London Inferno


By LF Bollée & Roger Mason (Markosia)
ISBN: 978-1-913359-80-5 (TPB)

There’s nothing better than a sharp and nasty noir crime caper and this chilling mini-epic – the result of a superb cross-Channel collaboration – is perfect proof of that.

Life is all about the promises we keep and the bonds we make, but which are the most important: the comradeship of best friends or the fierce passion of true love?

Laurent Frédéric Bollée was born in Orléans in 1967 and has been writing since he was twenty: comics such as Bruno Brazil, Terra Australis and ApocalyseMania as well as proper books too, should your inclinations stray that way…

Young Brit Roger Mason crafts the Mice series of graphic novels, drew stuff for 2000AD and first worked with Bollée on Mongo le Magnifique. Now safely ensconced in New Zealand he pushes pencils brushes and computer mice on film storyboards and other commercial art mainstays…

London Inferno is a smart and violent cop story with nasty psychological undertones used to highlight a classic noir scenario. John and Mark are hardened Vice coppers, always looking to take out the scum of the underworld and ready to give their lives for each other.

Mark is married to Valerie, but John knows it’s not a happy union. After all, he’s shagging her whenever Mark isn’t around, even in some extremely risky locations…

The unstable situation suddenly ends in the most horrific manner possible, when Valerie is murdered at a party, and John realises that despite all the witnesses, the killer they have in custody is not the perpetrator…

And thus unfolds a seamy sordid example of crimes of passion and vengeance taken, but in the end, who’s really the victim and who is truly guilty?

Rendered in stark and stunning monochrome, this is a feast for lovers of sophisticated crime thrillers that will delight the eyes and the mind, and art lovers can also enjoy a bonus section comprising a section on how the cover was created, as well as full creator biographies.

Bleak, uncompromising and splendidly amoral, this is a book you’ll enjoy over and over again.
London Inferno™ & © LF Bollée, Roger Mason & Markosia Enterprises, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Isle of 100,000 Graves


By Fabien Vehlmann & Jason, coloured by Hubert and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-442-9 (TPB)

Not much chance of a hearty communal “Yo-Ho-Ho” or any satisfactory plundering or pillage this International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Best to stay tucked and layin’ low, with some age-appropriate grog, a few hearty nibbles and a good book on the subject… like this one, perhaps…

Multi-award-winning French comics author Fabien Vehlman was born in 1972, began his comics career in 1996 and has been likened to the legendary René Goscinny. He’s best known for the wonderful Green Manor< series (illustrated by Denis Bodart), Seven Psychopaths with Sean Phillips, Seuls (drawn by Bruno Gazzotti and available in English as Alone) and Wondertown with Benoit Feroumont. In 2011 Vehlmann assumed the writing reins on legendary series Spirou et Fatasio.

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 regn (Pocket Full of Rain) won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize). He won another Sproing in 2001 for the series Mjau Mjau before in 2002 turning almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. He is a global star among the cognoscenti and blokes like me, and has won numerous major awards from all over the planet.

This was his first collaboration with a writer, and Jason adds his uniquely laconic anthropomorphic art-stylings to a surprisingly edgy, deliciously dark and blackly comedic tale of sundered families, sinister secrets and bombastic buccaneers.

Holding his signature surreality in check, Jason perfectly captures the odd tale of homely little girl Gwenny, who leaves her appalling mother to search for her long-lost father: gone for many a year in search of pirate treasure.

The self-assured and devious lass tricks her way onto a sea-rovers vessel, outwits the murderous corsairs long enough to reach the eponymous Isle of 100,000 Graves – even tricking one of that scurrilous brotherhood into becoming her unwilling protector – and then abandons them to a horrendous fate as the uncanny denizens of the lost land attack…

The island is home to a cult of torturers and killers called the Hangman’s Academy: an institution dedicated to preserving the traditions and teaching the myriad skills necessary to becoming a top-flight inquisitor and officially-sanctioned executioner. Moreover, the scary school has recently run out of live specimens for maiming and murdering…

As Gwenny single-mindedly searches for signs of her missing dad, she meets Tobias, a killer-in-training sadly out of place amongst his fellow students. With his aid the doughty maid survives incalculable horrors before freeing the surviving pirates as a callous distraction. When they escape, a colossal battle with the hooded executioner ensues.

Gwenny, however, is not distracted: she’s found the answer to her questions…

Mordantly hilarious, this superbly cynical fable rattles along in captivating fashion: a perfect romp for older kids and a huge treat for fans looking for something a little bit different…

Jason’s work always jumps directly into the reader’s brain and heart, using his beastly repertory company to gently pose eternal questions about basic human needs in a soft but relentless quest for answers. That you don’t ever notice the deep stuff because of the clever gags and safe, familiar “funny-animal” characters should indicate just how good a cartoonist he is. His collaboration here with the slyly sardonic Vehlmann produced a genuine classic that we’ll all be talking about for years to come…
© Jason and Fabien Vehlmann. All rights reserved.

Vowels


By Skye Ogden (Gestalt Publishing)
ISBN: 978-0-9775628-1-7 (PB)

I’ve long admitted my love for comics in black & white and frequently expressed my admiration for creators who can tell a tale in utter silence, without benefit of text, and this lavish and splendid digest sized (212 x 144mm) paperback is one of my favourite examples of the form.

Created by Australian cartoonist, designer and illustrator Skye Ogden, Vowels is a phenomenally engaging sequence of five linked fables which mesmerically examine aspects of the human condition, all played out in an oddly welcoming, if harsh, desert landscape that houses hulking cavemen and their suitably formidable women, adorable lizards, wide eyed aliens and, latterly, extremely unpleasant invading soldiery…

This is one of those books you’ll thank me for staying non-specific about, so I’ll only go so far as to say that ‘a’ is a broadly comedic chase vignette starring those aforementioned dawn people and the unlucky reptile, whilst ‘e’ introduces a diminutive alien wanderer to the happy, hirsute couple before following the unhappy voyager into a most peculiar afterlife and rebirth…

In ‘i’ the little guy’s distant relatives take the stage in a bustling marketplace for a dose of Romeo and Juliet frustration and tragedy before overwhelming, abiding loss is expressively characterised in ‘o’, after which the fascinating, universally accessible discussion on the nature of existence concludes with the brutal horrors of war, occupation and vengeance…

Depicted in a beguiling, timelessly engaging cartoon style, deliciously reminiscent of the legendary Vaughn Bode and employing all the devastatingly expressive, pantomimic artifices of Charlie Chaplin, Vowels is a masterpiece of the cartoonist’s craft where life, death, love, hate, jealousy, obsession, protectiveness, greed, raw naked aggression and cruelty are pared down to the bone and graphically, forensically explored in a manner which only makes us hungry for more.

Deeply enticing, appealingly slick and intoxicatingly addictive, Vowels is an irresistible torrent of purely visual drama and which will delight all aficionados of the medium who value comics for their own sake, and don’t need a route map or score card to enjoy themselves. And it’s long overdue to be revived and rediscovered. In my alphabet, that rates a great big oooooo….
© 2007 Skye Ogden. All rights reserved.

School Spirits


By Anya Davidson (Picturebox)
ISBN: 978-1-939799-02-9 (HB)

Sometimes art – and especially comics – defy dull ration analysis and, just like the music your parents didn’t like, grabs you way below any conscious level. Such is the case here as prodigious printmaker, mini comics auteur and cult musician Anya Davidson (Barbarian Bitch/Kramer’s Ergot, Child of the Sun, Coughs & Cacaw, Band for Life) who emerged into the major leagues with this cool, cruel monochrome hardback which lifts the lid on those terrible teenager people through a wry and macabre quartet of tales defining modern School Spirits.

Through freewheeling progressions, flashbacks, daydreams and conceptual digressions, David carries her girl of the moment Oola and BFF Garf through vicious, monstrous, demonic, occasionally surreal stream-of-consciousness hallucinatory everyday escapades which eerily recapitulate and invoke the best of underground commix and modern independent cartoonists from S. Clay Wilson to Johnny Ryan…

It all begins with a quick pictorial introduction in ‘School Spirits Picturebox Brooklyn’ before ‘Ticket Thicket’ introduce our cast when radio DJ Weird Wally Walczac galvanises a generation by offering a pair of phone prize tickets to the hottest gig in town: Hrothgar’s Halloween concert…

At ‘Vinyl Command’ we get a quick glimpse at the imagined, nigh-mythological life of the rock god Renaissance Man who wrote Blasphemous Corporeal Stench and Rotting Abortion before Oola wakes up and faints, after which the largely silent ‘Battle for the Atoll’ reveals the powers and mysteries of Primal Woman and leads us to a seat of learning…

‘No Class’ opens with a frantic chase before retreating to school where Oola’s hunger for knowledge and passionate drooling over class stud-muffin Grover is ruined by mouthy dick Jason, who spoils Art and Ceramics only to die hideously in our heroine’s fevered thoughts…

Further bouts of noxious reality – such as the affair between teachers Miss DeLeon and Mister Kirbowski – fall prey to imagination and horny supposition, all similarly despatched and destroyed in dreamscape, until break when the girls can continue planning the big magic spell they’re concocting to really shake up the town…

And thus the time passes progress until the day of the gig when Oola is caught shoplifting and stabs a guard before fleeing into another miasmic multi-reality chase which culminates at the life-changing Hrothgar show ‘In the Great Riff Valley’

Like some fervent Archie Comics of the Damned, School Spirits readily blends the profane with the arcane, and the regimented tedium of waiting to be in charge of your life with the terrors and anticipation of the moment it all becomes Your Own Fault, in a rollercoaster ride of eclectic images Davidson describes as ‘“Beavis and Butthead” meets James Joyce’s “Ulysses”’. What I know is this: the pace, style and sheer ingenuity of this book is brutally addictive and, despite constantly playing with the vertical and horizontal holds of Reality, never slips up and never loses narrative focus.

Strong, stirring stuff, full of sex and violence, and outrageously amusing all round. So, if you’re one of the millions of parents agonising over whether your kids are safe back at school, just remember they never have been…
© 2013 Anya Davidson. All rights reserved.

Like a Dog


By Zak Sally (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-165-7 (HB)

Some people do it for money or fame… and money. It doesn’t matter what form of creative endeavour “it” is. Whatever art-form you’re thinking of, there are those who are rewarded for their creative efforts (whether fairly or otherwise is another can of worms and I’m not going there) as they either work within or expand the boundaries of their medium, and there are the other sort. Sometimes the other sort gets really lucky and finds fame and fortune along the way.

Why am being so obtuse?

Because unless you are one of those other types that will produce paintings or music or poetry or whatever shapes and impels your life even after every other carbon-based life-form on the planet is dead – or worse yet, just ignores or humours you – then you have no idea of how powerful the compulsion to create can be.

Bassist and musician Zak Sally has travelled far (as a member of bands Low, Enemy Mine and The Hand) and dabbled in photography and all forms of print media, but what he is at his core is a cartoonist. He sees the world in terms of incidents, epigrams and bon mots he reproduces as sequential images. He has been producing stories, mini-comics, gags, nonfiction and biographical tales and even historical and political drama for over 20 years in his self-published ‘zine Recidivist, and other peoples productions such as Mome, Dirty Stories, The Drama, Comic Art Magazine and other places discerning enough to print them.

Even if they hadn’t, he would still have drawn them, and in 2009 they were collected in a magnificent hardback collection from Fantagraphics which gathered the first two issues of Recidivist in their entirety, and included another thirteen unique and compelling tales in a variety of styles and media, all copiously and tellingly annotated as an encore.

Personal favourites – and there are many – include the bleakly informative ‘Dresden’ (because haven’t we all wanted to be rock stars?), the graphically bold ‘Dread’ and ‘The War Back Home’ but, unfettered by commercial pressures, the author has been able to turn his attentions to whatever caught his eye and the book is a broad anthology of material ranging from horror to comedy to surreal dreamy pure imagery, all underpinned by a keen wit, a canny eye for design and a great ear for dialogue.

Without doubt the best pieces are the utterly superb ‘At the Scaffold’ (an account of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s imprisonment by the Tsar) and ‘The Man who Killed Wally Wood’ an “it-happened-to-me” recollection that will captivate any fanboy with an ear for scandal and rumour…

This is a gloriously rough-hewn and hands-on collection from a compulsive cartoonist and storyteller packaged with the flair and imagination that has become a trademark of the world’s leading publisher of fascinating comics. This book didn’t make much of an impact back then and won’t appeal to everybody (especially devotees of the superhero mainstream), but Sally’s dedication to innovation, exploration and imagination will astound and entrance anyone who knows capital “A” Art when they see it. This is a read that demands rescue, revivification, and resounding renown. Over to you, then…
© 2009 Zak Sally except where otherwise noted. All rights reserved.

Mother Come Home


By Paul Hornschemeier (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-973-9 (HB) 978-1593070373 (PB)

Paul Hornschemeier is a Californian author, artist, musician and film maker whose non-comics work has appeared as far afield as in Life Magazine to The Wall Street Journal to McSweeney’s. He’s produced animations for TV, lectures on YouTube and is part of the Creative Writing Faculty of the University of Chicago. He is internationally renowned for his lectures on the philosophy of narrative and art creation.

Mother, Come Home originally ran in marvellous indie publication Forlorn Funnies, before being gathered into a lyrically stunning and dreamily magnetic exploration of grief and coping mechanisms in a soft cover collection in 2004. In 2009 Fantagraphics produced a beautiful and magnificent deluxe hardback edition of one of the best, most emotionally complex and graphically symbolic tales ever to grace our medium.

Tom is a seven-year old boy whose mother has just died. As his father David – a deeply intellectual college professor of symbolic logic – slowly retreats into a nervous collapse, the youngster assumes the household duties as much as he is able. Throughout his trials, the boy is bolstered by his love and sense of duty, as well as the innate half-world of fantasy that is the rightful domain of the very young.

Empowered by a dime-store lion-mask his mother bought him, Tom becomes the head of his diminished clan and guardian of the home… until his aunt and uncle discover how ill his father has become.

When David voluntarily commits himself to an institution, Tom goes to live with them, but dreams of reuniting with his true family; even planning a meticulous escape and joyous reunion. However, when he takes action the consequences are painfully revelatory, inevitably tragic and hauntingly real…

Rendered in a number of simple, powerful styles, utilising a mesmeric, muted colour palette to bind ostensibly neutral images (that nevertheless burn with a highly charged intensity) with a simplified heavy line, this subtle, seductive, domestic tragedy is a perfect example of how our medium can so powerfully layer levels of meaning and abstract a personal reality until it becomes greater than itself.

Deeply moving, monstrously deep and overwhelmingly simple, Mother, Come Home is a true classic and ranks beside such noteworthy pictorial novels as Maus, Barefoot Gen, Stuck Rubber Baby, Pride of Baghdad, Persepolis or My Favorite Thing is Monsters. This is a tale nobody could ever be embarrassed about reading, but they should feel ashamed if they haven’t…
© 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009 Paul Hornschemeier. All Rights Reserved.

What We Don’t Talk About


By Charlot Kristensen (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-91039-555-4 (PB)

There plenty wrong with the world, but most of it could probably be sorted if people got together and discussed things rationally and honestly. Some individuals, however, don’t want to change positions or even agree there’s a problem at all. This book isn’t for them, and we’ll have to find more drastic ways to deal with their nonsense…

Dublin-based artist Charlot Kristensen graduated from Middlesex University in 2015 with a degree in Illustration and has since pursued a career in the arts. Her visual and narrative gifts are superbly highlighted in this vibrant examination of an interracial relationship in crisis. Kristensen is of Afro-Danish descent and clearly knows what she’s talking about and how best to depict it…

Painted in lavish and mood-setting colours, What We Don’t Talk About focuses on an idyllic modern romance as artist Farai accompanies her white boyfriend Adam to Lake Windemere to finally meet his parents. They’ve been lovers for two years now, ever since University, but her beautiful gentle musician is uncharacteristically nervous – even short-tempered – as the journey begins. Farai almost regrets the trip, even though she’s been pushing for it from the start…

Her nerves and his tension dissipate on the trip up, but are immediately revived when she meets Charles and Martha. The look on their faces and the tone of the greeting tell Farai an old story…

In frosty diffidence, the social amenities are followed but it’s not just a barely suppressed attitude of polite condescension Farai experiences. Martha’s blunt opinions extend to all aspects of her son’s life. Although she clearly opposes Adam’s choice of career, after meeting the girlfriend, Mother now has a new problem to gnaw at…

As the weekend progresses, Martha’s sneering, passive aggressive comments go from dismissive to openly hostile: mocking Farai’s clothes and denigrating the achievements of her Zimbabwean parents (a doctor and engineer). It soon transpires that it’s not just her who’s a problem: people with funny names or difficult accents and all Muslims also fail Martha’s tests of decency and acceptable standards. The matriarch also thinks the world should be grateful for British colonialism…

And Adam? He’s loving and conciliatory but ultimately weak and avoiding the issue. He knows what his mum says is objectionable, offensive and just plain wrong, but can’t bring himself to say anything or rebuke his parents. He tries to divert conversations rather than defend Farai, even employing the “just a joke defence” at a most distressing family dinner…

He doesn’t seem to believe their attitude is unacceptable or that it even matters. Farai’s seen it all before. This is a love story that cannot possibly end well…

Like a modern-day Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, this powerful graphic drama forensically picks open the sores underlying much of modern society’s attempts to integrate and assimilate long-entrenched attitudes: revealing not just how far we’ve all come, but how far we still have to go.

Comics have always had an admirable record in addressing issues of bigotry and racial injustice, and this tale takes that to the next level with wonderful empathy and through the eyes of someone who’s sadly “been there, done that” all too often…

That the ignorance and intolerance still daily endured by so many today is perpetually ignored, diminished and dismissed by those in charge has never been more effectively shown as in this unforgettable vignette. Luxuriant colours and a welcoming cartoon style act to subversively and devastatingly prove that prejudice doesn’t lurk in dark corners any more but instead proudly rears its head everywhere it can. But that just means we can – and should – slap it down more forcefully and decisively.
© 2020 Charlot Kristensen

What We Don’t Talk About is scheduled for release on September 10th 2020 and is available for pre-order now.

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.

Red Mother with Child (Louvre Collection)


By Christian Lax translated by Montana Kane (NBM/Musée du Louvre Éditions)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-257-1(HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-258-8

In 2005 one of the greatest museums in the world began an intriguing ongoing project with the upstart art form of comics; inviting some of the world’s most accomplished masters of graphic narrative to create new works in response to the centuries of acquired treasures residing within the grand repository of arts, history and culture.

The tales are produced in close collaboration with the forward-looking authorities of the Louvre, dedicated to pushing the envelope of what can be accomplished by master craftsman inspired by their creative antecedents and forebears. These are no thinly-concealed catalogues of exhibition contents gift-wrapped in cartoon terms to gull potential visitors off their couches and into a stuffy edifice of public culture, but vibrant and challenging comics events calculated to make you think again about what creativity and history mean…

Since then, many of our medium’s greatest exponents have crafted 11 astounding and compelling graphic novels and the twelfth may well be the most potent and rewarding thus far.

Courtesy of those fine folks at NBM, that latest beguiling bande dessinée is now available in English, highlighting Christian Lax’s inestimable artistic gifts and his dedication to and fascination with contemporary crises. Red Mother With Child shockingly combines reportage with drama and suspense with art appreciation to look beyond simplistic media hot button reports and governmental sideshow talking points to truly focus on one of the world’s most tragic human crises via the lens of immortal transcendent art and history…

Originally released in 2019 as Une Maternité rouge, this is a timely and powerful commentary on the value of art as well as a telling riposte to modern society’s callous ineptitude to the ongoing crisis of enforced global displacement. A beautifully robust oversized (234 x 305 mm) hardback graphic narrative – also available in digital formats – the tome follows the journey of one dedicated migrant as he strives to save a work of art from fanatics determined to destroy it in the name of misguided religion…

Multi award-winning author/artist Christian Lacroix AKA Christian Lax (Hector le castor, La marquise des Lumières, Azrayen) was born in Lyon on January 2nd 1949 and, after graduating from the École des beau-arts de Saint Étienne in 1975, began working in advertising whilst breaking into comics such as Metal Hurlant. After collaborating on a number of relatively straightforward adventure strips, in 1993 he began to carefully mine modern events for material, beginning with Romania-set political thriller La fille aux ibis. Since then has sought in all his works (which range from thrillers and historical journalism to sports strips such as Tour de France strip L’Aigle sans orteils) to show how social history impresses and shapes each generation…

Here, in muted lyrical hues, the tale begins in the Federation of Mali. It’s 1960 and the French are leaving the country days before it gains independence. With them they are taking every piece of native art and trinket of note…

One young boy determines that they won’t have everything and steals one statue: a small red figurine of a mother holding a baby…

In Spring 2015, officials and technicians of the Louvre discuss their jobs and the ethical ramifications of curating/safeguarding the cultural treasures of many lands and civilisations, even as, a scant distance away, a small band of refugees huddles under a café by the Seine. They all have stories of horrific past hardships and struggles to reach France and now endure daily kindness from some and cruel abuse from others. However, for one, his ultimate goal and mission is to breach the walls of the Louvre, itself…

Alou was a young honey hunter, at home with his simple world until he encountered Islamists throwing their weight around. After destroying the impious, heretical carving on Alou’s walking stick, the invaders blew up the ancient Baobab tree he was climbing. Secure in their power, the militants drove away unaware that their prank had unearthed a red figurine lost since Mali’s colonial days: a piece of art that grips the boy in a protective frenzy and makes him determined to save it from destruction at the hands of the anti-art fundamentalists…

With the aid of an old teacher/shaman with a secret interest, Alou sets out to place the Red Mother beyond their reach in the fabled Louvre. The boy must join the thousands abandoning their lives and homes and head for the relative paradise of Europe…

Lax has a unique talent for bringing history to vibrant life and a sublime ability to build rounded characters in a minimum of time and space. Packed with powerful detail, Alou’s journey throws a harsh spotlight on the plight of migrants and the causes of mass population displacement, but the artist narrator never loses sight of the fact that this is a tale of people. His contemporary epic shines with small acts of empathy and wickedness from a host of authentic characters peppering the voyage, turning a simple hero’s quest into a mighty pictorial paean to human endurance and testament to the force art exerts upon the soul.

Supplementing the narrative is a photo-packed essay detailing the history of the 14th century statue that inspired this tale and The Pavillon des Sessions’ that houses it.

This is another astounding and ferociously strident comics experience no art lover or devotee of the visual narrative medium can afford to miss…
© Futuropolis – Musée du Louvre Éditions 2019. © NBM 2020 for the English translation.
Most NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

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.