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NICK GAZIN'S COMIC BOOK LOVE-IN # 22

May 18, 2011, 10:31am

Hi You Comicking Booksters,

Here is some comic news.

1) James Stokoe made this cool poster for the movie Troll Hunter.

2) Chip Kidd made these great custom portfolios to contain three comics he owns the original art for.

3) A Frank Miller splash page from The Dark Knight Returns recently sold for almost $450,000, which is the most anyone has ever paid for original comic art.

4) NBC recently turned down a pilot based on Wonder Woman. The lady who was set to play Wonder Woman kind of looks like Katy Perry but in costumes that are unjerkofftoable.

5) I saw Werner Herzog's new 3D movie, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and it split my head open. I was bawling my brains out as the flickering three-dimensional images appeared on screen a few feet in front of my face. If you haven’t heard about it, some Frenchies discovered the oldest cave paintings ever back in 1994 and, 17 years later, let Herzog make this documentary about them. The 34,000-year-old paintings are more sophisticated than I would have imagined. There are black line paintings of rhinos, horses, lions, and other animals, all done in black outlines. All I could think was, "That's what I do!"

Herzog compared the flawlessly preserved paintings to cinema and animation, but I was irked that he didn't use the words "cartoon" or "comics" at any point during the film. I guess he wanted to relate the earliest known examples of creativity to what he knows, but black line images on white surfaces, sometimes with implied movement, seem more like comics to me.

From best to last, first to worst, here are the reviews. The first two books I reviewed are Japanese, so the dialogue balloons are intended to be read from right to left.

(Send all review submissions to Nick Gazin C/o Vice’s New York office.)

Yours,

Nicholas Gazin

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#1
Garden
Yuichi Yokoyama
Picturebox

Yuichi Yokoyama's Garden is like looking at plans for an art installation that's too big to ever be made. This 300-page graphic novel takes some large risks with its storytelling, but those risks pay off big time.

Garden has been translated from Japanese to English, but it kept the right-to-left, back-to-front style of book-lookery. The story concerns a group of friends who are denied access to a place called "the garden," but sneak in anyway. The characters exploring the space are nameless humanoids who are all pretty freaky-looking, which is fitting because the shit they find in the garden is pretty freaky-looking too. First they come across a waterfall with rubber balls instead of water and a bridge covered in swivel chairs. To cross the river, the explorers transfer from chair to chair, all while spinning around in circles. The things they encounter later are harder to describe, although they make sense when the confused characters observe and comment on them.

The plot doesn't build like a traditional story. The characters explore, comment on beautiful and frightening things, and occasionally engage with or hide from security patrols. It seems like the things they see become more and more dangerous as the book progresses, and then it ends with a confusing sequence that acts as an epilogue, in which we see what may be an explanation of some of the strange things they came across.

My best dreams usually involve me moving through some strange and unfamiliar space while looking at alien objects, much like the characters in Garden. I blame those dreams on video games. A big part of gaming is immersing yourself in weird environments—you move through a space and try to understand it, just like in this book.

I wanted to know more about Garden and the man who made it, so I asked the publisher, Dan Nadel, about it.

Nick Gazin: This book is a lot like my dreams, which are mostly about exploring weird spaces. I think my dreams are highly influenced by video games. Do you know if Yuichi Yokoyama plays video games?
Dan: I'm fairly certain he doesn't. Yokoyama is a pretty analog dude. He doesn't even own a computer, so he emails me from his phone. That said, maybe he played early video games as a kid. Mostly he enjoys the outdoors, though. He lives in the suburbs and frequently sends me photos of the woods.

Who is Yuichi Yokoyama?
Well, Yokoyama studied as a painter, and until the early 00s he only painted in a representational style. He used the same kind of figures and landscapes, albeit with a subtle and adept color palette and incredibly skilled paint handling. He moved into comics because, as he said, he wanted to make his images move. Some of this work can be seen on his blog.

How old is Yuichi and when did you first see his work?

Yuichi is 44 years old, and I first saw his work around 2004, when my friend Mike Buckley showed me a Japanese edition of New Engineering and suggested I track this guy down and publish him.

Have you met him? What's he like?
I've spent time with him in Japan and Switzerland. He’s nice, generous, and engaging, but also extremely serious about his work and its philosophical underpinnings (i.e. human/machine interaction and maintaining an almost alien perspective). He claims to have little to no interest in comics in general, but is avidly interested in architecture, engineering, and nature. He wears pretty groovy tracksuits and maintains a poker face at all times. He belongs to no single school of manga and appears to have few, if any, peers.

We are currently working on our fourth book together, which is a collection of paintings, collages, and comics, all in color. It should be out in the fall.

What do you think is happening from page 272 until the end of the book? Is that supposed to be the characters looking at the photos they took? Is it a sympathetic attempt at explaining what's going on to a confused reader? Is it time travel?
I think we're moving back through areas of the book with Yokoyama as our guide. But that's just me. It's pretty open. That's what I like about Yuichi’s books—there are a variety of directions the reader can go. I mean, for a guy of such precision, he is not afraid of ambiguity.

The world inside the garden is pretty fantastic, but no more or less so than the characters who explore it. What do you think the world outside the garden is like? It might be missing the point to ask that, but the characters are so odd-looking it's hard not to wonder what their normal environment might be.
I don't think there's a world outside the garden. Much like in Travel, the idea of "outside" is just an idea, not a place, and it serves only to bring characters inside, y'know?
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#2
Lychee Light Club
Usamara Furuya
Vertical

Lychee Light Club is sick as hell and a lot more than I expected from the cover. A small group of evil 14-year-old boys get together in the guts of an abandoned factory and build a robot to do their evil bidding. They command it to kidnap a beautiful girl, who they keep strapped to a throne and are forbidden to touch. They all seem to be pretty gay. The evil gay teens have some evil gay sex, and the evil gay leader fears his homo minions will overthrow him. As his paranoia begins to destroy him, the beautiful girl and the club's murderous robot fall in love. There are allusions to German expressionism and fascism. I'm unsure if the political story is supposed to be allegorical or if the point of this comic is really about perversion and love, but it's pretty great either way.

I'd forgotten that Usumara Furuya is the manga genius behind Short Cuts, one of the best Japanese comics I've ever seen. Short Cuts was a series of disconnected comics that dealt with teen girl culture, perverts, and experimentation with the standard comics format. The comics were darkly hilarious, gross, and sweet. He also did the manga adaptation of Suicide Club and a few other things I was unaware of. Usumara is also a huge follower of Ero guro super genius, Suehiro Maruo. This comic is based on a play that Maruo acted in in 1985. (If anyone has any photos or video footage of the stage show this book is based upon, I would love to see them.)

Discovering good manga can be hard if you aren't naturally drawn to the world of Japanese comics. For those who are manga curious but don't know what's good or have been burned in the past, I recommend Katsuhiro's Akira and Domu, anything by Suehiro Maruo, and this book.

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#3
Yeah!
Peter Bagge, Gilbert Hernandez
Fantagraphics

Peter Bagge's Hate seems more important all the time. Despite it being "the grunge comic" it's still as relevant as ever. Bagge only made 30 issues of Hate and then went and made a bunch of other comics series. The first of which was Yeah!, drawn by Gilbert Hernandez, about a girl group from New Jersey who are hated on Earth but the most popular band on every other planet in the universe. Unfortunately, their popularity on other planets is unable to positively impact their lives because the existence of aliens is known only to them and their manager. Also, alien money is no good on Earth. Vertigo published nine issues of the comic before cancelling it, but now Fantagraphics has swooped in and published the collected Yeah! series for the first time.

Gilbert Hernandez and Peter Bagge are both massively talented guys, but I can see why this comic didn't last. Yeah! is a children's comic intended for the Archie reading crowd, but I found reading it was a giant bummer—way more depressing than Bagge and Beto's adult comics, in which important characters often die without warning. It's a huge downer to watch the girls get treated like garbage and find zero success or encouragement on their home planet. Their popularity on other planets doesn't seem to make them happy or improve their situation on Earth, and we don't even see them in space all that much. It's just page after page of the main characters, Krazy, Woo Woo, and Honey looking miserable. Bagge mentions in the intro that he saw this as lighter fare compared to Hate but Buddy seemed to be enjoying his life a lot more than the characters in Yeah!. There's an overwhelming sense of hopelessness here.

The book's production is tasteful, but kind of bare bones. The biggest problem is the lack of color. This comic just looked better in color. I was disappointed when Hate Volume 2 was printed without color, and this also sucks to me. Also, the original covers weren't included. Those were nice covers drawn by Gilbert Hernandez. THE Gilbert Hernandez. I feel like if it was made for kids it should have been in color. Even if the target audience were adults, including the cover art would still have been nice, since we are obsessive nerds.

Peter Bagge and Gilbert Hernandez are great cartoonists, and this is worth checking out if, like me, you want to read everything they make. I guess I should end this review by clarifying that this comic isn't necessarily bad, it will just make you feel bad. I felt like asking Pete about it so I did.

Nick Gazin: Did you reread Yeah! during or after the production of this collection? What did you think of it? Were there any things you would have done differently?
Pete: I reread it, and much to my surprise I still loved it. I say "surprised" because most of my fans HATED it when it first came out, and I assumed I'd finally see why they hated it. I still don't get why they did. It's a funny, wacky comic book.

The main feeling that the comic left me with was a crushing sense of hopelessness. With the exception of the cover art, the girls usually seem unhappy.
Why?!? Well, I gave them troubled backstories, but they sure have a lot of fun at the same time.

I guess I feel like Krazy, Honey, and Woo Woo don't usually look like they're having fun. They look troubled, upset, or angry in almost every panel. They go to other planets, but they usually don’t enjoy it. Even when Woo Woo gets to date her rockstar crush, Hobo Cappiletto, she's too racked with guilt to be able to enjoy it. It seems like they're only having fun on the front and back cover.
Good point! I guess I simply enjoy their misery. I'm a monster!

Your taste in pop music aimed at pre-adolescents is well known. A column you wrote about J-pop turned me onto some great stuff. What recording artists and albums are you listening to nowadays?
Nothing brand new, other than my own band, Can You Imagine? I’ve mostly been listening to old stuff–early 60’s folk, mid-60’s rock and pop, and teeny-bopper crap from the mid-80s and late 90s.

What projects do you have coming up?
A mini-series/graphic novel called Reset for Dark Horse, and a four-page feature for REASON.
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#4
Pearls Blows Up
Stephen Pastis
Andrews McMeel

When looking through Pearls Blows Up the first thing you will notice is that Stephen Pastis is a tacky asshole who thinks smearing photos of himself throughout a collection of his comics is a good idea. Bam! There he is on the front cover of the book, flyin’ out of an explosion with his cartoon characters. Zam! The inside covers show off some production shots from the cover shoot! Then he made unnecessary annotations for about 60 percent of the comics, which feels like watching a DVD where turning off director commentary isn't allowed. But the real icing on the dick is in the final 11 pages. These last pages are filled with photos of the cartoonist over the course of his life. Most of them are not great photos either. There are pictures of him in college, on vacation… even one of that time his basement flooded.

What was the reason for the 11-page scrapbook at the back of a comic collection? Stephen says, "When I was a kid reading Gary Larson's The Far Side, or Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes, I always wanted to know what the authors looked like. Was there a resemblance between Larson and the big-nosed, four-eyed people he drew? Did Bill Watterson look like a grown up Calvin, or did he look like Calvin's father?" Maybe those geniuses weren't shoving themselves into the spotlight for a reason, and you should have taken a page from their book—which doesn't have 40 photos of them in it.

Pearls Before Swine is a comic that makes me chuckle at mediocre but inoffensive art. I like it fine, but compared to other comics running in newspaper strips I like it a lot. I would have critiqued the comic, but I felt like Stephen Pastis was reading over my shoulder and trying to interrupt my enjoyment with interjections about the joke he was trying to make. I imagine Stephen Pastis as having a personality and energy not unlike Tom Arnold's. If you haven't read the newspaper comics in a while, maybe go check out Mutts and Cul de Sac first. If you love newspaper strips to death but don't read comic books, then I could give a fuck what you do.

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#5
Mr. Funny Pants
Michael Showalter
Grand Central Publishing

I tried to sell my copy to Spoonbill and Sugartown, but they wouldn't take it. They said they were trying to get rid of the copies they already had. I thought Jon Glaser's book was disappointing too, and that guy is one of the best. My editor was disappointed with Patton Oswalt's book, and we both see eye to eye on him being a comedian who gives us severe cases of the chuckles. Sometimes funny guys aren't great at writing funny books, just like good bands don't always make albums that are good. I find many of Steve Martin's New Yorker articles fairly dull. I could go on, but I'm already getting depressed pointing out the failures of people who normally bring me heavy joy.

See you next week! That's right, this column is weekly until the strain of having to shit talk funny books makes me die of joy!

NICK GAZIN