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The Gifted: Books 1 & 2

Damian A. Wassel and Nathan C. Gooden. Creative Mind Energy, $19.95 (174p) ISBN 978-1-939424-12-9

A lone wolf faces off against man (hunters) and nature (hunger) in this nearly wordless graphic novel told from the animal’s point of view without anthropomorphizing its protagonist. Remarkably naturalistic in its design, Gooden’s art avoids cartoon clichés, with animals true-to-life in design and behavior. Mostly black-and-white, the art uses black and gray dynamic shapes to visually drive the narrative forward, skillfully merging with Wassel’s story, requiring virtually no dialogue. Bold black sound effects and the sparse dialogue of the hunters (expressed simply in the phonetic sounds the wolf hears) narrate the story. The starkness of Gooden’s palette is powerfully punctuated with a sparse use of brilliant color that leads to a an epiphany for the wounded, dying wolf. Morally enigmatic and deserving of repeat readings, this primal fable of power and evolution is a dexterous balance of action-adventure and thought-piece. (Booklife)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Autumnlands, Vol. 1: Tooth and Claw

Kurt Busiek and Ben Dewey. Image, $9.99 (184p) ISBN 978-1-63215-277-0

Busiek (Astro City) and Dewey (I Was the Cat) bring together high fantasy and brutal science fiction in this lush new series. When a world of anthropomorphic animals is drained of the magic that sustains it, its ruling wizards seek help from the past. The Great Champion—who, according to their legends, first loosed magic into the world—is called forth, only to be revealed as a fur-less, shell-less, scale-less human being from a violent, technologically advanced world. Between bison attacks, savage bats, and shifty trade partners, the Champion and the wizards must put aside their differences if they are to save, or even survive, their crumbling civilization. Dewey’s art is absolutely marvelous, bringing light and life to every exquisitely rendered panel. Busiek’s writing is similarly detailed: despite a hefty cast, plenty of fantasy conceits, and quite a bit of jargon, the world of the Autumnlands never feels overwhelming. The comic’s greatest strength is its characters, and the success of further volumes depends upon Busiek and Dewey’s willingness to invest as much time into their development as possible. A solid fantasy romp for adult readers interested in swords, sorcery, and struggle. (July)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Step Aside, Pops

Kate Beaton. D&Q, $19.95 (168p) ISBN 978-1-77046-208-3

As the sequel to her bestseller Hark! A Vagrant, this collection—once again bringing together strips from Beaton’s popular website—is a wonderful second installment. It offers her take on a variety of different historical, literary, and cultural institutions, usually by finding something absurdly idiosyncratic in them and taking this to its ridiculous and, indeed, hilarious conclusion. Whether it’s a retelling of Cinderella that involves a night of weight lifting or an exploration of what the Lady of Shallot might have actually seen her knight doing when she looked out of her tall tower, Beaton has an uncanny ability to take the sacred and shake its foundations with the delightfully mundane. Her apparently “simple” art style uses a wide variety of sophisticated visual techniques that perfectly accompany the wit and humor of her prose. From Julius Caesar to The Secret Garden and from the late Romantics to Kokoro, Beaton knocks it out of the park, having a go at anything and everything with her razor-sharp wit. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Killing and Dying

Adrian Tomine. Drawn & Quarterly, $22.95 (128p) ISBN 978-1-77046-209-0

Plenty of graphic novelists mine the seam of modern anxieties and alienation. Only a tiny handful do so with as much perceptive humanity as Tomine (Shortcomings). These half-dozen short stories are drawn with a cool, dry, Chris Ware–like style that heightens the emotions packed within their rigidly uniform blocks rather than muffling it. Many of the stories track relationships in which the women are lost and the men lash out. The men react in fury to their thwarted creativity (like the wannabe sculptor in "A Brief History of the Art Form Known as ‘Hortisculpture' ") and to any acknowledgment of their shortcomings (like the rage-filled middle-aged pot dealer in "Go Owls"). Some of those same damaged and defensive men also appear in "Amber Sweet," a Paul Austeresque fable of disorientation, in which a woman must come to terms with her resemblance to a popular porn star. But the title story is a simpler and more riveting construction. In it, an awkward, stuttering 14-year-old girl pursues an unlikely career as a stand-up comic, while her mother overpraises her and her father undermines her from the sidelines, though none of the three addresses the tragedy looming ever larger in their lives. Tomine has created a deft, deadpan masterpiece filled with heartache interspersed with the shock of beauty. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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