Now, Thompson can do just about anything he wants, and to celebrate he's released Carnet de Voyage, a chronicle of his adventures traveling through Europe and Morocco while on a signing tour for Blankets. Voyage is essentially a diary, an illustrated document of an extended vacation replete with bad shits thanks to food poisoning and romantic trysts with exotic women. There's no real narrative here, outside of rising tension involving the artist's arthritis-crippled drawing hand, but the artwork is typically gorgeous and full of stylistic tangents absent from Blankets. Some of the crabbier drawings (as the tour wears on and on) are surreal and nightmarish, a fascinating element not seen in Thompson's other works. But Thompson does best when he stops "whining" (his word, not mine) and just reports cool shit without thinking too much. Carnet de Voyage is enjoyable enough, but it won't sate fans eagerly awaiting Thompson's next "real" book. JUSTIN WESCOAT SANDERS
Issue Nine of Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve comic was just released this spring, so until the next one comes out, salivating fans will have to make do with Scrapbook, a collection of early comic strips, illustrations and scenes from the artist's sketchbook. If you've never heard of Tomine, but read Details or The New Yorker, you're still probably familiar with his work.
The sketchbook segment of Scrapbook is interesting for voyeuristic reasons, but also because it contains some stunning paintings. The illustrations segment shows Tomine's versatility as an artist and designer. Some of the best works are those he did for The New Yorker, taken from current cinema and run with the weekly movie listings. Typical of Tomine's style, they're simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking, such as a drawing of Eminem in 8 mile.
Tomine's strips achieve both visual warmth and emotional desolation. He picks up on the beautiful and pathetic nuances of human beings in the same way Raymond Carver did in his fiction. Carver's name is often mentioned when talking about Tomine's work, which makes sense even in his early comics like "Noise Filter," about a guy who wears a Walkman with nothing playing, just so he doesn't have to talk to people. And like Where I'm Calling From, the collection of Carver's early fiction and essays, Scrapbook, provides a valuable peek into the inner workings of an artistic genius. M. WILLIAM HELFRICH
Afew years ago, Marvel Comics tried to figure out why new readers weren't getting into comics. The answer, they guessed, was Marvel's convoluted history--40 years of complex backstory stood as a pretty sizeable obstacle for anybody interested in getting into comics.
Hence the Ultimate line of books: Like a reset button on the Marvel Universe, the Ultimate line recreates some of the earliest issues, modernizing them for a new audience. Hoping that decades-old characters would feel fresh again, Marvel launched the Ultimate line with the best of these re-imaginings, Ultimate Spider-Man.
Collecting USM's first 40 issues or so, the collection is enormous, weighing in at 992 pages, all of them created by the same team--Portland writer Brian Michael Bendis, artist Mark Bagley, and inker Art Thibert.
The book's length serves as an unexpected strength. Reading USM month by month can be episodic and frustrating, but reading Bendis' fluid story arcs in longer installments proves an immensely rewarding experience. Unlike the seminal Stan Lee-penned issues, Bendis sets up plot threads far in advance, foreshadowing characters' motivations and relationships in a manner that feels more like an epic novel than a serialized comic. While superhero comics usually get a bad rap for being simplistic and tired, USM proves differently with sharp characterization and psychological conflict, and yet doesn't sacrifice any of the full-blown superheroics. ERIK HENRIKSEN