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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw and Mark London Williams

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Alec: The Years Have No Pants
The Odd Hours
Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s
The Playwright
Ax Volume One: Alternative Manga
American Vampire Volume 1
The Stuff of Legend Book 1: The Dark
Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale

The Year That Was 2010, Part One

Similar to our previous Nexus Graphica best of the year columns, the selections showcase the difference between Mark's tastes and mine. Of the twenty titles chosen, ten by each of us, only two titles made both of our lists. For comparison purposes, we shared three books last year and two in 2008. Vive la différence!

I am hosting the first (or last... depending on your perspective) five selections with Mark returning in two weeks to announce titles 5 through 1.

Without further adieu, I present numbers 10 through 6 of the annual Nexus Graphica recap.

Chew Omnivore Edition, Volume 1 Chew Volume One: Taster's Choice 10. (Rick) Chew Omnivore Edition, Volume 1 by John Layman (script) and Rob Guillory (art) (Image)
Layman and Guillory create an alternate present where, due to avian flu fears, the American government has criminalized the possession, sale, and consumption of all poultry! Tony Chu, investigator for the Special Crimes Division of the powerful FDA, employs his abilities as a cibopathic -- he gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats -- to solve crimes. Guillory's over-the-top humorous illustrations and Layman's clever script expertly mix to spawn an enjoyable concoction of cannibalism, conspiracy, and murder. This luscious hardcover collects issues 1-10 (Volumes 1 and 2 of the trade paperback collections), complete with character design and sketches.

(Mark) Chew Volume One: Taster's Choice by John Layman (script) and Rob Guillory (art) (Image)
Here's one I wouldn't have seen if Rick hadn't sent me his copy -- replete with his instructions to "read this!" The homophonically-titled (and punning) title follows the very mis-adventures of Tony Chu, investigator for the Special Crimes Division of the FDA, which has become a bloated, DHS-like agency in the wake of an avian flu outbreak, which lives the raising, selling -- and chewing -- chickens as a high crime indeed. Guillory's near-caricature art fits the script, which dances perilously close to caricature itself, but so pulls back from the edge to make some trenchant -- chewy? -- points about the state of high crimes and misdemeanors when the surveillance is non-stop. Even a mealtime.

Alec: The Years Have No Pants The Odd Hours 9. (Rick) Alec: The Years Have No Pants by Eddie Campbell (Top Shelf)
Probably best known for his collaboration with Alan Moore on the extraordinary From Hell, Eddie Campbell, serving as both writer and artist, first gained acclaim for Alec, the thinly-veiled autobiographical adventures of a Scottish artist. Alec :The Years Have No Pants collects all of the very frank, often humorous previously published tales plus a new story. While all the stories showcase Campbell's distinctive art, the highlight of this impressive book derives from the evolution of the artist. Midway through the 638 page volume, the realization dawns that Eddie Campbell may be one of the field's most accomplished storytellers.

(Mark) The Odd Hours by Eric Liberge (NBM)
Night at the Museum for grown-ups, especially since that Museum happens to be the Louvre. Liberge's story involves a deaf mute (Liberge smartly draws his signing by showing multiple hand motions -- with "voice" balloons" -- within the panels) who is hired -- or anointed -- for a very special "night watch," wherein the works of art come alive and need to be "fed." Not in a horror-flick way, but rather, by music (the beating of a certain drum), as the "soul" invested in each great work needs to be nourished. Chaos eventually ensues, and a sequence where the hero Bastien has Pagliacci-like make-up on his face, while drumming the artworks alive make you realize all over again why you like comics so much. And though the book ends too suddenly, with much left unresolved, the fact that this is part of a series co-sponsored by the Louvre is itself surprising, since the institution doesn't always come off looking good, in terms of bureaucratic behavior. Hard to imagine someone in charge of public relations, for a similar institution here, allowing such a project to get off the ground.

Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s The Playwright 8. (Rick) Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s Edited by Greg Sadowski (Fantagraphics)
With contributions by Jack Cole, Reed Crandall, George Evans, Frank Frazetta, Jack Katz, Al Williamson, Basil Wolverton, and Wallace Wood, the 300+ page, full color Four Color Fear offers some of the finest pre-code comic book horror tales ever produced. Extensively researched, complete with story notes, editor Sadowski compiled a superior collection of non-EC tales, many of which rarely reprinted and even more rarely in color. A 30-page cover art section and a fascinating article by historian John Benson, who also supplied the book's intro, about the little remembered, but prolific Ruth Roche, round out one this sensational historical tour of the Golden Age of Horror Comics.

(Mark) The Playwright by Daren White (words) and Eddie Campbell (art) (Top Shelf)
A rumination on loss, and the over-compensations of seeming fame. White writes in documentary fashion about a successful British playwright, who -- like, say David Hare or the late Harold Pinter -- moves fluidly between stage, TV, and film projects. He also lives a lonely life as he rides buses to his appointments (lunch with agents, etc.), while fantasizing about the breasts of female passengers -- or said passengers in entire states of undress and throes of passion -- and ruminating on lost loves. The rectangular comic is structured in "voice over" format -- narrative panels describing inner landscapes, but the characters never speak directly to each other. Which is an interesting choice in a graphic novel about someone who makes his living writing about characters who speak to each other. There is much that is bracing about the book, including perhaps, the combination of loss and redemption at the end. Definitely compelling, and Campbell does some of his best work here, in a variety of "textures..."

Ax Volume One: Alternative Manga American Vampire Volume 1 7. (Rick) Ax Volume One: Alternative Manga Edited by Sean Michael Wilson (Top Shelf)
Weighing in at 400 pages, Ax reprints for the first time in English some of the finest selections from Japan's legendary alternative comics magazine Ax. Much like their American alternative counterparts, the often experimental stories center around sexual, scatological, and surrealistic elements within a wide range of artistic styles and a great variance in quality. Highlights include Takao Kawasaki's tale of a terminally ill hitman "Rooftop Elegy"; "Inside the Gourd," a delightful magic realistic love story by Ayuko Akiyama; a disturbing vision of relationship end in "Push Pin Woman" by Katsuo Kawai; Toranusuke Shimada's fantastic "Secret Story Tour #1: Enrique Kobayashi's Eldorado," an alternative history of motorcycles, Nazis, and capitalism; Yoshida Mitsuhiko's excellent cartooning and storytelling skills overcome the fact that his "The Hare & the Tortoise" almost perfectly mimics the classic Tex Avery Bugs Bunny cartoon "Tortoise Beats Hare" (1941); and Shigeyuki Fujumitsu's powerful tale of redemption, respect, and aging, "The Song of Mr. H." Overall an excellent collection of tales, Ax serves as the perfect American introduction to the largely unfamiliar universe of manga not dominated by wide-eyed characters and wanton violence.

(Mark) American Vampire Volume 1 by Scott Snyder and Stephen King (writers) and Rafael Albuquerque (art) (Vertigo)
I hadn't caught up with this Vertigo title until its recent five-issue collection from Vertigo. Those a bit weary of "lovelorn Southern gentlemen, anorexic teenage girls (and) boy-toys with big dewy eyes" in their vampire books (and shows) might enjoy this parallel tale set in both the Old West and silent-movie era Los Angeles, as Snyder (with a scripting assist from King in the "western" parts) seek to create a uniquely "American" take on the vampire. Which they do in the form of gunslinger Skinner Sweet, who -- in finest American fashion -- is both bloodthirsty and psychotic, in both living an undead incarnations. And hey, the Hollywood parts -- with its tales of "B-girls gone bad" -- almost get you thinking that Nathanael West must've written a vampire tale right before he tackled Day of the Locust. The traffic in the denouement(s) gets a tad cluttered, but it's a compelling ride all the way through, leaving you with a nice set-up for the next arc (and the next American decade in the cycle!)

The Stuff of Legend Book 1: The Dark Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale 6. (Rick) The Stuff of Legend Book 1: The Dark Written by Mike Raicht & Brian Smith Art by Charles Paul Wilson III (Villard)
After the Boogeyman kidnaps a young boy, his toys mobilize to save their beloved master. The metallic Colonel leads Maxwell the teddy bear, Percy the piggy bank, the wooden duck Quackers, the Native American Princess, Jester from the jack-in-box, the angel Harmony, and the real puppy Scout into the feared closet. Upon entering the Boogeyman's domain, toys shake their artificiality and become the things they represent (Maxwell an actual bear, Quackers a real duck, Princess a flesh and blood Indian, etc.) In an amazing cross-pollination of Toy Story and Wizard of Oz, Raicht, Smith, and Wilson introduce a fascinating land inhabited by forgotten toys and fueled by the forces of evil. Newcomer Wilson's lush work ideally supports this imaginative triumph.

(Mark) Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale by Belle Yang (Norton)
At first glance, this volume wouldn't appear to represent any particularly new turf for the graphic novel, representing as it does the crossover of a renowned children's artist into comic panel territory, in order to tackle a memoir. But just as traditional book publishing did -- and does -- sustain a model for many different kinds of non-fiction remembrances and witnessing, so too in graphic novel land is there always room for any engaging retelling of histories, human sorrows and consequence. Here, the Carmel-based Yang uses her own story: a young daughter phased by college and by a psychotic, stalking Ex, retreats to her family home where her parents -- her father especially -- regard with some scorn for the mired state of her life. It's in getting her father to open up about his own travails -- born in China, eventual escape to America and those of his family (and hers) heading into the 20th century, with its King Lear-like twists. Coming, as it does, so many years after the not dissimilar Maus (or Persepolis) the type of story may not be a surprise in comics form, but this is engaging and large-hearted enough to make you look forward to Yang's next project.

Copyright © 2010 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, and is working on a holiday story for an anthology right now. He wonders if he is fully awake. He also gets Twittery @mlondonwmz.

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