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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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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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)
Megahex, by Simon Hanselmann, is a collection of his Megg and Mogg strips, first featured on his Girl Mountain Tumblr. The comic is an existential stoner tale that is part Furry Freak Brothers, part Beavis and Butthead, and part Jean Paul Sartre (with some Jackass thrown in for good measure).
The comic concerns Megg, a green-skinned witch, her familiar/friend, the cigarette and weed puffing black cat, Mogg, and a whack-a-doodle supporting cast: Owl (an anthropomorphized owl), Mike (a warlock), Robot (guess), Booger (a female Boogeyman), and Werewolf Jones (who likes to cheese-grate his scrotum). This bizarre group of friends do little more than sit around, bong-ripping themselves into oblivion, while playing cruel pranks on each other and pontificating on the state of their miserable lives. The witch, warlock, and other horror movie “dress,” at first seems superfluous (the series takes its name and affect from the 70s Meg and Mog comics, about a witch and her cat). But after awhile, it’s obvious that the monstrous nature of the characterization is an outward expression of crippling alienation and how they truly feel about themselves. They are not monsters, they just feel that way.
It would be easy to dismiss Megahex as another stoner comic. But there’s so much lurking beneath the seemingly superficial surfaces – questions about friendship, loyalty, love, drug addiction, sexual identity, and hopelessness. There are plenty of hysterical Darwin Award-worthy situations in Megahex, but that’s not likely to be your takeaway. And what you’ll leave with is far scarier than any spook house frights; the fear of looking deeply at yourself in the mirror and finding a monster (or nothing) in your place.
Note: I love that more publishers are starting to do book tour videos, where an unseen hand pages through the book. You can see one such video for Megahex here.
Megahex by Simon Hanselmann
When a young Cleopatra (yes, THAT Cleopatra) finds a mysterious tablet that zaps her to the far, REALLY far future, she learns of an ancient prophecy that says she is destined to save the galaxy from the tyrannical rule of the evil Xaius Octavian. She enrolls in Yasiro Academy, a high-tech school with classes like algebra, biology, and alien languages (which Cleo could do without), and combat training (which is more Cleo's style). With help from her teacher Khensu, Cleo learns what it takes to be a great leader, while trying to figure out how she's going to get her homework done, make friends, and avoid detention!
I recently reviewed the incredible graphic novel biography, The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, written by Vivek J. Tiwary and illustrated by Andrew C. Robinson and Kyle Baker. (It was just nominated for two Eisner awards!)
Last week I announced that Wink (a paper book review website that my wife Carla Sinclair edits) was holding a giveaway of the rare signed, numbered, slipcased "Limited Edition" of The Fifth Beatle, which is limited to 1500 copies, signed by all three creators and comes with an exclusive tip-in page of art. Entrants to the giveaway were asked to write their own text for the word balloons in the panel above. (Clockwise L-R John Lennon, George Harrison, Brian Epstein, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney. NOTE: John has 2 balloons.)
The entries were judged by Vivek J. Tiwary himself, and he selected a winner for the limited edition and a runner-up for a regular edition.
Luke Pearson and London's Flying Eye Books have published the fourth Hildafolk kids' graphic novel, Hilda and the Black Hound. Like the earlier volumes (reviews: Hildafolk and Hilda and the Midnight Giant and Hilda and the Bird Parade), it's nothing less than magical, a Miyazaki-meets-Moomin story that is beautifully drawn and marvellously told.
The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation, a nuanced and moving history of race, slavery and the Civil War
The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation sat in my pile for too long, and it shouldn't have. I loved The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation, the previous effort by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell, so I should have anticipated how good this new one would be. Having (belatedly) gotten around to it, I can finally tell you that this is an extraordinary, nuanced history of the issues of race and slavery in America, weaving together disparate threads of military, geopolitical, technological, legal, Constitutional, geographic and historical factors that came together to make the Civil War happen at the moment when it occurred, that brought it to an end, and that left African Americans with so little justice in its wake.
Salgood Sam -- who worked on great projects like Sea of Red and Therefore, Repent! sez, "In the last leg of a successful Kickstarter to print my next graphic novel, I've set up some unlockable interactive stretch goal rewards you might want to check out to help me make it to the west coast and print more books! If you can manage to time your pledges to hit the mark that puts my Kickstarter over one of three stretch goals, I'll draw your deepest darkest dreams for you. Or alternately bright and silly ones are an option."
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As previously mentioned, Jen Wang and I have adapted my short story "Anda's Game" as a full-length, young adult graphic novel called "In Real Life," which comes out next October. Brooklyn's excellent WORD bookstore has generously offered to take pre-orders for signed copies; I'll drop by the store during New York Comic-Con and sign and personalize a copy for you and they'll ship it to you straightaway.
In 2012 I reviewed Economix, a terrific cartoon history of economics by Michael Goodwin and illustrated by Dan E. Burr. (After reading it, I bought a few copies of the book to give as gifts.)
Today, Michael emailed to let me know that he and Dan have posted an excellent and free 27-page online comic called The Transpacific Partnership and "Free Trade," which describes how the negotiated-in-secret treaty is a "global coup that's disabling our democracies and replacing them with multinationals and Wall Street," and is making the US "police state more extensive, more restrictive, and global."
Isabel Greenberg is a writer and illustrator who lives and works in North London. In her graphic novel The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, Greenberg combines art, mythology, and humor to tell a story of star-crossed love. It takes readers back to a time before history began, when another—now forgotten—civilization thrived. The people who roamed Early Earth were much like us: curious, emotional, funny, ambitious, and vulnerable. In this series of illustrated and linked tales, Greenberg chronicles the explorations of a young man as he paddles from his home in the North Pole to the South Pole in search of a missing piece of his soul. There, he meets his true love, but their romance is ill-fated. Early Earth's unusual and finicky polarity means the lovers can never touch.
Snowpiercer: science fiction graphic novel about a train that carries all of Earth's remaining population
Titan Comics has released an English translation of Snowpiercer, the acclaimed French graphic novel that inspired the new movie from Joon-ho Bong. Volume 1: The Escape was released today (January 29, 2014), with Volume 2: The Explorers following February 25, 2014.
Coursing through an eternal winter, on an icy track wrapped around the frozen planet Earth, there travels Snowpiercer, a train one thousand and one carriages long. From fearsome engine to final car, all surviving human life is here: a complete hierarchy of the society we lost…
The elite, as ever, travel in luxury at the front of the train – but for those in the rear coaches, life is squalid, miserable and short.
Proloff is a refugee from the tail, determined never to go back. In his journey forward through the train, he hopes to reach the mythical engine and, perhaps, find some hope for the future…
The original graphic novels have been adapted into an astounding new film directed by Joon-ho Bong and distributed in the U.S. by The Weinstein Company, and due for release in Q1 2014