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.

A City Inside


By Tillie Walden (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-91039-541-7 (HB) 978-1-91039-520-2 (TPB)

Transitions are important. In fact, they are literally life changing. Here’s another one captured and shared by the amazing Tillie Walden…

We usually attribute wisdom and maturity in the creative arts to having lived a bit of life and getting some emotional grit in our wheels and sand in our faces, but maybe that’s not the case for Texas-raised Tillie, whose incredible string of releases include I Love this Part, Spinning, On a Sunbeam, and Are You Listening? and award-winning debut graphic novel The End of Summer.

A City Inside is another seamlessly constructed marriage of imagination and experience to unflinching self-exploration, constructing a perfect blend of autobiography and fantasy into a vehicle both youthfully exuberant and literary timeless.

Opening in a therapy session, the story delves intimately into a woman’s past, from isolated southern days to bold moments of escape – or is that simply drifting away? – in search of peace and a place to settle. We all leave home and then grow up, and here that transition is seen through the tentative alliance with an ideal first love. That fumbles and fails, thanks to the dull oppression of the Happy Ever After part that no fairy tale ever warns you about…

Eventually life builds you into the being you are – hence the symbolism of a vast internal metropolis – and life goes on, or back, or away, or just somewhere else. That’s pretty much the point…

Supremely engaging, enticingly disturbing and ultimately utterly uplifting, this shared solo voyage to another county is a visual delight no lover of comics can possibly resist. Apart from the graceful honesty on show, the most engaging factor is the author’s inspired rearrangement of visual reality. These dictate mood and tone in a way a million words can’t, supplying a sense of grace and wistful whimsy to the affair.

You’d have to be bereft of vision and afflicted with a heart of stone to reject this comic masterpiece – available in hardback, softcover and digital formats – which no one should miss.
© Tillie Walden 2016. All rights reserved.

Goblin Girl


By Moa Romanova, translated by Melissa Bowers (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-68396-283-0 (HB)

Scandinavian artists and authors seem to have a real knack for combining comics with therapy and producing truly memorable books you really want to tell your friends about. Here’s another…

Stockholm resident and dog-lover Moa Romanova was born in 1992. She’s an artist and musician who studied painting at the Gothenburg School of Fine arts and is a graduate of the wonderful Malmö Comic Art School. She’s probably done a whole bunch of other stuff too, if her debut graphic novel Goblin Girl is anything to go by. Already available in seven languages, it started life as Alltid Fucka Upp when first published in Sweden…

The Goblin in question is a young woman of artistic temperament and ambitions who suffers from panic attacks and other insecurities. Despite being broke and stuck in a grotty squat over a shop, she’s getting by, thanks to mum, friends and a counsellor I personally wouldn’t give house room to. Looking for love – aren’t we all? – she hooks up online with a minor TV celeb who’s far too old for her, but at least he seems to listen. It’s not undying passion, but in the absence of anything better…

He seems to want nothing, but validates her life and even offers to sponsor her art career. Are things finally looking up?  Aren’t there always strings attached?

And so, her life progresses: drink, panic attacks, other people, concerts, social services, work, no work, body issues, relationships, fraught travel, psych evaluations and admissions: all the crap that makes up a modern life if you’re not born perfect but still have a brain to be unhappy and discontented with…

Dealing with contemporary life, mental health issues and the inescapable problem of unequal power dynamics in all relationships in an uncompromising but astonishingly steady – if not upbeat – manner, Goblin Girl (available in breathtaking oversized hardback or digital editions) is a remarkable testament to modern living, beautifully drawn in a deliberately ugly way and deeply moving. You won’t all like it, but those of you who do will read it over and over again and still come away wanting more…
© 2020 Moa Romanova. English translation © 2020 Melissa Bowers. This edition © 2020 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

I Love This Part



By Tillie Walden (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-91039-532-5(HB) 978-1-91039-517-2 (TPB)

Happy St. Valentines’ Day. I’m stifling my usual curmudgeonly attitudes for a while and reviewing a book that’s solidly on the side of being in love, but not so disingenuous as to tell you that it’s all hearts and flowers…

Sweet but not calorific, I Love This Part deliciously pictorializes the happy, introspective, contemplative and aspirational moments of two schoolgirls who have found each other. Shared dreams, idle conversations, disputes and landmark first steps, even fights and break-ups are seen and weathered. Novelty, timidity, apprehension, societal pressure and even some unnecessary shame come into it, but generally it’s just how young people learn to love and what that inevitably entails…

Apart from the astoundingly graceful and inviting honesty of the tale, the most engaging factor is the author’s brilliant dismissal of visual reality. These interactions are all backdropped by wild changes in dimension and perspective, abrupt shifts in location and landscape and shots of empty spaces all adding a sense of distance and whimsy to very familiar proceedings.

Tillie Walden is a great admirer of Little Nemo so fellow afficionados will feel at home even if neophytes might experience the odd sensation of disorientation and trepidation. Like being in love, I suppose…

Glorying not just in the relationships but also in the sheer joy of drawing what you feel, Texas-raised Tillie is still a relative newcomer – albeit a prolific and immensely gifted one – who has garnered heaps of acclaim and awards. Whether through her fiction or autobiographical works (frequently combined in the same stories), 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 On a Sunbeam, A City Inside, Spinning, and Are You Listening? she followed up on her Ignatz Award-winning debut graphic novel The End of Summer with this fluffy yet barbed coming-of-age tale.

You’d have to be bereft of vision and afflicted with a heart of stone to reject this comic masterpiece – available in hardback, softcover and digital formats – which no one should miss.
© Tillie Walden 2016. All rights reserved.

Ghetto Brother – Warrior to Peacemaker


By Julian Voloj & Claudia Ahlering (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-948-9 (TPB)

In I971 New York City was a broken, dirty metropolis increasingly divided by top-down, enforced gentrification. From the end of the 1950s the mostly ethnically European population of the Bronx had been moving out into the suburbs – a process dubbed “White Flight” – whilst poorer inner-city newcomers, mostly Blacks and Hispanics, were driven or priced out of their cheap bohemian enclaves in Greenwich Village, Little Italy, Chinatown and Soho to fill the vacated places. Those emptied Manhattan regions now comprise some of the most expensive and exclusive real estate in the Big Apple…

Further social assault came when ruthless urban reformer and City Planner Robert Moses slashed the newly-coalescing community of “foreigners” in half by steamrollering the Cross Bronx Expressway right through the formerly scenic Borough.

Subsequent urban blight, administrative neglect and lack of funding soon turned the whole region into isolated islands of forgotten residents, and their hopeless, opportunity-starved kids began forming fiercely territorial gangs to defend spurious concepts of dignity, personal honour and the little territory they called theirs…

The South Bronx became a global byword for urban decay and a breeding ground for violence by the poor upon the poor. By December 1971 it seemed inevitable that the more than 100 gangs situated in the Borough would wipe each other out and possibly take the entire city with them.

…And then something miraculous happened…

This stunning graphic testament and graphic documentary by author and photographer Julian Voloj and artist/illustrator Claudia Ahlering relates in the impassioned words of Benjamin Yellow BenjyMelendez how, in the year Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, he formed the Ghetto Brothers, quickly turning it into the largest and most powerful Puerto Rican gang.

It further reveals how the senseless murder of one of his closest friends led to the Hoe Avenue Peace Meeting: a tense, protracted conference where rival gang-lords talked instead of fought and astonishingly agreed to a truce which all but ended gang warfare for a generation.

With fighting curtailed, all those bored, frustrated kids needed new outlets for their pent-up energies and what slowly emerged was Rap, Hip-Hop and by extension today’s big money musical industry and cultural movement of self-expression…

Melendez’s path also encompassed music, but he spent most of his time and energies on turning the Brothers into a rough and ready outreach project for the community, with the gang forming an association with organisations of Puerto Rican nationalism, including the then-new Puerto Rican Socialist Party.

Highlighting long-forgotten events of a critical time through one key individual’s incredible epiphany, this amazing tale – still available in trade paperback and digital formats – then reveals his chance discovery of a hidden and quite shocking personal truth that changed Benjy’s life forever…

Addressing a growing cultural zeitgeist attuned to that time and place as recently seen in books and movie documentaries like Fresh Dressed, Rubble Kings, 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s and Flyin’ Cut Sleeves, this utterly absorbing monochrome chronicle is bracketed by an Introduction from Jeff Chang (author of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation) and the compelling, informative photo-essay ‘The Story Behind the Story’ which further explores that groundbreaking meeting at Hoe Avenue and offers biographies and further reading.
© 2015 Julian Voloj and Claudia Ahlering.