Bourdain, Carlin/Malet, Daniels, Fox/Smith, Lutes, Russell/Feehan, & More | Graphic Novels Reviews, Nov. 1, 2018

Sometimes spooky, sometimes gritty, thoroughly satisfying; highly recommended for all collections; Daoudi focuses on two extraordinary individuals and the bond between them; an extraordinary epic that will leave readers both heartbroken and in awe; fans longing from fresh content with a scholarly attention to details and keen psychological insight will relish Age of Bronze;

Bourdain, Anthony with Joel Rose (text) & Alberto Ponticelli & others (illus.). Anthony Bourdain’s Hungry Ghosts. Berger: Dark Horse. Oct. 2018. 128p. ISBN 9781506706696. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781506706900. F
While better known as a memoirist (Kitchen Confidential) and TV host (Parts Unknown), Bourdain also scripted several graphic novels before his tragic death earlier this year. Here, with coauthor Rose (both, Get Jiro!) and a cadre of talented illustrators, he presents nine short tales of demonic possession and vengeful ghosts culled from folktales around the world. A restaurant worker rushing home is punished after refusing a beggar’s plea for charity, a crew of pirates planning to violate a beautiful castaway meet grisly ends, an insatiable craving for horseflesh leads to a rich man’s downfall. Bourdain fans hoping for a final taste of his passion for exotic locales and an inside view of the culinary world will find much to embrace, but what stands out most are the creators’ disgust with anyone who might abuse a position of power or privilege to feed their own appetites.
VERDICT Sometimes spooky, sometimes gritty, thoroughly satisfying.—TB

redstarCarlin, John (text) & Oriol Malet (illus.). Mandela and the General. Plough. Nov. 2018. 112p. ISBN 9780874868203. pap. $19.95. BIOG
Released from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela (1918–2013) unites the black people of South Africa against Dutch-mandated apartheid and aims to integrate peacefully both government and culture. But under the leadership of decorated Gen. Constand Viljoen (b. 1933), a coalition of white Afrikaners will resist to the death. British reporter Carlin (Knowing Mandela) interviewed both leaders and tells the story from the general’s perspective. How Mandela talked Viljoen away from a race war toward collaboration makes a fascinating parable with relevance to today’s polarized politics. “We must put ourselves in his shoes if we want to defeat him,” Mandela tells his supporters. Eventually, Viljoen agrees with Mandela, who explains that violence will not get the whites what they want. Malet’s realistic, narrow-line black-and-white art, set against brightly colored accents, pulls out key contrasts.
VERDICT This case study in the power of empathy to defuse conflict stands apart from the often murky annals of would-be peacemaking. Highly recommended for all collections.—Martha Cornog, Philadelphia

redstarDaniels, Ezra Claytan. Upgrade Soul. Lion Forge. Sept. 2018. 272p. ISBN 9781549302923. pap. $19.99. Fantasy
An aging sf novelist and his research scientist wife agree to help fund an impetuous scientific wunderkind’s attempts to provide patients with a longer life span and enhanced endurance and intelligence through an experimental gene therapy with the caveat that they themselves serve as the procedure’s first human subjects. But things don’t go as planned, and soon the couple are both physically diminished and face-to-face with horribly malformed clones of themselves. The foursome’s predicament is complicated by the reveal that the clones share a strange psychic dependency upon their genetic source material. Daniels (The Changers) delivers a skillfully told, beautifully illustrated tale that is all at once a love story; thought-provoking sf; a meditation on aging, identity, and race; as well as a terrifying, visceral thriller.
VERDICT Originally serialized as an iOS app, and winner of the 2017 Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity, this work arrives already internationally acclaimed and poised to be one of the most discussed releases of the year.—TB

Daoudi, Youssef. Monk! Thelonious, Pannonica, and the Friendship Behind a Musical Revolution. First Second. Sept. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9781626724341. $24.99. BIOG
While most readers are likely familiar with at least the name Thelonious Monk (1917–82), if not his music and biography, few have probably heard of Baroness Kathleen Annie Pannonica de Koenigswarter (1913–88), scion of the Rothschild family and fortune and loyal patron of the arts. This new dual biography by writer/illustrator Daoudi (Tripoli) aims to correct that. It opens in 1982, with the aging, ailing Monk several years into self-imposed exile in Pannonica’s home, before flashing back to explore their first meeting in 1954 and the ensuing decades of enduring friendship. Daoudi’s brilliant illustrations capably present the pristine, sprawling estates of Pannonica’s youth on one page and the crackling energy and claustrophobic intensity of New York jazz clubs on the next, especially shining in scenes depicting Monk on stage, forever caught between expressions of joyous inspiration and madness.
VERDICT Exploring issues of class, race, and social status, Daoudi thankfully avoids a trite moral about music transcending cultural divisions and instead focuses on two extraordinary individuals and the bond between them.—TB

Dunning, John Harris (text) & Michael Kennedy (illus.). Tumult. ComicArts: Abrams. Sept. 2018. 176p. ISBN 9781910593486. $25.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
An English commercial director becomes infatuated with a woman named Morgan after a one-night stand and obsessed with ­parsing the mystery of her life after their second meeting, when she claims to go by a different name and has no memory of the two of them ever being introduced. Does Morgan suffer from a dissociative personality disorder, or is she hiding something? Who is Morgan’s mysterious stalker? Do his bold claims of involvement in a secret government program to build the perfect assassin hold the key to her past? Is that why everyone she meets ends up murdered? Dunning (Salem Brownstone) crafts a dark yet surprisingly playful thriller owing much to Alfred Hitchcock, complemented by vivid, thoroughly cinematic illustrations from Kennedy (Spiritus).
VERDICT Fascinatingly straddles the line between classic noir and art house, as Kennedy’s striking art and Dunning’s penchant for bizarre digressions into deeper meaning and themes behind classic 1980s films combine for original and rewarding storytelling.—TB

Fox, Ted (text) & James Otis Smith (illus.). Showtime at the Apollo: The Epic Tale of Harlem’s Legendary Theater. ComicArts: Abrams. Jan. 2019. 240p. ISBN 9781419731389. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781683353836. theater
This adaptation brings new life to Fox’s (In the Groove) 1983 definitive history tracing the Apollo Theater as the cultural center of New York’s Harlem. The carefully researched narrative features those who worked and performed at the Apollo over the years and strives to portray the good times as well as the bad. Smith’s (Madunia) dynamic artwork often eschews traditional comics panels in favor of images and scenes that flow together, conveying the energy and excitement of showbiz. The two-tone, black-and-blue coloring creates the feeling of being inside a darkened theater, although it could have benefited from occasional splashes of contrasting hues. And while the amount of information presented can be almost overwhelming, the work ultimately accomplishes its goal of relaying the Apollo’s status as a legendary venue.
VERDICT Anyone interested in African American music and history and pop culture history will find this a captivating read.— Zach Berkley, Moline P.L., IL

Hart, Tom. The Art of the Graphic Memoir: Tell Your Story, Change Your Life. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Nov. 2018. 176p. ISBN 9781250113344. pap. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250113351. COMICS studies
Hart (director, Sequential Arts Workshop, FL; “Hutch Owen” series) shares what he’s learned through teaching as well as creating his acclaimed graphic memoir Rosalie Lightning in this guide filled with prompts and practical examples that assist readers in writing, drawing, and telling their stories. Technique and style, both that of the author and other visual artists, are explored in great detail, as is the importance of attention and practice. Readers are challenged to do more than observe and are encouraged to see and study experiences and relationships in new ways. A recommended reading section offers a list of graphic memoirs and drawing books for further research.
VERDICT Hart’s thoughtful instruction will appeal to aspiring comics and storytellers as well as those looking to strengthen their practice. [Previewed in Jody Osicki’s “Graphically Speaking,” LJ 6/15/18.]—Faithe Ruiz, Coll. of Central Florida, Ocala

redstarLutes, Jason. Berlin. Drawn & Quarterly. Sept. 2018. 580p. ISBN 9781770463264. $49.95. F
Lutes’s (Jar of Fools) magnum opus stands as a masterpiece on par with any work of literature in any genre, since he began the project more than two decades ago. Opening in 1928 and continuing into the early 1930s, the story tracks art students, jaded journalists, revolutionaries, politicians, beggars, the idle rich, prostitutes, an American jazz group navigating the nightclub scene, and more, as the liberal stronghold of the Weimar Republic gives way to extremism and fascism. More than mere lenses through which to view historic events, each of the characters is wonderfully developed and authentic. Meticulously researched and told with real compassion for how a society might fall under the control of a hateful regime, this is history as seen from the streets, through attic windows and salons, and the back of the crowd during a riot.
VERDICT An extraordinary epic that will leave readers both heartbroken and in awe of the virtuosic talent that went into its creation. [See the interview with author Lutes].—TB

Redolfi, Tommy. Marilyn’s Monsters. Life Drawn: Humanoids. Sept. 2018. 256p. tr. from French by Mark Bence & Tommy Redolfi. ISBN 9781594655357. pap. $29.95. fictional biog
While the life story of Marilyn Monroe (1926–62) has been told countless times across a variety of media, there’s never been an account quite like this. Redolfi (Viktor) reimagines Hollywood as “Holy Wood,” a vast foreboding forest peopled by a bizarre set of characters all under the sway of the Founders, a sinister group of living shadows with total control over who becomes a star in the movies made there and sent out into the world via a system of pipelines. Enter shy, ambitious Norma Jean Baker, soon to be selected for transformation. In presenting Monroe’s harrowing journey through a surrealistic realm steeped in hallucinatory imagery and dread, Redolfi forgoes a gossipy, warts and all ­Hollywood biography in favor of an attempt to capture his subject’s emotional state, with enthralling results.
VERDICT Perfect for horror fans—especially those of David Lynch or David ­Cronenberg.—TB

redstarRussell, Mark (text) & Mike Feehan (illus.). Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles. DC. Aug. 2018. 168p. ISBN 9781401275211. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401287276. F
Having proven himself an incisive satirist of modern American culture and values with his reimagining of The Flintstones, author Russell now turns his attention to a different classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon character, casting Snagglepuss as a phenomenally successful Broadway playwright reminiscent of Tennessee Williams. The year is 1953, and Snagglepuss is on the verge of opening his hotly anticipated new play when he’s summoned to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Refusing to name names, the playwright finds himself with powerful enemies bent on his destruction, especially after they discover that he’s secretly gay.
VERDICT This is a battle for the very soul of America. While the setup might sound slightly preposterous, the result is one of the best books of the year, an alternately hysterically funny, deeply tragic, and ultimately inspiring work of political art examining the role of artists in a free society.—TB

Shanower, Eric (text & illus.) & John Dallaire (illus.). Age of Bronze. Vol. 1: A Thousand Ships. Image. Oct. 2018. 224p. bibliog. ISBN 9781534308299. pap. $19.99. HIST
Shanower’s (Adventures in Oz) brilliant retelling of the Trojan War returns in this new volume collecting issues 1–9 of the ongoing series, this time rendered in full color by ­Dallaire (Black Cherry Bombshells). Rather than sticking to a straight adaptation of Homer’s Iliad, Shanower relies on extensive research into the time period and seemingly every story associated with the war that inspired it, resulting in a tale that feels fresh and surprising despite starring a cast of characters readers have been acquainted with for thousands of years. We see Paris, the prince destined to bring doom to his people, living as a shepherd’s son, as yet unaware of his true identity or royal blood. Here also is the warrior Achilles as a teenager bristling against his mother’s attempts to keep him from the life of glory he craves.
VERDICT Filled with enough political machinations and symbolically laden visions of a war-torn future to sate the appetite of all graphic novels readers as well as Game of Thrones fans longing for fresh content with a scholarly attention to detail and keen psychological insight.—TB


Tom Batten is a writer and teacher whose work has appeared in the Guardian and The New Yorker. He lives in Virginia.


These reviews originally appeared in Library Journal's November 1, 2018, issue

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