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Bog Bodies

Declan Shalvey and Gavin Fullerton. Image, $12.99 (96p) ISBN 978-1-5343-1330-9

Set in the Irish countryside during a broodily drawn night, this fast-paced, cheekily cynical crime thriller suggests a Guy Richie movie with a heavy brogue. Killian, a small-time Dublin crook, is hired for a job by his slippery contact Keano, only to discover too late that he’s the real target. Stumbling through the woods with killers on his tail, he runs into a teenage girl called Neev and gets her entangled. The fast-paced action plot bubbles over with bloody violence, rapid-fire dialogue, and black comedy, with just enough character development to make it more than edgy posturing. The art is blocked out in thick lines, deep shadows, and bold washes of color. The characters’ faces, nearly always twisted by smirks, gasps, or grimaces, are nicely observed. Shalvey and Fullerton evoke a seedy noir vision of modern Ireland, where the cities are nests of crime, peat country is where the bodies are buried, and everyone speaks in filthy rat-tat-tat slang. When a character calls a particularly brutal slip-up “the most Irish thing I’ve ever seen,” the reader will be sufficiently drawn into Shalvey and Fullerton’s world to agree. That same reader may be disappointed by the brevity of the volume and its abrupt ending. Until it skids to a halt, though, this is an endearingly bumpy ride. (May)

Reviewed on 06/05/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Moms

Yeong-shin Ma, trans. from the Korean by Janet Hong. Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95 (372p) ISBN 978-1-77-046400-1

While billed as a comedic tribute to Ma’s mother, sometimes it’s hard to tell if Ma’s English-language debut is laughing with or at his deluded cast. Drawn in a bare-bones style reminiscent of a manhwa-ized Chester Brown, this deadpan ensemble dramedy follows a group of middle-aged Korean women who toil at menial jobs while texting, trysting, and fussing over their shiftless lovers with the energetic abandon normally associated with people their own grown children’s age. Lee Soyeon has survived a bad marriage to a gambling addict and raising three kids, only to be saddled with bad boyfriend Jongseok, a philandering waiter with a drinking problem. Jongseok doesn’t hide for long that he’s also dating a wealthier woman, a revelation which leads to endless dithering from Soyeon about breaking up with him, and even a street fight. Soyeon’s BFFs are little better off: Yeonsun throws herself at a series of abusive men; Yeonjeong meets a hottie at the gym but he turns out to be gay; and so on. A subplot about starting a workplace union sparks some light in the grubbiness. But, while the moms’ constant reversals on their declarations they’re done with the dating game may be recognizable for readers, at over 300 pages, things tend to drag on, and the narrative feels as repetitive as Soyeon’s declaration that her “standards are high.” (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/05/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Bye-bye Lisa Doro (Streamliner #1)

’Fane, trans. from the French by Ivanka Hahnenberger. Magnetic, $24.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-942367-47-5

’Fane drops readers head-first into a high-octane gearhead fantasy tricked-out with the graphic equivalent to a nitrous injector. In 1963, the Red Noses, outlaw “streamliner” hot rod drivers, invade the desert home of alcoholic engineering genius Evel “Pops” O’Neil, a legendary driver, and his feisty mechanic daughter, Cristal. There in the fuel station lot the Noses will race to determine the new leader of their club, and their current chief, Billy-Joe, presides over the proceedings, but when a drunk Pops is tricked into putting up the property as part of the prize, inexperienced Cristal must race to save their land. Further complications arise with the scrutiny of the FBI and the arrival of the Black Panties motorcycle gang (a tough-as-nails all-female outfit aiming to humiliate the boys at their own game), a fugitive killer, and professional assassins sent by the Feds. This ongoing series has energy to burn and bold, colorful artwork reminiscent of 2000 AD’s Cam Kennedy and Ian Gibson spliced with the stark wastelands of Moebius, culminating with a cliffhanger that will leave readers eager for the next installment. With aesthetics straight out of the 1960s craze for drag racing and biker movies, this winner crosses the finish line with aplomb. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/05/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Ghostwriter

Rayco Pulido, trans. from the Spanish by Andrea Rosenberg. Fantagraphics, $19.99 (96p) ISBN 978-1-68396-318-9

Spanish cartoonist Pulido makes his English-language debut with this arresting, chiaroscuro-steeped psychological thriller. In 1943 Barcelona, the apparently heavily pregnant Laia works as the ghost writer for “Dr. Bosch,” the fabricated host of a popular radio advice program. Her due date nearing, Laia hires Mauricio, a sleuth who cracks cases with hypnosis, to track down her missing husband. While investigating, Mauricio uncovers discrepancies in Laia’s tale of a disappeared devoted spouse, along with suspicious glimpses of secrets Laia’s keeping, such as scratches criss-crossed on her upper thighs. A cache of dynamite is eventually revealed, along with Laia’s unraveling mental health. This intense but comedic noir’s quirky proceedings are granted an unsettling edge by Pulido’s winsome, minimalist black-and-white art. Pulido has a cinematic eye for graphic storytelling, spinning a web of deceit and betrayal embedded in critique of patriarchal attitudes about a woman’s role in marriage. The enigmatic tale is recommended for genre readers seeking a classier flavor of pulp fiction than the standard femme fatale and shoot-’em-up fare. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/05/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Redbone: The True Story of a Native American Rock Band

Christian Staebler, Sonia Paoloni & Thibault Balahy. IDW, $19.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-68405-714-6

The origins of Redbone, a Native American rock band, is recalled episodically in this forthright, largely upbeat chronicle, anchored by interviews with one of the founding members, Pat Vegas. The story opens in 1962, as music manager Bumps talks Los Angeles–based Pat and brother Lolly Vasquez into anglicizing their last name to Vegas, because “white guys like to stick together.” Later, with the encouragement of Jimi Hendrix, the duo instead embraces their identity and welcome fellow Native American musicians Tony Bellamy and Pete DePoe into the fold. Redbone gains popularity, culminating in their 1974 million-selling hit, “Come and Get Your Love.” They also perform overtly political songs about Wounded Knee and become vocal about the grim conditions of Native American reservations. This political awakening is balanced with lighter episodes and trivia, such as when Pat accidentally calls the Queen of England “babe.” Though Redbone breaks up in 1975 due to a combination of internal tensions and music industry politics, the brothers soon retool and continue to play on. Throughout, Balahy’s loose, energetic drawings; imaginative layouts; and playful use of color make everything pop. It all adds up to an entertaining, enlightening history for music fans. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/05/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Tiananmen 1989: Our Shattered Hopes

Lu Zhang, Adrien Gombeaud, and Améziane. IDW, $19.99 (112p) ISBN 978-1-68405-699-6

While “Tiananmen” calls up the famous image of a single citizen facing down a tank, Zhang’s information-dense graphic memoir, cowritten with journalist Gombeaud, details the larger student-led movement for political reform behind the protest that culminated in the Chinese military killing hundreds, perhaps thousands, at Tiananmen Square. A young professor at the time, Zhang describes how earnest young leaders formulated demands to further the cause of democracy in China, heady with readings from the French Enlightenment. Their idealism collides with the gritty realities of hunger strikes, the privations of living outdoors, and chaos from internal disagreements. The overambitious scope keeps the narrative from hitting a stride, and its dual purpose as educational and personal history chafes against the slim page count, overstuffing the comics format. Zhang is often depicted on a stage delivering large blocks of dialogue, and the scene of the bloody climax of the protest is given over to the words of a BBC reporter, while text boxes overlay tantalizing glimpses of the exuberance and exhaustion of the protesters, who seem to beg to be the focus of the story. While the effort gives due context to the protest, readers looking for emotional resonance may be left disappointed. (June)

Reviewed on 05/29/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Unrig: How to Fix Our Broken Democracy

Daniel G. Newman and George O’Connor. First Second, $28.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-25-029530-9

Political activist Newman presents an enlightening and alarming—but ultimately hopeful—take on the causes of what he sees as America’s ailing democracy and offers strategies to repair the damage. He breaks down the ways in which corporations and “dark money” influence political candidates and electoral outcomes: “The rules let politicians choose their voters, instead of the other way around.” Newman lays out his theory that the agenda of billionaires such as the Koch brothers and Betsy DeVos is to render government virtually irrelevant by sowing partisan gridlock, hollowing out safety nets like social security, and packing courts with operatives (such as Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts) who will actively rule in favor of voter suppression and gerrymandering. In opposition to these far-right schemes, Newman highlights progressive political initiatives designed to boost citizen participation, including the “Democracy Vouchers” program implemented in Seattle in 2015, which provides vouchers to voters so they can donate to candidates of their choice, and ranked-choice voting, currently implemented in Maine and several U.S. cities. The energetic drawings by O’Connor (the Olympians series) effectively bolster Newman’s occasionally packed-in text throughout, ending with an effective call to arms. This cogent plea for democracy is fueled with an urgency that should initiate debate and inspire action. (July)

Reviewed on 05/29/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics

Tom Scioli. Ten Speed, $28.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-984856-90-6

Scioli (the Gødland series) injects oomph into the already-energetic life story of the “King of Comics” through sweeping narrative and Scioli’s trademark detailed page layouts. Told from the point of view of Kirby (1917–1994), the biography also acts as a history of the comics industry, from early strips to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Beginning with Kirby’s hardscrabble upbringing in Manhattan’s Lower East Side (remarkably similar to the back history he later gave the Thing, one of his most endearing creations), Scioli extensively documents the artist’s career and personal life through a chummy and casual first-person narrative. Scioli recreates many of Kirby’s panels from superhero, war, crime, and romance comics—threaded through Kirby’s own experiences as a soldier and in love, for example—while his pompadour-adorned, wide-eyed figure of Kirby seems to pop from the page among a more realistically drawn supporting cast, just as his own heroes stood out as larger than life. Fans of Kirby’s most famous Marvel comics will especially enjoy recollections of his collaboration with Stan Lee, which established the Marvel Universe in the 1960s. This is a must-read for Kirby fans, and beyond—it captures the mythos of the of the 20th century comic industry’s golden age. Agent: Bob Mecoy, Creative Book Services. (July)

Reviewed on 05/29/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Seeds and Stems

Simon Hanselmann. Fantagraphics, $29.99 (367p) ISBN 978-1-68396-309-7

Following up Bad Gateway, this profane batch of Megg, Mogg, and Owl stories collects rare and little-known comics from Hanselmann’s Megahex series. It’s an unrelenting, brutal look at addiction, abuse, and mental illness in Hanselmann’s signature sketchy, mainly dichromatic style: witch Megg and her familiar/boyfriend Mogg perpetuate their cycle of doing drugs with perpetually high Werewolf Jones, insult and injure their roommate Owl, and bicker as Megg slowly falls in love with Booger, the transgender boogeyman. Particularly notable is the previously uncollected material from Hanselmann’s Werewolf Jones and Sons zines (illustrated by Grant “HTMLFlowers” Gronewold), which greatly expands on the character’s abusive relationship with his children, and “Megg, Mogg, and Michael Snow,” one of three early strips from Hanselmann’s first Megahex zine. This volume is exceptionally gruesome, as characters gouge out eyes or attempt gory suicide on-panel, and a short sci-fi comic, “Halo Chamber,” includes pedophilia. Though Hanselmann’s obsessions may be beyond the pale for many readers, his devoted fans and those fascinated by humanity’s darkest aspects will find a wealth of material here. Agent: Alesandra Sternfeld, Am-Book (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/29/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Sky Is Blue with a Single Cloud

Kuniko Tsurita, trans. from the Japanese by Ryan Holmberg. Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-77046-398-1

This consummate collection of manga shorts by Tsurita (1947–1985), the first volume of her work to be translated into English, exemplifies how she stood out on the early alternative scene. While many of her themes echoed those of her male contemporaries—the political unrest of the 1960s, cynicism mixed with comedy, self-insertion of author as narrator—Tsurita’s work illuminated the lives and perspectives of women. “65121320262719,” for example, observes a woman on the edge of the student protests that dominated Japan in the period. The character’s male friends use her home as a base of operations, but she feels powerless to stand up to authority herself: “Like you said, I’m really just a law-abiding citizen at heart!” This cynical view of women’s place in progressive movements is juxtaposed against pieces that probe women’s interior lives, such as “Occupants,” which depicts two women, one androgynous, in a complicated sexual relationship, emphasized by turbulent ocean imagery. An extensive essay by Mitsuhiro Asakawa and Holmberg grants more insight into Tsurita’s life and how her diagnosis with lupus informed her pensive comics about death and dying, such as “Yuko’s Days” and “Arctic Cold.” Her artwork blends comedy with languid surrealism, as influenced by Shigeru Mizuki as it is by Aubrey Beardsley. Tsurita gets her due in this retrospective; though she died too young to see her legacy take hold, her place is akin to that of a Trina Robbins in the formation of indie manga, making this essential reading for fans of underground comics. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2020 | Details & Permalink

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