International Ink: War, Werewolves, Steampunk, Kung Fu, and Cap
The long July 4 weekend lent itself to comics reading, so here are some impressions of some new books. War Is Boring: Bored Stiff, Scared To Death in the World's Worst War Zones, written by David Axe and illustrated by independent editorial cartoonist Matt Bors (New American Library, $12.95), is heavily influenced by Joe Sacco's comics journalism and is an enjoyable read. Axe has been a reporter for the Washington Times, but worked largely for an unnamed military trade publication which funded his trips to places such as Lebanon, East Timor, and Afghanistan. Axe writes of his employer: "The Defense trade doesn't make for great journalism, but there is one advantage to working for weapons makers..." Bors then draws Axe sitting at a table hearing a job offer which includes, "You'll have an expense account and permission to travel. And you can still freelance." Axe's smiling response is "When do I start?" In spite of the book's title, like others before him, Axe feels alive only when in combat zones. His desire to follow wars eventually costs him his relationship and jobs. Categorized as a memoir, and with an introduction by Ted Rall, this piece of cartoon journalism is worth checking out.
Jason's Werewolves of Montpellier (Fantagraphics, $12.99) is an odd little book. The Norwegian cartoonist specializes in anthropomorphic characters who act human, just like the Disney Ducks did in their best comics. Sven, an unemployed artist and cat burglar, breaks into apartments at night while wearing a werewolf mask. His life becomes more complicated when he falls in love with his lesbian neighbor while real werewolves start pursuing him over the rooftops. Jason's art is always simple and elegant, his stories are cool and laid back, and this is a fun anti-horror novel.
Girl Genius 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm by Phil and Kaja Foglio (Airship Entertainment, $22.99) is the latest collection of the Hugo-award winning Web comic. This steam-punk story follows Agatha, heir to her parents' mad-scientist abilities, as she tries to repair their damaged sentient castle. At the same time, she's in love with Europe's dictator's son, and ill with Hogfarb's Resplendent Immolation, and under attack by a false heir... the Foglio's have their tongues firmly in cheeks, but the story is goofy and a lot of fun. I've been following this since the beginning, which was half a decade ago and am still enjoying it immensely.
Ed Briant was signing his novel Choppy Socky Blues (Flux Books, $9.95) at the American Library Association's convention recently and I struck up a conversation. I was thrilled to discover he's the cartoonist behind the Web comic Tales from the Slush Pile, a strip about the trials of children's book illustrators. British-born Briant's also one of those, as well as a teacher at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Briant says his story of Jason Smallfield, a young English boy who's still struggling with his parent's divorce, was originally meant to be a graphic novel. The story's aimed at young adults, and deals with Jason resuming his karate practice with his estranged stuntman father so he can impress a girl. I was on a weekend reading roll, and enjoyed this book, too, although it's probably more for children.
Karl Kesel's Captain America: The 1940's Newspaper Strip No. 1 (Marvel, $3.99) may confuse some longtime comic strip readers because Captain America didn't have a newspaper strip. This is actually a collection of a Web comic that was recently running as part of their fee-charging digital download site. Kesel does a good job mimicking a 1940s adventure strip, including using larger "Sunday" pages to move the story along. The story itself is about an American think-tank laboratory attempting to recreate the experiment that produced Cap, while suffering under apparent Nazi sabotage and its own goofy inventors. The three-issue miniseries is worth picking up, although it will probably be collected as a trade paperback for those who prefer a meatier story.