Stand Up Comics is a regular column by Adan Jimenez. These titles need no introduction: just read the column, then read some good comics!
Petty Theft by Pascal Girard (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95, 9781770461529)
After breaking up with his girlfriend of nine years, Pascal is living in a small room at his friend's house, along with his friend's wife and their baby, while trying to figure out what to do next. He's thinking about changing his career from cartoonist to construction. He has been receiving boxes of books from his ex (as well as a giant replica of her head that he wore to a Halloween party), and he's not sure what to do with them in his small room. He's been running to keep his endorphin levels high, but then he trips and hurts his back, making running impossible. When he sees a girl steal one of his books from a local bookstore, he decides to follow her.
Girard has a clean, but wavy hand-drawn style that lends his (fictional?) memoir an extra sense of reality and immediacy, making the story more believable (even though it may not be entirely real). The plot is a humorous take on the boy-meets-girl formula, filled with book lovers, possible kleptomania, a neophyte detective, a few very awkward faux pas, and a hilariously suspicious toddler giving Pascal the side-eye every chance he gets. Best of all, no saccharine sweetness; just a middle-aged cartoonist looking for love, and a girl who maybe has a compulsion to steal books.
Handselling Opportunities: People who enjoy Canadian cartoonists' ability to make fun of themselves, and fans of not-100%-true memoirs.
Anomal by Nukuharu (Gen Manga Entertainment, $9.95, 9781939012111)
"GEN stories are published [nowhere] else in the world," Gen Manga boasts on its website. "They come straight from the artists in Japan to you. We translate the stories and put them out as they are created" Gen Manga specializes in indie and underground manga, and the short story collection Anomal certainly fits the bill.
Nukuharu's stories borrow liberally from the more traditional shonen (boys) and shoujo (girls) manga genres--there's even a little yaoi (boys' love) thrown in for good measure--but they're much stranger. All the stories feature yokai (Japanese ghosts and demons). In fact, the many-eyed yokai on the cover is featured in the first story, "Kaeshi," about a blind artist who makes a deal to get his sight back. The other four stories feature man-eating demons, half-yokai humans, shape-changing aliens and eccentric detectives, and are at turns comedic and serious.
The collected stories have a twist to them that make them even stranger than is apparent at the beginning, but in a good way. Nukuharu's decision occasionally to forgo traditional storytelling techniques adds to an already eerie atmosphere. Be warned, though; this is not your usual manga. It's much weirder.
Handselling Opportunities: Manga enthusiasts ready to try something outside the established genres, and Western indie comics fans looking to sample something outside their cultural comfort zones.
Naja by J.D. Morvan and Bengal (Magnetic Press, $29.99, 9780991332403)
Naja is Zero's number three assassin. She does whatever he commands, and never asks why, even though she has no idea who he is. She doesn't feel pain or sensations of any kind or have any emotions beyond indifference. But that all changes when "He" enters the picture and tells her Zero's number one assassin, Max, is gunning for her. And Number Two is waiting somewhere in the wings.
The first thing readers will notice when picking up Naja is the gorgeous art. Bengal is fairly unknown outside of France, but anyone who experiences his clean lines and color palette, his architecture and overall design sense will immediately make one want to own everything he has ever drawn and illustrated.
J.D. Morval's writing is quite good, but it may take the average reader a while to get used to the narrator of the story. Morval's characters are all well-delineated and quite interesting, especially the three assassins: Max, Number Two and Naja all play off each other quite well. I will not mislead you, however: the ending is a bit out of left field and doesn't make an inordinate amount of sense, but it doesn't detract too much from the overall enjoyment of the book.
Handselling Opportunities: People who enjoy a good action movie in book form, and people who love to stare at gorgeous art for hours.
Liquid City Vol. 3, edited by Sonny Liew and Joyce Sim (Image, $29.99, 9781632150615)
"If you knew the world was ending, what would be the story you would most want to tell?" This is the question Liquid City showrunner Sonny Liew posed to Southeast Asian writers and artists, and he received a lot of amazing responses, from the fantastical and apocalyptic to the realistic and personal.
As in most anthologies, there are both truly outstanding stories and some that are less so, but the majority of the stories in Liquid City are excellent. These include Elvin Ching's "Boy," which details his discovery of what it means to become a man during the mandated military service that all Singaporean males must fulfill; Max Loh's "Before the End of the World: An Abridged Travelogue," in which he and five friends travel to Japan again before the Mayan apocalypse; Nguyen Thanh Phong's "Pig When Small, Cow When Big," about the ways in which Vietnamese farmers raise pigs to sell to butchers, who then disguise some of that pork as beef with seasoning packets; and Charlie Chan Hock Chye's "Geylang Hill," about how and why we remember our youth.
My personal favorite is Jin Hien Lau's "The Orson Welles of Darussalam," a hilarious tale about pirated cable and one boy's belief that the world is ending after watching a snippet of War of the Worlds-style programming.
Handselling Opportunities: People who want to discover talent they may have never encountered before, and people who like their reading as they like their buffets: with a little bit of everything.