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Plutocracy: Chronicles of a Global Monopoly

Abraham Martínez, trans. from the Spanish by Montana Kane. NBM, $24.99 (144p) ISBN 978-1-68112-268-7

Martínez’s bleak cautionary tale, his English-language debut, paints a future wrought by the consequences of allowing politics and wealth to govern as one. In the year 2051, excessive corporate growth reaches its zenith as the last remaining powerhouses merge into a single entity: The Company. The Company stakes itself as a one-world government, seizing power via control of employment, healthcare, and politics; shares in the company become votes counted in elections; and market forces guide legal policies. When Homero Durant quits his job as one of the Company’s detectives, he sets out to discover its real history and the hidden agenda of the government members—who seem a little too keen for him to investigate. Homero ends up discovering what makes a “socio-capitalist” society tick, while never losing his own humanity. Martínez’s script brims with tension, and his drawings combine thick inks and agitprop styling. Characters gape with exaggerated facial features, but the overall mood is muted by the sickly industrial-green color palette. This eye-opening outing will carry an unsavory sense of familiarity for many readers in this troubled time. Agent: Stephanie Barrouillet, SBRights Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Paul at Home

Michel Rabagliati, trans. from the French by Helge Dascher and Rob Aspinall. Drawn & Quarterly, $21.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-77046-414-8

In the latest installment of Rabagliati’s long-running series of semiautobiographical comics (Paul Goes Fishing, etc.), Paul is in his early 50s and stuck in a downward spiral. Divorced, he draws comics, holds strong opinions on typography, worries about his daughter leaving the nest, and tends to his mother’s mounting health problems. His attitude at middle age is summed up by his declaration, “I hate change! Especially when it’s useless!” Rabagliati draws the exurban Quebec setting with panache, lavishing attention on vintage architecture and signage, and his coolly abstracted characters have an art deco gloss. But the world around them, through Paul’s perspective, is overgrown with symbols of decay. The trope of the misanthropic crank cartoonist is all too familiar, and it’s a wrench to see Paul fall prey as he ages; indeed, long gone is the Paul of earlier works, a neurotic but more openhearted teenager. The rare moments of grace center on his relationship with his mother, a flinty woman who faces her own mortality without fear. Though there’s enough to hook newcomers, this volume is best enjoyed by readers who have been following the characters through the years. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott

Zoe Thorogood. Avery Hill, $16.95 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-910395-56-1

Thorogood’s impressive, prickly debut features struggling young British painter Billie Scott, who has just landed her first gallery show when she interrupts two bullies in an alley, gets punched in the head, and starts losing her vision. Determined to complete “ten portraits of ten interesting people” before her eyes fail her, she sets out on the rail line and makes her way to London in search of subjects. Her rambling quest takes her through a bachelorette party that busts through on the train, a homeless shelter, a junkyard encampment, and other personality-filled hangouts. Forced out of her comfort zone, Billie learns to truly see others and develops a special bond with Rachel, a busker trying to launch a music career. Thorogood’s art retains rough edges, and over the course of the narrative develops an arrestingly cluttered, high-energy style suggestive of Paul Pope and Farel Dalrymple. Billie, a rumpled figure sporting freckles, a baseball cap, and wary eyes, stalks through pages packed with startlingly fresh details and buzzy atmosphere, with patches of spot color adding variety. This expansive story of an artist’s journey embraces both the power of art and human connection and showcases a new comics talent. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Party

Tomi Ungerer. Fantagraphics, $19.99 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-1-68396-372-1

Despite the specificity of the period setting, the purity of the fury powering this acid-etched graphic novel from Ungerer (The Underground Sketchbook) feels both timeless and of the moment. A 1966 countercultural classic now in long-overdue rerelease recounts a “most, most wonderful party” given by Mrs. Julia Van Flooze in East Hampton that is ostensibly to celebrate the return of a well-connected senator from “a fact finding trip in the Orient.” There, a parade of society swells—patrons of the arts, Boston Brahmins, business tycoons, the odd European royal—dances and drinks the night away. But the contrast of the purposefully flat text with sparse and slashing black pen produces something like a society column of the damned. Illustrating the ugliness of the upper class with brutal effect, Ungerer twists the crowd into ever more bestial contortions as the night goes on. The effect is nightmarish, like Ralph Steadman on a bender: here a man with rats’ tails hanging out of his eye sockets and swiss cheese for a tongue, there a woman feeding her dinner to a gaping mouth in her stomach. This antiestablishment satirical masterpiece practically vibrates with class war rage and will resonate with similarly inclined contemporary readers. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Geographic Tongue

Rodney Gomez. Pleiades, $19.95 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-0-80717-398-5

There’s a temptation to treat the unexpectedly devastating poems in Gomez’s experimental collection as puzzles to be unlocked. Some appear like maps or mazes, while others resemble PowerPoint presentations or other bits of corporate detritus. Gomez makes it clear there will be no major reveal (a diagram in the last section of the volume is labeled, “you haven’t had any closure”), but the lyricism of the text makes for a collection that goes beyond just questioning meaning-making. The first of five short sections circles around “history written in slaughter/ written on the body of migrants.” Gomez’s lines become the destroyed bodies, and readers mourn them as such. The subject matter of the middle sections winds through less cohesive territory, but wields incisive literary and visual wit, as with a poetic Mad Libs that invites readers to insert one of three words written on wheels: “with,” “word,” or “wound”; and “loved,” “died,” or “flew.” The reader throughout is made both a cocreator of the text and to some degree helpless: Sometimes letters just accumulate in a pile like a mass grave. But sprinkled throughout these jarring visions are oddly reassuring mantras: “Accepting the truth has more grace than any power to end.” Gomez’s poems uplift even as they undercut, and vice versa, which may be why this work—for all its abstraction—feels searingly real. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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On a Roll! A JumpStart Treasury

Robb Armstrong. Andrews McMeel, $19.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-524861-62-9

Thirty years after Armstrong’s comics brought diversity to the funny pages of America’s major newspapers, this humor strip retrospective perfectly packages the uncommon vision and exuberant creativity of its skilled creator. The misadventures of married couple Joe (a cop) and Marcy (a nurse) Cobb harken to sitcoms centered on African American public servants like Family Matters (which also debuted in 1989) while presenting complicated portraits of police officers. The treasury edition allows readers to follow Joe and Marcy in a narrative arc from dating to pregnancy to parenthood, and the best bits involve the Cobb children—dreamer son JoJo, overachieving daughter Sunny, and mischievous twin babies Teddy and Tommi. Meanwhile, Marcy’s quest to reunite a dying wealthy woman with her estranged daughter supplies surprising depth. Armstrong has an invigorating but straightforward drawing style, and his take on everyday life is combined with a sprawling imagination (for example, how he constructs conversations between the Cobb twins in the womb), which reveals the influence of Charles Schultz, who was a friend—Armstrong lent his last name to Black Peanut kid, Franklin. Like other lasting national syndicated strips, Armstrong’s are successfully grounded in his particular American chronicles by consistently finding the comedy in ordinary lives. Both for fans of Armstrong’s since their youth and those catching up, this will be a welcome gift. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Okay, Universe: Chronicles of a Woman in Politics

Valérie Plante and Delphie Côté-Lacroix, trans. from the French by Helge Dascher. Drawn & Quarterly, $21.95 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-77046-411-7

This upbeat mini-memoir celebrates the opportunities of democracy through one barrier-breaking politician’s run for local office. Plante, the first woman elected as mayor of Montreal, was an activist working for nonprofit groups when she announced, “Okay, universe... I’m ready for a new challenge!” just in time for the group Action/Reaction Montreal to approach her about running for city council. Remembering that “men overestimate their qualifications by 30 percent and women underestimate theirs by 30 percent,” she put her fears behind her and got to work. Her husband and two daughters supported her as she biked around town, knocking on doors, raising funds, assembling a volunteer campaign team and a wardrobe, and talking to voters as she built a winning platform. She dealt with sexist comments and misogynist graffiti on her posters, but also found allies and constituents eager to support her. Plante focuses on the nitty-gritty, grassroots experiences of launching her political career, and ends before her mayoral run. Côté-Lacroix’s bright painted art, blocking out Montreal and its people in bold shapes and colors, complements Plante’s optimism. This inviting and accessible blueprint will appeal to anyone, but will particularly resonate with women who are keen to get involved in politics. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Please Don’t Step on My JNCO Jeans

Noah Van Sciver. Fantagraphics, $14.99 trade paper (92p) ISBN 978-1-68396-375-2

Eisner nominee Van Sciver (Fante Bukowski) returns with a hit-or-miss collection of autobiographical short comics culled from alt-weekly newspapers, ranging from mini-memoir and existential musings to gag strips. The strongest concern Van Sciver’s childhood, where he was the second-to-youngest in a large, downwardly mobile family. In one six-episode tale, he recalls going trick-or-treating at age 14, unable to resist one last attempt at preserving childhood. In another poignant and funny episode, Van Sciver remembers a “magical moment” when a kind stranger gave him a box of snack cakes, which Van Sciver proceeded to hide away to eat later. Other comics, set in the present, highlight moments when Van Sciver suddenly comprehends the inescapable responsibilities of being an adult—or just riffs a bit, as when he makes an obvious joke when his girlfriend needs a stud-finder tool, which he then proceeds to run into the ground. But he returns to the cartoonist-on-a-deadline trope far too often, resulting in strips that feel forced and uninspired, often with weak punch lines. His art maintains its goofy, self-deprecating style, his self-portrait grimacing and hunched. It’s an overall lighthearted grab bag that should appeal chiefly to Van Sciver’s devoted fans. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Quick and Easy Guide to Consent

Isabella Rotman. Limerence, $7.99 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-62010-794-2

Rotman (Wait, What?: A Comic Book Guide to Relationships, Bodies, and Growing Up) delivers a slim but cogent comics guide for readers curious about what exactly makes up “affirmative consent.” Sergeant Yes Means Yes acts as the narrative cruise conductor, helping several example couples navigate consenting to sexual activity. The cheery Sergeant uses slideshows to explain such issues as how impaired judgment due to drugs and alcohol affect one’s capability to give consent, age of consent laws, considerations around sending nude photographs, and more. Heterosexual couples are evenly mixed with queer couples represented in an upbeat cartoony art style. The Sergeant talks to a gay couple about the intersection of kink and consent, and to multiple people of different races on disclosing STI status. A helpful nine-page list of terms and communication prompts, including a “yes, no, maybe so” list, which can be filled out by the reader, are also included. The message lands as especially relevant for younger adults or older teens who are just beginning to date, but this could provide a refresher course, too, for anyone who is struggling with communication in relationships. Along with the other titles in the Quick and Easy series, Rotman’s upbeat primer would fit well on college sex-ed syllabi and in school libraries or guidance counselor’s offices. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/25/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Kimiko Does Cancer

Kimiko Tobimatsu and Keet Geniza. Arsenal Pulp, $16.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-55152-819-9

Tobimatsu navigates the daily consequences of living with breast cancer as a queer woman in this direct, yet gentle-voiced, debut graphic memoir. At 25, the lawyer notices a lump in her breast. The diagnosis is indeed what she feared, albeit a treatable form of cancer. She deals with conflicting opinions on whether chemo, sets of drugs, or even a preventive mastectomy are the answer, as well as various side effects from drugs and friends who don’t get why she can’t party anymore. Her girlfriend and she try to pause their relationship drama, but “knew things had to end,” even though her partner had understood “more than anyone else about how cancer had affected” Kimiko. Meanwhile, her parents care, but can’t truly understand, and, as a politically active Asian-Canadian, Kimiko finds the predominant culture’s “We kick cancer’s butt” narrative false. But as she goes into remission, what emerges is a woman who has learned to care better for herself. Geniza’s expressive figure drawings show a keen eye for the close-up, with a simple color palate of muted blues, blacks, and grays that call to mind Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. Kimiko’s strong debut offers a fresh perspective in the growing graphic medicine category. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/25/2020 | Details & Permalink

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