Portugal

By Cyril Pedrosa with additional colour by Ruby; translated by Montana Kane (NBM/Fanfare)

ISBN: 978-1-68112-147-5 (NBM)                 978-1-91209-703-6 (Fanfare)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: The Perfect Family Holiday Getaway… 10/10

I read a lot of graphic novels. Some books are awful, many are pedestrian and the rest I endeavour to share with you. Of that remaining fraction most can be summarised, plot-pointed and précised to give you a clue about what you might be buying if I’ve done my job right.

Sometimes, however, all that kerfuffle is not only irrelevant but will actually impede your eventual enjoyment. This is one of those times…

Cyril Pedrosa was born in Poitiers in 1972, a child of Portuguese extraction. After pursuing science jobs and a career in animation (at Disney he worked on The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules), in 1998 he moved into the world of comics with Ring Circus, following up with Les Aventures spatio-temporelles de Shaolin Moussaka, Three Shadows, Equinoxes and much more…

Since 2008 Pedrosa has devoted much of his time to fictionalised autobiography, beginning with with Autobio in Fluide Glacial, and that fresh string to his bow is at play in this newly translated, magnificently oversized (312 x 234 mm) hardcover (or digital edition): a moving and intoxicating graphic assessment of a crucial time in the illustrator’s life…

Through the vehicle of artistic analogue Simon Muchat, Pedrosa revisits a moment of his own history when he had lost the taste and verve for creative expression. In France, Simon’s relationship with his partner is breaking down; he’s living through a crippling writer’s block – and doesn’t care. Muchat makes a pittance teaching art or disconsolately doing little ad or design jobs. There seems no point to anything, but then he grudgingly attends a minor comics convention in Portugal and is suddenly reawakened to the intoxications of Existence…

Uncontrollably subject to recurring memory-snatches of childhood visits to his ancestors’ homes, Simon inexplicably beguiles himself into staying. His interest in storytelling is revived through one-sided conversations (he can’t remember much of the language) and before long he’s relocated to the sunny land of shiny, happy people…

Divided into three acts – ‘According to Simon’, ‘According to Jean’ and ‘According to Abel’ – the euphoric images cascade through picturesque hamlets and towns, country scenes and beaches – and bars of all types – as the gentle pace of life and friendly folk break down Muchat’s crust of indifference.

He even loses sight of his own troubles after gradually immersing himself in the cacophonous hurly-burly of his large extended Portuguese family and becomes increasing absorbed in discovering how and why his father moved to France.

That taciturn, work-obsessed worthy is still around (albeit, only in brief, breathless bursts between meetings) but has never and will never provide Simon with the answers he craves more than food or air…

And then, just when he thinks he’s made his peace with that onion-skin enigma, Simon finds another, deeper, more insoluble mystery to gnaw on…

This a truly breathtaking venture, a book full of humour, warmth and conflict, but one where nothing really happens. It does, however, happen with such joyous and compelling style and amiability that you cannot help but be swept along in its wake…

Enchanting, redemptive and captivatingly rewarding, Portugal is a book to chase away all winter blues and existential glums and a reading experience you must not deprive yourself – or your family – of.

© Dupuis 2011 by Pedrosa. Dupuis 2015 for the English translation.

Portugal will be released on December 1st 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

A UK edition from Fanfare will be available from November 30th.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Pyongyang – A Journey in North Korea


By Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly Books/Jonathan Cape)
ISBN: 978-0-22407-990-7

The world is always on the brink of extinction. That’s just the way it is. However, it’s perhaps comforting to be reminded that even the most demonised of boogeymen are fundamentally human too. So let’s take a peek at some graphic reportage from a temporary insider once au fait with and allowed access to a nation currently running equal first in the highly-competitive “Earth’s craziest ruler” stakes…

The only things I knew about North Korea I picked up from too many comics (mostly American) and television, so this engaging book was a rather surprising delight. As much lyrical travelogue as pithy autobiography, it relates the bemused culture shock of inveterate traveller and Canadian animator Guy Delisle, who, whilst possessing a French work-permit, was invited behind what was once dubbed “the Bamboo Curtain” to train and supervise Korean artists as a film production supervisor.

Cheap animators, as you are probably well-aware, are one of the few resources that North Korea can use as a means of securing capital from the decadent West – well, at least at the time this anxious odyssey was recorded…

What Delisle discovered and illustrates here both reinforces and explodes much of the modern mythology surrounding the world’s only communist dynasty.

Using a simplified, utilitarian style he depicts and deconstructs an utterly alien environment that is nevertheless populated with people who are so very similar to ourselves, even though the citizens do their utmost not to let it show. Pyongyang is stuffed with nuggets of revelation, dryly observed by the innocuous author.

Gently-paced and often dream-like in quality, the humorous tone and genteel accessibility of the illustration accentuates an oddly-strictured, constantly buttoned-down sense of foreboding.

Allowed only one book (in his case, perhaps unwisely, Orwell’s 1984) which must be donated to the State on leaving the country, and a CD Walkman (as personal radios are banned) Delisle’s airport interrogation is sheer mental torture.

Only once we’ve been thoroughly immersed in the culture and experienced the personal foibles of the limited number people he is allowed to meet does the placidly compliant Delisle surprise us by revealing that he risked everything by rashly smuggling in a tiny radio so he could get more than state-controlled information – and entertainment!

Subtly playing with the ominous reputation of part of “The Axis of Evil”, Delisle has produced a readable, gentle, non-discriminating reverie that informs and charms with surprising effect.

In this period of heightened thermonuclear tensions, this is a tale more timely than ever.
© 2003, 2005 Guy Delisle and L’Association. All Rights Reserved.

The Quitter


By Harvey Pekar & Dean Haspiel (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1401203993 (HC)                        978-1401204006(PB)

Before finding relative fame in the 21st century, Harvey Pekar occupied that ghastly niche so good at trapping truly creative individuals: lots and lots of critical acclaim and occasional heart-crushingly close brushes with super-stardom (which everyone except him felt he truly deserved) but never actually getting enough ahead to feel secure or appreciated.

In the 1970s, whilst palling around with Robert Crumb, Pekar began crafting compelling documentary narratives of ordinary, blue-collar life – primarily his own – and over successive decades invented “literary comics”. Despite negligible commercial success, the activity fulfilled some deep inner need and he persevered in his self-publishing and soul-searching.

One of those brushes with the Big Time came in the 1980s with the release of two compilations by mainstream publisher Doubleday of selected strips from his American Splendor comicbooks. To this day those tomes remain some of the most powerful, honest and rewarding comics ever seen.

By mercilessly haranguing, begging and even paying – out of his meagre civil service wages, and the occasional wheeler-deal or barter bonanza – any artists who met his exacting intellectual standards, Pekar soldiered on, inadvertently creating the comics genre of autobiographical, existentially questing, slice-of-life graphic narratives. And that was when he wasn’t eking out a mostly solitary, hand-to-mouth existence in Cleveland, Ohio.

How the irascible, opinionated, objectionable, knowledge-hungry, self-educated, music-mad working stiff came to use the admittedly (then) impoverished comicbook medium to make a fiercely vital social commentary on American life for the “ordinary Joe” is a magical journey into the plebeian far better read than read about, so go do that if you haven’t already.

Life picked up late for Harvey Pekar – mostly through an award-winning movie of his career and the publication of Our Cancer Year (a stunning documentation of his and third wife Joyce Brabner’s response to his disease).

This all led to an elevated and celebrated glitterati status, allowing him the opportunity to produce even more personal and compelling tales such as The Beats, Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me and The Quitter.

For all of that time he lived in Cleveland, Ohio and the city is as much a character in all his autobiographical works as the man himself. An irrepressible autodidact in the truest sense of the term, Pekar made it his business to learn everything about anything he was interested in… and he could be initially interested in everything.

Harvey Pekar died in 2010, aged 70.

First released in 2005, The Quitter is a bleak, coldly funny and often painful self-examination of a troubled and driven young outsider in a society gradually becoming a bit of a disappointment. All the trademark Pekar concerns are present: success with women, financial security, success in relationships, history, literature, success in a culture that won’t tolerate failure – or even mediocrity – and respect, all viewed through the fresh eyes of a troubled adolescent.

Harvey Pekar was never ordinary, and here he turns the autobiographical spotlight on his shameful early propensities to avoid potential failure by pre-emptive surrender and seek trouble or disputes he could settle disputes with his fists. The result is intellectual and emotional dynamite…

Pekar’s subtle mastery, gloriously illustrated by the simply magical monochrome artwork of Dean Haspiel, is to convey these dark themes in a compelling and frankly joyous manner.

Always gripping, never depressing, and utterly absorbing, The Quitter is, as its hype describes, some of his best work yet, and I’m aggrieved beyond explaining that his unique narrative voice has finally been stilled.

Still available in hardback or paperback editions, but not regrettably in digital form yet…
© 2005 Harvey Pekar & Dean Haspiel. All Rights Reserved.

Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? – A Comic by Liz Prince


By Liz Prince (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-89183-072-3

There’s an irrepressible rumour going about that Love makes the world go round. My grasp of physics isn’t strong enough to confirm or deny that hypothesis but I have read enough comics in my time to spot a magical and unmissable celebration of the all-consuming emotion when I see one.

Liz Prince originally hailed from Sante Fe, New Mexico before heading across county in an Eastward direction to attend the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (Massachusetts, not Lincolnshire).

She is a cartoonist – one of many – who thankfully opted to create a visual journal of her life and saw that one subject kept monopolising her attention. She is also an inspired raconteur who knows how to spin a graphic yarn in adroitly truncated form. Thus this slim collection which gathers a whole bunch of sublimely intimate, hilariously real moments spent with and apart from her equally fascinating man Kevin and the awesome force which is their cat Science.

Contained in this marvellous monochrome paperback posy are vignettes exploring the giddy silliness of fresh physicality, quirkily adorable breaking of bathroom taboos, the agony and relief of momentary solitude, incidents of intimate accommodation and lots of lovely eternal challenges that test every couple… especially the often bloody traumas of explaining to the incumbent household pet that they are not necessarily “Number One” any more…

Fronted by a suitably droll but downbeat pictorial Introduction ‘On Liz Prince’ by legendary lovelorn doodler Jeffrey Brown, Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? is thankfully still available – and instantly so if you opt for one of the downloadable versions (Kindle, Comixology etc.), or preferably direct from Top Shelf Productions – so if you want to share some romantic fellow feeling or just need to see that there’s still hope for all the lonely hearts, this a graphic gem you should promptly treat yourself to.
© & ™ Liz Prince 2005. All rights reserved.

Dreams in Thin Air


By Michael Magnus Nybrandt & Thomas Engelbrecht Mikkelsen translated by Steffen Rayburn-Maarup (Conundrum Press)
ISBN: 978-1-77262-010-8

Fantastic battles against overwhelming odds and magnificent, unlikely victories are the lifeblood of graphic narratives – and most of our popular fiction these days, I suppose – but seeing such triumphs in our own mundane mortal coil is barely credible in the real world.

Happily, miracles do occur, and one such forms the basis of this stunningly engaging chronicle of a good heart and love of sport defeating the political skulduggery of an oppressive yet publicity-shy superpower.

Delivered as a sturdy and compelling full-colour landscape format hardback, Dreams in Thin Air details the struggle of a young Danish man whose life was changed by a pre-college visit to Tibet: the things he saw and the people he met…

To make the story even more accessible, the man at the centre of events tells his own story, teamed here with Danish comics superstar and educator Thomas Engelbrecht Mikkelsen (Wizards of Vestmannaeyjar, Einherjar) who adds zest, verve and spectacular imagination to the already heady mix…

Following a Foreword by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, the story opens near the end as impassioned, frustrated Michael Magnus Nybrandt paces outside the Chinese Embassy in Copenhagen. We don’t know it yet but Michael has gambled years of hard work, devious conniving and soul-destroying dedication on a true long shot…

‘Chapter 1: Towards Tibet’ then takes us back to 1997 when Michael and his friend Thomas land at Lhasa Airport and are only saved from disaster by the quick thinking of Tibetan guide Jamphel Yeshi, who rescues the idealistic Scandinavians from a potentially lethal encounter with bribe-seeking Chinese Guards.

As they ride away from the airport the Europeans observe over and again the brutal results of China’s annexation and systematic eradication of Tibetan culture begun in the aftermath of the 1950 invasion. Of course, the gun-toting occupiers called it an act of “liberation”…

The white boys’ feelings as they contrast the broken relics of a glorious past with the urbanised concrete wastelands inflicted by two generations of self-serving Chinese occupiers are obvious and exceedingly painful, and before long they check out of their state-sponsored hotel and go on a trans-Tibetan tandem ride, looking for the real country…

In ‘The Easy Way’ that joyous if exhausting excursion brings them into constant contact with the earthy, gregarious Tibetans and solidifies a feeling in Michael that he must do something to help them. The revelation of exactly what that might be comes after they arrive at a shattered temple and meet Lama Tsarong.

During their stopover, the Europeans meet young monks in training and discover the Tibetans’ abiding passion for football – the proper “beautiful game” and not the dandified Rugby played by Americans…

Later, Michael endures a bizarre dream in which he is the coach of a Tibetan National Team. That’s clearly an impossible notion. Thanks to China’s political clout and annexation policy, there is no such nation as Tibet, only outlaw enclaves of dispossessed Tibetans living as exiles in well-wishing countries such as India and Nepal.

No politically expedient government on Earth recognises the annexed but unforgotten land and it has no official national standing in any arena… even sports…

In August 1997 Nybrandt returns to Denmark and resumes his education in Aarhus. He is part of the landmark radical education initiative dubbed Kaospilot, but despite all his studies cannot shift his focus away from that vivid dream…

At that time privately-sponsored Kaospilot trained less than 40 students per year in leadership, business design, process design and project design. The private school’s educational philosophy stresses personal development, values-based entrepreneurship, socially-responsible innovation and – above all else – creativity.

Although Michael strives to adapt to the program, eventually he gives in to his obsession and retools his lessons and educational modules to the ultimate goal of creating a Tibetan National Football team and getting them international matches…

And that’s when his problems really begin, as the full political might of the People’s Republic is brought to bear, not just on him but also on Denmark itself. In ‘Dharamsala’ that subtle, silent opposition becomes far more overt, even as Nybrandt tirelessly works with Tibetan bigwigs – in the conquered mountain country itself and throughout the rest of the world.

Undaunted, he sources players, finds sponsors bold enough to buck the Chinese government; sidestepping petty-minded obfuscations like visa-sabotage and rescinded travel permits and even terrifying physical assaults from thinly-disguised political bully boys in China’s pay…

The tide starts to turn in ‘Dharma Player’ after a meeting with the Dalai Lama and the arrangement of an international fixture against Greenland’s national team. With the threat of public legitimisation of a “non-country”, China begins turning the geo-political screws: threatening economic sanctions that might bankrupt Denmark and even more dire unspecified consequences…

On the brink of defeat, Michael thinks furiously and realises that although the prestige of international sport has caused all his problems, it has also provided a once-in-a-lifetime possible solution. All he has to do is confront the Chinese ambassador and not blink first…

The result was a milestone in the modern history of oppressed, subjugated Tibet and resulted in ‘Ninety Minutes of Recognition’ as China was forced to climb down and allow the match to take place…

Being a true story, this gloriously inspirational tale can also offer a photo-reportage-packed ‘Epilogue by the Author’, geographical and socio-political synopsis on the country at ‘The Roof of the World’ and a heartfelt ‘Acknowledgments’ section dedicated to the brave souls who made the miracle happen and brought this book into print.

Compelling, hugely entertaining and astoundingly uplifting, Dreams in Thin Air is a wonderful tribute to the power of sport and the resolve of good people. Don’t wait for the inevitable feelgood movie: read this magnificent graphic testament right now and experience the all-too-rare joy of good intentions triumphing over smugly overwhelming ensconced power…
English Edition © Michael Magnus Nybrandt, Thomas Engelbrecht Mikkelsen and Conundrum Press 2017.

Blue


By Pat Grant (Pat Grant/Top Shelf)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-153-4

As far as the global mass-market is concerned, Australia doesn’t do comics. There’s no home-grown Oz equivalent to Beano or Spirou or 2000 AD, no Akira or Batman to enthral the entire nation.

You don’t hear about their industry bashes such as OzComic-Con and nobody applauds if you say you’ve been nominated for a Stanley Award…

Yet Australia harbours an incredibly potent and dedicated cartooning community, quietly turning out a broad and utterly beguiling range of strips and features from kiddie-comics to strictly adult fare that we seldom get to enjoy in the Northern climes (just check out UK ex-pat Eddie Campbell’s work or Neomad: Space Junk or the precious few titles from Gestalt Publishing that have made it to Britain to see what I mean…).

One of the most enticing and rewarding releases in decades recently came courtesy of cartoonist and passionate surfer Pat Grant. In 2012 his debut graphic novel Blue set tongues wagging not just down under but all over: a superbly realised amalgam of graphic autobiography, socially-relevant historical treatise and fantasy-tinged cautionary tale…

Like so much Australian graphic narrative, Blue owes more to the underground and alternative comics movements than to mainstream. The art is rendered in a muted, limited-colours palette in a style vaguely reminiscent of Peter Bagge, but the storytelling is all original; mixing memories of growing up in small remote company-town with themes of alienation as filtered through a lens of constant, unwelcome change, incipient onrushing maturity and impending humdrum crushing responsibility.

Blue is seductive, familiar, scary and also punishingly funny where it’s most inappropriate…

Bolton is a town by the sea, built a generation ago by the company to house its work force. Years passed and the town stopped being shiny and new. The workers had kids and the kids grew bored. They had school and surfing and no prospects. And then the aliens started turning up. Unwelcome, unwanted, probably illegal and so clearly unwilling to mix. Soon they were everywhere, spoiling everything…

Christian never made it out. He’s a burn-out these days, sucking down bevies when not coasting a dead-end painting gig – and boozing on the job too if no one’s watching – so he’s got time to tell you about those days when he was a kid and lived for surfing…

The day he remembers most vividly is when him and Verne and Muck skipped school to chase a truly massive wave and decided to go see the body of a bloke who died on the railway tracks the night before…

Graphically imaginative, boldly experimental and gratefully expressing his debt of inspiration to the film Stand By Me, Grant has woven here an intoxicating web of intrigue and memory which resonates with the mythic image we all have of life in Oz and the knowledge of what kids ought to be like.

However, the most powerful sense is one of constant motion, bolstered by stunning, nigh-abstract seascapes and wave fronts, as his actors move raucously, rowdily and rapidly through their scenes propelled by bad instincts and inexpressible desire for something different…

Although you may not share Grant’s personal background, readers cannot help but be swept away by the author’s utterly convincing immersion in the minutiae of nostalgia and poignant bewilderment in how we all got to here and now…

With an introduction by Dylan Horrocks and text feature ‘Genealogy of the Boofhead: Images Memory and Australia’s Surf Comics’ – an erudite and fascinating extended essay by Grant detailing the history of the nation’s board bound phenomenon – this enchanting hardback tome is a total treat for comics connoisseurs indoors or outside.
© 2012 Pat Grant. All rights reserved.

Through the Habitrails: Life Before and After My Career in the Cubicles


By Jeff Nicholson (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80286-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic Self-Exploration and Terrifyingly Revelatory Erudition… 9/10

To cheekily hijack a common aphorism, Comics Will Eat Itself whenever an opportunity occurs. The way creators, readers, devotees and collectors respond to the medium is infinitely fascinating to us and has formed the basis of many stellar strips and novels: not just in the arena of Graphic Autobiography but also in other picture/prose genres…

For a brief while and every so often, Jeff Nicholson was a comicbook creator. His most well known works are probably 1980s self-published satirical parody series Ultra Klutz and the award-winning Colonia. After this last concluded in 2006, Nicholson quit comics.

Somewhere in between those two radically different creations, he produced one of the scariest yet most compelling ruminations on the experiences and compulsions of making picture stories and working as an artist-for-hire ever put to paper.

From 1990 to 1997 Through the Habitrails appeared episodically in Steve Bissette’s groundbreaking horror anthology Taboo and there has never been a better examination of an (extra)ordinary guy being creative on command, turning visual tricks and drafting wonders whilst under corporate pressure and an obsessive personal need to make art…

Moreover, he crafted the experience as a mesmerising blend of autobiography and toxic, paranoid terror-tale; rendered even more isolating and crushing by adopting a fiercely bleak science fictional tone and deeply symbolic method of illustration…

After Matt Fraction qualifies the vicissitudes of the modern work experience in his ‘Foreword’ Bissette’s Introduction offers history, context and untrammelled appreciation in ‘Never on Monday: Through the 21st Century Habitrails’ and ends by explaining how Nicholson was persuaded to return to his sinister seminal work to update – if not placate – his growing legion of (perhaps unwanted) admirers…

Lettered throughout by Chad Woody, the cartoon catharsis begins with ‘Increasing the Gerbils’ as a literally faceless wage slave – drawing to order in a corporate studio which is only a small division of a massive mercantile monolith – describes his increasingly intolerable life. The office is crammed and ponderously industrious and incorporates tubes and tunnels in the walls where creepy rodents run maze-like from room to room: a Byzantine and barely explicable connection with the serried, unknowable Powers That Be…

None too slowly, the line between employee and subject beast of burden begins to blur…

Another unwholesome aspect of the job is how Management wanders the halls, arbitrarily tapping the workers and consuming their vital spirit, as grimly revealed in ‘It’s Not Your Juice’

The steps taken to remain an individual are touched on in ‘No End’ and pitifully laid out in ‘Jar Head’ as the worker describes the use and variety of intoxicants used by the not-quite-captive Creatives to maintain output before his attention shifts to describing the fate of ‘The Doomed One’: the worker who did not bend to an oppressive, self-selected yoke but instead tried to rebel. Her fate was incomprehensible and appalling but not unexpected…

Such pressure to perform can not be endured forever and our pictorial peon eventually found release in walking and wandering in his downtime. The shocking repercussions of ‘Escape #1: “El Muerte”’ were expansive but still tantalised him with a promise of better… once he returned to work…

Not all needs can be met by the benefits of being a corporate drudge. Nevertheless, it’s the most likely place to meet potential mates. When ‘Futile Love’ happens and goes horribly wrong, naturally it provokes another deviation from protocol and ‘Escape #2: “The Dry Creek Bed”’ quietly carries him far away but ultimately only back to where he started from…

The unshakable drive to resist only brings uncomfortable attention from the managers who simply demand ‘Be Creative’, but after another pointless close call the worker heads home and in a barren wasteland discovers a possible answer to all his problems: a weapon he secretes as a tiny, prospective notion of rebellion he chooses to call ‘Animal Control’

With a glint of hope and a possible ally in reserve, the thought that one of his fellows might be untrustworthy begins to dominate, but the truth about and fate of ‘The Infiltrator’ leaves nobody wiser or happier…

The hunger for space and wish for clarity push the artist into ever-greater unsanctioned ventures but ‘Escape #3: “Concow”’ again proves that no matter how far you go, what awaits is never going to be a welcome surprise…

A near-escapee who was dragged back into the fold attempts to rationalise his twice-lost liberty with the suffocating security of wage slavery and constant draining by creating an exposé. Sadly his assumptions about the value and efficacy of his ‘Dark Spiral’ can only end one way and the artist must resort to collusion with his dark side as delineated by ever-encroaching sometime ally ‘The Gerbil King’

With work and notional reality fully at war, a catastrophic climax approaches as ‘Jimmy’ enters his life and changes everything forever…

Was that all a little vague? I certainly hope so because this is something you really need to work your way through on your own. The tone fits though: don’t read this unless and until you’re psyched up and suitably apprehensive…

The material has been collected a number of times since it first appeared but this superb Dover Edition offers what we smart-arse cognoscenti never expected: a continuation of the tale and dialogue with the creator from a place and position far less dark than that animal-infested region of the 1990s.

Preceding an ‘Afterword by Jeff Nicholson’ and the now-mandatory ‘About the Author’ feature, the comics self-diagnosis concludes with ‘Epilogue 1: Beyond the Habitrails’ and ‘Epilogue 2: Ghost Town Studio’: bringing us up to date in an equally abstracted but far more upbeat manner and supposing that at the end of some tunnels – or tubes – there can be light, not darkness…

Barbed with allegory, using metaphor like a scalpel and employing all the darkly surreal glamour and oppressive verve of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich, this potent dose of exploratory surgery for the soul simultaneously dissects why comics are made and why some of us must make them whilst telling one of the scariest tales of modern times.

Although certainly an acquired taste, Through the Habitrails is a must-see, never-forget graphic novel for anybody with a vested of intellectual interest in the Ninth Art.
© 1994, 1996, 2016 by Jeff Nicholson. Foreword © 2016 Matt Fraction. Introduction © 1996 Stephen Russell Bissette. All rights reserved.

Baggywrinkles – A Lubber’s Guide to Life at Sea


By Lucy Bellwood with Joey Weiser & Michele Chidester (Toonhound Studios)
ISBN: 978-0-9882202-9-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: For those Quiet Moments after all the Mainbraces have been properly Spliced… 10/10

Everybody needs an abiding passion in their lives, and born storyteller Lucy Bellwood seems blessed with two as this superb paperback compilation – also available as an ebook – of her comics about tall ships and the history of sailing delightfully proves.

In her Introduction she describes how at seventeen she fell under the spell of rigging, sheets and wind after spending a few life-changing weeks crewing aboard the Lady Washington – a fully functioning replica of a 1790s Brig.

How that inspired her to produce a succession of strips detailing her time afloat and many of the things she learned then and since make up the first seafaring snippet ‘The Call of the Running Tide’: a funny, fact-packed evocation of the immortal allure of sea and stars.

Following that is an utterly absorbing data page deftly describing and exactly explaining ‘What is a Baggywrinkle?

I now know; so does my wife and one of our cats, but I’m not telling you because it’s truly cool and I’m not going to spoil the surprise…

‘Sea of Ink’ describes with captivating charm and sheer poetic gusto ‘The Baggywrinkles Official Guide to Nautical Tattoos’, covering the history, development and specific significance of the most popular symbols worn by mariners across the centuries. It’s followed by a definitive ‘Fathom Fact’ and an account of Bellwood’s first days at sea traversing ‘Parts Unknown’ whilst nailing down the very basics of the ancient profession. It is backed up by the nitty-gritty of sea-man’s staple ‘Hard Tack’

‘The Plank’ hilariously and wittily debunks the accumulated misleading mythology surrounding the pirates’ most infamous human resources solution and is counterbalanced by an evocative look at the first Lady Washington and her forgotten place in history. ‘Pacific Passages’ details how, in 1791, the Boston trader and accompanying sloop Grace deviated slightly from their journey to Shanghai and discovered Japan by anchoring in the Oshima Bay.

A tale of remarkable restraint and mutual respect which ended happily for all concerned, but the real trouble started 63 years later when Commodore Matthew Perry showed up and forced isolationist Japan to open her doors to foreign trade…

The heart-warming tale is supplemented by a ‘Glossary’ of Japanese and English terms and is followed by a superb and succinct history of the greatest scourge ever to afflict nautical travellers.

‘Scurvy Dogs’ relates the effects, causes and raft (sorry!) of solutions postulated and attempted by every stripe of learned man in the quest to end the debilitating condition’s toll of attrition. It’s followed by ‘Scurvy Afterword’: an engrossing essay by Eriq Nelson relating how we’re not out of the woods yet and why Scurvy still blights the modern world from individual picky eaters to millions suffering in refugee camps…

Wrapping up this magnificently beguiling treat is ‘The Scurvy Rogues’: an outrageously enticing and informative ‘Guest Art Gallery’ with strips and pin-ups from fellow cartoon voyagers Lissa Treiman, Betsy Peterschmidt, Adam T. Murphy, Kevin Cannon, Ben Towle, Steve LeCouilliard, Isabella Rotman, Dylan Meconis and Beccy David. And while we’re at it let’s not forget to applaud the colouring contributions of Joey Weiser & Michele Chidester…

Meticulously researched, potently processed into gloriously accessible and unforgettable cartoon capsule communications, the stories shared in Baggywrinkles are brimming with verve and passion: a true treat for all lovers of seas, wild experiences, comfy chairs, good company and perfect yarn-spinning.
© 2010-2016 Lucy Bellwood. All Rights Reserved.

Growing Up in Public


By Ezequiel García (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-936-3

With the acceptance of graphic novels as a valid and worthy form of entertainment and mature expression has come a welcome flowering of personal stories and authorial voices blending unique – and literal – visions with perspectives far removed from our cosy own.

After all, potent and evocative as they might be, the graphic observations and conclusions of a Harvey Pekar or Eddie Campbell still resonate with shared concerns, experiences and ideologies for most English-speaking, western-reared readers from Britain, the USA, Canada, New Zealand or Australia.

Such a view just can’t be taken when absorbing the pictorial ruminations of equally brilliant and driven artisans from countries with differing historical, socio-cultural, linguistic and even artistic world views.

That kind of revelatory exotic intimacy can be found in Growing up in Public, the latest cartoon epistle from Argentinean artist and cartoonist Ezequiel García as he contemplates his achievements, total lack of success or celebrity and place in the world following his thirtieth birthday…

Born in 1975, García studied under Argentinean comics legend Alberto Breccia whilst co-editing several comics anthologies and trying his hands at other forms of artistic expression. Growing up in troubled times in a country that has always taken culture, heritage and the arts seriously, he has had short works appear in comics magazines in Europe and South America.

He won the comics award at Brazil’s Salon del Humor de Piracicaba in 2000, and his first graphic novel Turning 30 was released in Argentina in 2007. In recent years, Garcia has served as a comics teacher, art gallery curator, and co-organizer of the Festival Increible de Historietas, Fanzines y Afines whilst labouring on this eclectic, far-ranging, intimate, polemical and engaging reminiscence.

In a free-wheeling, affectingly immersive, starkly black-&-white outpouring, Ezequiel introduces us to his world at a certain point in his life. A struggling artist, the author derives much of his inspiration from the history, music and architectural heritage of Buenos Aires. Here, however, as he struggles to find a publisher for his comics, galleries to exhibit his other art, women to sleep with and someone special to love, his attentions are increasingly distracted by the ongoing destruction of all he cherishes as big banks and foreign businesses take over, rebuild and desecrate the magnificent dance palaces, film theatres and civic buildings which were the landmarks and milestones of his childhood…

In truth the entire city is under threat of losing its identity as money and encroaching corporate globalisation seeps in, buying off officials and easily circumventing the legal protections supposedly safeguarding these edifices for the nation…

Most galling of all is Ezequiel’s quest for creative acceptance. He’s getting some traction, but as he and his friends visit show after show, he’s starting to feel that the art world only wants to reward shallow charlatans regurgitating old or devalued concepts and no longer has room or respect for toil, craftsmanship and honest searches for truth…

He feels equally powerless to change his personal situation. Ezequiel has no trouble meeting women, but really wants a girlfriend and just can’t decide on which one to get serious with…

The most potent temptation of autobiographical comics is the total autonomy the exercise grants. In the midst of his collation of linked episodes and hope-filled introspections highlighting the aggravating, mundane or personally significant, García takes the opportunity to radically depart from his prescribed path to interweave a psychedelic, emotionally overcharged diversion.

As he is drawn into a late-night church meeting after reading Moby Dick, he is transported to mind-boggling flights of fancy as the firebrand cleric ranting conflates Melville’s tale with the biblical example of Jonah; resulting in a stunning visual tornado of iconic idolatrous revelation…

And then reality returns and he goes back to his catalogue of disaffection. As he endures more and more of the same the increasingly uncomfortable thirty-someone reaches a crisis in his romantic stalemates and decides it’s time to make decisions and changes in his life…

As previously stated, music plays a great part in the author’s life, and song lyrics – in Spanish – are woven into almost every page of García’s fiercely expressionistic art like street art or a graffiti Greek Chorus. Don’t fret however, as a full compliment of ‘Song Translations’ featuring all those mood-enhancing lines is included in the Bonus Section, which also includes a page of the artists ‘Inspiration’ sources as well as ‘Notes’ offering context and commentary on the story.

Powerful, uncompromising, mesmerising and unforgettable, this is a superb peek at life’s unchanging verities through fresh and expressive eyes and one all lovers of comics as art should seek out.
© 2016 Ezequiel García. Design © 2016 Fantagraphics. Translation © 2016 Ezequiel García. All rights reserved.

Time Clock


By Leslie Stein (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-930-1

Help Wanted: Girl cartoonist seeks meaning of contemporary existence and like-minded individuals to share bewilderment and revelations with.

Interests/Hobbies include: drinking, counting sand, growing stuff, antiquing for pop culture “trash”, drinking, meaningful conversations with musical instruments, playing board games with same, recreational herbal intoxicants, reminiscing about wild-times with gal-pals and old cronies, drinking, visiting difficult relatives.

Employment: unwanted but regrettably necessary. Although not native to the Big City, is extremely adaptable and will do anything – unless it’s hard, boring or she sucks at it…

After graduating from the New York School of Visual Arts, Leslie Stein began producing astonishingly addictive cartoon strips in the self-published Yeah, It Is. Winning a Xeric Grant for her efforts, she then started an even better comicbook entitled Eye of the Majestic Creature: blending autobiographical self-discovery, surreal free-association, philosophical ruminations, nostalgic reminiscences and devastatingly dry wit to describe modern life as filtered through her seductive meta-fictional interior landscape. She is a creator who sees things as they really aren’t, but makes them authentic and even desirable to anyone willing to pay attention…

This long-awaited third volume resumes Stein’s airy, eccentric and engaging pictorial mood-music as her mythologized autobiography continues to reveal the history and ambitions (for want of a better term) of Larrybear – a girl deliberately and determinedly on her own, trying to establish her uniquely singular way of getting by.

Eschewing chronological narrative for an easy, breezy raconteur’s epigrammatic delivery, illustrated in loose, free-flowing line-work, detailed stippling, hypnotic pattern-building or even honest-to-gosh representational line-drawing, Stein operates under the credo of “whatever works, works” – and she’s not wrong…

Larrybear makes friends easily: bums, winos, weirdoes, dropouts, misfits, non-English-speaking co-workers and especially inanimate objects. Her bestest buddy is her talking guitar/flatmate Marshmallow, one of the many odd fellow travellers who all aggregate around her, briefly sharing her outré interests and latest dreams.

However Larrybear doesn’t want an average life, just more experiences, less hassle and affable companions to share it all with.

This latest graphic dinner party starts with another Friday at work. After scrupulously completing her wage-slave tasks, she heads off to show her latest creation at the long-awaited Sand Counters Convention.

The guy at the next table next is annoying but okay, and she’s touched when venerable old Sand Counter Henry Peet admires her work but, after seeing über-stylist Tim Heerling swanking and lapping up the adulation of the audience, she is mysteriously moved and decides that now she has a new nemesis…

And in the meantime, stay-at-home stringed instrument Marshmallow – feeling unfulfilled – takes up baking to shorten the incessant loneliness…

A second untitled segment then finds Larrybear hanging out with old pal Boris, sharing stories and intoxicants, but still blithely unaware of how he feels about her…

After months of prevaricating, and whilst still enduring dreams about that Heerling guy, our aimless star finally relocates to the countryside where she, Marshmallow and the rest of her animated instrument collection enjoy a life of bucolic fulfilment and idle contemplation until they can’t stand it any more…

This superbly quirky diversion then concludes with ‘Boy’ as Larrybear learns that living miles from the nearest bar and being unable to drive is severely impacting her drinking time, whilst having competition-quality sand delivered is a huge mistake…

All too soon however, she’s back in her natural environment, dealing booze to drunks and sharing their buzz, just as the biggest storm in living memory threatens to close up the city…

All delivered in a mesmerising, oversized (292 x 204 mm) monochrome package, these incisive, absurdist, whimsically charming and visually intoxicating invitations into a singularly creative mind and fabulous alternative reality offer truly memorable walks on the wild side. For a gloriously rewarding and exceptionally enticing cartoon experience – one no serious fan of fun and narrative art can afford to miss – you simply must spend a few hours with a Time Clock.
© 2016 Leslie Stein. All rights reserved.