Summer Comics of a Different Sort

For your consideration: leaving aside the dilemmas of overmuscled guys with guns and the particulars of battling hellspawn, a batch of graphic fiction and nonfiction selections most likely not heading soon to a multiplex near you.

Near the top of the list is Satiro-Plastic (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95) by Gary Panter (underground cartoonist and Emmy-winning graphic designer for PeeWee’s Playhouse), a pocket-sized travel diary done in sketch form that does more to capture the feel and spirit of a place with a jagged pen stroke than a dozen snapshots ever could. From Oaxaca, Mexico to a lonely-looking convenience store in the author’s Texas hometown to the leafy streets of Brooklyn, these are innocent-seeming and yet unassumingly complex pieces of art.

It’s nice to know that in an age when every spoiled teen seems to have his own computer workstation, complete with color printer and scanner, that there’s still some angry, broke punks out there making zines – and that there’s a guide out there just for them. The good folks at Microcosm had the sense to put out a third edition of their handy little Stolen Sharpie Revolution (a mere $4), which tells you everything you need to know about zine-making, from production aspects like binding and printing hints (even how to make your own paper), to what and how to write. As good examples of the Microcosm ethos, they also publish a few good and cheap zines, ranging from the angrily political The CIA Makes Science Fiction Unexciting ($1.50) to the laceratingly personal Journalsong ($3).

Far less politically astute, but not a bit less profound, is Andy Runton’s Owly: Just a Little Blue (Top Shelf, $10), which is not only the most adorable comic you’ll read this year, but also one that imparts valuable life lessons by way of its big-eyed animal characters, and all of it without a stitch of dialogue or a flicker of irony. Owly lives with his friend Wormy in a forest that seems about as nice and maybe a little bigger than the Hundred Acre Wood. They decide it’s a good idea to build a bird house to help a family of bluebirds but need to use their own gardening wheelbarrow to do so. There are some problems along the way, including a storm and some paranoid bluebirds, but everything works out in the end, with a couple new characters added to the repertoire for the third Owly volume. There are some who could easily accuse Runton of cynical manipulating here – all the animals tend to have big eyes and cute expressions (not to mention big hearts) – but those are only the most jaded. Together with the touching first volume, this is the rare graphic novel that’s truly for all ages, this is the kind of book (ridiculously touching, really) that will wring a tear or two from romantics and hardboiled Hellboy readers alike.

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