Rude Chapbooks 10.21.11 | EXTRA: Bride of Handful of Stiffies

Here, PLAYBACK:stl’s pharaoh of funnybook funkiness grooves on five rude-chapbookish releases dropped in 2011’s third quarter from Scott Chantler, Rick Geary, Philip Gelatt and Tyler Crook, Craig Thompson, and Lewis Trondheim.

 
This “Rude Chapbooks” quarterly extra, like its two predecessors, centers on a quintet of notable graphic narratives bearing an International Standard Book Number and appearing in July, August, and September. As established previously, the impishly lewd label of stiffies embraces compilations, graphic novels, graphic novels manqué, and other such nonstapled visual narratives, to differentiate them from comic books qua comic books, now commonly (if oddly) known as floppies.
 
Also as earlier, excluded from consideration are basal collections of comics, current and classic, regardless of quality. Included under that exclusion during the past quarter, among a multitude of other gems, are The Atomic Violin and Other Stories and The Prize Winner and Other Stories, another two volumes in Dark Horse’s inestimable John Stanley quasi-library; Icon’s Gula, the second freakazoid Casanova collection from Matt Fraction and Fábio Moon; Fantagraphics Books’ Setting the Standard, roughly 400 pages of Alex Toth brilliance from 1952 to 1954; BOOM! Studios’ Walt Disney Treasury: Donald Duck Vol. 2, a second sweet compendium of Don Rosa reprints; and last but scarcely least, from DC (“Skxlplch glop?”), The Sugar and Spike Archives Vol. 1, a jubilant and long-overdue tribute to Sheldon Mayer. Truly, comics connoisseurs nowadays face an almost maddening embarrassment of riches.
 
That said, without further ado, find here five fine new potential additions to the coffers:
 
Abruptly, shamefully, just three dozen pages into writer/artist Craig Thompson’s Habibi: tears. The shame of that response, frankly, derives not only from joy at the instant suspicion that this monolithic late-September Pantheon Books release, despite fierce competition, will rank as the single most artistically significant graphic novel of 2011, but also from the woe at recognition that no 200-word capsule review could possibly do justice to it. At base a romance, in both the general and the specialized senses of that term, Habibi recalls John 14:2: “In my Father’s house are many mansions…” A tale of love lost and found, it focuses on doe-eyed Dodola and earnest Zam in a fictionalized Middle East that fuses the past and the present, grandeur and garbage, the mundane and the mystical; it defines itself, by and large, by defying expectations—a narrative arabesque of dumfounding power. In addition to swashbuckling scenes of action rendered with scimitar precision, Thompson supercharges this hardback, from start to finish, with galvanic images; near the opening, Dodola and Zam shelter in a houseboat beached amid shifting desert dunes, for instance, and toward the close, two orphans rescue a third and, in love, cast an angelic shadow. Absolutely essential. • ISBN 978-0-375-42414-4, 665 pp., B&W, $35.00
 
For years and years, sui generis writer/artist Rick Geary has been getting away with murder, and that blissful trend continues with The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti, a late-July offering from NBM Comicslit. This slim hardback belongs to his Treasury of XXth Century Murder series, which itself succeeded, in toto, Geary’s laudable Treasury of Victorian Murder series. In the volume in question, with his typically forensic eye for detail and the precision cartooning that’s charmed readers for more than three decades, he focuses on the two working-class Italian immigrants to the U.S. whose trial and eventual execution for armed robbery and murder in eastern Massachusetts in the ’20s became a cause célèbre not just nationally but internationally, sparking civil disobedience from L.A. to Sydney, from Buenos Aires to Tokyo. To their dying day—a trip to the electric chair shortly after midnight one bleak Tuesday in August 1927—the pair maintained their innocence, and in his final remarks to the court that condemned him, Vanzetti, with humble, heartbreaking eloquence, denounced “a cursed past in which man was wolf to man.” In this increasingly xenophobic and classist era, Geary does us all a service with this stylish reprise of their case. • ISBN 978-1-56163-605-1, n.p., B&W, $15.99
 
Few extant cartoonists define delight with the deceptive ease of Lewis Trondheim, as illustrated by My Shadow in the Distance. A trim trade paperback published late in August by NBM Comicslit, it constitutes the fourth installment of his Little Nothings series and bears an amusing back-cover blurb from Publishers Weekly describing it as “the sort of book one presses on friends, even if it’s quite impossible to say exactly why.” (Whence the amusement? Well, one can almost feel the PW reviewer straining to avoid the phrase je ne sais quoi to characterize the work of a Frenchman.) Supposedly an artistic autodidact, Trondheim ameliorates the potential starch of formalist leanings, on display in earlier works like Mister i and Mister O, with gentle wit and whimsy. Here, with a simple but precise pen and watercolors, he presents a series of one-page autobiographical vignettes featuring his avian alter ego, who, despite a singularly mild manner, jaunts to Manhattan and Madrid, Las Vegas and Prague. “I awake in the middle of the night, unable to remember where or who I am,” he confesses midway through his globe-trotting. “My uneasiness lasts for two long seconds before my neurons reconnect the flimsy veil of reality.” • ISBN 978-1-56163-609-9, 126 pp., FC, $14.99
 
Reading Petrograd, an early-August release from Oni Press, approximates blithely stepping into the boxing ring with an unheralded opponent and, within seconds of the first bell, kissing the canvas. Although relative tyros in the medium, writer Philip Gelatt and artist Tyler Crook pack a heavyweight punch in a big, bold hardcover whose back boasts a quotation from Mike Mignola likening it to “a Will Eisner graphic novel.” Even that praise seems inapt regarding this historical thriller centered on the 1916 slaying of the “mad monk” Rasputin and, the next year, the Russian Revolution. More specifically, in the power and the glory of its commonplace exotica, its hideously conflicted characters, and the feints, counterfeints, and counter-counterfeits of its plot, Petrograd recalls British giant Graham Greene (although, admittedly, it lacks Greene’s obsession with Roman Catholicism). Despite confessing, in his bio, to an über-geeky “secret dream…to begin a collection of assassination memorabilia which would include both the bullet that killed Rasputin and the ice axe that killed Trotsky,” Gelatt scripts the intrigue with a locomotive propulsion, and Crook transports the reader to a frigid inferno of snow and shadow, gunpowder and blood. The ambiguity of its conclusion, quite frankly, lingers to this day. • ISBN 978-1-934964-44-6, 250 pp., PC, $29.99
 
By happy happenstance, late September saw the release of a sequel to one work lauded in the first of these quarterly roundups. Equally happily, The Sign of the Black Rock does justice to its predecessor in writer/artist Scott Chantler’s Three Thieves series (which, if there’s any justice at all, will eventually be compiled in a single, sizable volume titled something unaccountably clever like, oh, Three Thieves). The Kids Can Press trade paperback continues the quest of orphaned adolescent acrobat Dessa Redd to track her twin brother, who’s been kidnapped by an increasingly villainous-seeming courtier. Abetting her are two other refugees from the circus, boon but unlikely companions both: Topper, a tiny, blue-skinned grump, and Fisk, a kindly, if a bit simple, behemoth with puce skin. With a dozen royal guardsmen pursuing the trio, one of those dark and stormy nights worthy of Edward Bulwer-Lytton (and Snoopy) lands them at the cloudburst-crowded Black Rock Inn, and in the best tradition of heroic fantasy, complications ensue—because both the inn’s swinish proprietor and his solemn, silent wife harbor secrets. As ever, visually, Chantler (a genius with ink) treats the reader to bravura cartooning. How soon till the third book in the series? • ISBN 978-1-55453-417-3, 112 pp., FC, $8.95 | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Habibi, courtesy of Guernica magazine.
Click here for a preview of The Lives of Sacco and Venzetti, courtesy of NBM.
Click here for a sampling of Lewis Trondheim’s Little Nothings, courtesy of the NBM blog.
Click here for a whopping 28-page preview of Petrograd, courtesy of Oni Press.
Click here for a preview of The Sign of the Black Rock, courtesy of Scott Chantler.

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