Due to recent changes in reading and spending habits, I pick up a majority of my weekly comics reading from the Columbus Metropolitan Library. The Columbus Metropolitan Library has a surprisingly extensive collection of comics, and has been an invaluable resource for keeping up on the comics world while trying to keep my costs intact.
As part of my 2015 New Year's Resolutions, I'm trying to write more columns and features to the Outhouse to make up for my decreased presence on the news side of the site (sorry, Jude.) What better way to start that than by writing about the comics I read on a weekly basis while promoting a fantastic local resource? This column will be part review/part rambling/part documentation of what I've read this year. I'll also include my "request/to read" lists, so you can follow along at home if you'd like.
Bakuman Vol. 1 – 3 by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata (published by Viz Media in 2010-2011)
Written by the creative team of the more popular Death Note manga, Bakuman is a fictional look at the manga industry in Japan from the eyes of two aspiring manga creators, Mashiro and Takagi. Bakuman focuses heavily on the collaborative and creative process of the duo as well as Mashiro's contrived "romance" with his school crush Miho.
As someone who follows the day-to-day dealings of the American comic industry, I found the comic to be a fascinating introduction into both the business of manga and the technical creative aspects of how a manga series is created. Everything from pen types to the editorial process are discussed in a fair amount of detail, and I loved that the creators even added storyboard thumbnails at the end of every chapter to demonstrate how those pages "came to life".
The artwork of Bakuman is amazing, and some of the best art I've seen in a manga this year. It's a great mix of detail, style and dynamicity, and I was impressed with how the artwork found new ways of presenting what's basically a few characters sitting and brainstorming with one another chapter after chapter.
I was less enthused with how the manga treated its two main female characters, Miho and Kaya. Through three volumes, both female characters are sorely underdeveloped and act more as external motivators for the male leads than independent characters on their own right. Mashiro's "relationship" with Miho is borderline destructive and seems to only encourage readers to internalize their feelings and fixate on their potential romantic partners from afar. Kaya's relationship with Takagi is treated little better. Her sole purpose in the manga thus far is to act like a ditz and give Takagi someone to mansplain the world of manga, too.
Bakuman's use of its female characters distracts from what's otherwise a pretty fun to read series, and may make the book unreadable for those who expect their comics to feature female characters that aren't borderline caricatures.
Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown (published by First Second in 2014)
Andre the Giant: Life and Legend is an excellently researched biographical comic that easily deserved all the praise heaped upon it last year. Not only was the graphic novel an enjoyable biography about an early wrestling icon, Andre the Giant was also an easy to understand look at the early years of professional wrestling, presented in such a way as to be accessible to even the most ignorant about wrestling reader. Andre the Giant follows the wrestler from his humble upbringing in France to his last days battling acromegaly, a medical condition that caused his body to grow well past puberty. Brown draws upon a number of print and television sources to present Andre (real name Andre Roussimoff) as a simple but flawed man who struggled with the pain of his body outgrowing itself. Brown's artwork is simple but stylized and demonstrates just how big Andre was compared to the other beefy wrestlers of his time. I also liked how effective Brown's artwork was in caricaturizing real life people while remaining true to his simplistic style. There's a lot of people who go in and out of Andre's life, and I was impressed with how Brown designed each one to look unique.
Brown is honest throughout Andre the Giant about how hard it is to distinguish the fact from fantasy in Andre's life, and also spends time covering some of the wrestler's less savory anecdotes. Andre was a renowned drinker, and several anecdotes deal with him drinking himself into a stupor. Both his absentee relationship with his daughter and an infamous incident in which he called the black wrestler Bad News Brown a racial slur are also addressed. Brown tends to portray Andre in a sympathetic light and I did notice a slight tendency to explain away or reconcile his worst flaws. However, I think that Brown gives plenty of context for those incidents, and usually the explanations are taken straight from his source material.
I really enjoyed Andre the Giant and the comic gave me an appreciation towards professional wrestling that I didn't have before. Reading the book last Sunday proved to be a fortuitous decision. Hours after I finished reading the comic biography of the famous wrestler, my Twitter feed erupted out of protest from the WWE's latest Royal Rumble event. Whereas wrestling commentary had previously gone over my head, Andre the Giant had informed me enough to understand at least the basics of what had occurred Sunday night, which made it a lot easier for my friends to cover the whole sordid story later.
Ant Colony by Michael DeForge (published by Drawn and Quarterly in 2014)
Filled with gorgeously conceived and trippy designs of various insects, Ant Colony is a series of strips by Michael DeForge about the stark, unfair and darkly humorous world of black ants. While most of the strips are only a page or two long, each comic is filled with deep and dreary views about human nature and society. By using ants and other insects to examine the world, DeForge is able to show how brutal the world is without seeming too cynical or bitter. Police corruption, war, gender inequality and the inevitable decline of society are all covered in some form or another, usually in a humorous but depressing manner.
If you're looking for an uplifting book, Ant Colony isn't for you. The comic is very bleak, filled with gallows humor so acidic, it makes the likes of Tim Burton look like Bozo the Clown. However, DeForge's art is top notch and without equal in today's comic industry. His panels are a fantastic mix of precise detail and tripped-out insanity. With bright psychedelic colors and clean lines, Ant Colony is a joy to look at, a stark contrast to its rather depressing content.
I've really struggled to figure out what "to say" about Ant Colony. It's a masterpiece that draws you in with amazing artwork before delivering several gut punches about the mundaneness and depravity of the world. Each panel will leave you either gaping at DeForge's brilliant art or sobbing about the unflinching cruelty of the world. Ant Colony's not a comic that everyone will enjoy, but it's probably one of those comics that everyone should take the time to read.
The Flash Vol. 1-3 by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato (published by DC Comics 2012-2014)
In September 2011, I made the pretty foolish choice to try to read all of DC's rebooted "New 52" titles. With much of DC's initial offerings being....well, crap, I quickly abandoned most of those titles and retreated back to a world of Batman and "important" titles. However, there were a few solid offerings in those early New 52 days, including Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato's Flash series. Honestly, I got so burnt out with DC in those early months, I had forgotten about The Flash and dropped it pretty quickly with 90% of the other titles. I stumbled across these books in the comic section of my library and decided to give it another try.
The highlight of the first three volumes of DC's New 52 Flash series is Manapul's artwork, which uses dynamic panel layouts and an unconventional art style to stand out. Manapul's layouts are like a more functional version of JH Williams's style in Batwoman and succeed in giving the Flash and his world a level of vibrancy not typically portrayed in superhero comics. The principal coloring team of Buccellato and Ian Herring are a perfect compliment of Manapul's artwork, giving the series a unique colored pencil look that I thought really worked for the series. While the first volume is exclusively drawn by Manapul, later volumes of the series includes artwork by Marcus To, Ray McCarthy, Ryan Winn, Marcio Takara, Scott Kolins, Wes Craigs, Diogenes Neves and Oclair Albert. The art changes were somewhat jarring, but there was nothing "bad" enough that really pulled me out of the comic. I also really enjoyed Manapul's character designs, especially of the villain "Glider" (the New 52's version of the Golden Glider), and enjoyed how his character designs played toward his frantic and fun filled art style.
The plots of the first few volumes were relatively standard superhero fare, with the Flash fighting a mixture of established villains, friends turned foes and gorilla armies in non-stop fashion. The book doesn't really give the cast any time to breathe and interact with one another outside of dealing with the lastest crises, which meant that it was hard to care about any of the supporting characters. However, I did enjoy that the book sort of eased readers into some of the more jarring changes caused by DC's reboot, and gave the readers some definitive continuity on which to stand for. For example, the book establishes pretty quickly that the Flash had faced the Rogues in the past, but hadn't faced the talking gorillas of Gorilla City. In a genre filled with hand-wringing over what stories "count", I think the creative team did an admirable job of establishing a world easy for new readers to enjoy while giving readers a little ground on which to stand.
The Flash is pretty standard superhero fare, but it's not unpleasant to look at, and the plotlines, while unoriginal, aren't terrible to get through. With a Flash television series becoming one of the CW's biggest hits, I think that Manapul and Buccellato's run is a pretty easy jumping on point for new fans of the character or for old fans of the character who don't think that DC destroyed their childhood by restarting their superhero line.
Thor: God of Thunder Vol. 3 – The Accursed by Jason Aaron, Ron Garney, Nic Klein and Das Pastoras (published by Marvel in 2014)
I picked up the first two volumes of Thor: God of Thunder last year after hearing loads of acclaim for the series on Reddit and other social media sites. Admittedly, I'm not a Jason Aaron fan, so it shouldn't be a surprise that I thought both volumes were mediocre, a gory storyline with all flash and no substance and dreary artwork that could have benefitted from a better color palette. The acclaim for the series seemed to die down after that initial yearlong arc, and I was curious to see if the cause. So, on a whim I picked up the third volume of Thor: God of Thunder to see what happened next.
The bulk of the third volume of Jason Aaron's Thor: God of Thunder series is an awful and clichéd fantasy story featuring Thor and a hodgepodge of Dungeons and Dragons tropes chasing Malekith the Accursed through the Nine Kingdoms. Ron Garney's artwork is sloppy with weird proportions, poor perspectives and complimented by equally terrible coloring by Ive Svorcina. The plotline is uninspired and filled with boring fantasy politics and race relations pulled straight from from a Tolkien novel Other highlights include Thor sleeping with the sole female character (because that's what Thor does!) for no real reason other reason to show what a studly dude he is, Thor visiting the realm of Candy Land and a giant worm coming out of Thor's mouth because SHOCKING! The whole story is kind of a mess, and I truly feel bad for any reader who spent money on those five issues.
Also in the collection are two standalone issues that are actually fun to read. The volume opens with a "day in the life of " stories, which shows what Thor does when he's not fighting for the Avengers or experiencing bizarre cosmic god adventures. It's a fun read, filled with Thor being compassionate and charming and a little bullheaded. It also introduces Rosaline Solomon, an Agent of SHIELD whom the Internet tells me is a leading candidate to be the new female version of Thor. Nic Klein's faces are a little rough, but otherwise the artwork isn't awful and conveys appropriate amounts of emotion. I liked how Klein depicted Thor as a bit taller and bigger than the normal mortals he interacted with, and that went well with the tone of the issue. The final chapter is a "young Thor" story that's worth reading solely for the Das Pastoras artwork, which is otherworldly and amazing and feels out of place in an otherwise awful Thor trade paperback.
Seriously, look at this Das Pastoras artwork:
In the "To Read Pile"
Journalism by Joe Sacco
Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary by Justin Green
Nobrow 9 by various creators
Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast
Ghost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow
Morbius the Living Vampire by Joe Keatinge
The Stuff of Legend: Book 1 by Mike Raicht
Captain America Vol. 1-2 by Rick Remender and John Romita Jr.
Avengers: Endless Wartime by Warren Ellis and Mike McKone
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles Vol. 1-3 (IDW) by Kevin Eastman and Tom Waitz
Shutter by Joe Keatinge and Leila Del Duca
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird
Superman: Earth One Vol. 2 by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis
Usagi Yojimbo Vol. 1-2 by Stan Sakai
Requested but Not Picked Up Yet
Displacement by Lucy Knisley
The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
The Woods by James Tynion IV
Other Series Currently Being Read via Library
Soul Eater by Atsushi Okubo
Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama
Thank you for reading. If you have any reading suggestions or thoughts as how to improve the column, feel free to comment or send me a message via email or Twitter.