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Panel Mania: A Year in Review

With the sad news that PW Comics World over at Publisher's Weekly is closing, the future of Panel Mania, or First Look as it was latterly known, is rather uncertain.

It's been an honour and a privilege to have helmed the column in 2015, and I am so happy to have previewed some 18 comics in that time. Writing the column really allowed me to combine my comics experience, academic knowledge, and my previous years of bookselling expertise.

I hope to continue to have a voice at PW and keep tapping into my bookseller experience, but thank you all for a wonderful nine months. To every publisher, editor, publicity person and creator I've conversed with this year for Panel Mania/First Look - thank you.

Independent comic publishers have such lovely folk working for them, and some fiercely talented creators who are so passionate in their work. You folks are what keep my love of comics alive!

For now, here's a look back at the 18 titles that I saw as guaranteed hits with the right bookseller love behind them:


WrinklesWrinkles - Paco Roca (Knockabout Comics)

Wrinkles” A Haunting Portrait of Aging

My first new piece of the year was also the first of my stint as captain of the Panel Mania ship at Publisher's Weekly - a great excuse to spotlight some of the fantastic comics coming out this year.

Wrinkles hit a little close to home as I suspect it will do for many - watching our older relatives lose their sense of self is as frightening as it is heartbreaking - and it's a reminder that many of us will come to similar fates. The fact that it explores such a well avoided subject is precisely why, I think, it's such an important (as well as beautiful) read.

PW preview here - Extended review here


DisplacementDisplacement - Lucy Knisley (Fantagraphics)

Lucy Knisley Explores Aging in 'Displacement'

Accidentally carrying on a theme from Wrinkles, this title appealed to me primarily because Knisley's work is always wonderful, but also because January almost demands an uplifting read or two. This travelogue of the creators time on a cruise looking after her grandparents is a little heartbreaking but ultimately encouraging, and the mixture of comic panels, cartooning and letters make for softer read.

I did have a wee cry after reading though!

PW preview here - Extended review here


Girl in DiorGirl in Dior - Annie Goetzinger (NBM)

Fashion Forward with ‘Girl in Dior’

Spotlighting the upcoming translation of French comics maestro Annie Goetzinger, Girl in Dior, a fascinating blend of graphic narrative and fashion illustration, all with a strong undercurrent of rosy nostalgia and the occasional sharp stab of social commentary.

A very beautiful comic.

PW preview here - Extended review here


Two BrothersTwo Brothers - Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)

Ba and Moon Explore Home and Family in ‘Two Brothers’

A world exclusive preview of a highly anticipated new graphic novel.

Ten pages from the upcoming Two Brothers by Brazilian dream team Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, an adaptation of Dois Irmãos by the eminent author, Milton Hatoum. Two Brothers promises a story of strained family relations and identity, with more than a hint of intrigue bestowed by the two brothers translating the tale in both language and medium. This looks very promising indeed!

PW preview here - Extended review here


The Swords of GlassThe Swords of Glass - Sylviane Corgiat and Laura Zuccheri (Humanoids)

The Spectacular World Building of 'The Swords of Glass'

Laura Zuccheri's work is jaw-droppingly beautiful and the world building that she and Sylviane Corgiat have achieved here is first class.

This is a gorgeous book that I've already re-read twice, and would recommend to anyone on the strength of the art alone. It's a 200+ page sci-fi/fantasy epic with strange critters, costumes, and architecture a plenty.

PW preview here - Extended review here


BallisticBallistic - Adam Egypt Mortimer and Darick Robertson (Black Mask)

Go 'Ballistic' with Mortimer and Robertson

It started out as my choice for best comic of 2013. Now the first volume is complete and collected in a trade paperback, and set to be best comic of the millennium.

Ladies and gentlemen, do feel free to go ballistic for... Ballistic!

PW preview here - Extended review here


The OvenThe Oven - Sophie Goldstein (AdHouse Books)

Sophie Goldstein's Dystopian SF in 'The Oven'

I've long admired mini-comics, so I'm thrilled to preview her first long-form work, The Oven.

Keep an eye on those insects within....

PW preview here - Extended review here


The KurdlesThe Kurdles - Robert Goodin (Fantagraphics)

The Heart-Stealing Whimsy of 'The Kurdles'

A preview of Robert Goodin's GORGEOUS The Kurdles.

A lovely story of an abandoned teddy bear that finds her way to a new home and new friends - super suitable for all ages and I adore it!

PW preview here - Extended review here


Exquisite CorpseExquisite Corpse - Pénélope Bagieu (First Second)

Joie de vivre in Pénélope Bagieu’s 'Exquisite Corpse'

This weeks panel mania features a favourite artist of mine - translated for the first time into English by First Second Books!

Exquisite Corpse is a really fun read from Pénélope Bagieu - with one hell of an ending - and a perfect summer read.

PW preview here - Extended review here


The HeroThe Hero - David Rubin (Dark Horse)

From Zero to 'The Hero' with David Rubin

A super exclusive preview at Publisher's Weekly from the highly anticipated English language edition of David Rubin's masterpiece.

I really enjoyed this, and I'm looking forward to seeing the concluding volume later this year. I'll confess, I was singing Disney Hercules songs in my head for most of my read, but that's a good thing :)

PW preview here - Extended review here


The AutumnlandsThe Autumnlands - Kurt Busiek and Ben Dewey (Image)

Fighting Tooth and Claw in "The Autumnlands"

For my birthday week I couldn't resist featuring one of my current favourites, The Autumnlands!

This is a must-read book for all fantasy fans, and all animal fans too. Dewey is definitely an artist to keep an eye on.

PW preview here - Extended review here


The King in YellowThe King in Yellow - INJ Culbard (SelfMadeHero)

Return to Carcosa in Culbard’s ‘The King in Yellow’

Spotlighting one of my favourite artists in this weeks Panel Mania, with a comics adaptation of the infamous The King in Yellow by the magnificent INJ Culbard.

The original novel got a lot of attention recently thanks to references in True Detective, so now is the perfect time to dig in and see what all the fuss is about with this classic weird fiction.

PW preview here - Extended review here


DressingDressing - Michael DeForge (Koyama Press)

'Dressing' for Success with Michael DeForge

An exclusive preview from the indie king's latest publication, and another surefire hit that will appeal to fans of both alternative comics and art.

PW preview here - Extended review here


If You StealIf You Steal - Jason (Fantagraphics)

Jason’s Triumphant Return in “If You Steal”

Panel Mania has been renamed First Look and continues as normal twice a month - this time around it's an exclusive preview of Norwegian's finest and one of my absolute favourite artists.

Jason's upcoming If You Steal, complete with hitwoman Frida Kahlo and 50s horror comic pastiche, is a must-get for my bookshelf.

PW preview here - Extended review here


Puma BluesThe Puma Blues - Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli (Dover Publications)

‘The Puma Blues’ Returns in Complete Form

Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli's cult classic comic returns with a never before seen ending finally completing the story of The Puma Blues after nearly thirty years.

A very unique and powerful comic that will appeal to environmentalists in particular.

PW preview here - Extended review here


Love: The FoxLove: The Fox - Frédéric Brrémaud and Federico Bertolucci (Magnetic Press)

The Breathtaking Beauty of ‘Love: The Fox’

The animal theme for August continues with this new English market edition of Frédéric Brrémaud and Federico Bertolucci's stunning Love: The Fox, a highly anticipated followup to Love: The Tiger.

Love: The Tiger is a comic I am very passionate about, a beautiful story told entirely without words and by blending wonderful character work with realistic animal behaviour. Love: The Fox is equally gorgeous, with a more powerful story threaded throughout.

And it's GORGEOUS.

PW preview here - Extended review here


Macanudo #3Macanudo #3 - Liniers (Enchanted Lion Books)

The Whimsical World of Liniers's 'Macanudo #3'

Probably my favourite PW column of the year thus far, featuring the whimsical Liniers and his existential musings and humour in Macanudo #3.

With meta-humour and existential musings, Macanudo recalls to me fond memories of reading Calvin and Hobbes, or Krazy Kat, and the wonderfully wide cast of unique characters make this all the more charming.

PW preview here - Extended review here


Houses of the HolyHouses of the Holy - Caitlan Skaalrud (Uncivilized Books)

Caitlan Skaalrud’s Dantean ‘Houses of the Holy’

A fabulous debut graphic novel that will strike a chord with anyone who grapples with depression or their own mind.

Light on words and empty of dialogue, Skaalrud’s poetic expressions of inner turmoil are boldly honest, a mysterious building of hints to events already transpired and her struggle to triumph over the darkness within.

With PW Comics World closing, this is potentially the last Panel Mania/First Look.

PW preview here - Extended review here



First Look: Caitlan Skaalrud’s Dantean ‘Houses of the Holy’

The second First Look of the month spotlights this fabulous debut graphic novel that will strike a chord with anyone who grapples with depression or their own mind.

Caitlin Skaalrud’s debut graphic novel is an intensely personal exploration of the artist’s own turbulent psyche. Already a strong voice in the world of indie comics thanks to her own Talk Weird Press micropress and her part in putting together the Autoptic comics festival, Uncivilized Books is bringing her work to a larger audience.

The protagonist of Houses of the Holy, a young woman, looks to repair terrible damage to her mind and soul, descending through a horrifically Dantean journey of the macabre and a suffocating depression. The occult plays a large hand, symbolic arrangements of bones and plastic both as the woman opens a sequence of doors in turn that leads to her eventual journey forth.

Light on words and empty of dialogue, Skaalrud’s poetic expressions of inner turmoil are boldly honest, a mysterious building of hints to events already transpired and her struggle to triumph over the darkness within.

The stark black ink cuts across the pages, reminiscent of the European expressionist woodcut novels of old, perfectly echoing the sense of engulfing darkness that can swallow souls whole and spit forth a wrecked shell of a mind. The collection of images that at first seem surreal and disconnected across panels, soon unlock the readers own most close guarded thoughts, a personal invocation from the artist of the way in which our minds hide truths in symbolism and denial.

Skaalrud’s pacing here is unusual too, the sense of anxiety at quickening action tempered by drawn out moments on particular details, reminding the reader of the importance of the journey itself.

Houses of the Holy is an exorcism, not perhaps of the darkness itself but of the fear and self-loathing it inspires within the psyche laid bare upon these pages. Intensely personal yes, but relatable and cathartic to many.

Read the full preview here: Caitlan Skaalrud’s Dantean ‘Houses of the Holy’

Houses of the Holy


First Look: The Whimsical World of Liniers’s ‘Macanudo #3’

Probably my favourite PW column of the year thus far, featuring the whimsical Liniers and his existential musings and humour in Macanudo #3.

An absolute must read for fans of Calvin and Hobbes especially.

It’s not often that cartoonists earn legitimate comparisons to strip maestros Charles Schultz and Bill Watterson, but that is precisely what Argentinian artist Liniers has achieved with Macanudo.

Published on the last page of newspaper La Nación, the popular daily strip has been running since 2002. Enchanted Lion Books have previously published two volumes of Macanudo for the English-speaking market, but this third volume has an incredibly eye-catching cover that will surely attract many new readers to the series.

With a focus on both meta-humour and existential musings, the frequently surreal strip does indeed recall Calvin and Hobbes as well as George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, and there are some neat touches of political satire that give a knowing wink to the Argentinian classics El Eternauta and Mafalda.

Liniers – real name Richard Siri – has created a series with little linear plotline but several recurring characters that turn up in occasional strips. Most frequent appearance goes to Henrietta, her sneaky cat Fellini and her teddy bear Mandelbaum, and a group of elves are often seen too, along with couple Lorenzo and Tersita, the two abstract beings Yellow Thing and Blue Thing, Z-25 the sensitive robot, and even Liniers himself in rabbit form.

Named for an old-timey Argentinian word meaning, “it’s okay”, Liniers intends for the comic to be a shot of optimism at the end of a newspaper filled with daily depressing news. And yet the surrealism he employs has kept Macanudo from US syndication and even translation until Enchanted Lion Books began publication in 2014.

In simple lines, joyous colours, and haphazard panelling, Liniers effortlessly spins his strips from surreal humour to moments of quiet thought or societal commentary, resulting in a cacophony of cartoons that beg to be read again and again.

And best of all, Macanudo is genuinely suitable for all ages with zero trace of patronising younger readers.

Read the full preview here: The Whimsical World of Liniers's 'Macanudo #3'

Macanudo #3


First Look: The Breathtaking Beauty of ‘Love: The Fox’

The animal theme for August continues with this new English market edition of Frédéric Brrémaud and Federico Bertolucci's stunning Love: The Fox, a highly anticipated followup to Love: The Tiger.

And it's GORGEOUS.

A follow up to the hugely successful French graphic novel, Love: The Tiger translated to English earlier this year, sees writer Frédéric Brrémaud and artist Federico Bertolucci expand upon their astonishing look at the beauty and terror of our natural world.

While Love: The Tiger followed the eponymous animal through the jungle on the hunt for prey, Love: The Fox has a much wider scope – the island that the fox inhabits is the true protagonist of this story, suffering a massive volcanic explosion that impact the lives of every creature that call this land home. From the sleekit fox foraging for food, to a passing polar bear and mother whale, Brrémaud and Bertolucci have trained their focus within to very specific acts of love – acts that readers will surely empathise with strongly.

Glorious single page spreads are breathtaking, calling to mind Disney classics of old with their delicacy, and Bertolucci perfectly captures the various interactions between competing and panicked animals, allowing the occasional exaggerated expression to better convey a sense of drama that propels the reader along this cataclysmic track. This delicate balance of accuracy and expressiveness upon lush backgrounds is what makes Bertolucci’s sequential work truly unique.

Completely wordless, Love: The Fox does not flinch from the cruelty of either beast or natural disaster, yet without the presence of human characters this remains a wonderfully uplifting and powerful read.

Two more volumes are set to follow from Magnetic Press, starring a lion and dinosaur respectively, and all volumes are all ages.

Read the full preview here: The Breathtaking Beauty of ‘Love: The Fox’

Love: The Fox


First Look: ‘The Puma Blues’ Returns in Complete Form

The first First Look of August spotlights a newly finished classic.

Fabulous manta rays soar across open skies in this formerly forgotten classic, a labour of love that succumbed to distribution difficulties now fondly restored by Dover Publications.

The original cult series, an environmental sci-fi experiment in visual narration by Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli, ran for twenty-three and a half issues between 1986-89 to great critical acclaim. Ostensibly following the work of government agent Gavia Immer, stationed in a Massachusetts cabin in the woods, as he is tasked with displacing the transmuted creatures that have thrived in a post nuclear fallout America, the comic soon turns into a weird and wonderful passage of creativity.

As Immer struggles to find his place in the world, haunted by videotapes left behind by his late father who sought some incredible truth, loose narrative moves further into the background allowing Zulli to take the reins on a comic that becomes more poetry than prose as the lone puma stalks the edges of the shadows of man.

The melancholy puma is in stark contrast to the joyful swooping mantas, freed from their oceans to touch the clouds, and several sequences dispense with the need for humans or dialogue completely, simply following the unfurling nature that surrounds Immer – taking what is usually confined to the background and promoting it firmly into the fore.

Zulli is perhaps best known for his Eisner-nominated work on The Sandman, as well as his fan favourite run on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but his black and white portrayal of nature and wildlife within The Puma Blues is a highpoint of the comics medium, and deftly captures the environmental chaos and threat of ecological ruin that lies within the loose threads of narrative. Stream of consciousness meets dream sequences amidst more traditional fare, with startling layouts, epic gutters, montaged panels and breath-taking transitions.

Best of all, this deluxe 480 page hardcover contains a brand new 40 page ending from the original creators – the tale of The Puma Blues is finally complete.

Read the full preview here: ‘The Puma Blues’ Returns in Complete Form

Puma Blues


First Look: Jason’s Triumphant Return with ‘If You Steal’

Panel Mania has been renamed First Look and continues as normal twice a month - this time around it's an exclusive preview of Norwegian's finest!

Jason's upcoming If You Steal, complete with hitwoman Frida Kahlo and 50s horror comic pastiche.

The multi-award winning Jason has been consistently publishing at least one critically acclaimed hit per year since the turn of the century, with 2014 the only omission. Fans and critics are awaiting this new collection with keen anticipation, not least due to the alluring title in the original Norwegian: Frida Kahlo’s Parrot.

If You Steal collects eleven new stories, with a definite if extensive focus on pop culture pastiche. A 50s horror comic styled take on Van Morrison’s Moondance, Frida Kahlo as a hitwoman (as seen on the cover), the JFK assassination conspiracies concluded, Santo and his greatest challenge, a heist story with touches of Magritte… Jason casts his net wide, threading these disparate comics into one seamless tapestry with Nostradamus at the helm.

With his signature four panel grid, simple anthropomorphic animal characters, and ligne claire minimalism throughout, Jason’s work is often at risk of being discounted on sight. Yet the uncomplicated surface gives way to complex layers that hold far deeper meanings.

Jason is the master of haunting comics that wriggle into the reader’s brain and very often break their heart. If You Steal is a tad lighter than some of Jason’s previous works but it is still a tremendous example of the power of amplification through simplification – he forges a world so universally recognisable one cannot help but be captivated completely.

Jason’s entire oeuvre is published in English by Fantagraphics and is absolutely essential reading for any fan of comics, art, pulp fiction, or silent/near-wordless narratives. From the earliest Hey, Wait… through I Killed Adolf Hitler and Athos in America, each is an instant classic. If You Steal, complete with Chet Baker, Night of the Vampire Hunter, 50’s style big bug horror fare and all, is no exception.

Read the full preview here: Jason’s Triumphant Return with 'If You Steal'

If You Steal