O Josephine!

By Jason (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-210-6 (HB)
Jason is secretly John Arne Saeterrøy: born in Molde, Norway in 1965 and an overnight international cartoon superstar since 1995 when his first graphic novel Lomma full ay (Pocket Full of Rain) won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize).

He won another Sproing in 2001 for his Mjau Mjau strip and the following year turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. Now an established global star, he has garnered numerous major awards from such disparate locales as France, Slovakia and the USA.

Jason’s breadth of interest is capacious and deep: comics, movies, music, high literature, low life, real life and pulp fiction all feature equally with absolutely no inherent sense of hierarchy, and his puckish mixing and matching of such evergreen founts of inspiration always result in a picture-treatise well worth a reader’s time.

A master of short-form illustrated tales, many Jason yarns are released as snappy little albums which are perfect for later inclusion in longer anthology collections such as this one which gathers a quartet of the most recent and very best.

As always, the visual/verbal bon mots unfold in Jason’s beguiling, sparse-dialogued, pantomimic progressions with enchantingly formal page layouts rendered in the familiar, minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Ligne Claire style; solid blacks, thick lines and settings of seductive simplicity. That delight is augmented here by a beguiling palette ranging from stark monochrome to primary yellow duotones…

Available thus far only as a sturdily comforting hardback, the stream of subtle wonderment opens with a suitably understated autobiographical jaunt to the land of Erin and an uneventful but truly mind-blowing progression along ‘The Wicklow Way’. The vacation hikes might be scenic and uneventful, but you’re never alone as long as you’re stuck inside your own head…

With the addition of a jaundiced inky outlook (and employing “yellow journalism” of the most literal kind) ‘L. Cohen: A Life’ then outlines the life and times of the poet, musician and philosopher, with a strong emphasis on whimsical inaccuracy and factual one-upmanship…

Filmic classicism underpins ‘The Diamonds’ as a pair of barely-boiled detectives lose all objectivity as their scrupulous surveillance of a simple family affects their own hidden lives before the low key dramatics slip back into monochrome and into the twilight zone after weary world traveller Napoleon Bonaparte returns to Paris and falls head over shiny heels for infamous exotic dancer Josephine Baker. As with all doomed romances, the path to happiness is rocky, dangerous, and potentially insurmountable, but… c’est l’amour!

Jason’s comic tales are strictly for adults but allow us all to look at the world through wide-open childish eyes, exploring love, loss, life, death, boredom and all aspects of relationship politics without ever descending into mawkishness or simple, easy buffoonery. His buffoonery is always slick and deftly designed for maximum effect…

Jason remains a taste instantly acquired: a creator any true fan of the medium should move to the top of their “Must-Have” list.
All characters, stories, and artwork © 2019 Jason. This edition © Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marble Cake

By Scott Jason Smith (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-47-9 (PB)

I might have mentioned once or twice that I read a lot of graphic novels. Some are awful, many are mediocre and the rest – good, noteworthy or just different from the mass, commercially-driven output of a global art and industry – I endeavour to share with you.

Some publishers make a proud policy of championing that last category (Top Shelf, NBM, Fantagraphics and others) and my favourite of those at the moment is British-based Avery Hill Publishing. I simply haven’t yet seen a duff or homogenised release from them yet. When this review copy plunked onto the mat, I realised that I still haven’t …

Scott Jason Smith hails from the seamy south side of London (as all the best folk do) and has quickly forged a solid reputation with his self-published comics and stories – like ‘Blossom the tall old lady’ and in collaborations with his mainstream-adjacent contemporaries in tomes such as 69 Love Songs Illustrated.

Scott is skilled in depicting people and mundane life and possesses a sharp sense of humour, honed by spending a lot of time listening to how ordinary folk talk. He knows what we all have in common and is extremely deft at using that as a means of building characters and constructing scenarios at once drearily familiar and subtly tweaked and twisted. This all adds a potent veracity to his particular brand of everyday adventuring which here seamlessly slips from a soap-operatic drama of the mundane or “Commedia dell’plebeia” to the suitably underplayed terrors of the Theatre of the Absurd as envisioned by Samuel Beckett or Daniel Clowes…

Marble Cake is his first novel-length tale and relates the intersecting moments of a bunch of strangers and casual near-acquaintances who all interact with till girl Tracy at the local Smartmart store. Her job leaves plenty of time to fantasize about what her customers do when she’s not around, but she really has no idea of what’s really going on. In fact, nobody does…

Life and death, joblessness and social standing, malice and sexual desire, ennui and intolerance, and especially hopelessness and general distrust tinge every real or imagined home-life Tracy ponders – even her own, but when genuine threat and mystery – such as a string of baffling disappearances – begin to grip the community, no one has any idea how to respond…

This compelling, pocket-sized (168 x 212 mm) paperback challenges notion of self-worth and universal rationality in a wry and acerbic manner that will intrigue and charm lovers of slice-of-life yarns and surreal storytelling who don’t mind doing a bit of the cerebral heavy lifting themselves.
© Scott Jason Smith 2019. All rights reserved.

How to Be Happy

By Eleanor Davis (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-740-6 (HB)

Do acts of creation make one happy? They certainly do for me. but sometimes so do acts of wanton destruction. I’m sharing, not judging…

Eleanor Davis is one of those rare sparks that just can’t help making great comics. Born in 1983, and growing up in Tucson, Arizona, she was blessed with parents who reared her on classic strips such as Little Nemo, Little Lulu and Krazy Kat. Following unconventional schooling and teen years spent making minicomics, she studied at Georgia’s wonderful Savannah College of Art and Design, where she now teaches. Her innovative works have appeared in diverse places such as Mome, Nobrow and Lucky Peach.

A life of glittering prizes began after her award-winning easy reader book Stinky was released in 2008. Davis has since followed up with gems such as The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook (with her husband Drew Weing), You & a Bike & a Road and Why Art?

In 2014, Fantagraphics released her themed collection of epigrammatic tales, crafted in a mesmerising variety of styles and riffing on the concept of joy and contentment: causes, failings, and what to do with them when and if they happen. These are enigmatic variations on the most ephemeral of emotions and one you only really notice when it’s gone, but the individual episodes here are truly joyous to share.

How to Be Happy is NOT a self-help book – at least not in any traditional sense, but it did make me feel very good when I first read it and only increases my sense of fulfilment every time I pick it up, whether in its comforting reassuring hardback edition or my ever-present anxiety-reducing digital edition…

These observational short stories were created, it seems, for the sheer innocent joy of making them, and examine many aspects of life through self-contained yarns ranging from cautionary tales to excoriating self-diagnosis to flights of sardonic fancy. Some are titled like proper narratives whilst others just happen like life does. Those I’ve identified by first lines if no title is obvious…

Packed with evocative, stand-alone imagery, the episodes commence with line art pictorial pep talk ‘Write a Story’ before switching to lush colour for ‘In Our Eden’, wherein a primitive life of pastoral toil starts to grate on Adam and Eve. They are, unsurprisingly, not all they seem…

Further monochrome line art interventionism manifests in ‘First We Take Off Our Clothes’ after which a short hop into full-colour and a longer one into a fraught future examines family life on Tomorrow’s sub-continent when ‘Nita Goes Home’

Separation and rural isolation underpin black-&-white monologue ‘We Come Down on Clear Days’ before the restricted colour palette of ‘Stick and String’ offers a hard look at relationships and agency in the tale of a wandering minstrel and the captivating power of momentary fascination…

Relations are further tested in monochrome as ‘Darling I’ve Realized I Don’t Love You’ provides unwise solutions to ancient problems before a truly disquieting incident of mutual grooming in ‘Snip’ segues into a chilling visit to ‘The Emotion Room’.

Colour is employed to potent effect in ‘He turned a grey-green and thought he might pass out’ whilst ‘Seven Sacks’ addresses grisly problems in a fresh fable Aesop or the Brothers Grimm would be proud to pen.

Two colours and self-delusion tinge ‘Did you want to see the statue?’, whilst B&W lines detail the rewards of heroic vitality in ‘Make Yourself Strong’, after which young love blossoms in living colour in ‘Summer Snakes’

The pure exultation and imagination of childhood is exposed through stark monochrome in ‘Thomas the Leader’ before a brief Vox-pop moment in ‘I used to be so unhappy but then I got on Prozac’ is built upon in further untitled moments of self-realisation before a strong admonition to ‘Pray’

Observation, tribulation and revelation all come to the author in ‘In 2006 I took a Greyhound from Georgia to Los Angeles’ before a descent into dark moments and extreme actions in ‘The fox must have been hit pretty recently…’ is balanced by intimate sharing in ‘The woman feels sadness’.

Colour adds depth in an extended moment of group therapy release in ‘No Tears, No Sorrow’, after which the wandering introspection of ‘9/26’ leads to a conclusion of sorts in a cab ride to ‘25 Washington Street, Please’

A superb example of the range and versatility of image and text happily combined, this a true joy for all fans of unbridled expression no one could fail to enjoy.
© Eleanor Davis 2014. All rights reserved.

Man V. Liver

By Neil Hinson & Paul Friedrich (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-4494-5055-7                  eISBN: 978-1-4494-4400-6

This morning, if you are like most humans – or indeed, most carbon-based lifeforms – you might be suffering the well-deserved and generally self-inflicted effects of too much partying.

Our love affair with alcohol and other intoxicants is hard-wired into our DNA and forms a cornerstone of human commerce, religion (pro and/or anti The Hard Stuff!), culture and even storytelling.

How many of your favourite writers, artists and performers have or had mythic relationships with booze? How many did it kill or destroy?

It’s an inescapable fact: there’s something simultaneously super-cool, bitterly tragic and hilariously funny about getting, sloshed, smashed, snockered, shit-faced, pickled, tanked or any other of the hundreds of other euphemisms for falling four sheets to the wind…

Paul Friedrich is a Pop Artist, cartoonist and graphic novelist from Raleigh, North Carolina, equally famed for his compelling “Low Def” paintings and the strip feature Onion Head Monster.

His career was proceeding splendidly apace when he finally got together – over drinks – with old buddy and writer/journalist Neil Hinson to create almost by accident a series of one off cartoons that sold so well at comics conventions that they kept on going.

From one-off gags on napkins to self-published minicomics they persevered until they had enough for a book which was eagerly snapped up by syndicated strip specialist publisher Andrews McMeel. In 2013 this slim (154 x 14 x 160 mm), sleek hardback book/eBook was released before the entire enticing package was optioned by Disney for its online arm…

The premise is both simple and astoundingly attractive. Man is a single guy looking for momentary physical gratification, temporary love and another drink.

He well knows the inherent perils but it’s just so cool, life is short and tomorrow is another hangover day.

His conscience, common sense and liver don’t stand a chance against the hedonistic attraction of life in the now, and as he drinks, the obvious joys of social drinking and perpetual hitting on women results in telling insights of barstool philosophy which he graciously shares with any who will listen… even if they don’t want to…

Its not just the pithy sayings and devastating bon (and mal) mots which instantly capture the attention: our dashingly debonair lush is always fetchingly attired in the best of Rat Pack chic and although he’s no Sinatra, Dino or Don Draper he does his best work against a dazzling, apex-designed, primary coloured backdrop that screams “pay attention, I’m working here”…

Smart, pithy, Rye – sorry – wry, sardonic and punishingly sarcastic, this modern-day style counsellor indulges to the fullest in a celebration of the Life without Tomorrows and the result is both stunningly engaging and bitingly funny: an infallible series of sodden slogans to carry you home even if your friends won’t.
Man V. Liver © Neil Hinson and Paul Friedrich. All rights reserved.