Rude Chapbooks 07.08.11 | EXTRA: Another Handful of Stiffies

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PLAYBACK:stl’s prolix popinjay of piffling pamphlets here raves about a quintet of rude-chapbookish books issued during the second quarter of 2011 by Chester Brown, Daniel Clowes, Dave McKean, Harvey Pekar and Summer McClinton, and Jim Woodring.

 
Like its predecessor, uploaded three months ago, this “Rude Chapbooks” extra focuses on five noteworthy graphic narratives issued or otherwise disseminated widely in April, May, and June and assigned an International Standard Book Number. With a figurative leer, that predecessor applied the lewd label stiffies to any compilations, graphic novels, graphic novels manqué, and other such nonstapled visual narratives potentially under consideration, to distinguish them from old-school comic books, known in the industry, of course, as floppies.
 
As in the earlier extra, excluded are simple assemblages of comics, whether current or classic, regardless of merit. That exclusion encompasses, say, Collective Punishment, the most recent collection of Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli’s DMZ, as well as two more volumes in Dark Horse’s immensely praiseworthy John Stanley project (The Treasure Map and Other Stories, a splendid twenty-seventh Little Lulu volume, and The Frog Boy and Other Stories, the third in its companion Little Lulu’s Pal Tubby series) and BOOM! Studios’ Walt Disney Treasury: Donald Duck Vol. 1, an utterly golden gathering of Don Rosa reprints.
 
Got all that? Groovy—then glom our latest glib glosses:
 
Because, in a certain light, comics depend for their very existence on collage technique and because writer/artist Dave McKean arguably ranks as the medium’s preeminent “pure” collagist—a funny phrase, really—his work invariably inspires both awe and anxiety for its sublimity, especially 1998’s Cages, a graphic novel conceptually monolithic enough to support any number of dissertations and physically monolithic enough to bludgeon someone into insensibility. Comes now Celluloid, which Fantagraphics Books issued early in June. Although half the length of Cages, it prompts double the critical caution, given its subject. An unapologetically hard-core hardcover, Celluloid follows a young woman’s sexual epiphany in what appears to be a borrowed urban apartment and feels almost like a silent, erotic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with the White Rabbit and the rabbit-hole replaced by an ancient movie camera and a doorway to…somewhere else. By itself, typically, McKean’s technical mastery (beginning with pen and ink and finishing with photography) steals the breath away; ditto his visual motifs—involving fruit, say, or eyes. A bravura performance, Celluloid (which ends, by the way, with signal wit) constitutes an astounding fusion of the Dionysiac and the Apolline, in Nietzschean terms, and less invites reading than demands rereading. • ISBN 978-1-60699-440-5, n.p., FC, $35.00
 
In the oneiric power of his work as a writer/artist, Jim Woodring enjoys few rivals in contemporary comics; offhand, in fact, only David B. and Charles Burns spring to mind. Any new work from Woodring should thus occasion joy in all aficionados of the medium—so here cue Congress of the Animals, a wordless Fantagraphics Books hardback from early June. As does a good deal of Woodring’s oeuvre, it stars his little whatsit Frank, something of a purple-furred, Depressionistic ancestor of Disney’s irritating Chip and Dale. Within the first ten pages of Congress of the Animals, calamity literally descends on poor Frank in the form of a wood-boxed croquet set. In the next ten, our bucktoothed, bobtail boyo suffers both a labor dispute and a credit crisis, and thereafter, in the U.S. in 2011, it should come as no surprise that things fast go from bad to worse; just for starters, Frank has to enter the working world. Ameliorating all of his tribulations, at least from readers’ vantage, are his creator’s nonpareil pen and undulant line—a quivery visual seduction courtesy of Higgins. Moreover, by the finale, Frank’s landed a sweetheart—so the little guy ain’t doin’ too bad, y’know? • ISBN 978-1-60699-437-5, n.p., B&W, $19.99
 
When writer and career curmudgeon Harvey Pekar accidentally overdosed on antidepressants last July, the medium lost both one of its most idiosyncratic ambassadors and one of its most devoted practitioners. In that regard, gloom tinges the glee attending the early-May release by Villard Books of his and artist Summer McClinton’s Huntington, West Virginia “On the Fly,” the first of Pekar’s posthumous works. Beyond a sensitive, sincere introduction by Anthony Bourdain that puts to the lie his reputation as a mere culinary cowboy, the trade paperback tours with Pekar in the diminuendo of the fictionalized 2003 film about him starring Paul Giamatti. By and large, of course, that provides a pretext for Pekar, in four chapters, to profile diverse friends and acquaintances: a dreadlocked limo lordling called Hollywood Bob, a sweetly improbable couple named Tunc and Eileen, the gloriously entrepreneurial spirit behind a local diner and a novelties shop alike, and the fine folks met (in the title tale) on a speaking engagement to the Mountain State. McClinton’s visuals recall those of earlier Pekar collaborator Sue Cavey, albeit with hatching and cross-hatching substituting for stipple, and throughout the volume echoes the author’s American Splendorous voice—a voice to be much missed. • ISBN 978-0-345-49941-7, 159 pp., B&W, $19.95
 
Since first assailing the medium in the mid-’80s with Lloyd Llewellyn, writer/artist Daniel Clowes has predicated his career on…well…velvet gloves cast in iron, to misappropriate the title of one of his earliest and certainly strangest serials. Mister Wonderful—a slim 11.25- by 6.25-inch hardback published by Pantheon Books late in April—continues that trend. A narrative of gaffs disguised as mere tenterhooks, it opens with a table for two at a contemporary plastic café, where the tale’s protagonist is awaiting a blind date, and closes on a leaf-strewn park bench, and between the two gapes a chasm of doubt, despair, and dread, all visualized with Clowes’ customary, borderline-terrifying precision. In context, the individual reader will have to decide whether Clowes has exercised impeccable satirical instincts in naming his nebbish narrator Marshall or has been perhaps too clever by half in a John Gray way. In any event, directly, Marshall makes his neurotic love connection with Natalie, whose affective fragility matches his own. Complications perforce arise. Within an almost unspeakably unstable emotional house of cards, will king and queen unite without having some knave or joker cause everything to collapse in a riot of rectangular wrongs? Well, that would be telling. • ISBN 978-0-307-37813-2, 77 pp., FC, $19.95
 
That it boasts both back-cover blurbs from Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman and an introduction from Robert Crumb should testify to the gravitas of writer/artist Chester Brown’s latest hardcover, Paying for It, which Drawn & Quarterly released midway through May. To call it an important, even integral work would involve flirting with the obvious; since the ’80s and especially since the 1986 debut of Yummy Fur, through Louis Riel, compiled (almost unthinkably) eight years ago, Brown has perennially reestablished himself as one of the medium’s top iconoclasts—and has thereby perennially renewed the medium. Here, with characteristic fearless frankness, he recounts his dalliances with prostitutes from 1999 through 2010: Carla, Angelina, Anne, Amanda, Susan… Also characteristically, Brown depicts everything in his peering-into-a-dollhouse fashion and interlards the myriad couplings with a running meditation on love and lust. Of particular note, his philosophical duels with fellow Canadian comics auteurs Joe Matt and Seth on the topic at hand approximate (no pun intended) Platonic dialogues and often border on hilarious; also, no mere rake, Brown closes Paying for It with 51 pages of back matter comprising an afterword, 23 (!) appendices, and endnotes. An indispensable blend of sociology, psychology, politics—and comics autobiography. • ISBN 978-1-77046-048-5, 280 pp., B&W, $24.95 | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Celluloid, courtesy of Comics Alliance.
Click here for a preview of Congress of the Animals, courtesy of Fantagraphics.
Click here for a preview of Huntington, West Virginia “On the Fly,” courtesy of Random House.
Click here to read Mister Wonderful, courtesy of the New York Times.
 
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