The Best We Could Do begins with birth. Thi Bui is a first-time mother in California, and her own mother–despite having flown across the country to be there–has quietly excused herself from the delivery room.chop! chop! read more!
If we felt attached to and invested in the ground beneath our feet, how would the world be different? What’s the difference between feeling rooted in a place and feeling stuck there? And how is one to face the facts of geographic and human impermanence?chop! chop! read more!
Melancholy can be a difficult tone for authors to elicit. Paired with too much unwarranted levity, or depicted as flat sadness without the requisite quiet contemplation, it can easily shift to the maudlin. Tom Gauld’s graphic novel, Mooncop, manages to delicately balance the emptiness of outer space with the intimacy of solitude, a tone which stayed with me days after putting the book down. Gauld packs an impressive amount of feeling into a tiny package—Mooncop is less than a hundred pages long and takes a maximum of thirty minutes to finish. I never felt overwhelmed by any single emotion, however, as a thin layer of meditative calm acts as a barrier between the potentially crushing despair of loneliness.chop! chop! read more!
Julia Alekseyeva’s Soviet Daughter: A Graphic Revolution could hardly have come at a better time. A Soviet-born woman who emigrated with her multigenerational Jewish family to the U.S. in 1992, the author entwines her great-grandmother Lola’s life story with her own, translating Lola’s own written memoir into part of a double narrative. As we all struggle to make sense of the Trump era, Alekseyeva has written and drawn a story of autocracy, revolution, and the refugee experience–and of how history affects the private lives not just of its eyewitnesses, but of many subsequent generations.chop! chop! read more!
Throughout its 300-plus pages, Rolling Blackouts provides valuable historical contexts and multiple viewpoints to help any reader better understand the region and its people. Glidden incorporates the voices of government officials, aid workers, refugees – even a former terror suspect, among many others, in order to showcase the complicated realities of life in those countries. We meet those whose lives were improved from the Iraq War as well as those whose lives were destroyed. We meet those who love the United States, and those who say, “I don’t want to bring children into a country that could be bombed by America.” As Glidden writes: “I think sometimes journalists get caught up in the hard news part, in investigating an unknown angle. But they forget that for most of our audiences, it’s all an unknown angle.” Incorporating a large chorus of voices, Glidden hopes to inform and challenge her readers.chop! chop! read more!
OCTAVIA E. BUTLER’S KINDRED: A GRAPHIC NOVEL ADAPTATION by Damian Duffy and John Jennings Abrams Comicarts, 240 pages reviewed by Brian Burmeister Crowned the “grand dame of science fiction” by Essence, Octavia Butler was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed science fiction writers of the 20th century. Her career spanned over a dozen novels and, among her many awards and honors, Butler was the first science fiction writer to win a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation, before being cut short. In 2006, she tragically passed away at the age of fifty-eight. Thirty-eight years after its original publication, Butler’s best-selling novel, Kindred, and by extension Butler’s own voice and vision, has been given new life. Considered by many to be her most accessible work, the novel has been adapted into a graphic novel by cartoonist/writer Damian Duffy and editor/artist John Jennings. Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, like the … chop! chop! read more!
Spanning three volumes, which are available separately or as a single collection, March covers key years of civil rights leader Lewis’s life and the battles for justice he experienced firsthand. The writers skillfully frame the overarching narrative of all three books as Rep. Lewis reflects upon the Civil Rights Movement during President Barack Obama’s historic inauguration in 2009.chop! chop! read more!
Throughout the pages of Cosplayers, the new book by noted cartoonist Dash Shaw, the narrative presents a series of illustrations of the titular subject: people dressed in costumes based on favorite characters from popular fandom—comics, television, video games, all the things that we like to call “geek culture.” Set against increasingly baroque pop-art patterns, Shaw’s cosplayers will be immediately recognizable to anyone who has ever perused photos of a comic convention—dynamic figures from popular culture evoked by the mundane reality of fans in uncomfortable outfits under the harsh lighting of the convention floor.chop! chop! read more!
Purists beware: this book contains very little analysis and comparison of actual hot dogs. Perhaps best known as the designer of Bojack Horseman, Lisa Hanawalt draws the way children laugh. In Hot Dog Taste Test, she brings haphazard looking outlines to life with vivid watercolors to depict an exploration of sensory staples. Breakfast is moralized, street food is ranked and deconstructed, horses are ridden, otters are swum with, birds are everywhere—some with exaggerated human genitalia, some with understated human anxieties.chop! chop! read more!
The French cartoonist Blutch is known for creating beautifully illustrated graphic novels in response to great works of art and literature, and Peplum is one of his finest. The comic is a postmodern refashioning of Petronius’s mid-first century proto-novel The Satyricon, which ditches the original’s gluttonous decadence under Nero’s reign in favor of the chaotic end of the Late Roman Republic.chop! chop! read more!
Written by Josh Baylock, drawn by Hoyt Silva, and produced by David H. Krikorian, Operation Nemesis is the story of the early 20th century Armenian genocide and the tale of the eventual murder of that genocide’s architect. While this is a tale of Turkey’s then leader and dictator Talaat Pasha’s annihilation of over one million Armenians during World War I, the story of that atrocity unfolds through the trial and eventual acquittal of the assassin, Soghomon Tehlirsan. Historically rich, this graphic novel reads like a storyboard to a cinematic rendering of this tragic narrative. Each panel is vivid in its noir presentation: dark but flush with rich tones, stark and at times brutal, but firmly recounting an important story.chop! chop! read more!
Patience demands to be read twice: first, as a who-done-it, and second, as a who-are-you. On the surface, Daniel Clowes has written a murder mystery. When newlywed Jack Barlow finds his pregnant wife, Patience, dead in their apartment, he begins an obsessive hunt to identify her killer. He hires a private investigator. He time travels into her past, attempting to understand who could enact such violence. He begins a journey into the wide expanse of what he never knew about his wife—a terrain that expands for years. This is a story about meeting the person you love much later than you’ve started to love them, and that is the energy that propels the reader forward—hunting for Patience’s killer, yes, but digging for something much deeper.chop! chop! read more!
Recently nominated for the Cartoonist Studio’s Prize for Best Print Comic of the Year, The Oven is a wonderful example of character-driven science fiction. In what might take a typical reader less than one minute, author/illustrator Sophie Goldstein quickly, yet carefully, establishes both the setting and a compelling story. From the very first page, Goldstein introduces the reader to a dystopian world in which futuristic cities are shielded from an ultra-lethal sun by protective domes. On the same page, one sees the protagonists, Syd and Eric, a young couple, leave that society for the communal, technology-free living of “the Oven, AKA ‘Babyville,’” a small settlement far from government’s reach—a community of people hoping to find simple pleasure from simple living.
With displays of daily life in the Oven, Goldstein focuses her narrative around themes of family and freedom. The couple’s reasons for leaving their lives in the city quickly emerge and their quest for the life they have dreamed of is swiftly met with unforeseen obstacles. Life in the new world of the Oven isn’t easy. Syd and Eric find that “freedom isn’t free”—that, whether raising children or farming for sustenance, it requires hard work and commitment.chop! chop! read more!
It’s difficult to write about any individual Mark Beyer comic. His works return to the same characters, motifs and events, so particular to his voice that a broad description of a Beyer comic can just as easily describe his entire oeuvre. Beyer draws nihilistic stories about life going from bad to worse, usually focusing on Amy and Jordan, a couple whose life is beyond bleak. His art is childlike and dementedly unreal; bizarre forms and wonky perspectives, complemented by obsessive, handmade stippling, create an atmosphere of fanatical intensity. The language of Amy and Jordan stories are almost drab in their bluntness, adding to the overall sense of unreality. It’s a world of disaster that is both terrifying and hilarious at once. A typical Amy and Jordan panel shows the two menaced by some strange-looking knife-wielding monstrosity, arms in the air, flatly screaming “aaaahhhhh!”chop! chop! read more!
Deadly, beautiful “flakes” falling gently, the bodies they touch folding neatly to the ground. The light thrower, a powerful weapon that spotlights your death, as though stage fright wasn’t real enough. Sinister devices “plugged in” to the necks of robot men, long before The Matrix was even a twinkle in the Wachowski Brothers’ eye. All of these: combining to form layers of artful threats to your well-being, like different sections of an orchestra imbricated and inter-punctuated to form a unified song. This is the world we enter upon reading the Eternaut’s, also known as Juan Salvo’s, recounted story. More: hallucinogenic, mind-controlling biological warfare, the telecommunication gadgets that dreams are made of, fifth column military pursuits by alien “hands,” enraged “gurbos” and an enemy automaton disguised as an attractive woman. A faraway extraterrestrial empire has designs on colonizing not only as many planets as possible, but also on pillaging the galaxy’s resources by picking pockets of time throughout eternity. Navigating this same eternity is the Eternaut. A displaced person in space, he borrows somewhere to sit from other slots in time, so as not to allow for his own vanishing. Set in “today”—or late 1950s Buenos Aires—The Eternaut, both man and story, arrives like a hologram in the office chair facing writer Héctor Germán Oesterheld. Together with Oesterheld, we are just one stop among many on his sempiternal journey.chop! chop! read more!
A GIRL ON THE SHORE
by Inio Asano
Vertical Comics, 406 pages
reviewed by Nathan Chazan
In a 2013 interview, Inio Asano cites learning the phrase “chunibyo” as an inspiration for A Girl on the Shore. A Japanese meme, “chunibyo” translates roughly to “Eighth Grader Syndrome,” and describes an early adolescent’s tendency to aspire to and imitate the adult behaviors that she is too young to understand. The comic, a direct and emotionally intense story about two early adolescents who enter a sexual relationship, functions as a parable of “chunibyo,” exploring this youthful desire to seem more mature as well as its consequences. In contrast to this motif, A Girl on the Shore is a deceptively mature accomplishment, employing the techniques of commercial manga to the greatest level of sophistication to convey the searing anxieties of adolescence.
This is a graphic novel about two teenagers, Koume and Keisuke, who decide to start having sex when they are very young. Both are haunted by recent trauma: Koume by her rape at the hands of a popular kid named Misaki, and Keisuke by the absence of his deceased older brother. The two youths enter this relationship believing it will be strictly sexual, an escape from normal life without emotional baggage. However, no relationship can really be casual at such a young age, and they soon must deal with the feelings brought out by their connection. It’s a relationship that is never romantic until its very end, a relationship Asano describes as “a love story in reverse.”chop! chop! read more!
THE ARAB OF THE FUTURE
by Riad Sattouf
Metropolitan Books, 160 pages
reviewed by Jesse Allen
As a memoir of childhood, color plays a prominent role in Riad Sattouf’s The Arab of the Future. Different locations and environments take on a range of hues, beginning with the blunt red-black-and-green cover. On it, Gaddafi’s handsome and commanding image on a billboard salutes Riad’s parents as they walk past while he, uncolored, rides his father’s shoulders. He looks to the salute as if it were another adult doting on him, a golden haired child. Over the course of the memoir, scenes that take place in France are colored in blue, while those in Libya and Syria are colored in yellow and red respectively.
Reds and greens also offset memories when contrast is needed to elicit a moment of childhood awareness: the red of Riad’s father Abdel’s radio announcing the political news that directs Abdel and his family’s life, green signaling a televised broadcast of Gaddafi’s state speech in Libya as well as the angry words of a Libyan waiting in line for state rationed bananas, which, too, are colored green, and red for Syrian army berets and broadcasts of Hafez al-Assad’s state propaganda. These seemingly minor details are key signifiers to what is remembered in sentiment even as they recount a larger reality and history.
While chronicling his “childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984,” Sattouf builds his story around his father Abdel’s journey as an academic and a family man. Abdel’s pride in his Syrian roots and in the Arab world in general is emblematic “of Syrians of his generation,” yet his ideals are often challenged by the realities of the Arab world. In Libya, Riad recalls the socialist vision of Gaddafi and how “housing for all citizens” meant that any apartment was free to commandeer if no one was home or locked inside. Abdel finds this out the hard way when his family is forced to look for a new flat immediately after another has settled into their space.chop! chop! read more!
by Michael DeForge
Koyama Press, 52 pages
reviewed by Nathan Chazan
The most recent installment of Michael Deforge’s one-man anthology series Lose features three new stories from the artist: two shorter pieces surrounding a longer work, which form a sort of triptych. Unlike earlier issues, Lose 7 lacks a subtitle alluding to a loose theme connecting the stories within (“The Fashion Issue” and “The Clubs Issue”). But if I were to choose a title for this seventh issue I might go with “The Growing Up Issue”, or perhaps “The Dysphoria Issue”. The three stories reflect how identities are constructed and the feelings of detachment and anxiety that accompany such journeys of self-definition.
The first story, untitled in this volume but previously published on Deforge’s Patreon page as “Adults”, depicts a children’s game in which a boy instructs a girl on how to pretend to be his mother. The two run through town proclaiming their false identities, fraught with the fear and excitement of fooling the outside world. The parody turns into a nightmare as the “mother’s” literally swelled head assumes and reverses the previously established power dynamic, becoming a brute force of the parental aggression the kids had been imitating.
With his friend, the boy creates a new version of his mother to boss around and power that he could not experience in his real family. In the hands of a child, this adult power—the very bossiness he hoped to escape—becomes terrifying. Deforge illustrates his work with garish primary colors and rough lines drawn over his minimal, schematic forms, suggesting that an actual child has traced over his artwork: every form intact, and yet ever-so-slightly off. The images in “Adults” are so loud they seem to scream. They evoke the bodily monstrosities of Deforge’s early work while keeping those eruptions contained—but just barely.
The longest and most thematically complex of the triptych, “Movie Star”, is the story of Kim, a young woman who discovers a schlocky sci-fi film featuring an actor who looks almost identical to her deadbeat dad, Louis. Her father denies the resemblance at first, but when the actor, a former professional wrestler named Gregory Tan, enters their lives, the two men become fast friends. Louis idolizes Gregory, who is revealed to be his long-lost older brother. After several strange episodes it becomes clear that the two have formed a new “whole” identity in which one man is inseparable from the other, like an actor and a stunt double in a film.chop! chop! read more!
THE DEVIL AND WINNIE FLYNN
by Micol Ostow
illustrated by David Ostow
Soho Teen, 326 pages
reviewed by Rachael Tague
I don’t like to be scared. I can’t stand that chill-in-the-air, breath-on-my-neck, sweat-in-my-palm terror that comes with horror stories. The last time I tried to read a scary book, I was twelve, and I flipped to the epilogue before I was halfway through to relieve the tension. That’s the only time I’ve ever read the end of a book without reading everything in between. But if I had the option to stop in the middle of The Devil and Winnie Flynn, I would have given up during the séance in the criminal ward of an abandoned insane asylum. As it was, I had to shut the book, take a breath, and reorient myself to reality before I could continue with this creepy tale.
Brother-Sister duo Micol and David Ostow (So Punk Rock (and Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother)) team up for the second time to write and illustrate The Devil and Winnie Flynn, packing the pages with ghostly spirits, exorcisms, demons, psychics, and all manner of haunted locations, its characters seeking communion with the dead and the damned. Cleverly twisting the paranormal with mystery and pop culture, the Ostows invite their readers into Winnie Flynn’s haunted adventures.
When her mother commits suicide, Winnie Flynn meets her long-lost Aunt Maggie, “the creator, director, and producer of the Fantastic, Fearsome USTM series.” Her life becomes “a family-tragedy-turned-last-minute internship in television—in reality television!—smack-dab dead center in America’s armpit.” Winnie relocates from Portland, Oregon to a shady motel in her late mother’s home state of New Jersey. From their headquarters in Asbury Park, the cast and crew are within driving distance of spirit-filled destinations like Overlook Insane Asylum, Ghost Boy Bridge, the Pine Barrens, and the Devils portal. Their goal: to hunt down the famed New Jersey Devil, a creature Winnie believes is a myth.chop! chop! read more!
LONG WALK TO VALHALLA
by Adam Smith and Matthew Fox
Archaia, 96 pages
reviewed by Brazos Price
In Long Walk to Valhalla, a graphic novel by Adam Smith and Matthew Fox, we follow a young man named Rory as he winds his way back through memories of his childhood in rural Arkansas. Rory and Joe are brothers, but so much more. Rory is Joe’s protector. Joe has difficulty speaking and is prone to strange trances in which he sees visions of “Pretty Things,” surreal-looking creatures that are not exactly monsters but certainly not part of the normal landscape of Arkansas. Because of Joe’s peculiar malady, he is vulnerable to worlds both real and (perhaps) imagined. This is a story of growing up and the sadness that accumulates along the way.
The story begins when Rory’s car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. He has only three contacts, all three of whom we meet during the course of the narrative, and no money to make a call. Then Sylvia appears from within a corn field near where Joe is stranded. She claims to be a Valkyrie out of Norse mythology, sent to take Rory off to Valhalla, the land where heroes go after they die in battle.
This is a framed story that works on several levels as it moves back and forth between Rory’s present and his childhood. There is the story Rory tells himself and the story he tells Sylvia about his life. Rory and Joe’s abusive and alcoholic dad, Dwayne, looms large in the frame, the one constant that must be overcome. We get a sense of Dwayne’s character in one of the early flashback scenes, when he sends Rory and Joe out to a convenience store to buy some ephedrine so he can cook meth. When the boys return, he spends hours haranguing Joe over some perceived slight. This short scene also defines the setting of the small rural town where Rory and Joe grow up; the store clerk is not at all surprised that Dwayne is sending his sons to do his “errands,” and when she comments that Joe “don’t talk much,” Rory simply says “Yes, ma’am,” and takes Joe’s hand as they leave, showing the protectiveness he feels for his brother. We then see the parking lot from Joe’s point of view: alive with hordes of bizarre creatures, from a dog-faced airplane to a giant sushi monster. Rory doesn’t share these visions, but he accepts that Joe sees them and doesn’t label him as crazy because of it.chop! chop! read more!
by Dash Shaw
Fantagraphics Books, 96 pages
reviewed by Brian Burmeister
What is it that awaits us after death? In his graphic novel, Doctors, artist/writer Dash Shaw creates a world in which each afterlife is unique, generated from one’s own memories with assistance from a newly-invented medical device, the Charon.
Throughout Doctors, Shaw showcases skillful storytelling. The world he creates is inventive and fascinating. From the beginning, he successfully pulls in the reader with the story’s sense of mystery. One quickly wonders what is real as the initial central character of Miss Bell struggles to make sense of a series of confusing events in her life.
As the story surrounding Miss Bell unfolds, we learn that doctors have created (through the Charon) a way to prolong life after death, allowing one’s consciousness to live on temporarily in a joyous modern-day Elysium. Within the afterlife, doctors are able to communicate with the deceased and, when successful, are able to compel the person to return to the land of the living, at least for a limited time.chop! chop! read more!
YOU DON’T SAY
by Nate Powell
Top Shelf Productions, 176 pages
reviewed by Stephanie Trott
Given ten years, an artist can undergo a series of personal evolutions that may come to mark them as a master. Among these seasoned individuals sits Nate Powell, a graphic novelist who has been writing and self-publishing since the age of fourteen. His most recent collection, You Don’t Say, presents seventeen short stories written over the course of a decade that celebrate the range of realizations that contribute to our inevitable maturation.
Targeting a young adult audience, these narratives are relatable to all who are in or beyond those infamous teenage years. From nights spent idling in barren parking lots to the realization that we will not forever willingly stay up past 3 A.M., Powell captures the a-ha! moments that come to define us as adults in the face of calendar rotations. Each installment features a brief text-based introduction that both describes the inspiration for the following piece and explains the comic in relation to the artist. Powell also includes suggestions as to how certain pieces should be read, asking the reader to consume several in one go or to allow features to work as singular entities. He shows the reader respect, and we in turn follow him down a psychological rabbit hole into a shaded world of self-doubt, superiority complexes, and good but misplaced intentions. Among these well-laid plans is the narrative “Cakewalk,” a non-fiction account in which a young white girl dresses in blackface as Aunt Jemima for Halloween. Forced by a teacher to remove the meticulously applied charcoal, we learn that the girl deeply wishes to embody the person she imagines the iconic matriarch to be: “I imagined that everybody liked Aunt Jemima. And that they stared at her face like I did when I ate pancakes in the morning.”chop! chop! read more!
ANDRE THE GIANT: LIFE AND LEGEND
by Box Brown
First Second Books, 240 pages
reviewed by Brian Burmeister
For a generation of professional wrestling fans, Andre Roussimoff was a giant, both as a man (he stood seven-feet, four-inches tall and weighed 500 pounds) and as an icon (he was one of the most successful and beloved wrestlers of all time).
In telling Andre’s story, author/illustrator Box Brown did his homework. A life-long fan of professional wrestling, Brown draws upon interviews with those who personally knew Andre as well archival footage in an effort to show a complete and accurate portrayal of Andre’s life in and out of the ring. Throughout Andre the Giant’s pages we see Andre as a young boy growing up in the French countryside, Andre as an up-and-comer in the professional wrestling circuit, and finally Andre the globe-trekking celebrity. Along the way, Brown gives life to dozens of anecdotes about the wrestler, moments ranging from playful to painful but always compelling and curious.
For those less familiar with professional wrestling, Brown takes pains to make the material accessible. Throughout the course of the narrative, he includes a preface in which he imparts to the reader a useful description of wrestling as business, explains all necessary terminology in text and within a glossary in the back of the book, and walks the reader through the context and culture of professional wrestling fandom during the 1970s and 80s.
Brown’s visual style is simple and fun, much like professional wrestling itself. While a more superhero-y sort of approach might have been equally fitting, Brown draws each moment in a very comic way, giving a light-hearted feel to the entirety of the work. Andre’s size lends itself well to this cartoonish format, allowing Brown to exaggerate Andre’s hugeness even further for effect, a move which lets Brown take the Giant’s legacy and spin it into the stuff of legend.chop! chop! read more!
by Josh Simmons
Fantagraphics Books, 110 pages
reviewed by Stephanie Trott
Despite society’s wonderment over advances of the human race, we are nonetheless fascinated by hypotheses of how the world may one day cease to exist. And while prophecies of rapture have yet to prove veritable, there exist countless fictional renderings of a post-apocalyptic Earth. The medium of graphic narrative has long played host to such tales, from the teenage plague that dominates Charles Burns’s iconic Black Hole to the psychedelic stylings of anarchist rebel Tank Girl. In this spirit comes Josh Simmons’s Black River, which follows a gang of five women and one man as they traverse a dormant planet void of laws and warmth.
Led by the experienced Seka over the course of more than a decade, the group searches in hopes of locating the fabled city of Gattenberg—“walled in and completely self-sufficient, protected by sharp-shooters all around the city.” They are survivalists to the Nth degree, employing stockpiled supplies unused by those now deceased; their camaraderie is strong (as they quite literally sleep together in an attempt to stay warm through the night) and extends both to preserving life and taking it when necessary. The reader does not receive much exposition regarding life before the present day, save for a wavering account of how every possible proposition of world’s end contributed to humanity’s current state of being.chop! chop! read more!
FIRST YEAR HEALTHY
by Michael DeForge
Drawn and Quarterly, 48 pages
reviewed by Travis DuBose
In Michael DeForge’s short, gnomic First Year Healthy, terse declarative prose is set alongside hallucinatory artwork to create a sense of unease and unreality that deepens over the course of the narrative. First Year Healthy is the illustrated monologue of an unnamed young woman describing her life after being released from psychiatric care for an unspecified “public outburst.” The details of the story are delivered flatly, no matter how outrageous or impossible, casting each new revelation in the same terms as the last. In fact, more emotional heft is given to the description of the narrator’s job gutting and packing fish than to her first bizarre sexual experiences with “the Turk,” the man she eventually moves in with.
In contrast to the prose the artwork is vibrant and varied, with the open space of the backgrounds often patterned in abstract shapes and curlicues. It’s increasingly unclear as the story progresses whether what we’re seeing is simply stylized or a representation of the way the world actually looks to the narrator. A Christmas tree bears more resemblance to a haphazard pile of seaweed than to a real spruce, and it is decorated with the same pustule-like baubles that frame the introduction of the Turk’s son. The book’s most frequently repeated image, the “sacred cat” that graces its cover, silently haunts the pages, stalking through backgrounds and peeking in windows. The construction of the characters’ bodies is squat, exaggerating their heads, and the narrator’s body is dwarfed by two massive tufts of hair that cover her eyes and swing out to either side of her.chop! chop! read more!
SUPERMUTANT MAGIC ACADEMY
by Jillian Tamaki
Drawn & Quarterly, 2015
reviewed by Jesse Allen
Awkwardness is the hallmark of adolescence. Teenagers going off to boarding school or college find themselves entering a particularly unstable social realm for the first time. Having mutant superpowers or knowing the secrets of magic can help overcome this awkwardness—or it can exacerbate it. Part Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and part Professor X’s School for Gifted Youngsters, SuperMutant Magic Academy paints a whimsical, snarky, and heartwarming picture of this period of youth.
The cover of SuperMutant Magic Academy features Marsha, bored and surrounded by the detritus of teenager-dom: her homework, notes, and of course a magic wand, no more special than the pencil she writes with. Characters walk through the halls of S.M.A. hypersensitive or oblivious to dolphin-headed Trixie, super-logical hunk Cheddar, cute and fox-eared Marsha, as well as the performance art antics of Frances or the annoying ploys for acceptance by laser-eyed Trevor. Like many an institutional bubble for gifted youth, S.M.A. is a parallel society where issues of identity, gender, sexual orientation, race, and how-is-everyone-going-to-live-in-the-real-world are played out in between magic classes, football games, regular classes, pranks, and protests. Contemporary youth are immersed in a technological world that renders their attitudes with a seemingly ironic blasé, yet they still play D & D with zeal.chop! chop! read more!
by Jason Little
Uncivilized Books, 96 pages
reviewed by Jesse Allen
Is Borb a graphic novel or comic strip? Packaged as both, the reader is treated to various juxtapositions that jar as well as entertain and enlighten. Illustrated in a style reminiscent of Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie, Borb’s main character is out of time. Homeless and alcoholic, he constantly stumbles into mishaps, finding resolutions that quickly fall apart and lead him into more desperate circumstances. But what we know and learn about him is very little, as alcoholism is the main character throughout this tale. He is able to make gains, such as finding food and a place to eat, and yet he sabotages himself through his addictive imbibing. As the story progresses, it is hard to muster pity for the main character.
Rendered in classic Sunday comics’ style, the horrors of alcoholism are accompanied by the bumbling antics of the everyday life of this man. Rarely does he speak, and yet Little is able to capture the humor and sadness in his alcohol-fueled survival and fall. While never pretending to be a “feel good” read, Borb doesn’t come across as a cautionary tale either. Our man finds himself surrounded by bits of chicken bone, pizza boxes, half eaten Styrofoam containers of whatever, and stained cardboard boxes strewn across the ground. While this might appear to be “rock bottom,” his alcoholism causes him to sink lower when his descent moves underground.chop! chop! read more!
by Lucy Knisley
Fantagraphics, 168 pages
reviewed by Travis DuBose
Lucy Knisley’s Displacement follows her previous graphic travelogues focused on carefree adventures in Europe with a diary about aging and constriction. In the winter of 2012 Knisley accompanied her elderly grandparents on a cruise through the Caribbean, a vacation that, given her grandparents’ condition—her grandmother was suffering from advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and her grandfather was mentally sharp but physically frail—was, by her own admission, ill-advised and possibly dangerous. As she recounts the difficulties of caring for her grandparents, Knisley ruminates on the role they’ve played in the life of her family. In particular, she quotes from and illustrates selections from her grandfather’s memoirs of the second world war.chop! chop! read more!
by Scott McCloud
First Second Books, 488 pages
reviewed by Amy Blakemore
Scott McCloud is a mentor. Most first meet him in Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, where he instantly disarms with his bespectacled, plaid glory, celebrating and clarifying the medium for readers. Witnessing McCloud usher original characters into the world with the same warmth and care in The Sculptor, his new graphic novel, is nothing short of a privilege. Rarely do we find characters presented in a manner I am compelled to call gentle: set down on the page as if being laid into bed, allowed to speak their dreamlike thoughts before sleep. And, like a dream, The Sculptor is equal parts muted and epic: you will notice it in your waking life—you will experience an eerie hum at the resemblance.
McCloud introduces David Smith: a character written in the legacy of Doctor Faustus, here reincarnated in modern day New York as a struggling artist who agrees to shorten his time on earth for fantastic sculpting abilities. With a common name, David offers a relatable face for individuals dying for creative breakthrough, a cliché McCloud literalizes by instituting life and death stakes.chop! chop! read more!
THE DEATH OF ARCHIE: A LIFE CELEBRATED Text by Paul Kupperberg; Illustrations by Pat Kennedy, Paul Kennedy and Fernando Ruiz Archie Comic Publications, Inc., 113 pages reviewed by Natalie Pendergast The Death of Archie: A Life Celebrated is the long-awaited two-part finale of the Life with Archie series, the most recent incarnation of which began in 2010. The series is a revival of the original Life with Archie comics that, along with spin-offs like Pals ‘n’ Gals and Betty and Veronica, began in the ’50s, spanned several decades, and consisted of hundreds of issues. Unlike the other variant series, however, the early Life With Archie comics were characterized by generic shifts from romantic comedy to drama and fantasy, as well as experimental alternate universes. Now, the latest Life With Archie comics have surpassed all others by dismantling the romance genre that promised a life of wedlock and nuclear family values, … chop! chop! read more!
by Charles Forsman
Fantagraphics Books, 67 pages
reviewed by Stephanie Trott
For the first potion of one’s life, summer is a welcome three-month respite from the seemingly stressful remainder of the year. Like the buds of a flower, it is a period of joy in the face of few commitments and responsibilities. But somewhere, as those flowers begin to fade and adolescence sets in, we become forlornly reminiscent of those times as we’re caught in-between one concrete stage of life and another. Charles Forsman’s Celebrated Summer tells of one such swan song, recalling the alternating experiences of two teens as they trip both literally and figuratively in the midst of one teenage summer.
Told through the perspective of Wolf, whose gentle nature is masked by his large frame and sprout-like mohawk, we join a transient trip from the suburbs to the shore. Wolf’s partner in crime, Mike, is a sassy-mouthed whisp of a teenage boy who initiates both trips, leading Wolf down the rabbit hole with two tabs of LSD and on an unnecessarily elongated drive. Mike is clearly the alpha-male in this friendship, though Wolf—who describes himself as “a pretty nervous guy on the inside”—does not seem to object. Rather, he willingly goes along with Mike’s dominant nature as a directionless passenger of his own fortune.chop! chop! read more!
THIS ONE SUMMER text by Mariko Tamaki illustrations by Jillian Tamaki First Second Books, 320 pages, reviewed by Natalie Pendergast Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s 2014 graphic novel This One Summer follows the lives of two summer cottage friends in their early teens. Rose and Windy spend this last summer of innocence testing the proverbial waters of adolescence as well as the actual waters of the Awago Beach where their families summer. The girls have heard things over the years, things about miscarriages and abortions, but this one summer, they experience the emotions of women and girls who are actually entangled in such adult problems. What Rose and Windy thought were simply mistakes to be avoided become a complicated mix of desire, pain and decision-making. Jillian Tamaki’s navy-violet-grey art expresses movement by way of diversified frame angles covering a single scene and comfortably suturing earlier panels with later ones. Often de-centering the … chop! chop! read more!
THE FORGOTTEN MAN: A New History of the Great Depression Graphic Edition text by Amity Shlaes illustrations by Paul Rivoche 320 pages, Harper Perennial reviewed by Jesse Allen The new graphic novel edition of Amity Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man, illustrated by Paul Rivoche, is a thorough historical account of America during the Great Depression years. From the starkly illustrated cover of the masses—grim faced men with shadows for eyes, in a sea of Stetson wearing unfortunates—to the beautifully rendered illustrative black and white style on each page, this book is a visual treat. Spanning from 1927 to 1940, Shlaes is able to cover a wide swath of economic and cultural changes. While the crux of the book is “the Forgotten Man,” the working class men and women who thrive or suffer depending on how the government is able to deal with the economy in light of recent disasters, this book is about historical … chop! chop! read more!
A BINTEL BRIEF: LOVE AND LONGING IN OLD NEW YORK
by Liana Finck
Ecco Press, 128 pages
reviewed by Ana Schwartz
There’s a new sort of fiction circulating, stories of young people, by young people, for young people. This isn’t YA lit. These stories range across genres, even mediums, but they all describe the ambivalence of maturing in post-post-modernity. These narratives share a sense of lostness and reflective self-estrangement. The authors are smart and the narratives are smartly-dressed. They usually take place in New York. Think Frances Ha or Tai Pei or Girls. And if, as one well-respected author of such fictions has recently described them, they at times seem “cold, lazy, [and] artificial,” they also exhibit “extreme honesty and thoroughness of […] self scrutiny.”
Liana Finck’s new graphic novel, A Bintel Brief features one such young me-person; but, although the story mines her development as an artist, it does so by digging into the past. With the distance afforded by history, and supported by the graphic novel’s relatively diffuse gaze, Finck offers a warmer, and more engaged account of a remarkably persistent theme: how one comes to feel that they belong to a community.chop! chop! read more!
OUTSIDE THE BOX: INTERVIEWS WITH CONTEMPORARY CARTOONISTS By Hillary L. Chute University of Chicago Press, 272 Pages reviewed by Seamus O’Malley Outside the Box: Interviews with Contemporary Cartoonists by Hillary Chute contains interviews with Scott McCloud, Charles Burns, Lynda Barry, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Daniel Clowes, Phoebe Gloeckner, Joe Sacco, Alison Bechdel, Françoise Mouly, Adrian Tomine, Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware. If you know comics you’ll recognize this as the auteur scene, and if you don’t you’ve just been given your starter syllabus. Many of these interviews appeared before, especially in Believer magazine, but those have been expanded, and several others are appearing for the first time in print. It is a valuable record of some of the industry’s greatest talents contemplating their work, their influences, and comics culture at large. There is some precedent for such a collection, such as Todd Hignite’s In the Studio: Visits with Contemporary Cartoonists (2007), which … chop! chop! read more!
MAURICE SENDAK: A CELEBRATION OF THE ARTIST AND HIS WORK Curated by Justin G. Schiller and Dennis M.V. David Edited by Leonard S. Marcus Harry N. Abrams Press, 224 pages reviewed by Tahneer Oksman In a collaborative comic strip published in The New Yorker in 1993, cartoon versions of Art Spiegelman and Maurice Sendak amble through a forest littered with their own creations peeking out at them from the background. Sendak’s character wisely pontificates, “Childhood is deep and rich. It’s vital, mysterious, and profound. I remember my own childhood vividly…” In the final panel, he adds, “I knew terrible things. But I knew I musn’t let adults know I knew.” Those of us who grew up reading Sendak’s beloved children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are—which is to say, very many of us—undoubtedly recognize in those words the strange and titillating worldview that belonged to the wolf-suit wearing Max. In … chop! chop! read more!
ON LOVING WOMEN by Diane Obomsawin Drawn & Quarterly, 94 pages reviewed by Amy Victoria Blakemore “On Loving Women”: it sounds like a treatise. But Diane Obomsawin does not deliver the usual tome with this intimately illustrated collection of coming out stories, nor does she intend to. In contrast to similarly named philosophical texts such as Aristotle’s On the Soul or Arthur Schopenhaur’s infamous On Women, On Loving Women presents ten vignettes of first love without explanation or elaboration: they are whole ideas, answers unto themselves. And they are utterly delightful to read. Obomsawin begins each short narrative in On Loving Women with the speaker’s name and a single- or double-panel snapshot of her in her natural habitat: in a chair with a drink or dressed as Zorro, sword and all. For one speaker, Catherine, Obomsawin forgoes props to highlight her big, awkward eyes. These introductions could have easily verged … chop! chop! read more!
THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EARLY EARTH by Isabel Greenberg Little, Brown and Company, 176 Pages Reviewed by Stephanie Trott There is no sole way to tell the story of our planet. Whether one chooses to uphold a belief rooted in science, religion, or some amalgamation of the two, our interpretation of man’s early days will never be a precise match to that of our neighbor. Many origin stories regarding that ancient spark of life cross cultures that span the globe, each holding vaguely similar elements and lessons with the introduction of new heroes, heroines, beasts, and locations. Isabel Greenberg has taken this philosophy into account in her graphic novel The Encyclopedia of Early Earth. Though not a non-fictional encyclopedia, Greenberg has reinterpreted familiar childhood stories of valiant journeys, jealous siblings, and—of course—the gravitational pull we call love. Her tales, which are framed as the life story of a nameless Nord man, … chop! chop! read more!
LITTLE FISH: A MEMOIR OF A DIFFERENT KIND OF YEAR by Ramsey Beyer Zest Books, 272 pages Reviewed by Stephanie Trott It’s a familiar notion, the sense of being a little fish in a big pond. This awareness may arrive at an early age for some, while running inexplicably late for others. But for eighteen-year-old Ramsey Beyer, a lover of lists, lakes, and bonfires, this epiphany arrives with a traditional right-of-passage: the start of college. Beyer, now ten years beyond this awakening, chronicles her transition from Midwest high school senior to city-savvy first year art student in her debut memoir, Little Fish: A Memoir of a Different Kind of Year. Like many pre-undergrads, she precariously balances on the teeter-totter of change and consistency that comes with college acceptances, graduation, and the unstoppable arrival of the first autumn away from home. Beyer demonstrates maturity and insight when constructing a list of … chop! chop! read more!
MY DIRTY DUMB EYES by Lisa Hanawalt Drawn and Quarterly, 120 pages Reviewed by Margaret Galvan My Dirty Dumb Eyes, released last May, may be comic artist Lisa Hanawalt’s debut text with a major publisher, but it highlights her preexisting popularity. Indeed, Hanawalt’s text shows its chops through its diverse array of humorous comic vignettes often originally commissioned for well-known print and internet periodicals—from New York Magazine to The Hairpin. A few months prior to its release, one of these comics, “The Secret Lives of Chefs,” first printed in the pages of Lucky Peach—a magazine co-created by Momofuku-founder, David Chang—was nominated for a James Beard, the preeminent award in the culinary world. In addition to “The Secret Lives of Chefs,” where Hanawalt creatively imagines bizarre skeletons in the closet out of the public personas of renown restauranteurs, she weighs in on the world of fashion and film in other comics. … chop! chop! read more!
PACHYDERME by Frederik Peeters translated from the French by Edward Gauvin Harry N. Abrams Press SelfMadeHero imprint, 88 pages Reviewed by Brazos Price A cinematic opening: a woman’s heeled boot, a 1950’s traffic jam in bucolic Romandie, a downed elephant. Carice Sorrel, a woman who “simply must get to the hospital,” to see her husband who has been in an accident, heads into the woods rather than wait for the elephant to be removed. In Pachyderme, by Frederik Peeters, this transition from the road – through the woods – and into the hospital, quickly feels like a trip into the subconscious. When Carice first sees the hospital, the reader sees her have something of an out of body experience. Ultimately, the image seems to suggest that she is replaying, reinterpreting, and reworking recent events while asleep or unconscious or insane or dead. She wanders through the hospital and her … chop! chop! read more!
WE WON’T SEE AUSCHWITZ by Jérémie Dres SelfMadeHero, 199 pages Reviewed by Stephanie Trott Everyone has a story, a collection of historical inner workings and familial memories that makes us who we are. But not all desire or are able to physically retrace the steps of those who laid our ancestral foundation. In We Won’t See Auschwitz, author Jérémie Dres does precisely that: embarking on a pilgrimage to Poland in search of the “drop of cool water from a spring” that he likens to his Grandma Thérèse, Dres winds his way through the history of the country and retraces his grandmother’s steps while simultaneously forging his own. The reader is dropped immediately into the action, rendezvousing with Dres in Warsaw’s historic Old Town as he searches for his grandmother’s original home on an unseasonably warm June afternoon. Together we search with him through the clouded eyes of the past for … chop! chop! read more!
THE PROPERTY by Rutu Modan Drawn and Quarterly, 222 pages reviewed by Amelia Moulis A family secret. A tragic love affair. This could well be any book of the last millennia, and yet in Rutu Modan’s latest graphic novel, The Property, fresh life is given to these age-old tropes. After receiving the 2008 Eisner for her first foray into adult graphic novels with Exit Wounds, Modan’s second novel further cements her talent in exploiting the subtleties of the medium. Where Exit Wounds is a fast-paced and chaotic adventure, The Property follows similar themes in a calmer setting as a grandmother and granddaughter travel from Tel Aviv to Warsaw ostensibly to reclaim a property they lost in World War II. From the outset, grandmother Regina is established as a quick-tempered, strong-minded and endlessly stubborn character in direct opposition to the temperament of her granddaughter, Mica, who is practical and level-headed. As their … chop! chop! read more!
RELISH: MY LIFE IN THE KITCHEN by Lucy Knisley First Second Books, 173 pages Reviewed by Stephanie Trott Never crowd the mushrooms. It’s a mantra recited time and time again in cookbooks, culinary shows, and even some Hollywood films. But without understanding what this actually means, as one’s interpretation will invariably differ from another’s, the only result is a disappointingly inconsistent sauté. In the absence of visual representation, one may interpret crowding as tight as a tin of sardines or as light as a bag of fluffy marshmallows. Enter Lucy Knisley and her graphic memoir Relish: My Life In the Kitchen, a bright collection of stories and memories centered on food, her family, and her upbringing. Following Knisley from the countertops of her childhood apartment in downtown Manhattan to early mornings at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, her homemade meals and grocery lists guide the reader through … chop! chop! read more!
CALLING DR LAURA
By Nicole J Georges
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 260 pages
reviewed by Amelia Moulis
Nicole J Georges’ Calling Dr Laura, is an acerbic and intelligent addition to the graphic memoirs of 2013. It catalogues Georges’ troubled upbringing and her subsequent quest for love and stability in her relationships, and indeed her life at large. Georges enters this story through her first girlfriend, who takes Georges to a psychic, inadvertently uncovering a deep family secret: the psychic insists that Georges’ father – whom she was told died of colon cancer when she was a baby – is in fact alive. Although this is the ‘hook’ of the story, it is important to emphasize that this is actually not the driving force behind the storyline. It takes many years for Georges to share this information with anyone, let alone confront her mom about it. In the meantime, Georges meanders between cross-sections of her mom’s abusive relationships, the string of ‘father figures’ shaping her upbringing, Georges’ own inability to process stress and emotion, her struggle to establish a family, and the faulty dynamics of her lesbian relationships. But underneath this is the constant tension of when, or if, Georges can confront her mother about her sexuality and the circumstances of her father’s absence from her life.chop! chop! read more!
SO LONG, SILVER SCREEN by Blutch Picturebox, 88 pages reviewed by Gabriel Chazan Every film is a ghost story. When we go to the theater, we see flickering images of things in the eternal past yet present which persistently haunt us. This observation cannot be avoided reading the French cartoonist Blutch’s new graphic essay/novel So Long, Silver Screen. With this book, Blutch summons the ghosts from his own filmgoing past to consider the film form. Death pervades the book from the very first panel in which a woman writes, “Adieu Paul Newman.” When the woman tells her lover Newman is dead, he reacts in disbelief: “it can’t be—I think about him every day” as if, by being captured onscreen, stars are immortal. Blutch has decided to try his hand at film criticism. The book is largely comprised of discussions and arguments between a man and woman about film. We get … chop! chop! read more!
BARNABY VOL. 1
by Crockett Johnson
introduction by Chris Ware; Art direction by Daniel Clowes
Fantagraphics, 336 pages
reviewed by Travis DuBose
In his foreword to its first collected volume, Chris Ware compares Barnaby, Crockett Johnson’s 1940s newspaper strip, to other early influential comics like Little Nemo, Krazy Kat and Peanuts. He goes on to say that Barnaby is “the last great comic strip,” a description that ends up being a little unfair to any first time readers of Barnaby: though there are moments of greatness in it, Volume One mostly points forward to the strip’s potential, rather than showcasing Johnson’s brilliance firsthand. This difficult start is consistent with the beginnings of other strips, even great ones: the ability to deliver a solid joke, every day, in three or four panels is mastered by very few and even fewer, if any, can do it consistently from the first strip. Barnaby, however, has one of the best rocky starts I’ve encountered in the medium, and its later greatness is well worth its early fumbles.
Crockett Johnson may not have the immediate name recognition of Charles Schulz or Bill Watterson, but his work is a mainstay of American childhoods: he authored Harold and the Purple Crayon and its sequels, and readers of the Harold books will recognize in Barnaby’s protagonist, five year old Barnaby Baxter, the prototype of Harold. Additionally, there are several Barnaby strips featuring a half moon seen out the window over Barnaby’s bed, the final, iconic image of the first Harold book. Harold readers will also recognize the art style: stark, bold lines over simple backgrounds that nonetheless show an impressive command of perspective and space.chop! chop! read more!
THE END by Anders Nilsen Fantagraphics Books, 80 pages Reviewed by Henry Steinberg The Humming Bird. The Condor. The Giant. The Hands. I hold your head in my hands and your heart in my heart and I look at you and I am floating above the bed alone and there’s nothing I can do at all because you’re gone. These are the Nazca Lines. Located in the southern desert of Peru, these ancient geoglyphs dot the landscape, their purpose unknown, their mystery immense. Carved into the earth by the Nazca Peoples, the exact date of their creation is impossible to pin down, but researchers believe they were made between 400-650 BCE. When standing on top of the lines, within them, it is impossible to discern the shapes of the designs, though they are figurative and quite complex. One needs the great distance and height of the surrounding foothills to see … chop! chop! read more!
TODAY IS THE LAST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE by Ulli Lust, translated by Kim Thomson Fantagraphics Books, 460 pages Reviewed by Tahneer Oksman Note: Lust’s memoir was edited and translated into English by comics visionary Kim Thompson, who passed away earlier this week. This book, along with countless others, is a tribute to his legacy. –T.O. Why weren’t more women dharma bums, taking trips across the country like the Kerouac’s and Cassady’s and Snyder’s of On the Road and beyond? Why weren’t more of them trekking up desolation mountains, sleeping in boxcars, bumming cigarettes and hash and old paperbacks and swigs of wine from strangers?* Ulli Lust’s thick graphic memoir, Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life, though set in the early 1980’s, decades after most of the beats had already burned out, and continents away – taking place in Austria and Italy – … chop! chop! read more!
RAVEN GIRL by Audrey Niffenegger Abrams ComicsArt, 80 pages Reviewed by Amy Victoria Blakemore At eighty pages, Audrey Niffenegger’s Raven Girl goes by quickly. We meet two improbable lovers, who have an improbable child, who finds love in her own (you guessed it) improbable way. Raven Girl is undoubtedly a fairy tale, cooked up with ingredients of the genre that readers will identify early on – anthropomorphized animals, an unexpected road to a relationship, a metamorphosis of the body, an enemy, etc. What is truly new about this work may not be immediately apparent, but once we notice it, we recognize Raven Girl as both delectable and honorable—a new (and necessary) twist on an old recipe. With uncluttered, clean prose, and twenty-one well-selected drawings, Raven Girl is a humble work. White space cushions Niffenegger’s blocks of text on all sides, conveying the sensation that these pages are letters—perhaps even written by the … chop! chop! read more!