31 Days of Comics

I recently participated in one of those Facebook things going around called the 31-Day Movie Challenge. Each day had a listed item like Favourite Movie For A Rainy Day or whatever. So each day you'd post a film and some sort of reflection on it. It was fun and I had the opportunity to see friends posting interesting and thoughtful things about movies that had affected them in different ways. One friend suggested I do the same for comics/graphic novels/manga or whatever you want to call the things. So here we are: 31 Days of Comics. And here's the list:


DAY 1
DAY 1

Day 1 - Your favorite comic

Duncan the Wonder Dog

by Adam Hines

ISBN: 0977030490 (buy)

Read the Review.

This is sort of a weak place to start—as even a cursory glance at my Top 100 comics reveals pretty neatly what book will land here.

Duncan's kind of just out there doing it's own amazing thing. It's such a large, lovely, *dense* book. The idea is fantastic but it's in Hines' implementation that the genius becomes apparent. Each page is thoroughly designed, with text rolling and bubbling under and over its surface. It's ambitious as anything I've seen. I'd say it's the work that proves the medium but really, probably most readers won't see it with the eyes I do. We need something else, something more accessible to prove the medium.

Read the Review.

DAY 2
DAY 2

Day 2 - A comic you recommend to everybody no matter what

Bone

by Jeff Smith

ISBN: 188896314X (buy)

Read the Review.

This one was a bit tougher. I'm not really one of those people who believes that everyone should love a particular book. Despite their wide appeal, there are plenty of people for whom even books so good and popular as Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and To Kill a Mockingbird aren't the right fit. If you can believe it, I even found a couple people who balked at Watership Down. Watership Down!!!

So I thought about this one pretty carefully. I thought, yeah, Daytripper! Man, that's a great one with a ton of mass appeal. If you're beyond (and maybe below) a ceratin stage in life. Probably anywhere between twenty and fifty is the sweet spot. But I talk to a lot of kids and Daytripper just isn't gonna resonate with them. Same drill for The Nao of Brown.

Then I thought: Oh gosh. Cross Game is it. Cross Game is the book I unhesitatingly recommend to basically everyone. It's about as close to Good Comics as comics can get. Thrilling, heartfelt, romantic, and funny. Just wonderful. But. At eight volumes, it's not great for people on a budget (a common problem with a lot of great manga. So.

Bone. I chose Bone. Whatever issues I have with the ending are personal. The book is gorgeous, sleek, and in one handsome black-and-white volume, a tasty and affordable comics morsel. Kids love it. Adults love it. It's a nearly flawless recommendation. Even if I like Cross Game more.

Read the Review.

DAY 3
DAY 3

Day 3 - Great adaptation or remake of another work

5 Centimeters Per Second

by Yukiko Seike

ISBN: 1932234969 (buy)

Read the Review.

Man, I thought I had this one sewed up. Best adaptation. Easy. The field's pretty sparse not a lot of amazing adaptations out there. Some good ones, sure. Moon Moth, Ice Wanderer, I don't know what else. Some bad ones, but not any amazing ones.

But 5 Centimeters per Second? Oh wow, oh man. The book is just amazing. It does everything EVERYTHING an adaptation should. It's faithful to some spirit of the original. It builds on what was there. It changes things up in a way that actually improves on the original. Like that Scott Bradlee/Robyn Adele Anderson cover of that Miley Cyrus song that's been floating around.

5 Cm the movie was pretty amazing, a mature love story that remains romantic while eschewing romanticism, if you catch my meaning. Only. Only it's conclusion is pretty abrupt. Maybe that flies with better success for a Japanese audience, but the normative Western response is something like: Hah, wait what? Heh. Uhm, those are the final credits? What the hell dude? The film is not the poster boy for resolution. So what does adapter Seike do? She substantially beefs up the three chapters from the movie, giving characters new lines and essentially building up at least one character from scratch to fill out the last third of the book. Then THEN she writes a whole fourth chapter, drawing from earlier chapters and giving the reader a hook to hang their hat on. And she knocks it out of the park. She's faithful to the story as told but builds on it—probably in a way that original author Shimura might have himself if only he were five or ten years older. It's glorious and I haven't seen any adaptation even playing in the same ballpark.

Only I have. Naoki Urusawa, creator of Monster and 20th Century Boys took an ancient arc from Astro Boy and transformed it into Pluto, one of the best comics experiences available to readers. The entire story is redone and transformed. The bones are there but the meat and skin and muscles and hair that Urusawa fashions atop Tezuka's original is just some astonishing work. I kept myself back from reading Pluto because I was discovering that I wasn't really a fan of Tezuka. It was a sad discovery but a true one. So I didn't feel any reason to see one of his stories exhumed and made to dance in modern clothes. Eventually I broke and I'm glad I did. You need to read this.

So I don't know which adaptation is best. I'm still going to go with 5 Centimeters per Second. But only by a hair. A distant third, I suppose, might be Brandon Graham's Prophet.

Read the Review.

DAY 4
DAY 4

Day 4 - First comic series you seriously pursued

Power Pack

by Louise Simonson and June Brigman

ISBN: 0785137904 (buy)

On a holiday trip, I got my first comics. My first real comics. Marvel comics. Sure I had three or so Gold Key comics—an issue of UFO, an issue of Flash Gordon, something else probably. I also had a mass market paperback collecting some old issues of Tales to Astonish (Hulk fighting Sub-Mariner, Hulk fighting Hulk-Killer, Hulk fighting some weirdo named Boomerang). But no real comics, nothing closer than fifteen years previous to the present-day 1984.

But then the pit stop in the San Joaquin Valley changed everything. I was in fourth grade. There was a spinner rack filled with Marvel comics. We still had miles and miles to go, so my parents bought me two. I had seen Micronauts toys around and so my choice was pretty obvious: Micronauts #57 and Micronauts and X-Men #3. It was wild and crazy and I had no idea what was going on in either. Micronauts would end a couple issues later and the team-up series expected you to have even the faintest idea who the X-Men were (Baron Karza had swapped bodies with Kitty Pryde and this was apparently a big deal). What this did, though it would be years before I found resolution to either story, was teach me that these things had evolving storylines. Micronauts #57 implied fifty-six prior stories that were designed to make the story n the fifty-seventh meaningful. I was hooked.

However, I didn't know where to get these things. I waited desperately for our next road trip through similar territory. In my head, the place to find these comics was hundreds of miles away from my house in the midst of the terrible wasteland of Farming California. A year or some later, we drove through again. My parents had no idea why, but I was desparate that we stop at a particular place, a landmark I had burned into my consciousness. In near hysterics, I finally convinced them that stopping at a particular place was somehow of grave import. I ran in to find more Micronauts but was momentarily devastated to find none. The series had obviously, to we who understand these things, wrapped. It was a betrayal at the time, but I was determined. In my dejections, I purchased Power Pack #5. And then everything changed.

To fifth grade me (the age I believe I was at the time), Power Pack was exactly directed at me. I was right around the same age as Alex Power. I too was the oldest child. I was the perfect age to start reading superhero books and Power Pack was the perfect introduction. Of course, the idea of waiting another year was terrifying. Several months later I realized that the Circle K, a convenience store a thirty-minute walk from my house, also had a spinner rack. I found Power Pack #8. And then #10, #11, and #12. That twelfth issue tied into Uncanny X-Men #195, which I also bought. Eventually, my mom found a comic book store a forty-five minute drive away and, amazingly, she would drive me there once a month. I stayed with the book until issue #52, in retrospect, about twenty-six issues too long.

Power Pack 1, 5, and 11 and X-Men 195

But that was the beginning for me. Power Pack led me into X-Men and New Mutants. And then into Spider-Man and Fantastic Four and Captain America. I faithfully stayed with superhero books (largely Marvel) until 1992, by which time the gimmicks and rehashes and poor character development began to feel infantile. So as I graduated high school, I put comics aside for the most part. I still kept up with some Dark horse books, Next Men and eventually Hellboy, but really, I was done with that scene. They, at that time, were geared toward a different demographic from me.

Eventually, obviously, I cam back to comics. And I credit Power Pack almost entirely with my abiding love for graphic novels today. Power pack, in its way, changed the course of my life.

DAY 5
DAY 5

Day 5 - A Great Love Story

Hopeless Savages: Ground Zero

by Jen Van Meter and Bryan Lee O'Malley et al

ISBN: 1934964484 (buy)

Read the Review.

I'm beginning to suspect that nearly all of these categories will built of tough decisions. Day 1 was a gimme because it's already been documented. Day 4 was easy because it's essentially a historical fact. Everything else? Man.

So a Great Love Story. I honestly might have chosen 5 Centimeters Per Second had I not already chosen it for a category two days ago. (I'm gonna try my hardest not to use a book twice—though obviously that won't stop me from talking about them more than once.) 5 Cm holds a fantastic love story. Especially because it's not all hearts and flowers. It's got a bit of a maturity about it that wins me over pretty well. Still, I already did a thing on it. Whatever the case, if you like love stories, you should buy 5 Centimeters Per Second. It's worth your dollar.

I also considered taking the unexpected route. For a little I thought about going with J. Torres and Doc Shaner's lovely short, "In Other Words..." It was the first (and better) half of Four Star Studios digital release, Romance Double Feature (available in the iTunes store or as downloadable PDF for 99 cents). The story was witty and brisk. Only thing: I wanted more.

In Other Words... by J. Torres and Doc Shaner

Along the perhaps unexpected route, there are two Love Stories in the Image collection Four Letter Worlds. The first, "Spin," is quiet and montages the birth and demise of a romance. The other, "Anew," is talky and zippy and neat. It's by Chynna Clugston and is just super.

Anew by Chynna Clugston

What else did I consider? Cross Game holds a great love story but it's really so much more. Scott Pilgrim would have been a solid choice. The Amir/Karluk aspect of Bride's Story. Habibi would have made an awkward choice, but I do maintain that it's a book about Love. There were others haunting the perimiter, Sailor Twain, Negima, Building Stories, Nao of Brown.

What I'm going with is volume 2 of Jen Van Meter's Hopeless Savages, the volume entitled Ground Zero. It's highschool romance, yeah. But it's true and lovely and delightful. Here's an excerpt of what I wrote about it a couple years back that really probably says exactly what needs to be said:

Several characters remark on how OF COURSE IT'S ABOUT A BOY and how cliche and obvious that all is. Van Meter basically says "Screw that noise. I'm writing this thing about a boy and it's going to be awesome and it will make you wish you had your own story about a boy, so shut up forever." And she does—she does write an awesome story about a boy, about a girl, and about finding out that you're in love and that love can be this awesome, dangerous, rewarding beast of an abstract thing. Ground Zero makes me fall in love with love.

In the immortal words of Goldbug: "There we have it, folks!"

Read the Review.

DAY 6
DAY 6

Day 6 - Nonfiction comic you'd recommend to people who don't do nonfiction

Clan Apis

by Jay Hosler

ISBN: 1482347458 (buy)

I asked my wife this category. Without hesitating, she named exactly the book I thought of when I thought of the category. It was that easy.

And then she, like me, then began to rattle off a tremendous list of Other Books that would be at least as likely for candidacy. As it turns out, the very narrative-based aspect innate to comics makes even non-fiction seem storylike. Maybe you wouldn't jumpstart someone into something complicated like Joe Sacco's Palestine (but who knows, maybe you would?), but pretty near everything else I've seen in the non-fiction realm is very readable and completely accessible to non-non-fiction fans.

Still though, since it was the first to come to mind for both of us, I'll stick with Clan Apis for Day 6. It's about bees, is highly educational, and will help you pretend like you actually know something about bees. Which is pretty super.

DAY 7
DAY 7

Day 7 - Your comfort comic

Cross Game

by Mitsuru Adachi

ISBN: 1421537583 (buy)

Read the Review.

When it comes down to a book that I can just settle into after a stressful week or when I'm down or when it's cold out or when there's just been too much rain, it doesn't come much better than Cross Game. Whenever I loan out a copy, I'll flip through the book (as I tend to do whenever I loan out any book) and experience a time skip in which I've accidentally read thirty or forty pages. Sometimes more.

These books are completely, entirely enjoyable. Mitsuru Adachi has had decades to perfect his storytelling craft and this is him playing at the top of his game. Cross Game is fun. Cross Game is funny. Cross Game is sad, is thrilling, is touching, is smart, and is well told. Cross Game is about love and family and friends and loyalty to each—and is the most compulsively readable comic I own. I love it and it always helps me feel like I'm tapping into this thing that is intensely human. And not human in the six-o'clock-news sense of what it means to be human.

Read the Review.

DAY 8
DAY 8

Day 8 - A gorgeous comic

The Arrival

by Shaun Tan

ISBN: 0734406940 (buy)

Read the Review.

What kind of horrendous question is this? Answering this can only make me feel terrible for all the other gorgeous books I will be excluding. I mean, really. Just stop for a minute and think of all the truly beautiful books you know of. I know I've read a lot of gorgeous books—and it's not even a slim chance that you've read something beautiful that I've not yet seen.

Really, there's no hoping for justice here. I know the question is not asking for THE most gorgeous book, but simply any book that happens to be gorgeous. The problem is that with any choice, I will feel myself doing a disservice to all the other ones. The only way I can feel hlafway good about this is to do a nonsensical list of titles. So here we go:

Blacksad, Blankets, A Bride's Story, Children of the Sea, Daytripper, Domu, Duncan the Wonder Dog, Ice Wanderer, Indian Summer, Les Cités Obscures, Little Nemo, Mouseguard, Moving Pictures, The Nao of Brown, Nausicaä, Sharaz-De, Skim, Solanin, Swallow Me Whole, Tale of Sand, Uncanny X-Men 205, Walking Man, Everything by Moebius, Walt Simonson's Thor, Yukiko's Spinach

That's off the top of my head. Really, I should probably just go with Little Nemo wholly on the strength of the turkey house scene, but instead, we'll sit with Shaun Tan's The Arrival. Really, I don't even want to talk about it. I just want you to pick the thing up, sit somewhere in contempletive quiet, and let Tan's quiet, quiet book wash over you.

Read the Review.

DAY 9
DAY 9

Day 9 - A comic that totally blew your mind

The Nao of Brown

by Glyn Dillon

ISBN: 1906838429 (buy)

Read the Review.

Generally, when I think of mind-blowing, I think of concept comics. I know some people, especially college-aged and younger, probably jump to the idea of, for lack of a better term, the mindfuck cross-genre. Stuff like Donnie Darko or The 13th Floor or The Matrix or Fight Club or Sixth Sense or Inception. Stuff designed to twist around the audience's ability to understand reality. I used to have my mind blown by that sort of thing as well. That and solid, diabolical plot twists—example: Se7en left me completely exhausted.

But nowadays, it's the concept books and movies that blow my mind. Nowadays the twists and the pushing me to distrust reality stuff are neat but nothing special. I've seen it too much. But a good idea? Something wild, crazy, or thoroughly inventive? That is the stuff that drops my jaw.

I fully expected to pick something along those lines. Something high-concept like Day Tripper (Wait, the protagonist dies at the end of every chapter?) or Duncan the Wonder Dog (Wait, the world is exactly like ours except animals are self-aware and able to communicate their thoughts in human language? That's... that's ingenius.). That's what I expected but instead I'm going to pick The Nao of Brown.

The Nao of Brown isn't super high concept. It's got a lot of things that have actually been done before. Lead character suffering from something tricky in their head. A parallel fable trickling throughout that helps inform the main story. Dramatic use of colour to add subtext. Fine story elements, sure, but not new or fresh or inventive. But you know what? Who cares because this right here is one of the best best best comics ever put together. The art is gorgeous. Just fantastic. The storytelling is beautifully planned, intricate, and smart. The thematic choices were enough to push me to put together a study guide just to help people understand the whole thing. The Nao of Brown was entirely mind-blowing to me because I never ever expected anything so marvelous. Glyn Dillon takes a common story involving common tropes and through the sheer wizardry of massive talent, he turns this thing into a wholly unique experience.

Jaw: dropped.

Read the Review.

DAY 10
DAY 10

Day 10 - The most beautiful scene in any comic

Yotsuba&! - The Lying Bug scene

by Azuma Kiyohiko

ISBN: 0316073873 (buy)

Read the Review.

Okay. I'm going to stop complaining about the impossibility of these categories. I'm starting to bore even me. So let's just do this.

Yotsuba, volume 10. There's this moment that five years ago would have meant nothing to me. Yotsuba's lied to her father. He knows this totally in the way that parents do. Also because kids suck at telling believable lies. In any case, he knows. And because he's a dad of a little girl he completely loves, he gives her another shot. An opportunity to back out. And she interrupts this chance to rectify the breach in their relationship by crafting an even more fanciful and ridiculous lie. The entire scene is played through the eyes. There's dialogue, sure, but the wonder of the scene is in the looks. We know the hearts, the souls, of each of these characters wholly by way of Azuma Kiyohiko's storytelling through their eyes.

Here's the scene. It's manga and I haven't flipped it so it reads right-to-left instead of in the normal Western fashion:

Yotsuba and the Lying Bug

Yotsuba and the Lying Bug

Yotsuba and the Lying Bug

Yotsuba and the Lying Bug

Again, five years ago, I would have laughed at the scene (as it is pretty comical), but having my own daughter who is nearbout Yotsuba's age has given these pages an incisive sort of life I could never have imagined. Really, five years ago, all of Yotsuba&! seemed funny and ludicrous, the adventures of a young girl who could never truly exist. Now though, the series might as well be straight-up non-fiction. This is my daughter's story had only she lived in Japan with a single father and been a bit more outgoing than she is.

There may be more visually outstanding moments, more heartrendingly beautiful moments, more aesthetically pleasing moments—but for me, in this time, my beautiful moment is this beautiful moment, because though it may illustrate something negative, it does so with a sacred kind of veracity.

Read the Review.

DAY 11
DAY 11

Day 11 - Old comic you love

Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja

by Larry Hama and Ron Wagner

Okay, so I could go with an old comic I love that I haven't read in twenty years so I can't verify that I actually still love it or... I could go with Walt Simonson's Thor, which I can guarantee is awesome and holds up pretty well to the three passing decades.

So Nth Man it is. This was put together by Larry Hama, the guy who brought G.I. Joe to life. As a sophomore in high school, I felt I was too old for G.I. Joe and too old for ninjas (the series subtitle was The Ultimate Ninja). There was, however, a preview in the back of Marvel Age or something and I found it engaging enough. And the main character needn't match the stereotype of the ninja that had been floating around in those days. He wasn't Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, or even the pre-cartoon/pre-sterilization Ninja Turtles. He was a pretty average dude with some wacky space-bending abilities. And this nemesis of his was basically Franklin Richards but crazy, jealous, and a bit mean—and none of this took place in a superhero world.

The series was short, lasting about a year before getting cut off for poor sales. Hama had, I guess, enough notice to wrap his story abruptly in two final issues that jumped suddenly a year ahead, lopping off various plot threads in order to cut to the mind-boggling final Whoa Moment (in that sense I described college kids going ape for in Day 9). I was stoked and satisfied. And no one I knew followed the series at all (which may be because no one I knew even read comics at all). But regardless, I felt as though I was on the inside of something special and rare. And it turns out, my instincts weren't far off. I've been dying for Marvel to collect this thing so I could read it again. I suspect it will never ever happen.

DAY 12
DAY 12

Day 12 - Great holiday comic

Stray Bullets, issue 2

by David Lapham

ISBN: 0972714561 (buy)

Stray Bullets #2 is the secret origin of Virginia Applejack. It's a Halloween tale. And it pits the lone and little Virginia against several boys from her class. If they were older, there would certainly be sexual assault involved but these are mere children and so its quaint and fluffy—just baseball bats, rocks, knives, and a lot of blood. Virginia gives as she gets but this is no Ender Wiggin moment. Even as the reader cheers her on, we are afraid. Not for her assailants but for the little girl whose tremendous inner strength and pure moxie cannot possibly be enough. It's a good story and a perfect Halloween horror. In a series that is incredible and dark and rather brutal, this chapter is among only a couple others at the top of the game and sits as my favourite of the ill-fated series.

DAY 13
DAY 13

Day 13 - Great plot twist

The Re[a]d Diary

by Teddy Kristiansen and Steven T. Seagle

ISBN: 1607065606 (buy)

Read the Review.

I'm going with Red Diary/Read Diary because it boasts two awesome plot twists. And a third if you count the second story's awkward genesis. Read the review if you want the low-down on what exactly that means but here's the short version. There was the first story, by Teddy Kristiansen, which is great and features a neat little twist that makes you reevaluate everything. Then came Steven T. Seagle, who stripped out all the words, plopped in his own and made an entirely different story of the same art and cut an even more interesting twist right at the same spot Kristiansen did. Two alien stories with two alien twists. And both are worth the dollar spent.

Read the Review.

DAY 14
DAY 14

Day 14 - Comic that you love that you'll never read again

Safe Area Gorazde

by Joe Sacco

ISBN: 1560974702 (buy)

I had originally thought this would be something emotionally devastating. For my similar film list, I chose Grave of the Fireflies and Ordinary People, two films that are emotional wrecking balls. But as I mentally sorted through my inventory of comics, I didn't find anything that affected me similarly. There are plenty of deeply sad or tragic comics around, but none that just leave a flatout destroyed Me in their wake. I think comics' ability to invoke the emotions work on a different level than the film medium does. It's the same with comics horror. I've probably cried harder reading comics than I have watching film, but the final evaluation of those experiences are different (mostly because I'm happy to return to those comics over and over again even while I won't touch certain films, like, at all).

So I had to figure out a different way to think of the question. I'm going with What very good book do I no longer feel the need to read again. For that, I'm turning to Joe Sacco's Safe Area Gorazde. Though written years after the Serbian conflict, many of its concerns are amber-trapped mosquitos, relics of a very particular time in history. Or at least that's my memory of it. It was good to get a sense of a cultural event that even a decade later was still a pretty big deal. However, now almost twenty years later, it seems less important to the way we currently think about the world. The individual stories contained will still be important and valuable and I'd recommend anyone who hasn't read it to do so at their nearest convenience—but the grander political landscape is too altered, I think.

Honestly, thinking about it, I might be enticed back to engage in some of the book's pericopes, the individual narratives describing things like a family's attempt to survive or a family suddenly standing at violent odds with longtime friends and neighbours over the Bosnia/Serbia question. But I wouldn't likely sit down and reread the entire book again.

DAY 15
DAY 15

Day 15 - Comic that makes you smile

Far Arden

by Kevin Cannon

ISBN: 1603090363 (buy)

Read the Review.

Barring straight-up gag strips like Dinosaur Comics and Kate Beaton's stuff like Hark A Vagrant, I wasn't sure which way to go with this one. So I chose the mopeyest comedy I know. Far Arden makes me laugh and laugh. It's pretty ingenious. And then, diabolically tragic. I have friends who hate me for talking this book up. Because when the boom lowers: WHAM!

Last month I tweeted at Kevin Cannon:

A friend messaged me today: "Remember that comic you tricked me into reading where [SPOILER]. Thanks for that." As much of a hard time he gives me for it, he did ask if there was a sequel. It's crawling under his skin and will soon own him!

He said, "Haha yep. That's a lot of people's reaction." And this is what makes me smile a sinister little smile: that in recommending to people one of my favourite books, I'm also dooming them.

Read the Review.

DAY 16
DAY 16

Day 16 - Comic that makes you cry

Twin Spica

by Kou Yaginuma

ISBN: 1934287849 (buy)

Read the Review.

Over the years a lot of comics have made me cry. Until about five years ago, these instances were scattered and maybe rare, but since then it seems that comics have tapped into this magic sorrow button for me. Just some kickass emotional comics out there now.

For me it all started with Thor 362, when Skurge holds the bridge at Gjallerbru. It's just such an epic, sacrificial, redemptive moment for the character. So well drawn and so well conceived. The moment from late 1985 proved to me that comics could elicit deeply born emotional responses, that they could touch even if momentarily, the wonder of the human spirit. It would be years until I'd be so moved again by the form.

In the early 2000s, I believe I got a bit watery at Ted's funeral in Starman. Also, probably at least pretty mopey at points in Jimmy Corrigan. But then came the late 2000s.

The grape scene in Y: The Last Man. "Got another one" in Town of Evening Calm. Jameson's eulogy article in Ultimate Spider-Man during the time he was thought dead before they really killed him 25 issues or so later. That one chapter in Book 1 of Cross Game. The Asuna-wakes-up chapter in the final volume of Negima. That Animal Crossing webcomic about the mom who died of cancer. And this panel from the entirely excellent-and-devastating Three Shadows:

Oh, and that chapter of Daytripper where Bras dies while on book tour. Boom. I was solidly devastated forever across like the whole last six pages of that chapter. Maybe when I get home I'll scan a page or something.

But at the end of the day, as heart-thumping and gut-wrenching as any of these examples might be, they're all amateur hour next to Twin Spica, the 12-volume manga series from Vertical about a 15-year-old girl who enrolls in Japan's first space school with the goal of becoming an astronaut. Almost a volume doesn't go by that doesn't at least once rend your heart into wooded, tetanus-soaked splinters. This book holds WMD levels of sorrow. I read the whole thing in Starbucks, where I had anime-rivers of tears streaming silently down my face. And strangely, it's weird that the saddest, most hurtful book in the entire world should also be such a joyous exploration of the human spirit.

Read the Review.

DAY 17
DAY 17

Day 17 - Comic that reminds you of someone

Every last comic in the world

Pretty much all comics remind me of someone, right? Everything is interconnected and associated with somebody. Hellboy is associated with my first girlfriend. Sparks is associated with my third girlfriend. The Incal, with Justin my best friend from highschool. The Phoenix Saga, with Jon, a good friend from junior high who drew me comics. The Nao of Brown makes me think of Glyn Dillon (duh). Jimmy Corrigan makes me think of Jim Hart. Twin Spica makes me think of Kylie. Cross Game makes me think of Joey. Nausicaä, of Israel K. Walking Man, of my pops. Relish, of my mom. Bone, of Sonata. Sandman, of Stacey M. Palestine, of Johnny T. The Goon, of Tony N. Umbrella Academy, of Grace. BPRD, of Zach. Y: The Last Man, of Christa. Dinosaur Comics and Far Arden, of Brad. Duncan the Wonder Dog, of D.C. Hopkins.

So since every comic has associations, why not choose the comic to feature based on the relationship I'd like to feature?

My wife never read comics until she'd met me. Not for reals anyway. Not the long-form stuff I review here. She'd of course read Calvin & Hobbes and other strips in the newspaper growing up, but she'd never read a graphic novel. Hm, maybe some Tintin. Probably some Tintin. Everyone's read Tintin.

In any case, we started dating in 2005 and I started giving her comics to read a little before that. Because I know what I'm doing. Early books included Bone, Love Hina, (inexplicably) Rising Stars, Same Difference, Nausicaä, Breakfast After Noon, Sparks. (I can't believe Love Hina was like the second book I leant her.) So many of my favourite books have been published after we met, so we went with what I had. Then we married—and since then, she's essentially read everything I've acquired as I've acquired it. Time permitting, of course. I think she still has to catch up on some stuff like Sailor Twain and Big Questions, but she keeps up for the most part. And sometimes even reads books I haven't. Like Jerusalem. Really, she tries to read every book I review before I review it so she can proofread my reviews without having the stories spoiled for her. (She's who makes any of my reviews readable. Note also that she's not proofing this list, so anything goes.)

So what book do I attach to her? Why every book of course. Every comic I read now has an added association because what we read, we read together. Three cheers for marriage.

DAY 18
DAY 18

Day 18 - Comic that deserves a soundtrack

The Walking Man

by Jiro Taniguchi

ISBN: 8493340995 (buy)

Read the Review.

I know that some people specify a soundtrack to be a collection of pop songs or whatever, but I'm going to call it as any musical accompaniment.

For our selection today, I'm going to go with Jiro Taniguchi's Walking Man. I considered Children of the Sea but in the end, well, who knows why we choose the things we choose. Walking Man is a contemplative, humanistic work, but is never heady or elite. I think the book would play nice with something reminiscent of Amelie soundscape, only slightly less jaunty. And perhaps minus the accordians. I'd pin Ennio Morricone as the best composer for the task and want him to draw up something in the vein of what he did for Cinema Paradiso, only maybe without the sweeping love them (as much as I like it). Whatever the case, the soundtrack would need to be light and friendly without coming anywhere close to silly. Maybe add a touch of gravitas, but just a touch.

Whatever, this was a dumb category and too far outside my wheelhouse.

Read the Review.

DAY 19
DAY 19

Day 19 - Comic that you quote from

Scott Pilgrim

by Bryan Lee O'Malley

ISBN: 1620100002 (buy)

I'll be honest here. I don't actually quote from comics. I mean, not so far as I'd notice. So this was a really hard category to answer in a way that was at all meaningful. In the end, I chose Scott Pilgrim because I think I may have said, "Bread makes you fat?" like twice. *shrug* I also might not have.

DAY 20
DAY 20

Day 20 - A comic with witty dialogue

Moving Pictures

by Kathryn Immonen

ISBN: 1603090495 (buy)

Read the Review.

I really kind of adore the verbal jousting that blankets so many of the romantic comedies of the '30s and '40s. Realism in dialogue has never been a hallmark goal of either film or literature. The way real people speak is a jumbled, halting, Frankenstein's monster of grammatical forms and lowest-common-denominator vocabulary. Nothing about dialogical verity sings, so why not have fun with it? The patter that carves the soundscape of those older films is smart and charming and reveals a sense of humour that we too often forget are universals of place and era. Outside David Mamet productions (and maybe Rian Johnson's Brick), it's pretty far out of vogue to feature witty reparteé really at all anymore.

So something like the Immonen's Moving Pictures is especially delightful. Set in the same era as Casablanca (Vichy France), the creative pair use the era and the black-and-white nature of the book to ease readers into something like a love letter to the snappy banter that draped classics like Philadelphia Story, Maltese Falcon, Hitchcock's Secret Agent, and even late-gamers like Charade. The book is wonderful and sexy—as sexy as words!

Read the Review.

DAY 21
DAY 21

Day 21 - A comic that you used to love but now dislike

100 Bullets

by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso

ISBN: 1563896451 (buy)

When I read the first volume of 100 Bullets, I was nonplussed. The writing was mediocre and the art was a bit haphazard (though stylish). That was basically the end of me and 100 Bullets. And then, for years later, I heard great things about the series. For years, it was one of the ones recommended as a book in which Big Stuff Was Happening. So I gave it another shot, vols 2 and 3. And yeah, with vol 3, things seemed to be picking up. It looked like there was a bigger story than the boring Here's-A-Suitcase bit. And there was. There was this whole bigger thing for a while and I dug it. For a while.

It turned out I should have gone with my intial instincts. Azzarello is not a good writer. Maybe he will be, but at least on 100 Bullets, everything is overwritten to the point of painful. I mean, sure, there's overwriting that can be fun and playful. That stuff's great. This, however, is just painful. It's all wordplay but not even especially wonderful wordplay. The whole thing was exhausting. Now, if I see Azzarello is working on a book, I don't touch it. Risso's art is pretty fine and I don't really have any complaints. And sometimes it even verges on excellent. But that can't save it. The whole thing turned into a mess and I've wanted to review it but that means reading it again and I don't really want to. Which rarely happens with comics for me.

DAY 22
DAY 22

Day 22 - Comic that makes you wanna have sloppy makeouts with someone

Utsubora

by Asumikoa Nakamura

ISBN: 1935654764 (buy)

For a long time this category left me pretty baffled. A comic that inspired makeouts. Not sex. Makeouts. Obviously, a simple Google search for "erotic comics" would turn up like a million titles concerned with sex (mostly European and Japanese). But hot hot kissings? I couldn't even think of a comic artist who drew good kisses.

And then, lightbulb. Oh. Duh.

Utsubora has a lot going for it. Complicated whodunnit. Interesting storytrails. Smexy people doing smexy things. Highly stylized art. And above all, at least for the here and now, ridiculously great kissing. The way Nakamura invests passion into her illustrations of locking, unlocking, and interlocking lips is mind-boggling. She's so good at it that I'm sure no artist I've seen even compares. And if memory recalls (as memory is sometimes wont to do), I may have been hungry for makeouts after reading Utsubora. I mean, you'd probably have to be dead to feel otherwise.

Really, it seems unfair of me not to include a visual aid here, but I don't have my book with me. Maybe I'll scan something later. Who knows.

DAY 23
DAY 23

Day 23 - First comic you ever bought

The X-Men and the Micronauts #3

by Chris Claremont, Bill Mantlo, and Butch Guice

As mentioned in Day 4, I picked up The X-Men and the Micronauts #3 on a family vacation. While I had been given a small handful of Gold Key comics earlier in life, this was the first I actually self-actualized by taking to a counter and paying my own money for. I was ten.

X-men and MicronautsI knew who the Micronauts were because I had seen the toys around. Mostly just Baron Karza, Acroyear, Bug, and Biotron (who I later discovered to be the Micronaut's ship, at least in the comics I had). But these were known entities. The X-Men? I didn't know who they were but they were lucky to share the page with stars as bright-shining as the Micronauts.

So anyway, I got the book. What a mess for a ten-year-old to navigate. Baron Karza had in a previous issue switched bodies with Kitty Pryde (I had no idea who Kitty Pryde was and as she spends most of the volume in a bikini-type thing, I didn't have a costume to associate her with. Then Professor X, who I didn't know, was evil and somehow in the form of some Entity or other. And there was a blue devil guy who was good and the X-Men were in trouble and what the heck is happening?? In any case, i read it over and over again, and that sparked my need for more comics—a need which wouldn't find fruit 'til a whole year later.

Also, though I wouldn't have caught all of it, that Micronauts/X-Men crossover had a bit of sexual weirdness going on in it. I mean, though I was ten, I wasn't blind. I just didn't catch everything. I did see a lot of weirdness in this though (though the age thing meant nothing, as a 15 year-old Kitty Pryde was an old woman to me).

X-men and Micronauts

DAY 24
DAY 24

Day 24 - A comic that made you laugh

Screw-On Head

by Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart

A few months ago, Greg Burgas and I put together a list of what we thought were, like, the funniest comics we knew. If you like laughing and like comics, I recommend you peruse that list. It's pretty wonderful.

For today's category, I'm going with one of those books, the absurdly absurd Screw-On Head—an adventure drama with that bizarro 19-century flair. Screw-On Head is basically just a head with screw threading on his neck, allowing him to be attached to a variety of bodies. He works (at least some of the time) for Abraham Lincoln. The whole thing is worth a look. It's only a single issue. Which is either perfect or a tragedy.

Also, if you like, you can watch an animated episode that captures some of the same charm.

DAY 25
DAY 25

Day 25 - A comic from a favorite creator

A Bride's Story

by Kaoru Mori

ISBN: 0316180998 (buy)

Read the Review.

I have a lot of favourite comics creators because, like, why wouldn't I? I thought about featuring Rick Leonardi, because why wouldn't I? He's easily in my top ten artists who ever worked for Marvel. Maybe even top five. But he doesn't have a book out right now, so why not feature someone who does?

I, like many, first encountered Mori in her Vicotrian-era tale of cross-class romance, Emma. It was a nice book with solid art. It was good but not incredible. Emma's a nice gateway book for people who like Jane Austin but aren't sure what to make of comics (or worse, of manga!). When I heard Mori was putting out a new series set in the 19th century Caspian region, I thought: "Sure. Why not. Let's give this a try."

Bride's Story is like, Holy Cow. The visual evidence of Mori's illustrative gifts somehow got turned up a thousandfold. The detail she packs into her pages is just flatout incredible. Here's a video (from a series) of Mori drawing Amir, the series lead. You will pee your pants.

Read the Review.

DAY 26
DAY 26

Day 26 - A guilty pleasure comic

Negima: Magister Negi Magi

by Ken Akamatsu

ISBN: 1935429620 (buy)

Read the Review.

I'm not a big fan on the idea of guilty pleasures. I like the things i like for very specific and, I would argue, very legitimate reasons. I don't like crap merely because it titllates me or fulfills some hidden fantasy. I like the things I do because they line up with my sense of what is good and worthwhile. So let's not call Negima a guilty pleasure. Because it is a Good Book, in the honest sense of that.

Still, there are awkward things about it that, while being things that can be explained, are things that actually require explanation lest you look like a pervert. Which makes reading Negima in a cafe (my favourite choice for public reading) a dicey proposition. The books are filled with the sexual objectification of teenage girls. And see? That alone sounds just atrocious. And it is. But if I had fifteen minutes to explain it all out to you, you'd still be grossed out but then at least you'd have a starting point where you might be able to say, "Maybe there's something good going on there too." Anyway, read my review. I get into it a bit more there.

Yet at the same time, there's a pretty grave conflict. For all the good within the book, it's clear that Negima is still governed by market forces. Volumes of the series in Japan offered another evidence of the title's general misogynistic atmosphere. I'm not certain if it was for every cover, but at least for a good number there were offered special edition variants that depicted the series' heroines in more pointedly sexually objectified states. Here are four examples (the first is of the hundreds-year-old vampire trapped in a ten-year-old body).

Negima: Magister Negi Magi by Ken Akamatsu

Negima: Magister Negi Magi by Ken Akamatsu

Negima: Magister Negi Magi by Ken Akamatsu

Negima: Magister Negi Magi by Ken Akamatsu

That these are not available in the American edition does not alter Akamatsu's or the publisher's responsibility for bringing such things into the world.

Read the Review.

DAY 27
DAY 27

Day 27 - Comic you've read the most times

The Nao of Brown

by Glyn Dillon

ISBN: 1906838429 (buy)

Read the Review.

Really, this could probably only be a contest between Duncan the Wonder Dog and The Nao of Brown, two of the books I've spent the most time trying to understand (Utsubora almost fits, but instead of reading it multiple times, I just read it twice more and took copious notes). In truth, I'm not even actually sure I've read Nao more than Duncan. Also, at the end of my life—should I live that long (to the end of my life)—I'll likely have read Cross Game more than either of these. 'Cuz, man.

Read the Review.

DAY 28
DAY 28

Day 28 - Comic for kids

Zita the Spacegirl

by Ben Hatke

ISBN: 1596434465 (buy)

Read the Review.

There are so many great comics out there for kids that it's almost as if comics might be for kids again. I have a whole (and growing) list of great comics/graphic novels for kids right here. There's just so much to choose from now. But over the past few months, I've noticed a certain kind of gravitation toward one book over and again.

It may be that I only know girls or it may be that Ben Hatke's book is just awesome (both are pretty much true), but it seems that everyone loves Zita and wants more. Really, it's hard to go wrong. It's a fun, inventive, and creative world and the sense of adventure is spot on and Zita's just a great little character. I highly recommend if you have little ones or if you want to take in a guileless adventure story with a lot of heart.

Read the Review.

DAY 29
DAY 29

Day 29 - Comic that changed the way you see the world

Palestine

by Joe Sacco

ISBN: 156097432X (buy)

Read Review of Footnotes in Gaza.

Excerpted from Footnotes in Gaza review:


Reading the work of Joe Sacco was, for me, a recalcitrant experience.

Let's go back a decade or two to my formative experience in the Christian church. I grew up in California's premiere non-denominational denomination. Calvary Chapel, an outgrowth of (and reaction to) the Four-Square tradition, is what one might call: very dispensational. For the unwary, dispensationalism is the complicated sort of interpretive rubric by which someone reads the Bible and comes up with an end-of-the-world scenario that resembles more or less that which I imagine was laid out in the Left Behind series.

As a teenager, it was not uncommon to see intricate charts illustrating all the maddening complexities of the eschatological framework that despotically governed our motivations. Much of what we did was in mind of the imminent rapture of the church and its concordant seven years of tribulation (with a capital T). And above all things in our late-twentieth-century world, there was one idea that was of the utmost importance: to bless Israel was to curry favour with God and to curse Israel was to invite wrath and judgment. And even thinking a negative thought about the nation skirted cursing Israel so closely as to be indistinguishable from it.

In point of fact, the Israeli nation could do no wrong.

Israel occupies a special place in the dispensational understanding of things. As opposed to other Christian perspectives, dispensationalism holds Israel and her children in such high esteem that Messianic Jews are often seen as some glorious chimera who, being Jews, likely hold the keys to interpreting all the particularly knotty issues the Scriptures hold. Maps in textbooks of the region called Palestine are edited with Sharpies to become maps of Israel. There is within dispensational circles some variety of opinion as to just how deeply those descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob should be revered, but in common to the last man, American dispensationalists seem to be deeply fearful of the president who finally gives in to the powers of the world and decides to stop supporting Israel.

Such an action would surely lead to the ruin of the American nation. We would be cursed of God. We would flee in seven ways from before our enemies. The skies would be as bronze. There would be molds. Plural.

So then, what did Joe Sacco do? The first thing and the one that affected me recalcitrantly was craft a comic called Palestine.

A typical day in Palestine

Sacco is a special kind of journalist. Over the last fifteen years, he's produced book after book giving readers an up-close perspective of areas of the world torn by the kind of traumas that Americans will likely never have to face. At least not in our generation. Maybe in the next if they are especially unlucky.

1999's Palestine is a sprawling, 288-page non-fictional comic book that chronicles Sacco's experience in Palestine at the tail end of the First Intifada (that is, the uprising of the Palestinian people against what they considered to be the oppressive Israeli regime—this lasted from 1987 through 1993). Sacco peppers his narrative with interview after interview, speaking to both Palestinians and Israelis, though spending more time on the Palestinian side of the equation. At one point he responds to a skeptical Israeli woman who wonders why he isn't more interested in interviewing Israelis, telling the reader that he's heard Israel's side of things his entire life.

I could relate.

Joe Sacco confesses the reason behind his biases

Ever since I was old enough to know that there was still a nation called Israel and old enough to know that there was a PLO and Arabs and a Palestinian people, I knew that Israel was the good guy and all those nations around them were the enemy who wanted Israel dead, who wanted God's chosen people dead. There was no way I was able to process information that might portray Israel in a negative light save to either spin it positively or simply reject it as the, quote-unquote, Bias of the Liberal Media.

What? Israel attacked Palestine and a bunch of citizens were killed? Well, the Palestinians know that Israel's policy is to return an attack with a force greater than that with which they were attacked. They should just stop attacking! What? Israel's taking land from the Palestinians in order to house new Jewish immigrants? Well, it is their land after all. God did promise it to them. The Palestinians are just lucky the Israelis don't act like God commanded them to in the Old Testament. What? Israel's torturing and killing innocent people? In cold blood? Liberal lies.

It's very easy to maintain a belief system when one is immune to new information. Of course, Sacco's Palestine hit me in a way I was totally unprepared for. Instead of railing against Israel, instead of merely exposing some of their more dubious methods of controlling the Palestinian people, it took a far more direct route. It did something I could never have expected or defended against.

Palestine humanized the people of Palestine.

It did the same for the Israelis, sure, but in my mind they were already quite human. It was the Palestinians who were essentially kobolds or orcs, fantastic creatures whose whole existence was devoted to hoping for Israel's destruction. Yet Sacco unveils a people rich in culture, grievously wronged by world powers generations earlier, and presently stuck in circumstances with no ready solution. Their populace is as varied in its opinions, beliefs, and desires as is our own. Some wanted peace at all costs. Some wanted a fair and equitable resolution to the conflict. Some wanted reparations. And some wanted war so badly that it hurts. These were people with dreams and nightmares. People governed by hope and by hopelessness.

These were, whether I liked it or not, people.

And so, Joe Sacco, with a single book, turned my ability to (mis)understand Israel's place in the Middle East on its ear. Suddenly I was able to hear things I had been previously deaf to. I was able at last to empathize with the plights of my brothers and sisters who happen to be Palestinian. More, I became able to empathize with people in a vast array of cultures that had previously been marginalized by my theological framework. By the time I had read Palestine, I had abandoned my infatuation with dispensationalism a couple years earlier but had still retained my warm-hearted sentiment toward the Israeli nation. I can't imagine how chaotic this shift in thinking would have been had I still held doggedly to the dispensational system.

Read Review of Footnotes in Gaza.

DAY 30
DAY 30

Day 30 - A truly smart comic

Basically every Matt Kindt comic

by Matt Kindt

ISBN: Red Handed - 159643662X (buy)
Super Spy - 1891830961 (buy)
Mind MGMT - 1595827978 (buy);

Read Review of Red Handed.

Read Review of Super Spy.

Read Review of Mind MGMT.

I'm not sure exactly how to parse "smart" here. Does it mean super intelligent, like the QED explanation in Ottaviani's Feynman? Because then I'd probably just save myself the trouble and go with Feynman, because it's a pretty safe bet that no comics writer is as brilliant as Richard Feynman, from whose own words Ottaviani adapted that segment of the book.

I could read smart as wildly creative and allusory and just plop in Duncan the Wonder Dog again. Because whatever Adam Hines is, he's obviously firing on all kinds of cylinders here.

Or should I go with clever? That seems like the most interesting choice, so I'll take it. And Matt kindt fits the bill pretty well. Excluding 3 Story, which sticks pretty closely to a linear narrative, Kindt's stories have a tendency to hop all over the place. And they inevitibly do so in ways that make you re-evaluate previous story elements and think "Ohhhhhhhh, that changes everything. How clever."

Here are two excerpts from things I've written about Kindt over the years:

Kindt strikes me as foremost an Idea Man. Everything he's shown us so far paints him as prodigiously imaginative. He has big ideas for his overarching story, for the forms those stories take, and for some of the intricacies of how his pages and panels will lay out. I don't look for any improvement on his part in this area. He has, so far as I'm concerned, arrived. If not perfect for what he's doing, his ideas are close enough that we mere mortals cannot distinguish well enough to complain.

And:

After we read Red Handed earlier in the year, my wife remarked that Matt Kindt must be some kind of genius. I imagine my response must have been something like, "Well, yeah." Because of course he is. Super Spy provided ample evidence and Red Handed nailed that coffin shut tight. Even though it was already being released in monthly format, neither of us had taken the opportunity to read Mind MGMT—even though Matt Kindt is one of a small handful of creators who make up the collection of My Favourite Working Creators.

So yeah. Matt Kindt, everybody.

Read Review of Red Handed.

Read Review of Super Spy.

Read Review of Mind MGMT.

 

Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:

3 Stars = Good
2 Stars = Ok
1 Star = Bad

I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.

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