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The 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance Comic Book: Revised and Expanded

Gord Hill. Arsenal Pulp, $17.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-55152-852-6

Flipping Eurocentric history on its head, Kwakwaka’wakw artist Hill expands and updates his righteous 2010 chronicle of indigenous resistance to conquistadors and colonizers. Rather than limiting the focus to current national borders, Hill depicts revolts, rebellions, and riots from peoples across North and South America in fierce full-color. Spanning from 1494 with the Taíno retaliation against Christopher Columbus to modern-day standoffs over land, water, and oil, the narrative covers significantly more material than the original edition, though it still tends to speed through complex conflicts. Hill takes great care in his brightly colored artwork that illustrates the traditional dress and practices of each group—particularly evocative are the Tlingit warriors who rise from the page in gorgeously carved headdresses to strike down Russian traders, in an 1802 uprising against trespassing on their lands. While it’s an inherently bloody and brutal history, Hill also centers resilience, such as in the chapter on the Mapuche, who fought against Spanish control for generations and today survive “unconquered” in what’s now Chile and Argentina. Particularly of interest to educators, this update would be a crucial addition to any library or classroom that aims to tell an unvarnished history of the Americas. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Lure

Lane Milburn. Fantagraphics, $29.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-68396-478-0

Milburn (Twelve Gems) returns with a stirring narrative about loneliness and art that also tackles climate change and class tension. Striving designer Jo gets selected to be part of an artists’ program on Lure, an ocean planet known as a “luxury vacation hub,” and is tasked with creating a “holo show” (holography having transformed from a “high-tech toy to a serious art form”) for the Lure Economic Summit. After traveling there, getting most of the project done, and falling in love, Jo discovers a file that contains information about a secret that might affect everyone back on Earth. The elites are up to something—and Jo and her cohort in the program, Rachel (who plays guitar in a noise band), have a chance to try to stop it. The science fiction frame provides a lens to focus on how artists can fight inequality and change their world. The style ranges from an indie diary comic to surrealistic worldbuilding, with pages packed with luridly colorful images of Lure’s underwater world, including the trippy legend of the deity that created Lure and myriad aquatic alien life. This finely drawn tale offers a critical but still hopeful look at a not-too-distant future. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Murder Book: A Graphic Memoir of a True Crime Obsession

Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell. Andrews McMeel, $19.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-5248-6116-2

Blending fan-confessional and analysis of the true crime genre, New Yorker cartoonist Campbell’s funny, freewheeling graphic memoir debut takes on the “trend” of rampant body-chasing in film, TV, and podcasts—and why women, in particular, tend to tune in. She dates the phenomenon to 17th-century “penny pamphlets,” and notes that she herself is a fourth-generation fan of murder stories. Her mother Laurie appears often as an audience to her enthusiasms, along with bartenders, a kid on a plane, and anyone else who will listen to her theorizing. Campbell wonders about the origins of her obsession: Is it the satisfaction of seeing justice served? Or is it because she was born just a few months after the premiere of Law & Order? Her chatty storytelling and lightly frumpy character designs are accompanied by flow charts and pages bubbling over with tangents. She covers the Zodiac case, associated media history, and crime writer Ann Rule’s improbable connection to Ted Bundy, all of which is peppered with comedic bits from her own life. Some of the speculations feel superficial, but others land on point, such as a critique of race bias in true crime coverage that tends to brush past both victims and perpetrators of color. But it’s more celebration than interrogation, a joyfully chaotic swim with a community of crime aficionados. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Robo Sapiens: Tales of Tomorrow (Omnibus)

Toranosuke Shimada, trans. from the Japanese by Adrienne Beck. Seven Seas, $19.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-64827-598-2

Shimada’s contemplative manga, his English-language debut, winds through a thoughtfully developed world where humanoid robots are commonplace. Through interconnected vignettes, an ensemble cast of androids and other humans go about their lives. Sachio, an android, continues to live among humans even after his companion’s death; while Toby and Chloe, also androids, are sent to search deep space for planets that could support human life. The most frequently recurring character is Maria, an ultra-longevity robot who keeps a facility running for thousands of years as the humans who check in on her are replaced by ever-more advanced robots. The evocative, sparsely illustrated sequences are reminiscent of alternative American comics, such as Freddy Carrasco’s Gleem or Sophia Foster-Dimino’s oeuvre, than mainstream sci-fi manga. Shimada creates an image of a potential future full of understated love and empathy: robots transfer data between themselves by touching each other’s cheeks, replicating a human gesture of intimacy and affection, and the doctor in charge of Toby and Chloe’s mission asked for the robots to be happy if they couldn’t return to Earth, a mission they do their best to fulfill. Shimada upends the notion that survival of androids over humanity must essentially be dystopian, depicting a future where human traits of love and care endure, even if humanity does not. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Free Speech Handbook: A Practical Framework for Understanding Our Free Speech Protections

Ian Rosenberg and Mike Cavallaro. First Second, $28.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-61975-4

Taking a rare general-interest approach to constitutional issues that doesn’t speak down to its audience, this savvy nonfiction graphic narrative provides an excellent introduction to the little-understood theory and practice of free speech in America. Adapting his 2021 The Fight for Free Speech, Rosenberg breaks down the issue into ten concepts (e.g. prior restraint and press freedom, protections for hate speech). With art by Cavallaro (the Nico Bravo series), each offers a dramatic and intelligent analysis of the core cases and their broader real-life effects. Rosenberg links modern controversies to historical precedent to demonstrate how debates evolve (for example, connecting Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest to a 1935 case of Jehovah’s Witness schoolchildren refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance). As a media lawyer, Rosenberg is a staunch free-speech advocate but keeps speechifying to a minimum in his nuanced takes, as when he notes how the Supreme Court’s decision to allow convicted sex offenders to keep using Facebook “doesn’t tell us what can be done to mitigate the problems created by social media trolls and hate mobs,” or points out that “what Stormy Daniels had to say about Trump’s sex life is not as important as her ability to say it.” Cavallaro’s cartoony drawings, meanwhile, are accessible and smartly highlight emotion and conflict. This informative and inspiring guide looks past free-speech clichés to home in on how such rights are not chiseled in stone but fought over on an ever-shifting battlefield. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour

James D. Hornfischer, Doug Murray, and Steven Sanders. Dead Reckoning, $29.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-68247-338-2

Solid on its facts but falling short of the energy and vivacity a war comic demands, this graphic adaptation of Hornfischer’s 2004 prose account of WWII’s Battle of Samar disappoints. Facing off against the powerful Japanese Pacific navy in October 1944, the American Third Fleet is outnumbered, outgunned, and suffers tremendously large casualties, ultimately winning but at great cost. Murray (The ’Nam series) scripts the comic adaptation, breaking down the battles into easy-to-digest historical scenarios and moments, solidly detailing the strengths and weaknesses of the ships and fleets. But art by Sanders (the Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine series) is technically accurate but lethargic. His simple straight-lined grid of rectangular panels on every page robs the combat of dynamism, leaving talking head sequences interspersed with static portrayals of (well-detailed) ships and planes. For students daunted by dense history texts, it’s a suitable primer to this campaign, but it doesn’t meet the bar set by classic war comics by Joe Kubert or Sam Glanzman. It’s a very optional supplement compared to Hornfischer’s original history. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Abbott: 1973

Saladin Ahmed and Sami Kivelä. Boom! Studios, $17.99 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-68415-651-1

Ahmed follows up an Eisner Award–winning run on Marvel’s Black Bolt series by bringing back his spooky-sexy urban horror-fantasy that merges newsreel details with Saturday morning fun and features a 1970s-era queer African American crusading reporter named Elena Abbott. Ahmed, a Detroit native, deconstructs his hometown’s complicated political and social history as he frames battles between the demons of the city’s past and hopeful warriors of the still-revolutionary period. A ghastly cabal broods over the city and wields deadly, body-snatching sorcery that can only be extinguished by the mystical glow emanating from Abbott, “the Lightbringer,” whose powers include shooting rays of light and summoning helpful spirit guides. The hotly anticipated election of the city’s first Black mayor (unnamed but assumed to be Coleman Young, who took office in 1974) gives way to intimidation from racists and organized crime. Meanwhile, lingering tensions simmer between Abbott and her lover and family, as well as the chauvinistic boss of her Black-owned newspaper. Kivelä stacks close-up mini-panels of heated conversations and renders spirited action, detailed landscapes, and visceral monsters (though some of the hairdos and fashion appear to reference later eras). Pulp and politics mix in this relatively straightforward supernatural tale; though it doesn’t elevate the genre, it satisfies its goals and does so with a refreshingly diverse cast. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Life Turned Upside Down: My Dad’s an Alcoholic

Mariko Kikuchi, trans. from the Japanese by Alexa Frank. Seven Seas, $14.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-64827-596-8

Kikuchi’s unflinching debut manga memoir details her growing up with an alcoholic father. Through simple but appealing art, Kikuchi relays a childhood full of broken promises and unfulfilled dreams, covering her father’s substance use, her mother’s suicide, abusive relationships, and her and her sister’s struggles to find happiness despite their circumstances. In one scene, she shows herself as a schoolgirl pulling her father from a bathtub before he drowns: “I didn’t want to deal with dad when he was drunk... but if I didn’t, this monster would’ve died.” Her coping mechanism is to repress her feelings, balling them up until she doesn’t know why she’s crying. Despite acquaintances treating her father’s drunkenness as a lighthearted joke, Kikuchi works through layers of denial and confusion, coming to realize she doesn’t need to love or feel grateful to such a toxic parent. Throughout, Kikuchi’s passion for manga and drawing keeps her grounded and keeps the hard-hitting subject matter from dragging on as too unbearably bleak. Her thin, clear lines are minimalist but effective. Ending on a hopeful note, the narrative lands as deeply cathartic. Fans of Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness and Akiko Higashimura’s Blank Canvas will welcome this heartfelt addition to the essay manga genre. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Man in Furs: From Divine Punishment to Punishment Divine

Catherine Sauvat and Anne Simon, trans. from the French by Mercedes Claire Gilliom. Fantagraphics, $24.99 (128p) ISBN 978-1-68396-480-3

French biographer Sauvat partners with cartoonist Simon (Empress Cixtisis) for this whimsically drawn if spare graphic biography of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1836–1895), the Austrian nobleman and erotic writer whose name inspired the concept of masochism. Masoch’s infamous novella Venus in Furs told a then-scandalous tale of female sexual domination and cuckoldry—for Masoch, this was more than just fiction, as he soon after entered a contract with his own first wife, Aurore Rümelin, that mirrored his protagonist’s. After their marriage fell apart in a cloud of resentment and adultery, Masoch attempted a new life absent his old predilections, but found them inescapable. Sauvet covers how early sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing coined the term masochism to describe one who derives pleasure from pain, and aptly captures the emotional turmoil that plagued both Leopold’s and Aurore’s lives, aided by Simon’s expressive, curlicue art style, which recalls Kate Beaton. But the tale is told from the publication of Venus forward, missing details of Masoch’s earlier life, such as the inspiration for Venus’s dominatrix, as well as omitting his lifelong devotion to opposing anti-Semitism. The result is a loving and lovely, if unfortunately abridged, consideration of one of history’s influential sex-scene scribes. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Memorial Ride

Stephen Graham Jones and Maria Wolf. Univ. of New Mexico, $24.95 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-0-8263-6323-7

A Blackfeet Native soldier returns from Afghanistan to discover a different kind of war waiting in this rushed-feeling road-revenge comic from horror maestro Jones (My Heart Is a Chainsaw). After punching out his commanding officer, Cooper Town gets sent home to Oklahoma to bury his father. At first things are looking up: Cooper inherits a wicked-cool Harley chopper and a promise of $3,000 from a man who owed his dad, as long as he can get to Albuquerque. But the problems pile up, from Cooper’s girlfriend Sheri’s possible pregnancy to a psychopathic pack of “drugstore cowboys” who gunned down Cooper’s Army buddy and now are after him. Jones’s trademark pop culture–laden sardonic humor lays it on thick throughout the hyperactively paced story, including a running series of John Wayne gags. The corpses accumulate as Cooper and Sheri try to stay ahead of their murderous pursuers, yet the narrative lacks tension, and its two-dimensionality is only reinforced by Wolf’s flat and unpolished art. It’s more a sketched-out premise, likely to disappoint readers eager for a signature Jones thrill ride. The promise of a lot of guns and miles of empty highway never motors fully up. Agent: BJ Robbins, BJ Robbins Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/15/2021 | Details & Permalink

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