Graylight


By Naomi Nowak (NBM)
ISBN13: 978-1-56163-567-2 (PB)

There are a number of uncomfortable if not altogether unpleasant truisms that still dominate the narrative arts, particularly in terms of gender appeasement: most prevalent and dominant of those – after “chuck in some sex scenes” – are “guys need to see mindless action as often as possible” and “women require moments of pretty, contemplative stillness in their stories.”

Mercifully, these hoary Tinseltown-spawned dictums are being constantly challenged and disproved these days (just take a look at the frighteningly charged stillness of the “quiet bits” in many European and particularly Scandi-crime screen gems such as the original Professor T), especially in the burgeoning yet still largely experimental graphic novel market, where the rules of narration are still being laid down…

In her third book, Graylight, painter and illustrator Naomi Nowak (House of Clay; Unholy Kinship) composes another dreamy, symbol-drenched inquiry into the complexities of love in a surreal, quasi-mystical tale of a troubled young woman whose complacency and bad habits suck her into an unimaginable amount of difficulty.

Sasha is beautiful, affable, friendly, utterly self-absorbed and an unrepentant thief. If she sees something see likes, she simply knows it will be better off with her. Sadly, that applies to people as much as objects…

Years ago, a man killed himself, and his widow swore to their infant son Edmund that she would always protect her baby boy from bad things – such as women who drive husbands to their deaths…

As usual, Sasha is the centre of attention in the bar when journalist Erik spots her. She is holding court, shocking friends with her honesty about how wicked she is. She can feel no remorse for taking the things she wants. Erik is in town to interview reclusive author Aurora, and – now besotted with Sasha – brings her with him as his “photographer.”

The interview goes badly. Aurora is hostile, rearing a son nobody knew of: a sheltered young man called Edmund, who is protective of his mother but drawn to the moodily effervescent Sasha. Flirting with the reclusive boy as a matter of habit, Sasha is most attracted to an antique book, so she takes it.

Initially setting out to retrieve the book, Edmund is increasingly ensnared in Sasha’s charismatic spell. Aurora, seeing Sasha to be just the kind of woman she swore to protect her son from, knows a few spells of her own, and is quite prepared to use any and every means to keep her ancient promise…

Colourful in misty pastels and shockingly bold lines, this oneiric, supernaturally-tinged drama blends the sensibilities of shōjo manga (romantic stories for young girls) with the bleak, moody naturalism of Scandinavian landscape painting and the rich, sexually-charged texture of teen soap operas to produce a compellingly sinister love story of desire and consequence that is lyrical, often reflective and occasionally pretentious, but always eminently readable and utterly beautiful to look upon.

And here’s my point: this quiet, contemplative breed of graphic narrative has a great deal to offer readers seeking something a little different. This decrepit heterosexual male felt no need for a fistfight or car chase to keep my attention from wandering, and those dreamy, floaty moments greatly added to my appreciation of atmosphere and mood. If the action is starting to pall, why not try a little classic mood magic…?
© 2007 Naomi Nowak. All rights reserved.

Kevin Keller: Drive Me Crazy


By Dan Parent, Bill Galvan, Rich Koslowski & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-58-7 (TPB)

Following the debut of Superman, MLJ were merely one of many publishers to jump on the mystery-man bandwagon, generating their own small but inspired pantheon of gaudily-clad crusaders.

In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, and swiftly followed up with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the era’s standard mix of masked champions, clean-cut, two-fisted adventurers, genre prose pieces and gags.

Not long after, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in the blossoming yet crowded market. In December 1941 the Fights ‘n’ Tights, heaving he-man crowd were gently nudged aside by a far less imposing hero; an ordinary teenager having everyday adventures just like the readership, laden with companionable laughs, good times and budding romance.

Goldwater developed the youthful everyman protagonist concept, tasking writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with making it all work. Inspired by and referencing the successful Andy Hardy movies (starring Mickey Rooney), their new notion premiered in Pep Comics #22. The unlikely star was a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed kid desperate to impress the pretty blonde girl next door.

A 6-page untitled tale introduced hapless boob Archie Andrews and wholesomely fetching Betty Cooper. The boy’s wry, unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that vignette, as did idyllic small-town utopia Riverdale. The piece was a huge hit with readers and by the winter of 1942 the kid had won his own series and latterly a solo-starring title.

Archie Comics #1 was MLJ’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began an inexorable transformation of the company. With the debut of ultra-rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon…

By 1946, the kids were in charge and MLJ officially reinvented itself as Archie Comics, retiring the majority of its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age to become, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family-friendly comedies.

The hometown settings and perpetually fruitful premise of an Eternal Romantic Triangle – with girl-hating Jughead to assist or deter and scurrilous love-rat rival Reggie Mantle to test, duel and vex our boy in their own unique ways – the scenario was one that not only resonated with fans, but was somehow infinitely fresh and engaging…

Like Superman, Archie’s success forced a change in content at every other US publisher (except Gilberton’s dryly po-faced Classics Illustrated), creating a culture-shifting multi-media brand encompassing TV, movies, newspaper strips, toys and merchandise, a chain of restaurants and – in the swinging sixties – a pop music sensation when Sugar, Sugar (taken from the animated TV cartoon) became a global summer smash hit. Clean and decent garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since just waiting for the comeback hit…

The perennial eternal triangle has generated thousands of charming, raucous, gentle, thrilling, chiding and even heart-rending humorous dramas expressing everything from surreal wit to frantic, frenetic slapstick, with the kids and a constantly expanding cast of friends (boy genius Dilton Doily; genial giant jock Big Moose and occasional guest Sabrina the Teenage Witch amongst so many others): growing into a national institution and part of America’s cultural landscape.

The feature thrives by constantly refreshing its core archetypes; boldly, seamlessly adapting to a changing world outside its bright and cheerful pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture, fashion trends and even topical events into its infallible mix of comedy and young romance. Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix and over the decades the company has confronted most social issues affecting youngsters in a manner both even-handed and tasteful.

Constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck Clayton and his girlfriend Nancy Woods, fashion-diva Ginger Lopez, Hispanic couple Frankie Valdez and Maria Rodriguez, student film-maker Raj Patel and spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom all contributed to a wide, refreshingly diverse and broad-minded scenario.

In 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle – for decades a seemingly insurmountable one for kids comicbooks – when openly gay student Kevin Keller joined the gang: becoming an admirable advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream comics.

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 young man who utterly bowled over the rich go-getter. Ronnie was totally smitten with him, but Kevin was far more interested in food, sports and hanging out with Jughead

When he finally explained to Veronica why she was wasting her time, she became Keller’s best buddy as they had so much in common – stylish clothes, shopping and cute guys…

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

Trade paperback & digital compilation Kevin Keller: Drive Me Crazy collects issues #5-8 of his groundbreaking solo title and opens with an effusive Introduction from actor, author and rights activist George Takei, in anticipation of his walk-on part in the opening chapter here.

Sacrificing chronological order for star attraction, ‘By George!’ comes from Kevin Keller #6 (January 2013) wherein a class project about inspirational heroes leads to the kids invading a local comic convention headlined by the Star Trek star, after which Mr. Takei surprises all concerned by returning the favour at Riverdale High. If only Kevin wasn’t so distracted by the return of old flame Brian and the promise of new romance…

Eponymous tale ‘Drive Me Crazy!’ (Kevin Keller #5 December 2012) then targets the next milestone in a young man’s life as the affable pedestrian finally gains independence with the arrival of his first car. It is, in fact, an old jeep belonging to his dad (a retired army colonel) and the fun really hits high gear after Moose and Dilton offer to spruce it up and make it roadworthy in their own inimitable manner… just in time to play havoc with Kevin’s date with old pal Todd.

Back on track for #7 (March, 2013), ‘Decisions, decisions!’ finds Kevin dating aggressive bad boy Devon: a student determined to keep his status as a macho hetero male. Patience, love and understanding only go so far though, and when Kevin convinces Devon to finally come out, the misunderstood lout faces repercussions from his family and friends that Kevin never anticipated…

Piling on the pressure, an old secret admirer who remained anonymous chooses this moment to identify himself to the ever-popular Mr. Keller…

Everything boils over in concluding episode ‘Play by the Rules!’ (Kevin Keller #8, June 2013) when Veronica cons Kevin into starring in her self-penned stage drama Teenagers: The Musical! His proximity to former secret admirer Pauldrives Devon to jealousy and stalking, but thankfully in the unavoidable denouement, the only real casualty is Ronnie’s atrocity of a show…

Following the compelling comics is an ‘Official Kevin Keller Bonus Features’ section offering ‘Kevin, Betty and Veronica Fashions’, to supplement a cover gallery that includes modern cartoon masterpieces, remastered classic Archie images retrofitted to suit our 21st century all-star and variant covers spoofing Star Trek and Superman.

Drive Me Crazy is superbly diverse, hilariously welcoming and magically inclusive collection for you, your kids and grandparents to enjoy over and over again…
© 2013 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Menkui! Volume 1


By Suzuki Tanaka (Blu/TokyoPop)
ISBN: 1-59816-358-2 (Tankōbon PB)

It’s Pride Month and not all comics are about earthdoom and racial slaughter. Here’s a lost diamond long overdue for another run in the sun – or at least a new English language revival on paper or in digital form…

Here’s a Yaoi story, (romanticised fantasy relationship tales of beautiful young men created for female audiences; like Shonen-Ai but with a more explicit erotic content) although very mild – to the point of chaste gentility – by that standard.

Kotori is a shyly demure young man living in the big shadow of his older brother Kujaku, who’s smarter, prettier and much more successful, however that’s measured in terms of school life. This gentle tale of first love recounts Kotori’s growing confidence and closeness with “Boy-Hottie” Akaiwa whose attentions, though heartfelt, are constantly questioned by the insecure second son.

Set in the crucible of a Japanese high school, populated with a lovely-looking, manipulative bunch of gossips and back-stabbers – Yaoi guys are apparently all the same sort of snotty mean-yet-popular princesses beloved by TV teen soap operas – the tentative pair meander down the path of true love, hampered by eternal obstacles of misapprehension, misunderstanding and the impossible dream of a little privacy.

Funny, unassuming, charmingly and painfully romantic, the main narrative tells a very familiar story but tells it exceedingly well, with minor characters adding to the mix in their own sub-adventures in separate chapters, rather than as scene-stealers in the major text. This can seem a little disconcerting to western sensibilities, but these drastic jumps soon resolve into the big picture, so bear with it.

I personally couldn’t grasp the oddly unwholesome concentration – an almost veiled sexual subtext – regarding the physical attraction between brothers, but I might be reading too much into the family relationships of another culture, so you should really decide for yourselves or trade siblings like I did…

Menkui translates as “shallow” or “superficial” and although this everyday saga of pretty-boy angst might seem to condemn itself with this title, these characters had the potential for a genuinely moving tale. Sadly, the series never got the chance. After running in from July 2000 to June 2003, the series closed abruptly. The tales were released in English as three volumes and are still available if you are a grown-up romantic and desire to continue…
© 2000 Suzuki Tanaka. All Rights Reserved. First published in Japan by BIBLOS Co., Ltd. English text ©2006.

The Last Lonely Saturday


By Jordan Crane (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-743-8 (HB)

Award-winning Jordan Crane is a child of the 1970s and first garnered notice in comics circles with his 1996 anthology NON: an experimental vehicle very much in the manner of Art Spiegelman’s Raw and latterly quarterly anthology Uptight.

Working far too slowly for my greedy appetites, he’s also released a trio of graphic novels to date, Col-Dee, children’s adventure The Clouds Above and this one – his first and most moving.

Available in both hardcover and digital editions, The Last Lonely Saturday is crafted in a strange blend of vivid-yet-muted reds and yellows and comedically lugubrious cartoon style. Delivered in two panels per page, it recounts – almost exclusively without dialogue – one quiet day in August when a lonely widower once again diligently makes his way to the florist’s, the cemetery and inevitably the grave of his beloved Elenore.

It’s a ritual he’s enacted for many years, indulging in bittersweet memories as he clings to life while yearning to be reunited with his truly beloved. However, as the endless duty unfolds, events take an oblique turn and melancholy whimsy becomes something more as we’re reminded that it’s not just the living who feel the pangs of loss or yearn for reunion…

Smart, charming, witty and devilishly wry, this is a lost delight that proves the deceptive potency of comics and enduring power of love.
© 2000 Jordan Crane. All rights reserved.

Beauty and the Feast volume 1


By Satomi U, translated by Sheldon Drzka (Square Enix)
ISNB: 978-1-64609-062-4 (Tankōbon PB)

Not all manga is gorily action-packed and overflowing with astoundingly robust wonder warriors or deeply introspective and socially redeeming: some Japanese comics just want you to have a good time and some gentle enjoyment.

Here’s one of those in the form of a jolly and uncomplicated semi rom-com, rich and redolent with cultural confusion and pretty illustration from enigmatic creator Satomi U.

It all begins with a revelation in ‘Yakumo-San Wants to Feed You!’ as pretty widow Shuko Yakumo invites a rather unprepossessing young man into her apartment. It’s not the first time Shohei Yamato has come around from his next door flat and, without preamble or converse, tucks into a vast display of succulent home-cooked food.

He’s a first year High School student at prestigious Tosei Academy, on the equivalent of a baseball scholarship, with strict orders to bulk up. Shohei sees nothing amiss in a stranger and single lady indulging him in a strictly-platonic relationship: feeding up the socially-awkward, tongue-tied baseball prodigy who is unable gain necessary poundage due to a lack of funds…

He doesn’t seem very bright – or even communicative – but sure can pack away the glorious meals she happily produces, apparently, just for the sheer joy of cooking again.

It’s not a normal relationship, but both seem to get what they need out of the ritual…

Determined to be the best she can, the delirious domestic goddess constantly considers new recipes and bigger portions before ‘Yakumo-San Buys a Rice Cooker’ sees a change in the status quo as the human locust gradually shares details of his past before we see what his life currently demands in ‘A Day in the Life of Shohei Yamato’.

‘A Day in the Life of Shuko Yakumo’ moves into new territory as school pressure makes the lad miss a few visits, prompting his culinary custodian to start following him with mobile morsels and picnic treats, culminating in an actual and mutual emotional connection on ‘A Night for Cherry Blossoms’

An old complication resurfaces as ‘Enter Rui, the Reckless High School Girl’ sees an extremely raucous and proprietary former classmate of the sporting cadet reinsert herself in his life. Little Rui Nishihara believes she’s responsible for Shohei’s accomplishments and intends to be the wife of a major baseball superstar, and instantly recognizes a potential rival in the “old lady” with the big boobs and always-open kitchen…

Given to histrionics, Rui is determined to regain the boy’s attention, and refuses to listen to the advice of her super-sensible best pal Ritsuko Nagai, who calmly and constantly reminds her that she never had it in the first place…

Shuko is largely unaware of the impending storm, spending a day at her husband’s grave and catching up with old friend Yuri who reminds her that ‘Nothing Stays the Same’. It’s a fact hammered home that night when Shohei again decimates her larder, only this time something else – something new – happens…

Supplemented by Bonus Manga ‘A Day in the Life of Rui and Ritsuko’ offering insight into the little firecracker’s backstory; design and fact pages on Shuko, Shohei, Rui and Ritsuko via ‘The Inside Scoop’ before ending on a slapstick excerpt from Satomi U’s ‘Baseball Team Research Journal’, this is a bright, breezy and silly, salivatory saga that will satisfy any cravings for something more tastily intriguing than substantial and heavy.
Beauty and the Feast volume 1 © 2016 Satomi U/SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. English translation © 2021 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All rights reserved.

Haru’s Curse


By Asuka Konishi translated by Hannah Airriess (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1949980264 (Tankōbon PB)

Manga has an unfair reputation for being lightweight and genre-centric in the west, but if that’s true in any way it’s more an artefact of what we’ve seen translated into English rather that an inherent aspect of the form. Here’s a deceptively dark and subtly off-kilter example of my point from Asuka Konishi, who’s most successful offering to date is gangster romance Raise wa Tanin ga li.

Like that remarkable thriller, Haru’s Curse (which first saw life as Haru no Noroi 1 and 2 in Gekkan Komikko Zero Samu from Ichijinsha, Inc.) also examines the Japanese tradition of arranged marriage, but this time in purely emotional terms as it outlines a potent romantic triangle fuelled by filial devotion and societal expectation.

And pressure. Lots and lots of self-imposed, guilt-tinged pressure…

A comedically mature romance with sharp edges and dangerous corners, the relationship blossoms in seasonally-themed chapters which begin with ‘Spring is gone’ as boisterous, overactive underachiever Natsumi Tachibana reels in grief following the death of her beloved younger sister Haru. The shattering sense of loss over her meek, mild eternal soulmate is peppered with anger and shame when she attends the funeral rites and meets again the stiff-necked, stand-offish rich boy her little Haru was forced to become engaged to, but whom she grew to adore…

Although now just an ordinary middleclass family – apart from having a status-diminishing stepmother thanks to father’s scandalous divorce – the Tachibana’s are of a proud and ancient lineage. So, when the matriarch of a spectacular rich banking family wanted a wife for her heir, she didn’t much care which daughter her son Togo Hiragi picked.

Natsumi was just happy it wasn’t her, and quite baffled at the genuine affection Haru felt. However, after Haru’s debilitating disease and tragic demise, the pressure was on again to honour the contract…

A distant and reserved discussion with the emotionless golden boy results in a bizarre devil’s bargain. Togo seems as reluctant to pursue matrimony as she is, but family duty compels them both, and Natsumi is consumed with curiosity as to what her sister ever saw in the big oaf. She accepts the situation on condition that he takes her to every place and re-enacts every date he had with Haru. At least this way, the sisters can be together again, after a fashion…

The campaign begins in ‘July’ and carries on into ‘August’ with all concerned going through the very painful motions, but gradually dislike and shame (Natsumi feels cursed and dreads public scorn for betraying her sister’s memory and “cheating” on her with her fiancé) turns to neutrality and grudging interest.

Events take a surprising twist in ‘September (Parts One and Two)’ after Natsumi finds Haru’s online diary and is forced to make radical changes to her own flighty lifestyle and assessment of her devoted departed…

Small, apparently incidental developments finally bring Togo out of his defensive shell, and by the time ‘November (Part One and Two)’ rolls round a major familial earthquake is set to upset everybody and redefine the future of all concerned in ‘and winter will come’

The secrets of the changes of stance are explored at the end via a brace of sidebar vignettes. ‘Bonus comic 1 and 2’ reveal how small incidental moments can spark big responses…

At heart a very mature modern romance, Haru’s Curse is a splendid example of how very alike we all are, and how social mores aren’t worth a damn when we’re truly honest with ourselves…
© 2016, 2017 Asuka Nonishi. All rights reserved.

Queen Margot volume 1: The Age of Innocence


By Olivier Cadic, François Gheysens & Juliette Derenne, coloured by Sophie Barroux: translated by Luke Spears(Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-90546-010-6 (Album PB)

Although not so well known in Britain as his other novels, on the Continent Alexandre Dumas père’s historical romance La Reine Margot is an extremely popular and well-regarded fictionalisation of the life of Marguerite de Valois.

This unlucky historical figure was the daughter of Henry VII of France and infamously diabolical arch-plotter Catherine de Medici, spending most of her early life as a bargaining chip in assorted convoluted dynastic power-games.

We don’t see a lot of proper historical romance in English-language comics; which is a shame as the stylish intrigue, earthy humour, elegant violence and brooding suspense (just think The Great without the excessive sex and violence… or vodka) of this one would certainly attract legions of fans in other sectors of artistic endeavour.

This substantial yet enchanting treatment of events and uncorroborated legends of the girl who eventually became the wife of Henri IV, Queen Consort of France twice over and the most powerful, influential, infamous woman in Europe is well worth a look-see, especially as most of what we know about her comes first-hand.

Queen Margot related the events of the times and her life – in exquisite, penetrating detail – through an infamous series of memoirs published posthumously in 1628…

Co-scripted by publisher, politician, computer entrepreneur, historian and statesman Olivier Cadic and François Gheysens, illustrated with intensely evocative passion and potently authentic lyricism by Juliette Derenne (Les Oubliés, Le 22e jour de la Lune) and enlightened through the graceful colours of Sophie Barroux; the first chapter appeared in 2006 as La Reine Margot: Le Duc de Guise and opens here in English with a spiffy gate-fold cover offering a potted history and run-down of the major players before the intrigue unfolds…

In August 1569, 16-year-old Margot and her Lady-in-waiting/governess Madame Mirandole arrive at the castle of Plessis-lez-Tours. In the ongoing wars between Papists and Huguenots, Margot’s ailing brother Charles might be King of Catholic France, but her other brother Henri, Duke of Anjou is the darling of the court: a veritable Adonis and glorious war-hero smiting the Protestant foe.

Anjou is also a sibling she adores and worships like a schoolgirl…

What little brotherly love there was stood no chance against a sea of popular feeling and cruel, envious unstable, hypochondriac Charles is determined to see it end and all Henri’s growing power and inherent glamour with it. Naturally, his dynastically-obsessed mother has plans to fix everything, but they never extend to showing her practically worthless daughter the slightest hint of kindness or approval.

Although young, Margot (who prefers the familiar name “Marguerite”) knows well that she’s nothing more than a disposable piece in a grand game, but briefly forgets her inevitable fate as Henri bedazzles the Court with tales of his martial triumph. Later he shares his own ambitions and misgivings with her. He dreads jealous, inept Charles taking the role of military commander for his own, and does not want to be married off to the Arch-Duchess of Austria…

Marguerite has problems of her own: Henri’s most trusted lieutenant; the appalling Lord Du Guast, tries to force himself upon her whilst making the most disgusting suggestions and veiled accusations before she can escape…

Worst of all, her mother – steeped in five generations of Machiavellian Medici manipulation and inspired by the bizarre prognostications of her personal seer Ruggieri – has begun setting her plans for the potentially invaluable, royally connected daughter.

Margot can do nothing against her mother’s wishes but, with the aid of drugged wine, she repays Du Guast’s affront with a public humiliation she will come to regret…

Everything changes when charismatic Henri, Duke of Guise and hero of the Siege of Poitiers arrives. He and Marguerite were childhood friends and now they are both grown, their mutual attraction is clear to all. Instantly, his lurking family sense a chance to advance themselves through a love match and quick marriage…

The kids themselves are only dimly aware of alliances. They want each other and even an entire gossiping, constantly watching Court is not enough to deter them…

As the war devolves into slow and depressing attrition, Anjou doggedly pursues victory and awaits his inevitable ousting, whilst Du Guast lays his plans to destroy and possess Marguerite.

News of her dalliance with Guise is of great worth to him and even though Catherine has organised a tentative betrothal to the Catholic king of Portugal, the vile seducer has ways and means of spoiling the proposed match. He’s even inadvertently aided by Marguerite herself, who tries many stratagems to disrupt the regal deal…

The constant in-fighting and subterfuge turns Anjou against his sister and when “proof” of her affair with Guise reaches Catherine the old queen moves swiftly.

Marguerite is compelled to capitulate to save Guise from Charles’ insane wrath and grimly faces the prospect of never seeing him again: cushioned in despised luxury and once more the pliable prize and powerless pawn in a game she cannot escape, avoid or win…

Colourful, intoxicating and powerfully compelling, The Age of Innocence is a beguiling view of eternal passions and human intrigue to delight the hardest of hearts and the most finicky of comics aficionados.
Original edition © 2006 Cinebook Ltd/Cadic – Gheysens. All rights reserved. English translation 2006 © Cinebook Ltd.

Heart in a Box


By Kelly Thompson & Meredith McClaren (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-694-5 (PB)

It’s that time again and no, not even the end of the bleedin’ world will excuse not making suitable arrangements for your truly beloved. Don’t break Lockdown but use your imagination. There’s plenty you can still do to show your appreciation and undying devotion. While you’re thinking, though, here’s a great book you might like…

Let’s face it kids, Love Hurts. This mesmerising modern parable – available digitally and in Olde Worlde paperback – demonstrates that maxim with stunning audacity and devilish charm as author Kelly Thompson (Storykiller, The Girl Who Would be King, Jem and the Holograms) and illustrator Meredith McClaren (Hinges) drag a young woman on a harsh yet educative road trip to learn a life lesson regarding ill-considered wishes and Faustian bargains…

After young Emma has her heart broken by her unforgettable “Man with No Name” she foolishly listens to an insistent stranger who promises to make the shattering pain go away forever. He’s as good as his word, too, but within nine days Emma realises that what she feels after he’s worked his magic is absolutely nothing at all, and that’s even worse than the agony of loss and betrayal which nearly ended her…

The aggravating Mephistophelean advisor – she calls him “Bob” – is still popping in however, and promptly offers her a way to can reclaim the seven shards of sentiment/soul she threw away. There will of course be a few repercussions: as much for her as those folks who have been enjoying the use of a little feeling heart ever since Emma so foolishly dispensed with it. They might not want to relinquish that additional loving feeling…

As Emma doggedly travels across America, hunting down those mystically reassigned nuggets of passion, she discovers not only how low she’ll stoop to recover what’s hers, but also where and when all the moral boundaries she never thought she had can’t be bent, bartered or broken…

A dark delight, Emma’s literal emotional journey takes her into deadly danger, joyous cul-de-sacs and life-changing confrontations with her past and future in a clever reinvigoration of one of literature’s oldest plots and probably mankind’s most potent and undying philosophical quandary…

Funny, sad, scary and supremely uplifting, Heart in a Box is a beguiling rollercoaster ride to delight modern lovers and every grown-up too mature to ever be lonely or dependent…
© 2013, 1979 Semi-Finalist Inc. & Meredith McClaren. All rights reserved.

10, 20 and 30 volume 1


By Morim Kang (Net comics)
ISBN 13: 978-1-60009-183-4 (Tankōbon PB)

Some stories are great because of their innovation and novelty, whilst others just tell the same old tale over and over. When these latter tales succeed, it’s solely because of the nuance, skill and artistry with which the commonplace has been shaped to feel fresh and new.

Available in paperback and digital editions, 10, 20, And 30 is an evergreen saga of women and the search for love, tenderly observed, pragmatically and humorously told. Rok Nah is a young teenaged girl (a “10-Something”) going through those difficult years. She has a boyfriend – sort of – but is obsessed with all the other confusions of growing up to deal with.

Her mother Krumb Yoon (“30-Something”) is a widow with a thankless job at a fashion company. Recently, though, the company boss has been taking an inappropriate (but still chaste) interest in her. The “20” part of the equation is Krumb’s niece Belle Woo who has become like an older sister to Rok since her parents all but disowned her for having sex and refusing to get married. As the totally different, yet painfully similar, problems of love confront the three, their natures and unique responses make for an entrancing and addictive read.

Although a standard soap-opera romance in conception, the light treatment and strong characterisations give this Manhwa (manga style comics produced in and for South Korea) a compelling edge that should win it fans across not just the age but also the gender divide…
© 1998 Morim Kang. All Rights Reserved. English text © 2007 NETCOMICS. All Rights Reserved.

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…
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