I haven't read a comic book this much fun in a quite a while. The Humans, written by Keenan Marshall Keller and drawn by Tom Neely is about a planet (Earth?) where apes rule supreme and humans are mute beasts. Sound familiar? Yes, it's Planet of the Apes, but without the time-traveling astronauts (at least not yet) and without a Lawgiver handing down a sacred "Ape Shall Not Kill" scroll.
One other difference: instead of riding horses, the apes ride choppers and behave like 1960s outlaw motorcycle gang members. They deal drugs, throw wild parties, encroach on rival gangs' turf, and engage in epic knife-and-chain rumbles. There's the Haterz (an "all-gorilla ape-power gang from Okland"), the Thrill Killers ("hippy-dippy druggies" who "run the acid trade in San Francisco"), Los Muertos from Las Vegas ("these dudes are strange and keep to themselves"), Satan'z Minions ("Satanist, viking monsters who live in the deserts"), and -- the stars of the series -- The Humans (who are apes but think The Humans is a good way to broadcast their violent, animalistic way of life).
The gangs use homo sapiens (they call them "skins") as work animals, and train them to fight each other for gambling and entertainment purposes. One of The Humans keeps human females as sex slaves, much to the disgust of the other members.
Artist Tom Neely (Henry & Glenn Forever) is perfect for this series. It's detailed, slightly-cartoonish, and old school enough to convey the era of underground comics. The coloring by Kristina Collantes is superb.
Image has collected the first four issues into a trade paperback that includes bonus art and an issue of The Humans' motorcycle club newsletter.
Seconds - a humorous graphic novel about a mushroom that allows a young chef to “revise” her mistakes with unexpected consequences
If you had the power to erase your mistakes, what would you do? Would you change big things, little things? How about every single seemingly insignificant thing you did today? That’s the question in Seconds, when Katie, a young chef aspiring to own her own restaurant, discovers a magical mushroom that allows her to “revise” her mistakes. Immediately she uses the power to course correct every aspect of her life, from arguments with friends to bad business decisions. As you’ve probably guessed, things quickly spiral out of control, often in humorous ways.
The book itself is pretty; the full-color artwork is drawn in a style similar to the Scott Pilgrim cartoony-ness that made author Bryan Lee O’Malley famous. The pages have a painted quality and the panels are bordered with a ton of white space on the top and bottom so you can never forget that you’re reading a book. This design feels thematically important to the story, as Katie is constantly forced to question her reality and we are constantly reminded that the story isn’t “real.” A handful of full page illustrations creep in to surprise you with how awesome they look: the two-pager of the Seconds basement is something I would hang on a wall. The book has a cool hardcover design with a dust jacket that interestingly does not cover the entire book, making this a great addition to any bookshelf. – Alex Strine
There is no way around it. Habibi is a strange graphic novel. Not strange as in surreal, or ugly, or weird, but strange as in stranger, different. It is beautifully drawn. The writing is poetic. But the story is… odd. It takes place in an indefinite time in a place where Islam and Christianity meet. It wrestles with myth, status, slavery, love and transcendence.There’s horrific sin and redeeming grace. There’s an exotic multi-generational saga. It also serves a tutorial on how arabic calligraphy works. See, strange like that. This big fat book is a true work of art.
Imagine Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer told in Family Circus comic strip style, Alice in Wonderland’s Alice as a rude fat brat with a Valley-girl accent, Little Red Riding Hood as a young woman who climbs into bed with the Wolf, or Harry Potter told as a comic without words, except for some exclamations and sound affects. Although these mega-popular “children’s” stories have already been recreated by illustrators, artists and filmmakers throughout the years, Graphic Canon presents them and 46 others with a fresh and twisted take by contemporary artists such as Dame Darcy, Lucy Knisely, Roberta Gregory, and World War 3’s Peter Kuper. From Aesop fables and Brothers Grimm tales to The Little Mermaid, Mark Twain’s “Advice to Little Girls,” The Oz series and Watership Down, this fourth volume of Graphic Canon brings us household children’s literature as we’ve never seen it before. This book of children’s literature might not be suitable for children! I would rate it PG-13.
In 1998, New Zealand cartoonist Dylan Horrocks wrote a 250-page graphic novel called Hicksville, about a comic book artist and a journalist writing a biography of the artist. The Comics Journal awarded it “Book of the Year.” I loved it (here’s my review). Now, 17 years later, Horrocks has released his second graphic novel, called Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen. Like Hicksville, it’s about comic book artists and the allure of comic books. And also like Hicksville, it, too, is worthy of an award.
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Read the rest
One of my favorite comic book series in recent years is Viktor Kalvachev’s Blue Estate, a hardboiled crime series that takes place in modern day Los Angeles. It’s got a sleazy action hero actor with a passing resemblance to Steven Seagal, the Russian Mafia, the Italian Mafia, a geeky fanboy private eye in his 40s, a B-movie actress, drugs, alcohol, strippers, hookers, and seedy establishments.
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Read the rest
The Wrenchies is one of the most intense, dizzying, and labyrinthian graphic novels I’ve ever encountered. I’m still not exactly sure what I just read. But I liked it.
It’s hard to describe The Wrenchies. It’s a gorgeously drawn and colored 304-page graphic novel that takes place in several time periods (including a post-apocalyptic, post-adult future). The Wrenchies is a comic book within the comic book, about a group of young crusaders out to save the world. And there are the future Wrenchies and the original Wrenchies that are actually the Wrenchies from the comic book within the comic book. Confused yet? There are also wizards and magic, dark elf energy vampire zombie thingies that are filled with bugs, aliens from Proxima Centauri, mad scientists, time-travelers, a future world populated only by kid gangs (one of these gangs being the titular Wrenchies), and a scientist who lives inside of a robotic Golem-like creature. Intrigued yet?
This Lord of the Flies on acid story with Watchmen-like ambitions has so many layers, characters, plot threads, and graphical eyeball kicks on every page that you give up after awhile trying to keep everything straight. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The beautiful and richly detailed art is an absolute delight to drink in. The numerous cutaways of the various underground forts and lairs that the kids live in, the wacky inventions, the fourth-wall-breaking arrow-marked call outs on many of the pages, and the sheer crazed inventiveness of the Wrenchies’ world and its contents are worth the price of admission (and the understandable confusion).
Everything about this book requires your time and attention. We tend to breeze through comic books… er… graphic novels. This really is a 304-page book that needs to read at the pace of a novel, lingering for awhile on every page (and there are many hidden gems to encourage you to do just that). Everyone that reads it (and likes it) says they’re definitely going to read it again. I’m definitely going to read it again.
Although it’s basically a young adult novel (in attitude and subject-matter), it has some disturbing violence and a fair amount of profanity in it. But if you have a YA reader for whom these are not issues, they’ll likely adore this book. And as an adult, if you’re OK with a book that defies easy digestion but rewards deeper engagement, join The Wrenchies on their perilous quest.
I’ve always been fascinated by WWI trench art – objets d’art fashioned from bullet and shell casings and other materials found in the trenches and battlefields of that hellish quagmire. My general interest in WWI military history has also brought me to other artistic expressions of it, like Benjamin Brittens’ War Requiem and the war poetry of Wilfred Owen. Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics was put together by New York Times’ bestselling editor, Chris Duffy. The collection honors the centennial of the “Great War” in a unique way, by combining some of the most celebrated “trench poets” of the time with some of today’s most accomplished cartoonists. The works of such poets as Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, and Wilfred Owen are given the comic strip treatment by Garth Ennis, Peter Kuper, Hannah Berry, Anders Nilsen, Eddie Campbell, and others.
The textual spareness of the comic form really does lend itself to poetry, so it seems a perfect marriage. But I have to admit, while I really enjoyed and was moved by the experience of this book, the disparity between the writing style of early 20th century poetry and modern comic art did seem at odds at times. And as poetry is supposed to be personally-evocative, I thought the pieces that worked best were the ones that kept the art sparse, moody, and not a literal interpretation of the verse. I really enjoyed the soldier’s songs and how they were comically interpreted.
All in all, Above the Dreamless Dead is a very bold and innovative way of re-enlivening this literature in a new way. The poetry is intense, haunting, and sad, the art is top-notch, and the production on this little volume is impeccable. Bravo to First Second, a publisher I get a bigger crush on with each new release.
Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics by Chris Duffy (editor)