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Titan

François Vigneault. Oni, $19.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-62010-779-9

Good intentions are crushed by greed in this empathetic rendering of culture clash that unfolds amid the drama of an interstellar class war. João da Silva arrives as manager of a power plant on the moon Titan, imagining he’ll play the role of liberal reformer and improve relations between the 500-odd Terrans, colonists who hold all managerial and security jobs, and the 50,000 Titans, oversize grunt-level workers genetically modified to labor in low-gravity. The Terrans condescendingly see the “trolls” as brutish “giant men on tiny worlds,” while the Titans live by a moral code that values survival over sophistication: “You either take a beating or you give one.” Da Silva is assigned Titan Phoebe Mackintosh as a guide to the machinery, and the pair discover a surprising and sensual simpatico. As protests demanding “Titan for Titans” escalate into multi-planet warfare, da Silva and Mackintosh’s relationship puts both of them at risk. Vigneault makes masterful use of a limited color palette, depicting the rich texture of the industrial space station with hues of pink and black. The soft colors, quiet moments of shared intimacy, and detail in each character’s face create a tenderness unusual in a sci-fi rife with strikes and bloodshed. While many space-age stories warp toward a final frontier, Vigneault turns his characters and their loyalties inward and inside out, begging readers to ask who, in any capitalist society, is the real enemy? This blend of indie art and sci-fi social commentary will appeal to fans of the Bitch Planet and Paper Girls series. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Sapling (Family Tree #1)

Jeff Lemire et al. Image, $9.99 (96p) ISBN 978-1-53431-649-2

Readers are left guessing at every turn of this offbeat supernatural thriller series launch by Lemire (Frogcatchers) with art by Phil Hester and others. Loretta, a single mom in a small Maine town, is forced to fight for her family’s life when her daughter develops a bizarre disorder: a tree starts growing out of her back. In no time, the town is in chaos and Loretta and her kids, along with her rifle-toting father-in-law, hit the road, fleeing a shadowy organization called the Arborists. This is all played straight as hard-boiled pulp, replete with car chases, gunfights, brutal violence, and copious swearing, as if the creators barely notice how weird it is when plant life engulfs a town or Grandpa talks to his sapient artificial hand. The spare, stylized art, with shapes blocked out in strong blacks and simple colors, reminiscent of Hellboy, helps sell the genre mash-up. The first volume ends abruptly, raising more questions than glimpses of answers: What is the plant plague? What’s behind the dueling secret organizations on the family’s tail? The overall question remains: will future issues answer the mystery in a satisfying fashion? Until then, the opening volume should appeal to curious fans of well-rendered action and supernatural suspense. (June)

Reviewed on 07/10/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Leonardo da Vinci: The Renaissance of the World

Marwan Kahil and Ariel Vittori, trans. from the French by Montana Kane. NBM, $19.99 (128p) ISBN 978-1-68112-259-5

The Leonardo da Vinci who emerges from this portrait by Kahil (Albert Einstein: The Poetry of Real) remains an enigma, albeit an impressive one. A “bastard” child pitied by his neighbors, da Vinci starts his career apprenticing in late-15th-century Florence. In his youth, da Vinci is imprisoned for consorting with other young men and, after relocating to Milan to “make a lasting impression on the minds of mortals,” he finds patronage with the Sforzas. Kahil portrays da Vinci in this period as a tempestuous (“We’ll meet again in hell, Michelangelo”) multigenre polymath, crafting works like The Last Supper, a somewhat faulty flying machine, and feats of military engineering, while tossing off the Mona Lisa almost as an afterthought. Kahil skips episodically through da Vinci’s life, only glancing at scenarios including his fraught relationship with the thieving apprentice Salai and assisting the Borgias in their military conquests. Despite the dramatic framing of Vittori’s illustrations (some of which mimic the sweep and precision of da Vinci’s sketches), his subject remains somehow remote, even with the reflective framing device in which an elderly da Vinci laments Rome as a “prison of hypocrisy” while workers classify his voluminous codices for posterity. Though visually dynamic, this take on an indefinable genius still leaves too much to the imagination. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/10/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Aquatlantic

Giorgio Carpinteri, trans. from the Italian by Jamie Richards. Fantagraphics, $19.99 (56p) ISBN 978-1-68396-351-6

Carpinteri’s stylish allegory set in Atlantis satirizes the savage surface world that the Atlanteans, who call their submerged society Aquatlantic, fear and mock. Bho, an Atlantean actor, performs a popular parody about a vulgar surface man named Ettore Patria. But he’s losing himself in his role, as vulgar thoughts break in offstage and in recurring dreams. The legend taught to Aquatlantic’s school children is that two citizens swam above long ago and established a wasteful, sinful society. (“They found money to buy what they already had... warriors to defend what had never been theirs.”) Surface artifacts are displayed in a museum (including a key and a gun—which, true to form, must go off by the last act). The Atlantean’s own elitist tendencies are brought to light, as the ruling class, who worship sentient sea turtles (and torture them for prophecy) closes in on Bho as a threat to the stability of their right-thinking society. A sinister surface-dweller plot against Atlantis is revealed, then swiftly thwarted, by the wise turtle guides, who raise a song that repels the invaders. Carpinteri’s dazzling painted scenes employ motifs from futurist, art deco, and other modern art influences. While the moral of the slim story doesn’t land as particularly profound, the hypocrisy of the related worlds, above and below, is exquisitely realized, and art comics fans will likely pick up the volume more for its look than its lesson. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/10/2020 | Details & Permalink

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What We Don’t Talk About

Charlot Kristensen. Avery Hill, $14.95 (108p) ISBN 978-1-91-039555-4

Dinner with upper-crust British parents turns into a feast of racist microaggressions in Kristensen’s pointed debut graphic novella. Zimbabwe-born artist Farai is excited to finally meet the parents of her white boyfriend, Adam, but the romantic countryside weekend sours as Adam’s mother, Martha, offers casually racist commentary on African cultures (“it’s all very similar in the end... aren’t they all into dancing and colourful attires?”), Muslim refugees (“looking to sponge off our country”), and Farai’s outfits (“Oh that’s...interesting.”). When Farai turns to Adam for support, he defends his mom and pins the problem on Farai’s “sensitivity”: “Why do you always have to make everything about racism?” In one scene, the family and Farai paddle out on a lake and Farai’s face visibly holds in fury—suppressed so as to literally not rock the boat. Kristensen pours detail into the textures of Farai’s wardrobe and imbues her glances with a knowing wariness. Though a touch brief, it’s accessible for teen readers and newbies to the graphic form thanks to its straightforward plotline and courageous heroine. This bittersweet cautionary tale plays out a different kind of love story—one where Farai makes sure to love herself first. Agent: Thao Le, Dijkstra Literary (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/10/2020 | Details & Permalink

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You Died: An Anthology of the Afterlife

Edited by Kel McDonald and Andrea Purcell. Iron Circus, $20 (260p) ISBN 978-1-94582-063-2

This remarkable anthology collects positive perspectives on what happens after one dies, using fiction, nonfiction, mythology, autobiography, and other genre approaches. Some pieces are educational: Laura Ketcham’s “Peat, Bone, Oak” explains bog mummies, and Karoline Grønvik’s sumptuously drawn guide to Victorian mourning etiquette showcases veils and jet brooches. Others are personal: Danielle Chuatico shares her Filipino family’s celebration of All Souls’ Day, while Casey Gilly’s “Funeral in Foam,” drawn by Raina Telgemeier, shares her experience secretly scattering her father’s ashes at his favorite amusement park. Fictional pieces range from drama to fantasy to science fiction tales that envision high-tech funeral customs. One of the book’s visual standouts, “Inanna’s Descent into the Underworld” by Ahueonao, retells a Sumerian myth about mourning. The witty, manga-style “Third Option” by A. “Miru” Lee, meanwhile, finds representatives of the Christian and Korean Buddhist afterlives pitching to a Korean-American who believes in both. (“I mean, just the same clouds and ambrosia all day, every day?”) The editors tackle a huge and daunting subject with aplomb, resulting in a volume that embraces death as a concept with due complexity. The hefty work is diverse enough—in subject matter, mood, art, and representation of cultures and perspectives—to offer something for every open-minded reader. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/10/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Spellbound

Bishakh Som. Street Noise, $18.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-951491-03-1

Som (Apsara Engine) turns the conventional transgender memoir on its head in these witty and inventive diary-style autofiction comics, which reimagine episodes of her life played out by her cisgender quasi-avatar Anjali. Anjali acts as both a stand-in for Som before her real-life transition, and her own distinct, fully realized character. Through Anjali, Som recalls her Bengali-American upbringing, friendships and dating in N.Y.C., and how her lifelong love of art gets shunted into architecture to please her parents (nonetheless teaching her to “think expansively and sideways and diagonally”). Between flashbacks, Anjali/Som abruptly departs from a toxic architectural firm to pursue comics full-time, with the typical woes of self-setting deadlines (and lots of cooking and talking to her cat). Som’s design choices display her architectural eye, from the precise layout of word balloons to crisp interiors and glowing landscapes. In the chapter “Elevator Pitch,” Som recounts meeting Titania, a trans woman, at a party; as they bond and begin a relationship, the emotional consequence plays out differently for Anjali as a character than for Som herself (as she explains in an afterword). In capturing both experiences, Som distinguishes her dual narrative talents. As Anjali remarks, “I’ve always been this way.” Creative nonfiction aficionados and fans of queer comics alike will flock to this literally transformative work. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Guantanamo Voices

Sara Mirk. Abrams ComicArts, $24.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4197-4690-1

Mirk (Open Earth) teams up with more than a dozen talented artists to present these wrenching illustrated oral histories, which function eloquently as “an antidote to forgetting,” as reporter Omar El Akkad writes in his introduction. Each piece is based on original interviews with individuals who spent time at the Guantanamo Bay prison, among them ex-prisoners, service members, and a former chief of Middle East counterintelligence. Their stories form a damning mosaic of a Kafkaesque facility that was built on non-U.S. soil in order to circumvent federal laws guaranteeing the right of prisoners to free trials, thereby trapping them in years of imprisonment, some with no formal charges ever laid against them. Aside from the brutal conditions and torture described by ex-prisoners such as Moazzam Begg, testimony is given from lawyers like Matthew Diaz, who blew the whistle on the human rights abuses occurring—and subsequently had his career destroyed. Though the artistic styles vary, ranging from the expressionistic linework of Omar Khouri to the immediately charming comics of Kane Lynch, the warm color palette designed by Kazimir Lee unifies the collection while helping the heavy subject matter stay measurably more approachable. This anthology disturbs and illuminates in equal measure. Agent: Fiona Kenshole, Transatlantic Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Post-Apocalypto

Tenacious D (Jack Black and Kyle Gass). Fantagraphics, $29.99 (184p) ISBN 978-1-6839-6377-6

This raunchy sugar-high of a graphic novel captures the fun side of life after an atom bomb attack: things will be weird, but they will also rock. Starring (and authored by) snark-rock duo Tenacious D (actors Black and Gass), and tied to an album and animated series, the venture opens with the two jumping a tank of sharks on a motorcycle (“rent is due, man!”) when the bomb drops. After riding out the blast in an old refrigerator, the dudes voyage across the wasteland with their two-headed dog, Hope. Their odyssey unfolds like half-remembered B movies, featuring everything from a Clan of the Cave Bear seductresses to a Terminator-esque killer android, before getting to their mission: retrieving the Crystal of Gilgamesh from the White House (guarded by Nazis and the Klan) to reverse Earth’s polarity and save the day. The flat colors and slapdash drawing (by Black), studded with non-sequitur graphic sex intervals, give the book the feel of a zine knocked together in a junior high classroom during detention. The frequent music intervals (mostly mock rock opera bombast; plus Donald Trump Jr. gets his own sad villain ballad) limits its appeal to that of an accompaniment fold out to the Post-Apocalypto album. Either way, it’s a self-consciously juvenile lark, best read while playing Tenacious D at 11. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Paris 2119

Zep and Dominique Bertail, trans. from the French by Mike Kennedy. Magnetic, $21.99 (88p) ISBN 978-1-94236-762-8

Stunning artwork props up a conventional science fiction plot in this lushly drawn European import from Zep (A Strange and Beautiful Sound) and Bertail (the Infinity 8 series). In a stylishly art-directed future, teleportation and virtual reality have left the sidewalks of Paris practically empty, which is a shame considering how great it looks: skylines glitter in the rain, geometric drones float through the air, stray armadillos wander the Metro, and the architecture is an eye-popping clash of retro-futuristic aesthetics. Tristan, a brooding freelance writer with a James Dean pout, avoids using the Transcore teleportation system and wanders the streets alone, then goes home to his wife to exchange extremely French thoughts like: “The very concept of happiness is dead, since everything is accessible virtually.” Then he stumbles upon a shocking secret about Transcore and becomes the target of a shadowy conspiracy. The Blade Runner–esque noir plot is competently executed but feels overfamiliar, as does the climactic revelation about Transcore, which is unlikely to surprise genre readers. But Bertail excels at visual worldbuilding, creating a Moebius-inspired urban wonderland in delicate inks and layered watercolors. It’s also sexy and sexually frank in the tradition of classic European Heavy Metal comics. While the story doesn’t break any new ground, the art is drop-dead gorgeous; it’s a volume to leaf through with plot an afterthought. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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