A Bounty of Adaptations and Translations | Graphic Novels

Immigrants Are Us With attempts begun in Washington to restrict immigration, let us draw on graphic novels to better understand those who are new to this country, especially those from the Middle East.

Forward Comix’s Gwan Anthology (LJ 2/1/17) collects both fantasy and realistic stories relating to immigration generally, with an innovative flair. Jean-Pierre Filiu and David B.’s excellent Best of Enemies: A History of US and Middle East Relations (Pt. 1: 1783–1953, LJ 7/12; Pt. 2: 1953–1984, Xpress Reviews, 10/10/14) recaps turbulent legacies on both sides, with Part 3 due out next spring. Also forthcoming is Kate Evans’s Threads: From the Refugee Crisis (Verso, Jun.), eyewitness reporting about thousands from the Middle East and Africa sheltering in the French port Calais. Sarah Glidden’s widely praised Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq (Xpress Reviews, 6/30/16) peers into the intricacies of conflict as filtered through personal, political, and journalistic narratives.

While recent graphic novels cover the war in Iraq as experienced by U.S. troops, Brian K. Vaughan’s classic Pride of Baghdad (LJ 1/07) continues to resonate as a nuanced and tragic ­rendering of refugees from that country. Focusing on disquieting life in Syria and Libya, Riad Sattouf’s highly regarded memoir, Arab of the Future (Vol. 1, LJ 9/15/15; Vol. 2, Xpress Reviews, 7/21/16), will wrap up with a final volume in September. Marjane Satrapi’s masterwork Persepolis (LJ 5/1/03) shows us how and why people in Iran emigrate, as does Mana ­Neyestani’s An Iranian Metamorphosis (Uncivilized).

Taking a look at Somalia and Sudan, ­Reinhard Kleist’s An ­Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusuf Omar (Xpress Reviews, 3/14/16) tells of a young runner’s attempt to escape Somalia’s repressive regime to compete in the Olympics. And James Disco et al.’s Echoes of the Lost Boys of Sudan (Brown) follows four youngsters fleeing from civil war and genocide.

What could happen here other than deporting immigrants? After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, over 100,000 U.S. residents of Japanese descent (the majority American citizens) were forced into internment camps. Miné Okubo’s Citizen 13660 (Univ. of ­Washington) brings one woman’s experience to life with drawings made in the camps, accompanied by explicative captions.—MC

redstarBagge, Peter. Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story. Drawn & Quarterly. Feb. 2017. 104p. notes. ISBN 9781770462694. $21.95. BIOG

Meet Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960): anthropologist who worked with Franz Boas, folklore collector with Alan ­Lomax, novelist (Their Eyes Were Watching God), essayist, playwright, eccentric intellectual, life of the party, and adventurous fashionista. With friends and enemies black and white, Hurston faced criminal charges, poverty, ill health, and fickle associates (e.g., poet Langston Hughes) who didn’t always stand up for her. Bagge (Woman Rebel: The ­Margaret Sanger Story) bends his manic, rubbery characters around Hurston’s chutzpah for a warts-and-roses portrait of this woman who stirred up controversy both within and outside of the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston insisted on reproducing black speech idiomatically as she heard it, and Bagge follows her lead. (FIRE!! was a 1926 magazine “devoted to younger Negro artists,” including Hurston.) Hurston shouldered her way up through multiple glass ceilings, and here Bagge captures her zest, humor, frustration, brain power, and accomplishments. ­VERDICT Current and future fans of ­Hurston plus anyone interested in American literary history will be entertained as well as ­enlightened. (See interview with Bagge, LJ 4/15/17.)—MC

redstarBrubaker, Ed (text) & Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser (illus.). Kill or Be Killed. Vol. 1. Image. Jan. 2017. 128p. ISBN 9781534300286. pap. $9.99. crime fiction

This first volume in a new series by the acclaimed team of Brubaker and Phillips (The Fade Out), with colorist Breitweiser (Velvet), combines elements of crime fiction and horror both psychological and supernatural to present a look at vigilantism unlike anything else. Depressed college student Dylan attempts suicide only to be spared by a demon with the offer of a bargain—kill someone once a month or face death yourself. Dylan soon decides to start targeting criminals overlooked by the system and becomes strangely successful in his violent endeavors. His personal affairs improve, and it seems for the first time he’s living the life he’s always wanted—which is exactly when the repercussions of his actions start catching up to him. Brubaker’s talent for plotting, dialog, and exploring the darkest corners of the human heart is wonderfully complemented by Phillips’s skill at depicting both drama and larger-than-life violence. ­VERDICT Brubaker and Phillips are among the most dependable names in comics, and this new title will only further their reputation. Decidedly not for kids, but for everyone else, it’s not to be missed.—TB

Butler, Octavia E. & Damian Duffy (text) & John Jennings (illus.). Kindred. ComicArts: Abrams. Jan. 2017. 240p. ISBN 9781419709470. $24.95. f

kindred.jpg33017In Duffy (Black Comix) and Jennings’s (Blue Hand Mojo) adaptation of Mac­Arthur ­Fellow Butler’s iconic 1979 novel, time-traveler Dana discovers affinity and ugliness among her ancestors. Unwillingly wrenched from 1976 to 1815, she attempts to blend into plantation life as the “slave” of her white husband, Kevin, also drawn into the past. There Dana meets the slaveholder’s spoiled son who rapes his servant-concubine to produce the line leading to Dana herself. Butler has claimed that she sanitized life under slavery for the novel, but Dana witnesses and experiences miseries aplenty, including whippings and mutilation. Indeed, Dana and Kevin are both greatly changed by the forced culture shock. Duffy covers the fullness of Butler’s plot, while picking up much of the character complexity. The blocky, impressionistic, awkward art from Jennings lacks subtlety but effectively conveys the dystopian nature of plantation society via jarring color, contrasted with more sedate two-toned images for modern life. VERDICT This slave narrative through the eyes of a modern woman will continue to grip readers as they come to understand that “kindred” means all Americans, who together share the ancestry of slavery personally and collectively. Adults and teens.—MC

Davis, Rob. The Can Opener’s Daughter. SelfMadeHero. Feb. 2017. 136p. ISBN 9781910593172. pap. $19.95. fantasy

This follow-up to 2014’s British Comic Award–winning The Motherless Oven serves as both prequel and sequel, exploring the backstory of the anarchic Vera Pike and continuing her quest to jump-start a revolution in the strange, authoritarian town Bear Park. The book opens with Vera’s childhood and her struggle against her mother, the cruel, despotic Prime Minister of Chance. Her father, the titular Can Opener, is no help, so Vera is sent away to St. Sylvia’s School of Bleak Prospects and Suicide, where she’ll learn more about the true nature of her world. The second half of this volume picks up immediately after the cliff-hanger ending of the first and follows Vera and her friend Cass as they race to save their pal Scarper from his preordained death. The Motherless Oven revealed Davis to be capable of spinning a tale as moving as it was inventive and bizarre. This entry solidifies that his vision is both more complex and emotionally resonant than previously imagined. VERDICT While this second volume in a projected trilogy absolutely does not stand on its own, the series is quickly proving to be essential reading. It won’t be long before ­Davis (The Complete Don ­Quixote) is mentioned alongside legends of the form such as Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, and ­Marjane Satrapi.—TB

DeForge, Michael. Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero. Drawn & Quarterly. Mar. 2017. 96p. ISBN 9781770462700. $21.95. literary

After her famous father is caught up in a political scandal, Sticks Angelica flees Ontario for the wilds of Monterey National Park, where she keeps company with a lovelorn rabbit named Oatmeal, a bear with literary pretensions, an otter with a mushroom growing out of his head, two geese (one of whom has a mosquito living in his head), and a moose who dreams of transitioning into a human woman. Sticks’s life is thrown into turmoil when a small child is spotted wandering the forest, naked and alone. Yet writer/artist DeForge (Big Kids) is less concerned with plot than episodic explorations of unrequited love, regret, and the laws that govern animal life in the park. Fans of the animated series Adventure Time will recognize the author’s illustration style and quirky sensibility, as he’s a longtime designer on that show, but this offering is unmistakably aimed at a more mature audience. VERDICT DeForge crafts a work that is equal parts funny, sweet, sentimental, and scathing in its depiction of his main character’s narcissism. Sure to be one of oddest and most beloved releases of the year.—TB

Fior, Manuele. The Interview. Fantagraphics. May 2017. 176p. tr. from Italian by Jamie Richards. ISBN 9781606999868. $24.99. sf

interview.jpg33017Driving home one night in the near future, Italian psychologist Raniero encounters a strange, flashing geometrical light in the sky. The next day, he’s assigned a new patient, Dora, a young woman said to be suffering from hallucinations who claims to have seen the same apparition, giving her psychic powers. Raniero insists that nothing supernatural is afoot, but as he’s drawn closer to his patient and more inexplicable activity occurs, he’s forced to reckon with the idea that the world as he knows it may be on the verge of transformation. Fior (5,000 km per second) takes what initially seems like the perfect premise for a sweeping sf epic and instead presents a relatively quiet tale about the complexities of love and trust in a rapidly changing world, delivered with graceful illustration and melancholy washes of black and gray. VERDICT Readers who like their sf a bit more bombastic might be disappointed, but those interested in examinations of the heart set against a backdrop of the fantastic are sure to embrace this story.—TB

redstarGarcía, Santiago (text) & David Rubín (illus.). Beowulf. Image. Jan. 2017. 200p. tr. from Spanish by Sam Stone & Joe Keatinge. ISBN 9781534301207. $29.99. LIT

Just when it seemed that this 1,000-year-old Old English epic poem by an anonymous author, detailing the adventures of the legendary Scandinavian hero Beowulf, has been translated and adapted in every conceivable fashion, along comes this stunning graphic retelling to breathe new life into the story. After a dozen years at the mercy of the monstrous Grendel, a Danish kingdom is saved with the help of Beowulf. But our protagonist isn’t merely altruistic, he sees an opportunity to gain greater glory for himself by dueling the beast. And it’s this conflict in his character that writer García (On the Graphic Novel) and artist Rubín (The Hero: Book One) exploit in order to bring a fresh, modern spin to the text. García’s script hews closely to the events of the original, inventing only some dialog and moments of reflection to deepen the characters, and Rubin’s dynamic illustration combines slightly cartoonish figures with moments of visceral horror and expert pacing. ­VERDICT Whether you’re a fan of Beowulf or new to the work, this beautiful retelling should stir the imagination and remind us why people have been reading the poem for a millennium.—TB

Grennan, Simon. Dispossession: A Novel of Few Words. Jonathan Cape. Nov. 2016. 112p. ISBN 9780224102209. $32.95. LITerary

Rambunctious young Victorian Englishman John Caldigate cashes out his inheritance to pay gambling debts and then sails south to win big in the Australian gold fields. But his affections for the ladies confound him: Does he marry his high-spirited cousin Julia? His shipboard companion, the clever actress Mrs. Smith? The chaste Heather, daughter of his father’s friend? He chooses, but then accused unexpectedly of bigamy, the chastened John must rely on friends and an obsessed civil servant to legitimize his new family. Based on Anthony Trollope’s 1879 novel John ­Caldigate, this adaptation was commissioned by Belgium’s Leuven University as part of the international bicentenary of Trollope’s birth in 1815, and adds a touching subplot involving Australian Aborigines. Comic scholar Grennan’s charming period art resembles tapestry, with small, colorful figures seen from a distance. Unfortunately, no close-ups, thought balloons, or commentary indicate character motivations. Thus this version lacks much of the meaning of the original, plus it omits key plot details. John appears as merely a cardboard skirt chaser, and the other characters are two-dimensional or opaque as well. VERDICT A lush dramatization of the overall story, but readers must dive into Trollope’s splendid creation to understand the whys and wherefores.—MC

Grolleau, Fabien (text) & Jérémie Royer (illus.). Audubon: On the Wings of the World. Nobrow. Apr. 2017. 184p. tr. from French by Etienne Gilfillan. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781910620151. $22.95. BIOG

audobon.jpg33017To paint every bird in America was Frenchman John James Audubon’s (1785–1851) obsession. Yet his magnificent 435 avian portraits (Birds of America) that finally brought him fame, fortune, and even scientific respect also chronicled human destruction of wildlife. A keen observer and skillful painter, Audubon was a man of his time, and his attitudes about non-European peoples and killing the subjects he painted may perplex readers. Grolleau (Jacques a dit) bases his somewhat “romanticized” retelling on Audubon’s writings, providing a receptive framework for Royer’s (­Yesterday, Vol. 1) engaging watercolor washes that feature dreams and fantasies. Women turn into mermaids or forest goddesses, men morph into birds—and as the aging Audubon dies, he transforms into a magnificent bald eagle, destroying his rival Alexander Wilson and settling atop an immense tree of avian life. The artist’s own paintings come across in jewel-like miniature glimpses, with several full-page reproductions appearing at the end. Audubon’s epic quest will inform and feed the imagination of high schoolers and adults who may have heard of the passenger pigeon extinction but never grasped what the “before” looked like: migrations topping one billion birds. ­VERDICT Environmentalists, artists, and birders will find this volume enchanting and affecting.—MC

Melville, Herman (text) & Christophe Chabouté (text & illus.). Moby Dick. Dark Horse. Feb. 2017. 256p. tr. from French by Laure Dupont. ISBN 9781506701493. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781630087432. LIT

A wandering narrator in search of adventure finds friendship in the form of a heavily tattooed South Sea chieftain and more than he bargained for as a crewman aboard the whaling ship Pequod. The sinister captain Ahab is tormented by an all-consuming thirst for revenge against the whale that ate his leg. Herman Melville’s 1851 great American novel is now a newly translated graphic novel, rendered in stark black and white by illustrator/author Chabouté (Alone). Winnowing Melville’s text down to its essential passages, focusing on the trials faced by the crew of the Pequod as they chase the great white whale across the treacherous sea, Chabouté leaves much of the original work intact in the form of captions and spoken dialog. This gives readers a sense of the novel even as some of Melville’s diversions and discourses on ocean life and natural history are not included. ­VERDICT Chabouté’s skillful adaptation and exquisite artwork perfectly capture the air of doom and gloom that pervades the tale of these doomed sailors and their monomaniacal captain. For fans of Moby-Dick and newcomers alike.—TB

Moss, Marissa. Last Things: A Graphic Memoir About ALS. Conari. May 2017. 176p. ISBN 9781573246989. pap. $18.95. MEMOIR

Moss (“Amelia’s Notebook” series) and her children are in Rome with her husband, medievalist-on-sabbatical Harvey Stahl, when Harvey begins to tire easily. Back home in Berkeley, CA, he starts a frustrating regimen of medical tests, ending after two months in diagnosis: ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Only seven months later, Harvey is dead at age 61. Moss had expected that she and ­Harvey might grow closer in fighting the illness together. But her formerly warm, loving husband retreats into hostile denial. Feeling distraught and emotionally abandoned, she must cater to his escalating medical needs as well as keep the lives of their three boys relatively normal. Moss uses simple line drawings with ink-washed grays for this poignant account. She reveals medical and social details that do not typically appear in patient information materials or in the press, from diagrams of Harvey’s breathing equipment to frank descriptions of patient denial and stigma. VERDICT Perhaps the first graphic memoir about a spouse’s death, this personal human drama touches on experiences that everyone has sooner or later. An eye-opener for adults and teens concerned about health care.—MC

Tomasi, Peter J. (text) & Ian Betram & Dave Stewart (illus.). House of Penance. Dark Horse. Jan. 2017. 176p. ISBN 9781506700335. pap. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781630084479. HORROR

Having recently lost her husband and only child, Sarah Winchester inherits a vast fortune owing to her husband’s holdings as heir to a rifle manufacturing empire. She’s haunted by terrible spirits she believes to be the ghosts of those killed by the very machines that brought ­William Wirt ­Winchester so much wealth. Possessed by the notion that endless construction work on her mansion might keep the apparitions at bay, Sarah funds constant renovations on her home, transforming the estate into a maddening maze of twisted corridors and stairways to nowhere. Inspired by the legend of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA, Tomasi (Batman and Robin) introduces into the tale a wandering gunman troubled by his own past and explores themes of guilt, madness, and the possibility of redemption. Bertram’s (Bowery Boys) illustrations, with the help of colorist Stewart (Heroes), seethe with menace as his exaggerated figures traverse panels packed with dangers both real and—conceivably—imagined. ­VERDICT Fans of historical fiction and horror will find plenty to enjoy, although some might be turned off by the focus being more on character and a sense of dread than gore.—TB

Sherlock Redux

Djian, J.B. & Olivier Legrand (text) & David Etien (illus.). The Baker Street Four. Vol. 1. Insight. May 2017. 112p. tr. from French by Mark Bence. ISBN 9781608878789. pap. $16.99. mys

bakerstreetfour.jpg33017The Baker Street Irregulars from Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories are canny gutter urchins who assist the detective as eyes and ears on the street. Now owing to attrition, only Billy, Tom, and Charlie carry on, having the calling. So when a pimp kidnaps Tom’s girlfriend, the trio spring to her rescue with the help of a new teammate. In a second story, Holmes is decoyed out of England so that the Okhrána—the Tsar’s secret police—can wipe out a nest of Russian revolutionaries escaped to London. Drawn in when the radical Katya tries to seek help from the absent Holmes, the Irregulars intervene to uncover the informer and foil the Okhrána. Lively, fine-drawn color art from Etien (Chito Grant) includes plenty of period detail that does not stint on the seaminess of underclass life in 1889 or prejudice against immigrants. Djian and Legrand (Les derniers Argonautes) infuse humor, courage, and class-conscious slang into the story. VERDICT Up to seven volumes in France, this fresh addition to Holmes pastiches is sure to please tweens, teens, and adults who enjoy fast-moving Victorian sleuthing with engaging ­characters.—MC

Moffat, Steven & Mark Gatiss (text) & Jay. (illus.). Sherlock: A Study in Pink. Titan Comics. Feb. 2017. 208p. ISBN 9781785856150. pap. $12.99. Mys

Tormented in mind and body upon returning from service in Afghanistan, British army medic John Watson crosses paths with the brilliant yet eccentric detective ­Sherlock Holmes, who is looking for an apartment mate. A rash of “serial suicides” has London on edge, but Holmes suspects it’s murder. And so, he crows to his new confidant, “The game is on!” The 21st-century setting cleverly integrates cell phones, nicotine patches, and other modernities into the story. Jay.’s realistic manga-style art strongly captures the resemblances of BBC series actors Benedict Cumberbatch (Holmes) and Martin Freeman (Watson) and represents emotional states especially well. Note right-to-left presentation, as the work was originally published in Japan. ­VERDICT Fans of the TV series Sherlock and its superstars Cumberbatch and Freeman can get a second helping with this faithful adaptation. Nonfans may also be drawn in, whether readers of the original stories or not, including writers interested in updating older plots for contemporary audiences. More Sherlock episodes are forthcoming from Titan.—MC

 

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

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