Stand Up Comics is a regular column by Adan Jimenez. These titles need no introduction: just read the column, then read some good comics!
Shoplifter by Michael Cho (Pantheon, $19.95, 9780307911735)
Corrina has been working at an advertising agency in the big city since graduating college. An English literature major, she thought she would work there just until she paid off her school loans and then write novels, but she hasn't written anything besides copy in five years--and writing copy for a perfume targeted at nine-year-old girls may be her breaking point.
She hasn't made many friends in the city and doesn't go out much, but she has her eye on a freelance photographer who is also becoming disillusioned with the advertising world. Occasionally, Corrina shoplifts magazines from a chain convenience store to de-stress. She even has a six-step process to make sure she doesn't get caught.
Corrina is an extremely likable character, not just for fine arts majors, but for everybody. Her dreams have taken a back seat to the practicalities of life, and she is going through the motions, just like Brandon Flowers says: "And the weeks fly by and the years roll on/ Sometimes dreams are all you got to keep you going when the day gets long/ And you gave up so many just to make a livin'/ That clock up on the wall was a-tickin.' "
Cho has perfectly encapsulated the often difficult balance between doing what you want and doing what you have to do, including some of the consequences of going too far in either direction. The ending may be a bit pat, but Cho's two-toned art and his double-page cityscapes more than make up for the slight deficiency in storytelling.
Handselling Opportunities: Anybody who has ever had to put their dreams on hold for practical reasons.
The Little World of Liz Climo by Liz Climo (Running Press, $14, 9780762452385)
Liz Climo has been an animator for the Simpsons for about 10 years and has occasionally posted short comics on her Tumblr that feature anthropomorphized animals in everyday situations that she makes hilarious with her irreverent wit and simple art. This book contains some of those comics.
Every comic is four panels or less, with the most common construction being two panels: the set-up and the punchline. From friendly bears and rabbits cracking wise, to a dinosaur father hanging out and being annoyed by his kid, to sloths being sloth-like, every comic is hilarious, insightful or both.
The book is divided into four sections (Love and Friendship, Holidays and Celebrations, Family, Daily Life); my favorite sequence comes in the Holidays and Celebrations section, where multiple comics are devoted to how different types of animals hide for and react to surprise parties. You'd think the joke would wear thin after the first few comics, but you'd be wrong.
Handselling Opportunities: Anybody who needs a good laugh.
Black Science Volume 1: How to Fall Forever by Rick Remender, Matteo Scalera and Dean White (Image Comics, $9.99, 9781607069676)
Grant McKay is a genius scientist responsible for the creation of the Pillar, a device capable of traversing through the Eververse. Every dimension ever created by every decision of every living creature is now open to humanity. The dimension in which the cure for cancer has been discovered, the dimension in which stable, clean, renewable energy exists, the dimension in which the Beatles never broke up can all be visited and traded with. Every problem can now be solved because it has already been solved somewhere in infinity.
Grant McKay is also a horrible human being. He is sleeping with his colleague Rebecca while he ignores his wife, who is at home raising their children on her own. He has no respect for authority, even when they fund his projects. He brings his children to the lab, where his dangerous work is being carried out. He is arrogant, he is selfish, and he is impetuous.
And then the Pillar is sabotaged and starts jumping through dimensions randomly.
Remender has an incredibly fertile imagination, which is on full display in the first volume of Black Science. McKay, his children, Rebecca and his other team members travel through worlds in which fish people are at war with frog people, technologically advanced Native Americans have invaded the European continent, and gaseous entities use advanced monkeys as their vessels. This is all brought to life in the beautiful painted art by Scalera and White, who can handle fish exotic dancers, Navajo mecha and a monkey nursery with equal awesomeness.
What brings all this together are the group members dragged across the Eververse: Grant and his children, Pia and Nate; Rebecca, his mistress; Ward, the security expert who owes Grant his life; Shawn, Grant's protégé; Kadir, Grant's patron and all-around jerk; and Chandra, Kadir's second-in-command. They don't like each other very much, but they have to work together to fix the Pillar and get back to their home dimension.
Handselling Opportunities: Anybody who enjoys modernized golden age sci-fi pulp with some interesting group dynamics.
Reading with Pictures: Comics That Make Kids Smarter by Josh Elder et al. (Andrews McMeel, $19.99, 9781449458782)
Reading with Pictures is a nonprofit organization founded by Josh Elder, whose purpose is to "get comics into schools and get schools into comics." Elder has dedicated his life to proving that comics can have educational value and to creating lesson plans for teachers to use comics in the classroom. This volume is the distillation of the organization's hard work.
The book contains 15 stories in the subjects of language arts, science, mathematics and social studies, ranging from the histories of Galileo and George Washington, explanations of probability and figurative language to the embalmed head of Isaac Newton explaining the three laws of motion.
The stories are educational, of course, but most of them are also incredibly fun and a hoot to read (though a few are a bit too educational). I myself learned a few things reading through the book (Washington didn't want to be president!?). Teachers can find lesson plans for the book online at www.readingwithpictures.org.
Handselling Opportunities: Teachers, parents and, of course, children.