Jules Feiffer, Brandon Graham, Jane Irwin, Mimi Pond, Charles Schulz, & More | Graphic Novels Reviews

CHICK WIT At age five, acclaimed writer Flannery O’Connor taught a chicken to walk backward, and later said that appearing in a film about that feat was the high point of her life. Fortunately, she produced plenty of work post-chicken—her fiction, of course, and also a hefty batch of funny cartoons (see Flannery O’Connor: The Cartoons, Fantagraphics, 2012). In a style recalling James ­Thurber’s drawings, O’Connor’s 1940s comics for school newspapers satirize the author’s fellow students’ foibles and are as droll as Helen E. ­Hokinson’s 1920s New Yorker cartoons about ditsy matrons.

Now, 70 years after O’Connor’s comics were available there’s not much of which graphically inclined gals haven’t made fun. Cynthia ­Copeland takes on divorce in Good Riddance (LJ 1/14). Disease comes up for pot-shots from Cancer Vixen’s Marisa Acocella Marchetto, herself a New Yorker cartoonist (LJ 7/06). Dying? Ripe for satire by another New Yorker veteran, Roz Chast, who draws the Moving Sidewalk of Life with a sign: “Caution, drop off ahead” (Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, LJ 3/15/14). History and literature unravel tidbit-by-tidbit under the wicked pen of Hark! A Vagrant’s Kate Beaton (LJ 3/15/12).

But let’s turn to especially notorious subjects for humor: sex, work, parenting, and superheroes. For example, want to fake virginity on your wedding night? Marjane Satrapi tells all the dirty secrets in Embroideries (Pantheon, 2006). Thirtysomething mating-and-mommydom provide ample giggles through the charmingly slapstick art of French blogger Margaux Motin (But I Really Wanted To Be an Anthropologist, SelfMadeHero, 2012). And in Starling (LJ 1/14), Sage Stossel introduces a superheroine as romantically confused as any tabloid glitterati and as organizationally challenged as any Dilbert character. For much more chick-lish cartooning, check out Trina Robbins’s impressive Pretty in Ink: North American Women Cartoonists 1896–2013 (Fantagraphics, 2013). What do women want? Obviously, a good laugh!–M.C.

Bowers, Chad & Chris Sims (text) & Scott Kowalchuk (illus.). Down. Set. Fight! Oni. 2014. 144p. ISBN 9781620101162. pap. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781620101254. GRAPHIC NOVELS
Down Set Fight“Fearless” Chuck Fairlane threw away a promising football career when he started a huge brawl by punching the opposing team’s mouthy mascot. He had reasons, though—mostly having to do with his no-good father. But then other teams started to beat up mascots in a copycat pastime nicknamed “Fairlaning.” Years later, now working as a high school coach, Chuck’s being targeted for a bruising by costumed mascots from all over. Is it just payback or something more complicated? Kick-ass FBI agent Molly Harrison would sure like to know and so would Chuck. This goofy-premise story pits an almost superpowered good guy against enemy mascots in giant animal costumes—elephant, grizzly bear, chicken, even a Chinese dragon. As the plot and the mascots escalate toward the increasingly outrageous, Kowalchuk more than rises to the challenge of choreographing the far-fetched and often funny fight scenes. VERDICT With plenty of good old-fashioned fistfight action, tongue-in-cheek humor, and messages about honesty and mentoring, this comic would appeal especially strongly to sports-loving young men, teenage and up, who may be reluctant readers. ­Kowalchuk’s blocky, slightly retro art renders the action with clarity and zest.—M.C.

starred review starFeiffer, Jules (text & illus.). Kill My Mother. Liveright: Norton. Aug. 2014. 160p. ISBN 9780871403148. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780871402950. GRAPHIC NOVELS
Kill My MotherKill whose mother? Feiffer’s second venture into creating a novel in comic strip form (after 1979’s Tantrum) turns out to be a masterpiece of misdirection. Bitchy teen ­Annie Hannigan declares she wants to murder her mom, Elsie, assistant to a booze-soaked private eye. But as bodies fall dead and backstories come out of the closet, the network of vindictiveness among a broader and very quirky bunch of characters becomes clearer. This is noir tragicomedy in the grand manner, with a twisty plot confounding expectations most delightfully. Pulitzer Prize, Academy Award, and Obie–winning ­Feiffer draws on his stellar skills with dialog (including songs), plot, and wicked humor. The art, which includes numerous wonderful dance sequences, continues in his tradition of loose black-and-white scrawls, yet adds delicate color wash to superb effect. VERDICT Feiffer (A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears) has turned out an exceptional story featuring five formidable women, upending the cliché in which the he-man Humphrey Bogart or James Bond gets top billing. This will pull in fans of Feiffer, murder-mystery buffs, and those who like reading about fetching, Forties-era femmes with fatal intent. It’s suitable for readers high school and up owing to occasional nudity and sexual innuendo plus violence. [See Prepub Alert, 2/3/14.]—M.C.

Graham, Brandon & others (text & illus.). Prophet. Vol. 3: Empire. Image. 2014. 128p. ISBN 9781607068587. pap. $14.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
ProphetOn a thousand worlds, millennia in the future, the clones of John Prophet have awakened and begun fighting to rebuild the tyrannical Earth Empire. But the original Old Man Prophet, enemy of the Empire, has also awakened and is assembling a group of allies old and new to oppose them. In the third volume of this tremendously inventive series, the ancient entity Troll calls both sides to battle a terrible new cosmic threat. Prophet was originally created by Rob Liefeld in 1992 for Image’s “Youngblood” series, and far-future versions of other Image characters from that time appear here—but no knowledge of them is necessary to appreciate the worldbuilding present. Each artist on the series follows a different set of characters, illustrating only scenes featuring them, and each one renders amazing scientific visions—­living starships, grotesque genetically engineered posthumans, truly alien aliens, and all manner of organic technology—with exceptional vividness. Graham contrasts all of this with an earthiness of tone (which leads to brutality and gore but also to humor) and with genuinely human emotional moments. VERDICT Highly creative, hugely impressive, and strongly recommended.—S.R.

Irwin, Jane (text & illus.). Clockwork Game: The Illustrious Career of a Chess-Playing Automaton. Fiery Studios. 2014. 216p. ISBN 9780974311029. pap. $19.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS
“The Turk” was a turban-wearing robot before robots were possible—or was it? ­Aswoon at the idea of technological progress, the automaton’s gaping audiences of the 18th and 19th centuries couldn’t tell and mostly didn’t care. Irwin (Vögeline) thinly fictionalizes this mystery of mechanics and mystification, from the automaton’s 1769 debut before Hapsburg empress Maria ­Theresa to its 1854 destruction. Along the way, he exposes racial and cultural assumptions about minorities and makes the outsized personalities and dust-ups of those who brought the automaton to life as interesting as the mechanical Turk itself. Luminaries of the times play small parts, also: P.T. ­Barnum, Ludwig van Beethoven, Napoleon Bonaparte, among others. Irwin works in precise and graceful pen and inks, including hand-done crosshatching. The effect is a romanticized realism that could as easily portray, say, the writings of Jane Austen or Shakespeare. And by clever shading sometimes the Turk appears more real than the humans around it. VERDICT This lively, mostly true story will appeal to gamers, fanciers of steampunk and robot tales, technohistory watchers, and those intrigued by the magician’s arts. Knowledge of chess enhances comprehension but is not necessary. For high schoolers and adults.—M.C.

Jeffrey, Gary (text & illus.). Bonnie and Clyde: The Beginning. McFarland. 2014. 215p. ISBN 9780786465408. pap. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9781476614298. GRAPHIC NOVELSBonnie and Clyde
The book’s cover shows Bonnie Elizabeth Parker (1910–34) and Clyde Chestnut ­Barrow (1909–34) as superstar mobsters, but ­Jeffrey (Battle for the Atlantic; The Eastern Front) focuses the content on the couple’s ugly, day-to-day scrabbling to stay alive and ahead of the law. The story starts with the first time Clyde was implicated in a murder and ends a year later with a skin-of-the-teeth escape from a shoot-out that killed two lawmen. Young and vengeful, Clyde can’t resist escapades that pull him deeper into lawlessness, and Bonnie can’t defy Clyde. The grayscale art conveys very well a grimy, Depression-era feel, although all the characters aren’t always portrayed distinctively. Also, a brief introduction contextualizing this excerpt from Bonnie and Clyde’s career would have been welcome. VERDICT Showing the nonglamorous side of living outside the law, Jeffrey’s chronicle serves as a compelling counterweight to myths of Bonnie and Clyde as attractive and successful criminals. A sure bet for true crime buffs and students of Depression-era history; best for older teens and up because of its violence and sexual situations.—M.C.

London, Jack (text) & Riff Reb’s (text & illus.). The Sea-Wolf. Papercutz. (Classics Illustrated Deluxe, Bk. 11). 2014. 144p. ISBN 9781597074018. $17.99; pap. ISBN 9781597073806. $13.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
theseawolf060314A legendary patriarch of American genre fiction, London (1876–1916) wove emotion and adventure into a wildly popular combo that flowers today throughout all media. The book’s hero, effete gentleman-­journalist Humphrey Van Weyden, must survive not just the amoral Pacific Ocean but its titular wolf: Wolf Larsen, the brilliant but “unmoral” captain of seal-­hunting schooner The Ghost. First rescued by Larsen and then forced onto his crew, Van Weyden confronts philosophical debates, crew unrest, treacherous weather, and a beautiful castaway who’s also a writer. While some other literary graphic adaptations modify the original, Reb’s gets inside London’s vision with detailed, period-inspired inks enhanced by varying monochrome. The artist’s light/dark palette creates thrillingly dangerous ocean vistas. Moreover, the hypercivilized Van Weyden and the sonuvabitch Larsen come across as complex, asymptotic characters, each worthy of both scorn and admiration throughout their unlikely mentor/apprentice relationship. VERDICT This fine adaptation will make excellent fodder for book clubs as well as for armchair sailors owing to the complexity of the characters, their dilemmas, and their choices. With brutality and some oblique sexual content, this title is for teens and adults.—M.C.

Oliver, Simon (text) & Robbi Rodriguez (illus.). FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics. Vol. 1: The Paradigm Shift. Vertigo. 2014. 160p. ISBN 9781401245108. pap. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401249595. GRAPHIC NOVELS
It’s the world of today, except that occasionally, at unpredictable times and places, the laws of physics are repealed—and when gravity starts disappearing, or a dimensional vortex appears, the Federal Bureau of Physics (FBP) is called in to return things to normal. With the bureau facing the possible legal privatization of “physics incident response,” Adam Hardy, FBP field agent and son of a marginalized physicist who disappeared into a quantum tornado, puts his life on the line attempting to rescue a man trapped in a bubble universe. But he finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy that raises the stakes considerably. Oliver’s (The Exterminators) sf ideas are intriguing, and his focus on inter-FBP personality dynamics provides a human dimension. But his ordinary writing and plotting render the book less exciting than the above description suggests it should be, and ­Rodriguez’s scratchy, sketchlike, and sometimes exaggerated artwork doesn’t do enough to sharpen it. ­VERDICT Decent but uninspiring. With some gore, this is for larger adult collections.—S.R.

Pond, Mimi (text & illus.). Over Easy. Drawn & Quarterly. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9781770461536. $24.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS
A dropout from higher education and the career rat race of 1970s California, Pond (The Simpsons TV scripts and five humor books) takes refuge in blue-collar work: waitressing at a popular Oakland diner. So different from her own confusion and naïveté, her wisecracking new colleagues seem appealingly exotic—the boss, for instance, hires staff by asking candidates to tell a joke or relate a dream. As she stumbles into her new identity, she maneuvers through a world of casual sex, recreational drug use, and intellectualized identity politics but always with her good sense keeping her together. Suggesting a sweeter Lynda Barry, Pond’s simple black-and-white drawings overlaid with teal wash capture the soap opera comedy of a time when hippiedom morphed into punk as the go-to pose for the coming-of-age set. ­VERDICT Pond’s partially fictionalized memoir will appeal to others of her generation as well as to today’s new-adult readers facing entry into the cross-gen world known as the Rest of Your Life. It’s a lively, funny, and sometimes rueful read, with Volume 2 coming. For college-age and adult collections.—M.C.

starred review starSchulz, Charles M. (text & illus.). Peanuts Every Sunday. Vol. 1: 1952–1955. Fantagraphics. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781606996928. $49.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
Peanuts Every SundayBy collecting the world’s most popular comic strip in its entirety, Fantagraphics’ Complete Peanuts run (begun in 2004) performs a tremendous service to multiple generations of fans. But that series less-than-­ideally reprints the Sunday installments in black and white. Now Fantagraphics redresses that issue with this lavishly oversized (13″ x 9.5″) hardcover, the first of ten planned volumes, presenting the earliest Peanuts Sunday strips in full color. Rather than reproducing the strips from old newspapers (which might be faded or printed off register), the publisher has recolored the line art to match the originals and the results are glorious. The first strips here display Schulz’s supercute early style, but Peanuts matured quickly in both artwork and emotional tone. Featured are examples of many famous Peanuts mainstays, including the very first instance of Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown. The rather dour design of the Complete Peanuts books feels like an attempt to align the strip with the alt-comics crowd, but the color presentation here is more likely to appeal to the millions of others who identify with these most relatable of characters and find them funny. VERDICT A true delight, essential for every collection.—S.R.

Wood, Brian (text) & Garry Brown & others (illus.). The Massive. Vol. 2: Subcontinental. Dark Horse. 2013. 134p. ISBN 9781616553166. pap. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781621158615. GRAPHIC NOVELS
The MassiveIn the aftermath of the Crash, an unexplained series of natural disasters that killed untold millions and catastrophically disrupted society and the environment worldwide, mercenary-turned-pacifist ­Callum Israel captains environmental action group Ninth Wave’s ship Kapital. Together with his lover and second-in-­command Mary, fellow ex-mercenary Mag, and a multi­national crew of activist volunteers, Callum traverses the waters of the devastated Earth chasing phantom signals that seem to be coming from the ­Kapital’s lost sister ship, the Massive. The captain must also deal with the realities of survival in a dangerous world of piracy, war, and black markets—realities that threaten Ninth Wave’s pacifist ideals and leave its members questioning their mission. Here, the Kapital visits Moksha, an oil rig in the Indian Ocean that has declared itself a sovereign nation and adopted ­utopian principles, and ­Callum learns some life-altering news. Wood (DMZ; Channel Zero) delineates the post-Crash Earth with power and believable detail and gives his characters, especially the haunted Callum and the mysteriously superhuman Mary, compelling depth. VERDICT Strong and thoughtful, recommended for all adult collections.—S.R.



This article was published in Library Journal's June 1, 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.