I wanna do a Risograph comic really bad, but I’m afraid that if I do one, it will be a clear sign that the gimmick is over and everyone will stop making them.
(bianca bagnarelli, nobrow)
Fish is a tight 24 pages about a boy, Milo, who’s recently lost his parents in an accident but still has to be a kid during the summer — going to the beach, hanging out with cousins, eating fish, I guess? That’s a summer thing, right? The Italian Bagnarelli wisely illustrates Fish with a warm palette to create a beautiful summer world of the French Riviera, which underscores the grief and sharpens the morbidity. The scenery is happy and bright, but you’re not.
Despite a lack of blacks and greys and nighttime scenery, there’s a palpable morbidity to Fish — nobody’s sure how to deal with Milo anymore, and he’s been having dark thoughts. They’re not “listen to heavy metal and draw skulls” thoughts, but rather thoughts of “Jesus, the human body is just some tenuously connected meat,” isn’t it? Bagnarelli’s fragile linework reflects that, creating bodies that could shatter at the slightest agitation.
Fish are kind of a stupid idea for animals — they look like shoes with googly eyes on them — but aquatic life form a running symbol for Milo. They’re gross things that float to the top of the water when they’re dead but we also rip them apart at the dinner table, as seen in extreme close-ups in Fish. Conversely, they nibble at our dead flesh after we drown. There’s a grossness to being alive that Fish articulates shockingly well, as we get a two-page spread of unidentified insides rendered in a style reminiscent of somebody like Malachai Ward.
“Coming of age tale” isn’t quite the correct way to describe Fish. It’s more of a vignette about coming to terms — or, more accurately, struggling to coming to terms as life goes on. Humanity is the answer, I guess, considering one of the last images of the book is a smiling old man. He’s wrinkly and fragile, but he’s reaching out to you.
EAST OF WEST Vols. 1 & 2
(jonathan hickman, nick dragotta, Image)
Recently, I got burned out on Jonathan Hickman comics. I like that he has a distinct approach and style, but too often he gets caught up in playing what every comic reviewer calls “the long game” and forgets that people are buying these things 20 pages at a time for 400 pennies each. I swear the Manhattan Projects were trapped in a prison cell for eight issues before I sadly tapped out. (The Russian dog turning into a sexy dog lady was certainly a turning point as well.)
Two volumes in, East of West is really cool — Hickman takes the alternate history thing to further extremes with a sci-fi vision of a post/pre-apocalyptic Wild West with a lot of seemingly disparate ideas and a good helping of straight-up fantasy elements. It helps that, so far, Hickman is still introducing new characters and storylines, which keeps the proceedings fresh as we’re slowly carrying on subplots that began in Issue #1.
It’s the scale and all the contradictory elements that are really attracting me to East of West so far. I feel like Hickman and Dragotta have created a large world to explore with a lot of weird little things in it. It kind of reminds me of watching those hypercompressed anime movies that are based on volumes-long series but the film is 80 minutes and still features all those myriad characters. I have a feeling that East of West may soon devolve into wheel-spinning but for now it’s something I’m actually excited to continue reading.
STARMAN OMNIBUS VOL. 1
(james robinson, tony harris, people who help with deadlines)
Starman may have been the Hawkeye of its day — the critical darling cult phenomenon book that eschewed its own genre by approaching superheroes with the radical mentality of “I have interests that do not include the Green Lantern.” What’s hilarious is how adamant James Robinson is about not wanting to do a superhero comic — our hero wears street clothes and steampunk goggles and talks more about kitsch and antique collecting than he does anything related to fighting crime and super powers.
It’d be overwrought and “showy” if it weren’t so charming — it’s a book that still feels very different today, something that was too smart for DC Comics and not faux-Sandman enough for Vertigo. I imagine a lot of readers at the time wrote it off as pretentious hipster bullshit, but I can appreciate a comic where goons in an abandoned warehouse argue about Stephen Sondheim musicals. God forbid somebody try to be interesting.
Unfortunately Starman remains forgotten today because comics culture is full of cowards who refuse to acknowledge that the 1990s happened.
(as an aside, some of the reproduction on this otherwise nice hardcover omnibus is inexcusably bad, with more than a few blurry and pixelated pages. DC should have hired some of those “digital comics preservation” scanners, they do pretty good work for free)
(Jimmy Giegerich, my 23 bucks)
On the surface, Fight Frogs is a silly take on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Battletoads, which is certainly a decent selling point for a Kickstarter campaign. But that stuff is just a springboard for Jimmy Giegerich to tell a brisk, berserk tale about rival anthropomorphic gangs and power flexing — in the post apocalypse.
Fight Frogs is one of those comics where the creator is having a ball, the kind of fun that’s infectious as it translates to cartoon violence that violates the basic laws of physics while echoing the overall energy of the book. Jesus, you expect me to write more stuff about this comic? You should really just read it because I’m not going to write an in-depth essay on something you need to mainline in order to love.
DOROHEDORO Vols 1 & 2
(Q Hayashida, Viz/Ikki)
Dorohedoro has my favorite premise going on today: The Hole is a terrible city that sorcerers from another dimension use to practice their spells, resulting in a lot of its denizens becoming transformed or disfigured. We follow Caiman, a leather-clad amnesiac with a lizard head in search of the sorcerer who transformed him. He does this by biting on the heads of sorcerers. Once they’re in his mouth, they see a human head inside which passes judgement upon them. Also he likes to eat gyoza and hangs out with an amazonian hottie who can skateboard. At one point there’s a yearly event that’s basically a zombie version of The Simpsons’ Whacking Day.
Hayashida has a penchant for grimy, unforgiving urban spaces, striking brickhouse women, and ultraviolent gallows humor. Nice bit at the beginnings of these volumes are these color sections that look like Simon Bisley spent a decade mainlining Shirow Masamune. It’s one of the weirdest, most unlikely manga to make it to the West through a major publisher and we’re lucky to have it.
ADVENTURE TIME #32
(ryan north, shelli paroline, braden lamb, BOOM!)
This comic is getting real in surprising ways. I haven’t been following the show lately, but the latest story arc has Finn suddenly finding himself older because a being called the Mnemonoid has been eating his memories, which is existentially horrifying. Imagine suddenly being 50 with no memory since age 12, surrounded by people you recognize but no longer know. The gut-wrenching part is when the Mnemonoid tells Finn about some of his greatest achievements (which he no longer remembers) and how delicious they tasted. That’s tremendously fucked up.
Remember, this is a comic based on a cartoon for children. I love that, for how popular this franchise is, it’s not softballing stuff like this. The vehicle is still the same — funny use of language and cute art — but the content is actually challenging.
WARLOCK & THE INFINITY WATCH #2
(jim starlin, probably ron lim)
I love Jim Starlin’s neverending epic of rainbow gods and jewel-based power struggles. It’s a series of superhero comics where the traditional superhero characters are little more than blunt instruments that don’t really have much effect in the outcome of the story. Starlin was the Grant Morrison of his era in the way that every Jim Starlin work adds to the ongoing mythology within (and possibly ONLY within) his own comics.
Infinity Watch #2, while wholly entertaining, also feature’s the medium’s single greatest exercise in dickishness: in the aftermath of Infinity Gauntlet, Adam Warlock possesses all the Chaos Emeralds but finds omnipotence a drag, so he splits them among a rag-tag group of characters of his choosing — including Drax the Destroyer, Gamorra, and Pip the Troll — and TELLS EACH OF THEM TO THEIR FACE that they’re all too stupid or useless to fully harness the power of the Emeralds. So, Adam Warlock concludes, he’s not even remotely worried at all.
Jim Starlin is the greatest cape comics writer of all time.
Danny Djeljosevic runs the comics publishing side of Loser City and wrote a futuristic roller derby manga.