PositiveThe BeatTo a degree, this chapter of the Paul series feels meandering, almost directionless. Paul sulks around with nothing, in particular, driving him, nowhere to go, not much to do ... If Paul seems lost, the book does, too. But that’s no accident. This quality of Paul At Home reflects the reality of going somewhere without being able to see it as so many people experience it ... the brilliance of Paul lies not in the exceptional quality of the life portrayed, but in the normality and therefore accessibility and familiarity. Rabagliati has a keen instinct when it comes to parsing out the key moments of human life that are common to most of us, regardless of what kind of life we are leading, and he understands the conflicts become deeper and the meaning of our responses richer as we grapple with them as older people because we’ve reached a horrible moment where the end might still be far away, but it’s definitely in sight now.
Tian Veasna, Trans. by Helge Dasche
RaveThe Beat... an accessible document detailing the experience of the Cambodian people during that time. Veasna achieves something unusual by putting faces on the figures of history who typically go without identity, while also providing the general historical context to the events that led to genocide, in a masterful balance that begs you to keep turning the page ... Veasna’s strength is in putting this sprawling story down in terms that don’t funnel the oppression onto the reader. Part of that is through the artwork, which never overpowers even the grimmest moments and turns them into something overwhelming, but keeps its cool ... Amidst the engulfing dark cloud, on a person-to-person basis, there is hope, and Veasna keeps his reader’s interest by never forgetting that aspect.
PositiveThe BeatHarari captures the atmosphere of the real baths chillingly ... Perhaps humans are just very good at fabricating things to keep us going through the ages, keep our minds alive and moving forward, keep us interested. Maybe that’s all it is. That’s okay. Harari’s contribution to this human tradition is a particularly strong one and compelling on its own and as part of something larger. Swimming In Darkness presents mysteries on all these levels that are inviting and comforting. It reminds us that there is a thrill to being human even still.
RaveComics BeatI’ve not seen that particular aspect of modern American life captured as well as Eleanor Davis does in The Hard Tomorrow. There’s a mist winding through the book’s drama, the cloud of paranoia, and it creates a philosophical union amongst the different sections of the book ... Davis has chosen to portray her characters as multi-faceted human beings rather than types, any of whom have aspects you might like and you might dislike, and this leads to more than a few conflicted reactions to what happens ... ends on a hopeful note, but the mist still lingers and manifests in the the idea that this paranoia the characters feel might not all be misguided.
RaveThe Beat... because the work is not confined by boundaries, that doesn’t mean they are out of control. They are, in fact, kept in check by Roberts’ deadpan style that does well in relating everyday events because everyday is, most typically, deadpan, thanks to a lack of awareness by the players that we are right in the middle of it ... A large part of Roberts’ comics center around the relationship between she and her daughter Xia, who functions as a perfect partner for Roberts in the area of witty banter and matter-of-fact conclusions ... Even as the scenes shuffle on, the deadpan quality is like a signal to pause and consider what you just read before you go onto the next scene, and so the book can move quickly from a therapy session to an incident while sledding to an exchange with Roberts’ father, but in each, the moment to breath and consideration does come ... the work of a person who’s taking a lot in and passing on as much as she can, but also paying attention to it all despite it’s girth. It’s just normal life, but Roberts has a good hold on the meanings that accompany the action. Rat Time shifts from a moment spent with pet rats to a moment spent with the creatures in your mind, examining, relating, appreciating, at whatever the pace.
PositiveThe BeatNewlevant takes a casual, friendly pace with the events that unfold, and they depicts themself as a pretty happy kid in a pretty happy situation ... For asking such big questions, Newlevant never gets preachy, never retreats into a frantic tone, and never tries to distance themself from their own place within the questions. It’s a sober account of something a lot of people go through and, unfortunately, continue to go through.
RaveThe BeatHot Comb is Flowers’ debut book and it’s a hugely impressive one, placing Flowers’ intellectual strength upfront. On one hand, these are slice of life stories, filled with life and energy, and the product of someone who is obviously a keen observer of humanity. Flowers’ dialogue is so natural and her portrayals of conversation so realistic, and her words are in perfect partnership with her cartooning. Her figures are alive, with rich body language ... But Flowers’ skill at depicting the intimate are just one aspect of how fully-realized her talent springs forth in this book. What makes it so special is the way she wraps these elements around larger themes of race without ever making you feel like you are reading A Very Important Work With A Heavy Purpose. Rather, Flowers lets the characters be themselves, lets the situations unfold, and by bringing these together, lets the big themes come out naturally and — more important — decisively. The narratives in Hot Comb make the point. The characters make the point. You learn through the experience. You learn through empathy. Hot Comb is like a masterclass in how to make comics.
PositiveThe Beat...Lust does well in illustrating the vehemence of her need in the graphic, crucial sex scenes, often explosive and disorienting, drawing the reader into the intensity of the emotions behind them as much as the raw physical details. These scenes especially provide emotional context for what would lead Lust to sometime become more concerned with her abuser’s well-being than her own ... The core of Lust’s memoir is within the title itself — How I Tried to Be a Good Person. It’s an apologetic title, also a bit defensive, and it’s probably something we’ve all thought in certain situations. It also suggests that there is a universal \'good\' way to be a person and that we can actually try to be that. But of course, the guidelines are vague and the properties within them are more complicated than we believe they are, so the title also points to an comfortable truth — trying to be a good person is the best we can really do in this life.
George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, Illus. by Harmony Becker
PositiveThe BeatWith all the heaviness inherent in Takei’s story, lightening the emotional load of the presentation doesn’t come easy. Takei doesn’t shy away from happier moments, even amusing moments, but the circumstances in which they happen taint them from being true releases. Harmony Becker does a huge amount of the heavy-lifting in keeping They Called Us Enemy from becoming too emotionally oppressive. Her work is in a Manga-style and keeps the darkness at bay even as it clearly depicts such negative events. In many ways, she is the perfect compliment to Takei’s soul, visualizing his overriding emotions to his own experience ... it is Takei’s soul that is the star of They Called Us Enemy, especially in its representation of the souls of so many others ... Takei doesn’t explore the ideas historically — that is, he doesn’t trace a history of American mass detention prior to World War II — but he does lay out the connection between what he endured and what is going on now with undocumented immigrants, and he he doesn’t try to soft sell it. He presents it as a horror that we ought to be ashamed of. And he’s right.
RaveThe Beat... Gharib displays an infectious enthusiasm for openness ... though it has every right to be preachy, heavy, and sometimes even despairing, Gharib lends more helpful emotions to her message. Her cartooning gives her biography a charming edge that feels like honest sharing with a happy smile, and that is matched by her openness. Gharib seems genuinely devoted to the idea of figuring this stuff out the best she can, of looking at the negative in a positive way that moves things forward and brings people to some kind of understanding, and of bringing an energy and humor to a dynamic that so often falls victim to hostility. It’s a complete and insightful work, one that doesn’t have Gharib posing as an expert on the subject matter, but as a fellow traveler telling us what she’s discovered, and where she hopes to go with it, in the hopes that there is more she can understand.
PositiveThe BeatM. Dean’s I Am Young...is not a depiction of the importance of music in young folks, but an examination of its place in young identity and relationships ... And so while the focus of Dean’s book might appear to be music, it’s really just identity, who you are and who we are together. Music becomes something we cling to in an attempt to find clarity and definition to ourselves and any situation, to bring order to the chaos of both the moment and the extended drama of life, but as an art style, music is the presentation of these more personal circumstances. Music is the announcement of who we are, but Dean is just as committed to depicting what lies under the songs.
RaveThe Beat\"In her profound and dense illustrated memoir Belonging: A German Reckons With History And Home, illustrator Nora Krug examines her national identity and her family’s history to try to explain why Germans are the way they are by delving into the Hitler-era questions she has about her own family ... It’s to our benefit that Krug gives herself so fully to her research, and her ability to spin the facts around real emotion and insight concocts a history both personal and sweeping and thorough from each vantage point ... Krug’s book is as valuable as it is personable, a reminder that humans are the ones living through history and that their lives seldom live up to the binary demands of our right or wrong way of thinking.\
PositiveThe BeatIt’s to our benefit that Krug gives herself so fully to her research, and her ability to spin the facts around real emotion and insight concocts a history both personal and sweeping and thorough from each vantage point ... Krug also incorporates photos and actual documents into the book, and that supplies a firm footprint in the real world that blends well with her artwork and handwriting ... Krug’s book is as valuable as it is personable.
RaveThe Beat\"In Home After Dark, Small introduces readers to Russell, a pretty typical kid who finds himself abandoned by one then both parent, both emotionally and then physically. If the primary job of a parent is to make a child feel safe, then Small renders the world’s worst failing, alongside the kind of casual parenting of old that allowed people to slink away from responsibility until they just dissolved from a kid’s reality ... Social isolation is at the center of the themes that Small explores. Russell is cut off emotionally from his family and never feels comfortable enough to be accepted in the culture of neighborhood kids ... Small’s style accomplishes some beautiful and intimate world-building, with every location, every action, measured against Russell’s perception of it. It’s a psychological map for the characters to ramble through, chased by demons they don’t perceive and grasping for answers they don’t acknowledge as necessary. Is growing up directly related to the moment you realize that you grapple with the same gray terrors as your parents? Small implies that might be so.
RaveComics BeatOne of the things I like best about Liana Finck is her ability to not only be the only thing like her in comics but to communicate that fact clearly and with charm. Seldom are her cartoons transcriptions of actions — this happened then this happened then this happened — but rather the live unpacking of the actions ... Plus she\'s funny ... That humor is very much on display in Passing For Human in all its sly beauty, finishing a rounded perspective on the idea of humans and shadows as co-dependent beings ... She mixes this up with Biblical stories filtered through her own sensibility and with telling tweaks to them that bring them alive in the world as the malleable and powerful myths they should be, that align themselves with the personal details of her biography ... There’s an aspect to it that any of us could adopt it as their own even though it is so particular to Finck’s story and creative practice, and even though Finck’s art style is one that exudes a personal quality that makes it feel as though we’ve blundered upon someone’s private texts and we’re not supposed to be looking at this ... You can read hundreds of graphic novels and not find a single one that approaches self the way Finck does here and that’s what makes her work so special.
RaveThe BeatRuillier follows an immigrant on his journey from his fictional home country to another fictional one, and then as he navigates life as an illegal. But rather than depict it entirely from the immigrants’ point of view, Ruillier presents shifting vantage points telling us the story of the immigrant as they perceive it ... Ruillier built his narrative through research that included interviews with immigrants about their experience, but the final product is anything but a dry example of comics journalism. Ruillier depicts the alienation visually, partly through an invented foreign language, of which we are only reading the translations, but also through a primitive art style that at times seems so rudimentary that the images feel like desperate attempts to communicate something but by someone lacking in the ability to do so.
RaveThe BeatJoel Kupperman’s story is here to tell us that there is nothing new under the sun, it’s as it ever was, what happened before happens again, and all those other cliches ... Kupperman pulls it off with both clarity and emotion in such a way that he’s mesmerizing you and taking you by the hand at the same time. You walk through the journey with him, understanding the historical elements while absorbing the personal ones. And amazingly, there’s probably something in here that each of us can apply to our own experience if we dig hard enough ... There are are a lot of lessons in here about family and relationships, but there’s also a lot to say about celebrity, about control of your own life, about finding a purpose, about being insular. It’s a multi-faceted memoir of the collision between the public and the personal, how the tremors move through the decades, and how we would all do well to pop through our cultural bubbles to look back and trace the origins of who we are, why we are this way, and why it sometimes hurts so much when we don’t feel like we actually did anything to make it hurt.
PositiveThe BeatThis is all a difficult mix in any presentation, but Kupperman pulls it off with both clarity and emotion in such a way that he’s mesmerizing you and taking you by the hand at the same time. You walk through the journey with him, understanding the historical elements while absorbing the personal ones. And amazingly, there’s probably something in here that each of us can apply to our own experience if we dig hard enough ... For Kupperman, this book appears to be a reckoning, for his own sake and his father’s as well. It’s the stand his father could never take. He didn’t have it in him. But Michael Kupperman does, and it’s such a revealing stand for a son to have to take that I admire him for putting this all down for the rest of us to share.