Category Archives: SelfMadeHero

Review: THE NAO OF BROWN by Glyn Dillon

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

An aspiring writer does well to heed that famous Tolstoy quote about families: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Cartoonists, many of them and I include myself among these wonderfully wretched souls, gravitate more often than not to stories about outsiders, people dealing with deep issues. It leads to glorious work like The Nao of Brown, originally published in 2012 by SelfMadeHero/Abrams. A new edition, from SelfMadeHero and Abrams, just came out and it’s a good time to revisit what has become a classic tale of a young woman finding her way.

Welcome to the world of Nao Brown.

Nao Brown, at 28, is still teetering along on the precipice that takes one from childhood to adulthood. Nao comes to understand that one can remain dangling on that cliff forever. This is the year that Nao makes it to the other side. The Nao of Brown is in the same spirit as Ghost World, the Daniel Clowes tour de force graphic novel that seemed, with its major motion picture version, to bring geek culture out of the closet back in 2001. The Nao of Brown is also, just like Ghost World, a crisp combination of exquisite art and writing. Where Clowes is more hard-edged and sarcastic, Dillon is more dreamy and bathed in soft watercolor washes. Our main character, Nao, is struggling to find her place in the world with one foot in her Japanese ancestry and the other foot in her Anglo-British ancestry. And she sees the world in the black and white extremes of an obsessive-compulsive. Her dark thoughts terrify her. Pop culture, hip and ironic, is an island that she can escape to.

The life and times of Nao Brown.

Will one more mix tape be able to save Nao? She works in a pop culture boutique run by Steve, a hapless nerd if ever there was one who has a crush on Nao. She cringes at the thought of the pack of teenage boys who frequent the shop only to worship her. She knows she’s too old for them. She intellectually knows her youth is relative. But she still thinks like a little girl. For most of the book, she works out her feelings for a man she’s developed a relationship with recently. Her initial interest in Gregory was triggered by the fact he resembles a pop culture toy she adores.

Steve, trapped in the friend zone.

This is a fascinating read, no two ways about it, as immersive as any of your most beloved movies, music, novels…or graphic novels! And, as an added bonus, alternating throughout the main narrative is a “story within a story” that is simply icing on the cake! All that said, it’s a crowded field these days with one amazing graphic novel after another. The solution sometimes, just as with any other art form, is a revisit or reissue. And so that brings us to this recent reissue of The Nao of Brown. This new edition, with additional production art, is a totally well-deserved relaunch into the world and will undoubtedly enchant a whole new crop of readers.

Searching for Nao Brown.

The Nao of Brown is a 216-page hardcover. For more details, visit SelfMadeHero and Abrams.

 

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Review: MAGGY GARRISSON, published by SelfMadeHero

Surely, Maggy has had better days than this.

Maggy, the classic hard luck girl. She’s the one that gets away with nothing but keeps on trying. Maggy, the perfect anti-hero for this brilliant shaggy dog crime fiction! Maggy Garrisson is a new graphic novel published by SelfMadeHero, an imprint of Abrams Books. The script is my legendary cartoonist Lewis Trondheim. The art is my acclaimed cartoonist Stéphane Oiry. Let’s take a closer look.

Anyone reading this like Bridget Jones? Maggy is similar to Bridget as she’s outspoken and smarter than given credit for. She’s also quite persistent although there’s no arguing that she’s inclined to slow down at a London pub with a pint of Guinness. So, a bit of a walking contradiction, just what we like in a good offbeat main character. Maggy literally stumbles onto her new job, after having been unemployed for a couple of years. It’s not much of a job, a secretary to a two-bit detective, but this is Maggy we’re talking about.

For those well-read in comics, you will be inclined to compare Maggy with another Maggie found in Jaime Hernandez’s series, Love and Rockets. The artwork by Stéphane Oiry in this book is up to the task of evoking that high level of gritty comics realism. I must say, it is quite a treat to read this book as it collects three interconnected stories to create a rich tableau or grifters, drifters, and other sordid malcontents. I had a great time when I picked up the first story a while ago and reviewed it here. It would do an ole cartoonist like me some good, and you too in the bargain, if I might get a chance to talk to the creative team behind this book. Well, if not soon then soon enough. For now, this book will suffice.

No doubt, the material in this book would adapt very well for Netflix. Interesting point here: the book is so finely put together, from the precision details to the vivid colors, that Netflix can wait. Yes, it’s that good: a gripping tale married to a feast for the eyes in artwork. Trondheim has such a beautiful and distinctive cartoony style to his comics so it makes sense that he’d want the art for this crime fiction to go to Stéphane Oiry who excels in a hybrid style of cartoony and realistic. For one thing, his background in architecture definitely shows through in all his crisp and finely detailed backgrounds. And his development of characters is exquisite. Oiry knows how to get into the head of our high-strung Maggy. Oiry, a fine student in the masters of comics, channels Love and Rockets in a way that makes it his own. This is Oiry’s working-class London and welcome to it.

Like many a good detective story, there are enough MacGuffins here to dazzle any Hitchcock fan. This is a decidedly character-driven story but that’s not to say we’ve got an empty plot. In fact, the prevailing theme will strike a chord with anyone: don’t take what doesn’t belong to you. And if that doesn’t sink in, how about this: leave well enough alone that which might come back and kill you. You see, Maggy, the firebrand, is the sort who finds it hard not to play with fire. And you, I’m sure, will find it hard to put this book down.

This is a perfect read! Maggy will surely not be forgotten by any reader. I’ll give this book a perfect score: 10/10.

Maggy Garrisson is a 152-page full color hardcover, available as of June 11, 2019. For more details, visit Abrams Books right here.

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Filed under Comics, Crime Fiction, Lewis Trondheim, London, Paris, SelfMadeHero, Stéphane Oiry

Review: TUMULT by John Harris Dunning and Michael Kennedy

Tumult by John Harris Dunning and Michael Kennedy

Every Hitchcock film features someone out of their element. My favorite Hitchcock character is the dapper ad exec Roger Thornhill, played to the hilt by Cary Grant, in North by Northwest. In the new graphic novel, Tumult, we have another ad exec type minus the charm. Enter Adam Whistler, a thirtysomething bratty wannabe artistic filmmaker. Writer John Harris Dunning and artist Michael Kennedy concoct a delicious brew of noir mystery with their Hitchcock-inspired graphic novel, published by SelfMadeHero.

Morgan, is that you?

This is a story of a man steadily getting in over his head. First, he has an affair with a teenager that destroys his marriage. Then he proceeds to destroy his career just as it looks like he’s about to land the film project of his dreams. He seals his fate when he has an encounter with a mysterious woman that he can’t let go. Her name is Morgan. Or is it Leila? Or Pretty Princess? The improbable suddenly becomes probable as Adam falls into a downward spiral. Subplots help to lighten and darken the narrative as needed. Adam has a friend who is endlessly reciting his opinion on macho-themed movies. Morgan can’t break free of Dave, an unsavory and persistent troll.

A fool in the making.

This is Mr. Kennedy’s first graphic novel and Mr. Dunning’s second. His previous one is Salem Brownstone. Dunning also set up the prestigious exhibition, Comics Unmasked, at the British Library. No doubt, Tumult would fit right in with that. Kennedy commands the pages with a bold and brash style, both exuberant and precise. His striking color choices compliment his powerful linework. I have to hand it to both gentlemen. It encourages me as this is just the type of offbeat stuff that I both write and draw for my own comics. And it is definitely my preferred choice of comics to read. I’ll bet it might be yours as well.

A touch of the littlest hobo.

Tumult is a 184-page full color hardcover published by SelfMadeHero.

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Filed under Alfred Hitchcock, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Noir, SelfMadeHero

Review: MUNCH by Steffen Kverneland

MUNCH by Steffen Kverneland

MUNCH by Steffen Kverneland

When an artist draws or paints expressive work, he or she owes something to Edvard Munch. Whether that work is still compelling in the 21st century, is totally up to that artist. In 1893, when Munch created the first version of what is famously known as “The Scream,” he was 30 years-old and there was no question he had unleashed something new. Steffen Kverneland taps into that sense of urgency and excitement in his graphic novel, MUNCH, the latest in the Art Masters series published by SelfMadeHero.

August Strindberg and Edvard Munch

August Strindberg and Edvard Munch

If Edvard Munch was a free spirit, then he met his match when he befriended the flamboyant playwright and artist August Strindberg. Between the two of them, they boldly embodied everything you’d ever want to know about Expressionism. These guys lived it at a raging pace with wine, women, and song. The party was supposed to never end — and then each ending was capable of tearing these fierce bohemians to shreds as they quarreled, mostly over women. That crazy energy is mirrored throughout this book by cartoonist Steffen Kverneland masterfully inserting his own highly spirited debates on Munch with his friend and collaborator, Lars Fiske.

MUNCH by Steffen Kverneland, part of the Art Masters series from SelfMadeHero

MUNCH by Steffen Kverneland, part of the Art Masters series from SelfMadeHero

What such men as Munch and Strindberg, so full of talent and lust, really wanted is explored in Kverneland’s book with great gusto. At times, you feel like you’re there with the model/lover/destroyer of the moment. In the same spirit as Munch’s vow to paint what he saw (what he felt) as opposed to what he literally could see before him, so too Kverneland engages with his subject. Munch is depicted here as any other man, full of flaws, and open to some cartoonish interpretation like anyone else. But this is Edvard Munch, after all! Due respect is made too. Kverneland’s strict use of only actual writing from Munch, rounds out the authentic effect.

Munch and his model

Munch and his model

Kverneland including himself in his work follows a long tradition. I can tell you, as a cartoonist, I find it often unavoidable and an essential element. Kverneland even finds a genuine link between Munch and the comics medium. In the 1880s, Munch had been following a plan that would have led him to auto-bio comics nearly a century before R. Crumb! Words and pictures. There’s always been that link. Munch maintained that his visual art always began as text. And, for a time, he was pursuing illustrated journals. For someone so in tune with sharing his life experience, a life intertwined with words and pictures is inevitable.

Steffen Kverneland discusses the creation of MUNCH with a friend

Steffen Kverneland discusses the creation of MUNCH with a friend

MUNCH is a 280-page trade paperback, available as of May 10th. For more details, visit SelfMadeHero right here.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Bohemians, Comics, Edvard Munch, SelfMadeHero

Review: Pablo: Art Masters Series

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To explore the life of Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) is to explore the life of a man who left a huge mark on art, so huge a mark that to take him out of the picture would be, well, unthinkable. To better understand the man, we have this new graphic novel, published by SelfMadeHero, simply entitled, “Pablo.”

How better to get a grip on the man behind the legend than to explore his early years. And who better to guide us than the woman in his young life, Fernande Olivier. This is no simple story of love, or friendship, or an artist’s development. This is the great Picasso, after all. However, with Fernande’s help, we get a down to earth look at him. The creators of this graphic novel have placed Fernande in the role she had always aspired to, that of storyteller. Through the script by Julie Birmant and the artwork by Clément Oubrerie, we get one of the most lucid depictions of the life of Picasso, one of the most celebrated and enigmatic of public figures.

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Fernande. Who was this person? Fernande Olivier (born Amélie Lang; 1881–1966) would become a well-known artist’s model and, ultimately, a writer. She was involved with Picasso from 1904 to 1911. She was one of the models for Picasso’s landmark work, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” Picasso would paint her over one hundred times. Fernande’s memoir entitled, “Picasso and his Friends,” was published in 1930. It outraged Picasso and led to her agreeing not to publish any more details about their time together until after their deaths. Without a doubt, Picasso would not be pleased with this new graphic novel. Fernande is not a woman easily impressed with Picasso’s antics. As we see here, she is a veteran of Parisian art circles. And she proves quite a match for him.

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Picasso. The world would know his name. But, as for Fernande, there came a point when she no longer had a place in his life. As his star ascended, she only reminded him of the hard times. Julie Birmant and Clément Oubrerie depict a career that began in poverty and reached its climax with the advent of cubism and modern art. We see Picasso’s art develop through friendships with poets Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire, the painter Georges Braque, and his great rival Henri Matisse. And all through, arguably, the most fruitful and significant time in his career, there was Fernande.

This is a book that provides a fresh new look at Paris, the capital of the art world at the turn of the 20th century. Julie Birmant gives a nod to younger readers by including such terms and phrases as “awesome” and “kill me now” in the dialogue. It’s not overdone and adds a contemporary feel to the action. For the most part, the narrative is straightforward and peppered with intriguing bits of insight. Here, for instance, is a description of the first time that Fernande saw Picasso’s studio: “I still remember the smell: a mixture of wet dog, oil, dust and tobacco…the smell of work.”

This is a very honest and beautiful work. It will appeal to all ages from teen on up. It’s a frank look at the artist’s life and just goes to show that even the great Picasso had to start somewhere and he did not do it alone. In many ways, it’s the very same path that any young artist takes today, including the revelations from reading Rimbaud. Picasso lived that life long before Millennials and this book does a wonderful job of bridging that gap. The young Picasso is made quite relatable and would fit right in any coffee shop today.

“Pablo” is a 344-page trade paperback, published by SelfMadeHero. It is available as of May 5, 2015. For more details, visit our friends at SelfMadeHero right here. You can also find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Comics, France, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Modern Art, Pablo Picasso, Paris, SelfMadeHero

Review: PACHYDERME by Frederik Peeters, published by SelfMadeHero

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An elegant young woman struggles her way out of a horrific accident and finds herself in a strange world. Thus begins the new graphic novel by Frederik Peeters, “Pachyderme,” published by SelfMadeHero. Peeters borrows from David Lynch’s dreamlike narrative style, specifically his landmark film, “Mulholland Drive,” and creates something wholly original and worthy of comparison. It’s not your typical reference. It’s more of a tapping into a similar wavelength or molding from the same clay.

Carice in "Pachyderme" by Frederik Peeters

Carice in “Pachyderme” by Frederik Peeters

Laura Harring as Rita in David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive"

Laura Harring as Rita in David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive”

In “Pachyderme,” Peeters starts with a similar jumping off point to “Mulholland Drive.” Peteers’s female character is caught in a traffic jam caused by the death of an elephant. Lynch’s female character is in a limo, about to be shot by some mobsters, when some joyriders crash onto the scene.

Peeters plays with the role of the main character by giving it over to this woman while Lynch sets his sights more askew. Peeters has his character, Carice, take over the journey that lays ahead while Lynch has his similar character, Rita, step back and let another character dominate. Peteer’s Carice bears a striking resemblance to Lynch’s Rita and that adds to the sense of everything emerging from a dream.

Carice has far more control over her life than Rita and, as we proceed, we see her will tested to its limits. Carice has a clear goal in mind: to find her husband who is in hospital after suffering an accident of his own. We don’t know exactly what happened to him except that Carice is trying to reach him. Due to the traffic jam caused by the elephant, it takes Carice a while to reach the hospital on foot. And, once there, her nightmare begins. Just recall your last hospital visit and then add noir intrigue and the surreal and you have entered the world of “Pachyderme.”

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There is a satisfying bite to this story immersed in the fevered Cold War. Is the man in the little top hat and trench coat, with the penis-shaped nose, to be trusted at all? That is the sort of question that Carice must confront. She must also confront a number of other characters, including herself, all in fear of something yet unformed.

If you gave one hundred cartoonists the assignment of somehow riffing on David Lynch and going on to create their own mesmerizing work, you would get a lot of interesting results, no doubt. Let “Pachyderme” lead the way. This 88-page full color graphic novel is a keeper you’ll enjoy with every new read.

Drawn in a very confident and fluid style, the artwork of Frederik Peeters is a joy to behold. He is truly a remarkable artist/writer. It was a real treat to review his “Sandcastle” recently. You can read that here. And you can visit him here. “Pachyderme” is available starting in October, 2013. Visit our dear friends at SelfMadeHero here.

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Filed under Comics, Frederik Peeters, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, SelfMadeHero

Graphic Novel Review: ‘Sandcastle’ by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederick Peeters, published by SelfMadeHero

Sandcastle-Frederik-Peeters-2013.jpg

“Sandcastle” is a refreshingly creepy sci-fi mystery set to words and pictures. This graphic novel, published by SelfMadeHero, an imprint of Abrams ComicArts, lures you into quite a gripping tale. It fits right in with my current favorite summer movie , “The Conjuring.” It’s not set in a haunted house but it comes close. How about a haunted beach?

I’d love to see a graphic novel version of “The Conjuring,” by the way. It would slice and dice the story into something just as spooky if not more so. Your eyes rest on one panel, are pulled by one thing and then another. If the pacing is done right, you can easily slip into more than you bargained for. With drawings, you get an added sense of ambiguity. How, for instance, are you expected to know for sure that the kids back in the first set of panels have somehow changed? You can create this uncertainty with other mediums for sure but drawings carry their own special energy.

The story itself is right in tune with what we all seem to want to read these days while also having a timeless quality. There’s a certain hint of the Apocalypse mixed in here. There is also a “Twilight Zone” or “Lost” vibe. It’s a story involving a bunch of people that fate has thrown in together for a most extraordinary event, one they may not survive, one they are most likely not going to survive. And there’s a nice dash of the fantastical to make it all the more eerie.

It is a very understated story filled with very understated characters which can make for the best fiction. No one in this story is a hero or even all that likable. Even the most innocent or noble among them is less a shining example and more an average person pushed to the limits. That is a big theme here, being pushed to the limits. Just how much can one human being take? If a person is stretched far enough from what they know, have they lost their purpose, their will to live?

Without spoiling much of anything, the action is set into motion when a pretty young girl decides to disrobe and take a dip in the lake. As so often happens in life, her actions coincide with a most random person who is wandering about right at that moment. He’s a miserable looking man. He can’t help but find himself staring at the beautiful naked woman in the water. He didn’t plan to look in that direction but he couldn’t help himself. She, in turn, suddenly dies. And he is suddenly in a most dangerous position for an odd man out. He will quickly become a murder suspect. But that is only the beginning of the devilishly complicated horror that lies ahead.

This all told in a vividly cinematic way. That is much to the credit of writer Pierre Oscar Levy, a documentarian by trade. The translation by Nora Mahony is pitch perfect too. The art by Frederick Peeters is quite striking throughout, a blend of realism and cartoony embellishments. Many of the characters have severe features, coupled with severe temperaments, which Peeters takes delight in expressing in all its ghoulish beauty. These are mostly people who have already been beaten down by life and now they must deal with the worst beating they will ever get. It’s a wonderfully strange story.

“Sandcastle” is a 112-page hardcover available now. Visit our friends at SelfMadeHero and Abrams ComicArts.

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

Graphic Novel Review: BLACK PATHS by David B., published by SelfMadeHero

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Sometimes a man needs the right kind of motivation. “Lauriano made a myth out of his two days in no-man’s-land.” That is what they say about our main character in David B.’s latest graphic novel, “Black Paths,” published by SelfMadeHero. He is thought to be posturing. But, then again, his friends are quick not to judge too harshly. Everything is in flux. The First World War tore into nations and souls. It did what it did to Laurinao. And it did what it did to the accidental city-state of Fiume. They know that all too well. “Ha! Life is good in the free city of Fiume. We’re going to die of cold and hunger.” Lauriano chooses to make sense of things by being the hero. It may prove a way to cope but it can also be a very lonely place.

Some say that certain things, like the silent movie era, are lost to us, just too far away for us to relate to. But I don’t believe them. Charlie Chaplin. Mary Pickford. We can still look into their eyes and they’re still alive. Everything is relatable. It depends on who is telling the story. What David B. does with “Black Paths” is give us a sense of the chaotic state that Europe was left in after the First World War and part of the stage that was being set for another global war. He does this by focusing on the little mouse that roared, Fiume, the city without a country. Italy is not terribly interested in absorbing it. Croatia is not ready. To make matters worse, a usurper, the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, takes command. This leaves a void that is filled by various corrupt forces. Fiume is not the harsh no-man’s-land of the trenches but it definitely rates the tile of “No-Where,” that Lauriano has given it.

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In truth, the details are numerous and complicated about the actual Fiume of history. To David B.’s great credit, he turns this troubled land into a wonderful gateway for further reading in history by including fantasy and romance into the mix. Lauriano is a dreamy young man who easily floats among all walks of life as if he were a ghost. But, after finding himself in the middle of a brawl over stolen loot, he stumbles upon Mina, a sexy cabaret singer. After they hide themselves on the roof overlooking the mayhem, they quickly fall under each other’s spell. They can’t get enough of each other or so it would seem. Mina, for all her charms, soon learns that she must compete with ghosts, poetry, and all manner of daydreaming.

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David B.’s beautifully fluid style graces each page. His unique use of patterning gives the story a lift and emphasis where needed. David B. can create patterns from just about anything and will, whether it be from skulls, crowds, or vibrations of light. And his characters tend to have a world-weary look to them with sleepy eyes and languid expressions. We don’t see people go into a rage as much as we see them get exasperated. It’s the anger, mixed with melancholy, that you usually see Charlie Chaplin engage in. It is a jaded resistance, just the right temperament for this fable set in Fiume.

“Black Paths” is a 128-page hardcover, published by SelfMadeHero.

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Filed under Comics, David B., Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, History, SelfMadeHero

Review: ‘When David Lost His Voice’ by Judith Vanistendael

When-David-Lost-His-Voice-Judith-Vanistendael-2013

Currently on the shelves is a book with a bright orange cover and a powerful story about coping and understanding death and loss. Our lives can become so routine: work, eat, sleep, rinse, repeat. Ironically, the closer we come to death, the more we appreciate life. Just like they say, our lives flash before our eyes at a time of crisis. It can unnerve us. Americans, for example, have been thought to not deal too well with death. However, given the popularity of zombies, that overall outlook seems to be improving. And there are some cultures who appear to be more in touch with death. “When David Lost His Voice,” the new graphic novel by Judith Vanistendael, published by SelfMadeHero, gives us a story that shows how life and death can come to terms. It’s a story not without a healthy dose of good cheer.

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I recently viewed Julie Delpy’s “2 Days in New York,” a comedy about what happens when relatives from France descend upon a couple’s New York apartment for the weekend. In the movie, you see just how crude, or earthy, depending on your taste, these French folks can be. The humor itself felt French too, embracing the absurdity in life more than your typical American comedy. It seems to be a matter of dropping any inhibitions and yet done with a certain style. In that regard, I find a similar sensibility running throughout this graphic novel. It is the story of David, who discovers he has developed a cancer in his throat. He is an older gent who has a full-grown daughter, Miriam, as well as a 9-year-old daughter, Tamar, from a recent marriage to Paula. And Miriam has recently given birth herself to Louise. It is quite a premise: all these women are a vital part of David’s life and the prospects for his future don’t look so good.

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David is a special man who is well loved. He’s a man of few words. He prefers to let his actions speak for him. He owns a bookshop so he deals in words every day but, for seeking deeper meaning, he can make good use of silence. It is these qualities that are on display as he does his part to console Tamar, about the possibility he may not be around for much longer. He’s there for her. He’s attentive to her child’s viewpoint.

David and his wife, Paula, tirelessly work together to keep their daughter calm, even if it requires adhering to an elaborate scheme to make it look like it’s possible to send mail back and forth attached to balloons. It’s almost easier for David to attend to little Tamar’s needs than it is to attend to the needs of anyone else. Miriam keeps seeing him as a ghost. Paula, an artist, reconstructs him from x-rays.

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Interestingly enough, it’s Paula who becomes very vocal and loses control a bit over all the quiet surrounding David. It’s bad enough that David won’t talk about it. But no one else is capable of articulating what’s happening either. Or does it just seem that way? Balance is gained when a child’s perspective, that sense of lightness, can be brought into play. Maybe mermaids, magic, and notes sent on balloons can help make things better.

As long as everyone believes in hope and compassion, then the end need not be harsh and bitter. In a story that floats with such delicate ease, Judith Vanistendael does a beautiful job of evoking what is involved when all parties manage to transcend a crisis and create something new.

“When David Lost His Voice” is a remarkable graphic novel by Judith Vanistendael. She is a Belgian author of graphic novels and an illustrator. She is known for “Dance by the Light of the Moon,” two volume work also published by SelfMadeHero. You can find out more about purchasing your own copy of this book here.

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Filed under Comics, Death, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Judith Vanistendael, SelfMadeHero