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The Butchery

Bastien Vives, trans. from the French by Jenna Allen. Fantagraphics, $19.99 (92p) ISBN 978-1-68396-447-6

Love becomes a battlefield in this unexpectedly haunting look by Vives (The Grande Odalisque) at how people in relationships can destroy each other. Two nameless lovers in the bloom of youth swoon over each other in a series of vignettes whose seemingly simple framing (an impromptu waltz lesson, brushing teeth together) belies the erratic passions lying beneath. Vives springs his trap sneakily, slipping in fantasy episodes —in one, a veteran paratrooper warns a new recruit before a jump, “You could get butchered down there”—that foreshadow and mimic the sudden emotional leaps in the relationship. The couple’s narcotized love-high is subtly downshifted after one unexplained argument opens a chasm between them. As the relationship clatters through breakups and reunifications, Vives inserts casually brutal scenes with doll-like avatars that offer fatalistic renderings of their real-world trauma: a man slams a board into a woman’s head and doesn’t answer when she asks, “Why did you do that?”; she stabs him while assuring, “It’s better for us this way.” The loosely framed sketchbook-style art on white backgrounds—far from the precise detail Vives is known for—holds a ghostly, unfinished, and somehow eternal feel. This artfully rendered fable captures the love, pain, and unbridgeable chasms of romance gone awry. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/30/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Jewish Brigade

Marvano, trans. from the French by Montana Kane. Dead Reckoning, $24.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-68247-723-6

The melodramatic and disappointing latest from Marvano (The Forever War) collects three stories that follow former race car driver Leslie Toliver and his activities with the Jewish Brigade. In the aftermath of WWII, the Brigade hunts down Nazis fleeing Europe, and Toliver joins as he searches for news of his mother and fiancée who had been taken to a concentration camp, and whose fate he hopes to uncover. Toliver’s quest for revenge and justice takes him across Europe and finally to Palestine, where he joins the fight against the Arab Legion in a pointedly Zionist political arc. The story often confusingly trains the narrative lens onto side characters who appear and then die (without the reader even learning their names), and a romantic subplot becomes cringe-inducing. Marvano illustrates convincing landscapes, but inconsistent facial expressions veer sharply into the uncanny valley. Colors by Bérénge Marquebreucq are likewise uneven, bright and appealing in some panels and ashy in others. There’s a focus on the gruesome reality of war, but skipping rapidly through these moments makes them hard to digest and understand. While the story brings to light lesser-known aspects of military history, the execution as a graphic narrative falls short. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/30/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Red Flowers

Yoshiharu Tsuge, trans. from the Japanese by Ryan Holmberg. Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95 (284p) ISBN 978-1-77046-434-6

This quirky collection of alternative manga from Tsuge (The Swamp), a founder of the avant-garde manga movement in the 1960s, shows off his cartooning chops through humorous and autobiographical tales. From the thought process of a salamander in a drainpipe to travelogues chronicling Tsuge’s stays at the shabbiest inns in rural Japan, these shorts delve into a range of subjects, characters, themes, and emotions. Tsuge experiments with highly rendered backgrounds and cartoony characters (he draws himself rather like a muppet), taking inspiration from his colleague Shigeru Mizuki’s trademark style. “Red Flowers” depicts a girl experiencing menstrual cramps with nuance and empathy, while in “The Ondol Shack,” Tsuge jokes about rowdy teens disrupting his stay at a Korean-style hot spring in Hachimantai. Throughout, he plays with story structure, ending many tales on ambiguous images. This became a trademark for the artist; “The Lee Family” in particular cuts off so abruptly that fellow manga creators “spontaneously drew their own parodic sequels,” as Mitsuhiro Asakawa and Ryan Holmberg describe in a scholarly afterword. Part of a Tsuge retrospective series, the volume will be a must-read for collectors. And despite the creator’s weighty reputation, this proves accessible and fun for manga newcomers as well. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/30/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Knock Out!: The Story of Emile Griffith

Reinhard Kleist, trans. from the German by Michael Waaler. SelfMadeHero, $22.99 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-910593-86-8

The glorious but tragic story of welterweight boxing champion Emile Griffith is given a dramatic yet cluttered presentation in this graphic novel from Kleist (The Boxer). An immigrant from St. Thomas who found his first calling working for a Manhattan milliner, Griffith was entered into the Golden Gloves after his boss was impressed by his physique. Though boxing is not his dream (“I can’t just pummel other men”) the way fashion (he loves designing women’s hats) is, Griffith turns out to be a natural pugilist. The heady years of success are depicted as sheer delight, Griffith skipping through the frames as he notches wins, and code-switching anxiety as he trawls New York’s gay bars, whose crush of bodies are given the same swirl and dance as his matches. The narrative crux hits in an infamous 1962 Madison Square Garden pairing against Benny Paret. After taunting Griffith (whose sexuality was an open secret) with a homophobic slur, Paret then died after the subsequent vicious pummeling. Kleist portrays Paret’s ghost following Griffith thereafter, a heavy-handed device that obscures rather than illuminates the protagonist’s inner grappling. The black-and-white art is all slashing contrast, recalling Frank Miller’s Sin City, though the dialogue is notably less evocative. It’s an at-times off-key but nevertheless wrenching story of struggle. (July)

Reviewed on 07/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Let’s Not Talk Anymore

Weng Pixin. Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95 trade paper (204p) ISBN 978-1-77046-462-9

With empathy and grace, Pixin explores her matrilineal history through five generations of teenage girls, from her great-grandmother in 1908 to her imagined future daughter in 2032. Kuan migrates from southern China to Singapore, along with her pet cricket, while disguised as a boy; Mèi’s unloving adoptive mother puts her to work at her seamstress business; Rita walks in the woods and sketches animals in a peaceful, leafy future. Each girl’s life is glimpsed in brief scenes that throw their differences into contrast (the first of the girls to attend school lives a life completely unlike those of her forebears) but also cause their similarities to echo. Themes repeat: love of animals and nature, fear and frustration toward adults, internalizing trauma, finding refuge in art. The later generations speculate about their grandmothers and great-grandmothers, piecing together what they know from family stories: “I wonder also what it would be like to live in a world where you have no control over your life.” The art, painted in blocks of bold color, has the crafted look of folk art or textiles, with patterns and flat layouts. Though the images are individually simple, they combine to fill the pages with color and life. This meditation on “the women who made us” will resonate with any reader who’s pored over old family photographs in search of themselves. (June)

Reviewed on 07/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Women Who Changed Art Forever: Feminist Art–The Graphic Novel

Valentina Grande and Eva Rossetti, trans. from the Italian by Edward Fortes. Laurence King, $19.99 (136p) ISBN 978-1-913947-00-2

By combining four major voices in the feminist art movement of the 1970s and ’80s into one thematic group biography to represent the rise of contemporary feminist art, this sampler offers intriguing but overly brief introductions (sure to provoke arguments over who was left out). The opening chapter highlights Judy Chicago, best known for her installation piece Dinner Party, following the artist as she walks through New York City, reflecting on the many times she was told women couldn’t make art, or be taken seriously by the art world. The second installment features Faith Ringgold, an African American artist who creates story quilts interrogating the intersection of gender and race. The third artist, Cuban American Ana Mendieta, wove narratives of place, belonging, and Mother Goddess adoration into her earth sculptures before her early death at age 37 in 1985. The final section discusses the Guerilla Girls, a collective of anonymous activists who wore masks and covered New York City with posters about the gender inequality of museums in the 1980s. Rossetti’s painterly, bright artwork full of diverse faces and bodies elevates the text and improves pacing, as the summaries shift awkwardly from first to third person and can feel scattered. Hopefully readers will take these quick-sketch portraits as inspiration to seek out further resources, as each figure deserves a deeper dive. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Psychotic

Jacques Mathis and Sylvain Dorange, trans. from the French by Ben Croze. Life Drawn, $22.99 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-64337-509-0

In Mathis and Dorange’s poetic comics portrait of psychosis, scribbler Jacques offers up a meandering series of vignettes that reflect on the “episodes” his mental illness has given him. As a child in a “gloomy small town,” Catholicism was “a poison” to his mind. From youth, he’s fixated on strange notions such as that the dead live in objects, and has his first serious mental-break episode at 14, when he becomes convinced he and a school administrator are an alternate dimension’s Adam and Eve. Drawing the reader into his various subsequent stints in and out of hospitals, he doesn’t attempt to rationalize actions, such as why he stopped once in the middle of a one-way street and abandoned his car. Instead, the approach is introspective and philosophical, drawing out Jacques’s feelings of euphoria, of grandeur, of emptiness. Dorange’s layered, quietly surreal art sketches overlay scenes and shadows that follow the characters around, with echoing shapes and metaphorical leaps left open to interpretation. While Jacques’s treatment in institutions is presented with distinct resentment, he does find a way through therapy and drugs to an orderly life. He queries, “How can you tell if a patient is cured?” There’s no easy answers in this intimate, provocative trip into a disordered mind. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Queen of the Ring: Wrestling Drawings by Jaime Hernandez 1980–2020

Jaime Hernandez. Fantagraphics, $24.99 (128p) ISBN 978-1-68396-445-2

Hernandez (the Love and Rockets series) shows off his trademark crisp draftsmanship and genius for character drawing in this art book devoted entirely to portraits of women wrestlers, in action and pin-ups. A perfectionist, Hernandez copies characters, poses, and fights over and over, often developing sketches into mock magazine covers with headlines like “THE LADY DESTROYER INVADES THE EAST” and “WAR OF THE WILDCATS!” Solidly built women with names like the Ferocious Panther Girl and “Golden Girl” Betty Rey face off in the squared circle, costumed in the classic mid-century wrestling gear of unitards, boots, championship belts, and big hair. Each “has to have a backstory, or it’s no fun,” as Hernandez explains his worldbuilding in the accompanying text, taken from a 2020 interview. Women’s wrestling has fascinated Hernandez since childhood; the earliest sketches date from his teens. It’s a rare opportunity to see a master cartoonist’s work evolve over the decades, as the carefully shaded photo-realism of his juvenilia develops into strong, simple silhouettes and clear anatomy, all inked in Hernandez’s famously smooth linework. This hyper-focused volume is designed for dedicated Jaime fans (and/or vintage pro wrestling geeks), but really any art comics follower would enjoy a round in this ring. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Lore Olympus, Vol. 1

Rachel Smythe. Del Rey, $26.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-593-16029-9

The Greek gods get cast as Kardashian-types in Smythe’s addictive soap opera, her trade debut that was originally a hit online comic. Hades, king of the underworld, meets newbie spring goddess Persephone at a swanky party and sparks fly. But divine forces assemble to keep the couple apart, including jealous love goddess Aphrodite, rapacious leather-jacketed bro Apollo, and Persephone’s protective roomie Artemis. The gods inhabit a modern world of luxury cars, cell phones, and espresso machines. Persephone is chased by paparazzi and Hades is in therapy over nearly being eaten by his father Kronos (an Oedipal complex predating Oedipus). Smythe draws curvy confetti-colored characters against misty backgrounds that suggest opulence but lack detail. The softly glowing artwork, influenced more by children’s illustration and animation concept art than traditional comics, unfurls like a sexy update of The D’aulaires Book of Greek Myths. It’s hard not to argue when Eros declares of Persephone, “She’s like the personification of a friggin cinnamon roll!” Though Smythe plays with the comedy potential of her premise, she takes the characters’ internal dramas seriously and deals directly with the problematic elements of Greek mythology, with its gods forever abducting and coercing hapless mortals. As rich as baklava but snacky as a bag of potato chips, this romance is hard to resist. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Rebecca & Lucie in the Case of the Missing Neighbor

Pascal Girard, trans. from the French by Aleshia Jensen. Drawn & Quarterly, $21.95 (100p) ISBN 978-1-77046-464-3

This winsome comics mystery from Girard (Petty Theft) introduces an unconventional detective duo: Rebecca, a new mom on maternity leave, and Lucie, her eight-month-old daughter. Though a schedule of childcare, checkups, day care interviews, and baby yoga keeps Rebecca on her toes, she craves intellectual stimulation. She finds plenty of it when, during a late-night feeding, she witnesses something shady out her window, involving a man loading something into an unmarked van. Soon she’s off, investigating the suspicious disappearance of her neighbor Eduardo. Trying on aliases and talking her way into offices and apartments, she uncovers a web of crime. Lucie, with her mop of golden curls, assists in opening up conversation via cuteness, though one source snarls, “I certainly don’t have time to babysit an amateur detective and her child!” The languid pace gives equal time to a stroller fitness class and the hunt for spots where a murderer might dump a body. Loose, squiggly art, tinted in bright watercolors, imbues a friendly feel that belies the dark undercurrents Rebecca discovers running through her sunny Quebecois community. Despite an abrupt ending, the foray succeeds as both a mystery and a chronicle of day-to-day parenthood. Readers won’t be disappointed if this evolves into a series of offbeat mother-daughter mysteries. (June)

Reviewed on 07/16/2021 | Details & Permalink

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