Joann Sfar is a fantastic comic artist – he is well-known as part of the new wave of Franco-Belgian comics and was also the artist on the multi-volume all ages series Sardine in Outer Space. He has done a marvelous job of adapting the famous tale of The Little Prince to comics. And let's be sure to hand out credit as well to Sarah Ardizzone who translated Sfar's adaptation into English.
The tale of The Little Prince is fairly famous at this point. Author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote the story while in America during World War II. It was published in 1943, the year before de Saint-Exupéry joined Free French forces and ultimately crashed over the Mediterranean on a reconnaissance mission during the war. It is one of the most popular books of the last century, translated in many languages. It is often described as a philosophical tale but it is also clearly autobiographical in a sense. Saint-Exupéry flew for many years, often working for national post services. On December 30, 1935, he crashed in the Libyan Sahara desert. Along with his navigator, Saint-Exupéry survived three days in the desert with extreme dehydration and hallucinations. They were rescued on the fourth day by a Bedouin traveling by camel. The Little Prince begins with a pilot crashed in the desert, needing to fix his plane and escape before succumbing to the heat and dehydration.
Brain Camp — written by Susan Kim & Laurence Klavan, with art by Faith Erin Hicks and coloring by Hilary Sycamore. Faith Erin Hicks comes through with great visuals in the art — I think this is the first major comic she's worked on where she hasn't also contributed the writing.
Idiots’ Books is comprised of Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr, and husband and wife creative team who produce “odd, commercially non-viable illustrated books” which they sell primarily through subscription service, while also taking their books to the occasional comics convention. I first encountered them at MoCCA a few years ago, a con they can pretty reliably be found at—it was my wife who discovered them, and upon finding me insisted that I visit their table, as she was certain their work would delight me; she was correct.
Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: The Beauty Supply District
Pantheon Books, 2000
The Jew of New York
Pantheon Books, 1998
The central joke in "The Beauty Supply District" is neatly summed up by this gem from Carol Lay‘s old Frequently Asked Questions page:
Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: I buy them in enormous rolls from Hammacher Schlemmer.
The Beauty Supply District—another picturesque corner of Ben Katchor's New York-like city—is a little warren of shops where art and design ideas are sold over the counter. Towering geniuses of the art world make furtive visits to punch up their paintings, atonal compositions, and what have you. Commercial manufacturers stride in with less trepidation, aiming to put a new gloss on their line of olive products.
I’ve never bought into the notion that “the eyes are the window to the soul.” Sure, they play a role in reading a person’s mood or opinion, but if one were to ask me what facial feature is most revealing, I’d say the mouth, no question. There’s a treasure of information to be read in the tension of a person’s lips, the crook of a smile, the skewing of a jaw. By comparison, I just don’t think eyes have that much to say.
Dylan Meconis is working hard to change my mind.
Another year, and another edition of the Best American Comics will be hitting shelves soon, bringing us the picks of this year’s honorable guest editor: Neil Gaiman. Fangirl that I am, the name alone was enough for me to find an advanced digital copy and give this 352-page tomb a read through. Gaiman’s selections are (mostly) great, and he is very funny in his introduction as he struggles along with us to come to grips with the ideas of “Best” and “American” in an international comics world.
“Best” is pretty subjective and, as my father always said, taste is all in your mouth. So to give you a flavor of what the 2010 edition has to offer, allow me to present the good, the bad, the weird, and the historical.
The Good: There is a lot of good here. Lilli Carre’s The Lagoon about a mysterious water-monster with a haunting voice has me wanting to go out and pick up the full story. 20 days of American Elf strips humorously tell the story of the birth of Jame Kochalka’s second son in 2007. And Peter Bagge’s The War on Fornication had me up in arms over people wanting to control my reproductive rights.
Welcome to the Dahlhouse by Ken Dahl is subtitled "Alienation, incarceration and inebriation in the new American Rome" and contains a string of short comics about growing old and angry in America. It also works pretty well as an scathing critique of George Bush's America and the decade of the naughts. Dahl is best known now for his autobiographical tale of an STD called Monsters, but this book is a great introduction to his cartooning talents.
Dahl starts off with a series of funny comics called "Old Punx Vs…" before shifting to a longer tale remembering his flight from San Francisco, California to Honolulu, Hawaii on September 11, 2002. It's a vivid description and critique of a time one year after the terrorist attacks on NYC and Washington DC. The targets of Dahl's anger and attention are varied though, the next lengthy piece runs through the history of zines and then lacerates the pretensions of those making zines simply to stroke their own ego. The centerpiece of the book, for me, feels like "The Origin of Army Guy" where a sad sack character decides to join the Army and gets a recruitment speech from a character that looks a lot like "Sarge" from Beatle Bailey. It's a funny, but extremely biting comic that delivers tough political critique in a funny way.
Much of the rest of the book is occupied by Dahl's alter ego, "Gordon Smalls" a lonely and alienated character who often narrates his day to, well us. Although maybe he's just crazy and talking to no one. Works either way I suppose. These comics are funny and get at another theme Dahl is interested in — the loss that comes with growing old. Whether it's trying to pick up skateboarding again or visiting the swingset at an empty park at night, there's something sad but universal about Gordon Smalls. Almost everyone has dreams, skills, or life experiences you just can't go back to as you get older.
Lauren Barnett, whose comics I reviewed recently, sent me another mini with a short note attached:
Perhaps I'm a glutton for punishment, considering your last review of my work, but I figure, what the hell!
This is actually one of the harder things I struggle with in writing reviews. I come to comics with an incredibly enthusiastic attitude — everyone should make comics, everyone should draw, everyone should try and tell a story. I don't want to contradict that in reviewing work but apart from that enthusiasm I'm not encouraging anyone to confuse quality with lack of it. All things considered, readers have limited time, they ought to read the best and most interesting work (at least interesting to them). But there's a big difference in reading a (a) great comic; (b) mediocre, but competent comic and (c) really bad comic. And then overlaying that – you can often make some pretty good educated guess about the creator; does she have talent; does she have a passion for the art or the story; does she show promise to improve? So I often feel bad criticizing work, especially when it's work where I'm impressed with the creator and believe it could be better or that better work is sure to come. It's the difference between hope and indifference to comics with any number of flaws.
But in any event, here's three more short reviews of minis I've been reading this week from Al Burian, Heather Bryant and Lauren Barnett. If you're interested in getting a mini reviewed at ComixTalk, you can find our contact information on the About page.
Quitting Time is a webcomic by Michael Moss and Linda Howard. Both have participated at ComixTalk over the years as well as at a number of other webcomic sites. Michael Moss not only works on Quitting Time, but also Gods Playing Poker and Shadensmilen. (He also lives in the Outer Richmond neighborhood in San Francisco — I lived in the Inner Richmond neighborhood one year, many years ago, — a great neighborhood!) Linda Howard letters and edits Quitting Time, Gods Playing Poker and Kirt Burdick’s How to be Bulletproof.
Recently, they've released a print volume of Quitting Time titled "I Love the Smell of Corporate Evil in the Morning!". It includes a slice of the comics that ran up until January of this year. Quitting Time is about retail work and focuses on a fairly ordinary guy named Nate. Nate works retail jobs like coffee shop barista and a video game store clerk. He has a son named Timmy and a roommate named Frank. Frank is… not ordinary. There are also a number of other wacky characters that show up in each storyline. The best thing about Quitting Time is that Moss has obviously worked retail and when it captures a small moment of what its like to stand on your feet all day dealing with demanding customers and corporate doublespeak, it's at its best.
Breathers by Justin Madson is a series of self-published comics that I first found out about at SPX. It's up to Issue #5 now and it remains an intriguing premise with some great characters and story arcs. (There are actually six books as there is an Issue #0) From what I can tell jumping around the web, it's criminal how few mentions of it there are, considering how good it is. Some of that is simply due to its minimal presence on the web (which it would be well suited to as each book's chapters are episodic in nature) but it's also just another reminder that simply producing good work isn't always enough to connect with a big audience.
The world of Breathers is one where a virus has rendered the air unfit for humans to breathe without the assistance of a breather — a mask to filter out the virus. The world is fairly well-adapted to this new status quo when the story starts although people do remember the world before. Madson does a nice job of thinking through the implications of this situation, but this is not a hard core science fiction type story; it seems more interested in its characters and is even prone to bits of magical realism.