The Most Interesting Comics of the Week
Every week I write about the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, bookstores, digital, and the web. Feel free to comment below if there's a comic you've read recently that you want to talk about or an upcoming comic that you'd like me to consider highlighting.
Nanjing: The Burning City
By Ethan Young
Dark Horse Comics
The second Sino-Japanese war eventually bled into the greater conflict of WWII, but on its own it was one of the costliest wars in human history. The massacre of hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers and non-combatant refugees in the city of Nanjing and the mass rape of Chinese women by invading Japanese forces are still among the worst military atrocities ever committed during wartime.
In the visually stunning and emotionally wrenching new graphic novel Nanjing: The Burning City, we follow two Chinese soldiers who are left behind in the fallen city and must fight to escape as invading Japanese forces close in. This is a powerful war comic that seems to have come out of nowhere from a relatively unknown cartoonist whose previous work was a semi-autobiographical webcomic called Tails. Ethan Young, the American son of Chinese immigrants, effectively taps into the story's emotion. His drawings are striking in their use of stark black and white, showing influences from both manga and the mid-century war comics of Harvey Kurtzman. This book is sure to make it on my best of the year list.
Young Terrorists #1
By Matt Pizzolo and Amancay Nahuelpan
The latest series from Black Mask Studios, a publisher whose mission is to bring fresh, edgy creator-owned comics to the market, comes from one of its co-publishers, Matt Pizzolo. Young Terrrorists aims to push buttons in a way that many readers will find off-putting. There is graphic sex and violence, and, as the title suggests, a glorification of terrorism as a way to change the system. Set in the near-future, this new ongoing series follows the daughter of a plutocrat who is seemingly framed for his death and locked away and tortured for years in a military detention camp. She escapes and becomes the leader of a movement that uses subliminally coded videos of pornography and underground fighting to foment civil and social unrest.
It follows the themes of Pizzolo’s previous work, including films he has directed like Threat as well as comics projects like Occupy Comics. He’s working with newcomer Amancay Nahuelpan, who brings a gritty realism to this sci-fi tinged story. Pizzolo and Nahuelpan were inspired by the early days of DC Comic’s Vertigo line that gave birth to works like Grant Morrison's The Invisibles, which is an obvious influence on this concept. The series begins with an 80-page first issue to set the stage but future monthly issues will be normal-size pamphlet comics.
By Joan Cornellà
The strange, wordless comics of Spanish cartoonist Joan Cornellà have become a social media sensation in some circles over the past couple of years. With over two million followers on Facebook, you may have seen some of his hilarious and often horrifying strips in your feed.
Cornellà paints each cartoon, and they are surreal and at times disturbing and shocking. A recent cartoon shows a white police officer gunning down a black marathon runner and then proceeding to win the race himself before being held up by an adoring white audience. Another shows a woman clutching her infant when she sees a sniper aiming from a window, but then she tosses her baby in the line of fire to save the stranger who was being targeted. It’s this kind of deeply weird play on the reader’s expectations that makes his comics work
Fantagraphics is releasing Mox Nox, the first collection of Cornellà’s work, and it is sure to be a popular bookstore item. See a preview here.
If You Steal
The latest book from enigmatic Norwegian cartoonist Jason is a collection of eleven short stories full of experimentation. One imagines painter Frida Kahlo as a hired killer, while another is just six Van Morrison song titles from Moondance illustrated as horror comic covers. There's also a chronologically disjointed crime story inspired by Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey and the paintings of Magritte. Other stories include ones about Chet Baker, vampire hunters, and a JFK conspiracy theory.
Jason is one of the most interesting artists to ever work in this medium. His ever-growing oeuvre of graphic novels like Hey Wait… and I Killed Adolf Hitler are classics, and even a collection of shorter works like this is a must-have for fans of smart comics.
One of the best ways to support young, up-and-coming cartoonists is to buy their mini-comics. Often hand-folded and stapled by the artists themselves, mini-comics have a personal touch that web and digital versions can’t match. A number of small boutique publishers have jumped in to help these artists distribute their work to a wider audience. Uncivilized Books has a number of new mini-comics for sale through their website including some that are part of the Uncivilized Lab program intended to showcase their own interns.
Madeline McGrane’s Ice Heist is a cute little crime comic where the narrator is confronted by the ghosts of three gangsters from the 1920s who recruit her to help retrieve a suitcase full of cash. It’s a light romp with some solid black-and-white cartooning that seems inspired by the work of Hope Larson. McGrane’s website boasts a number of other accomplished-looking comics and she looks to be someone to watch in the coming years.