Monday, 21 March 2011

Weekly Treats, The Cardboard Valise, Demo & more...!

The MacArthur Fellows Programme (also known as the Genius Award, no less) features a grant awarded each year to Americans working in any field who "show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work" (see here). In 2000 Ben Katchor was the first cartoonist to receive this award. In fact so far he's been the only graphic novelist to receive the award.
The Cardboard Valise (Pantheon) is the first book from Katchor for ten years after previous works Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer and The Jew Of New York.

Katchor's books are unlike anything you have read before. He can make a characters story, no matter how seemingly mundane, feel like it's part of a greater mosaic. His storytelling voice appears to be so detached that it remains non-critical and certainly non-judgemental despite the fact that he is sometimes exposing a dark or vacuous side of human nature. They are funny, quirky and absurd but there is gravitas that comes from a sense of social commentary which almost puts it at odds with itself.
Interestingly his art style has not altered much which strengthens a prevailing notion of the more things change the more they stay the same. The chronology of his books cannot easily be identified by the art making them timeless within his fabricated universe. The characters feel alive with beautifully observed posture and sit comfortably in their intricate world.

The book itself has become an interesting artifact as it has a fold-out handle referencing the titular cardboard valise from the story but also strangely creating one of Katchor's fictional hybrid oddities that litter his books.
Continuing a recent post I've made, Seth has written about the book (see here). Ben Katchor also has a website (see here) and there's an interview on ComicBookResources (see here).

Brian Wood has been quietly building a nice back catalogue of titles that excel in grounded, character based storytelling without ignoring the need for a high concept hook. For example Local (Oni) took a decade in the life of a young female who goes travelling. However what made it different was that apart from the first and last chapter, the chapters in between focused on a different character and our protagonist tended to feature on the periphery. Demo (DC) does something a little similar in that each chapter focuses on a different character giving the feeling of a collection of short stories. The hook is that each character has a special ability that crosses into the territory of superpowers - maybe supernatural powers would be a better term - although it impacts the story in either subtle or dramatic ways. Artist Becky Cloonan approaches each story with a slightly different style which helps separate the vignettes and adds an air of experimentation as if to find another way to challenge the notion of a superhero comic. Volume two is out this week.

After last months Finder volume entitled Voice which, although a more recent piece of work, is a good introduction to the Finder universe, Dark Horse starts at the beginning reprinting the critically lauded series by the Queen of the online comic Carla Speed McNeil. As I've already written about the series (see here) I won't risk repeating myself except to recommend this thoroughly engaging series that, in spirit, compares favourably with Strangers In Paradise.

Thermos flasks eh? What's with them? Keeping cold things cold and hot things hot. I'm like; how does it know? If observational humour or Whedon-esq sarcasms are starting to make your ears bleed then you may be in need of a visit to Dr. Johnny Ryan who has a new collection out entitled New Character Guide (Pigeon Press). Challenging notions of joke structure, taste boundaries and sense itself he's been waving the flag for alternative comics for some time now. And don't you be writing it all off as tasteless and crude as The Comics Journal will be quick to correct you (see here - which also excuses me from posting some examples and offending my Mum).

And there's just enough infinite space left to mention the release of the third volume of The Unwritten as well as Weekly Treats including FF #1 (come on, you're intrigued aren't you?), the major X titles and a .1 jumping on point for Captain America. There's also The Dark Knight #2, part one of the War of the Green Lanterns in Green Lantern #64 and anyone fed up waiting for the release of Batwoman (it's soon, soon) will be keen to know of her appearance in Batman Incorporated #4.

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