Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: ‘Day for Night’ by Stacey E. Bryan

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Damien Hirst, the bad boy of art famous for displaying sharks in art galleries, once asked his 6-year-old son which he would prefer in his bed, a girl or a zombie. The boy instantly replied, “Zombie!” That is a crude and random example, I know. But perhaps it makes a bigger point about our collective fascination with the macabre, the unknown…and sometimes that is made most clear from a child’s point of view. That brings me to “Day For Night,” a new novel by Stacey E. Bryan. It has zombies of a sort. And it even has a shark! Like my example, there’s a fine-tuned crude and random vibe to this book.

This is very much a Los Angeles tale. Bryan indicates any pause as a “beat,” reminding us we’re in Tinseltown, full of daily theatrics and scripts coming out of everyone’s ears. We also get a lot of local flavor with characters living out in Brentwood, Culver City, and Marina Del Rey. There’s much talk about the well-hidden Toluca Lake. Everything seems to converge for a time at Sepulveda Boulevard. Plus numerous movie references not the least of which is Francois Truffaut’s “Day for Night.” An old tattered poster for the film decorates the apartment laundry room our main character, Rae, finds herself in at the start of the book.

At first, we don’t know if Rae is caught in the throes of an anxiety attack but she readily declares she is experiencing the end of the world. Is she perhaps an aspiring actress? Yes, she is. But what she describes next leaves much room for further speculation. Rae witnesses her neighbor Annie levitate up above the tile floor. Annie blacks out just as Rae throws her yellow bra at the glowing force surrounding her friend. By the time that Annie wakes up, it’s too late to rationally explain to her that something most supernatural (thwarted alien abduction?) has just occurred. Annie completely missed it. Rae experienced the whole thing!

And so our story unfolds alternating between typical Angeleno angst and unexplained phenomena. It’s a wonderful balancing act that Bryan maintains. Basically, half the novel favors events more grounded in reality and then, as the weird stuff pushes its way to the foreground, you get a more mature version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Rae is in her thirties and, like her counterparts has had time to become more hardened and jaded than Buffy. Rae is a tough cookie recovering from quite a lot of rough scrapes, especially the day a tiger shark got too close and chomped off some of Rae’s fingers.

Bryan is totally in command of her story and has fun teasing out moments for her main character, Rae. Funny internal monologues give way to sudden outbursts followed by the latest development in Rae’s bumpy journey. Along the way, she encounters romance ranging from comical to intense. Throughout, Rae discovers a tapestry of connections that sustain her and help her grow ranging from the mundane to the sublime.

“Day for Night,” a novel by Stacey E. Bryan

Bryan has mastered that same melding of the everyday with the supernatural that has appealed to legions of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans. The pithy exchanges between Bryan’s characters crackle with hard-won insight. It is insight mixed with harsh reality…and the movies. This is L.A., after all. It’s a mix of gumption that just might be enough to take on vampires and space aliens.

“Day for Night” is published by Vagabondage Press. You can find it on Amazon right here. And you can find Stacey at her website right here.

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Filed under Aliens, Book Reviews, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Horror, Los Angeles, Satire, Supernatural, Vampires

Review: ‘Paradise Lost: A Graphic Novel’

“Paradise Lost: A Graphic Novel” by Pablo Auladell

Spanish artist Pablo Auladell battled with demons and angels for some years before he ultimately created a graphic novel based upon the landmark in English lit, John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” As many a college student will attest, reading this masterpiece can be a bit of slog, but a noble slog. As you immerse yourself in the text, the imagery comes alive. And so this is what happens when a skilled and nimble artist interprets this mighty tome. You get, “Paradise Lost: A Graphic Novel” The new translation by Angela Gurria has just been published by Pegasus Books.

For those familiar as well as new to it, this artful take on Milton’s most famous work is quite satisfying. It’s fascinating to study how Auladell went about interpreting some of the most iconic characters and images of all time. No doubt, it wasn’t easy. As anyone who has ever fancied going about creating their own graphic novel (good luck) and actually followed through, the whole process is quite time-consuming. The level of commitment is very demanding. Auladell is certainly up to the task.

Pages from “Paradise Lost: A Graphic Novel”

The only expectation for the reader is that here is a compelling reimagining of Milton’s epic poem on humanity’s fall from grace. Here is the monumental clash between God and Satan, good and evil, and life and death. For Auladell, he’s accomplished an ambitious work, put his personal stamp upon one of the greatest work of the ages.

Pages from “Paradise Lost: A Graphic Novel”

A work at this level is years in the making. Not days or months but years. There are so many people who wish to create their own graphic novel. But are they really prepared to put in the time required to create something worthwhile? Well, perhaps with the right combination of passion and persistence, each hopeful can achieve their particular dream. One key to all this is pacing one’s self. That’s the big secret. You need to pace yourself. Auladell did exactly that. He embarked upon one phase of the book and then another with no guarantee of a final result other than what pure persistence might promise. One creates hooks for one’s self. For example, Auladell chose to place a jaunty hat upon Satan’s head. That’s a hook that helps to inspire him to draw a legion of demons flying up ahead and so on down the line.

Page excerpt from “Paradise Lost: A Graphic Novel”

So this book is as much as study on the work itself as a study on the progress of creating such a work. As Auladell states in his introduction, he is self-conscious of how the work developed in stages. But to the reader, it will read as a smooth narrative due to an overall consistent quality. In Auladell’s case, he has already set the bar high so we are going from excellent work to even greater work.

“Paradise Lost: A Graphic Novel” is a 320-page hardcover available as of April 4, 2017. For more details, visit Pegasus Books right here.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Comics, Devil, God, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Pegasus Books, Satan, Spain

Book Review: ‘The Blood of Emmett Till’ by Timothy Tyson

"The Blood of Emmett Till" by Timothy Tyson

“The Blood of Emmett Till” by Timothy Tyson

April 28, 1955
Emmett Till was tortured and murdered by white men in Money, Mississippi for allegedly flirting with a white woman. The men were tried for murder, but an all-white, male jury acquitted them.

Facts are very stubborn things. You can try to avoid them or even provide alternates but they will come back, and with a vengeance. That is certainly the case with historian Timothy Tyson’s new book, “The Blood of Emmett Till,” published by Simon & Schuster.

In 2007, Tyson interviewed Carolyn Bryant, who was at the center of a tragedy that helped to propel the American Civil Rights Movement. It was on a hot summer night in 1955 that 14-year-old Emmett Till was kidnapped, bludgeoned, and lynched. All this fury came down upon this young African American for supposedly having flirted with a white woman. That woman was Carolyn Bryant. The interview, where Bryant recanted most of her testimony at the murder trial, was the first step towards the creation of this book, a book that helps us get a fuller picture as to what led to this pivotal moment in history.

Emmett Till

Emmett Till

We may think we know what happened but Tyson brings in a rich tapestry that pieces together a more detailed story. The combination of his firsthand interview with Carolyn Bryant and his measured presentation guide the reader through the dynamics running throughout. With a level of sensitivity, Tyson gives us a balanced depiction as we see events from various perspectives. What comes through are real people and real facts. We get to know the young Emmett Till, a loyal baseball fan, partial to the Brooklyn Dodgers. And we get to know his killers, J.W. Milam and his half-brother Roy Bryant, men full of pride and used to getting their way. We see what kind of world, with its limitations and dangers, that each existed in.

The quick takeaway fact in this book is that Carolyn Bryant confesses to historian Timothy Tyson that she made up the story of being manhandled and threatened by Emmett Till. That never happened. And that is the hook upon which to proceed. A history unfolds: we discover Emmett Till, a child full of life but who also suffered from a lisp and was gentle and vulnerable; and we discover the many layers of Southern culture to unravel. Tyson guides you along, provides side trips as needed, and has the real life goblins show themselves: the Citizens’ Councils, formed in response to school integration and the NAACP, responsible for keeping African Americans away from the polls at any cost; Sherriff H.C. Strider, who was responsible for suppressing evidence in the Till murder trial by hiding key witnesses.

Mamie Till

Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley (Nov 23, 1921 – Jan 6, 2003) was the mother of Emmett Till, whose murder mobilized the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi on August 28, 1955, at the age of 14, after being accused of acting inappropriately with a white woman. Photo: Mamie Till-Mobley (L) speaking to anti-lynching rally after acquittal of men accused of killing her son, Emmett Till. Photographer: Grey Villet for LIFE magazine.

It was the reputation that Timothy Tyson had built with 2005’s “Blood Done Sign My Name,” his own recollections of a murder similar to the Till case that inspired Carolyn Bryant to come forward. Tyson’s goal is to document and ferret out the truth as best as possible. That means bringing out the whole picture. Part of that picture is that Carolyn Bryant tells Tyson that she had a close African American friend when she was a child and her heart went out to Till’s mother.

It was the decision by Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, to bring her son’s body in Mississippi back to Chicago for an open-casket funeral that set in motion a global outcry. This was not lost on Carolyn Bryant. However, with the fear of having her husband go to prison for murdering Emmett Till and leaving her with two boys to raise alone, she took the stand and lied. Mamie did what she had to do. Carolyn did what she had to do.

Tyson presents the facts and continues along his way to provide context and insight. One key distinction he makes is that Emmett Till was not only murdered, he was lynched. With the 20th century charging its way through, some things from the past had to change, like large crowds gathered for a public hanging of an African American. By the 1950s, the process had been updated. The threat of killing an African American was still very much alive and, from time to time, a person could suddenly go missing and later on his body could turn up dumped in a river just like Emmett Till. The community would know who the killers were; that did not need to be a secret since there were no consequences for lynching someone. The deed was done and the message delivered.

White supremacy was not to be undermined.

That we still have a long journey ahead is clear. Tyson does not mince words about that. He offers hope too. As long as we have an understanding of the causes of racism, there is hope. As long as we remember Emmett Till, there is hope. Tyson would be the first person to encourage you to not only read his book but also read other books on Emmett Till and the Civil Rights Movement: “Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America,” by Mamie Till-Mobley and Christopher Benson; “Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement,” by Devery S. Anderson; and “Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File,” by John Edgar Wideman, named a finalist for a 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award. It is Tyson’s book that belongs among these notable titles.

“The Blood of Emmett Till” is a 304-page hardcover, published by Simon & Schuster. For more information, and how to purchase, visit Simon & Schuster right here.

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Filed under American History, Book Reviews, Books, Emmett Till, Race, Race Relations, Racism

Book Review: ‘Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936’ by Edward Sorel

"Mary Astor's Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936" by Edward Sorel

“Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936” by Edward Sorel

If you are a fan of glamorous old Hollywood, then I have a book for you. It is a racy and juicy tale told by a masterful storyteller. I’ve always admired Edward Sorel‘s artwork with its caricatures that seem to pierce into his subject’s soul. Edward Sorel has written, and illustrated, a fresh look at Hollywood legend Mary Astor and interlaced her story with his own in “Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936,” published by Liveright Publishing Company, a division of W.W. Norton & Company. This is mainly a prose book but it is generously filled with Sorel’s illustrations, over sixty original paintings. The prose is as elegant, urbane, and idiosyncratic as his art.

Mary faints during her first talking picture, 1930's "Ladies Love Brutes."

Mary faints during her first talking picture, 1930’s “Ladies Love Brutes.”

As a writer and cartoonist, I am here to tell you that it is the idiosyncratic person who gets a project like this about the elusive Mary Astor off the ground. That is what sets Edward Sorel apart and makes his work so distinctive. Sorel confides in the reader every step of the way. It was 1965 that Sorel first embarked upon his quest. It all began with lifting old rotting kitchen linoleum from his railroad apartment. Buried at the bottom were newspapers from 1936. The big story was the custody trial of Hollywood star Mary Astor, which included her infamous “purple diary.”

Edward meets Mary!

Edward meets Mary!

Sorel runs out of old newspapers before he can find out the end of the story. But he’s hooked. He vows to investigate further. The end result is this book, which moves at a steady clip as it transports us from Mary’s humble origins on the outskirts of Quincy, Illinois, raised by domineering parents, to Hollywood in the 1920s, Mary a rising child star, still saddled with domineering parents. Poor Mary never seems to figure out how to stand up for herself when it comes to finding a mate either. At one point, Mary turns down a contract with RKO strictly for starring roles. Then she follows that up with a hasty marriage. Sorel shakes his head and raises his fists on the page and the reader can’t help but do the same. Mary’s choices will continue to be bad before they get better. Mary’s ultimate bad choice will entangle none other than the most celebrated man on Broadway, George S. Kaufman.

Edward finds Nancy!

Edward finds Nancy!

Life, in all its glorious absurdity and majesty, is on parade in Sorel’s book. With a combination of the whimsical and the world-weary, Sorel weaves a tale that includes a supernatural meeting between Sorel and Mary from beyond the grave. And, the high point for me, Sorel shares with us how he met Nancy, the love of his life. Throughout, what emerges is the story of the artist’s struggle, both of Edward Sorel and Mary Astor. Both could have used another pat on the back and moral support. Both certainly earned it.

While Mary Astor would be the last to claim to be anyone’s role model, she proved to be more than capable to rise to the occasion. That is clear to see for all time in her role as Brigid O’Shaughnessy in 1941’s “The Maltese Falcon.” Mr. Sorel’s book provides his unique and quirky take on Astor’s life and helps us to better appreciate how she blossomed at pivotal times in her life. If you are looking for a definitive tell-all, this is not that kind of book. This is more of an expanded essay, an intelligent conversation. You can be new to the facts discussed or you can be quite familiar with them already. I dare say, it is just the sort of book, with its dry wit and cosmopolitan flavor, that Mary Astor would approve of.

“Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936” is a 176-page hardcover, with full-color illustrations, published by W.W. Norton & Company. For more details, visit W.W. Norton & Company right here.

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Filed under Biography, Book Reviews, Books, Edward Sorel, Hollywood, Humphrey Bogart, Illustration, Mary Astor, Noir, Old Hollywood, Silent Movies, W. W. Norton & Company

Review: ‘Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation’

"Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation"

“Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation”

There’s a ragged and raw quality to Octavia Butler’s novel, “Kindred,” first published in 1979, about a young African American woman who time travels to America during slavery. It’s odd. It’s compelling. And it demands to be read all the way to the end. As I say, it’s ragged and raw, and by that I mean it’s a rough journey in what transpires and in the telling. As a time travel tale alone, it’s bumpy at best. The time travel element abruptly kicks in and, just as abruptly, the characters involved accept the situation. The narrative itself is episodic and there is little in the form of subtlety. What can be said of the novel transfers over to the just released graphic novel adaptation published by Abrams ComicArts: this is raw, sometimes ugly, but always compelling and a must-read.

panel excerpt

panel excerpt: a time traveller’s satchel

Octavia Butler rips the scab off a nightmarish era in America, a wound so deep that it remains healing to this day. You could say that what Butler aspires to do is give a full sense of what it means when we talk about slavey in America. There are a number of approaches you can take. If you go down the ragged and raw path, you may end up with something that is deemed bold by some and deemed heavy-handed by others. The end result could be somewhere in between. Butler chose to damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, with this novel that finds Dana, an African American woman from 1976 Los Angeles, repeatedly and relentlessly subjected to various torture and humiliation as she finds herself regularly being transported back to America during slavery. The story begins in Maryland in 1815 and subsequently follows the progress of slaver-holder Rufus Weylin, from boy to manhood.

page excerpt: dark journey

page excerpt: dark journey

First and foremost, this is a book to be celebrated. While it is a tough story to tell, it is brimming with truths to be told. Sure, no need to sugarcoat anything. There are no sensibilities here to protect. That said, while a graphic novel, this is a book with a decidedly mature theme running throughout with disturbing content. What it requires is a adult to check it out first and then decide how to proceed. Without a doubt, this is an important teaching tool but best left to high school and above.

page excerpt: slave/master

page excerpt: slave/master

As for the overall presentation of this graphic novel, it has taken an audacious approach of its own. Whether intentionally or not, it carries its own distinctive ragged and raw vibe. The drawing throughout is far from elegant, quite the opposite. In fact, it often has a rushed quality about it and I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing. I sense that it’s something of a style choice. This is a harsh and dark story and so it is depicted as such. In the end, this is a truly unusual and intriguing work.

“Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation” is a 240-page, full-color, hardcover available as of January 10th. It is based upon the novel by Octavia Estelle Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy, artwork by John Jennings. For more information and how to purchase, visit Abrams ComicArts.

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Filed under Abrams ComicArts, African American, American History, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, History, Race, Race Relations, Racism, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Time Travel

Comics Grinder Picks The 20 Best Comics of 2016

2016 was a very good year for comics. There are more cartoonists than ever before and the interest in comics just keeps growing. Here is a short list of some of the outstanding work that got on my radar this year.

ROSALIE LIGHTNING by Tom Hart

ROSALIE LIGHTNING by Tom Hart

ROSALIE LIGHTNING by Tom Hart

“Hart’s book proves to be an excellent work of self-discovery and of keeping the memory alive of a dear soul.” Read my review here.

BERNIE by Ted Rall

BERNIE by Ted Rall

BERNIE by Ted Rall

“Rall makes a strong case for a Bernie Sanders candidacy and what it means. Even if establishment Democrats are resistant, Sanders is paving the way for a return to progressive values.” Read my review here.

THE ARAB OF THE FUTURE by Riad Sattouf

THE ARAB OF THE FUTURE by Riad Sattouf

THE ARAB OF THE FUTURE by Riad Sattouf

“Sattouf’s graphic novel takes us into a part of the world many of us would like to understand better.” Read my review here.

SCORCHED EARTH collection by Tom Van Deusen

SCORCHED EARTH collection by Tom Van Deusen

SCORCHED EARTH by Tom Van Deusen

“Tom Van Deusen’s aim is to satirize the oily underbelly of hipsterdom with a neo-underground sensibility.” Read my review here.

Your Fashionista, Snotgirl!

Your Fashionista, Snotgirl!

SNOT GIRL by Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung

“Not in a long while have I enjoyed such a pleasing mix of sexy and cute as with this new comic.” Read my review here.

THE DEATH OF STALIN by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin

THE DEATH OF STALIN by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin

THE DEATH OF STALIN by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin

“It is highly accessible: drops you right in, as if you were a fly on the wall, a fly that Stalin, himself, would have thought nothing of swatting and flicking away.” Read my review here.

PATIENCE by Daniel Clowes

PATIENCE by Daniel Clowes

PATIENCE by Daniel Clowes

“Clowes has created an excellent vehicle for his vision. He has Patience, his ideal young woman, and he has Jack who, due to just the right touch of strange, becomes an ideal Clowes alter ego. This is quite a remarkable, beautiful, and ambitious work.” Read my review here.

DARK PANTS #3 by Matt MacFarland

DARK PANTS #3 by Matt MacFarland

DARK PANTS by Matt McFarland

“MacFarland’s drawing and writing is highly accessible. He immerses the reader in the inner turmoil that his characters are going through. With just the right touch of humor, MacFarland offers us stories of missteps of the heart that will stay with us.” Read my review for Issue 3 right here.

YEARBOOK HERO by Ami Komai

YEARBOOK HERO by Ami Komai

YEARBOOK HERO by Ami Komai

“Komai writes and draws this comic which is in the tradition of Daniel Clowes and Adrian Tomine: off-kilter slice of life. Her style is more pared-down, lean, and does a great job of capturing perfectly deadpan hipster moments.” Read my review here.

OVER THE GARDEN WALL by Cartoon Network and Boom! Studios

OVER THE GARDEN WALL by Cartoon Network and Boom! Studios

OVER THE GARDEN WALL by Cartoon Network and Boom! Studios

“Well, it all adds up to some magical storytelling. No prior knowledge, indeed! All you need to do is observe, with a certain amount of glee, little boy Greg as he returns to Dreamland traipsing about, all Little Nemo-style.” Read my review here.

THE NAMELESS CITY by Faith Erin Hicks

THE NAMELESS CITY by Faith Erin Hicks

THE NAMELESS CITY by Faith Erin Hicks

“Looking at the artwork to this latest book, I marvel at how Hicks brings her characters to life. Her action scenes are totally believable. It feels like the characters literally jump from page to page.” Read my review here.

HOW TO SURVIVE IN THE NORTH by Luke Healy

HOW TO SURVIVE IN THE NORTH by Luke Healy

HOW TO SURVIVE IN THE NORTH by Luke Healy

“There’s a wonderful depth to this book with its full-bodied scope following the rhythms of a prose novel.” Read my review here.

MUNCH by Steffen Kverneland

MUNCH by Steffen Kverneland

MUNCH by Steffen Kverneland

“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.” Read my review here.

A CITY INSIDE by Tillie Walden

A CITY INSIDE by Tillie Walden

A CITY INSIDE by Tillie Walden

“Much of what we see in “A City Inside” is a wonderful ode to a daydream nation and to overcoming the trepidations of a young person. Walden celebrates all the great eccentricity to be found in comics.” Read my review here.

Jacques Ferrandez's "The Stranger," published by Pegasus Books

Jacques Ferrandez’s “The Stranger,” published by Pegasus Books

THE STRANGER by Jacques Ferrandez

“Ferrandez favors a more painterly and economical approach to creating graphic novels. Throughout the book, he has paintings floating behind the panels. Elements of the watercolor artwork are mirrored back in the panels. The drawings are quick and simplified, kept light, while also providing substance.” Read my review here.

THE BOYS OF SHERIFF STREET by Jerome Charyn and Jacques de Loustal

THE BOYS OF SHERIFF STREET by Jerome Charyn and Jacques de Loustal

THE BOYS OF SHERIFF STREET by Jerome Charyn and Jacques de Loustal

“The size and scope of Charyn’s story leaves me thinking of what a great movie it could make. That said, everything adds up to a perfect graphic novel. Loustal has created a fully realized world that the characters smoothly move through. This all works flawlessly as classic tragedy with a noir bite.” Read my review here.

EQUINOXES by Cyril Pedrosa

EQUINOXES by Cyril Pedrosa

EQUINOXES by Cyril Pedrosa

“Pedrosa is living and breathing what he’s setting down on paper at a delicious level. He has an extensive background in animation, which certainly helps, but he takes it even further. He knows how to speed up work. He knows when he can ease up on the details and when to add an extra coat of polish. And to do that well with both his artwork and his writing is definitely remarkable.” Read my review here.

POCAHONTAS: PRINCESS OF THE NEW WORLD by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky

POCAHONTAS: PRINCESS OF THE NEW WORLD by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky

POCAHONTAS: PRINCESS OF THE NEW WORLD by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky

“Readers will be pleasantly surprised to read a more enlightened account of such a celebrated figure in history. Locatelli-Kournwsky’s artwork is just the right mix of lightness and precision. And the new English translation by Sandra Smith provides a smooth and accessible path to this most engaging story.” Read my review here.

BECOMING ANDY WARHOL by Nick Bertozzi and Pierce Hargan

BECOMING ANDY WARHOL by Nick Bertozzi and Pierce Hargan

BECOMING ANDY WARHOL by Nick Bertozzi and Pierce Hargan

“I believe Bertozzi does an admirable job of choosing what bits to use that add up. Hargan does an equally good job of tuning into an irreverent depiction of the man. His Warhol becomes an accessible comics character in his own right. As you read, you can get lost in conversations and the whole pace of things from a certain era.” Read my review here.

SP4RX by Wren MacDonald

SP4RX by Wren MacDonald

SP4RX by Wren MacDonald

“SP4RX has all the bells and whistles in all the right places. This 116-page graphic novel is a full-bodied cyberpunk adventure that would make William Gibson and Philip K. Dick proud.” Read my review here.

Hope this list proves useful and it helps give a sense of the quality and dedication you can find here at Comics Grinder.

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Filed under 2016, Comics, Comics Reviews, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels

Book Review: ‘1956: The World in Revolt’ by Simon Hall

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

As a momentous year comes to a close, we look, inevitably, to the future. However, in order to help us on our way, we must also look to the past. If 2016 was the year of Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump, then sixty years ago was the year of the Montgomery bus boycott, the Suez Crisis, and, most significantly, the Hungarian Revolution. A vivid and highly accessible account of the year is provided by Simon Hall in his book, “1956: The World in Revolt,” recently published in the U.S. by Pegasus Books.

"1956: The World in Revolt" by Simon Hall

“1956: The World in Revolt” by Simon Hall

Hall’s book is very readable with a novel’s narrative flow. The interconnections Hall makes are quite impressive as he makes a case for brewing unrest across the globe in the pivotal year of 1956. The seeds of unrest are sown everywhere none the least of which is among the youth. Today, you hear the classic, “Rock Around the Clock,” by Bill Haley and the Comets, and it might come across as a soothing lullaby. Well, relatively speaking. In fact, there’s an undeniable power to it. And, in 1956, it had the power of a cultural sonic boom. There were teenagers dancing in the streets after viewing the rock ‘n’ roll movie featuring Bill Haley and his band. And, around the globe, the status quo was being confronted at all levels. Enough to give those in power plenty of pause.

Hall tackles 1956 in fairly chronological order. We begin with a young and untested Martin Luther King Jr. as he must confront the firebombing on his own home, with his wife and children still inside. Remarkably, no one was hurt from the blast. And thanks to King’s moving address to the crowds gathered, the rest of that cold January night remained calm.

Among the leading news stories that year, the focus was on Egypt, the Suez Canal Crisis, and Egypt’s charismatic leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The greatest undermining of Soviet expansion after World War II was the Hungarian Revolution.

And the end of 1956 would see one more significant sign of things to come: Fidel Castro and his band of revolutionaries proceeded upon their shaky but steadfast push against the Batista regime.

Simon Hall’s book is the first definitive account of the year 1956. Hall’s account presents 1956 as far more than an eventful year but as a source of much significant change that was still ahead. From Poland to South Africa, the call for freedom was loud and clear. Around the world the responses came from world leaders: Eisenhower in the US. Khrushchev in the USSR. Anthony Eden in what was left of the crumbling British Empire. The nationalization of the Suez Canal by Nasser spurred an Israeli-British-French attack that nearly brought in the Soviets–an attack that would ultimately fail. Hall captures it all in a riveting narrative always mindful of those not in power who were brave enough to shout the loudest.

“1956: The World in Revolt” is a 509-page hardcover, published by Pegasus Books. For more information, and how to purchase, visit Pegasus Books right here.

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Filed under 1950s, Book Reviews, Books, History, Pegasus Books

Review: ‘The Best American Comics 2016,’ Editor, Roz Chast; Series Editor, Bill Kartalopoulos

Reading "Best American Comics 2016" on the train.

Reading “Best American Comics 2016” on the train.

I read this year’s Best American Comics on the train and I loved it all the more for doing so–but more on that later. Bill Kartalopoulos is the series editor and this year’s editor is Roz Chast. Even if you think you don’t know enough about the contemporary American comics scene, you probably know Roz Chast’s work in The New Yorker. So nothing to worry about, even Roz Chast doesn’t think of herself as exceptionally knowledgable about the current comics scene. However, Bill Kartalopoulos knew right away that, no matter how splintered the comics scene may be, here was a legendary cartoonist, with a wealth of experience, insight, and a very special kind of irreverence. This book is a guide through the best of American comics from someone with just the right sensibility to add to the journey. And what a journey it will be kicked off by the artwork of Marc Bell on the cover, as well as within the pages!

From "Stroppy" by Marc Bell

From “Stroppy” by Marc Bell

The path begins with a forward by Kartalopoulos which explains how we got here from there and what sort of comics we are focusing upon. For the most part, the focus is on comics that have come to be known as alternative comics, or alt-comics. These are comics that fall well within comics as an art form. While genre comics occasionally rise to the level of art, that is not their main purpose. So, as I have maintained, it is useful to be able to separate comics within two main groups: genre and the alternative to genre. There is crossover (which is great when it happens and can be quite interesting), but, in general, art comics are on one side and superhero and various other genre comics are on the other side. So, while it is possible, you will usually not see the likes of Batman or Spider-Man in Best American Comics–even if that just doesn’t seem right somehow.

Father and daughter clash in Adrian Tomine's "Killing and Dying."

Father and daughter clash in Adrian Tomine’s “Killing and Dying.”

Roz Chast’s introduction provides some clues as to what comics would appeal to her. Considering what she chose to include in the book, she is mostly intrigued by wry humor and in-depth autobiographical work. She says she’s not a prude but that if work gets misogynistic, that makes her sad. And she’s open to just about anything, even willing to go back to a comic that she wasn’t sure about at first. Chast does not categorize her selections. You just start reading. First up, is an excerpt from Adrian Tomine’s celebrated collection, “Killing and Dying.” In this excerpt from the title story, I can only imagine Chast’s love for zany humor telling her this is the piece to set the tone for the rest of the book: a story about a father struggling with his daughter’s sudden desire to be a stand-up comic.

Misfits band together in Chris Ware's "The Last Saturday."

Misfits band together in Chris Ware’s “The Last Saturday.”

Along with Adrian Tomine there are other clear choices to include: Chris Ware, Lynda Barry, Gabrielle Bell, John Porcellino, among others. But the treat is that they are set within the context of choices that Chast came to make. That fact adds another layer to one’s enjoyment of a story about struggling misfits by Chris Ware. And, it is quite true, there are so many comics out there that you cannot keep up with all of them. It does seem best to find a way to hook in and make some sense of things using different approaches each year. To that end, series editor, Bill Kartalopoulos has settled into taking a long view of things. Ideally, you don’t just read one Best American Comics annual but you keep up with it each year to find out what has made an impression and how it may fit into the current wave. What novelist Johnathan Lethem did as editor last year is different from what comics historian Scott McCloud did the year before.

Discussing time and effort in Lynda Barry's "Syllabus."

Discussing time and effort in Lynda Barry’s “Syllabus.”

By the time I reached Lynda Barry’s story about coming to terms with a cartoonist’s goals and how to impart that wisdom unto students, I had a good sense of what Chast was going for. It provided me with a way to hook into everything else. And it was about that time that the rocking motion of the train added more resonance, especially as I patiently followed along lines of Barry’s handwritten writing reproduced from a notebook page. Both the train and the handwriting asked me to take my time. Earlier in my reading, I had been picking up on the fact that there is so much going on around you while riding in a train and how that is true for comics.

Barry brings up a challenging question: Just how long does it take to draw something? Well, it all depends. In the end, a good cartoonist develops a keen sense for this. It’s a variation of the old saw, When is a painting finished? So many art students have suffered from callous professors who dismiss work as simply unfinished. But, on the other hand, so many art professors have suffered from callow and impatient students who demand a checklist for assignment requirements. You cannot create anything, especially art, from a checklist! Time. It all takes time. So, in “Syllabus,” Barry sums it all up with, “Rushing it is missing it!” It is that standard that is maintained by all the cartoonists included here.

From “Adults Only” by Lance Ward

From “Adults Only” by Lance Ward

Cartoonists of this caliber are meticulous note-takers and obsessive in the best sense of the word. Among these type of cartoonists included in this book is an excerpt from “Adults Only” by Lance Ward. Ward states that he works directly on pre-made panels, without preliminary drawings, so that he can best attack his work. This runs counter to the Barry dictum of measured craftsmanship. However, Ward’s obsessive quality wins out. This is in the same spirit as Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. Ward has gotten to the point where he has hit enough marks to know, on an intuitive level, where the marks will end up. The work has a spare and energetic look to it. Ward is recounting his misadventures working in a porn shop. That is the point of departure for his delving into struggles with his sexuality. A more free-form style could not have been invented for him. A cartoonist can try to minimize or maximize their style but, usually a certain way of doing things falls into place.

"Bike Fast" by Sophia Zdon

“Bike Fast” by Sophia Zdon

Ward, along with other rising talents included here such as Sophia Zdon, has found what works. Zdon, a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in 2015, provides heartfelt observations as if out of dreams.

From “The Corpse, the Ghost and the Hollow-Weenie" by Casanova Frankenstein

From “The Corpse, the Ghost and the Hollow-Weenie” by Casanova Frankenstein

One of the most raw and honest expressions in comics comes from Casanova Frankenstein. In an excerpt from “The Corpse, the Ghost and the Hollow-Weenie,” he confides in the reader about a tumultuous life.

Panel excerpt from "Fatherland" by Nina Bunjevac

Panel excerpt from “Fatherland” by Nina Bunjevac

An excerpt from “Fatherland,” by Nina Bunjevac, published by W.W. Norton, provides insights into a peculiar and dangerous life in Yugoslavia in the aftermath of World War II.

From "Fashion Cats" by Alex Schubert

From “Fashion Cats” by Alex Schubert

Alex Schubert‘s “Fashion Cat” is a hilarious look at the misadventures of a feline hipster, originally published in Blobby Boys 2 by Koyama Press.

From "El Deafo" by Cece Bell

From “El Deafo” by Cece Bell

Cece Bell‘s “El Deafo,” published by Abrams, is quite a captivating story about a little girl coming to terms with being deaf and how to navigate the world. The story is given an added lift by the nicely modulated coloring by David Lasky.

"Don't Leave Me Alone" by GG

“Don’t Leave Me Alone” by GG

“Don’t Leave Me Alone,” by GG, is a dream-like compilation of growing up with fear and uncertainty in an intolerant and hostile world.

From "Blanket Portraits" by Geneviève Castrée Elverum

From “Blanket Portraits” by Geneviève Castrée Elverum

And then there are those comics that are simply transcendent–and can best inform us on the integrity and purpose of the comics medium. “Blanket Portraits,” by Geneviève Castrée Elverum, is a visual essay on a lifetime’s appreciation for blankets, their beauty and comfort, and what they symbolize. Geneviève passed away on July 9, 2016 from pancreatic cancer. As Bill Kartalopoulos states in a postscript, what made her comics unique was that they were “entirely expressive of who she was.”

The Best American Comics 2016

The Best American Comics 2016

“The Best American Comics 2016” includes the work of 30 cartoonists. It is a full-color hardcover, available as of October 4, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Best American Comics proves to be an essential and inspiring guidebook. As I say, Bill Kartalopoulos has taken the long view. You’ll definitely want to read this year’s edition and make it a habit to keep up with this most distinctive collection.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Bill Kartalopoulos, Book Reviews, Books, Comics, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Marc Bell, Roz Chast, The Best American Comics, The New Yorker

Review: THE STRANGER by Jacques Ferrandez

Meursault and Raymond Sintes entered into an ill-fated friendship.

Meursault and Raymond Sintes entered into an ill-fated friendship.

It has been a number of years since I read the 1942 classic, “The Stranger,” by Albert Camus. Reading Jacques Ferrandez’s graphic novel adaptation, I was struck by all the details I had forgotten. It also helped me to appreciate the parts to this story that can be considered existential and the rest that falls more into philosophy of the absurd. The main character in “The Stranger” is a young and indifferent man, Meursault. He is in the tradition of such characters as Kafka’s meek Gregor Samsa or Melville’s nebbish Bartleby. For Meursault, there are no rules to follow and nothing really matters. That’s not to say one can’t make their way in the world and be decent about it. But there’s nothing in Meursault’s mode of living to motivate him to make any great effort. And then a calamitous chain of events deliver him his comeuppance. Ferrandez brings all this to life in a way that adds to the reading of the original novel.

A young man with plenty on his mind.

A young man with plenty on his mind.

Ferrandez favors a more painterly and economical approach to creating graphic novels. Throughout the book, he has paintings floating behind the panels. Elements of the watercolor artwork are mirrored back in the panels. The drawings are quick and simplified, kept light, while also providing substance. I see a lot of interesting play with character development. Marie Cardona, Meursault’s girlfriend is depicted as lovely and ethereal but also warm and concerned about Meursault. Then there’s Raymond Sintes, the unsavory fellow who leads Meursault astray. And, finally, there’s Meursault who Ferrandez is careful to depict with just the right mix of arrogance, vacancy, and idealism. Originally published in French by Gallimard in 2013, this new 2016 edition is published by Pegasus Books. The English translation by Sandra Smith is completely in sync and offers a smooth connection to the artwork.

Jacques Ferrandez's "The Stranger," published by Pegasus Books

Jacques Ferrandez’s “The Stranger,” published by Pegasus Books

After a good long while of playing with words and pictures, a cartoonist knows how to conjure up what matters most. It is remarkable to see how Jacques Ferrandez has made this landmark novel his own, confronting its ambiguity. There’s an added sense of effortless spontaneity running throughout which is, certainly, a result of a great deal of planning and foresight. I have to hand it to him for consistently finding ways to combine his desire for pure painting, and uninterrupted imagery, within the comics narrative framework of panels. You really do need panels and/or some way to keep the story coherent. Ferrandez makes the process look easy and natural. And, again I must stress, he provides a refreshing take on our lost soul, Meursault. It is a pleasure to behold.

“The Stranger” is a 144-page full color hardcover, published by Pegasus Books.

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Filed under Albert Camus, Comics, Existentialism, French Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jacques Ferrandez, Pegasus Books

Review: EQUINOXES by Cyril Pedrosa

Marion lost in art.

Marion lost in art.

Cyril Pedrosa is an ideal cartoonist: very observant, with a compulsive need to comment on what he observes, along with a compulsive need to collect and process everything he may need to depict and comment upon in his work. Pedrosa must take it all in. He has a true cartoonist’s need to absorb, like a sponge, like an overstimulated genius infant still fresh and new. Ah, this is just the way to come at such an ambitious work as “Equinoxes,” published by NBM Graphic Novels. With this graphic novel, the master cartoonist lays it all bare.

A true cartoonist's need to collect and process everything around him.

A true cartoonist’s need to collect and process everything around him.

Pedrosa is living and breathing what he’s setting down on paper at a delicious level. He has an extensive background in animation, which certainly helps, but he takes it even further. He knows how to speed up work. He knows when he can ease up on the details and when to add an extra coat of polish. And to do that well with both his artwork and his writing is definitely remarkable.

We all need a good recurring motif.

We all need a good recurring motif.

This book is comparable in America to, for example, “Asterios Polyp,” by David Mazzucchelli. Other examples of this type of commentary in comics are the work of Gabrielle Bell and Tom Hart, both of who will take part in panels during Pedrosa’s North American tour. For the Europeans, there’s more of a tradition for expansive work like this exploring the meaning of life and such things. Even within that milieu, Pedrosa rises to the top, among the best. Something unique that Pedrosa is doing here is to so effortlessly depict a world according to the author in all its glorious detail. A pretty tall order any way you look at it.

"Equinoxes" by Cyril Pedrosa

“Equinoxes” by Cyril Pedrosa

Divided into the four seasons, we follow the lives of various characters, all searching for answers, crossing each other’s paths in odd and random ways. The question arises as to whether or not there is any order or purpose for any of them. Perhaps everyone is just making it up as they go.

EQUINOXES by Cyril Pedrosa is a 336-page hardcover in full color, published by NBM Graphic Novels. Visit NBM, for more details, right here. You can also find the book at Amazon right here.

Pedrosa will be making the following appearances during his North American tour:

Drawn & Quarterly Bookstore
211 Rue Bernard O, Montréal, QC

September 7th, 7:00 PM

Albertine Bookstore at the French Cultural Services
972 5th Avenue, New York 

September 12th, 7:00 PM

Talk with Gabrielle Bell moderated by Bill Kartolopoulos

Small Press Expo (SPX)
Bethesda, Maryland

September 17th 11:00 AM – 7:00 PM

Special Guest; signing at our booth #W51-52

Signing schedule:

• 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
• 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Brooklyn Book Festival
209 Joralemon St, Brooklyn, NY

September 18th, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM

Guest of the show; signing at our booth, #135

Signing schedule:

• 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
• 1:30 PM -2:30 PM
• 4:00 PM-5:30 PM

Panel: 3:00pm Can You Draw the Meaning of Life?

Location: Brooklyn Historical Society Auditorium (128 Pierrepont St.)

Three comics creators take on big questions–philosophical, scientific, spiritual. Lauren Redniss (Thunder & Lightning) explores the past, present, and controversial future of our world through weather phenomenons. Best-selling French creator Cyril Pedrosa (Equinoxes) reflects on the connections made between people over time and space. And Tom Hart (Rosalie Lightning) asks in a tragic yet beautiful memoir about his young daughter’s death: can you capture the meaning of a life, as you mourn its loss? Moderated by cartoonist and choreographer Kriota Willberg ((No) Pain!).

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Filed under Bill Kartalopoulos, Comics, Cyril Pedrosa, Gabrielle Bell, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, NBM Publishing, Small Press Expo, SPX, Tom Hart