Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
It’s not too far a leap to refer to MetaMaus as a midrash (a reading of a text, especially a sacred text), and I believe Art Spiegelman himself uses that term at one point. This collection of material related to Maus is not only a wonderful archive, but also a great read in its own right, and not just for those who like to dive headfirst into authors’ papers. The book comes with a DVD that includes thousands of sketches, cross-referenced to their pages in the margins, plus essays on Maus, audio recordings of Art and Vladek, and more, but even without that resource, it would stand as a worthy and interesting object. Interviewed by Hilary Chute, who is credited as “associate editor,” Spiegelman answers three big questions about his most famous and renowned work (Why the Holocaust? Why mice? Why comics?) and, in the process, illuminates his working methods and the text. Those of you with nitpicky minds will be fairly satisfied, and Spiegelman is nothing if not detail-oriented. It helps, too, that he can articulate his struggles and choices, unlike many another author/artist, and place them in the context of Jewish history and comics history equally. Never too reverent to avoid putting his thumb in eyes that need thumbing, he demonstrates his gift for storytelling even through exegesis. (HB)
Endearing, bobble-headed cartoon characters tend to lose their charm when creators inject melancholy into their play pens, but the results can be inspiring when both extremes coexist without overdosing on irony. One only has to look at the neuroticism of Charlie Brown or the desperation of Home Movies’ Brendon to see that the dichotomy between adulthood and childhood can be flimsy at best. Singapore-based cartoonist Sonny Liew takes a similar approach with Atari and Oliver, two poor street scamps who star in his progressive series Malinky Robot. Wandering the muted, urban sprawl of Asian megapolis San ‘Ya, the duo embark on a series of misadventures. Liew’s panels swim in the empty expanse of his monolithic cityscapes, showcasing intricate detail and geography. His story complements his visuals with whimsical tales that end on ambiguous notes, riffing on the listlessness of youth. This collection’s highlight is a sequence that illustrates a character’s tragic past of child loss and divorce through a replica Sunday Funnies page, filled with spot-on caricatures. A bonus sketch gallery filled with entries by artists like Roger Langridge, Skottie Young and Mike Allred show that Liew’s already accumulated a distinguished following that should only grow with time. (SE)
You may not like 1-800-MICE, but even if its primitivist art and druggy attitudes annoy you, it’s impossible to dismiss the book. Matthew Thurber fits right in with his compatriots at PictureBox, which focuses on the interstices between beauty and ugliness. Often its products as a company (including efforts by PaperRad) are half awful and half lovely. Its books are always superlatively printed, and 1-800-MICE is indeed so, even when it mimics the smudginess of an early 90s zine. Explaining the plot is a waste of time, but there is one, although it’s convoluted and dreamlike in its logic as well as in its subject matter. Psycho sushi chef mercenaries, a half-woman half-tree, a policeman who may turn into another character when he falls asleep and associated meditations on the fluidity of identity, the burgeoning illegal trade in creosote, the presence of inexorable evil in the world, and more are some of the things you can expect to see appear/addressed here. A spread of characters at the beginning comes in handy; some look very similar to one another, and others aren’t given enough time to be memorable. In short, this is not an easy read. Whether or not it’s worthwhile depends on your tolerance for artiness and obscurity. I found it both frustrating and surprisingly interesting. (HB)
Drawn & Quarterly, 2011
As the Crumbish caricature of Marc Bell on the cover explains, Pure Pajamas collects dozens of strips published over the last decade in a smattering of alt-weeklies, magazines, and anthologies. These short pieces alternate between black and white and color but all share an overriding sense of free-form surrealism. Bell plops absurdly designed characters into densely packed pages whose backgrounds and details often change from panel to panel, and rarely with any conventional sense of narrative. Bell surrounds his soft, rounded, physically nonsensical characters with scratchy backgrounds and runs them through nominal stories that largely disregard all logic and physical laws. I’d call it dreamlike if the most straight-forward story here wasn’t directly based on dreams. It’s easy to pick out the inspiration of George Herriman, and Bell’s shorter pieces often come off like a goofier, less cynical Tony Millionaire. Beyond the weird visuals there’s a politeness and playfulness that runs throughout Bell’s work. And one strip is an adaptation of a pretty good Fall song, so I think Bell is pretty clearly trying to curry favor with at least one comic book reviewer. (GM)