Category Archives: graphic novels

Review: ROBIN HOOD: OUTLAW OF THE 21st CENTURY

ROBIN HOOD: OUTLAW OF THE 21st CENTURY

ROBIN HOOD: OUTLAW OF THE 21st CENTURY is a comic book series that is a fine mix of action and intelligence. There are so many comics that I could review at any given time so the one question that helps guide me is “Why does this comic exist?” In the Forward to the new book collecting Issues #1-4, Tyler Weaver (Coming to Quest Country) describes a unique and contemporary take on the Robin Hood legend. And, yes, that is definitely the case. Matt Dursin’s script invites the reader into what drives his characters to seek justice–and what happens when they cross the line. It all adds up to a compelling read.

Taking from the rich to give to the poor via pizza delivery.

The divide between rich and poor is handled brilliantly in a plot that focuses on issues of life or death, namely healthcare. Set in the near future, only the rich can rely upon medicine when they need it. So, the tacit understanding in society is that some people are expendable. If that sounds creepily familiar, it certainly is meant to be. A band of vigilantes conclude that there is a way out of this nightmare: take from the rich and give to the poor. That way of thinking worked for Robin Hood but it gets more complicated in the 21st century.

Panel excerpt: Robin and John

What is exceptional about this comic is that everything is alive and lifts off the page in the way you would hope a good comic would do. It’s not easy to achieve that energy and sense of spontaneity. Many creators miss the mark simply because, for various reasons, they lose sight of what they’re doing. For some, the reason for the work to exist has been lost. You sense with this book that the whole creative team loves what they do and are intelligently engaged with it. I’m not saying that you worship your characters and treat them as if they’re real people. No, it’s a dedication to craft. If the time is put in, then you do end up with a vivid story and vivid characters.

Panel excerpt: John is threatened by The Sheriff

The artwork by Mark Louie Vuykankiat has a lean and energetic quality to it with a manga vibe. In the character design notes, he describes the characters as “somewhere between ramshackle and military.” That fits the bill. I have to say, this is one very action-packed story. At times, it feels like a video game. These boys have got their toys, including an air-burst grenade launcher! All in all, this is a smart and heart-felt work and fans of the Robin Hood legend will get a kick out of all the references to the original 1883 novel by Howard Pyle.

Rounding out the creative team is an impressive job of letters & colors by L. Jamal Walton; spectacular cover art by Ray Dillon; and spot on logo & production by Rachel Chernick.

“Robin Hood: Outlaw of the 21st Century,” issues #1 thru #4, are now available digitally and in print and are collected in a trade paperback. For more details, and how to purchase, go right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels

Review: GLISTER by Andi Watson

GLISTER by Andi Watson

I’ve kept up with Andi Watson‘s work in comics over the years and maybe you have too. It’s upbeat, quirky, and decidedly dry wit. Kate Beaton comes to mind. A number of British sitcoms come to mind too. Anthony Trollope. Yeah, he comes to mind as well. But let’s get back to Andi Watson. Dark Horse Comics has collected in a deluxe edition Watson’s GLISTER series. This book revolves around Glister Butterworth who stumbles upon quite a number of strange things.

Page from Andi Watson’s GLISTER

One of the strangest things is the family estate of Chilblain Hall. Glister and her dad live there, which is all well and fine. But they also have the occasional ghost. And the estate itself is a living entity. Glister is always trying to maintain an upbeat mood. She even encourages the family home. “But,” as Watson writes in one scene, “the doubt had already seeped into the hall’s timbers like cold in an old man’s bones on a winter’s night.” Here is where Glister must really lay on the charm and persuade the old mansion that being rustic is cool!

As a cartoonist, I greatly admire Watson’s direct line. I would not call it “deceptively simple” as is too often said of clean work. It has more to do with a clear purpose. And it’s very important to have a sense of clarity as you have a main character traipsing through a variety of rather arcane terrain. And I wouldn’t necessarily call this book aimed at only girls. Boys can, and need, to be sensitive. They don’t have to say they’re channeling their feminine side if they’re not ready to. Anyway, most boys know that all rough and tumble can get boring. At the end of the day, we are talking here about a certain sensibility. If you like droll humor, you’ll like this book. Come to think of it, doesn’t Harry Potter have a good dose of dry wit?

GLISTER collects four stories which include the arrival of a teapot haunted by a demanding ghost, a crop of new relatives blooming on the family tree, a stubborn house that walks off its land in a huff, and a trip to Faerieland to find Glister’s missing mother. Whimsical, indeed! A contrarian friend of mine egged me on the other day as to why it is that kids read so many comics. It can’t be good for them, right? With GLISTER fresh on my mind, I pointed out that kids get to enjoy a complex plot, playful use of language, and exercise their imagination. The grounding that will stand them in good stead when they go on to read the biting social satire of Anthony Trollope!

GLISTER is a 304-page trade with color tints. This whimsical collection will appeal to all ages, especially ages 8 to 12. It is available as of July 5. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Review: HERMAN BY TRADE

HERMAN BY TRADE by Chris W. Kim

The shapeshifter is one of the most misunderstood character archetypes. It is familiar while also shrouded in mystery. And you can find some in unexpected places. How about Kafka’s 1915 classic “The Metamorphosis”? In the novel, Gregor Samsa turns into a cockroach. That makes him a shapeshifter. Alright, I said it. Not a pretty sight. Not something out of Harry Potter. And yet, Kafka would have you look within and ask how close you are to the life of an insect. In Chris W. Kim’s new graphic novel, “Herman by Trade,” he takes a decidedly offbeat approach to shapeshifting. In the case of his main character, Herman, he emerges from a Kafka-like existence and is saved by his unique ability to shape shift.

The post-screening Q&A.

Kim begins with some spot on workplace satire that mirrors the bigger picture that lies ahead. Herman is part of a sanitation crew based at the city waterfront. Within the pecking order, Herman is viewed by his co-workers as a dowdy stay-at-home. But Herman has other plans when he goes to a special screening of a cult hit movie. He knows enough to go in costume. But he knows nothing about this celebrated film until he asks the girl at the ticket booth. She informs him that “Gare” is an intimate portrait of street performers. That’s good enough for Herman to join the die-hard fans in the crowded theater.

Art imitates life imitates art.

With a light and subtle touch, Kim reveals Herman’s journey. It all begins that night in that movie theater. MIO, the film’s director, announces to wild applause that she is going to film a sequel to “Gare” and she invites anyone in the city to come audition at the waterfront. Herman’s fate is sealed. He must be part of the excitement of this momentous event. And, as this graphic novel unfolds, one can’t help but be captivated by Kim’s ambitious vision. He has the backstory of the film and its sequel; the mileu of film buffs; and Herman emerging from his inner world to a much more complex inner world.

Reading HERMAN BY TRADE.

Herman’s goal to be cast in MIO’s new film turns out to be pretty daunting. How will Herman succeed while being so out of his element? In order to even survive, Herman must adapt and that involves shapshifting! Herman, despite all outward appearances, is no cockroach! Kim’s artwork is a marvelous mix of delicate and exuberant. He gently and slyly guides us. All the while, we are viewing not a roach, but a caterpillar emerging from its cocoon in order to triumphantly spread its butterfly wings.

Reading Chris W. Kim’s “Herman by Trade.”

HERMAN BY TRADE is a 120-page hardcover, published by SelfMadeHero, an imprint of Abrams. For more details, visit Abrams right here.

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Filed under Abrams, Abrams ComicArts, Chris W. Kim, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels

Great Review of ‘Alice in New York’ by Henry Chamberlain

I really appreciate the insightful review by Stacey E. Bryan of my graphic novel, “Alice in New York.” Stacey is the author of the humorous supernatural thriller, “Day for Night.” Her review is a wonderful boost of acknowledgement. All of us writers and artists strive for just this sort of connection.

The Big Apple. For a lot of people, those four words would mean little or nothing. But for me personally, it means a lot, because I was living there in 1989. The Twin Towers were still intact. Our country hadn’t turned that strange corner yet and started accelerating down a slippery slope into the 24-7 fear-mongering which has left us in the mess we’re in today.

When you’re in a mess, there’s no room for magic. But in 1989, in New York City, the old gods, the old ways, were still intact, and this is the year and the setting where Henry Chamberlain captured that feeling tenderly and bravely with his graphic novel “Alice in New York.” […]

via Alice In New York: A graphic novel by Henry Chamberlain — Laughter Over Tears

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Filed under Alice in New York, Alice in Wonderland, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Henry Chamberlain, New York City, Supernatural

Review: BILLY BUDD, KGB by Jerome Charyn and François Boucq

Yuri and Stavrogin: It is a matter of trust.

In Herman Melville’s last novel, “Billy Budd,” we follow the fate of an orphan plucked from adversity and conscripted into the British Royal Navy. In the graphic novel by Jerome Charyn and François Boucq, the lost little orphan is carted off into the service of the Soviet Union. Like Melville’s main character, there is something special about this boy. As we find in much of Charyn’s work, we have a protagonist of limited means compelled to honor his great potential. However, as we begin, we have only an emotionally stunted, ignorant lad with a hideous harelip. It is 1954. Stalin is in power. Yuri cannot resist all that is offered to him by the Soviets. In fact, he has no choice. “Billy Bud, KGB,” originally released in France in 1990, has recently been re-issued, with a new English translation by Jerome Charyn, by Dover Comics and Graphic Novels.

Four graphic novels by Jerome Charyn, available from Dover Publications.

Mr. Charyn’s literary career began in America in 1964 with his first novel, “Once Upon a Droshky,” a story of underdogs fighting to remain in their tenement apartment. After 19 prose novels, including the Isaac Sidel crime noir series, Charyn decided to adapt one of his stories into a graphic novel. That led to more. It all began with 1987’s “The Magician’s Wife,” with artist François Boucq. They also collaborated on 2014’s “Little Tulip.” Another graphic novel by Charyn in a similar spirit is 1991’s “The Boys of Sheriff Street,” with artist Jacques de Loustal. All four of these stories have multi-layered plots, primarily set in New York City, and filled with offbeat characters.

Yuri encounters the spiritual realm.

Our main character, Yuri, seems to be a typical malleable cog but something burns inside him making him go astray. He is far too innocent and ignorant to be in command of his intuitive desire to rebel. All he knows is that there must be more to life than what his Soviet handlers are telling him. Luckily, Yuri stumbles into a friendship with an instructor that will inform the rest of his life. Comrade Grigori’s unique artistic skills and broad knowledge have made him an asset over the years at the KGB training camp. But that same treasure trove of knowledge makes him very dangerous to the Soviet agenda. As a tutor, mentor, and friend, he provides Yuri with a key to unlock his soul.

It’s not easy being a spy.

By fits and starts, Yuri emerges as material for a competent secret agent. The KGB arranges a few encounters with prostitutes in order to, in their view, make Yuri more worldly. And then he’s shipped off to America. His new identity, a knowing nod to Melville: William “Billy” Budd, the lost soul. It will be up to the newly minted Billy in New York City to struggle with his life’s purpose. Stavrogin plucked him out of a ditch and gave him a future. Grigori opened his eyes to life’s possibilities. And Red Eagle, a Native American mystic, may offer him the salvation he’s hungered for all along.

Yuri gains a deeper spiritual connection.

Both Charyn and Boucq work in such a synchronized and nuanced manner that was as rare a treat then as it is now. Such pairing can only happen when the time is right. Today, readers in America and in general, are far more receptive to this level of quality. While a unique challenge, some creators choose to control all aspects of their work alone. But, as this graphic novel collaboration makes clear, the results can be stunning when writer and artist work together. We can all thank novelist Jerome Charyn for being a true trailblazer in adding his unique literary talent to the pantheon of exemplary work in comics. This book is a mesmerizing story and comics of the first order.

BILLY BUDD, KGB by Jerome Charyn and François Boucq

“Billy Bud, KGB” is a 144-page full color trade paperback. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Dover Publications right here. You can find it at Amazon right here.

Also note a Kickstarter campaign going on now thru May 21st for a deluxe reprint of FAMILY MAN, a collaboration between Jerome Charyn and Joe Staton.

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Filed under Comics, Dover Publications, François Boucq, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jerome Charyn, Russia, Soviet Union, Spies

Review: REVENGER & THE FOG by Charles Forsman

REVENGER & THE FOG by Charles Forsman

A vast and desolate wasteland, suitable for any action or exploitation movie, serves as the magnificent backdrop for REVENGER & THE FOG, the second collected volume of the ongoing Revenger comic book series by Charles Forsman. What I readily come away with is this: a horror schlock genre opens up a wide field for comics but it’s not so easy to get it right. You need a strong narrative backbone to keep all the flesh and blood moving along. Forsman jiggles it all into place with a masterful touch.

An instant taxicab ride.

Quentin Tarantino easily comes to mind as a practitioner of the type of movie terror that Forsman is channeling. Everything and everyone is cast in a pale yellow light of sheer desperation. We know from the get-go that the characters that dwell within mostly, or exclusively, eat raw meat…perhaps drink blood too. It is nothing to them to humiliate, mutilate,…well, you get the picture. A little goes a long way. Not my preferred cup of tea but, then again, it all depends upon the writing. Forsman is sensitive to those proper modulations of gore.

No one messes with Revenger!

As I understand it, Reggie, aka Revenger, is a one-woman force of nature, easily the lone wolf but open to companionship from time to time. For this collection, we follow Revenger when she belonged to a vigilante gang known as The Fog in Los Angeles in the late ’70s. This is a most unlikely assembling of brute force and cunning not seen since the A-Team. Revenger has fallen head over heels for Jenny, aka Dynarat. It is a love affair fraught with danger and ill-fated beyond words. Billy, aka Slim, offers some crude technical skill. Tara, aka Scalpel, is a martial arts guru.

The basic story here is a goofy nihilist joy ride. Dynarat is kidnapped by her abusive movie mogul father. Revenger must find a way to rescue her. The story dares you to take it seriously. Within context, it works its magic, much in the same way as other forms of parody and good obsessive autobio can sway the reader. The intriguing thing about this comic is that Forsman, like Tarantino, is intimately involved with his subject matter, both playfully satirizing it as well as paying it respect. There is irony but it’s not all irony. It’s a joke but it’s not all a joke. Essentially, Forsman works from a platform that provides exhilarating freedom for a cartoonist to take big risks: the arena of pure artifice, pure entertainment.

Revenger tells it like it is.

Forsman has an admirable control over some pretty weird proceedings and keeps to a steady pace, mindful of the distinct journey each character is on. It is one thing to create a scene with some impressive slicing and dicing of body parts. But your story will never truly succeed if no one cares. We care about all the characters in this story, even the most repulsive ones. We don’t wish the villains well but we do get caught up in them.

Well, you get caught up in everyone’s business as much as you please. This is a deliciously artificial world we are navigating through. No wonder this gritty pumped up terrain, this hyperreal wasteland, attracts some of the most creative minds. You can mix and match an endless sea of possibilities: the inane headbutts the profound.

Forsman, much like his contemporary Michel Fiffe (COPRA), has the admirable distinction of tackling all aspects of his work: the writing, the drawing, and even the coloring. While pretty common in indie circles, this kind of involvement is nearly unheard of within corporate comic book publishers. In the case of Forsman, he does quite well in serving his cryptic vision alone. His wiry characters get bathed in just the right quirky color schemes. Tongues can stick out and be painted a bright fire engine red! It all makes sense: perfectly oddball and compelling story, art, and colors.

The world of action B-movies, it turns out, is just another world, with as much to offer as any wonderland or netherworld. And, as I suggested early, it is a satisfying and quite apt playground for comics. There is a thread from Herriman’s Krazy Kat to Kaz’s Underworld to Forsman’s Revenger comics. A final thought: After you complete the main story, you have an extra feature which is Revenger lost, appropriately enough, in a hell hole. It is a fitting end to a most intriguing collection of work.

REVENGER & THE FOG, the second volume of Revenger comics, is a 160-page full color trade paperback, published by Bergen Street Press. For more details, and how to purchase the work of both Charles Forsman and Michel Fiffe, visit Bergen Street Press right here. Visit Charles Forsman right here. And be sure to stop by and consider becoming a patron of Charles Forsman at his Patreon right here.

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Filed under Bergen Street Press, Charles Forsman, Comics, Comics Reviews, Dash Shaw, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Horror, Michel Fiffe, Satire

Review: SPILL ZONE by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland

SPILL ZONE by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland

A young adventurous woman, her pro camera, her motorcycle, and a most top secret site bursting with supernatural activity. All these elements come together nicely in the new graphic novel thriller, “Spill Zone,” written by Scott Westerfeld, drawn by Alex Puvilland, colors by Hilary Sycamore, published by First Second Books.

You can’t stop a girl and her Canon camera.

One thing I do want to tuck in here: you rarely see a brand name in a graphic novel. But no harm in showing one on occasion. In this case, our main character relies upon a Canon camera. I say to that, bravo. You can’t stop a girl and her Canon camera.

Back to our story: something really weird happened to the little town of Poughkeepsie, New York. Was it an accident involving nano technology and the local nuclear power plant? Are space aliens involved? No one dares to enter the Spill Zone, except for the local thrill-seeking artist, Addison Merritt. She sneaks past checkpoints, takes photos, and sneaks back home.

Rules of the Game.

It’s now just Addie and her younger sister, Lexa, ever since the accident took the lives of their parents. Westerfeld’s script seamlessly brings in various details. Puvilland’s lean style sets the tone. Sycamore’s colors dazzle the eye as they match the story’s mood.

The best thing about this graphic novel is that it successfully takes a lot of crazy fun ideas and lets them run wild. For a while, we don’t know why Addie keeps risking her life to take photos within a toxic spill zone. A big part of it has to do with her stumbling upon a way to support herself and her sister. She sells her photography for top dollar to art collectors. But it gets more complex than that.

Addie and some toxic rats.

Both Addie and her troubled little sis Lex are being lured into something far more dark and sinister. By the end of this book, we have gotten to know these two girls fairly well. We have also gotten to know Verpertine, the doll that talks only to Lex. Vespertine dials up the creepy factor whenever she appears and is one of the compelling reasons to look forward to the next volume to this series.

SPILL ZONE is a full color 224-page hardcover available as of May 2nd. For more details, and how to purchase, go to the Spill Zone website right here.

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Filed under Canon cameras, Comics, First Second, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Photography

Kickstarter: FAMILY MAN by Jerome Charyn & Joe Staton

FAMILY MAN by Jerome Charyn & Joe Staton

The story begins in New York City…one hour into the future. Crime runs rampant, rogue cops patrol the rubble-strewn streets, predatory gangs steal anything that isn’t nailed down, and the once powerful mafia dons cower in fear in their tenement prisons. Someone is killing the mob chieftains one by one, and the last survivors call on Alonzo, The Family Man, to hunt down the murderer. But it won’t be easy – not when Alonzo’s own brother Charles, the gun-toting Monsignor of the corruption-ridden New York City police department, is a prime suspect.

Full page of original art by Joe Staton

Jerome Charyn (The Magician’s Wife) is one of my favorite writers. He is a one-of-a-kind visionary. Charyn has worked with some of the best cartoonists in the world and his work with Joe Staton (Dick Tracy) is no exception. Take a look at the examples in this post and it will give you a taste of the hard-boiled, multi-layered tale that is FAMILY MAN. A Kickstarter campaign is on now thru May 21st in support of releasing, for the first time, a collected graphic novel of this classic work. Visit it right here.

Jerome Charyn & Joe Staton

This is a project that Mr. Charyn and Mr. Staton worked on in 1994, during the heyday of Paradox Press, an imprint of DC Comics. Take a closer look at the artwork and marvel over the distinctive shading made possible with the Craft Tint duotone process. These special bristol boards were coated with shading underneath the surface. The artist exposed the shading as needed. Back in 1994, FAMILY MAN ended up as a three-part comic book series of 96-pages each. Thanks to IT’S ALIVE! Press, this stunning work of comics can now be given the best possible presentation as a graphic novel. That includes displaying each page as it originally appeared on the art board

Close-up view of Joe Staton artwork

I really can’t say enough about the remarkable talent of novelist Jerome Charyn. We will pursue that further in subsequent posts. What I’ll say now is that he was way ahead of his time, at least in American circles, by taking his literary skills to the comics medium. In Europe, for example, that has been well understood for decades. In America, we’ve had time to catch up. If you read a Charyn work in comics, you are treated to a vast world of intrigue with characters that will get under your skin. For FAMILY MAN, Charyn and Staton serve up a nice pulpy noir tale set in New York City “one hour into the future.” It is a story about two brothers on separate sides of the law caught in a dystopia they understand all too well and which will pit them in a bloody conflict.

It’s not too late to join in and reserve your copy of FAMILY MAN. This is a wonderful opportunity to own a shining example of comics at its best. Check out the Kickstarter and learn more about rewards, including original art by Joe Staton, right here.

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Filed under Comics, Crime Fiction, Dick Tracy, Drew Ford, graphic novels, IT’S ALIVE! Press, Jerome Charyn, Joe Staton, Kickstarter, New York City, Noir

Review: ‘Ville avoisinant la Terre’ by Jorj A. Mhaya

Our hero

Taking a global view, there’s isn’t a hotter book right now than “Ville avoisinant la Terre,” by Jorj A. Mhaya. It was originally published in Arabic in 2011 by Dar Onboz. And it has been recently translated into French by Éditions Denoël. This is a gorgeous book and it is only a matter of time before there is an English translation. In the meantime, I would encourage you to seek it out now and get ahead of the pack. If you enjoy the convenience of Amazon, you can find it right here. Let’s take a closer look.

The setting: Beirut, Lebanon

Over years, I’ve enjoyed a number of comics in languages I don’t know well or at all. For example, you don’t have to know French to enjoy the artwork of Blutch or Tardi. And so it is with the artwork of Mhaya. He has a wonderfully sensitive and expressive line punctuated by his use of China black ink wash.

A map for some context.

You will get much of the gist of the narrative by simply following along our main character, Farid Tawill, a typical office worker from Beirut. It may be evident from what you see but, just in case, this man’s world has been turned upside down. On his way home from the office, he finds that the apartment building where he lives with his family has disappeared. Further along his search, he finds his whole city as become alien to him. Like a character out of Kafka, or from an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” our hero appears to be in an alternate reality.

Front cover of “Ville avoisinant la Terre” by Jorj A. Mhaya

Alienation is a favorite subject in art. Edvard Munch’s “Scream” series, first begun in 1893, is the most famous example. And it comes as no surprise that, over a hundred years later, we find Munch quite relevant–feel compelled to add more to the discourse on disconnection–and see how the world has forged some pretty heavy links. It’s not lost on Mhaya from his vantage point in Beirut.

Back cover of “Ville avoisinant la Terre” by Jorj A. Mhaya

Mhaya wants you to feel the surreal quality to his homeland. He has stated that he gained a lot of insight from the photojournalism he grew up with: the urgent black & white news photos during the Beirut civil war in the ’70s and ’80s help to inform his moody ink wash artwork.

Page excerpt from VLAT

How much more absurd can life seem to be than to live in a perpetual war zone? No wonder Mhaya has an obese Batman character chasing our hero down the streets.

Page excerpt from VLAT

What Mhaya has done with this book is set up a vehicle upon which to comment upon the absurdity of life, weaving back and forth from the specifics (his own experiences, views, and concepts) and the general human condition. This is what any great novelist, filmmaker, painter, etc. does on some level: set the stage and then perform. It is certainly a process well suited for a graphic novelist.

Page excerpt from VLAT

So, you can see that you can do very well from just reading the images. Yes, you do want the text. In fact, you do need the text. But we can live with just the images. We see the little hooks that motivate the artist: everything from a close-up of a mangy dog to a close-up of a woman’s pretty feet. This or that panel do not just appear out of nowhere. The dog is a symbol of isolation. The feet are a symbol of release.

Page excerpt from VLAT

It appears that our hero is forced to confront his life in every which way possible: philosophical, emotional, sexual, intellectual. He is not just in an alternate reality. He is in a place that forces him to experience a heightened sense of reality. His choices, what he learns, what he survives, will determine his fate.

“Ville avoisinant la Terre” by Jorj A. Mhaya

And here I am commenting up a storm and I’m only relying upon the pictures! Well, it makes total sense that this book went first with a French translation in order to make the natural progression to being part of the prestigious Angoulême Comics Festival. And now English readers can’t wait to join in. The loose translation in English to this book is “City Neighboring the Earth.” I look forward to that title in the near future.

“Ville avoisinant la Terre,” by Jorj A. Mhaya, is an 88-page hardcover, black & white with tones, translated into French by Éditions Denoël. Find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Angoulême, Angoulême Comics Festival, Éditions Denoël, Beirut, Comics, France, Franz Kafka, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jorj A. Mhaya, Lebanon, Middle East

Review: ‘Cousin Joseph: A Graphic Novel’ by Jules Feiffer

Panel: Where Did America Go?

Jules Feiffer tackles drawing a page of comics much in the way that a painter tackles a canvas. He gets in there with a muscular expressive line and then it’s all, wow, Feiffer has landed another punch, all with such graceful fluidity. You most likely know Jules Feiffer as the writer of one of your favorite books from childhood, 1961’s “The Phantom Tollbooth.” Well, Mr. Feiffer maintains quite an output of stories both drawn and written or strictly in prose. One of his most celebrated plays, and a favorite of mine, is the 1967 dark comedy, “Little Murders.”

I’ve always admired Feiffer’s work and his quirky style of drawing. When he said in an interview that he is only now mastering the art of drawing, I could understand the modesty. It was similar to Akira Kurosawa making a similar comment about filmmaking. Feiffer was adamant about it. Kurosawa was just as humble. Great artists are their own worst critics. Feiffer was saying this in regards to his entry into the world of graphic novels. With the recently released “Cousin Joseph,” Feiffer is midway through a noir trilogy with a spirited plot and a gritty vibe reminiscent of the work of Milton Caniff. I can assure you, the master is doing a fine job here.

Sam out on a job.

What you need to keep in mind about Feiffer is that he is equal parts writer and artist. Perhaps, if he had to choose, he would only be a writer. That’s just to say that his writing is of a caliber that it can certainly stand alone. However, the drawings cannot be denied. A graphic novel, at least a good one, results when the attraction between the words and images becomes so overwhelming that a union is inevitable, essential. That’s what I conclude from reading “Cousin Joseph.” I can see that Feiffer’s narrative is bubbling with ideas. Sometimes an extended prose passage needs proper venting. But, for the most part, this is a dance between word and image.

Calm before the storm.

Feiffer is an artist in his eighties in good health and still creating marvelous work. Much like his dear friend and fellow cartooning legend, Edward Sorel, he continues to gain strength and joy from his work. Cartoonists, like many other artists, tend to live long lives. Cartoonists, in particular, seem to have really got it figured out. But getting back to the book, the story makes for a great stand alone, no prior knowledge of the first volume is needed. The main character is Sam, a police detective who seems alright with skirting the law in favor of working for a mysterious client.

All in a day’s work.

The mysterious client that Sam works for is simply known as, “Cousin Joseph.” He has a murky agenda that Sam has never questioned. In fact, as far as Sam’s concerned, the big guy in the mansion was actually doing some good, instilling solid American values. It’s America in the 1930s. Bread lines blur into persistent threats of Communists lurking in the shadows. Somebody’s gotta do something, right? That notion seems to stick for a while. Gradually, it dawns on Sam that the big guy is not the patriot he makes out to be. Feiffer paints a compelling portrait of Sam, a man with his own dark side.

Another flawed character is Valerie, the teenaged daughter of the owner of a factory who is none too keen on unionizing. Valeries’s weakness is a sex addiction. She can’t help herself from preying upon any underage boy she can get her hands on. Later, she turns to any man who she can entice. While a little older than the boys she lures into her web, Valerie is nothing more than a child herself. She, and the boys, provide an opportunity for Feiffer to do what he does so well, to speak to the often betrayed and wounded heart of childhood. The story, as a whole, speaks to betrayed and wounded hearts everywhere.

‘Cousin Joseph: A Graphic Novel’ is a 128-page hardcover, black & white with tones, published by the Liveright imprint. For more details, visit W.W. Norton & Co. right here.

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Filed under Comics, Crime Fiction, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jules Feiffer, Noir