I Never Promised You a Rose Garden


By Mannie Murphy (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-410-0 (HB)

How does memory work? Are your recollections neatly sorted and filed away: dry, dusty documents effortlessly relating time, place, event and response, or is the act of personal recall mired in apparently extraneous passions and seemingly irrelevant sidebars of emotion, pulling you from the topic far and away before circling back to what originally set you thinking?

Mine’s that last one, and it’s a phenomenon used to devasting effect by Mannie Murphy as they pull together deeply intimate musings on famous – but presumably unrequited – imagined inamorata who endured tragic fates, peppered with youthful school experiences and personal philosophies while powerfully delivering a chilling expose of the proudly racist and white supremacist history of hometown Portland, Oregon.

Rendered as a personal diary with sometimes-impenetrable cursive script married to wash-&-ink images, Murphy details long-distance, strictly hands-off relationships with teen icons River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves (specifically as observed in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho); Kurt Cobain and less well-known or admired personalities: all while deftly dissecting the far-from-savoury development and current state of a region long considered the promised land for Far Right fantasists and dreamers.

Available in hardback or various digital formats, the meandering masterclass opens with ‘My Own Private Portland’setting the scene for a mesmerising journey through the city and state through the lens of damaged, disenfranchised and frequently doomed youth. Second chapter ‘Ken Death is Dead’ expands the discussion detailing the career of a beautiful poster child for Nazi extremism and convicted mass killer, who was just another pawn in a cruel game played by older, nastier Machiavellians, after which the story of Oregon and its awful record of racism, exclusion and mass murder – much of it permitted or committed by a complacent and compliant police force – is covered in ‘Flood’.

A hard-earned, personal view of the educational set-up and its grim consequences is related in ‘Victims of Groupthink’with perspective supplied by further reference to celluloid Lost Boys and their connections to bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and other notable outsiders, all cleverly married to distressing accounts of tragedies and disasters that systematically shaped the city and the kids growing up the Oregon way.

The miraculous transport of curated memories then closes with a chilling Epilogue as ‘Young Hatemongers’ revisits the Ken Death trial and media storm around it with revelations that came to light during the later stages of this book’s creation.

Dark, brooding, deeply upsetting while brimming with potent immediacy and rough-hewn passion, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is an apparently rambling but carefully steered narrative of seemingly random remembrances that serve as a warning from history and heartfelt plea for people to be better than they are…
© 2021 Mannie Murphy. This edition © 2021 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Al Qaeda’s Super Secret Weapon


By Mohammad al-Mohamed Muhammad, Youssef Fakish & various (Northwest Press)
ISBN: 378-1-9387202-9-1 (PB)

Let’s get one thing straight here. This is a satirical spoof, ok?

A jape, a jest: witty sequential pictorial banter with pointed points to make on sexual, religious and geopolitical politics. If you’re feeling unnecessarily singled out, I’m fat, bald, old, disabled and white: feel free to have a go back, on citing whatever misperceived grounds you feel you’re entitled to, but do not believe for one moment you’ve been singled out for exclusion or special attention…

Crafted during the heady and contentious era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – way back when what you did with your bits (whenever a deadly foe wasn’t trying to blow them away, at least) somehow affected your ability to kill people on command – Al Qaeda’s Super Secret Weapon hilariously goes sufficiently too far in extrapolation.

In their hidden caves, the vile masterminds of the subversive enemy realise the American military is critically vulnerable to seduction by dedicated martyrs willing to give their all, and rapidly trains up 16 super-hunky guys to destroy all those agents of the Great Satan from within…

Beautifully realized, packed with glamour, action, proper jokes and a fair slice of sentiment, this is a definitely demented but brilliant Carry On movie plot taken to fabulous extremes that will leave you helpless with laughter.

Oh, there’s also EXPLICIT GAY SEX, all over this book – available in paperback and digital formats – so don’t read it if you’re likely to be offended by that, rather than the killing, explosions, nuclear armageddon and all-denominational blasphemy.

Adding to the fun are a set of paper dolls and costumes to play with, pin-ups and it even comes with a free ‘Trans-Denominational, Pre-Emptive Fatwa’ too, signed off by globally-renowned Pastor Brett Pirkle, so you know you can sleep safe in your bed… or anyone else’s…

Sing along now, “it’s the End of the World as we know it, and I feel f…”
© 2013 David J. Zelman. All rights reserved.

Biscuits Assorted


By Jenny Robins (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-91240-82-90 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Utterly Captivating Human-Scaled Enticement… 10/10

There’s a 1944 Powell & Pressburger film called A Canterbury Tale, where a group of disparate but loosely associated characters weave in and out of each other’s klives for a defined period, gradually proceeding towards a shared denouement. It’s about far more than that and is really good. You should see it.

Biscuits Assorted is a bit like that, but also completely different. You should read it. It’s really, Really good.

Artist, teacher, Small Press artisan and author Jenny Robins is clearly a keen observer and gifted raconteur deftly attuned to nuance and ambiance and quite possibly hopelessly in love with London. Her award-winning debut graphic novel is a paean to modern living in the city, recounted through overlapping snapshots of many women’s lives in the months of June, July and August of a recent year (and don’t worry about which one).

If you need the metaphor explained, there are different varieties and, occasionally, they don’t do what it says on the tin…

Seriously though, here in captivating monochrome linework are a plethora of distinct and well-round individuals of differing ages and backgrounds working, playing, living, dying, risking, winning, failing and constantly interacting with each other to a greater or lesser extent, all united by place, circles of friends, shared acquaintances and enjoying – for once – full access to their own unexpurgated voices.

Strangers or intimates, life-long or Mayfly-momentary, this addictively engaging collection of incidents and characters all share locations and similar pressures as they go about their lives, but the way in which they all impact upon each other is truly mesmerising. I’m a bluff old British codger and I’ve met these very women and girls all my life, except for those who are completely new to my white male privileged experience. Now, however, I know what they’re like and what they’ve been thinking all this time…

And it’s outrageously funny and terrifying elucidating, rude in all the right ways and places and able to break your heart and jangle the nerves with a turn of a page.

Biscuits Assorted is a brilliant and revelatory picaresque voyage that is impossible to put down and certain to become a classic of graphic literature. It’s also the most fun you can have with your brain fully engaged.

Yesterday we published our Top Ten of 2020. Be sure to add this to the list. We did.
© Jenny Robins 2020. All rights reserved.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Consent


By Isabella Rotman with Luke B. Howard (Limerance Press/Oni Press-Lion Forge Publishing Group)
ISBN: 978-1-62010-794-2 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-62010-815-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Crucial Companion for Every Social Gathering of More Than 1 Person… 9/10

It’s going to be a seasonal holiday unlike any in living memory for most of us. In Britain, we’ve stringently locked down, been let loose to run rampant in dangerously close proximities and then locked down even harder and with more targeted complexity. For Christmas, as we’ve been not-so-good, the populace can now mix and mingle as we see fit, with no real curbing of contact. What could possibly go wrong?

All that preamble is my convoluted way of introducing what should the ideal accompaniment to the party season or any relationship…

I’ve frequently argued that comic strips are a matchless tool for education: rendering the most complex topics easily accessible and displaying a potent facility to inform, affect and alter behaviour. Here’s another superb example of the art form using its great powers for good…

The Quick & Easy Guide series has an admirable record of confronting uncomfortable issues with taste, sensitivity and breezy forthrightness: offering solutions as well as awareness or solidarity.

Here, Maine-based cartoonist Isabella Rotman (Wait What?: A Comic Book Guide to Relationships, Bodies and Growing Up; You’re So Sexy When You Aren’t Transmitting STIs) and New Orleans colourist Luke Howard collaborate on a cogent and compelling primer covering the irrefutable basics When, Where, Why and most especially What can be taken as Consent.

This is such a charged issue that the light and informative lecture is preceded by a very clear and well thought out Content Warning defining terms and the specifics of situations, with firm regard to gender, scope and even an Informational Disclaimer… that’s how hot a topic this is …

Terms are examined and situations explored during a tenuous first encounter between two healthy young adults, but as things heat up, a phantasmal guide pops in to steer the participants and give voice to their suppressed concerns, through chapters such as ‘What is Consent?’, ‘Consent is Simple’, ‘What is Sex?’ and ‘Consent Must be Freely Given!’ all emphasised through sidebars like ‘Tell Them What Turns You On!’ and an enumeration of what definitively ‘Have Nothing to do With Consent!’

The dialogue and show-&-tells are punctuated by quotes from professional Sexual Consent Educators, augmented by role plays, quizzes and a section outlining and defining the current (US only) ‘Age of Consent’ laws, before asking ‘Is Everyone Fully Informed?’ This last is primarily about all the many factors – physical and emotional – potential partners should always be apprised of, but also broadmindedly enquires ‘What About Kink?’ and even tackles the ever-present ‘Fear of Rejection’

In closing, the convivial confrontation offers a list of potential faux pas in ‘So Don’t…’, a summation ‘In Review…’ before providing a ‘Yes. No. Maybe So Checklist’ as well as a selection of ‘Safer Sex: Contraception’, ‘…STI Risk Reduction’and ‘…Activities’ suggestions.

Being wise beyond her years and probably acutely aware of how inventive humans are, the author closes with sagacious questionnaire ‘Anything Else?’ plus a fulsome Bibliography and list of Resources to contact including Sex & Relationship Education, appropriate Hotlines and inline Checklists

I hail from a fabulous far-distant era where we happily ravaged the planet without a qualm and believed emotional understanding led to universal acceptance. At the same time, it seems most of us never really stopped being the greedy cave monkey obsessively snatching whatever it wanted with no consideration of others or even consequences. We’re apparently a little more in tune with the planet now, and finally learning to share and play well with others…

This witty, no-nonsense treatise offers sage advice on becoming our best selves by dealing with our selfish natures – something that really should have been bred out of humanity eons, if not centuries, ago. It should be made compulsory reading in every school and college (and pub, and nightclub, and scenic natural beauty spot, and cinema and waiting room and…)
A Quick & Easy Guide to Consent ™ & © 2020 Isabella Rotman. All rights reserved.

Leonardo da Vinci: The Renaissance of the World


By Marwan Kahil & Ariel Vittori, translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-259-5 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-260-1

Some people are simply so famous that everybody thinks they already know all about them. That’s what makes biographies like this one such a tricky proposition. As always, talent will tell and the narrative gifts of writer Marwan Kahil and illustrator Ariel Vittori are more than sufficient to breathe fresh life into a much-told tale of one of the most accomplished men in world history…

Kahil (A. Einstein – the Poetry of Real) studied at the École Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris and Simon Boudvin’s prestigious Graphic Art Workshops before deciding to split his time and efforts between comics and film and theatre. Rome-based Ariel Vittori (Quelques pincées de désir) is an artist and designer who numbers Disney, Campari and Monadori amongst her satisfied clients, although her true calling is narrative illustration. She is co-founder and President of Attacapanni Press: an independent publisher matching rising stars with seasoned comics veterans…

Available in English in both sturdy hardback and assorted digital formats, Leonardo da Vinci: The Renaissance of the World opens with a querulous preface from Kahil before the Maestro’s eventful life begins to unfold in glorious colour as the elder reminisces in Rome 1515 anno domini…

It begins with ‘Chapter 1: A Young Man Unlike Any Other’ in April 1452 at the hamlet of Anchiano (near Vinci) with the welcoming of a very observant baby to loving extended family. Time passes and a doting grandfather passes, leaving the special child apprenticed to a painter in Florence…

The present interrupts as the elderly Leonardo falls foul of the Roman clergy and is forced to flee to France…

‘Chapter 2: The Most Handsome Man in Florence’ then follows the seemingly blessed teenager as he excels and overtakes his mentor Andrea del Verrocchio, roistering his way through Florence and making many friends and far more enemies as he courts rich, powerful and essentially dangerous patrons. Throughout it all he is driven by his unconventional romantic drive and fanatical compulsion to see more and understand everything…

In ‘Chapter 3: The Sforza’s Man’ the itinerant ideas man reaches Milan and works for the powerful duke, even as his older self in 1515 must deal with the so-different responses of his two apprentices Salaì and Francesco to their impending arrest and excommunication…

The sage concludes as the great man finally achieves a measure of peace and security under the patronage of lifelong admirer Francis I, allowing Leonardo to end his days in ‘Chapter 4: In the Service of the King of France’

Although many scenes and snippets are taken from non-chronological key moments, the overall effect reveals a life both frustrating and often dangerous, but lived very much on the scholar’s own terms and with few regrets. The tale is also liberally dosed with revelatory secrets on the creation of the Masters greatest artworks and scientific discoveries, adding a degree of enthralling vitality to proceedings.

This beguiling dramatized biography is splendidly augmented by educational extras, such as with ‘Leonardo da Vinci – Works’: a commentary on many of his creations, supplemented by a crucial illustrated menu of ‘Principal Players’, a fulsome list of further reading in ‘More on Leonardo’ and a copious illustrated collection of ‘Quotes of Leonardo da Vinci’.

Seen here is a visual delight celebrating a unique mind and personality, and one you should reacquaint yourself with as soon as you can.

© 2017 Blue Lotus Prod. © 2019 NBM for the English translation.

For more information and other great reads go to NBMpub.com

Liebestrasse


By Greg Lockard, Tim Fish, Héctor Barros, Lucas Gattoni (Greg Lockard/ComiXology Originals)
No ISBN: digital only.

I’m ending our salute to Gay Pride and LGBTQ publishing with a little something that encapsulates the core concept of the entire issue: the right to love and be loved by whoever you choose. In our history, that’s been a long hard battle and one not won yet, but if you never start anything, you’ll never finish and I firmly believe bigotry is ultimately self-defeating. I just wish it was a faster process and that our opposition was more reasonable and less fanatical…

Set firmly in the footsteps of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, this tale of regret and thwarted love comes from writer Greg Lockard and artist Tim Fish, aided and abetted by Héctor Barros on colours with Lucas Gattoni providing letters and calligraphy.

The story opens covertly in the Land of the Free in 1952 as an aging, wealthy man seeks solace and the company of “his own kind” in a very special bar…

The next day, Sam Wells visits a modern art exhibition where a brief encounter with a young man of similar tastes triggers a flashback to an old friend. Soon after, Wells is flying to Berlin to establish new business contacts and, hopefully, relive the better moments of his past.

As he moves about the divided city, Wells’ mind flits back to 1932 when, as a young Mover & Shaker, he was posted to Germany to set up an overseas office for his company. For a young man of wealth and his particular tastes, the Weimar Republic offered many opportunities, temptations and, crucially, freedom from dangerous oversight. However, there was also a sense of oppressive menace, especially after meeting audacious, outspoken Philip Adler… and falling madly, passionately, head over heels in love.

Philip’s sister Hilde was already in the sights of the rising National Socialists for creating un-Aryan art, but his constant challenging of the party in words, and especially with his “degenerate” lifestyle, soon painted a target on all their backs, as well as on the numerous doomed and dancing-on-the-volcano’s-edge liberals Sam met at parties in in the music clubs…

As the months passed, the affair intensified – as did the danger – and inevitably, the hammer fell. For Sam that meant a beating and deportation, but for Philip there was no such callous leniency. Now decades later, Wells is back and has to face Hilde again…

Forceful, frantic, passionate and deeply moving, Liebestrasse is a powerful testament to the abiding power and wonder of passion and a sobering reminder of how far we’ve come: an irrefutable argument for live and let love…
LIEBESTRASSE © 2019 Greg Expectations, LLC & Timothy Poisson. All rights reserved.

Little David


By David Cantero (Northwest Press)
eISBN: 978-1-9438900-0-2 (digital only)

Families are important: by all metrics the foundation of human society. If we swallow our arrogant exceptionalism for a moment, it’s also the binding concept of all mammalian life and a fair bit of the rest of Earth’s breathing occupants. You just need to be flexible, amenable to change and willing to re-examine and where necessary loosen any old hidebound definitions you might have acquired while growing up…

The concept is one we’re finally shedding: escaping centuries of oppressive preconditioning and the diktat of whatever autocratic – or, more usually, theocratic – hegemony presumes to run your life.

I’ll restate that just in case I wasn’t clear: human beings are all about families and what constitutes a family is open to interpretation…

David Cantero Berenguer (The Little Swallow Light, Cunitoons, People) was born in Cartagena, Spain and – after graduating in 1996 from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Liège – embarked on a stellar career as an author, cartoonist, illustrator, concept artist, designer and games maker. He is a prolific creator of books and graphic novels for kids and adults. Many of his works involve gay themes, ranging from inclusive all-ages chronicles (like the one under review here) to beguiling adult erotica.

First released in 2015 and deftly referencing Winsor McCay’s classic fantasy Little Nemo in Slumberland, Little David is a delicious selection of short gags wherein the ever-inquisitive titular star cavorts, chats and interacts with nine other kids, all cumulatively representing the wealth of options qualifying as family units today.

David himself has two dads, and pal Ulysses has a widowed mother, a stepdad and two half-brothers, whilst forthright Marie just has her mum. Abrasive Big Harry is full-nuclear in a biological clan of mum, dad and one sister, whereas Lenais a result of artificial insemination undertaken by her already-divorced mother. Anastasia has a mum and dad who conceived her in vitro, and PJ was adopted. Completing the menu, Ian has a trans dad and a mum whilst twins Yoko and Keiko have two mums and are the result of natural insemination…

That’s a heady mix and the subject of exactly the kind of innocently incisive, hilarious conversations you’d imagine a bunch of smart, curious kids to indulge in when the adults are absent and they’re trying to get to know each other.

The result is a charming and wittily compelling string of spit-take moments, especially as David (and his beloved stuffed unicorn Little Poo Poo) not only learn about many other ways of living but also explore various ways of dressing and expressing his own developing personality, interests and choices…

As innocently enchanting as Peanuts, as astute as Bloom County and as revelatory as Calvin and Hobbes, this peewee playground of family fun offers as sincerely inclusive and heartwarming kindergarten of comics messaging as you’d ever want your kids to see and is also a superb example of top rate cartooning to gladden the eyes.

Little David is a book every home and elementary school should have and use.
© 2015 David Cantero. All rights reserved.

Maybe… Maybe Not and Maybe… Maybe Not Again!


By Ralf König, translated by Jeff Krell (Northwest Press)
No ISBNs:

I’d like to think that most of the social problems humanity suffers from can be fixed by a little honesty and a lot of communication – especially when it comes to relationships. Being able to laugh together probably helps too. In regard to sexual politics and freedom it’s an attitude Germany adopted decades ago. As a result, the country has an admirable record of acceptance of the LGBTQ community and a broad penetration (yes, I’m awful! And Not Funny!) of gay comics into the general population.

Undisputed king of home-grown graphic novels is Ralf König, a multi-award-winning cartoonist, filmmaker and advocate with almost fifty titles (such as Suck My Duck, Santa Claus Junior, Stehaufmännchen, and Kondom des Grauens – released in Britain as The Killer Condom) under his belt.

He was born in August 1960 and came out in 1979, crafting an unceasing parade of incisive and hilarious strips and sagas set in and around the nation’s ever-evolving gay scene. Much to his own surprise, he discovered that his work had vaulted the divide from niche market to become a staple of popular mass market book sales. The two collections covered here – curated, “Foreworded” and translated by American cartoonist Jeff Krell (creator of gay domestic sitcom strip Jayson) and available as eBooks from Northwest Press even inspired the largest grossing film in German history…

Originally published as Der Bewegte Mann in 1987 (and appearing in a UK paperback from Ignite! Entertainment in 2005 if you can find it), Maybe… Maybe Not introduces a cool and comfortable group of gay men enjoying their glamourous, gossipy days and nights in Dusseldorf. However, after ambiguous – and curious – hetero hunk Axel enters their lives, Walter Ruhmann AKA Waltrina and Norbert find composure increasingly rocked and jarred out of kilter…

After failing to trick his girlfriend Doro into taking him back via a fake suicide attempt, Axel rudely returns to the Men’s Support Group where Waltrina acts as the expert voice on homosexuality and related issues as a representative of the Dusseldorf Gay Alliance.

Waltrina cannot take his eyes off Axel, and astonishingly, über-macho Axel seemingly responds. Maybe he’s not totally ‘On the Straight and Narrow’

The confusion mounts in ‘Clothes Make the Man’ as Axel agrees to go to a party with Walter and Norbert also falls under his brawny spell…

An ever-escalating comedy of errors and sexual impolitics launches as Axel adjusts surprisingly well to the alternative lifestyle and scene of those turbulent times, before grudgingly revealing a few secrets from his own past. Before long, he’s couch-surfing with his new pals, but everything comes to a hedonistic head after ‘Attack of the Killer Penis’ exposes the clearly-confused and conflicted brute to the pros and cons of Gay culture, proving he is still ‘Deep in the Closet’ one way or another…

Doro, meanwhile, is having second thoughts about the useless lump she thought she was well rid of. She’s been to the doctor and has some news…

The hilarious and still-outrageous volume ends with a happy event in ‘Epilogue: Two Months Later’ when Axel’s two worlds collide and have to play nice at the church…


Sequel volume Maybe… Maybe Not Again! opens scant months later with ‘Trouble in Paradise’ and Axel still undecided on whether he’s Gay or Straight (modern shades of gender and sexuality being largely unestablished way back in 1988), but definitely less than enamoured of his impending membership in a traditional nuclear family. He’s also blithely unaware of the fallout he’s left in the now-acrimonious friendship circle inhabited by Watrina and new rival Norbert.

A new disruptive element arrives when ‘Muscle Queens’ introduces spitefully provocative bitch Frank Hilsmann – who thrives on infidelity and innuendo. He targets poor Norbert even as Axel’s manic old flame ‘Elke Schmitt’ resurfaces and tempts the undecided oaf with yet another bad choice… hot, commitment-free hetero infidelity while Doro is at her most shouty and unattractive…

Of course he succumbs, and of course he drags in his still-smitten Norbert to provide cover and a comfortable liaison space. And of course, such ‘Commitment’ to friendship and fidelity only makes things worse for poor Norbert as he finds himself overwhelmed by the cost of everyone else’s ‘Primal Urges’. Thankfully the chaos is derailed when Doro turns up on her way to the delivery room…

Simultaneously wry and witty and coarsely hysterical, these books manage to bawdily entertain whilst asking questions that still vex many of us to this day. Maybe… Maybe Not and Maybe… Maybe Not Again! certainly won’t appeal to everybody, but if you love a big raucous belly laugh about how daft we can all be about one of the most basic drives we’re afflicted with, these might well become some of your favourite reads.
© 1987, 1988 by Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH, Reinbek bei Hamburg, Germany. All rights reserved.

I Am Not Okay with This



By Charles Forsman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-193-2 (FB PB) 978-0-57135-012-4 (Faber & Faber PB)

Teenage rites of passage are an evergreen source for dramatic material – and comedy too, if you’re fortunate enough to survive the inescapable maturation process relatively unscathed and not too warped – especially when viewed from a bit of distance and with the right perspective.

Even so, it certainly seems that the problems faced get worse for each successive generation. I can remember my lot facing peer and parental pressure, sexual and/or gender confusion, the war against conformity, political despair and general powerlessness, all while trying to stay sober enough to finish A-Level exams and ponder our employment futures, but trolls and invisible bullies you can’t escape or confront? No, thanks…

Today’s issues have a unique (devil’s) advocate however, in a brilliant cartoonist who combines keen insight, devilish imagination and an uncanny ear for dialogue to make stories it’s impossible to not respond to, no matter your specific age or circumstance…

Charles Forsman is a multi-award-winning graduate of Vermont’s celebrated Center for Cartoon Studies, whose previous releases include Celebrated Summer, The End of the Fucking World, Hobo Mom and self-published minicomics such as Snake Oil, Revenger and Slasher

Already into its third physical printing, readily available digitally and the basis for an equally evocative – but by no means identical – TV adaptation, I Am Not Okay with This is rendered in a powerfully deceptive and underplayed cartoon primitivist manner which deviously disguises the fact that this yarn has the shock value and emotional impact of a chunk of concrete chucked through your windscreen from a motorway overpass…

The tale for our times opens with troubled outsider Sydney reluctantly complying to a school counsellor’s urgings to start a journal to catalogue and confront her feelings. Syd is 15 and confused: she’s so far from pretty, a poor student, and recently lost her war-veteran dad in a most unconventional manner.

She’s fighting with her mom – who wastes all her time at her crappy waitressing job – and idiot little brother Liam. Her only friend Dina is now ghosting her, having just discovered boys in the incomprehensibly form of vile jock Brad. He wants to keep the freak away from his “property” and calls Syd a dyke. Maybe she is? So what?

…And now – as if sexual confusion, family insecurity and disgusting body breakouts aren’t enough – Syd discovers a hidden and uncontrollable ability to cause harm and destruction with her mind. She also thinks someone dark and dangerous is dogging her heels and knows all her secrets…

The similarities to the broader elements of Stephen King’s epistolary landmark Carrie or Kazuya Kudō & Ryoichi Ikegami’s Mai the Psychic Girl soon vanish in this tale, as the progression of diary entries intimately expose a succession of poor decisions and relationship mistakes that reshape and transform Syd and everyone she knows.

Sadly, the choices made by one lost soul are increasingly irredeemable. They will never get the chance to live down or move away from the events that soon overtake them all, bringing tragedy and disaster in their wake…

Potent and moving, I Am Not Okay with This is a devastatingly affecting variation on a teenage theme, and an unforgettable exploration of becoming human everyone with a heart and mind must read.
© 2018 Charles Forsman. This edition © 2018 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All rights reserved.

Blue is the Warmest Color


By Julie Maroh, translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger (Arsenal Pulp Press)
ISBN: 978-1-55152-514-3

Blue is the Warmest Color won the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Sadly the buzz around this big screen interpretation – it is not an adaptation – concentrated on the “excessive and prolonged lesbian sex scenes“ (decried and disowned by graphic novel author Julie Maroh) rather than the story.

We’re only really about comics here: it’s the words and pictures on paper that matter to me and hopefully to you too…

And what a wonderful marriage they make in Maroh’s moodily pensive exploration of prejudice and acceptance in a straightforward but devastating coming-of-age love story.

Le bleu est une couleur chaude was first published in France by Glénat in 2010, five years after Maroh originally began the tale as a 19-year old student studying Visual Arts and Lithography/Engraving at the Institut Saint-Luc and Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts (Brussels).

The collected album won the fan-determined Fnac-SNCF Essential prize (Audience Award) at the 2011 Angoulême International Comics Festival, subsequently garnering many more international accolades. Sadly, no American publisher was brave enough to tackle the English language translation, but that’s why indie outfits like Canada’s Arsenal Pulp exist…

The story opens as Emma returns to a house she was unceremoniously banished from decades ago. Beloved Clementine is dead, but her last wish was that her one true love have her journals; books which described the thoughts and fears, ambitions and dreams of a confused 15-year old girl who struggled to accept her nature in a toxic school and home environment where loving someone of your own sex was considered an abomination…

Emma stays overnight in a home scarred by tragedy and steeped in tension, repentance and still-undispelled animosity, reading of how, in 1994, fraught and frantic high schooler Clementine saw a girl with blue hair and just couldn’t forget her…

This is a beautiful, simple, evocative and ultimately tragic story about how two very young people fell in love and what eventually happened to them. It’s not polemical or declamatory and doesn’t have points to score. That the Romeo and Juliet are both female is sublimely irrelevant except in the ways and manners it shaped the problems the lovers had to overcome…

Depicted alternately in a beguiling wash of misty full colour and stark dichromatic tones, the images are subdued and enthralling, not dynamic or overblown, and although there are some explicit love scenes, they are vital to the tale’s context and utterly subsumed by the overwhelming tide of elegiac sadness, political and social turmoil and doom-laden mystery which permeates the proceedings.

This is a masterful and compellingly human story that will astound lovers, loving grown-ups and all lovers of comics narrative.

Yes, there is a movie, but for pity’s sake read this first…

English Language edition © 2013 Arsenal Pulp Press. First published in French as Le bleu est une couleur chaude by Julie Maroh © 2010 Glénat Editions. All rights reserved.