Brabner/Zingarelli, Dingle, Opotowsky/Hoffmeister, Simon/Kirby, & Others | Graphic Novels Reviews, January 2015

DO You Speak Comics? As Ian Chant describes in “Library Linguistics” (LJ 8/14), many libraries actively support language learners—those learning English as Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and those studying foreign languages. What better than to incorporate graphic novels into these efforts?

Comics have been repeatedly shown to help kids learn to read—indeed, “many mainstream authors…[and] quite a few comics industry folks single out comics as an early key to their own reading skill and enjoyment” (“Why Comics Make Reading Fun,”, 4/5/11). Graphic narratives can also help with learning a new tongue: Sophia Loren notes in Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life that she learned English by reading Mickey Mouse comics and Shakespeare. Language-learning patrons can be steered to graphic novels as well as to other formats. ESOLers may dip into a library’s existing collection. But what about other languages? A library may not carry comics in Spanish, French, Italian, German, Japanese, or Chinese—yet. Fortunately, these materials are not too difficult to find.

Chant terms Spanish the most in-demand language studied. Pasadena PL, CA, for example, reports parents asking for Spanish-language comics to accommodate a school immersion program. Distribution companies Baker & Taylor, Brodart, and Ingram all provide Spanish-language graphic novels, whether from Latin America or Europe or as translations of manga or American titles. Brodart reports that Los Pitufos (Smurfs) and the Spanish version of The Walking Dead are very popular. Some libraries buy from Amazon, which lists Spanish-language titles on its main site as well as many more from The small, melodramatic Mexican novelas or historietas are in strong demand at the Houston PL, ready for purchase from Latin-American Periodicals (

As for French, “over 1,000” bandes dessinées or BDs (comics) are available from AMALIVRE, a European vendor also offering preprocessing. is a fine source, too. Toronto’s stellar comics shop, the Beguiling, provides a number of North American libraries with personal assistance in selecting BDs, plus discounts and MARC cataloging. Amazon companies in Japan, Germany, Italy, and China all carry graphic novels in those country’s languages. Some libraries buy from specialty bookstores such as Kingstone (Chinese, and ­Kinokuniya (Japanese), or from foreign vendors such as Norma (Spain) and Casalini (Italy).

Public library systems with substantive foreign-language graphic novel collections include New York, San Francisco, and ­Austin, TX, and librarians in these areas are happy to share their experience with others looking to multilingualize their comics.—M.C.

Brabner, Joyce (text) & Mark Zingarelli (illus.). Second Avenue Caper: When Goodfellas, Divas, and Dealers Plotted Against the Plague. Hill & Wang. 2014. 160p. ISBN 9780809035533. $22. GRAPHIC NOVELS

secondavenuecaper010615Brabner (Our Cancer Year) reveals at last a hidden tale from the history of the AIDS epidemic and the medicalization of marijuana. In 1980s New York, Ray, a gay nurse, and his partner Ben sold marijuana to healthy friends on behalf of a doctor-­supplier with underworld connections south of the border. The proceeds, which they sardonically dubbed their grant from the “Colombian Arts Council,” financed treating AIDS-ridden acquaintances with experimental drugs distributed only in Mexico as well as giving them complimentary weed as a palliative. Simultaneously hilarious (border smuggling in elaborate disguises) and heart-wrenching (widespread antigay/anti-AIDS prejudice), the story finds apt realization through quasi-documentary black-and-white art from Zingarelli (American Splendor: Our Movie Year). His facial drawings are particularly expressive in conveying Ray’s multiple, sometimes conflicting allegiances and the gleeful complicity mixed with sadness from others in their helping community. VERDICT This chronicle of odd alliances working underground for social justice shows how far we have come with AIDS and gay issues but how much further we still have to go for overarching health-care reform. Those interested in health or GLBT issues will find it especially compelling.—M.C.

Dingle, Adrian (text & illus.). Nelvana of the Northern Lights. CGA. 2014. 352p. ed. by Hope Nicholson & Rachel Richey. ISBN 9780993676116. $35. GRAPHIC NOVELS

nelvanaofnorth010615With Kickstarter funding, editors ­Nicholson and Richey have done a great service for comics historians and fans by reprinting work from the “Canadian whites”: rare black-and-white comics published in Canada during a World War II trade embargo on “non-essential” U.S. goods, including comic books. This first volume collects the complete 1941–47 adventures of Nelvana, who predated Wonder Woman as one of the first superheroines. Nelvana’s striking introduction presents her as an Inuit goddess and protector of the Arctic people. That tale’s mythic tone gives way to battles against invading Germans and Japanese (presented as evil caricatures in the manner of the time), then to sf adventure in invented worlds, then to agent-spy action with Nelvana living in “civilization” under a secret identity. Dingle’s art and scripting stand up well next to U.S. superhero comics of that era. Given this work’s value and obscurity, it’s unfortunate that the supporting text fails to clearly set out its background or cite the original comics reprinted here. VERDICT A highly worthwhile volume shedding light on a too-long darkened corner of comics history. A reprint from IDW was released in December.—S.R.

Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream. Locust Moon. 2014. 148p. ed. by Josh O’Neil & others. ISBN 9780989907699. $125. GRAPHIC NOVELS

littlnemo010615In the same oversized 21″ x 16″ format of Sunday Press’s Little Nemo in Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays! is this Kickstarter-funded wonder, a spectacular tribute to early newspaper cartoonist ­Winsor ­McCay’s innovative and visionary Little Nemo. In these amazingly varied pages, over 120 creators contribute a strip inspired by McCay’s masterwork, sometimes featuring his characters, sometimes sending others to Slumberland. As in the original, there are grand vistas, tumultuous adventures through fantasy landscapes, dream-logic shifts in narrative and imagery, and panel-breaking formal experiments. Some strips are black-and-white feasts of intricate linework, others are gorgeous color spectacles; some are celebratory, some nightmarish, some unexpectedly thoughtful or touching. Though every reader might find something here that doesn’t appeal, the highlights are many, including J.G. Jones’s musings on scale and the cosmos, Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá’s visit to the “Amber Palace of Hidden Loves,” Mike Sgier’s Godzilla takeoff, and work by Jeffro Kilpatrick, Craig Thompson, P. Craig Russell, Camilla d’Errico, Bill Sienkiewicz, and others. ­VERDICT Wow. Though its immense size will likely prove problematic for circulating collections, this is essential for art libraries and McCay’s most avid fans.—S.R.

Martin, Don (text & illus.) . MAD’s Greatest Artists: Don Martin; Three Decades of His Greatest Works. Running Pr. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780762455188. $30. GRAPHIC NOVELS

A cake is brought to the table at an undertakers’ convention and, to the audience’s delight, out pops a dead stripper. Welcome to the mad world of Martin, in which the extreme becomes comical. From 1956 to 1988, Martin was a fixture at MAD, known for his inventive sound effects (“groon groon splazitch splazatch”) and characters with long, bendable feet. This hardcover collects a sampling of his work from the magazine (previously compiled in full in the two-book set The Completely MAD Don Martin). Many gags are pure goofiness, in some characters lose eyes or limbs—and the two categories are not mutually exclusive. Some episodes are slightly humorous, a few are uproarious, and no two readers are likely to agree on which is which. For this reader, one inspired strip involves a brain surgeon cutting open a man’s head and finding not a brain but a series of ever-smaller nesting dolls (of the man’s head), with a message in the smallest. Fun fact: Martin’s propensity for naming characters “Fonebone” gave cartoonist Jeff Smith an idea. VERDICT Three “skroinch”es out of four.—S.R.

Muradov, Roman (text & illus.) . (In a Sense) Lost and Found. Nobrow. 2014. 56p. ISBN 9781907704956. $19.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS

lostandfoundinasense010615“F. Premise awoke one morning from troubled dreams to find that her innocence had gone missing.” At the breakfast table, her outraged father banishes her to her room. She escapes out the window, but people on the street stare at her. Seeking what’s been lost, she befriends a fatalistic bookstore owner, sneaks into a “Fed-Hex” office where an underground collective of creature-headed beings make copies of her missing thing to sell to the masses, and finally comes to terms with her changed self. This slight-seeming parable grows wings through the craft of Muradov (Picnic Ruined). Meanings of near-real words such as fermions and eunuchwhats shimmer seductively just out of reach, while allusions to Franz Kafka, Arthur Schopenhauer, and the Zeus/Europa romance appear. His beautifully odd art extends the ambiguities, art deco swirls married to a Mirólike surrealistic simplicity and evocatively colored in a clean block style recalling Matisse’s paper cutouts. The effect is a sort of visual jazz in tones orange through tan and brown. ­VERDICT This lovely magical-realist fable treats an intangible as tangible, a tangy-sad tweak for the imagination of teens and adults who appreciate quirky, dream-logic stories.—M.C.

Opotowsky, Anne (text) & Angie Hoffmeister & others (illus.). Nocturne. Gestalt Comics, dist. by Last Gasp. (Walled City Trilogy, Bk. 2). Jan. 2015. 456p. ISBN 9781922023452. pap. $39. GRAPHIC NOVELS

Noctunrecover010615Book 1, His Dream of the Skyland (LJ Xpress Reviews, 8/3/12), introduced young Hong Kong postal worker Lu Song plus the colorful habitués of a romanticized version of Kowloon’s Walled City, circa 1925. While continuing the narrative of the first volume, Nocturne can stand alone as a tale of corruption, murder, and desire. Gradually, as in a brilliant mosaic coming into focus, we see details of the child trafficking ring. Song and the locals, including a cheeky crime lord, manage to piece together clues and pin guilt on one of the major profiteers. Meanwhile, everyone struggles to survive—and, heartbreakingly, find love—under mercurial British rule. Writer/filmmaker Opotowsky effortlessly weaves over 20 complex characters together, while Düsseldorf illustrator ­Hoffmeister’s limpid gray wash–and–ink drawings render the cityscapes and people with dreamy, affectionate realism, highlighted in misty color. Breathtaking aerial views feature the hijinks of two clever acrobats who work clotheslines and trees like circus high wires to perform and assist the sleuths. VERDICT This beautiful and tragic saga is a feast for the eyes and intellect. Good for academic collections, ethnic/historical studies, and where literary graphic novels are popular. Nudity, sex, and mature content.—M.C.

Peeters, Benoît (text) & François Schuiten (illus.) & Marie-Françoise Plissart (photos). The Leaning Girl. Alaxis Pr. (Obscure Cities). 2014. 176p. tr. from French by Stephen D. Smith. ISBN 9781628472271. pap. $29.99. ebook available. GRAPHIC NOVELS

In a steampunk-influenced counter-Earth, young Mary von Rathen suddenly stands off-kilter as if pulled by a different gravity. Professor Wappendorf readies an interplanetary rocket to investigate planet-threatening dangers, while an isolationist painter on Earth (depicted in photos) seeks his mysterious muse. All three meet in a Jules Verne–type center of the counter-Earth (Verne himself plays a bit part), and the mysteries are resolved. Schuiten’s haunting inked lines impersonate Victorian engravings and counterpoint ­Plissart’s misty photos to give a beautiful nearly real quality. The counter-Earth locales are fully embodied with visual magic, including Mary’s sometimes delicately sexual adventures. Yet even if it might seem to follow from the setup, the sad conclusion—that life’s responsibilities trump art, imagination, and love—seems denied by the artfulness of the work itself. VERDICT Bemusement for the eyes and mind, this sets a high mark for sublime art and imaginative plotting, even if one debates the resolution. With a successful Kickstarter campaign, it’s a solid bet for lovers of philosophical, alt-world fiction. Alaxis plans to reprint the entire multi-award-­winning series of 16 volumes.—M.C.

Simon, Joe & Jack Kirby (text & illus.). The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio. Abrams. 2014. 384p. ed. by Mark Evanier. ISBN 9781419711602. $60. GRAPHIC NOVELS

artofsimonkirby010615During the 1940s and 1950s, Simon and Kirby ran a comics production shop that turned out some of the era’s most accomplished and exciting work. This impressive oversized hardcover reproduces a generous selection of that work from the original black-and-white art boards, with corrections and production notes visible (one heavily revised story exemplifies the changes wrought by the Comics Code). Genres range from superheroes to crime, Western, war, sf, and romance (a genre Simon and Kirby pioneered). Most stories are reprinted in full, including “Mother Delilah,” a Boys’ Ranch (1950) tale that both men cited as a favorite of their work together. Eighteen previously unpublished cover designs and pages are also featured, including an unused cover for ­Simon and Kirby’s last collaboration, DC’s Sandman No. 1 from 1974. Much dynamic Kirby art is on display, along with work by over a dozen of the studio’s other artists; highlights include E.C. Comics great Al Williamson’s marvelous inking on several Kirby sf tales and a space adventure by future Jonny Quest creator Doug Wildey. VERDICT A fine companion to the books in Titan’s “Simon and Kirby Library.”—S.R.

SubCultures. Ninth Art. 2014. 224p. ed. by Whit Taylor. ISBN 9780990343318. pap. $15. GRAPHIC NOVELS

Thirty-six niches of American culture come into the spotlight in this eclectic, black-and-white collection of ­ethnographic-like vignettes that can be autobiographical, reportage, or fictionalized. Some (cartoonists, steampunk aficionados, cosplayers, table-top war gamers, Star Wars conventioneers) will doubtless be familiar to comics readers but others (watch connoisseurs, Pochos, RealDoll owners, Esperanto speakers, industrial shredding enthusiasts) probably not. Among additional selections, Liz Prince (Tomboy) applies her clean-line sketchbook style to high school punkers and ravers. Andrew Greenstone ( takes on cryptozoologists with simpler, angular drawings for the Bigfoot watchers and muddier brushwork for woods and wildlife. Glynnis Fawkes (Cartoons of Cypress) applies graceful, fluid brushwork to her account of belly dancers in Vermont. ­Stevie Wilson ( takes brushwork in a murkier direction for her memoir of goth fetish clubs. Anna Mudd’s ( scribbly outline pen work aptly evokes the nebulous reputation surrounding “self-identified” scientists. VERDICT This collection provides entertaining, visually diverse if sometimes too short eye-openers for the culturally curious. But it’s not always clear which are memoir, which reportage, and which fictionalized, so brief source notes would have been useful. The variety of simply based approaches will inspire DIY cartoonists. Older teens and adults.—M.C.

Tittel, Jörg (text) & John Aggs (illus.). Ricky Rouse Has a Gun. SelfMadeHero. 2014. 180p. ISBN 9781906838829. pap. $24.95. GRAPHIC novels

The clash between Chinese culture and American culture fuels this satirical action-comedy, set in a Shanghai amusement park. Rick Rouse goes AWOL from his army gig in Afghanistan because his wife has bailed out of their marriage. The irascible but impoverished Rick is working reluctantly as a park host in a grotesque cartoon mouse suit when a crew of costumed Americans seize the grounds to protest Chinese economic power. Their leader, in a cartoon duck outfit, has higher connections than anyone realizes. But when Rick learns that his ex-wife and daughter are among the hostages, he channels John Wayne, teams up with a reluctant Chinese park guard, and saves the day. The exuberant, blocky-realistic color art from Aggs (The Silver Silhouette) renders the action, blood, and impossible stunts of this drama with zest and just enough clarity to get across both the story and the visual confusion of gun battles in roller coasters. ­VERDICT Those who like Die Hard–style shoot-out heroism in unusual settings will enjoy this tongue-in-cheek story. The plot from writer/producer/director Tittel offers twists and satisfying outcomes if not realism. Inexplicit sex and plenty of salty language make this for older teens and up.—M.C.

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