Jim Henson's Tale of Sand
Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, Ramón K. Pérez. Archaia Entertainment (www.archaia.com), $29.95 (152p) ISBN 978-1-936393-09-1

Based on an unproduced feature-length screenplay by legendary visionary Henson and Juhl, this graphic novel follows its hapless protagonist as he is cast out into the desert by the cheerful Sheriff Tate for reasons as baffling to the unnamed hero as the reader. The scruffy hero is a pawn in a game whose rules are concealed from him, pursued across a surrealistic southwest U.S. by an implacable hunter and hindered by the eccentric, bizarre inhabitants of the great desolation. The prize waiting for him at the end of the chase, should he survive to reach the end, is one he will never guess at. While best known as the creator of the Muppets, Henson was a man of multiple gifts. More than two decades after his untimely death, Pérez has brought to life a little-known side of Henson’s storytelling skill. The story eschews extensive dialogue, making events dependent on Pérez’s ability to convey Henson’s vision. Instead of trying to merely make a movie storyboard, Pérez chooses to make this pure comics, using an animated style somewhat reminiscent of Darwyn Cooke and stunning coloring that uses different palettes—muted pastels or striking duotone—to tell the story. An eccentric oddity, lovingly rendered into a haunting story. (Feb.)

Athos in America
Jason. Fantagraphics, $24.99 (196p) ISBN 978-1-60699-478-8

Norwegian cartoonist Jason has returned with more full-color stories populated by lonely, and at times sociopathic, anthropomorphic characters. Cats, dogs, and ducks steal, fight, murder, and drink themselves into oblivion. Although brimming with black humor, the tales are far from ridiculous; the disjunction between the cute creatures and their actions often serves to highlight the despair inherent in their lives. Text is light, as the images drive the narratives. In these spare, mute panels, infused with flat oranges, greens, and browns, small movements covey great meaning and emotion. The volume includes five stories, including “The Brain That Wouldn’t Virginia Woolf,” a hybrid of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The title story provides a charming prequel to Jason’s 2008 graphic novel, The Last Musketeer. Visually exciting, at times hilarious and at times devastating, Athos in America will only add to Jason’s well-deserved reputation as a star of the graphic novel world. (Feb.)

Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes
Mary S. Talbot and Bryan Talbot. Dark Horse, $14.99 (96p) ISBN 978-1-59582-850-7

In this graphic memoir, Mary S. Talbot intertwines two coming-of-age stories and constructs a powerful narrative about family, gender, and identity at two very different moments in the 20th century. Talbot, the daughter of Joycean scholar, James Atherton, parallels her own upbringing with that of James Joyce’s daughter, Lucia. Though Talbot’s relationship with her father was a source of conflict in her life—a relationship that was alternately characterized by affection, anger, and indifference—it was not nearly as tragic as the story of Lucia Joyce, a young woman who wanted more than what the sexual politics of the early modernist period and her dysfunctional family were willing to afford her. The narrative does a remarkable job at taking a close, critical look at the distinction between our public and our private selves, and how we can sometimes win the admiration of everyone but those closest to us. Talbot’s illustrations show exceptional dexterity in moving from the monochromatic past to the more colorful present, with the changing color palette suggesting the changing social climate for women. Those looking for a graphic memoir that provides an insightful study of how 20th-century sexual politics played out on the home front will be hard pressed to do better than the present title. (Feb.)

The Zen of Steve Jobs
Caleb Melby, Forbes, & Jess3. Wiley, $19.95 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-118-29526-7

At one point in this graphic novel biography, the titular icon states his design philosophy in a succinct phrase: “What you leave out will shape the whole.” This also describes the philosophy driving this book. While not a conventional biography, this book uses a nonlinear mosaic structure to give the reader glimpses into Jobs’s relationship with Zen roshi Kobun Chino Otogawa, whom he met following his ouster from Apple. Melby starts with the near collapse of Apple Computers in 1985 and then jumps around a time line that covers decades. Each scene connects loosely to the next, sometimes showing the origins of ideas Jobs would later employ in redesigning Mac, sometimes connecting only through the relationship between the priest and his student. Melby portrays Jobs as an aggressive egotist as much as an innovator, and particularly later in the book, he is shown to be careless with his friends. The artwork uses shadow and color to indicate form in a way that is deliberately reminiscent of early iPod commercials. A fascinating section in the back matter details the artists’ process in finding that aesthetic. Overall, the drawings and the sparseness of the narrative work together to shape a fine story, one perhaps too large to be told in one volume.(Jan.)

Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary

Keshni Kashyap and Mari Araki. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-618-94519-1

Tina, an Indian-American living in San Francisco, writes an illustrated diary to Jean-Paul Sartre as part of a semesterlong existentialism class in this charming coming-of-age story. Even if Tina’s background and high school are out of the ordinary, her problems are universal: Tina’s best friend ditches her for a boy and Tina has a crush on someone but has trouble making it work. All the while, Tina observes her older siblings’ love anxiety, her sister’s move back home after a broken heart, and her brother’s disastrous exploration of Indian dating sites. Tina’s purportedly existential observations on love and her contemplation of her own sorry existence will be familiar to witty young women troubled by low self-esteem. The artwork is sufficient, if a tad too simplistic at times. Occasionally the minimalist lines make it hard to differentiate between characters. Regardless, the amateur style of the book lends an air of authenticity that could be inspiring to teens unsure of their own burgeoning drawing skills. A story about Krishna lends the book its title. Tina is not religious herself, but she and her peers are exploring different religions as they grapple with racial identity. (Jan.)


Josh Tierney, Emily Carroll, Afu Chan, and various. Archaia Entertainment (www.archaia.com), $19.95 (176p) ISBN 978-1-936393-30-5

The journey is the point in Tierney’s clever, evocative cycle of fantasy tales, and readers won’t much care if the characters ever get anywhere at all. At the start of this collection—each of the four chapters and the shorter tales bundled at the back is drawn by a different, equally gifted artist—a pair of young misfit princesses go on the wander with a wise old gaffer who can also shape-shift into a giant, fire-tinged wolf. The gaffer, Yonder, serves as a guide of sorts to the boyish, action-craving, and sword-wielding Pira and the dream-clouded bookworm Lono as they amble from one adventure to the next on their way to the magic land of Spera. Adventuring “wasn’t much of a choice,” says Pira. “Princesses aren’t really in demand here.” Some shreds of a story flit about in the first pages—Hamletesque palace intrigue and a looming war—but Tierney’s story is bonded tightly to the intimate interplay of these three characters (as well as Chobo, the chubby, eye-patched piratical cat who joins them along the way) as they journey epic distances and battle monsters like proper heroes. With beauty as its tool and mischief in mind, this book is a winner all the way. (Jan.)

Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives, Vol. 1

Bill Everett. Fantagraphics, $39.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-60699-488-7

Eisner Hall of Fame cartoonist Everett worked during the golden age of comics, giving the world Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, one of the earliest of the classic superheroes, and his efforts during the dawn of the “Marvel Age” in the early 1960s found him co-creating Daredevil with the infinitely prolific Stan Lee. But what of his other output from a career lasting more than three decades? Comics historian Blake Bell compiled and edited this collection of Everett’s more obscure works in what can be seen as a companion piece to Bell’s 2010 Fire and Water: Bill Everett, The Sub-Mariner and the Birth of Marvel Comics. This volume provides an illuminating look at the artist’s numerous attempts at catching Sub-Marineresque lightning in a bottle for a second time, a task that mostly eluded him. The comics studios of the golden age were product mills that threw any idea against the wall in hope it would stick, and Everett did much the same. Forgotten sci-fi and superhero creations, as well as forays into westerns, historical retellings, and crime comics, populate this loaded volume, which reads like it fell straight out of some four-color twilight zone. (Feb.)


Leela Corman. Schocken, $24.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-8052-4259-1

Set in New York City’s Lower East Side in the early 20th century, this book follows the lives of two sisters, Fanya and Esther. The children of Russian Jewish immigrants, the girls take wildly divergent paths. Fanya goes to work for Bronia, a female doctor who quietly tries to dispense family planning material to her patients struggling to support the children they already have; Esther becomes a showgirl, after a stop in a brothel. Sex, then, is at the heart of both of their worlds, and Corman gracefully traces both young women’s efforts to maintain control of their bodies in an unpredictable and at times violent world. Corman steeps her striking black and white artwork with period details, particularly in the clothes and the bustling street scenes. In a flashback scene set in Russia, especially, she echoes the swirling evocative style of Russian folk art. The sisters and their father are compelling, although some characters remain enigmas; a plot twist about the mother is hard to reconcile with the way the character is first introduced. Overall, though, the story of Fanya and Esther’s struggles is beautifully drawn and hard to forget. (Apr.)

A.D.D. Adolescent Demo Division

Douglas Rushkoff, Goran Sudzuka, and Jose Marzan Jr. DC/Vertigo, $24.99 (152p) ISBN 978-1-4012-2355-7

This heavy-handed fable presents the tale of a group of teens raised from birth in a life of privilege, carefully mentored to be the virtual reality superstars of tomorrow. This facade is soon ripped away; cosseted Lionel, beta male to the dominant star, Karl, begins to suspect Karl’s looming “level up” is nothing of the sort. When his suspicions are confirmed in the most terrible way possible, Karl and the rest of the ADD will be faced with a decision; settle for the pleasing lie their masters have crafted for them or risk all with open rebellion. Although nothing in this story is novel, the basic idea presents a lot of grist for media theorist Rushkoff (Program or Be Programmed). Sadly, the result is an adventure in which all developments are telegraphed well in advance, a morality tale whose moral is undermined by the strident and shrill tone the authors have chosen. Sudzuka’s art is clean and appealing, but struggles to cram a lot of dialogue into the action. (Feb.)

Is That All There Is?

Joost Swarte. Fantagraphics, $35 (144p) ISBN 978-1-60699-510-5

Like many of the underground comics artists of the 1970s and ’80s, Swarte worked at a right angle to mainstream style by imitating elements of it so closely that his every frame became an act of querulous subversion. This long-time-coming compilation of Swarte’s painstaking work could be taken at first glance for a long-lost volume of Hergé, with his clean lines, tightly packed frames, animallike characters, and the fast-paced mix of bumptious action and slapstick comedy. But the stories themselves are a different matter, playing in an altogether more adult arena, as befitting stories that once delighted readers of Raw. However, in between the graphic sex, heroin syringes, exploding craniums, and tongue-in-cheek racial stereotypes (still cringe-worthy, even with the implicit critique), Swarte creates art of his own. In addition to undermining the colonialist attitudes of Hergé and classic Disney cartoons with his R. Crumb-ish verve, Swarte also presents a clutch of perfectly packaged riffs on cartoon art. Having a Chris Ware introduction makes sense, given Swarte’s excruciating eye for architectural detail, and could help introduce Swarte to a larger audience, but the book may not need it—the art doesn’t speak for itself, it shouts. (Feb.)

Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb

Jonathan Fetter-Vorm. FSG/Hill and Wang, $22 (160p) ISBN 978-0-8090-9468-4

Although billed as “the first-ever graphic novel to tell the story of the atomic bomb,” Jim Ottaviani’s Fallout did the same thing 10 years ago, and was much better written. Picking on an author for what marketing chooses to say isn’t fair, but presumably marketing didn’t choose the flat illustrations, heavy use of captions, and stiff, static panels of talking heads. The text is confusing to follow, and the wooden panels are reminiscent of clip art. All the famous players in this tale are shown—Fermi, Oppenheimer, Fat Man, and Little Boy—but in such compressed form that little drama emerges. Facts are thrown so rapidly that there is no story, no recognizable characters to follow, or personalities to relate to, just caption after caption. (June)

The Infinite, Vol. 1

Robert Kirkman and Rob Liefield. Image (Diamond, dist.), $9.99 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-1-60706-475-6

The Infinite, Vol. 1 will please the kind of audience that enjoys muscled freedom fighters, time travel, and heroic scowls. Fortunately for Kirkman (The Walking Dead, Invincible) and Liefield (Youngblood, X-Force), that’s a pretty large demographic. The story features the middle-aged hero, Bowen, who must travel back in time to find both his 20-year-old self and his best friend and fellow comrade-in-arms, Cage, in order to wage war against the Infinite. Bowen’s principal antagonist, a being from the future called Imperius, claims only to be trying to save the Earth from its own destruction. Having returned to the past, Bowen intends to strike quickly, in order to prevent the Infinite from building to the point where they take everything from him again. While readers will appreciate Liefield’s passion as an illustrator, they might wonder why all of the story’s male characters—and not just Bowen’s younger self—resemble the protagonist. They might also wonder why, in the absence of wit, humor, or a respite from clenched teeth, they should particularly care about the fate of Bowen and his comrades. With so much good stuff being written nowadays, they probably shouldn’t. (Jan.)

Baltimore, Vol. 1: The Plague Ships

Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, and Ben Stenbeck. Dark Horse, $24.95 (136p) ISBN 978-1-59582-673-2

Europe’s Great War has collapsed in the face of plague and an infestation of vampires in this spinoff of a prose novel by Hellboy creator Mignola and genre vet Golden. The obsessive Lord Baltimore, the one-legged scourge of the undead, is joined on his quest by the gypsy Vanessa Kalderas; she soon learns that it was none other than Baltimore himself who set the calamity in motion when he gravely wounded the vampire Haigus in a previous encounter. Now the cursed Baltimore seeks endlessly for Haigus, hoping to bring an end to the horrors preying on the world and those who travel with him must fear death or worse. Mignola’s decayed, doomed Europe is gloomy even for a supernatural apocalypse. Although Baltimore seems immune to death, Lord Baltimore’s loved ones are not so lucky, and it is an imprudent companion who stays with him for any length of time. Longtime Mignola fans will find this work meets their no doubt high expectations, while those encountering Mignola for the first time will find this an enticing introduction to his oeuvre. (Jan.)

Batman: The Dark Knight: Golden Dawn

David Finch, Jason Fabok, and various. DC, $24.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-4012-3215-3

It takes quite a bit of crust to title your new comic series after the most famous and significant Batman story of the modern era. It leads to comparisons that can’t help being unfavorable, since Finch is no Frank Miller. His Top Cow art background is on full display, with overworked scratchy lines and blank-faced females with artistically draped stray locks of hair. In this case, it’s Dawn Golden, an old flame of Bruce Wayne’s (and proto-pixie dream girl; she’s not a character, just a plot device) who’s now a socialite gone missing. In seeking her, Batman encounters Killer Croc, the Penguin, and the Demon Etrigan. Individual panels are well drawn, but the story, also written by Finch, consists of disjointed fragments and requires a good deal of input from the reader to make sense. Its only purpose is to fetishize violence, and its conclusion is remarkably antiheroic. This volume collects the five issues released before the line-wide DC reboot restarted the series, which means various plot threads are left hanging. Also included is the story written by Grant Morrison, “The Return,” which similarly sets up premises never realized and characters that no longer exist in these versions. (Jan.)

Action! Mystery! Thrills!: Comic Book Covers of the Golden Age 1933–1945

Greg Sadowsky. Fantagraphics, $29.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-60699-494-8

From Jungle Comics to Jumbo Comics, and from Sheena, Queen of the Jungle to Captain Shadow, the golden age had a lot going for it despite its crude wartime rhetoric and its share of racist imagery. As yet uninhibited by the Comics Code Authority’s censorship, an unprecedented slew of exceptional talent conferred its signature Art Deco style on the epoch, and amply justify its mythical standing. Artists like Lou Fine, Will Eisner, Edd Ashe, Alex Schomburg, and Jack Kirby gave the covers of the day a kind of atomic shelf life, and live they do in this magnificent compilation. Nearly every cover in this collection sizzles like a good slice of breakfast bacon. Pop art and the peculiar modernist aesthetic that defined postwar American culture really started here, with the liberation of comics from the funny pages and their metamorphosis into this most dynamic and demented of mediums. As a result, every deli and newsstand in America became its own peculiar gallery exhibit, a nexus of transient mass culture. This magical and immersive communion is now a thing of the past, but flipping through the gory, scary, and often beautiful pages of this discerning and honest anthology is an intoxicating experience. (Feb.)

The Silence of Our Friends

Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, and Nate Powell. FSG/First Second, $16.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-59643-618-3

From the opening scene, this graphic novel written by Long and Demonakos is compelling. Set in Houston in 1968, it tells the story of two families—one black and one white—who are witness to and participants in events that shaped the South in the late 1960s. The novel is a loosely autobiographical account of the Long family, who moved from San Antonio to Houston in 1966, and experienced the protests, violence, and struggle for freedom that characterized the Third and Fifth Wards. Long’s father had moved to Houston to take a job as a local television reporter, and there he met Larry Thomas, the editor of an antipoverty weekly. This graphic novel presents an engrossing narrative about race in America, while honestly dealing with a host of other real-world issues, including familial relationships, friendship, dependency, “other”-ness, and perhaps most importantly, the search for common ground. Powell—an award-winning cartoonist in his own right for Swallow Me Whole—tells a story in pictures that is just as compelling as what Long and Demonakos tell in words. (Jan.)

African-American Classics: Graphic Classics Vol. 22

Edited by Tom Poplun and Lance Tooks. Eureka, $17.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-0-9825630-4-5

Twenty-three works from a rich source of late 19th- and early 20th-century American literature get the graphic novel treatment in this wide-ranging anthology. Authors like W.E.B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Langston Hughes are represented, along with lesser-known but important African-American writers. Among the adapters are some artistic newcomers along with well-known comics figures like Kyle Baker (Nat Turner), whose version of Du Bois’s “On Being Crazy” is rich, inky and witty, and Jeremy Love (Bayou), who illustrates James Weldon Johnson’s poem “The Ghost of Deacon Brown.” The brutality of racism is depicted in stories that deal with lynching, like the WWI-era story “Two Americans” by Florence Lewis Bentley, which extols forgiveness, and the dark science fiction story “Lex Talionis” by Robert W. Bagnall, which explores the depths of hate and revenge. The energy of Hurston’s dialogue, written in early 20th-century Southern black dialect, is well matched by the illustrations by Arie Monroe and Milton Knight. A few pieces feel like filler, but overall the art in the anthology casts light on some gems of American literature, matching their gleam with sparkle of their own. (Jan.)

Monster Truck

Shaky Kane. Image (Diamond, dist.), $14.99 trade paper (108p) ISBN 978-1-60706-470-1

If you’re ready to hop into your custom monster truck and travel back in time to the silver age of comics, when the world was a rainbow of colors (and zombies), then this is the title for you. Reading Monster Truck is a bit like reading Yuichi Yokoyama’s Garden, but with big trucks, bigger monsters, and a psychedelic color palette to boot. And like Yokoyama, English cartoonist Kane (Bulletproof Coffin) presents us with a work that is so much more than an exercise in visual incongruities. Monster Truck is, at its heart, an homage, and it reads like a work of poetry with American pop culture as its subject matter. Like any good poem, the work is surprising and allusive and dynamic. Kane’s illustrations are spectacular, not simply in their use of color but in the energy Kane generates from one scene to the next. He creates a surrealist visual narrative about children’s toys in which celebration never turns toward cynicism or social critique. Originally released to much acclaim as a limited edition in Britain in 2007, Monster Truck should have a similar impact on audiences across the pond. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 01/16/2012