Hikaru no Go Vol. 12

Written by Yumi Hotta
Art by Takeshi Obata
200 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

There are some series that, over time, I’ve grown bored with. It’s the same thing over and over again, and I’ve just hit that point where I don’t care. Twelve volumes in, though, I find myself a little amazed (and quite pleased) that this is anything but the case for Hikaru no Go. Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata have just crossed the halfway point for their saga to master a board-game, and I’m dying to see just what happens next.

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Little Vampire Vol. 1

By Joann Sfar
96 pages, color
Published by First Second Books

Five years ago, two of Joann Sfar’s all-ages Little Vampire books were translated into English… and then, nothing. Now, finally, First Second has brought Little Vampire back from the dead, if you’ll pardon the bad pun. Little Vampire Volume 1 collects the first three stories by Sfar, and they’re just as much fun as I’d remembered.

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What It Is

By Lynda Barry
208 pages, color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

One of my favorite books published in 2002 was Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons, as Barry told stories of her past in an attempt to exorcise those demons. In doing so, her observations on a lot of parts of life had really resonated with me, bringing up those emotions and ideas that I’d been carrying around for years as well. In her first original graphic novel, What It Is, Barry plumbs her early life again as she tries to understand imagination and creativity and how it works. The end result is perhaps one of the most necessary books of 2008.

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How to Love

By Mira Friedmann, Batia Kolton, Rutu Modan, Yirmi Pinkus, David Polonsky, and Itzik Rennert
144 pages, color
Published by Actus Independent Comics; distributed by Top Shelf Productions

There are some books that are really worth waiting for, and high among them is a new release from the Actus Independent Comics collective. A collective of Israeli comic artists, you never know what you’re going to find from them. It could be a box of miniature comics, maybe an anthology of stories all written by Etgar Keret, or comics where everyone’s protagonist is named Victor. I think they’re at their best, though, when they all work off a theme; their Happy End book really showed a wealth of ways to tackle that idea, and their new book How to Love shows a really varied group of attacks on just that.

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Biff Bam Pow! #1

Written by Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer
Art by Evan Dorkin
24 pages, black and white
Published by SLG Publishing

There are some creators whom I think it’s easy to take for granted. When they release a comic, you just assume that it’s going to be great, buy a copy, and don’t think twice about it. The problem with taking it for granted, though, is that if you don’t get excited about the book’s release then people might not talk it up to others and let them know just how good it is. I can’t help but think that’s a problem with Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer’s Biff Bam Pow!, which was thoroughly entertaining, but seemed to generate no real buzz at all. And that’s a real shame.

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Chiaroscuro Vol. 1

By Troy Little
240 pages, black and white
Published by IDW Publishing

Back in 2000, I picked up a new comic called Chiaroscuro, self-published by its creator Troy Little. It showed a lot of potential, and for seven issues I read along faithfully. In mid-2003, like so many self-published books, it stopped appearing and I thought that was the end of Chiaroscuro. Now, it’s back as a beautiful hardcover collection from IDW, with promises of more to come. Reading through those comics again, I can’t help but think that Chiaroscuro is a prime example of an artist learning his craft while already on stage.

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99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style

By Matt Madden
224 pages, black and white, one color insert
Published by Chamberlain Bros.

One of my favorite “how-to” books in comics is, in many ways, less a “how-to” book and more like a piece of performance art. Matt Madden’s 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style is a book that should be used in any sort of comic class, showing over and over again that there really is more than one way to tell a story, even something as simple as wandering across the apartment.

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Kaput & Zosky

Written by Lewis Trondheim
Art by Eric Cartier and Lewis Trondheim
80 pages, color
Published by First Second Books

There are times where I almost feel like a broken record, but I feel that it bears repeating over and over again—Lewis Trondheim is one talented creator. What always surprises me is how he’s able to switch genres and styles at the drop of a hat, going from serious slice-of-life to slapstick comedy with the greatest of ease. One of his latest efforts translated into English, Kaput & Zosky, falls into the latter category. That said, if there’s one thing Trondheim is especially good at here, it’s being able to skewer modern-day society even when he’s writing about incompetent conquest-loving aliens.

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Helen Killer #1

Written by Andrew Kreisberg
Art by Matthew JLD Rice
32 pages, black and white
Published by Arcana Comics

There are some book concepts that you hear and the idea instantly grabs you; others end up being a strong turn-off that keeps you away from the final product. What you don’t really see much of, though, are those books where the concept is so out there that your initial reaction is, "I absolutely have to see this to believe it." That’s how I felt about Arcana Comics’s Helen Killer, casting the famous blind-and-deaf woman in a whole new light: professional assassin. And you know what? I’m really glad I took a look.

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Wild Cards: The Hard Call #1

Written by Daniel Abraham
Art by Eric Battle
32 pages, color
Published by Dabel Brothers Productions

Writing a licensed comic book seems to be a peculiar sort of balancing act. It seems like there would be two obvious ways to approach the book; either assume that all your readers are familiar with the source material and just hit the ground running, or assume that none of your readers are familiar with the source material and spell everything out for them. Instead, a lot of these comics go for a strange sort of third option, trying to play to both crowds. In the case of Wild Cards: The Hard Call #1, all it seems to really create is a feeling of frustration.

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