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The Adoption

Zidrou and Arno Monin, trans. from the French by Jeremy Melloul. Magnetic, $24.95 (144p) ISBN 978-1-942367-83-3

Zidrou (Emma G. Wildford) and Monin tenderly explore a French man’s struggle to connect with his adopted Peruvian granddaughter. Gabriel, a retired butcher, is disgruntled when his son and daughter-in-law adopt Qinaya, a young native Aymaran girl they report was orphaned in an earthquake, introducing her to awkwardly cheering (and sotto voce xenophobic) relatives. (“Qinaya Van Oosterbeek! That’s a hell of a mouthful!”) In time, he warms to the child—until it is discovered that her biological family is alive and searching for her, and that his son and daughter-in-law kidnapped her. This shock disrupts the cozy fable of unlikely love built in the book’s first half, which then becomes a more complicated and questioning examination of family ties, longing, and regret. Gabriel, at loose ends after his son’s sudden arrest and incarceration, travels to Peru to see Qinaya, where he meets another tourist searching for his own daughter who was lost in the earthquake. Their expeditions are captured with gorgeous views and late-night ruminations on life choices. Monin’s lovely, detailed art captures crumbling plazas, elderly wrinkles, and goofy office party favors alike with faithful care. While the premise raises thorny questions about transnational adoption, it satirizes adoption’s “hero narrative” while never quite upending the notion that love can conquer all. But, this family drama takes unexpected directions with unusual candor and charm, and its scope in both art and storytelling will appeal to general readers as well as European comics fans. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2020 | Details & Permalink

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I Want You

Lisa Hanawalt. Drawn & Quarterly, $21.95 trade paper (140p) ISBN 978-1-77046-388-2

The early minicomics of Hanawalt (Coyote Doggirl) crackle with the raw, fearless sense of humor she honed in her later books, then put to work on the animated series BoJack Horseman and Tuca & Bertie. This collection showcases Hanawalt’s weird but uncomfortably familiar worldbuilding, where tiny birds invade the bodies of plane passengers, abortion is performed by luring the fetus out with chocolate, and recurring anthropomorphic characters She-Moose and He-Horse engage in mundane activities that take sharp turns into absurd comedy or casual body horror. The volume mixes short comics with illustrations of animals and listicles like “Bad Pets,” “Worst Sandwiches,” and “Is It Scary or Cute?” Hanawalt’s funhouse-mirror anxiety warp hits a comic high pitch in “Things We Are Sorry We Did Last Night,” in which she starts by waking up next to a horse only to recall more and more outrageous regrets. “It feels good to reflect on all the important lessons I learned by being in my twenties and making a ton of dumb mistakes,” Hanawalt writes in her introduction. But for all their raunch, gross-out humor, and unabashed goofiness, these comics don’t feel like outtakes. They hit as freshly funny and subversive, and will appeal to dedicated fans of Hanawalt’s peculiar oeuvre as well as those just getting an introduction. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Bad Island

Stanley Donwood. Norton, $18 (144p) ISBN 978-1-324-00185-0

Donwood (There Will Be No Quiet), resident artist for the band Radiohead, unfurls a wordless parable that contrasts the relentless power of nature with the violence of humankind. Donwood opens cinematically, with a slow tracking shot that roams through a roiling sea, represented by swirling horizontal lines, to an island with smoldering volcanoes. Life on the island slowly reveals itself as it transforms: various flora and prehistoric creatures are supplanted by humans. Images of hunted animals and toppled trees give way to houses and buildings. Perhaps inevitably, vapors from the volcanoes merge with fumes billowing from factory smokestacks, which are then accompanied by skyscrapers and other symbols of modern civilization. Only a few marginal human figures are visible, dwarfed by their surroundings. Finally, missiles fill the skies and lead to annihilation. With this microcosm of evolution, Donwood presents humankind as a force driven to sow destruction of the natural world—an ages-old theme enlivened considerably with Donwood’s striking imagery­—rendered in bold black-and-white woodcut-like visuals, mixed with rhythmic op art patterns—including one standout sequence that juxtaposes patterns of raindrops, bare tree branches, and churning waves. The result is a hypnotic, trenchant allegory that is both beautiful to look at and hard to look away from. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Protection (SfSx (Safe Sex) #1):

Tina Horn et. al. Image, $9.99 (184p) ISBN 978-1-5343-1585-3

The neon-drenched pages of this science fiction thriller are pummeled with sex, violence, and political rage. “A decade into an ongoing takeover of American civil life by the ultra-conservative religious organization known as the Party,” Avory, a former sex worker once known as Simona Salacious, lives in a San Francisco where sex is confined to marriage and tightly monitored by the bureaucrats at the Pleasure Center. When her husband is imprisoned, she solicits help from her former colleagues, who now run an illegal underground sex club, to mount a rescue effort. Horn (Sexting), along with artists including Michael Dowling, Alejandra Gutiérrez, and Jen Hickman, builds a convincing, if familiar, Handmaid’s Tale–like patriarchal regime. Avory’s background in sex work prepares her for acrobatic fight scenes and escaping from handcuffs. But the plot is often choppy and scattershot, and the rotating stable of artists, some more effective than others, adds to the disorientation. The intense sex scenes won’t suit all readers, but should appeal to the kinky sex-positive fan base Horn brings in. Readers with a yen for third-wave feminist fury will find plenty to enjoy in these porn-friendly adventures. (July)

Reviewed on 06/19/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Constitution Illustrated

R. Sikoryak. Drawn and Quarterly, $14.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-77046-396-7

Sikoryak (Terms and Conditions) returns to his arch comics treatment of classic works with this amusing and enlightening illustrated version of the U.S. Constitution as enacted by famous cartoon characters. He captures the look and spirit of the original characters (each bedecked in colonial garb) with uncanny accuracy, while wittily matching them to appropriate sections of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and amendments added subsequently. Some particularly inspired choices include Carl Barks’s Scrooge McDuck limning Section Eight’s outline of tax and duties collection, Jack Davis’s ghoulish Crypt-Keeper explaining protocols of replacing a president who has died in office, and H.G. Peter’s version of Wonder Woman breaking free of chains to illustrate women’s right to vote. Sikoryak’s use of the Muppet Babies and the Super Friends to represent a fractious congress has a distinctly mocking edge, while characters from creators of color such as Barbara Brandon, Aaron McGruder, and Gene Luen Yang, as well as LGBTQ cartoonists Alison Bechdel and Howard Cruse, speak eloquently to American diversity. Sikoryak’s love of the cartoon form and its visual language radiates throughout. This pastiche of comics and politics is a cleverly educational and irresistible way to engage with this foundational text. (July)

Reviewed on 06/19/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Vision

Julia Gfrörer. Fantagraphics, $16.99 (96p) ISBN 978-1-68396-315-8

Gfrörer (Laid Waste) continues to build her reputation as one of the foremost contemporary horror cartoonists with this dense and disturbing psychological twist on the haunted house story. Eleanor, a quietly frustrated woman living in an unnamed late 19th-century city, lost her shot at happiness when her fiancé was killed at war and has resigned herself to a life of spinsterhood, rooming with her sneering brother in their family’s town house and playing lady’s maid to his sickly, neurotic wife. When she ventures out, it’s usually to visit the doctor who corrects her failing eyesight with painful treatments. But in her time alone in her room, Eleanor hears a seductive ghost communicating with her through her bedroom mirror, sympathizing with her woes and encouraging her to release her repressed desires. Is this fantasy, or is the ghost, and other spirits haunting the family, real? The comic plays endless variations on the theme of vision, with images of mirrors, eyes, blindness, reflective knives, invisible presences, and the classic Victorian scenario of diving through the looking glass. Gfrörer’s twitchy, shuddering black ink work has an antique quality perfect for period fiction, while her storytelling suggests layers of Gothic menace under a placid surface and recalls classic writers such as Shirley Jackson. Gfrörer punctuates the subtly sinister domestic drama with bald sensuality and grotesque violence. This taut, titillating nightmare is guaranteed to haunt readers. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/19/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Be Gay, Do Comics: Queer History, Memoir, and Satire from The Nib

Edited by Mat Bors. IDW, $24.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-68405-777-1

Culled from the webcomics site The Nib, this bright LGBTQ anthology features an international roster of millennial and Gen-Z contributors, offering fresh takes on gender, politics, historical LGBTQ heroes, and more. Highlights include memoir pieces by Breena Nuñez on attempting (fruitlessly) to explain their nonbinary gender identity to a clueless therapist, Dylan Edwards on identifying as asexual, Robyn Jordan revealing her experience with embryo donors, JB Brager reminiscing about connecting with other mid-aughts queer teens on LiveJournal, and Alexis Sudgen unpacking her history of gender identity with breast dysphoria. Each artist effectively uses humor to lighten sometimes weighty subject matter. Meanwhile, other pieces examine facets of the queer umbrella: Sam Wallman probes the conservative gay movement with unexpected empathy, while Max Dlabick pays tribute to Gilbert Baker, who pioneered the use of the rainbow flag to celebrate the LGBTQ community. A few less successful comics don’t transfer as well from web to page, especially those that favor the didactic over the narrative. But the cartooning is solid across the board. This is an overall invigorating sampler of the current queer cartooning scene and a celebration of the sheer breadth and diversity of experiences it reflects. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/19/2020 | Details & Permalink

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How Do We Relationship?, Vol. 1

Tamifull. Viz, $9.99 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-974711-74-1

Tamifull diverges in his manga debut from the typical yuri (girls’ love) genre arc, focusing on the building of a new relationship instead of just the buildup to it. Introverted Miwa Inuzuka has always dreamed of finding love, but growing up in a conservative town in Japan has made dating difficult—especially since she likes girls. After she meets extroverted Saeko Sawatari during a college festival they become fast friends, leading to a drunken confession and coming together as a couple. The narrative then follows along the more practical next steps of a relationship as the women navigate telling close friends about their status, exploring both the emotional and sensual sides of a budding lesbian romance while avoiding the sexual objectification common of the genre. Bubbly and energetic illustrations imbue the comic with the nostalgic mood of recalling first love. This refreshing take reflects the growing complexity of LGBTQ acceptance in Japan, offering realism beyond fairy tale meet-cutes. (June)

Reviewed on 06/12/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Old Geezers, Vol. 1

Wilfrid Lupano and Paul Cauuet, trans. from the French by Montana Kane. Ablaze, $24.99 (136p) ISBN 978-1-950912-00-1

A bestseller that became a feature film in France, this lighthearted, character-driven comics series by Lupano (Sea of Love) delivers more depth than typical quirky old man jokes. The first volume collects two stories featuring three elderly heroes—Pierrot, Antoine, and Emile—who are lifelong political leftists/anarchists and close friends. In the opening tale, Pierrot and Emile embark on a road trip to prevent Antoine from exacting revenge upon an ex-boss who had an affair with Antoine’s deceased wife decades ago. The second installment continues the theme of past relationships haunting the present, as Pierrot comes to believe that the woman he loved long ago is still alive—which leads to extreme complications. Throughout, the cast’s past lives are fleshed out amid present-day political commentary, such as when Antoine’s pregnant granddaughter, Sophie, delivers a rant to a cooing group of grandmothers against the “worst generation” (“You vote for the right, you’ve sacrificed the entire planet...”). Lupano also lampoons the more outrageous aspects of leftist groups, as when an aged fellow activist uses his ability to “empty out his colon on request” to befoul gatherings of the bourgeoisie. Cauuet’s detailed cartooning is superbly expressive. This mix of farce and politics, with equal parts charm and passion, is poised to win over American fans. (July)

Reviewed on 06/12/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Invisible Differences: A Story of Asperger’s, Adulting, and Living a Life in Full Color

Julie Dachez and Mademoiselle Caroline, trans. from the French by Edward Gauvin. Oni, $19.99 (196p) ISBN 978-1-6201-0766-9

Dachez and Caroline explore life with Asperger’s syndrome with candor and compassion in their English-language debut. Marguerite, a fictionalized version of Dachez, is a young Parisian woman who loves vegetarian food, sunny days, and her pets—and is frustrated about the ways she’s different from other people. Caroline’s delightfully loose, loopy style, reminiscent of Julia Wertz, captures Marguerite’s anxiety: the suffocating background noise of her gossipy office, how she can’t stand the feeling of most clothing, and the Herculean effort it takes her to get through a party. An adult diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome comes as a joyous relief—but how is she supposed to explain it to ignorant friends, coworkers, and doctors? Caroline’s use of highly saturated color creeping in and out of black and gray scenes brilliantly conveys the intrusive intensity of Marguerite’s experience of the world: scribbled red letters for the distracting babble of children, sour yellow for a dismissive doctor’s office, and cheery teal to backlight a gathering of Marguerite’s fellow “aspies.” This soulful and serious look at Asperger’s syndrome brings an informed and optimistic perspective to the fore. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/12/2020 | Details & Permalink

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