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Comics from the past: A through F

Part 1 of 4 in a series of brief summary-reviews of comics I’ve read in the past. This article covers titles beginning with A though F. I’ve denoted recommended comics with the lightbulb ( 💡 ) icon.

Amphigorey, Amiphigorey Too and Amphigorey Also, by Edward Gorey (another site describing his works). Gorey was the epitome of intricate, macabre illustration, and these omnibuses gather his work. The first Amphigorey book contains the well-known “Gashlycrumb Tinies,” “The Hapless Child,” which made several of my friends shudder in horror, and “The Insect God,” the inspiration for the eponymous song by the Monks of Doom. I haven’t yet read the recently published collection, Amphigorey Again.

💡 Athena, by Dean Hsieh. It’s neo-future Greece, where the old pantheon of gods haven’t been overthrown by the new generation of gods. Instead, they’ve been downsized. It’s about Athena (my favorite Greek deity), recently fired and now seeking rock’n’roll enlightenment with her mortal pals Kallie and Jay, while attempting to avoid family problems. Hsieh’s style exhibits a strong manga influence, so his art appears cute in a fun, yet ironic way. I’m sad this comic ended after only 14 issues, yet its resolution does satisfy me.

Bizarro, by Dan Piraro. The title describes the comic strip perfectly. The art is detailed, reminding me in some of ways of Gorey’s style. I don’t read Bizarro as often as I used to, but it remains true to itself with its weird and surreal tones, with good doses of whimsy.

💡 The Black Orchid, by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. This refers the 3-part graphic novelette published in 1988 through 1989, not the series from either the 1970s or 1990s. A compelling, beautifully executed story about a human-plant hybrid who wakes up with amnesia, then searches for her past.

💡 Bloom County, by Berk Breathed. I confess, I never got into Doonesbury; not that I disliked it, just never grokked it. On the other hand, Bloom County, with its animals (perhaps a strong influence by Walt Kelly’s Pogo) and children as social and political commentators, held a special place in my heart during high school and college.

The Chuckling Whatsit, by Richard Sala. A creepy tale of a journalist who takes a temp job as an astrologer, only to discover that previous astrologers have been murdered —a good cross between film noir and the macabre. Sala also did “Invisible Hands” for MTV’s Liquid Telelvision, as well as some artwork for the Residents’ Freakshow interactive CD.

💡 Clan Apis, by Jay Hosler. A 5-issue series about the life of a worker bee in her hive. Beautifully drawn and told by an entomologist, no less. Definitely reminds me of the finer points of biology, in a fun way.

Dyke Strippers, edited by Roz Warren. An excellent anthology of queer woman cartoonists. While this book includes well-known Alison Bechdel (Dykes to Watch Out For) and Diane DiMassa (Hothead Paisan), this collection pleasantly surprised me with many creators I hadn’t heard of before. The two creators I really enjoy are Jennifer Camper, who wrote the hilarious Rude Girls and Dangerous Women, and Ellen Forney, creator of 7 in ’75. Forney’s “Bi bi Birdie! The trials and tribulations of a young bisexual chick” remains a particularly insightful anecdote, funny and sharp at once.

The Far Side, by Gary Larson. Some comics that poke fun at science often remind me of the worst aspects of science: dry, tedious, obfuscated. This is the fine exception. Larson’s strip is delightfully warped and wacky. After all, Larson was right when he proclaimed, “Birds of prey know they’re cool.”

💡 Fruits Basket (Furuba, as a portmanteau), by Natsuki Takaya. The Wikipedia entry, which contains spoilers after the Plot section. Some of my initial resistance to manga (and animé) is the overuse of hypercute, giant-eyed characters, part of the moe illustration style. Such a superficial prejudice, I soon learned, especially with Fruits Basket! On the surface, the orphaned Tohru Honda falls in with the Sohma clan, who have an odd… relationship with the Chinese Zodiac. Those cursed turn into an animal when grabbed or embraced by someone of the opposite sex. Sounds hilarious, and indeed there are great comic moments. But below the surface lies troubled lives, and disturbing, abusive families, as well as the struggle to cope and overcome. Furuba is also an example of where I became eager to read the manga after first watching the animé television series. (Tezuka’s Black Jack would be another one, when the English translation returns to print.) In fact, while the animé version is excellent, I find the manga more complex, a work to relish as the story carefully unfolds. TokyoPop has published all 23 books in English.

Fruits Basket Volume 1: Tohru

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