The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories
by Nicholas Gurewitch
Dark Horse, $14.95, 98 pp.
If you're a fan of the diabolical silliness of the Perry Bible Fellowship comic strip (as seen in Metro Times) then you definitely need to pester your loved ones to slip this deluxe collection under your tree. If you're not a fan of PBF's brand of merciless mirth, then, well, I don't know what your problem is. The strips do lose something in black-and-white, so maybe seeing them printed larger and in full, bloody, beautiful color will change your mind.
Gurewitch has joined the ranks of twisted cartoon geniuses such as Charles Addams, Gahan Wilson, Edward Gorey and Gary Larson, and this volume shows off his inspired fuckeduppedness (and considerable illustration skills) to the max. It's candy-colored, glossy hardcover make it look exactly like the innocent children's book it isn't. On the contrary, the corruption, destruction, perversion and betrayal of innocence are common themes in Gurewitch's strip. Thirsty kids smash the Kool-Aid man. Shimmering unicorns impale schoolyard bullies. Smart-ass aliens crank-call giant robotic pizza deliverymen, with planet-crushing results. God peeps on fornicating angels, and butterflies supply arsonists with gasoline. And it's all totally hilarious. —Sean Bieri
Hold your head up!
by David Yellen and Johanna Lenander
powerHouse, $39.95, 96 pp.
From its roots in Detroit in mid-'80s Detroit nightclubs, Hair Wars has become a nationwide phenom, a celebration of the extended fantasies that can be balanced atop a head. Fashion writer Johanna Lenander profiles former DJ Hump the Grinder (David Humphries) who started it all, and the hair stylists who run wild in the funhouse he's built, such characters as Big Bad D (notable creations include a weave with a live fish in a bowl), Infamous Lisa B (specialty: hair halos with color-coordinated costumes) and Little Willie (inventor of the "zipper 'do" which opens to reveal, for instance, a live python). But the few pages of text are a mere prelude to the main event: David Yellen's 87 studio portraits render the models regal and fantastic. Some are enmeshed in abstract swirls of color and texture, others hoist icons from the Bible to the Pittsburgh Steelers. All ask the classic Sun Ra question: If you're not a myth, whose reality are you? —W. Kim Heron
Scribbles and lit
The Best American Comics 2007
by Chris Ware, editor
Houghton Mifflin, $22, 368 pp.
A quick flip through this anthology gives no reason to dispute its title. Gilbert Hernandez, the Crumbs, Lynda Barry, Art Spiegelman and Charles Burns — all venerable names in alternative comics, all still producing great work — are all present and correct. Plus, there's an excerpt from Alison Bechdel's astonishing memoir Fun Home, Time's 2006 Book of the Year. Still, editor Chris Ware says the title is "misleading." His choices are subjective, of course, but many of the comics here were chosen because, Ware says, they "stuck in my craw" and "made me feel really, really old." Ware, creator of Acme Novelty Library, is hardly a conventional cartoonist, so if the younger artists in this collection make him nervous, you know they're producing some envelope-pushing stuff. Check out the single-page diary entries of Vanessa Davis, with images overlapping like Altman dialogue, or the disturbing sexual and racial imagery of David Heatley dream-inspired comics. Also here are the electric "cute brut" love stories of Ron Regé Jr., the introspective minimalism of John Porcellino's work, and the vaguely '80s-retro, faux-naive freakouts of artist C.F., among many others. This "Best Of" goes beyond the obvious to challenge even experienced comics readers. —Sean Bieri
Home, sweet home
Women and the Making of the Modern House: A Social and Architectural History
by Alice T. Friedman
Yale, $29.95 paperback, 242 pp.
When this book was originally published in 1998, Alice T. Friedman's recourse to letters, memoirs, and newspaper and magazine accounts charted relatively new territory for an architectural historian. The portraits of six modernist houses, interwoven with profiles of the creators and their clients, still make for engaging material. (A stray reference to the late Philip Johnson living at his Glass House "to this day" bears evidence that the text has not been updated for this paperback edition.) Friedman's revisionist narrative aims to show how the confluence of feminist thinking and the utopian social aims of modernist architecture caused a radical rethinking of domesticity. It's a fascinating thesis that holds interest beyond the case studies presented in this volume.
At her best, as in chapters featuring Truus Schröder and Constance Perkins, the actively engaged clients of Gerrit Rietveld and Richard Neutra, respectively, Friedman gives ample evidence of the congenial tugs of war that led to the creation of masterpieces and documents the satisfaction each woman got from living in her home. But in other chapters, Friedman strains to cast these women in a favorable light: Aline Barnsdall, in particular, comes across as someone too lost in mystical ideas about open-air theater to ever see the ambitious arts complex-cum-residence she commissioned from Frank Lloyd Wright come to fruition. Vanna Venturi, mother of architect Robert Venturi and client for his second completed building, and Gabrielle de Monzie, one of three clients for Le Corbusier's Les Terrasses in suburban Paris, seem like nonentities in the design phase of their homes.
Friedman's most ambitious chapter discusses Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House and Philip Johnson's Glass House/Guest House, perhaps the two greatest icons of modernist residential architecture. It explores in depth the souring of Mies' relationship with Edith Farnsworth (due to cost overruns and her realization of the glass box's minimalist severity), and then pans out to briefly discuss the era's prevailing sexual mores and debates about privacy. Friedman contrasts the Farnsworth House with one of Johnson's twin buildings that bears formal resemblance but functions quite differently as a residence.
Despite a somewhat didactic tone that makes for annoying repetitions, this book supports its claim that women decisively shaped modernist domestic architecture, leaving the reader clamoring for others to extend the analysis of this subject. —Brian Sholis
Land of the hand
Mapping in Michigan & the Great Lakes Region
Edited by David I. Macleod
Michigan State University Press, $69.96, 377 pp.
We lower Michiganders are lucky. We always have a "map" handy. In fact, perhaps having the old "mitten" so branded on our brains makes looking through this attractive coffee-table book such a mind-bending experience. Drawing on irreplaceable period maps, especially those catalogued by cartographic collector Louis Karpinski (1878-1956), Mapping in Michigan opens with a surprising series of 17th, 18th and 19th century maps of the region from French, British and American surveyors and explorers. It's fascinating to see our familiar peninsula depicted as a jagged point jutting into an open sea, or a dragon's head with a high plateau. The geography only starts shifting into familiar shapes by the 1820s, around Detroit and south of the "Indian Line." Only by the 1830s does our beloved outline come into satisfying focus.
But this look at Midwestern cartography casts a broader net than that, geographically and chronologically. The book includes surveyors' notes, town plats, fire insurance maps and highway plans. The heavily footnoted tome is concerned with beautiful images and the stories behind them, including Robert Rogers' search for the fabled Northwest Passage, the vital assistance from Native Americans and the political jockeying of boundary commissions. It also ably illustrates how maps went from pioneers' guides on the frontier to promotional AAA handouts choked with mileages, highway shields, county lines, camp sites and airports.
One complaint is that some images suffer from low resolution, unlike much more expensive mapping surveys — such as Wayne State University Press' $150 Frontier Metropolis — but that's a flaw those "smitten with the Mitten" will likely overlook. —Michael Jackman
Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography
by David Michaelis
Harper, $34.95, 672 pp.
Ah, Peanuts: those crafty, balloon-headed kids with existential dilemmas. Depressed, self-immolating Charlie Brown, reliably cruel dream-deflater Lucy, fanciful, silly Snoopy, idealist Linus, pestering Sally and the unforgettable rest.
Charles Schulz, the Minnesota-bred creator and illustrator of these rascals, drew on influences from his own life experiences to an overwhelming degree, and consuming this biography upturns all 17,897 strips. Author David Michaelis had access not only to the entirety of Schulz's oeuvre, but to previous interviews and correspondence, as well as conversations with relatives, associates and others. As such, he paints a probing and sometimes unflattering portrait of the barber's son and WWII vet whose cartoon phenomenon would transfix several generations of fans worldwide. Comics from various eras are strategically included to demonstrate how the miniature gang's misadventures substituted as an informal diary of sorts. Lucy's ultra-aggro '60s-'70s period reflected the harsh, in-your-face personality of Joyce, Schulz's first wife, but also echoes his discouraging mother, Dena. Snoopy's siblings, separated after leaving the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, stood in for members of Schulz's own extended family. Schroeder's intense piano practice, to the exclusion of all else, expressed the author's desire to be left alone with his drawing board.
For a man whose characters were beloved by children, Schulz had little enthusiasm for kids, or for people in general. He was shy and retiring, and never overcame the sense that he wasn't deserving of anyone's adoration. Nonetheless, when tourists flooded his family's California compound, he grinned while bearing it; when fans showered him with letters and sketch requests, he felt obligated to reply personally. Schulz and Peanuts buzzes with these contradictions. It's a considered, poetic rendering of the late icon in full. When you set it down, you won't necessarily think more of Schulz as a man, but you'll better understand the barbed, philosophical sting of his particular genius. —Ray Cummings
Living in the jungle
A Field Guide to Household Bugs
by Joshua Abarbanel and Jeff Swimmer
Penguin Group, $12, 116 pp.
You might start scratching yourself when you pick this up — first your arms, during the initial chapter about bed bugs, then your scalp, while you read the second chapter about lice. But keep digging into it and you'll find this guide is a valuable resource to understanding the creepy critters inhabiting our pantries, floorboards and eyelashes. There must be several recipients on your gift list who could be inspired to perhaps improve their cleanliness after viewing the super-magnified photos. And for the collectors of trivial facts, well, who knew that the fruit fly's scientific name is Greek for "black-bellied dew lover" or that termites can dig their underground tunnels for 100 yards or why "Lice are a bit Like Rod Stewart." This book is equal parts horror, humor and education. —Sandra Svoboda
Let's get small
The Death of Antisocialman Body Bag
by Matt Feazell and Walt Lockley
Not Available Comics, $7, 112 pp.
Buy handmade! Buy local! Buy this Ziploc baggie of a dozen mini-comics starring anarchic reprobate Antisocialman, his marginally heroic foil Cynicalman and a runaway dump truck full of toxic waste! Mini-comics are a sort of subset of zines, and stick figure artist (and Hamtramck resident) Feazell is the acknowledged master of the form. Since 1990 he and writer Lockley have been sporadically revisiting this epic adventure of lost identity, corporate greed, office politics, crime and punishment, true love lost and found, shoe shopping and, of course, rock 'n' roll. They wrapped it up this year with a triple-sized (24 pages!), no-holds-barred, Hollywood-worthy grand finale — fistfights! Car chases! Explosions! Spoiler alert: Like all great deceased comic book characters, Antisocialman just won't stay dead. Long may he piss in America's cornflakes. Order online at www.cynicalman.com. —Sean Bieri
War and Peace
by Leo Tolstoy
Knopf Books, $37, 1264 pp.
Tolstoy's in the details. A new version of the Russian count's classic novel about peasants and nobility struggling in the Napoleonic era, translated by married couple Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, features precise prose that doesn't destroy the finer points like other English translations. If only soldiers perused these pages before joining the fight for freedom ... —Rebecca Mazzei
GIRLY GUILTY PLEASURE
Say hello to your friends
The Baby-Sitters Club series
by Ann M. Martin
Apple Paperbacks, various prices
Imagine an eternity of training bras. Of first crushes, scrunchied side-ponytails and witticisms like, "Do you like seafood? See food!" Kristy, Claudia, Stacey and Mary Anne — founding members of the Baby-Sitter's Club — should all be 33-year-olds by, you know, reality's standards. But like Nancy Drew, the Boxcar Children and the twins of Bobsey and Sweet Valley High, their age is static. Adulthood will never provide sweet release from acne, braces and puberty.
And amen to that. Theirs is a world of high morals and early bedtimes, where problems are always resolved within 15 chapters because anything can be fixed when you've got your best friends to support you.
The BSC series was first published in 1986, penned by author Ann M. Martin and a gaggle of ghostwriters. By 2000, more than 175 million books found their way into the hands of preteens across the globe. Spin-offs, dolls, TV series and a movie about the middle school-bound sitters saturated the media for years.
Fans have grown up by now, but nostalgia draws many back to the large-print pages of the BSC. There are frequent bidding wars on such sites as eBay for complete or partial sets, and competitors offer top dollar — OK, more like $29.50 plus shipping and handling — for dozens of books. Hours of entertainment! No doubt. (These babies belong deep under your bed.) —Meghana Keshavan
Same as it ever was
How to Be a Nonconformist
by Elissa Jane Karg
Onzo Media, $12.95, 62 pp.
It's fascinating when an obscure book from 40 years ago gets reprinted and remains as relevant (and obscure) as it ever was. Former MT food writer Elissa Karg's picture-book send-up of the counterculture's collective conformity could just as easily lampoon today's hipster army, minus the politics, of course. Lettered and drawn by hand in a hard-line that smacks of '60s innocence, this teasing love letter to youthful "rebellion" should delight baby boomers. —Michael Jackman
The Marvel Vault
by Roy Thomas and Peter Sanderson
Marvel Comics, 192 pp. $49.95
Spiral-bound like a scrapbook, this "museum-in-a-box" provides a brief, upbeat (and copiously illustrated, natch) history of the comic book publisher that became known as "The House of Ideas." Cheer as Golden Age super soldier Captain America socks the Führer in the mush. Thrill as Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby reinvigorate the cape 'n' tights genre in the '60s with Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and other smart-alecky "heroes with feet of clay." Grimace through the '80s as the funnybooks get grim and gritty at the hands of Frank Miller, Chris Claremont and others who give the old characters darker, more serious storylines. Puzzle over the speculator craze of the '90s, and why anyone would buy eight copies of a comic they didn't intend to read. Best of all, marvel at the several plastic sleeves throughout the volume, each containing facsimiles of comics memorabilia: pencil sketches, trading cards, Merry Marvel Marching Society membership forms, a sticker from Howard the Duck's '76 presidential campaign, a 1993 stock certificate (!) and more. It's perfect for the fan who had everything once, until the day his mom threw it all in the trash. —Sean Bieri
by William GibsonPenguin Putnam, $25.95, 384 pp.
With Spook Country, the man responsible for the concept of "cyber-space" bangs out another book on the burning edge of modern culture. Curl up with Chinese-Cuban assassins, cult icons, semi-oracular benzodiazepine addicts and rogue G-men as they circle each other on the slow ride down the drain of Western society.
Taking place in the same conceptual universe as Gibson's previous work Pattern Recognition, Spook Country brings back Belgian bajillionaire Hubertus Bigend, financing another investigation into clandestine plots that the government and other powerful, shadowy players strongly wish would remain hidden.
Hollis Henry is a rock star turned journalist who quickly realizes that her latest assignment for ultra-hip Node magazine involves much more than the virtual art that is its nominal subject. As she haphazardly navigates a byzantine world of intelligence operatives and cutting-edge geospatial techno-artists, Hollis learns that paranoia is just common sense when everyone really is out to get you. —Katherine Cho
by Neal Pollack
Pantheon Books, $23.95, 304 pp.
Say what you want about Neal Pollack's parenting style, his musical education of son Elijah was pretty much flawless.
Starting with kiddie-folk standards Dan Zanes and Laurie Berkner and then careening eclectically through such bands as They Might Be Giants, Cake, Les Sans Culottes and the Sex Pistols, Pollack lovingly creates a musical "wild rumpus" for his son. Songs as varied as "Iron Man" by Black Sabbath, "Wild Thing" and "Jungle Boogie" are all in regular rotation during their family music hour.
Through much of his parenting memoir Alternadad, Pollack comes off as a neurotic pretender, whiny and obsessed with "cool" — fortunately the chapters on guiding his son's musical odyssey reveal him at his best: inventive, playful and patient.
He is unself-consciously sweet in his description of his child's kinetic joy while learning to "rock" and "mosh" (it was the early '90s after all) and faithfully records every adorably misheard lyric ("Play That Monkey Music, Wiper") and rock 'n' roll affirmation ("One two three rock out! Daddy too!").
Pollack even does some respectable punk-rock parenting as he tries to show his son that "A comedy-punk attitude isn't necessarily going to keep you from getting your ass kicked, but at least it will allow you to feel morally superior to those who are doing the kicking."
As a chronicle of the intense renegotiation of identity that surprises every new parent, Alternadad is by turns doubtful, self-indulgent and myopic. It's also a more accurate representation as a result. —Katherine Cho
The stuff of legends
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier
by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
Wildstorm/America's Best Comics, $29.95, 208 pp.
The LoEG series started with a simple premise: assemble the heroes of 19th century popular fiction into a superhero team, a sort of Justice League for the Victorian age. But in this final volume, Moore does more. He's woven together seemingly all of Western pop fiction, from corny sci-fi show Fireball XL5 to Shakespeare, into a tapestry celebrating humanity's need for myths and fictional inspiration. Set in 1958, Black Dossier finds the surviving members of the Victorian League, Allan Quatermain and Dracula's Wilhelmina Murray, on the run from British intelligence after stealing a file containing the history of the League through the ages. It's a history that began with none other than The Tempest's Prospero and includes Virginia Woolf's immortal Orlando, John Cleland's libertine Fanny Hill and a number of James Bond's ancestors, to name just a few. The stolen dossier is re-created in the book, including a Tijuana Bible produced by the Big Brother government, postcards from various fabled locales and a chapter from a crazy Beat novel. Plus, you get 3-D glasses to wear while reading the rapturous finale, set in an otherworldly fairy tale sanctuary, a never-never land that copyright law forgot. —Sean Bieri