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Blossoms and Bones: Drawing a Life Back Together

Kim Krans. HarperOne, $28.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-06-298638-2

A combination diary and sketchbook, Krans’s depiction of her 40 days spent at an ashram recovering from an eating disorder, divorce, and multiple miscarriages is raw and, for anyone who’s wrestled the demons of perfectionism, intensely relatable. Krans gives herself the task of “drawing the feeling,” even as narrative and distraction try to lure her away. The ruthless internal voice that is undoubtedly responsible for some of Krans’s self-sabotage (binge eating and torpedoing professional and personal relationships) makes for a rigorous co-narrator, coupled with a deeper, more nurturing voice. “I want to draw this,” she says, next to an arrow pointing to a moonlit mountain, “not this”: a skeleton huddled atop a pile of “piss, shit, food, tears.” But eventually she embraces a “both and” mentality, represented by a bouncy, shifting “pair of dimes” (get it?). Full of white space, black space, scribbles, and charts, Krans’s work literally pushes the boundaries of the page. The result is vulnerable and experimental, though some readers may grow impatient with, for example, six pages of the words thank you. But in a moment where self-love messages are often glib, Krans’s attempt is enjoyably messy. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 11/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Blade Runner 2019

Michael Green, Mike Johnson, and Andres Guinaldo. Titan Comics, $16.99 (112p) ISBN 978-1-78773-161-5

This slick prequel comic to the 1982 film introduces Detective “Ash” Ashina, one of the first Blade Runners. Hired by mogul Alexander Selwyn to hunt down his missing wife and daughter, Ash is drawn into a mystery involving rogue android Replicants, medical experimentation, and the always-sinister Tyrell Corporation. The high-tech noir style, filled with carefully rendered cityscapes and machinery, fits the material like a glove; the Blade Runner universe has always looked like something out of a Heavy Metal comic, after all. Though the plot is new, the overall aesthetic will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the original film or Blade Runner 2049. The L.A. of the future is still dark and rain-spattered, Ash visits many of the iconic film locations, and the characters speak the expected hardboiled patois. The script even manages to work in a Replicant delivering a poetic monologue about memory à la Rutger Hauer’s “tears in the rain.” At the same time, the graphic novel introduces new cyberpunk concepts and expands the vision of a retro-futuristic urban society where the line between human and machine is rapidly blurring. If this spin-off sometimes hews too closely to the mood of the films to feel totally original, at least it’s a well-made tribute. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Complete Curvy

Sylvan Migdal. Iron Circus, $50 trade paper (522p) ISBN 978-1-945820-40-3

Migdal’s sprawling, erotic debut graphic novel (originally published as a serial webcomic) adventures across an endlessly entertaining multiverse, with satire and sweetness in equal measure. While snooping inside a mysterious glowing building, Anaïs runs into Fauna Lokjom, princess of Candy World, who is fleeing an arranged marriage. Anaïs quickly falls in lust with the licorice-flavored bombshell, but when Fauna realizes her betrothed also plans to invade Anaïs’s Earth (better known to the rest of the multiverse as Boring World), the two undertake a quest to stop him and emancipate Fauna. Along the way, Anaïs and Fauna meet (and sleep with) a goofy, promiscuous ensemble cast, including a transgender merman and a peppermint-flavored tentacle girl; uncover a sinister cross-dimensional plot orchestrated by Corporate World; and eventually confront the scariest conflict of all: talking about their relationship. The sexiness and charm of Migdal’s original black-and-white art from the webcomic is transformed in this collection by creative two-tone coloring, a pink and turquoise palette that lends vibrancy and allure both to Migdal’s cast and his imaginative worlds. With biting commentary on the commodification of desire and pages of lovingly rendered queer sex, Migdal’s collection is frothy, fantastic, socially conscious fun. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Golden Age, Book 1

Roxanne Moreil and Cyril Pedrosa, trans. from the French by Montana Kane. First Second, $29.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-250-23794-1

This sumptuous, epic fantasy from Moreil and Pedrosa (Portugal) unfurls its detailed European-style feudal world drenched in glowing, jewel-like colors; each setting has its own palette of royal purples, misty greens, or autumnal red and gold. The death of a king leaves his kingdom up for grabs, and Princess Tilda, the chosen heir, is forced to flee from a coup with a handful of loyalists. Wandering in exile, she explores the far corners of the kingdom, meeting monastic nuns and bickering peasants, experiencing prophetic visions, and learning of a lost talisman of power and a legendary book about, yes, a golden age. Though constructed from familiar fantasy and fairy tale elements, Moreil’s approach uses the battle between royal heirs to develop a large cast of characters from all walks of life, building a world layered enough to feel real, yet magical enough to transcend reality. The flowing, subtly abstracted art suggests a combination of medieval tapestries, illuminated manuscripts, and Chinese scroll paintings. Every page is gem-studded: ancient forests, bustling city squares, lavish castle interiors, sweeping landscapes. Previously published online in four languages, this ambitious series is poised to join Jeff Smith’s Bone and Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet as an exemplar of high fantasy in graphic form. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Kairos

Ulysse Malassagne, trans. from the French by Anne and Owen Smith. First Second, $19.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-250-20961-0

Malassagne’s stunningly illustrated fantasy (his English-language debut) opens quietly, with bespectacled Nills and his enigmatic girlfriend, Anaelle, visiting her family’s cabin in the countryside. But after dinosaurlike dragon people teleport out of the fireplace to abduct Anaelle, the pastoral kicks into nonstop action. Anaelle is revealed to be a princess who fled to Earth from another world, now recaptured to face a terrible fate. Nils follows her to the realm of dragons, where his rage transforms him into a creature of unstoppable strength, and he slices a path to the palace where Anaelle is imprisoned—shedding his humanity, which had drawn Anaelle to him, along the way. (“Humans can experience love to the point of madness,” a dragon rebel explains.) The artwork, with cartoony characters hacking, slashing, and clawing their way through detailed otherworldly settings with deeply hatched shadows, suggests some of the better manga of the 1970s–1980s, especially Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. But it also has a cool, loose French comics feel, similar to the self-aware ouevre of Joann Sfar. The result offers an unpredictable, deconstructionist take on the hoary premise of the hero rescuing the princess, with energetic art that goes a long way toward selling the trope. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 11/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

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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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