Archive for the ‘Graphic novels’ Category

King: The Special Edition

February 22, 2010 | Graphic novels

King: The Special Edition Ho Che Anderson Fantagraphics Books $34.99 U.S. **** 1/2 (out of five) Canadian creator Ho Che Anderson’s King: The Special Edition arrives just in time for Black History Month. This updated volume contains the entire original graphic biography of historic American civil rights crusader, Dr. Martin Luther King, plus a new essay by Anderson on the making of the book, sketches, “deleted scenes” and loads of other bonuses.

Footnotes In Gaza

February 8, 2010 | Graphic novels

Joe Sacco has already won the highest honour comics have to offer, along with a renowned fellowship and various other awards for his stirring work as the world’s foremost comic book journalist. His latest effort, Footnotes in Gaza (Metropolitan Books, $35.95, 432 pages), is complex, compelling and worthy of becoming just the second graphic novel to win a Pulitzer (after Art Spiegelman's Maus) — though he’d likely settle for turning the spotlight on what he believes is one of the least fairly represented places in the world. As with past works such as Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde (for which the Guggenheim Fellow won an Eisner Award for best original graphic novel), Sacco fully immerses himself in the turbulent world of his subjects for his craft. In this case it is a world where entire homes are routinely dispatched by bulldozers with the ease of someone shovelling snow off a driveway; where the closing down of busy streets for the funeral procession of slain children is altogether too commonplace; and where a journalist delving into the tragedies of the past is mocked for the perceived futility. After all, what’s the point in worrying about something that happened over 50 years ago when there’s an inordinately high chance you could be killed tomorrow? Following up on a story he first learned of while working for Harper’s Magazine in 2001, Sacco, along with his guide and interpreter, Abed, slowly pieces together the details of two incidents that took place around the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis that resulted in the deaths of almost 400 Palestinian men in the southern Gaza cities of Khan Younis and Rafah. Deftly darting back and forth from the past to the present — perfectly highlighting how little has changed in this war-torn region over the past 60 years — Sacco uses gripping, and often heart-wrenching, first-hand accounts of witnesses to the incidents in 1956 and of those still struggling to survive as perpetual refugees. The survivors, family members of the victims and other Palestinian witnesses help the American creator to illustrate a consensus account of what transpired in ’56; how after eight years of escalating border conflicts that saw many casualties on both sides, the Israeli army used the crisis as cover to both search for and eliminate not only suspected Fedayee (freedom fighters or terrorists, depending on which side you’re on), but also hundreds of other able-bodied men. Noticeably absent from this book is a truly balanced perspective from the Israeli side, although the Palestinian accounts are supported by UN documents on the incidents, which confirm 275 deaths in Khan Younis on Nov. 3, 1956 and 111 in Rafah on Nov. 12, 1956. Israeli government documents from the era, included in an appendix, suggest many of those killed were looters and armed Egyptian soldiers. No matter which account of these incidents is closest to the truth, what Sacco discovers is that they helped plant seeds of hatred in Gaza that continue to blossom to this day. The product of almost six years of intensive researching and lavish illustrating, Footnotes in Gaza is a feast for the eyes, with a staggering level of detail displayed in Sacco’s delicate black-and-white art. The artist continues to push his work to new heights, most notably in the amount of detail on the faces of his numerous subjects, helping complete a work of illustrated journalism more poignant and impactful than any 10 traditional books on the same topic. (This review was first published in the Toronto Star)


December 20, 2009 | Graphic novels

A 10-foot tall block of Italian marble, a fat cheque and time is everything a young sculptor dreams of. When Colette Alleine meets the benefactor providing all of this, it quickly becomes a nightmare. The slim, raven-haired artist at the heart of Vancouverite Marian Churchland’s impressive debut graphic novel, Beast (Image Comics, $15.99 U.S., 152 pages) can’t afford to look a gift horse in the mouth when her father, a former art dealer, sets her up with a job that will cover her rent for a year. All she knows, as she arrives at the bedraggled old house in the unremarkable neighbourhood just a dozen blocks away from her apartment, is a rich man wants a portrait of himself done in Carrera marble. Then she comes face to face with Beast. Dark, almost faceless — seemingly made up of shadows — he is terrifying. After Colette recovers from the shock of their first meeting, her benefactor tells her the story of the enormous stone — how a young woman who lived long ago in Florence had begun to sculpt it but never finished and how he wants Colette to complete it in the form of his likeness. Still frightened, but unmistakably intrigued, Colette agrees to stay and complete the commission hoping both to find the hidden masterpiece in the stone and learn the truth about the mysterious man of shadows. Churchland’s labour of love is a striking blend of words and images. Loosely based on the classic tale, Beauty and the Beast, it was started in 2006 and slowly polished over the subsequent two years as she worked on other projects (like an eye-catching stint on Richard Starkings’ critically acclaimed series, Elephantmen). The black-and-white art mixed with subtle, but effective, use of different colour tones that alter the mood of the story is masterfully done, while the story is absorbing — a combination that leaves little doubt Churchland is a Canadian comic star on the rise. (This review first appeared in the Toronto Star)

Masterpiece Comics

October 19, 2009 | Graphic novels

R. Sikoryak has blended Bordeaux with Budweiser — and it is delicious. At first glance, the melding of subjects in Sikoryak’s Masterpiece Comics (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95, 64 pages) — some of the finest works literature has to offer with mainstream comic books and strips — seems simply ludicrous, worthy of only a few titters at its outlandishness. But consider that the best works of the likes of Kafka, Voltaire, Dostoyevsky and Wilde are the Bordeaux — something that is easily accessible, but that not everyone takes the time to truly appreciate — and that newspaper strips like Garfield, Peanuts, Ziggy and Blondie and comic series like Batman are the Budweiser — requiring a less educated palate and enjoyed by a much more diverse audience. Both are equally good and worthy in their own right and since there’s nothing wrong with partaking of them separately, why can’t they be enjoyed together? What makes Sikoryak’s fine fusion work so well is how he's able to find such ideal matches between classics and strips. Candiggy, a two-page piece featuring Ziggy in Voltaire’s Candide perfectly captures the acknowledged angst of Tom Wilson’s little, bald strip star, while also highlighting the inherent cynicism of the French master’s work. Good Ol’ Gregor Brown, with Charlie Brown starring as a boy transformed into an insect a la Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis also seems to flow together seamlessly, somehow pushing past the initial absurdity and presenting the most identifiable qualities of both the Peanuts star and tortured salesman, Gregor Samsa. The very best of Masterpiece Comics is "Waiting To Go" starring Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butthead as Vladimir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. In one simple page, Sikoryak absolutely nails the essence of both the timeless play and the snickering cartoon slackers. (This review first appeared in the Toronto Star)

Dark Entries/Filthy Rich

October 19, 2009 | Graphic novels

Vertigo is pulling out a pair of big guns to get the lead flying on its provocative new crime imprint. Dark Entries (Vertigo Crime, $19.99 U.S., 216 pages), a supernatural mystery set against the twisted world of reality TV, featuring Vertigo mainstay John Constantine, is penned by Scottish noir master Ian Rankin. The gritty black-and-white art by Werther Dell’Edera, best known for his work on Vertigo’s Western, Loveless, fits the mood set by the author of the Edgar Award-winning Resurrection Men to a T. Brian Azzarello, who established himself as one of the best writers in comics with his Eisner Award-winning Vertigo series, 100 Bullets, pens Filthy Rich (Vertigo Crime, $19.99 U.S., 200 pages), a noir that follows a former football star’s descent into a seedy world of sex, drugs and violence after becoming personal bodyguard for his rich boss’s daughter. Spanish star Victor Santos provides the lush, inky Frank Miller-esque art. Vertigo Crime promises to keep rolling out the heavy artillery as well, with upcoming releases from Denise Mina, Scottish author of the popular “Paddy Meehan” novels; Waterloo native Jon Evans, award-winning writer of Dark Place; and American Jason Starr, an award winner for Twisted City — all of whom are sure to keep this new brand on the forefront of readers’ minds. (This review first appeared in the Toronto Star)

Asterios Polyp

August 31, 2009 | Graphic novels

David Mazzucchelli made an indelible mark as a comic artist by the time he was just 27 years old. He caught eyes and dropped jaws with his gritty, inky work on two of the most critically acclaimed stories of the 1980s: Daredevil: Born Again and Batman: Year One, both in collaboration with industry giant, Frank Miller. And then he was gone. Well, perhaps it wasn’t that sudden, but Mazzucchelli had pretty much disappeared from mainstream comics by the end of the decade. He briefly published his own anthology series, Rubber Blanket, and contributed to various other anthologies and magazines, including The New Yorker, throughout the 90s. He also masterfully adapted Paul Auster’s novel, City of Glass, into graphica, but sadly it seemed like Mazzucchelli’s best work may have been behind him. Now, exactly 25 years since he first broke into the industry, Mazzucchelli bursts back onto the scene with his first graphic novel — and it is well worth the wait. Asterios Polyp (Pantheon Books, $34, 344 pages) is a tour de force that opens with the destruction of the titular character’s Manhattan apartment on his 50th birthday. Polyp boards the next bus to nowhere and finds himself in the aptly named town of Apogee — the farthest place he can afford to get from anything he ever cared about — where he proceeds to reinvent himself as a humble auto mechanic as he reexamines the triumphs and failures that led him to this point. These flashbacks often depict Polyp as egomaniacal, pompous and pretentious — even as the love story with kind-hearted artist, Hana, unfolds — contrasting the very Zen-like man with axle grease on his hands. Mazzucchelli draws on his fine arts degree as he experiments with numerous art styles for his varied characters and scenes and pushes the envelope with challenging digressions into philosophy, religion and mortality throughout Polyp’s tale as the once thoroughly unlikable man’s motivations begin to clarify many of his actions. This engrossing effort culminates with a bombshell that will leave readers both reeling and hoping Mazzucchelli won’t keep them waiting so long for another masterpiece. (This review first appeared in the Toronto Star)

The Nobody

August 31, 2009 | Graphic novels

Jeff Lemire took home a pile of awards for his debut graphic novel trilogy writing and illustrating tales about the intricacies of small town life. For his Vertigo debut, he just sticks with what works. On the heels of the Essex County Trilogy, which earned the Toronto resident Joe Shuster and Doug Wright Awards, as well as nominations for the coveted Eisner and Harvey Awards, Lemire delivers The Nobody (Vertigo, $22.99, 144 pages), a modern take H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man. John Griffen’s arrival in the small town of Large Mouth, population 754, sets the locals abuzz. The mysterious fellow, covered in bandages anywhere his skin would show and sporting dark black goggles, stays in his motel room most of the time, only venturing out to the local diner every few days for takeout food. The diner owner’s teenaged daughter, Vickie, quickly takes an interest in the enigmatic stranger and sets out to learn the truth about who he is and why he hides his face and the pair begin a sort of unusual friendship. Meanwhile, other, more paranoid, folks in town slowly begin to find Griffen a convenient scapegoat for everything bad that happens and look for a way to rid their town of this foreign element. Featuring striking black-and-white artwork accented beautifully by the use of light blue, The Nobody cements Lemire’s status as both a star graphic novelist and one of Canada’s national treasures. (This review first appeared in the Toronto Star)

This Is A Souvenir: The Songs of Spearmint & Shirley Lee

July 13, 2009 | Graphic novels

It’s amazing to think about how many of our favourite songs are simply compelling stories put to music. Consider how, while we all like something with nice rhythm and a good beat, it’s often the lyrics of a song, their meanings and the stories they tell, that connects us so deeply with the artists delivering them. One of most entrancing lyricists over the past decade or so is Shirley Lee, frontman for the British indie pop band, Spearmint. Lee’s poignant reflections — on love, loss, friendship, family — deep introspection and quirky imagination have had faithful fans playing Spearmint tracks over and over to catch the nuances (and enjoy the aforementioned nice rhythm and good beat). Lee’s words have also inspired This Is A Souvenir: The Songs of Spearmint & Shirley Lee (Image Comics, $29.99 U.S., 208 pages), a provocative anthology that sees almost 40 creators reinterpret the lyrics of 19 Spearmint songs as short stories. While some of the visual translations follow the literal path of Lee’s lyrics, several — including standouts like Meet Mr. Marsden, a song about the monotony of life, reinterpreted by Brian Joines and Bob Rivard, and the titular This Is A Souvenir, a reflection on how music is the soundtrack of our lives, by Mike Holmes — both capture the original meaning and add some fresh ideas to the mix. (This review first appeared in the Toronto Star)

Funny Misshapen Body

May 25, 2009 | Graphic novels

Jeffrey Brown’s willingness to lay himself bare in his autobiographical graphic novels has endeared him greatly to his many readers over the past decade. From emotional depictions of how he lost his virginity (Clumsy) to his first love (Unlikely) to becoming a dad (Little Things), Brown has captured the often mundane moments that make up many of our lives and made them compelling through deep introspection and a delightful self-deprecating wit. In Funny Misshapen Body (Touchstone, $21, 320 pages), Brown uses his crude-but-effective art style to deliver the same mish-mash of storytelling as Little Things, reflecting on a wide range of subjects from getting into and attending art school to working in a wooden shoe factory, his early fumblings with alcohol and drugs and having the epiphany that comics don’t have to contain super-heroes. Perhaps the most interesting chapter surrounds Brown’s diagnosis and battle with Crohn’s disease, a no-holds-barred account of hospital visits, hurried trips to the toilet and, eventually, intestinal surgery. (This review first appeared in the Toronto Star)

Miss Don’t Touch Me

April 27, 2009 | Graphic novels

Miss Don’t Touch Me Hubert & Kersacoet NBM ComicsLit $14.95 96-page paperback *** ½ (out of five) There’s a killer on the loose in 1930s Paris and the only person who can solve the crimes is a sleuthing virgin with a grudge who works in a bordello. When Blanche accidentally sees what could be the infamous “Butcher of the Dances” — so named because his victims are nabbed on the way home from suburban socials and left in pieces — and an accomplice through a crack in the wall of the home she works and lives in as a housekeeper, it’s her sister, Agatha, who pays the ultimate price. And worse, Agatha’s death is made to look like a suicide so the police won’t investigate. Pursuing the only lead on the killer she has, Blanche sneaks into a high-class Paris bordello called the Pompadour, and lands herself a unique job that lets her keep her purity intact; as the in-house dominatrix: Miss Don’t Touch Me. The French husband-and-wife creative team of Hubert and Kerascoet craft a sexy and suspenseful tale in this newly translated book, with enough twists and turns to keep even ardent mystery fans engaged.