Achingly human and divinely rendered.

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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Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT

Design veteran Chwast delivers another streamlined, graphic adaptation of classic literature, this time Mark Twain’s caustic, inventive satire of feudal England.

Chwast (Tall City, Wide Country, 2013, etc.) has made hay anachronistically adapting classic texts, whether adding motorcycles to The Canterbury Tales (2011) or rocket ships to The Odyssey (2012), so Twain’s tale of a modern-day (well, 19th-century) engineer dominating medieval times via technology—besting Merlin with blasting powder—is a fastball down the center. (The source material already had knights riding bicycles!) In Chwast’s rendering, bespectacled hero Hank Morgan looks irresistible, plated in armor everywhere except from his bow tie to the top of his bowler hat, sword cocked behind head and pipe clenched in square jaw. Inexplicably sent to sixth-century England by a crowbar to the head, Morgan quickly ascends nothing less than the court of Camelot, initially by drawing on an uncanny knowledge of historical eclipses to present himself as a powerful magician. Knowing the exact date of a celestial event from more than a millennium ago is a stretch, but the charm of Chwast’s minimalistic adaption is that there are soon much better things to dwell on, such as the going views on the church, politics and society, expressed as a chart of literal back-stabbing and including a note that while the upper class may murder without consequence, it’s kill and be killed for commoners and slaves. Morgan uses his new station as “The Boss” to better the primitive populous via telegraph lines, newspapers and steamboats, but it’s the deplorably savage civility of the status quo that he can’t overcome, even with land mines, Gatling guns and an electric fence. The subject of class manipulation—and the power of passion over reason—is achingly relevant, and Chwast’s simple, expressive illustrations resonate with a childlike earnestness, while his brief, pointed annotations add a sly acerbity. His playful mixing of perspectives within single panels gives the work an aesthetic somewhere between medieval tapestry and Colorforms.

Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60819-961-7

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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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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