Barbara Stok. Abrams/SelfMadeHero, $19.95 (144p) ISBN 978-1-906838-79-9

Using pop art to describe fine painting, Stok’s offbeat comics biography of Vincent van Gogh follows the Dutch-born painter from his time in Arles, France, to his death. Stok doesn’t try to reproduce van Gogh’s visuals; instead, she uses heavy lines, solid colors, and minimal background details to focus attention on characters and history. When she breaks away from this pattern—in jagged panel lines showing van Gogh’s slipping sanity, or the brilliance of his paintings exploding behind him—it’s emotionally charged and made all the more immediate by the iconography. Stok uses bright nonprimaries and solid background pastels for the figures and action. There’s great beauty, and not just in van Gogh’s madness and passion: sections of his letters to and from his brother Theo are touching. This inventive art biography eschews the usual visual clichés and brings its subject into a sharp and sympathetic focus. (Mar.)