GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: View From the Top Shelf
Top Shelf was kind enough to send me a big box of their books (which also included Super Spy), so let me dive right into it.
First was a cute little book (about the size of those “impulse purchase” books you sometimes see in Hallmark stores by the cash register) called Micrographica by Renee French. According to the front flap, this originally appeared online, and each of the drawings (one to a page) was originally drawn at about one centimeter square, which French did to keep the drawing loose by not allowing any redrawing. The story follows three small rodents of some kind (maybe guinea pigs?) who discover a “crapball” and then have odder adventures. It reads a bit like a black and white, colloquial version of a Jim Woodring story – weird things happen in an entertaining way, but the voices of the rodents is very modern-American, unlike Woodring. The story also features a much larger rodent-thing, unexplained facial swelling, a giant mountain of crap, an abandoned sandwich, and more. Hey, it’s only ten bucks – how can you go wrong?
Jeremy Tinder’s Black Ghost Apple Factory is more like a normal comics pamphlet (despite being only about four inches by six); it’s stapled, 48 pages, and contains a number of different stories. The seven stories here are all pretty clearly “indy” – they feature odd characters doing twisted versions of real-world activities, and usually have something to do with interpersonal relationships. (Also, in time-honored indy-comics fashion, those relationships are sad, depressing and unfulfilling.) Only two of the stories are overtly autobiographical — and one of those features Tinder befriending a bear, so you know it’s metaphorical at best — which is a nice change. Some of these stories are funny and some are touching; all work well and strike true. And that’s darn good a for a five-buck comics pamphlet.
All right, enough with the love-fest. David Yurkovich’s Death by Chocolate: Redux failed for me on almost every level. The story is silly — a man is transformed into “living chocolate,” and gets the powers to shoot chocolate-transformation beams himself, after which he gets caught up in the usual tedious government conspiracies and nefarious plots and partnered with a tough gun-toting FBI chick – which would be OK if it showed any hint that it knew it was silly. But it all looks like it’s meant to be taken seriously. It’s also very talky, with long dialogue on top of long narration going on and on and on. So it takes a long time to read all of the unbelievable stuff about the chocolate dude. On top of that, Yurkovich’s stylized, almost horror-comic-looking art — which could have been great with the right project – is very wrong for this story. Why, you may ask? Well, for one thing, his style makes it completely impossible to tell by looking whether an object (or person) has been turned into chocolate… which is a very important motif in this here story. So, to sum up: humorless, long-winded, bizarre superhero comic with a spectacularly badly chosen art style.
And the last thing in the Big Top Shelf Box o’ Fun was what is probably called Top Shelf Seasonal Sampler 2007 (though the front cover calls it A Sampling of This Season’s Top Shelf). I’m not sure if this was designed purely for giving away to reviewers and bloggers (such as myself), or if it was available at conventions or other events. My advice would be to seek out the Top Shelf booth/table at any such event, and ask if they’re giving away a Seasonal Sampler (either this one or an earlier or later edition), since this is a great sampler. Being free makes it even better. It has samples of the three books I reviewed above, plus David Kindt’s Super Spy, two semi-autobiographical books about growing up in Canadian farm country by Jeff Lemire, a couple of James Kochalka projects, Andy Hartzell’s amazing Fox Bunny Funny, two Jeffrey Brown books, and even more. It has Top Shelf’s entire projected publishing program for 2007 (and a few sneak peeks into 2008), and even has a listing of Top Shelf’s major backlist at the end. Every publisher should do a book like this at least once a year – at least, if they’re not so large that it would be the size of an unabridged OED. This is worth paying for, honestly – at least five bucks, probably ten.
And that’s what Top Shelf sent me this time; three out of the four were excellent, and even Death by Chocolate: Redux will probably find an audience among the fans of bizarre superhero books. Quite impressive.
Top Shelf, 2007, $10.00
Black Ghost Apple Factory
Top Shelf, 2006, $5.00
Death by Chocolate: Redux
Top Shelf, 2007, $14.95
Top Shelf Seasonal Sampler 2007
edited by Chris Staros
Top Shelf, 2007, free