Fantagraphics – Read About Comics http://www.readaboutcomics.com Where to find out what's really good. Mon, 16 Nov 2015 17:36:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.10 Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Old Man http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/10/12/uncle-scrooge-only-a-poor-old-man/ Fri, 12 Oct 2012 13:00:09 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2440 By Carl Barks240 pages, colorPublished by Fantagraphics Books

Reading the first of Carl Barks’ Duck comic collections from Fantagraphics last year, I found myself struck by how quickly I’d fallen in love with Barks’ entertaining stories of all lengths. After the review was published, though, I had several friends sidle up to me and warn [...]]]> By Carl Barks
240 pages, color
Published by Fantagraphics Books

Reading the first of Carl Barks’ Duck comic collections from Fantagraphics last year, I found myself struck by how quickly I’d fallen in love with Barks’ entertaining stories of all lengths. After the review was published, though, I had several friends sidle up to me and warn me that the best was yet to come. They were referring to Barks’ Uncle Scrooge comics, which they swore up and down were even better. And now that Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Old Man is out and I’ve had a chance to sit down and digest it? Well, sorry Donald, but I have a new favorite Duck and he’s the one with all the money.

If you’ve never read anything with Uncle Scrooge before, it’s a fairly simple concept. Scrooge McDuck is Donald Duck’s fabulously wealthy uncle, and all Scrooge wants to do in life is somehow become even wealthier. There are several long stories in this book, and while the title story "Only a Poor Old Man" does a great job of bringing that concept to life (as the Beagle Boys attempt to steal all of Scrooge’s money in increasingly crazy ways), it’s "Back to the Klondike" that deserves your attention the most. In many ways I feel like it’s got everything you need for a Scrooge McDuck story: Scrooge’s greed, clever ideas, glimpses into Scrooge’s adventuresome past, and the foursome of Donald, Huey, Dewey, and Louie to try and steer him in the right direction. "Back to the Klondike" goes one step further, though, by giving Scrooge a bit of a soul as we discover a long-lost love from his younger days. It’s a story that ends up simultaneously touching and frustrating; you want to shake Scrooge within an inch of his life and shake his hand at the same time. In other words, it’s just about perfect.

Of the other long stories in the volume, "The Secret of Atlantis" is the other one that feels particularly iconic. What’s great about it is that it starts with a simple idea—collecting a miniscule debt—and rolls and shifts into a story that gets so large that by the end we’ve almost lost track of how it all began. "The Secret of Atlantis" mixes real world economic ideas (like how collector’s items become valuable through rarity) and crazy ones (the fish-people living in Atlantis) into a story that has an unexpected adventure burst into play about halfway through. With each new twist and turn, Barks keeps his audience guessing and the end result is nothing short of a delight.

Unlike Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes, this first Uncle Scrooge collection mixes the short, medium, and long stories together. With hindsight being 20/20, this is a shift for the better. After reading a longer story like "Only a Poor Old Man" it’s nice to get some short pieces immediately afterwards to change things up a bit and keep things moving at a brisk pace. I also found myself convinced that these short pieces wouldn’t work as well all clustered together. Because of the nature of Uncle Scrooge’s stories, the bit ones are mostly involving him going to ridiculous lengths for a tiny amount of money. Strung back to back, it would get old quickly, but popping up throughout the volume isn’t bad at all.

Completely consistent with what I’ve seen from Barks before is the art. It’s clean, it’s crisp, it’s handsome. It’s never particularly flashy or attention grabbing, but it doesn’t need to be. There’s a good progression from one panel to the next, the characters are all drawn well and easily recognizable, and the motion flows smoothly. It’s a good looking comic, and that’s exactly what I expect from Banks. Also, as with before, the recoloring of the comics from Rich Tommaso looks good; at no point did anything here feel out of place or like someone had slapped modern techniques onto vintage comics, and that’s the way it should be.

I liked Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes a great deal, but Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Old Man is even better. The more I see of Barks’ comics, the more I kick myself for having taken this long to read them. (Although most of his Duck comics being out of print for ages is at least a somewhat reasonable excuse.) If you haven’t experienced Barks’ Duck comics yourself, I think this is a great a place as any to begin. Definitely check it out for yourself. Highly recommended.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]>
Ralph Azham Book One: Why Would You Lie to Someone You Love? http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/09/21/ralph-azham-1/ Fri, 21 Sep 2012 13:00:41 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2393 By Lewis Trondheim96 pages, colorPublished by Fantagraphics Books

If you like the fantasy genre and also the comics medium, hopefully you’ve been reading Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar’s Dungeon series, which is being reprinted in English by NBM Publishing. And if you’ve read everything in Trondheim and Sfar’s sometimes-silly, sometimes-grim series and are looking for [...]]]> By Lewis Trondheim
96 pages, color
Published by Fantagraphics Books

If you like the fantasy genre and also the comics medium, hopefully you’ve been reading Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar’s Dungeon series, which is being reprinted in English by NBM Publishing. And if you’ve read everything in Trondheim and Sfar’s sometimes-silly, sometimes-grim series and are looking for something else, you’re in luck. Fantagraphics is translating a new fantasy series entirely by Trondheim, beginning with the long-titled Ralph Azham Book One: Why Would You Lie to Someone You Love? And while it’s quite different than Dungeon, I can’t help but think that those who’ve read the former need to check out this new series, too.

Ralph Azham is set in a world where some children turn blue, which means that not only do they have some sort of special power but are are potentially the "Chosen One" of Astolia. When the book opens, Ralph is a young man who as a child was sent off to Astolia but determined to not be anything special and was returned, thanks to his gift being to tell if people are pregnant. The town pariah, he’s regularly sentenced for weeks in the pig sty, and the lowest of the low. But when the Horde is preparing to attack and Ralph is the deciding vote on how to handle the situation, his situation becomes slightly less precarious. And then, just when Ralph thinks he knows his place in the village and life in general… things get really strange.

It’s a little hard to talk about Ralph Azham‘s plot without giving away a lot of the major twists that occur in the second half of the volume, but suffice to say that this is a Trondheim story where after building up all of your assumptions he just as gleefully breaks them all down with new information. What’s nice about Trondheim’s writing, though, is that none of it comes out of nowhere. Looking back through its early pages, every plot twist is nicely telegraphed in a manner that you probably won’t recognize it the first time through. It’s into this "nothing is as they seem" world that Ralph himself fits in well. You quickly get a sense of how much he’s been kicked around by the rest of the people in the nameless village, and his biting tone and constant pushback from anyone who shows an interest in him (positive or negative) fits in well with the abuse he’s gone through. Supporting character Claire unfortunately comes across a little less believable—she’s little more than a generic woman—but with her positioned for a larger role in future volumes hopefully that will change.

If you’ve never encountered Trondheim’s art before, he draws all of his people as humanoid animals. Sometimes it’s because they really are connected to those creatures (like in Dungeon), for other times it’s just for a stylistic choice (like Little Nothings). His duck, cat, and other types of characters all come across not only well-drawn, though, but remarkably consistent. There are some little touches that you might not notice the first time through, like how after being in the pig sty Ralph remains filthy until he’s finally plunged (quite a few pages later) into a large body of water, at which point it’s all gone. The colors by Brigette Findakly are also especially vibrant, the watercolors leaping off the page at the reader. It’s a great match for Trondheim’s art, and I prefer this style to the more-typical computer coloring.

One curious decision made by Fantagraphics was the publishing format. Most of Trondheim’s graphic albums in Europe are 48-page oversized books, a format that doesn’t do well in North America. NBM has gotten around that hurdle by publishing two volumes as a single unit, as well as shrinking down the size. Fantagraphics has instead sliced Ralph Azham in half down the middle of the page; each original page has now become two pages in a landscape-oriented 96-page book. It’s an interesting way to tackle the publishing issue; while it means that pages intended to be a single unit are now two (so some of the pacing works a little better when you look at them mashed together than broken up), it lets the overall pacing of the book remain intact instead of having an entire second volume appended onto it. While a landscape-oriented book isn’t a standard format in North American publishing either, hopefully retailers and readers will be willing to give it a whirl.

Ralph Azham Book One is a nice little surprise; what initially looks cute and fun is dark and enjoyable, and Trondheim’s gradual reveals of the story’s contents are strong enough that it makes reading the next volume a must. As fun as the sprawling, multi-series Dungeon continues to be, Ralph Azham feels like a better introduction to Trondheim’s fantasy stories. It’s planned on being self-contained, and presumably has an eventual endpoint in sight to boot. I’m definitely back for Book Two; this was a great deal of fun.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]>
Complete Peanuts: 1985-1986 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/09/05/complete-peanuts-1985-1986/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/09/05/complete-peanuts-1985-1986/#comments Wed, 05 Sep 2012 13:00:31 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2367

By Charles M. Schulz340 pages, black and whitePublished by Fantagraphics Books

No one ever seems to agree for certain when Peanuts went from its glory years to the moment where it just wasn’t quite as good. And while I’m far behind on my Complete Peanuts reading, I decided to try jumping ahead a bit [...]]]>

By Charles M. Schulz
340 pages, black and white
Published by Fantagraphics Books

No one ever seems to agree for certain when Peanuts went from its glory years to the moment where it just wasn’t quite as good. And while I’m far behind on my Complete Peanuts reading, I decided to try jumping ahead a bit in the sequence and to give the brand-new Complete Peanuts Vol. 18: 1985-1986 to try and get a feel for what the mid-’80s era of the strip was like in comparison to the greatness of the ’70s.

By this point in time, Charles M. Schulz had turned out a lot of new running gags. Peppermint Patty and Marcie are regularly going to Tiny Tots Concerts, Sally is forever trying to sue people (with Snoopy as her lawyer), and Spike is living in the desert and regularly writing Snoopy with updates. At the same time, tried and true gags involving baseball games and school are still play, a mixture of old and new.

Some of the new strips are just as fun as I remembered the run in the ’70s. Snoopy as lawyer always brings a smile to my face, and the ever-losing baseball team never gets old. Snoopy writing valentines for Charlie Brown serves as such a great contrast to his other love letter strips in this volume that I actually started howling when I got to the line, “Angel food cake with seven-minute frosting is sweet, and so are you.” And when a cannonball fired by Snoopy as part of the French Foreign Legion rips through and smashes three familiar Peanuts settings, long-time fans will feel like they’ve hit the jackpot. On the other hand, I don’t think there was a single strip starring Spike that made me even crack a smile; he’s a character that never quite works and whose presence I began to actively hate over time. Every gag falls flat, with Schulz seeming to feel that jokes involving a cactus need no further embellishment.

The most notable shift in the strip by jumping into the mid-’80s was seeing how much strip time Peppermint Patty and Marcie are receiving. The two were the last real break-out characters in the strip, and the number of strips just starring the pair of them is quite high. It makes sense, too; Peppermint Patty’s out-there comments on the world with Marcie being the voice of reason is fun, and Peppermint Patty makes a surprisingly strong lead character. At the same time, I found myself loving when Schulz occasionally gives Marcie a more whimsical side. Having her interact as a willing participant in Snoopy’s flights of fantasy is a great addition to both characters; her cheering him on or nursing him (as a World War I flying ace) back to health makes Snoopy’s play actions that much funnier.

By way of comparison, some short-lived characters feel like they’re on their way out of the rotation; Eudora appears on occasion for someone to Sally to talk to (as a fellow camper, or someone with whom to refer to Linus as her sweet baboo), but her appearances over these two years are infrequent enough that you feel like she’s not going to be around for much longer on any sort of regular basis. Some long-term characters are also in their decline; ones like Pig Pen and Schroeder show up less and less frequently, and by this point original mainstays like Shermy, Patty and Violet are entirely gone. Lucy and Linus’s little brother Rerun makes a handful of appearances here, a minor character now that will come to dominate stretches of the strips in the following decade.

Schulz has some topical stories in the strip from time to time. There’s a little story about how computer bugs are clashing with Charlie Brown and Sally riding the bus to school, and the rise in home answering machines means we get a particularly funny strip involving them. There’s an extended sequence involving the arrival of Halley’s Comet as well, with attempts to spot the elusive heavenly body. With these stories, though, it feels like Schulz loses interest in them before wrapping them up; the computer/bus story in particular never quite resolves itself, just vanishing as quickly as it appeared without any sort of final punch line.

By this point Peanuts definitely isn’t as fun as it was a decade earlier, but is it still worth reading? I think so. There’s still enough newness in the strips that even when moments don’t work (like the Tiny Tots Concerts which have less impact with each appearance), they’re balanced out with something different like sequences with Snoopy in the Brown family car while they’re running errands, or the occasionally especially strong zinger between Lucy and Linus (whose position in the strip feels slightly usurped by Peppermint Patty and Marcie). I’m glad I read it; now I’ve just got to backtrack for half a dozen volumes to catch up with the strips I’ve missed.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]> http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/09/05/complete-peanuts-1985-1986/feed/ 1
Prince Valiant Vol. 4: 1943-1944 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/02/01/prince-valiant-vol-4-1943-1944/ Wed, 01 Feb 2012 14:00:27 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2014 By Hal Foster112 pages, colorPublished by Fantagraphics

With the current wealth of classic reprint series, it’s easy to fall behind on your reading. (I don’t even want to admit how far behind I am on the Complete Peanuts books.) With the fifth volume of the Prince Valiant reprints scheduled for this spring, though, it seemed [...]]]> By Hal Foster
112 pages, color
Published by Fantagraphics

With the current wealth of classic reprint series, it’s easy to fall behind on your reading. (I don’t even want to admit how far behind I am on the Complete Peanuts books.) With the fifth volume of the Prince Valiant reprints scheduled for this spring, though, it seemed like a good a time as any to catch up on Hal Foster’s legendary newspaper strip. With a slight shift in the format of the strip in this volume, it turned out this was the perfect time to take another look at the series.

I’d found the third volume of Prince Valiant to drag a little bit, so it was a relief to find that the fourth strip in this collection begins a new story, sending Prince Valiant back to his homeland of Thule. With his helping his father reclaim Thule being such an important driving force of the earliest years of Prince Valiant, it’s almost a relief to see the strip shift its focus here. We’re reminded not only of Val’s heritage (he is, after all, a real Prince) but about the prophecies that were laid upon him early in the strip. It feels like Foster himself took the start of 1943 as a chance to kick the book back into high gear and forge new paths for the strip.

From there, we end up with two years’ worth of high adventure. There are wonderfully inventive moments peppered throughout these strips—one of the best being Prince Valiant building a dam to turn an enemy’s castle into the center of a lake—and Foster keeps the stories moving briskly from one to the next. Even with the return to Thule taking up seven months of this volume, it never feels like any stories are overstaying their welcome or dragging.

In mid-1944, Foster also added a secondary feature into his full page strip, "The Mediaeval Castle." Taking up the bottom third of the page, it follows everyday life for a family living in a castle; everything from schooling to being besieged by enemies, it’s a strange but charming mixture of adventure and historical primer. Considering that most installments are only three panels, I found myself a little surprised by how much Foster is able to cram into each installment of "The Mediaeval Castle." Originally I’d planned to skip reading those strips until I was done with the book and then backtrack to read just those (so I wouldn’t mix the two of them together in my head), but I was pleasantly surprised to find not only the two of them distinctly different, but also each succinct enough that there was no need to try and make each its own reading experience.

I’ll admit that I was a little worried when I saw that "The Mediaeval Castle" was taking up a third of the page of Prince Valiant, because one of the things I quickly fell in love with here was how Foster used the huge full page spreads to his advantage, with large layouts and inventive uses of the space. At first, it felt like Foster fell into a pattern; a nine panel-grid where the first six panels were for Valiant, the last three for the Castle. But as the comic progressed, Foster soon clearly felt comfortable enough with the new arrangement that we had him break that structure as need be. The return of Aleta, for instance, is a huge panel the size of four normal ones, letting us not only see Aleta and Valiant, but her entire court, the tapestries hanging on the walls, and even the tears in Val’s cloak.

Then again, Foster is no stranger to fine detail in Prince Valiant, so this shouldn’t have been a surprise. The fine lines that are on every single page are a joy to simply stop and study. From the veins running through stone walls to the individual fibers on a loincloth, Foster made sure every last detail was present. He was also an excellent artist when it came to understanding the human body and how to depict it move. When Valiant frees himself from a dungeon after being strung up, watching him pull his legs up and through the ropes, and then hang from his knees while undoing the rest of the bonds, makes you feel like you’re watching an acrobat move across the page. Every new image flows gracefully from the previous one, a reminder that a lot of modern artists could learn a great deal from Foster’s storytelling techniques and craft.

Prince Valiant Vol. 4: 1943-1944 is not only a great book, I think it could also serve well as a good jumping-on point for those curious about the strip. By this point Foster has gotten a strong grip on his characters and the format of the strip, and with a new storyline beginning so early on in this volume you don’t have to worry about being lost. And while this volume doesn’t end at a conclusion for the last storyline (running a whopping 20 months in all, as it turns out, only the first 7 months are present here), there’s so much meat here that you’ll be eager for Prince Valiant Vol. 5 so you can find out how it ends. I, for one, can’t wait.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]>
Wandering Son Vol. 2 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/01/04/wandering-son-vol-2/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/01/04/wandering-son-vol-2/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2012 14:00:16 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1987 By Shimura Takako200 pages, black and whitePublished by Fantagraphics

The first volume of Wandering Son, published in the middle of last year, was an intriguing look at two teenagers who both are trying to figure out their own gender identity and their place in the world around them. Fantagraphics released the second volume at the [...]]]> By Shimura Takako
200 pages, black and white
Published by Fantagraphics

The first volume of Wandering Son, published in the middle of last year, was an intriguing look at two teenagers who both are trying to figure out their own gender identity and their place in the world around them. Fantagraphics released the second volume at the end of the year, and with a lot of the set-up completed, Shimura Takako’s story takes a stronger step forward here. Everything I liked about the first volume is still present, but any issues I’d had with it feel like they’ve been erased as her story progresses.

Wandering Son Vol. 2 picks up right where the last volume left off. Shuichi, Yoshino, and Saori are entering the 6th grade. But as the three find themselves not all in the same class, it’s the first hint that things aren’t always going to be quite so easy for Shuichi and Yoshino. What follows is a whirlwind of encounters and moments, with Shuichi and Yoshino learning more about their older transgendered friend Yuki, a class trip where Shuichi starts encountering some bullying, a potentially misplaced crush when a classmate of Shuichi’s sister sees Shuichi dressed as a girl, and even hurt feelings among the group of friends. In short, it’s life in the sixth grade, only filtered through the additional issue of being transgendered.

I love that Takako has given Shuichi and Yoshino their older friends Yuki and her boyfriend Shii; it gives the book a slightly different perspective as Yuki shows them one path that their life may eventually lead, as well as someone that they can theoretically talk to and be slightly more comfortable around. At the same time, I appreciate that Takako doesn’t take the obvious tactic of them all becoming instant best-friends simply because of the transgendered connection. There’s still a certain level of uneasiness mixed in with the admiration for Shuichi and Yoshino, and I like that Takako isn’t going for the easy out. Being part of a minority offers people an obvious introduction, but she doesn’t confuse that for a universal pass.

Then again, friendships in general aren’t taken for granted in Wandering Son Vol. 2. Saori being in a different class than Shuichi and Yoshino is already creating a rift, and Saori’s unstated jealousy of Shuichi’s relationship with Yoshino is a development that is making Saori that much more interesting. (Although, after meeting Saori’s mother, I want Saori to stick around if only because I’m dying to see her mother again, who steals an entire scene in just two pages.) At their age, friendships can start, stop, and start again at the drop of a hat, and watching something as simple as a shared journal between Shuichi and Yoshino create problems has a bite of realism that I think all readers can relate to.

It’s the school trip, though, where Wandering Son stops becoming sweet and innocent, and we start seeing the real world seep into Takako’s storytelling. Up until now, it’s been a pretty warm and innocent story for our characters; there was the occasional clash, but never anything too serious. What starts as simple childish taunting by Shuichi’s seat mate gets uglier with each interaction, with Takako completely understanding how a bully will find a weakness and continue to exploit it with larger and more powerful attacks once that vulnerability is discovered. When the phrase, "Little faggot," is spoken, in some ways the softer world of Wandering Son comes crashing down around the characters. It’s hard at that point to forget that the world is tilted against Shuichi and Yoshino, and that for every Saori, Kanako, or Yuki, there’s someone else far more unaccepting around the corner. It’s a powerful and dramatic moment, and Takako writes it pitch-perfect.

The art in Wandering Son is adorable as the first volume. Takako draws her characters with a certain air of innocence about them, with expressions of surprise and happiness bursting onto their faces in a way that makes me hope none of them ever try to become poker players. My favorite moments here, though, alongside those of unbridled joy, are when Shuichi’s sister Maho starts to figure out what’s up with her little brother. Those looks of suspicion and realization are classic, telling us everything we need to know about what’s inside of her head in one fell swoop.

Wandering Son Vol. 2 is a great sophomore collection from Takako; I feel like the slightly choppy nature from the early chapters in Vol. 1 is gone, and Takako’s starting to expand the cast and the plot in a way that provides more of a dramatic bite. Based on the class trip sequence in this volume, Takako’s just getting ready to make Wandering Son a lot more heavy and less idealized for the characters. If it goes anything like we see here, we’ve got a hell of a ride ahead of us. With beautifully designed hardcovers (and a pleasing weight and feel to the books too, with a good paper stock to boot), Wandering Son is the sort of series you’ll be proud to have on your bookshelf. I’m ready for the next volume now.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]> http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/01/04/wandering-son-vol-2/feed/ 1
Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/12/26/donald-duck-lost-in-the-andes/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/12/26/donald-duck-lost-in-the-andes/#comments Mon, 26 Dec 2011 14:00:16 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1961 By Carl Barks240 pages, colorPublished 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 [...]]]> 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.

Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes isn’t chronologically the first of Barks’ Duck comics, with Fantagraphics (wisely) jumping ahead about half a dozen years to when Barks had hit his stride and started turning out stories that are touted as Barks in his prime. (At the end of the collection process, they’ll go back and issue those earliest, reportedly weaker stories.) So when I sat down with Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes, I was bracing myself to have my socks knocked off. And I’ll admit it: at first, I wasn’t as enthralled as I’d expected. The opening story ("Lost in the Andes!") initially felt a little rambling and aimless, as Donald, Huey, Dewey, and Louie wander South America trying to find where chickens that lay square eggs come from. But just as I was starting to get around the halfway point and the Ducks were in the hidden Incan city, I began to realize something: I couldn’t stop reading.

What I’d initially mistaken for a lackadaisical storytelling technique turned out to be a much more classic method; Barks is carefully planting material to be mined in the later moments of the story. More importantly, though, is that you need to have a slightly different mind set for reading Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes. Essentially, you need to let go of looking for a large structured story, and instead just lean back and enjoy the sheer fun of it all. And once you do that? Well, Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes begins to fire on all cylinders.

Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes is divided up into three sections based on story length; Adventures, Short Stories, and Gags. The four adventures stories (each in the 30-32 page range) are all fun, although it’s "The Golden Christmas Tree" that was easily my favorite. There’s something wonderfully strange about a story involving an evil witch wanting to wipe out all Christmas trees in the world by using a spell powered by "tears of disappointment." There’s a moment where Donald is trying to break into the witch’s cabin by using a log as a battering ram, and the witch conjures up a mulcher that not only shreds the log, but spits out newspapers on the back with the headline, "Late News: Witch Foils Housebreaker." It’s a moment where you can’t help but laugh, and the further you make it into Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes, the more full of these bits of cleverness that you’ll encounter. It’s also interesting to contrast the villain of that piece with the one in "Voodoo Hoodoo," a bad stereotype of a witch doctor named Foola Zoola. Unlike the witch, Foola Zoola has genuinely been wronged, and in the end nothing bad happens to him; the Ducks merely manage to escape before vengeance is (unfairly) delivered on them.

The shorts and gags are well worth reading, too. I was especially excited to read "The Sunken Yacht," a story in which Donald and his nephews raise a sunken ship by pumping it full of ping-pong balls. It’s a technique that was actually used years later, inspired by this very comic, and turned out to work well and kept the ship from disintegrating as it rose. Life imitating art is one thing, but this is clearly a case of life imitating genius. The shorts don’t have the same epic quality as the adventures, but Barks is able to stuff them full of good jokes and clever twists, often placing Donald and his nephews at odds in classic games of one-upsmanship. Even the one-page gag strips are worth a chuckle or two, Barks zooming directly to the punch line.

The reproduction on these strips are beautiful; Fantagraphics hired cartoonist Rich Tommaso to re-color the works, and Tommaso wisely uses gentle flat tones to keep with the overall feel of Barks’ crisp, classic art. I also appreciated the essays about the different stories in the back of the book. Fantagraphics did the same thing with their recent Mickey Mouse books, and once again it feels like we’re getting all sorts of DVD extras included here. Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes is a handsome looking book, and trust me when I say it’s just the first of many I plan on reading by Barks. It may have taken me several decades to finally read Barks’ comics, but I’m not waiting that long for another helping. I’ll be reading these as fast as Fantagraphics can publish them.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]> http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/12/26/donald-duck-lost-in-the-andes/feed/ 1
Mickey Mouse: Trapped on Treasure Island http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/12/12/mickey-mouse-trapped-on-treasure-island/ Mon, 12 Dec 2011 14:00:08 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1937 Written by Floyd Gottfredson, with Webb Smith and Ted OsbornePenciled by Floyd GottfredsonInked by Al Taliaferro and Ted Thwaites280 pages, black and whitePublished by Fantagraphics

When people talk about classic Disney comics, they’re usually referring to the various Duck comics (Donald, Uncle Scrooge, Huey & Dewey & Louie, and so on) by Carl Barks, or [...]]]> Written by Floyd Gottfredson, with Webb Smith and Ted Osborne
Penciled by Floyd Gottfredson
Inked by Al Taliaferro and Ted Thwaites
280 pages, black and white
Published by Fantagraphics

When people talk about classic Disney comics, they’re usually referring to the various Duck comics (Donald, Uncle Scrooge, Huey & Dewey & Louie, and so on) by Carl Barks, or perhaps Don Rosa. It wasn’t until Fantagraphics announced their Mickey Mouse comic strip collection project that I’d even heard of Floyd Gottfredson and his long tenure on the property. We’re two volumes into the series now, and at this point I’m finding the collections fascinating. With this new book, I feel like Gottfredson’s take on the characters is blossoming into something strong enough that I wish I’d encountered it much earlier in life.

Gottfredson’s stories from the 1930s follow a format that is largely dying in comic strips today; the adventure serial, seen only in a handful of properties running in newspapers. Focusing on a core cast of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Horace Horsecollar, and Clarabelle Cow, Mickey and company come up with an idea and follow it through a convoluted and at times lengthy series of twists and turns. An orphanage needing money will transform into a staging of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and a duo of evil robbers snatching the proceeds; poor Widow Churchmouse’s plea for help will have Mickey tangling with pirates, gorillas, and cannibals; looking for an investment will plunge Mickey into the world of horse racing with an impossible steed. The genesis of each story is never even close to where it’s going to wind up, and half of the fun is watching the twists and turns.

With the stories in Mickey Mouse: Trapped on Treasure Island, I feel like Gottfredson has fully learned how to hold onto the reader’s attention. The titular story is a bizarre rambling tale, but the story beats keep everything lively and moving at a fast pace. More importantly, looking back at the story when it hits its conclusion, it never feels like Gottfredson was making things up as he went along. Early ideas that seem forgotten click back into the greater puzzle, and it’s a pleasure to see it come together. The centerpiece of the book for me was "The Mail Pilot," which ran for three and a half months and is the strongest Gottfredson we’ve gotten to date. At first it feels like a slapstick, silly tale where Mickey has randomly decided to learn how to fly an airplane. It’s a lot of jokes about his feeble attempts in aviation school, and while it’s particularly amusing (it’s Gottfredson’s best slapstick yet), it feels lightweight. Then we learn why they need new pilots—a group of pirates has been kidnapping the mail pilots while out on their routes—and suddenly everything gets a lot more interesting. When Mickey goes up against the pirates, there’s still an undercurrent of humor present, but Gottfredson gives the story a lot of danger and energy. Mickey’s no longer the bumbling goofball, he’s a genuine hero ready to take down the pirates.

There are still some rough edges here and there throughout the book, though. The performance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the opening story is bound to offend some modern readers with its racial stereotypes and faux dialects, and even if that wasn’t present it’s a sequence that has not aged well. Most readers won’t be familiar with the plot of the source material, and this re-enactment is less than riveting material, to put it mildly. Horace and Clarabelle, despite being half of the core cast of the comic strip, are also increasingly irrelevant as the strip progresses. Early on they served as a way to get Mickey and Minnie into the adventures as well as to bounce dialogue off of, but they’re clearly being phased out of the strip by the conclusion of this volume. They’re not terribly interesting characters, so their slow erasure from the book is actually a welcome change.

The art in Mickey Mouse: Trapped on Treasure Island is solid. In a standard newspaper comic strip there’s not much more for innovation, but I did like that Gottfredson was able to make such a small landscape for art still feel expressive and fun. It’s some of the supporting characters where I think the art is at its best; the Churchmice characters look great, Widow with her half-moon glasses and hair, and the Captain with his neatly trimmed beard. It makes them look like more than just generic mice, and visually memorable. I also found myself having far more affection for the horse Tanglefoot than the script would have warranted, and I realized after a little bit that it’s thanks to how Gottfredson drew him. Tanglefoot is so gawky and clumsy as he stumbles across the panel, you can’t help but like him.

The Mickey Mouse books from Fantagraphics are full of tons of bonus material; advertising art, essays, sketches, even examples of how the stories got re-purposed down the line. These feel like the Criterion Collection DVDs translated into comic strip compilations, a prime example of how to give the readers more than their money’s worth. Reading the first Mickey Mouse collection, I enjoyed it but I hadn’t felt a burning desire to read on. With Mickey Mouse: Trapped on Treasure Island, I’m already eager to see what Gottfredson did next. I’m in for the long haul.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]>
Hidden http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/12/05/hidden/ Mon, 05 Dec 2011 14:00:45 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1934 By Richard Sala136 pages, colorPublished by Fantagraphics

Richard Sala is one of those creators that holds a fairly unique voice in comics. Many people have tried to replicate his off-beat brand of horror, but ultimately nothing out there quite like his. So with a new graphic novel called The Hidden out, the question for most [...]]]> By Richard Sala
136 pages, color
Published by Fantagraphics

Richard Sala is one of those creators that holds a fairly unique voice in comics. Many people have tried to replicate his off-beat brand of horror, but ultimately nothing out there quite like his. So with a new graphic novel called The Hidden out, the question for most people won’t be, "Should I read it?" but "When should I read it?" What you’ll find inside is a book that in many ways sums up both Sala’s greatest strengths and weaknesses.

The Hidden begins in a typical manner for many Sala books; a series of mysterious scenes, with a professor having nightmares followed up quickly by his town being destroyed as he runs. But then, with no warning, the setting jumps slightly in time and we get to the heart of the graphic novel. Our heroes, such as they are, are a young couple named Colleen and Tom who run across the amnesiac professor, even as an unknown force or group has destroyed the nearby city and almost all of its inhabitants. At the mercy of the professor, they find what at first seems to be a safe haven, but then things go from bad to worse and they have to try and rise to the occasion to stop the destruction from shifting to an even greater scale.

Early on, The Hidden is reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s "Masque of the Red Death" short story, with the scenes of the decadent businessmen locked away from the destruction raining down all around them, assuming that what was outside could never infiltrate their lair. But being Sala, nothing in The Hidden remains static for long, so every time you think you’ve cracked its code something new rears its head. With its ever-sliding setting and characters, though, eventually Sala has to reveal what’s really going on, and that’s one of the weakest points of the book. With little space for the characters to figure it out on their own, we instead have a member of the supporting cast show up with a huge block of exposition, explaining the plot and how it unfolded. It’s an awkward and jarring moment of the book, and while Sala in the past hasn’t been adverse to moments of wholesale exposition, this one seems much more labored and lengthy than in the past.

When it’s not full of overly heavy exposition, though, there’s a lot about The Hidden that does work. The attack at the Rebirth Foundation shifts that scene from uneasy to terrifying, with Sala pacing out the shifting dynamics of the people in the room in a way that continually ups the fear factor. And when violence shows up almost randomly, there’s that sudden feeling that anything can happen at any time, that at no point in this story is a character safe from harm or death. Even something as simple as a nightmare sequence can grab your attention, and it goes a long way toward smoothing over its exposition issues.

Sala’s art is strong throughout the graphic novel. His strangely angular creations are once more on display here, but even more than in books like Delphine, I feel like Sala’s making the landscape an equally critical visual element. The desert mesas and buttes tower above the characters as they wander through the wasteland, their ridges and accompanying twisted trees providing an eerie nature to the scenes. Piles of abandoned cars and corpses also regularly show up, presented in a way that at first you can’t help but see them, and then over time they’re almost lurking in the background, an after-thought for the characters who are numbed to their presence. Sala’s colors are also on display here and they’re gorgeous; I love the deep blues he uses for the sky, or the reds and oranges for the landscape. And when we have a creepy nightmare, with the world around a character plunged into a single color, it adds a sinister layer to the scene.

The Hidden isn’t perfect—the exposition is hard to shake, and the ending is even more abrupt than normal (and slightly unsatisfying beyond the initial "gotcha!" moment)—but what Sala does well, he does very well indeed. There’s quite a lot to love in The Hidden, with some scenes in particular that will stick with the reader for a long time. I’d like to see Sala shake these slight faults for his next book, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be reading it.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]>
Celluloid http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/10/28/celluloid/ Fri, 28 Oct 2011 13:00:03 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1918 By Dave McKean232 pages, colorPublished by Fantagraphics

I’m a big fan of Dave McKean’s. Often dreamed of owning one of his covers. Read each issue of Cages as it was published and fell in love with it over and over again. Bought half a dozen copies of Cages and Pictures that Tick to give as [...]]]> By Dave McKean
232 pages, color
Published by Fantagraphics

I’m a big fan of Dave McKean’s. Often dreamed of owning one of his covers. Read each issue of Cages as it was published and fell in love with it over and over again. Bought half a dozen copies of Cages and Pictures that Tick to give as gifts. Even bought some of his photography books over the years. So a new McKean graphic novel should have been the best news I’d heard all year. But now that I’ve read and re-read Celluloid, it’s hard to keep a bit of disappointment from creeping in, even as I can still admire its pluses.

McKean’s new graphic novel is wordless, telling the story of a woman whose partner is still at work, and finds herself bored. When an old film projector showing an unfocused erotic film is discovered, though, it allows her to walk into the world of film itself, moving through a series of scenes until she finally arrives at the climax she’s been desiring ever since the man in her life stayed at work rather than came home. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is.

I’d known not to expect a retread of Cages (which I’ll admit has its flaws, but I still love it anyway) but I found myself slightly taken aback by how little there is in the way of actual plot in Celluloid. It’s a mood piece, pure and simple, and while I’m not against that nature of story even that didn’t seem to entirely work for me. Most of the different scenes feel a little cold in terms of storytelling; it’s hard to warm to McKean’s protagonist, and her wandering from one style of art to the next feels almost random in its progression. At times Celluloid feels less like a narrative and more like a series of pieces of art that were collected together due to similar themes.

The one saving grace for Celluloid is some of the pieces of art themselves. It is entertaining to watch McKean move through his various styles, from sharp pen and ink lines for the "real world" scenes, to what appears to be a mixture of paint, photography, and computer effects that shift and turn as the book progresses. Some work better than others; the usage of fruit photography alongside lines and paints is inventive, with grapes for hair and other fruit subbing in for more delicate parts of the female anatomy. But even then, while I appreciate the styles on display, there’s a computer-generated sequence towards the end that feels almost like a parody of McKean’s more recent works (overly textured and messy with hundreds of images stitched together like a collage), and there’s never any strong motion or energy to the pages. I’d have been happy to immerse myself fully in McKean’s art, but there’s a stiffness present that keeps the reader from fully getting drawn into the finished book.

Having read Celluloid a couple of times, it’s hard to keep from being a little disappointed. It’s not a bad book, but it suffers a great deal in comparison to McKean’s other creations. As an experiment it’s interesting, and some of the styles of art on display are breathtaking. But it’s hard to shake the nagging thought that Celluloid should have been great, based on its pedigree. And while I respect what McKean wanted to do with Celluloid, "great" is not a word I’d use to describe it, alas. This is a book for McKean completists above all else, I think.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]>
Congress of the Animals http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/09/23/congress-of-the-animals/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/09/23/congress-of-the-animals/#comments Fri, 23 Sep 2011 13:00:17 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1833 By Jim Woodring104 pages, black and whitePublished by Fantagraphics

Jim Woodring is that rare comics creator whose works are truly unique. On the surface, you might think it sounds otherwise—a silent comic about a protagonist (Frank) in a strange world that perpetually seems out to get him—but the reality is anything but. Of course, that’s [...]]]> By Jim Woodring
104 pages, black and white
Published by Fantagraphics

Jim Woodring is that rare comics creator whose works are truly unique. On the surface, you might think it sounds otherwise—a silent comic about a protagonist (Frank) in a strange world that perpetually seems out to get him—but the reality is anything but. Of course, that’s in part because the word "reality" and Woodring’s comics about Frank really don’t belong in the same sentence; these are some of the strangest, trippiest comics to crawl out of anyone’s headspace in a while, and at such a continual basis at that.

In 2003 Fantagraphics published The Frank Book, an omnibus of Woodring’s comics about Frank, and I figured it was probably the last we’d see of the character. But last year, Woodring debuted Weathercraft, a new graphic novel set in the world of Frank, and he followed it up this year with Congress of the Animals. It’s an extremely pleasant surprise, to get such a wealth of new material in the space of these past two years.

With Congress of the Animals, Woodring returns to Frank as our protagonist, where a bizarre croquet accident destroys his house and places him into indentured servitude to pay for a replacement home. And then, when a moment of escape presents itself, Woodring plunges Frank into a series of strange non-sequiturs that lands him in a situation I never thought we’d see in a Frank comic.

Of course, if you’ve ever read a Frank comic then you’ll know that saying there’s "a series of strange non-sequiturs" is like saying that an issue of X-Men features mutants. The world of Congress of the Animals is forever morphing and malleable. Statues shudder to life and flip their faces inside out; creatures with 13 faces rise up out of the deep; tentacled horrors attempt to eat and devour our hero. (It’s that latter in particular that we’ve seen more times than we can count in Woodring’s comics. Those easily disturbed might want to steer clear.) There’s always a certain internal logic to Woodring’s comics, though; be it a crank device that rotates your face in the direction you turn it, or rings of eyes that forever gaze at whomever is walking by. There’s that continual danger that the world of Frank is always out to get the unaware, and it’s a place where you can never let your guard down.

But with all of that in mind, Congress of the Animals is—and I hate to say this—probably the weakest of the Frank comics I’ve read, saved in part only by its conclusion. Too much of Congress of the Animals feels aimless, or rather more aimless than normal. I’m used to Woodring’s strange stream-of-consciousness stories and I enjoy them a great deal, but this feels like a series of scenes even more disconnected from one another than Woodring normally gives us. It’s still a trippy, surreal, slightly unnerving landscape that I appreciate the creativity and sense of wonder that is infused into its creation, but this is a much more episodic and wildly varying story than I’d have liked. Maybe it’s in part because of its larger page count, versus a short story; Woodring usually doesn’t have this much room to stretch out his explorations into the world of Frank. But when the big event happens in the last twenty pages, it feels slightly frustrating that it’s taken us this long to get to this moment, and that it’s shoved into the last fifth of the book.

That said, "weakest" is a relative term when it comes to Woodring, who is truly one of the most creative comic creators working today. His art is still richly textured and unnerving, with massive faces on prehensile necks that swing around and stalk poor Frank, or creations that are so fundamentally wrong that it can’t help but disturb the reader if they look for too long. It’s fascinating just to look at the art and marvel at the oddities that spring to life; for that alone it’s hard to not highly recommend a graphic novel from Woodring.

Congress of the Animals might be my least favorite Woodring book, but it’s still overall strong and compelling. I love the fact that Woodring has made a huge, fundamental change to the world of Frank, and that in doing so it still feels like an old familiar friend. I’m not sure just anyone could have pulled this off so late in the game, but with Woodring it feels like a natural extension of everything we’ve seen up until now. There’s no other comics quite like Woodring’s out there, and I’m forever thankful that we get these amazing, disturbing, wonderful creations from him. After all, a "merely good" comic from Woodring is still better than most other comics out there. If you haven’t read any comics by Woodring, definitely take the time to give them a try. They are, in the end, truly unique.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]> http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/09/23/congress-of-the-animals/feed/ 1