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New in Graphic Novels

The Chronicle Comics & Manga Team hunts down some inky delights

By Wayne Alan Brenner, 7:31AM, Thu. May. 7, 2009

This week's print issue features reviews of four new graphic novels, which was really only the tip of the iceberg. See below for more reviews of new titles. – Ed.

Jeffrey Brown's Funny Misshapen Body (Touchstone, 308pp., $16) isn't a graphic novel so much as a collection of graphic shorts based on a single topic. The topic is "What It's Like To Be Jeffrey Brown," a much more entertaining and (at times) harrowing topic than you might expect. Well, unless you've read Brown's previous autobiographical works – Clumsy, Unlikely, Every Girl is the End of the World for Me, and others – because then you'd know this funny and brave and not untroubled man holds little in reserve, baring his soul, unveiling his heartbreaks (and other, more squickily physical maladies) for the world to see. This is usually presented in a succession of cartoony-yet-effective panels – a rarely wavering six squares to a page – and rendered with (the author informs us in a Q&A afterword) a black Uni-ball Micro Deluxe.

Funny Misshapen Body focuses on Brown's progression as a cartoonist, his journey from childhood, through public school, to art school and beyond, while sparing no details about his would-be romances, drinking and drugging, and the pains and indignities of having Crohn's disease. Reading this book is like discovering the cartoon journal of that one smart but kind of weird kid in junior high who was always doodling in the back row of whatever classes you had with him. Surprise: Circumstances aside, he's not so very unlike yourself; but he's way more talented with a pen.

Blurred Vision 4 (Blurred Books, 223 pp., $15.95) is the fourth anthology of comics from upstart Blurred Books, located deep in the heart of Brooklyn. The production values here aren't at the Fantagraphics or D&Q level of high-grade papers and total-spectrum ink – these guys seem to be working on more of a shoestring and have trouble with typos in the introductory material – but the quality's certainly good enough, and you know from the full-color cover of a brilliant Karl Stevens portrait that there's bound to be fine work inside as well.

And indeed there is. Among this collection of vignettes and parodies and wild visual experiments are "My Old Man," a story conjured via photos of sculpted maquettes, by the late Roland Brener; "An Anthology of Lower Utopia," featuring the meticulous pencil work of the mysterious Toc Fetch, whose art is like a collaboration between Jim Woodring and Albrecht Durer as scripted by a loa-ridden Iain Banks; Koren Shadmi's "Antionette," so well-drawn and magical-realist you suspect, momentarily, that every Israeli comic artist is another Hanuka brother; the dreamlike cautionary tale called "Pollution" by Woojung Ahn; and "A Dog and His Elephant" by Austin's own Ethan Persoff.

Recommended, especially for those interested in the more ragged fringe of modern comics.

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The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal by E.K. Weaver

"This is the story of two dudes who drive from Berkeley to Providence, take multiple detours, smoke too much weed, eat terrible Chinese food, sleep in seedy motels, get kicked out of a Goodwill, contemplate fate versus chance, piss into the sunset, start a brawl in a Waffle House, and fall in love." – from the author's Introduction

I didn't have to wade through much at Austin's 2009 Staple! Indie Media Expo (read: comic con) to find this brightest diamond among the muck: My daughter Angelica handed it to me. The creator is a friend of hers from the online DeviantArt community.

Now, even the good judgment of one's daughter can be undermined by social ties, but I checked out the comic, anyway: Ange seldom steers me wrong. Turns out, she'd gifted me a treasure.

Writer/artist Weaver hasn't published comics before; this is her first effort; you'd think it was her hundredth, and that she'd started out just highly talented and already advanced to professionally skilled.

Here's a comparative: Terry Moore's Strangers in Paradise. The smoothly impressive drawing style and the writing chops, both, although Weaver's a bit less, well, silly in how she scripts her characters and their situations. TJ and Amal progresses with more realistic writing, the action extending itself naturally, the dialogue likely to be spoken by actual unauthored people. It enlivens the road-trip narrative that our two protagonists are relatively clever guys; it probably helps that (at least) one of them is gay. It adds depth to the story that Weaver works POV and pacing like a past master.

What this is, so far, is a 24-page preview comic. Weaver plans to release the entire picaresque (circa 250 pages) as a single graphic novel in 2010; though this is not a webcomic, she's got a website set up that charts the progress and offers peeks into the steadily expanding story and its background. Yes, this fine shit isn't precisely public yet. Which is to say, hey, remember: You heard about it here first. Don't suspect that your Chronicle Comics & Manga Team is on anything other than the cutting edge of what's brilliant and coming up fast, yo. Yeah, your Chronicle C & M Team. Or, anyway, his daughter.

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