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Afterlift

Chip Zdarsky and Jason Loo. Dark Horse, $19.99 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-1-5067-2440-9

Dante’s Inferno meets Uber in this intoxicatingly ingenious Eisner Award winner for Best Digital Comic, collected here in a trade volume. Demon Dumu has been sent to escort Suzanna, dead of an overdose, to his master Lucifer down below, and tricks rideshare driver Janice Chen into becoming their Charon across the River Styx. Hot on their trail are demons Pythazus, Zeniakra, and Gornaux, and Janice’s only ally may be the fallen angel Twyzel of purgatory. Zdarsky (the Sex Criminals series) infuses his plot with clever moments (the clock on Janice’s phone suddenly ticks to 666) and touching scenes where Janice must confront shame from her past and her own crisis of faith following a family tragedy. Artist Loo (The Pitiful Human-Lizard series) efficiently blends the mundane with the fantastic in character designs and adds dynamism to the many car chases. Going deeper than a simple good vs. evil narrative, the tale begs questions about organized religion and faith, and lands a tricky finish with emotional fidelity. The broader themes will appeal beyond just fans of the chase adventure genre—though they’ll find plenty to cheer on here, too. It’s a weird, wild ride well worth taking. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/15/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Twister

Roland Burkart, trans. from the German by Natascha Hoffmeyer. Graphic Mundi, $17.50 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-0-271-08808-2

Burkart’s candid, compressed graphic narrative reveals the quotidian experiences of quadriplegic life, filling in all aspects of living with the aftermath of a sudden spinal injury. Swiss sales rep Piedro awakens from a diving accident to find himself a quadriplegic, and Burkhart visualizes his internal struggles and triumphs as he emerges from an induced coma, learns his diagnosis, and eventually how to adjust to his new reality. At first his brain is fogged by pain medication, leading to vivid hallucinations, and he’s convinced he’ll walk again. Gradually, through rehab and with the support of family, friends, and nursing aides, he begins to understand his capacities and find independence, return to work, and connect with a partner. “I had no choice but to be patient,” Piedro says. Bukart draws from his own experiences, as an artist who continued to paint after becoming paralyzed. His brushy drawings carry sharp details, and his inky washes and swirls convey the intense emotions underlying the concise narration. This plainspoken dispatch will appeal to anyone who has confronted unexpected medical challenges, providing an uplifting example of how to build a different but fulfilling life. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/15/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A House Without Windows

Marc Ellison and Didier Kassaï, trans. from the French by Nanette McGuinness. Life Drawn, $19.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-64337-542-7

Photographer Ellison and cartoonist Kassai’s innovative account of the lives of impoverished children in the Central African Republic employs photography, sequential art, and documentary filmmaking to extraordinarily moving effect. The pair document the lives of children working in diamond mines, doctors who administer hundreds of malaria tests per day, and young girls whose friendship defies ethnic enmity. Photographs of their subjects are juxtaposed with, and seamlessly move into, comics narratives that relay and contextualize their reports. “I told him I stole only because I was hungry,” captions a photo of a boy aiming a slingshot at the camera, which morphs into a comic showing the boy running from a shopkeeper with his raised fist holding a belt. Kassai’s visuals are marvelously intimate—with only a few artfully deployed brushstrokes, he conveys everything from the slumped weariness of a homeless child to the clenched consternation of a Doctors Without Borders field coordinator. The book also includes a QR code link to a video, and the mixing of mediums succeeds at immersion, rather than coming off as gimmicky. Ellison and Kassai don’t look away from the brutality or beauty found in Central African life in this remarkable collaboration. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/15/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Bucket List of the Dead (Zom 100 #1)

Haro Aso and Kotaro Takata, trans. from the Japanese by Nova Skipper. Viz, $12.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-974720-56-9

The end of the world is a gift in Aso (the Hyde & Closer series) and Takata’s entertaining manga spin on the zombie genre. Twenty-four-year-old Akira Tendo’s employed at a company that uses exploitive tactics to work its employees to the bone. He frequently pulls all-nighters and deals with passive-aggressive threats from his superiors, and lusts after his winsome coworker, Saori Ohtori, who also happens to be the “boss’s side piece.” Akira is so set in the routine of his daily drudge that when a zombie apocalypse erupts, his first thought is that it’s going to make him late for the office. When reality comes crashing in, he determines to make a bucket list of 100 things to do before he inevitably becomes a zombie. First stop is confessing his love to Saori. Some reflective moments intersperse the fun and action, as Akira muses: “I sacrificed time I could have spent with friends and for what? What good did all that overtime do me?” Takata’s art pops with a wonderful frenetic energy that propels Akira’s quest. Akira’s glee at escaping his job—even if it means the world is ending—serves up giddy wish-fulfillment. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Thirsty Mermaids

Kat Leyh. Gallery, $29.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-982133-57-3

Leyh (Snapdragon) unleashes another smart, heartfelt, and hilarious fantasy adventure in her first adult-oriented original graphic novel. After drunkenly transforming themselves into humans to party on dry land, three merfolk wake up to discover they’re trapped when they can’t undo the magic, and are forced to adapt while looking for a way to break the spell. While brash, scrappy Tooth and gregarious Pearl find odd jobs to pay the rent, their podmate Eez—a sea witch—toils in vain searching for both a solution to their dilemma and relief from the intense dysmorphia of being in a two-legged body. Leyh aptly uses this setup to explore themes of social alienation and queer “found family” as the trio bond with their new roommate Vivi, a trans woman of color, who teaches them about movies, breakfast food, and the horrors of capitalism. Each page vibrates with glowing colors, lending energy to Leyh’s already raucous (and bodily diverse) character designs; even the lettering feels full of life. This modern myth-bending escapade from a rising comics star serves up humor and light. Agent: Charlie Olsen, InkWell Management. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Off: The Day the Internet Died: A Bedtime Fantasy

Chris Colin and Rinee Shah. Prestel, $15 (32p) ISBN 978-3-7913-8687-4

Colin (What to Talk About) teams with illustrator Shah (The Made-up Words Project) for this satirical “bedtime story.” In the near future, Colin and Shah imagine a “day the screens [go] dark,” when smartphones, computers, and TVs inexplicably cease working. Though society at first mourns the loss of easily googleable factoids and “dog fails,” Colin’s nameless protagonist (who pronounces like a biblical narrator) and his children rediscover the pleasures of enjoying nature, playing games (Minecraft now involves actual leaves and sticks), and connecting with others face-to-face. Shah’s luscious coloring and cleverly designed spoofs on Christian iconography are a consistent delight, particularly her broken-laptop-toting cherubs. But Colin’s premise falters into cliché (“On the day the screens went dark, I swiped neither left nor right upon the toilet”) and feels rather ill-timed to the pandemic moment where essential human connection depends on screen connectivity. Though for those who share its luddite-shakes-fist sensibility, the visual appeal and dry wit make it a ready gift-book for the technophobic. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Mannie Murphy. Fantagraphics, $24.99 (216p) ISBN 978-1-68396-410-0

Murphy’s piercing debut, originally self-published as zines, unfolds a disquieting narrative that opens with a rumination on the death of their childhood icon River Phoenix and progresses through a history of white supremacy in Portland, Ore. They document Phoenix’s rise to fame in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho (set in Portland); the bisexual actor’s close, erotically charged bond with Keanu Reeves; and his 1993 death by overdose. Murphy also suggests Van Sant “fancied troubled boys” and ingratiated himself with Reeves, Phoenix, and the sex workers he incorporated into his films. They move on to tell the life story of another youth befriended and filmed by Van Sant: white supremacist Ken “Death” Mieske—and this leads into a history of Mieske’s role in the 1988 racial murder of Mulugeta Seraw and an exploration of the white nationalist roots of Oregon itself. The art is unnervingly intimate if not always technical masterpieces, and its often uncanny quality is appropriately unsettling. Murphy’s contemplation of the intersections of pop culture, exploitation, and racial politics digs ever deeper, and the epilogue delivers a chilling analysis of Geraldo Rivera’s infamous 1988 “Young Hatemongers” segment, which “became a catalyst for the ‘coming out’ of radical white supremacists.” Murphy’s elegaic treatment grants a sobering reflection on the depth and deadliness of American intolerance. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Asadora!, Vol. 1

Naoki Urasawa, trans. from the Japanese by John Werry. Viz, $14.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-974717-46-0

Followers of Eisner winner Urasawa (the 20th Century Boys series) will recognize familiar tropes in this promising series opener: a looming monster apocalyptic threat, well-researched Japanese history, and cinematic framing within the rich landscape of 1959 Nagoya. Asa Asada’s mother is in labor, and Asa has been tasked with finding the family doctor despite an approaching typhoon. One of 11 siblings, Asa is sure she won’t be missed when she is kidnapped by war veteran–turned–criminal Haruo Kasuga. Forced to take shelter from the storm together in a cargo container, Asa and Kasuga later emerge from the crate to discover a destroyed town, and that they’ve drifted far away from Asa’s house. Forming an unlikely alliance, Asa convinces Kasuga to help typhoon survivors and find her way back home. Urusawa excels in focusing on human drama and multifaceted characters, and the storytelling is matched with dynamic, classic realist manga artwork influenced by Osamu Tezuka. Equal parts heartwarming and mysterious, this first volume will be a sure hit for Urasawa fans. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/01/2021 | Details & Permalink

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After the Rain

Nnedi Okorafor, John Jennings, and David Brame. Abrams ComicArts, $22.99 (128p) ISBN 978-1-4197-4355-9

Upon Chioma’s arrival to the remote Nigerian village where her great-aunt and grandma live, heavy, unseasonable rain begins to fall, in this vibrant, succinct graphic adaptation by Jennings (Kindred) and Brame (Baaaad Muthaz) of Okorafor’s short story “On the Road.” On the third night of rainfall, a boy with brains busting out of his broken skull calls on Chioma and declares her “it.” A Chicago detective, Chioma isn’t easily shaken by gore, but even she isn’t able to grasp the strange happenings that follow, the unknowable entity that stalks her, and what that entity will do when it catches her. Though, the original is open to interpretation, the adaptation, which was created in conjunction with Okorafor, outright states a moral to the story: “I am Nigermerican... and where those two parts meet is where I am whole again,” slightly marring the enigma of the ending. But Brame’s bold and arresting use of color and shading lends an unnerving atmosphere to the setting, while his attention to facial expressions injects the panels with emotion. This mostly faithful adaptation honors Okorafor’s voice and paints a potent portrait of Nigeria and its folklore. Agent: Donald Maass, Donald Maass Literary Agency (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/01/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Wika

Thomas Day and Olivier Ledroit, trans. from the French by Christopher Pope. Titan Comics, $39.99 (232p) ISBN 978-1-78773-592-7

Magic, myth, and machinery meld to give an edgy steampunk skin to this European import fairy tale, which looks fabulous but leans heavily on archetypes. The fantasy opens on the bloodthirsty Prince Oberon and his ogreish followers murdering Duke Claymore Grimm and Duchess Titania Grimm. Wika, their daughter, is smuggled away and wounds she’s received are treated with a protective magic ink that blossoms into tattoos across her skin. Thirteen years later, Wika reemerges in the kingdom of Pan, which is being brutally conquered by now King Oberon, and in three more years a powerful magic erupts from her to threaten his rule. Wika resolves to become a Grand Fairy, lead the charge against Oberon and his army, and restore peace to the kingdom. Ledroit’s lush, Klimt-like artwork boasts a meticulousness that borders on dizzying, rewarding readers who linger. Unfortunately, that same attention to detail does not extend to French novelist Day’s script, which relies heavily on convenience to advance the plot and stale fantasy archetypes, with montages too often filling in for character development and relationship building. Though gorgeous to page through, the volume offers more style than storytelling substance. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/01/2021 | Details & Permalink

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