Yay! Barack Obama is our next President, and a new millenium of peace and prosperity have arrived! To celebrate this moment of transcendent bliss, I thought I would turn away from the dark side, and write about things I actually liked about the newest issue of TCJ (that’s issue 293, by the by.)

First, HU’s own Tom Crippen has an interview with Alex Robinson. I didn’t read the whole thing, and probably won’t…and I don’t know that Robinson’s twenty/thirtysomething storytelling ensemble dramas necessarily sound all that engaging. But holy crap can the guy draw. He’s got the kind of linework that I associate with classic illustration, or with someone like Hank Ketcham. Dramatic use of solid blacks, detailed cross-hatching, elegant panel variations, vivid character designs; it’s really a joy to look at. I’m especially partial to one panel showing a lap dog in close-up, defined with quick, short curvy strokes, while behind him rises a lightly rendered but vivid classical arch, and over to the side a fence and silhouettes of trees, made up of both solid blacks and vituoso cross-hatching. I’m not used to seeing that kind of craftsmanship and thought in alternative comics; it makes me all giddy.

I also very much liked Steven Grant’s review of Joe Kubert’s Tor. Even if he has trouble spelling my name, Grant is always a thoughtful and knowledgeable writer, and for those (like me) who are largely unfamiliar with Kubert’s work, he provides a fascinating sketch and evaluation of the man’s career. I wish Grant wrote more often for TCJ. He does have his own column over at Comic Book Resources, though, which is worth checking out.

I was also very taken with Rob Vollmar’s short review of Doctor Thirteen, which was smart and cleverly written, and made me want to pick up the title. I especially liked the line “Doctor Thirteen’s one-note-samba of disbelieving every incredible thing occurring around him turns out to be pretty catchy.” I wish I’d written that.

Tim O’Neil’s review of the latest Jamie Hernandez volume is also nicely done. I haven’t really liked the stuff of Jaime’s I’ve read, but O’Neil makes me want to give it another try.

The comics reprint in this issue is a portfolio of work by the graduating class of the Center for Cartoon Studies. None of these exactly thrilled me…but it’s great to see TCJ supporting young cartoonists. I often enjoy the reprints of out-of-copyright strips, but taking a chance on something more recent on occasion seems like an excellent move.

I have, incidentally, finally put two and two together, and figured out that the Chris Mautner who writes for TCJ is the same Chris Mautner who writes for Newsarama. A little slow on the uptake, me. Anyway, I do quite like Chris’ writing whatever the forum; an acid review of a comics edition of Proust in this TCJ issue is especially entertaining.

Also, I’ve bitched in the past about TCJs spotty manga coverage. I should therefore acknowledge that I think they’re doing better. This issue, in particular, has a number of manga reviews. There’s my (of course, brilliant) review of Hideko Azuma’s “Disappearance Diary”, but there’s also a very smart review by Rob Vollmar of classic manga-ka Keiko Takemiya’s fantasy manga “Andromeda Stories”. (One caveat: Vollmar says that Takemiya’s “Kaze to Ki no Uta” probably won’t be translated because it’s “length and frank exploration of homoeroitc themes make it an unlikely candidate for translation in an American manga market still dominated by teenage readers.” Length may be an issue…but there’s a lively and expanding market for gay-themed manga (especially yaoi) in the U.S. And, yes, I think a significant portion of that market includes teen girls.)

Best of all, though, and maybe the highpoint of the issue, are some beautiful reproductions of pages from Yuicki Yokoyama’s Travel, with an intro by HU’s own Bill Randall [Update: the intro in question is to the section in TCJ, not to the book itself. Sorry for any confusion!] I’m a sucker for intricate patterning, and…well, see for yourself:

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I especially like that waterfall image, which connects Yokoyama’s almost-abstractions to the slice-of-life landscape tradition of Japanese prints. The book is over 200 pages of images like this(!) I think I’m going to have to drop my $20 on it…..

Oh, yes, and finally…Ken Smith, TCJ’s resident philosopher-crank, seems to be back in his usual place at the end of the issue after a brief hiatus. As always, he sneers at the growing barbarism of our culture while he fractures the English language with philistine obliviousness. It’s kind of comforting to folks like me to know that, even in our new golden age, there will still be a space for crotchety cultural critics, no matter how self-parodic. Cheers, Ken. Keep the flame burning for all of us.

Update: In keeping with the New Era of Snarklessness, I’ve also got a positive review of Lilli Carrés Lagoon here.