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Everything Eventually Connects: Eight Essays on Uncertainty

Sarah Firth. Graphic Mundi, $21.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-63779-068-7

Overflowing with candor, humor, and the messiness of life, Firth’s graphic novel debut meditates on philosophical questions through a microbial lens. Divided into eight chapters with titles like “Desire Lines” and “We Were Here,” topics include why she “falls into the net” of news and pop culture available on her smartphone, even when hiking in nature; the drudgery of daily tasks like scooping cat litter and washing dishes; and the essence of identity and selfhood (“Some say the self is pure consciousness... the saying ‘just be yourself’ is weird”). Drawn in bright, sometimes haphazardly arranged comics, Firth’s explorations often take off from seemingly mundane experiences, like finding a slug in the shower (“So many common things are... wonderful and strange”), or wondering why it feels right to cut an orange one way and not another. Firth occasionally interweaves her musings with quotes from contemporary thinkers (Bill Bryson, Teju Cole, Oliver Sacks, and Rebecca Solnit, among others), and she covers such personal struggles as addiction, being bullied as a teenager, and encountering the world as a neurodiverse adult. It’s a looping narrative, as Firth herself admits: “I can trust myself to have a wild mind.” For those willing to go along for the ride, Firth’s joyful and discerning tangents offer plenty of rewards. (June)

Reviewed on 05/31/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Oddly Pedestrian Life of Christopher Chaos

James Tynion IV, Tate Brombal, and Isaac Goodhart. Tiny Onion, $24.99 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-5067-3672-3

This energetic action-horror hybrid cowritten by Tynion (the Something Is Killing the Children series) and Brombal (The World of Black Hammer series) finds teenage mad scientist Christopher Chaos struggling to understand his atypical mind: “I think I see the very threads that stitch our world together,” he confides to his only friend, a pigeon. But when he accidentally discovers that the cute guy in drama club is a werewolf, Christopher is plunged into an underground society that includes a vampire who calls himself Dracula Boy, a goth girl who can summon ghost cats, and a Frankenstein’s monster, all of whom are stalked by a cult of monster hunters. There’s plenty to keep the pages turning even without supporting characters like police officer Jesse Tombs, who’s trying to get to the bottom of a series of supernatural attacks. The parallels between monstrosity and queer identity are skillfully drawn, and Goodhart’s clean, firmly inked art has an offbeat dynamism reminiscent of Mike Allred and Mike Mignola. The mood of the art shifts effortlessly as the script arcs between superhero-style action, gothic horror, steampunk, and fantasy. It’s a madcap delight. (June)

Reviewed on 05/31/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies: The Collected Conceits, Delusions, and Hijinks of New Yorkers from 1974 to 1995

Stan Mack. Fantagraphics Underground, $50 (336p) ISBN 978-1-68396-916-7

This hefty and hilarious anthology collects more than 300 of Mack’s Village Voice strips depicting conversations overheard on the streets of New York (“All dialogue guaranteed verbatim,” he claimed.) Like a crowded apartment building, the volume’s chock-full of stubborn individuality, and the joy and pathos of urban life. Mack’s signature scratchy lines and animated expressions make each page a microworld that reveals New York in a glimpse, with the whirling street theater of shoppers, art lovers, politicians, pigeons, muggers, strippers, and more. The pope visits Battery Park as hundreds stand in the rain kvetching (“C’mon Pope, shake a leg!”); commuters jostle for space on the Long Island Railroad (“Forget about it, I’m going back to my office with two cans of martinis!”); roaches skitter through Lower East Side apartments; the NYPD hassles a driver in Manhattan and accepts a $40 bribe. Mack admits that not all the dialogue was verbatim after all, but it certainly sounds like it, echoing the period in its frank—sometimes off-color—talk and attitudes. Nostalgic New Yorkers, who may have a clip from Mack’s strips already on their fridge, will eat this up, as will those who love the city from afar. Agent: Liz Nealon, Great Dog Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 05/31/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Second Hand Love

Yamada Murasaki, trans. from the Japanese by Ryan Holmberg. Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95 trade paper (228p) ISBN 978-1-77046-718-7

With this exquisite collection, Murasaki (Talk to My Back), who died in 2009, shores up her legacy as one of the most insightful and captivating creators of alternative manga in the 1970s and ’80s. Most of the book comprises the masterfully understated graphic novel A Blue Flame, which tells the story of an affair in a series of searing vignettes. The protagonist, Emi, is seeing a married man she sometimes perceives as a predatory “wolf,” other times as “my shadow.” Having ended things with her sexually disinterested fiancé, she dodges men’s efforts to draw her into a more conventional relationship. “Who needs security when you have warmth?” she asks herself, but as the affair wears on she decides that neither is as important as self-respect. The title story follows Yuko, a café owner whose relationships with men are clouded by memories of her father’s infidelity. Also included are illustrations drawn for Mita Masahiro’s 1997 novel A Loving Family and a 1985 interview with Murasaki, whose loose but impeccably clean linework matches the raw simplicity of her storytelling. The result is a perfect introduction to Murasaki’s heady feminist dramas. (June)

Reviewed on 05/31/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Nasty: The Complete Series

John Lees and Adam Cahoon. Vault, $19.99 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-63849-209-2

This rollicking dark comedy from Lees (the Mountainhead series) and Cahoon brings Britain’s 1980s “video nasty” moral panic into the spotlight in a delightfully updated way. Shy Scottish teen Graeme “Thumper” Connell loves B-movie horror films so much that he seemingly conjures his favorite star, a masked slasher called Red Ennis, to be his imaginary friend. As Red follows Graeme through his young adult life, the narrative also tracks the rise of conservative activist Cynthia Crudgill, who sets out to destroy the media she believes is corrupting England’s youth. Graeme, along with his best-friend-in-scares Meera and a cast of fellow teenage “murder club” enthusiasts, sets out to save his favorite video store from closure by making their own “video nasty” to bring in crowds. But after a rare, cursed tape breaks in the video player, Red starts to become gradually more real—and Graeme must reckon with greater threats than losing his favorite hobby. With wry art that alternate betweens goofy and gory, the narrative dips slyly into the politics of censorship, and celebrates the passionate community that comes from rebelling against it. The result is a perfect blend of history, heart, and kitsch. (May)

Reviewed on 05/24/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Proxy Mom: My Experience with Postpartum Depression

Sophie Adriansen and Mathou, trans. from the French by Montana Kane. NBM, $19.99 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-1-68112-334-9

In this gentle and accessible portrayal of a mental health crisis, Adriansen (Nina Simone in Comics) and Mathou draw on their experiences as mothers to tell the fictionalized story of Marietta, who becomes clinically depressed during the final trimester of her pregnancy. Though she’s eager to have a baby with her partner Chuck, Marietta finds pregnancy a cycle of “patience and pain.” After giving birth, she struggles to bond with baby Zoe, has trouble breastfeeding, and descends into despondency, anxiety, and loneliness. “I can’t be present for both her and me,” she thinks. “That’s asking too much.” Chuck, who has two children from a previous relationship, is a skilled and supportive parent, leading Marietta to reflect that he has more maternal instinct than she does. She fantasizes about having a cheerful, flawless “proxy mom” to take over for her. Gradually, she develops a connection with her daughter and begins to feel more confident in her parenting. The brightly colored, gently rounded cartoon artwork, full of well-observed drawings of infant care, provides an upbeat counterbalance to Marietta’s dark nights of the soul. New parents who need to hear that they aren’t alone will find reassurance in this candid tale. (June)

Reviewed on 05/24/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Science of Ghosts

Lilah Sturges and El Garing. Legendary, $23.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-68116-086-3

Sturges (Girl Haven) and Garing deliver juicy pulp thrills in this queer paranormal murder mystery. “To me, ghosts are evidence,” forensic psychologist Joy Ravenna explains as she searches crime scenes for spectral witnesses. She butts heads with her ex-wife, a police officer who left when Joy came out as trans, but finds support from her girlfriend, Cat. Then Joy gets tangled up in the haunted history of Haskell House, a mansion built with a firearms fortune that contains decades of dark family secrets. When one of her friends is arrested for a murder that may have been committed by a ghost, Joy communes with the house’s spirits to unearth the truth. Garing’s no-nonsense art, reminiscent of old newspaper soap-opera strips, starts out stiff but finds its rhythm as the story unfolds. The queer community Joy inhabits provides a vivid, authentic-feeling backdrop, and her trans identity adds an extra dimension to her determination to probe the wrongs of the past for the sake of those living in the present. Sturges hits all the standard pleasures of crime fiction: mystery, action, steamy sex scenes, and showdowns with scheming villains. Though the story wraps up in one volume, readers may wish for a sequel. This soars. Dara Hyde, Hill Nadel Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 05/24/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Heart That Fed: A Father, a Son, and the Long Shadow of War

Carl Sciacchitano. Gallery 13, $29.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-982102-93-7

In this potent graphic novel, cartoonist Sciacchitano (The Army of Dr. Moreau) unpacks his father’s war stories. After signing up for the Air Force in 1965, college dropout David Sciacchitano was sent to Vietnam, where he witnessed enough horrors—Viet Cong prisoners left to die in the sun, U.S. advisers tortured and executed—to cause nightmares that he half-jokes are so constant “you almost miss them when they don’t show up.” Sciacchitano takes an open, curious approach to digging into the origins of his father’s rage, which his dad insists is not PTSD (“Enough of this Oliver Stone shit,” David snaps at Carl’s mother). Unlike many children of Vietnam veterans, Sciacchitano heard plenty (“It’s hard to remember a weekend with my dad that didn’t revolve around bowls of pho and war stories,” he writes), but the narrative is still structured as an investigation, with Sciacchitano interviewing David, conducting research, and reconstructing his father’s memories. Subtly sketched, with pops of emotive rawness in dialogue and evocative drawings, the book elegantly braids David’s professional arc (military, Foreign Service, war victims’ NGO work) with his psychological journey. The result is a complex and empathetic portrait of war and its consequences. Agent: Anjali Singh, Anjali Singh Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 05/24/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Self-Esteem and the End of the World

Luke Healy. Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95 trade paper (148p) ISBN 978-1-77046-714-9

A graphic novelist consumed by climate anxiety confronts a series of personal and professional setbacks in this inventive if uneven autofiction from Healy (The Con Artists). Luke is gobsmacked when his twin brother Teddy asks someone else to be best man in his wedding. (“Luke is a bit of a mess right now,” Teddy says, explaining his decision to their mother.) The slight, combined with Luke’s creative burnout (he hasn’t published a book in two years) and overwhelming fears of ecological catastrophe, sends him into a tailspin. The story then skips ahead five, 10, and finally 15 years into a speculative future plagued by floods. Having abandoned cartooning to sell life insurance, Luke is perplexed when one of his early comics is optioned for the screen. On a visit to the set, he toys with the idea of sabotaging the big-budget production. Healy balances self-effacing humor with evenhanded introspection over pages of neat, efficient cartooning. His satire of the wellness industry—Luke relies on an app called Head for affirmations voiced (not coincidentally) by his brother—is sharp and touching, and Luke’s bantering relationship with his forthright mother is another highlight. The decades-jumping narrative sprawls, however, and some fanciful conceits (such as the pair of mice playing Greek chorus to Luke’s crisis) fall flat. The result is a playful but unwieldy portrait of a man struggling for self-improvement while despairing over the future. (May)

Reviewed on 05/17/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Devour

Jazmine Joyner and Anthony Pugh. Megascope, $24.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4197-6306-9

A lineage of Louisiana women imprison the African spider god Anansi in this unnerving if overwrought horror-folkore debut from Joyner and Pugh. The opening pages retell how Anansi long ago dispensed wisdom to jungle animals from a “large clay pot,” but when his advice that “the harder the chase, the better the catch” resulted in a leopard’s death, her cub vowed revenge. That fable looms over the present-day story of teenager Patsy Turner, her father Marcus, and her two brothers, all of whom move in with their dementia-stricken grandmother, Vassie. When Anansi stalks Patsy’s dreams, Vassie reveals that the Turner women are rootworkers who’ve bound the trickster god to their land. Vassie trains Patsy in hoodoo (folk magic and medicine) after school, unleashing the girl’s “magick,” which was originally taught to an enslaved Turner ancestor by Anansi and has been passed down from mother to daughter through the generations. The overuse of flashbacks and layered-on exposition bloats an intricate—if at times predictable—plot. Pugh’s artwork, however, is a highlight—his rendering of Anansi elicits gut-churning dread. After many twists and turns in the family’s story, including details of how the leopard cub “tricked the trickster,” Joyner teases the next installment in the series. But readers may not have the patience to stick around for more. Agent: (for Joyner) Anjali Singh, Ayesha Pande Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 05/17/2024 | Details & Permalink

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