Graphic Novels from Alagbé, Anderson & Carroll, Johnson & Co., and Rohmer & Robbins | Xpress Reviews

Week ending February 9, 2018

starred review starAnderson, Laurie Halse (text) & Emily Carroll (illus.). Speak: The Graphic Novel. Farrar. Feb. 2018. 384p. ISBN 9780374300289. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466897892. F
Melinda begins her freshmen year of high school a pariah, having lost all her old friends after she called the police and completely disrupted the big end-of-summer party. At home, her parents are slowly rending their marriage asunder every night. Eventually, she finds solace in art class but is perplexed by the seemingly absurd yearlong assignment to draw a tree. Trapping Melinda in this decaying half-life is her inability to speak her soul truly; she can converse, but her energies are devoted to hiding what really happened to her at that dreadful party, so much so that her silence threatens to destroy her. Will Melinda finally unlock her voice and reveal her life-altering secret before the darkness claims another innocent victim? This classic YA novel from National Book Award finalist Anderson (Fever 1793) detailing the aftershocks of sexual assault is visually brought to life by the astounding illustrations of Eisner Award–winning artist Carroll (Through the Woods).
Verdict Conveying both subtly complex human emotion while delivering powerfully expressionistic emotional acuity, Carroll renders a story that fits squarely within the current zeitgeist yet remains a work of art for all time.—Douglas Rednour, Georgia State Univ. Libs., Atlanta

Rohmer, Sax (text) & Trina Robbins (text & illus.). Sax Rohmer’s Dope. It’s Alive: IDW. 2017. 80p. ISBN 9781631409578. $24.99. MYS
Creator of archcriminal Fu Manchu, the late English novelist Rohmer (1883–1959) did plenty to propagate the racist “Yellow Peril” myth of invading Asians bent on pillaging Western civilization (and white women). Rohmer’s prurient tales have their admirers, but that hardly justifies this reissue of writer/illustrator Robbins’s (Wimmen’s Comix) early 1980s adaptation of this 1919 work. Inspired by a London ingenue’s fatal 1918 overdose, the story follows a starlet’s gradual ruin as her upper-middle-class friends try to aid her while navigating their own addictions, romantic intrigues, and a shocking murder, with a “Cuban-Jewess” and her yellow-devil husband (!) pulling the strings as Scotland Yard investigates. Maybe this material was sensational once, but today it is quaintly tedious: only the clichéd villains are of any interest, and Robbins’s clean monochrome artwork fails to evoke any of the necessary atmosphere, menace, or urgency. Disturbing imagery and scenes of drug use, violence, and nudity; suitable for mature teens and up.
Verdict For fans of Rohmer and Robbins only: Dope isn’t addictive enough to recommend to anyone else; the concluding contextual essays are more entertaining and instructive.—J. Osicki, Saint John Free P.L., NB

Alagbé, Yvan. Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures. New York Review Comics. Apr. 2018. 120p. tr. from French by Donald Nicholson-Smith. ISBN 9781681371764. pap. $22.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS
Featuring stories drawn between 1994 and 2011, this collection revolves around the lives of Beninese siblings Martine and Alain, living in Paris as undocumented workers. The title piece recounts their intense involvement with a French Algerian policeman who uses their fragile status to satisfy his increasingly emotional needs. Alagbé (L’oeil carnivore) returns to his characters again in “Dyaa,” which takes a haunting dive into Martine’s mind and explores her fraught relationship with a man she left behind. Other stories are meditations on Alain’s relationship with white Frenchwoman Claire and unflinching examinations of the refugee crisis and the legacy of colonialism in France. The stark, painterly black-and-white illustrations highlight both the racial tensions and the underlying themes of the narratives. Their raw, uneven quality suits the political nature of the work.
Verdict Alagbé’s storytelling is often surreal and reads like poetry, so readers should be prepared to put some energy into interpreting this book. But fans of alternative and European comics will relish the effort. [Previewed in Douglas Rednour’s “Comics Cross Over,” LJ 6/15/17.]—E.W. Genovese, Andrew Bayne Memorial Lib., Pittsburgh

starred review starJohnson, Mat (text) & Warren Pleece & Clem Robins (illus.). Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery. Berger: Dark Horse. Feb. 2018. 136p. ISBN 9781506705644. $19.99. MYS
Set in the Jim Crow South, this work paints the stark story of Harlem-based journalist Zane Pinchback, whose physical appearance allows him to report racial injustice firsthand. Passing as a white man, he is able to infiltrate lynch mobs and take names and information of the participants. However, the danger becomes too much for Zane, and he wants to get out from under his alias, “Incognegro,” and into a safer desk job as an editor. Then one last story hits close to home and thrusts him into a murder mystery deep in the heart of Mississippi. Writer Johnson (Dark Rain) and artist Pleece (Deadenders), with letterer Robins (The Last Dragon), draft a hard-hitting story revealing a dark chapter of modern American history. Their treatment of the plot is expertly rendered to highlight the complexities and horrors of Jim Crow America yet structured as an engaging, relatable read for 21st-century audiences.
Verdict Originally released in 2008, Incognegro is a valuable book on multiple levels: it offers an exceptional Southern mystery, steeped in history; it chronicles the injustice that, sadly, maintains relevance; and it is exquisitely drawn.—Alger C. Newberry III, Genesee Dist. Lib., Flint, MI


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