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


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

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 fond 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) 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 hands over a historical treasure trove the naturally contemplative cartoonist’s childhood memories are triggered and his instincts for a good story are piqued…

Griffith’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. 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 15-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 all 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 begins 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 elevating the players to the rank of 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 (available in hardback and digital editions) is a wonderful exemplar of real-world comics and one no serious reader can afford to miss.
© 2015 Bill Griffith. All rights reserved.

The Disney Bros – The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy


By Alex Nikolavitch & Felix Ruiz, translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-266-3(HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-267-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because it’s not Christmas without magic castles in the air… 9/10

When it comes to biography, Walt Disney is a true “Marmite” figure, with writers and historians pretty evenly divided between effusive hagiography and excoriating exposés.

As fully discussed in author Alex Nikolavitch’s Introduction, the genius who nurtured and nourished the childhood dreams of generations across the globe is an immensely polarising figure: a sensitive creator and twice-burned artisan who grew increasing and equally obsessed with micromanaging all around him and spreading heartfelt joy.

What this superb graphic summation of the fantasy overlord’s complex and contradictory life adds is the necessary balance quietly provided throughout and beyond Walt’s life by his nigh-invisible brother Roy

Alex Nikolavitch is a French author, screenwriter, essayist and educator, who writes comics and has a steady sideline translating English-language books like V for Vendetta, Tank Girl and Spawn to supplement his own series such as Burton and Les Canaux du Mitan. His collaborator here is mercurial Spanish artist and colourist Felix Ruiz (Savage Wolverine, Agents of Atlas: Marvel Boy, The Uranian, Halo) who reverts to a charmingly compelling and effective École de Marcinelle bigfoot style to trace the career of America’s greatest dream factory…

In episodic bursts of vivid scenes preceded by a potted history of animation, the story opens with ‘Of a Mouse and Men’as cartoon pioneers Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks – reeling from having their creation Oswald the Lucky Rabbit taken from them by unscrupulous money men – bounce back with a new character… a mouse.

More crucially, Walt asks his brother Roy to join the team. He is an accountant, with his feet planted firmly on the ground and his hands on the financial tiller.

…And then “Talkies” revolutionise the film industry and Walt has another good idea just as the Great Depression looms…

Second Chapter ‘Childhood Dreams’ covers the turbulent period after Snow White was released, as Roy secures global distribution in some very unwholesome places, balanced with the brothers’ fruitless attempts to rationalise their new lifestyles to their pious, old-fashioned doctrinaire parents. This leads to revelatory flashbacks of the boys growing up in rural religious Missouri and Walt’s transformative first encounter with Movies…

The war years and infamous union-busting strike of Disney’s animation studio is covered in ‘Turbulence’, as well as the post war years of expansion, as the arch creator increasingly seeks to control every aspect of his ever-expanding kingdom.

Walt’s anti-communist mania blatantly manifests in ‘Builder of Empires’, as the company moves into television and theme parks and the aging autocrats faces his own mortality…

Skilfully negotiating the complex web of beguiling creativity that always warred with a ruthless struggle for autonomy, political control and money, The Disney Bros – The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy is a superbly delivered balancing act between reportage and drama. Evoking amazement, glee, sympathy and moral outrage in turn, the tale – delivered in jolly, velvetxglove-over-lead-lined-blackjack cartoon manner – is available in substantial hardback and various digital formats and is supplemented with an historical critique by author Jarett Kobek in ‘Afterword: How to Build a Media Empire’ plus suggested Further Reading.

This is a splendid work no fan of comics or film history should miss.
© 2019 Blue Lotus Prod. © 2020 NBM for the English translation.

The Disney Bros – The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy is scheduled for release on November 26th 2020 and is available for pre-order in both print and digital editions.

Most NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads see, http://www.nbmpub.com/

Leaf


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

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfectly Confirming Life and Liberty 9/10

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 completely 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. This, her first graphic novel Leaf, rapidly joined a rarefied band of international illustrative icons (Jim Woodring, Jason and our own Raymond Briggs being regularly amongst the most prominent) who frequently eschew and transcend 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.

Love on the Isle of Dogs


By Jude Cowan Montague, (Friends of Alice Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-9160306-7-1 (PB)

Terror comes in many forms but I imagine there’s nothing to beat the moment your best beloved turns into a monster. Tragically, that doesn’t happen all at once…

Jude Cowan Montague (Caretaker of Animals around the World, The Originals, The Wires, The Leidenfrost Effect, Young Hitch in Forbidden Flames: Young Alfred Hitchcock in the Sidney Street Siege [The Adventures of Young Alfred Hitchcock]) has lived a full life so far, and it isn’t anywhere near over yet.

Born in Manchester, the artist, writer, composer, film historian, poet and broadcaster now abides in London where this intriguing and frequently heart-rending personal memoir takes place, way back in the heady cauldron of Docklands in the 1990s.

Trust me, I was a newlywed then and there myself and it was not a good time to be starting a new life. At least me and mine got out relatively unscathed…

This is a is a beautiful, powerful and personal account of a time of tragedy kindly shared, so I’m curtailing my usual verbosity regarding plot and events, and concentrating on technical stuff to entice you to get your own copy. An internationally exhibited gallery artist and acclaimed writer of prose and poesy, the auteur here approaches the same vent in two ways, firstly as highly immediate, evocative, primitivist freeform strips and images in black, white and grey ‘Pictures’ and latterly reworked – like someone trying to make senses of events – in ‘Words’.

Way back then, an introspective creative type working in a Newham arts centre restarted a relationship with the perfect guy. A charmer, brilliant and the owner of a house he had built with his own hands on the legendary but counter-charismatic Isle of Dogs.

For a while it was all “living the dream”, until the accident and progressive brain injury. Then, oh so slowly, he grew into someone else: a guy who was sometimes still a great dad and provider of surprise pet dogs, but at others a terrified, angry, paranoid figure of fear who couldn’t recognise or remember his nearest and dearest.

And, unlike made up stories, love and devotion don’t always save the day…

Earnest and candid, Love on the Isle of Dogs is a full-on confrontation with the everyday dramas and joys that turn dazzling bright young things into your mum and dad. It’s as simple and shocking as that…
© 2020 Jude Cowan Montague 2020. All rights reserved.

Mongrel


By Sayra Begum (Knockabout)
ISBN: 978-0-86166-269-2 (PB)

Comics offer an immediate and potent method of communication that is both universally accessible and subtly intimate. You want countless characters and exotic locales? Just draw them. Need to navigate the most torturous tracks of the psyche and expose the most taciturn soul? Just fill captions and balloons with the words and tone that cut to the heart of the matter…

Somebody who got that from get-go was Sayra Begum, who first presented her life story in pictorial form in 2017. Happily, she shared it with the perceptive folks at Knockabout Comics who recognised a great work when they saw it…

In her own incisive words and deft pencil work, Begum – identifying here as “Shuna” – shares what growing up meant for the child of a strict, devout and loving Bangladeshi Muslim mum only living in England until the family has enough money to retire to a mansion in her beloved homeland. It’s not an easy existence since her dad is a white man (a convert to Islam) who still remembers the freedoms of his old life. Moreover, the community treats them with polite disregard…

As seen in ‘Meet the Mongrel’, ‘Memories of Waterland’, and ‘The Forgotten Self’, Shuna and her siblings are pulled in many directions growing up. She wants to be an artist, but her Amma is more concerned that she be ‘A Good Muslim’, believing that ‘Life is a Test’ and her old ways such as ‘An Arranged Marriage’ are the only proper life to live…

For her parents England ends at the front door and the household is pure Bangla within the walls. The lure of the outer world has already proved too much for one brother as seen in ‘My Poor Family’, ‘Suffocated’ and ‘The Disownment’ and soon Shuna too is living a secret life with an English lover mother could never approve of…

Contrasts with her perfect cousin in Bangladesh constantly wrack her conscience but Shuna has long capitulated to the wiles of Shaitan in her head. Life has a trick of upsetting all plans and exposing secrets and ‘Our Parallel Family’, ‘The Meeting’, ‘Judgement Day’ and ‘The Mongrel Children’ reveal how even the harshest opinions can shift leading to a truly romantic happy ending in ‘Goodbye Anger’ and the ruminatory ‘Epilogue’

Begum weds brisk, informative line drawing with traditional patterns of Islamic art and the excesses of surrealism to weave a compelling and visually enticing tale of real people coping with ancient intolerances and rapidly evolving family stresses in a fluid, multicultural society. It’s all the more affecting to realise she’s bravely sharing the minutiae and intimacies of her own life to highlight a situation as old as humanity itself.

A magical story and a stunning debut, Mongrel is book you must read and share.
Mongrel © by 2020 Sayra Begum All rights reserved.

The Emotional Load and Other Invisible Stuff


By Emma, translated by Una Dimitrijevic (Seven Stories Press)
ISBN: 978-1-60980-956-0 (TPB) eISBN: 978-160980-957-7

It’s never been a fair world, although that’s a concept we all apparently aspire to create. In recent years, many people have sought to address imbalances between the roles and burdens of men and women in a civil cohesive society, but the first problem they all hit was simply how to state the problems in terms all sides could understand. We have a lot more names and concepts to utilise now in discourse, but the difficulties don’t seem to have diminished…

In 2018, software engineer, cartoonist and columnist Emma crafted a book of strips reflecting upon social issues affecting women: dissecting The Mental Load – all the unacknowledged, unpaid invisible crap that makes up and comes with most modern relationships and revealing how almost all of that overwhelming, burdensome life-tonnage inescapably settled on one side of the bed in most households…

The book – and the strips as seen in The Guardian – caused something of a commotion and as much trollish kickback as you’d expect from all the wrong places, so she’s back with further explanations and revelations in brilliant follow-up The Emotional Load and Other Invisible Stuff.

Because a large proportion of humans who won the genital lottery don’t really give a damn about other people’s woes – especially if the food keeps coming and the appropriate drawers magically refill with clean clothes and groceries – I fear there’s a segment of truly needy folk who won’t benefit from this selection of treatises, anecdotes, statistics and life-changing stories, but since many guys are genuinely clueless and baffled but willing to adapt, maybe enough of us will give change and thought a chance.

Best of all, most women reading this will realise that it’s not just them feeling the way they do and may even risk starting a conversation with their significant others, or at the very least, start talking to other women and organising together…

Working in the manner of the very best observational stand-up comedy, Emma forensically identifies an issue and dissects it, whilst offering advice, suggestions and a humorous perspective. Here that’s subdivided into a series of comical chapters beginning with the autobiographical ‘It’s Not Right, But…’

This explores the concept of consent for women and reveals how, at age 8, she first learned that it was regarded as perfectly normal for men to bother girls…

The debate over sexual independence and autonomy in established relationships is then expanded in ‘A Role to Play’

Seemingly diverging off topic (but don’t be fooled) ‘The Story of a Guardian of the Peace’ then traces the life of honest cop Eric and how he fared over years trying to treat suspects and villains as fellow human beings in a system expressly created to suppress all forms of dissent and disagreement, after which the oppressive demarcation of family duties and necessary efforts are dissected into Productive and Reproductive Labor roles via the salutary example of Wife and Mother ‘Michelle’

‘The Power of Love’ explores how women are expected to police the emotional wellbeing of all those around them and the crushing affect it has on mental wellbeing before the irrelevant “not all men” defence shabbily resurfaces – and is powerfully sent packing – in ‘Consequences’, with a frankly chilling reckoning of the so-different mental preparations needed for men and women to go about their daily, ordinary lives…

As stated above The Mental Load caused a few ructions when it first gained mass popular attention. ‘It’s All in Your Head’ deftly summarises the reactions, repercussions, defanging, belittlement, dismissal and ultimate sidelining of those revelations – particularly in relation to sexual choice and autonomy – with a barrage of damning quotes from France’s political, industrial elites, after which ‘Sunday Evenings’ traces the history of work by oppressed underclasses – like women – and the gaslighting headgames employed to keep all toilers off-balance, miserable and guilt-crushed…

The hopefully life-altering cartoon lectures conclude with an expose of the most insidious form of social oppression as ‘Just Being Nice’ outlines the tactics and effects of sneakily debilitating Benevolent Sexism (and yes, old gits from my generation thought it was okay to do it if we called it “chivalry” or “gallantry”)…

Backed up by a copious ‘Bibliography’ for further research (and probably fuelling some carping niggles from unrepentant buttheads) and packed with telling examples from sociological and anthropological studies as well as buckets of irrefutable statistics, this is a smart, subversively clever look at the roles women have been grudgingly awarded or allowed by a still largely male-centric society, but amidst the many moments that will have any decent human weeping in empathy or raging in impotent fury, there are decisive points where a little knowledge and a smattering of honest willingness to listen and change could work bloody miracles…

Buy this book, learn some stuff. Be better, and please accept my earnest apologies on behalf of myself and my entire gender.
© 2018, 2020 by Emma. English translation © 2020 by Una Dimitrijevic. All rights reserved.

Fires Above Hyperion


By Patrick Atangan (NBM/Comics-Lit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-986-1 (TPB)

Bad times for human beings, these days. With people dying in incalculable numbers and denied the simple solace of friendly or familial contact at the end, with most of the world’s leaders fumbling the ball as the planet dies from commercial abuse and exploitation and with haters and bigots proudly – and without a trace of shame – spreading their bile again, it seems odd to moan about comparatively minor issues.

Nevertheless, I’m adding another sin to the menu. Perhaps the cruellest and most pitiful of the minor horrors besieging us at the moment is the simple absence of a chance to congregate with friends and assert the right to live life your own way (hypocritically, that’s a right I’d happily deny every racist, fascist and homophobe in existence, but hey, I’m “complicated”)…

After millennia of struggle, a large proportion of mankind eventually decided it was okay for men to love men, women to love women and in fact every variety of person to enjoy the company of any other person or persons as long as it was consenting.

I know it’s hard for some to let go of hate and fear, but we’d made a good honest start. Over time people even convened in vast, colourful bustling parades and parties: a rowdy affirmation of a struggle that was generally being won.

That’s not happening this year, but LGBTQ+ folk are resilient and have adapted. Go join an online or distanced event if you can. And then there’s books and comics. The fraternity is superbly proficient at using art and narrative and the Queer comics genre is vast, expansive and astoundingly worthwhile and entertaining. Here’s one of my favourites, still available in paperback and many digital formats that you really should see…

It’s long been an aphorism – if not outright cliché – that LGBTQ+ comics are the only place in the graphic narrative game where real romance still thrives. As far as I can see though it’s 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 in the 21st century – at least the more civilised bits which actually acknowledge and welcome that times have changed – we’ve outgrown those juvenile, judgemental, religion-blighted bad old days and can simply appreciate powerful, moving, wistful, sad and/or funny comics about ordinary people without any kind of preconception. That battle’s still not completely won yet, but hopefully thoughtful, inspirational memoirs such as this will aid the 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.

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

Pitched 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 as the still-closeted Patrick attends his ‘Junior Prom’. The problem is that he is 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 Promzilla endures takes the spotlight off his own failings, petty jealousies and perceived inadequacies…

‘Secrets’ skips ahead to the emotional liberation of college as our 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 judged far too lovely for a dweeb like himself – and therefore something of a self-fulfilling prophecy – before eponymous vignette ‘The Fires Above Hyperion’ turns the screws even tighter.

The tale 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 before ‘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 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 trauma 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 to the awful 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 of every persuasion live their love-lives and the result is magical and unforgettable.

This is a must-have item for anyone graced with heart and soul…
© 2015 Patrick Atangan.

The End


By Anders Nilsen (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 987-1-60699-635-5 (HB)

Cartoonist and educator Anders Nilsen graduated from the University of New Mexico with an arts degree in 1996. After quitting his Masters course in 1999, he began winning awards for his strips and graphic novels. There are a dozen or so superb graphic tomes out there you can delight in.

Cheryl Weaver and Anders Nilsen were a couple. They were engaged and together forever and then in 2005 she died.

Her passing wasn’t sudden or dramatic and he had time to say goodbye. He carried on doing so for the next year, while his sketchbooks filled with questions and notions and helpless, hapless, hurt responses as he adjusted to his new, so very much unwanted, normal; all expressed in the form of his other reason for living – sequential narrative art.

Born in Minneapolis in 1973, Nilsen lives in Chicago – when not travelling the world – producing such thought-provoking, comics as Dogs and Water, Poetry is Useless, Rage of Poseidon, Monologues for the Coming Plague, Big Questions and Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow – the heartbreaking thematic companion to today’s featured recommendation.

Much of that sketchbook material – collected in this astoundingly frank and distressingly intimate hardcover and digital memoir – first appeared in the author’s therapeutic 2007 comic book The End #1, whilst other portions of this much-expanded record originated in such disparate places as much-missed anthology Mome (Spring 2007) and even from screen-prints created in the months and years encompassing Nilsen’s slow voyage to acceptance.

The uncomfortably earnest eulogy begins with a poetic ‘Prologue’, before ‘Is That All There Is?’ wordlessly depicts an all-engulfing sense of loss and isolation, interrupted only by the text soliloquy ‘Love Story’.

The heart-rending catalogue of painful solitary moments ‘Since You’ve Been Gone I Can Do Whatever I Want To Do All the Time’ leads into inspirational prose observation with ‘I Have Two Lives’ after which the artist coolly examines the simple equation of loss and emotional paralysis with ‘Solve for X’

Poem ‘In the Future’ and cartoon pantomime ‘Pulling a Giant Block’ precede harsh but ultimately uplifting debate in ‘25 Dollars’ (originally seen in Mome as ‘It’s OK, You Have Everything You Need’), after which diagrammatic epigram ‘Eternity Analogy’ offers welcome hope and advice to fellow sufferers…

Primitivist drawing and photographic collage colourfully and philosophically combine in ‘You Were Born and So You’re Free’ before stark, simple lines return to illustrate an extensive imaginary conversation with the memory of love in ‘Talking to the Dead’ whilst print photomontages resume for the wistfully querulous ‘How Can I Prepare You for What’s To Follow?’ – created to welcome a newborn into the world…

The painful truism “life goes on” is reinterpreted in one final chat with the inevitable truth to close this memento mori in quiet contemplation with ‘Only Sometimes’

To say this is a deeply moving book is grotesquely trite and staggeringly obtuse, but it’s also true. Every loss is always completely unique and utterly, selfishly personal, but most of us also have some capacity to empathise, share and see our own situation in the emotional disclosures of others. That’s never been more true than in these past months and the unknowable times to come.

When such commemorations are undertaken as honestly, effectively and evocatively as here, the result is simply, devastatingly, unforgettably magical.
© 2013 Anders Nilsen. All rights reserved.

Time Clock (Eye of the Majestic Creature volume 3)


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

With the once-constant supply of review books understandably curtailed and my latest actual paid work recently completed, I find myself retreating into old favourites to pass the time now. Happily, most of them are still great, and a goodly number of them have finally made the transition to digital editions, meaning you can read them too without risking life, lung or limb. All that threatens you is the strong chance of becoming equally besotted and addicted to great comics…

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. Upon 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 superbly enticing third volume of the …Majestic Creature sequence resumes her airy, eccentric and engaging pictorial mood-music, with her mythologized autobiography continuing 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 own uniquely singular way of getting by.

Eschewing chronological narrative for an easy, breezy raconteur’s epigrammatic delivery, and 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 clearly, 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 of all is her talking guitar/flatmate Marshmallow: one of the many odd fellow travellers who 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.

The self-service graphic dinner party starts with another Friday at work. After scrupulously completing her wage-slave tasks, Larrybear 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 promptly decides that now she has a new nemesis…

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 anymore…

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

All too soon, she’s back in her natural urban 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 an oversized (292 x 204 mm if you’re still wedded to dead tree ownership) mesmerising 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.

An Age of License – A Travelogue


By Lucy Knisley (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-768-0 (PB)

Remember the rush of wonderment that came from visiting somewhere new and exotic? Do you even remember going for an aimless walk? If not, why not do it in you head? Here’s a brilliant aide-memoire that’s timelessly entertaining and potently evocative…

Since I first started reading comics (sometime soon after the discovery of fire) the industry and art form has undergone a magical transformation in styles and formats and a huge expansion in content.

Where once the graphic narrative medium was populated with heroes and horrors, fantasies and wish fulfilment exercises, these days literally anything can become the engrossing and absorbing meat of the printed or digital page, dependent only upon the skill and passions of dedicated and inspired artisan creators.

A superb example of this broadening of strip horizons is globe-girdling cartooning diarist and epicure Lucy Knisley who has made a career out of documenting her life as it happens, detailing her experiences and fascinations in an engaging and entertaining manner through such graphic missives as Displacement – A Travelogue, French Milk, Relish: My Life in the Kitchen and Go to Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood.

This beguiling slice of graphic verité was first seen in 2014 and details a European working vacation that became a bittersweet lovers’ tryst.

The voyage begins in 2011 when the cat-loving cartoonist was invited to be a guest at Norway’s Raptus Comics Festival. After some understandable dithering and consultation with pals and fellow pros the author warily agreed, intending to turn the proposed Work Jolly into the start of an extended visit to friends in Germany and vacationing family in France…

As the time nears the daunting plans all come miraculously together and Lucy prepares herself by immersing in personal Scandinavian-ness: researching the family history of her Swedish grandparents…

Events obtain a sharper edge in New York in the months immediately preceding the trip as she meets visiting Henrik: a most fanciable lad she agrees to visit in his Stockholm home after the Raptus convention. With her six-venue itinerary sorted, all that’s left is for the journey to begin…

Packed with intimate detail and engaging introspection, rendered in clean, clear compelling black line – augmented by occasional bursts of painterly watercolour illustration – this is a fabulously absorbing jaunt with a most delightful and forthright travel companion. Knisley unstintingly shares her thoughts, feeling and experiences in a manner guaranteed to win over the most jaded fellow passenger – especially as she always garnishes her slivers of new experience with her trademark adventures and observations through the welcoming lens of regional foods made, consumed and enjoyed.

Through work, relaxation, the hazy indolence of a love affair and its gradual ending, a phrase she heard in the French winemaking region of Beaune comes to haunt her. L’Age license – a time of freedom for youth to try, fail, experiment and learn – fascinates and captivates her as she spends much of her time in France and beyond, searching for its truth, origins and meaning…

Exceedingly funny, sweet, disarmingly incisive, heartwarming, uncompromising and utterly enchanting, this moving memoir is a comics experience unlike any other and fans of travel, storytelling and a life well-lived will adore the open, sharing experience it vicariously offers.
An Age of License © 2014 Lucy Knisley. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.