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Her Frankenstein

Kawashima Norikazu, trans. from the Japanese by Ryan Holmberg. Smudge, $19.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-961581-91-3

A businessman’s past comes back to haunt him in this stunning psycho-horror manga by Norikazu, which was originally published in 1986. Plagued by visions of a shadowy, faceless woman, Tetsuo recalls suppressed memories of his brief and tumultuous friendship with Kimiko—an infirm teenage girl whose obsessions with old movies and violence prove to be a deadly combination when she manipulates Testuo into donning the guise of a vindictive Frankenstein monster and lashing out against those who have wronged them. When their role-play crosses the line from mean-spirited pranks to mayhem, the results shatter both of their lives. Kawashima’s suspenseful thriller is cinematic and beautiful, full of the indelible imagery—an eerily calm seascape, a discarded mask, a featureless face—that established him as one of the leading names in Japanese horror comics. It’s a must-read for fans of Junji Ito and Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. (May)

Reviewed on 05/03/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Search and Destroy

Atsushi Kaneko, trans. from the Japanese by Ben Applegate. Fantagraphics, $14.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-68396-932-7

Kaneko (Bambi and Her Pink Gun) outdoes himself with this gonzo sci-fi reimagining of Osamu Tezuka’s classic manga series Dororo. In Kaneko’s hands, the feudal Japanese setting of Tezuka’s original becomes a futuristic dystopia with a Soviet brutalist aesthetic. In the aftermath of a war between humans and androids known as Kreachers, Doro, a snarky child thief, runs afoul of the gang lords who rule a snowbound city. He falls in with Hyaku, a young woman dressed in animal hides who’s out to retrieve body parts she believes were stolen from her by Kreachers. The story is packed with wall-to-wall action, stunningly and gruesomely rendered: explosions, bloody assassinations, wild animal attacks, underground cyborg surgery, a fight on top of a speeding semitruck. But beneath the bloodshed is a deceptively well-structured story about injustice, revenge, and the blurred lines between organic life and technology. Kaneko is heavily influenced by American artists like Coop, Frank Kozik, and Charles Burns, as Frederico Anzalone notes in his introduction, and there are even elements of Will Eisner in the book’s rambling cityscapes. It’s a blast of pure cyberpunk energy. (July)

Reviewed on 04/26/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Chad in Amsterdam

Chad Bilyeu. Scratch, $29.95 (176p) ISBN 978-94-93166-80-6

Bilyeu’s eclectic debut graphic memoir proves full of thoughtful and introspective vignettes. Raised in Cleveland, Bilyeu came to Amsterdam in 2009 for the weed but stayed for the city’s “palpable” history. He touches on many subjects in Harvey Pekar–inspired asides, each of which is given its own look by a different artist. Styles range from French cartoonist Boyane’s grungy Peter Bagge look to fellow American expat Eryc Why’s crisp precision. Though Amsterdam’s reputation for depravity isn’t central to the narrative, it’s still vividly depicted. Bilyeu alludes to his slides into “escapism” in a city where “your weekends can begin on Wednesday and end on Tuesday,” and in one chapter he interviews an exotic dancer from a strip club front row seat. Dislocation is a theme, from his struggles with the language to his refusal to accept Dutch “propaganda” that their “Black Pete” folk figure isn’t “blatantly racist.” While he satirizes the hedonistic culture, he also pokes fun at himself (in a mock autobiography, he confesses to having “eschewed pursuing girls and playing sports for... the consumption of comic books and Hip-Hop music”). It’s a witty and surprisingly intimate portrait of an artist trying not to be a stranger in a strange land. Agent: Inge Koks, Stichting Publieke Werken. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/26/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Sacrificers

Rick Remender and Max Fiumara. Image, $16.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-5343-9789-7

Remender (the Uncanny X-Force series) and Fiumara (the Amazing Spider-Man series) unite for a thrilling fantasy set in a kingdom whose prosperity relies on its terrible secret: every year, one child from each common family is taken from their parents and sacrificed. This ritual follows a religious law rigorously enforced by flame-headed King Rokos, though there’s something even more sinister at the heart of the tradition. Remender skillfully divides the narrative between those chosen to be sacrificed (including the blue-feathered bird-being Pigeon and pious, placid Noom) and the high court, including Rokos’s rebellious daughter Soluna. Moments of profound sadness are mixed with weird beauty thanks to Fiumara’s phantasmagorical characters, who are both frightening and whimsical. The conceit will put readers in mind of The Hunger Games, Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” and The Wizard of Oz, but Remender’s keen attention to pacing and worldbuilding polishes it into a shining example of a familiar trope. Genre fans will eagerly anticipate future installments. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/26/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Full of Myself: A Graphic Memoir About Body Image

Siobhán Gallagher. Andrews McMeel, $19.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-5248-6768-3

Part graphic memoir, part self-help manual, Gallagher’s accessible debut draws on examples from her own life to explore how women are taught to see themselves. “To be a girl is to go from being an observer to being observed,” she writes, recalling the negative body image she developed at a young age (“If I were a Pokémon, I bet I’d be one of the ugly ones... like Psyduck”), her fear of being the “fat friend” in her social group, the sexual harassment she experienced in one workplace after another, and her struggles with depression, bulimia, and cutting. Though she doesn’t shy away from dark confessions, she finds humor in her efforts to get comfortable in her body. With cheery art and wry humor, she draws her changing fashion choices over the decades (the ’90s features “my most provocative scrunchie: red silk in black mesh”) and depicts her first serious relationship as a TV rom-com. Throughout, her friendly cartoon avatar offers advice on unlearning harmful cultural messages and developing a healthy body image. Young adults in particular will appreciate Gallagher’s agility at connecting her individual experiences to universal feminist issues. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/26/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Jellyfish

Boum, trans. from the French by Robin Lang and Helge Dascher. Pow Pow, $22.95 trade paper (228p) ISBN 978-2-925114-30-7

“Miss, you have a jellyfish in your eye,” an optometrist tells 20-something Odette in the opening pages of this quietly courageous slice-of-life graphic novella from Boumeries cartoonist Boum. The jellyfish, a distracting floater in her left eye, appears hovering around Odette’s head as she goes about her daily routine in an artsy French Canadian neighborhood: working at a bookstore, hanging out with friends, tending to her pet rabbit, and pursuing a romance with her manga-loving crush, Naina. She tries to ignore the darkness encroaching on her sunny existence—an approach that Naina, who struggles to cut ties with her abusive father, has trouble understanding—but another jellyfish appears in her field of vision, and then another. “I feel like my eyeballs are grinding in their sockets,” she remarks to herself as they multiply, as do other problems for her and Naina. Boum’s sinuous artwork makes Odette’s world pulse with life. The settings feel lived-in, and her charmingly designed characters are constantly moving, changing, and emoting. The result is a graceful and empathetic story about learning to see what’s important. (May)

Reviewed on 04/26/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Maple Terrace

Noah Van Sciver. Uncivilized, $24.95 (120p) ISBN 978-1-941250-59-4

A budding comic artist undergoes trial by bully in Eisner Award winner Van Sciver’s deeply vulnerable and darkly comic graphic novella, which marks a return to the intimate style of his memoir One Dirty Tree. One of nine kids in an impoverished Mormon family in “New Jersey 1992ish,” young Noah is a panicky, dorky eight-year-old whose only respite from the chaos of his filthy home and nearly friendless life is comics. He’s delighted to find a stash of them abandoned by a neighborhood kid who was buying copies as investments (the 1990s’ collector issue bubble is thinly satirized throughout the narrative), until he realizes his discovery could lead to a beatdown from the bullies who torment him. Van Sciver’s rendering of Noah flop-sweating through crises under the guilt-inducing gaze of the family’s Joseph Smith portrait is largely comedic, due to the comix-y drawing (toothy mouths, bugged-out eyes) and the author’s sardonic humor (Noah’s brother Ethan, who also grew up to become a comic artist, is depicted as a kind of demigod with glowing eyes). Still, Noah’s tribulations are earnestly real. This affecting snapshot will resonate with readers who can relate to the agonies and ecstasies of the young comics enthusiast. (May)

Reviewed on 04/19/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Field

Dave Lapp. Conundrum, $30 trade paper (540p) ISBN 978-1-77262-094-8

Vignettes from the unsupervised fringes of a 1970s Ontario suburb comprise this wistful graphic memoir from Lapp (Drop-In). Over a languid summer off from elementary school, David explores the abandoned fields near his family home. Tagging along behind Edward, his slightly older next-door neighbor, David combs the grassy landscape for mice, frogs, and insects. Evading their parents’ notice, the duo smuggle boxes of matches out of David’s house and baby rabbits in. Nostalgia permeates many of the episodes—dandelion wishes, the sear of hot asphalt on bare feet—but the days are far from idyllic. In the company of older boys, Edward can be casually cruel, as when he drops a hammer on David and another boy from his perch on an unfinished tree fort. “You know I don’t like you being around that boy,” David’s mother scowls. She hesitates to intervene, though, as she’s preoccupied by marital strain and her own sense of isolation. Lapp’s ear for dialogue and his spare, economical cartooning (reminiscent of Chester Brown, with the slightest shades of Edward Gorey) distill a persuasive kid’s-eye view of the world eroding around David. Residential development razes the untended fields; his parents’ marriage dissolves. Lapp’s sensitive yet unsentimental portrait of fading innocence is an exceptional achievement. (May)

Reviewed on 04/19/2024 | Details & Permalink

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All My Bicycles

Powerpaola, trans. from the Spanish by Andrea Rosenberg. Fantagraphics, $19.99 trade paper (108p) ISBN 978-1-68396-950-1

Colombian cartoonist Powerpaola (Virus Tropical) delivers an evocative coming-of-age memoir in which various bicycles from her past represent touchpoints in her maturation from tweenhood to adulthood. In the opening vignette, she describes a brief fling that ended with her paramour’s bike getting stolen under her watch, after which he dumped her, claiming, “I can’t be with a Gemini.” Other anecdotes recall a fleeting friendship with a girl named Violetta, with whom she biked “all around Cali,” and a terrible accident in which she ran into an open manhole while drunk, which she relates over drawings of an alligator. In another episode, she wanders the city of Medellín after a breakup, interacting with various seedy characters and eventually acquiring a bicycle she loved so much that she “forgot about my broken heart.” By stringing these disparate events together, Powerpaola attempts to reconcile her past and present, understanding that pain and experience bring wisdom: “Through drawing and writing, you come to understand events as they occur in life.... You stop seeing them as surprises.” The charmingly naive drawings perfectly match her alter ego’s adventurous spirit. It’s a lovely ride. (June)

Reviewed on 04/19/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Vera Bushwack

Sig Burwash. Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95 trade paper (236p) ISBN 978-1-77046-711-8

Burwash’s confident debut aches with joy and pain. Drew, a tough and suspicious “bushwacker,” is determined to build a cabin in the woods on their own. Flanked by their dog Pony, Drew cuts down trees, salvages wood from an abandoned house, swims and fishes in the nearby lake, and accepts coffee, chats, and chain saw lessons from a local lumberjack. The experience of sheer physical power—revving the chain saw, straddling a motorcycle, gunning a truck—inspires fantasies that break free of common sense and panel borders. In one, Drew transforms into “Vera Bushwack” and rides rodeo in nothing but fringed backless chaps, wielding power tools over their head. Drew’s phone conversations with their close friend Ronnie and flashbacks to traumatic moments in their pre-wilderness life hint at the motivations behind their pursuit of total freedom—“It can feel impossible to feel safe,” Drew confesses to their lumberjack neighbor at one point—but the book doesn’t push for dramatic disclosures. Instead, Burwash observes Drew’s quest with keen curiosity, detailing each skill learned and portraying each day as a step closer to a goal. Burwash’s fine, clean lines sketch out vibrant characters and loose natural vistas, capturing the texture of dark, buggy nights and mud-streaked afternoons. Readers will relish this fresh and unforced celebration of a wild and precious life. (June)

Reviewed on 04/19/2024 | Details & Permalink

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