekly.com/bestofla/03/. Suffice it to say, this is one of the best alternative comic collections in print and the most quality comics you will ever see for 25 bucks. —B.S.

NIGHTMARE ALLEY | By Spain, (adapted from William L. Gresham)
Fantagraphics Books | 136 pages, softcover | $15

Gresham’s tale of a sideshow mentalist’s lust for riches and dames is the perfect vehicle for underground comic legend Spain. The book’s characters are loaded with the psychological depth you’d expect from 1930s noir. Gresham’s prose, though at times clumsy, is given new life in Spain’s fast-moving and titillating adaptation.

—B.S.

Meat Cake Compilation
By Dame Darcy | Fantagraphics Books | 150 pages, hardcover | $23

This attractive book is a collection of Dame Darcy’s Meat Cake issues 1–7. The artwork is deceptively naive, and at times reminiscent, in subject and mood, of Edward Gorey and Richard Sala. But even in their most disturbing and murderous states, Dame Darcy’s characters possess elegance and frailty; her stories, eros and humor.

—B.S.


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