New Comics: Chicago, Plutona, Shonen Jump, and Prison Island

Emi Lenox/Image Comics
Emi Lenox/Image Comics / Emi Lenox/Image Comics

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.


By Glenn Head

Glenn Head dropped out of the Cleveland Institute of Art in the 1970s and made his way with nothing but a sketchbook in order to gain the life experiences of a real artist. He learned a lot about himself, met his hero Robert Crumb, and even got work doing cartoons for Playboy magazine. It all sounds like an inspiring tale of an artist chasing his dreams, but in a lot of ways Chicago, Head’s long-in-the-making first graphic novel, pokes holes in the romantic notion of the starving artist.

Head is not afraid to represent his young self (named “Glen” in the book, the slightly different spelling perhaps to indicate some distance from the truth) as naive and reckless. His trip to Chicago, which is the crux of this warts-and-all memoir, is a mess from the very beginning. Glen goes hungry and is homeless and he would have been as good as dead if not for the inexplicable kindness of a friendly stranger who offers his home and an art director at Playboy magazine who is patient with Glen’s erratic behavior. There is a central conflict between Glen and his father, a successful Wall Street businessman, but the older Mr. Head comes across as reasonable despite disapproving of Glen’s choice of studies. This conflict, and the idea that we find and define ourselves by how we relate to our parents, comes up again and again in the book.

Head came of age during the heyday of Crumb’s underground comix movement, and this book looks very much like an homage to that bygone era of trippy transgression and cross-hatched inking. But what it's really about is showing what happens after you’ve come back from the underground. Fantagraphics has a preview here.

Plutona #1

By Jeff Lemire, Emi Lenox and Jordie Bellaire
Image Comics

We don’t see a lot of new superhero comics these days, especially not from Image Comics where creators tell stories in other genres like horror, science fiction, and crime. There’s long been a glut in the comics market, not only in standard superhero stories, but also in post-modern superhero deconstructions. In the new mini-series, Plutona, Jeff Lemire and Emi Lenox use superheroes to tell a story about people with real lives and emotions who happen to live in a world inhabited by super-beings. It's a Stand By Me-like coming-of-age story about a group of teenage friends who, one day after school, stumble across the body of famed superheroine Plutona in the woods.

Lemire has built a successful career for himself writing superhero books like Hawkeye and Animal Man, as well as more grounded literary graphic novels like Essex County. This latest work seems to blend his two strengths. Lenox, meanwhile, is known for her autobio sketch comic Emitown. With colorist Jordie Bellaire’s soft color washes, her work here actually feels like a cleaner, more polished version of Lemire’s own drawing style (he draws a backup story featuring the title heroine in this issue), making this feel like it’s part of Lemire’s larger body of work but with the extra touch of Lenox’s cute characters and airy, well-composed page designs. Here’s a preview.

Shonen Jump

By various
Viz Media 

Comixology has made great strides recently to branch out its collection to Japanese manga. They have introduced selections from popular U.S. publisher Viz Media, including the veritable hit One Punch Man, which is only now seeing its first print volume in the U.S. after building a ravenous digital following. This week they had two big announcements on the digital manga front. One was the addition of books from major manga publisher Kodansha, who are responsible for the 16-volume phenomenon Attack on Titan. The second was the announcement that they would now be selling digital issues of the weekly Shonen Jump.

This week’s debut issue on the platform includes a new chapter in Tite Kubo’s wildly dynamic and highly popular series Bleach. Plus, there’s an episode of the aforementioned One Punch Man. And that’s just part of an average 200+ page issue you can get for just 99¢, making this one of the best values on Comixology. You can find out more here.

Prison Island

By Colleen Frakes
Zest Books

Not everyone has a good hook for a memoir, but when you grow up on an island in the Puget Sound that contains nothing but a prison, you pretty much have to write a book about it. In fact, early on in Prison Island, young Colleen Frakes remarks, “When I grow up I’m gonna write a book about this place.” 

Maybe because of the sensible parenting of Colleen’s folks (who both worked at the prison) or the hard and fast rules everyone on the island followed, there isn’t much in the way of dangerous prisoner drama. In fact, it is the nonchalant way young Colleen and her family live by rules that would make the rest of us shudder—locking up bikes and pool toys every night so they couldn’t be used in an escape attempt, hiding under the seat in the car when picking up their dad so the prisoners wouldn't know the guards had kids, having to cancel a birthday party because of a manhunt for an escaped convict—that give this book a quirkiness you would not expect.

It’s a very reflective book, and Colleen recounts her childhood amidst the 2010 closing of the prison which effectively shut down the island itself, leaving nothing behind but her family's memories.  Here’s a preview.