Altes/Fishs, Beaumont, Clowes, Cornell/Parker, Girard, Jackson, Schulz | Graphic Novels Reviews, September 15, 2016

Altes's inventive dialog effectively juxtaposes outrageousness with hyperacademic geekery; Jackson will get readers thinking about causes and effects of our actions; Shaw will resonate with readers interested in the pop culture fan world

Black Lives Matter In July, the Hennepin Public Library, MN, released reading lists to educate children and teens about Black Lives Matter, an “ideological and political intervention” against violence and injustice directed toward black people (blacklives­matter.com). The teen list includes the March trilogy (Bk. 1, LJ 7/13; Bk. 2, Xpress Reviews, 1/22/15; Bk. 3, Xpress Reviews, 9/2/16), Congressman John Lewis’s much-praised graphic autobiography about activism for social justice during the civil rights movement. A number of other comics titles also take up these refrains. Assess them for your catchment area, and get set to stock up.

In The Silence of Our Friends: The Civil Rights Struggle Was Never Black and White (LJ 3/15/12), Mark Long tells of his white journalist father covering and assisting in civil rights protests despite opposition from locals and lawmen. Younger and more iconoclastic than Long or Rep. Lewis, satirist Keith Knight has compiled 20 years of his searing yet funny strips about police brutality into They Shoot Black People, Don’t They? (kchronicles.com). More reportage than satire, APB: Artists Against Police Brutality (LJ 11/15/15) collects short comics, essays, and fictional pieces to get people talking about deadly police oppression, the (in)justice system, and civil rights. Proceeds go to the Innocence Project, which works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and reform the criminal justice system.

That system itself comes under intense critique in Sabrina Jones and Marc Mauer’s Race To Incarcerate (LJ 3/1/13), which analyzes disparities and toxic effects of U.S. imprisonment practices since the 1970s. The Real Cost of Prisons Comix, from the Real Cost of Prisons Project, also denounces outcomes of mass incarceration.

Compelling fiction includes D.C. Walker and Bruno ­Oliveira’s When the River Rises (LJ 1/16), about prisoners escaping Hurricane Katrina; Incognegro (LJ 7/08), featuring a black journalist passing as white in the 1930s South; and Marvel’s Captain America: Truth, inspired by the infamous Tuskegee experiment in which federal government health workers allowed African Americans to suffer syphilis while withholding treatment and lying about it.

Two new projects underway include Kwanza Osajyefo’s Black (see Kickstarter campaign) and the Black Lives Matter: Comics Anthology, a collection of webcomics on Facebook from various creators.—MC

Altes, Steve (text) & Andy Fish & Veronica Fish (illus.). Geeks & Greeks. Relentless Goat Prods. Mar. 2016. 184p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9780996350440. pap. $19.95. F

Altes, a three-degrees MIT alumnus and humor writer (If You Jam the Copier, Bolt!), drew on memories plus published accounts to craft this amusing romp about brainy Jim Walden, who hoodwinks his way into MIT and gets caught up in fraternity “hack” culture. MIT’s (very real) hacks are elaborate pranks, such as sneaking an uncannily real-looking police car up onto the campus dome. The beleaguered Jim must balance this mischief-making with MIT’s daunting academics as well as his romance with the intellectual Natalie, who works at a local sperm bank—which recruits MIT students as donors. The inventive dialog effectively juxtaposes outrageousness with hyperacademic geekery, like the “millihelen” measure of beauty, the insult “nanophallus,” and a football cheer based on pi. Fish’s (Dracula’s Army) colorful art intersperses near-realism with cartoonier drawings, which can be disconcerting yet conveys a “prank” ambiance. VERDICT Great fun for college-age readers and adults.—MC

Beaumont, Henny. Hole in the Heart: Bringing Up Beth. Pennsylvania State Univ. (Graphic Medicine). Oct. 2016. 288p. ISBN 9780271077406. pap. $24.95. Memoir

The title of this deeply affecting memoir by British artist Beaumont clearly refers both to the heart condition that her third daughter, Beth, is born with, and to Beaumont’s struggles with loving the girl, who also has Down syndrome. Beaumont is revealing, even blunt, about the emotional turmoil she and husband Steve undergo during Beth’s early years: the questioning; fears of the future; the many awkward moments around parents of typical kids; and the traumatic encounters with doctors and other professionals. Particularly difficult is their decision whether to continue dealing with the inclusion-without-engagement of Beth’s mainstreamed early education, or to send her to a special school. Beaumont’s artwork, in a black-and-white watercolorlike style with many shades of gray, can become starkly expressionistic at times of dread and more realistic at calmer moments, achieving some striking images and powerful visual metaphors. VERDICT With an ultimate message of hope and love, this adult work will resonate strongly with parents of children with special needs.—SR

Clowes, Daniel. Patience. Fantagraphics. Mar. 2016. 177p. ISBN 9781606999059. $29.99. SF/Romance

patience-jpg91516Patience and Jack are happily married and expecting a baby. But both have secrets—she has a dysfunctional past they haven’t discussed, and he’s not the office worker he claims. Then Patience turns up dead, apparently murdered by a former boyfriend. Devastated, Jack wonders if he can do anything now for his wife and child. And years later when he happens on someone with a time-travel device, he does do something. The award-winning Clowes (Mister Wonderful) sets his cast of unsophisticated characters into a high-tech premise but keeps the focus on the people rather than the science. Indeed, the contrast among the characters, their deep and universal emotions, and the sf trappings is jarring. Clowes’s stolid, almost frozen drawing style captures a humanity caught in its unmet needs, powerless to understand or find satisfaction. The full coloring recalls classic superhero comics, edging over into psychedelic hues for futuristic sections. ­VERDICT This parable of enduring love, leavened with noir-tinged humor and quirky dialog about existential dilemmas, will appeal to aficionados of literary graphic novels and those who enjoyed Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds.—MC

Cornell, Paul (text) & Tony Parker (illus.). This Damned Band. Dark Horse. May 2016. 160p. ISBN 9781616557799. pap. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9781630080990. graphic novels

In this fantastic tale of 1970s musical excess and madness, guitarist Clive Stanley leads the hard-rocking English band Motherfather, who only flirt with devil worship—or so they think. After a possibly psychedelic but potentially genuinely demonic incident at Japan’s Budokan arena, the band’s lead groupie, the idealistic and mystical ­Summerflower, feels real darkness closing in. At an apparently haunted chateau in France where the band is recording and relationships are fraying, she takes action—and then things get really weird. Prolific Doctor Who writer Cornell fills the book with knowing detail from rock music lore; band manager “Mr. Browley” is clearly based on notorious Satanist (and Jimmy Page influence) Aleister Crowley, and there’s in-joke gold in the book’s bonus extras. Cornell and Parker have seemingly modeled Motherfather’s members at least partly on musicians from The Who, Led Zeppelin, and Spinal Tap. The last two of those bands are most relevant to the story, which goes a bit over the top. But what band back then didn’t? VERDICT With sordid sex and drug-taking, this mature-readers occult comedy will easily win over fans of classic British rock.—SR

Girard, Pascal. Nicolas. Drawn & Quarterly. Sept. 2016. 112p. tr. from French by Helge Dascher. ISBN 9781770462625. $14.95. memoir

First published in 2006, Girard’s (Petty Theft) poignant memoir of his younger brother’s death is here enhanced by an afterword updating the story. Throughout childhood and into mature adulthood, Girard’s grief emerges unexpectedly in different ways, like sharp bits from a broken, beloved toy uncovered in fits and starts throughout the house. And similar to those bits, the book itself appears in fragments: brief accounts of anger, sorrow, frustration, callousness, helplessness, stupidity. The author’s childish reaction after the funeral is “I’m bored,” but a few years later he breaks down when hearing that Nicolas endured grueling medical treatments so as to see his big brother afterward in recovery. This work was one of the first Girard drew, yet these simple, freehand black-line cartoons (he credits Jeffrey Brown as influence) work perfectly. VERDICT This new edition of ­Girard’s ode to a treasured relationship, forever ruptured, will appeal to adults and teens who may be grieving themselves and who are open to the humor and pathos his honest portrait evokes.—MC

redstarJackson, Shirley (text) & Miles Hyman (illus.). Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery: A Graphic Adaptation. Hill & Wang: Farrar. Oct. 2016. 160p. ISBN 9780809066490. $30; pap. ISBN 9780809066506. $16. f

A well-known short story often assigned in literature classes, Jackson’s “The Lottery” slowly unveils the grim details of a yearly ritual in a small community in rural America. The ritual’s origins are forgotten, and other towns have given it up, but these villagers keep the tradition out of habit, superstitious expectations for a better harvest, and paradoxical benefits of group cohesion despite a deadly outcome. How much cruelty, asks Jackson rhetorically, do we cause out of habit or peer pressure? The Salem witch hunts, pogroms, “queer-bashing,” and Internet bullying all have commonalities with this odd lottery that seems to draw more from ancient practices than from the modern world. Hyman (The Black Dahlia), Jackson’s grandson, imbues realistic characters with a blocky stoicism in full-color panels flooded with sun-parched orange light. Much of the rendition is wordless, the art carrying this tale of quiet horror. VERDICT This standout work featuring a violent and inhumane tradition within a mundane setting will get readers thinking about causes and effects of our actions. For general readers as well as educators and librarians working with teens and adults alike.—MC

Johnson, Crockett & Ted Ferro (text) & Jack Morley (illus.). Barnaby. Vol. 3: 1946–1947. Fantagraphics. Jun. 2016. 372p. notes. ISBN 9781606998236. $39.99. comics

barnaby-jpg91516This often-brilliant newspaper strip created by Johnson (of the children’s classic ­Harold and the Purple Crayon) stars five-year-old Barnaby and his kindly, portly, pink-winged fairy godfather, Jackeen J. O’Malley, a charlatan, blowhard, and master mooch. Barnaby’s parents have never seen O’Malley and don’t believe he exists; neighbor girl Jane wisely regards him as “dopey”; but Barnaby trusts him implicitly. At its best the strip is hilarious, with a satirical bent (one of O’Malley’s preposterous exploits gets him elected to Congress in absentia) and erudite, literate humor, exemplified by O’Malley’s far-out-of-date cultural references (helpfully explained here in endnotes). The winningly absurd supporting cast includes Atlas the pygmy giant, talking dog Gorgon, and Gus the timid ghost. Unfortunately, Johnson has turned the strip over to others here, and while Morley provides a fine replica of Johnson’s endearingly simple and clean artwork, Ferro never masters either punchline crafting or O’Malley’s loquacious boasting. But near the end of this volume Johnson returns to writing chores, remaining until the strip’s 1952 conclusion. VERDICT The first two volumes of this series are neglected masterpieces; buy this third of a planned five for completeness.—SR

redstarSchulz, Gabby. Sick. Secret Acres. Jun. 2016. 84p. ISBN 9780996273916. $21.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS

“To be or not to be?” Channeling ­Shakespeare’s Hamlet via Hunter S. Thompson, Schulz (Monsters, as Ken Dahl) expands the premise from a focused pessimism of personal illness into a rumination on the futility of human life. In bed alone for weeks with high fever, bloody diarrhea, and gut spasms, the uninsured nebbish of a narrator obsesses in brilliant graphic metaphors about suffering, U.S. social inequities, his legacy of exploitative male privilege, and humanity’s planet-wide destruction. And every self-critical memory comes boiling out as monstrous, dribbling faces that talk back to him. Primal doom has been done before in comics, but probably only rarely so glorious in grotesque detail. The squishy, viscerally reddened balls-to-the-wall horror draws wry fascination as well as dread—think cartoonist Gahan Wilson not being funny. Schultz’s art must be his own personal answer, for to create such a gorgeous, sardonic work of real-life terror is surely reason to live. VERDICT Schulz tears down the curtain shielding us from the often nasty realities behind our joys with fabulous beauty. Those interested in social justice, horror themes, and art styles will find much here to stimulate thought.—MC

Shaw, Dash. Cosplayers. Fantagraphics. Sept. 2016. 116p. ISBN 9781606999486. $22.99. F

Seven loosely connected stories follow the ventures, successful and not, of cosplayers Annie and Verti, who film amateur web videos of scenarios with unwitting bystanders by hidden camera, attracting comments—some caustic. Then at a manga convention, they don’t win the cosplay contest but meet an inappropriately besotted fan of their various productions. Everyone has illusions: the cosplayers, the admirer crushing on Annie, and a self-dubbed “anime expert” convention speaker. Annie and Verti, however, rebound from setbacks and decide that creativity can be its own reward. Unfortunately, Verti’s budding romance in the first story is not followed further. Shaw’s art intercuts cosplayer cameos and collage pages among the stories, which are drawn in simple yet realistic outlines with muted full color. VERDICT These complications and contradictions of fandom, told with pathos and humor, will resonate with readers interested in the pop culture fan world. For adult and teen collections.—MC

redstarShiga, Jason. Demon. Vol. 1. First Second. Oct. 2016. 176p. ISBN 9781626724525. pap. $19.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS

At the literal end of his rope, Jimmy Yee has lost his family in an accident and commits suicide. Yet he wakes up alive. He tries again with a revolver, then with pills. Eventually, he figures out why he can’t die—and so does the clever agent Hunter, who wants Jimmy to work for him. This is Jimmy’s idea of a fate worse than death, and he sets out to best his adversary with murder, mayhem, and impromptu weaponry. Shiga’s (Bookhunter) childlike, blobby characters create an effect that’s both unsettling and engaging. Many simple, almost wordless two-color panels invite readers to scheme along with Jimmy, an amoral character who yet inspires sympathy and chuckles. Three more volumes are coming, so expect many more paradoxes (Shiga has a math degree), twists, and corpses as two brilliant minds try to outfox each other. VERDICT Shiga knows how to run a premise into the ground with supreme goofiness, and crime buffs looking for something completely different will be drawn into Jimmy’s conundrums. Plenty of adult content makes this for older teens and up.—MC

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