Rust: Visitor in the Field

By Royden Lepp
192 pages, two-color
Published by Archaia

One of the things I like about comics these days is that the idea of launching a series of graphic novels isn’t as outlandish as it was a decade ago. Normally you’d have to go for the 32-page comic serialization route, even if the story didn’t necessarily fit that structure. Royden Lepp’s Rust: Visitor in the Field is a prime example of a book that wouldn’t have worked quite so well as a series of single comics. A lot of the book’s power is its slow build and spooling out its future history to the reader; at 192 pages, it’s just the right length for an opening installment.

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Snarked! #3

By Roger Langridge
24 pages, color
Published by Boom! Studios

Roger Langridge is one of those comic creators that I’ve come to think of as "dependably good." It doesn’t matter what title he’s working on, from The Muppet Show to Thor, you automatically know that it’s going to be a great mix of drama and humor that is entertaining from start to finish. I think that’s why I had such high hopes for Snarked!, his new creator-owned series for Boom! Studios that provides his own particular spin on some the ancillary characters from Lewis Carroll’s works. And so far? It’s as excellent as I’d hoped it to be.

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Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes

By Carl Barks
240 pages, color
Published by Fantagraphics

Carl Barks is one of those comic creators that, up until now, I’d never read anything by. And as a long-time comic reader, that’s been a secret shame. Barks is, after all, one of the original three inductees into the Comic Book Hall of Fame (along with Will Eisner and Jack Kirby), and his comics for Disney made him a superstar across the world. Well, everywhere except for America, it seems. Here, his creations have been occasionally collected, but also quickly falling out of print and never making a huge splash. Fantagraphics is now giving Barks’ Duck comics a whirl, and based off this first volume alone if there’s any justice in the comics world, fame should finally (belatedly) be coming for the late, great Barks.

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A Waste of Time

By Rick Worley
136 pages, black and white
Published by Northwest Press

Rick Worley’s A Waste of Time is another in a long line of web comics that has made the leap to a collected print edition. In doing so, I think that A Waste of Time has shown both the strength and weakness of the online delivery system; this is a collection that weaves all over the place (figuratively and literally), and even as some stories improve by being collected together, others fall a tiny bit short.

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Criminal: The Last of the Innocent

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips
112 pages, color
Published by Marvel

One the most dependably good comic series being published is Ed Brubaker’s and Sean Phillips’s Criminal. A series of crime comic mini-series, whenever a new Criminal comes down the pike you know you’re in for something good. With their new collection, Criminal: The Last of the Innocent, Brubaker and Phillips not only keep their comic well-rooted in the dark and slightly depressing real world, but also give us flashbacks to a slightly more idyllic setting, one that comic-book readers might be especially familiar with.

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Punisher #1-6

Written by Greg Rucka
Penciled by Marco Checchetto (#1-5) and Matthew Southworth (#6)
Inked by Marco Checchetto (#1-5) and Matthew Clark (#6)
32 pages each, color
Published by Marvel

When it comes to characters who have had an extremely varied range of depictions at Marvel, the Punisher is probably somewhere near (if not at) the top of the list. Some takes have had him fighting cheesy super-villains like Stilt-Man, punching a polar bear, or getting turned into a Frankenstein’s monster. Others were grim and serious, going up against human-trafficking and a distinct absence of super-heroes in a "for mature readers" title. Greg Rucka’s new take on the character is on the more serious side of things (having replaced the admittedly-fun monsters of Marvel title), and in many ways it distills a lot of the different takes into a unified front.

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Taroch #1

Written by Clint Green
Art by Luke Orrin
24 pages, color
Published by Bad Imprint

Every now and then a random comic makes it across my desk, and to that list I get to add Taroch #1 by Clint Green and Luke Orrin. It’s funny because if you look at its contents on a clinical level, it’s a comic with two standard, by-the-numbers stories (one an ongoing story, the other a self-contained short). When you read it, though, it’s the execution of those stories that makes it ultimately stand out.

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The Sigh

By Marjane Satrapi
56 pages, color
Published by Archaia

It would be a reasonable assumption to feel that Marjane Satrapi’s new book, The Sigh, is a comic. After all, she’s best known for her comic Persepolis (which was created into an excellent animated film), and has continued to work in that medium since then. The Sigh is an illustrated story book, though, showcasing her drawings but pairing it with prose instead of panels and sequential art storytelling. It’s a charming book, though, one that mixes elements from several different familiar fairy tales and turns them into a greater whole. The Sigh borrows the most from Beauty and the Beast, with the merchant promising to bring back presents for his daughter, and the mysterious castle with the secretive person inside. Almost immediately things change, though; Satrapi gives Rose (the Belle stand-in) an interest in botany as part of her request for a gift, and one gets the impression that this is going to be a smarter and slightly more daring take on the story.

As the book progresses, Satrapi throws in several curveballs that will no doubt surprise readers. In particular, there’s a casual attitude to slavery that might throw Western audiences for a loop, even as subtly reminds them that this is a book born not only out of fairy tales that we grew up with, but ones that Satrapi did as well. The Sigh becomes episodic in nature for the second half, but it’s to Satrapi’s credit that she also keeps it from going on for too long; by the time you see the pattern forming, she’s cut it off at the knees and moved on to the conclusion. Readers might be a little disappointed to not get a full graphic novel from Satrapi, but her art is still soft and charming—at times it looks almost like it was (expertly) drawn in crayons, which helps the fairy tale nature of the book—and in the end it’s satisfying in its own right. Satrapi takes the familiar and makes it just unfamiliar enough that it will have your attention from start to finish.

Purchase Links: | Powell’s Books


By Natsume Ono
248 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

Natsume Ono is a comic creator who, much to her credit, has no problem leaping from one subject to the next; one minute it’s samurai stories like House of Five Leaves, the next it’s romantic drama at a restaurant, or a young man trying to figure out questions of family and identity. I was delighted as a result to find out about Tesoro, a collection of Ono’s short stories. In doing so I found confirmation that while the plots are often different, there are definitely some threads that run through her works.

Ono writes a lot about loss and family. Missing parents are often elements in these shorts, and it’s to Ono’s credit that each character feels different in their own way, no matter what they’re going through similar to ones in different stories. Even when there’s no particular loss, like in "Froom Family," Ono still understands the hold that family members have on one another; there’s no way that young Nils could get the same amount of anguish from people that weren’t his sisters, able to get under his skin just so. Italy also crops up several times here, a favorite setting of Ono’s, but she often uses it as little more than a backdrop. Ono’s enchantment and fascination with the country none the less rubs off on the reader; I’d have expected to start groaning, "Oh no, not another story set in Italy" but instead I found myself hoping for one more glimpse. My favorite piece in the book, though, is probably "Three Short Stories About Bento." The three stories have little connection other than being about the Japanese lunch boxes, but each of them managed to both give a glimpse into Japanese culture and also bring their characters to life better than some full-length books I’ve read. Add in Ono’s trademark scratchy, loose-lined style, and you end up with a charming sampler from Ono. With 14 stories, even if you (like myself) find a small number to not quite be up to par, there’s more than enough here to keep you entertained for quite some time.

Purchase Links: | Powell’s Books

Bubbles & Gondola

By Renaud Dillies
80 pages, color
Published by NBM

Bubbles & Gondola is one of those graphic novels that fakes you out right from its cover, and never lets up in that sense until the book is over. Between the title and the glimpse of art, this looks to be an adorable (possibly children’s) book about a little mouse, perhaps named Bubbles or Gondola, and his exciting adventures. Readers might be a little startled, then, to instead find a graphic novel about a mouse named Charlie suffering from loneliness and depression while working as writer. Fortunately, once you get past the surprise, it’s a rather nice book.

There’s all sorts of imagery packed into Bubbles & Gondola, from the bird named Solitude that only Charlie the Mouse can see, to a climax at a masked-parade à la Carnival. Renaud Dillies, though, never lets up or stops impressing you as a reader. Some of the illustrations, like Charlie zooming on a little boat across the moon, are jaw-droppingly beautiful, and the masked-parade is full of great shapes and designs that you can stare at for hours. While Charlie himself comes off a bit of a sad sack early on, I found that by the midpoint of Bubbles & Gondola I’d genuinely come to care about him and his plight. This is a book that’s as much a treatise on what it’s like to be an artist (of any medium) as it is about the sapping nature of depression, and I think Dillies manages to get his points across strongly on both subjects. This was an unexpected little surprise; it’s not what you might think, but it turns out to be much better.

Purchase Links: | Powell’s Books