Persia Blues volume 2: Love and War


By Dara Naraghi & Brent Bowman (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-977-9

All creative people are a little bit chained to their art-form, and Iranian ex-pat Dara Naraghi far more so than most. As well as his own celebrated Big City Blues comic he’s been responsible for adapting to comics such licensed properties as Robert Patterson’s Witch & Wizard novels, Terminator: Salvation, It! The Terror From Beyond Space and Ghostbusters, writing for DC, Image and IDW and running his own publishing house Ferret Press.

His breakthrough graphic anthology Lifelike set new standards for expressive exploratory tale-telling and he was a founding member of comics creators collective PANEL. He also scripts (and occasionally draws) utterly wonderful tales covering every aspect of the human experience from wild fantasy to chilling slice-of-life in a splendid series of webcomics.

Artist and illustrator Brent Bowman has created art for the Age of Empires collector card game and worked at Caliber Press and Image Comics. He too is a member of PANEL, devoted to pushing the envelope (probably after covering it with doodles and sketches) of graphic narrative.

Together they have conceived a trilogy of graphic novels cunningly blending real-world reportage with fantastic fantasy in a mythic manner both intriguing and captivating. Initial outing Persia Blues: Leaving Home won the 2014 Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo prize for Best Graphic Novel.

That tome introduced spirited young woman Minoo Shirazi who had a history of troublemaking and parental issues in two very different worlds dubbed for discomfort “There” and “Here”…

Far away and long ago a bold warrior woman with an inexplicable incendiary power in her hands battled beside her lover Tyler against brigands and worse to retrieve a holy book in the heyday of the Persian Empire. We’ll call that “Here”…

Over “There” in our world, a forthright, independent Iranian architecture student named Minoo was seen at various moments of her life, constantly challenging the authority of her father and the far more dangerous agents of the theocracy…

In Ancient Persia the war-woman painfully and at first-hand learned of the eternal struggle between the light of Ahura Mazda and dark evil of demonic Ahriman, before becoming embroiled in the struggle – as did her scholarly lover – when a priest was slaughtered by the devil-lord Himself.

A giant, wingless talking griffon then despatched them to distant Persepolis to meet her long-lost mother. The divine messenger also decreed Minoo the Warrior would play a crucial role in the battle between good and evil and must accept her fate…

En route, they encountered famed and legendary Anusiya battling an horrific army of scorpion men and other beasts. Dashing to join the hard-pressed Persian Royal Guard, they turned the tide and the grateful soldiers escorted them to an audience with the Emperor…

In modern times when word of Minoo’s latest brush with the authorities reached her father, once-eminent history professor Bijan Shiraz took unwelcome and unwanted steps to protect the last member of his family.

For years he had been a thorn in the side of the religious fundamentalists rewriting and revising the grand and glorious history of Persia to suit the self-serving demands of a theocratic, clerical dictatorship and consequently his entire family had suffered…

Bijan and his wife Manijeh argued for years. She wanted the family to leave but the scholar refused to leave the proud history of Persia in the hands of revisionists. Minoo often listened, terrified her parents were divorcing, but older brother Ramin was always there to calm her fears…

Three years ago Minoo and her father discussed her recent graduation. Her prospects had long been a brittle bone of contention, and she would not accept the aging intellectual’s argument that she should pursue a Master’s Degree. Not in a country that openly suppresses choice and opportunity for women…

She was utterly astounded when he reveals he had changed his mind and would use all his resources, contacts and waning influence to secure her a University place outside Iran…

And in Persepolis the supreme ruler is revealed as Empress Purandokht, Queen and Protector of the Persian Empire who greets her wandering daughter but does not recognise her…

This is a tale of interconnected contrasts, with the modern scenes – deliberately convoluted by mixing the chronological sequence of flashback events – rendered in stark black line whilst the exotic and thrilling Persian adventure is presented as lush, painterly pencil-grey tones.

Moreover, although the general dialogue and idiom of the ancients is what you’d expect in an historical drama, Tyler and mystic Minoo speak like American 20-somethings, eventually admitting to Purandokht they are from somewhere called “Columbus”…

Following a graphic reintroduction to the major players and a quick recap in ‘Our Story Thus Far’ the twin-tracked tale-telling recommences over “There” in Tehran eleven years ago as young teenager Minoo goes ski-boarding for the first time and meets a boy. Over-protective Ramin’s response is not what she anticipated…

Way back “Here” Tyler and Minoo soon get bored cooling their heels in the palace and – avoiding Purandokht’s hyper-maternal oversight – sneak out to find the nation’s ultimate hero Rostam who might be the only hope to defeat Ahriman’s converging dark forces…

Modern Minoo meanwhile is still settling in at the University of Ohio in America. It is one year ago…

Her fellow Students are all very welcoming but the culture is so different in its minutiae and daily details. However, when she introduces herself to her father’s old friend Professor Yazdi she finds him with a charming young man discussing his Graduate Degree. His name is Tyler Clarke and he is obsessed with the culture and history of Iran. Even more so apparently, after meeting Minoo…

In the wilds of Persia, a wild ride and valiant quest at last leads the strange warriors to mighty Rostam and his wonder steed Rakhsh. Finishing off the demon he has been toying with the heroic marvel joyously accompanies them back to embattled Persepolis…

In Columbus as Tyler and Minoo get better acquainted, the scene suddenly shifts to Iran twelve years previously. The Shiraz family are fragmenting and the kids are dealing with Bijan and Manijeh’s divorce very differently. Jumping ahead seven years, the dutiful daughter is still arguing with dad after he’s been beaten up… again…

Rostam’s tumultuous return to Persepolis is none too soon: his glorious welcome parade is barely begun when the monster armies of Ahriman turn up…

Ten years ago in Tehran, Minoo finally gets to watch football-crazy Ramin play, even if the trip nearly gets her arrested. It’s the best game of his life and the last time she will ever see him…

The battle for Persepolis is long and hard and only the direct intervention of Ahura Mazda saves overmatched Minoo when her flame powers fail…

In America six months ago Tyler took Minoo camping and learned a lot about her, such as her family history and troubles and the fact that she is a demon with a game console…

“Here” as Persepolis reels from the catastrophic assault, “There” in Tehran twenty-one years ago another parental clash left Minoo alone with Daddy, who proudly read his little girl the far-from-bedtime story of the Seven Labours of Rostam

Although forced from the battlefield Ahriman is undeterred and directly attacks Purandokht in the palace. Although her formidable daughter is in time to drive the devil off, the queen is stricken by the beast’s poisons…

In Tehran eleven years ago the fractured family gather at the hospital. Manijeh’s chemotherapy has failed and surgery is now the only option. Minoo cannot comprehend her father’s reactions…

As before, glimpses of a greater truth come from a brace of Epilogues. The first sees Minoo in Columbus three months ago: Skypeing with the dad she still doesn’t trust but blithely unaware of the trouble he’s in, whilst the second focuses on Persepolis where a distraught daughter is confronted by the all-wise Griffon. He challenges the warrior woman’s understanding of her strangely incomplete existence and asks difficult questions about the father she cannot remember…

To Be Concluded…

Gilded with excerpts of classical poetry by Rumi (13th century Persian poet, jurist, scholar, theologian and Sufi Mystic Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī AKA Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī or simply “our master”: very cool and totally worthy of your further attention…), this is a smart and subtle melding past and present, fact and fiction, revelling in exploiting reader expectation and confusion whilst crafting a beguiling multi-layered tale of family, responsibility, guilt, oppression and the hunger for independence which carries the reader along, promoting wonder and second-guessing whilst weaving a tantalising tapestry of mystery.

Engaging, rewarding and just plain refreshingly different, Persia Blues looks set to become a classic for all time…
© 2015 Dara Naraghi and Brent Bowman.

As You Were volume 4: Living Situations


By various, compiled and edited by Mitch Clem & Avi Ehrlich (Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club/Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-822-5

Speaking as a doddering survivor of the first Punk Uprising, I admit to still hankering for those frenzied days of youthful indiscretion, impatient passions, a sense of being completely tangential to most folk around me and a clear idea of who “The Enemy” was.

At least I’m still utterly angry and discontented over inequality, political arrogance, corporate smugness, bigotry of every type and the First World’s poisonous assumption  that we all adhere to their vile philosophy of I’m-all-right-Jackery…

So it’s bloody wonderful to see some of those attitudes still surviving into this century: even if the issues are more about personal liberty and freedom of expression and lifestyle, rather than Fighting the Power or just being listened too…

As You Were is a periodic collection of strips by contemporary cartoonists who self-identify as “punk” and this fourth instance is dedicated to the precarious prospect of daily existence, gathered under one cardboard roof by Mitch Clem (creator of Nothing Nice to Say – arguably the first online punk comic) and Avi Erlich, designated adult of San Franciscan arts collective Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club, who worked in conjunction with Last Gasp to produce this starkly monochrome digest-sized anthology collection.

Behind the Kriss Stress cover and following a fabulously illuminated contents section embroidered with a border by Autumn Ballard, the domestic diatribes (produce of more than one country) open with a frenetic depiction of ‘Tuesday Night at the Rad House’ from Liz Suburbia after which Ben Passmore details the fantastic rules controlling all dealings with ‘The Punklord’ and Shannon Knox examines the lives of the poor, abused cleaning utensils so seldom used by any house occupant in ‘Takes from the Kitchen Sink’.

‘I Grew Up in a Haunted House’ relates Liz Prince’s odd preoccupation with one room in a certain home after which James the Stanton visually and viscerally recalls a party which was out of this world in ‘Gnartoons’, Brad Dwyer and his partner find some ‘Common Ground’ in the raising of their kids and Evan Wolff vs Campus P.D. finds the author not-so nostalgic about college housing and student crash-pads in ‘One Time at the Hot Tub House’

Wondering if it’s booze or Ska music making everything so swirly in Mel’s ‘This Only Works When Everyone is Drunk’, we stagger on to enjoy Jim Kettner’s gleefully elegiac ‘Tales from the Bookhouse’, recounting the unique selling points of past temporary dwellings before Meg Has Issues realises ‘All Roommates are Asshole’ and Chris (Comics of Mass Distraction) Mindtree details a happy ending resulting from ‘2 Guys 1 Apartment’

‘Homecore’ by Josh PM Frees reveals the trials of two gentle scholarly souls searching for shelter whilst Andra Passen exposes herself in ‘Crowded thoughts and crooked teeth’ before the perennial new-student dilemma (no contraceptives!!!) surely evokes pained, fond memories for many of us as Steve Thueson remembers ‘July 2009’

Sam Grinberg shares a rowdy party experience in ‘Quiet’ before Rick V hilariously ‘Draws A Comic About Every Human He Has Lived With’ and Nomi Kane totally steals the show with ‘Nightmare on Milwaukee Avenue’ as the housemates have to deal with “that guy”: the lazy, shiftless one who has problems with the very concept of menstruation and other girl stuff…

Steve Larder offers a uniquely British outlook whilst recalling his time staying in ‘The Hippy House’ and Emily “Buckwheat” Timm scales flights of fantasy in ‘A Girl Can Dream’ with Joshum sustaining the escapism in fabulous pantomimic sci fi fable ‘Coming Home’.

World traveller Aimée Pijpers thoughtfully details her ‘Living Arrangements: a Timeline’ before true Brit Rob Cureton amuses and outrages with his ‘INFOMERCIAL’ for a very special old folks home after which Alex Barrett exposes the idiocy of the Tallahassee cops in ‘GCF’ and Rachel Dukes depicts a moment of pure romance in ‘Good Morning, Dracula’

Alex Krokus then shares a ‘House Meeting’ like so very many others and Sarah Graley intimately recalls ‘Elly’s Room’ after which Wyeth Yates gloriously predicts a happy future in the ‘Horse Latitudes’ before Ben Snakepit apologises for his many sins as a ‘Roomate from Hell’

‘Buying the Baron’s House’ is Erin K. Wilson’s silent tale told in two timeframes, relating the history of a home and its fate today whilst ‘There and Back Again’ finds Carolina Porras daydreaming as she packs up for another move. After Andy Warner graphically catalogues a ‘House Party’, Will Laren recapitulates a modern manifesto with ‘The People’s System’ before Lindsay Anne Watson pantomimically advocates that we ‘Settle Down’ to close this conference of cartoons.

With a full biography/contact section (for when you want to see more… and where) this is a wonderful collaborative colloquium of cartoon free expression to delight lovers of the comics game, but if your new to all this, British and of a certain age or maybe simply a devotee of anarchic comedy, the (long and disinfectant-dosed) handle you’re reaching for regarding much of this material is Mayall & Edmonton’s The Young Ones or Bottom, possibly by way of John Belushi in Animal House

However, whatever your age, stance or orientation, this splendid collection of funny, raucous, whimsical and thought-provoking graphic narrative is a delicious way of seeing how those kids you claim not to understand think – and surely that’s no bad thing?
Collection © 2015 Silver Sprocket. Contributions © 2015 by the individual authors.

Fires Above Hyperion


By Patrick Atangan (NBM/Comics/Lit)
ISBN: 978-1561639861

It’s long been an aphorism – if not outright cliché – that Gay (or more contemporarily LGBTQ) comics are the only place in the graphic narrative game where real romance still exists.

As far as I can see though it’s actually true; an artefact, I suppose, of a society which seems determined to demarcate and separate sex and love as two utterly different – and even opposite – things.

I’d prefer to think that here in the 21st century – or at least in the more civilised bits which actually acknowledge and welcome that times have changed – we’ve outgrown the juvenile, judgemental, bad old days and can simply appreciate powerful, moving, wistful, sad and/or funny comics about ordinary people without any kind of preconception, but that battle’s still not completely won yet. Hopefully, thoughtful, inspirational memoirs such as this will aid that transition…

Californian Patrick Atangan (Songs of Our Ancestors, Invincible Days) is a multi-talented Filipino-American creator with many strings to his creative bow: as deft and subtle in his computer-generated comic tales and retellings of Asian myths as with the tools he uses to craft high-end designer furniture.

Now he’s added a wry, charming yet deeply moving collection of short intimate musings and recollections on his “romantic gaffes and failures” to his printed canon for youngsters and the results are enough to make the toughest cookie crumble…

Posited as if “Sex and the City had been created by a gay Charlie Brown” these utterly compelling, seditiously humorous slices of a life lived a little too much inside one’s own head kick off with chronological logic with the still-closeted Patrick attending his ‘Junior Prom’ as escort to obsessive beard Mildred, whose attention to detail and determination to make the event absolutely perfect cannot help but fail. At least the string of disasters the fervent Prom-zilla endures take the spotlight off his own failings, petty jealousies and perceived inadequacies…

‘Secrets’ skips ahead to the liberation of college as the introvert resolves to reinvent himself and begins an ongoing process of Outing which gradually encompasses friends, family and everybody new in his life. Sadly that in turn leads to a sort-of romance with Calvin who never really comes to terms with his own sexual identity…

On leaving academe, another character-building debacle involves ‘Gary’; someone our author considered far too lovely for a dweeb like him – and therefore something of a self-fulfilling prophecy – before eponymous vignette ‘The Fires Above Hyperion’ finds Patrick coolly contemplating the now-annual forest fires threatening Los Angeles whilst foolishly attempting to rekindle or reinvent the three-year relationship he has just ended with Roger

Eschewing his usual ‘New Year’s Eve’ ritual, the narrator attends a big party and suffers inebriation, gastric trauma and the humiliation of mistakenly putting the moves on a chain-smoking straight guy whilst ‘APE Shit’ reveals the sorry fallout of a trip to San Francisco to attend his first Alternative Press Expo in a decade: a concatenation of domestic disasters comprising old friends with new children, commuter congestion and a total change in the way Indy comics are sold. At least he connects with the gorgeous, seemingly ideal Bryan – before Fate and Patrick’s own conscience play a few pranks to spoil what might have been a perfect moment…

More notionally self-inflicted grief comes out of ignoring the custom of a lifetime and attending a wedding as a ‘Plus One’. Naturally he didn’t mind his “date” Julia going off with a guy, but when Patrick zeroes in on wonderful, apparently available Peter, events and the author’s own treacherous tuxedo conspire to make the soiree memorable for all the wrong reasons.

A heartbreakingly harsh assessment of Patrick’s failings then lead him to the dire conclusion that he is ‘Nobody’s Type’ before the excoriating romantic recriminations end with another ill-fated, self-sabotaged first date that founders because of too much introspection and an accumulation of ‘Baggage’

Insightful, penetrating, invitingly self-deprecating, guardedly hopeful and never afraid to be mistaken for morose when occasion demands, this collection of misjudged trysts and missed chances offers a charming glimpse at the eternally hopeful way most folks live their love-lives and the result is magical and unforgettable.

Atangan has stated that he is contemplating quitting comics, but after seeing this beguiling confection I’m sure a legion of fans hungry for more of his slick, stylish and earnest entertainments will be determined to change his mind…
© 2015 Patrick Atangan.

Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist


By Bill Griffith (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-895-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Awesomely Educative Treat for Mystery Lovers… 8/10

Starting life as an underground feature in 1971, Bill Griffith’s absurdist commentary on American society Zippy the Pinhead has grown into such a prodigious and pervasive counter-culture landmark that it’s almost a bastion of the civilisation it constantly scrutinises and ridicules. What I never suspected before and – according to the revelations stunningly catalogued and depicted in this powerful and absorbing Graphic Memoir, nor did he – was the subtle influence the gods of cartooning had been constantly exerting upon his family’s lives for generations…

As much a detective yarn and memorial to simpler (but just as complex) times as a straight biography, Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist reveals how the cartoonist and social commentator (already long-schooled in the proud achievements of artistic ancestor and photographic pioneer William Henry Jackson) latterly uncovered further pictorial predecessors and briefly became an impassioned genealogist and investigator after an elderly uncle decided it was time to pass on a boxful of dusty family memorabilia.

An uneventful yet evocative journey from Connecticut to North Carolina – miles slowly passing as the traveller is immersed in internet research – starts memories flowing and when Uncle Alan then hands over a historical treasure trove the naturally contemplative cartoonist’s childhood memories are triggered and his instincts for a good story are piqued…

Bill’s thoughts continually return to his own childhood in Levittown when he and his passionate, beautiful, aspiring-author mother regularly posed for neighbour and legendary pulp illustrator Ed Emshwiller’s many magazine covers, and by the time the voyager stops discussing the past Bill is powerfully aware of just how real and earthy and fallibly human his relatives were.

As yet however the discourse still offers no insight into why his own cold, abusive father turned out the way he did…

Meticulous Alan is a mine of useful minutiae with his catalogue of familial foibles and passed-down stories, but even he is un aware of Barbara Griffith (nee Jackson)’s greatest indiscretion: a fifteen year, full-on tempestuous love affair with cartoonist, cartooning-teacher, publisher, comicbook pioneer, crime-writer and indefatigably restless entrepreneur Lawrence Lariar: an innocuously smooth operator who, although moderately successful for his entire life, was in many ways the Forgotten Man of Comics.

With the flow of information now going both ways, Bill shares the day in 1972 when word came of his dad’s imminent death and of how, in a moment of overwhelmed, grieving guilt and with the family gathered at the hospital, his mother the widow of mere minutes confessed that she had been wife in all but name to another man since 1957…

As Bill further re-examines his own memories, cross-referencing with pictures, diaries and his mother’s epic unpublished novel which clearly and cleanly transfers her complicated life into the refuge of putative fiction, a series of pictures starts to form…

Startlingly frank, scrupulously detailed, diligently analytical and brilliantly reconstructed using a variety of styles, this is a fact-filled, graphic tour de force which elevates the players to the rank of perfect archetypes whilst still leaving them authentic, living creatures we are convinced we know.

Superbly applying the techniques of fiction to the discipline of documentary, Invisible Ink is a wonderful leap forward in the growing genre of comics memoirs and one no serious reader can afford to miss.
© 2015 Bill Griffith. All rights reserved.

Chicago – a Comix Memoir


By Glenn Head (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-878-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Momentous reading for Mature Minds… 9/10

One of the things comics can do better than almost any other medium is autobiography. Words are immensely potent but when wed to the images a confessor wants you to see and has devised especially for that purpose, the response is always immediate, visceral and permanent.

Cartoonist, illustrator and editor Glenn Head (Hot Wire, Snake Eyes, Weirdo) studied under Art Spiegelman at the School for Visual Art in the early 1980’s but has bided his time in commercial illustration for publications like Advertising Age, Screw, Sports Illustrated and The Wall Street Journal and with comix such as Guttersnipe and Head Shots before releasing his first graphic novel.

It was worth the wait…

In monochrome hardback Chicago Head has turned a harsh, stark spotlight on his own life, literally baring all as he details how a troubled teenaged virgin from New Jersey turned his back on the American Dream – as well as his own personal hopes and aspirations – touching bottom and courting madness before reaching his current (still tenuous) state.

Following an incisive Introduction from Phoebe Gloeckner, the history lesson begins in a graveyard in the Garden State. “Glen” is nineteen and troubled, but not necessarily unhappy: he’s just painfully aware that he doesn’t fit in.

It’s the summer of 1977 and he’s obsessed with the cartoons and paraphernalia of the hippie Counterculture which is experiencing its death-throes. Dad works on Wall Street and desperately wants to understand why his son seems at such a loss. The boy doesn’t even seem that happy to be going to Art School in Cleveland, even though he claims that’s what he wants…

What Glenn wants most, however, is Sarah: his best friend and a girl appallingly emotionally scarred by the treatment she has receive from her Holocaust-Survivor parents. She’s already well down the road to dissolution though: pregnant, a runaway and being used to turn tricks by her latest scumbag boyfriend…

The season turns and Glen reluctantly reports to the Cleveland Institute of Art, his intolerant, abrasive attitude winning him few friends amongst staff or students. There’s something indefinably wrong inside his head and before long he drops out and begins panhandling to survive. A casual conversation with another student attains the status of a sign from God and Glen – who we’re starting to think might suffer from manic Depression/Bipolar Disorder – abruptly hitchhikes to Chicago, determined to sell cartoons to Playboy magazine…

And thus begins an intense period of privation, hallucination, harassment by hustlers, constant danger and creeping horror, all punctuated by unexpected kindnesses from strangers, rejections, connections and moments of incomprehensible good fortune as chance meetings with Muhammad Ali and Robert Crumb begin to turn the street kid’s life around…

‘Decompression’ sees Glen back in comfortably suburban Madison, N.J. in January 1978, thanks to his amazingly understanding yet still-uncomprehending father, but although the threat of imminent starvation and murder have faded, the boy is still at risk – from his own actions after a telephone conversation with ideal inamorata Sarah’s manic mother and his own father’s poorly hidden handgun…

The final section of this diary occurs in 2010 as Brooklyn-dwelling single-dad Glen gets an email one morning. Sarah, the one that got away, the great missed opportunity, has tracked him down and wants to meet up. Is this his chance to stop being that painful, pathetic, unresolved 19-year old virgin at last?

Breathtakingly candid, intoxicatingly forthright and irresistibly visually exhilarating, Chicago is a stunning examination of the power of obsessions and memories and potential roadmap to finding your own identity as long as you have the nerve and stomach to try…
Chicago © 2015, Glenn Head. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Barefoot Gen volume 10: Never Give Up


By Keiji Nakazawa (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-601-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Shocking, Momentous, Unmissable… 10/10

Constantly revised and refined by its creator and publishers around the world, Barefoot Gen is the quintessential anti-war tract and message of peace for humanity. It is angry, uncompromising and never forgives those who seek to perpetuate greed, mendacity and bloody-handed stupidity.

After many years of struggle the entire epic semi-autobiographical saga has being remastered as an unabridged and uncompromising 10-volume English-language translation by Last Gasp under the auspices of Project Gen, a multinational organisation dedicated to peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Hadashi no Gen was first seen in Japan began in 1973, serialised in Shūkan Shōnen Jampu (Weekly Boys Jump) following an occasional 1972 series of stand-alone stories in various magazines which included Kuroi Ame ni Utarete (Struck by Black Rain) and Aru Hi Totsuzen (One Day, Suddenly).

The scattered tales eventually led Shonen’s editor Tadasu Nagano to commission the 45-page Ore wa Mita (I Saw It) for a Monthly Jump special devoted to autobiographical works. Nagano clearly recognised that the author – an actual survivor of the word’s first atomic atrocity – had much more to say which readers needed to see and commissioned the serial which has grown into this stunning landmark epic.

The tale was always controversial in a country which still generally prefers to ignore rather than confront its mistakes and indiscretions and, after 18 months, Hadashi no Gen was removed from Jump, transferred first to Shimin (Citizen), then Bunka Hyōron (Cultural Criticism), and Kyōiku Hyōron (Educational Criticism).

Just like his indomitable hero, Keiji Nakazawa never gave up and his persistence led to a first Japanese book collection in 1975, translated by the newly-constituted Project Gen team into Russian, English and then other languages including Norwegian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Finnish, Indonesian, Tagalog and Esperanto.

The author completed his story in 1985 and his telling testament of survival has since been adapted into live-action and anime films, operas, musicals and live-action television dramas; all spreading the message across every continent and all generations.

This concluding volume brings the story of irrepressible, ebullient Gen and his friends to a close, once again pitting the forceful vitality of a select band of bomb survivors against the constant shadow of tragedy which implacably dogs them in the city slowly recovering from nuclear conflagration.

Here the indomitable idealistic individualist, having finally found a way to express his anger and effectively fight back against the idiocies and injustices of a world which lets Atom bombs fall and is seemingly incapable of learning from its mistakes, at last strikes back at the demagogues and monsters who still keep the bad old ways alive even after their people suffered the most hideous of consequences…

Barefoot Gen: Never Give Up begins following the inspirational ‘Gen’s Message: A Plea for Nuclear Abolition’ by the Translators and Editors and, as always, the other end of this monochrome paperback balances the essay with a biography of the author and invaluable data ‘About Project Gen’

The graphic manifesto resumes in March 1953 as Gen prepares for his school graduation ceremony, despite seldom attending the hidebound institution for the past few years. Fellow bomb orphans Ryuta and quietly stolid Musubi – who have shared his shabby shack for years – are also in high spirits. They have been constantly selling dresses made by radiation-scarred outcast Katsuko on Hiroshima’s rebuilt street corners, diligently saving the proceeds until she has enough money to open a shop. Now the manager of one of the big stores wants to buy all the clothes they can manufacture to sell in his fashionable venues…

At the Graduation Ceremony Gen once again loses his temper when the faculty begin memorialising the past and celebrating the failed regime of the empire. Later, his savage confrontation with teachers and visiting dignitaries sparks a minor student revolution. For many of the juvenile delinquents it also presents an opportunity to inflict some long-delayed retribution on the educational bullies who have beaten them for years…

Encouragingly, however, not all the parents and attending adults take the teachers’ side and a potentially murderous confrontation is (rather violently) defused by Gen…

The boy’s life then changes forever when he bumps into a young woman and is instantly smitten. His pursuit of lovely Mitsuko will bring him into conflict with her brutal father, former employer and unrepentant war-lover Nakao; now a highly successful businessman going places in the reconstructed city…

Gen has been studying with elderly artist Seiga Amano, learning the skills his own father would have passed on had he not died in 1945. The mentor/father-figure encourages his protégé to pursue Mitsuko and it costs them both their jobs…

The seeming setback is in fact liberating and before long the star-crossed youngsters are in a fevered euphoria of first love. So engaged is Gen that he is not there when stolid Musubi is targeted by a cruel Yakuza honey-trap who addicts him to drugs and fleeces him of all Katsuko’s hard-earned savings…

With a happy ending so close he can touch it Gen is dragged back down to earth by a trio of tragedies which leave him near-broken and all alone. The legacies of the bombing have again cost him almost everything…

After a horrendous bout of death and vengeance-taking, Gen seems to have nothing to live for, but the despondent young man is saved by aged Amano who rekindles his spirit and wisely advises him to get out of Hiroshima and start his real life in the world beyond it…

Keiji Nakazawa’s broad cartoon art style has often been subject of heated discussion; his simplified Disney-esque rendering felt by some to be at odds with the subject matter, and perhaps diluting the impact of the message. I’d like to categorically refute that.

The style springs from his earliest influence, Osamu Tezuka, Father of Animé and God of Manga who began his career in 1946 and whose works – Shin Takarajima (New Treasure Island), Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy) and so many more – eased some of the grim realities of being a bomb survivor, providing escape, hope and even a career path to the young illustrator. Even at its most bleak and traumatic the epic never forgets to shade horror with humour and counterpoint crushing loss with fiery idealism and enthusiasm.

As such the clear line, solid black forms and abstracted visual motifs act as tolerable symbols for much of the horror in this parable. The art defuses but never dilutes the horror of the tragedy and its aftermath. The reader has to be brought through the tale to receive the message and for that purpose drawings are accurate, simplified and effective. The intent is not to repel (and to be honest, even as they are they’re still pretty hard to take) but to inform, to warn.

Bleak and violent but ultimately impossibly uplifting, Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen is without peer and its legacy will be pervasive and long-lasting. So now you’ve been warned, buy this book. Buy the entire series. Tell everyone you know about it. Barefoot Gen is an indisputable classic and should be available to absolutely everyone… © 2009 Keiji Nakazawa. All rights reserved.

Bright-Eyed at Midnight


By Leslie Stein (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-838-0

After graduating from the New York School of Visual Arts Leslie Stein began producing astoundingly addictive cartoon strips in her self-published ’zine Yeah, It Is. With a Xeric Grant for her efforts, she started the even-better comicbook Eye of the Majestic Creature, seamlessly blending autobiographical self-discovery, surreal free-association, philosophical ruminations, nostalgic reminiscences and devastatingly dry wit to describe life filtered through a seductively meta-fictional interior landscape. This lady laconically tans under truly different suns and the results are both enchanting and entrancing.

Here she bravely offers a further intimate peek inside a unique head via a gloriously off-kilter selection of full-colour diary-strips: all created in the wee small hours as she juggled incessant insomnia and the skewed demands and commitments of being a bartender working night shifts, performing in a band and battling an obsessive urge to draw stories…

“Beginning at the stroke of Midnight…” from the first moments of 2014 and every evening/slash morning thereafter, regardless of her location, physical condition and state of weariness or inebriation, Stein crafted a comic – one per night in a free-ranging variety of styles encompassing watercolour, line-work, collage, found imagery and even sheer abstractions – only ending her self-appointed task on January 1st 2015.

Now the very best of those pictorial therapies – sweet, incisive, charming, obscure, self-destructive, self-incriminating, nostalgic, hopeful, delusional, revelatory and just plain indefinable – populate the pages of a lavish hardback chronicle which is utterly intoxicating.

Day-trippers and interested parties can share her realised thoughts on creating stories, memories of the 1980s, school, junk food, Summer Camp, bar lives, New York in the early hours, boys, men, rehearsals, colours, lettering, pets, Jimi Hendrix, romance, regular customers, gigs, European travel, hero-worship, fruit, fans and all the other minutiae and major events which make up one year in a life, seen here partitioned into ‘Winter’, ‘Spring’, ‘Summer’, ‘Fall (& Winter Again)’, a sweetly painful biographical examination of ‘Four Christmases’ all wrapped up with an uplifting ‘Epilogue’

The journal glyphs are all delivered in a smoothly raw, primitive yet deliciously engaging, self-deprecating manner utterly impossible to resist and if you’ve ever drunk-dialled and regretted it, imagine the increased horror of drawing and posting an entire comic strip before you wake up, sober up and realise just what you’ve done…

A mesmerising, absurdist, whimsically seductive and pictorially gratifying invitation into a singularly creative existence and fabulously rewarding cartoon experience: one no serious fan can afford to miss.
© 2015 Leslie Stein. All rights reserved.

Hip Hop Family Tree Book 3: 1983-1984


By Ed Piskor (Fantagraphics)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-848-9

Another year gone and at long last another spectacularly barnstorming, award-winning comicstrip history lesson from proudly self-confessed Hip Hop Nerd and cyber-geek Ed Piskor is here, detailing more secrets about the world’s most explosive musical discipline.

In astounding detail and with a positively chillin’ attention to the art styles of the period, Piskor resumes his astoundingly engaging exploration of the rise of the rhyme-&-rhythm musical art form – all whilst paying equal attention to the symbiotic and parallel growth of graffiti and street art – with wit, charm and astonishing clarity.

Kicking off with a crucial ‘Rogues Gallery’ of the 80 movers and shakers involved, this latest blockbuster-sized volume begins in 1983 after Hip Hop at last makes the leap from local parks and parties to the club scene and onto vinyl. It also sees the street wisdom that Rap doesn’t work on albums finally disproved forever…

Of course now that the strange noise and weirdly evocative dance moves are a proven commodity, the establishment business sharks begin to circle the pioneering proponents and all their hundreds of hungry wannabe, would-be stars…

‘The Freaks Come Out at Night of the Living Bassheads’ closely studies that inexorable rise, following a few key behind-the scenes-personalities like in-at-the-start devotee Russell “Rush” Simmons, fanatical white-boy Rick Rubin and miracle-working Swiss opportunist Charlie Stettler whose tireless efforts are slowly eclipsed as the movement goes global, tracking the tenuous migration to television via shows such as Graffiti Rock and documentaries Style Wars and Breakin’ and Enterin’ until even whites Rock-only MTV finally capitulates …

Filled with feuds, mash-ups and team-ups of the new talents, highlighting Rubin and Simmons unification as Def Jam and focussing closely on British support from landmark books such as Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s Street Art, this titanic tome covers the start of the careers of Whodini, The Fat Boys, Slick Rick, LL Cool J and Doug E Fresh, sees The Beastie Boys adopt rap as their metier and follows Run DMC’s unstoppable rise.

As always the technical and stylistic innovations, musical struggles and physical battles, management shenanigans and recording landmarks are all encyclopaedically yet engaging revealed as Piskor connects a bewildering number of strands and weaves them into the coolest of tapestries …

To Be Continued…

Produced in the tone and style of those halcyon, grimily urban times and manufactured to look just like an old Marvel Treasury Edition (a tabloid sized 334 x 234 mm -reprint format from the 1970s which offered classic tales on huge and mouth-wateringly enticing pulp-paper pages), this compelling confection also includes a copious and erudite ‘Bibliography’, ‘Reference’ and ‘Funky Index’, a fun-filled Author Bio and another blazing collection of ‘Pin Ups’ with spectacular images from guest illustrators including TLC by Natalie Andrewson, Biz Markie by Miss Lasko Gross, Kool Moe Dee by Jonny Negron, Kool DJ Red Alert by Toby Cypress, Blowfly by Johnny Ryan, Jay Z by Jim Rugg, Wu Tang Clan by Benjamin Marra, Mantronix by Dean Haspiel, Dr. Dre by Jenny Goldstick, MC Hammer by Robert Crumb and Digital Underground by Skottie Young to get your pulses racing, if not your toes tapping…

Informative and irresistible, Hip Hop Family Tree is wild fun and deliciously addictive – and only a year until the next one…
This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All Hip Hop comic strips by Ed Piskor © 2015 Ed Piskor. Pin ups and other material © 2015 their respective artists. All rights reserved.

Barefoot Gen volume 9: Breaking Down Borders


By Keiji Nakazawa (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-600-9

I first found the Educomics magazine I Saw It! in 1982; initially seduced by a garish cover and the Chester Gould-like illustrations. There was precious little translated manga around then and the magazine was lumped in with the wild, wacky and often salaciously outrageous “Underground Comix” on the racks of my regular comics shop, across the road from Goldsmith’s College from where I had just graduated before starting as tea-boy on iconic Warrior magazine.

I was cocky, big-headed and, I thought, extremely well versed in all aspects of comics but still utterly gobsmacked after I read it…

In England we’ve had educational comics for decades, but this was something completely new to me. There was no tasteful distancing here; just an outraged scream of defiance and a direct plea to make things right. This was history and politics and it was deadly serious, not played for laughs or to make points as British cartooning traditionally did.

Constantly revised and refined by its creator and publishers around the world, I Saw It! became Barefoot Gen, and now the entire epic semi-autobiographical saga has being remastered as an unabridged and uncompromising 10-volume English-language translation by Last Gasp under the auspices of Project Gen, a multinational organisation dedicated to peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Hadashi no Gen was first seen in Japan began in 1973, serialised in Shūkan Shōnen Jampu (Weekly Boys Jump) following an occasional 1972 series of stand-alone stories in various magazines which included Kuroi Ame ni Utarete (Struck by Black Rain) and Aru Hi Totsuzen, (One Day, Suddenly).

These eventually led Shonen’s editor Tadasu Nagano to commission the 45-page Ore wa Mita (I Saw It) for a Monthly Jump special devoted to autobiographical works. Nagano clearly recognised that the author – an actual survivor of the word’s first atomic atrocity – had much more to say which readers needed to see and commissioned the serial which has grown into this stunning landmark epic.

The tale was always controversial in a country which still often prefers to ignore rather than confront its mistakes and indiscretions and, after 18 months, Hadashi no Gen was removed from Jump, transferred first to Shimin (Citizen), then Bunka Hyōron (Cultural Criticism), and Kyōiku Hyōron (Educational Criticism).

Like his indomitable hero, Keiji Nakazawa never gave up and his persistence led to a first Japanese book collection in 1975, translated by the original Project Gen team into Russian, English and then other languages including Norwegian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Finnish, Indonesian, Tagalog and Esperanto.

The author at long last completed his story in 1985 and his telling testament of survival has since been adapted into live-action and anime films, operas, musicals and live-action television dramas.

Undoubtedly mirroring Nakazawa’s own creative journey, this penultimate volume shares the moment it all changed for a hardy, forward-looking and indomitable idealist and individualist who finally found a way to express his anger and effectively fight back against the idiocies and injustices of a world which had let Atom bombs fall, and at last challenge those pedagogues and self-seekers who chose to keep the bad old ways alive even after their people suffered the most hideous of consequences…

Possibly the most inspirational volume of Keiji Nakazawa’s graphic masterpiece, Barefoot Gen: Breaking Down Barriers begins following ‘Some Thoughts About Keiji Nakazawa’ by Project Gen Editor Alan Gleason, who has been with the grand design since 1977 – practically from inception – and offers here telling insights and historical perspective. The other end of this monochrome paperback balances the essay with a biography of the author and invaluable data ‘About Project Gen’

This stunning graphic manifesto resumes with an ancient history lesson as fearful peasants are told their precious rice paddies are to be destroyed by the local military in order to make a road for troop movements. As one bold serf dares to protest and suffers grievously for it, Gen awakes in the communal shack he and his friends cobbled together out of rubble and scavenged debris of Hiroshima. He shares it with other “bomb-orphans” and, until this morning, his last surviving family member.

Now however older brother Koji Nakaoka is moving out to get married, but at least rambunctious Ryuta and quietly stolid Musubi are staying put. The former reform school kids have become super-salesmen, selling dresses made by radiation-scarred outcasts Natsue and Katsuko on Hiroshima’s gradually restored and rebuilt street corners. The long-term goal is typically ambitious: the girls will sew and the boys will sell until they have saved enough money to open their own shop.

Today however Ryuta is in an excitable state. He’s the most devoted follower of the city’s woefully sub-par baseball team the Hiroshima Carp and is sharing his hopes and fears for the new season with any highly amused passer-by he can corral…

By the time the hapless sports fan returns to uncharacteristically gloomy Gen at the shack another crisis has arisen: a horde of military types are besieging the hovel intent on tearing it down to make way for a proposed “Peace Memorial City” and they don’t care that the kids have lived there for years and have nowhere else to go.

Gen and Ryuta’s vigorous, violent and initially successful “Dirty Protest” defence of their home is savage and disgusting but ultimately doomed to failure…

When the little war is finally lost Gen is painfully marked for life and carries another burden of stored anger, but at least ailing Natsue is not present to see the loss of their home. She is in the mountains, completing a ceramic urn to contain her ashes after she dies…

Gen has known her since the earliest aftermath of the bomb: a young dance student he twice saved from her own fatalistic intent, but recently she has been physically failing. Never quite recovering from appendix surgery, she is now convinced her remaining days are few and is preparing for the end…

Forcibly relocated to a tiny riverside shack, the disparate band gather to celebrate surviving another day, but when exhausted Natsue finally joins them and proudly shows off her beautiful funerary urn Gen “accidentally” shatters it. Next morning, increasingly furious Ryuta attacks his best friend for his clumsiness and apparent lack of remorse in upsetting Natsue and learns the true depth of Gen’s compassion. As their brutal clash accidentally envelopes and infuriates a haughty street fortune teller, Gen reveals he acted deliberately to shock Natsue out of her pervasive death-spiral, believing he can keep her alive by sheer anger. Eying the enraged seer screaming at them, he then concocts an even bolder plan to reinvigorate her vanished will to live…

When Ryuta later leads the entire gang past a heavily-bearded prognosticator-for-hire, the oracle predicts long life and a fabulous future for the fatally-depressed girl but can’t resist also having a hilarious pop at her mouthy Carp-loving companion. The session works splendidly however and Natsue agrees to return to hospital for doctors to treat her still unhealed surgical wounds. Sadly not even unflagging optimism and Gen’s guile can fix everything…

In the tragic aftermath fresh horror emerges as two pious gentlemen intrude upon the youngsters’ grief, offering to arrange a splendid funeral for Natsue. Gen however is not fooled and realises they are simply clever “Vultures” working for the Americans…

In occupied Japan news media was absolutely forbidden from discussing or reporting the effects of atom bombs and the populace had no knowledge of exactly what had happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Indeed, amidst the rubble of the destroyed cities, most of the 300,000 terrified, bewildered survivors had no idea what was happening to their bodies – or that they were not unique or even isolated cases – but were consoled by the seemingly-benign and tireless humanitarian efforts of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission.

These were officials employed by the US Occupation forces, tasked with acquiring – even often buying – bodies of recently deceased bomb survivors for scientists to examine. The bomb-makers were hungry for information on the after-effects of their hell-weapons and apparently did not see victims as human. They simply dissected bodies, harvested organs and collated facts: always hungry for more data. Gen had dealt with them before, when they stole the fresh corpse of his little sister Kimie

The ABCC even pay for teams to go into schools to regularly examine the health of children, working to a hidden agenda aided by local Japanese doctors bribed to send everyone they could to the Americans. For each referral they were rewarded with fancy drugs, many sold for profit to the black market. No one with bomb-related symptoms was treated or cured; just tested and catalogued.

Now with the knowledge enflaming him, Gen responds with brutal violence, beating and driving off the Vultures before he and his friends steal Natsue’s body…

She had died on the 6-month anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War just as General Douglas MacArthur (Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers and de facto Emperor of Japan) convinced US President Truman to announce the deployment of atomic weapons for that conflict too. Thankfully, concerted global outcry convinced them to withdraw the threat…

In January 1951, Gen, Ryuta, Musubi and Katsuko are on a pilgrimage to inter their lost friend’s ashes above the city on Mount Hiji, but are thwarted by the discovery that the ABCC have built a vast complex on the once-beautiful site. After displaying their disdain in the approved scatological manner, the weary mourners decide to place the urn Gen worked so long and hard to reconstruct within the Nakaoka family grave, but as they trudge to the cemetery their precious cargo is stolen by a street urchin.

Giving ferocious chase they corner the little thief and administer the customary beating, leading to a confrontation with an old man who would change Gen’s life forever…

At first artist Seiga Amano cannot believe his grandson Tatsuro would stoop so low, but when he realises why the boy has turned to thievery, his proud heart almost breaks…

Eventually everybody calms down and Gen gives the old painter art materials he has stored ever since an old, dying man briefly stayed at their shack, sharing with the grateful painter the knowledge that his own father was also an artist before the bomb. Their riverside conversation inspires a life-changing aspiration within the lad that turns his life to a new path. Gen begs the elder to teach him everything he knows so that he can prove his new, all-consuming mantra “Art Has No Borders”…

The next lucky happenstance occurs when Gen stumbles onto a sign painter producing a cinema poster for a Kurosawa Double Feature. Toro Otsuki boasts he is the greatest exponent of his craft in Hiroshima, a claim brutally backed up by his thuggish assistant Kurosaki who foolishly attacks the loud-mouthed young gawker only to be soundly trounced for his temerity.

Sadly in the melee the painting is wrecked and honourable, guilt-struck Gen swears to make amends to the artist and his sadistic boss Nakao; an unrepentant former-soldier now bullying his way into civilian life…

When Seiga Amano and grandson Tatsuro pass by and see Gen enduring savage abuse in his attempts to atone, another fight begins and Otsuki breaks an arm, compelling Amano to step in and complete the poster. The rapidly-completed masterpiece instantly mollifies the militant Nakao who sees another business opportunity…

The constant stream the Boss provides is the making of Gen who serves as assistant and willing, eager student to Seiga, rapidly learning the basics of a discipline which will change his life.

As spring arrives more change is in the air. General MacArthur is summoned home and older conservative citizens begin to panic as their surrogate Emperor deserts them. Ryuta is typically scathing of the nervous old farts and isn’t there when a band of thugs target Gen, seeking to chop off his arm. The plucky little scrapper quickly ends their threat and knows jealous Kurosaki is behind the scheme, but after taking a measure of vengeance Gen surprises himself by getting to know his enemy and learning the horrific story of the abuse his fellow bomb orphan suffered at the hands of priests who were supposed to be protecting the lost children of Hiroshima…

With a deeper understanding but no real resolution to their stalled conflict, Gen returns to his diligent studies but his peace of mind will soon be shaken by the return of an old enemy…

Militaristic elements of Japan were deftly re-establishing themselves as the city grew again: attempting to whitewash their pasts for the New Japan. When ardent – and genuine – anti-war protestor Gen sees a poster announcing Denjiro Samejima, running for political office, claiming he opposed the war and was a “soldier for Peace”, Gen boils over at the villain’s hypocrisy and reacts with his usual earthy passion…

During the war that wily demagogue was a secret Black Marketeer who denounced Gen’s father – a genuine anti-war dissident – and led a hate-campaign that tormented the entire Nakaoka family. Now the rogue is profiting by stealing and feigning his beloved father’s ideals and dreams, just like so many other criminals who would deny history and the truth in search of self-advancement…

The scathing insights into the sordid character of political opportunists are potent reminders of why society never changes, reminiscent of George Orwell’s polemics, and by seemingly moving slightly off-message Nakazawa actually drives home his points with far greater force. Barefoot Gen is positively Reithian in its ability to Educate, Inform and Entertain and its legacy will be as pervasive and long-lasting…

And yet even at its most bleak and traumatic Keiji Nakazawa’s magnum opus never forgets to be funny, compelling and enjoyably Human. The broad cartoon style of Keiji Nakazawa’s art has often been the subject of heated discussion; the Disney-esque, simplified rendering felt by some to be at odds with the subject matter, and perhaps diluting the impact of the message. I’d like to categorically refute that.

Mister Nakazawa’s style springs from his earliest influence, Osamu Tezuka, Father of Animé and God of Manga who began his career in 1946 and whose works – Shin Takarajima (New Treasure Island), Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy) and so many more – eased some of the grim realities of being a bomb survivor, providing escape, hope and even a career path to the young boy.

As such the clear line, solid black forms and abstracted visual motifs act as tolerable symbols for much of the horror in this parable. The art defuses, but never dilutes, the terrible facts and scenes of the tragedy and its aftermath. The reader has to be brought through the tale to receive the message and for that purpose the drawings are accurate, simplified and effective. The intent is not to repel (and to be honest, even as they are they’re still pretty hard to take) but to inform, to warn.

So now you’ve been warned, buy this series. Better yet, agitate your local library to get a few sets in as well. Barefoot Gen is a world classic and should be available to absolutely everyone…
© 2009 Keiji Nakazawa. All rights reserved.

Leaf


By Daishu Ma (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-853-3

Sequential Art – or “comics” as I stubbornly prefer to think of it – is generally typified as a marriage of text with a series of illustrations designed to tell a story and impart a mood, but it’s always been a nebulously open-ended venture with little time for hard and fast rules and happy to avoid definition.

For instance if a story has an overabundance of words in too few pictures, the result is little more than illustrated prose, but if you go the other way and minimise, or even complete exclude words, what you have is the absolute zenith in comics communication. And more often than not, it’s the best writers who use the least verbiage, whether they illustrate the story or not…

Daishu Ma is a Chinese cartoonist, artist and designer working in Barcelona who, with her first graphic novel Leaf, has joined a rarefied band of international illustrative icons (Jim Woodring, Jason and our own Raymond Briggs being regularly amongst the most prominent) who have frequently eschewed and transcended the printed word and strictures of graphic narrative, allowing methodically crafted imagery to establish scenes, define characters, create nuance and carry a tale.

…Or rather here, a politically-edged, industrially-condemning eco-parable, since her sublime, meticulous and astonishingly beguiling pencil-tone art – enhanced by smartly applied splashes of mood-enhancing pastel colour – exposes a blandly bleak industrial environment on the brink of eradicating the last vestiges of the natural world…

This is a story you must experience for yourself so let’s content ourselves with the basic facts: when a young man on an excursion finds a fallen leaf which pulses with an uncanny, comforting radiance he covertly takes it back to the ever-sprawling city.

His teeming conurbation, bustling office of employment and even extremely basic, always empty apartment are all drab and dolorous despite the plentiful supply of monopolistic artificial lights and he realises that what he’s found is something special, even inspirational.

Increasingly obsessed, he roams the bustling city, seeking someone who can explain what he hides in his home. The revelatory journey takes him to unsuspected, people-packed enclaves of joy, wonder and despondency and into many folks’ lost memories of better times, when he encounters a young woman who has dedicated her life to understanding the rapidly vanishing flora of the world and a strangely timid old man who seems to know all the secrets of light-making…

And once the finder obsessively follows a convoluted trail to a hidden truth, how can he not risk everything in a bold act to change his overcrowded, oppressive, unhappy world?

Entrancing, subtle and seductive in a purely primal manner, Leaf offers a vision of hope for all lovers of beautiful simplicity and natural wonder.

© 2015 Daishu Ma. All rights reserved.