A parallel dimension that readers might find creatively charged or thematically exhausting.



The book-length publication of the acclaimed visual artist’s weekly strips defies narrative convention as a graphic novel.

Katchor (Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, 2000, etc.) has been the subject of an admiring profile in New Yorker, the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (the first cartoonist so honored) and the focus of a documentary (The Pleasures of Urban Decay). So perhaps some contextual research is in order for the reader coming fresh to Katchor to avoid being bewildered, if not overwhelmed, by the sheer verbiage, multi-sensory detail and lack of narrative continuity here. The tale comes to encompass tourism (and public toilets as tourist attractions), cultural authenticity, the ever-changing nature of language, commodification and disposability, the plasticity of food, the nature of matter (both organic and non-) and the eating of ice-cream cones as performance art. The title provides an apt metaphor, for the valise is sizable, capable of accommodating such various and sundry contents, while the cardboard material suggests an impermanence. Pages could be shuffled from beginning to end and the reader wouldn’t know the difference, because the book avoids all conventional notions of narrative momentum and character development. There are three main characters, the reader belatedly discovers, whose stories intersect though perhaps exist mainly as myth. Emile Delilah is a perpetual traveler, a man without a country and one who derives his identity from no culture, and the possessor of the cardboard valise. His tenement neighbors include Boreal Rince, the regal exile from the mythical realm of Outer Canthus (one of the narrative’s settings, along with Tensint Island) and Elijah Salamis, whose first name might be confused with Emile’s and whose last name conjures the sort of food that permeates the book in its taste, texture and smell. He is some sort of post-nationalist, refusing to recognize cultural distinctions and boundaries. These characters rarely meet.

A parallel dimension that readers might find creatively charged or thematically exhausting.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-375-42114-3

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2010

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An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.



This black-and-white historical narrative, written and illustrated by Lutes, collects eight volumes of his ongoing comic book set in Berlin during the late ’20s. It’s a multilayered tale of love and politics at the beginning of the Nazi era, as Lutes follows the stories of three characters: a 20ish art student from the provinces, a textile worker, and a young Jewish radical. Their lives intersect in only the subtlest way—Lutes depicts them crossing paths at some great public events, such as the Mayday march that closes this part of his book. And Lutes plays with perspective in a visual sense as well, jumping from point-of-view frames to overhead angles, including one from a dirigible flying above in honor of the Kaiser. At street level, Lutes integrates his historical research smoothly, and cleverly evokes the sounds and smells of a city alive with public debate and private turmoil. The competing political factions include communists, socialists, democrats, nationalists, and fascists, and all of Lutes’s characters get swept up by events. Marthe, the beautiful art student, settles in with Kurt, the cynical and detached journalist; Gudrun, the factory worker, loses her job, and her nasty husband (to the Nazi party), then joins a communist cooperative with her young daughters; Schwartz, a teenager enamored with the memory of Rosa Luxembourg, balances his incipient politics with his religion at home and his passion for Houdini. The lesser figures seem fully realized as well, from the despotic art instructor to the reluctant street policeman. Cosmopolitan Berlin on the brink of disaster: Lutes captures the time and place with a historian’s precision and a cinematographer’s skill. His shifts from close-ups to fades work perfectly in his thin-line style, a crossbreed of dense-scene European comics and more simple comics styles on this side of the Atlantic.

An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-896597-29-7

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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



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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