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PG Previews:

January 2010

In the first of a new regular monthly feature, I’ll be selecting the comics, manga and graphic novels I’m most looking forward to based on publisher advance listings. The titles below are due to be released in January 2010 (although actual dates may vary).

by Juan Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido
Dark Horse

The publisher says:
Private investigator John Blacksad is up to his feline ears in mystery, digging into the backstories behind murders, child abductions, and nuclear secrets. Guarnido’s sumptuously painted pages and rich cinematic style bring the world of 1950s America to vibrant life, with Canales weaving in fascinating tales of conspiracy, racial tension, and the ‘red scare’ Communist witch hunts of the time. Whether John Blacksad is falling for dangerous women or getting beaten to within an inch of his life, his stories are, simply put, unforgettable.

Paul Gravett says:
Winner of the Angoulême Festival prizes for Best Series and Best Artwork, Dark Horse collects the first three Blacksad stories, including ‘Red Soul’ in English for the first time.

by Kazu Kibuishi

The publisher says:
Copper is curious, Fred is fearful. And together boy and dog are off on a series of adventures through marvelous worlds, powered by Copper’s limitless enthusiasm and imagination. Each Copper and Fred story in this graphic novel collection is a complete vignette, filled with richly detailed settings and told with a wry sense of humor. These two enormously likable characters build ships and planes to travel to surprising destinations and have a knack for getting into all sorts of odd situations. Online preview here.

Paul Gravett says:
Charming all-ages comics from the editor of the Flight anthologies.

Deadman Wonderland Vol 1 of 6
by Jinsei Katoaka & Kazuma Kondou

The publisher says:
Ten years have passed since the Great TokyoEarthquake, and the people’s memories of the disaster have faded. Ganta Igarashi, a middle school evacuee, has finally begun to live a normal life… That is, until the day ‘Red Man’ appears at his school and Ganta’s fate is changed forever. His entire class is brutally murdered, and although innocent of the crime, Granta is sentenced to death and sent to the bizarre prison known as ‘Deadman Wonderland’. An insane and brutal game of prison survival begins. YouTube trailer here.

Paul Gravett says:
An intense prison thriller, which should appeal to Death Note fans.

Hicksville: New Definitive Edition
by Dylan Horrocks
Drawn & Quarterly

The publisher says:
World-famous cartoonist Dick Burger has earned millions and become the most powerful man in the comics industry. However, behind his rapid rise to success, there lies a dark and terrible secret, as biographer Leonard Batts discovers when he visits Burger’s hometown of Hicksville in remote New Zealand. Hicksville is where the locals treasure comics and the library stocks Action Comics #1. Online preview here.

Paul Gravett says:
A new cover and 16-page introduction for the latest edition of this graphic novel masterpiece. I’ll admit a slight bias here as Dylan dedicated the book to me.

King Aroo Vol 1
by Jack Kent
IDW Publishing

The publisher says:
Lauded by critics in the pantheon of great strips such as Krazy Kat, Pogo, and Barnaby, Jack Kent’s brilliantly conceived world brought smiles to young and old alike with its fanciful array of clever puns, visual humor, and good old slapstick. The postage-stamp-sized kingdom of Myopia is presided over by kindly King Aroo and his faithful (if sometimes prickly) retainer, Yupyop. The King turns to Professor Yorgle for wisdom, Wanda Witch for magic spells, the kangaroo mailman, Mr. Pennipost, for news from far and wide… and looks for love from the Beautiful Princess From the Kingdom Next Door. Volume One celebrates the strip’s 60th anniversary by presenting every daily and Sunday strip from the beginning in 1950 through 1952, reproduced from original artwork and syndicate proofs from the Jack Kent Estate.

Paul Gravett says:
I’ve loved the snatches I’ve seen of Jack Kent’s whimsical wonder, so bravo to IDW for rescuing another treasure from newsprint limbo and giving it their hardback complete treatment.

King Of The Flies Vol 1: Hallorave
by Pirus & Mezzo
Fantagraphics Books

The publisher says:
Set in a suburb that is both nowhere and everywhere, King of the Flies is a glorious bastard, combining the intricacy and subtlety of the best European graphic novels with a hyperdetailed, controlled noir style derived from the finest American cartoonists. Mezzo and Pirus, previously best known in Europe for a series of cynical, brutal gangster stories, have abandoned their guns and gals for this cycle of suburban stories, but in King of the Flies the violence has just (for the most part) been interiorized. King of the Flies first appears to be a series of unrelated short stories, each starring (and narrated by) a different protagonist, but it soon becomes obvious that these seemingly disparate episodes weave together to form a single complex narrative, with events that are only glimpsed (or even referred to) revisited from different perspectives - revolving around Eric, a ne’er-do-well, drug-taking teenager at war with his stepfather and, apparently, the whole world. Online preview: Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4, Page 5, Page 6

Paul Gravett says:
In the territory of Charles Burns, these French freaksters bare the horrors lurking behind the facade of American suburban normality in this hardcover colour trilogy.

Krazy & Ignatz in Tiger Tea
by George Herriman
IDW Publishing

The publisher says:
Krazy Kat’s most surreal adventures were the famed ‘Tiger Tea’ sequence where Krazy Kat imbibed of the psychedelia-inducing substance. This is George Herriman at his best in the only full-length Krazy Kat adventure story of his career presented in the same era as Terry and the Pirates and Captain Easy. Krazy & Ignatz: Tiger Tea is printed on hemp paper and showcases a rare photo of Herriman sporting a Mexican sombrero and smoking a funny-looking cigarette. A special bookmark in the shape of a tea label and string will make the readers high with happiness.

Paul Gravett says:
Previously reprinted in Art Spiegelman’s RAW magazine, this is classic Herriman from the 1930s.

Little Nothings Vol 3: Uneasy Happiness
by Lewis Trondheim

The publisher says:
Trondheim’s comics blog’s next collection of his popular musings on the every day ironies of life, his little anxieties, funny observations while on travel, his way of finding some cloud over the brightest sunshine, his obsessive hypochondria and other oh-so-easy-to-relate-to nerdy preoccupations. As he says himself, it’s whole lotta not much. Online preview here.

Paul Gravett says:
There’s nobody quite like the compulsive, lateral-thinking Trondheim for taking the slightest of instances or insights and making something out of nothing.

The Bronx Kill
by Peter Milligan & James Romberger

The publisher says:
Being a cop was in the Keane blood. But Martin wanted to be a writer even if it meant turning his back on the family legacy. Then his wife goes missing, and Martin is forced to delve into the dark history - and darker secrets - of that same family. It’s a path that will lead him back to the Bronx Kill: that lonely, godforsaken stretch of land where many years earlier his grandfather had been brutally murdered, and where finally he will learn the truth about his wife’s disappearance. It’s a truth more monstrous than he could ever have imagined. Peter Milligan (Human Target) joins forces with New York cartoonist James Romberger (Seven Miles a Second) for an urban mystery drenched in family secrets. Online preview here.

Paul Gravett says:
You can’t make these things up. London-based writer Peter Milligan was telling me that there really is a place called The Bronx Kill, a narrow strait on the southernmost tip of the South Bronx, between that coast and Randall’s Island, connecting the Harlem and East Rivers. A “kill” here means “a channel or arm of the sea; a river; a stream”. Milligan was attracted to this double-meaning as a great title, and as a bleak wasteland location, for murder in a New York crime story, and now he’s used it for the fourth in the Vertigo Crime series of original, 184-page, black-and-white hardcover “graphic mysteries”. I was somewhat underwhelmed by the first of these, the fanfared Ian Rankin debut Dark Entries, John Constantine-meets-Spooky-Big-Brother, which didn’t do a great deal for me. Let’s hope Rankin gets the chance to craft one of his own proposals which he put to DC Vertigo and which they put aside in favour of him writing one of the company’s franchises.
The Bronx Kill, on the other hand, shows what an experienced comics scribe can achieve with this potentially fruitful format, a stand-alone graphic novel with plenty of compact pages. It also helps that Milligan is teamed with such an expressive New York-based illustrator, James Romberger, who enhances his rugged, sinewy linework with a flat grey tone for further backgrounds and settings and a second grey crayoning to add texture and shading. He often clusters his panels together with just single line borders, without white gutters, to add a sense of pressing urgency, his style channelling among others Jack Kirby and Alex Toth (even his distinct sound effects).
Together Milligan and Romberger devise a spiralling family tragedy as history seems inevitably to repeat itself and the psychogeography of the Bronx Kill itself draws them back for a final reckoning. As someone says, “It’s like all the pain just gets handed on and on, ain’t it?”  Martin Keane has disappointed his no-nonsense father by refusing to follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps as cops and instead has found success with his first book of crime fiction. When his pretentious second novel is panned, he embarks on something completely new, a historical thriller set in Ireland. This becomes a distorted mirror of his own anxieties about the Keane family’s past and the mystery shrouding his grandfather’s murder and his grandmother’s disappearance, abandoning her baby son, Martin’s Dad. Back in the present, when Martin’s young wife, who strikingly resembles his grandmother, also vanishes, his life falls apart and somehow he has to confront the truth of what happened once and is now happening all over again.
One technique that enriches this book is Milligan’s clever counterpoint of inserting sections of Keane’s novel-in-progress, typed-up pages of text, with the “author’s” notes and corrections scrawled by hand on them. These add a further parallel level of narration, while letting us into Martin’s turmoil. I’m keen to see how more text is being incorporated into modern graphic novels, from Dave Sim to Posy Simmonds, as another direction they can take. All in all, The Bronx Kill grabs you and refuses to loosen its tight grip. Milligan & Romberger make a great combo, stoking the tensions and winding the plotlines towards that unavoidable confrontation back on that terrible stretch of shoreline on the Kill where this book began.

The Weird World Of Jack Staff #1
by Paul Grist

The publisher says:
A new beginning for Britain’s greatest hero. Castletown is home to giant robots, vampire reporters, victorian escape artists and also Britain’s Greatest Hero. Welcome to the Weird World of Jack Staff! John Smith is a builder. He also seems to be a superhero, only he doesn’t know about that. The only thing he knows is that a lot of people want him dead. And the only weapon he has to protect himself with is a wooden stick…

Paul Gravett says:
This is what PR types call a “good jumping-on point”, so grab your own super-powered stick and jump on board, as Grist embarks on a new anthology series, starting with some revelations about his True Brit hero’s secret origin.

Walking The Dog
by David Hughes
Jonathan Cape

The publisher says:
Approaching fifty, and warned by his doctor that he’s drinking too much and needs to take more exercise, David Hughes is given a dog for his birthday - Dexter, a wire-haired fox terrier. Hughes’ daily walks with Dexter form the spine of Walking the Dog. We eavesdrop on their encounters with fellow dog-walkers (‘Hello Hector’, ‘Hello Chester’...) and on Hughes’ thoughts as he plods along carrying a plastic bag of poo. He begins to remember moments from his past, dark memories of murder and violence. He explores his own fantasies and obsessions. From the gentle comedy of the early pages, Walking the Dog is transformed into something deeper and more disturbing. This will be a landmark book in the field of graphic literature. The drawing is sublime, the imagination extraordinary, the ambition unequalled.

Paul Gravett says:
I’m steadily savouring Hughes’ 304-page journey right now for review in the TLS. I’m already convinced that, while it may be published in the UK on New Year’s Eve, it will be one of the greatest graphic novels of 2010. As Jonathan Cape publisher Dan Franklin put it to me, this is “the Finnegan’s Wake of graphic novels.”

Posted: November 22, 2009


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