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Rude Chapbooks 04.08.11 | EXTRA: A Handful of Stiffies

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Here, PLAYBACK:stl’s surly sultan of stapled stuff recommends five rude-chapbookish books unleashed on unsuspecting readers during the first quarter of 2011 by Scott Chantler, Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield, Jeremy Love, Carla Speed McNeil, and Lise Myhre.

 

 

“If current industry parlance dubs old-school comic books floppies,” I found myself musing soon after “Rude Chapbooks” bowed late last October, “oughtn’t we then refer to compilations, graphic novels, graphic novels manqué, and other such nonstapled visual narratives as stiffies?” For the nonce, I then mentally filed that musing among manifold matters with which to bedevil my long-suffering PLAYBACK:stl editor, Jason Green.
 
Herewith, we stomp the metaphorical gas pedal and roar into Nonceville: a “Rude Chapbooks” extra focused on a quintet of notable graphic narratives issued or otherwise disseminated widely in January, February, and March and adorned with an International Standard Book Number. For those who might find the preceding insufficiently weaselly, other quirky criteria apply, including exclusion of works by collaborators of mine, like Aaron James Ford’s Golgotha: A Demon in the Garden of Truth. Also excluded are simple compilations of comic books, whether current or classic, regardless of praiseworthiness; that exclusion encompasses, say, Rez Blues, the latest collection of Jason Aaron and Rajko Milosevic’s Scalped, as well as John Stanley–related gems from both Dark Horse (a glorious twenty-sixth Little Lulu volume) and Drawn & Quarterly (a third Melvin Monster volume).
 
If all of those exclusions seem dubious, even daft, especially in the context of works actually included here, well, welcome to “Rude Chapbooks,” baby. Onward:
 
Published in mid-February, writer/artist Jeremy Love’s Bayou 2 likely sounded the swan song on DC’s Zuda webcomics line. A shame, really. Like the Minx imprint, the company’s equally ephemeral experiment putatively aimed at attracting an adolescent female readership, Zuda had its faults—preeminently a front end so maddening it hinted at internal sabotage—but it also showed considerable promise. Indeed, among the handful of Zuda webcomics subsequently compiled and printed as tidy 6- by 8.25-inch trade paperbacks, Love’s Bayou glows with a buoyant power bordering on the phantasmagoric. Set in the South in 1933, the series recounts the efforts of the black gamine Lee to rescue both her white playmate Lily and her father from menaces both magical and all too heartbreakingly mundane, in the company of the title character, a gentle giant with a stutter and a love of the blues. This second volume involves a psychopath with both a straight razor and the stench of brimstone about him…as well as a transgendered Thompson-toting raccoon. Off the beaten path? Oh, perhaps just a bit. In that light, Zuda’s demise be damned: Love’s zephyrean Bayou, in its improbable amalgam of Lewis Carroll and William Faulkner, demands both attention and continuation. • ISBN 978-1-4012-2584-1, n.p., FC, $14.99
 
Carla Speed McNeil may well rank as the preeminent “pure” science fictionist now writing comics. That she also numbers among the medium’s most adroit artists, frankly, strains credibility. Be that as it may, since 1996, McNeil has largely focused her prodigious talents on the SF kaleidoscope Finder. After more than three dozen floppies and seven compilations from her own Lightspeed Press, McNeil took the series’ serialization solely to the Web in 2006, promising, in at least one interview, an eighth compilation in ’07. Then, maddeningly, time passed. At last, in mid-February, Dark Horse issued Finder: Voice—huzzah! Basically a bildungsroman, it focuses on Rachel Grosvenor, the eldest of three siblings introduced earlier in the series, and her efforts to obtain full membership in her clan, there in the domed megalopolis of Anvard; almost immediately, the theft of a family heirloom forces Rachel on a desperate tour of the city in search of that heirloom—or a trickster family friend who likely could find it. It almost goes without saying that intrigue ensues, much of it illustrated with master-class cross-hatching. Absolutely wonderful. One can only pray that McNeil’s next graphic novel in this peerless series doesn’t take five years to appear. • ISBN 978-1-59582-651-0, 215 pp., B&W, $19.99
 
Since its inception, writer Warren Ellis and artist Paul Duffield’s titular webcomic has felt like Uncanny X-Men (or, for that matter, anything else X) sans kid gloves, an assessment only reinforced by FreakAngels Volume Five. This latest “dead trees” compilation from Avatar Press arrived at the end of February, spinning its weird narrative wheels like Dr. Hoffman’s bicycle. In this volume, Duffield continues to delight, by turns juxtaposing scenes of dystopian grimness with psychedelic jolts with postapocalyptic urban serenity—lovely, deceptively minimalist visuals. Ellis, meantime, keeps taking in unexpected directions the title characters, a dozen violet-eyed 23-year-old mutants (for want of a better word) born in England simultaneously. God or the devil alone knows what he plans, as, quite fiendishly, the lunatic Brit introduces two mysteries for every one that he resolves; most notably in this volume, for instance, one of his protagonists (pardon a pun) triggers something approximating a system upgrade, and the motivations of at least two others remain as shifty as a Saharan dune. Characteristically, Ellis leavens the Sturm und Drang with wicked wit. (An example? Self-appointed cop Kait fetishizes—chacun son eeew!—Jack Klugman’s Quincy, M.E.) Top-notch visual speculative fiction from the mad genius behind Transmetropolitan. • ISBN 1-59291-115-3, n.p., FC, $19.99
 
Raven-tressed, midnight-clad Nemi Montoya drinks, smokes, swears, and (shall we say) enjoys the company of gentlemen, all the while relentlessly commenting on the world with a wit running the gamut from puckish to punishing. (She most emphatically does not suffer fools gladly.) The pantherish gothchick would thus rank as “Rude Chapbooks” Heartthrob No. 1 if only she existed independent of a comic strip and compilations thereof from Norwegian cartoonist Lise Myhre, the latest of which, Nemi IV, arrived here during the first week of February. Like its three predecessors, that Titan Books hardcover spotlights Myhre’s anti-Cathy, which ranges from wry to wicked to wise. “If the Phantom Blot had tight clothing,” Nemi exuberantly muses in one strip, in reference to a classic Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse foe, “he’d look like a ninja.” In another, she observes, “If you always do your best, you lose the potential to create pleasant surprises.” In a third, in captions over two panels showing an autumn leaf curling earthward and a cemetery, she reflects, “It’s strange that we never learn—and that more people attend our funerals than our birthday parties.” Arguably one of the brightest comic strips being published today…everywhere but here, that is. • ISBN 978-1-84576-589-7, 127 pp., FC, $14.95
 
During the past five years, Canadian writer/artist Scott Chantler has created two bravura graphic novels, one fiction, the other nonfiction: The Annotated Northwest Passage, a historical adventure from 2007, and Two Generals, a familial war memoir from 2010. Apparently published by Toronto’s Kids Can Press last August, solicited by Diamond last October, and distributed here early in January, his Tower of Treasure perforce falls short of those two works, but nevertheless rewards reading, much as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer will forever remain a classic subsidiary to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The children’s fantasy launches the Three Thieves series and focuses on the misadventures of 14-year-old circus acrobat Dessa Redd (an orphan searching for her mysteriously abducted brother), the “Norker” juggler/cutpurse Topper (a topknotted Smurf with a bad attitude), and the “one-headed Ettin” strongman Fisk (a puce, elephantine type). The aptly titled volume also showcases Chantler’s jubilant virtuosity as a cartoonist; panel after panel, page after page, his compositions exhibit plenary muscularity worthy of treasuring, and his line leaps with a surety to rival that of his adolescent heroine. This first book of the Three Thieves series, in short, should steal the heart of any genuine devotee of the medium. • ISBN 978-1-55453-415-9, 112 pp., FC, $8.95 | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Finder: Voice courtesy of Dark Horse.
Read Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield’s FreakAngels for free at FreakAngels.com.
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