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Review: ‘The Graphic Canon of Crime & Mystery, Volume One’

“The Graphic Canon of Crime and Mystery, Vol. 1: From Sherlock Holmes to A Clockwork Orange to Jo Nesbø”

Jerome Charyn, one of our great writers, known for his Isaac Sidel mystery series among many other works, has said that “all novels are crime novels.” It is an intriguing idea. You may as well take it a step further and say that all narrative, even the Bible, shares something with the genre. It is in that spirit that Russ Kick brings us the latest in his series of great works of fiction adapted into the comics medium. “The Graphic Canon of Crime & Mystery Volume 1” is published by Seven Stories Press.

This is a take on the crime & mystery genre that proves quite refreshing and a true eye-opener. Russ Kick, in the role of curator/editor, has taken an offbeat path in order to emphasize just how diverse and unpredictable his subject can be. Kick goes so far as to not include any adaptation of two of the most prominent names of all: Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Perhaps he’s saving them for another volume. As a cartoonist myself, I would find those two irresistible for adaptation. But I also appreciate that Kick is playing with a delicate balance of mixing the familiar with surprising elements. Take the cover image. What on earth is going on there? A woman has been left tied up to a bed as a man creeps upstairs. Kick manages to keep just the right unsettling vibe running throughout this impressive anthology.

Good crime fiction keeps you on your toes. You are not supposed to be on solid ground. You are supposed to expect the unexpected. To set the mood, as well as provide the necessary framework, Kick has done away with chronology and has organized each adaptation within chapter categories: The Act; Criminals; Whodunit; Judgment; and Punishment. Take the judgment theme, for example. Within that one you have a story from the Bible, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” a story from Boccaccio’s “The Decameron,” and Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” Neither of these would seem to be an obvious fit. There are certainly no gumshoe detectives here. But there is undeniable intrigue, and each story revolves around a crime. It is in Hawthorne’s case that we have that persistent double layer of gloom that resonates with a contemporary reader.

Excerpt from “The Scarlet Letter”

One of my earliest reviews of comics was the work of Sophia Wiedeman. I am quite taken with her eerie and understated comics. It is very nice to see her adaptation here of “The Scarlett Letter.” Hawthorne, like Washington Irving and Robert Louis Stevenson, is a true master of early American psychological thrillers. Wiedeman’s adaptation evokes the chilling air surrounded by poker face Puritans hungry for self-righteous violence.

Excerpt from “Headhunters”

But you really cannot deny yourself altogether the grit, glamour, and style that is so inextricably linked to the crime & mystery genre. The one piece that really satisfies that “To Catch a Thief” vibe is an adaptation of “Headhunters” by Jo Nesbø. If the name is not familiar, then maybe you have not tuned into the crime fiction trend coming out of Scandinavia and known as “Scandicrime.” Who knew. I have tended to see Scandinavians as rather mellow sensible sorts. But, no, push come to shove, and ditch the lutefisk in favor of brass knuckles. For this piece, Jackie Roche adapts a tale of a man leading a double life: corporate headhunter by day; master cat burglar by night. Roche has a perfectly light touch that gives this story an added touch of class.

Excerpt from “In Cold Blood”

For something decidedly chilling, there is the adaptation by Emi Gennis of the Truman Capote masterpiece, “In Cold Blood.” Gennis is another cartoonist I have followed and always find interesting. For her piece, she lets much of the plot speak for itself with minimal dialogue. Her stark and space style gives it all a nice edge.

Excerpt from “The Postman Always Rings Twice”

Sarah Benkin does something similar with her adaptation of the James M. Cain all-time classic “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” Benkin’s approach brings home the old adage of how the best laid plans of mice and men can fail miserably.

Excerpt from “Strangers on a Train”

And one more: it’s fun to see a piece by Megan Kelso that turns up the heat on her usually reserved and understated style with her adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s “Strangers on a Train.” It’s as if a lot of things that often go unsaid in a Kelso story are forced up a bit to the surface. That said, Kelso conceals where she needs to and leaves the reader wondering in the spirit of any good mystery.

“The Graphic Canon of Crime & Mystery, Vol. 1” is a 352-page trade paperback, available as of November 21, 2017, and published by Seven Stories Press.

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Review: ‘Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City’

Tenements, Towers, and Trash!

Cartoonist Julia Wertz has a distinctive outlook (irreverent, pithy, snarky) that has gained a loyal following of readers. With her latest work, she brings her unique style to bear on the Big Apple. It is an honest, funny, and insightful approach to learning about how cities evolve, particularly New York City, the quintessential urban mecca. Early in her cartooning career, Wertz said she resisted writing some sort of coming-of-age book set in NYC. Now, more mature, she can dish on the history of the city that never sleeps while also, inevitably, sharing something of her journey of self-discovery. It all makes for an intoxicating blend: “Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City,” published by Black Dog & Leventhal.

Wertz sets up a poignant and vulnerable starting point: the remains of the New York World’s Fair of 1964. It’s not a pretty sight. No, it’s a mishmash of faded totems to the future. Ironic stuff, indeed, irresistible to a wise-cracking cartoonist! Surely, you know that most, if not all, cartoonists have a sardonic sense of humor. And Julia Wertz is just the sort of sardonic tour guide you would want. But it’s not just about the snark–far from it. Sure, Wertz puts the 1964 World’s Fair through the wringer, deeming it a celebration of corporate-sponsored consumerism. Now, the 1939 New York World’s Fair had style but, in its own way, it too was a celebration of corporate-sponsored consumerism. This sort of comparison easily lends itself to delving deeper and therein lies what this book is about, what makes it unique and beautiful.

Egg Creams, best to keep them simple.

New York City is all about the tension between the pretty and the not so pretty. Wertz revels in this fact. It seems as if she can’t get enough. Just when you think you have this book figured out, Wertz will delight the reader with shifts in narrative, compelling visuals, and overall heart-felt enthusiasm, the sort of lust and vigor you’d expect from an Indiana Jones in the jungle except this is Julia Wertz on countless urban expeditions. She tracks down everything: bagels, egg creams, The Village Voice, railroad flats, micro-living units. It’s all here and then some.

I love New York almost beyond words. My heart goes out to Julia Wertz and her marvelous long walks spanning hours upon hours and covering multiple boroughs and miles. I highly recommend taking this book on a NYC trek of your own. It’s a hefty hardcover but, if you make it your primary item in your backpack, you’ll be just fine. You can make your own comparisons and connections guided by all the amazing drawings that Wertz has to share of bygone and contemporary New York. This book is really an inspiring combination of prose and artwork and comics. This is simply a dazzling book collecting a treasure trove of insight and information and making it all feel like a carefree conversation.

223 W. 42nd Street in 1964 and in 2014.

“Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City” is a 284-page hardcover published by Black Dog & Leventhal.

If you’re in Seattle this weekend, be sure to stop by and see Julia Wertz at the annual comic arts festival, Short Run, or the the Seattle Public Library. At Short Run, on November 4th, Wertz will be giving a slideshow/talk about her urban exploring from 3:30-4:30pm at the Vera Project. And at the downtown Seattle Public Library, on November 5th, Wertz will hold a slideshow and conversation with cartoonist Nicole Georges from 2-4pm.

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City of Seattle Commissions Graphic Novel To Promote Historic Steam Plant

Drawing by David Lasky

Has a major American city ever commissioned a graphic novel as a public art piece before? Seattle is on board! Cartoonist David Lasky and writer Mairead Case have been selected (from 71 applicants) by the City of Seattle to create a fictional graphic novel centered around the historic Georgetown Steam Plant. The goal is to increase awareness of this unique landmark with a graphic novel geared toward young adults.

Panel from “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song”

David Lasky is the co-author (with Frank Young) of the Eisner-Award-winning graphic novel biography, “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song.” Chicago writer Mairead Case is the author of the acclaimed prose novel, “See You in the Morning.” A story by Lasky and Case, “Soixante Neuf,” was featured in Best American Comics 2011.

West elevation exterior of engine room.
The Georgetown Steam Turbine Station, built in 1906 is now a National Historic Landmark. The plant is owned by Seattle City Light and has been working to restore the plant. It is open for tours the second Saturday of each month and is occasionally used as a teaching facility for steam power engineers and hobbyists.

Here is a brief email interview I did with Mairead Case today:

What went through your head when you got the news about being chosen for this special graphic novel project?

Well I was, am, sincerely grateful: to be from a city that celebrates public monuments with comics, and to have visibility and support for the creative relationship David and I have pretty much always had, even when nobody else was looking. Grateful to have work that includes time for oral histories and site-specific research (no screens!). And aware of the responsibility to accurately represent Georgetown’s diverse history—we want to use this platform to amplify and illuminate the stories that are already here, not co-opt them. For real. (Also, I was really happy to have news that would make my mom proud.)

Are you already envisioning what your routine will be like with the project?

David and I are both pretty focused, detailed nightowls so I expect we’ll have a focused, detailed, nightowl routine. That said, it’s amazing to have financial support for this project so it’s really exciting to think about how we might work in new ways with that gift. (We might even work in the daytime, ha!) But no matter what we’ll be collaborating closely. And we will probably listen to Bowie at some point.

Did you ever think you’d be creating a graphic novel about a steam plant?

I feel like I’m supposed to say no here, but why not? When I was a kid I wanted to be a tightrope walker so maybe this is not that far off.

What do you think this project might say about the role of graphic novels in America?

Ah, I think our role is to make the book and then other people can tell us! But it is terrific terrific terrific that Seattle is supporting a project like this—it’s really wonderful that an American city in 2017 is using art to build community, as defined and remembered by that community. I’m used to telling (maybe yelling a little too) at the government about that, and am still gobsmacked that this time the government was all “we know. Go.” I hope that other cities say “Go” too. The talent is here! American cities, if you want me to send you lists about the talented storytellers I know in your neighborhoods, just send a flare.

You can keep up with this intriguing project right here.

And, if you’re in Seattle this weekend, be sure to stop by and see David Lasky at the annual comic arts festival, Short Run.

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24-Hour Comics: SO IT GOES (#3 of 3)

And here is the final installment to the 24-hour comics I did at the Palladian, a Kimpton hotel. The animal spirit is strong and I find myself surrounded by it and embracing it.

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24-Hour Comics: SO IT GOES (#2 of 3)

Here is the second part to my recent 24-hour comics marathon at Palladian, a Kimpton hotel. The work neatly fell into three sections. In this part, we shift focus a bit to talking about myth byway of Hollywood.

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Movie: 24 HOURS IN SEATTLE

Henry Chamberlain in 24 HOURS IN SEATTLE

What if you had a special 24 hours to lift up your creative spirit? That’s how I feel about the annual 24-Hour Comics Day. It is observed around the world by a multitude of diehard fans and seasoned cartoonists.

Henry Chamberlain loves 24-Hour Comics Day!

This last weekend, October 7-8, was 24-Hour Comics Day. It all began on a dare back in 1990 when two cartoonists entered into sort of a duel: Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics) challenged Stephen Bissette (Swamp Thing) to complete a comics narrative within the span of 24 hours. Since then, countless others have taken up the freaky fight. It has become a personal quest for me too! This year, I took up the challenge in my room at the Kimpton Palladian Hotel.

Drawing into the night.

These kind of activities that pull us out of our everyday existence are essential. I cannot help but seek them out. I need to be placed out of my element from time to time, as often as possible, when you get down to it. I have my methods. And the 24HCD is one of them! I hope you enjoy the movie I created. Yes, I put together a movie while I was also creating comics while I was also intoxicated by wine, coffee, and the overall luxurious experience of the Palladian. Also, it was quite nice being just walking distance from Pike Place Market. By the way, I got to meet the legendary Pike Place Market busker, Jonny Hahn!

And this will not be the last of this sort of thing! More on its way. I welcome any feedback you may have. You can leave a comment here or you know how you can reach me too.

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Filed under 24 Hour Comics, 24 Hour Comics Day, 24HCD, Comics, Henry Chamberlain, Seattle

Review: ‘The Best American Comics 2017,’ Editor, Ben Katchor; Series Editor, Bill Kartalopoulos

“The Best American Comics 2017”

Comics can be discussed in any number of ways. You can try to include everything from comic strips to superhero comics to the latest graphic novels. What the annual anthology Best American Comics does is focus on comics that rise to the level of art that are already coming from some sort of artistic background: boutique publishers, arthouse anthologies, cultural websites, self-published work, and any other art outlets including galleries. The Best American series began with a short stories yearly anthology in 1915. The addition of an annual focusing on comics began in 2006. This was perfect timing as consensus in varied circles had reached a fever pitch that American comics had reached the level of art. And so, here we are with another long look at the comics medium with The Best American Comics 2017.

“Generous Bosom Part 2,” by Conor Stechschulte

When you focus solely on alt-comics (alternative as opposed to mainstream) as representing all the best American comics, that creates an interesting challenge. But, all in all, it ends up being very helpful in sorting out where comics are headed as an art form. It is essential to avoid pitfalls: giving a pass to work that is weak from being self-indulgent, ill-conceived, poorly crafted, or heavy-handed. But we’re looking for the best, right? Comics cannot be held by the hand and protected. It is made of stronger stuff. To try to shield its creators from the harsh realities of life only hurts the very thing you may think, it your position of authority, you are helping. You wouldn’t provide a painter with free room and board and simply expect masterpieces in return, right? That’s not how life works. Anyway, the best work will win out in the end and the best work has got to have some kind of “wow factor.” This collection has plenty of that.

From “Frieze, No. 181,” by Gary Panter

First, be sure to read the introductions by series editor Bill Kartalopoulos and guest editor Ben Katchor, a master cartoonist. To be fair, this is a very dry nutshell of what they have to say but, basically: Kartalopoulos advocates for artist-cartoonists to not hold back at all since their odds of fame and fortune are nil; Katchor, in a series of hilarious satirical pieces, reveals a sensitivity to the marginalized role of cartoonists. To be egalitarian and invite everyone to try their hand at creating comics does, as I suggest, create interesting challenges. Another example: you would not assemble an annual collection of the best American illustration and really spend too much time considering nonprofessionals–nor would you concern yourself over the status of a person in the illustration profession. So, what makes the artist-cartoonist (plus those who aspire to be) so special? You could say that is what makes this book so special since it devotes itself, as well as logic and space can accommodate, to the current state of independent American comics.

From “Communications Workers of America,” by Dan Zettwoch

We begin with a piece by Gary Panter. Here is someone who, by all rights, openly defies any professional standards to the comics profession. Panter’s work is messy: from the clumsy depiction of figures and composition down to the often hard to read hand-drawn lettering. A lot of people do not like a “clumsy” work. However, a lot of people who attempt such a style, don’t nearly come close to the spark and originality in Panter’s work. In “Frieze, No. 181,” Panter has his characters prattle about the current state of art. It’s funny, unique, and totally Panter. In comparison, the next work in this collection is by Dan Zettwoch. Now, here you have a cartoonist who has mastered all those aspects of traditional cartooning: crisp and dynamic depiction of figures and composition right down to intricate highly-polished/professional-grade use of hand-drawn lettering. In his case, if he tried to be too casual and expressive, his creations might become too hard to follow. So, there you have two examples of contemporary indie comics, among a myriad of possibilities.

From “John Wilcock, New York Years, 1954-1971,” by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall

If I were to point to only one item in this collection, I would be satisfied with the excerpt from “John Wilcock, New York Years, 1954-1971,” by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall. I believe this satisfies the desire of Kartalopoulos to highlight work that pushes boundaries; and it also satisfies a similar inclination in Katchor, to seek out offbeat and unusual work. I find this excerpt especially timely as it focuses on the origins of The Village Voice, which recently had to give up its print edition. In this piece, we follow the misadventures of writer John Wilcock, who actually succeeds by not only skill and talent but by a formidable force of will. He finds himself at the right time and place as one of the founders of the Voice, first published in October of 1955. Wilcock manages to hold his own with tough guy co-founder Norman Mailer. And, among the dazzling people he gets to interview is none other than Marilyn Monroe. This is a very lively work of comics. You can follow it as a webcomic right here.

From “Test of Loyalty,” by Sam Alden

There is definitely something to be said for being completely inclusive about the act of creating comics. We have already reached the point where you can just as easily consider taking a cooking class, or a yoga workshop, or a comics-making workshop. Hey, you can also include improv comedy in that self-improvement list. Do comedians feel that their profession is somehow diminished by having so many amateurs getting into (or attempting to get into) the same game? Nope. Same goes for a whole bunch of other people: writers, actors, and various other artists. Fortunately, you can’t learn some of the basics of becoming a doctor on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The point is that the standards for comics are there and some people will do comics for a certain time while others will be compelled to delve deeper. What a book like Best American Comics does is provide both the practitioner and the reader with a wonderful roadmap and source of inspiration–and, by the way, entertainment and enrichment.

“The Best American Comics 2017,” editor Ben Katchor; series editor, Bill Kartalopoulos, is a 400-page hardcover, available as of October 3rd, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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Review: EDUCATION by John Hankiewicz

EDUCATION by John Hankiewicz

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

That head of a greyhound!

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

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

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

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Comics Focus on Everything You Need to Know About ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’

It all began as a French comic book series.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” will open in U.S. theaters on July 21st. It all began as a French comic book series. First published in Pilote magazine in 1967, the final installment was published in 2010. The science fiction comics series was entitled “Valérian and Laureline,” or just “Valérian,” created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières. The first volume in a complete collected works was recently published by Cinebook. “Valerian – The Complete Collection Vol 1” is now available from Cinebook. You can also purchase it at Amazon right here.

“Valerian – The Complete Collection Vol 1”

This deluxe edition includes various supplementary material related to the movie. It starts out with an exclusive interview with the film’s director, Luc Besson (The Fifth Element). He shares his childhood adoration for the Valerian comics. He dutifully awaited each new installment in Pilote magazine, just like all the other kids he knew. The Valerian comics, with their mix of classic science fiction and whimsical fantasy, helped to influence Star Wars. And perhaps, only now, has movie technology caught up to do justice to a Valerian movie.

Drawing by Jean-Claude Mézières of Star Wars meets Valerian

All you really need to know to enjoy the movie is that it’s like Star Wars but with a distinctively French flare. The main characters are a couple of special operatives, Valérian and Laureline, on a mission to save the world, or should I say, the universe! It is in reading the actual comics that a reader quickly picks up on that refreshing sense of irreverence that is Valerian. Keep in mind that director Luc Besson worked with Valerian artist Jean-Claude Mézières on “The Fifth Element.” Indeed, this is a very special case of a major motion picture and its comics source material working seamlessly together.

Now, consider the significance of the Valerian comics because, make no big mistake, Valerian set the stage for much that was to come. Valerian comics, in their day, were groundbreaking. There was nothing quite like it in its scope and influence. These comics hit France in the Sixties during a major time of transition: a post World War II culture seeking out fresh new entertainment. To get away from the gray and the drab, the two French creators of Valerian went west to the U.S. for a time to get recharged. In fact, their first work together originated in Salt Lake City, Utah!

Panel excerpt from Valerian

In the U.S., Mézières, the artist, and Christin, the writer, were enthralled with wide open spaces, colorful B-movies, and great promise for change, as demonstrated with the Civil Rights movement. They honed their skills. Mézières focused on such artistic talent as Giraud, Jijé, Franquin, and Mad magazine. Christin focused on science fiction writers like Asimov, Van Vogt, Vance, and Wyndham. And, together, they created Valerian.

This first volume of the collection contains books 1 and 2 of the series: The City of Shifting Waters – in its original two parts, 9 pages longer format – and The Empire of a Thousand Planets. It also includes book 0, Bad Dreams, translated into English for the first time: the very first adventures of our two heroes, published after City and retroactively numbered.

And to really get a sense of what’s in store with the Valerian movie, check out this particularly informative trailer below that goes into the vital connection to the original comics. Yes, Valerian is a big deal. Consider it as big as Star Wars:

“Valerian – The Complete Collection Vol 1” is a 160-page full color hardcover suitable for all ages. Buy it on Amazon right here.

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Filed under Bande Dessinée, BD, Comics, European Comics, French Comics, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Star Wars, Valerian

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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