This summer, in a move that surprised no one more than myself, I signed up for a class in comics making at Blue Rooster Studios in northeast Los Angeles. My project: Adapt a short story into a comic. Six weeks have flown by, and while I haven't made much progress on my comic, I have a whole new appreciation for the art and craft of the enterprise. So, with Comic-Con 2012 around the corner, I thought I'd review a few of the newish comics-related books I've been reading.

With 10 books under her belt, Cecil Castellucci is a stalwart of the young-adult scene, but her latest novel, Year of the Beasts, from Roaring Brook Press, breaks new personal ground. The novel is a hybrid—part prose, part comic illustrated by Nate Powell—with two storylines presented in alternating chapters.

Year of the Beasts follows Tessa and Lulu, two sisters competing for the attention of the same clean-cut, all-American doofus. Standard YA set-up, right? Not quite. While the younger sister makes out with Richie Cunningham, Tessa starts hooking up with the town weirdo:

"She knew nothing at all about him, except that he was strange. That he wore t-shirts with images and phrases that she didn't understand. And that all those things combined made him seem so sure of himself in a way that no one else she knew was."

The second storyline features some strange creatures: a popular mermaid, a hunky centaur, a mysterious Minotaur and one very angry Medusa. At first blush, the second storyline has nothing to do with the first. What does a school inhabited by a quartet of monsters out of Greek mythology have to do with teen drama? But as the first plot thickens, and tragedy strikes the sisters, the two storylines come together in startling fashion.

Powell's loose, black and white illustrations bring this strange world to life in evocative fashion. But what's most impressive about Castellucci's storytelling is her manipulation of time and metaphor to create an ending that is poignant, powerful and unexpected.

Retellings of well-known fairy tales tend to be darker than the original, which are usually pretty dark to begin with. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a story darker than Pinocchio, published by Last Gasp in 2011 and reimagined by the French cartoonist who goes by the name Winshluss.

A few things you need to know: In this version, Pinocchio isn't a puppet, per se, but a robot equipped with terrifying weapons. Though he's capable of unleashing total destruction, Pinocchio is something of an innocent, a blank slate that others manipulate for their own purposes. In true puppet fashion, Pinocchio cannot speak. He takes on the personality of those he associates with, and everyone Pinocchio meets tries to exploit him. In other words, it's a tale without heroes—only villains and victims.

The result is a wild picaresque that's both imaginative and depraved, with multiple storylines and a mindbogglingly weird cast of characters. During the course of his strange odyssey, Pinocchio confronts his creator's sex-starved wife, the child slaver who runs Vulcan Toys, a demonic serial organ thief, seven perverted dwarves, the tyrannical clown king of Enchanted Isle and Jiminy Cockroach, a frustrated writer who lives in Pinocchio's skull.

Winshluss is a supremely talented stylist with enormous range, from violent cross hatching to Disneyfied 'toons. No comparison quite does him justice, but he's somewhere between E.C Segar, the creator of Popeye, and Tony Millionaire, whose book The Art of Tony Millionaire, an illustrated memoir in comics, is also worth studying. But make no mistake, Winshluss's Pinocchio is no child's tale.

The comics class I'm taking is taught by Kiyoshi Nakazawa, creator of Drunken Master, a comics zine inspired by manga, mixed martial arts and punk rock. Each issue features a new installation of the MMA comic Prize, a one-page cartoon called "Won Ton Not Now" and interviews with emerging artists, bands and fighters. Occasionally, the zine also features art and articles from friends who share Kiyoshi's interests in punk-manga mayhem.

In true DIY fashion, once the work is created, Kiyoshi designs, produces and distributes the zine himself. Zines have always been an outsider enterprise, but even more so now in the digital age, and that's just fine with Kiyoshi.

Both Kiyoshi Nakazawa and Cecil Castellucci will be at Comic-Con 2012, so be sure to say hello and tell them The  Floating Library sent you!

Jim Ruland blogs at and you can find him on Twitter @JimVermin.


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