Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde Vol. 5

By P. Craig Russell
Adapted from a story by Oscar Wilde
32 pages, color
Published by NBM

When I’d reviewed The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde Vol. 4: The Devoted Friend and the Nightingale and the Rose back in 2004, I’d commented that it had been 6 years since the last volume and that I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed them. With hindsight being 20/20, I now realize that I’d cursed myself for an 8-year wait for The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde Vol. 5: The Happy Prince, and that this time around I should just say, "Hurrah! A new P. Craig Russell graphic novel!" Because ultimately, that’s the response you should have to just about any book by Russell, and The Happy Prince is no exception.

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Rohan at the Louvre

By Hirohiko Araki
128 pages, color
Published by NBM

I’ve always loved the fact that the Louvre art museum in Paris has been commissioning a series a graphic novels set within and around the famed museum. Each one’s had a different take on the idea (my favorite is probably Museum Vaults by Marc-Antoine Mathieu) but they’ve all been good. With Rohan at the Louvre, the Louvre has hired a manga creator to tackle the subject. And what we got was not only able to stand out in its own right, but strong enough that now I want to read more comics by Araki.

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The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti

By Rick Geary
80 pages, black and white
Published by NBM

There’s no mistaking Rick Geary’s comics from anyone else’s. Not only does he have a distinct art style, but his work on his series A Treasury of Victorian Murder and now A Treasury of XXth Century Murder tackles non-fiction material that few other cartoonists would brave, let alone do so with such skill. Last year’s The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti details a robbery/murder from the 1920s that sent two Italian immigrants to death row… but in learning about the holes in the case, it’s quite easy to imagine a version of this story taking place in the present day.

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Bubbles & Gondola

By Renaud Dillies
80 pages, color
Published by NBM

Bubbles & Gondola is one of those graphic novels that fakes you out right from its cover, and never lets up in that sense until the book is over. Between the title and the glimpse of art, this looks to be an adorable (possibly children’s) book about a little mouse, perhaps named Bubbles or Gondola, and his exciting adventures. Readers might be a little startled, then, to instead find a graphic novel about a mouse named Charlie suffering from loneliness and depression while working as writer. Fortunately, once you get past the surprise, it’s a rather nice book.

There’s all sorts of imagery packed into Bubbles & Gondola, from the bird named Solitude that only Charlie the Mouse can see, to a climax at a masked-parade à la Carnival. Renaud Dillies, though, never lets up or stops impressing you as a reader. Some of the illustrations, like Charlie zooming on a little boat across the moon, are jaw-droppingly beautiful, and the masked-parade is full of great shapes and designs that you can stare at for hours. While Charlie himself comes off a bit of a sad sack early on, I found that by the midpoint of Bubbles & Gondola I’d genuinely come to care about him and his plight. This is a book that’s as much a treatise on what it’s like to be an artist (of any medium) as it is about the sapping nature of depression, and I think Dillies manages to get his points across strongly on both subjects. This was an unexpected little surprise; it’s not what you might think, but it turns out to be much better.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

Stargazing Dog

By Takashi Murakami
128 pages, black and white
Published by NBM

Stargazing Dog is the kind of book that will either grab you instantly with its cover, or make you run screaming. For me, there’s something instantly attractive about an image of a cute dog in a field of sunflowers that made me want to read this comic that was a runaway success in its native Japan. What I found inside, though, was a strange duo of stories about the relationship between men and dogs. It’s bittersweet, but I appreciated that it didn’t take the easy way out.

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Dungeon Monstres Vol. 3: Heartbreaker

Written by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim
Art by Carlos Nine and Patrice Killoffer
96 pages, color
Published by NBM

Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim’s sprawling series Dungeon has always been all over the map, especially with all of its different sub-series (The Early Years exploring the past, Zenith the present, and Twilight the future, plus Parade set in the early days of Zenith), but the easiest one to jump into in many ways is probably Monstres. That’s because each story just focuses on a different monster or beast, telling their particular story whenever it might take place. This new collection of two of the Monstres volumes from France is all over the place, not only in setting but art style and writing to boot.

The first half, Heartbreaker, is set during The Early Years timeframe, taking supporting character Alexandra and showing us just how this beautiful assassin’s mind truly functions. It’s a slightly unpleasant story, with her continued captures and tortures not being a light or happy tale by any stretch of the imagination. It’s drawn by Carlos Nine, and I wish that he’d had the time to paint the interior like he did the book’s stunning cover. The interiors aren’t bad, but his loose lines and sketchy character designs just can’t compare to the cover and all of its beauty. Nine drawing Heartbreaker is an inspired choice, though; Alexandra spends much of the comic drugged by her enemies, and this slightly blurry, loose style is a great match. Readers of The Early Years definitely shouldn’t skip this volume, though; it ties closely into the main narrative, and Sfar and Trondheim provide a big surprise for readers of that series at Heartbreaker‘s conclusion.

The second half, The Depths, is drawn by Patrice Killoffer, whose precise and smooth ink line is a dramatic contrast to Nine’s work. And while the first half was grim in a hazy sort of way, there’s no escaping the sheer nastiness of this story when Killoffer draws its events. This is easily the most (deliberately) vile and horrible story in the Dungeon milieu to date, as the poor underwater creature Drowny goes through all sorts of nasty situations in order to survive when the Great Khan’s armies invade. There’s a huge amount of detail packed into every single panel, but be warned that you might not want to look too closely. This story is designed to repulse its reader, and at that it succeeds mightily. Dungeon Monstres Vol. 3: Heartbreaker seems to see just how low it can go, and while I applaud it for succeeding, it’s the one Dungeon book I can’t see myself wanting to ever re-read.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

A Home for Mr. Easter

By Brooke A. Allen
200 pages, black and white
Published by NBM

There’s no way around it: A Home for Mr. Easter is one of the strangest comics I’ve seen all year. It’s a book that starts about a girl who’s picked on by her classmates at school as well as her mother, and then transforms into a bizarre chase through the woods involving environmental activists, a lying pet store owner, a failed magician, and the police. And the whole time, it just gets odder and odder as the tone of the book shifts and twists around. For that reason alone, it’s hard to ignore A Home for Mr. Easter.

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Little Nothings Vol. 3: Uneasy Happiness

By Lewis Trondheim
128 pages, color
Published by NBM

Little Nothings is, quite frankly, one of the best titles for a diary comic that I’ve ever come across. After all, at the end of the day, the vast majority of diary comics are full of little, inconsequential nothings. They may be important (or not!) to the person they happened to, but to anyone else they’re a vague amusement at best. That said, I also think that Lewis Trondheim’s Little Nothings not only has one of the best titles of a diary comic, but that it’s one of my favorite diary comics. The book might be full of little nothings, but there’s something about Trondheim’s charm in his comics that makes it engrossing reading.

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Year of Loving Dangerously

Written by Ted Rall
Art by Pablo G. Callejo
128 pages, color
Published by NBM

Ted Rall is probably best known for his political cartoons, and his travel journalism in books like Silk Road to Ruin. When I think of Rall, though, one of the works that always jumps to my mind is his autobiographical My War With Brian. That’s probably why I was intrigued when NBM first announced Rall’s autobiographical The Year of Loving Dangerously; Rall wasn’t afraid to lay out his past in an unflattering way based on My War With Brian, and Rall’s new book promised to do just that. What I found, though, was a book that gets oddly defensive in places that you’d have expected otherwise.

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Dungeon The Early Years Vol. 2: Innocence Lost

Written by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim
Art by Christophe Blain
96 pages, color
Published by NBM

Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim’s Dungeon series is certainly one of the more ambitious ones out there; Dungeon Zenith takes place during the height of the construction’s time, Dungeon Twilight takes place in its apocalyptic future, Dungeon Early Years as a prequel series, and Dungeon Parade and Dungeon Monstres as adjunct one-off stories that are all over the place. That said? I like that with the vast majority of the graphic novels, you can just pick one up and jump right into the story. It’d been a while since I’d read Dungeon, but this new-to-English installment was a pleasant trip back to Sfar and Trondheim’s creation. Pleasant might not be quite the best word, though; Dungeon The Early Years is shaping up to be an awfully grim series.

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