cover image Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen

Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen

Dylan Horrocks. Fantagraphics, $29.99 ISBN 978-1-60699-790-1

For a graphic novel about artist’s block, Horrocks’s (Hicksville) long-awaited newest explodes with ideas and action. Sam Zabel is Horrocks’s barely veiled stand-in: a miserable artist lost in a gray fog of anhedonia (the absence of pleasure and joy). He helps pay the rent for his kids and exasperated wife by writing the soulless action comic Lady Night, but he just wants to get back to his autobiographical comics. Then he discovers an Edgar Rice Burroughs–ian comic about a human hero marooned on Mars; soon Zabel is having a waking dream that he is in the comic. A few encounters with an overly friendly and clothing-adverse green-skinned harem later, Zabel is adventuring through a world of wish-fulfillment comics with his feminist sidekicks: fan-girl Alice and jet-booted anime heroine Miki. Horrocks’s graphic novel is a rich experience, drawing readers in with a story that’s as bright and zippily paced as any of the pulps he’s tweaking, but that’s portrayed with the deep-frame thoughtfulness of the indie comic diarist. There’s plenty of inside-comic analysis here and a long-overdue takedown of sadistic Japanese schoolgirl torture manga threaded through the tangled metanarrative. But it’s also a bracing reflection on the dangers of wish fulfillment and the question of whether artists are “morally responsible for our fantasies.” (Jan.)