Charlotte Malterre-Barthes, Illus. by Zosia Dzierzawska
MixedNPRMany of Dzierzawska\'s clever layouts echo architectural forms, and the book as a whole expresses a tension between hardness—exemplified by square comic panels and white space—and the softness of her characteristic line. That sense of softness is perfect for evoking Gray\'s creative imagination ... For some reason Dzierzawska tends to make Gray look winsome and unassuming rather than sophisticated. But though this feels like a liberty, the book\'s bigger problem is its overall scantiness. While emphasizing how unappreciated Gray once was, Malterre-Barthes gives us far too little to appreciate. Gray\'s most memorable objects are only depicted on the book\'s endpapers; Malterre-Barthes focuses almost exclusively on the creation (and Le Corbusier\'s desecration) of the E-1027 house. Lacking detailed examinations of works like the iconic E-1027 Table (a particularly perplexing omission, considering that Gray designed it specifically for the house) or the \'Dragons\' chair...the book feels impoverished. Eileen Gray also concludes too abruptly ... Eileen Gray: A House Under The Sun is an ambiguous tribute ... it\'s a thought-provoking, if incomplete, reflection on the relationship between genius and gender.
PositiveNPREven for the most well-meaning cartoonists, it\'s supremely difficult to make race visible without reinscribing such stereotypes ... NPR editor Malaka Gharib\'s answer to the problem neatly encapsulates her whole approach to life in her high-spirited graphical memoir ... even as she makes light of herself, Gharib\'s wisdom about the power and limits of racial identity is evident in the way she draws. Most of the time, Gharib just doesn\'t bother to draw race at all ... Gharib fills her book with the things that do matter: the beliefs, values, food, music and experiences that make an Egyptian Filipino American who she is ... anger, expressed through numerous reminiscences, doesn\'t come out in her art. She draws white people to look more or less like everybody else — which is to say, like people.
Paul Buhle, Steve Max, Noah Van Sciver, and Dave Nance
PanNPR\"No one reading Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography could doubt that authors Paul Buhle and Steve Max have accessibility in mind ... Unfortunately, in this case the authors\' decision to illustrate Debs\' life seems driven less by an appreciation of the artistic possibilities as by a hope of attracting a spectrum of readers ... It\'s hard to know how much artist Noah Van Sciver had to do with this book\'s shortcomings ... Buhle and Max seem to think you make someone heroic by scrubbing them clean of flaws and having them deliver stirring oratory, so poor Sciver had to copy out line upon line of speeches. There\'s even a hand-drawn chart comparing the 1932 Socialist platform with programs adopted by the Roosevelt administration ... 35 years after [Irving] Howe pondered [why labor history is boring], it remains as formidable as ever.\
PositiveNPR\"At a certain point in her new collection Nobody\'s Looking at You, pulling together previously uncompiled essays, Janet Malcolm fails — and it\'s fascinating ... Nobody\'s Looking At You is brimful of all the eloquence, erudition and insight a thoughtful reader could want. Now, if it had just a touch more steel...\
Ted Fox and James Otis Smith
MixedNPRThe voices in this book are almost uniformly boosterish about their theater because it truly feels like their theater, even if it was owned by white guys for much of its history. Fox echoes their enthusiasm, skimming briskly past the bleak parts—from cockroaches in the dressing rooms to riots out in the streets. Smith\'s art has a similar mythmaking quality—all his depictions of the Apollo\'s performers are iconic. He draws these entertainers at their best possible moments, just as they\'d like to see themselves. Though he captures numerous electrifying onstage scenes, he softens the showbiz lifestyle\'s gritty side. These are understandable choices, but they result in a book that\'s too invested in its own myths to be a great read. That may be the only way to write about the Apollo, though ... It\'s shame Fox and Smith couldn\'t explore this potent mix [of \'shame and desperation\'] more thoroughly ... But at the Apollo, hope is always the heart of the dish.
PositiveNPRJessica Abel treads assuredly in Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars. Her years of experience as a visual storyteller serve her well in this young-adult saga ... What\'s really amazing about Abel\'s performance, though, is that she pulls it off while juggling a few different agendas. Trish Trash isn\'t just a sports story and a coming-of-age tale; it\'s also a masterful critique of capitalism. Abel manages to make this economic parable consistently engaging, even if its basic elements are familiar. If she bobbles a ball occasionally, at least she doesn\'t slip off the tightrope ... Meanwhile, though, Abel keeps Trish\'s own struggles...energized and absorbing ... Thanks to a thorough grasp of the economics behind Trish\'s story, Abel illuminates that system without becoming dogmatic or dull. The world of Mars is almost seamless, too. If Trish Trash could have used more juice in the hover rink, at least Abel keeps her balance on the believability tightrope. That\'s no small feat.
PositiveNPRIt\'s cold and rejecting, with rigid compositions like some sort of third-world safety manual. It\'s giddy and uncontrolled, with blobby figures engaging wantonly in random acts of pleasure. It\'s schematic, with a mass-produced feel. It bubbles with images of sexuality, procreation and growth. You could say all these things about Parallel Lives, Olivier Schrauwen\'s mischievous and mystifying new graphic novel, and you\'d still only be telling part of the story ... These stories toy unsettlingly with a lot of things...particularly sex ... they have a lot of sex, and it\'s depicted explicitly. These encounters are rather shocking amid Schrauwen\'s minimalist geometries ... Schrauwen\'s vision isn\'t of a bleak future, but of a bland one—which turns out to be much creepier. The smooth, touchless quality of Schrauwen\'s drawings is disquieting, too ... His wit is particularly apparent in the different ways he draws people. Most of the time, his figures aren\'t exactly cartoony and aren\'t exactly realistic, either. Their sketchy lines give them a pathetic quality even when they\'re happily \'leisuring.\' It\'s amazing how anxiety-producing it is to be confronted, page after page, with unrelatable people ... Schrauwen encapsulates oppositions, experiments with new ways of seeing and confounds as much as he intrigues. As he plays with ideas about the future, it\'s the reader who\'s his real toy.
RaveNPR\"Like Eleanor Davis in a sober mood or Nick Drnaso with the brakes on, Parrish spotlights brief moments, ignorable and usually ignored, in which humans lacerate each other invisibly ... Parrish handles the characters\' voices deftly, but The Lie might have felt slight if not for a weighty slap of capital-S Style. The book is a big hardcover with the front cover and endpapers bedecked with kaleidoscopic crowd scenes in full color, which continues throughout much of the interior ... Once she\'s read \'One Step Inside,\' Cleary leaves the book behind on the train. It\'s clear that she\'s not discarding it, but allowing it to be discovered by some new stranger. The Lie as a whole begs to be passed on in the same way. Its themes may appear simple, but its emotions linger — even if we\'ve felt them before.\
PositiveNPRM. Dean embraces and explores nostalgia with rare fervency in her debut graphic novel. Actually a series of short stories, I Am Young shows how certain classic albums inflect the lives of an assortment of teens and twentysomethings living (mostly) in the \'60s and \'70s ... People talk about nostalgia being bittersweet, but in Dean\'s case it\'s mostly just sweet. It\'s ironic that the best parts of her book are the ones that run counter to her rather cloying themes. While her characters sigh over their angsts, Dean\'s pen riots all around them. The effect is unintentionally jarring, but intriguing. This book about the past makes you wonder what its author will do next.
John Lee Anderson and José Hernández
PositiveNPRMore than 20 years ago, Jon Lee Anderson set out to disentangle the revolutionary\'s real history from his legend. The result was the critically acclaimed biography Che: A Revolutionary Life. Now, in partnership with award-winning political cartoonist José Hernández, Anderson has adapted Che into a 421-page illustrated biography ... The sheer amount of artistic labor that\'s on view in these 421 pages is awe-inspiring. Still, the creators falter when they try to condense complex ideological questions into too few panels ... Even with its problems, though, Che remains a remarkable accomplishment, one that belongs next to such works of graphical history as the March series and Shigeru Mizuki\'s Showa books. By foregrounding the tension between myth and truth, Che illuminates the present state of our politics as well as the past.
Annie Goetzinger, Trans. by Montana Kane
MixedNPRThroughout it all, Goetzinger elides emotional storms, portraying Colette and her loves as improbably, unsinkably resilient. The only real exception is when husband No. 2 objects to her affair with his son ... Goetzinger gives similarly short shrift to Colette the writer, offering little insight into a mind as fecund as it was unfettered. We seldom see her at work and learn little about what made her want to write—though we do witness her insecurity ... And yet, Colette being who she was, Goetzinger\'s approach makes a certain sense. Much of what Colette wrote was autobiographical, after all, and her horizons were bounded by love ... More importantly, Goetzinger\'s art is beguiling enough to excuse her narrative slip-ups ... Her style is deceptively transparent: She seems to be relaying beautiful visions, not crafting them. But her hand is tyrannical nonetheless. Just as she skips over the torturous parts of Colette\'s romantic progress, she banishes all grit and grot from turn-of-the-century Paris ... For anyone who likes to believe that beauty is a prime driving force in life—and that it excuses many failings—Goetzinger offers eloquent support.
PositiveWBURDhaliwal hasn\'t just imagined a world without men; she\'s imagined a world where everyone is Aminder Dhaliwal ... a remarkably sly and devastating critique of patriarchy. Dhaliwal takes the occasional direct jab at our male-dominated world (she ridicules high heels and envisions positive approaches to menstrual cramps), but is content, mostly, to let her characters\' gentle, comfortable lives speak for themselves.
PositiveNPRHanawalt turns the Western genre into a shared joke, giving its too-serious elements an absurdist spin. Instead of being a bitter, stoical figure, the heroine—a pink-skinned, canine-headed person—is mostly just goofy. It\'s all ridiculous and delightful until the truth of Doggirl\'s circumstances intrudes: She\'s fleeing a murderous posse in the wake of a terrible violation. At the moment of this revelation, and again when Doggirl must kill a horse with a broken leg, Hanawalt changes gears brusquely. The evil realities of adult life, kept offscreen until now, suddenly force their way in. It\'s a necessary shift in tone, one that makes Coyote Doggirl a book for grownups with a grownup message. For all her whimsy, Hanawalt knows being an adult is more than a matter of dressing up in a long coat, Adultman-style. We may sometimes feel as childish as Doggirl does, but our grownup problems will follow us across any desert.
PositiveNPRCome Again fits no particular genre, though much of its style and tone resemble the slow-building, true-to-life narratives of Craig Thompson, Lucy Knisley and Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. But a touch of the mystical keeps this book off-kilter, raising the stakes on a story that might otherwise have seemed thin ... Set in the 1970s, the story revolves around an \'intentional community\' in the Ozarks called Haven Station. The residents are committed to the values of communal, off-the-grid living ... The community grows its own food, of course, as well as harvesting marijuana and Luna moth caterpillars to sell in the nearest outpost of civilization ... But all is not as idyllic as it seems in Haven Station — at least, not from Hal\'s perspective...Without spoiling the story, let\'s just say Hal\'s actions stir up a mysterious force that impacts everyone profoundly. Powell has come up with a strange and unexpected series of events that are both diverting and symbolically relevant. It\'s a delight to accompany such a fertile imagination to the end of the narrative.
MixedNPR\"The GARD idea is weird enough, and Rollins is a good enough storyteller, that the narrative remains unpredictable. That keeps things interesting when Walton\'s endless self-recriminations get to be too soggy. In truth, this book\'s greatest weakness is its protagonist. Walton was once a brilliant young scientist, but he\'s never stopped regretting his involvement in the GARD program — and although Rollins suggests this regret is what\'s turned Walton into a washed-up alcoholic, it\'s hard to imagine any better fate for such a sad sack. His fellow scientist Marc may be more evil, but at least he\'s not a sap ... Whoever it was at Tor, Rollins\' publisher, who decided to print The Furnace on uncoated stock was really onto something. The butter-colored, textured paper immediately imbues the book with a sense of artistic portent and indie idiosyncrasy. A slick surface would have accentuated the cleanness of Rollins\' style, making it seem sterile and mass-produced, but the slight roughness offsets his sharp lines nicely. Even if you\'re not inclined to meditate on punishment and human nature, The Furnace\'s visuals make it a page-turner.
RaveNPR\"Her writing is unpretentious, occasionally goofy and manifestly replete with love for her fellow humans. Her art is full of love, too; her rich, swooping line seems to cradle the reader\'s eye ... But what really distinguishes Rock Steady isn\'t its thoroughness, it\'s Forney\'s personality. Only she would think to design merit badges for all the different phases of treatment ... And, of course, only Forney would include such delicious cartoons. Her layouts deftly balance information and fun. Even her font exudes warmth. Forney makes her approach seem like the only way to write about depression — or about anything. Rock Steady isn\'t just a book about \'my bipolar life,\' as the subtitle says. It\'s a book about life.\
Vero Cazot and Julie Rocheleau
RaveNPRAn artist\'s line can be aggressive, persnickety, mellow or ambivalent. In Betty, Canadian artist Julie Rocheleau\'s line is airy ... It twists and turns, swells and thins, and as it does it seems always to yearn upward, as if it would float right off the page. Rocheleau uses layers of pale color to impart even more gauzy ephemerality. Such buoyancy is crucial to this book\'s message about the heavy topic of breast cancer ... There\'s a lot of slapstick in this book, and not a lot of words. Writer Vero Cazot deliberately emulates a silent movie ... Like Rocheleau\'s airy art, Cazot\'s approach is effervescent. It\'s important to talk seriously and explicitly about breast cancer, of course, but by eliminating (most) words, Cazot shows how burdensome all that verbiage can be. Words can be as heavy as breasts (actually and metaphorically) are themselves. Cazot spins out her tale with a zany, what-the-hell eccentricity ... his frothy book isn\'t just an attempt to lighten up a serious topic. It\'s also a surprisingly subtle exploration of how we deal with the weight of both breasts and cancer.
Anthony Del Col & Geoff Moore, Illustrated by Jeff McComsey
PositiveNPR\"Son of Hitler includes plenty of standard elements — hulking stormtroopers, beret-wearing Resistance fighters, car chases through the cobblestoned byways of Paris, a frosty female spy with a fabulous forties hairdo — but it also tweaks the usual formulas. If it\'s not quite as unruly as it could have been, its gung-ho spirit is consistently infectious ... The story rattles along at a vigorous pace, but it doesn\'t have as many twists and turns as it needs to sustain narrative urgency to the end. Fortunately, artist Jeff McComsey is on hand to bring action sequences to life and infuse some drama into the draggy parts ... McComsey\'s just not that interested in subtleties of expression. He models faces the same way he models a snarled bedsheet or a glass tumbler, playing up what\'s visually grabby. As with Del Col and Moore\'s story, there\'s a bit of a sense of opportunities lost. Even so, the opportunities the creators do take are plentiful, and they nail every one ... Their humanity is nicely balanced against the story\'s shocking elements. Son of Hitler may have its slow spots, but few war stories are this much fun.\
Yvan Alagbé, Trans. by Donald Nicholson-Smith
RaveNPRThe stories in this graphic novel are about the truths — subtle, sad and surreal — that statistics can never capture ... This story, like the others in the book, is drawn in thick strokes of uncompromising black on white. Alagbé\'s ink feels more like paste — dense and chunky — and though his characters are sometimes poised in webs of painstaking lines, more often his scenes seem to burst onto the white page in a discordant frenzy that disturbs the eye ... Alagbé uses his sparse palette to deliver a potent message about how race is portrayed in Western comics.
MixedNPRHer denunciations of nose jobs, aerobics, pretension, the 1970s California lifestyle and (mostly) her own foibles are diverting, but repetitive. Kominsky-Crumb\'s main weapon against banality is her distinctive style. Married to one of the 20th century\'s greatest draftsmen, she doesn\'t even try to compete. Instead, she makes each panel a brutal, torturous act of rebellion against the very idea of artistic standards. Her compositions are haphazard, her figures follow no consistent anatomical rules and her word balloons are blobby and crowded. The constant chaos gives the eye a grueling workout ... To watch her constantly shaking off her mannered inclinations in favor of ferocious, childlike scrawling is exhausting ... But the value of Kominsky-Crumb\'s style is precisely that it confounds the expectations of highbrow critics ... Like the stiff self-portrait on the front, this book\'s bulkiness and erudite intro belie the very qualities that make its contents—however flawed—fascinating.
RaveNPRThe book\'s frontispiece perfectly encapsulates Drnaso\'s Spartan way with a line — a tightly controlled, even miserly approach to composition that seems inspired by how-to manuals or emergency diagrams ... this maestro of minimalism manages to convey the horror of senseless murder with nothing but a lumpy sheet and motionless red water in a bathtub.
MixedNPRBagieu\'s brand of feminism comes with frills and curlicues galore. Her voice is pert and saucy, and her cartoons are darling ... Brazen is at its best when Bagieu\'s ladies are shielded from physical violence and meet happy ends ... On the other hand, when Bagieu is forced to depict real hardship — the abuse and violence that marked the life of Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee, or the torture endured by the Dominican Republic\'s Mirabal sisters — she\'s daunted. She inevitably restricts such darkness to a couple of cramped panels, and when she must draw suffering faces, they\'re unconvincing ... taken together, the two styles stand in a funny kind of balance.
PositiveNPR[Tamaki is] familiar with the complicated business of writing about trendy topics but she insouciantly shrugs off trepidation. The comics in Boundless incorporate of-the-moment phenomena...But though such elements drive these stories, they never seem to shackle Boundless to the present. Instead, Tamaki's existential wistfulness lifts text messages and memes into the realm of archetype ... Her playful experiments with the space of the page range from spreads that seem to overflow the edges to changes in orientation requiring the reader to turn the book on its side.
PanNPR...in this work, Radtke gropes for something to say and fills her pages with rudimentary, schematic art. The puzzle is to what extent these weaknesses are acts of deliberation, part of a sophisticated effort to imbue the reader with Radtke's own sense of alienation, and to what extent they're merely failures of storytelling. The letdown is the realization that it's mostly the latter ... at a certain point, when someone says so little, you have to conclude they have little to say ... She doesn't mine the emotions her heart condition must inspire, and responds to her uncle's death not with open grief, but with more numbness. This book would be better off with a dose of desperation. As it stands, it's a puzzle that's not worth solving.
PositiveNPRLike its predecessor, this installment is deceptively simple in tone and style ... Sattouf's ability to convey his father's character with just a few lines never ceases to amaze ... Under Sattouf's pen, this state of affairs becomes an ingeniously apt microcosm of the larger world he grew up in. And if this installment is any indication, he has no plans to dial back his rage about it in volume 3.
PositiveNPRHot Dog Taste Test overflows with colorful oddities ... Her sense of humor resembles that of another wacky, wise New York cartoonist, Roz Chast. But Hanawalt is further off-kilter than Chast, and more disruptive. It's impossible to imagine Chast casting a series of real clay plant pots shaped like masturbating animals, for instance ... Hanawalt's perverse effervescence has its limits, though. About two-thirds of the way through the book, things slow down a lot. Her diaries of a visit to an animal preserve and a trip to Argentina are pretty standard travel stories. But her frisky watercolor brush and lavish hand with color make these sections almost as memorable, and certainly as diverting, as the mind-bending games of earlier pages.
PositiveNPRThis book of lay Biblical scholarship is simultaneously idiosyncratic, meticulous, imaginative and heretical. It's also deeply emotional, which may come as a surprise to readers of Brown's last book, Paying For It ... he makes compelling cases for a whole gamut of unconventional claims. Regarding prostitution, he asserts that Mary, Jesus' mother, was a prostitute, that the early Christians practiced prostitution, and that stories like the Parable of the Talents were pro-prostitute. Equally absorbing is Brown's contention that the Bible lends itself to a 'mystical,' rather than legalistic, interpretation.
PositiveNPRUnfortunately, the book doesn't stay with Patience. Jack's time traveling is far from foolproof, and his attempts yank him to different times and places. He suffers strange visions, and his body breaks down and reforms. This gives Clowes a chance to draw fantastic shapes, weird bolts of energy and other fun things, as well as rolling out his patented juicy color scheme. He also sends up the sci-fi and noir genres with ridiculous plot twists and goofy characters. But the time spent with Patience, in both her past and her changing present, feels much deeper.
MixedNPRWhatever comes next, it's certainly left its mark; Sattouf's feelings about the Arab world are ferocious. They coexist uneasily with his ironical soul. Sometimes rage wins out, other times it's humor. But he always knows what he thinks about his subjects—even if he doesn't allow the reader to feel the same certainty.