First books of ’Fourteen!


0##) The Man Who Grew His Beard by Olivier Schrauwen, finished January 12

At first, I didn't know how to take this book. How deliberate were the variations in character appearance? Is this intentional or just bad drawing? In other words, is he doing something really strange but worthy like David Mazzucchelli, or is he doing something crap like (in my unpopular opinion) Gary Panter? It wasn't easy to tell. But by the end of this collection, I'm leaning to the former.

These surrealist tales are connected by characters or visual motifs or other little doodads, but they don't make sense together until the end. The final three stories each offer an explanation for the weirdness of the preceding tales and provide a viewpoint from which to understand the collection as a whole. I didn't realize this was happening as I read the first of the three until I finished the book, but the mythic recreation of an artist who invents the world provides one framework to consider these tales.

The next story is about the interior fantasy of a paralyzed man unable to communicate with the world around him. At first, as he rewrites his fantasies on the go, I was about to declare the whole collection sloppiness disguised as art, but as I came to understand the conceit, I finally came around and began to consider the possibility that Schrauwen really was up to something impressive.

The final story is a science-fictive explanation, in ways both the most confused and more clear of all the stories. Looking back, other stories (the comics business, for instance) also are explanations for how a world and its art can become the same.

Anyway. Not bad. I'm not totally converted, but certainly worth a looksee.
three or four days


004) Pokémon Black and White, Vol. 1 by Hidenori Kusaka and Satoshi Yamamoto, finished January 10

How I came to read this book is a boring and abysmal story, but suffice it to say that this book is a mess. Like, say, a Scooby-Doo book I recently read, it doesn't seem to have anything going for it beyond its audience's enthusiasm. Which is apparently enough. Because everything else about this book is stupid. Add to that the lame (and faulty) shortcuts it takes which work even less with those unimmersed in manga. Let's just hope I never have to read another one.
five or six days


003) Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hick, finished January 7

We are truly in a golden age of comics. This is a beautiful piece of work, and my patience for high-school stories is generally pretty thin.


The drawing is terrific. The way the characters hold themselves---I know these people. And family members look alike without looking the same.

And the telling is literary. For instance, the ghost and the mom are obviously parallel, but the meaning of that pareallelism is far from obvious. And the same could be said of the haircuts. So many examples.

Hicks also balances humor and pathos like a champ. In all, one of the easiest to recommend comics I've read. Who wouldn't be able to enjoy this?

Incidentally, long ago I started reading this online, but like many great reads, the upload pace was slow and I forgot about it. So thanks to Jeff Smith for returning me to it.

Also, Hicks is the author of Superhero Girl, another online I loved then lost.

You should really check her out.
less than two weeks, probably less than one


002) The Drop by Michael Connelly, finished January 7

I got both Connelly books at the same time, and until the last one got more fun at the end, I thought I wouldn't read this one. But it did and I did and I'm glad because this book was much, much better. Largely, I think, because he stuck with one pov. Still not Great Literature, by any means, but both of the protagonist's victories are tainted and in quite different ways. This is, in other words, a very high-quality potato chip indeed.
over a month


001) The Rejection Collection, Vol. 2 edited by Matthew Diffee, finished January 6

Such a lost opportunity. And don't get me wrong. It's not that what's here is inherently dissatisfying---it's just so paltry. Thirty-eight New Yorker cartoonists who, according to the math suggested by the introduction, get rejected about 450 times a year. Some of them have been submitting for decades. Which suggests mountains of old panels lying around unused. Yet on average, each toonist has about five. Plus a page of photographs and two pages of a fun little fill-in-the-blank form (that gets endlessly repetitive as many low-hanging jokes get picked over and over). Only after which we get to three to maybe seven pages of cartoons, one per page.

Compare this to the 1950s-era NY collection I read last month which varied cartoon sizes, often fitting several to a page. Frankly, this wasted space is absurd and would make me feel pretty ripped off.

The other issue (of sorts) is that Diffee's editing seems to suggest a desire to prove that the best gags left out of The New Yorker's pages are generally a bit gross in some way. Probably this reflects his own tastes, but when you consider how many cartoons they reject each year, it wouldn't be hard to currate a rejection collection that suggests any other theory as well.

So overall, a cool idea for fans of the cartoonists, but undernourished in many ways.
a week or so

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