Archive for the ‘Graphic novels’ Category

Top 10 graphic novels of 2011

December 18, 2011 | Graphic novels

Habibi By Craig Thompson Pantheon, 672 pages It was a long wait from 2004’s breakthrough hit Blankets until Habibi arrived this fall and cartoonist Craig Thompson’s sweeping love story was well worth the wait. Filled with lavish art and set against the backdrop of poverty and slavery in a fictional Arabian land, Habibi is quite simply a masterpiece. The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists By Seth Drawn & Quarterly, 136 pages One of Canada’s most renowned cartoonists paints a lovingly detailed portrait of a world where he and his brethren are revered as the highest of artists. At times sweet and heartfelt, other times melancholy and moody, but always engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable. Paying For It: A Comic-strip Memoir About Being a John By Chester Brown Drawn and Quarterly, 272 pages The idea of trading cash for sex is still a shocking subject in any medium and leave it to Toronto cartooning icon Chester Brown to take the notion to the next level in graphic form. Brown’s astonishingly frank account of using the services of prostitutes in Toronto is a thoroughly engrossing look at a world most people would otherwise never know existed. Morning Glories Deluxe Collection Vol. 1 By Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma Image Comics, 352 pages High school life if rough on most kids, but at Morning Glory Academy it can be murder. This red-hot new monthly comic series (the first year of which is now collected in one handy volume) is filled with intrigue and action as six new students at an exclusive prep school try to figure out why they’ve been brought together, what makes them so special and why so many students at their school don’t live to see graduation day. DC Comics: The New 52 By Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, many more DC Comics, 1,216 pages The publisher of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and countless other famous superhero comics, relaunches its entire universe with 52 new first issues in the hands-down comic book event of the year. This mammoth volume leaves no doubt that this is the start of something special. reMIND Vol. 1 By Jason Brubaker Coffee Table Comics, 150 pages This off-beat and wonderfully original tale sees a young woman named Sonja reunited with her cat, Victuals, weeks after he went missing. Funny thing is, not only is he back, but now he can talk. And what an unbelievable story he has to tell. Anya’s Ghost Vera Brosgol First Second, 224 pages The debut effort by this American graduate of Oakville’s Sheridan College is an extremely impressive one that sees a young girl make a very unusual friend, a ghost named Emily, who leads her down a delightfully dark path. While this spirit seems friendly, she has a secret that’ll send chills up your spine. Joe The Barbarian: The Deluxe Edition By Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy Vertigo, 224 pages Mind-bending writer Grant Morrison is at his very best in this reality-twisting epic. Joe Manson is a regular 13-year-old kid with a vivid imagination who has trouble with school bullies and has diabetes. Joe is also a brave warrior who may be saviour to a mysterious kingdom and their only hope to defeat the monstrous King Death. Is Joe losing his mind? Is he in insulin shock? Could he really be both people? Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey By GB Tran Villard, 288 pages GB Tran travels to Vietnam for the funeral of two grandparents and explores the lives of his family through the tumultuous 20th century for their country through the unique prism of being the only member of his clan to be born in America. Scarlet: Book 1 Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev Marvel Comics, 184 pages One young woman takes an uncompromising stand against corruption and injustice, and fires the first shot (or shots) in a new American revolution in perhaps the most poignant book of 2011: the year of the protest. (This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)

You Are a Cat!

December 8, 2011 | Graphic novels

The "Choose Your Own Adventure" books of the 1980s get a funny and decidedly more adult-oriented spin in You Are a Cat! (Conundrum Press, 200 pages, $17). Read and decide how to spend your day as Holden Catfield, an ordinary neighbourhood cat with a lot of options. Will you head over to your girlfriend's house for a snuggle? Take on that nasty tomcat that's been marking up your territory? Head off in search of fish to munch? Part homage and part satire by Montreal writer/illustrator/poet Sherwin Tija, You Are a Cat! serves up quite the fancy feast of activities for a kitty to chew on: want to become a peeping tom,stop a suicide or, oh, what the heck, kill a man? It's all in this bizarre, yet highly addictive and enjoyable effort. (This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)

Marzi, A Memoir

December 8, 2011 | Graphic novels

Marzi Sowa is a complicated little girl living in even more complicated times. Growing up in the 80s in the People's Republic of Poland, she doesn't have very many toys to play with or many different clothes to wear. She spends far too much of her life in long food lines with her parents, ration card in hand, hoping she may get sugar for her tea this month. Or maybe, if they're lucky, toilet paper. Even as a young child, Marzi is bright enough to know big things are happening in her homeland. People are growing more and more frustrated with the communist government and, for the first time, growing more and more vocal with their displeasure. Her father, Josef, is participating in strikes, something previously unheard of in their country at the time. Poland is changing and growing into something new; as is Marzi. Marzi, A Memoir (Vertigo, 248 pages, $19.99) by Marzena Sowa and her partner Sylvain Savoia is made up of a series of elegant vignettes that beautifully blend many familiar childhood moments with scenes of a maturing nation. Sowa perfectly captures the emotion of this pivotal time in world history through the eyes of a child in story that is deeply affecting. (This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)

The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists

December 8, 2011 | Graphic novels

You can picture all of our nation’s greats saddled up to the bar: Jimmie Frise, Doug Wright, Arch Dale. What a wonderful place Seth has imagined in The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists (Drawn & Quarterly, 136 pages, $24.95). Painting a poignant picture of a country that worships cartoonists as the highest of artists, the GNBCC is clearly, though unfortunately, a work of fantasy. It is, however, the kind of place any fan of the medium will embrace and easily, and happily, get lost in. Seamlessly interweaving tales of real-life Canadian cartooning icons likes Frise (Birdseye Center), Wright (Nipper) and others with his own fully realized and compelling artists and creations, Seth delivers a touching love letter to his beloved medium and those who have blazed the trail for modern-day cartoonists. (This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)


September 29, 2011 | Graphic novels

For years we’ve waited. And waited. Seven excruciatingly long years have passed while Craig Thompson quietly crafted the follow-up to his universally acclaimed graphic novel, Blankets. But as soon as you begin reading his new book, Habibi (Pantheon, 672 pages, $40), the reason why we’ve waited so long becomes instantly clear: work of this astounding depth takes years to achieve. Habibi (Arabic for my beloved) is magnificent, sweeping and lavish with a level of detail that is frankly staggering. Thompson takes readers from the introspective journey of Blankets to a spiritual one, as he beautifully blends cultures and faiths into a mesmerizing love story. As with Blankets, Thompson pulls no punches and puts his heroes — young slaves Dodola and Zam — through some nightmarish trials. But the journey is well worth taking as the star cartoonist delivers another triumph. (This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)

Mister Wonderful

May 6, 2011 | Graphic novels

Marshall is a loser. He’s divorced, balding, bespectacled and definitely past his prime and is such a dead-end that he is the punch line in his own interior monologue. He’s even enough of a loser to wait around for an hour to see if the blind date he’s been set up with will actually show at all. And then she does. And, for once in his life, it’s magic. Daniel Clowes, who has proved himself master of the loveable loser with past classics such as Ghost World and Pussey, treads somewhat familiar ground in his latest effort, Mister Wonderful (Pantheon Books, 80 pages, $22.95). In an effort originally serialized in The New York Times Magazine in 20 parts from 2007-2008, that is economical in the way of the best short stories, we follow Marshall on the night of his life as he attempts to woo the lovely, if equally flawed, Natalie. While regular readers of Clowes’ work wait patiently for the other shoe to drop, and it does, there is a surprisingly low level of cynicism for one of his books and even the possibility of, dare it be said, a happy ending. (This review first appeared at

Paying For It: A Comic Strip Memoir About Being A John

May 6, 2011 | Graphic novels

It’s pretty clear that Chester Brown is a robot. Well, to be fair, he could also be at least part space alien. Even some of his closest friends and colleagues agree. Either way, he’s clearly not like the rest of us and is definitely marching to the beat of his own drummer. But since the Torontonian is also one of the most unique and gifted graphic novelists in the world, most people aren’t too worried about investigating the origins of his construction/hatching/etc. Perhaps the best argument for Brown being built and not born comes in his mesmerizing new autobiographical book, Paying For It: A Comic Strip Memoir About Being A John (Drawn & Quarterly, 292 pages, $24.95). The story begins in 1996, when his longtime girlfriend, media personality Sook-Yin Lee, tells Brown she’s falling in love with another man — but doesn’t necessarily want to end things with him and certainly doesn’t want them to stop living together. With glasses covering his eyes and his slightly gaunt visage betraying no emotion, Brown agrees she should pursue the object of her affection and he calmly tells his friends, Seth and Joe Matt (the other two thirds of Toronto’s Holy Trinity of cartoonists), he doesn’t feel jealous at all. Then Sook-Yin starts sleeping with her new beau — in the room next door. But Brown, while he admits his sexual relationship with her is over, says he’s still not angry or jealous. In fact, he’s quite proud of that fact (not that his facial expression changes in the least). Then the new boyfriend moves in with them. And that’s when something changes (though not with Brown’s unfailingly stoic face). After witnessing (or at least hearing through thin apartment walls) the ups and downs of a monogamous relationship, he becomes convinced that he never wants to have a girlfriend again; that he’s done with the idea of romantic love. Clearly, it does not compute. There’s only one hitch in his plan: Sex. After nearly three years of celibacy, Brown eventually begins to ponder the concept of prostitution. He believes it could be the perfect solution for a socially awkward man who has no interest in love and no ability to pick up random women. With a little coaching from a book by sexpert Dan Savage, an emboldened Brown decides he’s willing to pay to satisfy his needs. And, after a little bit of investigation and effort to overcome paranoia, he finally makes it happen. (Although his facial expressions still don’t belie his feelings about it.) While most people would be trepidatious to ever discuss going through with this act, Brown, who describes the experience as transformative, proudly shares the details of his first encounter with his friends — including Sook-Yin. While facing the inevitable barrage of question regarding safety, morality, ethics and the like, Brown counters every blow with his own reasons why this works for him. It’s a pretty impressive evolution from the guilt-wracked young Brown readers first encountered in 1992’s The Playboy. What follows is a shockingly frank account of the all the prostitutes he saw — 22 in total, usually about one every three weeks — over the next five years. And while Brown takes very specific care to never show the faces of the women he saw or reveal anything about them that could make them identifiable, the candour with which he approaches this generally taboo subject frankly redefines the graphic part of graphic novels. Now there is simply no doubt this book is going to be controversial. The open advocation of partaking in the services of prostitutes as an alternative to monogamy likely isn’t for the faint of heart. And while Brown’s rather thorough appendix and notes — most of which read like excerpts lifted straight out of the Libertarian handbook (he’s been the federal party’s candidate in Trinity-Spadina the past two elections) — do make a good case for decriminalization of prostitution, it easy to see how his stance opens him up to criticism. Brown’s odyssey is undeniably engaging and readers longing for his return to autobiographical tales after the radical departure of 2004’s award-winning Louis Riel are sure to have smiles on their faces — even if he never will.

Drinking at the Movies

October 17, 2010 | Graphic novels

The comic strips that detail the sordid, often surreal adventures of Julia Wertz's life could have aptly and perhaps more cleverly, been called For Better or For Wertz or From Bad to Wertz. Everything you need to know about how this talented young cartoonist approaches her life and work can be understood by learning what she did call the strip: The Fart Party. That title, and the title of her new book, Drinking at the Movies (Three Rivers Press, 192 pages, $17), is the perfect test to see if you're a Wertz kind of reader. Either you think it's juvenile and turn up your nose, or you smile and pick it up. Those so inclined are rewarded with some spectacularly raw, cute and clever autobiographical strips, dealing with such subjects as public urination, drinking, personal hygiene, drinking, how to lose a job, drinking, American politics and drinking. Chronicling Wertz's transition from San Franciscan to New Yorker, and from miserable barista to miserable cartoonist, Drinking at the Movies presents a remarkably identifiable sequence of events for those with vivid memories of barely surviving their 20s. She does a great job capturing the confusion and exhilaration of being young and trying to figure out your place in the world without resorting to the usual saccharine fare that dominates autobiographical comics. The book even has, perhaps in spite of the chronically acerbic Wertz herself, a reasonably happy ending. (This article was first published in the Toronto Star)


August 15, 2010 | Graphic novels

Tumor Joshua Hale Fialkov, Noel Tuazon Archaia Entertainment $14.95 (Hardcover) **** (out of five) Private investigator Frank Armstrong just got the biggest payday of his rather pitiful career: $10,000 for a week’s work. Unfortunately, he may not have seven days left in him. Frank’s got a brain tumour, a really nasty one that’s giving him all kinds of fits — from raging headaches and blackouts to hallucinations and time lapses — all as he’s trying to make good on one last case. He’s searching the filthy streets and rat-infested back alleys of Los Angeles for the daughter of a notorious gangster — a girl who bears a striking resemblance to his late wife, a situation that’s making is awful hard for the dying detective and his misfiring grey matter to distinguish between past and present. Frank knows he won’t survive the case, but he’s got to try. He’s got to save the girl. Since he couldn’t save his wife. Tumor, the first original comic book series distributed via Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, finally arrives in printed form and it proves well worth the wait. The brainchild of hot American writer Joshua Hale Fialkov and talented Toronto artist Noel Tuazon, the tandem behind 2006’s critically acclaimed, and Harvey Award-nominated, graphic novel Elk’s Run, Tumor captures the best elements of modern noir fiction — including true-to-life characters, authentic settings and the palpable stench of death — and gives it a vicious new spin. The authenticity that Fialkov puts into Frank’s suffering through his tumour is visceral and frankly jarring at times and made even more so by the dramatic effects of Tuazon’s alternating use of thick, black inks and soft, washed out greys. This second example of Fialkov and Tuazon’s combined skills is just as impressive as their first and is sure to keep readers’ eyes out for more to come.


August 15, 2010 | Graphic novels

Mercury Hope Larson Atheneum Books For Young Readers $12.99 (Paperback) **** (out of five) Hope Larson may not be a Canadian resident anymore, but it’s nice to see her time made a deep impression. The Eisner Award-winning graphic novelist behind such fresh and fanciful works as Salamander Dream, Gray Horses and Chiggers lived in Nova Scotia for a good while with husband (and celebrated Scott Pilgrim creator) Bryan Lee O’Malley, inspiring the setting for her superb new book, Mercury. Set in the fictional town of French Hill, N.S, Mercury weaves together the lives of Josey and Tara Fraser, two girls with a lot in common, in spite of the fact they were born 150 years apart. Each is coping with the complications of being a teenager, discovering young love and is surrounded by some rather unusual, perhaps even magical, influences. Josey has fallen for a mysterious stranger who has promised to help her family unearth a hidden treasure on their farm. But can she truly trust him? And Tara finds herself drawn back to the same land a century and a half later with a strange feeling that she might solve her family’s current woes by helping clear up some past misdeeds. With a mix of elegant art and well-chosen words, Larson crafts an intriguing tale of Canadiana, full of mystery and magic, almost a love letter to her life in the Great White North that may even help ease the blow of losing her and Mal, who have since relocated to her hometown of Asheville, N.C.