A solid account of the development of a writer not easy to encapsulate.

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JAMES JOYCE

PORTRAIT OF A DUBLINER—A GRAPHIC BIOGRAPHY

A graphic biography of the literary master.

Though “breezy” isn’t a term generally associated with the author of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, artist Zapico (Café Budapest, 2008, etc.) remains true to the life and spirit of the Irish master while appealing to readers who might not have the patience for either Joyce’s novels or a standard, more exhaustive biography. There is far more text here than in most graphic narratives, beginning with the Joyce generations prior to the birth of James—or “Jim” as he’s frequently called in these pages—and ending with his death and literary legacy. Zapico shows how Joyce’s mother’s religiosity and his father’s alcoholism and uncertain finances produced a tension in the schoolboy, who was advised to be a priest and was considered “clearly on his way to sainthood.” However, he rejected his religion and became something of a vagabond in exile, accepting random teaching assignments and drinking and whoring his way through his young adulthood, all the while writing the early work that would have such trouble getting published. Much of the narrative concerns his love-at-first-sight relationship with Nora, on whom he depended but whom he also resisted as she bore him children and constrained his tendencies toward dissolution. His prose became more radical, and perhaps even more Irish, the farther he strayed from Ireland and the longer he stayed away. His homeland and its characters lived within him. “Writing from a distance, Joyce always dealt with the subject of Ireland,” writes Zapico. Ulysses would mark his turning point, his most ambitious and audacious work at the time, one that would be banned in the States as immoral yet ultimately became a sensation when published. “While the effect of Ulysses on the reader is rather sickening,” said the judge, “it would be unfair to call it ‘aphrodisiac.’ ” Then came another major leap, with Finnegans Wake raising the bar even higher before Joyce’s premature death.

A solid account of the development of a writer not easy to encapsulate.

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62872-655-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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A sugarcoated but undiluted vehicle for schooling American readers about their rights and responsibilities.

THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION

A GRAPHIC ADAPTATION

A searching interpretation of that sonorous document the Constitution, with cartoons.

Why have a Constitution to begin with? Because, remarks film and TV writer Hennessey—who, even if his prose is bound by balloons, turns out to be quite the Constitutional scholar—the founding fathers were keenly aware that civil rights were never formally written down in Britain, “and that deeply troubled the framers.” That’s as much of an establishing conflict as is needed for a superhero piece, and Hennessey, paired with artist McConnell, does a fine job of turning the making of the document, despite all the dull stretches in the Constitutional Convention that James Madison recorded in his diary, into a drama. Happily, Hennessey is aware of the truly radical origins of the Constitution, even as he notes its conservative strains. For example, he remarks that the system of checks and balances is a remarkable innovation, even if it sometimes seems that presidential actions—as with military intervention in Vietnam and elsewhere—go unchecked. In addition, laws are difficult to make in this country for very good reason: “Otherwise we might get too many of them.” Combining words and appropriate images, sometimes comic and sometimes earnest, the narrative visits such matters as the three-fifths law of determining apportionment, the writ of habeas corpus, eminent domain and conceptions of property and freedom of assembly and movement (for instance, the Articles of Federation forbade “vagabonds and paupers” from crossing state lines). Also covered are the many guarantees Americans take for granted—not least the Ninth Amendment, which states that certain rights not enumerated (“The right to scratch a dog behind the ears?”) shall not be denied.

A sugarcoated but undiluted vehicle for schooling American readers about their rights and responsibilities.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8090-9487-5

Page Count: 142

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2008

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Playfully drawn and provocatively written, the memoir reinforces Bell's standing among the first rank of the genre’s artists.

THE VOYEURS

“Graphic memoir” only hints at the artistry of a complex, literary-minded author who resists the bare-all confessionalism so common to the genre and blurs the distinction between fiction and factual introspection.

Who are “The Voyeurs?” In the short, opening title piece, they are a mixed-gender group standing on an urban rooftop, watching a couple have sex through a window in a nearby building. They tend to find the experience “uncomfortable,” even “creepy,” though those who remain raptly silent may well be more interested, even titillated. Bell (Lucky, 2006, etc.) is also a voyeur of sorts, chronicling the lives of others in significant detail while contemplating her own. As she admits before addressing an arts class in frigid Minneapolis, where she knows the major interest will be on how she has been able to turn her comics into a career, “I feel I need to disclaim this ‘story.’ I set myself the task of reporting my trip, though there’s not much to it, and I can’t back out now. It’s my compulsion to do this, it’s my way, I suppose, of fighting against the meaninglessness constantly crowding in.” The memoir encompasses travels that take her from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and from Japan to France, while addressing the challenges of long-distance relationships, panic attacks, contemporary feminism, Internet obsessiveness, the temptation to manipulate life to provide material for her work, and the ultimate realization, in the concluding “How I Make My Comics,” of her creative process: “Then I want to blame everyone I’ve known ever for all the failures and frustrations of my life, and I want to call someone up and beg them to please help me out of this misery somehow, and when I realize how futile both these things are I feel the cold, sharp sting of the reality that I’m totally and utterly alone in the world. Then I slap on a punchline and bam, I’m done.”

Playfully drawn and provocatively written, the memoir reinforces Bell's standing among the first rank of the genre’s artists.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-9846814-0-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Uncivilized Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

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