I’ve written it before, will write it again: We are living in a Golden Age of comics reprints.
But we’re also smack in the middle of a seemingly never-ending boom in literary graphic novels (and yeah, I am not wild about that term, “comics” is fine, thanks) not unlike the explosion in quality drama that has taken place on TV since the start of “The Sopranos” in 1999.
In 2000, there were two events that, I submit, kicked off this dual Golden Age.
One was the publication of Chris Ware’s still-stunning “Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth,” by Pantheon Books, a book that collected issues released by Fantagraphics. It was brilliant, one of the decade’s great Realist novels, period, and off we went.
The other, and this is more of a conjecture on my part, but a not-outrageous one, was the publication by Fantagraphics, also in 2000, of “Krazy & Ignatz 1925-26: A Happy Lend Fur Away,” the first volume in Fanta’s reprint series of Sunday strips from George Herriman’s newspaper comic “Krazy Kat,” considered by many arty-types, literary-types and William Randolph Hearst, its most important advocate, to be the best of all time.
Fanta experimented with strip reprints before in the 1980s, but the things just didn’t sell.
But Krazy Kat was different. I was skeptical that it would work. But there was a new generation of comics fans around in 2000, ones who came to comics later, ones for whom non-superhero fare had always been around. Maybe this time it would be different. And it was. After the success of “Krazy and Ignatz,” the deluge: Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Flash Gordon, Secret Agent X-9, Popeye. … Comics history is at consumers fingertips as it never was before.
Fantagraphics co-publisher Kim Thompson died of complications due to lung cancer. He was 56.
Born in Denmark, Thompson cut his teeth on both European and American comics. A letterhack (one who writes a lot of letters to various comics; think of it as a pre-Internet comment section, kids) and fanzine contributor before coming to American in 1977, Thompson started contributing to influential magazine “The Comics Journal” soon after, becoming co-owner in 1978 and launching Fantagraphics with “Journal” founder Gary Groth in 1981.
Though Thompson was involved in every aspect of the editorial process that included dozens of creators at Fantagraphics, he was responsible for bringing all sorts of European comics (or “bandes dessinées”) to the American market and helming the more mainstream-focused magazine “Amazing Heroes.” He also helmed translation of the work of Jacques Tardi (“It Was the War of the Trenches,” “Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot,” “The Astonishing Exploits of Lucien Brindavoine”) and Jason (“Hey, Wait…,” “I Killed Adolf Hitler,” “Low Moon,” “The Left Bank Gang”) and the amazingly awesome French weirdo masterpiece “The Adventures of Jodelle.”
Make no mistake about it: From the Hernandez Bros.’ “Love and Rockets” (the best ongoing American comic book of all time) to Daniel Clowes’ “Ghost World” to Chris Ware’s work, Fantagraphics changed comics, especially American comics. Thompson was in on all of it. He will be missed
Anyway, these days, there is an incredible amount of stuff out there for every possible taste. There are more excellent art/alternative/literary comics published every month than anyone could possibly read, let alone purchase (thank goodness libraries are expanding their graphic novel sections for any age group).
Science-fiction and crime comics and horror comics have not been this strong in years (heck, I will be 39 on July 4 and a comics reader for about 34 of those years, and I am not sure American sci-fi comics have been this strong in my lifetime.)
Here are four recent books worth checking out:
1. “Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Volume 1” by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima (Dark Horse, $19.99): Nothing quite like an absolute doorstop of manga to remind you that the stuff is designed to be read FAST. This is Dark Horse’s third bite at the apple for this still-fantastic Edo period action epic. The ’80s one at full American comic book size was lovely, but not appropriate to the form and died quickly. The 8,000-page story worked better as 28 four-inch-by-six-inch books (also launched in 2000!), but those were very hard to read. This new version is slightly larger, five-by-seven, and is the best iteration by far. The epic story of the ronin (samurai-for-hire) Ogami Itto and his toddler son Daigoro is one of global pulp fiction’s all-time best.
2. “So Long, Silver Screen” by Blutch (PictureBox, $22.95): This dazzler is the first graphic novel to be published in English from the outstanding French cartoonist Blutch, who, after a dozen or so books, was awarded the 2009 Grand Prix de la ville d’Angouleme at the Angouleme International Comics Festival, pretty much the highest honor in the world of cartooning. “So Long” is a strange and singular combination of drifty narrative, impressionistic noir, essay and meditation on movies. It’ the sort of thing that film critics do now and then, but never happens in comics. “So Long…” is for fans of film critic David Thomson’s novels about movies, extremely French things, monochromatic chapters and pushing the comics form in under-used directions.
3. “Elephantmen Volume 1: Wounded Animals Revised Edition” by Richard Starkings, Moritat and others (Image, $19.99): This is the sort of lunacy that comics is, in many ways, ideal for. Essentially, what if the same sorts of monsters as were made in “The Island of Dr. Moreau” were used as weapons in a war? What would their homecoming be like? How would society adjust to them? Writer Starkings has enlisted top-flight European art talent for this, a revised first volume of this long-running series, and the results are slick and gorgeous, but the story could sometimes use narrative momentum.
4. “New School” by Dash Shaw (Fantagraphics. $39.99): Like a musician who changes up the way she writes and records songs from album to album, Dash Shaw likes to move through styles, and it’s exciting. As soon as you think you have a fix on his forms, he tweaks it just a bit. Full of thick black and white linework (brushwork, I think) highlighted with streaks or splashes of color, “New School” is a riff on, of all things, “Jurassic Park.” An adventure-obsessed Danny visits his brother Luke, who is teaching English to the employees of an island amusement park and high weirdness ensues. I have not had a lot of time with “New School,” but on first read, it is melancholic, funny and smartly impressionistic, three things that comics do well.
Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Volume 1
Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima
Dark Horse, $19.99
So Long, Silver Screen
Elephantmen Volume 1: Wounded Animals Revised Edition
Richard Starkings, Moritat and others