Between Gears
by Natalie Nourigat
(Image)

Release party at Bridge City Comics, 3725 N Mississippi, Fri Feb 24, 6 pm

Diary comics can be achingly precious. But on the flipside of that potential dime o' shame are lovely and subtle moments of a life catalogued in little daily revelations. Portland artist Natalie Nourigat's comic Between Gears is rich with this double-sided coinage.

Starting on the first day of her senior year at the University of Oregon, Gears chronicles Nourigat's last year in college, one page per day. They are days spent drawing, studying, going to parties, and most prominently, worrying about her future. Y'know, normal college stuff. But it's hard to shake the fact that not every single day of the week is exciting, so the entries in this collection have a sameness that echoes real life.

Nourigat's expressive artwork—black-and-white manga-influenced drawings, playful and charming—elevates Gears above the prosaic. When navel-gazing threatens, she grounds herself. "While stretching at the gym, I noticed that I have spider veins starting by my ankles. I felt sorry for myself, until I made eye contact with a woman with muscular dystrophy." The line between a personal diary, full of inside jokes and vague tweets (which Gears definitely has), and made-for-public-consumption is tricky, but ultimately Nourigat is a relatable narrator with a lot of heart who's nearly paralyzed by her many opportunities. In a panel with a skier poised atop a mountain, she writes: "I have to position myself very thoughtfully now because the further I get down any run I take, the harder it will be to change course... everything seems very serious and permanent to me right now. Like I only have one chance to start." Between Gears is the product of a choice well made. COURTNEY FERGUSON

The Punisher, Vol. 1
Written by Greg Rucka, art by Marco Checchetto
(Marvel)

Rucka appearing at Things from Another World, 4133 NE Sandy, Wed Feb 29, 7 pm

Blood splattered and sulky, the Punisher has always been Marvel Comics' creepy uncle. In a universe defined less by brutal vigilantism and more by the intergalactic shenanigans of the X-Men, the Punisher's insistence on making everything all grindhouse can feel desperate and self-consciously dark. Like if your kid was having a great birthday party, until Charles Bronson showed up and shot the cake.

Leave it to Portland writer Greg Rucka—the guy behind the excellent spy saga Queen & Country and the equally great noir Stumptown—to make Marvel's embodiment of the Second Amendment stand on his own while also feeling at home in Spidey's New York. Beginning with a mass murder at a wedding, Rucka (assisted by the moody art of Marco Checchetto and the moodier colors of Matt Hollingsworth) skulks along with the Punisher as he seeks clues and metes retribution. Branching out to feature cops, reporters, and victims, it's more nuanced and grounded than any comic starring a trigger-happy sociopath should be.

The only drawback: Thanks to Marvel's penchant for skimpy collections, The Punisher, Vol. 1 collects only the first six issues of the series, leaving far too much unsettled. As the Punisher would probably grumpily point out, though, there are bigger problems than not having quite enough of a good thing. ERIK HENRIKSEN

Jim Henson's Tale of Sand
Written by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl, art by Ramón K. Pérez
(Archaia)

Billed as a "surrealistic comedy-drama," Jim Henson's Tale of Sand is based on an unsold screenplay written by Henson and collaborator Jerry Juhl. Shortly before Sesame Street and The Muppet Show changed Henson's life, the duo abandoned Sand; 30-plus years later, one can see why their script never won over any deep-pocketed movie producers. Strange and rambling, it follows Mac, a shell of a man who wanders through a mystical desert, stumbling into weird situations, weirder people, and a stream of seemingly random elements: an outhouse that holds a nightclub! A limousine! A lion inside a limousine! A blonde! A nemesis! Sneering Arabs! Ravenous sharks! Golf ball!

Though the story rattles along without much weight, maybe Limousine Lion represents something, who makes Tale of Sand extraordinary. Like an amped-up, tweaked-out disciple of Jeff Smith, Pérez has a clean, cartoony style that's emotive and clever—and Mac's journey offers all sorts of chances to switch up mediums, colors, and layouts, which Pérez gleefully takes advantage of. Jim Henson might be the reason people pick up Tale of Sand, but it's Pérez who steals the show. EH

Dotter of Her Father's Eyes
Written by Mary M. Talbot, art by Bryan Talbot
(Dark Horse)

James Joyce wrote wildly creative novels that redefined the avant garde in fiction—which is why it's a bummer to find out that he encouraged his daughter Lucia to pursue bookbinding instead of her own passion, modern dance. It's for the historians to decide whether a lack of parental encouragement was responsible for Lucia's eventual institutionalization, as the new graphic novel Dotter of Her Father's Eyes strongly suggests. Either way, her story offers a tragic, ironic footnote to her father's success.

With Dotter of Her Father's Eyes, husband-and-wife team Mary and Bryan Talbot aim to make Lucia more than just a footnote. Mary's father, James Atherton, was a prominent Joyce scholar, and this slim graphic novel twins Lucia Joyce's life story with Mary Talbot's own childhood.

It's a gorgeous little book, with Mary's past cast in sepia and Lucia's in dark, watery blues. Bryan Talbot has a knack for depicting complex facial expression with just a few well-chosen lines, and occasional wry margin annotations offer a glimpse at the working relationship between the husband-and-wife creative team.

Certain resonances emerge between the two women's life stories: Lucia's parents thwarted her plans to become a dancer, while Mary chose her own path; both James Joyce and Atherton were at times more generous to strangers than their own daughters. The problem, though, is that no real insight emerges from this juxtaposition—as though the decision to pair these stories was based on a few historical and biographical coincidences, rather than any focused sense that a great story could emerge. And unfortunately, though the historical detail is fascinating, a great story never really does. ALISON HALLETT

Kramers Ergot #8
Edited by Sammy Harkham
(PictureBox)

the latest edition of Sammy Harkham's acclaimed anthology Kramers Ergot #8 contains a lot of great comics. Gabrielle Bell, Kevin Huizenga, and Portland's Chris Cilla all contribute lean, intriguing stories that are entertaining on the surface but warrant multiple readings. There is a healthy amount of SEXXX, some of it dirty, some nasty, some of it hot. Harkham and Johnny Ryan both contribute messy and violent comics about marriage, one in the domestic setting, one in the horrors of outer space. And then there's the Penthouse comic Oh, Wicked Wanda!, for the sweaty '70s teenager in all of us. The only unwelcome inclusion is a lengthy, pseudo-intellectual introduction from Ian Svenonius that was maybe supposed to be funny? Unless your curiosity gets the better of you I'd skip that and head straight for the comics. JACOB SCHRAER