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Kyle Theory: A Vulga Drawings Book

Lily O’Farrell. The Indigo Press, $16.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-911648-30-7

O’Farrell’s sketchily drawn cartoons, first rolled out over Instagram, get assembled into this fluffy introduction to feminist ideas and grievances, though there’s no breaking any new ground here. In a loose frame story, a woman educates an online troll—drawn as a green Shrek-like monster—on feminism. This leads into stand-alone gags ranging broadly across women’s issues such as sexual harassment, armpit hair, sexist movie tropes, and the preponderance of guys who respond to criticism with “not all men.” In the parlance of O’Farrell, “A ‘Kyle’ is anyone who reinforces sexism,” though women can be Kyles, too. Some of the longer pieces are wittiest, among them a survey of “Men Throughout History Who’ve Started Drama” (on Jesus: “Faked his own death, dramatic as hell”) and a list of creative uses for the red flags a bad-news dude will wave in warning. But the flat, clip art–esque style doesn’t add much humor or visual interest, and few of the jokes or political concepts are fleshed out beyond the simplest send-up. The formula works better in daily online posts or social media feeds, rather than in a printed volume. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Ninjak, Book 1

Jeff Parker, Javier Pulido, and Beni Lobel. Valiant, $14.99 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-68215-410-6

In this spirited new direction for the title character, scripted by Parker (the Agents of Atlas series), someone’s killing off British agents across the globe, which calls for the return of Colin King, the master spy and warrior known as Ninjak. Less experienced agent Myna gets catapulted into Ninjak’s cryptic world to help him halt a pair of superpowered terrorist siblings—Kingmaker and his telepathic sister Syphon—who are stealing state secrets and assassinating spies on both sides of the Atlantic. Parker pokes fun at the conventions of spy and hero comics with clones, deadly choking leis, and bounty hunter trio Growler, Giant, Gale (a tongue-in-cheek wink to characters from the X-Men). The main draw, though, is the bright, bombastic art by Pulido (the Human Target series). His bold-lined figures zip and zoom through vertical panels and double pages, complementing the sweeping, high-adventure action. Pulido’s coloring’s crackerjack, too; brilliant shades make the characters pop like kinetic animation. Unfortunately, the change of artist to Lobel (the Smallville series) halfway through the final chapter jars and saps the narrative’s energy. More disappointingly, the volume ends on a frustrating cliffhanger. Still, most of this vibrant, good-looking adventure thrills in all the right places. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Django, Hand on Fire: The Great Django Reinhardt

Salva Rubio and Efa, trans. from the French by Matt Madden. NBM, $19.99 (88p) ISBN 978-1-68112-287-8

The brilliant jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910–1953) is given a high-drama origin story in this graphic biography scripted by Rubio and drawn by Efa, who collaborated previously on Monet: Itinerant of Light. Efa paints the early years of Reinhardt’s life in lushly romantic, historically detailed panels with characters given comically exaggerated facial renderings that recall the Pixar treatment. Growing up fatherless in a Roma community outside Paris called The Zone in the 1920s, the scrappy, teenage Reinhardt was tilting into delinquency when the gift of a banjo “charged with all the magic of American music” sent his life rocketing on a new trajectory. He began practicing until his fingers bled, and then one night heard jazz through the door of a nightclub that refused him entry and was transported. Soon, bands vied for the services of the rakishly arrogant, lightning-fingered teenager who blew his earnings at the card table and never learned to read. Just as his career was taking off, a fire left Reinhardt with third-degree burns and a nearly amputated left hand. But with stunning determination and cocksure arrogance (“I am the best in the world, after all”), he fought his way back into the music that gave his life meaning. The slim page count also leaves the story feeling truncated, though it mirrors the tragic early death of Reinhardt. It’s a passionate rendering of a fiery life that will leave readers wishing it did not end so quickly. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Animal Stories

Peter Hoey and Maria Hoey. Top Shelf, $19.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-60309-502-0

The Hoeys, the Eisner-nominated brother-and-sister team behind the Coin-Op series, present a delightfully strange collection of linked stories pondering just how little people truly know about animals. Each tale is based on an initially mundane animal-human interaction that pivots into more unreal, ominous territory drawing more from noir, the Bible, and The Twilight Zone than cozily reassuring pet tales. Some setups are constructed around mysteries: a schoolgirl who tends pigeons on her building’s roof starts getting alluring messages in “ghostly cursive” delivered by a bird with obscure origins; a man wonders where his cat disappears to over days and nights. Others have benign premises (a park groundskeeper is annoyed a couple lets their dog off the leash) but take wild turns (the park may actually be the Garden of Eden). The twists range from straight comedy (the dog who turns out to be the president of the United States) to eerie iterations of animal autonomy (the bird who refuses “to play the fool, whistling and begging for crackers”). The precise and brightly colored art has a blocky clarity that renders the characters like avatars in a simulation game, suggesting behind-the-scenes manipulations. This thought-provoking graphic story collection shines with curious humor found in unexpected connections. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Chef’s Kiss

Jarrett Melendez and Danica Brine. Oni, $14.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-62010-904-5

Bon Appétit contributor Melendez blends his culinary skill and knack for fiction into a perfect mix of romance and self-discovery in this charming graphic novel. Ben Cook has just graduated college with the dream of landing a publishing job but has absolutely no professional prospects, a secret he’s keeping from his helicopter parents. In desperation after more than a dozen unsuccessful interviews, he lands a job at vegetarian eatery Cochon Doré and dives headfirst into something school could never have prepared him for: his own miniature MasterChef gauntlet to win a full-time gig. The biggest hurdle? Ben’s budding crush on cutie sous chef, Liam. The final arbiter of Ben’s fate? Watson, a quiet and enigmatic food critic. Artist Brine is a perfect collaborator for this lightly fantastical tale; her characters are expressive, with Ben’s emotions palpable on the page, and playful touches including Ben imagining other characters as fairies or goblins. Hank Jones’s coloring and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s lettering give Brine’s linework room while adding vibrant, fun pops to spotlight the script’s sillier elements. Throughout, the characters are well-done, with Watson a highlight, and the romance is heightened by the emotional fulfillment of Ben’s difficult journey into adulthood. This enticing tale is sweet and satisfying. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Time Zone J

Julie Doucet. Drawn and Quarterly, $29.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-77046-498-8

Doucet (Dirty Plotte) returns to autobio comics after departing the scene to focus on fine art and poetry (“I had vowed never ever to draw myself again” she reflects in the opening pages) with this brave and playful graphic memoir that lands as a full-bore visual assault. Free-flowing recollections, based on Doucet’s diary entries, gradually develop into the story of her long-distance relationship with a French soldier she calls “the hussar” and their eventual meeting in Paris. In between, Doucet imagines the past as “a big sugary milkshake” and spills her experiences with art, writing, fantasies, fears, the community of DIY artists that thrived in the zine scene of the 1980s and ’90s, and anything else that comes to mind. Each page is a collage of faces and body parts—friends, celebrities, advertising images, animals, cartoon characters, and Doucet herself—crowding out any hint of negative space as word balloons struggle to squeeze through the cracks. The overall impression is one of a wave of dreams, memories, and associations pouring over the reader all at once. To anyone expecting an orderly narrative, Doucet warns, “This book was drawn from bottom to top. Please read accordingly.” Doucet is renowned as one of the pioneers of Gen-X indie comics, but this feels like a throwback to the 1960s underground and its trippy embrace of chaos. At the same time, it’s entirely her own statement. Both longtime and new fans will be rewarded by this frenetic missive that warrants multiple read-throughs. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron

Julia Quinn and Violet Charles. Avon, $19.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-0-06-295859-4

Based on a novel-within-a-novel from Quinn’s blockbuster Bridgerton series, this tongue-in-cheek send-up of Gothic melodrama aims for high comedy but fails to take off. Tragic heroine Priscilla Butterworth wanders through outlandish misadventures before landing at the manor of the reputedly mad Lord Savagewood. Fibbing her way into a position as lady’s companion to Savagewood’s grandmother, Miss Butterworth piques the brooding lord’s interest and uncovers a plot against his life. The characters’ outlandish travails include rampaging wild boars, lightning strikes, cannibalism, drug-addled pigeons, and murder attempts straight out of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. All of which ought to be funny, but the characters are caricatures, the plot jumps around too wildly to follow, and the manic artwork doesn’t fit the period. The characters are inconsistently drawn big-eyed lumps, a choice likely to disappoint Bridgerton fans who expect well-lit beauty and elegance along with humor, and the barely sketched-in backgrounds don’t give much impression of the era, either. There’s plenty of fodder for graphic novel adaptations in the Bridgerton universe, but this feels rushed and lacks a firm grasp on the dynamics of visual storytelling. Agent: Steve Axelrod, the Axelrod Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Forest

Thomas Ott. Fantagraphics, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-68396-516-9

Ott’s wordless graphic novella showcases his mastery of haunting black-and-white illustration with its images of quiet menace. Told through a series of full-page etchings on black scratchboard (using the technique of scratching away light marks from a dark top-layer), the narrative introduces a boy with haunted eyes who runs away from a family funeral and into a deep, dark forest, where he encounters a series of disturbing sights: a faceless, hairy monster; a floating nude woman; a path of bones. He stands staring into the forest, and the reader is held at the precipice with him. But his dreamlike descent into the land of the dead is less horrific than it first seems, and the boy’s silent quest leads him to a reconciliation with loss. The brief story and its parable about grief passes quickly, but there’s plenty to pore over in each delicately rendered page. Ott excels at evoking a vast, shadowy wilderness that dwarfs the human characters and infuses every scene with melancholy and foreboding. Lovers of classical illustration techniques and eerie art will be drawn to this simple but elegant fable. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality

Molly Muldoon and Will Hernandez. Limerence, $7.99 trade paper (72p) ISBN 978-1-62010-859-8

The latest installment of the Quick & Easy series delivers a welcoming and informative guide for “asexual people, folks questioning whether they might be ace, and anyone hoping to understand more about asexuality,” from cocreators (themselves “two rad aces”) Muldoon (the Cardboard Kingdom series) and Hernandez. Hernandez’s cheerful, cartoony art is well-suited to the lighthearted tenor of the series, and their expressive characters underscore the absurdity of some misconceptions about the asexual (or “ace”) community, such as when deconstructing “Ace Stereotypes,” exemplified by the robotic “asexual genius type” of Star Trek’s Data character, or detailing “The Spectrum of Asexuality” with an unexpectedly nuanced and extended metaphor about cake. The team follow the series format, providing a trim but informative package, and do an excellent job moving from a big picture definition of asexuality to more insightful discussions, including discovering one’s sexual identity or facing challenges that can arise, whether it’s dating or disbelieving doctors. A useful resource list is included to help address some of those deeper questions. This is a clear-cut primer for readers looking to support an ace person in their own life or those questioning their own identity. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Strays

Chris W. Kim. SelfMadeHero, $19.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-910593-99-8

A nameless man in a nameless city tries to find a purpose for his drifting life in this ghostly graphic novel by Kim (Herman by Trade), who opens things elliptically, showing glimpses of a drilling accident that appears to have devastated an entire town. A survivor seeks refuge, moving in with his sister Carey and looking for a job. With scant history provided and few interests, the protagonist appears relieved to find work as a delivery driver, telling Carey, “I missed the routine.” His emptiness is staved off only as he starts running into other acquaintances from home, now trying to get by, and he decides to care for these strays. But they don’t seem to be as keen on his help or as interested in him as he is in them. Rendered as a shadowy, unspeaking, and somewhat looming crowd of stoic laborers, the strays lose their jobs and end up following the man mutely to various shelters while waiting passively for new employment. Kim’s closely hatched, woodcutlike etchings render even simply drawn scenes into dramatic, often haunting visions. This eerie metaphor for modern isolation hits its subject squarely, but the sense of disconnection felt by Kim’s cast may keep readers similarly at bay. Despite some missteps, this story of lonely purposelessness will hit close to home for many in pandemic times. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/03/2021 | Details & Permalink

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