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Teenage tale Skim is a true gem

The biggest problem with many books, films and TV programs that dealwith what it’s like to be a teenager is that by the time a writerfinally gets around to telling it, they rarely seem to remember whatit’s actually like to be in that dreaded age group.


Skim
Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki
Groundwood Books
$18.95 (Hardcover)
**** ½ (out of five)


The biggest problem with many books, films and TV programs that deal with what it’s like to be a teenager is that by the time a writer finally gets around to telling it, they rarely seem to remember what it’s actually like to be in that dreaded age group.

Being a teenager, with few exceptions, frankly sucks. Even for those precious few who enjoyed popularity all its trappings, would likely later confess to dancing on a knife’s edge most of the time.

Being able to tap into that visceral experience, warts and all, is what makes Skim such an amazing read.

Talented Toronto-based writer Mariko Tamaki, in melodious partnership with gifted ex-Albertan artist cousin, Jillian, deliver the illustrated personal journal of Kimberly Keiko Cameron, a.k.a. Skim, a teen battling against society’s expectations of her, her parents’ and peers’ perceptions, and, most definitely, her own feelings of displacement and inadequacy.

As she strives to survive each harsh high school day, Skim is confronted by a number of challenges, from dealing with the death of a classmate’s boyfriend, to trying to decide if her best friend is everything she appears, to falling in love for the first time.

All these subjects are brought to life with such an identifiable pain that it’s hard not to find something in Skim’s experiences that doesn’t give you a somewhat unpleasant twinge in the back of your mind.

A powerful and poignant story that is as perfect a synergy of words and art as you’re likely to find in comics, Skim is a true gem.

Little Things
Jeffrey Brown
Touchstone (Simon & Schuster)
$16/$14 US (Paperback)
****


Jeffrey Brown’s already shown us how he lost his virginity, revealed how he’s gotten his heart broken on numerous occasions and how he’s capable of falling in love five times a week. It’s about time we get to see if Brown can find a happy ending for himself.

The creator of the graphic memoir classics Clumsy and Unlikely, returns with Little Things, a collection of short stories that are a pleasant blend of humour, melancholy, introspection and small doses of tedium. Subjects range from a trip from his Chicago home to the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, dealing with the angry ex-boyfriend of a new girlfriend, having his gallbladder removed, witnessing a crime, how to break into comic books and, in the end, finding the right person and starting a family.

Longtime readers of Brown’s unabashed autobiographical exploits are sure to enjoy this thoughtful collection of tales as only he can tell them, while Little Things is also a brilliant book to introduce readers to the creator and his odd-yet-lovable personality.

Superman: Camelot Falls Vol. 2
Kurt Busiek, Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino
DC Comics
$23.99/$19.99 US (Hardcover)
****


The Man Of Steel can’t just stand by and watch as humankind is overrun by evil. Or can he?

The first volume of Camelot Falls presented Superman with a quandary: Could he let the forces of darkness win if he knew that it would help preserve humanity in the long run?

After the enigmatic sorcerer, Arion, shows the Man Of Steel a vision of the apocalyptic future that awaits humanity if he and his fellow heroes keep interfering, Superman is forced to do some serious soul searching to decide how to proceed. And once he’s made up his mind, can he live with the consequences?

One of Superman’s most heart-wrenching adventures comes to a surprising conclusion in an epic tale, written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino, that may just lay the groundwork for a gripping future to come for the world’s greatest hero.

Al Capp’s Shmoo: The Complete Comic Books
Dark Horse Books
$49.95 US (Hardcover)
****


The rise of the Shmoos may just be one of the oddest pop-culture phenomena of the 20th century.

These doughy white, armless, mass-reproducing, edible, multi-use creatures burst onto the national scene after appearing in Al Capp’s immensely popular syndicated newspaper cartoon strip, Li’l Abner, and proceeded to take American by storm.

There was over 100 different licensed products related to these lovable characters (whose greatest joy in the world is helping people), including a very popular three-foot inflatable Shmoo, and a short-lived comic book series that introduced Super Shmoo, Frankenshmoo and dozens of other Shmoo-based characters.

This Complete Comic Books collection, featuring an introduction, and some fascinating annotations, by Denis Kitchen, is a great glimpse into an peculiar moment in the history of pop-culture.

The Last Winter
Larry Fessenden, Robert Leaver, Brahm Revel
Image Comics
$12.99 US (Paperback)
*** ½


Something is bubbling up from under the ice of Alaska and it’s not just the countless barrels of oil that huge corporations are all clamoring to get a piece of.

As a research team conducts tests in the National Wildlife Refuge with the looming possibility that the U.S. government will finally allow drilling in what is perceived to be one of the world’s last great untapped oil reserves as well as one of the pristine places left on the planet, things slowly begin to go wrong.

The weather is erratic, machines stop functioning properly and members of the crew begin acting more and more oddly.

After one crewman dies under extremely suspicious circumstances, the remaining crew are divided into those who feel they need to stay and complete their jobs and those who want to get out because they think that none of this is coincidence and that someone, or something, is causing it all.

Based on last year’s limited-release horror film of the same name, Larry Fessenden’s The Last Winter is a chilling look at humankind’s abuse of the environment and how what we reap may just be what we sow.

Dead Space #1 (of 6)
Antony Johnston, Ben Templesmith
Image Comics
$2.99 CAN/US
****


They say in space, no one can hear you scream, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t try anyway.

As gaming giant EA, and countless fanboys around the world, counts down to the Fall 2008 release of the much-anticipated sci-fi/horror title, Dead Space, a partnership with Image Comics aims to help give a little insight into the kind of creepy odyssey we’re in for.

When an interplanetary mining crew discovers what appears to be an alien device on a world they’re preparing to destroy for ore, the crew is quickly divided as some see it as a holy sign.

Meanwhile, more and more members of the crew begin acting strangely, including one who’s left with blood on his hands and another who sees a vision of his long-dead mother.

If the video game is anything as freaky as the comic by writer Antony Johnston (Wasteland) and fan-favourite artist Ben Templesmith (30 Days Of Night), Dead Space looks like a must-buy.

Urban Monsters #1
Will Wilson, Joanne Moore, Tone Rodriguez, Rick Ross
Image Comics
$3.50 CAN/US
*** ½


Pop quiz: What do you get when you jam a fish man, a zombie, a chupacabra and a Bigfoot into a classic Ford Thunderbird?

A road trip that none of them will soon forget.

When Randy, the aforementioned fish man, notices an open casting call in Daily Variety for monsters of all kinds, he dream of hitting the road for a chance of a lifetime to become a star like his hero, Roger Fishman. But to get all the way from New York City to Hollywood in three days will take a lot of effort, so he enlists his friends Eddie (the zombie), Arnaud (the chupacabra) and Bert (the Bigfoot) to help out.

Now the only thing standing in their way is the hot water Eddie’s in with the NYPD and a group of inbred wolfmen who’ve taken a shine to Bert.

Not exactly a run of the mill road trip, eh?

The creative team of Will Wilson, Joanne Moore, Tone Rodriguez and Rick Ross deliver a quirky and likeable cast; nice, clean art and a story that is monstrously enjoyable.


 
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