ALL STAR RECOMMENDS FOR JANUARY 9TH: THE 2018 COMIC BOOK FORECAST EDITION
Forget comic books, if there is one recommendation I currently feel qualified to give, it is this: never move home at Christmas time with your five-month old child and overseas in-laws visiting. I return to you from a short stint in the Sanatorium, surrounded by boxes but with faculties renewed and crystal ball once more in hand.
2018 already looks bountiful on the comics front. It also looks a little heartbreaking, with two industry titans giving us their farewells to the medium and the final volume of a cult-smash project making its long-awaited arrival. This, the Golden Age of reprints and translated material, continues also with newly translated classic manga and work from Heavyweight European creators also forthcoming. It's a massive year already, so let's take a look at some of what awaits us, alphabetically with tentative release dates included.
ALACK SINNER: THE AGE OF DISENCHANTMENT
Carlos Sampayo & Jose Munoz
Will this follow up to one of 2017s most welcome reprints be called The Age of Disenchantment or The Age of Discontent as I've seen it listed both ways? We'll find out upon its release in May, but who cares anyway because its bound to be special. It took two years, give or take, from IDW announcing the return of Alack Sinner to English to actually hit store shelves, but 2017s volume one, The Age of Innocence, proved well worth the wait, easily one of the best releases of the year. Even if you're half as sick of detective stories as I am, you'll still find yourself captivated by Argentinian creators Sampayo and Munoz's take on 1970s New York and Sinner himself whose adventures prove, ultimately, to be meditations on violence, racism, greed and love. And the art. My God the art. Here readers will find the mid-point from Krigstein and Toth to Sin City-Miller and Eduardo Risso, but it's so much better and cleverer and lovelier than that sounds. In fact my only complaint about IDWs reprint is that the creators for some reason requested Sinner's tales be presented chronologically rather than by publication date, depriving us of seeing the remarkable growth in Munoz's art, the ever-creeping surrealistic flourishes, as they happened. A small quibble, really, for what is a comic that lives up to the mountainous critical hype that preceded its long-awaited return to English.
BATMAN BY GRANT MORRISON OMNIBUS/SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY OMNIBUS
Grant Morrison & Various
Batman due July/Seven Soldiers due August
Are you, like me, an obsessed weirdo with mental problems who cannot handle the fact that your Morrison Batman comics are in, like, five different formats?? Hello..? Hello...?
Well thankfully for me DC are fixing this problem and easing my nervous ticks with the impending release of the Batman by Grant Morrison Omnibus. Ahhh. I can breathe at last. Drawn by a slew of excellent artists (and Tony Daniel), Morrison's epic run on Batman was notable for its author's attempts to treat the entire backlog of Bat-adventures as canon, building to Bruce Wayne's inevitable nervous breakdown. But Batman being Batman, there's always a plan, even when you're as crazy as a guy screaming, "Why aren't these Morrison Batman comics all the same sizzzeee?" Ahem. Also worth mentioning here is that DC is also finally releasing Morrison and friends' quite wonderful Seven Soldiers of Victory in a single, very large book. Huzzah.
Wait, what? In surely the year's most inspired piece of creative casting, Michel Fiffe brings his colour pencil set over to Image, ready to reanimate the corpse of yet another Rob Liefeld creation littering the comics character graveyard. Yes, Bloodstrike returns and actually will be readable for the first time in the title's history. All jokes aside, with his self-published Copra, Fiffe has proven ability to channel a classic superhero aesthetic into his own idiosyncratic style. It's so easy to rip off a certain pose or artistic style and pass it off with a cheeky wink and a nod. Not Fiffe though, who goes arthouse with his hero-homage. Expect the reinvigorated super-assassin team to return with visual homage aplenty, to both the titles original early-Image style and the preceding '80s Suicide Squad title (in many ways the proto-Bloodstrike) which Fiffe is so fond of, but in the process looking quite unlike anything else other than a Michel Fiffe comic. Should be fantastic.
CAPTAIN HARLOCK: THE CLASSIC COLLECTION/SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: THE CLASSIC COLLECTION
Harlock due April/Yamato due Oct
How are Seven Seas pulling this off? Not only content to bring us the early adventures of Go Nagai's Devilman (see below), They've snatched up English rights for both of Leiji Matsumoto's heavyweight creations: Captain Harlock: Space Pirate and Space Battleship Yamato. If you didn't get around to Kodansha's two-volume presentation of Matsumoto's Queen Emeraldas, I suggest you start there as it's the perfect primer of Matsumoto's striking work. His expanses of space feel endless, his ship consoles seem to blink from the darkness of his surrounds, his characters are bouncy, lively always and in Harlock, he found the perfect rogue with which to liven up his dense space operas. From the publicity: "After a mysterious sphere collides with Tokyo, legends seemingly born of the ancient Mayan civilization appear. In truth, however, the beings are alien invaders known as the Mazone, plant women who wandered the earth in bygone ages--and have now returned to make it theirs. With a ragtag crew of renegades at his side, only the space pirate Captain Harlock has what it takes to save the planet." Translated by Zack Davisson, who really must be living his dream right now, quality is assured along with the boundless adventure on offer.
But that's not all! Seven Seas are coming for your wallet and your reading time in 2018. The entirety of Matsumoto's Space Battleship Yamato, possibly the ultimate comics space opera, due October, is of course better known to us as Star Blazers and it is collected into a single volume. Seriously, what a year.
DEVILMAN THE CLASSIC COLLECTION
Translator Zack Davisson has his fingerprints all over 2018s best classic manga reprints, kicking off in March with massive, 600+ page volumes of Go Nagai's horror classic, Devilman. I'm not sure how many volumes will be considered "classic" by publisher Seven Seas but Nagai kicked off his epic about a human imbued with the powers of a devil (with which he fights literal devils) in 1972, wrapping up the original run roughly a year later, only to return from 79-81 after anime kept his creation well and truly alive. It's influential stuff, becoming something of a pop culture phenomenon in its native Japan, unsurprising given Nagai's Tezuka-goes-blood-and-guts style. Fun stuff and a much-needed return to print for this beloved character's earliest adventures. Curse you, Seven Seas!
April promises to break some budgets, but do ensure you at least give some thought to Andre Franquin's Die Laughing. Considered arguably the best draftsman of all time, Franquin's Die Laughing has been in the works at Fantagraphics for years and, as with many comics on this year's list, finally appears in 2018. Franquin, noted mainly for his gag-filled Spirou and Fantasio and Gomer Goof comics (both published these days by the UK's Cinebook) goes dark here, very, very dark. Modern life is skewered by the late Belgian genius in strips that sound like Mad magazine gone utterly nihilistic. Sure to be cruel, it's also bound to be beautiful, with images like this, which show Franquin at his inky best, his satire at its darkest:
THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN VOLUME FOUR: THE TEMPEST
Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill
This would be a notable inclusion solely for the fact that it's the final volume in Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's largely excellent The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. However, given that Alan Moore, indisputably the most highly-regarded writer to ever grace the medium (whatever you may think of the old curmudgeon) will retire from comics with its publication, it becomes more of an actual "event" than anything else this year, no matter what the Big Two try and tell you. Given that artist O'Neill, the man whose very style was once banned by the Comics Code Authority, is also calling time on his long and incredible career, I'm not sure how that prior statement can even be disputed. Skipping ahead to the far future, this final six-issue League story promises to wrap thing up with characters new and old from the series' time-jumping adventures.
LONE WOLF & CUB GALLERY EDITION
Goseki Kojima & Kazuo Koike
Dark Horse Comics
It is frequently difficult to resist the lure of the oversized "art edition" book. Pioneered by IDW's Scott Dunbier ("Artist's Edition"), both Fantagraphics ("Studio Edition") and Dark Horse ("Galley Edition") have also jumped aboard to wave giant hardcovers filled with high quality scans of original comics artwork under the noses of process nerds worldwide. This one right here though is a real standout, presenting the gorgeous, forty-year-old Lone Wolf & Cub artwork of Goseki Kojima (from scripts by the brilliant Kazuo Koike) at a size which readers have never even come close to seeing before - particularly if you've got the original Dark Horse run of Lone Wolf (as I do) which were books a little larger than your palm. Adding to the appeal is pages presented in the original Japanese as well as English, something else English readers have probably never seen before. Kojima was a consummate draftsman and a thorough researcher and the chance to get as close as possible to his original art boards is a tantalising one. Bring this on.
MASTER RACE AND OTHER STORIES
I am quite behind on collecting the beautifully designed, black and white EC Comics reprints that Fantagraphics have been serving up for the past few years, but the latest instalment, each compiled by artist, is a total must-own-now. Bernard (or simply "B.") Krigstein was one of the medium's most gifted visual storytellers, fabulously cinematic and moody at all times even when faced with the cramped, multi-panelled, heavily captioned stories he crafted for EC Comics in the 1950s. Master Race and Other Stories collects the titular tale (one of the finest EC ever published, smashing the mould for what artists could achieve with such tight narrative restrictions) and many more genre-spanning tales by the master, many either unpublished or never reprinted. The care Fantagraphics puts into this line ensures Krigstein's art will look its sharpest. Out shortly after this column hits (supposedly), get in store to order.
Alberto Breccia & Hector German Oesterheld
Wandering through time and across the world is poor Mort Cinder, who rises from the grave each time he is murdered. If this is a familiar premise, DC's Resurrection Man is what's ringing the bell, but make no mistake on which is the original- Mort Cinder dates back to 1962. Oesterheld writes this one, he of The Eternaut fame (look Oesterheld up - he has quite the life story), but the star of the show is undoubtedly artist Alberto Breccia, whose work was simply decades ahead of its time. Amazing stuff:
MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS CHAPTER 2
Look, let's be real for a moment. The only comic released in 2017 that will still be talked about with any real relevance in a decade's time is the first volume of Emil Ferris' My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. With the second, concluding, volume arriving shortly, it's just as likely Ferris' astonishing ballpoint artwork and beautiful writing steals the year once again. If you've yet to read My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, I envy you and recommend holding off for the concluding volume's arrival to ensure you don't have to endure even a sliver of the twelve-month wait the rest of us have. An absolute, top-of-the-list must-buy. I can't really say any more than that.
Long delayed, cancelled even at one point as it was simply too expensive for publishers NBM to bring into English, Paper Dolls by the French husband and wife art team Kerascoet finally arrives this February and it is limited to 1000 numbered copies. Yikes. Giant, intricately designed, Paper Dolls showcases the gorgeous art the duo produce and if you're familiar with their work on Beauty, Miss Don't Touch Me, Beautiful Darkness, Satania and more, you know we're in for a treat. The advance word from NBM promises the book will lift "the veil on the immensity and diversity of their work in comics, animation and advertising showing sketches, studies, paintings, even work on textile." Poised to be possibly the year's loveliest book, Paper Dolls also may prove to be the most fun, armed as it is with bonus cut outs, stickers and more.
Not only the final Frank book, but also the final comic that the incomparable Jim Woodring will ever make, Poochytown seeks to wrap up the surreal adventures of Woodring's anthropomorphic critter's travails through the world of the Unifactor and will apparently do so with fairly shocking event. Troubling, but as long as Pupshaw and Pushpaw make it unscathed, I'll be fine. The idea of Woodring ending his time in comics is a terribly sad one - Frank has been with us since 1996 - and underneath all those trippy sequences lies some pretty heavy symbolism. Few comics have reworked old archetype into something startlingly unique and visually immersive as Jim Woodring's and for the first time, the arrival of a new Frank book is a sad one. Not to be missed.
PRISON PIT VOLUME 6
All manner of atrocity surely awaits readers in the concluding volume of Johnny Ryan's hyper-violent, wrestling and manga-inspired Prison Pit. Volume 6 of the cult hit is three years in the making, capping off what surely must be seen as a pretty stunning success for the cartoonist. An animated adaptation and a merchandise bonanza later, Ryan's...um..."anti-hero," Cannibal F@#kface, faces one final epic brawl on the landscape populated by violent alien criminals that he's trapped in. How over the top will this final volume get? Off the charts would be my guess, but whatever the case, Prison Pit's conclusion is sure to be the year's most offensively hilarious read.
Nick Drnaso's debut graphic novel, Beverley, was a standout for me in 2016, a supremely accomplished effort from a newcomer whose thin lines and sterile environments matched the frequent iciness of his character’s interactions. Back at publishers D&Q again this year, Drnaso's follow up, Sabrina, ups the ante. Featuring an airman in the US airforce drawn into the mystery of the titular Sabrina's disappearance, encountering "modern world devoid of personal interaction and responsibility, where relationships are stripped of intimacy through glowing computer screens," it's a premise that may cause some sighs. I know, I know, it's the kind of thing I would probably roll my eyes at too, but Drnaso's work leans toward the Ballardian and I expect an uncomfortable, clever examination of the "fake news climate" rather than some tossed-off references to Twitter and how shallow we all are in a desperate attempt to make the comic relevant. I guess I'm saying, trust me. If you don't, go take a look at 2016's Beverly and remember that excellent comic was Drnaso's first.
Okay, in 2018 can we please show some more love to New York Review Comics who is consistently putting out incredible reissue after reissue of long lost comics gold? Sure, there are a number of companies doing this, but few with the design and willingness to take go the extra mile with presentation. Two different paper stocks? Sure. Massively oversized? Why not. There's almost a recklessness here that rivals Fantagraphics go-for-broke presentation aesthetic. Anyway, on tap for this May is Slum Wolf by the brilliant Tadao Tsuge. Long delayed, this collection assembles stories the alt-manga master created in the sixties and seventies. Tsuge's last collection Trash Market showed readers the real life grime of Japan at the time and Slum Wolf would appear to up the ante, focussing as it does on "punks, vagrants, gangsters, and other lost souls..." Like Trash Market before it, Slum Wolf is translated and edited by the excellent Ryan Holmberg, a man who has forgotten more about obscure Japanese comics than you or I could ever learn. Again: what a time this is for comics. Seriously.
Blutch is back! Exploring the music and sub-culture of the jazz scene is the French artist's newest arrival in English, which is great if you love jazz and almost as great even if you don't. Blutch possesses a striking, singular artistic voice and a beautifully inky line and it's just possible that this collection of vignettes and shorts, drawn in a variety of styles ("as improvisational as Coltrane and Mingus," Fantagraphics promises) will be the perfect introduction to his craft for the new reader. Can't wait.
X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN TREASURY EDITION
Alright! This is what I've been holding off for. Ready to shelve right next to your volumes of Ed Piskor's beloved Hip Hop Family Tree is the collection of the cartoonist's massively-praised X-Men project which sandwiches almost the entire continuity of everyone's favourite mutants into one smartly-cartooned package. It's pretty cool to see such a unique project strike such a large vein in the fanbase - it feels like the kind of thing Marvel would do back in the Jemas/Quesada days (how strange that I now look back at that period with nostalgic pangs). Hopefully Grand Design spurs the publisher on to take greater chances with its creators once again as, from simply a visual standpoint, X-Men: Grand Design looks utterly unlike anything else from the supposed House of Ideas. Its success proves that projects like Grand Design and the similarly lauded Lethem/Dalrymple Omega The Unknown comic of a few years back should not be outliers in Marvel's immense catalogue.
YELLOW NEGROES AND OTHER IMAGINARY CREATURES
Not going to lie, I don't know a whole lot about this one but I have been keeping an eye on its pending arrival for about a year now. Looking a little like Steve Pugh and Al Davidson going fully experimental, Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures comes to us, like all NYRC releases, with advance praise from all over the place. Focussing on immigrants to Paris, this title may pair very well with last year's sorely neglected Run For It by Marcello d'Salete (which concerned itself with Brazilian natives fleeing their colonialist masters). Alagbe, never before translated into English, brings us the loves and conflicts of immigrants and their struggles to assimilate in their new home. A mixed race couple and a power-tripping cop feature prominently, brought to life by Alagbe's lively brush. With it's racial theme up front and squarely in the reader's face, the book has been described as "provocative," but it's also quite likely exactly the comic 2018 needs. Created between 1994-2011, Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures should be considered strongly for your pre-orders - NYRC never steers us wrong.
See you soon. Love your comics.