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The world in comics
By MIKE MILIARD  |  December 2, 2008

IVORY COAST: Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie continue their story of a vibrant, enduring Africa in Aya of Yop City.

This season, there are two best buys when it comes to bang for your comic-book buck. One is the third annual compendium THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS (Houghton Mifflin, $22). The other is the second installation of cartoonist Ivan Brunetti's self-curated collection of his favorite strips, AN ANTHOLOGY OF GRAPHIC FICTION, CARTOONS, & TRUE STORIES, VOL. 2 (Yale, $28).

Brunetti's book, like Best American Comics — whose editor, Lynda Barry, drew up an astounding book of her own earlier this year, WHAT IT IS (Drawn and Quarterly, $25) — "focuses entirely on untranslated [i.e., English] work by North American creators."

That's their prerogative, of course. And certainly the artists showcased in these exhaustive volumes — Alison Bechdel, Kaz, Michael Kupperman, Seth, Jim Woodring, Drew Friedman, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Bill Griffith — have each made indelible marks on this ever-evolving form. (That's to say nothing of the underground and outsider artists anthologized in both, such as T. Edward Bak, Eugene Teal, and Fletcher Hanks.)

But though it's true, as Brunetti argues, that collections by artists from "France and Japan alone would each command a volume of this size" (his Anthology weighs in at a hefty 400 pages), there are ample other ways to sample the vast visual richness of the rest of the planet, whether it's glimpsed through the eyes of native artists or of fascinated Americans.

One new travelogue is about as far from a pleasure junket as one can get. I LIVE HERE (Pantheon, $30), by Mia Kirshner — yes, the L Word actress — with J.B. Mackinnon, Paul Shoebridge, and Michael Simons, comprises four separate volumes that touch down in Ingushetia, Mexico, Burma, and Malawi: world hotspots wracked, respectively, by war and refugee crises, rapacious globalization, genocide, and AIDS. Intermingling the authors' diaries with stark imagery —visceral collages, missing posters, fabric art, fumetti, and Joe Sacco's crisp line drawings — it's a powerful, often unsettling textual and visual document that gives voices to the world's dispossessed.

Eddie Campbell and Dan Best's THE AMAZING REMARKABLE MONSIEUR LEOTARD (First Second, $17), on the other hand, is pure whimsy. Campbell, who illustrated Alan Moore's acclaimed '90s serial From Hell, takes us to the big tops and towering trapezes of belle ûpoque Paris (and thence much further afield), limning his strongmen and illustrated women, lion tamers, and top-hatted bears with watercolored brio and "typographical acrobatics." Frenchman Chris Blain, meanwhile, looks to the America of roughly the same era in GUS & HIS GANG (First Second, $17), his loose, kinetic pen strokes illustrating a brash and funny love letter to the boozy saloons and wide-open deserts of the Wild West.

Chip Kidd's lovingly compiled BAT-MANGA! THE SECRET HISTORY OF BATMAN IN JAPAN (Pantheon, $60 hardcover, $30 paperback) is another example of one man's fascination with a culture utterly alien to his own. Kidd's rescue of Jiro Kuwata's Batman comics, which were serialized in the manga Shonen King in 1966, isn't just striking for its beauty — the controlled chaos of indigo ink printed on pulpy newsprint, all interspersed with Geoff Spear's hi-res photos of old Nipponese toys. Rather, it's for the realization that the Caped Crusader — who does look rather like a ninja, after all — works just as well whether he's doing battle with the Joker, or with robots, aliens, and giant insects.

A couple of other comics inspired by the Far East are also worth noting. French-Japanese artist Veronique Tanaka's METRONOME (NBM, $14) is a bold pushing of the formal envelope. It bills itself as a "visual poem," but with its regimented film-like frames and hypnotic four-four repetition, it evokes music and stroboscopic cinema. Meanwhile, Seiichi Hayashi's RED COLORED ELEGY (Drawn and Quarterly, $25), drawn in 1970 and 1971 in all spare lines and stark minimalism, uses techniques derived from anime for a story exploring the tension between the personal and the political.

Elegy is just one of many globe-hopping books (each of them $20) put out this year from Montrûal's consistently excellent Drawn and Quarterly. MOOMIN: BOOK THREE is the latest compilation of Finnish cartoonist Tove Jansson's charmingly peculiar Moomin comic strips, which took her hugely popular Scandinavian hippopotamus-esque trolls and syndicated them first in London's Evening News in the '50s and later across Europe and the world.

Guy Delisle's BURMA CHRONICLES finds the Quûbûcois cartoonist traveling to another part of the planet few outsiders have seen. In his previous books, Pyongyang and Shenzhen, Delisle experienced the walled-off worlds of authoritarianism by himself. This time, having his wife (a worker with Mûdecins Sans Frontières) and child in tow makes for a slightly different perspective on life behind the curtain of a censorious, soul-crushing regime. Delisle deals with serious subjects, but his cartoony, workmanlike style is well-suited to his genial observations of the good-hearted people in this profoundly damaged nation.

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  Topics: Books , Marguerite Abouet , Jason Lutes , Books ,  More more >
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