Alexander von Humboldt himself would doubtless have approved. A pleasure for students of science, art, and their...

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THE ADVENTURES OF ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT

A delightful recounting, in word and image, of the work of a pioneering scientist and world traveler. 

“Do you really remember all the plants you’ve ever seen?” “Of course!” So replied Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), the famed explorer and naturalist, to a colleague’s query, adding, “I can remember even the smallest detail for years—from the shape of a leaf to the color of soil, the layering of a rock or a temperature reading. Why wouldn’t I?” Humboldt wasn’t bragging unnecessarily. Neither does his biographer, Wulf (The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, 2015, etc.), when she points out that he was the first naturalist to ask some of the critical questions that would later guide scientific investigations into plate tectonics, evolution, geomorphology, vulcanology, meteorology, and countless other fields—to say nothing of the fact that just about every continent bears names that honor his presence, intellectual or physical. In this “work of graphic nonfiction (for want of a better term),” Wulf teams with illustrator Melcher, whose work is whimsical, even a touch primitive—deliberately, one presumes, to fit the exploratory mood of the text. There are hidden depths in the artwork, however, for Melcher does wonders with collages and renderings that would do Joseph Cornell proud, making use of contemporary illustrations, modern photographs, and excerpts from Humboldt’s own handwritten manuscripts. (In one charming aside on a certain pelagic bird, Wulf notes, “I just wanted to note that Lillian Melcher didn’t draw the penguin…it looks very similar to her style, but I assure you that I sketched it in Callao.”) Readers new to Humboldt will surely find themselves fascinated by a man who went everywhere, saw everything, and spoke with the luminaries of his time, from Jefferson to Napoleon. And those who have already read and admired The Invention of Nature will enjoy this delightful graphic presentation.

Alexander von Humboldt himself would doubtless have approved. A pleasure for students of science, art, and their intersections.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4737-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

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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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