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Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights

Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico. Ten Speed, $19.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-399-58179-3

The fight for women’s rights perseveres through incremental progress, frustrating setbacks, and persistence in this wide-ranging history, with glorious gains celebrated along the way. Organized somewhat clunkily as a field trip through time (beginning in 4500 BCE and continuing to present day) led by an adorable, purple-skinned artificial intelligence, writer Kendall and artist D’Amico explore women’s courageous activities and activism, such as those of the shield-maidens of the Viking Age, or Josephine Baker’s espionage work on behalf of the French Resistance during WWII. The earliest chapters suffer from confusing panel layouts and stiff illustration, but this awkwardness gives way to lavish depictions of the fight for suffrage and the Harlem Renaissance. Kendall and D’Amico manage the challenge of inclusivity with aplomb. Lesser-known black activists, disability rights advocates, and Native American leaders are portrayed with the same fulsome treatment as household names such as Susan B. Anthony, all with an accessible tone and striking portraiture. Perhaps the largest omission is that of a bibliography—those looking to explore the sources relied upon are left without citations. Still, what is accomplished in these lively, jewel-toned pages speaks for itself. Agent: Charlie Olsen, Inkwell. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Swimming in Darkness

Lucas Harari, trans. from the French by David Homel. Arsenal Pulp, $24.95 (152p) ISBN 978-1-551-52767-3

Harari melds academia, obsession, and mysticism in this eerie graphic novel about a young man traveling through a mysterious network of mountainside baths. Pierre, a French grad student who dropped out of school after a mental breakdown, decides to confront the object of his obsessive thesis: the Vals Thermal Baths in Switzerland. Along the way, he learns there’s a legend that “every hundred years, the mountain chooses a foreigner, lures him into its mouth, and swallows him up.” Pierre encounters a rival who will stop at nothing to gain the bath’s secrets, a woman also fascinated by their maze, and an eccentric hermit who tells him the legend is true. Harari works in a clear line with a sickly pastel palette, and his attention to architectural detail is crucial in establishing the strange, sinister mood. Disappearing doors, murder attempts, and unexpected romance all lead Pierre to his inevitable destiny with the mountain. This is a stylish, atmospheric book whose deliberate pacing deliciously builds tension and mystery. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Two Dead

Van Jensen and Nate Powell. Gallery 13, $19.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-5011-6895-6

The plot rocketing this dramatic, socially conscious crime story is fictional, but its fuel is the true tales that Jensen (Cryptocracy) dug up as a crime reporter. The graphic novel starts in 1946 with clean-cut but haunted war hero Gideon joining the Little Rock, Ark., police force. He’s tossed into a car with his opposite: Chief Bailey, a cigar-puffing volcano of an officer, whose mind is unraveling. Together, the men knock the legs out from under the sadistic Mafia psychopath running Little Rock’s seamy criminal underbelly. The standard buddy cop narrative is given fresh weight by Bailey’s delusional mania (“I am the cleansing flame”). Told in parallel is the tortured family history of African-American brothers Jacob and Esau, who are operating on either side of the law, and yet must both face the biblical fury and collateral damage of Bailey’s vendetta. Jensen further tangles the narrative with vividly depicted historical detailing, such as the militia-like black police force that operated in tandem with the white police. The noirish, harshly shadowed art from Powell recalls his work on March, with a brutal dusting of Frank Miller. The Southern gothic atmosphere and sedimentary layers of guilty consciences read like one of the (better) seasons of True Detective. This lurid, violence-spattered crime graphic novel might be made up, but the questions it raises are a real gut punch. Final color pages not seen by PW. Agent: Charlie Olsen, Inkwell (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Spring Rain: A Graphic Memoir of Love, Madness, and Revolutions

Andy Warner. St. Martin’s Griffin, $19.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-250-16597-8

Drawing parallels between Lebanese political unrest and his own mental health struggles, Warner’s intricate graphic memoir of his months spent in Beirut as a college student in 2005 resists simplistic clichés. When he arrives, Lebanon is still partially occupied following a 15-year civil war, but is flourishing in the delicate peace. Warner, who warns “I come off like an idiot,” is fresh off a breakup and befriends a diverse posse of mostly queer expats. They dance, travel, do drugs, hook up, and learn about Lebanese history. After the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, Lebanon’s old demons surface, and Warner is plagued by escalating paranoia and an abstract, unnameable darkness. Lebanese “revolution” doesn’t lead directly to meaningful change, and Warner doesn’t “fix” his mind by quitting drugs or finding a therapist, though he does begin to heal. Warner’s artwork is tidy, detailed, and expressive, and he proves a confident illustrator of cityscapes, star-strewn canyons, and creepy hallucinations alike. If the final quarter of the book feels a bit meandering, it could be blamed on realism: there’s no clean narrative for the turmoil of a mind or country in unrest. Warner’s work honors the richness of Lebanon and the fragile, fleeting nature of peace. Agent: Farley Chase; Farley Chase Agency (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Go to Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood

Lucy Knisley. First Second, $14.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-250-21149-1

Knisley (Kid Gloves) captures the frantic and fantastic follies of early parenthood in this endearing collection of pen-and-ink comics. “These little sketchbook cartoons,” she writes in her introduction, “are my effort to feel less alone and crazy at a time when most people feel alone and crazy.” After her son was born, she recorded his growth spurts, tantrums, and vaccinations alongside her own entrance into motherhood. Knisley delights in her son’s discovery of the world around him, his “intoxicating baby smell,” and the plethora of adorable hats she dresses him in, but she doesn’t shy away from the more onerous aspects of caring for a newborn. Hours are spent pleading with him to stop crying, longing for the return of his nanny, and changing an endless series of blown-out diapers. In a section on breastfeeding, Knisley differentiates between nursing in autumn (“snugly-cozy”) and summer (“sticky-sweaty”); to alleviate pain, she illustrates fantasizing about patenting “The Detachable Boob” or body armor “for your tender milk meats.” Her spare linework conveys both the agony of an infant’s scrunched-up wail and the wonder of his perfectly rounded fingertips. Such observations make for a charmingly honest and humorous account of raising babies. Agent: Holly Bemiss, Susan Rabiner Agency (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Illuminati Ball

Cynthia von Buhler. Titan Comics, $29.99 (88p) ISBN 978-1-78773-221-6

Themes of fame, wealth, medical ethics, and animal rights infuse this fantasy of misguided revolution, a graphic novel adaptation of an immersive theater show also created by Buhler (Minky Woodcock). Five strangers gather in a country house in Upstate New York as candidates for initiation into a secret society: the Illuminati. However, it’s soon apparent that their hosts, a collection of masked men and women, are not as they seem. Rather than urbane elites, they are painfully naïve innocents whose misunderstanding of the world dooms their best-laid plans. Their gruesome history as subjects of a mad scientist’s medical experimentation unfurls as they mingle with the candidates, who in turn reveal their characters as they learn their hosts’ secret. With bold black lines and saturated color, the art has the static and iconic feel of stained glass images, heightening the air of near-religious mystery. The story’s origin as a theater piece is well-represented via interspersed song and dance numbers, but it never quite inspires a suspension of disbelief in the reader, and the abrupt ending feels rather pat. While not conveying the same oomph as a live performance might, this elegantly drawn book will still attract fans of burlesque and dystopian visions alike. (Oct.) Nonfiction Religion

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Holy Hannah

Will Dinski. Uncivilized, $24.95 (550p) ISBN 978-1-941250-36-5

Dinski (Trying Not to Notice) delivers a trenchant tale about a religious cult, loosely based on the notorious Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple of the late 1970s. At the opening, Hannah is a once-successful tech entrepreneur with OCD issues who is isolating herself from the world. Then she runs out of money and options, and meets Noah, who is fascinated by an app she has developed called Know Me. Noah draws her into the Church of Love and Devotion, a congregation run by the charismatic, ruthless Reverend Carpenter. Hannah falls under Carpenter’s spell and begins sleeping with him. Carpenter eventually secludes the entire congregation on a private island, leading to catastrophe. In the end, Hannah, sadder but wiser, muses on the nature of belief systems, determining that they are mostly subjective—“It’s only true when enough of us believe it to be so”—but they are also, perhaps, necessary: “Someday I’ll need to pick something.” Dinski’s skillful, simple line drawings are bolstered by the clever, meta formatting: the small black volume resembles a pocket bible, complete with a yellow ribbon marker. This vivid, involving parable about the dangers of cult thinking grinds a sharp point toward the foibles of modern-day would-be gurus. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Nancy

Olivia Jaimes. Andrews McMeel, $14.99 (144p) ISBN 978-1-5248-5325-9

It’s been a long time since a shake-up of a traditional newspaper serial strip attracted as much attention as this clever reboot, drawn by pseudonymous cartoonist Jaimes (whose identity is hotly speculated). Jaimes’s version of the venerable 80-year-old strip reads, on the surface, like a parody of an old property trying to reinvent itself as hip and edgy. In this collection of Jaimes’s first year in on the joke, Nancy gets addicted to social media, joins her school’s robotics club, and voices the preoccupations of a high-tech millennial. The strip mocks its own new direction, jokingly showing Nancy riding a Segway and declaring “Sluggo is lit”—a panel that immediately became an internet meme. Beneath the infinitely recursive irony, Jaimes’s sensibility is remarkably similar to that of Nancy’s creator, Ernie Bushmiller, whose extreme simplicity and penchant for fourth wall–breaking visual gags are now praised by critics as cartooning at its purest. If Bushmiller’s work was so hypersincere it came off as sardonic pop art, Jaimes’s is so hypersardonic it comes back around to sincerity. There’s solid character humor, too, as Jaimes develops Nancy’s personality and introduces new friends such as the perpetually crabby Esther. The basic art evokes Bushmiller’s familiar figures while at the same time establishing its own contemporary stripped-down style. This gift-market-ready collection will be sought after by fans of the daily comic and is poised to broaden its readership. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Chasing Echoes

Dan Goldman and George Schall. Life Drawn, $19.95 (152p) ISBN 978-1-64337-537-3

Charting the highs and lows of multigenerational dramedy, this graphic novel depicts one family’s search for their roots with cinematic grace and economy. At the center of the ensemble is Malka, the hot mess in a Jewish-American clan that includes goofy hipster cousin Dov, preppy-perfect vegan cousin Noah, and her Uncle Jack. Jack dreams of finding his father’s mill in Poland, but is reluctant to bring Malka and her drama along (he buys her a ticket in an Ambien-induced haze), despite the fact that she’s the unofficial family archivist. Jumping back and forth between 1930s Poland and the present day, Goldman (Shooting War) folds in creeping fascism in the U.S., neo-Nazi sentiments in Europe, and the question of whether the Japanese internment was a concentration camp without overcrowding the narrative or seeming (too) on the nose. With confident line work, savvy page layouts, and keen instincts for what to depict in close-up, cartoonist Schall is an ideal collaborator. Malka’s arc wraps up a bit too smugly, when she yells at a neo-Nazi who doesn’t speak English, which apparently empowers her to toss her antidepressants. But, like chicken fat in matzo balls, a little schmaltz never hurt anyone—so it is in this enjoyable, multidimensional misadventure. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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An Incurable Case of Love

Maki Enjoji. Viz, $9.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-974709-31-1

Enjoji (the Happy Marriage?! series) returns with a josei manga—or manga geared toward women—featuring a promising, if perhaps overly familiar, opposites-attract scenario set in a busy hospital. Five years ago, Sakura Nanase met medical resident Kairi Tendo when they both helped an old woman who collapsed on the street. Inspired by this brief, one-time meeting, she dedicates her life to becoming a nurse—and nurtures tender feelings for Tendo (“This man is... the prince I’ve been waiting for!”) who she hopes to find again. But when she gets assigned to train with him on her first day as a nurse, she receives a rude awakening: he doesn’t remember her and harshly rejects her advances. Tendo has a reputation as a difficult boss and plays like a Mr. Darby type. But, while her romantic dreams may be dashed, Sakura focuses on her patients and realizes she loves her profession for its own sake. Enjoji’s artwork is typical of the genre, with exaggerated reactions and dramatic angles, but the hospital setting is distinctive. Workplace details fill in Tendo and Sakura’s world and ground the narrative. Despite the clichéd setup, Sakuro’s character development and the unusual details of the medical workplace setting make this a series worth following to the next volume. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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