Graphic Novels from Arawi, Bagieu, Hiaasen & Chast, Rall, and Simone & Co. | Xpress Reviews

Week ending April 13, 2018

starred review starArawi, Keiichi. City 1. Vertical. Mar. 2018. 170p. tr. from Japanese by Jenny McKeon. ISBN 9781945054785. pap. $12.95. MANGA
This delightfully eccentric comedy from the creator of the popular “nichijou” series will generate gut-wrenching laughs and heartwarming smiles. Told from a variety of perspectives, the story begins with the plight of broke college student Midori Nagumo, who is two months behind on her rent. One morning, when her angry, elderly landlady comes to collect the money, Midori makes a run for it. Unsure of where to go or what to do, she heads into the city and encounters several bizarre yet lovable denizens, including a dedicated though hapless rookie police officer, a local restaurant server who puts far too much faith in horoscopes, and the aforementioned landlady, who happens to be stronger than any man in town. The appropriately cartoonish art will appeal to those who don’t want their funnies looking “too anime.” The humor, while slapstick and silly, will strongly resonate with young adults trying to find their calling in life as well as fans of the author’s previous work and Kiyohiko Azuma’s Azumanga Dioh.
Verdict Owing to the ages and concerns of the characters, older teens and up will likely get the most out of City. However, seasoned fans of comedic manga or those who enjoyed nichijou in either manga or anime form will absolutely want to give this comedy with soul a look. Highly recommended.—Chuck Hodgin, Belmont Univ. Lib., Nashville

starred review starBagieu, Pénélope. Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World. First Second. Mar. 2018. 304p. ISBN 9781626728684. $24.99; pap. ISBN 9781626728691. $17.99. WOMEN’S STUDIES/BIOG/HIST
First appearing as a comic strip in the French daily Le Monde, this volume features 29 women whose histories span time, geography, and circumstance. Actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr, painter Tove Jansson, and journalist Nellie Bly are some of the more famous names; rapper Sonita Alizadeh; Nzinga, Queen of Ndongo and Matamba; and gynecologist Agnodice are less well known. In densely packed, nine-panel pages, Bagieu (Exquisite Corpse; California Dreamin’) recounts the cultural and personal factors that shaped our heroines, the key moment when they decided to forge their own paths, and the effects of their decisions. Both art and text are clever, smart, and distilled for maximum impact. The women are not idealized, nor are their flaws ignored. Instead, they are treated with wit and empathy. Featuring vivid colors, lyrical compositions, and surprising power, the two-page illustrations of each subject are beautiful portraits that could stand on their own.
Verdict At first glance, Brazen feels like yet another collection of biographies of extraordinary and underappreciated women, but Bagieu has created something remarkable. A fresh and joyous look at women’s history that is sure to delight even the most jaded readers.—E.W. Genovese, Andrew Bayne Memorial Lib., Pittsburgh

Hiaasen, Carl (text) & Roz Chast (illus.). Assume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You’ll Never Hear. Knopf. Apr. 2018. 64p. ISBN 9780525655015. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780525655022. HUMOR
Most people are stupid. Try your best not to be too stupid. That could easily be an alternate title for this demotivational graduation speech from best-selling novelist and nonfiction author Hiaasen (Bad Monkey; Lucky You; Dance of the Reptiles). The happy platitudes often fed to the young come up against the harsh realities of adulthood in this slim volume. But more than that, Hiaasen calls readers to be decent in a constantly frustrating world. Though he exhorts us to worry constantly, he clarifies this to mean one should judge thoughtfully, think critically, and work hard at what matters. While not matched point by point to the text, National Book Critic Circle Award winner Chast (Going into Town; Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant) presents ever-hilarious, wobbly handed illustrations that highlight the nervous, lightly nihilistic tone of the narrative perfectly—“We’re doomed, but I still want pizza.”
Verdict Hiaasen and Chast combine forces to help us keep our heads clear and our feet grounded in the face of an all too superficial, self-obsessed modern world, making this a succinct, swift read for their many fans.—Emilia Packard, Austin, TX

Rall, Ted. Francis, the People’s Pope. Seven Stories. Mar. 2018. 256p. notes. ISBN 9781609807603. pap. $17.95. REL
In 2013, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope of the Catholic faith and took the name Francis. Much of his personal history, including his youth, direct involvement in Argentina’s political turmoil during the “Dirty War,” and various bureaucratic paths to becoming Pope are detailed in this latest graphic biography from Pulitzer Prize finalist Rall (Snowden; Trump). The volume also includes broader context for Francis’s times, from detailed looks at the papacy of John Paul II and Benedict XVI to less-well-known aspects, such as the reforms making up Vatican II, the far reach of liberation theology, and even general differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. And while political cartooning firebrand Rall might seem like an odd choice to create a book about a global religious leader, he rises to the occasion and presents a balanced and ultimately positive look at how the compassionate Pope Francis injects true humanity into one of the world’s most powerful positions.
Verdict Surprisingly energized about Francis’s possibilities but without blinders to the history of the Catholic faith, Rall delivers a far-left sermon on a man he respects with informational tidbits that will expand the knowledge of anyone seeking more about the People’s Pope.—Douglas Rednour, Georgia State Univ. Libs., Atlanta

starred review starSimone, Gail (text) & Cat Staggs & Simon Bowland (illus.). Crosswind. Vol. 1. Image. Mar. 2018. 128p. ISBN 9781534304741. pap. $9.99. Rated: Mature. THRILLER
Case Bennett isn’t himself, he’s in the body of suburbanite Juniper Blue. And the handsome, brash hit man must now cope with a weaselly bully of a husband, while the beleaguered Juniper—pushed around by everybody—in Case’s body, is responsible for cleaning up a mishandled hit. How Case and Juniper manage their dilemmas, join forces against psychopath Cruz, and discover the who and why behind the switch emerge in gripping drama. Masterfully orchestrated by Simone (Wonder Woman; Batgirl; Birds of Prey), the plot integrates yet subverts gender expectations, sending Case-as-Juniper to transgender neighbors for help and nicely resolving challenges posed by the hit man’s lover. The dead-on dialog evokes empathy and glee as Juniper and Case draw skills from both original and new identities. With nuanced photorealism, Staggs (Supergirl; Smallville) dramatizes character mannerisms, beautifully capturing body swap subtleties with clue-filled coloring. Collects single issues 1–6 of the series.
Verdict With a deft hand, the creators blend social justice issues into this fast-paced thriller that never loses sight of the characters’ humanity amid the action, horror, and chuckles. Crime fiction comics buffs and those interested in stories focused on gender and identity will relish this one. Soon to be released as a TV series, with Simone as executive producer and Staggs as consulting producer.—Martha Cornog, Philadelphia

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