Your Library Wants These Bad
Four graphic volumes for your entertainment and edification
Whateverby Karl Stevens
Alternative Comics, 128pp., $9.95 (paper)
This smart little volume's a collection of Karl Stevens' strips from the altweekly Boston Phoenix, but maybe you're unfamiliar with those strips? Then the intricately crosshatched, black-and-white realism here will break your heart for the first time on every page: the exquisite draftsmanship, the people and situations depicted, the true renditions of achingly familiar scenes from the lives of twentysomething artists and assholes, dreamers and drinkers, lovers and losers. Change the faces, that's you and your friends right there, that's me and mine – but with an arch whimsy sufficient to cut any angst to manageable splinters. Also, beyond the compilation, there are 16 of Stevens' full-color portraits to brighten the depths of your life with the deep brightness of others'. How do we recommend this book highly enough? God help us, it can't be done.
The Education of Hopey Glassby Jaime Hernandez
Fantagraphics, 114pp., $19.99
We can't help you, here, really. If you're not at least passingly familiar with the work of Jaime Hernandez (one half of Los Bros Hernandez, the duo of hermaños who created Love & Rockets, the comic that hooked so many noncomic readers – especially women – into the realm of graphic works, who influenced an entire generation of creators and introduced countless Anglos to various permutations of la Raza), then you might not understand what all the hubbub is about. Well, until you cracked the beautiful cover and saw what miracles of precision can be created with pen-and-ink. Until, drawn (ah ha ha) by the stark beauty of the line work, you followed the narratives far enough to realize that, hey, there are real people being depicted here, actual lives being limned alongside their compelling visual depictions. And then you'd get it, even if you'd never seen a single issue of Love & Rockets, because, although longtime characters Hopey Glass and Ray Dominguez figure prominently in these pages, you don't need to know their deep backgrounds to appreciate what's up with them now, nor to become enthralled by what happens to Ray and Frogmouth Vivian and Angel the jockette and Doyle and a crowd of other characters on the periphery of a gangland slaying. But then, of course, you'll want all the back issues, fool.
What It Is
Drawn & Quarterly, 210pp, $24.95
You know those books that, putatively, explore what it means to be creative? Those books that, it seems, are written for people who'd really like to spend their time making art but are just too busy doing, well, other things – watching the latest episode of Lost, meeting pals for a drink at their local, shopping – to ever get around to it? This isn't one of those. This is what all those books, if they got together and looked deep into their printed souls, might admit that they truly wished they could be. This is the artist Lynda Barry at her enthusiastic best, her most sincerely encouraging, urging readers toward journeys of self-discovery and the joy of making, of appreciating, art. And how does she do this? How does she communicate such ideas, all the while documenting her own travels through those vivid realms? With artwork. With page after page of collaged images and words, with original cartoons and paintings and notes lovingly delivered via sumi-e handwriting and calligraphy. The beauty here, the sheer complexity, is almost overwhelming. It's like, um, seeing a dozen simultaneous sunrises on acid while a redheaded life coach whispers in your ear that you never have to let go of the parts of childhood that are eternally worthwhile. So of course every single page of this volume from Drawn & Quarterly is in full, gorgeous color on good thick paper. So of course, because you're alive, we recommend this book to you.
Big Head Press, 272pp., $12.95 (paper)
From straight outta Round Rock's own Big Head Press comes this rollicking and thoroughly Texalicious misadventure involving spies, counterspies, extraterrestrials, cowboys, commandos, and bikini-clad sorority girls from the galaxywide territories of the University of Texas. Say what? Say: It's an alternative history that begins with Davy Crockett surviving the battle of the Alamo, Texas remaining an independent republic, an alien spacecraft crashing in Roswell, and things getting weirder from there. Much, much weirder, with all manner of cameos from celebrities from our reality – e.g., John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Gene Roddenberry, Marie Curie – figuring strongly, in new guises, in an outlandish narrative that'll appeal to any pop-culture fans who like a bit of conspiracy theory sprinkled on top of their flakes of sci-fi goodness. Scott Bieser and Jen Zach's artwork, classic comic book rendering, effectively nails the tone and the times to each grayscale panel.