This being an artists' book, many of the stories are art first, meaning the visual side of the visual/verbal dance that is comics is always spot-on, but the verbal part in some of the stories can be a bit weak. These weaker entries are far outnumbered by good ones, though, and this book is pretty much required reading for anyone interested in where comics are going in the near future.
Making it especially valuable is the one-paragraph bio and link that precedes each short story, so that the hours one spends surfing the Internet to look at still more art and web comics from the creators end up being just as entertaining and enlightening as the initial read itself.
The Vagabonds No. 2
New York-based artist Josh Neufeld is best known for working with R. Walker on Titans of Finance and Harvey Pekar on some American Splendor comics, and in this slim anthology he treats us to a series of shorter pieces, each done with a collaborator of some sort.
There's a one-page Pekar story, several comix adaptations of poems by the likes of Andrew Rashkow, Eileen Myles and Nick Flynn (each of which argues that the "graphic poem" works just as well as the graphic novel) and stories told to Neufeld by his friends' parents.
Neufeld has a playfully broad definition of collaboration, one which he exploits to fun effect by counting the Beatles and Superman No. 351 as collaborators, since they each inspire a story a piece. He also collaborates with his own reflection in one experimental piece drawn in front of the mirror.
Ranma 1/2 Vol. 36
One of Japan's most popular pop culture imports finally comes to an end this month, and I couldn't be happier. Rumiko Takahashi's Ranma 12 was one of the first manga series to make a big splash in the U.S. and birth a strong fan following, way back in the early '90s, when Japanese comics were still an acquired taste in the American market.
The plot, by this point, has grown so Byzantine that explaining it seems impossible, but at its heart it's a romantic comedy about a cursed teenage martial artist who is forced by his father into an arranged marriage to a pretty young martial artist. The curse?
Whenever he gets splashed with cold water, he turns into a girl.
By the end of the first volume, it was clear that leads Ranma and Akane were in love with one another and destined to be together, even if they refused to admit it, but Takahashi managed to continually complicate things by throwing in dozens of romantic rivals (many with transformative curses similar to Ranma's) and constantly inventing new types of martial arts battles for the characters to engage in.
But after 14 years and 36 volumes, even the most brilliant action/comedy series gets tiresome. Usually the ending of a favorite series is a somewhat sad affair, but, in this case, I'm downright ecstatic.