This summer, there are plenty of books to pack for the beach and then there are books that don’t belong anywhere near it. It’s not the content that should be kept far away from the sun, sand, and water but rather the high production values. The following titles represent the very best in what comics can do when care and attention are applied not only to the stories they tell but also the package in which they arrive.
Discerning summer reading lists are already high on The Graphic Canon, Vol. 1: From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons edited by Russ Kick. Publisher Seven Stories spared no expense in this deluxe trade paperback release: the 500 oversized pages are full of classic literature and poetry as interpreted by artists working in a variety of styles and media, including watercolor, pen and ink, and a few that left me wondering how they were crafted. The selections are comprised of originals, reprints, and excerpts from works by name-names like Will Eisner and Robert Crumb—but plenty of the contributors will be new to readers. There’s a great side-by-side pairing midway through the behemoth: The Tibetan Book of the Dead as adapted by Sanya Glisic—the pages are beautiful and terrifying, detailed to a heightened, wordless pitch—and The Inferno adapted by Hunt Emerson in a mugging, cartoonish take on the grim epic poem. Seven Stories promises to release the second and third volumes in The Graphic Canon before the end of 2012, making this one of the most ambitious and decadent projects of the year.
In further boldly titled collections, Fantagraphics recently unlocked whatever crate must have been used to house Mr. Twee Deedle: Raggedy Ann's Sprightly Cousin: The Forgotten Fantasy Masterpieces of Johnny Gruelle. Over a foot long and over a foot-and-a-half tall, the hardcover features the most beautiful endpapers in recent memory. Gruelle’s artwork is full of whimsy, presented in both the richest nostalgic color and black and white. The narrative involves two children on a journey through a magical land as guided by a wood sprite, but this is truthfully an art book. It’s meant to be read sprawled out on the floor, the only surface in an average reader’s home that is likely large enough to properly balance this fine luxury. Rick Marschall provides a lengthy, informative essay that is lavishly accompanied by further illustrations.