GRAPHIC NOVELS

Alay-Oop

NYRC. Jun. 2019. 224p. ISBN 9781681373003. $24.95. Rated: Mature. literary
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Gropper (1897–1977) is renowned for his work as a newspaper cartoonist and muralist and his political activism in the early part of the 20th century. This long-overdue reissue of a book originally published in 1930 reveals that he was also one of the first graphic novelists (Chinese White; Twelve Etchings). The story, presented in individual, wordless, full-page black-and-white illustrations, concerns a love triangle among a talented circus acrobat, her partner, and a flamboyant singer who promises a life of luxury in exchange for the performer’s hand in marriage. That Gropper manages to bestow characters moving through a relatively simple plot with such rich inner lives is even more impressive considering the story is purely visual, relying solely on his wonderfully expressive brushline to evoke the feelings of the lovers’ journey from the glitz and glamor of the circus tent to a rundown tenement apartment.
VERDICT Gropper’s name is probably better known to historians and illustration buffs than to mainstream graphic novel readers at the moment, but this gorgeously drawn, touching story is sure to linger with anyone who reads it

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