The End of Summer


By Tillie Walden (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-26-4 (TPB)

Tillie Walden is still a relative newcomer – albeit a prolific one – who has garnered heaps of acclaim and awards. Whether through her fiction or autobiographical works (frequently both at once), she always engenders a feeling of absolute wonder, combined with a fresh incisive view and measured, compelling delivery in terms of both story and character. Her artwork is a sheer delight.

Before globally turning heads with such unforgettable tales as I Love This Part, On A Sunbeam, A City Inside, Spinning, and Are You Listening? the remarkably adept neophyte auteur began her rise with this Ignatz Award-winning debut graphic novel. Compelling and poignant, this is a family drama fantasy, chillingly reminiscent of Nordic literary classicists such as Henrik Ibsen, Astrid Lindgren or Tove Jansson, thematically toned like Brian Aldiss’ Helliconia novels whilst visually recalling Dave Sim’s Cerebus books High Society and Church & State.

Trust me, one day soon you’ll be seeing this yarn as a stage play and movie…

Even more impressive is the fact that The End of Summer was crafted in 2015 as a side-project whilst Walden was finishing her First-Year major assignment at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. For more information you can read James Sturm’s Introduction in this paperback collection, which also includes the story’s prequel ‘Lars and Nemo’.

Like everything Walden creates, this is a story I hesitate to describe because it’s a beguiling immersive experience that doesn’t need me spoiling it for you. Get it, read it, tell a friend…

What I will say is this: in distant place servants and staff rush to seal a colossal, cathedral-like palace. Winter is coming and the palatial bunker will be closed off for three years…

In that oppressive atmosphere, frail prince Lars and his twin sister Maja become increasingly aware of the tensions and quirks afflicting their large family.

Lars’ failing physicality has made him a quiet, introspective and fatalistic observer, whilst his dependence on Nemo – a gigantic housecat acting as companion and living wheelchair – mark him as a marginalised target for siblings Olle, Per, Nikolaus and Hedda. As time passes and the children seek ways to amuse themselves, increasingly unstable Per seems to find the oppressive isolation and vast scale of the palace as well as the disinterest and suppressed tensions of the adults incomprehensibly claustrophobic.

Before long, the dooms and disasters Lars is obsessed with start to manifest leading to tragedy and terror…

Beautifully illustrated in monochrome tones, with Brobdingnagian perspectives shaping every panel, this saga of an opulent yet cold House of Secrets, shielding a broken family from the elements but not themselves and each other, is a superb examination of humanity at its best and worst, and comes in this edition with Walden’s essay ‘TEOS: Making Of’and that aforementioned prequel tale. ‘Lars and Nemo’ details happier, sunnier earlier days when a fragile prince meets the giant kitten who will become his greatest companion…

A comic masterpiece no fan should miss.
© Tillie Walden 2016. All rights reserved.

AEIOU or Any Easy intimacy


By Jeffrey Brown (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1891830716 (PB)

If you’re a fan of Jeffrey Brown’s cartoon exploits you might understandably admit to a small degree of confusion. In 2012 he scored his first global best-seller with a hilarious spin on the soft and nurturing side of the Jedi experience in Darth Vader and Son, following up with equally charming and hilarious sequels Vader’s Little Princess, Star Wars: Jedi Academy and others. He followed that up by contributing to the franchise’s dramatic comics canon with Star Wars Jedi Academy; Star Wars Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan and Star Wars Jedi Academy: The Phantom Bully (2013-2015).

He has also directed music videos, created film posters, worked for public radio and co-written the feature film Save the Date.

Before that another Jeffrey Brown was the sharply sparkling wit who crafted slyly satirical all-ages funny stuff for The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror, Marvel’s Strange Tales, Incredible Change-Bots and similar visual venues.

There is yet another Jeffrey Brown: instigator and frequent star and stooge of such quirkily irresistible autobiographical Indy comics classics as Sulk, Kids Are Weird, Bighead, Little Things, Funny, Misshapen Body, Undeleted Scenesand the four-volume “Girlfriend Trilogy” (of which this is the third), comprising Clumsy, Unlikely, AEIOU and Every Girl is the End of the World for Me

Whichever Brown’s your preferred choice, he’s a cartoonist of rare insight and unflinching integrity who still makes you laugh out loud when not prompting you to offer a big consoling hug…

Brown was raised in Michigan; relocating to Chicago in 2000 to attend the School of the Arts Institute and study painting. Before graduating he had switched to drawing comics and in 2002 Clumsy was released. A poignant and uncompromising dissection of a long-distance relationship, it quickly becoming a surprise hit with fans and critics alike.

In both paperback and digital formats AEIOU describes a succession of painful torments, frustrations and moments of unparalleled ill-considered anticipation as Brown cherry-picks graphic mementos from another doomed relationship. Still it’s times like that which make us all who we are today…

The material is both delicious and agonising in its forthright simplicity: a sequence of pictorial snippets and vignettes detailing how a meek, directionless, horny, inoffensively average film-fan graduate art-student cautiously navigates his first grown-up intimate relationship after finally losing his virginity: that state of confused and constant longing for the “one and only” we all go through and never successfully navigate…

As is always the case, his prospective partner comes with baggage that is at first beguiling and acceptable but which soon becomes an increasingly major sticking point. Of course, what Jeffrey learns about himself in the process is also exceedingly illuminating…

Everyone who’s had itches to scratch and gone for broke with head and heart befuddled by longing and loneliness has been through this, and for every torrid romance that makes it, there are a million that don’t. Those would be you, me and him…

Drawn in his deceptively effective Primitivist monochrome style with masterful staging, a sublime economy of phrase and a breathtaking gift for generating in equal amounts belly-laughs and those poignant lump-in-throat moments we’ve all experienced and regretted forever-after, this is another potent procession of crystallised moments which establish one awful truth. There might not ever be a “The One”…

Through dozens of individual episodes with titles like We Think You’d Have A Lot of Fun Together’, But Does She LIKE ME Like Me’, ‘The Long Pause Before a First Kiss’,Prettiness’,Grass is Greener’,Between Lovers’, ‘The Difference Between Us’, Anybody Can Draw’, Did You’, Broken’, and Nothing Says I Love You Like’ or ‘Lingering’ we follow an eventful half year and a few portentous aftershocks and the life story moments come with a revelatory suggested Soundtrack Side ‘A’ and Soundtrack Side ‘B’

Brimming with remarkable discovery, hopeful confirmation and the shattering angst us oldsters can barely remember now let alone understand, Any Easy Intimacy is a powerful delight for everybody who has confused raging hormones, intimate physical contact and impatient wistfulness with love, and a sublime examination of what makes us human, hopeful and perhaps wistfully incorrigible…
© 2005 Jeffrey Brown. All rights reserved.

Kabul Disco Book 2: How I Managed Not to Become Addicted to Opium in Afghanistan


By Nicolas Wild, translated by Karyn Mencarelli (Life Drawn/Humanoids Inc.)
ISBN: 978-1-59465-469-5 (TPB)

Fiction and reality frequently blur, but stories – True, mostly True, totally True or Officially Confirmed by a Government Official and therefore Utterly Suspect – told in comics form somehow always acquire an instant edge of veracity and patina of authenticity that is hard to dispute or refute.

Kabul Disco is a splendid case-in-point: an example of sophisticated yet simple Euro-cartooning designed to charm and challenge in equal amounts, and a superb addition to trans-Continental publisher Humanoids’ Down-to-Earth, Real-World graphic novel imprint Life Drawn.

How I Managed Not to Become Addicted to Opium in Afghanistan is the second fabulous monochrome travel memoir further detailing the experiences of French writer/artist Nicholas Wild whose quest for regular employment took a wide-eyed political innocent to Afghanistan in 2005…

Remember This: there’s always a war going on somewhere. That’s just the way it is. The enemy are always monsters so our side – there’s no leeway to not take sides anymore – are always justified in what they do. Heaven forfend if you slip up and start thinking of rivals, adversaries, opponents or even those who simply disagree with you as no more than people – with or without grievances or differing opinions…

In January 2005, Wild was in Paris; gripped by ennui and lack of inspiration and only mildly galvanised by lack of money and imminent homelessness. Responding to an online ad he applied to a Communications Agency looking for a comics artist and was astounded to find himself accepted for a short commission. The job was overseas and his culture shock in adapting to a weird job in a wild place involved joining somewhat sketchy and rather dubious NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) Zendagui Media as they worked to bring the war-torn region into the arena of modern nations.

Although the security situation was tense, trouble seems to only strike elsewhere and eventually Nick assimilates: befriending ordinary Afghanis, shopping, visiting Shiite mosques, eating in restaurants and even sightseeing. Ultimately, the artist was more concerned about the kind of people he was working for rather than the evil all-pervasive Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists apparently infesting the country…

All too soon the job was done and Wild had to go home…

Wilde’s adjustment to the primitive conditions and his superb gift for wry commentary afforded the reader a brilliant example of the complex made simple and, after many astounding, heart-warming, ridiculous and often frightening moments, the artist realised his five months were over and it was time to leave, both physically and emotionally…

As Book Two begins, the artist is back in civilisation and chafing. Following his ‘Incomprehensible Summary of Book 1’ – offering a roundup of European history and contemporary experience – ‘Part Three: The War on Opium that Never Took Place’ finds the cartoonist back in Kabul… which he now thinks of as “Home”.

Back at Zendagui Media new hire Angele Lamborghini briefs the team on their next project: weaning the populace away from the only resource they have that anybody wants to buy. The American Embassy wants to end the commercial dependency on opium and needs the team to create a campaign to win minds if not hearts of ordinary folk…

That goes about as well as you’d expect, but in the process of research Wild does meet some fascinating people, visits more beautiful places, hears some scary stories and attends a few more parties…

And then it’s time for national elections…

Packed with quirky interactions and subtly inserting a little history and context into his revelations, Wild and his equally bemused and bewildered associates live from day to day until eventually ‘Part Four: Kabul Burning’ sees events overtake the First-worlders in their little enclave as Afghani deaths at government hands spark brutal riots…

The race to a fortified safehouse is simultaneously terrifying and farcical but the potential consequences are no joking matter…

And so it goes, with fond reveries and razor-sharp observations peppering Wild’s irresistible account of an ordinary job in extraordinary times and a magical place: with idiocy and contradiction piling up but progress somehow being made until it’s time to go home – or at least back to Europe – once more…

But is it really for good?

Rendered in beguiling black and white, Kabul Disco is warm, funny, distressingly informative and unobtrusively polemical: a wittily readable, non-discriminating reverie that informs and charms with surprising effect: the perfect response to the idiocy of war and dangers of corporate imperialism as well as a sublime tribute to the potent indomitability of human nature.
© 2018, Humanoids Inc., Los Angeles (USA). All rights reserved. First published in France as Kabul Disco Tome 2: Comment je ne suis pas devenu opiomane en Afghanistan © 2008 La Boîte à Bulles & Nicholas Wild. All rights reserved.

Black Ghost Apple Factory


By Jeremy Tinder (DC Comics)
No ISBN: ASIN: B001KNX2AQ

It a multimedia world – and decade without rules or restraint – so creative folk can liberate themselves from pigeonholes and escape categorisation with ease nowadays.

A perfect case-in-point is sculptor, designer, painter, toy designer, illustrator and educator Jeremy Tinder who also writes and draws some of the most intriguing comics you’ll ever see. Even if you don’t read his wonderful graphic novel Cry Yourself to Sleep or the collected minicomics re-presented in this captivating digital anthology, you can attend some of his classes at the School of Art Institute of Chicago, Marwen Foundation, The Evanston Art Center or the Hyde Park Art Center. He’s based in Chicago but also finds time to contribute to comics collective Trubble Club and the installation/performance group Paintallica.

As previously mentioned, Black Ghost Apple Factory is an anthological collection of small strips; created between 2004 and 2006, drafted in stark monochrome and examining a number of topics with surreal wit, deft empathy and captivating honesty. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll gasp and scratch your head…

It all kicks off with 2006’s eponymous ‘Black Ghost Apple Factory’ as a lovestruck spirit ponders the wonders of love and infatuation before settling down to hard days work making fruit, after which we learn that automata are just as bad as guys in ‘Robots Don’t Say “I Love You”’ from 2004.

Making creepy stalking and introspection adorable, funny and vulnerable ‘It’s Spring, and Jeremy Tinder is Secretly in Love with You…’ – meanders into wild territory as ‘Grizzly – or How I Spent my Spring Break’ (both from 2006) details an unusual ursine encounter in Wisconsin that changed his life…

A post-modern bunny fed up with pointless hedonism then admits ‘I’m So Tired’ (2006) and a kitty filled with Joie de vivre is shattered by a visit to the vet and confrontation with his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend in ‘Today is the First Day of the Rest of My Life, and I’m So Happy’

Like the closing vignette, that one was from 2005, and ‘1, 2, 3, 4’ examines another doomed interspecies affair and tragic farewell in a typically understated and abstract manner…

Smart, intriguingly intense and emotionally mischievous, these tales explore relationships, relaxation and working life in wickedly different ways that will delight anyone in search of a different take on their comics entertainments.
Black Ghost Apple Factory © 2006 Jeremy Tinder. All rights reserved.

Lala Albert: Seasonal Shift – Comics 2013-2019


By Lala Albert (Breakdown Press/The Library of Contemporary Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-911081-09-8 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Not All Beautiful Things are Pretty… 9/10

All right-thinking people know that graphic narrative is the most expressive and expansive medium to work in, right? The range of themes explored, stories told and varieties of delivery are pretty near infinite if created by an inspired artisan.

The act of stringing pictures and/or words together is something almost everybody has done at some stage of their lives. It’s a key step in the cognitive path of children and, for an increasing number of us, that compulsive, absorbing euphoria never goes away.

Whilst many millions acquiesce to the crushing weight of a world which stifles the liberation of creativity, turning a preponderance of makers into consumers, a privileged, determined few carry on: drawing, exploring, and in some cases, with technology’s help, producing and sharing.

That emotional and creative volatility has never been better realised than in the modern crop of storymakers, many of whom are being rightly-celebrated in collections of minicomics and collections such as this compilation of works by Brooklyn-based Lala Albert as part of the Library of Contemporary Comics, which is collecting shorter works by the best cartoonists currently working in the medium right now.

Opening with a forthright ‘Interview’ conducted by Michael DeForge, this sequence of tales, vignettes and self-publications addresses body issues, human relationships, and most especially interactions with society and the ever more imperilled environment through terse short stories, generally framed in science fictional, fantasy and horror terms of reference.

Gathered from Albert’s last six years, the raw, primitivist, questing revelations begin with ‘Morning Dew’: a self-published moment of luxurious hedonism in natural circumstances from 2019 that lapses into a glimpse at the inevitable, if improbable, consequence of plastic saturation, first seen in Future Shock #7 (2014), before ‘Starlight Local’ – part of Alien Invasion volume 3, 2013 – details the disturbing outcome of a casual hook-up during an interstellar commute…

Consumerism and self-determination get a handy heads-up when a girl orders a ‘nu device’ (Trapper Keeper volume 4, 2016) after which a new kind of surveillance society dystopia is explored and overturned in ‘R.A.T.’ (crafted for Latvia’s Kuš Comics in 2015).

These tales are delivered in a range of styles and palettes, but for me, pure stark monochrome is always a blessing, so the ferocious attitude of ‘Brainbuzz’ (Weird Magazine volume 5, 2014) only intensifies the disturbing exploration of bodily invasion undertaken here…

Masks and the mutability of personas are thoroughly, forensically questioned in kJanus’’:a voyage of intense personal discovery first released by Breakdown Press UK in 2014, before a distressing fascination of what lurks under our skins is displayed in ‘Flower Pot’! courtesy of Marécage, Revue Lagon, France, 2019.

An epic of ecological combat and fairy survival is revealed in multi-chapter saga of survival ‘Wet Earth’ (Sonatina, 2017), pitting ethereal pixies against the lower ends of an uncaring food chain, before a modicum of sanity – but never safety or true security – returns via comforting self-assessment in ‘Pinhole’ (Over the Line, Sidekick Books UK, 2015). After everything, it’s always good to check back in with your own skin…

Dark but never hopeless, and always avoiding slick, glib professional sheen, these tales bore right in to the heart, asking questions we all have. Whether you find any answers truly depends on you…
All work © Lala Albert 2019. This edition © Breakdown Press 2019. All rights reserved.

Billionaires: The Lives of the Rich and Powerful


By Darryl Cunningham (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-91240-822-1 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Timely Heads-Up for the Upcoming Spendfest Season… 9/10

There are books to read, books you should read – and some, perhaps, that you shouldn’t – and there are important books. The relatively new field of graphic novels has many of the first but still boasts precious few important books yet. Thankfully, British documentarian, journalist and cartoonist Darryl Cunningham seems to specialise in the latter…

It’s hard enough to get noticed within the industry (simply excelling at your craft is not enough) but when comics does generate something wonderful, valid, powerful, true to our medium yet simultaneously breaking beyond into the wide world and making a mark, the reviews from that appreciative greater market come thick and fast – so I’m not going to spend acres of text praising this forthright, potentially controversial and damning examination of Earth’s Newest (but hopefully not Last) Gods – the Super Rich.

Multi-disciplined artist Cunningham was born in 1960, lived a pretty British life (didn’t we all?) and graduated from Leeds College of Art. A regular on the Small Press scene of the 1990s, his early strips appeared in legendary paper-based venues such as Fast Fiction, Dead Trees, Inkling, Turn and many others.

In 1998, he & Simon Gane crafted Meet John Dark for the much-missed Slab-O-Concrete outfit and it remains one of my favourite books of the era. You should track it down or agitate for a new edition.

Briefly sidelining comics as the century ended, Cunningham worked on an acute care psychiatric ward: a period that informed 2011 graphic novel Psychiatric Tales, a revelatory inquiry into mental illness delivered as cartoon reportage.

When not crafting web comics for Forbidden Planet or on his creations Uncle Bob Adventures, Super-Sam and John-of-the-Night or The Streets of San Diablo, he’s been consolidating a pole position in the field of graphic investigative reporting; specifically science history, economics and socio-political journalism through books such as Science Tales, Supercrash: How to Hijack the Global Economy, Graphic Science: Seven Journeys of Discovery and The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality and the Financial Crisis.

His latest offering details the rise and pernicious all-pervasive influence of three icons of the plutocratic ideal while debunking such self-deluding and damaging public myths as “self-made”, “coming from nothing” or “fair and honest”.

It opens with a pictorial Introduction outlining how late 19th and early 20th century robber barons of the Gilded Age set the scene for the rise of today’s financial overlords – and how governments responded to them…

Delivered in clear, simple, easily accessible imagery, Cunningham then deconstructs the carefully crafted legends and official biographies of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, energy barons Charles & David Koch and internet retail supremo Jeff Beez with an even-handed fairness I’m not sure any other investigative author could match – or would want to.

Via an avalanche of always-attributable, deftly delineated facts and reported events, the artist delivers the very opposite of hard-hitting polemic, instead massaging and lathering readers with an ocean of appetising data that allows us make up our own minds about proudly ruthless apex business predators who have controlled governments, steered populations and reshaped the planet in their quest for financial dominance.

Best of all, Cunningham even has the courage to offer bold – and serious – suggestions on how to rectify the current state of affairs in his Afterword, and – should anybody’s lawyers or tax accountants be called upon – backs up all his cartoon classwork with a vast and daunting list of References for everything cited in the book.

Comics has long been the most effective method of imparting information and eliciting reaction (that’s why assorted governments and militaries have used them for hard and soft propaganda over the last century and a half), and with Billionaires: The Lives of the Rich and Powerful we finally see that force being used against today’s greatest threat to continued existence…
© Darryl Cunningham 2019. All rights reserved.

Walking Distance


By Lizzy Stewart (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN:978-1-910395-50-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Heartwarming and Thought Provoking… 9/10

Assuming you do still think, where do you go and what do you do to get in touch with yourself? I only ask because, in these days of a million and one ways to chemically, digitally functionally and emotionally sedate the mind, one the most effective ways to process information is still a good long walk…

Thirty-something artist Lizzy Stewart lives in London and Shanks’ Pony is not only how she manages city life but is also a physical act which seemingly obsesses her. She even keeps a list of favourite movie walks by a host of female stars that fit all her personal criteria for moments of perfection…

Walking Distance is a meandering meditation on right here, right now, utilising a stunning sequence of painted views of what she sees on her various perambulations – a stunning travelogue of London literally at ground level – wedded to tracts of text graciously sharing her innermost, scattershot thoughts and deliberations on notions that trouble women (and perhaps the odd man or two) today.

All the bugbears trot along: getting by, success and failure, body issues, direction and achievement, growing up and growing old, family pressures, norms of behaviour, unfair expectations, balances of power in gender relationships and what the future holds in store…

Naturally – and shamefully for us men – a large proportion of that menu includes concerns about personal safety and a right to privacy and agency in public. There’s isn’t a woman anywhere who hasn’t had a walk marred at some moment after apprehensively anticipating what a complete stranger in the vicinity might abruptly say or do…

Happily, the grim is balanced by the delightful: ponderings on art and work, a sense of home space and just the sheer joy of observing the fresh and new as well as the comfortingly familiar. There’s even room for intimate views of personal history and opinion, yet the overall progress is always hopeful, tending towards examination rather than hasty judgement or solutions and in the direction the walker chooses…

This beguiling stroll offers a blend of philosophy, anxiety and anticipation, all brainstormed as she – and you, if you can keep up – strides ever onward.

Clearly, walks do anything but clear your head, but can result in beautiful visual ruminations like this one: no glib sound-bite responses, no roles modelled and no solutions, but you can consider this a privileged personal chat while she walks and you don’t.
© Lizzy Stewart, 2019. All rights reserved.

Walking Distance will be published on October 24th 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

Freeway


By Mark Kalesniko (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-356-9 (PB)

It’s a strange occupation writing about a largely pictorial art-form and sometimes the only thing you want to say is “you have got to read this!” However, as I love to babble on, I’ll slightly elaborate about this forgotten gem: a superb quasi-autobiographical fable from animator and cartoonist Mark Kalesniko which features another moving and thought-provoking reverie starring his dog-faced alter ego Alex .

After working for Disney on such modern classics as The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Mulan and Atlantis, in 1991, British Columbia-born Kalesniko began crafting powerful and imaginative comics, beginning with the audacious ‘Adolf Hears a Who.’

In 1994 he spawned Alex; the tale of an alcoholic ex-animator returning to his old hometown, following up in 1997 with Why Did Pete Duel Kill Himself? – an account of young Alex’s formative years. In 2001, the auteur diverged from Alex’s exploits to examine another aspect of the inherent isolationism of creative types in Mail Order Bride.

Freeway marked Kalesniko’s return to his signature character to describe in powerfully oppressive form the heartrending misery of successfully attaining your greatest dream…

Young Alex has left Canada for Hollywood to fulfil his lifelong ambition of being an animator for the monolithic Babbitt Jones Productions (a transparently veiled Walt Disney Studios analogue) but the achievement of his passionate wish is not working out how he had hoped.

The neophyte seems to spend most of his day trying to drive to or from the studio (no longer part of the colossal Babbitt Jones main complex but now hidden away in a seedy warehouse in a decidedly dodgy business district).

After the initial disappointment of discovering the animators and ideas that built the company have become sidelined and despised by corporate drones who now run the business, Alex settles in and begins the intolerable grind of making art by committee diktat. As he sees his fellow creatives slowly crumple under the unremitting pressures of office politics, daily compromise, poor leadership and lack of vision in a place where being good is less important than being compliant, his elation fades.

Succumbing to nostalgia and seduced by his own joyous yearning for those good old days he never experienced, Alex falls in love with a co-worker. Typically, her family considers him an outsider…

Every day he sees the talent, imagination, aspirations and sensitivity of his fellow artists mauled by malicious ambition and jealousy, and every day he wastes angry and frustrated hours embedded in the vast aggressive steam kettle of the Los Angeles rush hour…

Little wonder then that his fertile, repressed imagination begins to wander: but when daydreams of violent death and merciful release are more satisfying than your life, how long can a creative soul last before it withers or snaps?

This mesmeric saga is deliciously multi-layered: blending compelling narrative with tantalising titbits and secret snippets from the golden age of animation, with rosy reveries of the meta-fictional post-war LA and the sheer tension of a paranoid thriller. Kalesniko opens Alex’s mind and soul to us but there’s no easy ride. Like Christopher Nolan’s Memento, there’s a brilliant tale unfolding here but you’re expected to pay attention and work for it.

Available in paperback and in digital formats and illustrated with stunning virtuosity in captivating black line, Alex’s frustration, anger, despair, reminiscences and imaginings from idle ponderings to over-the-top, compulsive near-hallucinations are chillingly captured and shared in this wonderful book – which can be happily read in isolation of all the other tomes previously cited. And happily, they’re still available and recommended and can only enhance this glorious and bold truly graphic novel.
Contents © 2011 Mark Kalesniko. This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.T

Persepolis – The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2 – the Story of a Return


By Marjane Satrapi translated by Anjali Singh (Jonathan Cape/Vintage)
ISBN: 978-0-22406-440-8 (volume 1 HB); 978-0-22407-440-7 (volume 2 HB); 978-0-0-9952-399-4 (TPB)

No comics celebration of non-fictional women could be complete without acknowledging Marjane Satrapi’s astounding breakout memoirs, so let’s revisit her Persepolis books (also available in a complete paperback edition released to coincide with an animated movie of the tale)…

The imagery of a child, their unrefined stylings and shaded remembrances all possess captivating power to enthral adults. Marjane Satrapi grew up during the Fundamentalist revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran and replaced him with an Islamic theocracy.

For cartoon reminiscence Persepolis – The Story of a Childhood, she opted to relate key incidents from her life with the stark direct drawings and sharp, unleavened voice and perceptions of the young girl she was. This simple, direct reportage owes as much to Anne Frank as Art Spiegleman whilst she relates the incidents that shaped her life and her identity as a free-thinking female in a society that increasing frowned on that sort of thing…

Persepolis is the kind of graphic novel that casual and intellectual readers love, focusing on the content of the message and decrying or at best ignoring the technical skill and craft of the medium that conveys it. Yet graphic narrative is as much an art form of craft and thought as it is the dustbin of sophomoric genre stereotypes that many critics relegate it to. Satrapi created a work that is powerful and engaging, but in a sorry twist of reality, it is one that comics fans, and not the general public, still have to be convinced to read.

In the sequel Persepolis – The Story of a Return, the primitivist reminiscences of a girl whose childhood spanned the fall of the Shah and the rise of Iran’s Fundamentalist theocracy, Satrapi continues sharing her personal history, but now concentrates more fully on the little girl growing into a woman.

This idiosyncratic maturation unfortunately acts to somewhat diminish the power of simple, unvarnished observation that was such a devastating lens into the political iniquities that shaped her life, but does transform the author into a fully concrete person, as many of her experiences more closely mirror those of an audience which hasn’t grown up under a cloud of physical, political, spiritual and sexual oppression.

The story recommences in 1984 where 15-year old Marjane is sent to Vienna to (ostensibly) pursue an education. In distressingly short order, the all-but-asylum-seeker is rapidly bounced from home to home: billeted with Nuns; distanced acquaintances of her family; a bed-sit in the house of an apparent madwoman and eventually is reduced to living on the streets, in a catastrophic spiral of decline before returning to Iran in four years later. It is now 1988.

Her observations on the admittedly outré counter-culture European students, and her own actions as she grows to full womanhood seem to indicate that even the most excessive and extreme past experience can still offer a dangerously seductive nostalgia when faced with the bizarre concept of too much freedom too soon.

When she returns to her homeland, her adult life under the regime of the Ayatollah is still a surprisingly less-than-total condemnation than we westerners and our agenda-slanted news media would probably expect. The book concludes with her decision to move permanently to Europe in 1994…

The burgeoning field of autobiographical graphic novels is a valuable outreach resource for an industry desperately seeking to entice new audiences to convert to our product. As long as subject matter doesn’t overpower content and style, and we can offer examples such as Persepolis to the seekers, we should be making real headway.
© Marjane Satrapi 2004. Translation © 2004 Anjali Singh.

Cancer Vixen


By Marisa Acocella Marchetto (Knopf Publishing/Pantheon)
ISBN: 978-0-30726-357-5 (US HB) 978-0-37571-474-0 (UK PB)

The comics medium is incredibly powerful and versatile: easily able to convey different levels of information and shades of meaning in a variety of highly individualistic and personal manners and styles and on any subject imaginable.

Although primarily used as a medium of entertainment, the sequential image is also a devastating tool for instruction and revelation as in this superb encapsulation of one woman’s knock-down drag-out tussle with the “Big C”…

Born in1962, Marisa Acocella studied painting at the Pratt Institute and the School of Visual Arts in New York City before becoming an Art Director for a major Madison Avenue ad agency. After a meteoric career in the field, in 1993 she turned to cartooning.

Acocella concocted the quasi-autobiographical fashion cartoon She which debuted in Mirabella Magazine before transferring to Elle in 1996. The feature was collected as Just Who the Hell Is She, Anyway? The Autobiography of She and the character was optioned for a show by HBO television.

The frenetic scribbler was subsequently head-hunted by Robert Mankoff – Cartoon Editor for iconic periodical The New Yorker – and soon after, with her work regularly appearing in Glamour (where she crafted the series Glamour Girls), Advertising Age, Talk, Modern Bride and ESPN magazine, she created ‘The Strip’ for the New York Times Sunday Styles section. It was that prestigious paper’s first ever continuing comics feature.

In 2004, at the top of her game and three weeks before her marriage to a dashing and highly successful restaurateur, seemingly with the world at her stylishly shod feet (there’s a great deal of attention paid to women’s shoes here, but at least it’s an apparently hereditary fetish: Marisa’s simply overwhelming mother Violetta Acocella was a designer for the Delman Shoe Company), the artist noticed a lump in her breast…

How the sometimes flighty, occasionally self-absorbed but ultimately tough and determinedly resolute Style-Zombie Fashionista cartoonist took control of her life and her situation to beat cancer makes for an utterly engrossing and ferociously vital read…

Told in overlapping flashbacks Cancer Vixen – because the artist loathed the term “Cancer Victim” – documents her emotional pilgrimage through denial, oppressive terror, turbulent anticipations, financial heebie-jeebies, desperate metaphysical bargaining, exploration of outrageous alternative therapies, grudging acceptance and onerous fight-back through her interactions with friends and family – especially that formidably overbearing ‘(S)Mother’ and man-in-a-billion husband-to-be Silvano Marchetto

As Marisa reveals the day-by-day, moment-to-moment journey from suspicion to diagnosis, through surgery and the horrifying post-op chemo-therapy with profound passion, daunting honesty and beguiling self-deprecating humour, what strikes the reader most is the cruelly unnecessary extra anguish caused by a silly mistake which might have cost the artist her life…

Even though thoroughly in-touch, on the go and in command of her life, this modern Ms. had accidentally let her Health Insurance lapse…

Coming from a country where – despite the best efforts of our current government to gut and sell off the National Health Service and neuter the social support and benefits net – nobody has to die from insufficient funds or endure ill-health because of their bank balance, the most gob-smacking strand of this graphic reportage is the cost-counting exercise which periodically tots up the dollars spent at crucial stages of treatment and the realisation that many of her potential care-givers are actually bidding against each other rather than working together to treat their patients customers…

Thankfully Glamour magazine nobly commissioned Marisa to turn her regular strip into a cartoon account of her illness and recovery (with the strip Cancer Vixen launching as a 6-page strip in the April 2005 issue), whilst bravely marrying Silvano – in defiance of her very real dread that he might be a widower before their first anniversary – at least got Marisa belatedly onto his insurance policy…

As a result of her experiences, Marisa Acocella-Marchetto apportioned a percentage of the book’s profits to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation and to underprivileged women at the St. Vincent’s Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center in Manhattan, where she also established The Cancer Vixen Fund, dedicated to help uninsured women get the best breast care available.

Delivered in a chatty, snazzy blend of styles and bright, bold colours, this relentlessly factual book – and thus truly scary because of it – combines a gripping true report of terror and resilience with a glorious love story and inspiring celebration of family and friendship under the worst of all circumstances.

Whilst not the escapist fantasy fiction which is our medium’s speciality, this human drama and faithfully impassioned but funny memoir – with a happy ending to boot – is the kind of comic to enthral and elate real-world fans and devotees of the medium; and indeed, everyone who reads it.
© 2006 Marisa Acocella Marchetto. All rights reserved.