Achingly human and divinely rendered.

READ REVIEW

KILLING AND DYING

A collection of six previously published graphic stories of life’s bittersweet struggles, from illustrator/writer Tomine (New York Postcards, 2014, etc.).

The true magic of sequential art comes in the spaces between panels—where readers draw connections between separate, evolving images to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts—and here Tomine proves himself a wizard. In the title tale, a stuttering teenager pursues a dream of professional comedy while her supportive mother subtly progresses from unremarkable to brittle hair to bandanna and cane to absence—cancer running its course via signifiers and suggestion. The elegiac “Translated, from the Japanese” follows a mother and son’s journey from Japan to California to rejoin the boy’s estranged father, and while the panels—hewing closely to the mother’s point of view—contain no more than an arm of any central character, the averted gaze makes the mother’s discomfort palpable. Most playful is “A Brief History of the Art Form Known as ‘Hortisculpture,’ ” in which a dissatisfied landscaper dreams of taking the world by storm by growing plants inside bulky sculptures—an idea met with underwhelming support from his wife and outright derision from everyone else. The story appears as a series of comic strips, including periodic “Sunday funnies” installments, as though the urbane wit of the New Yorker had infiltrated daily newspapers. The put-upon, schlubby landscaper and the regular punch lines of the comic-strip format serve as a nice counterweight to the (beautifully, hauntingly depicted) angst and melancholy pervading much of the collection, which is rounded out by an adult-film star’s unwitting doppelgänger, two addicts wrestling with love and damage, and a brooding brute who gains regular, secret access to a stranger’s home. Graphically, Tomine excels at imbuing every figure—big or small—with individualized traits (hands on hips, cocked shoulder), giving the sense that the story’s focus could shift deep into the background and still find rich, full life.

Achingly human and divinely rendered.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-77046-209-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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Rich, creamy art and playful paneling make for a fun read.

THE GIGANTIC BEARD THAT WAS EVIL

Cartoonist Collins’ debut graphic novel is a long, smooth fable of a man whose unkempt facial hair ravages the tidy city of Here.

Here sits on an island, surrounded by the sea, separated from the far-off land of There. And whereas Here is all row houses and trimmed trees and clean cheeks, There is a dark, disordered place that would mix your insides with your outsides, your befores with your nows with your nexts—unpleasant business brilliantly depicted in panels breaking across a single body as it succumbs to chaos. So the people of Here live quiet, fastidious lives, their backs to the sea, and neighbor Dave delights in doodling it all from his window as he listens to the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” on repeat. But an irregular report at his inscrutable office job triggers the single hair that has always curved from Dave’s upper lip to be suddenly joined by a burst of follicles. Try as Dave might, his unruly beard won’t stop pouring from his face in a tangled flood—and soon it threatens the very fabric of life in Here. Collins’ illustrations are lush, rounded affairs with voluptuous shading across oblong planes. Expressions pop, from the severe upturn where a sympathetic psychiatrist’s brows meet to the befuddlement of a schoolgirl as the beard’s hypnotic powers take hold. With its archetypical conflict and deliberate dissection of language, the story seems aimed at delivering a moral, but the tale ultimately throws its aesthetics into abstraction rather than didacticism. The result rings a little hollow but goes down smooth.

Rich, creamy art and playful paneling make for a fun read.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-05039-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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