The state of an art that has yet to reach stasis.

THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2011

Another annual cornucopia of graphic narrative (and comic strips).

Whether comics were ever striving for cultural legitimacy, they are now struggling with it—even resisting it—though this year’s collection suggests that the range of subject, tone and technique continues to expand. Perhaps no other graphic memoirist has achieved greater acclaim than this year’s guest editor Bechdel (Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, 2006, etc.), who not only contributes an illustrated introduction (which comments on the imbalance of men over women among the artists, in this as well as previous years, and the absence of African-Americans), and shows a feminist perspective in both the sequencing and selection. Among the developments highlighted by the anthology are “webcomics” (a natural extension of the indie and self-publishing of comics, and the punk-rock, DIY spirit the form shares) and “metacomics” (which use comics to comment on the making and essence of comics). Highlights include Gabrielle Bell’s opening “Manifestation,” where she imagines critical acclaim and world renown for her adaptation of The S.C.U.M. Manifesto, by Valerie Solanas (who attempted to kill Andy Warhol), and “Pet Cat” by Joey Alison Sayers, who follows a strip through the publishing industry’s various permutations. While much of this work is at the cutting edge of contemporary culture, there is a historical perspective to some of the more ambitious pieces, as Joe Sacco’s excerpts from Footnotes in Gaza, the longest selection, explores the unreliability of human memory in recalling a mid-’50s Mideast massacre by Israeli soldiers, while “Little House in the Big City,” by Sabrina Jones, frames a love letter to New York with the battle over urban renewal between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. The extended, wordless visual epiphany in “Winter” is stunning (adapted by artist Danica Novgorodoff from a Benjamin Percy short story and its screenplay). David Lasky shows the greatest range, with both the most formally complex selection (“Soixante Neuf”) and the most elemental (the single-page closer, “The Ultimate Graphic Novel”). As always, Chris Ware’s inevitable selection is brilliant.

The state of an art that has yet to reach stasis.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-547-33362-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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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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