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PG Tips - Best of 2012:

An International Perspective

As Barbara Streisand sung perfectly in Hello Dolly, “Put on your Sunday clothes, There’s lots of world out there.” It’s the fifth year of asking my friends from around the planet to pick out one or more of the very best comics created and published in their countries. For me, this survey always blows my mind to discover so much creative passion taking comics in all sorts of fascinating directions. I hope you enjoy these snapshots from that “world out there” as much as I do. And I’ve thrown in a couple of links to videos to show the sort of mainstream TV coverage comics are getting these days. Once again, I am hugely grateful to these global correspondents, many of whom also contributed to 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die. What amazing times for our beloved medium we are living through right now!

ARGENTINA - AUSTRALIA - AUSTRIA - BRAZIL - DENMARK - FINLAND
GERMANY - ITALY - PORTUGAL - SERBIA - SOUTH KOREA - SPAIN


Argentina

Selected by Juan Manuel Dominguez
Juan Manuel Dominguez wanted to be a superhero. Now, the Batman-Gorey lover drowns his dreams of saving the universe with comics and film criticism - the Clark Kent answer to reality - and believes his folks and friends contribute to the most super factor of his professional and non-ultra-powered life.



Vitamina Potencia
by Federico Reggiani & Ángel Mosquito
Llanto de mudo

Lacking a strong national yet universal mythos like the one created by (and around) superheroes, the pop deity job was taken up in a country like Argentina by wrestling fighters. So when a comic like Vitamina Potencia decides to tackle the unemployed whereabouts of two former über-stars of 1970’s Argentine wrestling, even If it doesn´t want to, it’s tapping into more than just the surface that involves the legends-becoming-State-Fair-attractions routine. What Federico Reggiani and Ángel Mosquito have created may sound like an idiosyncratic way of recreating The Wrestler but it goes completely the other way: its strong heart and rough yet clear black-&-white drawings have a beautiful genre feeling to them. Like a Saturday matinee, their Vitamina Potencia stories resemble, in a more homemade way, the sense of storytelling present in classic western cinema (the Howard Hawks way of resembling friendship, the powerful John Ford woman, the disenchanted feeling towards the modern world of Anthony Mann). And by doing this strangely, they capture, or you can even say distill, a melancholy way of showing Argentinian idiosyncrasy without being chauvinist.


Australia

Selected by Philip Bentley
Philip Bentley is a writer and editor who produces Word Balloons, a journal on Australian comics. Over the years he has also written, edited, published and retailed them.


Blue
by Pat Grant
Top Shelf

The search for books that reflect the essence of Australia has long been a favourite occupation of literary critics in this country, who have coined the term ‘The Great Australian Novel’ for the probably mythical acme of the form. Latterly there has been some talk of finding the Great Australian Graphic Novel, although personally I think this it is a bit premature. So whilst I make no such definitive claims for Pat Grant’s Blue, it is still a work that seeks to use elements of the Australian experience to create a meaningful narrative. In Blue Grant has crafted a parable that covers two seemingly disparate elements of Australian culture – surfing and the fear of foreign invasion (be this militarily or by refugees in leaky boats). The connection between the two is found in the tale being set in a mythical Australian seaside town where surfing is a major pastime, but whose rural, mono-cultural roots have given rise to a fear of the other. This xenophobia, which extends to the outer suburbs of most major Australian cities, is something that Grant, who grew up in a similar provincial seaside town, has had first-hand experience of. He presumably has also watched with disdain as both major political parties have sought to exploit it for electoral gain.

Rather than a strident polemic, though, Blue is a wry observation wrapped in an evocation of Grant’s apparently knockabout adolescence. The fear of the other is given a clever twist by the ‘illegal aliens’ in question being blue and tentacled, although Grant deliberately plays down their genesis, merely having one of his protagonists say that that are “from some other country, like, near Africa or some shit”. Grant’s art is even more impressive than his narrative, featuring a lovely, organic cartoony style that just seems to have appeared on the page fully-formed, belying the amount of blood, sweat and tears that has undoubtedly gone into its production. It is particularly strong in its depiction of vegetation and architecture. Grant has established something of a trademark in his rendition of houses, which for want of a better term could be dubbed ‘cartoon gothic’. If I have any quibble, it is that these houses look more American to me, and don’t immediately bring to mind the ubiquitous Australian cream brick veneer, but this is a minor point. The book also contains an essay that is part reflection on the book’s creation and part an overview of one of Grant’s chief sources of inspiration – surfing comics from both Australia and the USA. To the best of my knowledge this is the first history of same and is worth the price of admission alone. So whilst Blue may not be the Great Australian Graphic Novel, it is certainly a great Australian graphic novel, which is surely enough for a first major work.

Here’s an interview with Pat Grant about Blue on RRR radio in Melbourne:


Austria

Selected by Sebastian Broskwa
Sebastian Broskwa is the manager of the Viennese comics emporium Pictopia.


Tonto Comics 13: NOISE
by various authors, edited by Helmut Kaplan
Tonto Comics

Tonto Comics from Graz are Austria´s leading avant-garde comics-collective and self-publisher. At its core Tonto consists of Edda Strobl and Helmut Kaplan, who provide not only the creative driving force behind Tonto´s highly idiosyncratic output, but are also editing and designing the publications and in charge of publishing. Their comics are almost always anthologies, featuring a relatively fixed set of core creators that contribute to almost every issue, exploring their personal graphic universes. Tonto began originally over ten years ago as a music label. This original activity soon developed into comics self-publishing that insists since its inception on the freedom to use the comics medium as an intensely personal and artistic expression without any regard whatsoever to commercial considerations. Tonto Comics aesthetic vision might be summed up as comics as poetry.

Lately they have been using fixed themes for each publication, their latest book is simply titled Tonto Comics # 13: NOISE. The topic here is noise music, but instead of putting out a collection of their various author´s comics about the given theme – the usual structure of a comics anthology - Tonto choose another, highly musical and very subtle approach: they are striving for the utmost aesthetic as well as narrative integration of their authors’ contributions within each publication, where the individual contributions somehow are spliced or seem to overlap each other on the page, echoing each other and forging new connections and associations while reading. A story starts, then stops in mid-page, where another tale drawn by a different hand begins, somehow continuing what was started in the first story. After 50 pages or so, the first story will suddenly resume again. The transitions between the different segments are arranged very subtly and beautifully, creating a powerful and mesmerizing poetic effect. The playing off each other of the various segments, created through the way they are sequenced, placed together and arranged on the pages, is the true purpose of the publication. Here, the editing and designing of an “anthology”, the compiling of the various contributions, becomes a highly creative endeavor, akin to sampling in electronic music. The whole here becomes such a totally different animal from just the sum of its parts, that the individuality of each authorial “voice” of the contributing creators somehow gets lost. Instead, each contribution takes on a function akin to playing an instrument, and the publication becomes one graphic song. Just listen to the page… This approach has now been perfected in Tonto Comics #13: Noise, their latest offering. Blending together the comics and art of collaborators such as Simon Häussle, Michael Jordan, Edda Strobl, Pakito Bolino (Le Dernier Cri), Bill Griffith, Marko Turunen, Aleksandar Zograf, Igor Hofbauer (Komikaze) and Nicolas Mahler, editor Helmut Kaplan has developed a tight reference system on the topic of noise music. 84 pages in color, two comic books placed inside a wrap around cover - see loads of sample pages here.


Brazil

Selected by Carlos Baptista
Carlos Eugênio Baptista is an award-winning comics writer and researcher. He began working in the Eighties writing horror comics. Later on, with artist Allan Alex, he created Nonô Jacaré, the taxicab driver who appeared in a number of different comic books. After that, some graphic novels followed, one of them for the Italian market. He´s also been writing about comics in a number of specialised publications since the Nineties. His book Almanaque dos Quadrinhos won an award of “best nonfiction book for young people” in the year it was published. He´s also worked as curator and translator at a number of international Brazilian comics events.


Avenida Paulista
by Luiz Gê
Cia. Das Letras

Ever since its previous publication, this book´s been hailed as a classic and a tour de force. It first came out in 1991, as the “cover story” of an issue of Goodyear Magazine dedicated to one of the main addresses in the city of Sao Paulo. This was a giveaway piece, sent to members of a mailing list. When it came out, there were no commercial showcases for authoral Brazilian comics, so this, a color, experimental, well-researched graphic novel about one of the nation´s oldest, longest and widest avenues, stood out like a mountain in an otherwise flat landscape. The press gave it wide and well-deserved coverage, even if they couldn´t really figure it out. These certainly weren´t children´s comics, but there weren´t any tits and ass involved, either! The public was quite curious, given the ruckus it raised, but couldn´t find the book for sale, as the very few who had it didn´t even say so. Avenida Paulista has been a much-coveted collector´s item for many years. Only last year has that sad situation been rectified by Cia. Das Letras, a well-respected literary publisher now moving into comics.

Avenida Paulista maybe should not be considered so much as a graphic novel as a graphic rhapsody. The author profits from his architectural background and from his journalistic sensibility to pose the avenue itself as the protagonist, in a veritable visual love-letter that tells history without excluding the faeries and spaceships, as it speculates about present, past and future, profiting from the fertile ground provided by the author´s obviously thorough research. The 72 –page story´s unusual, non-“realistic” colour palette was enhanced by the new edition, which has also replaced the lettering, an important thing, given the size of some captions. In this book, Luiz Gê really stretched the limits. The new edition also features two completely new pages, drawn by the artist as a commemoration of his creation´s staying power. To round things out, it includes a long prose piece about his working method, his interests and how his trajectory led him to this tremendous achievement. That way, not only do we have a great comic book in our hands, but something that shows people it´s really not enough to just draw well. You can watch a TV profile of Luiz Gê below:


Astronauta: Magnetar
by Danilo Beyruth
MSP (Mauricio de Sousa Produções)

After Mauricio de Sousa Produções issued their three volumes of short stories, MSP 50, with which Mauricio de Sousa commemorated his company´s 50th anniversary, the fans asked for more atypical treatments of their characters - and their wish was granted! These books assured his public that he knew that there´s quite a wealth of Brazilian talents today. But no one expected the high level with which this creator and now publisher would step into the graphic novel territory… Over the years, Maurício created a vast array of characters, including not only his kid stars Mônica, Cebolinha and crew, but also hillbillies like Chico Bento and his crowd, ghosts like Penadinho and his gang, dinosaurs like Horacio and his friends, and the lonesome, introspective, friendless Astronauta (“Astronaut”). He who wants to go where no man´s gone before doesn´t really value his actual company very much…it´s quite a lonesome strip, where fantasy knows it´s fantasy and philosophy has a role. Pressed by the number of cosmic explorers in the newsstands, from Flash Gordon to DC or Marvel superpeople, Mauricio created Astronauta to at least incorporate rising technological and scientific concerns into his work. For years, he´s been happily playing his “second fiddle”. But when Maurício started to invite other creators to “play with his toys” , “Astronauta” was by far the one to receive the biggest number of proposals.

Danilo Beyruth, a tremendous writer/artist with a flair for horror and the uncanny, as well as an expressive graphic style which is quite adequate to fantastic comics, was a very unexpected choice. His own creation is the Necronaut, an entity who´s waiting for you right on the other side when you make that trip, to help you realise it is the very last one. But editor Sidney Gusmán, also responsible for the other volumes with shorter stories, knew what he was doing, when he chose Beyrouth´s idea for this 68-page long album, released both in hard- and softcover, an innovation for the Brazilian market. It´s the first in a new collection of graphic novels featuring Maurício´s characters in other people´s hands, and given newer, more contemporary spins…but the joy of it is…you don´t need to know Mauricio´s classic Astronauta strip to understand this story. It´s just that now the character faces his challenges and becomes who he is with far more depth. Danilo Beyrouth delivers, in Astronauta:Magnetar, perhaps the first truly hard-SF graphic novel entirely written and drawn by a Brazilian. And it´s quite a thorough job. Beyrouth knows his character very well, and takes the strip´s premise to its fullest realisation. The philosophical underpinnings in Mauricio´s creation have never been so fully taken into account. Also, he teaches us what kind of a star a magnetar is supposed to be, and that helps the plot. As the tale reaches its conclusion, we realize maybe that the far away can also be so close…and that´s quite an achievement!


O Vira-Lata (‘The Stray Dog’)
by Paulo Garfunkel & Libero Malavoglia
Editora Peixe Grande

If any Brazilian series truly deserves the title of an underground classic, it´s the tremendous O Vira-Lata (‘The Stray Dog’) by Paulo Garfunkel (text) and Libero Malavoglia (art). Its first installment was put out in the newsstands way back in 1991, as a 60-page graphic novel through Animal magazine, which didn´t run very many Brazilian comics in its mostly European pages. The fact that they´d publish Brazilian work drew attention. The GN sold quite well, introducing an unusual character, which captured everybody´s attention. What? An adventure story featuring a bum? An urban warrior, a capoeirista, and thus a tremendous street fighter, and quite a womanizer, as well. The strip also drew someone else´s attention. Dr. Drauzio Varella, then a volunteer at the infamous Carandiru prison, needed help to make certain health risks, most notably AIDS-related, clear for the inmates. He thought trying to reach them through comics might work, since a lot of them read them, as he did too, and comics were a bridge to them. He got Malavoglia and Garfunkel some sponsorship from a local University, enlisting them to do at least one more adventure, as sexually explicit as the first one, with emphasis on the correct usage of a condom. This resulted in all of eight issues of an adventure comic made for prison inmates. Its success, ever since the first issue, was enormous, and one issue led to another, and to further repercussions. Dr. Varella says its secret was due to not “talking down” to inmates, but adopting an attitude they could identify with.

Outside the prison, the strip grew quite famous, but very few people had actual copies of something that won all the important comics awards in the country. Quite an underground classic! The Stray Dog can´t see something blatantly unfair without taking sides. This usually leads to beautiful and accurately choreographed fight sequences drawn with the same care and gusto the sex scenes display. The Stray Dog can’t allow himself to let any piece of tail escape, either. Sex among consenting adults is therefore slowly and carefully shown, taking care to develop the relationships between the characters, and their respect for each other, using the condom. All the tales have strong plot and characterisations, and happen in a context the inmates knew quite well, that of the urban poor in Brazil. The series only stopped coming out because the prison got deactivated and most inmates got sent to smaller units deeper into the state. So the excellent news is that this sexy, raw and unforgiving, even if sometimes very funny series, has finally found its way to the bookstores. Editora Peixe Grande (Big Fish) has just put out, as the French say, “L´intégrale”, or the entire published series, which is in black and white, plus the last story, which had never before seen print, compiled into one hefty 438-page long volume. It also features a dossier about its brilliant career behind bars, and Dr. Varella says it had a strong role in the fight against AIDS, as well as in its creators´ professional lives. One can´t really ask for much more.

Here’s a video report on this comic and an interview with artist Malavoglia from PublishnewsTV:

 


Denmark

Selected by Matthias Wivel
Matthias Wivel is an art historian with an MA from Columbia University and a Ph. D from the University of Cambridge. He is currently working as a curatorial assistant in the master drawings department of the Morgan Library, New York. He writes comics journalism and contributes to the weblog Metabunker.


Stig & Martha
by Mårdøn Smet
Aben Maler

This slim, tall tome collects one of the hidden gems of Danish comics of the past twenty years. Since it first saw the light of day in the seminal anthology magazine Fahrenheit in 1992, Mårdøn Smet’s (e)scathological gag strip has led a liminal and rather intermittent existence in Danish comics, providing small revelations for the intrepid few. Now a wider, if still discerning, audience gets the chance with this near-complete collection. Smet has jettisoned a few early efforts and redrawn a few others in glorious watercolour, fashioning a seamless whole of what was always a shatter of fragments. Eponymously titled, the strip centers on two characters: short and tall, male and female, ambitious and sensitive, rational and emotional. In Smet’s hands, this classic formula becomes a vehicle for sacred reflection through profane humor. Smet’s line was built as a pastiche on Dutch masters Fred Julsing and Daan Jippes, but has long transcended its paragons to become an almost cryptogtaphic idiom, where buoyant dynamism is encoded in multitudinous swoops and curls. An embodiment of the failure of language, appropriately set in pantomime - everybody can read it, if they are willing to brave the line. Smet himself describes it as a kind of ‘waste product’, the art shed by his despair. It is grim, but very human, centering on irrepressible if always vain aspiration. Tense and beautiful.


Finland

Selected by Harri Römpötti
Harri Römpötti is a freelance Helsinki-based journalist specialising in comics, cinema and music. With Ville Hänninen, he co-wrote the book Päin näköä, exploring contemporary Finnish comics and co-curated the related exhibition entitled Eyeballing: The new forms of comics at Kiasma, Helsinki in 2012.


Puskaradio
by JP Ahonen
Arktinen Banaani

JP Ahonen draws dazzlingly well but always keeps his talents in the service of telling the story instead of showing off. The characters’ faces in Ahonen’s strips are exceptionally expressive and nuanced – they act very well. Puskaradio (‘Grapevine’) strips were originally created for Journalisti, the Journalist Union’s paper. In the strips Ahonen satirises politics and the Finnish media world with anthropomorphic animal characters. Not many artists draw funny animals more skillfully than Ahonen, apart from Carl Barks perhaps. Ahonen’s animals represent humans as did Barks’ ducks. Sometimes Ahonen draws delightful caricatures of real-life people. He’s never mean. The characters could be easily put in a children’s comic. Fittingly for his original forum, Ahonen often looks at the world from the perspective of greed-ridden media companies who are driving journalists to work harder and more hastily day by day. That perspective is sadly universal. Other themes would not travel as easily. Matti Apunen, former journalist turned into an influential advocate for capitalism, gets a portrait as a rapper praising the virtues of greed for young people. The strip is spot on but wouldn’t say much to a non-Finn. Political cartoons have a long tradition in single panel form encapsulating sharp notions. Political satire in comics has been tried more sporadically and less successfully. A comic strip requires a story and for political satire that demand seems often difficult. Ahonen manages to dramatise his themes well. He often builds humour by pairing odd ideas: Wikileaks revealing dirt about Santa Claus or on-line behavior shown in the real world. Ahonen’s satire may be kind but it’s not toothless. Ahonen (born 1981) has studied graphic design, but not journalism, for example. Considering that, he manages very well in the world of news and politics. He doesn’t hit the nail every time, though. For example, the mysteries of European Union economy problems remain clouded. But they seem to be hard to understand for many news professionals as well.

 

Germany

Selected by Christian Gasser
Christian Gasser is a swiss fiction-writer, journalist and university lecturer who reviews comics for various newspapers (NZZ etc.), magazines and radiostations (SRF, WDR etc.) in Switzerland and Germany. He is also the co-publisher and editor of the comics-magazine Strapazin and member of the “Max und Moritz Preis”-Jury of the Comic-Festival in Erlangen. His latest books were animation.ch. Vision and Versatility in Swiss Animated Film (2011) and Comics Deluxe. Das Comic-Magazin Strapazin (2012).


Brigitte und der Perlenhort (‘Brigitte and the Pearl-Treasure’)
by Aisha Franz
Reprodukt Verlag

The plot of Brigitte und der Perlenhort is just as silly as it is enjoyable. It’s a twisted secret-agent-thriller about a very valuable pearl which attracts not only the Mafia, but all kinds of double- and triple-agents – among them top-agent Brigitte who is not disinclined to compromise her missions with complicated romances or steamy sex. We all know this kind of plot, and, yes, Aisha Franz (born 1984) plays with as many genre-clichés as possible – but twists and undermines them whenever possible. Beneath the surface, however, there is much more to Brigitte und der Perlenhort. Brigitte is a dog in a man’s world. Due to some mutation she has a human brain, she talks, thinks and feels like a woman, but she has a dog’s body and is, at times, ruled by animal instincts. What looks like a bizarre and funny gimmick in the beginning of the story turns into its main theme: Brigitte is an outsider, she is lonely and misunderstood and longs for love – but unlike other human dogs in her situation (like the agent she has a crush on), she doesn’t hide her animality by wearing a human mask. Brigitte und der Perlenhort is a tightrope walk between the expectations and the stereotypes of a mystery story on the one side and the psychological abysses on the other side, between Aisha Franz’ passionate, linear and seemingly naive storytelling and drawing and the sexual innuendos, between the world of man and animal kingdom. Franz combines these different levels in a seemless way which feels very natural – and offers us with Brigitte und der Perlenhort an amazing and amazingly enjoyable book.


Packeis (‘Pack Ice’)
by Simon Schwartz
Avant-Verlag

Will we ever know if Robert Edwin Peary really reached the North Pole in April 1909? Probably not. But this is the wrong question anyway. If his expedition was indeed successful, another man would have reached the North Pole before him - his long-time companion Matthew Henson. But while Peary was covered with fame, honours and money, Henson spent the rest of his life forgotten and in poverty, working as a clerk in a federal customs house in New York. His flaw - his skin was black. After Drüben (‘Over There’), his successful debut about his parents’ escape from the German Democratic Republic in the late 1980’s, Simon Schwartz in his second book chose to tell another type of adventure. Packeis (‘Pack Ice’) is about the fascination for the North Pole – but beneath the surface it’s also about social injustice, about racism, about cultural supremacy and the exploitation of the Inuit and their culture and ultimately also about Inuit-mythology, in which, as Schwartz reveals, Henson gained some kind of after-life … As an artist, Simon Schwartz (born 1982) is not yet free from all of his influences. Leafing through Packeis you will be reminded, especially in his depictions of New York City, of Chris Ware and Seth, and the influence of David B. is rather obvious in the visualisations of the Inuit mythology. As a storyteller, however, Schwartz has gained a lot of confidence and mastery. Packeis is far from being a chronological tale, Schwartz jumps back and forth in time and articulates the structure of his story as much around a timeline than around certain topics. But the storytelling – just as the art – always remains very clear and this makes for a story which can be enoyed by children and adults alike. In short, Packeis, which received the Max und Moritz Preis for best German comic at the Comic-Salon in Erlangen, is an inspiring mix of adventure, history lesson and visions. Here is a link to Schwartz’s blog about the book.


Patchwork: Frau Doktor Waldbeck näht sich eine Familie (‘Lady Doctor Waldbeck Sews Herself a Family’)
by Katharina Greve
Gütersloher Verlagshaus

This graphic novel actually came out already in 2011, but since it was rather badly marketed, few people noticed it. Which is unfair – because Katharina Greve’s Patchwork is one of the truly outstanding German comics in quite some time. The story? Frau Doktor Waldbeck, a highly successful surgeon, specialising in transplants, collects one medical honour and award after the other. One day she realises that because of her obsession with her profession she has missed out on her own life. Suddenly feeling lonely, she does the obvious: she takes the box with the leftovers from her transplantation projects and sews these human and animal limbs and other remains together. Her kids, to say the least, look rather bizarre of course, and instead of being allowed a quiet and happy family life, “Frau Frankenstein” and her “freak family” (as one tabloid calls them) are mobbed by society and have to go underground. Not only isDoktor Waldbeck’s family a “Patchwork” in the truest sense of the word, but so too is the story itself. Greve sews elements from all kinds of genres into the main plot, elements from science thriller and science fiction, from love stories, teenage vampirism, spy-thrillers etc. and manages to address issues like the problems in multicultural societies, the ruthlessness of tabloid newspapers, racist terrorism, the arms trade, social injustice, tolerance etc. etc. For all of this, she doesn’t need more than 80 pages. Greve’s story-telling and drawing skills are as subtle and precise as Doktor Waldbeck’s surgical skills. In spite of all those sub-plots and the countless minor characters (which she manages to characterise so wonderfully within a panel or two), the reader never gets confused. And the best thing is Katharina Greve’s humour: dry, understated, smart, witty and – again – very precise. Of course, “Patchwork” is an unclassifiable book, a “freak” – but an adorable and irresistible freak. Electrocomics let you download a 40-page sampler.



Der Boxer
by Reinhard Kleist
Carlsen Verlag

Reinhard Kleist seems to like other people’s life-stories. With Cash and Castro, he was successful with the biographies of universally known icons. With his third biography, Der Boxer (‘The Boxer’) he adapts the life of a much lesser known personality. Hertzko Haft was a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust by becoming a boxer. Indeed, the Nazis liked to entertain themselves by having prisoners knocking each other out in a boxing ring. These fights more often than not ended with the death of one of the fighters. Haft of course was aware that he was merely a toy for the camp commandants, but as the bad guy in the ring he got more food than others – and did he really have another option? After the war, Haft moved to the United States, became a professional boxer for a short while, until he had to fight Rocky Marciano – and lost. He always claimed he had been forced by the Mafia to lose this fight.

Reinhard Kleist’s graphic novel is based on the biography of Hertzko Haft, written by his son. Neither the son nor Kleist make an attempt to idealise the man. In his youth, Haft was a petty criminal and a thief, he remained violent for all his life, and he was a very simple, uneducated man. He was a victim of the historical circumstances, but he was just as much a fighter and a survivor. Kleist tells Haft’s life by means of a thriller, straightforward, suspenseful and action-packed, and from Haft’s perspective exclusively. This is an interesting choice. Since Haft was not really an articulated person, there isn’t the least reflection on the Holocaust or the Second World War, there’s no attempt to analyse nor explain the context. It’s just about surviving from one day to the next, without any further perspective. It’s a limitation of course, but Kleist chose it consciously because he wanted to stay within the logic of his character. On the other hand the refusal of any reflection has an interesting effect. The reader is left alone with the vicious cynicism of the camp commandants who entertain themselves by having weak Jewish prisoners kill each other. Ultimately this allows the reader a surprising and rather uncommon insight into the mechanism of concentration camps. Last but least – but with Reinhard Kleist there’s almost no need to say it – The Boxer is excellently told and masterfully drawn.

Reinhard Kleist discusses this project on German television:

 

Italy

Selected by Matteo Stefanelli
Matteo Stefanelli is a scholar, curator, and media consultant based in Italy. His latest book is Fumetto! 150 Anni di Storie Italiane, edited with Gianni Bono and published by Rizzoli. He also runs the blog Fumettologicamente


La Profezia dell’Armadillo (‘The Armadillo’s Prophecy’)
by Zerocalcare
Bao Publishing

If there is a single artist to bet on for shaping Italy’s 2010s decade, it will probably be Zerocalcare (Michele Rech). Emerging from the alternative scene in Rome – but also a contest winner at Zuda Comics (DC Comics’ short-lived online platform) – he was pushed to self-publish by another influential artist, Makkox, and left Facebook for a blog as the main tool for spreading his comics. As a result, his Profezia dell’Armadillo was reissued by a mainstream publisher, and his new book-length work, Un polpo alla gola, sold some 50.000 copies in three months. Zerocalcare’s phenomenon is that of a talented, self-conscious, postmodern humoristic storyteller. He is the first son of the Italian way of being a digital native, melting comics, social media, slice-of-life genre, geekism, social issues, and a damn funny sarcastic touch. His stories are works of generational mastery, where telling everyday life’s adventures of a thirty-something unemployed guy goes beyond jokes on videogames and junk food, and turns into a powerful tool to jump into a vital investigation of our zeitgeist. A smart contributor to the new mainstream, for a country still dealing with the heavy past of its tired tradition.


Sweet Salgari
by Paolo Bacilieri
Coconino Press

Bacilieri’s biography of Emilio Salgari, the most famous Italian writer of popular literature in the 20th century, is a work of balance and subtraction. It is an emotional and elegant reconstruction of Salgari’s life struggles, starting from his suicide for ‘literary’ reasons. Bacilieri’s delicate – even if nervous – drawing style looks more at the relationship between the writer and his spaces/places, and the slow, accurate, warm-hearted storytelling confirms Bacilieri as one of the main contemporary Italian comics artists.


Enigma
by Francesca Riccioni & Tuono Pettinato
Rizzoli Lizard

This biography of Alan Turing is a surprisingly smart book about a surprisingly crazy scientist’s life and one of the ten best comics biographies I’ve read in recent years. Helped by the scientific knowledge of journalist Francesca Ricciardi, Tuono Pettinato – one of the greatest humorous authors in Italy – has composed a visually inventive retelling of Turing’s history, where the typical colors of the Wicked Queen from Disney Snow White’ (one of Turing’s obsessions) defines the weird mood of a weird story of a (great) weird guy. Read an online extract here.


Portugal

Selected by Pedro Moura
Pedro Moura is a Portuguese PhD student researching trauma and comics. He writes mainly for his own blog but has published several articles and worked as a teacher, curator, translator, and conference director in comics..

This last year was quite diverse where publishing was concerned, although in terms of sales and circulation things are still not sufficiently strong in Portugal to speak about a real “market”. As always, one should pay attention not only to larger or medium-sized publishers, but especially to small press, fanzines and author editions’ circles in order to find, in my view, the most interesting, groundbreaking or really mature work within the medium in my country. Among the dozens of things I could point out to, and that would be surely worth it, I want to let you know about four titles, very different from each other. Less than a “best of”, they should be read as “Portuguese comics that should find their place within a larger international readership”. Phew.


Diário Rasgado (‘Torn Diary’)
by Marco Mendes
Mundo Fantasma

Marco Mendes is an artist from Porto and he has been working on an autobiographical oeuvre for the last 6 or more years. Taking in consideration the Portuguese publishing panorama and readership, however, Mendes works in very short forms. He started with very short stories, from four to eight pages, in a number of collective fanzines, or the odd publication, moving on later into a blog strip format. Although every single “piece” is self-contained, narratively speaking, many of them can be co-ordinated, thanks not only to common characters (roommates or girlfriends) but also to certain themes (lack of money, family problems, ageing). He collected a few pages in 2008 in a thin booklet but here he’s edited all of the work and reshuffled many of the strips, creating a whole new coherent text for this oblong hardcover, that can be read as a stand-alone book. Marco Mendes mixes a “warts and all” approach to daily life with short bursts of fantasy and absurd humour. If, in many aspects, Harvey Pekar and Justin Green hover above Mendes’ little stories, it is quite probably under a more European vein (but Crumb is also there) that he engages with his dreams, wishes or his surroundings. This should be seen less as invasions of fiction or fantasy into a mostly autobiographical landscape but rather as magical forms, as it were, that better represent his emotions, quandaries and experience with the world.



Mesinha de Cabeceira # 23 (‘Bedside Coffee Table’)
by several artists
Chili Com Carne

This small but thick book is the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of this fanzine. It started in 1992 as a classic handful of photocopied and folded, stapled A4 sheets of paper, presided by two artists, Marcos Farrajota and Pedro Brito, but it would continue to evolve, change, and try to set one possible model for zine-making in Portugal and elsewhere. Farrajota would also become one of the most important editor-publishers in the independent scene of the country, discovering and nurturing new talents, bringing international names to local projects, setting new platforms, mixing people and work, etc. Its internationalisation has been guaranteed within the independent comics circuit in Europe, its English translations and the many travelling events. Curiously, for this project, Farrajota asked the authors to submit real solid narratives, instead of the sophomoric, rambling poetry that sometimes emerges disguised as “sensitive”, or mindless exercises of imitation and variations on cliché-ridden genres. Despite the theme, “Winter” (surely of many discontents but celebratory nonetheless), the stories presented are solid, readable (even if not for the faint of heart) and supported by a great variety of bold, stylised and grounded artwork. This zine is in English, so you can both order it and read it. This book brings together many of the authors who have participated in its many years, not only Portuguese but also some international names, but with a stronger emphasis on the new generation. In any case, taking in consideration that fanzines are still the place to find really new groundbreaking talent within our country - and the publications are getting better thanks to all sorts of cheaper and better printing techniques -, but also that many of them are short lived, this small tome is a significant landmark within the European zine world. Look through it online here.


O Baile (‘The Ball Dance’)
by Nuno Duarte & Joana Afonso
Kingpin Books

This is a book from a small but important publisher, one that has been showing the possibility of a self-sustained and intelligent editorial project for varied and popular genres within a weak market. Written by Nuno Duarte, who is a professional screenwriter with a handful of comics stories crossing many genres and classifications to his portfolio, and Joana Afonso, an up-and-coming artist, this book brings together two themes underexplored in Portuguese comics: our own (possible) lore of monsters and ghosts and well-grounded recent Portuguese history. More surprisingly, the main protagonist is an investigator from PIDE, the political police that acted throughout the dictatorship that ruled Portugal for 48 years, so sympathy may not kick in immediately. Based around the factual visit of Pope Paul VI to Fátima, Portugal, in 1967, the investigator Rui Brás must visit a small fishing village, where rumours of strange deaths threaten to taint the Pope’s visit. But finding an old woman who speaks to the dead or fishermen who have become sinister zombies sends Brás into spiralling madness. Light-hearted but well-structured, readable and engaging, this is the sort of quick fix that heralds a wide, healthy life for all-ages comics in Portugal. Moreover, the way it brings to the fore particularities of Portuguese history and identity make it a very surprising enterprise.


As Extraordinárias Aventuras de Dog Mendonça e Pizzaboy II. Apocalipse (‘The Extraordinary Adventures of Dog Mendonça & Pizzaboy II. Apocalypse’)
by Filipe Melo and Juan Cavia (with Martin Tejada and Santiago Villa)
Tinta-da-China

I have to say outright that I am not the biggest fan of this series. However, I feel that I should include it in this very short list because it has become an incredible phenomenon in Portugal where sales, circulation and critical reception are concerned. Moreover, it has won many of the (small number) of comics awards we have in the country. This is the second book of the adventures of an ex-werewolf who works as a detective (Dog Mendonça), a pizza delivery boy (Pizzaboy), a thousands-of-years-old demon disguised as a little girl (Pazuul) and a gargoyle head, who have to save the world from whatever ghastly menace pops up. This time around, they have to prevent the Apocalypse, the very one predicted in the Bible, and it all happens in the Fátima sanctuary in Portugal.

The book is a mixture of horror, action and humour, and it will surely appeal to readers of the likes of The Bojeffries Saga, Dylan Dog, The Goon, Boneyard or Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics. Fast-paced and riddled with pop culture references, Dog Mendonça & Pizzaboy is a Tarantinesque/Rodriguezque series that mixes zombies and Pokemon-like demons, all sorts of conspiracy theories and a modicum of healthy religion-bashing, although the Virgin Mary has an important and active cameo. Some of the contents are somewhat derivative, and the visual style pedestrian, in my view, but it was done very competently and it paid off. Filipe Melo is the writer and mentor of the series. Being an experienced musician and having directed the very successful and funny I‘ll see you in my Dreams, self-described as “the first Portuguese horror [short] movie”, Melo has an incredible capacity for production and publicity, and the launching of these books was done very professionally in an unprecedented scale and style around these parts. Its internationalisation is already under way, considering the short stories published in Dark Horse Presents and then the publication of a one-shot entitled The Untold Tales of Dog Mendonça & Pizzaboy (cover shown above). It is quite possible that the books themselves will be translated into English soon.


Serbia

Selected by Zivojin Tamburic
Zivojin Tamburic is a long-time reader, collector, critic and historian of comics from Belgrade & London. He is also editor of the graphic novel collection from Omnibus.

The comic scene and publishing in Serbia were strong in 2012. Taking into account that editions usually consist of as few as 500 copies, it is not certain how long this publishing enthusiasm will last, but in the meantime the comic fans have enjoyed a lot of great foreign and domestic titles. The following is just a selection of the most interesting ones.


Esmeralda i druge price (Esmeralda and other stories)
by Dusan Vukojev & Petar Meseldzija
Rosencrantz

The new publisher, Rosencrantz, has started strongly with 3 domestic albums: Evening Action about resistance in Belgrade during the Second World War; Adventures in the City of Light, funny stories about a private detectiv /taxi driver in Paris, drawn in the much-loved Franco-Belgian style; and Esmeralda). This is probably artistically the most interesting album, as it presents the works from over twenty years ago of the great illustrator Meseldzija, who has since been working in Holland, and a talented writer Vukojev, in the genre of fantasy and science fiction.


Konstantinovo raskrsce (Constantine’s Crossroad)
by Dejan Stojiljkovic & Dragan Paunovic
System Comics

This is the first instalment of a trilogy, for a graphic novel written by Stojiljkovic and based on his bestseller and award-winning book Constantine’s Crossroad. The story is located in Serbia during the Second World War and follows the German’s quest for the mystical sword of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. The story also revolves around an interesting assortment of characters, some fictional (vampires), some real (locals, politicians, soldiers), which provides a multi-layered narration. The art of newcomer Paunovic is realistic, visually attractive, and surprisingly mature in dramaturgy. 


Vekovnici #5 (Endless)
by Marko Stojanovic & various artists
System Comics

This unique project in the comic history of Serbia was started five years ago by Stojanovic on script, and numerous artists from the Balkans who he persuaded to draw his stories. There are five main albums, plus one spin-off and a ‘zero’ album. The story is about vampires, but it is still far from the final explanation either from the beginning or at the end of the storyline. These albums and their beautiful art on pages and covers are going to be a valuable possession when the script writer and many of the artists become the leading authors of graphic albums in the years to come.


Devedesete (The Nineties)
by Wostok & Grabowski
Omnibus

The work of Wostok and Grabowski kept the comic scene in Serbia alive in the 1990s, when most of the artists stopped working or worked abroad. This collection of their short graphic stories, originally published and distributed by hands, presents an artistic duo of extremely talented and original artists. Their stories, dominated by heavy black backgrounds, are funny, sarcastic, absurd or reminiscent of fairy tales - and not at all about the desperate situation in Serbia during the disintegration of Yugoslavia. However, underneath these grotesquely drawn stories it can be seen that they come from sensitive artists, affected by the terrible situation around them, finding escapism in their imaginary worlds. 


Filip i Olga knjiski moljci (Philip and Pat Bookworms)
by Zoran Penevski & Dusan Pavlic
System Comics

A little gem produced by talented authors Pavlic and Penevski about living inside books (and eating them). Some bookworms, with well-defined characters visually and psychologically, philosophise about life, books and people. Humorous anecdotes about these unnoticeable creatures provide great metaphors about our own lives.

 

 

South Korea

Selected by Kim Nakho
Nakho Kim is a Korean comics researcher. He writes reviews and columns for book journals and other periodicals, has worked as the editor-in-chief for the comics critic webzine Dugoboza, and curated the special exhibition on manhwa or Korean comics at the Angoulême Festival 2003. He was a consultant and contributing writer to this year’s Korean comics exhibition in Angoulême.


Mie-saeng (미생)

<'Not Alive')
by

Taeho Yoon
Wisdom House

Mie-saeng is both a highly dramatic fiction and a near-ethnographic account of the lives of office workers in contemporary South Korea. GuRae Chang spent all his adolescence and early adulthood pursuing to become a professional Go player, only to realize he didn’t have enough talents to succeed. Having no college degree and no real social experiences, he tries hard to becomes a capable office worker. Unlike other renowned comics on this subject (i.e. Kacho Kosaku Shima), it is not a fantasy of the underdog becoming the CEO with brilliant ideas. Getting hired in the first place is a huge barrier, and every business presentation is a small war. It is not the superheroic protagonist but the bureaucratic system and its teamwork that saves the day. Masterful storytelling, realistic messages and deep humanism make this work the most noteworthy manhwa of 2012. The title Mie-saeng means ‘not yet alive’, a Go-related term, which refers to an area that is an almost-ready-but-not-completed territory (see here for description) and thus not ‘alive yet’.
 


Hola! Chicos (올라! 치꼬스) (‘Hello, Girls!’)
by Hoon Cho
Anibooks

Nonsensical visual jokes can be a tricky thing. If the jokes don’t push far enough, it remains simply meaningless. However, if the author happens to be brilliant and non-compromising in their nonsense, sometimes a classic is born. Short episodes include instant satisfaction such as silly anthropomorphised objects and different visual styles colliding to more experimentally complex but nonetheless hilarious ones, such as the moebius-strip martial arts revenge story(you have to literally cut and paste the pages into a moebius-strip to enjoy it). Moreover, instead of obsessively throwing exaggerated jokes at the reader, the whole book is playfully lethargic - the reader will often notice the joke a few seconds after the episode is over.



Human Scent (사람냄새) & Dust-free Room (먼지 없는 방)
by Soo-bak Kim (Human Scent) & Sunghee Kim (Dust-free Room)
Boribooks

For the last few years, several workers from the Samsung semiconductor factories have fought a long frustrating fight against the world-renowned company.  Working conditions have led to leukemia in several cases, but the company won’t admit it. Human Scent and Dust-free Room are two books released simultaneously to explain the incident. Human Scent tells the story of a father, whose daughter died of leukemia. It is the story of how an ordinary taxi driver struggled to get some humane responses from the mightiest power in Korea. Dust-free Room explains in great detail how semi-conductors are made, and how workers have been exposed to toxic material without knowledge. Well-researched and heart-wrenching, both books have reached a new level of how good non-fiction journalistic comics can get.

 

Spain

Selected by Alfons Moliné

Alfons Moliné is an animator, translator, and writer on the subjects of comics, animation and manga. He is the author of a number of books, including El Gran Libro de los Manga (Glénat, 2002) and biographies of Osamu Tezuka, Carl Barks and Rumiko Takahashi.


Ardalén
by Miguelanxo Prado
Norma Editorial

After having tackled other fields aside from comics in recent years, such as animation - including directing the feature film De Profundis in 2007 -  Galician master Miguelanxo Prado presents his first graphic novel in seven years. In the vein of his previous album Streak of Chalk (featured in 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die), Prado uses once more the Atlantic landscapes of his native land as inspiration to create Ardalén, three years in the making. His title comes from a term used in Galicia to define a kind of wind which, coming from the southwest, blows from the sea onto the land. The main character is Sabela Lamas, a woman in her forties looking for a clue about the whereabouts of Francisco, her grandfather, who emigrated to the Americas in the 1930’s. Her search leads her to a small village where she meets Fidel, a lonesome, daydreaming mature man, who might know something about Sabela’s long-lost grandfather… Through the 256 pages - this is Prado’s longest work yet - of Ardalén, we are spectators of a complex though heartwarming portrait of human relationships with all of their virtues and faults: most of the characters seem to be isolated beings, each living in his/her own world, yet there seems to be a point in common that links them and that justifies their raison d’être -  their own respective memories of their pasts. All this, coupled with Prado´s ability to blend realism and fantasy plus his impeccably hand-painted colour artwork, makes Ardalén a real delight for the eye and for the soul. Prado has posted pages, sketches and more from the book online here.

Posted: January 27, 2013

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