Rude Chapbooks 02.24.12 | EXTRA: Sluggard Son of Handful of Stiffies

Belatedly, PLAYBACK:stl’s king of comic book crankiness rules on a quintet of rude-chapbookish subjects from the fourth quarter of 2011, created by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield; Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, and Ramón K. Pérez; Mike Mignola and Richard Corben; Trina Robbins, Anne Timmons, and mo oh; and Osamu Tezuka.

A longing for lapin à la moutarde, dear reader, led your devoted columnist down the wrong rabbit hole altogether, whereupon harebrained complications multiplied with farcical frenzy, until the long-suffering editor of “Rude Chapbooks” and the rest of PLAYBACK:stl’s comics coverage intimated that completing this extra before Easter would be a (shall we say) bonne idée. Varmint—er, vraiment. Apologies for the delay, if not the preceding puns. It shan’t recur. (The puns, it almost goes without saying, shan’t shan’t.)
Anyway, onward. Like its three precursors—archived here, here, and here—this “Rude Chapbooks” quarterly extra scrutinizes five noteworthy graphic narratives sporting an International Standard Book Number and arriving from Diamond Comic Distributors this past October, November, and December. For the smirky term stiffies, read compilations, graphic novels, graphic novels manqué, and other such nonstapled visual narratives, to distinguish them from comic books as such (a.k.a. and d.b.a. floppies). Excluded from scrutiny are collections of comics, classic or current, regardless of quality. During the past quarter, that exclusion included such laudable offerings as The Cranky Giant and Other Stories, the grand finale to Dark Horse’s sweet 29-volume John Stanley–Irving Tripp Little Lulu library; a third lush Cartoon Books RASL compilation from Jeff Smith; and Vertigo collections of material from two of the mainstream’s top ongoing titles, Scalped from Jason Aaron and R.M. Guéra and The Unwritten from Mike Carey and Peter Gross. Please do seek all such excluded volumes, along with those praised below, at your Friendly Neighborhood Comics Retailer.
Onward, the sequel:
For manga neophytes, the present may well prompt a singular mix of delight and dread—especially in matters involving writer/artist Osamu Tezuka, the so-called father/god/godfather of Japanese comics and animation alike. In the quarter under analysis alone, Vertical issued not only his Princess Knight in two trade paperbacks, but also The Book of Human Insects in hardback early in October. Reportedly a transitional volume in Tezuka’s 150,000-page oeuvre, the latter, whose length roughly equals those of the other works under review here in the aggregate, likely constitutes a friendlier stand-alone entry point to that oeuvre than, say, behemoths like MW at 582 pages or Ode to Kirihito at a whopping 822. Visualized with a cartoonish if creepy precision in places reminiscent of (no, really) Chester Gould in his prime, The Book of Human Insects focuses on the exploits of a serial vocational mimic introduced as “Toshiko Tomura.” Within its first six pages, a second woman connected to the first has hanged herself—or has she?—and from that point, Tezuka’s tale fast spirals deeper and deeper into freakishness involving a waxwork crone, gangsters, financiers, and psychosexual intrigue including (to coin a monstrous phrase) weaponized pregnancy and an abortion. Beautifully ghoulish. • ISBN 978-1-935654-20-9, 364 pp., B&W, $21.95
FreakAngels Volume Six (whose predecessor the first of these “Rude Chapbooks” quarterly extras lauded) concludes in a superlative fashion the compilation of the eponymous webcomic from writer Warren Ellis and artist Paul Duffield; among Ellis’ manifold long-form contributions to comics, in fact, it may rival Planetary and Transmetropolitan—and in its focal integrity, it may top those mainstream prodigies. Never a worshipper in the temple of the superhero, Ellis here has focused his considerable talent with laser intensity on the strange-whelp collective, the crèche outré—and conceivably nailed that sub-subgenre (in comics, think almost anything X). To do so, basically, he subverts every single appurtenance thereof, including the replacement of perpetual Manichaean tedium with understanding and something like forgiveness. Even at that, Ellis and Duffield sacrifice nothing in the way of dramaturgic power in this October Avatar Press trade paperback; late in the game, for instance, their 12 eponymous characters all weep blood, and everything ends with an omega obviously intended as an alpha. Nine pages prior to that, Alice—lovely, shotgun-toting Alice, the title group’s ultimate archivist—nibbles a gift strawberry and smiles, undoubtedly reflecting that even in fundamentally diabolical times, each of us still harbors a freak angel. • ISBN 1-59291-133-1, n.p., FC, $19.99
Dark Horse’s Hellboy: House of the Living Dead, however fine, exemplifies two formal trends, one atavistic, the other au courant: first, notwithstanding its inclusion here and its hypothetical representation on the shelf at Barnes & Noble, its brevity, at just over four dozen story pages, would qualify it as a “graphic novel” only to the most addled of fanboys, whose knowledge of the genuinely novelistic likely begins and ends with puddling drool on Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a high school freshman, and second, its hardback format and its price, almost amusingly, position it among the faux objets d’art increasingly peddled by such a cutting-off-his-nose-to-spite-his-face auteur as Chris Ware—at base, a Little Golden Book for adults. That said, because the volume comes from writer Mike Mignola and artist Richard Corben, it almost perforce charms and thrills. A sequel of sorts to a previous Mignola-Corben romp involving Mexican wrestlers, it finds Hellboy, in 1956, facing supernatural menaces like something from a Juárez fever dream of a ’30s Universal triple bill. (Members of the International Larry Talbot Fan Club may well quibble that Mignola should have named his lycanthrope not Raul but Raulo, but that really does pick the proverbial nit.) • ISBN 978-1-59582-757-9, n.p., FC, $14.99
The grande dame of comix (sic), writer Trina Robbins has long championed her sisters’ underrecognized work in the industry and the medium alike. She continues that praiseworthy campaign, with penciller Anne Timmons and inker mo oh (again, sic), in Lily Renée, Escape Artist, a trim Graphic Universe trade paperback released in November. Self-evidently intended for younger readers, it blends biography and history in recounting the tale of Lily Renée Wilheim, an upper–middle-class Jewish girl who, as an adolescent, flees Nazi-occupied Vienna without her family in the dark days of 1939. Her flight, sadly, takes her from brownshirt brutalities to more quotidian cruelties near the northern English city of Leeds and then to London—just in time for the Blitz. After enduring further hardships, she lands in New York City and earns artistic employment in a then-nascent industry: comic books. Although scarcely a sophisticated graphic narrative, Lily Renée, Escape Artist shines with its creators’ respect, admiration, and even love for their subject (who the volume notes visualized comics till 1949 before becoming, among other things, a playwright and grandmother). It would make a splendid gift to empower (a verb used reluctantly) a youthful female relative or friend interested in comics. • ISBN 978-0-7613-8114-3, 96 pp., FC, $7.95
Less a tidy hourglass construct than a narrative dune shimmering beneath a sun indefinably awry and whipsawed by strange winds, Tale of Sand derives from an unproduced screenplay by the late, great Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl. “Realizing” it—in one sense, a laughably inapt verb, albeit one reflecting the sometimes vast differences between film and comics scripts—is artist Ramón K. Pérez, who makes the December Archaia Entertainment hardback a tour de force. With echoes, perhaps, of Shirley Jackson and Richard Connell, Tale of Sand fundamentally constitutes a desert chase after a fiesta in, apparently, the Southwest or Mexico. That said, the chase itself will undoubtedly befuddle devotees of realism, however dubiously that term can ever apply to the average comic book or graphic novel. Surrealistic and (among other things) epanaleptic, it follows the flight of Henson and Juhl’s taciturn everyman from a Mephistophelean adversary through a landscape unrelentingly psychedelic, albeit not unpleasantly so: a lion exits a limo, an outhouse contains a French restaurant and lounge, an icemonger dashes through the heat with a block that inexorably shrinks to a cube, a cement truck dispenses a martini. A work of goofy beauty, reminiscent of Mœbius’ “Airtight Garage” phantasmagorias. • ISBN 978-1-936393-09-1, n.p., FC, $29.95 | Bryan A. Hollerbach

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