International Ink: Clowes, Kids, Crackers and Hellboy
Maybe Dan Clowes is experimenting on his readers. In Wilson (Drawn & Quarterly, $21.95), his new book from the Canadian publisher, he uses a tightly designed approach to tell the story of an extremely unlikable protagonist. Perhaps he was curious how far he could push two of the defining features of his work? The book follows Wilson through late adulthood in single-page comics, done in a variety of art styles, from Bigfoot cartoony to wholly realistic, approaches that Clowes says are meant to recall Sunday comic strips. Clowes' technical virtuosity is sharply countered by Wilson's excessively obnoxious characterization. Through the entire book, which covers at least a decade of his life, Wilson's only redeeming feature seems to be love for his pet. Clowes shows Wilson going from life alone as a divorced bachelor, to losing his father, to finding his ex-wife and their daughter whom she gave up for adoption, and then the problems that arise from that. The artwork and the production values of the book are beautiful, and reward close attention. The title character? Not so much, in spite of this insistence from Clowes: "I actually kind of like Wilson. He'd be fun to hang out with in short and finite increments."
Yotsuba&! 8 (Yen Press, $10.99) by Kiyohiko Azuma is on the far side of the comics spectrum. Yotsuba is a charming, albeit green-haired, Japanese preschooler. These manga focus on Yotsuba's ongoing discovery and fascination with life in a suburb. In this volume, her stay-at-home working father (her mother is never mentioned) takes her to a high school cultural festival where her next-door neighbor's class has set up a French cafe. Unfortunately for Yotsuba, their idea of cake is pound cake—which she insists is bread. To save face, her friend rushes to another display and buys her a strawberry dessert. Another story revolves around Yotsuba and her friends' participation in a real Japanese cultural festival in which they pull a dashi—a cart that a god rides in. The artwork in these lightweight volumes is lovely, the children are charming, and at once a month, they offer a nice quiet peek into a quieter side of manga.
Before Catholic high school teacher Gene Luen Yang's break-out success with American Born Chinese, he won a Xeric grant to self-publish Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks. This story and two others are collected in Animal Crackers: A Gene Luen Yang Collection (SLG, $14.95). The artwork appears to be influenced by Jeff Smith and Bone and the story by the Hernandez Brothers, from when Love & Rockets had a strong thread of magic realism running through it. Gordon, a stupid bully, accidentally discovers the San Peligran Order of miniature thumb-shaped ships run by microdroids, are flying into people's noses at night to store the sum of human knowledge in unused parts of their brains. To help the robot repair the ship stuck in his sinus cavity, Gordon is forced to seek the help of Miles, whom he anointed 'King of the Geeks' at school, accidentally swaps memories with him, and begins learning compassion. The story gets stranger. The other two stories in the book continue explaining the San Peligran Order, and the coming end of the earth. These strange little comics are a lot of fun.
Mike Mignola's gotten a lot out of his creation Hellboy in the past decade—two movies, toys, two concurrent comic book series—and a series of novels. These are rarely noted as part of the Hellboy universe and unfortunately, Hellboy: The Ice Wolves by Mark Chadbourn (Dark Horse, $12.95 ) is a good example why. The story of all the werewolves in the world traveling to America to break into one magically protected house to get a mystical artifact that will let them bring back an ice age is extremely unlikely, but so are all Hellboy plots, so reader can just accept that. What destroys any suspension of disbelief and throws a reader out of the story are lines such as "Hellboy took the opportunity to study [the two] sitting close together; the change in Brad's body language suggested a definite thawing in his emotions. Hellboy was pleased—they deserved each other." Notwithstanding sentences like that, true horror is never convincingly evoked, and this story is only for Hellboy completists.