5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week
Every Wednesday, I preview the five most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, Comixology, Kickstarter and the web. If there's a release you're excited about, let's talk about it in the comments.
1. Hip Hop Family Tree
By Ed Piskor
Growing up an uncool white kid listening to classic rock and transitioning into an uncool adult listening to grunge and shoe gazer indie rock, I don't know all that much about hip hop's early days and its various pioneers. What I've always loved, though, are books that tackle the history of a subject that I'm not that well versed in and one that maybe hasn't been tackled in this way before. If you're not familiar with the early days of hip hop and its rise as a musical art form from the streets and clubs of Queens and the Bronx, you'll be fascinated to read about it in Ed Piskor's new graphic novel Hip Hop Family Tree. If you are already familiar… wow, are you going to love this book.
Ed Piskor's "thing" as a comics creator may be telling the definitive history of subjects that have their roots in underground culture. His last book was the equally fascinating Wizzywig, a fictionalized history of hacking and social engineering. With Hip Hop Family Tree, he's abandoned the device of using a fictional protagonist and instead uses "old school" comic book narration boxes to tell the myriad, interlocking stories of the real people at the forefront of this music revolution – people like Kurtis Blow, DJ Kool Herc, Russell Simmons, Sylvia Robinson and Grandmaster Flash. Piskor aims to draw a parallel between hip hop and comics – two underground, often derided American art forms – by telling this story as if it was a comic book from the same era of the late '70s.
He does this by using the aforementioned caption boxes and halftone dots, and the book itself is printed on paper that's been made to look like browned-out, old comic newsprint. There are some clever uses of printing effects like off-register coloring (a common accident in the old days of printing where the color plates weren't lined up, resulting in a slightly off-center, ghosted double image) to portray the intense vibrations of the bass in the dance club scenes. His art in this book likens itself to the great Marvel Comics artists of the '70s but Piskor's style I think is naturally derived from alternative comics artists like Robert Crumb or Chester Brown which also makes for an interesting underground parallel. In an amusing short comic included at the end of the book, he further enunciates the similarities between rappers and superheroes with their colorful clothes, outlandish names and their epic "battles."
Piskor has a big story to tell and at times it can be a lot to keep up with. He is constantly introducing as well as revisiting various players in the story as he moves from the mid-70s into the early '80s. He shows the rise of early stars like Grandmaster Flash and the Sugarhill Gang and hints at stars to come with frequent appearances by the kids who would one day become Run-D.M.C. He also explores some interesting behind-the-scenes aspects of hip hop's evolution: the record store owners who suddenly found an influx of customers looking for obscure records to pull "breaks" from; the rockers like Debbie Harry who found themselves intrigued and inspired by this new sound; and graffiti artists like Fab Five Freddy who were helping to create the look that went along with the sound, while bridging hip hop with the elite New York art and music scenes.
Hip Hop Family Tree began as a popular, serialized webcomic on BoingBoing and is collected in this first print edition from Fantagraphics. Piskor plans more volumes and is just about finished with the second.
Read more about it here and read a preview.
2. Showa: A History of Japan 1926-1939
By Shigeru Mizuki; translation by Zack Davisson
Drawn & Quarterly
Meanwhile, another definitive history of an even larger and broader subject is Shigeru Mizuki's Showa: A History of Japan, which sees its first American release from Drawn & Quarterly this week. This is the beginning of a multi-volume series that will detail the Showa period that went from 1926 to 1989, corresponding with the reign of Emperor Hirohito.
Mizuki is a manga cartoonist best known for his yōkai horror manga and subsequent anime GeGeGe no Kitarō, but has also written and illustrated WWII-era biographies and memoirs. Similarly to Piskor's approach to telling the history of hip hop, Mizuki embraces the medium of comics and manga in the way he tells Japan's history. Half of the book is illustrated with a detailed, photo-realistic approach while the rest is illustrated in a more whimsical, cartooning style. Mizuki was a child during the years this volume is set in so he uses his own life experiences in autobiographical vignettes set against the historical backdrops. He also uses one of his own fictional characters, Nezumi Otoko from GeGeGe no Kitarō, to narrate the book. Zack Davisson, who translated the work for Drawn & Quarterly, likens this on his blog to "What if Carl Barks had written Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States but done it as a comic book using Donald Duck as the narrator?"
In its original publication in Japan, Showa ran for eight volumes, and this first English volume collects the equivalent of two of them.
This blog has some nice preview pages showing the way Mizuki uses two different drawing styles in this book. Drawn & Quarterly also has a brief preview here.
3. The Tower of Power Part One
By Box Brown
Digital comics are becoming more and more of a viable opportunity for independent cartoonists to get their work out to the public and, unlike with webcomics, actually be able to sell them to the readers. When digital comics giant Comixology launched their Submit program for independent creators, it seemed like a boon to this area of the industry, but it has become so popular that creators now have to wait six months for their submitted books to appear in the storefront. There hasn't been a great mechanism for selling downloadable digital files until the web payment startup Gumroad launched last year. This easy-to-use service was created to allow creative people to sell their digital products directly to their audience without a complicated setup or checkout process. A number of cartoonists have begun to flock to this service (as well as professional musicians like Girl Talk and Eminem) to sell PDF copies of their comics. All that seems to be missing now is a mechanism that more easily allows creators and potential readers to find each other.
Box Brown has just released his newest comic, The Tower of Power Part One, as a "pay what you want" PDF comic, sold via Gumroad. Brown has been working on a graphic novel biography of the late professional wrestler Andre The Giant that will be released through First Second next year. As a departure from that research-heavy non-fiction work, he decided to go the opposite direction with an out there, sci-fi comic. The Tower of Power is set in an alternate future where Jones Anthony, the "greatest mind of our generation", commits suicide by driving into the sun, leaving behind a DNA sample and a request not to be cloned. Eventually, a rogue scientist goes against those wishes and the cloned child that is created is adopted by an unsuspecting family.
The story is a fun, crazy read with floating people, wizard senators, sullen, disaffected teenagers and plenty of satirical references to government ineffectiveness, social media and celebrity. Brown actually created the book during the recent government shutdown and it's partly a reaction to the ridiculousness of those proceedings. His plan is for this to be an ongoing comic that he will add new installments to in between other projects, and release them periodically over the next couple of years.
I always think of Brown's work in terms of black and white, cleanly inked drawings, but with this project and his recent webcomic "Softcore" on the Studygroup website, he's been taking advantage of the digital medium to experiment with some eye-popping color palettes, not having to worry about how they might print.
4. Bandette Vol. 1: Presto!
One of the big success stories in digital comics over the past year has been the new "digital first" publisher Monkeybrain Comics and the crown jewel of their collection, the award-winning Bandette by husband and wife team Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover. Monkeybrain publishers (another husband and wife team) Chris Roberson and Allison Baker have put together a varied catalog of fine comics that they publish directly through Comixology. Being a creator-friendly publisher, they allow the creators to take their comics to other publishers for print editions and even facilitate that relationship. In this case, Bandette is getting a new hardcover treatment through Dark Horse Comics.
Bandette is an utterly charming all-ages book about a cute teenage girl who wears a domino mask and a cape and causes mischief for the police and criminals alike in the streets of Paris. She's aided by a group of teenage street urchins and finds herself both helping and being pursued by the police inspector. It's a fun book with an appealing heroine that young, female readers, especially, would get a kick out of. Coover's wonderful drawing style - with hints of Darwyn Cooke's simple designs and energetic action scenes - is the big sell here. However, this print volume contains some new extra material including a prose piece by Tobin and some short stories with guest art from equally enjoyable artists such as Erika Moen, Steve Lieber, Jonathan Case and Jennifer Meyer.
Dark Horse has a preview and more info on their website.
Farel Dalrymple is a cartoonist and illustrator who probably doesn't produce enough comics work to please his fans. He's best known for his work with novelist Jonathan Lethem on Marvel's Omega the Unknown or even for his recent contribution to Brandon Graham's Prophet. In between these larger works, he's contributed to a number of anthologies and magazines as well as posted webcomics online. In this new collection called Delusional, Adhouse Books pulls together a number of these shorter pieces, supplemented by drawings and sketches.
Dalrymple is an award-winning illustrator with an earthy, sketchy drawing style that gives a sense of realness to his work even when he's drawing fantastic imagery like a boy with wings flying in Pop Gun War or a massive spaceship shaped like a man in Prophet. He is the latest artist to get this sort of art showcase treatment from design-focused publisher Adhouse (previously they've published similar books for Paul Pope, Stuart Immonen and others).
Adhouse has an extensive preview of the book online although, knowing Adhouse, I'm sure the production value of the printing will mean you should try to check it out in person.