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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw and Mark London Williams

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Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
GONZO: A Graphic Biography of Hunter S. Thompson
Heartless
Drawn Together
The Manhattan Projects Volume 1: Science. Bad.
Building Stories
Saga, Volume One
Cleveland
Unterzakhn
The Incal: Classic Collection

Top Ten Returns -- The Big Five Finale

I'll be 45 later this month and the years just keep coming faster and faster. Seems like just yesterday when Mark and I started this column (April, 2008 in actuality) and later that year when we delivered our first best of column. These annual events often featured atypical titles, mysteriously absent from other lists (though neither of us are above including the "typical"). As evident by our choices in the first half and this final installment of our 5th annual year's best of guide, Mark and I proudly continue that fine tradition.


GONZO: A Graphic Biography of Hunter S. Thompson Heartless 5. (Mark) GONZO: A Graphic Biography of Hunter S. Thompson by Will Bingley (words) and Anthony Hope-Smith (art) (Abrams)
Originally appearing in England a couple years back, this overdue graphic bio of the good Doctor himself, Raoul Duke, a.k.a. Hunter S. Thompson, finally makes its way to these shores. Bingley takes snippets of Thompson's own words to create a mostly linear narrative of his life, starting at the seeming birth of his political consciousness, with the assassination of JFK, then backtracking to his "rebellious childhood," through early staff reporter stints, advocacy journalism, and the breakthrough tale of his trip to Las Vegas with his "Samoan lawyer" -- where he famously saw that high water mark of the 60s break and recede in the distance behind him, on the road to Mojave. Hope-Smith's B&W artwork is "clear and clean," as Thompson himself might say, and the book serves as a great compendium for fans of HST's work. While the book doesn't quite convey the power of Thompson's writing, at its apocalyptic, psychedelic best, it can serve as a good "gateway drug" to get you to read more of it. A metaphor I'm sure the late, great Mr. Thompson would heartily approve of, unless he was otherwise engaged shooting off firearms.

(Rick) Heartless by Nina Bunjevac (Conundrum)
A Canadian cartoonist by way of the former Yugoslavia, Bunjevac delivers emotional, beautifully striking stories in the mode of a deranged O'Henry/Burns/Crumb cross pollination. Each of these five tales delivers a unique, both graphically and story-wise, perspective into these darkly abusive male realities. Bunjevac's often submissive women suffer, survive, and at times thrive. Nothing typifies this more than the volume's excellent centerpiece "Bitter Tears of Zorka Petrovic," which chronicles the lead character's obsession with a male prostitute. Complete with a gallery of illustrations, Heartless, Bunjevac's first collection, successfully introduces this unusual artist's work to the masses.


>Drawn Together The Manhattan Projects Volume 1: Science. Bad. 4. (Mark) Drawn Together by Aline and R. Crumb (Liveright / WW Norton)
A massive collection of all the stark, absurd, sexy, revelatory strips done by the self proclaimed "world's only cartooning couple!," R. Crumb and his wife Aline. The book charts them from their Dirty Laundry comix days all the way through their current New Yorker-esque respectability. Besides all their frankness about their Goy/Jew intermarriage ("Jew and Goy = Joy," as it says on the back cover), Crumb's sexual compulsions, career tension (as they write and draw about her work not being as critically well-regarded as his), there is ultimately a kind of tenderness at the end of it all, even as they still drawing themselves frenetically schtupping in the garden, into their 60s. Then -- as it occurs to them their cartoonist daughter Sophie is herself a mother -- Crumb reflects "What if our grandchild sees this? I didn't think about that!" In the next panel, Aline adds, "We hafto keep being edgy until we drop dead -- we're underground pioneers. We'll die wise-ass punks," to which Crumb adds, "That's us! Just a couple a punks!" Yeah, but two punks who've managed to keep the humor in each other alive, and are more large-hearted than their work dares let on. Which makes it, in the end -- who woulda thunk? -- all rather sweet.

(Rick) The Manhattan Projects Volume 1: Science. Bad. Written by Jonathan Hickman, Art by Nick Pitarra & Jordie Bellair (Image)
This is not your grandfather's Manhattan Project. In Hickman's altered vision, the Project brain trust, populated with twisted versions of physicists Oppenheimer, Einstein, Feyman, Fermi, and Daghlian, develop countless weapons of mass destruction. The super-scientists also delve into other aspects of fringe sciences such as other-dimension worlds, teleportation, and an update on the "brain in the jar." In this first chapter of the surprise-filled tale, the scientists and their backgrounds are introduced as are their missions. Though Hickman does a fantastic job of displaying the varied personalities and complex storylines, the focal point of The Manhattan Projects Volume 1: Science. Bad. is the slow reveal of the world's secret history. Pitarra's and Bellair's art compliment and often enhance the complex ideas.


Building Stories Saga, Volume One 3. (Mark) Building Stories by Chris Ware (Pantheon)
Ware's book -- or rather, his box full of booklets and other printed volumes and ephemera -- is winning lots of critical plaudits. And it should. It's wildly ambitious, even if his storytelling tends to focus on the prosaic, like how parents, spouses and children can talk past each other, how little epiphanies and kindnesses brighten a day, how loneliness creeps up on a person, how we all spend too much time facing screens and not each other, etc. But you could also argue it's kind of the comics version of "Oscar bait," simply because, well, simply because it comes deliberately packaged like Sunday funnies, an old Golden book, pamphlets, even comics and a few other formats in a big large colorful box. Does it need to? I'm not sure. It certainly allows to you read it in any order you want, or to jump around, and I like that part the best. Ware's a sharp observer -- to go with his sharply rendered buildings and interiors -- of inner landscapes and personal subtexts, especially among his discontented Chicago-denizens: post-9/11 fears, a growing yet suppressed panic in the face of climate change and peak oil, the throwaway bewilderment at how much less "hope and change" we actually got after Obama's first election, etc. He manages to have characters convey these things while brushing their teeth or discussing the shopping. I'm actually still making my way through it, as we speak. And it's a good end-of-year gift to keep someone away from those prevalent, omnipresent screens.

(Rick) Saga, Volume One Written by Brian K. Vaughn, Art by Fiona Staples (Image)
The only title on this list that I didn't review during the year, Saga marks the triumphant return of writer Vaughn to creator-owned work after years of toiling in television scripting and helming several superhero titles. Much like his previous endeavors including the lauded series Y: The Last Man On Earth and Ex-Machina, Vaughn smartly relies on interpersonal interactions as the crux to his larger-than-life tale. Two opposing soldiers of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, have a child, and even as agents from both sides attempt to destroy the new family, valiantly challenge the status quo. Vaughn, abetted by the lush Staples art, delivers a new twist on the classic Romeo and Juliet trope with exotic aliens, unbridled sexuality, complex political structures, family squabbles, and even a Guess Who's Coming to Dinner moment. Staples, who handles all the aspects of the art including inking and coloring, has created a gorgeous alien vista. The vibrant colors, deftly handled, and the delicate brush strokes breathe life into this complex vision. Saga, Volume One promises a unique and powerful science fiction experience, just this side of The Incal (more on that title later).


Cleveland Unterzakhn 2. (Mark) Cleveland by Harvey Pekar (reflections) and Joseph Remnant (art) (Zip Comics/Top Shelf)
Like Hunter Thompson, earlier on this list, Harvey Pekar left us too soon. But he left a couple projects in the pipeline, so there's still a little "new" work yet to come. One of this past year's releases was Cleveland, which found Pekar in familiar autobiographical territory. He works here in traditional "documentary format," walking around, followed by a camera, as it were -- which is to say Remnant's art, which fits as perfectly as Crumb's did. Pekar expounds on life and his hometown of Cleveland, and its various miseries and all-too-infrequent epiphanies. There's nothing adventurous here, structurally; Harvey's looking out from the frame talking to you directly. But the whole enterprise is made absolutely poignant by Pekar's discussions about what he's going to do now that he's retired, what work he hopes to tend to in the years ahead, etc. If nothing else, it's a salient reminder that we only have the moment in front of us; nothing else is guaranteed. A lesson which Cleveland has learned the hard way, over and over, in its own long history.

(Rick) Unterzakhn by Leela Corman (Schocken)
Corman's absorbing book follows the lives of twin sisters Esther and Fanya, the children of Russian Jews, on the teeming streets of New York's Lower East Side. Beginning in 1909 when the six-year-old girls work alongside their seamstress mother, the tale follows each of their divergent lives. The young Fanya attracts the attention of the "lady-doctor" Bronia, who performs illegal abortions. Bronia teaches her how to read and mentors Fanya in the medical arts. Corman's evocative portrayal of health care for women in those pre-Roe v. Wade days effectively showcases why abortion must remain legal. Esther finds paying work for a woman who runs a burlesque theater and a whorehouse. While there, she learns about and eventually relies on her sexuality to find her place in society. Unterzakhn (Yiddish for "Underthings") follows the twins throughout their lives, chronicling their loves, successes, failures, and losses, while exploring the roles -- sexual, intellectual, familial -- of women. Corman produces an exceptional portrayal, deserving of much laudatory praise and acclaim, of immigrant and Jewish life on par with the works of Will Eisner and Art Spiegelman.


Unterzakhn The Incal: Classic Collection 1. (Mark) Unterzakhn by Leela Corman (Schocken)
Rick got to review this first, early in the year. We don't always get to read the same things in a year -- in part, that's so we can cover a wider array of material in our regular columns. But when he keeps strongly suggesting you read something -- and then sends you a copy -- well, he's almost always right. I read Unterzakhn early in the year, and no book has probably stuck with more as 2012 unfolded -- nothing surprised me as much. As Rick noted in his #2 slot, this is the story of twin sisters Esther and Fanya, and how they grow up on the Lower East Side. The story begins in 1909 (shortly after my own great-grandfather arrived, escaping the same Russia), and takes in the new country, the old country, the nexus of Roaring 20s Flapper-dom and early feminism, and the other nexus of Vaudeville and this newfangled "movie" technology. And while the eventually estranged sisters do manage to reunite, there are no easy endings here. I'm already looking forward to whatever Corman does next. Whether it comes in this new year -- or the next.

(Rick) The Incal: Classic Collection Written by Alexandro Jodorowsky, Art by Mbius (Humandoids)
The complete collection of the Jodorowsky/Mbius classic recounts the extraordinary (mis)adventures of the inept private investigator John DiFool. He seemingly stumbles upon the Incal, an entity of immense power. Through bizarre and often metaphysical means, DiFool finds himself as the most important being in the universe. Jodorowsky and Mbius include several fascinating companions as DiFool follows his unwanted destiny: Deepo, a sentient concrete bird; The Metabaron, the most powerful fighter in the universe; Solune, The Metabaron's son of questionable origin; Wolfhead, hellbent on revenge; Animah, the beautiful rat queen and possible Goddess; and Tanatah, Animah's sister and Queen of the Amoks. This unlikely team defends the universe from near destruction while ushering DiFool to his improbable, predetermined fate. The magnificent Incal, beautifully rendered by the late Mbius and perfectly written by Jodorowksy, ranks among some of the finest graphic novels of all time. It should be required reading by all comics and science fiction fans.


Assuming the world doesn't end along with the Mayan calendar, Mark returns in two weeks as we began our preparations for the 6th annual list. I'll join the fun on the 15th. Until then, stay healthy and happy holidays. May it be peaceful and festive.

Copyright © 2012 Rick Klaw and Mark London Williams

Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including The Austin Chronicle, The San Antonio Current, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back!, Conversations With Texas Writers, Farscape Forever, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews, and other things Klaw, Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century. He can often be found pontificating on Twitter and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.

Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series, all of which are on sale, for 99 cents a download, until "Twelfth Night." (That will be a theme in the series finale, due to be released in summer of 2013). Info on his work can be found atmarklondonwilliams.com. His story "Greystone" about L.A., magic, silent movies, and hippies on the Sunset Strip, just appeared in the "Magical Mayhem" anthology. He gets Twittery @mlondonwmz.


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