Every Wednesday, I highlight the five most exciting comic releases of the week. The list may include comic books, graphic novels, digital comics and webcomics. I'll even highlight some Kickstarter comics projects on occasion. There's more variety and availability in comics than there has ever been, and I hope to point out just some of the cool stuff that's out there. If there's a release you're excited about, let's talk about it in the comments.
1. Barnaby Volume One
By Crockett Johnson; Edited by Eric Reynolds & Philip Nel
One of the great, hard-to-find, classic comic strips from the mid-20th century is finally getting a modern reprinting with the multi-volume hardcover treatment from publisher Fantagraphics. Barnaby was a newspaper strip that ran from 1942 to 1952 and featured a 5-year-old boy who wished for a fairy godmother and instead got a cigar-chomping fairy godfather named O'Malley. It mixed fantasy, satire and political commentary and its humor was often very subtle. So subtle that its popularity was limited compared to most strips of the day. Editors Eric Reynolds and Philip Nel have taken great pains to annotate many of the topical references that were made to help new readers appreciate what Barnaby's small but devoted readership enjoyed at the time.
Creator Crockett Johnson is now perhaps best remembered more for his beloved children's book Harold and the Purple Crayon, but his work on Barnaby inspired cartoonists from Charles Schulz to Dan Clowes, who has art-directed this collection. This is the first of five volumes that will collect every single strip that Johnson created. Previous reprints are so rare now that they have become unaffordable to all but the most avid collectors, but Fantagraphics hopes to make Barnaby more accessible to all fans of the comic strip format.
An interesting thing to note about Barnaby is that the typeset—rather than hand drawn—lettering Crockett used made it stand out from other newspaper strips at the time. In this age of digitally lettered webcomics, maybe it will no longer seem so out of place.
2. Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas
Written by Jim Ottaviani; art by Maris Wicks
Jim Ottaviani, a former nuclear engineer and reference librarian, has made a career for himself writing biographical comics about real-life scientists like Robert Oppenheimer and Richard Feynman. In his latest, Primates, he collaborates with cartoonist Maris Wicks to tell the story of three famous researchers—Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas—exploring their lives and the important, breakthrough work they achieved studying primates in the wild.
Maris Wicks is an illustrator with what you might call a "cute" style that makes her work accessible and enjoyable to all ages, but especially to younger readers. An underappreciated strength of comics is the way they can be used to teach while also being entertaining. Ottaviani and Wicks aim to do just that here, teaching young readers about three of the most important women scientists of the 20th century while letting them vicariously enjoy primate-watching through the eyes of those scientists.
3. Brother Lono #1
Written by Brian Azzarello; Art by Eduardo Risso; cover by Dave Johnson.
100 Bullets was a series that ran for, yes, 100 issues in the early 2000s. It was part of a wave of books published by DC Comics' Vertigo imprint that helped rejuvenate that brand from being the home of strictly horror titles like Sandman and Hellblazer to being a home for genres of all sorts. 100 Bullets itself was kind of a mix of tough guy crime fiction and complicated conspiracy thriller. The book's style hinged on the individual style of its creators: Brian Azzarello's metaphor-rich, sing-songy dialogue and Eduardo Risso's chiaroscuro-heavy, Frank Miller-influenced cartooning. Not to mention the now iconic covers designed by the great Dave Johnson.
Although a lot of fans of the series felt it ran out of steam toward the end, many of them will no doubt be excited to see Azarello and Risso (and Johnson) return to this world and, in particular, one of the most popular characters from the series whom until now we didn't really know had survived the events of the finale.
Lono was the violent, sadistic and unbelievably tough member of the group of killers known as The Minutemen. After the final events of 100 Bullets, we catch up with Lono—now Brother Lono, apparently—down in Mexico doing the work of God. Until things more than likely go to hell.
4. Crater XV & Heck
By Zander and Kevin Cannon
Crater XV and Heck are actually two separate books - the first, written and drawn by Zander Cannon; the second by Kevin Cannon (apparently no relation) - that originated from a comic anthology called Double Barrel that they released digitally through Comixology. Double Barrel received a lot of praise for being affordably priced at 99¢ while also being packed with lots of quality content. The Cannons have now separated their contributions into two separate hardcover volumes for bookstore release.
Crater XV is a sequel to Kevin Cannon's Eisner-nominated book Far Arden, a swashbuckling arctic adventure full of equal parts action and humor. It's got pirates, astronauts and even killer walruses.
Meanwhile, Heck is more of a morality tale but also quite a bit of fun as it follows Hector "Heck" Hammarskjöld in his new business venture of traveling into the underworld to settle inheritance disputes. Joined by his pint-size, mummy-like companion, Elliot, things get personal when Heck takes on a case for an old flame.
5. The Guns of Shadow Valley
Written by Dave Wachter and James Andrew Clark; Art by Dave Wachter
The supernatural western webcomic The Guns of Shadow Valley has just launched a Kickstarter to fund the completion and production of a final 200+ hardcover volume. It's already very quickly reached its goal but there's still time to contribute, still rewards to get and of course still stretch goals to achieve.
The comic is set in 1870s Oklahoma Territory and deals with super-powered gunmen facing off against an army of ghost soldiers to protect a mysterious secret. It has elements of horror, science fiction, steampunk and of course gunslinging. It seems to be part of a trend of supernatural westerns that have cropped up over the years like Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt's The Sixth Gun.
The real selling point to this comic is the artwork of Dave Wachter. His style is reminiscent of some of the great realist comic book artists of the '70s like Neal Adams, not to mention some of the great artists of classic comic westerns like John Severin. He has a detailed, painterly style that perfectly fits the mood of this type of genre story.
You'll notice the horizontal format of the book shown here and I should note that actually three of the books mentioned here use this atypical graphic novel format for reasons that span the history of comics: one that uses it because it collects horizontal newspaper strips and two that use it because they collect work that were created for the landscape format of a computer (or tablet) screen.
Pledge to the Kickstarter for The Guns of Shadow Valley here.
MEANWHILE, IN COMICS NEWS THIS PAST WEEK:
- Man of Steel had the biggest June opening ever. Bring on the Justice League movie! Oh, they're going to rush it into production for a 2015 release? Yeah, that sounds like enough time to make a quality, special-effets laden movie not to mention time to figure out how to reboot Christopher Nolan's Batman.
- Speaking of Superman, if you've got an itch to read some good Superman comics now, there's still time left on Comixology's 99¢ sale on many of the best Superman comics ever.
- And the Small Press Expo announced that Congressman and civl rights icon John Lewis will be a featured guest at their show in September. He'll be signing the new first volume of the graphic novel biography of his life, March: Book One. He will certainly be the first sitting member of Congress to attend SPX and don't forget that his book sports another comics first: a cover blurb written by a former president (Bill Clinton).