Category Archives: Abrams ComicArts

Review: THE BEST WE COULD DO by Thi Bui

THE BEST WE COULD DO by Thi Bui

THE BEST WE COULD DO, by Thi Bui and published by Abrams ComicArts, is one of those rare graphic novels with an in depth family theme. This sort of book belongs in the select group of titles like PERSEPOLIS and FUN HOME. In fact, you usually need to turn to the superhero genre, with all its universes and lineages, to find a story in comics that focuses on anything remotely to do with family. I say this tongue-in-cheek but it’s fairly true. Anyway, anytime you add family, you are likely adding something interesting to your story. What happens in Bui’s graphic novel is thoughtful, funny, and totally interesting. When was the last time you read an epic saga about a Vietnamese family? Well, this fills that void in a very compelling way.

Page excerpt from THE BEST WE COULD DO

Thi Bui studied art and law, thought about becoming a civil rights lawyer, but became a public school teacher instead. Someone with that kind of background is just the sort of cerebral and sensitive type of person who gravitates to creating comics. Bui was born in Vietnam and arrived in America with her family as a refugee from the Vietnam War. Her immigrant experience, without a doubt, is part of a continuum that will outlive our current political machinations. This is a story that goes beyond that and addresses the struggles that any family will confront as one generation must come to terms with another. It is also a story about finding one’s self both within and outside the context of family. As Bui discovers, close proximity to family does not necessary mean close ties to family.

Page excerpt from THE BEST WE COULD DO

Overall, Bui has adopted a solid alt-comics approach to her work. It has that intimacy and spontaneity that evokes work coming out of a sketchbook. While Bui is not a career cartoonist who has honed years of experimentation with comics, she provides an engaging and polished style. It will be interesting to see if she chooses to further develop her work in the comics medium. She has created a beautiful book.

Page excerpt from THE BEST WE COULD DO

“The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir” is a 336-page hardcover available as of March 7th. For more details, visit Abrams ComicArts right here. You can purchase through Amazon right here.

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Filed under Abrams, Abrams ComicArts, Comics, Family, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Immigrants, Immigration, Vietnam, Vietnam War

Review: ‘Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation’

"Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation"

“Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation”

There’s a ragged and raw quality to Octavia Butler’s novel, “Kindred,” first published in 1979, about a young African American woman who time travels to America during slavery. It’s odd. It’s compelling. And it demands to be read all the way to the end. As I say, it’s ragged and raw, and by that I mean it’s a rough journey in what transpires and in the telling. As a time travel tale alone, it’s bumpy at best. The time travel element abruptly kicks in and, just as abruptly, the characters involved accept the situation. The narrative itself is episodic and there is little in the form of subtlety. What can be said of the novel transfers over to the just released graphic novel adaptation published by Abrams ComicArts: this is raw, sometimes ugly, but always compelling and a must-read.

panel excerpt

panel excerpt: a time traveller’s satchel

Octavia Butler rips the scab off a nightmarish era in America, a wound so deep that it remains healing to this day. You could say that what Butler aspires to do is give a full sense of what it means when we talk about slavey in America. There are a number of approaches you can take. If you go down the ragged and raw path, you may end up with something that is deemed bold by some and deemed heavy-handed by others. The end result could be somewhere in between. Butler chose to damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, with this novel that finds Dana, an African American woman from 1976 Los Angeles, repeatedly and relentlessly subjected to various torture and humiliation as she finds herself regularly being transported back to America during slavery. The story begins in Maryland in 1815 and subsequently follows the progress of slaver-holder Rufus Weylin, from boy to manhood.

page excerpt: dark journey

page excerpt: dark journey

First and foremost, this is a book to be celebrated. While it is a tough story to tell, it is brimming with truths to be told. Sure, no need to sugarcoat anything. There are no sensibilities here to protect. That said, while a graphic novel, this is a book with a decidedly mature theme running throughout with disturbing content. What it requires is a adult to check it out first and then decide how to proceed. Without a doubt, this is an important teaching tool but best left to high school and above.

page excerpt: slave/master

page excerpt: slave/master

As for the overall presentation of this graphic novel, it has taken an audacious approach of its own. Whether intentionally or not, it carries its own distinctive ragged and raw vibe. The drawing throughout is far from elegant, quite the opposite. In fact, it often has a rushed quality about it and I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing. I sense that it’s something of a style choice. This is a harsh and dark story and so it is depicted as such. In the end, this is a truly unusual and intriguing work.

“Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation” is a 240-page, full-color, hardcover available as of January 10th. It is based upon the novel by Octavia Estelle Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy, artwork by John Jennings. For more information and how to purchase, visit Abrams ComicArts.

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Filed under Abrams ComicArts, African American, American History, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, History, Race, Race Relations, Racism, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Time Travel

Review: BECOMING ANDY WARHOL

Warhol overseeing production.

Warhol overseeing production.

The world of Andy Warhol is our world. His art, inextricably linked to his persona, resonates with us today on an uncanny level. Along with a select few artists like Picasso, he has broken through, reached immortal fame with the general public. When a new book or movie comes out about him, we feel we’re dealing with something familiar. The new graphic novel, “Becoming Andy Warhol,” written by Nick Bertozzi and illustrated by Pierce Hargan, seems to tap into some new ground by presenting us with more of the human being that was Andy Warhol (1928-1987).

Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, with my own art ambitions, I was keenly aware of Warhol as I digested his art through the media. What I saw of the person was actually quite minimal. There was that exaggerated deadpan pose, that would be taken up by so many artists of the next generation, like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Who Warhol really was did not seem to matter. The fact that he was gay was never brought up in the mainstream media. But one thing was clear: Warhol was a significant artist breaking new ground.

What this graphic novel attempts to do is humanize Warhol to better understand the man and his art. He was certainly not a passive eunuch. The most distinctive contribution this book makes is to show Warhol as an active and sexual being dealing with relationships, and strategizing his career. His career did not just emerge one day fully formed and he did not have all the answers. In fact, there’s some wonderful scenes in the book with art critic Henry Geldzahler guiding his friend along. When it came to attempting to answer rather pompous questions from the media, why not simply respond with enigmatic non-answers? This approach, Geldzahler advises Warhol, will make him a star.

Enigmatic Andy

Enigmatic Andy

Warhol was certainly more than capable of explaining his methods. More than anything in the world, he wished to share his insights with the Pop Art kings Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. But, when they saw themselves as on a separate plane from Warhol, it did not faze Warhol. What we see in this graphic novel is a Warhol who, despite setbacks, maintains an internal compass that keeps him on his path. He is a determined and driven dynamo. The book focuses on Andy Warhol from 1962 to 1964, those critical years which see him make the break from a hugely successful career as an illustrator, dive into a fine art career, and never look back.

Warhol at Work

Warhol at Work

A grand biography is one of the most suitable of subjects for a graphic novel. Bertozzi and Hargan turn Warhol’s journey into a most engaging story, one that gains much from the way that they tell it. The challenge here for Bertozzi was to present a story that many of us already know to some extent, while only relying upon books and resources commonly available. What is so new and compelling to tell? It becomes a matter of what to bring to the foreground. I believe Bertozzi does an admirable job of choosing what bits to use that add up. Hargan does an equally good job of tuning into an irreverent depiction of the man. His Warhol becomes an accessible comics character in his own right. As you read, you can get lost in conversations and the whole pace of things from a certain era.

Andy Warhol was already Andy Warhol at the start of this story insomuch as he wasn’t going to let anyone or anything get in his way. And, when it seemed time to choose whether to abandon parts of who he was in favor of a more mainstream presence, he knew where to draw the line. There’s a particularly effective scene where the renowned architect Philip Johnson admonishes Warhol to drop all of his rough trade friends while, at the same time, he ponders which of the boys he might get to bed. While far from perfect, Warhol proves to stand for something. By defying Johnson and others, Warhol stayed true to himself and would go on to make history. I’m sure that Bertozzi felt compelled to articulate these finer points about Warhol.

BECOMING ANDY WARHOL by Nick Bertozzi and Pierce Hargan

BECOMING ANDY WARHOL by Nick Bertozzi and Pierce Hargan

“Becoming Andy Warhol” is a 160-page hardcover with two-color illustrations throughout, available as of Oct 4th, and published by Abrams ComicArts.

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Review: TRASHED by Derf Backderf

Derf-Backderf-Abrams-Comicarts

We think a lot about garbage here in Seattle. We’ve been ahead of the curve for many years. We separate our garbage from common garbage (non-food), compost (food), and recycling (very specific categories). I know that some Seattleites find utter joy in thoroughly washing their recyclables. And, lately, the City of Seattle has demanded more by showing no mercy and fining homeowners who dare to mix food in with their common everyday garbage!

To read TRASHED, the new graphic novel by Derf Backderf, this whole business of garbage is not so complicated. The real solution would be to use less! But I get ahead of myself. In this book, you see the very human element to garbage from the viewpoint of a bunch of young guys just starting out in life…as garbage collectors.

Derf-Backderf-Trashed-comics

Derf Backderf has a style and tone to his storytelling that brings you right in. You might not necessarily want to be brought in to some of the content he’s involved with but, all the same, there you are. From his comic strip that examined Cleveland urban life to his previous recollections of Jeffrey Dahmer, Backderf presents the grim, the gritty, and the unvarnished truth. For his new graphic novel, he does something that may inspire other cartoonists to follow suit in their own way.

He revisits some experiences from his youth and brings these old characters up to present day with contemporary commentary. Backderf created comics based upon his year (1979-80) as a sanitation worker. In 2010, he took those old characters and, like ageless Archie comics characters, placed them in a present day setting for a webcomic. That project evolved into this current graphic novel.

Trashed-Derf-Backderf

Backderf gently nudges along the idea that we’re all such disgusting slobs. Maybe not all of the time but no one gets completely away. And there are plenty of oddball characters that Backderf observes on his rounds who shouldn’t get away with anything like the unscrupulous dog catcher that terrorizes all the neighborhood pets. And then there’s all the people leaving out inappropriate items like a stove and a car engine block. Seriously? Yes, people have no shame.

Derf-Backderf-Trashed

Knee-deep, and sometimes up to his eyeballs, in garbage, our main character prevails. He survives his year as a garbage collector. And, now, all these years later, we get the complete story in this funny, insightful, and beautifully rendered book.

TRASHED is a 256-page hardcover, published by Abrams ComicArts, available as of November 3, 2015. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Review: ‘Legends of the Blues’ by William Stout

Legends-of-the-Blues-William-Stout-2013

You may know more names in blues than you think. There’s Billie Holiday, B.B. King, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters, to name a few. And, if those names don’t ring a bell, well, that’s alright. This collection featuring 100 profiles of all-time great blues musicians, big names or not, will give you a look at the big picture.

Abrams-Comic-Arts-Billie-Holiday

William Stout has picked up where R. Crumb left off some years back in creating “trading card” portraits of blues legends. This has led to this beautiful and intriguing book published by Abrams ComicArts, “Legends of the Blues,” complete with Bonus CD! Here you have a very accessible guide to American blues with each portrait interconnected with the other. Each profile has an exquisitely drawn portrait, biography, and recommended songs attached to each performer.

B-B-King-William-Stout

Read the profile of B.B. King and learn how the electric guitar made its way into blues, ushering in rock ‘n’ roll. It was thanks to T-Bone Walker, the first blues musician to use an electric guitar. That fact is just as fascinating as viewing Michael J. Fox, as Marty McFly, in “Back To The Future,” accidentally inventing rock ‘n’ roll. Read further and you learn about how King nearly lost a beloved acoustic guitar to a fire that started from a fight over a woman named, Lucille. As a reminder to never fight over a woman, each of King’s Gibson guitars has been given the name, Lucille.

Abrams-Comic-Arts-2013

The stories here range from the tragic to the comical. Many are stories of lost childhood, like Billie Holiday; scrambling to carve out a career, like Robert Johnson; and ultimately finding fame fleeting and cruel, like Bessie Smith. And there are no end to interesting facts. One fine example is the story of Robert Petway. His claim to fame was his song, “Catfish Blues.” It was reworked by Muddy Waters and retitled, “Rollin Stone,” the namesake to one of England’s greatest rock bands of all time. As for Petway, the authorship of his hit song has been questioned and it is still unclear as to when he was born and when he died! Such is the life of a blues musician.

“Legends of the Blues” is a 224-page hardcover, with CD, priced at $19.95 U.S., published by Abrams ComicArts. You can find your copy here.

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9/11 Review: BEST OF ENEMIES

As we mark another anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11, there is a new book out that helps to provide perspective on relations between the U.S. and the Middle East. It is a graphic novel that goes a long way in helping to explain how the pieces fit in the puzzle of geopolitics.

“From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli…” The words to the United States Marine Corps hymn may sound obscure until you dig deeper. For our purposes, let’s consider the shores of Tripoli. This refers to the United States at war with the Barbary pirates. This is also the point of departure to an engaging and informative book on the relationship between America and the Middle East, the graphic novel, “Best of Enemies: A History of U.S. and Middle East Relations.” Take a look at the curious cover: FDR and the king of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud, perched amid a tangle of oil pipeline. The ironic and determined tone is set and maintained throughout by two masters: historian Jean-Pierre Filiu and cartoonist David B. Many readers will be surprised, even shocked, by what they find here.

But before our history lesson on the pirates, we are treated to the mystical tale of Gilgamesh and his war with the gods. This dovetails into a big leap forward of 4,600 years with a quote from Donald Rumsfeld, circa 2003, straight out of a fairy tale but sadly part of the war in Iraq: “During a war, the kind of ‘evidence’ people are looking for usually doesn’t exist.”

With that in mind, we proceed to the first fumbling steps into another eerily similar war. A newly formed United States of America must confront the terrorists of its day. This would lead to America’s first military encounter on Muslim soil. It would take the new country on a wild ride, from paying tribute to full-on military engagement. The die had been cast. Way before there were any neo-cons, the idea was already alive that the power that ruled in the Middle East, would rule the world. It was in 1902 that American officer Alfred Mahan, a theorist of the projection of power, coined the term, “Middle East” and fostered the mindset that would come back to haunt us all.

It would not be until World War II that the ties that bind would become so apparent: oil. It would be a match made in heaven, so to speak, when the leader of the free world, President Franklin Roosevelt, no stranger to riches and splendor, was able to win over the Saudi family and its oil drenched country. Unfortunately, the thirst for oil is insatiable and not even the Saudis could satisfy it alone.

One of the big hits at the San Diego Comic-Con this year was an interactive digital graphic novel based on Operation Ajax, the covert operations conducted by the U.S. and the U.K. to topple the leader of Iran in 1953, all for the sake of oil. While this is not top secret news today, it can still shock. In this book, the coup of Mohammed Mossadegh, the legitimate leader of Iran, simply to secure oil rights, is handled thoroughly as part of a bigger picture. The machinations of intalling a most unlikely leader, the Shah of Iran, are fascinating. Here is someone Peter Sellars would have had a field day with portraying all his cowardice and ineptitude. But even stranger is the fact that FDR’s cousin, Kermit Roosevelt, is Ajax’s Operations Chief, and proves to be a most diabolical villain. Peter Sellars could have handled him quite nicely too.

The approach of the book is refreshing in how the U.S. is placed among all the other players of geopolitics. There is no shining beacon on a hill, per se, and that goes for everyone. There aren’t any real heroes here, except for Gilgamesh and Mossadegh. David B.’s drawings flow with the narrative, literally bending and twisting as needed. This style owes something to 18th and 19th century cartoonists, with their ornate and fluid line and word balloons that floated along like clouds of custard. David B. takes that style and makes it his own giving characters bendy knees, necks and torsos along with all manner of uninhibited ways to fill the panels. It’s a wonderful mix of political cartoonist sensibilities and fine artist sensibilities.

“Best of Enemies” is a two-volume work so we have even more sensitive material up ahead. What we seem to always forget is that misguided policies have very real consequences. Countries can misguide themselves and they can then misguide the public. One bit of misinformation breeds another and so on. We hopefully still have a chance if we’re armed with the facts.

“Best of Enemies” is part of Abrams ComicArts, a Self Made Hero imprint. This 120-page hardcover  is 24.95 U.S. Visit Abrams ComicArts.

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“THE CARTER FAMILY: DON’T FORGET THIS SONG” Review

Truth is stranger than fiction for The Carter Family who prove to be a true All-American story: unassuming, proud, and innocent. Much like one of those trite dime store novels by Horatio Alger, this family succeeds by luck and pluck. Thankfully, however, the story of one of America’s great country music families is told with grace and wit in the graphic novel, “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song,” coauthored by Frank M. Young and David Lasky, and published by Abrams ComicArts. Mr. Young primarily writes and Mr. Lasky primarily handles the artwork in his unmistakable style. All said and done, after a number of years of work on this project, the book looks and feels like it was meant to be. The fact that this story is not only a graphic novel but presented as if it were a series of old-time Sunday funnies is a perfect fit with such a natural and easygoing narrative.

The driving force behind how this early 20th Century Virginia clan gained notoriety rests with Alvin Pleasant Carter and Sara Dougherty Carter. If not for A.P. Carter’s magic touch with crafting songs and Sara’s haunting vocals, there would not have been a Carter Family to begin with. The luck and pluck part comes into play in a myriad of ways. To start with, A.P. and Sara were an unlikely pair to begin with. He was shy and awkward. She was stubborn and impetuous. They both had their own ideas of what they wanted and preferred to be left to their own devices. Once it clicks that they, and their family, actually do have talent, that is when the prospect of good fortune ironically leads everyone down a precarious path. A.P. is prone to disappear to maintain his quota of songs to sell while Sara’s mood swings add to mounting instability.

Titles of songs and lyrics are intertwined into the narrative to bring out the bittersweet. Each chapter heading is the title of a song, like “Meet Me by the Moonlight Alone,” which features young Alvin courting Sara, or “Look How the World Has Made a Change,” a chapter towards the end when personal dreams have been broken but technological progress presses on. The songs have their own eerie irony and enhance the pleasing ambiguity of the book’s storytelling. The characters themselves often have poker faces but not always. The tension is contemporary but subtle. Things move slowly here, but not without intention.

As much history lesson as satisfying character drama, “The Carter Family” balances out what the world was like then and choices that were made along the way. When A.P. Carter would wander away to collect new songs, it wasn’t like he was out with a net capturing butterflies. The songs had to come from somewhere. To his credit, he was a songwriter in his own right and had the poet’s ear for good lyrics. He was also innocent to what intellectual property means to us today. In his time, people collected songs in the old oral tradition. If something sounded good, someone took it upon themselves to memorize it, not bothering as to where it came from. It was an easy enough system until A.P. meets Lesley Riddle, an African-American who shares with him an unusually good song, “The Cannonball.” In this case, it seems that Mr. Riddle crafted something from another source, in the same manner as A.P. was in the habit of doing. So, does Mr. Riddle get any credit? Mr. Carter tries to do just that. However, his manager/producer/song publisher, Ralph Peer, who should know better, denies Mr. Carter’s request.

As any good country song will tell you, life is not fair. This is something the Carters must learn over and over again just like any rock star today has to be ready to take the good with the bad. Even in their low-key manner, this Carter family is full of drama and we’re the richer for it. That said, the story is told in such a poetic and hypnotic way that, like any good country song, it will leave you with a satisfying melancholy.

“The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song” is published by Abrams ComicArts. This is a 192-page hardcover book in full color with a CD of Carter Family songs. Visit the Abrams ComicArts site.

I hope you enjoyed this review. Please continue reading to the next two posts for exclusive interviews with Frank M. Young and David Lasky.

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Filed under Abrams ComicArts, Art, Art books, Comics, David Lasky, Frank M. Young

COMIC-CON 2012: DAVID LASKY

It is my honor to call David Lasky my friend. I’ve known him for many years as a wonderfully supportive fellow artist. While he wasn’t at Comic-Con this year, the book he, and Frank M. Young, have been working on for many years graces the cover of the Abrams ComicArts brochure for 2012 featuring an amazing line-up of titles and including new arrivals. What you see on the cover is pure David Lasky art. It is his own distinctive style that he has worked so very hard to cultivate. Mr. Lasky’s art is a force to be reckoned with! “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song” chronicling the first major country music group, comes out in October, 2012. It is a 192 page hardback with a CD of Carter Family songs! Funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign, this is must-have for anyone who loves comics, art, history and music.

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