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The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History

David F. Walker and Marcus Kwame Anderson. Ten Speed, $19.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-984857-70-5

This nuanced, accessible history of the Black Panther Party doesn’t shy away from the complexity of the political movement, nor does it fall into the trap of painting the diverse group as uniformly heroes or villains. “The Black Panthers became mythical—and it can be difficult to separate myth from reality,” explains Walker (The Life of Frederick Douglass). He opens the narrative long before the Party’s official founding in Oakland in 1966, showing why Black civil rights activists eventually saw problems with nonviolent reform in the face of violence from white supremacist mobs and state officials alike. Bobby Seale’s famous speech from the steps of the California State Capitol building in 1967 resonate today: “Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, and demonstrated... to get the racist power structure of America to right [its] wrongs.” Other key Panther figures, such as Huey P. Newtown and Eldridge Cleaver are provided concise profiles. Artist Kwame Anderson balances text and images skillfully, and even the wordiest sections feel spacious, while he lends cinematic visual pacing to the many heated interactions between activists and police. “While the year is different, the times are the same,” Walker concludes in an afterword written in May 2020. “Writing this book broke my heart.” This concise yet in-depth guide offers a timely resource for activists, history buffs, and students alike. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Comic Book Guide to Growing Food: Step-By-Step Vegetable Gardening for Everyone

Joseph Tychonievich and Liz Anna Kozik. Ten Speed, $19.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-984857-26-2

Equally charming and useful, this illustrated introduction to gardening is a delightful resource for anyone looking to dig into homegrown veggies. Tychonievich, editor of Rock Garden Quarterly magazine, keeps the tone light and directions simple, framing the guide around a conversation between two neighbors—a technophobic gardening expert and an iPhone-loving novice. The amiable gardening expert astutely refrains from being overly ambitious, instead advising his novice neighbor to keep her gardens small, grow relatively hardy veggies, and (most important) to plant things she loves to eat. Sometimes overly corny, the repartee includes jokes like multiple “number one” rules. Most helpful are how-tos on topics such as building raised beds, dealing with bugs, and deciding which plants to buy, as well as clear instructions on how to fertilize, mulch, and plant. Kozik takes loving care with the bright visual details of the flora and fauna, drawing vegetables, weeds, and insects with specificity such that readers should be able to recognize them in their own backyards. Her art takes the book up a notch, filling what could be a dry instructional manual with verdant leafy spreads and cute cartoony details. This pleasant and unintimidating manual should be a go-to for any comics fan dreaming of sustainable salads. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Lost Soul

Olga Tokarczuk and Joanna Concejo, trans. from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Seven Stories, $22.95 (48p) ISBN 978-1-64421-034-5

Nobel Prize–winning Polish novelist Tokarczuk (Flights) teams up with artist Concejo for an elegant, meditative parable about isolation and redemption. The minimal text opens with “Once upon a time” and describes John, a workaholic businessman in existential crisis who feels “as if the world around him were flat, as if he were moving across a smooth page in a math exercise book, entirely covered in evenly spaced squares.” As he loses all sense of identity, a wise doctor diagnoses his spiritual malaise: “The world is full of people running about in a hurry... and their lost souls always left behind.” John decides to cease his frantic lifestyle in the hope that he and his soul can reunite. Tokarczuk’s poetic sensibility matches perfectly with Concejo’s hushed, evocative drawings, which comment abstractedly on the story, depicting humans in Hopper-esque isolation from each other and the natural world, until they eventually interact and integrate. As they do, the monochromatic pencils gradually incorporate rich hues of green and orange, representing life again in balance. This sincere collaboration invites readers to reflect upon existential themes on their own terms. It’s a soothing balm for tense, jagged times. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Muhammad Ali, Kinshasa 1974

Jean-David Morvan, Rafael Ortiz, and Abbas, trans. from the French by Jessica Burton. Titan Comics, $29.99 (136p) ISBN 978-1-78773-620-7

Morvan (Bramble) turns his focus to photographer Abbas and other major players circling one of Muhammad Ali’s most famous fights in this gritty, action-packed hybrid work of photography and comics art. On Oct. 30, 1974, Ali fought heavyweight champion George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, in what came to be known as the “Rumble in the Jungle.” Abbas was on the scene, and this volume showcases the powerful photos he took that night, juxtaposing them with drawings. Ali was expected to lose the fight, which was “like a circus,” but pulled off a stunning win. Besides chronicling the action in the ring alongside Abbas’s story as a spectator, the narrative profiles promoter Don King, Foreman, and Ali. Other side stories include Zairean president Mobutu Sese Seko’s battle against Western influence and Foreman showing up with his German Shepherd. Abbas’s lens captures “the power of intellect over brutality,” beside the muted color panels by Ortiz. The result effectively charts how the fight played out and breathes new life into the history, but the concept of mixing the media aims high and doesn’t quite land the punch as explosively as hoped. The fight has been covered in countless ways, and though this unique take on it is a bit of a mixed bag, it still lands plenty of punches. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Day I Divorced God

Tamosan, trans. from the Japanese by Ailie Brotherton. Digital Manga, $15.95 mass market (128p) ISBN 978-1-56970-391-5

Tamosan follows up The Day I Was Forced to Marry God, her manga memoir of growing up in a strict Jehovah’s Witness congregation in Japan, by opening up about life with her husband and their young son on their “journey toward reclaiming ‘normal.’ ” Now separated from their congregation and feeling the “25 years spent believing were a complete waste,” Tamosan discovers that she lacks many of the crucial skills of “worldly” society, such as holding down employment and enrolling her child in secular school. She lands a job at a bakery, learns to save money, discovers mainstream holidays and customs, and is baffled by the basics of fashion (“It’s farewell to all my floral-print dresses!”). All the while, her mother and mother-in-law, still members of the Witnesses, fight to bring Tamosan and her husband back into the fold. Tamosan’s art has grown considerably more polished in this sequel, but remains simple, readable, and emotionally direct, equally effective at expressing fiery family arguments and the quiet joy of indulging in a once-forbidden Frappuccino. Though Tamosan and her family often struggle, the overall mood is of discovering joy in the day-to-day. “To think I believed that this gentle, kind world would be destroyed in Armageddon,” she marvels. That perspective-granting glimpse into her recovery sums up the hopeful tone of this autobio charmer. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Day I Was Forced to Marry God

Tamosan, trans. from the Japanese by Ailie Brotherton. Digital Manga, $15.95 mass market (146p) ISBN 978-1-56970-390-8

In this emotionally raw debut memoir manga, Tamosan describes growing up in, and eventually breaking with, a Jehovah’s Witness congregation in Japan. Tamosan’s conversion begins with her mother taking her to “English lessons” that consist of reading religious tracts. Over time, Tamosan is forced out of “worldly” activities and pushed toward a future in “pioneering,” or constant evangelizing, and becomes troubled by the congregation’s insularity, encouragement of child abuse, and practice of shunning sinners and ex-members. But, she meets a like-minded young man in the Witnesses and builds a stable marriage, until their young son’s need for a blood transfusion forces a crisis of faith, given the Witnesses’s opposition to the procedure. Tamosan doesn’t mince words in her belief that her former religion is a cult and a “poverty industry.” Written originally for a Japanese audience who may be unfamiliar with Christianity in general, let alone its fundamentalist sects, the framing is as an exposé of exotic practices. Some details will be familiar to Westerners (handing out copies of The Watchtower), while others are unique to Japan (Jehovah’s Witness–branded chopsticks). The wobbly art features big-headed characters emoting against scribbly backgrounds. There are some rough edges in this outing, but Tamosan’s vulnerability and anger make for a captivating account of life in a restrictive religious community. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Bad Mother

Christa Faust and Mike Deodato Jr. Upshot, $9.99 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-953165-02-2

A suburban mom’s descent into the criminal underworld makes for a bloody yet oddly flat action-satire from Faust (Peepland). April, a middle-aged mother of two, lives a strained life dealing with a sassy teen daughter, her younger son (who’s off to camp for the first time), PTA meetings, and loads of laundry. But when her daughter is kidnapped by henchmen of Ava, the queen of the local drug trade, April’s motherly instincts turn out to be the only thing that might be able to save the day. It’s hard not to love April, who manages to build a bomb with household cleaners and a discarded action figure, but the cast beyond her is thinly drawn. Ava is especially stereotyped: the tension between her stylish, spin-class-attendee facade and illegal activities intrigues, but goes nowhere except some peeks up her skirt. Deodato’s jaggedly inked visuals lend a satisfying grit to the suburban setting, and he gives April a solid realism, but recalling his 1990s Wonder Woman R-rated pinup, he slides in opportunities to pulp things up, rendering catty moms shopping for produce in a bikini top and miniskirt, for example. At its worst, the characters are reduced to shabby noir cliches, as when Ava derides April’s life for being like a “Lifetime movie of the week,” whereas she prefers “R-rated content.” This satirical comic sparks off with an attention-grabbing premise but, unfortunately, just fizzles. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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United States of Banana: A Graphic Revolution

Giannina Braschi and Joakim Lindengren. Mad Creek, $19.95 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-0-8142-5786-9

Braschi (Empire of Dreams) adapts her poetry collection, with Swedish artist Lindengren, into an incisive if sometimes mystifying critique of colonialism in graphic form. Braschi, Zarathustra, and Hamlet sustain a conversation with the Statue of Liberty that morphs into the story of Segismundo, a Puerto Rican man obsessed with unpacking Puerto Rico’s colonial history. This core conceit is wrapped in layers of strangeness, meandering subplots, and bizarre elements. Besides the four main characters, the tale is packed with appearances by a variety of historical figures and art that echoes myriad influences. Donald Trump and Don Quixote occupy neighboring panels, poet Rubén Darío pops up, and artists such as Edvard Munch, Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, René Magritte, and M.C. Escher all make cameos. The amalgamation is stimulating to the point of overwhelming, presented as an exercise in “thinking through big ideas aloud,” but absent the explainer introduction by a pair of academics, the density of imagery and allusion in this heady mix begs for more organizing structure. Metatextuality, pastiche, and intertextuality coexist with David Bowie, pop culture, and Abraham Lincoln, but nothing gets enough space to shine. Agent: Tess O’Dwyer, Tess O’Dwyer Nonprofit Management (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Daphne Byrne

Laura Marks and Kelley Jones. Hill House, $24.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-77950-465-4

PEN Award–winning playwright Marks’s eerie period fantasy, her comics debut with artist Jones (the Deadman series), plunges readers into a gaslamp-era New York City haunted by shadows of death. After teenage Daphne’s father dies under suspicious circumstances, her mother becomes entranced by spiritualism in hopes of communing with the afterlife. Daphne suspects her mother’s new favorite medium has ulterior motives. Meanwhile, Daphne, cursed with genuine spiritual sensitivity, gets haunted by visions of the dead and of a ghostly “brother” who encourages her budding necromantic powers, promising that “the only way to feel safe is to be a monster.” The tale’s packed with horror set pieces: séances, Satanic rituals, mouldering cemeteries, and a spiritual underworld of ghosts and demonic entities. But the plot’s hard to follow, especially Daphne’s hairpin character turn from wary-eyed psychic sensitive to ruthless killer. Jones delivers on his horror cred with creepy mobs of monstrous creatures, but his human portraits are surprisingly uneven, with facial features that sometimes seem to be sliding off skulls. The collaboration feels right on the verge of coalescing into a powerful horror plot before collapsing into mere scares. There’s enough moody gothic atmosphere here to satisfy voracious horror fans, but it’s not top of the genre. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Psi-Lords, Vol. 1

Fred Van Lente and Renato Guedes. Valiant, $24.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-68215-352-9

Van Lente (The Comic Book Story of Basketball) and Guedes (Superman series) revive the story line of a Valiant mid-list title from the 1990s, streamlining with panache the original into a fast-paced cosmic adventure peppered with action-movie one-liners (“Why can’t we ever meet anybody nice in space?”). Four superpowered humans—Tank, Beacon, Artisan and Hazard—awaken in an alien prison with their memories erased. With help from a Professor X–like telepath calling himself Scion, they escape into a kind of starship graveyard, a swarm of alien spacecraft trapped in orbit around a dying “vampire star.” Immediately thrust into battles between warring alien powers, they’re forced to form a super-team before they can begin to figure out who they are or how they got there. The heroes travel to vibrantly drawn worlds and encounter imaginatively designed alien species, like a race of tiny cat people and a crystal-eating critter. Guedes’ European-influenced art, rather a Heavy Metal look without the cheesecake, tends to an occasionally fussy photorealism that can make action scenes tricky to track. But overall he effectively conveys a space-opera scale. Fans of cosmic superheroes like Green Lantern, Silver Surfer, and the Guardians of the Galaxy will want to hop on this ride through the far reaches of outer space. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 12/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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