Category Archives: Fantagraphics

Review: ‘The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski’ by Noah Van Sciver 

The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski

The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski. By Noah Van Sciver. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2020. 452 pp. $39.99.

Noah Van Sciver is an interesting cartoonist. He’s long graduated from being one of “those to watch” to an artist with a substanital track record. As a cartoonist myself, I admire and appreciate what he’s doing. He is best known for his lovable loudmouth character, Fante Bukowski, a confused mashup of Charles Bukowski and John Fante. The ongoing joke here is that Fante Bukowski is a perpetually aspiring writer, both artless and clueless. If you haven’t jumped on the Fante Bukowski bandwagon yet, now is the time with the release of The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski, which collects every mishap and stumble all the way on a crazed quest for fame and fortune.

Fante dreams big.

I think that Fante is a very successful character. Van Sciver has developed something that people can easily relate to. Despite the fact that Fante is associated with the literary crowd, there’s nothing highbrow about him. If nothing else, Fante is accessible. You can think of him as the Homer Simpson of lost souls. In a higher sense, Fante is a perfect vehicle for Van Sciver to skewer any lofty notions about art. But even suggesting this may only make Van Sciver laugh. For something really serious and dark, he’d direct you to his graphic novella, Saint Cole. There’s definitely loads of irony and irreverence attached to Fante. On a more basic level, you can replace any literary stuff in here (replace it with general office culture, academia or even indie comics culture) and enjoy this as a story about a guy who is not much more than a professional wedding crasher, a latter day Groucho Marx out to expose hypocrisy and pretentiousness in all its many forms even if he’s not aware of it. The character is funny, gets into silly situations, and will make you laugh. But there’s more.

Fante Bukowski demands to be taken seriously as a writer. Van Sciver presents us with the journey of a misguided young man who really has no great talent, skill or genuine passion. Fante simply feels entitled to be a success. Fante will make some effort, just the bare minimum, towards his dreams, and expect instant results. His bare minimum efforts are garbage but he refuses to take no for an answer. All in all, this is very funny stuff. Imagine Steve Martin, in his prime, in the role of Fante. Or Ricky Gervais. However, given all the work it took to set up the premise of Fante, it would have been interesting if the satirical aim was a bit more precise if that were possible. As it is, Fante does indeed have hilarious moments like when he’s courting favor with a “literary journal” he’d like to have his work in, the Firewarter Journal, with s perfectly pompous name and a circulation of a dozen to match. These are the sort of pleasant jabs that you might expect from the comic strip, Doonesbury, but more generic. Ultimately, Van Sciver succeeds by keeping his humor broad.

A romantic but stupid idea of being a writer.

Van Sciver seems to root for irreverence more than anything as a way to move things along. He doesn’t want anything to be taken too seriously, including his own work. He’s not trying to be Dash Shaw. And he doesn’t seem to aspire to write a true comedy of manners like cartoonist Posy Simmonds although he does a fine job with the social commentary he does end up doing.  More importantly, he  has definitely invested quite a lot in the idea that Fante Bukowski is a clueless young loudmouth who is completely absorbed with entitlement. That alone is key. A lot of other tidbits up for satire can be lightly played with. The big takeaway is that Fante Bukowski is a young empty suit. He feels he is owed something with apparently nothing to show for his outrageous demands. If, in spite of this fact, Fante did find his fame and fortune, then the joke would truly be on us.

While much care has been taken, Van Sciver has also made sure to leave a certain amount of a raw quality to what he does–and there is a long-standing tradition for that in indie comics and in art in general. You want to avoid getting too polished, too slick. You want to look the opposite of “corporate.” So, you’ll see the artwork is only refined up to a certain point. Some cartoonists, for example, will deliberately misuse digital coloring to subvert the idea of making things look too pretty. Van Sciver, for example, could have easily chosen a way to seamlessly clean up any mistakes in his text but he wants you to be aware of them. He has pasted over by hand every correction to his text and made it so that you clearly notice it. Whatever the reason, it reads as a style choice.

Unlucky in love.

Following this subversive impulse, Van Sciver does the same for the actual story. Nothing is supposed to be taken too seriously–and that does make sense when you’re poking fun at all those “highbrows” who take themselves too seriously, right? That notion is where you might find some subtext. Van Sciver peppers his comics with all sorts of quotes from various famous writers and artists and, within this loopy context, even the best lines from Hemingway or Fitzgerald all sound like sayings from fortune cookies. For a book that seems to be in it just for laughs, taking a blowtorch to the old masters has some bite to it. But no one really wants to topple truly great writers. In the end, we’re supposed to turn our gaze back to Fante Bukowski and maybe pity the poor fool.

Noah Van Sciver is an Ignatz award-winning cartoonist who first came to comic readers’ attention with his critically acclaimed comic book series Blammo. His work has appeared in the Best American Comics and the Fantagraphics anthology series NOW. Van Sciver is a regular contributor to Mad magazine and has created many graphic novels including The Hypo and Saint Cole. His latest, The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski, collects all three volumes of the Fante Bukowski series in an expanded hardcover edition with extra features and special material. His follow up, Please Don’t Step on My JNCO Jeans, will be published in December.

Long live bohemians, great and small.

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Filed under Comics, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Noah Van Sciver

Review: ‘How I Tried to Be a Good Person’ by Ulli Lust

How I Tried to Be a Good Person by Ulli Lust

Autobiographical work is one of the most intriguing subjects and it is no wonder that it attracts creators of all art forms. Of course, auto-bio is a natural focal point for cartoonists and one of the best at this is cartoonist auteur Ulli Lust. Her new graphic novel, How I Tried to Be a Good Person, published by Fantagraphics Books, is what one could call an unflinching look at “the dark side of gender politics” or what used to be called, plain and simple, “abusive relationships.” It’s quite a challenge to take a chunk of one’s life and turn it into something else. Not too long ago, I viewed the Off-Broadway production of Accidentally Brave, a retelling by actor and playwright Maddie Corman of her discovery of her husband’s possession of child pornography, his subsequent arrest, and its aftermath. Can such an experience add up to something to put on stage? Well, sure, it’s called a confessional monologue and those rise and fall according to the limits of the genre. In a similar fashion, that’s what going on within the pages of auto-bio comics. And a lot is going well with this auto-bio graphic novel set in 1980s Vienna.

Georg and Kim size each other up.

How I Tried to Be a Good Person is 368 pages and in the tradition of more expansive graphic novels like Craig Thompson’s Blankets, which is 592 pages or Eddie Campbell’s Alec and Bacchus collection, which is a total of 1750 pages. Also, keep in mind, this new book is a continuation of Lust’s 460-page punk travelogue, Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life. Why so many pages when a graphic novel is usually 100 to 200 pages long? Well, many reasons. Essentially, it is a way to truly get lost in the material. While the comics medium is inextricably linked to the art of brevity, it is just as closely linked to flights of fancy and stream of consciousness  writing. With that in mind, it is understandable how comics can rise to the level of the literary arts. Comics has the capacity to be as long or as short as the narrative demands. Comics is as much a literary art form as a visual art form. Lust’s previous graphic memoir has gone on to earn a Revelation Award at the 2011 Angouleme Festival as well as a 2013 LA Times Book Prize. Ulli Lust’s contributions to the comics medium are writ large with both of her graphic memoirs.

A happy time with Georg.

The core of the narrative to Lust’s new book is the abusive relationship that Ulli enters into with Kim, a refugee from Nigeria. Throughout the relationship, there are signs that Kim is not emotionally equipped to handle the polyamorous arrangement that Ulli has in mind. During the course of this book, the reader joins Ulli on what steadily becomes a perilous journey. Ulli Lust writes and draws her way toward making sense of events while leaving plenty of room for readers to reach their own conclusions. In some ways, the book brings to mind some of the most notable emotionally-wrought films focusing on sex, like Last Tango in Paris, from 1972, which has held up remarkably well. Lust offers up to the reader numerous pages of unbridled sexual pleasure between her and Kim. Undoubtedly, Kim and Ulli are good together in bed. At one point, Ulli even states that she wishes she could just have the good parts of her affair with Kim.

A complicated relationship.

The love triangle that Ulli finds herself in begins with a May/December relationship she started up with Georg, an older man who offered a lively bohemian spirit and intelligent albeit world-weary conversation. It is Georg who, in hindsight, wrongheadedly suggests that Ulli take another lover if that should help keep their relationship fresh. Ulli is 22 and Georg is 40. Ulli takes Georg up on his offer and, in no time, she becomes involved with Kim, a young man she meets at a club. Georg and Ulli are white. Kim is black. Race does not seem to be an issue at first but it’s not long before Kim repeatedly voices his unease with the racial dynamics at play as he sees them. He is convinced that he is only a racial treat for Ulli despite her denials. At many points along the way, Ulli has to make one choice after another, many of which only drag her further into the toxic relationship she has entered into with Kim. This is quite a compelling work that encourages the reader to perhaps have even more courage than the main character seems to have at times. It is definitely an absorbing work that will spark a great deal of discussion and lifts that discussion through the power of the comics medium’s unique synthesis of word and image.

How I Tried to Be a Good Person is a 368-page trade paperback, published by Fantagraphics Books.

Editor’s Note: If you happen to be in Seattle, go see Ulli Lust at the Hot Off the Press Book Fair on July 13th  or at Goethe Pop Up Seattle on July 15h.

And, if you’re in Portland, go see Ulli Lust at Floating World Comics on July 17th.

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Review: HOBO MOM by Charles Forsman and Max de Radiguès

HOBO MOM by Charles Forsman and Max de Radiguès

I am a great supporter of alternative comics and the pursuit of excellence in the comics medium. That means sometimes taking a ruler and wrapping the knuckles of a cartoonist during a bit of constructive criticism. And it means celebrating a work when everything goes right as it does in Hobo Mom, by Charles Forsman and Max de Radiguès, published by Fantagraphics. Hobo Mom gets it right by pursuing a line of specificity to its logical conclusion. Just like a finely-executed novel or painting, all the elements fit into place at a resounding level of precision.

This is the story of a woman who can’t settle down. The open road is in her blood and she is willing to pay the price for her unconventional freedom. Charles Forsman presents his most disciplined artwork to date in seamless collaboration with the script by Max de Radiguès. The pacing is impeccable as you follow one extended scene after another. It’s magical how Forsman and de Radiguès balance so much in a relatively short work. At 62 pages, you need to be prepared to pare down to the essentials in order to give the narrative a natural flow. This is undoubtedly achieved as the reader gets a rich experience within a tight framework. Everything needs to count, down to every panel, ever facial expression, every pause. You need to know what to linger on and when to move on.

Page excerpt from HOBO MOM

Take the first four pages. The first page begins with a big panel that depicts an inviting breakfast being prepared on a skillet taking up half the available space. The next four panels convey a happy relationship between father and daughter, a stable domestic scene. With that established, the next three pages have the luxury of lingering over this happy home: dad goes off to work; daughter tidies up; daughter begins her day; daughter finds comfort in the company of a family pet. Now, we’re ready to move on to what is going on with the absent mother. A rhythm has been set up allowing for the alternating of scenes and characters. Will the hobo mom reconnect with her family or is it just not possible? Here is a book that asks the right questions and lets the reader step in. This book is a prime example of what it possible in the comics medium.

Hobo Mom is a 64-page duotone hardcover, published by Fantagraphics.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Charles Forsman, Comics, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Max de Radiguès

Review: The Comics Journal #303

The Comics Journal #303

This is a very meta thing to be doing but here’s a review of a magazine that features reviews. Dating back to 1977, in its heyday, The Comics Journal was a monthly source of comics news and reviews, a trailblazer for the burgeoning field of comics journalism and criticism. It has always maintained a certain quirky attitude, consisting of a mix of features and topped off by a expansive soul-searching interview a la Playboy magazine. It mainly attracts those who consider themselves comics aficionados. In 2013, it ceased its print version, staying online, but now it makes its return to print with Issue 303. TCJ returns this month with new editors RJ Casey and Kristy Valenti.

Now, I go pretty far back. I have fond memories of picking up this magazine at Tower Records back in the day (circa 1995), usually with a recent release from Sub Pop Records. I also fondly recall a special dynamic, or synergy, at play between the magazine and its online counterpart that led many of us to the forums section that let you interact with subgroups within subgroups of people in the comics community. This was long before Facebook or social media as we know it today. I think the monthly magazine, as we knew it back then, is still sorely missed. Towards the end of its print run, it came out less often and each issue covered a big theme and came out in different sizes. The consistency of a monthly had been lost. I think, in a perfect world, this latest return to print would do well to go back to that monthly format. Alas, with this latest #303, we’re seeing the start of a twice-a-year format. You might argue that TCJ is simply working with today’s print reality and is offering up a taste to a new generation of what is possible.

The showcase item in this issue is, of course, TCJ founder Gary Groth’s interview with a legendary firebrand, the satirist and children’s book author, Tomi Ungerer. For those of you unaware of Mr. Ungerer’s impressive career, I highly recommend that you read this interview and, before or afterward, check out the 2013 documentary, “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough,” directed by Brad Bernstein. The title is one of Ungerer’s sayings, along with “Don’t Hope, Cope” and “Expect The Unexpected.” I interviewed the documentary’s director and its writer and the fact that Ungerer is a true force of nature was the overriding theme. So, it makes perfect sense for someone as outspoken as Groth to sit down and talk it out with someone as outspoken as Ungerer! It’s a match made in heaven.

From Ben Passmore’s story in Now: The New Comics Anthology #3, published by Fantagraphics

Among the various features to be found here, you’ll find them under such titles as “From the Trenches” and “Fair Warning.” For example, under the former is a think piece by cartoonist Ben Passmore, who shares his insights on the alt-comics scene from an African American perspective. And, under the latter, you will find an interview by RJ Casey with emerging comics talent, Fifi Martinez. The thing to always remember about TCJ is that its focus is a serious look at comics as an art form. That leaves little room, if any, for superhero comics, per se. What you’ll mostly find here is a focus on the independent artist-cartoonist. It does a heart good to see cartoonists like Passmore and Martinez provided with a platform.

Ultimately, TCJ remains what it’s always been, a valuable resource that is most appreciated by those who take the comics medium seriously. It’s a niche audience but a fiercely loyal one. In the new more fragmented world we live in, it’s all about niches. That is actually a very positive thing. And niches are supposed to attract outside readers too, right? You can only calculate so much as to how strong a presence you can make on today’s newsstands. For some special readership out there, it will be a great treat to see TCJ on a shelf. Newsstands aren’t going away anytime soon from such places as Barnes & Noble, specialty shops, comic book shops, and even airports. TCJ might just want to make a real push into these venues and see how it goes. I asked about TCJ at my local B&N as well as the Pike Place Market newsstand, one of the granddaddies of newsstands. Neither place had ever heard of TCJ or had any plans to carry it. I asked around a couple of nearby comics shops. They heard of it but were not carrying it. This is TCJ’s return to print, right? Let’s see it out there in the real world.

The reality is that creating any kind of magazine, digital or print, is a big challenge. Everyone in the comics community is rooting for TCJ to make as big of an impact as it can. Those of us already in the choir, can keep singing its praises and wish it well. You can find your copy of TCJ #303 by visiting the Fantagraphics store right here.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Comics, Comics History, Comics Journalism, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Gary Groth, Independent Comics, The Comics Journal, Tomi Ungerer

Tacoma Focus: Destiny City Comics & Arts Festival on February 16, 2019

Destiny City Comics & Arts Festival on February 16, 2019

If you are in the Tacoma area, do plan to visit Destiny City Comics & Arts Festival on Saturday, February 16th, from 2-8pm, located at 218 St Helens Ave. This will be an intimate comic arts festival gathering of a dozen or so local creators.

The following are just a few samples of the poster I created for the show making the rounds. While this show is in Tacoma, our neighbors in Seattle are certainly welcome. So, here are some examples of my canvassing around Seattle with at least one landmark clearly visible!

Long Live Destiny City Comics!

The Comics Journal #303

The special guest is RJ Casey editor of the long-awaited new edition of The Comics Journal #303 from Seattle publisher, Fantagraphics. I definitely look forward to the return in print of the venerable publication that has a long history of covering the comics scene. Pre-order your copy of The Comics Journal #303 right here. And visit the journal’s website right here.

For more details, visit Destiny City Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Destiny City Comics, Fantagraphics, Tacoma

Comics Review: FAB4 MANIA by Carol Tyler

FAB4 MANIA by Carol Tyler

Graphic novels that explore a particular passion can prove to be the most relatable for a wide audience. Consider the new graphic memoir by cartoonist Carol Tyler (Soldier’s Heart). Her new book is entitled, Fab4 Mania, published by Fantagrahics Books. Who doesn’t love the Beatles? Tyler’s book looks back at the Fab Four from her own point of view. The full title of this work is Fab4 Mania: A Beatles Obsession and the Concert of a Lifetime and therein lies our premise and plot.

Tyler’s experience is essentially the same thing that happened to countless young people, circa 1965, up to a point. Where it diverges is exceptional. One big distinction is that this kid got to go to a famous ’65 Beatles concert in Chicago. The greater distinction is that the reader is following Tyler’s journey full of personal recollections and idiosyncratic appeal. This is an 8th grade girl revealing her innermost thoughts. It all adds up to a wonderful coming-of-age read.

If you enjoy young adult themes, this book is definitely for you. Filled with over a hundred warm and inviting drawings in full color, this is a true tale that will sweep the reader away with its authentic flavor. Tyler has meticulously recreated the diary that she kept throughout that pivotal Beatles year of 1965 to create a treasure trove of insights and humor.

For more details, visit Fantagrpahics right here.

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Filed under Carol Tyler, Comics, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, The Beatles

SPX Spotlight: Ellen Forney and ROCK STEADY

ROCK STEADY by Ellen Forney

Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life, by Ellen Forney, is a unique guidebook to mental health. Anyone can find something insightful and useful here. This is cartoonist Ellen Forney’s latest book in a long line of outstanding work. Among that special group of artist-writers, Ellen Forney has done it all: a remarkable comic strip, illustrations, and various other distinguished work in the comics medium. I’ve known Ellen for many years. I was the curator for her first solo art show. With all that in mind, if you’re going to this weekend’s Small Press Expo in Bethesda, then be sure to see Ellen Forney, and one of the most original voices in comics. Here is a bio from Small Press Expo:

Ellen Forney is a cartoonist and illustrator living in Seattle, WA, with her partner. Forney illustrated Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007) and authored her 2012 graphic memoir, Marbles. She was the 2012 recipient of The Stranger Genius Award for Literature as well as the winner of the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis 2013 Gradiva Award.

Ellen Forney will take part in the following SPX panel:

Writing About Bipolar
September 15, 2018
3:30 pm – 4:30 pm
White Flint Auditorium

As mental health is becoming a subject that’s more openly discussed than ever, comics narratives are emerging about personal experiences with mental illness. Moderator Rob Clough will discuss with Lawrence Lindell (Couldn’t Afford Therapy, So I Made This), Ellen Forney (Rock Steady), and Keiler Roberts (Chlorine Gardens) their struggles with Bipolar Disorder, the choices they make in writing about it, and how this process affects how they think about it.

And you can always visit Ellen Forney’s website right here.

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Review: THE BLOODY CARDINAL by Richard Sala

THE BLOODY CARDINAL by Richard Sala

Everything is always perfectly distilled in a work of comics by Richard Sala. Everything from a dramatically constricted pupil to a young woman’s dainty feet. Sala has a way of cutting to the chase: he knows that he wants thrilling motifs and pretty girls–and he does a beautiful job of it. Sala is in fine form with his latest graphic novel, “The Bloody Cardinal,” published by Fantagraphics.

This new Sala villain makes quite an entrance and certainly looks pretty menacing. The Bloody Cardinal is no slouch, either, when it comes to murder. Clara Clarette, a charming young woman who had just purchased a mysterious book, is killed by the bird fiend. Enter Inspector Coronet, and his trusty compatriot, Dr. Sun. The good doctor has a mystical quality about him. He senses a malevolent bird-like creature is responsible for this crime. Sala does not miss a beat and paves the way for the reader to be undeniably hooked.

If you’re new to Sala, you are definitely in for a treat, especially if you enjoy a devilishly good mystery. At its heart, this is a good tightly-wound mystery. The narrative keeps popping along at a brisk pace. Each panel is a wonderfully rendered watercolor. Some cartoonists, like Sala, also happen to be painters at an accomplished level. You can’t help but appreciate how Sala distills scenes and characters to their essence.

The evil eye.

“The Bloody Cardinal” is an online serial, which follows in the tradition of his early classics, “The Chuckling Whatsit” and “Mad Night.” Perhaps it was one of these previous titles that was your introduction to his work. Sala has enjoyed a career spanning over thirty years with no signs of letting up. He has perfected a vision that, inspired by Gahan Wilson, Edward Gorey, and Charles Addams, he can safely call his own.

There is an undeniably sexy aspect to Sala’s work, as evidenced by all the compelling and voluptuous female characters in this book. The key distinction is that these are sexy, but not sexist, depictions in the service of a bigger picture. You get a worldly sense of the world from Sala: a world of books, mystery, the supernatural, and compelling young women to keep one on one’s toes. It is sophisticated fare accessible to general readers much in the same way that Hitchcock provided that special kind of entertainment in film. You could indeed say that Richard Sala is to comics what Alfred Hitchcock is to film. All those little details add up: apprehensive rats, a demonic puppet hung from a string, obsessive note-taking. The journey we take with Hitchcock as well as with Sala, with its Mcguffins and moody atmosphere, is as important as the destination, even more so.

A harbinger of doom.

In an interview last year with Tim Hodler, for The Comics Journal, Sala provides a window into the motivation behind his work: “What has always appealed to me over everything else, beyond horror or comedy or whatever, is a sense of the absurd. I think I got that from reading Kafka in high school and feeling a shock of recognition. I felt a kinship with absurd humor and black humor. Having an appreciation of the absurd – along with my childhood love of monsters – helped me survive in what was a dysfunctional (that is, crazy) household. I was drawn to the surreal and the expressionistic and the unreal, which is where I felt at home.”

“The Bloody Cardinal” is a 96-page full color trade paperback. This is a book that will appeal to a wide range of readers: anyone, say, 13 and up. For more details, visit Fantagraphics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Horror, mystery, Richard Sala, Supernatural

Review: EDUCATION by John Hankiewicz

EDUCATION by John Hankiewicz

I enjoy note-taking when I prepare reviews. It’s part of the process that usually remains behind the scenes but this review begs for it. For this book, I write things like, “on page 63 is a perfect example of how the stream of consciousness pays off: giant head of greyhound leading big beam from train headlight.” That is the image I need to highlight for my review of “Education” by John Hankiewicz, published by Fantagraphics, part of their imprint, Fantagraphics Underground.

That head of a greyhound!

Yes, this is a very arty book but it avoids becoming an academic hot mess. Much to enjoy in simply accepting a greyhound head as a beam of light. Much to enjoy in a disjointed narrative if done right. There is certainly a long tradition of artists using text that doesn’t really seem to match the adjacent imagery. Think of Magritte and his play with text and image. Ever mindful of that, no doubt, Hankiewicz seems to relish his playing with text and image, and delightfully recontextualizing images, just like playing improvisational jazz.

Rest assured, it is not a spoiler to say that this book has no plot, at least not a conventional one. There is plenty of connective tissue here with heart and depth, especially the thing about the stars. We begin with stars signaling the return of someone’s father, and then stars getting caught on a young man’s shirt and other places. In fact, the stars force this same young man to later go naked for a while in order to better detach himself from these pesky stars. Of course, stars are very symbolic. It seems like a cruel joke to have all these stars descending upon our hero with no promise of love or treasure. Lots to enjoy with these pesky stars.

Education, by John Hankiewicz, is a 136-page trade paperback. For more details, visit Fantagraphics right here. And, when in Seattle, be sure to visit the Fantagraphics Bookstore And Gallery right here.

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Filed under Comics, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Fantagraphics Bookstore And Gallery, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, John Hankiewicz

Review: ‘My Favorite Thing Is Monsters’ Vol 1 (of 2) by Emil Ferris

“My Favorite Thing Is Monsters” Vol 1 (of 2) by Emil Ferris

If you have not heard of this book yet, then let me introduce you to one of the new landmarks in graphic novels, “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters,” by Emil Ferris, published by Fantagraphics. Maybe you have heard of it. Or maybe, like me, you weren’t sure what to make of it at first. Certainly, one quick look through its pages, and you can tell this is something weird and wonderful. And, at 386 pages, this ain’t a book you’re gonna miss sitting there on the shelf.

An enigma begging for resolution.

As a cartoonist myself, the book is also a bit intimidating. All this awesome stuff to process–that I didn’t write and draw! As a reviewer, this is the sort of book that everyone comes out of the woodwork to review. People who never read graphic novels now suddenly have an opinion to express on the next big thing. But, don’t get me wrong, it is exciting to see a book like this gain the spotlight. That said, a number of things make this book significant and worthy of a long life after the current buzz.

A bigger look: two-page spread.

The best way to enjoy this book is to find a cozy seat and explore the pages for a while. Then just settle into it. Ferris has an uncanny sense for narrative flow. In a comic that she did about promoting the book, she included an observation by comics legend Art Spiegelman. He declared that Ferris had tapped into a new rhythm for comics. To be sure, Ferris has a distinctive approach. She beautifully alternates among various possibilities: from full page drawings to panel sequences; from just a hint of color to full color; from lots of text to minimal text. This exquisite contrast propels the reader into worlds unknown.

Deeze, the bad boy older brother.

Our story begins in Chicago on Valentine’s Day, 1968. There’s been a murder, or maybe a suicide, or God only knows what. Something happened upstairs. 10-year-old Karen Reyes has lost her dear friend, her upstairs neighbor in the apartment right above her: the elegant and enigmatic Anka Silverberg. She was shot in the heart. But her apartment door was bolted shut from the inside. So, yes, it was a suicide, right? Well, that’s what the police say. But Karen senses that just can’t be right. And so begins Karen’s investigation. Karen, the little girl who thinks she’s a monster. Yes, she really believes she’s some werewolf girl. And the only thing more scary than that is the M.O.B., that’s short for people who are Mean, Ordinary, and Boring.

Having to answer to mama.

Ferris fuels her work of magical realism with magical kid logic. Karen’s quest to get to the bottom of the death of Anka Silverberg, a holocaust survivor, becomes a multi-layered journey. Narrated by Karen, the reader becomes privy to a child’s inner world in a similar fashion to Jonathan Safran Foer’s celebrated novel, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.” 10-year-old Karen ponders over the validity of monsters and concludes that they have as much right to exist as other unseen marvels like germs and electricity. Karen’s fanciful innocence clashes with harsh reality. Her older brother, Deeze is engrossed in various sexual conquests with little to no discretion as to whether Karen is around to hear it or see it. As a way to protect herself, Karen can always revert back to her own whimsical concerns, like whether or not tulips get homesick for Holland.

One of the many pulp magazine tributes.

This is a genuine must-read resonating with aficionados and the general public alike. Many of the pages in the book have become iconic, particularly the monster magazine portraits. This is a tale that intertwines the tumult of the 1930s and 1960s and ends up casting a mirror to our own very troubled era. The alternating formats that Ferris uses are the hallmark to this most innovative work. Ferris steadily modulates the narrative having the reader swim to the deep end and read passages suitable for a prose novel all the way to deceptively simple comic strip sequences. All the while, everything is held together cohesively with the consistent use of ball point pen rendered art on a background of notebook paper–that and one of the most compelling voices to grace the page.

As I say, in my video review, it is a hard thing to do in a graphic novel where a cartoonist creates something truly fresh that has the reader seeing things in a whole new way:

This is one of those rare books that can safely be called an instant classic. It is a long work in comics that truly makes good use of a high page count. In fact, a second volume is due out as early as Valentine’s Day of 2018. For more details, visit Emil Ferris right here. And visit Fantagraphics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Emil Ferris, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels