Things Undone


By Shane White (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-563-4 (PB)

The sheer variety of themes and species in contemporary cartooning can be quite breathtaking to an old coot who grew up with the restricted comics fare of a baby-boomer in Britain – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. These days I can peruse a graphic novel on any subject in any style and incorporating any number of converging genres – and this compelling gem comes pretty close to defying categorisation.

Things Undone is a little bit romance, a little bit alternative biography, a little bit punk and a whole lot of terrific. Young Rick Watts is an artist and world-weary peon in the art-consuming field of video games graphics. He’s just moved to Seattle for a new job, but nothing’s really changed, and relationship-wise things aren’t going so great either. Long-distance never works so he dragged his girl-friend clear across the country, and his 7-year hitch with her couldn’t have ended more badly…

When you can’t catch a break and the new life proves no better than the old one, what can a guy do? And it’s only a matter of time before somebody notices that Rick is a zombie, what with him leaving decaying extremities and eyeballs and such like all over the place. Maybe he should just get a gun and do the job right…?

This sharp and bittersweet examination of modern life is funny and poignant, using the populist imagery of the walking dead as an effective metaphor for modern life, but it’s the amazingly comforting art and production (the book is printed in black, white and shocking orange, in a kind of raucous skate-punk cartoon style) that underpins this tale, making the tragic comedic, and making confusion the means of exploring the mundane horrors of urban living.

Clever, witty and one of the most sensitive funny/sad, real/imaginary stories you’ll ever read. Track this down and change your life…
© 2009 Studiowhite LLC.

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.

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.

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.

Life with Kevin


By Dan Parent, J. Bone & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-68255-940-6 (TPB)

Created by writer/artist Dan Parent and inker Rich Koslowski, Kevin Keller debuted in Veronica #202 (September 2010): a charming, good-looking and exceedingly together lad who seemingly disrupted the eternal cartoon triangle of Archie Andrews, Veronica Lodge and Betty Cooper. Keller utterly bowled over the rich go-getter and she was totally smitten with him, although he was far more interested in food, sports and hanging out with the boys… especially JugheadJones

The new kid was a much-travelled, journalism-obsessed “Army Brat”, who in short order was elected Class President, made loads of friends and came out as Riverdale High School’s first openly gay student. When Kevin finally explained to Veronica why she was wasting her time, she became his best buddy: after all they had a lot in common – stylish clothes, shopping and good-looking guys…

Immensely popular from the outset (Veronica #202 was the first comic book in the company’s long history to go to a second printing), Kevin struck a deep and abiding chord with the readership. Soon guest shots evolved into a miniseries before the new kid on the block inevitably won his own ongoing title.

In recent years the company has created related strands for their iconic characters to explore other realities. Archie has married both Betty and Ronnie, been assassinated, faced supernatural horrors of every kind and even entered the 21stcentury. These parallel lives projects have proved immensely popular and so have quite sensibly been extended to include the other inhabitants of Riverdale…

In 2017, a 5-issue miniseries by Parent, inker J. Bone and letterer Jack Morelli focused on Kevin after finishing at Riverdale and graduating from college. Trade paperback & eBook compilation Life with Kevin – delivered in a limited but superbly effective palette of black, white and blue – follows his career as he moves to New York City and joins a major metropolitan news outlet…

Referencing TV sitcoms such as 30 Rock or Rhoda, and subtitled ‘Kevin in the City’ the fun begins in ‘You’re Gonna Make it After All! (Maybe)’ as young Keller moves into a grim apartment, meets his interesting neighbours and makes an unforgettable impression on his new boss at station NYC-TV.

Sadly, his views on what constitutes journalism don’t match hers in the cutthroat era of click-bait and Twitterstorms. Even more tragically, the fact that the camera loves and viewers adore him means Kevin might be forced into becoming a useless, vapid Screen Celeb himself…

The day ends perfectly when Veronica shows up. On Kevin’s advice, his BFF talked back to daddy and now she’s disinherited, broke and homeless…

‘Room for Change’ resumes a short while later with Kevin finding his love life and dating days seriously curtailed by roommate Ronnie, who, unsurprisingly, cannot hold on to any job she finds and whose efforts to help inevitably go badly awry…

After building a profile on a dating app and then accidentally outing himself on live TV – a strict policy no-no at NYC-TV- Kevin’s life gets even crazier. In ‘I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can!’ his boss Babs is ordered to exploit her camera-shy protégé onscreen as much as legally possible. This leads to Ronnie accidentally endangering the mental health of a shy young gay student Kevin is helping through some difficult times…

The gathering storm breaks on social media in ‘Past Tense!’ with Bab’s ruthless attempt to capitalise on the personal crisis for ratings compelling Kevin to make a world-changing decision, but only after a chaotic comedy of errors devastates the station’s schedules…

The story pauses for now with ‘Moving Forward!’ as the progression of roommate dramas, two-timing bad boyfriends, family health scares and career calamities lead to Kevin taking charge of his life and making the future he wants and deserves…

A charming, feel-good comedy romp, Kevin in the City reads like a pilot for a TV series, packed with tension and hilarity whilst delivering the kind of joyous, life-affirming frolics modern folk enjoy. It also succeeds in being about the characters themselves and the situations they endure, not the inconsequential logistics of who they fancy…

Augmenting the saga is a cover gallery by Parent, and a few bonus stories, all taken from Your Pal Archie #1, and set in modern-day Riverdale.

The madness begins with ‘The Road Worrier’ courtesy of scripter/inker Ty Templeton, penciller Dan Parent, colourist Andre Szymanowicz and letterer Morelli. Here high schoolers Betty, Ronnie, Archie and Jughead plan out their summer holidays before an ordeal of shocking terror is unleashed as that Andrews boy attempts to teach Juggie how to drive…

The main event and compelling cliffhanger comes with ‘A Night at the Opera’ as Ronnie gives Archie the brush-off for a sophisticated sophomore. Once again driven astray by Jughead, Archie then buys a lotto ticket that will change his life forever…

Of course, you’ll have to buy that graphic novel to see what happens next, but at least Life with Kevin is a complete experience, at once hilarious, enthralling and magically inclusive for you, your kids and grandparents to enjoy over and over again…
™ & © 2017 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. 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.

Sickness Unto Death volumes 1 & 2


By Hikaru Asada & Takahiro Seguchi (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1-939130-09-9(tankōbon PB vol. 1) 978-1939130105(tankōbon PB vol. 2)

Here’s an intriguing and tragically underrated and sadly forgotten saga deftly examining the devastating effects of despair that still has plenty to say and much to offer…

Takahiro Seguchi’s gripping psychological melodrama Sickness Unto Death is a bleak and enthralling, emotionally complex tale of love, compulsion and dependency, transformed into spellbinding comics by artist Hikaru Asada.

Inspired by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s treatise Sygdommen til Døden (The Sickness Unto Death – a Christian existentialist examination of the “Sin of Despair”), this extremely accessible tale began in 2009 as Shi ni Itaru Yamai; serialised in Hakusensha’s fortnightly Seinen magazine Young Animal.

This translated version opens with a Professor standing beside a student over the grave of his first case – and greatest love…

A flashback begins revealing how, as a young man, Kazuma Futaba came to the city to study clinical psychology, and how he was lucky to find lodgings in an old house. However, on his way there he encountered a young girl with white hair suffering a crushing anxiety attack in the street. Although everybody ignored the crippled creature, he rushed to her assistance and happily complied with her desperate need to be held.

‘Emiru’ was impossibly cold to the touch and although both were merely 18 years old, she seemed inexorably gripped by an ancient despondency and overwhelming gloom…

After she recovered, he hurried on to find his new digs in a vast old house, meeting the butler Kuramoto who reveals the place belonged to the orphan Emiru Ariga, a beautiful, vivacious creature who had within the last two years suddenly succumbed to a crushing ‘Despair’ so great it had bleached her hair, triggered drastic weight-loss, weakened her heart and caused her body temperature to fall to far below normal. He describes it as a “terminal illness of the spirit”. She now spends most of her time locked in her room, drawing monsters and waiting to die…

Intrigued, desperate to help but painfully aware of how inexperienced he is, Futaba examines the compliant, barely-living corpse and determines to somehow help her. At least she shows some animation when he is near. Both Kuramoto and his young mistress want Futaba to fix her…

In ‘Haunted Mansion’ the relationship develops further as the student transfers what he learns by day at school into evening therapy. Emiru seems brighter, even though she believes the house harbours ghosts…

When Kuramoto is called away for a few days, he leaves Futaba in charge, but after the frail girl spends too long in a bath, the boy panics. Breaking in, he sees her painfully thin, nude form for the first time. Embarrassed and confused, he dashes away and stumbles upon a mystery room, its door nailed shut with heavy planks.

Emiru sees ghosts: a crying, lonely child and a monster with teeth but no face…

Her sleep is perpetually disturbed, and Futaba – after learning about Night Terrors in class – agrees to ‘Sharing a Bed’, even though he is no longer certain his own motives are strictly professional. Nevertheless, resolved to save her he begins a ‘Psych Assessment’, gathering facts and personal history, but learns little more than once she was normal and then, suddenly, she wasn’t…

Emiru is increasingly time-locked in lengthy periods of despair, weeping outside the barred room; her traumatic nights eased by Kazuma’s platonic presence, although she feels the spectral presence of ‘The One in the Mansion’ whenever he goes away…

In the present, Professor Futaba and student Minami – who thinks she too can see a ghost in the abandoned dwelling – explore the deserted, decrepit mansion which housed his greatest regret. When they stop at a monster drawing scrawled on a wall, it takes him back to those troubled years…

A setback in Emiru’s recovery occurs when another ghost sighting unleashes a wave of depression and young Futaba learns of her carefree ‘High School Years’ from fellow psych student Koizumi – a former classmate of Emiru when she a healthy, happy, raven-haired ball of wild energy, fun and adventure…

Koizumi ardently believes she became burdened with some terrible secret that overnight transformed her into the frail, fading creature Futaba describes, prompting the floundering lad to confer with his tutor Professor Otsuki. The mentor responds by lending him a copy of Kierkegaard’s infamous tract…

For such a weakened patient, even a cold might be fatal, but with Futaba at her side Emiru pulls through. However, after recovering, she entices him into crossing a ‘Forbidden Line’ but neither as therapist nor lover is young Futaba assured of securing her ‘Happiness and Beauty’ until and unless he can her unburden her obsessive soul of the dark secret strangling it from within…

Beguiling and hypnotic, this exceptional medical mystery/ghostly love story is far from the familiar – to Western eyes at least – explosive bombast and action slapstick normally associated with Japanese comics. As such it might just make a few manga converts amongst die-hard holdouts who prefer sensitive writing, deep themes and human scale to their comics.

Moody, moving and far more than just another adult manga, Sickness Unto Death is that rarest of things: a graphic novel for people who don’t think they like comics…
© 2010 Hikaru Asada. © 2010 Takahiro Seguchi. 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.