Calling Dr. Laura

Nicole J. Georges. Mariner, $16.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-547-61559-2

The title of this twee but engaging graphic memoir overstates the role of the famous radio psychologist, who makes a mere cameo. The book is really about the author’s struggle with her secretive family and the mystery of her father’s identity. As a child, Nicole believed her father had died when she was very young. Father figures remained elusive throughout her formative years. After relocating to Portland, Ore., in her 20s, Nicole receives a palm reading as a birthday gift. The results convince her that her biological father is still alive, and she is driven to seek the truth from her fractious relatives. Amid all of this, Nicole juggles difficult romantic relationships with her decision to keep the fact that she is gay from the very same mother from whom she seeks the truth. Georges’s naïve line art and sometimes labored visual storytelling is balanced by humor and incisive characterizations. However, this ambitious family narrative could have used a stronger editorial eye. Despite her story being too long, the author approaches it with the tenacity of a detective. Among other factors—including clever asides and several terrific jokes—a deeply affecting epilogue makes Georges’s tale well worth the telling. (Jan.)

I, Witness

Norah McClintock and Mike Deas. Orca, $16.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-55469-789-2

While rooting through a dumpster, teenager Robbie witnesses a murder and flees the scene with his friend Boone. They agree to tell no one, but the murderers have different plans. First Robbie, then their friend Andre are picked off by the killers, but Boone refuses to finger the perpetrators for local police. Despite the pleas of his murdered friends’ family members, classmates, and the investigator trying desperately to crack the case, Boone remains adamant that his safety lies in saying nothing, even if he is branded a coward in the process. The idea of stepping forward and telling the truth is a worthy one, but in McClintock’s story, the concept feels like it is on a tape loop. Each character reminds Boone every other panel that he has refused to reveal who the murderers are, and that he is a bad person for not doing so. This trope only deepens as Boone becomes witness to several more murders. Deas’s illustrations at their best feel like on-the-spot sketches at a crime scene, but sometimes feel rushed, giving crucial scenes involving murder and emotional awakening a slapped-together feeling that does not do justice to the rest of the story. (Oct.)

The Hypo

Noah Van Sciver. Fantagraphics, $24.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-60699-619-5

Van Sciver’s psychologically astute examination of what might be termed Abraham Lincoln’s “lost years” (1837–1842) is as gripping and persuasive as the best historical fiction. Despite success in the Illinois state legislature, Lincoln finds it difficult to adapt to life in Springfield, where he knows few people and struggles to maintain a law office with partner John Stuart, through whom he is introduced to Stuart’s cousin, Mary Todd. A tentative engagement to Mary is broken by Lincoln, who is plagued by her family’s disapproval as well as his own demons. Coupled with the dissolution of his law practice, this plunges Lincoln into a deep depression he calls “the hypo”—short for “hypochondriasis” and certainly a misnomer in Lincoln’s case. Van Sciver’s heavily researched story and artwork are executed in a straightforward style. His drawings have a freehand looseness, while his use of language has an authentic period sound. This characterization of Lincoln is thoroughly human and identifiable, tracking a shadowy but formative period in the very uneven life of a man who shows little signs of becoming known as one of the greatest Americans. A thoroughly engaging graphic novel that seamlessly balances investigation and imagination. (Oct.)

Lover’s Lane: The Hall-Mills Mystery
Rick Geary. NBM (, $15.99 hardcover (80p) ISBN 978-1-561636-28-0

Two lifeless bodies, one belonging to Edward Hall, a local and well-liked minister, and the other to Eleanor Mills, a singer in his church’s choir, are found in a park in a quiet New Jersey suburb on September 14, 1922. The circumstances surrounding the slaying are at first unknown, but the subsequent investigation uncovers a not-so-secret affair between the two victims and attracts an array of colorful witnesses with competing testimonies on what exactly happened that fateful night. Were Mr. Hall and Mrs. Mills victims of a stickup gone wrong, a case of mistaken identity, a scorned spouse, the Ku Klux Klan, or something else? In the latest in his acclaimed Treasury of XXth Century Murder series of causes célèbres, cartoonist Geary (The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti) recounts the infamous unsolved lover’s lane murder that rocked New Brunswick in the 1920s. By providing an objective account of the murder and tumultuous investigation, Geary introduces readers to the case and allows them to draw their own conclusions based on the known facts. And his clean, purely linear artwork is not only a delight to look at but serves the narrative in a near perfect union of pictures and words. (Aug.)

Jiu Jiu
Touya Tobina. Viz/Shojo Beat, $9.99 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-42154-274-4

Veteran Japanese mangaka Touya (Clean Freak Fully Equipped) returns to American audiences with a demon-hunting-turned-werewolf tale of devotion and redemption. After her twin brother’s death, Takamichi becomes the heir of her demon-hunter family. But her brother’s death has left her scarred and unwilling to care about anyone, until her father tasks her with caring for two half-demon, half-human puppies, called Jiu Jiu. In three years, teenage Takamichi’s puppies have become the physical equivalent of teen humans, but are still as utterly devoted and playful as young dogs. The nude antics of the human-puppies (drawn in bishounen, pretty boy style) provide some comedy in this otherwise heavy supernatural drama about loss and love. Touya’s clear illustrations are high on action and emotion, matching the story’s tone perfectly. Despite references to walks, Frisbee throwing, and high school intended to keep the story from being too grave, it’s perhaps too serious for a tale of shape-shifting puppies. Takamichi is a difficult narrator to enjoy, but the inherent devotion of her Jiu Jiu keeps readers looking for her good qualities—and wondering if there will be romantic hijinks in the future. (July)

Steve Jobs: Genius by Design

Jason Quinn and Amit Tayal. Campfire (Random House, dist.), $12.99 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-93-80028-76-7

Unlike so many of the nation’s great innovative businessmen of the past (Edison, Ford), Steve Jobs’ wall of hagiography was barely left standing by the time of his death. At first, writer Quinn’s slim YA graphic biography of the technological visionary follows in much the same glowing and worshipful light that shone on Jobs during his feted career; one of Taval’s first full-page panels even shows Jobs reclining on a cloud (in heaven?) toying with an iPad. Once Quinn starts grinding through the details of Jobs’s initially scattershot and then almost frighteningly focused life, a darker view emerges that will be familiar to readers of Walter Isaacson’s biography. All of his bruising interpersonal habits (calling everyone in earshot “bozos,” indulging in temper tantrums and manipulative tears at the drop of a hat, abandoning his first child) are here. It’s the story of a snarky rebel who (in Taval’s bright and sketchy style) is always either sneering in disdain or gesticulating in excitement. The final period in Jobs’s life, when he introduced so many of his signature creations, passes quickly, but this is a decent brief sketch of a man whose frequent lack of humanity was almost as jaw-dropping as the intensity of his ambitions. (Sept.)


Skip Brittenham and Brian Haberlin. Anomaly Productions (, $75 (356p) ISBN 978-0-9853342-0-8

In the year 2717, an interplanetary first contact mission to an unexplored, sentient-inhabited planet dubbed Anomaly unwittingly finds itself set up by a corrupt government official who, in order to further his own nefarious schemes, arranges for them to be stranded without hope of returning. All previous expeditions from a conglomerate-run Earth lost contact upon arrival at the unexplored world and were presumed lost, and when this team’s technology falls victim to the planet’s polymer-devouring organisms, the survivors must contend with an unknown and hostile environment without the benefit of equipment or supplies. They also encounter the planet’s very diverse, warlike inhabitants in adventures fraught with redemption and transformation for the troubled protagonist, the team’s physically enhanced military muscle, Jon. To say more would give away the very interesting surprises of this massive tome, the size of a small flat-screen TV, and painted in concept art detail on every panel by Haberlin. It’s a spectacular work whose storytelling looks and feels like a movie. Loaded with impressive painted visuals, an exciting story that fleshes out its characters and their very well-developed worlds, and a very engaging cast, this one’s a winner from start to finish. (Oct.)

The Vicar Woman

Emma Rendel. Random House UK, $24.95 trade paper (176 p) ISBN 978-0-224-09139-8

A new woman vicar arrives at the Isle of Bly, where the locals have constructed a new parish on the island, an exact replica of the Vatican. The vicar is thrilled at the enthusiasm of the villagers and their welcoming attitudes, but there are whispers of trouble. The details differ with each telling, but somehow, a family died, and each of the villagers refuses to take any responsibility. Whatever happened, the phantom of the little girl who may or may not have died haunts the island, reminding the villagers that even with their new vicar, they cannot escape their guilt. Rendel’s story is full of dark, beautiful imagery, with a claustrophobic and gripping narrative. The petty gossip of the villagers, the naïve sermons of the vicar, and the unnerving words of the young girl’s specter are enthralling. Rendel’s drawings add to this atmosphere, unnatural angles and distorted shapes adding menace to her otherwise friendly looking animal characters. Even the chatter at a party creates a stifling atmosphere—‘Bla Bla Bla’ plastered across panels, suggesting there is no escape either from the blandness or paranoia of the island. Rendel’s storytelling abilities are a refreshing reminder of the deep and dark places comics can take us. (Nov.)

Freaks of the Heartland

Steve Niles and Greg Ruth. Dark Horse, $29.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-59582-968-9

Like so many great stories that feature characters who are seen, for lack of a better term, as “freaks,” this six-issue collection by Niles (30 Days of Night) and Ruth (Conan) asks the reader to consider the age-old question of who the real freaks among us are. The story examines the relationship between two brothers, Trevor and Will Owen, the latter a monstrous humanoid who, though only six years old, towers over his slightly older brother and is possessed of strange and unusual powers. No one but Trevor really understands his brother’s true nature, however, since Will has been locked away since birth. When Trevor tries to protect Will from their father, events are set in motion that will bring the pair face to face with a secret that their community has harbored for many years. Ruth’s ability to bring his brand of realism to both the mundane and the phantasmagoric in Niles’s narrative is precisely what makes the story so compelling. Some readers may think the story needs further development, but this one is a case of “less is more.” (July)

Fatale: Book One (Death Chases Me)

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Image (Diamond, dist.), $14.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-60706-563-0

The minute Nicolas Lash encounters Jo, femme fatale extraordinaire with more dark secrets than Faust, things go from bad to worse in this captivating noir. Occult forces and gut-wrenching horror collide in 1950s San Francisco, as a corrupt cop and a smitten reporter go toe-to-toe over Jo, an ageless beauty with the looks of a Vargas girl and the heart of a rattle snake, who is desperate to escape the grasp of a satanic cult and their demonic, shape-shifting leader. Graced with a suspenseful plot that has more twists and turns than an alpine road, and deliberately understated artwork, Fatale boasts both intrigue and an atmosphere that feels as densely bleak as a San Francisco mist at the tip of Fisherman’s Wharf at dawn. Colorist Dave Stewart deserves special mention for his subtle, highly evocative use of neutral tones and earthy shades. This is a universe of darkness and gray shadows, and the palette perfectly fits the angst-ridden, desolate, catch-22 world of supernatural horror the protagonists must face-off against. Immortality may be a double-edged sword, but it’s one the intoxicating Jo wields with a boundless grace in this addictive page-turner. (July)


Bo Hampton and Robert Tinnell. Dark Horse, $17.99 trade paper (188p) ISBN 978-1-59582-982-5

This energetic werewolf story starts out promisingly, but later devolves into some disappointingly tortured plot mechanics. Teenage adoptee Katy has a mysterious accident and ends up in a coma for several years. Her doctors monitor unusual brain activity for a few hours every 29 days. Upon waking, Katy has a series of visions: a wolf is on a killing spree. This first half is a deceptively simple story about youth and femininity interrupted by a mysterious terror. Things get more complicated, linking Katy’s visions to her native Romania and the legend of the varcolac. Hampton and Tinnell’s biggest innovation is in applying the werewolf legend to a female protagonist and dramatizing the impact of Katy’s dormant lycanthropy upon the sexual development forestalled by her coma. However, these more interesting ideas are abandoned fairly quickly in favor of a fast-paced but tangled third act that crams far too much belated exposition into what should be a straightforward chase sequence. Hampton’s appealing, realistic art harks back to classic Universal horror films of the 1930s, effectively capturing the atmospherics of the “old country.” Old-fashioned horror fans will find Riven comfortably familiar, while others may find it too ragged at the edges. (Aug.)

The Rime of the Modern Mariner

Nick Hayes. Viking, $32 (336p) ISBN 978-0-670-02580-0

The updating of a literary classic is always fraught with peril—which could be why so many authors prefer to create their own offshoots (Sena Naslund’s Ahab’s Wife). But Hayes’s startlingly fresh and innovative take on Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” could be studied as an example of how to modernize a classic without pretending to supplant the original. Hayes turns Coleridge’s 1797 apocalyptic epic into an ecological warning, wherein a careless litterbug of a businessman is accosted by a sailor with burning eyes and a tale of woe. Part of the story mirrors Coleridge’s (a carelessly murdered bird brings damnation upon the crusty mariner’s vessal), but the atmospherics are more charged with the dangers of modernity. This mariner’s boat is trapped in a floating archipelago of fouled plastic garbage (much like the real one, the size of a country, which swirls today in the Pacific), which mutely rebukes the viewpoint of the businessman and his “world detached of consequence.” Hayes is a political cartoonist, and his writing isn’t nearly as memorable as his illustrations, which convey the beauty of the world and the pity of its destruction with a gorgeous brand of vehemence. His panels, awash in light blues, swoop and flow like aquatic woodcuts of an earlier era. (Oct.)

Birdseye Bristoe

D. Zettwoch. Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 (64p) ISBN 978-1-77046-066-9

Intricate diagrams, local legends, and eccentric characters fill the pages of Zettwoch's debut graphic novel. The title character, his niece, and his nephew chronicle the construction and collapse of a huge cellular tower in a rural, middle-of-nowhere community. But though the illustrations are clear on the recipe for a red cow shake, they are not at all clear on why the tower was destroyed, leaving readers to wonder about the fate of the main character--and the point of the story. Zettwoch's illustrations are so full of detail they appear cluttered, and the lettering, sometimes whited-out for effect, has to squeeze between his complex diagrams. The style is appealing when it is legible, but without a comprehensible context behind the what and why of the tale, the conclusion may leave readers scratching their heads. Others will simply enjoy the imaginative and zany level of detail as an end in itself. (July)

God and Science: The Return of the Ti-Girls

Jaime Hernandez. Fantagraphics, $19.99 (144 p) ISBN 978-1-60699-539-6

This latest effort from the renowned Hernandez lovingly fuses the spirit of Silver Age superhero comics with the ongoing soap opera of Maggie, the former-mechanic now turned manager of a shabby Southern California apartment complex. Recent stories have seen her noting one of the complex's residents appearing to be Alarma, a mysterious super-woman. Maggie's suspicions prove right on the money as Alarma's secret world of comic book-style superheroic adventure lures in Maggie's young friend, Angel, who is revealed to possess the "gift" of superpowers inherent in all women. The young wannabe superhero dogs Alarma's trail as the veteran heroine follows the trail of destruction left by the spoiled socialite Penny Century, who finally gets the super-powers she's long craved, but wields them without a lick of wisdom or restraint. When the efforts of Alarma's team, the Fenoms, fail to quash Penny's rampage, it's up to the aging team of the Ti-Girls to put things to right. For what's essentially an evocative throwback to the kid's superhero comics of yore, there's a lot going on here--youth versus seasoned oldsters, absolute power corrupting absolutely, mother/child dysfunction--and it's all wrapped up in a package of terrific dialogue, stellar artwork, and enough raw fun to drown in. (July)

New York Mon Amour

Jacques Tardi, Benjamin Legrand, and Dominic Grange. Fantagraphics, $19.99 (64p) ISBN 978-1-606995-24-2

Tardi and company’s love letter to New York City paints a decidedly uninviting portrait of an unforgiving metropolis where one wrong turn can land even the most unassuming nobody into serious trouble. Originally published in the early 1980s, the book perfectly captures the then grungy urban sprawl, told through four tales of its troubled inhabitants struggling to carve out something resembling a life. The main story—about a pitiful exterminator who inadvertently sees too much, thus attracting the worst kind of attention—and the three shorts that follow are both nihilistic and elegant, offering a candid glimpse into a world that’s mostly ignored, but no less lived (and died) in. But the narratives seem only a necessary excuse to cruise the dimly lit side streets and deserted alleyways of the city like Travis Bickle, the antihero from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Throughout the book, Tardi’s uncanny and provocative artwork seamlessly transmits the spirit of a now bygone New York, especially when compared to the artist’s reference photos at the end of the story, demonstrating why Tardi’s work is so admired. (July)

Batman Earth One

Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. DC, $22.99 (144p) ISBN 978-1-40123-208-5

Have you heard the one about the orphaned millionaire who dresses up like a bat? Of course you have. The irony of Batman is that he’s one of the most high-profile superheroes ever, despite his dark and mysterious demeanor in comics. Johns’s effort is sold as a reimagining, but it’s essentially the same story that’s been retold for the past 70 years. Bruce Wayne seeks revenge for his parents’ murders against the backdrop of a crime-ridden Gotham City, with a few cosmetic updates, such as Alfred the Butler being portrayed as a grizzled military veteran who trains Bruce Wayne with tough love, and the Penguin as the corrupt mayor of Gotham City. The trappings are gritty, but there’s not a lot of suspense surrounding them—you know who the villains are and you know they are going to be disposed of. Nor are there interesting character revelations about Batman, with Johns preferring to focus on other characters more closely. Frank’s art adds interesting realistic touches without verging too far from Batman’s comic book ambience. The book is definitely appropriate for newer fans who haven’t read or seen this origin story a thousand times already, or casual readers influenced by the Christopher Nolan movies who want to dip their toes in the comics. (July)

The Monolith

Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Phil Winslade; intro. by Jim Steranko. Image, $17.99 (96p) ISBN 978-1-60706-574-6

Following a coordinated fan effort to bring back a collection of the 2004 periodical series, Palmiotti and Gray have rereleased the full tale of their monstrous hero: a golem. Created in the 1930s, the Monolith was meant to bring an end to the mobsters responsible for deaths of people just trying to get by. In 2004, a teen addict and former drug dealer named Alice inherits the home where the Monolith has become a prisoner, too dangerous to control. Pursued by a drug dealer she is in debt to, Alice must decide who is worse: the monster in her basement or the monsters in human form. Alice is a bristly protagonist, but her movement toward redemption makes her sympathetic enough to carry the story of a golem with few words of his own. And despite the modern draw, the sections that take place in the 1930s, told through the diary of Alice’s grandmother, have the most appeal. Palmiotti and Gray create dark visions of life in crime-ridden 2004 (which already seems far in the past) and 1932, with Winslade’s art entrancingly capturing the tone, putting poignant moments side-by-side with graphic violence. (Aug.)

The Underwater Welder

Jeff Lemire. Top Shelf, $19.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-60309-074-2

Lemire (Essex County) returns with another Twilight Zone–style story of horror, love, and redemption. Jack Joseph lost his father, a diver and treasure hunter, on Halloween night as a child. As an adult, Jack, an underwater welder, is still looking for answers; about to become a father himself, Jack has a dive accident that begins a series of otherworldly, or alternate reality, experiences. As his past forces itself into the present, Jack’s world is stripped of the living, leaving him to confront the memories binding him to his childhood. Flawed but utterly sympathetic, Jack is a lost soul whose life beneath the waves is beautifully depicted in several glorious two-page spreads. Lemire’s stylized art and inventive panel structure is the perfect vehicle for his well-told story, and the tale’s poignant moments make the moments of desolation even more heart-wrenching. Lemire seeds details throughout the early pages that resonate across the book, giving the story the feel of a carefully threaded whole. A beautiful, moving, wholly satisfying story about fatherhood and growing up. (Aug.)

Sakuran: Blossoms Wild

Moyoco Anno. Vertical, $16.95 trade paper (308p) ISBN 978-1-935654-45-2

Anno’s unique style, with its huge eyes (even for manga) and fashion-influenced design, and her off-kilter female personalities are put into a Japanese period piece. Although perhaps best known here for the children’s series Sugar Sugar Rune, her josei work, Happy Mania, is closer in tone to this stand-alone volume. Kiyoha is sold to a brothel as a child maid, but eventually becomes a powerful courtesan. Although described as her story, this book is more a collection of incidents that reveal Kiyoha’s prickly personality (understandable, given her history). A handful of color pages scattered through the book show off the elaborate costumes. However, given the historical setting in the Edo period and foreign culture, the book would have been greatly improved with substantial end notes instead of the six word translations we get. Readers who might be intrigued by the concept and setting risk finding themselves lost by the dense styling, crowded pages, and unfamiliar society, particularly since the characters go by different names/titles as they change hierarchical position. The demanding book rewards attention and is not for new manga readers; best for those experienced with the format seeking something a bit out of the ordinary for adults. (July)

The Re[a]d Diary

Teddy Kristiansen and Steven T. Seagle. Image (Diamond, dist.), $29.99 (144p) ISBN 978-1-60706-560-9

Artist and writer Kristiansen and writer Seagle, the team behind the well-received It’s a Bird , have collaborated in an unconventional way for this beautiful, dual-story graphic novel. Published in French, Kristiansen’s original story chronicles the search of a biographer for the truth behind the life of an unknown artist who died during WWI. Seagle uses the same images to tell a different tale of war, art, and identity, as an old man searches to connect to the diaries of his youth. Seagle, who had not read the original before creating his own story, has done a remarkable job of creating a tale similar in tone and scope to Kristiansen’s original, while also telling a story wholly its own. Kristiansen’s painterly art conveys similar emotion in both pieces, and the select use of color gives a heightened sense of contrast. An experiment like this one—remixing a story as though it were a piece of music—carries the high potential for failure; instead, Kristiansen’s art opens up two tales that are equally poignant, and the experiment is a solid success. (Aug.)

The Art of War

Kelly Roman and Michael De Weese. Harper Perennial, $22.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-06210-394-9

A dark and disturbing debut by Roman and DeWeese uses the words of strategy from Sun Tzu’s classic text to set the stage for a revenge story set 20 years in the future, with a world economy even more muddied than today’s reality. Ex-con and ex-soldier Kelly Roman and his father travel to New York to covertly uncover the person responsible for his brother’s death. Kelly joins Trench, the financial company where his brother worked, which controls the future—and thus governments—of China and the United States. There, he finds that his enemy is the Prince, head of a rival company, who has modified himself to communicate with and control insects in order to uncover the algorithms that dictate the market. Nearly every page is swathed in grotesque violence, horror, and suffering (both emotional and physical), depicted in painstaking detail. Knowledge of the Sun Tzu principles scattered throughout will definitely help. The dystopian story is not for the faint of heart, but those looking for a gory thriller will find plenty to keep them busy. (Aug.)