Subscriber-Only Content; You must be a PW subscriber to access feature articles from our print edition. To view, subscribe or log in.
Site license users can log in here.

Get IMMEDIATE ACCESS to Publishers Weekly for only $15/month.

Instant access includes exclusive feature articles on notable figures in the publishing industry, he latest industry news, interviews of up and coming authors and bestselling authors, and access over 200,000 book reviews.

PW "All Access" site license members have access to PW's subscriber-only website content. To find out more about PW's site license subscription options please email: pw@pubservice.com or call 1-800-278-2991 (U.S.) or 1-818-487-2069 (all other countries), Monday-Friday between 5am and 5pm Pacific time.

Emotional Robots: A Question of Existence

Alex Zohar, Greg Fass, and Jake Richardson. Princeton Architectural Press, $16.95 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-64896-039-0

This futuristic fable gives a quirky twist to the science-fiction trope of humans creating sentient beings only to suffer unintended consequences. Presented in mock-biblical tones, the narrative opens describing how humans created the first robots: “And it was good.” First relegated to menial labor—making food and drinks for pool-lounging humans—robots eventually take over more complicated tasks (driving cars, flying planes, fighting wars). But once they develop emotions and conquer different fields (art, music, sports), humans get bored in their futility and leave for another planet. The cycle of creation and dependence pushes further on, as the “old robots” make “new robots” to do their menial tasks. Just as humans found themselves supplanted, the old robots are eventually relegated to an underclass and have to rely on do-gooding new robot politicians to advocate for their “well-being.” Zohar combines a flat crayon aesthetic with a Gary Larson–ish characterization that makes each human appear clueless to their errors. Moralistic without moralizing, it’s a comedic if somewhat lightweight thought experiment, which could be equally appreciated by children and adults. Agent: Richard Abate, 3 Arts Entertainment. (May)

Reviewed on 04/16/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
The Flutist of Arnhem: A Story of Operation Market Garden

Antonio Gil. Dead Reckoning, $24.95 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-1-68247-463-1

One of the worst Allied catastrophes of WWII is dramatized in this mostly successful graphic novel that founders in bolting a somewhat unbelievable personal story onto the military action. Gil (Stalingrad) sets the scene for 1944’s Operation Market Garden—an ambitious but poorly planned Allied assault on the Netherlands, using airborne troops to seize bridges ahead of ground forces—with text-jammed frames and maps. The main focus is on the outnumbered British 1st Airborne Division and its heroic attempts to hold the infamous “Bridge Too Far” at Arnhem against furious German counterattacks. Paired with that story is a parallel espionage narrative in which British spy John Hewson, holding information crucial for the Allies, who are operating blind after the Germans decimated their Dutch spy network, fights his way across occupied territory. Credulity is stretched by the addition of Hewson’s son, a British paratrooper unaware of his father’s identity and tasked with helping rescue him from the encroaching Gestapo, which he hopes to accomplish by playing a tune on a flute from his childhood. Though highly hammy in its personal drama and art style, and heavy-handed in its exposition, Gil’s story sincerely lauds the bravery of soldiers battling in impossible circumstances. (May)

Reviewed on 04/09/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
The Black Ghost

Alex Segura, Monica Gallagher, and George Kambadais. Dark Horse, $19.99 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-1-5067-2446-1

This breezy superhero noir from crime and comics writer/editor Segura (Miami Midnight) introduces a heroine who pulls up the pulp roots of masked hero adventures to plant a smart contemporary context. Small-city journalist Lara Dominguez is Lois Lane by way of Sam Spade, taking breaks from street fights and drinking binges to report on the exploits of the Black Ghost, a vigilante described as “Robin Hood meets James Bond.” After she witnesses the Black Ghost’s assassination, Lara investigates the criminal conspiracy responsible and considers taking on the hero’s mantle herself, but her personal vices threaten to destroy her before the villains do. Punchy writing (“Deep in the dregs isn’t exactly the safest spot.... Glad to see my hunch-o-meter is still working”) adds flavor to the street-level superhero action and hard-boiled intrigue. While none of these elements are especially original on their own, together they blend into frothy noir entertainment. The workmanlike art, cleanly inked with bright, flat colors, may not stand out, but it’s serviceable and well suited to action scenes. Never pausing long enough to get bogged down in its own twisty plot and gritty mythology, this series has what it takes to grab both crime fiction fans and superhero readers looking for something just off the beaten path. (May)

Reviewed on 04/09/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
American Cult: A Graphic History of Religious Cults in America from the Colonial Era to Today

Edited by Robyn Chapman. Silver Sprocket, $24.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-945509-63-6

A breathtaking panoply of what Philip Roth termed the “indigenous American berserk” is on full display in this detail-packed anthology about American cults. In the introduction, Chapman (Drawing Comics) calls for a critical but human approach—“50% empathy and 50% justice”—to the individuals sucked into such movements. Eighteen stylistically varied pieces avoid tabloid hysterics as much as possible, given the outré subject matter, but are too brief to delve deeper than thumbnail histories. Regardless, they offer fantastic introductions, ranging from Steve Teare’s chapter on the late 17th-century mystics following Johannes Kelpius in the woods outside Philadelphia, to Brian “Box” Brown’s dry mockery of sex cult NXIVM’s leader Keith Raniere (who “enjoyed telling people what was wrong with them [and] having sex with female followers”). The material leans heavily on the last half century and balances obvious subjects (Charles Manson’s gaggle of lost hippie teenagers) with lesser-known movements (Louisa May Alcott’s father dragging the family into a comically disorganized utopian sect). Some chapters are straightforward, but others follow Chapman’s challenge to interrogate the lines between cults and religions, with Josh Kramer—writing about the Cheesecake Factory–funded Sufism Reoriented—asking, “Does it matter?” Though these comics raise more questions than they answer, they sweep admirably through a little-understood phenomenon. (May)

Reviewed on 04/09/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Fictional Father

Joe Ollmann. Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95 trade paper (212p) ISBN 978-1-77046-463-6

Ollmann’s funny, faux-meta memoir follows Caleb Wyatt, the angst-ridden son of Jimmi Wyatt, a cartoonist whose treacly daily strip, Sonny Side Up, earned him the nickname “Everybody’s Dad.” But Jimmi’s actually an egomaniac with little time for his wife and son. By middle age, Cal is a recovering alcoholic struggling to launch his own art career. When Jimmi dies and bequeaths his strip to his son, Cal considers the proposition, to the surprise of his father’s staff—who reveal that assistants have drawn it for years—and Cal’s boyfriend, James, a Black flight attendant who’s had it with Cal’s spoiled-rich-kid ways. Cal hires a salty, sober editor-for-hire, whom he meets at a 12-step program, and she offers, “Do you think—in the present climate—that anyone wants to listen to a rich, old white man complaining about an older, richer white man?... Of course they do!” Cal takes this tough-love kick in the pants and “finds his voice.” Ollmann’s illustrations are ugly-charming, wrinkled and shadowed, but tinted in bright colors (with yellowed “vintage” cartoons a particular visual joy). The framing device, in which Ollmann wrestles with a story that has been told before—Cal’s life is reminiscent of the real Dennis the Menace—requires acrobatic parsing. The reward is a complex look at an artist’s evolving relationship to the past. (May)

Reviewed on 04/09/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Hardears

Matthew Clarke and Nigel Lynch. Abrams ComicArts, $24.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4197-5192-9

Lynch and Clarke (Life & Death in Paradise) reunite in this spellbinding fantasy adventure. On Jouvert Island, a setting-as-character that pops off the page, lives a man of great vibes called Bolo. When his home is devastated by a hurricane, the sinister Mr. Harding rushes in to exploit the tragedy, with his massive factory that offers the only jobs left. Bolo’s love interest Zhara gets swept up in Harding’s plot, and it’s up to the pair to stop Mr. Harding from draining the island dry. The lore, magic, and history of Clarke and Lynch’s realm render it immersive, fanciful, complex, and deeply Caribbean. Instead of allowing any singular character to shine, they convey the shaking of a community, which explores all aspects of a traumatized society. Hypocrisies are pointed out and the ending is not a neat happily ever after, thus staying true to the overarching social commentary. All this is only heightened by Clarke’s dramatic art, which frequently employs larger-than-life splash pages, creating a palpable atmosphere. The spectacle carries the staying power of a bona fide folktale. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/02/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Embodied: An Intersectional Comics Poetry Anthology

Edited by Wendy and Tyler Chin-Tanner. Wave Blue World, $16.99 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-949518-13-9

This ambitious anthology of feminist comics poetry aims high, and soars in some selections. Each chapter opens with a short comic, which interprets a poem, which is replicated as original text following the comic. Every talent assembled, from the poets to the illustrators to the letterers, identifies as a woman or as nonbinary, and the ground they cover is vast, touching on the exhilaration of childbirth, the alienation of immigration, and the timelessness of great art. There are successes here: the “University Toxic” comic by Kaylee Rowena uses vibrant color to drive home the realities of workplace harassment as portrayed in Laura Hinton’s poem, while Y Sanders’s comic “Drown” packs eroticism into intricate inking that expresses a fulsome narrative arc with a mere handful of panels, representing the poem by Venus Thrash. But in other pairings, ironically more prosaic visual interpretations of a poem’s dominant images elide their textual complexity (Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones” is interpreted literally in the comic by Carola Borelli as a real estate transfer), while meter, text alignment, and deliberate use of letter case disappear when poems are adapted into comics panels. The artistic fusion, when it works, offers a theatricality akin to a slam poet playing on stage. These moments could serve to pique the interest of comics fans in poetry—or perhaps vice versa; it’s a curious experiment, in any case. (May)

Reviewed on 04/02/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
The Ex-Girlfriend of My Ex-Girlfriend is My Girlfriend: Advice on Queer Dating, Love, and Friendship

Maddy Court and Kelsey Wroten. Chronicle, $19.95 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-79720-182-5

Court’s empathetic and practical lesbian-focused queer relationship guide, illustrated by indie comics darling Wroten (Cannonball) began life as a series of self-published zines. This expanded package includes wide-ranging questions on crushes, first dates, long-distance relationships, open relationships, sexual compatibility, jealousy, breakups, friendship, community, coming out, dealing with conflict, and other challenging situations. For example: when to disclose a chronic condition on a date? Court responds, “You’re worried that your endometriosis will scare away potential partners, but what’s the point of being queer if you’re still stuck with the same rigid, unimaginative blueprints for what sex looks like?” Court invites in guest contributors who handle specialized concerns, such as those touching on disability, as well as trans and nonbinary identities. Wroten’s wonderfully whimsical illustrations enliven each scenario with a loose, energetic line and limited color palette that lends the page a Risograph print style. It’s always easier to give advice than to take it, but heartsick or confused daters may find exactly the support they need in this compassionate volume. Agent: Edward Maxwell, SJGA. (May)

Reviewed on 04/02/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
My Begging Chart

Keiler Roberts. Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 trade paper (156p) ISBN 978-1-77046-458-2

Roberts (Rat Time) returns with a thoroughly entertaining collection of autobiographical comics featuring her distinctive blend of deadpan humor and quirkily sincere flights of fancy. She observes life with husband Scott, pre-teen daughter Xia, and dog Crooky with equal parts appreciation and bemusement. “Xia and I played Barbies more intensely than ever before,” Roberts tells her mother, recalling Xia-as-Barbie improvising her way through a job interview, a scene followed by another in which the dolls awkwardly converse about art (imitating, one assumes, life). In another vignette, Roberts digs into her curious satisfaction at having spent weeks destroying her old sketchbooks and journals: “I’m being more productive whenever I’m not making anything.” Moments in which, for instance, a plate of Christmas cookies slips to the ground, to be picked up and placed in the trash one-by-one, are quiet examples of malaise creeping in. But Roberts remains exacting; when praised by a friend for being self-aware, Roberts quips she’s not a “better person” but only able to “see my flaws with absolute clarity.” The droll line drawings gently capture the oddity of quotidian activities, such as vacuuming the blades of a ceiling fan. Roberts’s slightly warped perspective hilariously and poignantly reflects back to readers the transient absurdity of domestic life. (May)

Reviewed on 04/02/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
MPLS Sound

Hannibal Tabu, Joseph Phillip Illidge, and Meredith Laxton. Life Drawn, $19.99 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-64337-840-4

This upbeat music drama pays tribute to Prince and the stable of artists he nurtured, while side-eyeing the fealty he demanded from his protégés. In 1980s Minneapolis, Starchild, a psychedelic funk group loosely based on the Revolution, makes its way up through the local music scene, led by the idealistic and driven Theresa. Soon Theresa is granted an audience with the Purple One himself and gifted with a purple cassette tape, her band’s ticket to the big time. Amid increasing public attention, tension between band members, and sabotage from rival bands, Starchild must decide whether to “shed the old skins” in accordance with Prince’s glam vision or strike out as an independent group. The mostly workmanlike art by Laxton comes alive during the performance scenes, which express the feeling of the sound, time, and place with trippy visual effects and imaginative page layouts. Theresa’s personality and backstory are well-developed, though some of the other members of her Chumbawamba-size band are barely sketched in. This tribute conjures the Twin Cities’ vibrant, multicultural, thoroughly Midwestern rock scene, appealing to nostalgic—and newer—fans of the musical period. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/26/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
X
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
X
X
Email Address

Password

Log In Lost Password

Parts of this site are only available to paying PW subscribers. Subscribers: to set up your digital access click here.

To subscribe, click here.

PW “All Access” site license members have access to PW’s subscriber-only website content. Simply close and relaunch your preferred browser to log-in. To find out more about PW’s site license subscription options please email: pw@pubservice.com.

If you have questions or need assistance setting up your account please email pw@pubservice.com or call 1-800-278-2991 (U.S.) or 1-818-487-2069 (all other countries), Monday-Friday between 5am and 5pm Pacific time for assistance.

Not Registered? Click here.