Sunday, January 20, 2013

Best Comics of 2012: Hilda and the Bird Parade

As a caveat, I read a lot - ficiton, non-fiction, newspapers, comics, mini-comics, graphic novels, newspapers, magazines, cereal boxes, you get the picture... I haven't read every comic or graphic novel that came out last year though. Some that are on my massive "to read" stack that may very well be favourites include: Lilli Carre's "Heads or Tails", Chris Ware's "Building Stories" and Gabrielle Bell's "The Voyeurs".

That being said, here's my last pick of my favourite comics of 2012 - Luke Pearson's "Hilda and the Bird Parade", the third book in his Hilda series. This is one beautiful book: it's oversized hardcover, full colour, with a spot varnish cover. In it, Hilda moves with her mom from the country back to the city and tries to fit in. She meets a magic talking bird and of course they embark on an adventure together.

This is a wonderful book for kids and parents alike. The illustrations are gorgeous and the story is charming. My 8-yr old loves it and it's a pleasure to read it to her (and to myself). Highly recommended! Luke Pearson is a prodigious talent. Just look at some of the work below.

Pearson came to my attention a few years ago with "Hildafolk", the first in the Hilda series. Hildafolk tells the adventures of Hilda, a young girl who lives in what looks like a gorgeous northern European countryside (think Sweden or Norway). Hildafolk is already in its 3rd printing.

Pearson followed up Hildafolk with "Hilda and the Midnight Giants", which NoBrow also printed in a gorgeous oversized album format (think Tin Tin and Asterix HC french volumes). Both deserve your attention. Really you should just order all three Hilda books from NoBrow.

NoBrow Press is a UK publishing outfit and their books aren't readily available in most comic stores. So, unless you happen to live near the Beguiling, you should just order direct from them online. They have a wonderful line of high-quality, award-winning books, graphic novels, prints and even wrapping paper! I've ordered a few times and it's been no problem.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Best Comics of 2012: Swimming Studies

I first became aware of Leanne Shapton through her book "The Native Trees of Canada" by Drawn & Quarterly which came out a few years ago. The book is a series of illustrations based on leaves from Canadian trees.

Last year I did an art show on Trees of London, Ontario (the city where I live whose moniker is "The Forest City), so the book was of particular interest to me. We take our environment for granted, and when you step back and really study trees, as I did for my project, they are so beautiful and breathtaking. Shapton's book really captures this wonder with bright colours and images that are almost abstract.

So when her first prose book came out in 2012 - Swimming Studies, I was quick to pick it up. It's not a comic, but it's definitely influenced by "sequential art" (as Will Eisner would say). Because of this, and because I discovered her through D&Q, Swimming Studies appears on my "Best Comics of 2012" list.

Swimming Studies

I've never read a book quite like this. It's told as a traditional narrative about Shapton's experience training as an Olympic-level competitive swimmer in Canada (she ranked as high as 8th in Canada). Apparently she was good, but not good enough, and she gave up the sport, later becoming an accomplish designer and artist. Interspersed in the narrative are photographs of some of Shapton's swimming suits (which she collects), beautiful washes of swimming figures, abstract landscapes, paintings of pools she's swam in and people she swam with.

Swimming Studies knocked me right out. It's the same kind of feeling I get when looking at an inspired work of art - it makes you see life in a bit of a different way.

It's also a perfectly imperfect work. I say this because the book would never work with just the prose story alone, it's a bit long and each chapter has the same pacing. I missed the traditional story arc - no build up, no conflicts, no crisis/climax, no denouement - it's all the same beat (similar I guess to the relentless training she practiced).

Swimsuit Collection
Taken as whole, the book is sublime though. You can totally understand how all of Shapton's swimming discipline helped her in her transition to an artist and New York Times art director. She's not afraid to do the work and I find that really inspiring. I really loved her love of swimming suits as objects and their representation of moments in her life too. I can't think of a better way to present her feelings about that part of her life (and she continues to buy new suits and document them).

I love all of her illustrations. I especially love her swimming pool studies. Only a very observant mind would take a mental note of the shape of each pool they have swam in. I have a weird thing where I can remember each hotel room floor plan I've stayed in (although this is getting harder as I get older). Perhaps this is how a cartoonist sees the word - we divvy up the visual word into comprehensible components like boxes on a page. Maybe this is why I connected so much with the book as a whole.

Swimming Pool Studies
This is a book that I will be picking up and referring to for many years to come. I think all creative types will appreciate this book as the struggle she goes through with her sport, is very similar to what we go through when creating art. And it's just a goddamned gorgeous book. I loved it.

Available from Amazon and finer bookstores everywhere.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Best Comics of 2012: Hawkeye

The best straight up super-hero comic of the year was without a doubt the new Hawkeye series by Matt Fraction and David Aja.

Cover to Hawkeye #9 by David Aja
One of the very first comic series I ever collected was the Avengers (at the end of the Perez run), so the characters hold a special appeal for me. And of all of the Avengers do you know who I like the best? Hawkeye. That's right - that one hard-core Hawkeye fan, it's me.

I have the first ever action figure done of Hawkeye and have many of his early comic appearances. One of my favourite all-time comic covers? This one below, circa 1982 by Ed Hannigan. I copied it when I was 14 and still have that old drawing.

Having said all this, even if you aren't a huge Hawkeye fan like me, if you have even the slightest penchant for really well-written, smart, charming, funny super-hero comics - you'll enjoy the heck out of this comic. Hawkeye is a great character because he is just a regular guy with no super-powers, just an incredible talent in archery. In fact lately, he's been written as being able to use any object and make it a deadly weapon (think Bullseye). I like this and thinks it makes sense.

In the Fraction book, Hawkeye is an average joe, a perennial bachelor, a smart-ass who drinks too much and has trouble paying the bills. Still he's charming and fights crime. He also has a protege in Kate Bishop (from the Young Avengers), who is also a talented archer. She's also smarter than Hawkeye, so they make for a good team.

The artwork by David Aja, is also a joy to behold. I've been a fan of Aja's since his previous team-up with Fraction on the Immortal Iron Fist (also excellent). His work has just gotten better and better over the past couple of years. He's simplifying his style and using bold blacks and innovative panel break-downs. It's such a pleasure to look at. Apparently he's also moved to a mostly digital style too which I find interesting. Here's a couple of good examples of his storytelling. You don't even need word balloons or captions to understand what's going on.

The book is yet to be collected (it's just at #6 right now), so to pick it up you'll need to get the single issues for now at finger comic stores everywhere. The first softcover comes out in the Spring. You can pre-order it now though.

I'm sure I'll be buying a number of copies as gifts. An excellent book.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Best Comics of 2012: Darth Vader and Son

So - full disclosure, I bought this for my husband for Christmas this year then read it before I wrapped it up for him. It's hilarious! I'm not a huge Star Wars fan (but I like it don't get me wrong), but I am a parent - and each of these one-page strips is gold Jerry, gold!

Just check out this strip for example...

Amazingly, it also has the George Lucas stamp of approval! The book is by noted cartoonist, Jeffrey Brown, who is a super talented guy and obviously a Star Wars afficionado. If you know a Star Wars fan who is also a parent - this is the book for them.

I'm assuming the book is raking in wheelbarrows of much-deserved cash as there is a sequel coming out this Spring called "Vader's Little Princess" starring Vadar and Leia (also by Brown). You can bet I'll be picking it up!

>> Darth Vader and Son is by Chronicle Books and is available at all major bookstores, and online at Amazon.

Best Comics of 2012: The Underwater Welder

This Summer Jeff Lemire put out his latest original graphic novel The Underwater Welder, by Top Shelf Comix. The Beguiling put on a launch event for it where Jeff gave a presentation about his process in putting together the book, then sat down with Mark Askwith to discuss it.

Jeff is a friend and I've been a big admirer of his work for years now. Life is short and I like to support friends whenever I can, so Dave and I decided to make a weekend of it in Toronto, stayed in a hotel like grown-ups and attended the launch. It was a great evening. It's also a terrific book and makes my list of my favourite comics of 2012.

The black and white book takes place in Nova Scotia, and follows the story of an underwater welder named Jack. He and his wife are expecting a baby, and Jack is working through issues of his relationship with his father, as he prepares to become a father himself. Lemire's beautiful images of Jack alone underwater make a lovely contrast to his turbulent inner thoughts and secrets of his past.

Jeff is a master storyteller. His pacing (a very underrated skill in comics in my opinion), is second to none. He makes it seem effortless. I honestly marvel at it. The colour cover - divine! A gorgeous book.

Jeff is also a real inspiration to me in terms of his work ethic. He writes and draws the monthly "Sweet Tooth" comic for Vertigo (which is also excellent), writes a number of DC super-hero books, then every few years puts out a full original graphic novel like this one. Plus he's a doting Dad and husband. How does he do it?

>> The Underwater Welder is available at fine comic stores everywhere. You can also find it on Amazon.