Wild Kingdom

By Kevin Huizenga
108 pages, black and white, with some color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

With Kevin Huizenga’s much-praised Gloriana having just being released into a hardcover edition, now seemed a good a time as any to look at one of his earlier, similarly-dimensioned books, The Wild Kingdom. Those looking for a defined narrative line throughout the book might be a bit disappointed, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading. While The Wild Kingdom shares Huizenga’s Glenn Ganges character (these days probably best known from the Ganges comics), it’s a loose, free-form series of shorts that feel more observational than anything else. Many of them focus on interactions or looks at wildlife; one story, for example, lets us see the movements of a bird that lands in the middle of a traffic lane and how danger seems to inch ever closer.

The center section of The Wild Kingdom suddenly shifts to full color, as we get a bizarre and surprisingly funny shift into a series of commercials. They’re nonsensical and great, and I think the complete derailment of the mood of The Wild Kingdom up until that point actually is a plus for this book. It’s so out-of-the-blue that it almost feels startling, and the laughter that results is that much more genuine. And when the book closes out with what seems at first like a sad moment for a single bird and then dominos into something greater, well, it’s the most unexpected ending I’ve seen in a book for quite a while. Add in Huizenga’s stripped down and attractive art, and this is a book that manages to sneak up and surprise you again and again. While I don’t think I’d put The Wild Kingdom up as one of Huizenga’s greatest comics, it is still immensely entertaining. For a book that at a glance feels a bit slight, I’m now kicking myself for taking so long to read it. Wonderfully unpredictable, this is a book I suspect I’ll be re-visiting over the years.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

Adventure Time #5

Written by Ryan North, Paul Pope, Chris Roberson, and Georgia Roberson
Art by Mike Holmes, Paul Pope, and Lucy Knisley
24 pages, color
Published by Boom! Studios

Boom! Studios’ wildly successful Adventure Time comic has been not just a good-seller, but enormously fun with its first four-issue storyline. With Adventure Time #5, though, Ryan North proves that he can tackle single-issue stories too. It’s a fun, meandering concept of an issue, with Finn and Jake competing to see who can walk in a straight line the longest in order to get a cupcake, but quickly turns into them encountering someone named "Adventure Tim" whose life seems suspiciously familiar to the duo. It’s a fun twist on the idea of an identical twin, and even as the story wanders off in different directions it never stops being entertaining. Mike Holmes takes over the art this issue and it’s another strong choice for the book, with that crisp, clean, animation-styled approach to the title.

And if that’s not enough… how about a little Paul Pope or Lucy Knisley art? Paul Pope writes and draws "Emit Erutnevda!!" which starts off with a magic hole that leads into other dimensions, and rapidly gets stranger with each of its four pages. It’s bizarre and wonderful, and I love that his stringy, textured, almost oily art isn’t changed or compromised at all in order to tackle an issue of Adventure Time. Knisley draws a one-page story written by Chris Roberson and his 8-year old daughter Georgia Roberson, which is ridiculous and I say that in a good way. From the generation of ice cubes to the Ice King’s "conversation" with penguin Gunter, it’s a fun little diversion to wrap up the comic. Adventure Time continues to bring sheer fun into its comics, and I like that this issue completely stands on its own if you’ve never read the comic or watched the show before. Check it out. You’ll be glad you did.

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

By Guy Delisle
336 pages, color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

I’ve always enjoyed travel non-fiction, and that’s definitely what Guy Delisle’s books set in different parts of the world fall under. Books like Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea and Burma Chronicles have given us glimpses into these far-off, almost-inaccessible places, mixing local color with the travails of his own life. With Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, though, he’s going to a place that feels a little closer if perhaps also more volatile. The chances of knowing someone who’s gone to Burma or North Korea are small at best, but Jerusalem (and to a lesser extent, Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza in general) is a much higher probability. So in doing so, Delisle loses his previous "edge" of transporting the reader to a place they’ll almost certainly never visit, and has to rely more on his own storytelling ability.

Read the rest of this entry »

Anya’s Ghost

By Vera Brosgol
224 pages, two-color
Published by First Second Books

With a lot of young-adult oriented books and graphic novels, you know exactly how they’re going to turn out as soon as you start reading. Vera Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost deliberately flouts that predictability, thankfully; it’s a book that not only doesn’t treat its readers as stupid, but delights in providing logical yet surprising turns of events from start to finish, resulting in a graphic novel that entertains on a continual basis.

Read the rest of this entry »

Godzilla #1-2

Written by Duane Swierczynski
Art by Simon Gane
32 pages, color
Published by IDW

I’ll admit that I’ve only seen a small percentage of Godzilla films, knowing more about the property via its reputation (and friends who get excited about the Godzilla pantheon) than experiencing it myself. But after initially raising an eyebrow and walking past this latest Godzilla comic, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to take a look at what Duane Swierczynski and Simon Gane came up with. And I must say, I’m quite pleased that I did so.

Read the rest of this entry »

Dare Detectives: The Snow-Pea Plot

By Ben Caldwell
208 pages, color
Published by Archaia

Sometimes we do get a second chance. Take, for example, Ben Caldwell’s The Dare Detectives: The Snow-Pea Plot. My only previous exposure to Caldwell was his Wonder Woman strip in Wednesday Comics, which never quite clicked for me. And somehow, I’d entirely missed the original two-part publication of The Dare Detectives by Dark Horse quite a few years ago. But inevitably, what’s old is new again, and with Archaia collecting both installments into an attractive hardcover, this seemed to be as good a chance to check out Caldwell’s comics. What I found was an interesting mix of comics and animation sensibilities.

Read the rest of this entry »

Astonishing X-Men #51

Written by Marjorie Liu
Art by Mike Perkins and Andrew Hennessy
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel

Marjorie Liu and Mike Perkins taking over Astonishing X-Men—a book that has floundered for a direction, creative team, and publishing schedule ever since the tail end of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s run—should have been a great thing. Their debut with issue #48 was not without its problems, though, and the highly-publicised engagement issue of Northstar and his boyfriend Kyle for #50 felt like things were getting worse, not better. But curiosity got the better of me for the big wedding issue this month. Because, after all, in fictional works everything always works out just fine once the wedding itself arrives. Maybe the real world would follow suit?

Read the rest of this entry »

Fallen Words

By Yoshihiro Tatsumi
288 pages, black and white
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s career as a manga creator is long and varied; originally known for helping create the "gekiga" alternative manga genre in the ’40s and ’50s, and then bursting back onto the scene a few years ago with his enthralling autobiography A Drifting Life. With Fallen Words, his new short story collection, Tatsumi addresses an old Japanese storytelling technique and group of long-standing stories (called rakugo) by shifting them from performance art into a comics page. And once again, Tatsumi shows the reader that he’s still got the skill and craft that’s made him an important craftsman of manga all these years.

Read the rest of this entry »

Double Barrel #1

By Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon
122 pages, black and white
Published by Top Shelf Productions

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about watching digital comics take off is the different ways that people have approached this way to deliver the medium. DC Comics, for instance, have created original comics that are connected to their characters but are just far enough removed to let them try things a little differently. (The new non-continuity Legends of the Dark Knight series, for example, or Smallville comics.) Some cartoonists are posting a page every couple of days, funding the comic with things like donations, merchandise sales, or Kickstarter fundraisers. In the case of Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon (who aren’t actually related, as they’re quick to point out), they’ve created a new digital comic series titled Double Barrel, where each issue contains portions of new graphic novels, plus additional short stories, sketches, and essays. Based on this first issue, I think they’ve got a good thing on their hands.

Read the rest of this entry »

Only Skin

By Sean Ford
272 pages, black and white
Published by Secret Acres

It’s easy to tell a suspense or horror story if you have distinct, identifiable, gruesome monsters jumping out of the shadows at every turn. Sean Ford’s Only Skin doesn’t take that easy route, instead building its nightmares through a combination of an iconic ghost design, and the terror of what we didn’t see. And in doing so, Ford’s debut graphic novel becomes a genuinely scary adventure for reader and character alike.

Read the rest of this entry »