Newcomer Ata, Chabouté, Chatterjee/Kahlil, Karasik/Newgarden, Lovecraft/Tanabe, & More | Graphic Novels Reviews

Looking at Russia In the centennial year of the 1917 Russian Revolution, let us explore what comics can tell us about that complicated country. Ambivalence about Russia has been widespread—in 1854, revered French artist Gustav Doré published The Rare and Extraordinary History of Holy Russia, cartoons of unflinching satire reprinted this year and a good choice for academic libraries. More recent satire-histories that revisit the revolution and the end of dictator Joseph Stalin include Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin’s forthcoming Death to the Tsar (Titan Comics, 2018) and the just-released Death of Stalin (starred review, LJ 9/1/17).

A more straightforward chronicle based on the classic film by Sergei Eisenstein is Ben McCool and Mario Guevara’s Nevsky: A Hero of the People (IDW, 2012), which narrates in colorful heroics the strapping, good-guy Russians fighting off the invading Teutonic Knights in the 13th century.

Graphic journalism on the topic can be found in Igort’s The ­Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks: Life and Death Under Soviet Rule (LJ 7/16) and Russian artist/activist’s Victoria Lomasko’s Other Russias (Penguin, 2017). Recent memoirs, many from Russian expats, include Julia Alekseyeva’s Soviet Daughter (Xpress Reviews 3/30/17) and ­Dasha Tolstikova’s A Year Without Mom (Groundwood, 2015). In Ruts & Gullies: Nine Days in Saint Petersburg (Conundrum, 2015), Philippe Girard describes both apprehension and appreciation when visiting Russia for a 2007 comics festival, while Jenny Jaeckel’s Siberiak (Raincloud, 2014) follows a group of American and Soviet teens on a glasnost-style raft trip in 1988.

For fiction that draws realistically on Russian history, check out Garth Ennis and Russell Braun’s Battlefields: The Night Witches (Dynamite, 2009), about Russian women pilots vs. the Nazis, and Philip Gelatt and Tyler Crook’s Petrograd (LJ 11/15/11), about Rasputin’s murder. Alex Grecian and others’ fantasy story Rasputin (LJ 10/15/15) adds a supernatural twist to the life and death of the charismatic mystic.—MC

Ata, Iasmin Omar. Mis(h)adra. Gallery 13: S. & S. Oct. 2017. 272p. ISBN 9781501162107. $25. F

Combining the Arabic words misadra and mish adra (seizure, I cannot), the title of this first graphic novel from artist and game designer Ata hints at protagonist Isaac’s experience with epilepsy. For the Arab American college student, managing seizures brought on by the illness while balancing classes and a social life has become impossible, and his father, who is in denial about the condition, doesn’t help. Even the doctors refuse to believe his descriptions of the disease. It’s only after the support of a friend helps to break through his despair, and he empathizes with others who share his battle, that Isaac finds the strength to choose life over death. Crafted from personal experience, with many scenes having originally appeared in a web comic featured by epilepsy awareness advocates, Ata’s story, accompanied by striking, blocky art heavily influenced by shojo manga, takes Isaac’s meditations on misery to a new level. “Normal life” appears in pale, washed-out pinks and yellows, while the jarring epilepsy attacks bombard him—now a bright red figure on black background—with glowing blue-green daggers bearing eyes. VERDICT Ata’s artistry can help readers understand how living with illness changes everything, and yet life can go on with new insights, accommodations, and help from friends.—MC

Chabouté, Christophe. Park Bench. Gallery 13: S. & S. Sept. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781501154027. pap. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781501154034. F

Leave it to French cartoonist Chabouté (Alone) to turn an idea as seemingly dull as the biography of a simple park bench into a remarkable and unexpectedly moving exploration of humanity and a meditation on everything that either connects us or drives us apart. Spanning decades and featuring a huge cast of regular park patrons, the titular seating is ignored by some and seen as a regular feature by others, a place for friends and lovers to rendezvous, a spot where the brokenhearted can reflect, a hangout for rowdy teens and vagrants. Eschewing dialog in favor of allowing his wonderfully expressive black-and-white illustration to carry the story, Chabouté utilizes repetition to establish the routines that reveal his characters’ hopes and dreams as he propels them through missed connections, chance encounters, and cunning visual gags. While some of the character arcs here might be a tad predictable, the clever juxtaposition of lives hinging on a humble bench, technical skill, and the passion the author brings to the work more than make up for it. VERDIcT Another stunning achievement from an author who seems to produce only stunning achievements.—TB

redstarChatterjee, Pratap (text) & Khalil (illus.). Verax: The True History of Whistleblowers, Mass Surveillance, and Drone Warfare. Holt: Metropolitan. Oct. 2017. 240p. ISBN 9781627793551. pap. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781250196347. current affairs

In what becomes a gripping murder mystery, journalist Chatterjee (Halliburton’s Army) spins out a chronicle of U.S. surveillance since 9/11 and focuses on accidental drone killings of civilians. Who or what killed Tariq, a soccer-crazed teen from Waziristan whom Chatterjee met while in Pakistan researching drone warfare? It’s a cast of thousands in a Peter Jackson–scale tragedy. Some 17 U.S. governmental agencies conduct high-tech surveillance, the drone program alone requires several hundred remotely located people per individual drone, and how things can go wrong appears equally baroque. ­Chatterjee also introduces the groups and individuals pushing back against mass surveillance and drone warfare. Khalil’s (Zahra’s Paradise) illustrations render real people recognizable in clean black-and-white line art; he does a fantastic job with the numerous charts, diagrams, and visual metaphors. The forthcoming website VeraxComic.org will supply resource links. VERDICT A compelling and necessary read for both supporters and nonsupporters of U.S. surveillance programs. Written for adults but excellent classroom fodder for younger audiences.—MC

redstarFletcher, Brenden & others. Motor Crush. Vol. 1. Image. Jun. 2017. 136p. ISBN 9781534301894. pap. $9.99. Rated: Teen Plus. F

In the futuristic city of Nova Honda, motorbike racer Domino Swift competes in legal and extralegal competitions that pit overhyped celebrity riders against one another, on bikes souped up with a contraband accelerant dubbed “Crush.” A skilled rider, Dom confronts a mystery: her own body requires the dangerous Crush drug to live normally. Why is her adopted father hiding her heritage, and who are her mysterious pursuers? The creative team of Fletcher (Black Canary), Cameron Stewart (Batgirl of Burnside), and Babs Tarr (Batgirl) crafts sassy dialog incorporating subculture neologisms as well as well-­developed characters—especially Dom; her dad, Sully; and techie genius Lola, Dom’s former girlfriend. Brilliantly colored visuals create Dom’s world as glam-hipster with an anime vibe. High-tech, race-related video readouts overlay panels, while action sequences seem to vibrate on the page. Lola’s pale softness and extravagant pink hair complement Dom’s dark intensity. VERDICT Lovers of action manga and anime will seize upon this, while art comics buffs will admire the dramatic design interplay of the rosy coloring, the lettering, and the extreme sports sequences.—MC

Gibson, William with Michael St. John Smith (text) & Butch Guice & others (illus.). William Gibson’s Archangel. IDW. Oct. 2017. 144p. ISBN 9781631408755. $24.99. SF

Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Award–winning sf novelist Gibson (Neuromancer) makes his first foray into comics with this tale combining the intrigue of a World War II spy thriller with thought-provoking, unabashedly political sf. When the RAF’s Naomi Givens is called away from her normal duties maneuvering between her own government, the U.S. military, and the Russians in 1945 Berlin in order to investigate a possible UFO crash, she’s drawn into a war among agents from a future, authoritarian United States hoping to rewrite history to their own advantage. While a few different illustrators grace these pages, they share a gritty sensibility and ability to capture scenes of World War II devastation and futuristic, far-out design, weaving back and forth in time as the action escalates quickly. Soon a cast that includes heroic soldiers, brutish villains, colorful smugglers, and a diminutive, hairless crime boss named Mr. Baby are all angling for the upper hand. VERDICT ­Gibson and ­cowriter/actor Smith present an intriguing and trippy spin on time-travel tales that is maybe a tad too fast paced, with readers never quite finding the time to unpack everything that is going on and what it all might mean.—TB

Karasik, Paul & Mark Newgarden. How To Read Nancy: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels. Fantagraphics. Oct. 2017. 276p. ISBN 9781606993613. pap. $29.99. comics

The central thesis of this fascinating new book by creators Newgarden (We All Die Alone) and Karasik (cocreator, Paul ­Auster’s City of Glass) is that interested parties can learn everything they’ll ever need to know about understanding and creating comics from a close study of a single, three-panel Nancy comic strip, created by Ernie Bushmiller in 1959. A scan of the strip in question, which depicts Nancy and some neighborhood kids blasting one another with water guns, may cast some doubt that the authors will actually pull this off, but by the time readers have gone through the text and watched the authors exhaustively analyze every single detail, from the composition to the punctuation marks used in the dialog to everything illustrator Bushmiller leaves off the page, they’ll be both convinced and in awe of Karasik and Newgarden’s eye for detail and critical faculties. VERDICT A beautifully designed volume that’s as entertaining as it is informative and likely to join Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics in the pantheon of explanatory texts.—TB

Kleist, Reinhard. Mercy on Me. SelfMadeHero. Sept. 2017. 328p. tr. from German by Michael Waaler. ISBN 9781910593363. pap. $22.99. BIOG

This expressionistic portrait by author/­illustrator Kleist (Johnny Cash: ­I See a ­Darkness) of musician, composer, poet, actor, screenwriter, and author Nick Cave (b. 1957) is fully endorsed by its subject. While covering Cave’s childhood in Australia, his struggles to make a name for himself as the front man for The Birthday Party, and eventual success leading The Bad Seeds, Kleist does without a straightforward biography, instead delivering more of a meditation on Cave’s endless, obsessive drive to create art that captures the emotional intensity raging within him. Combining lyrics and characters drawn from Cave’s body of work, Kleist blends actual events with invented anecdotes and occasional sequences highlighting the point of view of Cave’s onetime lover and collaborator Anita Lane to create a story that has all the hallucinogenic fury and emotional resonance of the performer’s most memorable work. VERDICT Kleist’s stunning illustration and insight into Cave’s persona and mystique should more than make up for any disappointment experienced by hard-core fans hoping for a more exhaustive chronicle.—TB

Lovecraft, H.P. (text) & Gou Tanabe (text & illus.). H.P. Lovecraft’s The Hound and Other Stories. Dark Horse. Jul. 2017. 184p. ed. by Carl Gustav Horn. tr. from Japanese by Zack Davisson. ISBN 9781506703121. pap. $12.99. HORROR

Japanese artist Tanabe (Mr. Nobody) breathes new life into three of Lovecraft’s chilling tales of madness in the face of unknowable horror and cosmic indifference in this collection of stories previously unavailable in the United States. While the idea of adapting the sometimes staid, highly cerebral stories of Lovecraft (1890–1937) into the typically wildly dynamic, kinetic manga style might not seem like an obvious idea, Tanabe quickly puts any concerns to rest. His sense of pacing, atmosphere, and design, turns the first story here, “The Temple,” which tracks the unraveling of a submarine crew, into a claustrophobic, almost unbearably tense nightmare. The other two tales, “The Hound” and “The Nameless City,” feature more than enough creepy architecture, doomed expeditions, and visceral monster attacks to thrill ­Lovecraft aficionados, manga fans, and everyone in between. VERDICT Tanabe’s vision and style set this collection miles above most of the numerous Lovecraft adaptations already available, coming in second to perhaps only ­Richard Corben (Graphic Classics: H.P. Lovecraft), the undisputed master adapter of Lovecraft’s work to the graphic form.—TB

redstarMcKenna, Aline Brosh (text) & Ramón K. Pérez & Irma Kniivila (illus.). Jane. Archaia. Sept. 2017. 224p. ISBN 9781608869817. $24.99. F

She’s Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 Jane Eyre, reenvisioned as an orphaned American art student run off to New York to escape her miserable childhood. Seeking a job to supplement her art scholarship, Jane winds up nannying for lonely little Adele ­Rochester—whose mother is mysteriously dead and her father unapproachable. The mother is shut away upstairs and has a brother named ­Mason. Other details are changed from the original as well, turning McKenna’s (screenplay for The Devil Wears Prada) version into an inventive and more streamlined romance/action-­adventure involving boats, a drag queen roommate, and a helicopter escape. With his stylish and realistic art, Eisner Award ­winner Pérez (Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand) gives Jane a pretty and capable look, resembling an older Nancy Drew, while the tortured billionaire Rochester appears grim and craggily swoonworthy. Kniivila and Pérez use vivid colors counterpointed with soft pencils and black and white inks to change scenes and convey emotions beautifully. VERDICT This modernized romance with a gothic vibe and a heroine loved for her goodness of character will appeal to all readers who enjoy danger and happy endings underlain with ethical grounding.—MC

Neely, Tom & Friends. Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever: The Completely Ridiculous Edition. Microcosm. Sept. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781621068402. pap. $25.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS

Punk-rock icons Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig are known for their hyper­masculinity and self-seriousness, which make them prime targets for some bizarre and very funny teasing in this collection of 20 short stories, as well as pin-up art and comic parodies spearheaded by Neely (The Blot) and the Igloo Tornado artists collective and including contributions from more than 50 different cartoonists, including ­Michael DeForge, Noah Van Sciver, and Nate ­Powell. The central conceit finds Henry and Glenn living together in something like suburban bliss and occasionally beset by zombie hordes, trips to outer space, satanic rituals, magic swords, and an inability to express their emotions openly and honestly. There’s nothing else quite like it. VERDICT While a given reader’s enjoyment might be constricted by their familiarity with Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig and whether they find the idea of them struggling with intimacy funny, anyone on board with the idea here, as well as fans of absurd humor and independent comics, will find this one to be a total thrill.—TB

Remnant, Joseph. Cartoon Clouds. Fantagraphics. Sept. 2017. 160p. ISBN 9781606999394. $22.99. F

“Most of these people in the so called ‘art world’ are completely insufferable,” gripes a veteran artist to Seth. Seth, Allison, Kat, and Jeff have just graduated from art school, and what happens now? Awash in conflicting demands—relationships, creditors, parents, and especially the faux politics of the art scene—each finds a path but not always a good one. Remnant (Cleveland) takes aim at the art world with dead-on satire: who sleeps with whom and why, living for art vs. for status, and the many ways one-upsmanship peeks out at studios, parties, faculty advising, and exhibits. His zingy dialog pokes fun at “art trash man-babies,” atheists vs. “religobots,” and male midlife longings. But, yes, art is real, and it is worth it to find one’s path despite distractions. Remnant draws naturalistic, real-looking people with skillful cross-hatch, avoiding the muddy output of many cartoonists trying to work in greyscale. VERDICT College students and twentysomethings will recognize themselves in Seth’s dilemmas, while followers of the art scene will find painful amusement in the mutual backbiting and grunt work artists put up with to stay afloat.—MC

NEW YORK STORIES

Chast, Roz. Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York. Bloomsbury. Oct. 2017. 176p. ISBN 9781620403211. $28. MEMOIR

Chast’s (Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?) lighthearted tribute to her hometown began as an introduction to the city for her daughter, who was headed to college there. Although a longtime suburbia resident, Chast conjures up a unique vision of New York, as fans of her New Yorker cartoons might expect. Talking standpipes, restaurants selling “gluten-free pho,” the worm’s nest of subway and utility tunnels beneath the sidewalk, paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art visualized with puckish word balloons, those “West Side Story things” (fire escapes)—there’s nothing for Chast not to marvel over about Manhattan. “I really like density of visual information,” she says, and her Big Apple cityscapes burst with jumbled buildings, oddities of every variety, and her trademark loose-edged-drawn people. This full-color prose-comics hybrid covers city layout, getting around, things to do and see, food, and apartment life. VERDICT There are New Yorkers, New Yorker wannabes, New York visitors, and the New York curious—so expect demand for Chast’s whimsical and helpful smorgasbord of urban goofiness. For another New York perspective, see Julia Wertz’s Tenements, Towers & Trash (Xpress Reviews, 9/1/17). [Previewed in Douglas Rednour’s “Comics Cross Over,” LJ 6/15/17.—Ed.]—MC

Sacco, Kevin. Josephine. Slave Labor Graphics. Aug. 2017. 132p. ISBN 9781593622862. pap. $12.95. F

In this wordless story, a mature white man recalls his 1960s New York City childhood in the care of ­Josephine, his family’s black housekeeper, who has been relegated by squabbling, self-centered parents to help tend their seven-year-old son. With Josephine, the boy believes that people are friendly everywhere, and life seems safe. On this weekend, she takes him to a parade for President John F. Kennedy, and they visit her kindly relatives in Harlem, plus she indulges his attraction to comic books and horror movies. But racial disparities and exploitation appear, at first subtly, and then explode in a devastating climax. Sacco composed the character of Josephine as homage to the caretakers in his own past, although much of the plot is fiction. The slightly elongated, realist black/greyscale drawings have the sketchiness of memories, while lovingly reproducing period details in clothing, furniture, and cityscapes. There are photos of Martin Luther King and Marcus Garvey in many of the black people’s homes. VERDICT This lyrical yet chilling peek into our nation’s recent past can help all readers understand present agendas and the legacies that motivate them. [Previewed in Douglas Rednour’s “Comics Cross Over,” LJ 6/15/17.—Ed.]—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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