International Ink: Demo, Smile, and Moving Pictures
Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan's Demo Nos. 1-4 (DC Comics/Vertigo, $2.99 each) feature short stories with an O. Henry or M. Night Shaylaman-type twist. The series first came out though a small press several years ago, but since then the two have broken into the big time. They are now working with one of the two largest comics publishers to restart the comic as a six-issue miniseries. Each comic book is a complete story in itself. Although Wood worried in the letters page for No. 1, "Would a bunch of mediocre new DEMOs forever tarnish the original?" I don't think he needs to be concerned. Cloonan's heavy ink line but adaptable art style work well on the variety of stories, which include a woman who can't sleep because she keeps dreaming about a suicide in St. Paul's Cathedral ("The Waking Life of Angels," No. 1), a horror story about a man who has a problem dating due to his unusual diet ("Pangs," No. 2), a woman with OCD who writes Post-it notes to accompany every action in her life except for falling in love (Volume One Love Story," No. 3) and a boy who's convinced that a life underwater would be better for him ("Waterbreather," No. 4). These comics should all be easy to find at a comic book store.
Smile (Scholastic, $21.99) is Raina Telgemeier's autobiographical tale of her adolescent adventures in orthodontics. Sixth-grader Raina tripped and jammed her two front teeth up into the bone of her jaw. Eventually the teeth have to be removed, leaving to a retainer with two false teeth implanted in the front of it. Years of dental ingenuity follow. The other main thrust is life in middle school, and the onset of young adulthood, which for Raina means leaving some childhood friends behind. I liked the book a lot, but turned to a more qualified reviewer in the end. "It's really good. I think it's really cool how she used her life in it," said my 12-year-old daughter, who surely belongs to the target demographic. Last week, Smile was cited as an Honor Book in the 2010 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards for Excellence in Children’s Literature. (Telgemeier did the above sketch inside her book at a convention, for a young reader.)
I also expected to like Moving Pictures (Top Shelf, $14.95) by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen, a Canadian couple that often works in American superhero comic books. I'm usually a fan of their work, and the story of a female Canadian art curator fencing with a Nazi functionary during World War II seemed a sure-fire winner. Unfortunately, I found the story more confusing than it needed to be. Kathryn wrote multiple flashback and flashforward scenes, while Stuart used a very stripped-down European style of black and white art. Both of these can leave a reader floating anchorless at times. The story opens with Ila, the curator, alone in a room, prior to being interrogated by the Nazi. The next scenes flash back in time, showing Ila giving her passport to a fellow Canadian fleeing Paris. It then flashes forward and the Nazi begins interrogating her, especially about the locations of famous artworks. "I am a minor curator at a major museum. I look after the ugly old men and the uglier old women. And they have given me far less trouble than you," Ila tells him. As the story progresses, still jumping back and forth in time, the Immonens reveal that the two are lovers. Ila has helped a French woman try to escape and has fallen under suspicion of doing so, and that is why she's currently being interrogated. The story was serialized as a webcomic on their website and perhaps the cuts between scenes worked more naturally there than in a book that can be read in a sitting. In the end, I'm ambivalent about this book—a good interview with them can be found here and may help one decide on whether to pick up this labor of love.