Panel Patter Quick Hits on Michael DeForge, Anouk Richard, Alec Longstreth, and Neil Gaiman/Eddie Campbell

Another Monday, another set of short reviews. This time, we'll start with a cool little Michael DeForge book that might have been overlooked in a year that saw him release three graphic novels, First Year Heathly...

First Year Healthy
Written and Illustrated by Michael DeForge
Published by Drawn and Quarterly

This story of a young woman who comes out of the mental hospital only to find her life in the regular world gets progressively stranger gives the extremely popular Michael DeForge a chance to play with the storytelling medium of comics by mixing it with the structure of a children's picture book. Instead of using panels and word balloons to propel his story, DeForge puts very small paragraphs of text in extremely tiny type somewhere within the page, then "adapts" that the narrator says in those paragraphs with either one large image that dominates the page or a theme expressed in small illustrations, using the style most readers of the creator will be familiar with.

There's no time to spare on any digressions, as the story is only about 30 pages long. Each part of his drawings has to be essential to the plot and to the reader, bringing DeForge into his more familiar short story territory. The imagery here is amazing, too--that lovely mix of the stark, almost Charles Schulz-like use of rounded characters and square backgrounds and disturbing as hell abstractions and perversions that he does so well. The color choices also help keep things off-kilter, such as the menacing figure being albino compared to the narrator's pink skin or that the Dr. Seuss-style mythical cat is orange and green.

Best of all, however, is the fact that since we know the main character was mentally ill, she's totally unreliable as a narrator, and as the story takes a turn into the extremely weird, how much of it is real comes into question. It's absolutely brilliant, and I love what he's doing with this one. I know Ant Colony got a lot of praise, but I think I might like First Year Healthy better. (Review by Rob McMonigal)

Anna and Froga: Thrills, Spills and Gooseberries 
By Anouk Ricard 
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

France's Anouk Ricard, the author of last year's very funny, adult-oriented satire of office life, Benson's Cuckoos, offers up this third in her delightful series of Anna and Froga comics, a newly translated edition from Drawn and Quarterly. Anna is a little girl who, with her anthropomorphic animal pals, enjoys little adventures like visiting the haunted house at a fair and having a picnic in the woods. Her pals include Froga (a frog, naturally), Ron the cat, the somewhat neurotic, aspiring artist canine, Bubu, and a cheerful worm named Christopher. Adult readers will appreciate the gently snarky tone of the book; the bickering of Bubu, Froga, Christopher and Ron are the absolute opposite of Care Bears style treacle. In fact, these characters interact much the way actual kids do, imbuing the proceedings with the feel of real life (odd as that may sound). The talented Ricard limns the fun in an irresistibly colorful, appealingly childlike style, interspersed with a few lovely, sophisticated illustrations of her cast at play. This funny, charming book comes highly recommended for children, their parents, and fans of all-ages comics in general. (Review by Rob Kirby)

24x7: A Decade of 24 Hour Comics 
Written and Illustrated by Alec Longstreth

The concept of the 24 hour comics challenge is an intense one. You have 24 hours to create 24 pages of comics, everything from start to finish in a single day. Should you fail there are two courses of action – the Gaiman variation, in which you stop after 24 hours, and the Eastman variation, in which you continue until you’ve done all 24 pages. It is an excellent exercise, one that forces you to think in a different way and figure out how to properly maximize your efficiency as an artist/storyteller.

Alec Longstreth has created a 24 hour comic every year since 2001. In 2010, he decided to collect six of them (created between 2004 and 2009) in a single volume: 24x7: A Decade of 24 Hour Comics, the creation of which was his 24 hour comic for that year. It is incredible, I think, to see how much Longstreth grew as a cartoonist and a person in the 6 years he has chronicled here. The first story, Scars, falls short of the 24 page mark (his next few, required some extra time), yet he is able to figure out what he wants to do and how to do it quickly enough that the last two he finished with hours to spare (it’s worth noting that his two most recent were created in about 12 hours, and were still the required 24 pages). Given the format of the challenge, there are obviously some problems – there is not a whole lot of depth to the stories, the art can feel rushed and occasionally awkward, and one of the collaborations he did (Crispy Ginger Crumples) is definitely less than amazing. But I found, as I do with all of Longstreth’s work, a lot of inspiration in these pages – proof that this seemingly ridiculous challenge is, at the very least, possible. (Review by Guy Thomas)

Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains 
Written by Neil Gaiman 
Illustrated by Eddie Campbell
Published by William Morrow

I read this dark Gaiman tale, Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, in a short story collection a few years ago and it's a very good story. William Morrow has now released a 74 page edition of this book with art by Eddie Campbell. Campbell has more than twenty years of comics experience- I first saw his art in From Hell (which he worked on with Alan Moore) and in Hellblazer. This book felt a little experimental, not necessarily in a good way. Some pages are essentially prose text accompanied by either traditionally painted or digitally sketched illustrations. Other pages are a mix of text and comics panels, usually digital over edited photos. Many of the individual pages look great, but as a whole the book felt rather uneven. Still, it's an interesting project and the power of the story carries through. (Review by Maia Kobabe)