Forthwith a few more books that I picked up at MoCCA Fest 2011. (For part 1, go to the main page and scroll down a couple of posts).
I'll start with three that debuted at the festival:
Eric Skillman and Jhomar Soriano's Liar's Kiss is an engaging, film noire-ish thriller told in black and white, with thin, jagged lines and lots of black shadow. The story's about Nick Archer, a private detective who gets involved with the wife of a client, and the mayhem that ensues when the client shows up dead.
I couldn't help thinking of Darwyn Cooke and Richard Starke's Parker books when reading Liar's Kiss, and I expect people who liked Parker will like Liar's Kiss. That said, the artwork is a bit uneven in the latter -- Nick's face tends to shift around -- and more problematically the ending is something of a cop-out. I won't spoil anything by going into detail. All I'll say is that the final twist left me feeling cheated.
Dan Clowes's Mister Wonderful is indeed a wonderful graphic novella, beautifully drawn and told, at turns hilarious and touching and always honest, with a light touch. I missed the series when it was first printed in the New York Times Magazine (I almost never read anything in the Times's magazine section) so this was new material to me. It's also beautifully printed in glowing colors from Pantheon.
If I have any quibble it's with the format, wide enough to make it cumbersome to read comfortably anywhere other than on a large, flat surface. I expect it's this way because if it were made taller it would also have to be made correspondingly thinner, and might have appeared too insubstantial to fit between robust hardcovers. And it does stand out on the shelf. But it's not entirely a successful tradeoff. Still, a very small point.
The Anthology Project's second volume also debuted at MoCCA Fest this year. These are anthologies of short works by some very talented artists, many of whom work professionally in video games, TV and animation. Since I was unfamiliar with either, I picked up both to take a look. First, the good. These are the most sumptuously printed books I've seen in a long time, as eye-catching as anything by Chris Ware and arguably moreso. They're glossy and heavy with thick, embossed, gold printed covers. The pages are glossy (perhaps not such a good idea), and very well printed. The artwork in both volumes is professional, I'm almost tempted to say 'slick' although that has a negative connotation that is not always warranted. Nevertheless it looks good on the page, and I admit was enough to get me to see if the stories read as good as they looked.
I came at them with expectations way too high.
Unfortunately, they are a depressingly thin brew; the stories are by turns aimless and boring. With each new story I'd look at the artwork and expect narrative of the same high standards. My expectations were not met. That said, it's possible I was so worn down by the clunkers that I overlooked a gem, and it's possible that some of the stories would have read better in more humble surroundings.
These are the only books I was sorry I'd picked up.
Now for some older books:
MoCCA Fest 2011 included a contingent of northern European comics artists, and one that stood out was Anders Brønserud and his deep black comic Otto. I don't mean that it's very depressing. It's printed in saturated blacks with the protagonist a roly-poly white globe. So you can't really see the book's dimensions well on this background.
Otto Obscura is a large format collection of several short comics, all wordless which makes for painless translation from the Danish. They're a delightful bunch, some humorous, some darker, all told with a light touch. It's a series that would appeal universally, and worth a look.
Nicolas De Crécy's Glacial Period is a difficult book to approach. It's beautifully drawn in De Crécy's fine, scratch-like line with luminous washes of color. The first part of the story makes it seem as though this is going to be a post-apocalyptic SF novel. We're presented with a snowball Earth, and a group that almost seem like the last people alive (though in fact they're not), investigators out with their genetically engineered, talking pig-dogs. Not that this sort of thing hasn't been done before, but to me it's a promising start.
Then the problem. Midway through, the book lurches from post-apocalyptic SF into a murky mess of fantasy all premised around works in the (snowbound) Louvre. Pages in the latter half are splashed with drawings and color photographs of famous objets d'art. The narrative no longer works, and the overall effect is to make the work seem almost like a marketing document for the museum. Since the book was partly funded by the Louvre, was it intended for the gift shop?
I also wish the printing were in a larger format. The images are beautiful enough that they cry out for more space. I don't know how large it is in the original, but in this printing by NBM/ComicsLit the panels end up feeling claustrophobic in a way they shouldn't. Nevertheless this is one to pick up more for the artwork. Read the first half and put it down feeling you've left them in a good place.
Finally, Drawn & Quarterly came out last year with a reprint of the 1956 manga thriller Black Blizzard by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. It's also a noirish premise of two convicts who escape from a wrecked train and try to remain free. It's exciting and clearly told, the sort of thing one can devour at a sitting and enjoy for what it is: good, escapist adventure, with an ending that feels just right.
I only wish it weren't on newsprint. Though cheap material may be true to its roots, it seems a serious mistake for D&Q to print what they call a "legendary thriller" on such shoddy, fugitive paper.