Were Money No Object on July 25th With Top Shelf & Tor Books

There are a couple of very good books coming out this week that deserve your attention and your money!

The Books I Think You Should Buy:

Underwater Welder

by Jeff Lemire; Top Shelf, $19.95

I was fortunate to get a copy of this book a couple of weeks ago (it helps to live in the artist’s home town).  Here’s what I thought of it:

The introduction to Jeff Lemire’s new original graphic novel, written by Damon Lindelof, talks about the similarities between this book and The Twilight Zone.  Personally, I find that to be a little facile, because while there are definite points of comparison on the surface, I don’t think that the Zone ever got so deeply into the mind of the characters that it featured as Lemire does here.

Setting aside Lemire’s more commercial work at DC (Superboy, The Atom, Animal Man, Frankenstein, and now Justice League Dark), it’s easy to see a clear progression from his earlier (and still best) Essex County, through The Nobody and Sweet Tooth, to this piece of work (in fact, Gus and the two main characters in those other books have a bit of a cameo here, although its easily missed).

The Underwater Welder is about Jack, a man on the cusp of fatherhood who has never been able to reconcile with his own father’s disappearance when he was ten years old.  His father used to dive for treasure and salvage in the area around Tigg’s Bay, a small fictional town on the Atlantic in Nova Scotia, and Jack has always felt connected to the sea because of this fact.  After leaving town to go to university, he felt the need to come back, bringing his pregnant wife with him, and getting work as an underwater welder on the oil rig that is just a half-hour’s boat ride away.  Being under the water makes him feel close to his father, and he’s always happiest when completely alone.

This is beginning to cause some strain on his relationship with his wife, who is not from the area and doesn’t know anybody.  On a more or less routine dive, Jack experiences some strange things – he hears voices, and comes across a familiar pocket watch.  He comes to on the surface, and is sent home pending some medical tests.  This sends him into a bit of a spin, as he no longer feels sure of what exactly happened to him, and feels a growing compulsion to both return to the deeps, and to connect with his father.  It is here that the Twilight Zone comparison is most apt, especially when everybody else in town disappears, but this remains an intensely personal book, as Lemire dives ever deeper into Jack’s psyche and his wounds.

Lemire has often played around in terms of layout and design in his work on Sweet Tooth, and here he does similar things, having Jack morph into his younger self and his father at different places, and in one case, sit down and have a conversation with himself.  It’s the type of thing that only works in comics, and Lemire does it very well.

His art looks thinner than it has in his other black and white books, being much closer to what he’s done on Sweet Tooth, and different scenes are shaded very differently.  The look of the book is such an integral part of the story, and Lemire demonstrates a very tight control over what is shown, and how the different approaches inform the story.

This is one of the best new graphic novels to be released this year.  Lemire remains a very exciting creator to watch, and I like that while he is becoming increasingly better known for corporate ‘for hire’ work, he is also able to find the time and freedom to put together something as personal and insightful as this book.  Highly recommended.

Johnny Hiro Vol. 1 Half Asian All Hero

by Fred Chao; Tor Books, $16.99

I’m very excited to see that Johnny Hiro is getting a new printing.  I love this book.  Here’s what I had to say about it when I read the Adhouse edition back in 2009:

I read the first three stories in this collection in their original, single issue format, and was instantly drawn to Fred Chao’s charming characters. When I saw that the collected edition had two new stories, as well as some ‘deleted scene’ style single page stories, I knew I had to pick it up.

Johnny Hiro is ‘half-Asian, all hero’. He’s an early 20s busboy at a sushi restaurant who lives in New York with his wonderful girlfriend Mayumi. Stuff happens to him. In the first issue, Gozadilla (a Godzilla stand-in) kidnaps Mayumi out of their bed in a bizarre plan for revenge. In the second, Hiro (no one except his parents call him John or Johnny) has to steal a lobster from another sushi restaurant, and is pursued by knife-wielding kitchen staff. The third involves 47 ronin accountants and the Metropolitan Opera. The fourth involves another sea-food related chase across the city.

The final story, which I guess would have been the fifth issue, features the cast of Night Court (with Judge Judy acting as a stand in for Harry) dealing with Hiro’s legal troubles, which stem from the damage done to their apartment by Gozadilla.

Chao’s stories are whimsical and often sentimental. His humour is easily enjoyed, and the reader begins to really like Hiro and Mayumi. At the core of this book, it is about a young couple struggling to make ends meet in New York. The giant lizards and other strange threats are incidental to the story of their love for each other. At times, Chao’s writing may get a little too sentimental, but he clearly loves his characters.

Also of interest in this book is the way in which it is very much a product of New York. The city is as central to the story as it is in a Brian Wood comic. Mayor Bloomberg makes a couple of appearances, and hints at his third term plans (this comic came out before the election). Also on hand, in addition to Judge Judy and the Night Court crew, are Gwen Stefani, David Byrne, Grand Puba, and Coolio.

Chao’s artwork is clean and straight-forward, sometimes showing manga influences. The book is a great read, and easily one of the best of 2009.

So, what would you buy Were Money No Object?

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