Arts Desk

International Ink: Summer Reading

It's been a long time since one of these columns appeared, so here's a bunch of capsule reviews of books that have been piling up.

Crogan's Loyalty by Chris Schweizer (Oni Press, $15) is the third volume in a multigenerational adventure series. Brothers William and Charles Crogan find themselves on opposite sides during the American Revolution. When they meet on separate scouting expeditions, their loyalties to each other and their causes are tested in many ways as they encounter Indians, Hessian mercenaries, and true love. Schweizer's cartoony-style art contrasts strongly with his serious story and may take a bit of effort to get used to, but it's worth it.

Get Jiro! by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, Joel Rose, and Langdon Foss (Vertigo, $25) was a book I was looking forward to as a fan of Bourdain's writings, but this tale of a celebrity chef didn't work for me. Jiro is a ronin sushi chef in a future Los Angeles who refuses to join either of the dominant camps in the town. The extremely violent story is satirical, but too over the top, and also requires awareness of foodie culture (such as being familiar with Alice Waters' philosophy).

Darwyn Cooke's latest adaption of Donald Westlake/Richard Stark's Parker novels is The Score (IDW, $25). Parker is an amoral intelligent thug with the ability to pull together teams of criminals to perpetrate big crimes. In this excellent graphic novel, the plan is to hijack an entire town.

One of my absolute favorite comic strips, The Bus by Paul Kirchner, appeared in the City Paper in the early 1980s. This surrealistic strip showed a commuter bus in impossible, insane, only-in-comics situations such as driving off an elevated highway and plunging towards certain doom only to stop in midair over a sign reading "bus stop." The strip has long been out of print but Tanibis Editions of France has done a lovely hardcover reprinting.

TeenBoat! by Dave Roman and John Green (Clarion, $15) started life out as a series of minicomics which won a Small Press Expo's Ignatz Award, and has just been collected in hardcover. The stories revolve around a teen boy who turns into a small yacht when he gets wet. Subtitled "The Angst of being a Teen—The Thrill of Being a Boat!", it's a ridiculous idea—probably driven by one too many Transformer cartoon marathons—but the writing and art make it silly fun.

Modesty Blaise: Live Bait by Peter O'Donnell and Enric Badia Romero (Titan, $20) reprints three stories from the comic strip that originally ran from 1987 to 1989. These adventure stories are always top-notch, especially with Romero's stylized depiction of women. If you haven't read a story about the female reformed criminal/secret agent/do-gooder, you might want to start with an earlier book (the strip began in 1963). You can start at this one and enjoy it though, as newspaper strips have usually attempted to be accessible to the largest audience possible. Titan is doing a great job reprinting them too, with excellent introductions in the volumes.

Andrews McMeel continues to release regular collections of the most popular comic strips they syndicate. Recent collections include Teamwork Means You Can't Pick The Side That's Right featuring Dilbert by Scott Adams, Because Sometimes You Just Gotta Draw A Cover With Your Left Hand featuring Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis, and Baby Blues' Scribbles at an Exhibition No. 29 by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott. All three strips appear daily in the Washington Post. Pastis will be appearing in town, for the first time, Oct. 6 at Politics & Prose.

Local creators have a lot of books out this summer. Arlington's Richard Thompson's The Mighty Alice (Andrews McMeel, $13) is a new collection of his Cul de Sac strip which runs in the Post. Team Cul de Sac: Cartoonists Draw the Line at Parkinson's (Andrews McMeel, $30), edited by Chris Sparks, is a fundraiser for the Michael J. Fox Foundation's research in Parkinson's disease in honor of Thompson, who suffers from the disease. Cartoonists from around the world contributed drawings for auction and publishing in the book and so far over $46,000 has been raised. Molly Lawless put out Hit By Pitch: Ray Chapman, Carl Mays and the Fatal Fastball (McFarland, $25) a true baseball story in which a New York Yankee was killed by a Cleveland Indian's fastball pitch. Lawless also gave birth at the same time, so the book has been under-promoted, but is worth seeking out. Xoc: The Journey of a Great White (Oni Press, $20) by Matt Dembicki (and is colored by local cartoonist Evan Keeling) is a natural-science story about a shark's life. District Comics: An Unconventional History of Washington, D.C. is Dembicki's anthology of comics about the local area (I've got a story in the book). Many of the District Comics creators will be signing the book on Aug. 19, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at One More Page Books in Arlington, Va.

Finally, A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King (Touchstone, $26) is a first novel by a former DC and Marvel Comics intern who now lives in D.C. King's story revolves around the only superpowered hero left in the world—the one who stayed behind with his wife when all the others sacrificed themselves to save the world. As a strange new violent terrorism begins destroying parts of cities at random, PenUltimate needs to decide whether he wants to be a hero again. I thought it was an enjoyable postmodern superhero story.

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