Wandering Son Vol. 1

By Shimura Takako
208 pages, black and white
Published by Fantagraphics

If you’d told me a decade ago that Fantagraphics would be hand selecting manga to publish in North America, I’d have laughed at you. But as more publishers dip into the wide spectrum of comics published in Japan, it’s a delight to see Fantagraphics bringing over books like Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, and now Shimura Takako’s series Wandering Son. Because as much as I enjoyed A Drunken Dream, it’s this gentle, inviting series about two transgendered elementary school students that has truly captured my attention.

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Toys in the Basement

By Stéphane Blanquet
32 pages, color
Published by Fantagraphics Books

There are books out there that, no matter who you are, as soon as you read it you’re going to have the exact same mental description in your head. It’s impossible to not refer to it that way the second the phrase pops into your head, and the more you talk to other people, the more you realize that it’s perfect because everyone can’t help but feel the same way about it. I am pretty sure that Stéphane Blanquet’s Toys in the Basement is one of those books, and the phrase that everyone’s going to find themselves using is, "A deranged Toy Story." Which is, I shall quickly add, a complement.

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Littlest Pirate King

Adapted by David B.
Based on a story by Pierre Mac Orlan
48 pages, color
Published by Fantagraphics

For being a comic book powerhouse in France, it’s a little surprising that not much of David B.’s works have made it to North America. He’s probably best known for his autobiographical book Epileptic, and his dream diary Nocturnal Conspiracies and ongoing series (and Epileptic follow-up) Babel are also translated. After all of those deeply personal books, though, I was a little surprised to find a new book from B. now in English… about the undead crew of the infamous Flying Dutchman ship.

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A Drunken Dream and Other Stories

By Moto Hagio
288 pages, black and white, with some color
Published by Fantagraphics

I never did read the issue of The Comics Journal that interviewed Moto Hagio, and printed one of her stories in English. I understand that it was that issue that convinced the rest of Fantagraphics to publish a "best-of" collection of Hagio’s work, though, and that it talked a great deal about her importance in helping define the shôjo ("girl’s comics") genre in Japan. Here’s what I do know, though. Going into A Drunken Dream and Other Stories blindly, it’s ultimately a book that sucked me into its stories and made me want to read a lot more of Hagio’s comics. A mixture of romance, science-fiction, and family drama, these ten story compilation is one of the strongest examples I’ve seen of the depth and breath that the shôjo genre can contain.

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Grotesque #2-3

By Sergio Ponchione
32 pages, two-color
Published by Fantagraphics Books

One of the things I love about Fantagraphics’s Ignatz Series of comics is how they’ve brought artists and styles from all over the world into a single line. Invariably, half of the books are by artists I’ve never heard of, like Italy’s Sergio Ponchione. I recently bought his Grotesque #2-3, which contained a two-part story, "Cryptic City." His off-beat style of story and art bring to mind almost instantly creators like Richard Sala, and made one thing almost instantly clear: I need to buy Grotesque #1, and soon.

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West Coast Blues

Adapted by Jacques Tardi
From the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette
80 pages, black and white
Published by Fantagraphics

Until now, my only exposure to Jacques Tardi was the reprinting of some of his It Was the War of the Trenches stories in the pages of Drawn & Quarterly volume 2. It’s been fifteen years and those stories have still stuck with me, so when I heard about Fantagraphics’s plans to publish a line of Tardi’s books in English, I was pretty excited about the prospect. The first of Fantagraphics’s new Tardi reprints is West Coast Blues, a crime noir story adapted from a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette. It’s a smart choice to lead the line. West Coast Blues is just the right mixture of action, suspense, and surprise to keep just about any reader’s attention.

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Popeye Vol. 1

By E.C. Segar
200 pages, black and white, plus color
Published by Fantagraphics

Like most readers below a certain age, I only knew Popeye from his more modern-day incarnations; in my case an animated version from late ’70s television, and Robert Altman’s infamous live-action movie in 1980. I’d never, however, read the original E.C. Segar strips, and two years ago I picked up the first Popeye collection from Fantagraphics, at which point its huge, oversized dimensions made a semi-permanent home on my coffee table. Finally, though, I got around to giving the book a whirl. I’m definitely not waiting two years until I read the next book.

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Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937-1938

By Hal Foster
120 pages, color
Published by Fantagraphics Books

"Prince Valiant? Really?" That was more or less the response I got when my boyfriend discovered I’d bought Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937-1938. From there, he explained why this was such a bad idea, and what a dull, boring comic it was. And you know something? I understood where he was coming from. I remember Prince Valiant strips growing up being an exercise in dullness, like all the serial strips that I didn’t care to follow. But after seeing Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook pay homage to Prince Valiant in Wednesday Comics #1, well, I just had to give it another shot. As it turns out, it was a good decision.

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Lagoon

By Lilli Carré
80 pages, black and white
Published by Fantagraphics Books

When you hear a title like The Lagoon, you might end up thinking about a dark, murky sort of experience, thanks to the titles of works like Creature from the Black Lagoon. When I picked up Lilli Carré’s The Lagoon, though, I found myself very pleasantly surprised to find something entirely different; a forbidden love story that despite being a print book, has a real sense of music to it.

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Complete Peanuts: 1961-1962

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

When I was a little kid, I used to regularly scour my library for collections of Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts. The books would always be ragged and dog-eared, which if anything was a sign that I was hardly the only one reading them over and over again. So when Fantagraphics began their Complete Peanuts line a few years ago, I was over the moon. Reading the comic strips from the 1950s was a real thrill, with so many of them rarely or never reprinted, and even more of them new to me. Now that I’ve finally hit the 1960s strips, though, I can’t help but feel that I’ve entered the real Golden Age of Peanuts.

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