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Rivers

David Gaffney and Dan Berry. Top Shelf, $19.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-60309-490-0

A cluster of lovelorn, self-isolating souls are drawn together through their dreams in this fateful graphic novel from Gaffney and Berry (The Three Rooms in Valerie’s Head). Set in a modern England heavy with technology, anxiety, and disconnection, the script is appropriately skittery, with flashbacks to the 1990s as well as a futuristic comic-book-within-the-comic. The present-day narrative follows a trio who appear to have lost the capacity for interpersonal interaction but are linked via an app that connects those with similar dreams. Heidi is an editor and burgeoning agoraphobic who has a dream about a “friend consolidation service.” Gideon is a moony techie at a company far too hip for him, and is haplessly infatuated with his cubicle neighbor, Lisa. He and Heidi are haunted by episodes from their past: his a seemingly innocuous memory of reading a goofy revenge comic with his buddy, hers a string of increasingly melancholy moments with her fun but childish father. Peter, meanwhile, is a talkative older man covering up regrets with needling jabber. The art is appealingly rudimentary—the loose, noodle-like characters sport a wide-eyed raggedy charm that recalls Jeffrey Brown. While the conclusion may be too rom-com neat, it’s an overall surprisingly soulful ensemble piece. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?

Eric Powell and Harold Schechter. Albatross Funnybooks, $29.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-949889-04-8

One of America’s most enduring bogeymen gets another feature role in this punishingly gruesome graphic novel from true crime writer Schechter (Deviant) and Powell (The Goon series). Ed Gein was raised in dismal small-town Wisconsin by a reportedly feckless father and domineering, fanatically religious mother (who here, as in most portrayals, is shown as the subject of Gein’s own religious/sexual obsession). In 1957, Gein was arrested after human remains were found at his farmhouse (the “incubator for madness” of his dysfunctional childhood). There, he used a skull as a bowl and refashioned the skin of corpses (some from grave-robbing) into furniture, masks, and a female body suit. Grotesque dramatizations from Gein’s stunted life, drawn in a gritty noirish fashion, run just shy of comic exaggeration, and are amply skin-crawling. The exposition-heavy attempts to plumb his madness include a professor’s lecture to a cynical newsman about Gein being driven less by Freudian mother attachment than ny being a “classic necrophile” who was perhaps “in the grip of his own creepy religion.” The comic also examines how Gein became Patient Zero for much of modern horror—the muse of Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs, among others. This squirmy, nightmarish portrayal should appeal to the fans of the type of films Gein inspired. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Autumnal: The Complete Series

Daniel Kraus and Chris Shehan. Vault, $19.99 trade paper (232p) ISBN 978-1-939424-79-2

Kraus (The Shape of Water) and newcomer Shehan weave a creepy horror tale from the threads of past sins in a small town where malevolent forces lurk behind a picturesque facade. Kat Somerville’s mother sent her away when she was nine years old. Twenty-five years later, Kat is called back to Comfort Notch, N.H., for her mother’s funeral and to the home she’s inherited. When Kat and her daughter Sybil accept the generosity of a man who then suddenly dies (“He choked on leaves,” reports his young son), his widow blames Kat. As her life spirals into chaos, Kat becomes fascinated by rumors around Clementine Biddle, a woman said to live in the trees, and digs into the history of Comfort Notch, including a deadly fire at a skating rink in 1996, and learns that Clementine “always gets her revenge in the end.” It turns out the comforts of Comfort Notch come at a price: the blood of children just like Sybil. Superb, fall-toned art plays on a recurring theme of leaves. The gripping, violent plot and the sharply drawn mother-daughter dynamic at its core are a complex combo that will easily satisfy genre fans. Agent: Richard Abate (for Daniel Kraus), 3 Arts. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Ballad for Sophie

Filipe Melo and Juan Cavia, trans. from the Spanish by Gabriela Soares. Top Shelf, $24.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-60309-498-6

A moving saga of artistic rivalry, guilt, and redemption, this elegantly drawn graphic novel frames a famous pianist’s life story as a narrative reluctantly spilled to Adeline, an intern from French newspaper Le Monde. Growing up in 1930s France, Julien Dubois is a musical prodigy with a hard-driving single mother. But his talent can’t compare to that of François Samson, a poor janitor’s son, who physically levitates in his transcendent performances. Julien fixates on François, but François is more interested in protesting the occupying Nazis. Julien’s mother, on the other hand, is literally in bed with the invaders. Julien struggles to escape his mother and his old music teacher, Hubert Triton, drawn as a devilish goat who transforms Julien into a cheesy pop sensation renamed Eric Bonjour. After a lifetime of mental and moral torment, Julien tries to make amends and revive François’s name after his brooding rival’s quiet death. The final section reveals that Adeline has been concealing her own true identity, leading to a touching conclusion. Cavia gives each section its own muted, retro color palette and depicts his characters with fine, expressive angular lines. The result is a sweeping, enjoyably soapy story of frailty and reconciliation. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Waiting

Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, trans. from Korean by Janet Hong. Drawn and Quarterly, $24.95 trade paper (248p) ISBN 978-1-77046-457-5

Gendry-Kim (Grass) returns with an arresting portrayal of what happened to the families that were split apart during the frenzied migration of refugees from North to South Korea after WWII. Gendry-Kim’s considerable powers as a graphic storyteller breathe life into the tragic tale of Song Gwija, who grew up during the war in what would later become North Korea under constant threat from invading Japanese soldiers. Gwija, now in her old age, begs her adult daughter Jina to help locate her lost son, and Gendry-Kim brilliantly articulates the exasperation and sense of duty that characterizes their relationship. Their present-day narrative frames Gwija’s recollections of the war. In one of the most impactful artistic sequences, she watches a group of refugees crossing the country and realizes she and her family must flee as well. From tension with other migrants to the confused horror when American jets turn their guns on the caravan, Gwija’s exhaustion is palpable. The inevitable moment she is separated from her husband and son, and her subsequent panic and loss, hits powerfully. Back in the present, Gwija’s hope hinges on a program in which select families, separated by the division of the country, can win a lottery to be reunited—if only for a limited time. Throughout, Gendry-Kim’s inky brushwork evokes a rich sense of place, from the hostile, scrubby landscape of North Korea to the crowded alleyways of modern-day Seoul. Much like Thi Bui’s The Best We Can Do, this family portrait reveals in heartbreaking detail the impacts of colonization and political upheaval that reverberate for generations. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Crisis Zone

Simon Hanselmann. Fantagraphics, $29.99 trade paper (292p) ISBN 978-1-68396-444-5

Hanselmann (Seeds and Stems) trucks on with his gross-out dark stoner dramedy series Megahex. Here, the oddball cast contends with the Covid-19 pandemic and a world seemingly spiraling out of control. The lockdown quickly leads to desperation for the mentally ill and drug-addicted protagonists: perpetually high Megg dissociates from reality with the video game Animal Crossing, uptight Owl attempts to maintain order by threatening everyone around him at knifepoint, and nigh-sociopathic Werewolf Jones makes ends meet by becoming an online porn star, which eventually lands him a Netflix reality series called Anus King. Hanselmann’s deranged approach to comedy maintains its edge, particularly in one extended parody of/homage to action films. The plotting is haphazard, though, and the frequent attempts to satirize “psychotic conservatives and unhinged uber-leftists” come off as a smug indie-comix approximation of South Park. This more political line is hammered home in Hanselmann’s “director’s commentary,” which will pique the interest of devoted fans, but others will likely find the consistently terrible, misanthropic nature of the characters at odds with the series’ climbing up on a soapbox, which renders the humor more didactic than suits the surreality of the series. It’s an acquired taste. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Good Night, Hem

Jason. Fantagraphics, $19.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-68396-461-2

The legend of Ernest Hemingway is given a laconic, witty, and occasionally fantastical spin in this quirky three-part biography with fantastical elements from Eisner Award–winning Norwegian cartoonist Jason (I Killed Adolf Hitler). Tracking the arc of the novelist’s career, it begins in 1925 Paris then moves to Pamplona amid the crackling electricity of boozing, bed-hopping, literary striving, and fighting. Jason drops in cameos from F. Scott Fitzgerald and socialite Lady Duff Twysden, and (in a surreal twist) The Three Musketeers’ Athos. In recently liberated 1944 Paris, a lonelier and more self-aggrandizing Hemingway is at loose ends until he convinces an Army buddy to give him a plane for a Dirty Dozen–style suicide commando mission to take out Hitler with a “strike in the solar plexus of the Third Reich.” Finally, in 1959 Cuba, an old and tired Hemingway tries to tell one last story: that of Athos, the out-of-time musketeer. Through it all, Jason’s focus remains on Hemingway, as the melancholic pugilist who never felt at home no matter where or when he is. As in previous works, Jason renders his people as bipedal dogs, birds, and other creatures in human attire with pupil-less eyes, giving them all an equally haunted look. It’s a splendidly curious addition to one of the greatest bodies of work in modern comics. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula

Koren Shadmi. Life Drawn, $24.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-64337-661-5

Shadmi (The Twilight Man) delivers a poignant graphic biography of horror star Bela Lugosi (1882–1956) that depicts the Dracula actor’s real-life and on-screen personas with equal aplomb. Interspersing Lugosi’s dying days of morphine-induced hallucinations (colored in sepiatone) with black-and-white flashbacks, the brisk history narrates his rise to silver screen success, his extravagant lifestyle, self-delusions, and (many) marriages and divorces against Hollywood’s evolution from the silent era to the glut and decline of horror pictures. Shadmi’s artwork flows in uncomplicated but immensely expressive lines. Cartoon caricatures of figures including Boris Karloff, James Whale, and Tor Johnson are instantly recognizable, while Lugosi’s vampiric glare hits appropriately chilling, with detailed scene-work conveying the moody atmosphere of films such as Dracula or White Zombie. Both humorous and heartbreaking, Lugosi’s final screen appearance in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space closes the book with a triumphant curtain call: “Perhaps I am... immortal,” Lugosi muses. Shadmi smoothly blends characterization with chiaroscuro to perfectly spotlight Lugosi’s uncanny magnetism. On the screen—and in this fine portrait—his legacy lasts. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Love Me Please!: The Story of Janis Joplin

Nicolas Finet and Christopher, trans. from the French by Montana Kane. NBM, $24.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-68112-276-2

Solid art and thorough research make for a serviceable but unexceptional rock biography, ticking off the key points in Janis Joplin’s life, from her youth in the sleepy town of Port Arthur, Tex., to her escape into the San Francisco hippie scene, to her sudden, tragically brief ascent to rock stardom. Joplin’s mood swings are on display from her early life; and as she dives into 1960s counterculture, her appetite for booze, drugs, sex, and excitement (she hustles pool and picks fights with Hell’s Angels) is depicted as sometimes liberating, but more often desperate and dangerous. The only constant is her musical talent, which awes her fellow musicians even as she struggles to find success. Christopher’s art glows when the Summer of Love hits full bloom, with collage-style psychedelic excess, but in other sections the art can be workmanlike. Finet’s script strains to contain Joplin’s turbulent life into one volume, with abrupt jumps (her entire European tour is covered in a single two-page spread). The intensity of Joplin’s music and spirit sporadically shine through, but the book’s central theme—her search for love in all the wrong places—remains underdeveloped. This import provides a starter summary, but Joplin’s larger-than-life talent demands a bigger venue. (July)

Reviewed on 07/30/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Canciones of Federico García Lorca

Federico García Lorca and Tobias Tak, trans. from the Spanish by Tobias Tak. NBM, $24.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-68112-274-8

Tak (Upside Down) transforms legendary Spanish writer Lorca’s lyric poetry into whimsical comics narratives. Echoing the rhythms of fairy tales and nursery rhymes, Tak’s sensitive line work and delicate pastel color palette create a coherent visual setting for Lorca’s alternately joyous and somber song-poems. Many of the originals are set in nature, such as “The Deceiving Mirror,” and Tak turns these pastorals into vignettes featuring a host of magical creatures, such as a melancholy tree man. The metaphorical aspects of Lorca’s love poems, such as “It’s True!” are rendered as fanciful journeys across colorful landscapes. While most of the images track closely with the hand-drawn text, in both English and Spanish, Tak occasionally inserts silent panels with sequences that bolster the narrative quality of his adaptations (such as a ship sailing into the horizon). The inclusion of Dalí-esque imagery (both a clock and an eye are found in a desert) signals Lorca’s love of that painter’s work. Tak’s adaptation picks up the playful spirit of Lorca’s poems to go beyond simply illustrating the text, creating a delightfully magical hybrid. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/30/2021 | Details & Permalink

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