ALL STAR RECOMMENDS: 2020 COMIC BOOK FORECAST EDITION!
by Cameron Ashley
There is no intro I could write to kick off the year that would not come off as possibly glib or just plain stupid considering everything that's happening. What I can do is present to you a list of upcoming 2020 releases comics that will function as a reminder that there is a lot to look forward to. Even if it's just silly old comic books, that's a start. Okay, let's get to it and please stay safe and well in the year ahead.
Coming maybe, possibly, this year is this ongoing collection of every single page of Otomo comics going all the way back to his 1971 debut. Wowzah. Honestly, Kodansha's upcoming Complete Works of Katsuhiro Otomo project is probably about as important as comics reprints get considering not only just how out of print some of Otomo's translated work is (you will finally be able to read Domu!) but also the shadow that Otomo casts over manga as a totality. A master amongst an industry of masters, this publishing effort is up there with recent Moebius, Kirby and Barks efforts in its relevance. Now if only someone could do the same with Tezuka....
If slightly demented takes on the ol' superhero are your bag, Matthew Allison is the creator for you. The solicits for AdHouse's collected edition of Allison's Cankor (originally CCCANKORRR) read, "Michael DeForge meets Frank Quitely," and from what I've seen of Allison's work (he really is worth an Instagram follow) this seems fairly apt but doesn't quite capture just how skewed Allison’s vision of capes comics is. I don't know quite what it is - Allison’s an artist who could easily slip into a mainstream title. His art is hyper-detailed, energetic, just generally appealing in that Art Adams and, yes, Quitely way. Yet Cankor, with its "sad sack Cyborg" protagonist and "bubbling flesh and the towering corpses of superheroes" is just flat out so bizarre and singular a comic, it's kind of like a Frank Quitely Flex Mentallo comic had a nightmare. I mean, look at this preview - faceless punk rockers, mountainous thorny Bat-things. It's Silver Age weirdness spiked and gone bad trip. Dose me up, I say.
Asano is the creator of some of the all time great comics. I'd put Goodnight Punpun up there with anything you care to name and other beautiful, painful creations like Nijigahara Holograph and Girl On The Shore not too far behind. Never content to sit in the same place twice, Asano constantly pushes forward into new creative spaces. Even though his Dead Dead Demon's Dededede Destruction hasn't quite wrapped up yet, Viz gives us an Asano double whammy as early 2020 also brings us his latest work, Downfall. Concerning a manga artist trying to cook up a new hit as his life crumbles around him, you should bring your tissues for Downfall; this one is bound to engross you then give you a heart-punch.
ED LEFFINGWELL'S LITTLE JOE
Little Joe was a Western comics strip originally created by Ed Leffingwell in 1933. In 1936, Leffingwell died of a burst appendix and his cousin, Harold Gray, stepped in to fill his late relative's shoes. Gray, for those who do not know, was the creator of Little Orphan Annie, one of the all time great comic strips. This forthcoming collection showcases the best of Gray's efforts from 1937-1942, some beautiful cartooning that sort of recalls Herge by way of Gilbert Hernandez. This is sumptuous stuff, sure to be given the deluxe Sunday Press treatment (I was given Sunday Press' White Boy in Skull Valley for Christmas - it is a gorgeous book). Capping it all off, this collection of the "seminal Western comic strip," which features way more thrills and spills than its title hints at, is co-edited by one of the great modern day cartoonists and editor of Kramer's Ergot, Sammy Harkham. Harkham has the touch of gold as far as I'm concerned, and his involvement raises this from being a "this looks great," to a "this needs to be on my shelf."
FANTASTIC FOUR: GRAND DESIGN TREASURY EDITION (Marvel, Due February)
& KIRBY: KING OF COMICS (Ten Speed Press, Due July)
& KIRBY: KING OF COMICS (Ten Speed Press, Due July)
Galactus bless the triumphant return of the Treasury Edition (go get that Silver Surfer: Black and Piskor's X-Men: Grand Design in that format) and Galactus also bless Tom Scioli for not only his remix/retelling of and homage to the unsurpassable Jack Kirby/Stan Lee Fantastic Four run but also for labouring largely in secret over a comics biography of Kirby himself. Many of you may have read FF: Grand Design in its serialised form but Scioli's Fantastic Four story could well lay claim to the most densely constructed shortform mainstream comic ever and the oversized Treasury Edition will surely serve his intricate pages far more greatly. It's heartening also to see Scioli tackle The King's real life alongside those of his fictional creations - Kirby's influence cannot be overstated but particularly when it comes to Scioli's own body of work and artistic style and The King's actual existence was full of as much adventure, triumph, battle and heartbreak as any of those that live on the page. This is a fascinating pairing of comics by a real Pop Art auteur. They would make an excellent back-to-back read, I'm sure. That's how I'm planning to do it.
Almost 200 pages of Lucy Knisley's "spontaneous" post-pregnancy cartoons are collected here for either you or your exhausted new parent friend to totally relate to. New parents need a laugh. Trust me. Knisley's strips (originally posted on her Instagram account) range from the humorous to the observational. These are stripped-back, intimate little comics, perfect for capturing the often solitary, quiet developmental leaps and ever-increasing bonding that occurs between parent and child. Comics. What can't they do?
Debut time! Swiss artist Moa Romanova's Goblin Girl (formerly titled "Father Boy," not sure what happened there) arrives next month and she's clearly a talent to watch. This is a semi-autobiographical affair about a young artist named Moa who, amidst crisis and panic attacks, finds emotional and financial support from an "older man online," a fairly well known celebrity. Clearly, this is not going to end well, although Fantagraphics promises this autobiography, "upends expectations at every turn." It feels like 2020's most 2020 book, if that makes any sense and the arrival of a new strong, unique and talented creator is always reason to celebrate.
Perfectly Acceptable Press
Batten down the hatches, there's raw comics power coming our way in March! If you're not familiar with Lale Westvind's comics, I daresay it won't take too much longer. Having self-published much of her work and been included in Kramer's Ergot and Best American Comics, 2020 is her year. Possessed of the kind of energy most artists wish they could pack into any given square inch of comics page, Westvind is poised to be the breakout Art comics creator of the next few years, if not the decade. Grip is a "heavy handed homage to women in the trades..."and centres on a young woman whose hands can never be still after a "strange incident." Originally published in two sold-out risographed editions by Perfectly Acceptable, hopefully, the print count is raised significantly for the collection, as this has breakout hit of the year written all over it. Westvind is so loud, her comics go up to eleven and she's most original, striking and vibrant talent to emerge in quite some time. Hunt this down.
It wouldn't be one of these forecast columns without a holdover or two from the previous year. J+K is the first of these this year. Here's what I said a year ago:
Concerning two pop culture-obsessed morons trying to make their way in the world, John Pham’s J+K may in fact end up being regarded as 2019s ultimate comics art object. As the titular duo throw away reference after reference to all manner of pop culture ephemera existing in their world, Pham dutifully and creatively actualises it all by including, among other things, posters, stickers, an issue of “Cool Magazine” and, yes, even playable vinyl. It’s playful world-building to an extent not really seen in comics before that I can recall. Making the feat even more impressive, Pham has the cartooning chops to back it all up. Ostensibly a series of short gag strips (“Peanuts meets Seinfeld,” Fantagraphics informs us), the totality does in fact cohere into a whole. “Like it’s not a collection but one long story that makes sense even if it reads like individual puzzle pieces in places,” Frank Santoro wrote in his review of the original Spanish edition, later adding, “It’s a feat to put it all together and serve it up in a smooth package like this. I’ve never seen anything like it…”
These columns of mine might be thinning faster than my hair at this point, but the name Frederik Peeters is scattered throughout many past instalments. February is shaping up to be a massive month of releases and Peeters' latest work, the near 400-page Lupus, may well get lost in the crowd, a tragedy for a comic that won the Essential award at Angouleme. Lupus is Peeters' return to straight-ahead SF, well as straight ahead as the Swiss writer-artist gets. Like with many books on this year's forecast, character comes well ahead of genre trapping and Peeters is a creator of remarkable skill at building real emotion no matter how mind-bending the plot machination. Lupus is on the run, looking for ways to disappear. The entrance of Sanaa, "a beautiful runaway" complicates things and as each new world offers a multitude of escape methods, Lupus might just have to face up to the fact that there are some things you just can't run from.
American publishers Top Shelf have a preview here. It shows Peeters returning to an inky, stripped back black and white that recalls the work of Moon and Ba. Don't sleep on this.
Lumping two books by legendary gekiga master, Yoshiharu Tsuge, together here as they both are of great importance. Both are translated (with essays) by Ryan Holmberg and they both are essential to your manga library. NYRC beats D+Q to the punch by bringing us The Man Without Talent, "the first full-length work ...available in the English language." It's also one of 2020's most essential pieces of comics autobiography as The Man Without Talent is about Tsuge's own attempts to quit trying to make comics and find a more economically stable profession with which to support his family.
The Swamp follows from Drawn and Quarterly in April and is the first volume in a library of Tsuge works. A collection of three stand-alone comics that, in true gekiga style, eschew genre trappings for quiet but impactful stories that focus on the lives of everyday folk, it's a volume that will likely prove once and for all the extent of the beauty and artfulness that can be found in comics. Compare Tsuge's comics to those produced at the same time in the USA and your head will spin at just how complex and cinematic and beautiful they are.
Our other 2019 holdover is actually also a holdover from 2018, giving the second and concluding volume of My Favorite Thing is Monsters the dubious honour of being the only comic to ever appear three times in this column. However, as I wrote last year (and maybe the year before that), we should all be content to just sit tight and wait until creator Emil Ferris is good and ready to put down her coloured biros. This is not a project to be rushed: the second volume of Ferris’ saga could well cement My Favorite Thing Is Monsters legacy as an all-time great comic book. In my opinion, the first volume alone was not only the comic of 2016, but also the decade.
A spoiler-free synopsis for the newbie:
It's Chicago, 1968. A young misfit of a girl named Karen Reyes loves art, but her absolute favourite thing is monsters. Karen identifies with monsters on a deep level, she's able to distinguish between the good monsters and the bad, and the freak-loser-misfit tag she's saddled with socially gives her a degree of empathy for beings such as the Frankenstein Monster that others her age likely do not possess. She desperately wants to be turned into a literal monster, making her outsider status complete and giving her the power and strength she struggles to find day-to-day. She scribbles away in her notebooks, copying the covers to monster magazines of the period, and is taught to draw by her elder brother, Diego "Deeze" Reyes. Deeze is himself something of an outcast with his heavily tattooed skin and constant drinking, yet he easily maintains his status as the local heartthrob. He's an incessant womaniser, stringing along a parade of local women with his handsome features and "bad guy" rebel attitude. The Reyes siblings are raised by a single parent, a mother who is superstitious to the point of obsession, heavily religious, but also deeply loving. They are a weird but obviously tight-knit little family but there is secret, hidden family tragedy waiting to fracture their closeness.
Karen is not shown much kindness in her life outside of her little family. Her best friend (who she deeply loves) has turned her back on her in a quest for popularity and peer acceptance and her bullying is near constant. What little kindness there is comes in the form of her upstairs neighbour, the eccentric Anka Silverberg, a Jewish WWII survivor who nurtures Karen's artistic streak and gives her odd gifts such as balled up pieces of bread. When Anka is brutally murdered, Karen is determined to solve the mystery. She begins keeping the company of Anka's stern, elderly husband, Sam. Drunk and grief-stricken, Sam Silverberg pulls out a cassette tape on which Anka reveals her incredible life story, in which clues to her gruesome death abound.
My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is told in the form of Karen's scribbled notebooks. The vast majority of it is drawn in biro, and pretty much the rest of it in fineliner, with the odd excursion into brush, wash and (possibly) colour pencil. Every page looks as though it's come from an A4 lined notepad, complete with red margin line running vertically down the page, evenly spaced blue lines horizontally and even faux hole punch marks and a spiral binding. There's urgency on the pages, but Ferris maintains deep control of her images throughout. Ferris is fond of cross-hatching a fine lattice of multi-coloured biro lines on her characters, creating soft yet striking contours and textures and depths. Karen herself is drawn almost totally throughout as a little werewolf girl, almost like something from Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are gone mystery-solver, her diminished, devolved image of herself near total even as she wears her "monstrous" outsider status as something of a badge of pride. Anka's story is engrossing, cutting across decades, and it's a testament to Ferris' writing skills just how easily her story flips between coming of age drama to mystery to horror and back again so seamlessly, never losing sight of her characters' humanity and keeping her story firmly on the tracks. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is an absolute, top-of-the-list must-read. I can't really say any more about this masterpiece than that.
ORIGINAL ART: THE DANIEL CLOWES STUDIO EDITION
Your high roller item of 2020 to be sure, but what an item this is. Elevating the Artist/Studio format to new heights is the forthcoming Daniel Clowes edition. Meticulously detailed and beautifully designed, Original Art showcases a wide selection of original Clowes art from right through his long career. It's the inclusion of acetate colour overlay sheets that puts this book over the top, however, an inclusion so obvious yet somehow never done in one of these books before. Originally due around last Christmas, one look at the finished product explains its lateness - this is a carefully, lovingly-constructed, enormously proportioned book. Ed Piskor (who has an Studio Edition of his due shortly that's sure to be well worth a look) and Jim Rugg went through Clowes' Original Art page by page on their Cartoonist Kayfabe YouTube channel recently and both the curious and the impatient can find that here.
SPORTS IS HELL
Passmore, artist of 2019 highlight BTTM FDRS returns and very soon at that with a new solo project, Sports Is Hell. "Some wars are for religion and some are for political belief but this one is for football," reads the tagline. A young girl named Tea is witness to her city winning its first superbowl but has to fight her way through groups of "armed football fanatics to meet a star receiver that might just end the civil war or become the city's new leader."
Passmore's a savvy creator, his debut solo work Your Black Friend marked the arrival of a terrific new talent. BTTM FDRS was haunted house turned hipster gentrification horror. With projects like those behind him and a belter of a high concept, Sports Is Hell promises to be politically savvy, cheekily funny and energetically drawn. Canada's Koyama Press is sadly closing its doors in 2021 for reasons that are a little mysterious, certainly not from a lack of successful titles of which Sports Is Hell is likely to be one.
STREETS OF PARIS, STREETS OF MURDER: THE COMPLETE NOIR STORIES OF MANCHETTE & TARDI
Jacques Tardi & Jean-Patrick Manchette
Volume 1 (of 2) due April
This right here, this is the business. Finally, *all* of Jacques Tardi's adaptations of Jean-Patrick Manchette's crime novels are to be collected in two massively oversized editions. For my money, Manchette is one of the few absolutely, truly essential crime writers and paired with Tardi's dense yet beautifully detailed pages with his rubbery characters and period authenticity, they were the French Brubaker and Phillips. Hell, they might have been even better. Here's Brubaker himself on Tardi: "Tardi brings a rough and gritty reality and an existential strangeness that makes his crime stories different than anyone else's."
In this first volume, the never before translated Griffu debuts, paired with the superlative West Coast Blues (from Manchette's novel 3 to Kill) and a 21 page uncompleted story which surely has to be Tardi's sadly never finished adaptation of Fatale and yet another incomplete story. If you read Criminal, or Stray Bullets or, hell, if you read genre comics of any sort at all - this is about as important a release as you'll find this calendar year. Vital.
Due "hopefully" this year (according to its author)
The second volume of Tijuana-based creator Charles Glaubitz's Starseeds was pipped at the post in my own 2019 Best Of by none other than Chris Ware's Rusty Brown, a book nineteen years in the making. Kind of unfair, really, as Glaubitz is working hard and fast on his Starseeds series, the kind of Kirby meets Campbell meets shamanism meets conspiracy meets alchemy meets archetype meets psychedelia mash-up fans of mind-melting comics dream of. Volume Two showed Glaubitz stretching both artistic and narrative potential and honestly I cannot wait to see how much further this can be pushed. An incredible marriage between beauty and bombast, philosophy and fisticuffs, delirium and design, it's high time the series received more love, acclaim and, probably most importantly, publicity. Honestly it's the heir to all the great '70s Marvel cosmic comics; Englehart, Starlin, it outdoes all those dudes. With Glaubitz telling me he's hopeful volume 3 appears this year, let's hope 2020 is the breakthrough year for this astonishingly talented artist and his menagerie of cosmic creations.
EDIT: Charles Glaubitz just got in touch: "No wait! I made a mistake. It's coming out in 2021!" Oh well, let's just call this an extended forecast...
Tom King, Mitch Gerads & Evan "Doc" Shaner
Easily the title I need to alert readers to the least, Tom King and Mitch Gerads' follow up to Mister Miracle will likely outsell everything else on this list combined and multiple times at that. Here's the thing, even I, All Star's resident snob, have to admit that King and Gerads' multiple-award winning Mister Miracle was actually pretty great. The team's much-anticipated follow-up is an examination of colonialism through the character of Adam Strange, the man who periodically travels between Earth and the planet Rann via the Zeta Beam. The great Evan "Doc" Shaner is along for the ride as co-artist, and I'm betting he's drawing some Silver Age style cleanliness, all utopia and sunshine, while Gerads brings the gritty realism to a pessimistic, downbeat current world. It's a story that's been cooking for quite some time and I appreciate these 12 issue, easily contained, novelistic runs. Eh, you're buying it anyway, let's end the hype and move on.
THIRD WORLD WAR
Pat Mills, Carlos Ezquerra & Others
Rebellion (Out NOW!!)
Finally, oh finally, Rebellion has gotten around to reprinting Pat Mills' political epic. Originally serialised in late '80s anthology magazine Crisis (kind of 2000AD for grown ups), Third World War's anti-capitalist theme only rings more loudly in 2020. Conscripted as a soldier for a corporation, Eve uncovers the corruption inherent in South American food production designed, of course, to maximise profit for those at the top. Way ahead of its time, Third World War also features rare painted colours by the late Carlos Ezquerra. This is another long-lost gem of British comics returned to life by publishers Rebellion and it's out as of January 7.
Black is The Color and Laid Waste signalled that Julia Gfrorer was a storyteller of uncommon delicacy whose fine lines heightened moments of warm, necessary contact between humans amidst backdrops of horror. She's the Gothic Inio Asano in a weird way, with genre playing a very quiet second fiddle as the emotional pain of her protagonists screams way up front. Vision is Gfrorer's latest work and seemingly her most intentionally Gothic, with a blind Victorian spinster as its protagonist who engages in "a sexual relationship with a haunted mirror" whilst caring for her "invalid sister-in-law and investigating her brother's mysterious night-time activities." It might sound pretty bonkers, and it will be. It's also likely to be as deeply human as comics get in 2020.
Wait, what??!!! For years I've been banging on to any poor soul who would listen that we needed Minetaro Mochizuki comics in English and we needed them now. The last volume of Dragon Head, Mochizuki's disaster-horror epic was published by TokyoPop in 2001 - it has remained the only Mochizuki printed in English. Since then, Mochizuki has flown under the radar as equally talented and singular creators such as Inio Asano and Taiyo Matsumoto have found regular publication in the West. It befuddled me. Well, strap in kids because this book is an under the radar landmark event and hopefully is the gateway book to break Mochizuki into English for good. Oh, it's also his take on Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs, which was really great and all, but come for Minetaro, stay for the dogs. This is excellent news. Hugs all round. C'mere, you.