Category Archives: Graphic Novel Reviews

Review: ART COMIC by Matthew Thurber

ART COMIC by Matthew Thurber

Meet Boris and Cupcake. They’re your typical art students which means they’re far from typical just about anywhere else. These guys are definitely living inside a bubble that is inside a number of other bubbles. This is a fact that doesn’t get them very far in the real world–or the art world, for that matter. What it all adds up to is the hilarious new graphic novel, Art Comic, by Matthew Thurber, published by Drawn & Quarterly.

Panel excerpt

Satire runs amok in this send-up of contemporary art with Mr. Thurber’s surreal sense of humor taking things to a high level. It’s an important distinction to make. Thurber is not simply foisting upon his readers a series of rants. He’s actually worked out his narrative to such a precise degree that it reaches a peak of whimsical perfection.

Page excerpt

You don’t need to know a thing about art to enjoy this book and, in some ways, you may be better off not knowing a thing. In fact, let this graphic novel teach you all you’ll ever need to know about the art world. Humor, at its best, is capable of being quite educational. Just go along for the ride and you can’t help but pick up a little on the theory of art, the business of art, and even the art of art. You’ll also learn a few things on how to best tell a story simply by not taking anything too seriously. This is a wacky yet savvy book. Thurber does an admirable job of giving it all, the drawing style, the narrative, the jokes, all the way down to the coloring, just the right light touch. I reach out to my friends and loyal readers to assure you that, even if you don’t usually read comics or follow art, you will enjoy this if you have a healthy sense of humor.

Page excerpt

Art Comic is a 200-page full color hardcover published by Drawn & Quarterly.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Comics, Drawn & Quarterly, Drawn and Quarterly, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Humor, Matthew Thurber, Satire

Review: ‘Part of It: Comics and Confessions’ by Ariel Schrag

PART OF IT by Ariel Schrag

The comics medium can be as clear and as ambiguous as the work requires. One of the great things about comics is its unlimited and distinct potential to alternate between clarity and mystery. When you feature yourself in your own work, you seek the right balance. Someone quite capable of playing with those modulations is writer/artist Ariel Schrag. Her recent collection of comics is entitled, Part of It: Comics and Confessions, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Ms. Schrag is known for a number of brilliant memoir comics that feature her growing up, struggling through high school, and finding her way. While her work can neatly fit within the categories of YA and LGBTQ, it certainly transcends any label or genre. And don’t let anyone tell you different: a good coming-of-age story will always be welcome and never go out of style. We’re human and we all have our own unique tales to tell. This new collection of comics provides compelling proof of that.

Page from Part of It

Part of It is a collection that culls through some of Schrag’s best work over the years. Probably the best piece is one from a 2004 anthology with an eyeglasses theme. In this one, we find Schrag having been sucked into a vortex of vacillation over just what constitutes the perfect pair of eyewear. Is it promoting the best experience possible? Does it look right? Does it fit right? Is it dated? Is it…sass? Just one meaningless derisive utterance from her little sister triggers heartbreaking regret. Schrag tentatively enters a room with her latest choice in glasses. All it takes is one negative comment, “Sass,” from her sibling, and it’s all over.

Just wanting to be “part of it.”

Ms. Schrag has proven to be quite a funny and adroit writer. As an openly gay woman, she has shared excellent insights and observations. That said, whatever a writer’s background, it’s the work that speaks for itself in the end. Sexuality is not the key element, for instance, in the eyeglasses piece just mentioned above. In fact, sexuality is often part of a bigger picture in a typical auto-bio comic. You simply share things about yourself in the process of telling a story, in the service of the narrative. If all goes well, your tale combines the universal and the specific in a satisfying way. While all these pieces come from different places and times, Schrag finds common ground and eloquently returns again and again to a theme of wanting to be accepted, wanting to be “part of it.” This is a great collection of comics. Wonderfully wicked good fun!

Part of It: Comics and Confessions is a 176-page trade paperback, published by Mariner Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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Filed under Ariel Schrag, Books, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, LGBTQ, Young Adult

Review: GYPSY OMNIBUS from Insight Comics

GYPSY OMNIBUS from Insight Comics

A lot of you out there are familiar with Batman: The Dark Prince Charming, the collaboration between DC Comics and the French comics publisher Dargaud. It was the first time that many Americans got to see the masterful artwork of Enrico Marini. And now comes along another amazing Marini work, with writer Thierry Smoldered. Gypsy Omnibus is published by Insight Comics, an imprint of Insight Editions. It is available as of December 4, 2018. Gypsy is an excellent example of the adrenaline-fueled mega-adventure European comic book. Gypsy was originally published in 1992 by Dargaud Comics and reprinted in English in the pages of Heavy Metal. Its futuristic Mad Max edge hasn’t aged a bit.

Set in the not-too-distant future, the world of Gypsy has it all: planetary highways, the coronation of a young Russian Tsar, the resurrection of a Mongol army on the trail of Gengis Khan, an all-powerful multinational corporation that controls all earthly transport—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! In the middle of all this, we have a Gypsy truck driver who, fortunately, knows how to look after himself.

Enrico Marini (Desert Star, Raptors, Scorpion, Negative Exposure) is an artist steeped in all the old school ways. All the artwork, including the coloring, is done by hand. Drawing, and painting, on paper sturdy enough to handle ink and watercolor, Marini provides a robust feast for the eyes. Colors get to play and expand beyond their the usual perimeters, spreading even into the word balloons. This hands-on approach compliments the gritty narrative. It’s not overdone. It’s purposeful.

Thierry Smolderen launched a career writing comic books in the mid-1980s. He has since won multiple awards for his graphic novels and is recognized as one of the leading specialists in the history of comics, having published several essays and articles in journals like Comic Art or the International Journal of Comic Art. His passion for comics is in full evidence in his script for Gypsy.

Gypsy Omnibus is a 368-page full color deluxe edition with slipcase. It is available as of December 4, 2018. For more details, go to Insight Comics right here.

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Filed under Batman, Comics, Dargaud, DC Comics, Enrico Marini, European Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Insight Comics, Insight Editions

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

Comics Review: AFTER HOUDINI

AFTER HOUDINI by Jeremy Holt and John Lucas

Editor’s Note: This book is a Comics Grinder Giveaway. If you would like your own free copy, contact me and I’ll get it out to you.

After Houdini is a graphic novel that truly lives up to its promise: a rollicking adventure that taps into the mystery of grand illusionist Harry Houdini. You have here another riveting original tale with high production value from Insight Comics. The steampunk vibe is natural and spot on. Overall, the work looks and feels like it was fun to create. Written by Jeremy Holt; illustrated by John Lucas; Colors by Adrian Crossa; Lettering by A Larger World Studios.

Teddy Roosevelt runs a tight ship!

You are quickly swept up into a supernatural world with this comic. I think it’s the strange energy that all the characters are feeding off each other that is the true star of the show as opposed to any set of characters carrying the story. And I think that subtle distinction makes this special. By all the rights, the main character is Josef Houdini, son of Harry Houdini. But, as I say, it’s the magic in the air that overshadows everything. No one, not even a Houdini, is going to upstage that. It’s a challenge to convey that but this comic does it with wonderful pacing, gorgeous art, and one quirky tale to tell.

The steampunk vibe is natural and spot on.

All you need to know is that it takes a Houdini to rescue a Houdini. That’s an important point. The rest is, well, a fun and intriguing read. Any story that thoughtfully manages to include Teddy Roosevelt and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as active and viable players is fine by me. I see that another graphic novel, Before Houdini, is an upcoming follow-up to this book and I look forward to it.

After Houdini is a 112-page full color trade paperback. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Insight Comics right here.

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SPX Comics Review: THE WITCH BOY by Molly Ostertag

THE WITCH BOY by Molly Ostertag

The Witch Boy is such a refreshing and original graphic novel that I could not put it down once I started. Published by Scholastic, this is the first book both drawn and written by Molly Ostertag. You may know Ostertag from her work as the artist behind the long running webcomic, Strong Female Protagonist and the graphic novel Shattered Warrior.

Ostertag’s passion shines through each page. In this tale of the supernatural, there is a strict divide between genders: only women are witches; only men are shapeshifters. But Aster won’t abide by the rules. You too will root for Aster, the boy who dreams of being a witch.

THE WITCH BOY by Molly Ostertag

Aster is naturally drawn to what has been deemed the feminine domain. It is only a matter of time before this conflict erupts and forces his community to respond. That becomes inevitable once a dragon monster threatens everyone.

THE WITCH BOY by Molly Ostertag

A golden rule that does make sense to follow is that an artist will do well to pursue what is compelling. I don’t find a false note anywhere in this book and that all has to do with Ostertag’s authenticity. I look forward to seeing Molly Ostertag proceed upon her merry way and continue to delight her readers.

Molly Ostertag will have a table at Small Press Expo in Bethesda Maryland this upcoming weekend, September 15-16. You can see her at two panels: “Comics with Molly Ostertag,” on Saturday, from 4:15 pm – 5:15 pm, at the Glen Echo Room; and “Building The Jungle Gym,” on Sunday, from 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm, at the White Oak Room.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Molly Ostertag, Small Press Expo, SPX

Comics Review: THE BEATLES YELLOW SUBMARINE

“Beatles: Yellow Submarine,” an official illustrated adaptation published by Titan Comics

An announcement about a graphic novel based on The Beatles Yellow Submarine was one of the most popular posts on Comics Grinder. Well, here is a full-on review (with video) that delves right into the book! This is the official illustrated adaptation, published by Titan Comics.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles Yellow Submarine comes this fully authorized graphic novel adaptation! We all know the story:

When the music-hating Blue Meanies invade the underwater paradise of Pepperland, the Captain of the Yellow Submarine sails away to find help… and stumbles upon The Beatles! Can the Fab Four free Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, return music to Pepperland, and overthrow the evil Blue Meanies through the power of love?

This book beautifully and faithfully adapts all the antics and charm of the original animated feature. It’s genius to create such a work. Who doesn’t love The Beatles? And who can resist a book that transports you to Pepperland and beyond? Here is a perfect gift for any Beatles fan. And it can make for a dazzling bedtime story too!

THE BEATLES YELLOW SUBMARINE

The layout to this work is quite impressive. The pacing is spot on as it captures the wacky and irreverent humor. An adaptation of this scope and significance requires a master and that is exactly what we get from writer/artist Bill Morrison, co-founder of Bongo Comics, artist on classic Disney posters, and editor of Mad Magazine. Usually, it works the other way around but Mr. Morrison has managed to take a legendary work in animation and find a viable graphic novel counterpart. He has done a wonderful job of sequencing a narrative from something that is both iconic and rather loopy and might seem impossible to properly transfer from one medium to another.

There is plenty to love here. All you need is love, right?

The Beatles Yellow Submarine is a 112-page hardcover, in full color, published by Titan Comics.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Music, pop culture, The Beatles, Titan Comics

Comics Review: A LIFE HALF-FORGOTTEN by James Burns

A LIFE HALF-FORGOTTEN by James Burns

James Burns is a very interesting cartoonist. It was a pleasure last year to review his work. A Life Half-Forgotten is an impressive piece of memoir comics, or “autobio,” as this work is commonly referred to within comics circles. Burns taps into his childhood with a confidence and curiosity that sets the bar high. It challenges and inspires each of us to reach back and take a closer look into the past.

Analyzing one’s childhood can be a daunting task. Where to begin? As an exercise in recovering memory alone, you have quite a job ahead of you. When did life truly begin for you? For Burns, life seems to have begun in preschool as he dutifully accepted a box of crayons at the start of the day. He goes on to write and draw his way to insightful observations. All the forgotten traumas come home to roost. Burns made it his goal to sift through the big and small details and see what mattered most. This is a childhood in a Central Ohio suburbia during the 60s and 70s. With great care, and a good dose of humor, Burns explores the high and low points: freedom and privilege as well as murder and divorce.

A LIFE HALF-FORGOTTEN by James Burns

Burns plays with that special ambiguity inherent in comics as he casts himself in this first-person narrative. We have Burns at the beginning playing host followed by him appearing to walk back into his childhood past. He is now a child but he appears to remain an adult. His face retains the same mature features in many panels but also seems to shift to a softer and younger version in other panels. The results, for my tastes, give the scenes an added edge. These are all memories, after all, with a dream-like tone. The black & white with gray tones also helps to heighten the sense of searching into the past.

As Burns puts it, we are all dealing with fragments when it comes to our personal memory. One person paints a picture based on childhood while a sibling paints another. We are summoning up phantoms. We are asking our phantoms to dance again. Burns points out that his recollections seek a greater truth. He acknowledges that he wasn’t concentrating on capturing anyone’s likeness. Instead, he wanted to try to understand things better like the tragic death of a classmate.

Now, I’ll get back to this wonderful tension between the adult Burns seeking out his childhood self, with Burns depicting himself as a child but with an adult’s face. It makes for some very compelling passages. I think I like best where he looks back at how much he enjoyed wearing a Superman costume for Halloween when he was seven years-old. He loved it so much that he ended up wearing the costume on a regular basis underneath his street clothes, just like Clark Kent! It’s such a sweet and innocent recollection–and there’s a depiction of Burns, as a child in a Superman costume but with an adult’s face. It’s an scene filled with haunting melancholy and one of the more striking images I’ve seen in comics this year.

Actually, there are more scenes I could get into. I’ll also mention here the birthday party for Burns when he turned six. That’s another passage that I find very moving. The conflict between nostalgia and truth can take a rest here. For one moment of pure joy, Burns is having a grand time with friends in his backyard. He’s having cake and ice cream. And he gets to play with the most amazing toy fire engine, his featured birthday gift. You attach a garden hose to its side and it gushes out water through its tiny fire hose! I would have loved one of those toys!

A LIFE HALF-FORGOTTEN by James Burns

The murky world of memory is evoked quite well and Burns manages to snare some of his childhood ghosts. He manages to sit down with them, talk to them, play with them, and reach some sort of closure. This book invites the reader to do the same.

Visit James Burns right here. You can find A Life Half-Forgotten at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Childhood, Comics, Family, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Independent Comics, Indie, James Burns, Memoir, Memory, Not My Small Diary

Book Review: ALPHA: ABIDJAN TO PARIS by Bessora and Barroux

Our hero: Alpha, an Everyman for Today’s Immigrant.

The plight of the immigrant has never been easy and, currently, their fate could not be more dangerous. Many, fighting to leave threatening circumstances, stand no chance of finding the freedom they seek. This brings me to another unique work in comics that defies our expectations of the more traditional graphic novel format. The artwork here is not exactly in panels and there are no word balloons for the characters to speak from. Alpha: Abidjan to Paris is published by Bellevue Literary Press and written by Bessora, illustrated by Barroux, and translated from the French by Sarah Abizzone. Alpha, our main character, while symbolic of all immigrants struggling against the odds, readily engages the reader with his own set of specifics. In this way, the creative team truly gives a face to a problem demanding our attention.

Page excerpt from ALPHA

It was never an easy dream to fulfill but our hero, Alpha, finds he has no choice. Like so many others before him, Alpha is compelled to flee his homeland in search of a better life. In his particular case, he is leaving his home in Côte d’Ivoire to reunite with his wife and son who fled ahead of him and are supposed to be living in Paris with his sister-in-law. Alpha joins a vast number of Africans from varied regions united in plans to outwit ever-tighter border security, and find the right port of exit along the northern coast.

There are a number of detours that Alpha must take on his journey. Each side trip suggests the end of the road. But Alpha is quite persistent and his hopes never dampen even when he ends up in the role of the much despised human smuggler. At least, he fully appreciates that he is part of an necessary evil. That said, whenever he confronts a dilemma in his work, he can’t help but side with the migrant. He simply lacks that killer instinct to make that maximum or, in some cases, only profit. Many of his clients have been accepted on credit that he is unlikely to ever collect on.

ALPHA: ABIDJAN TO PARIS by Bessora and Barroux

Thanks to Barroux’s highly emotive artwork, the reader is quickly hooked in to what reads as a series of diary entries. The frenetic quality of the art is matched by the conversational tone in Bessora’s writing. Adding another layer is Sarah Ardizzone’s translation from the French which further unites the sensibilities of illustrator and writer. All in all, the results, with their raw sense of urgency, are quite captivating. Alpha has gone on to become an international award–winning graphic novel supported by Amnesty International and Le Korsa, a nonprofit organization devoted to improving human lives in Senegal.

A migrant once stood a much better chance of crossing a border to safer ground but not now. Once, a migrant could have a reasonable chance at mercy but not now. The fate of the immigrant is in crisis across the globe, including in the United States of America. Books like Alpha help to educate the public and help to build toward a safer and more merciful world.

Alpha: Abidjan to Paris is a 128-page, full color, hardcover now available. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Bellevue Literary Press.

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Filed under Africa, Amnesty International, Bellevue Literary Press, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Human Rights, Human trafficking, Immigration

Book Review: THE DEAD EYE AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA by Vannak Anan Prum

THE DEAD EYE AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA by Vannak Anan Prum

There are more slaves today, well over 40 million, than at any time in human history. A new book, a graphic memoir, by Vannak Anan Prum provides a most vivid and compelling testimony, through luscious watercolors and the author’s honest oral account, transcribed and composed to meld with Prum’s artwork. The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea is a 256-page hardcover, in full color, published by Seven Stories Press.

First and foremost, this is a unique and remarkable book that readers will quickly find themselves immersed in. Human trafficking is not an obvious subject matter for the casual reader but Mr. Prum handles the subject with great dignity, never delivering a false note, and even maintaining a sense of hope throughout.

Teamwork equals survival.

This is not a conventional graphic novel/memoir. But, in the process of reading it, I found myself open to seeing this book as functioning as comics–even if it forgoes many of the building blocks of the comics medium. Was Prum ever really intending to create a work in comics, per se? I think Prum is working on a pure level, one that takes the tools required to get a job done. So, given his background and his harrowing experience, I’m sure that he wasn’t mulling over whether he might end up creating a book that would be deemed one of the hippest graphic novels of the year by the A.V. Club, The Comics Journal, etc. No, this man was in dire straits, as serious as a heart attack, and he was most interested in documenting his experience. Surely, he was thinking of working as an artist in some general sense but, even more so, Prum required his work to align with the accuracy of a top notch courtroom sketch artist. Get the facts out, first. Then take care of the artistry and poetry.

Death on a slave owner’s whim.

Even after the experience and with time for contemplation, Prum is driven to document, much in the artist tradition of, say, Albert Bierstadt, Winslow Homer, or Charles Fritz. And, I believe, the initial collection of Prum watercolors gave way, somewhere in the process (through the translating and transcribing of his oral testimony) to having this all adhere more to a graphic novel/memoir framework. And, as you progress from page to page, alternating between artwork and text, you can’t help but totally empathize with Prum, from his stumbling into danger to his dogged perseverance. So, yes, ultimately it does feel and read like a work of comics.

Prum begins his journey as a newlywed with a child on the way living in a tiny poverty-stricken village in Cambodia. Without any prospects, no education, no employment opportunities to speak of, Prum is one very desperate and vulnerable young man. Like so many others like him in similar situations, Prum is lured into a too-good-to-be-true offer of a good job with good money. It is just a matter of one footstep into a truck, and overwhelming desperation, that leads Prum and a band of other victims onto a fishing vessel–followed by years of toil and torture, at the mercy of his overseers.

“I want everyone to know about this. Through my pictures, I want to warn all cross-border migrant workers to be careful. Even if they do not keep my own story in mind, they will at least have an idea of what life is like for people trafficked onto boats for forced labor.” Vannak Anan Prum is an artist who was held captive as a slave for four years on a Thai fishing boat before being sold into slavery on a Malaysian plantation for another year. He has since escaped and now lives with his family in Cambodia. Read his story here: http://tiny.cc/deadeye Vannak’s store is run by a handful of English speaking friends. 100% of the royalties earned from this store go directly to Vannak. Feel free to email us if you have any questions or would like to commission a work directly from Vannak.

–from Vannak Anan Prum’s Twitter

It is to the credit of Prum’s own natural artistic and poetic inclinations that his story never turns maudlin. It is also to Prum’s credit that, despite the grim circumstances, his narrative never grows too dark, as if the reader can rely upon Prum to find a way, to rise above, while also not suggesting he was some sort of hero. What Prum turned out to be is an authentic artist/journalist. While I’ve stressed that Prum’s main goal is accuracy, there is no denying that he also managed to remain faithful to artistry. He has a keen sense for pacing, composition, and for color. Life is back to the normal for him now, back with his wife and little daughter. While he continues to heal from his past, Prum can take solace that his voice has been heard and that his contributions are greatly appreciated. No doubt, this book will have readers wondering about where their last seafood meal came from.

A tattoo artist emerges.

As I say, this is a tough subject to deal with, but it is essential that we educate ourselves on human trafficking and this book is invaluable in that process. Personally, I am very inspired by Prum’s story, made up of so many nuanced moments. I wondered, as I read, how he would make a life for himself after having been forced into slavery. What will freedom look like for him? I think this book will make a difference, not only to educate others but, hopefully, to help Prum and his family rise up to where they belong. I can see him developing further as a fine artist. And, as the book demonstrates, I can also see him doing quite well as a renowned tattoo artist. I look forward to whatever he does next.

Prum’s artwork saves his family.

The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea is a 256-page hardcover, in full color, published by Seven Stories Press. To learn more about Vannak Anan Prum, and purchase his art, visit him here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Human trafficking, Seven Stories Press, Vannak Anan Prum