Year in Review A special thank you to LJ reviewer Steve Raiteri, who helped launch the Graphic Novels column in 2002, and over the course of 14 years, contributed more than 550 stellar reviews. As of the November 15, 2016, issue (ow.ly/4ZcB307Gg9e) Steve has retired as cowriter of this column but will continue his coverage of the genre via LJ’s Xpress Reviews.
Moving forward, we welcome Tom Batten, who joins me as the new co-columnist. Tom has reviewed for LJ since 2012, most recently penning the Graphic Novels feature, “Picture the Possibilities” (LJ 6/15/15). Well done, Tom. We’re thrilled you’ve come aboard.
Throughout 2016, comics continued reaching across ethnicities, genders, and cultures, uniting readers with good stories. Iron Man joined Superman, Captain America, Green Lantern, and Spider-Man in gaining a black avatar; the new Iron Man, like the new Thor, is also a woman. America Chavez, Marvel’s lesbian Latina superhero, will soon have her own series. The third volume of the March trilogy, by Congressman John Lewis et al., which recaps the civil rights movement, won the National Book Award, the first of its format (Xpress Reviews, 9/1/16). LGBTQ comics are doing well—Comicsalliance.com posted a guide to great reads for trans and nonbinary youth. As fans push for more creators and characters like themselves, Marvel’s amputee veteran Flash Thompson got prosthetic legs in Venom: Space Knight with input from the Wounded Warrior Project. And Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese) was named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and also chosen as a MacArthur Fellow.
Nonfiction comics saw steady growth, from biographies of the renowned (Albert Einstein, Andy Warhol, Pocahontas) and Manga Math Mysteries from Graphic Universe to Robin Ha’s Cook Korean! and Box Brown’s history of Tetris. From 1972 to 1992, Wimmen’s Comix chronicled gender struggles; a complete retrospective collection from Fantagraphics published last March (LJ 5/15/16). Founded in 1979, World War 3 Illustrated has showcased serious social commentary; its 2016 volume zeros in on climate change. Also last March, the Ladydrawers Comics Collective and Anne Elizabeth Moore unraveled stories behind the garment industry (Threadbare; LJ 5/15/16).
Now with the 2016 presidential election and its penumbra of xenophobia and cultural polarization, the cartoon world has not hesitated to push back. IDW and DC Comics have jointly published Love Is Love (Xpress Reviews, 1/16/17), a benefit anthology for victims and survivors of the Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, FL. Addressing recent trends toward online harassment and the Charleston, SC, church shooting, Image Comics is putting out variant cover versions of its Southern Bastards series to help related charities. In a more politically themed project, Gabe Fowler of Brooklyn’s Desert Island comics shop is masterminding RESIST!, an anthology about resisting intolerance. (See interview, LJ 2/1/17, p. 62.)
Atwood, Margaret (text) & Johnnie Christmas & Tamra Bonvillain (illus.). Angel Catbird: Vol. 2: To Castle Catula. Dark Horse. Feb. 2017. 80p. ISBN 9781506701271. $14.99. FANTASY
Lauded novelist Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale) emerges from the dystopias of her stories to pen a ridiculously amusing superhero tale. Brilliant genetic engineer Strig Feleedus yearns to impress his new boss by working out that DNA supersplicer formula he wanted, but an accident with the compound turns Strig into a human/cat/owl hybrid. However, bossman Dr. Muroid is no pureblood either and is out to rule the world. (Hint: Muroidea is a taxonomic superfamily of rodents.) Fortunately, Strig finds allies and romance among other hybrid creatures while confronting lifestyle dilemmas: should he rescue that lost baby bird, or eat it? When Muroid destroys the half-cats’ nightclub, Count Catula invites them to his castle, but alas, the mad half-rat cleverly intervenes. Throughout, sidebars intersperse chatty guidelines about cat and bird safety, while puns and literary allusions abound. Christmas (Sheltered) excels especially with the jaunty and artful hybrids, and Muroid’s rat army oozes comical malevolence. VERDICT This rollicking satire contains messages about finding your own tribe, and will appeal to teens and adults of many social stripes. Note droll byplay about multispecies libidos. The concluding volume is due out in July.
Churchland, Marian & Claire Gibson (text) & Sloane Leong & others (illus.). From Under Mountains. Vol. 1. Image. 2016. 176p. ISBN 9781632159441. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781534301238. FANTASY
When a political envoy arrives in Karsgate Keep, Lady Elena, daughter of the Keep’s guardian Lord Crowe, sees an opportunity for adventure. Before long her actions threaten the peace between her home nation of Akhara and a race of magical goblins called the Mausgol, as well as earning the enmity of both human and mystical adversaries. Rife with magic, ritual, and schemes, this fantasy features a strong female protagonist, a large cast of humans, sorcerers, gods, and ghosts, and a setting that combines classic courtly genre tropes with a more Middle Eastern flavor. Leong’s (Chief Five Heads) illustration is evocative without overwhelming the rather cinematic script by Churchland (Beast) and debuter Gibson, which favors nicely crafted dialog and moody, silent stretches. VERDICT While this first volume, collecting Issues 1–6, in the series focuses heavily on establishing a tone and multiple mysteries, and is therefore a little slow to get going, the ending indicates that future installments should garner rabid fans among the sword-and-sorcery crowd, especially those seeking something slightly different in this typically male-dominated field, or those preferring loads of backstory and detail to sift through.
Dupont, J.M. (text) & Mezzo (illus.). Love in Vain: Robert Johnson, 1911–1938. Faber & Faber. Nov. 2016. 72p. tr. from French by Ivanka Hahnenberger. discog. bibliog. ISBN 9780571328833. $29.95. BIOG
A deal with the devil, says legend, granted Robert Johnson (1911–38) consummate guitar skill in exchange for his soul. Growing up in the impoverished South of the 1930s, the bluesman played, sang, drank, and womanized his way through mostly black juke joints and music gatherings, dying at age 27. But he left 29 recordings of iconic blues songs that became his legacy. Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones (who wrote their own hymn to the devil), and many other pop music greats drew heavily on his style and recorded their own versions of his ballads. Music journalist Dupont’s spare, sometimes rhyming text, using the devil as narrator, finds perfect realization in Mezzo’s (King of the Flies) intense black-ink drawings that recall Lynd Ward’s engravings and Charles Burns’s Black Hole. Smoky backrooms, women’s curving bodies, and the obsessed performer himself all pour out sweat and roiling emotions. VERDICT Stylistically outstanding, this candid graphic biography will appeal to blues and pop music lovers. See also Akira Hiramoto’s Me and the Devil Blues: The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson. College-age and up.
Khadra, Yasmina & Loïc Dauvillier (text) & Glen Chapron (illus.). The Attack. Firefly. 2016. 152p. tr. from French by Ivanka Hahnenberger. ISBN 9781770857612. $24.95. f
Dr. Amin Jaafari, a naturalized Israeli citizen of Palestinian heritage, works as a respected surgeon in a Tel Aviv hospital. When victims pour in from a suicide bombing, Amin assumes his usual role of saving lives. But his wife, Sihem, does not come home that night—she was the bomber. With his life and career now in ruins, Amin seeks Sihem’s collaborators in Bethlehem to demand why she had deceived him and how he had missed the signals in their apparently tranquil marriage. Yet his concerns about personal honor clash with the Palestinian militants’ concerns about a broader honor: recovering their homeland and their dignity. Based on the novel L’attentat by Khadra (The Swallows of Kabul), the pseudonym of Algerian writer Mohammed Moulessehoul, the story focuses on individual suffering among both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Chapron’s (Les Aventures d’Anouk et Benji) somber colored, line-based art frankly addresses feelings of destruction and hopelessness. VERDICT More a parable than a reality-based story, this immersive and disturbing work will likely satisfy few sympathizers of Israel or Palestine but will encourage discussion among adults and teens looking beyond the headlines.
Luna, Jonathan & Sarah Vaughn. Alex + Ada: The Complete Collection. Image. Nov. 2016. 376p. ISBN 9781632158697. $49.99; ebk. ISBN 9781534301658. Rated: T+. SF
When Alex receives the gift of Ada, a sophisticated android companion, he’s initially turned off by the idea of living with a life-like robot woman waiting to obey his every command. But there’s more to Ada than meets the eye, and after an encounter with an underground faction of rogue AIs dedicated to granting their kind sentience, Alex finds himself bucking both the law and societal norms by falling in love. With a carefully paced, intelligent script cowritten by Vaughn (Ruined) and Luna (The Sword) and Luna’s deceptively simple illustrations, this intriguing sf manages to combine action, intrigue, big questions about what it means to be sentient, and a passionate romance born of two solitary souls finding unlikely solace in each other. VERDICT While fans who lean more toward the swashbuckling end of the sf spectrum might not find enough adventure here to be satisfied, readers who enjoy more adult, thoughtful speculative fiction are sure to be smitten. [Note: This edition features Issues 1–15 of the series; the first volume, collecting Issues 1–5, was reviewed in Xpress Reviews, 9/4/14.—Ed.]
Martin, Alan & Brett Parson. Tank Girl: Two Girls One Tank. Titan Comics. Dec. 2016. 128p. ISBN 9781785853562. pap. $14.99. F
She busts walls, balls, and heads, sleeps with a mutant kangaroo, and drives a tank that doubles as a home. Debuting in 1988, Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett’s punk-styled, kickass outlaw won readers back when Princess Leia was the only fighting femme around, and long before manga’s gorgeous warriors made it into English translation. In this Part 1 of a newbie-friendly trilogy, Tank Girl’s boyfriend Booga has lost their home-sweet-tank in a card game, leading our heroine to plan a heist to fund a new one. But the wildly decorated vehicle has landed somehow in an art gallery, and gallery manager Magnolia is besotted. In a drunken trance, she gives herself a Tank Girlish makeover, steals the tank, and barrels off into the outback. Naturally, chaos ensues, complicated by the Australian army and the police, and punctuated with weaponry, blood, and obscenity. Parson’s (New Romancer) hyperbright, blocky art gives the right feel of entertaining mayhem, embellishing the arsenal with slogans, designs, jet engines, parasols, and stuffed toys. VERDICT These anarchistic Australian adventuresses will appeal to fans of Harley Quinn and Hunter S. Thompson. Minor nudity and emphatically foul language make this for high school age and up.
Moebius. The World of Edena. Dark Horse. Nov. 2016. 344p. ISBN 9781506702162. $49.99; ebk. ISBN 9781630088064. SF
Interstellar repairmen Stel and Atan are thrust into a strange, surreal adventure when their search for the lost inhabitants of an abandoned space station lead them to Edena, a mythical paradise planet at the heart of a battle between multidimensional good and evil. French writer and illustrator Moebius (aka Jean Henri Gaston Giraud) was famous the world over for crafting tales that combine swashbuckling adventure and New Age philosophy, including Alien, Tron, and The Fifth Element, all presented in lushly detailed illustration that has inspired generations of graphic novelists and fine artists. This new volume collects one of his most renowned stories for the first time in English, and true to form, it is both an exciting interplanetary journey and a moving, intellectual exploration of deeper themes. VERDICT This essential volume will appeal to fans of sf, fantasy, and European comics, as well as those given to philosophical tales and enthusiasts of graphic novel history.
Ollmann, Joe. The Abominable Mr. Seabrook. Drawn & Quarterly. Jan. 2017. 316p. ISBN 9781770462670. pap. $22.95. LIT
While William Seabrook (1884–1945) may not be a household name today, in the early part of the 20th century he was a massively popular travel and adventure author, known for trekking through the Sahara with a group of nomads, exploring Voodoo in Haiti (introducing the word zombie to the mainstream), and spending time with cannibal kings in Africa. He was also a self-destructive alcoholic and obsessive sadomasochist. Based on incredibly thorough research and integrating a large amount of Seabrook’s own autobiographical writing, author and illustrator Ollman’s offering (Happy Stories About Well-Adjusted People) presents a compelling and empathetic portrait of what might be the single most lost Lost Generation writer. Ollmann’s illustrations perfectly captures the unease that drives his subject in tight nine-panel grids, and his fascination with his subject is both evident and infectious. VERDICT Including high adventure, sorrowful drama, and cameos by historical stars such as Man Ray, Aldous Huxley, and Gertrude Stein, this one has all the hallmarks of a classic work of biography and is an early contender for one of the best releases in 2017.
Revel, Sandrine. Glenn Gould: A Life Off Tempo. NBM. (Biographies). Dec. 2016. 136p. ISBN 9781681120652. $25.99. BIOG
Pianist Glenn Gould (1932–82) is known for his precise, energetic interpretations of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, whose counterpoint—interplay of multiple melodies—teases ears and minds. In homage, Revel (La Lesbienne Invisible) paces this Artemisia Award–winning biography in counterpoint. The main theme leads us off: Gould’s death from a stroke. From there other motifs appear, recede, and interact. Gould’s cousin, his manager, and many others reminisce about this enigmatic, brilliant man. And as they recall his accomplishments and quirks, vignettes from his life come into view: learning piano from his mother, two paradigm-shifting performances of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, a radio documentary about “The Idea of North,” his requirements for overheated surroundings, his decision to make recordings instead of play concerts, and bittersweet romances. Gould loved overcast skies, and Revel’s realistic yet minimalistic art vibrates with smoky grays, browns, and blues overlain by subtle mottling, picturing Gould’s state of mind and bearing witness to his extensive keyboard work. VERDICT Gould combined the tedium of obsession with consummate musical skill and intriguingly maddening eccentricities, all of which Revel conveys in nontedious, contrapuntal fashion. Classical music junkies will greatly enjoy.
Roy, Simon. Habitat. Image. Nov. 2016. 96p. ISBN 9781632158857. pap. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9781534301450. Rated: M. SF
Hank Cho is a newly minted security officer aboard a roughly planet-sized, damaged, and abandoned space station marred by constant war among the tribe-like descendants of the original crew. He discovers some ancient and forbidden technology and is thrust into a sprawling escapade that just might decide the fate of society. Will his discovery doom the station to apocalyptic war, or could this be the first step in the station’s reunion with the rest of humankind? Featuring bloody battle scenes, political intrigue, and plenty of giant robots, writer and illustrator Roy (Prophet) has crafted a tale that, while short, easily stands beside the best space opera and sf of the last decade while maintaining a sensibility and aesthetic that fans of edgier, more independent comics will love. Originally serialized in the Image anthology Island issues 2, 5, and 8, collected here for the first time. VERDICT An immensely enjoyable and essential survival tale that fans of visceral action, tales of dystopian futures, sf, and independent comics are sure to embrace.
Scott, Mairghread (text) & Kelly Matthews & Nichole Matthews (illus.). Toil and Trouble. Archaia. 2016. 176p. ISBN 9781608868780. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9781613985496. LIT
Toil and trouble multiply in this recasting of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth from the viewpoint of the three witches. Smertae, Cait, and Riata have long protected Scotland from outsiders. Yet when Norwegians invade King Duncan’s realm, the trio wrangle about what to do. The portents have not been clear, and each witch’s motives have been roiled by both personal and political matters. Is Macbeth worthy of the throne? Is Prince Malcolm? Can free will conquer fate? A devastating backstory reveals Lady Macbeth’s own toils and troubles with motherhood. Scott (Transformers) works narrative magic to get inside the play, seamlessly incorporating new subplots to illuminate character motivations left unexplained in the original. Debut artists, the Matthews sisters have created gleaming, vivid illustrations that don’t stint on supernatural or realistic savagery. And as an antihero, Macbeth embodies slacker scruffiness, dark-rimmed eyes increasingly malevolent. With commendable originality, this sister coven of creators has fearlessly drawn out the women’s stories from within this classic tragedy. Familiarity with the Bard’s play adds much but isn’t necessary. VERDICT A solid choice for fantasy fans and book discussion groups, teen and adult.
Various. Gwan Anthology. Forward Comix. 2016. 216p. ISBN 9780990474760. pap. $25. anthologies
“Gwan” is Jamaican slang for “go on/happen” or “get out,” and these 30-plus selections chosen by Jerome Walford (Nowhere Man) turn on the theme of immigration and cultural fusion. While realistic stories (actual or fictional) do appear, a striking variety of fantasy, sf, and metaphor lends intellectual depth and texture. Vampires, robots, space travelers, ghosts, and Oz characters all show up. A Filipino son argues animal husbandry with his mom: should native cows breed only with local bulls instead of the larger foreign males? A country holding an annual Festival of Wishes encourages citizens to “thank the wall…that saves us and keeps out filth.” From 15 countries, the creators evoke diverse moods: tragedy, pathos, simple enjoyment, and laughter. The art varies from semirealistic period work through darker imagery of dystopias to afro-futuristic funk, exotic landscapes, and gorgeously hypercolored New York subway platforms. From hopeful expectations for a new life to exploitation by authorities or shady characters, this compilation presents a spectrum of experiences universally shared, since everyone leaves home at some point. VERDICt These timely selections, although sometimes truncated, will resonate with teens, tweens, and adults with transitions in their lives.
We Told You So: Comics as Art. Fantagraphics. Dec. 2016. 652p. ed. by Tom Spurgeon with Michael Dean. photos. bibliog. ISBN 9781606999332. $49.99. comics studies
Celebrating the 40th anniversary of legendary publisher Fantagraphics Books’s founding in 1976, this exhaustive new oral history follows the evolution of the company, as well as the comics industry and the long battle that comics creators fought for mainstream acceptance as an art form, often through little more than sheer stubbornness. Filled with anecdotes and observations from Fantagraphics staff and cartoonists such as Robert Crumb, Daniel Clowes, Dame Darcy, and Art Spiegelman, rarely seen photographs and art, and a surprisingly high number of scenes featuring gunplay, this weighty volume is a treasure trove for both fans and scholars. While some of the contents might be a little too inside for any but the most die-hard fans of the publisher’s body of work, this lovingly designed volume will appeal to those interested in a story about how a few dogged fans stuck to their guns and legitimatized an art form. VERDICT Fans of the history of the medium will find this an indispensable resource and entertaining read.
Martha Cornog is a longtime reviewer for LJ and, with Timothy Perper, edited Graphic Novels Beyond the Basics: Insights and Issues for Libraries (Libraries Unlimited, 2009). Tom Batten is a writer and teacher whose work has appeared in the Guardian and The New Yorker. He lives in Virginia