Top Shelf Productions has roots in the Pacific NW, since its beginning in 1997, sharing offices from Portland, OR to Marietta, GA, and New York City. Perhaps most well know to casual comics fans for the huge successes of the horror classic From Hell issue by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, and the theo-existential teenage blues Blankets from Craig Thompson, they are a super classy company and have tons of back catalogue goodies that give Fantagraphics or Drawn & Quarterly a run for their money.
Right now the company is winding down a huge summer sale on many of their books; the recent ones I'm recommending right now are discounted, and simply irresistible. But for those willing to check out their website, there are piles of great past titles available for up to 50% off, plus lots for only $3 a piece (!). There's a whole lot of sequential narrative nom-nom to be found, but don't miss:
March Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
The first in a series of autobiographies about veteran GA Congressman John Lewis, who was a bellwether in the Civil Rights Movement in America in the 60s, this volume is both artful and edifying. Bill Clinton even blurbs it on the back as an important source of history, and you can't say that about too many books. This first chapter finds Lewis growing up in rough and oppressive rural Alabama, his life sparked by meeting Martin Luther King, Jr., and the two of them opening a can of whup-ass on segregation all over the South together. Nate Powell, who has done more oblique dramas like Any Empire, as well as informative and emotional work on Darfur, is at his best as an illustrator here, his B&W artwork seeming both sophisticated and pleasantly sketchy, showing the excitement and looming noir fears of the times. Highly recommended, as enjoyable as it is energizing.
God Is Disappointed In You by Mark Russell and Shannon Wheeler
Speaking of Portland, that's where Russell and Wheeler are from, the former a writer for McSweeney's and "several now defunct magazines" his bio says; the latter lucky enough to draw dark-yucks for The New Yorker, and well know to ziney magazine fans as the publisher of Too Much Coffee Man. I didn't know what to think of this at first, as it's basically a retelling of the Old and New Testaments, gussied up to look like a leatherbound, red letter edition of scripture yer grandma has next to her denture-glass and yummy pills. Would it be a simple humor book, taking softly satirical swipes at religious types whilst poking fun at their much-loved "Werd of the Lawrd"? Actually, it's an excellent translation of the meanings behind the Bible stories — and the source material really is often hilarious (sometimes intentionally, usually just in a totally absurd cosmic way), and Russell and Wheeler break these jokes down in both text and cartoons. It's never openly blasphemous, and that has a lot to do with how well Russell is able to read the intentions of the original tales. If I was a youth pastor (ha! That's a great title for a GG Allin song) I would probably use this as my main translation (example: Russell's clear-eyed construction of the Book of Jonah, breaking it down to God loving everyone, wiping away all the racist and extrapolative hoodoo in a thousand other translations). Wheeler's cartoons are great, though often not really not much about what is going on in the text, which is perfectly fine, as they're well-rendered and very funny all on their own too.
The From Hell Companion by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
Prophet of perennial rebellion, crafter of chaos magick on a page, and certainly maven of art-fashion-lit-myth, Moore of course wrote Watchmen and V For Vendetta for DC Comics. Also-and-then he semiotically redefined superhoes and supernatural in various other ways before he took on probably his most personal and historical vision, scribing the telephone-book sized From Hell. (Forget the Johnny Depp movie from years back — what? Never heard of it? Never mind!) It's a big ass bomb of mindfuckery, tying up a certain serial killer from Victorian England with ancient curses and right-now political subtexts, as metaphysical as it is socially radical. A textbook in history as a shapeshifter, for sure, and not for the timid or squeamish (even if gruesome prostitute-murder weren't the reasons for its existence). Moore lucked out by getting confident illustrator Campbell to delineate this ghoulish, paranoid world — and also, to have kept the shattered scripts Moore raved out at him, and thus reconstructs many things that had to be left out from the finished graphic novel. Thus creating a work all on its own, with lengthy commentaries that elongate tiny scenes dropped into the book, and heaving backstories of horrible truths that would make your drunkest conspiracy theory uncle bunker down in tears. For those who already adore the black humor and bittersweet terror of the original book, this will be a necessary reference work. For those who really want an insight in how to do comics, and more importantly why, don't miss this companion.
A Matter Of Life by Jeffrey Brown
Jeffrey Brown does personal comics, but his personal life includes many things, including lots of cats, superheroes, messed up relationships, strange attractions, weird compulsions, awkward self-realizations ("What did that dream mean?"), and so forth. He's been putting out a steady stream of autobio graphic novels for several years, and few cartoonists these days have his ability to be both naively charming and thoughtfully, usefully self-deprecative in his portraits of life. This book claims to be "an Autobiographical Meditation on Fatherhood and Faith," and that is exactly what it is, but it's more and less than that too. There's a lot in here about Lewis and his relationship to his kid, who seems to have been blessed with his dad's freaky creativity and absolute surprise with life. The faith thing is brought up but not resolved, and that's actually good news. He seemed to get something out of his religious upbringing, though it may not have been what his parents intended. Speaking of his parents, his own father plays a big role here, as he moves from strengths to weaknesses in age, and he is never crafted out of anything less than love. It's that love that takes the up-all-night questions this book asks, about mortality and morality, and the meaning behind our connections to each other, and puts them into a nice warm cup of the everyday. It's my favorite book of Brown's in a while.
But don't stop here! Please visit the Top Shelf website this week for more books that nipple-twist the mind, French-kiss the heart, and tickle the eye buds.