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Barely Functional Adult: It’ll All Make Sense Eventually

Meichi Ng. Harper Perennial, $17.99 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-294559-4

Occupying a space somewhere between memoir and self-help, prose and comics, this wry anecdotal debut unpacks Instagram cartoonist Ng’s second coming-of-age, when she’s waiting for “real” adulthood to start. Amusing, metaphor-packed cartoons about Ng’s life are arranged within topical text chapters that include subjects like the realms of responsibility, ill-fated relationships, career anxiety, and therapy. A memory of watching for shooting stars as a child, for example, provides insight into the difficult process of finding friends as an adult. Ng’s quick-draw cutesy cartooning style is familiar from fellow “explainer” webcomics, such as Matthew Inman’s the Oatmeal series. But her balance of straight text and light art lands uncomfortably as not-one-or-the-other, and sometimes overexplains what has already been shown in the brief illustrations. The border between “relatable” and “overdone” is also a fine line Ng sometimes crosses; while much of the book hits home, other sections tread into the oversaturated gag cartoon territory of bad managers and imposter syndrome, though she wisely avoids being prescriptive or preachy. These visual essays deliver a mostly distinctive take on familiar millennial woes. Agent: Cindy Uh, Thompson Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/25/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Breakwater

Katriona Chapman. Avery Hill, $15.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-910395-57-8

Chapman (Follow Me In) captures the gray layers sometimes found in friendships and mental health in an affecting, appealingly small-scale graphic narrative. Chris is a 40-year-old introvert who has worked at the same moldering movie theater in Brighton, England, on and off for 20 years. She finds a companion in her new co-worker, Daniel, a gay man whose apparent calm and self-awareness are a positive influence. He reminds Chris, a people-pleaser by nature, that she doesn’t have to put up with other’s nonsense, and inspires her to resume working toward a master’s degree in social work. As their connection deepens, Chris gets clues into Daniel’s hidden struggles: money problems, an abusive ex, a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. After finding him slumped, semiconscious, by a toilet after taking too much of some substance, she discovers the limits of what friendship can fix. Ironically and poignantly, Chris finally internalizes Daniel’s guidance about boundaries by setting them, firmly, with him. Chapman’s drawings are softly shaded, yet tidy and deliberate, and she evokes a haunted boardwalk vibe. She takes her time telling the story, devoting full pages to small movements. This offbeat graphic narrative proffers some surprisingly deep lessons about psychology and self-care. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/25/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Sazan & Comet Girl

Yuriko Akase, trans. from the Japanese by Adrienne Beck. Seven Seas, $24.99 trade paper (512p) ISBN 978-1-64505-299-9

Akase’s debut, a space opera, is as colorful and exhilarating as her effervescent heroine, Comet Girl. Sazan, a young construction worker from Earth, leads an ordinary life, until he misses the “last earth-bound rocket” returning from a job and gets picked up from the transfer station by Mina, a red-headed girl on a space scooter willing to give him a ride home. But trouble follows: space pirates attack them, and Sazan is shocked to discover that who he thought was a “normal girl” is in fact the infamous Comet Girl—a being storing immense energy inside her body. Unable to fully control her abilities and constantly hunted by those desperate to steal her powers, Mina is also known as the “Harbinger of Disaster.” The work bursts with offhand humor (“What, she peed outta her eyes?”) and a cast of eccentric characters, and the quirky retro art style pulls inspiration from classics such as Astro Boy and Dragon Ball Z. This fast-paced, rowdy omnibus delivers a fun-filled space adventure, accessible for manga newbies. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Sneeze

Naoki Urasawa, trans. from the Japanese by John Werry. Viz, $17.99 (200p) ISBN 978-1-974717-48-4

Eisner-winner Urasawa (20th Century Boys) brings together a diverse array of short fictional and autobiographical manga in this provocative collection, which originally appeared in Japanese magazines and anthologies. Per Urasawa’s signature style, much of the fiction grapples with monsters and the supernatural; the opening strip “DAMIYAN!” stars a yakuza underboss using a psychic teen’s powers to execute a hit, while “Kaiju Kingdom” explores a Japan that has made Godzilla-style attacks into a national tourism industry (a nuanced allegory for how the West fetishizes Asian cultures). Likewise, Urasawa’s nonfiction centers on his love for folk rock idols, among them Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, and Japanese singer Kenji Endo. These stories, while engaging and with no dearth of technical skill, also highlight Urasawa’s paternalism, particularly “It’s a Beautiful Day” and the lecherous (if unintentionally) “Musica Nostra,” which calls to attention his underdeveloped female characters. Still, Urasawa’s emotive art and clever humor remain unparalleled within the genre; plus, there’s lots to chew over in his commentary in the backmatter. Urasawa’s fans will consider this a must-read. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Prophet: A Graphic Novel

Khalil Gibran and Pete Katz. Canterbury Classics, $19.99 (128p) ISBN 978-1-64517-242-0

This thoughtful adaptation of Gibran’s classic treatise on love, empathy, and religious harmony reads like illustrated scripture, but with updated plot. Katz (The Art of War: The Graphic Novel) introduces a narrative frame to the classic text: a woman named Al reads Gibran’s work to her father while he lies comatose in a hospital. Realizing a connection between her own name and the seeress Altimira, Al begins to ask herself philosophical and personal questions, coming to a point of transformation. As a professional painter, her struggle to come to terms with her father’s illness has affected her ability to produce art—her father comes to her in a dream to tell her to “stop using him as an excuse to avoid life.” As her friends rally around her, Al draws inspiration from them, as well as the teachings of Gibran. Readers will likewise find inspiration in Katz’s detailed and colorful ink and watercolor canvases, which venerate both Gibran and the new scenes with bold realistic art and glowing colors, whether they weave in heavy religious symbolism or simply show Al’s buddies in conversation. Some stretches of challenging prose demand a degree of patience from readers atypical for comics, but the reward for close attention to Katz’s adaptation is worth it. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

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City Monster

Reza Farazmand. Plume, $18 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-0-593-08779-4

Farazmand, creator of the webcomic Poorly Drawn Lines, spins mumblecore from the misadventures of a cast of supernatural slackers. A Bigfoot-like monster moves from the forest to the city, acquires a pair of sunglasses, and settles into a life of playing video games and smoking pot with the ghost who haunts his apartment. The narrative develops a wisp of a plot as the monster and his vampire neighbor, Kim, team up to uncover the ghost’s past, a mystery that leads them to a museum, a séance, and a supernatural detective. But Farazmand isn’t very concerned with story arc; readers simply tag along as the characters go about their chill routines. The urban setting’s populated with creepy creatures who provide drily funny gags, including a pierced minotaur (rings in both septum and horn) who works at a coffee shop and perching demon birds who call-out discouraging comments: “You’ll never do any cool personal projects! Caw!” The simple, blocky artwork and muted colors, if simplistic, complement the deadpan vibe. Fans of Simon Hanselmann’s Megahex or Lisa Hanawalt’s Tuca & Bertie animated series will dig dropping in on these laid-back millennial monsters. Agent: Charlie Olsen, InkWell Management. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Murder on Balete Drive (Trese #1)

Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo. Ablaze, $16.99 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-1-950912-19-3

Tan and Baldisimo’s series of supernatural noir explores a sinister underworld in the Philippines, now published for the first time in the U.S. Alexandra Trese pursues a criminal gang of aswang—monsters who can take human form. A trail of gruesome deaths in Manila (a woman burned alive in an unscorched room, a man drained of life in a nightclub bathroom)lead the Manila police to realize otherworldly forces are at play, and they call in Alexandra. Her grandfather befriended aswang and her father hunted them, and the unflappable Alexandra navigates arcane alliances and rivalries along with her complicated heritage. With the aid of a menagerie of Filipino folklore creatures and her two masked enforcers, Alexandra finds and eliminates the creatures. The haunting, fine-lined black-and-white art evokes the style of Filipino artists like Nestor Redondo and Alex Niño. Real-world political parallels could be read between the blurred lines of Alexandra’s world and the current wave of government-sanctioned extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. Whether that’s intentional, there’s complexity layered in: the “bad guys” may be monsters, but their killing at the hands of a vigilante and her deadly enforcers plumbs troubled waters. The unconventional monster art and moody, action-packed narratives make this horror-crime series a must-follow for any aficionado of the macabre. (Oct.)

Correction: An earlier version of this reviews misspelled Alex Niño's last name.

Reviewed on 09/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Negalyod: The God Network

Vincent Perriot, trans. from the French by Montana Kane. Statix, $39.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-78773-470-8

In this elegiac fantasy set in a postapocalyptic, exquisitely drawn wild world, Jarri Tchapalt vows vengeance against the urban territory Station 3703 after its sky patrols murder his entire herd of dinosaurs. Alongside priest Kam and Kam’s daughter, Korienze, Jarri is drawn into a rebellion against the serpent god Namarari and the city Network’s Central System, which uses access to water to control the populace through terror, dehumanization, and religious myths. A surprising discovery about the true and benign purpose of the network, disguised beneath its cruel surface, pits Jarri against Korienze. Their conflict reaches its climax in a thrilling aerial raid. Perriot’s script is capable, though the clever twist is slightly weakened by its revelation about halfway into the story. What readers will pick this up for, though, is the lithe and detailed artwork, reminiscent of Mœbius. The colors of the landscape bloom with harsh golden desert tones, metallic blue and grays for the city, and the vicious, fierce reds of firepits. This combo of dinosaurs and Wild West–styled dystopia makes for an offbeat epic with European flair. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Naturalist: A Graphic Adaptation

Edward O. Wilson, Jim Ottaviani, and C.M. Butzer. Island, $28 (240p) ISBN 978-1-61091-958-6

Ottaviani (Hawking) skillfully adapts Wilson’s spirited 1994 memoir into a graphic narrative full of personality, but without skimping on the science. Wilson, the famed ecologist and self-proclaimed “naturalist hobo,” illuminates big ideas by celebrating the small things in life: his meticulous study of ants, for example, helped form foundational theories of biodiversity. His memoir spans an unpretentious, joyful life spent reveling in the natural world and defending the field of ecology. Shuttling among family members in the South in the 1930s and ’40s, Wilson studied the world around him, catching snakes and dissecting anthills. “The outdoors was the one part of my world I perceived to hold rock steady. Animals and plants I could count on—human relationships were more difficult,” he reflects. Ottaviani’s adaptation and Butzer’s art adds good-natured visual humor, like a depiction of Wilson’s stepmom patiently listening to his self-serious debate at age 16 over whether he should devote the rest of his life to butterflies, ants, or the “dazzling variety” of flies. Butzer’s clean linework helps an occasionally entomologically dense text become breezy and accessible, though Wilson would surely appreciate how all the flora and fauna are labeled with their scientific names. This hearty graphic memoir is poised to inspire a new generation of naturalists. Agent: Judy Hansen, Hansen Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Wealth of Pigeons

Steve Martin and Harry Bliss. Celadon, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-26289-9

Light, urbane, and frequently silly, this cartoon collaboration between actor Martin and the New Yorker’s Bliss combines the former’s dry wit and the latter’s whimsical drawing style. Started as a series of ideas batted back and forth between the duo—a working process charmingly lampooned in a few drawings scattered throughout—the book’s one-page cartoons hit typical New Yorker themes. That means wry animals (one sloth saying to another, “I wish I had your energy”), dog gags (one canine begs on the street with a sign reading “I have no thumbs”), and referencing artists from Van Gogh to Rauschenberg, with word play that feels like the start of an improv comedy sketch (under the label “Really Popular Mechanics,” a woman asks two men in overalls, “Can you both sing at Jody’s bar mitzvah?”). Martin and Bliss stay up-to-date in their humor, and some cartoons land as cheekily pointed, as with one of a farm stand selling “square tomatoes” and “blue pumpkins” next to a Monsanto facility. This refreshing tonic of a collection feels perfect for flipping through on a Sunday after an especially trying crossword puzzle. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM & Holly McGhee, Pippin. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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