cover image Restless


Joseph Kai, trans. from the French by Carolyn Ernst. Street Noise, $19.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-951491-21-5

In Lebanese cartoonist Kai’s alternately anguished and meditative graphic novel debut, Samar, a 30-year-old Lebanese gay man living in Beirut, documents the anxious milieu of the generation who grew up in the post Lebanese civil war period. The story is set in the weeks leading up to the city’s catastrophic August 2020 aluminum nitrate explosion. A constant sense of danger permeates Samar’s first-person narration, capturing the ongoing trauma of living in a destabilized environment. He describes his recurring nightmares involving a burly, menacing man who wants to harm him, though he admits, “I find him sexy all the same.” Meanwhile, in his waking hours, Samar is relentlessly pursued on a dating app by a cagey, faceless suitor, “TonyX,” who he also finds both unsettling and alluring, and joins best friend and fellow comics artist Alia at queer art events that spring up in abandoned neighborhoods. These gatherings are frequently raided by authorities, leading to fierce counterdemonstrations. Samar describes the collective rage: “with my compatriots we are leading a fight against the monster of corruption that has rotted our lives.” Kai’s palette of shimmering oranges, purples, and blues lends a surrealist grace to comics art that render Samar’s desultory mood mixed with flashes of hope. Veering away from pat resolutions, this intense but rewarding work heralds a new international talent to watch. (Sept.)