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Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography

Paul Buhle, Steve Max, and Dave Nance, illus. by Noah Van Sciver. Verso, $18.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-78663-687-4

This ragged polemic is worth reading mostly because of the dense and slightly grotesque art of Van Sciver (Johnny Appleseed). Published in conjunction with the Democratic Socialists of America, the book is both a biography of labor leader Eugene V. Debs (1855–1926) and a history of socialism in America. It was written to emphasize that the problems endemic to capitalism are as troubling now as they were a century ago, when Debs was most active. The authors focus on Debs’s devotion to socialism as an economic imperative and as a moral imperative that included equality for all races and between men and women, but the narrative momentum is slowed by text pieces at the beginning of each chapter that make the comics, which cover the same ground, feel superfluous. The choppy story is marked by individuals spitting rhetoric instead of dialogue, and characters that are introduced quickly and then dropped at a maddening pace. Van Sciver humanizes Debs with sensitive character design and a knack for depicting the gritty details of the past; the socialist hero comes across as passionate but physically frail. But with the work’s focus split among biography, history, and political tract, it’s not successful as any of these things. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Letters to Survivors

Gébé, trans. from the French by Edward Gauvin. New York Review Comics, $15.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-68137-240-2

Built on a foundation of whimsical gallows humor, this book bursts at the seams with lessons as relevant to the current state of the world as when it was first published in France over 35 years ago. Clothed in a hazmat suit and mounted on a bicycle, a mailman delivers mail to a family living in their underground bomb shelter in the wake of nuclear apocalypse. With all signs of suburban life destroyed, the mailman cheerfully reads a series of anonymous letters through the shelter’s air vent, each one delivering a poignant (often macabre) story of the fallacies of the life they once knew: the social isolation of bipartisan thinking, the importance of work rather than passion, and the harmful desire to please everyone. Contrasting the thought-provoking stories, Gébé’s simple artwork is as playful as a children’s book. Through black-and-white cartoon linework, the characters of the letters and the family they are being read to are brought to life in a manner as satirical and pointed as the lessons they are depicting. This introspective and sardonic book makes it painfully clear how far society has failed to come in the decades since its debut. Agent: Nicolas Grivel, Nicolas Grivel Agency (France). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Super Sikh

Eileen Kaur Alden and Supreet Singh Manchanda, illus. by Amit Tayal. Rosarium, $14.95 trade paper (108p) ISBN 978-0-9987059-8-9

Deep Singh is a hard-working schmoe just looking to visit Graceland. Too bad he’s also an international man of mystery being hunted by the sinister forces of Group X. Can he, with the help of his genius cousin Preeti, a great many friends, and a beautiful stranger named Janelle finally reach the peak of Elvis fanhood without being taken down by terrorist bigotry? This is undoubtedly a send-up of lantern-jawed action heroism, but it’s a loving one: Deep is comically overpowered, but readers just can’t help but root for him after watching him cheer on an Elvis impersonator. In counterpoint, the book skewers the infantile pseudomasculinity that fuels extremism, personified by Group X’s leader, murky villain Salar Al Amok. His naked hatred of all that makes him feel small is among the most resonant aspects of the story. Unfortunately, though the line art is strong, the lettering and coloring look more like a first draft than a finished product. With refinement, however, Deep Singh could have a long and vibrant future as an independent action hero—and, of course, as an Elvis devotee. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Terrible Means

B. Mure. Avery Hill, $12.95 trade paper (100p) ISBN 978-1-910395-43-1

In British artist Mure’s vivid prequel to 2017’s Ismyre, something is literally rotten in the state of Ismyre: Sybil, a bookish antelope, and Henriett, a biology-minded lizard, fret over rotting plants in their greenhouse, a telltale sign that the magic of their enchanted world is out of balance. The likely culprits are a Gatsby-worthy critter clique who use powerful crystals for frivolous party tricks. To stop the ruling predators from running amok, Henriett teams up with a rabble-rousing rabbit, Emlyn, who turns out to be a kindred felon in fantasia. This menagerie of expressive characters bursts with charm, but the real star here is the coloring. An ever-changing watercolor wash whirls across every panel, imbuing the world’s thorny emerald vines and brilliant blue crystals with vibrant magic. In quieter scenes, when Sybil is imprisoned and Henriett goes into hiding, the palette shifts to more moody monochromatic hues. “If no one listens, you have to do something,” says Emlyn, explaining why he turned eco-revolutionary. “I got tired of waiting around for people who didn’t care to help.” Full of heart, the story is a fairy tale call to arms. (May)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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