Letting It Go

By Miriam Katin
160 pages, color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Miriam Katin is a comic creator whose work I’ve been following for over a decade now; encountering her stories in the Monkeysuit anthologies, watching her make a jump to the oversized Drawn & Quarterly Vol. 4, and then her first graphic novel We Are On Our Own. Her stories of her life as a Jewish Hungarian immigrant offer a glimpse into a life that will be unfamiliar to most, and she’s always had a strong skill as a storyteller. Her new graphic novel Letting It Go is in many ways the most personal one yet, focusing on the news that her son is planning to move to Berlin. What results is a frank and slightly comedic story about trying to let go of one’s anger.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wild Kingdom

By Kevin Huizenga
108 pages, black and white, with some color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

With Kevin Huizenga’s much-praised Gloriana having just being released into a hardcover edition, now seemed a good a time as any to look at one of his earlier, similarly-dimensioned books, The Wild Kingdom. Those looking for a defined narrative line throughout the book might be a bit disappointed, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading. While The Wild Kingdom shares Huizenga’s Glenn Ganges character (these days probably best known from the Ganges comics), it’s a loose, free-form series of shorts that feel more observational than anything else. Many of them focus on interactions or looks at wildlife; one story, for example, lets us see the movements of a bird that lands in the middle of a traffic lane and how danger seems to inch ever closer.

The center section of The Wild Kingdom suddenly shifts to full color, as we get a bizarre and surprisingly funny shift into a series of commercials. They’re nonsensical and great, and I think the complete derailment of the mood of The Wild Kingdom up until that point actually is a plus for this book. It’s so out-of-the-blue that it almost feels startling, and the laughter that results is that much more genuine. And when the book closes out with what seems at first like a sad moment for a single bird and then dominos into something greater, well, it’s the most unexpected ending I’ve seen in a book for quite a while. Add in Huizenga’s stripped down and attractive art, and this is a book that manages to sneak up and surprise you again and again. While I don’t think I’d put The Wild Kingdom up as one of Huizenga’s greatest comics, it is still immensely entertaining. For a book that at a glance feels a bit slight, I’m now kicking myself for taking so long to read it. Wonderfully unpredictable, this is a book I suspect I’ll be re-visiting over the years.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

By Guy Delisle
336 pages, color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

I’ve always enjoyed travel non-fiction, and that’s definitely what Guy Delisle’s books set in different parts of the world fall under. Books like Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea and Burma Chronicles have given us glimpses into these far-off, almost-inaccessible places, mixing local color with the travails of his own life. With Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, though, he’s going to a place that feels a little closer if perhaps also more volatile. The chances of knowing someone who’s gone to Burma or North Korea are small at best, but Jerusalem (and to a lesser extent, Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza in general) is a much higher probability. So in doing so, Delisle loses his previous "edge" of transporting the reader to a place they’ll almost certainly never visit, and has to rely more on his own storytelling ability.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fallen Words

By Yoshihiro Tatsumi
288 pages, black and white
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s career as a manga creator is long and varied; originally known for helping create the "gekiga" alternative manga genre in the ’40s and ’50s, and then bursting back onto the scene a few years ago with his enthralling autobiography A Drifting Life. With Fallen Words, his new short story collection, Tatsumi addresses an old Japanese storytelling technique and group of long-standing stories (called rakugo) by shifting them from performance art into a comics page. And once again, Tatsumi shows the reader that he’s still got the skill and craft that’s made him an important craftsman of manga all these years.

Read the rest of this entry »

Blabber Blabber Blabber: Vol. 1 of Everything

By Lynda Barry
176 pages, black and white, with some color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Lynda Barry is one of those creators for whom I didn’t immediately gain an appreciation. The first couple of times I tried to read her syndicated strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek, it just didn’t click, and I shrugged and moved on. But then her books One! Hundred! Demons! and What It Is were published, and the two made me a huge convert. So when Drawn & Quarterly announced their multi-volume collection of Barry’s comics, I was both intrigued and a little scared. Would these old comics of Barry’s finally connect with me, or would it just reinforce my earlier opinion of her work? As it turned out? The answer was both.

Read the rest of this entry »

Paying For It

By Chester Brown
288 pages, black and white
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

It’s been eight years since Chester Brown’s last graphic novel (a collection of his biographical mini-series of Canadian political leader Louis Riel), and his work has always been wide ranging, but had you told me that his new book would be about Brown’s experiences with prostitutes I wouldn’t have believed you. On the surface it sounds like a crass, flippant subject. What Paying For It actually delivers, though, is a thoughtful and interesting examination on the life of a john and on prostitution in general.

Read the rest of this entry »

Scenes from an Impending Marriage

By Adrian Tomine
56 pages, black and white
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

The fact that there is a television show named Bridezillas is, perhaps, an example of just how weddings can bring out the crazy in people. They’ve got that power. Everyone says they’re going to start simply, keep things from spinning out of control, but 9 out of 10 times, sooner or later… pow! The craziness kicks in, even if just for an hour. It’s with all of that in mind that I’m terribly amused about Adrian Tomine’s Scenes from an Impending Marriage, a short comic originally created as a wedding favor for his and Sarah’s guests. Because if you’ve ever planned a wedding, been near someone planning a wedding, or even thought about planning a wedding, this will ring ominously true.

Read the rest of this entry »

Make Me a Woman

By Vanessa Davis
176 pages, color & black and white
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Vanessa Davis’s comics are not, at a glance, the sort of experiences that would be universally understood. A love/hate relationship with Jewish boys, going to fat camp, celebrating the High Holy Days, a mother who uses slightly inappropriate and sexually tilted words. "That’s not me at all," you’re probably thinking. But what makes Davis’s comics in Make Me a Woman so good is that somehow, she makes everything relatable to the reader, no matter what their background. Boiling down the emotional experiences of each story to their core, there’s a lot to connect with. And more importantly, fall in love with.

Read the rest of this entry »

Market Day

By James Sturm
96 pages, color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

One of the things I’ve always liked about James Sturm’s historical stories is that he is able to take events from the past and make them still pertinent to his present day readership. That’s never been more clear than with his latest book, Market Day, set in a European city near the turn of the 20th century, detailing the day in the life of a weaver taking his rugs to market for sale. What we get is not only a look into this man’s life, though, but a story that has to do with consumerism, the economy, and—most importantly—trying to create art rather than just product.

Read the rest of this entry »

Nancy Vol. 1: The John Stanley Library

Written by John Stanley
Art by John Stanley and Dan Gormley
152 pages, color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

I never really "got" Nancy. I’ve heard for years about Ernie Bushmiller’s original strips and how fantastic they were, but Bushmiller died right around the time I started paying serious attention to comic strips in the early 1980s. So I’ve never seen any of the originals, just the interpretations of other writers and artists over the years. I have, however, read some John Stanley comics in the form of Little Lulu, and I thought they were adorable. When I heard that Stanley had created stories for the Nancy comic years ago, I couldn’t help but wonder if this would finally be my introduction to the world of Nancy that so many other people had raved about.

Read the rest of this entry »