While Portland's nerderati—look, we didn't coin the term—will be spending the weekend at San Diego's Comic-Con, waiting in line for 12 hours to catch a whiff of Joss Whedon's flop sweat, the rest of us don't have any such obstacles to catching some of the better titles being pushed in San Diego this year. Here's a short survey of exciting books from some of our favorite publishers. (And if you can't bear to be left out of the Comic-Con action entirely, tune into blogtown.portlandmercury.com this weekend, where the Mercury's Nerd on the Spot™ Sarah Mirk will be providing PDX-focused updates from the front lines.) ALISON HALLETT
by Ray Fawkes
Ray Fawkes' supremely ambitious One Soul combines formal experimentalism with naked existential yearning. It's an unabashed foray into what-does-it-all-mean, told through minimal narration and deceptively simple black-and-white drawings.
The book's structure is uniform: Each two-page spread contains 18 panels, and in each panel a life unfolds, chronologically, from birth until death. Reading page by page, poetic parallels appear, linking characters separated by time and circumstances; it's also possible to read the book as 18 tiny stories, following each panel through to the end, one at a time—both ways are the right way to read it. Navigating One Soul is a singular experience: The reader herself is tasked with the responsibility of understanding how all the pieces fit together, of keeping track of each individual life story while still searching for patterns that suggest some sort of greater whole. And that's exactly what the book is about. AH
by Peter Bagge and Gilbert Hernandez
Yeah! was "heavily inspired by the Spice Girls and Josie and the Pussycats," says writer Peter Bagge in his intro. Throw Archie Andrews & Co. into the mix, and Fantagraphics' kid-friendly rock 'n' roll space adventure is a fun, low-calorie snack from Bagge (Hate) and Dan DeCarlo enthusiast Gilbert Hernandez (Love and Rockets).
Krazy, Woo-Woo, and Honey of the girl group Yeah! are the most popular band in the universe, but utterly despised on Earth, battling with their rivals.
Originally published in nine issues in 1999-2000, Yeah! is beautiful teamwork from Bagge and especially Hernandez, whose penchant for va-va-voom is kept under amazingly wholesome, yet lovely, wraps. But Yeah!'s keyboardist, Woo-Woo, has got more curves than Betty and Veronica put together—plus, Woo-Woo's got sass, heart, and smarts, which is more than you can say for those tired-joke-dropping kids of Riverdale. COURTNEY FERGUSON
Like a Sniper Lining up His Shot
by Jacques Tardi and Jean-Patrick Manchette
Over the last few years Fantagraphics has been translating and publishing work by the legendary French cartoonist Jacques Tardi, best known for his early-20th century paranormal investigator Adèle Blanc-Sec. But Tardi also notably collaborated on and adapted French crime stories into excellent noir comics set in a dark, rainy, photogenic Paris.
Tardi adapted Like a Sniper Lining up His Shot from the final book by French crime novelist Jean-Patrick Manchette, The Prone Gunman. The story follows a retired contract killer as he tries to return home and pick up the broken pieces of his life, only to find his childhood sweetheart in a loveless marriage that has turned her into a wretched alcoholic and himself pursued by dangerous counterparts from his life of crime. As the tale spirals off into desperation and violence, Tardi keeps the suspense and the humanity flowing with his lively, commanding style. JACOB SCHRAER
Mark Twain's Autobiography 1910-2010
by Michael Kupperman
You might have thought Mark Twain died a century ago, but it turns out he's just been living it up. Capitalizing on the success of the present-for-dad autobiography published last year, Twain has here recounted his adventures of the last 100 years and retained surreal artist Michael Kupperman to illustrate them. Creator of Snake 'n' Bacon and chronicler of the bizarre, Kupperman relates Twain's adventures with the yeti, the Six Million Dollar Man, Dwight Eisenhower, and other luminaries of the 20th century. Kupperman draws in a chiseled, retro style that belies his relentlessly weird and hilarious imagination, or rather, defines it, making it seem odd and eerie and right next door. The overlooked adventures of Mark Twain are the perfect subject for this satirist. JS
by Nate Powell
A little boy plays at war, to the chagrin of his veteran father; gangs of kids enact missions and suss out pecking orders; a girl scours the "battlefield" for the shattered box turtles that are the victims of this adolescent, acted-out violence. As with Nate Powell's Eisner-winning Swallow Me Whole, his new Any Empire makes no narrative or visual distinctions between the real, the imagined, and the symbolic; but where Swallow Me Whole focused on mental illness in one family, Any Empire shifts its focus from the personal to the political, as it examines the trickle-down effects of violence in our culture. AH
The Armed Garden and Other Stories
by David B.
The three stories in French comics artist David B's The Armed Garden and Other Stories combine historic fact with Islamo-Christian myths and legends, depicting the more mystic aspects of each story with a graphic literalness that matches the parts that are grounded in reality. The result is a storybook in which the whimsical drawings evolve into hallucinatory illuminations. Among the characters in The Armed Garden are a prophet masked by a yards-long veil, an army of undead corpses, a sexually accommodating deity, a nudist Christian splinter sect that discovers (and quickly ruins) paradise, and a warrior who finds love after being reincarnated as a battle drum, then follows Jesus to the walls of Eden. It's fire-and-brimstone history retold by a mad-eyed but compellingly believable prophet. NED LANNAMANN
by Philip Gelatt and Tyler Crook
Historical fiction is rarely this much fun. Petrograd takes a firsthand look at the events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917, through the eyes of a British diplomat who was manipulated into engineering the assassination of Grigori Rasputin, the notorious monk around whom rumors of mysticism (and undue influence on Russia's tsarina) swirled. It's a fast-paced, funny, and historically compelling read, featuring political machinations, betrayal, high-ranking transvestites, and Tyler Crook's unimpeachable art—water-colored in dried-blood red, naturally. AH
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1969
by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
Alan Moore won't be at Comic-Con this year—nor any year hence, I'm guessing. ("I tend to see the people who run the comics industry as being largely like some variety of tapeworm or some other parasite," the medium's most revered writer said in 2009.) But one of Moore's comics will make an appearance: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1969, written by Moore and drawn by Kevin O'Neill, follows the now-immortal Mina Murray and Allan Quatermain to London in the swinging '60s. Murray, et al., are hunting an evil magician, but plot has never been the strong suit of League—the fun is in seeing Moore and O'Neill resurrect the pop cultural ephemera, rough it up a bit, splatter it with sex and violence and weirdness, and then duck back out like nothing's happened—leaving readers eager to see where Mina and Quatermain (and whoever else they manage to pick up) will show up next time. ERIK HENRIKSEN