Graphic Novel News & Reviews, July 2012

Wild(cat) at the Conference Darth Vader’s breathing almost upstaged librarian Karen Green, telling the Opening Ceremony audience about four ways to teach comics. With Vader and Stormtroopers prowling the aisles, it was Wildcat Comic Con in Williamsport, PA, where librarians shared top billing with comics creators and joined with fans and educators as attendees.

Librarians have been going to comics conventions for a while, and here’s why. First, book selection: you can learn about terrific in-progress, hot-off-the-press, or self-published graphic novels. Moreover, you can ask people what their favorites are. Maybe your patrons will enjoy them as well.

Next, library advocacy. You can talk to publishers about why you like or don’t like their graphic novels. Bindings fall apart? Age grading incomprehensible? Favorites gone out of print? Tell them! Artists love feedback, too.

On to library PR. At panels, stand up and ask library-related questions to let everybody know that librarians love comics and count as players in the industry. For small, local cons, offer an earful about the graphic novels in your collection and why the conventioneers should become your patrons. Do a flyer about comics in your library for the freebies table.

Now, library programs, a rich lode for mining. Find out which speakers and exhibitors are locals, and chat up the ones who interest you as potential library advocates, workshop leaders, partners for meet-the-artist events, and allies for comics-related censorship problems. You can also bring your comics-loving teens to the show and pool their feedback into a postcon print or artistic effort for display.

Lastly, inspiration. At Philadelphia’s recent East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention, I collected from artists such kick-in-the-butt quotes as, Anything we complain about, we should look at that as an opportunity (Dawud Anyabwile) and Do your thing in your community on a magnitude where they have to respond to you (Mshindo Kuumba).

To learn about upcoming comics conventions, see Convention Scene as well as Events and Conventions on Graphic Novel Reporter. For anime/manga, see Anime Cons. And for Karen Green on teaching comics, see Typologies from her Comic Adventures in Academia column (February 7, 2012).

Bellstorf, Arne. Baby’s in Black: Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and the Beatles in Hamburg. First Second: Roaring Brook. 2012. c.200p. ISBN 9781596437715. $24.99. F/MUSIC

The Fab Four began as a hardscrabble rock ‘n’ roll fivesome, booked into Hamburg’s seedy Kaiserkeller: John, Paul, George, Pete Best (later replaced by Ringo), and bassist Stuart Sutcliffe. Thence came wannabe bohemians Klaus Voormann and the magnetic and lovely photographer Astrid Kirchherr. Astrid and Stuart connected instantly, and Astrid soon became the Beatles’ confidant and supporter. She gave Stuart the haircut the others adopted, took iconic and often reproduced photographs, and assumed a professional role with the band that was unusual for a woman at the time. Tragically, both the Astrid-Stuart romance and Stuart’s developing art career (he gave up guitar) were cut short when he died of a brain hemorrhage. VERDICT Bellstorf focuses on the romance, set in the smoky electricity of early 1960s Europe and played out in black-and-white art that’s period-appropriate, poignant, and a touch cute. While all the characters, even Astrid, seem somewhat underdeveloped, Bellstorf compellingly captures a pivotal part of rock history through the eyes of an undersung supporter. Yet even here, Kirchherr’s extensive input into the graphic novel is credited only in the end flaps. Teen and adult rock fans will be drawn to this.

Bourdain, Anthony & Joel Rose (text) & Langdon Foss (illus.). Get Jiro! Vertigo: DC. Jul. 2012. c.160p. ISBN 9781401228279. $24.99. SF/COOKING

In the futuristic Los Angeles presented in celebrity chef Bourdain’s first graphic novel, food culture rules all social life, copping to corporate honchos. People even sing about food at karaoke bars. Two reigning culinary empires control the town like mafia, and both want new-in-town sushi chef Jiro on their team. But Jiro has his own plans and prevails by cleverly pitting both sides against each other, snotty international omnivores vs. holistic purists. This simple plot gets plenty of moxie out of details swiped from fight manga, kung-fu films, gourmet trivia, and food-service culture. Jiro doesn’t just slice-and-dice tuna but also yahoo customers who order California rolls. Hit men have salt and pepper shakers tattooed on their arms. And references to ortolans, elvers, pho, or boudain may send you right to the web.
VERDICT World building carried to delicious extremes makes this one a gourmet delight. Art and coloring come off exactly right: detailed, hyper, and rather grimy‚ like a restaurant kitchen after a long, overworked evening‚ and Foss’s skill at subtle facial expressions is extraordinary. Recommended for foodies, Bourdain fans, and devotees of Layman and Guillory’s Chew.

Cunningham, Darryl. Science Tales: Lies, Hoaxes and Scams. Myriad. 2012. c.160p. ISBN 9780956792686. $26.50. SCI

Analogous to Michael Shermer’s Scientific American column, The Skeptic, these vignettes present well-known scientific controversies where a significant number of people hold to explanations that don’t fit with real-world evidence. These include climate change, electroconvulsive therapy, homeopathic and chiropractic treatments, evolution, the MMR vaccine, and science denialism. For all, Cunningham lays out the history of the controversy and the facts that do or do not support claims made. He notes, for example, that homeopathic treatments do not work medically, but the extended patient attention offered by homeopaths may assist psychologically and thus work for illnesses caused or exacerbated by stress. Cunningham’s strength lies in translating complex scientific issues into simple sentences and logical statements. Clean, stylized line drawings, augmented by judicious color, are supplemented by photos and simple diagrams. VERDICT This excellent example of how graphic narrative can make complex subjects fun and digestible belongs in all library collections. Everyone needs to understand the difference between evidence and faith. Highly recommended for curious tweens (especially in school settings) through jaded adults.

Filiu, Jean-Pierre (text) & David B. (illus.). Best of Enemies: A History of US and Middle East Relations, Part One; 1783‚ 1953. SelfMadeHero, dist. by Abrams. 2012. c.120p. tr. from French by Edward Gauvin. ISBN 9781906838454. $24.95. HIST

Lies, greed, imperialism, cruelty, intolerance: the history of U.S. and Middle East relations involves bad behavior on both sides, dating back centuries. In this first of three volumes, professor and former diplomat Filiu (Arab Revolution; Apocalypse in Islam) begins with the murderous aggression of Gilgamesh-as-avatar, cunningly appropriating dialog from speeches of George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld concerning the invasion of Iraq. His focus then moves to 1780s skirmishes with Muslim city-states over maritime piracy, shifting priorities of Christian and Muslim nations over oil and anti-Semitism, and the subsequent ousting by the Americans and the British of Iran’s Mohammad Mossadegh, who wanted to nationalize the oil industry. This complex and unsavory saga is told concisely and vividly, enhanced by David B.’s marvelously inventive pen-and-inks, which won an award from the French magazine dBD. VERDICT Showing decisively that neither war nor international diplomacy is a walk in the park, Filiu invites us to consider what choices could be made given these countries’ turbulent legacies. While maps, chronologies, additional notes, and resources would have been valuable, this will prove a riveting read to many aficionados, teens and up, of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and others interested in Middle East issues.

Kidd, Chip (text) & Dave Taylor (illus.). Batman: Death by Design. DC. 2012. c.112p. ISBN 9781401234539. $24.99. F/SUPERHERO

In an art deco-ish 1930s Gotham City, Bruce Wayne is spearheading a project to rebuild the crumbling train station. However, construction site accidents, a beautiful urban preservationist, a power-hungry union boss, and the bigenerational legacy of the original architect all come down on Wayne’s head. Both Batman and a newbie reporter try to investigate the accidents, and then the Joker introduces more chaos. This Batman take is visually gorgeous: Taylor’s color-tinged pencils lay out sweeping period details with consummate skill. Well-crafted dialog, inventive gadgetry, and amusingly plausible architectisms like patri-monumental modernism lend texture, but famed book designer Kidd’s story and characters don’t quite gel. The villain’s motives sometimes make no sense, the preservationist’s beauty seems overly Botoxed (too much like the sanctimonious snot Wayne decides she isn’t), and it’s improbable that editor Osbourne, Wayne, and his valet, Arthur, would all have been ignorant of the long-term union dirty dealing. VERDICT The story succeeds artistically (the creators did considerable homework), and Exacto and the Joker come off brilliantly. But plot disjunctures weaken the overall presentation. For collections where Batman is popular or art overrides story.

McCulloch, Derek (text) & Colleen Doran (illus.). Gone to Amerikay. Vertigo: DC. 2012. c.144p. ISBN 9781401223519. $24.99. F/MYST

Like shamrock leaves, three stories encircle one another in this ghost-tinged mystery yarn about Irish immigrants in New York. In 1870, Clara O’Dwyer reaches Amerikay with her young daughter, expecting her husband, Fintan, to follow from Dublin. She finds work as a laundress, but Fintan never appears. In 1960, Johnny McCormack arrives from Galway, aiming for Broadway. Teamed up professionally (and romantically) with his old friend Brian at first, he instead breaks in as a folk singer. In 2010, wealthy entrepreneur Lewis Healy touches down in his private jet to dedicate his New York office and receive a special present from his wife, Sophie: the story behind a song that inspired his success. The song and the missing Fintan link all three stories. VERDICT Showing imperfect people passing a precious legacy amid tragedy, McCullough (Stagger Lee) reveals a fine ear for dialog and doesn’t skimp on the harsh realities of immigration and urban life, 1870s or 1960s. The heroic-realist color art of Doran (Mangaman; A Distant Soil) lends sweeping beauty. Recommended for those drawn to historical and literary graphic novels, high school and up owing to sexual situations and salty language.

Piskor, Ed. Wizzywig. Top Shelf Productions. Aug. 2012. c.288p. ISBN 9781603090971. $19.95. F/TECH

Kevin Boingthump Phenicle can do voodoo on any phone or data system and knows enough social engineering tricks to manipulate people, too. He’s not a real villain, though, just a picked-on, precocious kid starved for recognition. His crimes: phone phreaking, computer hacking, and wiretapping, for starters. Debut graphic novelist Piskor intercuts among Kevin’s life story, pal Winston’s attempts to ease Kevin’s legal difficulties, various media commentators misrepresenting Kevin’s adventures, and the word on the street from talking-head fans and enemies. The resulting cat-and-mouse saga frames Kevin as a not-so-bad guy set into a readable, tech-savvy account of how 1980s wonks could pull stunts like crashing all the phone lines on Mother’s Day and rigging call-in radio contests. Indeed, Phenicle’s exploits and talents are drawn from real cases. VERDICT With heavy technology content and social-issue relevance, plus hacker and comics industry in-jokes, this is a techie’s dream read, enhanced by Piskor’s thorough research and judiciously unpretty black-and-white art. Recommended for computer nerds and those interested in technology history, social justice, and the human/machine interface. Sexual depictions and nudity mean this is suitable for older teens and up.

Shintani, Kaoru. Young Miss Holmes: Casebook 1‚ 2. Seven Seas, dist. by S. & S. 2012. c.382p. ISBN 9781935934868. pap. $16.99. F/MYST

Pert and pint-sized ten-year-old Christie plays loli-cop to her Uncle Sherlock’s sleuthing. Shintani has cleverly reconfigured classic Holmes plots, incorporating Christie’s counterpoint to the Holmes-Watson duo. In The Mazarin Stone, for example, Christie playacts a large doll to eavesdrop on Count Sylvius, substituting for the Holmes dummy in the original. Sometimes competing with Holmes to figure out a case before he does, sometimes complementing his findings or even replacing him, Christie follows her own intellectual precocity assisted by her sidekicks: pistol-packing Head Maid Hopkins, wisecracking maid Nora with her whip, and governess Grace Dunbar from the Thor Bridge story, who joins Christie’s staff. The shojo-style art excels at Victorian clothing designs. In Japan, the series ran to seven volumes as Christie High Tension, and a sequel began last fall with Christie as a lovely young woman. VERDICT This charming treat for the intellect introduces newbies to the Holmes universe, while Holmesians can enjoy how Shintani has repurposed the stories without dishonoring them. The exploits of Christie and her team, all well developed as characters, will charm precocious tweens through adults who like women sleuths.

Weaver, Lila Quintero. Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White. Univ. of Alabama. 2012. c.264p. ISBN 9780817357146. pap. $24.95. MEMOIR/HIST

Transplanted at age five from Buenos Aires to Alabama, Weaver encountered the racially charged culture of the early 1960s as a Latina who is neither black nor white. Her moving, personal memoir tells of complicated feelings about understanding her Latina heritage, relating to Alabama’s black and white citizenry, studying official Alabama history (which totally whitewashed plantation life), and race relations in her native Argentina. Growing up, she observes the inequalities of the Jim Crow South and witnesses key moments in the civil rights movement. She struggles to ally herself with her black classmates, but perils emerge from both sides of the divide. No neat closure develops from the darkroom of her experiences, since in Argentina and, of course, still in America, racial inequality persists. VERDICT Weaver’s moving testimony provides a rarely heard voice from the turbulent past of U.S. race relations, surely one that many can relate to, about growing up feeling different while observing from the sidelines. Featuring graceful and realistic black-and-gray art, this is recommended for students of social inequalities, teen and adult, and will be especially valuable for classrooms.

Van Lente, Fred & Ryan Dunlavey. The Comic Book History of Comics. IDW Pub. 2012. c.224p. ISBN 9781613771976. pap. $21.99. COMICS HIST

Töpffer, The Yellow Kid, Wertham, kamishibai storytelling (on cards), and the British invasion are fishhooks into comics history likely to be widely recognized among fanfolk. Now prepare for much more detail, variously fascinating, enlightening, or OMG infuriating, via these interwoven pictorial narratives. Prize nuggets include the U.S. Army’s test to determine the effectiveness of Will Eisner’s Preventive Maintenance cartoons (the comics easily topped text-only), Dunlavey’s visual of Watchmen compared with Moby-Dick, and the fine sections on manga (with fun mnemonics for key Japanese kanji) and piracy (with dangers and solutions). These creators take comics seriously: even the acknowledgements have panels and drawings. Likewise, they take history seriously, with six pages of source notes plus more online. VERDICT This excellent and entertaining chronicle must have been an elephant to research but comes through in an understandable if sometimes insane bite at a time. Certainly, Dunlavey (the similarly irreverent and insightful Action Philosophers) manages superbly to render realistically, to caricature, and/or to pillory dozens of real people in easy, strikingly composed pen-and-inks. Essential for serious fans as well as for students and researchers of the medium, adults and teens. Originally published by Evil Twin Comics as Comic Book Comics.



  1. Out of these, Gone to Amerikay is the best for me (I haven’t read all on your list, but I have read Get Jiro and Dark Room). It’sso details, so layered, and the illustration is amazing without going over the top. It’s almost like Colleen Doran had to have been in 19th century New York, her illustrations are that detailed. If anyone is wondering which graphic novel to buy I’d go for this.