How to best demonstrate the awesome might of Fantagraphics' new Johnny Gruelle collection, Mr. Twee Deedle?

Perhaps a picture? (Click picture for full majesty.)

Perhaps another picture with another, well-known, book added for scale?

It's more akin to flipping the pages of a wallpaper sampler than a collection of historic comics. This book is 18 inches tall and 14 inches across. It dominates the largest clear surface in my house - the kitchen island - like a B-52 bomber somehow parked astride an aircraft carrier's deck.

And then you open it up. First published in early 1911 - over 100 years ago now! - the art on the page is massive, but filled with delicate details. Cross-hatching, fine lines, skinny pen to create outlines, subtle washes of color. Many of the strips are illustrated from eye-level of small children, and the natural world around the characters seems almost life-sized.

Mr. Twee Deedle: Raggedy Ann's Sprightly Cousin - The Forgotten Fantasy Masterpieces of Johnny Gruelle
By Johnny Gruelle
Edited by Rick Marschall
Introduction by Tony Millionaire
Fantagraphics / W.W. Norton | 9781606994115 | $75 | June 2012

From Fantagraphics' page about the book, some more context (you can click through to see a 12-page sample of the stunning interior pages):

The title character in the Sunday color page, Mr. Twee Deedle, is a magical wood sprite who befriends the strip’s two human children, Dickie and Dolly. Gruelle depicted a charming, fantastical child’s world, filled with light whimsy and outlandish surrealism. The artwork is among the most stunning ever to grace an American newspaper page, and Gruelle’s painterly color makes every page look like it was created on a canvas.

Gruelle’s creation was the winning entry out of 1500 submissions to succeed Little Nemo, which the New York Heraldwas losing at the time to the rival Hearst papers. With such import, the Herald added a $2000 prize, a long contract, and arguably the most care devoted to the reproduction of any color newspaper comic strip before or since.

Yet the wood sprite and his fanciful world have been strangely overlooked, partly because Gruelle created Raggedy Ann immediately after the strip’s run, eclipsing not only Mr. Twee Deedle but almost everything else the cartoonist ever did.

You'll want to follow the Fantagraphics Tumblr blog, too, for daily wonder and awe.

New Arrivals: 3 BIG books from McSweeney's, Gahan Wilson & Peter de Sève

There's not much time today for a post – I'm getting things wrapped up here today before we head up to Madison for Saturday's memorial for Mark Gates.  But here's a post featuring books that somehow combine the sense of humor and the love of great writing that Mark lived for.

Three BIG objects arrived here at my3books HQ recently and they've all blown me away in one way or another.

McSweeney's Issue 33: San Francisco Panorama
edited by Dave Eggers
McSweeney's / PGW | 9781934781487 | $16 | Dec 2009

The results of a yearlong effort by the McSweeney's crew to put together the Platonic ideal of what the  Sunday edition of a newspaper could be - it's a wild success for lovers of words and images on paper.  The front sections contain investigative journalism, current affairs, infographics, and an over the top front-of-book data page.  The sports section leaves the daily stats to the web and brings readers the kind of sporting reportage that would fit right in at Sports Illustrated.  But, as you would expect, it's the Comics, Arts, and Book sections that really shine.  Contributions from Michael Chabon, Stephen King, William T. Vollmann, Miranda July, Junot Diaz, Nicholson Baker, to name a few.

Imagine a comics page with Art Spiegelman, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Alison Bechdel and more.  You don't have to - that's what the Panorama offers us. The Books section offers in-depth reviews and short fiction from George Saunders and Roddy Doyle, among others, and poetry - all showcased in an innovative layout.

McSweeney's has moved on as they always do - the next issue of their journal will undoubtedly appear in some other format - but this experiment shows one possible way that printed newspapers can survive and thrive and inspire.

You can see more here on the microsite that McSweeney's put together for the Panorama.

***

Gahan Wilson: 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons
by Gahan Wilson
Fantagraphics Books / Norton | 9781606992982 | $125 | Jan 2010

A monster production, a slipcased behemoth, nearly 1000 pages in three volumes, with deliciously wicked humor on every page.  The slipcase has a plexiglass cutout on one side with a photo of Gahan Wilson fighting to be freed from his box.  Introductions by Neil Gaiman and Hugh Hefner each open two of the volumes.  The third includes an interview with Wilson.

Open the box, free the three volumes, and dive in anywhere.  You will not be disappointed.

Fantagraphics has posted a photo and video slideshow on Flickr of the box set with sample images from the book for the curious.

***

A Sketchy Past: The Art of Peter de Sève
by Peter de Sève
Editions Akileos / SCB Distributors | 9782355740992 | $54.95 | published in France in October 2009, and imported and reviewed here already, but officially coming to the US in March 2010

A massive monograph that provides a comprehensive survey of the American illustrator and character designer Peter de Sève.  The book contains samples of finished work and his sketches from his advertising, book covers, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker and his other magazine commissions. 

The book also shines a light on his nearly-anonymous work behind the scenes on animated movies: Robots, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, A Bug's Life, Finding Nemo, and Ratatouille.  He's probably best-known among animation fans for having designed all the characters for all three Ice Age movies.

A Sketchy Past features sketches from his recently published children's book, The Duchess of Whimsy, written by his wife, Randall de Sève (also the author of Toy Boat).

As a peek behind the curtain of an artist's process, it's worth the effort of picking it up!

 

Three books that I almost missed the boat on.

The great thing about being a publishers' sales rep is that as each season of frontlist selling ends, there's a quiet reflective period before the next season begins.  There's always email, and the customer service side of working with my bookstores but I do spend a lot of that time puttering around the office with chores and projects, going through the next season's sales kits, and catching up on my reading.  

I usually like to focus on extracurricular reading (I spend the whole season collecting books that I hope to have time to get into during this less frantic period) but sometimes, as samples of the books that I just spent three months selling are published and show up on my doorstep, I will spot one or two that I somehow missed.

Luckily enough, I've found three books recently that I spent the entire summer representing but somehow, until I saw the actual finished books and started to read them, I missed out on their magic.  So here we go.

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1)
by Patrick Ness
Candlewick Press | 9780763645762 | $9.99 | July 2009

The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking #2)
by Patrick Ness
Candlewick Press | 9780763644901 | $18.99 | Sept 2009

If you loved The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, and are ready for a new YA SF series that is just as compelling and thrilling; if you read Ender's Game and the sequels and hoped for another book with the same kind of emotional complexity and SF detail; if you like to be surprised and delighted when the novel you're reading takes a sudden turn and becomes So. Much. More. Awesome. because of the twist, you owe it to yourself to read The Knife of Never Letting Go.  And be prepared to dive into the sequel, The Ask And The Answer, immediately upon finishing Knife."

Without giving anything away, here's a little to get you started.  Todd Hewitt is a 12 (going on 13) year old boy in a settlement on a new planet - a settlement that has seen its share of disaster and disappointment since the settlers first arrived.  Todd is the last boy in the settlement - all the other boys have become men upon their 13th birthday and no longer have time to spend with mere boys.  A war with the native species of bipeds has left all the women dead, thanks to a strange virus unleashed by their enemies.  This same virus has caused all the thoughts of the men in the village to be heard by all around them - they call it The Noise. And the settlers are also able to hear the thoughts of the animals around them, as well. 

Todd and his dog Manchee discover a secret outside their settlement that sends them fleeing for their lives, and as his knowledge of the world they live upon expands, he discovers that much has been kept secret from him by the men in his village.

To describe anything at all about what lies ahead for Todd and Manchee in both The Knife of Never Letting Go and its sequel, The Ask and the Answer, would be to give away secrets that should be discovered by the reader alongside Todd.

Let me just say that I've found my new favorite books to handsell.

***

The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book   
by Joe Daly
Fantagraphics Books (Norton) | 9781606991633 | $22.99 | Aug 2009

Where has Joe Daly been hiding?  I'm pretty sure that if someone had told me about a young comics creator who was working on a series of eco-mystery comics set in Cape Town, South Africa starring a red-headed, monkey-footed comics creator with a deadpan sense of humor, wildly ethnic neighbors (who work hard to avoid being mere ethnic stereotypes), and a heavily stoned, moochy best friend, I would have jumped at the chance to read it.

Despite the over-the-top collision of elements I listed up there, what The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book really brings us is a tasty blend of cleanly detailed art straight out of Herge, hipster stoner humor and a couple of mysteries that work just as well in Cape Town as they would in the Los Angeles of Robert Towne's Chinatown or Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer stories.

Red Monkey is his second collection from Fantagraphics, the first being a 2007 book called Scrublands.

Fantagraphics is offering an exclusive 10-page excerpt from the first mystery in Red Monkey Double Happiness Book, The Leaky Cello Case.  You can download it here.

my3books: 3 graphic novel series I want to read right now

I had a momentary burst of private, internal nerves at the thought of going public with my longstanding comic book fandom, but then I watched John Hodgman geekily roast President Obama at the Radio & TV Correspondents' Dinner last week. After all, I told myself, if the president can flash "PC" the Vulcan high sign, I can surely go public with these facts:

  • that I grew up a DC fan, mostly gorging on the many varieties of Batman comics
  • I came to maturity on Neil Gaiman's eternal Sandman series
  • I handsold Maus in bookstores
  • I repped Viz's mind-altering manga once upon a time
  • I now evangelize the gospel of graphic novels as a sales rep for Fantagraphics, among other publishers.

Not that any of this will be news to those who know me or who follow my Twitter feed.

Even someone who works with graphic novels and comics daily will occasionally be surprised by a new author or illustrator sneaking up on you, or a series of books that has been running under your radar for years will suddenly pop up into your consciousness. This spring, that's happened twice, and I was prompted by my daughter's summer reading to finally track down a third series that I'd been meaning to check out.

***

Fables (Vol 1: Legends In Exile)
written by Bill Willingham
Vertigo (DC) | 9781563899423 | $9.99 | 2003

Fables began life as an ongoing Vertigo/DC comic in 2002, written by Bill Willingham. It concerns a hidden neighborhood in New York City called Fabletown, where the principal characters from folklore and fairy tales have come to live. I've seen the regular issues on comic shop shelves, but never picked them up.

The covers for the series (through issue 81) were originally drawn by James Jean, who has recently begun publishing with Chronicle Books, with two new projects coming out this fall: Kindling (a portfolio of 12 poster prints) and SKRWL (a set of illustrated journals in a slipcase). Vol 1 contains issues 1 through 5 and an original short story. (The Wikipedia entry for the series contains a list of all the subsequent collections.) The story arc of issues 1 to 5 consists of the hunt for the apparent murderer of Rose Red, Snow White's sister.

The whole idea of this series - fabulous characters come to real-life NYC, mix with humans, have adventures that span a variety of genres: murder mysteries, conspiracy theories, capers, etc. - is so rife with Gaiman-esque storytelling possibilities that I just can't resist it.

Apparently, I'm not alone. This past winter, ABC gave the greenlight to a pilot for a tv adaptation of Fables, hoping to find some new magic to follow in the footsteps of Lost. There's been a painful silence since that December announcement, but it's an intriguing idea.

***

Flight: Volume 1
edited by Kazu Kibuishi
Villard Books | 9780345496362 | $19.95 | 2007

This is the series that my daughter Alice reminded me about - last week, she was reading and re-reading a copy of Flight: Explorer Volume 1, which is a sibling series aimed at kids from 9-12.

Although Flight Vol 1 was first published by Image Comics in 2004, Villard Books has since picked up the series, republishing the first two volumes and bringing out three more to date. I remember seeing a few volumes at Anderson's Bookshop when the reissues first came out.

Flight was originally invented by series editor Kazu Kibuishi as a showcase for his own works and those of other up-and-coming writers and artists and animators. The covers are absolutely stunning, and to be honest, all make me feel a little youthfully optimistic. Look at the cover for Flight, Volume 5 (left). To see the list of contributors, and all they've gone on to do, is pretty impressive.

Kibuishi is also the author of the acclaimed series Daisy Kutter and the Amulet series from Graphix (Scholastic).

I'm looking forward to this summer's release of Flight, Volume 6 - it's due out in late July.

***

Scott Pilgrim (Volume 1: Precious Little Life)
by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Oni Press | 9781932664089 | $11.95 | 2004

This is another series that's been moving right along under the radar for a couple years, but it all just burst back into my awareness with a post yesterday at BoingBoing by Cory Doctorow raving about the series. I could spend a lot of time crafting a clever description of the series, but Cory just does it so well:

Scott Pilgrim is a 23-year-old Toronto slacker who falls in love with an Amazon delivery woman who's just moved from America, but in order to date her, he must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends, who have a variety of super powers (my favorite is the vegan, who has the vegan power of moving things with his mind). On the way, we find out about Scott's friends -- slackers, successes, screw-ups, beauty queens, lovelorn ninjas, a whole charming host of them -- and his history and run through a series of genuinely touching, ha-ha-only-serious flashbacks about Scott's life.

The series looks sweetly hilarious - the Globe And Mail described it as "a Crouching Tiger set in Archie's Riverdale."  There's also a movie adaptation currently filming, based on the entire series, to be called Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Edgar Wright is directing (yes, the very man who brought us Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz!) and Michael Cera has been cast as Scott Pilgrim.

***

Since I mentioned Fantagraphics up there at the top of the post, I can't really leave without giving you a bonus pick - have you seen the terrific graphic novel anthology they've been putting out? Mome, Volume 15: Summer 2009 is just out.