Demo #12
By Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan
AiT/PlanetLar; $2.95 USD

The quiet moments that are the foundations of relationships anchor this final issue of a limited series that has served as a showcase for the talents of Wood and Cloonan. Her art blew me away on almost every page and panel of the series, and in the lead story of this issue it once again arrests the eye and makes the reader long for the story to never end. A brief back-up story sees Wood and Cloonan switch tasks, successfully crafting a witty, bookending coda that ends on a satisfying note and yet another gorgeous black and white image. The comics industry could use a lot more bold experiments like Demo. Grade: 4/5

By Joel Orff
Published by Alternative Comics; $14.95 USD

Emily and Jimbo are lifelong friends who've been apart for some time. They meet up unexpectedly at a remote cabin significant to their shared history, and reflect on their lives together and apart before going their separate ways, probably forever. Grounded more in human emotion than cloying sentiment, Orff uses unexpectedly effective black and white images to get us both into the time and place of this story and inside his appealing, affecting characters. Rarely in comics has the delicate dance between unattached but connected men and women felt as vital and alive; Orff ends the story in an unexpected place, a celebration of affection, friendship and all the kinds of love we can feel. Grade: 4.5/5

Bipolar #1
By Tomer Hanuka, Asaf Hanuka, and Etgar Keret
Published by Alternative Comics; $2.95 USD

Alternative Comics brings the landmark first issue of this essential anthology series back into print. Tomer Hanuka is perhaps best known as the cover artist for DC's Hard Time, but readers need to explore his fantastic and fascinating work in this series -- he's featured in two stories in this issue, exploring themes of identity and relationships. His brother Asaf illustrates the intriguing serial Pizzeria Kamikaze (scripted by Etgar Keret), about an afterlife comprised solely (and strangely) of suicide victims. The series only gets better with each passing issue, the experimental tone and dedication to storytelling reminscent of such diverse creators as David Mazzucchelli, Paul Pope and Dave McKean. A fifth issue is imminent, and all four previous issues now should be available through the publisher. Grade: 5/5

The Chronicles of Conan Vol. 6
By Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Neal Adams and others
Published by Dark Horse Comics; $15.95 USD

The single Neal Adams-illustrated issue of the original Marvel Conan series is featured here, looking very good and including (as mentioned in Roy Thomas's personal endnotes) a giant, shambling vagina-monster that somehow managed to get by the Comics Code. John Buscema's art looks terrific under the remastered colouring, but in this volume the new lettering is pretty poorly managed, with a number of errors including typos and confusion over when to use the serifated "I" and when not to. Redoing the lettering is a good idea in concept, but for a project this prestigious in intent, better oversight is really required. Grade: 4/5

American Splendor: Our Movie Year
By Harvey Pekar, R. Crumb, Gary Dumm and others
Published by Ballantine Books; $16.95 USD

Being an account by the elder statesman of autobiographical comics on the year surrounding his life's work becoming a motion picture. A nice companion volume to the collection that was released to coincide with the film's release, this is a bit more scattershot than I would like, with some musical reviews and biographies that are irrelevant to the book's titular purpose. Despite that, the good far outweighs the bad as Harvey takes us with him and his family on a world tour to promote the movie, visiting Japan, Scotland, England and Hawaii, and meeting such luminaries as Paul Giamatti (the sublime actor who portrayed Pekar in the movie), Howard Stern, and most delightfully, Alan Moore. Pekar describes his life, his illnesses and the very strange experience of being momentarily in a worldwide spotlight in a celebrated independent film, with the little moments, as usual, being revelatory enough to make the book a must-have for fans of intelligent, honest comics work. Grade: 4.5/5

A Few Perfect Hours
By Josh Neufeld
Published by Josh Comix; $12.95 USD

Neufeld provides both insight and humour in this travel book, a collection of short stories that snared him a Xeric award. The best story is probably the one about Neufeld and his girlfriend staying with some Baptist missionaries, in which the expected cliches are eschewed in favour of actual observation and reportage, resulting in a more humanistic feel. Almost all of the stories find the cartoonist having his expectations upended, though, whether about fundamentalist missionaries, organic farming, or the ways in which people choose to remember their lost loved ones. Good stuff, and a nice complement to other recent graphic novels on the topic of travel. Grade: 4/5

-- Alan David Doane

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