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Jeremy likes books about crime, history, oddballs, oddball history, longform journalism, comics, science fiction, maps, cooking and hot sauce. He'll read some bougie novels now and again too, just to keep his cred. His favorite setting is a seedy underbelly, and his favorite character is usually the deadbeat.
Sticking with the video game references to real life, Brian Lee O'Malley's follow up to the Scott Pilgrim series uniquely muses on the extra life mushrooms found in the Super Mario Bros. universe. A struggling chef looking to open a new restaurant has many mistakes in her life she wishes she could correct. Who doesn't wish they could go back and fix their life with the gift of hindsight? When she finds magic mushrooms in her dresser and beneath the floorboards that have the ability to give her a second chance, Katie goes a bit overboard. The story is twisty but accessible and full of retcons inviting multiple re-reads to get the full scope. A great yarn, perfect for comics aficionados and those just stepping into the medium.
Farel Dalrymple has a propensity for the macabre and it's on full display in this latest offering from the creator of It Will All Hurt and Marvel's Omega the Unknown. Many of his illustrations resemble something close to the bizarre close-up stills featured in a Ren & Stimpy cartoon, just without the laughs. Dalrymple's creations can be downright weird in the best way. Inside here is an existential coming-of-age fantasy story--in a desolate future wasteland, a gang of teenagers stumble upon a comic that bears the same name as their crew, The Wrenchies. A mind-bending trip, you'll want to read this one again and again.
It speaks to the quality of storytelling and bizarre historical details that make Gottland so enjoyable while focusing on such a niche subject. Inside are some truly absurd and lyrical essays centered around Czechoslovakia, mostly starting during the Modern Age and through Communism. Szczygiel is a Polish journalist investigating such strange stories as a Czech shoe manufacturer who built the first company towns, and another about a Soviet statue of Stalin that is “disappeared,” along with all the artists who took part in its construction, but my favorite is the story about tracking down Franz Kafka’s living niece that’s truly Kafkaesque. This is a wonderful book and perfectly examples how history can be penned with an artist’s flair. For fans of Mark Kurlansky, strange history,Stephen Greenblatt and offbeat news.
After multiple readings I can’t stop thinking about Michael Deforge’s Ant Colony--It’s completely insane and one of the coolest comics I have ever seen. Unsurprisingly this is the story of a group of ants all existing in the same colony, and outside a few bureaucracies of the daily lives of ants, Deforge’s characters are essentially human--with all the foibles that come along. When a foreign tribe of ants--high on spiders’ milk--threatens the colony, the lives of everyone are affected in different and embarrassing ways. For fans of Brandon Graham, Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns and fractal images.
Living up to its namesake, Annihilation, this novel is permeated by a sense of dread. An expedition of 4 scientists travel to Area X—long isolated from the rest of the continent after some type of environmental Event, or something peculiar, happened there. After every expedition before has ended in a shroud of mystery, from mass suicides to others returning vastly changed, this story follows the biologist of the 12th expedition. Shortly after crossing the border into Area X, her team finds a mysterious structure buried in the landscape that was not in any of their maps or other briefing materials. A mysterious and existential plot within, this novel contains great nods to the likes of H.P. Lovecraft and Stanley Kubrick along with the intense pacing of television dramas like LOST. Just enough is revealed about Area X in this first installment of the trilogy that I am very excited to learn more in forthcoming installments all to be released this year.
Jesse Ball has put an intriguing spin on a murder-mystery story with Silence Once Begun. After a string of people vanish from the same Japanese village, a fictional caricature of the author travels as a journalist to investigate the man who has confessed to committing these mysterious crimes. Although the true identity and nature of the crimes comes out in the text within, the story of Oda Sotatsu, the man who wrongly confessed, is where the real mystery lies. After turning in his signed confession, Oda took a vow of silence and would not speak even to his own family or legal aids. Through a series of police interrogations, family interviews and a handful of photographs, Jesse Ball has uncovered how far this peculiar man would go to keep his word.
A perfect example of a well-executed clash of genres, Shovel Ready mixes bitter crime noir with a bleak science fiction setting to fantastic results. Before a dirty bomb hit Times Square and anyone who had the means tapped into a global virtual reality, Spademan was just a simple garbageman--now he kills-for-hire the rich elite that are conveniently tuned out. Like many great crime novels, things become complicated for Spademan once a new case comes along involving a strange girl. It turns out this one is not just a simple hit, that this young woman has some big connections and Spademan has some tough choices to make about just how far he is willing to go to finish his job.
Are you interested in reading about the time Franz Kafka and Adolf Hitler could have been eating in the same cafe, one year before Europe was swallowed whole by the Great War? Or what Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse did in their off time when they weren’t turning the world of art on its head? Illies’ narrative moves month by month in short pieces that ultimately bring the world of this peculiar year at the dawn of the Modern Age to illuminating life. While not ignoring the politics entirely, Illies’ characters are more often the day’s artists, writers and social critics—the true manufacturers of culture and history. Wonderfully stylized, This non-fiction narrative is written in a very literary style and is utterly addicting.
Following his all ages fantasy comic, Bone, Jeff Smith has now finished RASL—the tale of an art thief crossing between parallel universes to procure the rarest of pieces. Developing his technology using the lost journals of a famous scientist, Nikola Tesla, Rasl is now on the run after discovering a dangerous element to the journals and his work. Despite the high concept Smith is able to keep the story human and relatable. Like Bone, Smith has also self-published the entirety of RASL through his own Cartoon Books imprint. However, the erratic publishing schedule of this series during its initial run caused many would-be fans to miss out, so I’m glad to see this excellent edition of the entire thing is available—and now in full color!
And then things start to get really weird. Hawthorn & Child begins as a classic police procedural that distorts into much more as detective Hawthorn grapples with strange visions and eventually loses control of the narrative. Soon other narrators start to take over, telling their own stories that are tangentially connected to our detectives and all overshadowed by a menacing figure, the elusive Mishazzo. Voiced by the paranoid, delusional and crazy denizens of North London, it is never overtly certain just what is to be believed–and what is reality or illusion. You will be left scratching your head, trying to fit everything together and wondering if somewhere there was an answer to the original whodunnit and you maybe just missed it.
In the world of comics, Paul Pope’s art and work philosophy are unparalleled, so it’s no surprise his first major work in years is being met with some much deserved buzz. This one’s for all ages too which is a first for Pope yet still keeps his sense for storytelling and humor. Rendered in his usual kinetic and energetic style, the first volume of Battling Boy introduces the city of Acropolis–overrun with monsters and other night terrors that haunt the local children. When Acropolis’s vigilante, Haggard West, is abruptly defeated by the merciless Sadisto, the city is left searching for a new champion. Enter Battling Boy, a 12-year-old demigod tasked by his godly father to rid Acropolis of its foes as a rite of passage. The young hero quickly learns the monsters are not to be taken lightly and is unsure if he can do this alone–he is going to need help. I only wish this first volume was longer as the world Pope opens to us is one I want to stay in much longer. Eagerly awaiting volume two.
Javier Marías is a Spanish novelist more Americans should definitely be aware of. A sensation across Europe, his books are smart, funny and deeply meditative–with a reputation for using classic settings (a dinner party, breakfast in a cafe, a nightclub, etc.) for something else entirely. The plot is never quite the crux of any Marías novel–often the events take place over just a handful of scenes, but the true wonder comes in Marías’s seemingly endless digressions and complex sentence structures. The Infatuations is a metaphysical exploration of life, death, love and homicide disguised in a murder-mystery story. Pick it up today so you can tell others you read his work before he won the Nobel!
At age 19 growing up in rural Montana, Mary MacLane had declared herself a genius and philosopher and expressed her love for the Devil and Napoleon. Although the details are somewhat mundane, the setting which this memoir came from is what I found most fascinating–originally published in 1902, Mary’s occultish musings seem better fit for a Jack Parsons’ party in 1940s California. With this publication Mary broke free from her sheltered life and began one of a more bohemian fashion–all the while awaiting the coming of the Devil and her chance to join him in marriage.
Before embarking on any multi-volume work of fiction I think a little research is required, and with a few clicks of the mouse you realize why the title here is so familiar. Published in Norway as Min Kamp, Knausgaård’s six-volume, Proustian life examination takes its name from Adolf Hitler’s seminal work. This tale is also notable for allegedly damaging many of the relationships in Karl Ove’s life as the story is very personal and deeply contemplative. If all this does not excite your morbid curiosity it does not hurt that Knausgaård has such a keen eye for the entirety of the human experience. Controversial title aside, this first volume focuses mainly on Karl Ove’s relationship with his father who has died after a terrible bout with alcoholism. The prose is completely addictive and I am eager to start Volume 2 which has just been released in translation.
As Damon Lindelof’s (LOST) forward in this book suggests, you have likely already read this wonderful collection of comics and They have wiped your memory of it to protect themselves. Their agents are everywhere, after all. Writer/Illustrator Matt Kindt’s new series is an excellent fusion of high concept thriller and existential roller coaster. Meru is an investigative journalist who is tracking Henry Lyme, a missing person linked to a major amnesia event. As she gets closer things become stranger — hasn’t she done this before? This first volume tackles such heavies as emotional authenticity and what effect our cognition can have on reality. All of this with an engaging plot and beautiful, ethereal lines and watercolors. This book will mess with your head, at least until they put it back together for you.
Characters commonly thought of as dispenable have recently been getting their due. Furthering this tradition of Jon Scalzi’s Red Shirts or Stan Nicholl’s Orcs we now have Orc Stain by James Stokoe, and it is awesome. This story begins with a nameless orc (because all orcs are nameless) who is being hunted after an encounter with a former partner turned bloody and disabling. Make no mistake, by adding more depth to the orcs does not mean Stokoe makes them the good guys. The creatures here are smelly, mean-spirited and drug-addled the way orcs should be. This comic is equal parts hilarious, vulgar and action-packed. Stokoe’s illustrations are meticulously detailed and the final pages look beautiful. It is a rare treat that he writes, draws, inks, colors and letters the entire comic himself when a majority of comics are made on “assembly line” nowadays.
Aleksandar Hemon narrowly escaped the horrific scenes of the Bosnian War, leaving for the United States just weeks before its outbreak. He set out for Chicago in the early ‘90s with the intention of staying for a one month study session. He did not return to his native city of Sarajevo until after the war and after he had moved to Chicago heart and soul. This book takes its name partly from the range of stories Hemon shares — how it is growing up in an unstable region, waiting for war to reach Sarajevo; living as an ex-patriot/refugee in the United States; struggling to identify with your city and how important that is. There are fascinating stories, like one about a war criminal turned university literature professor, and others so heart-wrenching that I could not read them in one sitting. The essays here are short but all feel complete, but that is not to say they won't leave you wanting more.
These two have quietly been producing some of the greatest comics of the last ten years. Brubaker writes noir/crime stories often with a supernatural twist and Phillips’ art compliments him wonderfully. Their latest series, Fatale, blends classic crime with the occult and it may turn out to be their best collaboration yet. The series sprawls across time and amasses an impressive cast of characters; however, the series centers on a cursed woman named Jo and the violent cultists trying to find her. The first two collections are available now and there will be a total of 4-5 when it concludes. Brubaker has said he has an ending in sight but continues to get more ideas, so pick it up today because it could expand more if the sales remain strong!
T Cooper has this “thing,” he calls it. He says it is a part of his past but he also kind of thinks it defines everything he is now. T’s a writer, a husand, father and he rescues Pit Bulls, but he was also designated female at birth and transitioned later in life. This is his, sort of, memoir/societal study on what manliness and masculinity is. With great humor and stark frankness, Cooper sheds some light on a subject I knew little about through a series of short essays and interviews with friends, family and members of the LGBT community.
George Saunders may have released the best book of the year in the second week of January. These stories cover a wide spectrum of the human experience, from the tragic to hilarious. Scientists experiment with the chemical properties of love in one story, another revolves around a soldier who has just returned home from war overseas. In one of the funniest moments, a security guard is given drugs to turn him into a chivalrous knight. Each story in this collection is so unique I could not have read this all in one sitting. They will stay with you for days, weeks, and months long after you have finished and put it back on the shelf.
I was not surprised to learn Brandon Graham was a graffiti and street artist as a youth while he was learning how to create comics. Many of King City’s jokes and laugh out loud moments come from studying all the small details placed on the walls and overpasses of this dystopian future metropolis. Graham’s minimal and expressive lines show streets full of life. He makes the city just as much a character as its inhabitants. This bizarre story follows Joe the Cat Master and his cat Earthling, who is highly intelligent and very lethal. After returning to King City, Joe spends most of his time performing small crimes until he stumbles onto something big. What follows is an epic story spanning the entire city including alien prostitutes and the men who fall in love with them, drug addicted zombies, and an explosive fight to save the city from a demon. Remember, the cat is a weapon!
The Islanders is a bit of a puzzle of a novel containing a narrative that must be pieced together. The book is presented as a travel guide to the Dream Archipelago, a vast array of islands located in a massive sea on an alien planet. Each chapter focuses on a different isalnd, and many entries make subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) hints to the drama that has overtaken a few of the islands’ residents. A tale of love, murder and artistic rivalry, The Islanders is a very human story set in a very alien world. A read so addictive that upon finishing I immediately started it again, anxious to see what clues I could find the second time around.
The story about developing a lifelike android that so closely resembles science fiction writer Philip K. Dick that it's difficult to tell the difference between man and machine almost sounds like a story PKD himself would write. A slide show in book form, Dufty sheds light on how collaborations occur between the worlds of science and academia. He also explores the philosophical question of what makes us human and the possibility of building an android who could truly hide among us, a paranoia that is rampant in Dick's novels.
This debut novel is so adeptly plotted one could imagine Hanna Plyväinen is a pro who has been at this for a lifetime. She does not waste a single word. Inspired by the author's own life experiences, the Rovaniemi family are part of an extremely conservative Christian church which does not allow music with a beat or the practice of birth control. The novel shifts between the viewpoints of 11 family members, exploring the multiple reasons we believe and how our religions can both bring us together and tear us apart. For non-believers and believers alike.
It's very hard to find books that are actually funny. One cannot simply go to the humor section and find something as most of that space is reserved for what was funny on the internet six months ago, so it is always great when you stumble on a book that can make you laugh aloud. If the title of this book doesn’t immediately strike you as somewhat humorous, you may not be its intended audience as the insane vulgarity only gets worse from there. The story is written in a non-traditional narrative, shifting from obscene to mind-numbing (mind-numbing in the best possible way, mind you), although not in a pretentious way. Much of the prose resembles the circular diction of a scientific or philosophical essay more so than a fictional narrative. It consists mainly as what seems a textual and critical analysis of the epic The Sugar Frosted Nutsack, but it assures the reader that this book about the epic is indeed the epic itself and not a book about the epic, which has been recited by “blind, drug addled bards” for thousands of years. Yet somehow T.S.F.N. tells the story of our modern gods in an age of reality TV and social networks, and about their latest prophet/martyr, Ike Karton. The author, Mark Leyner is probably best known as the co-writer of the humorous trivia series Why Do Men Have Nipples?, but he has consistently published fiction throughout his career as well.