Every week, Paste looks at some of the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
Paying for It by Chester Brown
Drawn + Quarterly 2011
What in the world do we do with Chester Brown? He’s kind, reasonable, friendly, thoughtful, creative and original, and his new book is subtitled “a comic-strip memoir about being a john.” If you’ve read his earlier autobiographical work The Playboy, about his guilt over masturbating, you might well think the dual meaning of Paying for It’s title is intentional, but Brown devotes the first of many notes in the back of the book to explaining that it was entirely the publisher’s decision and that, in fact, he doesn’t feel guilty about visiting prostitutes at all. Less a polemic than an apologia, Paying for It is primarily an argument, not a narrative, focusing its energies ever more so on the reasons sex-work should be decriminalized. Whether or not you agree with Brown’s theories—and I suspect many readers won’t—the book is a fascinating catalogue, full of conversations (as usual) among Brown, Joe Matt, and Seth that far outweigh in interest its numerous depictions of robotic coupling. Brown clearly has a compulsion to put in everything, including notes explaining why he showed his ex-girlfriend with a hairstyle she no longer wears, which means that he’s torn between the desire to make his reasoning as strong as possible and his need to show himself accurately rather than a favorable light, and this encyclopedic impulse is reliably riveting in all his works. (HB)
Gingerbread Girl by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover
Top Shelf 2011
Whatever the equivalent is of “reading the phonebook” for visual artists, I’d watch Colleen Coover do it. Her linework is assured, her characters perfectly meld cartoony simplification with naturalistic poses, and it’s all very cute without being self-consciously so or pandering. When she works with her husband, Paul Tobin, that ease seems even more present than usual, and Gingerbread Girl, which was serialized on the Top Shelf website before arriving in print form, is a delight to read on every page. This is not to say its story is perfectly worked out. In fact, it shares certain “tease” characteristics with its protagonist, one Annah Billips. But it has charm to burn, and its lightfootedness is evident in the way it moves from narrator to narrator, swooping among the buildings of Portland. We want to hear more from all these people (and non-people! How can I leave out the pigeon and the English bulldog who contribute their voices?), and when things conclude we end up wanting more rather than focusing on the fact that we never got farther than about second base, narratologically speaking. (HB)
Super Dinosaur by Robert Kirkman and Jason Howard
Image Comics 2011
The community forum on comicbookresources.com once hosted a simple poll asking for participants to provide their age. The makeshift survey’s results showed that 36% of the participants were aged 18-29 and 40% were aged 30-40. Only a scant 5.33% were 17 or younger. While the experiment was small in scale, the data seem fairly indicative of the overall population. The days when youth flooded the newsstands for the latest X-Men are long past. Though publishers release kid-friendly titles (usually at a loss), the comic print medium has probably found its last generation in late-born millennials.
With this in mind, I give Robert Kirkman (creator of The Walking Dead) a lot of credit for creating Super Dinosaur, a title he made exclusively for his son that will mostly consist of “a dinosaur shooting missiles at things.” And in this it succeeds wildly. A nifty combination of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Land of the Lost and every Saturday morning cartoon since 1984, Super Dinosaur is an infinitely accessible portal into early ‘90s kewl culture. Skate-boarding preteen first-person protagonist? Check. Big, loud violence where nobody actually gets hurt? Check. Vernacular that includes “awesome” or “sucks” at least every three pages? Totally. Though Kirkman has stated that he would like this to appeal to adults as well kids, it simply doesn’t—as a 20-something I found it adorable, but formulaic nostalgia has its limits. But if humanoid dinosaur monsters with mechanical missile launchers don’t find an audience in today’s teenagers, then today’s teenagers don’t know what they’re missing. (SE)
Jimmy Olsen #1 by Nick Spencer and RB Silva
DC Comics 2011
If you demand grit and grime from your superhero comics you’d probably never even consider picking up anything with the Jimmy Olsen name on it. You’re also a big part of what’s wrong with superhero comics today. Thanks for ruining our fun, tough guy. Young comic-writing hotshot Nick Spencer understands what makes Olsen and his old Silver Age comics so enjoyable. It’s not just the absurd and ridiculous situations Superman’s Pal finds himself in, but the upbeat and forthright manner in which Olsen reacts to them. In this oversized one-shot that collects and completes a recent backup serial from Action Comics, Olsen nonchalantly saves Metropolis from an invasion of alien socialites and escapes from a fantasy world where he serves as a fully-powered Co-Superman. Despite that his greatest test is repairing his relationship with his ex-girlfriend. Contrasting the characters’ human foibles—from Supergirl’s love of knitting to Perry White’s unpublished novel The Rain of San Luis Obispo—with their superhuman surroundings grounds Jimmy Olsen while also setting up a lot of great jokes. Spencer doesn’t mock Jimmy Olsen or treat him like a Midwestern version of Kenneth from “30 Rock” or have some third-rate Superman villain make a sweater from Olsen’s entrails (you know somebody at DC has pitched that). This is who Jimmy Olsen should always be, a normal guy who overcomes abnormal odds through pluck and smarts. Silva’s art is a perfect fit, with Kevin Maguire-ish facial expressions that accentuate the comic tone. (GM)