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Firmly raises the bar for comics biographies.

An illustrated biography of Ernie Bushmiller (1905-1982), creator of the cult-favorite comic “Nancy.”

This book is a triumph because it not only recounts Bushmiller’s legacy, but communes with his inimitable spirit. Employing meticulous pen-inked crosshatch drawings, Griffith, the creator of “Zippy,” achieves wondrous results with an experimental approach to his source material. He demonstrates Bushmiller’s creative process and inner thoughts, interpolating original “Nancy” illustrations into his own narrative. Characters appear in daydreams, and strips take shape as Bushmiller ruminates on a gag. This collaged technique creates an ineffable sense of posthumous collaboration between Griffith and his subject. Griffith traces Bushmiller’s storied career at the New York World. At age 19, he was asked to take over the comic “Fritzi Ritz” after its creator quit. Nancy, the spiky-haired goofball whose innocent follies captured the nation’s heart, first appeared in “Fritzi,” and she became the star of her own strip in 1938. “Nancy” was eventually syndicated in nearly 900 papers, and Bushmiller drew daily comics until his death. He had idiosyncratic work habits: He would always begin with a goofy final panel (what he called the “snapper”) and work backward to find a path to his punchline, and he had four drawing tables set up in his studio so he could work on pages in tandem. Reading “Nancy” can be similarly dizzying. In a series of asides, Griffith attempts to introduce highbrow elements to the strip’s lowbrow humor and sparse composition. Perhaps Bushmiller’s strips are “calling our attention to the form comics take—panels, balloons, composition.” Yes, it’s all funny, but “the joke is on us if we fail to see what Bushmiller is up to, namely, taking apart the comic strip & putting it back together again!” Griffith quietly invites readers to explore his own biography in the same critical way. This book is not simply a charming history of a plucky cartoonist, but a formal marvel, pushing at the boundaries of its medium.

Firmly raises the bar for comics biographies.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2023

ISBN: 9781683359432

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Abrams ComicArts

Review Posted Online: May 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2023

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An accessible, informative journey through complex issues during turbulent times.

Immersion journalism in the form of a graphic narrative following a Syrian family on their immigration to America.

Originally published as a 22-part series in the New York Times that garnered a Pulitzer for editorial cartooning, the story of the Aldabaan family—first in exile in Jordan and then in New Haven, Connecticut—holds together well as a full-length book. Halpern and Sloan, who spent more than three years with the Aldabaans, movingly explore the family’s significant obstacles, paying special attention to teenage son Naji, whose desire for the ideal of the American dream was the strongest. While not minimizing the harshness of the repression that led them to journey to the U.S.—or the challenges they encountered after they arrived—the focus on the day-by-day adjustment of a typical teenager makes the narrative refreshingly tangible and free of political polemic. Still, the family arrived at New York’s JFK airport during extraordinarily political times: Nov. 8, 2016, the day that Donald Trump was elected. The plan had been for the entire extended family to move, but some had traveled while others awaited approval, a process that was hampered by Trump’s travel ban. The Aldabaans encountered the daunting odds that many immigrants face: find shelter and employment, become self-sustaining quickly, learn English, and adjust to a new culture and climate (Naji learned to shovel snow, which he had never seen). They also received anonymous death threats, and Naji wanted to buy a gun for protection. He asked himself, “Was this the great future you were talking about back in Jordan?” Yet with the assistance of selfless volunteers and a community of fellow immigrants, the Aldabaans persevered. The epilogue provides explanatory context and where-are-they-now accounts, and Sloan’s streamlined, uncluttered illustrations nicely complement the text, consistently emphasizing the humanity of each person.

An accessible, informative journey through complex issues during turbulent times.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-30559-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

The Book of Genesis as imagined by a veteran voice of underground comics.

R. Crumb’s pass at the opening chapters of the Bible isn’t nearly the act of heresy the comic artist’s reputation might suggest. In fact, the creator of Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural is fastidiously respectful. Crumb took pains to preserve every word of Genesis—drawing from numerous source texts, but mainly Robert Alter’s translation, The Five Books of Moses (2004)—and he clearly did his homework on the clothing, shelter and landscapes that surrounded Noah, Abraham and Isaac. This dedication to faithful representation makes the book, as Crumb writes in his introduction, a “straight illustration job, with no intention to ridicule or make visual jokes.” But his efforts are in their own way irreverent, and Crumb feels no particular need to deify even the most divine characters. God Himself is not much taller than Adam and Eve, and instead of omnisciently imparting orders and judgment He stands beside them in Eden, speaking to them directly. Jacob wrestles not with an angel, as is so often depicted in paintings, but with a man who looks not much different from himself. The women are uniformly Crumbian, voluptuous Earth goddesses who are both sexualized and strong-willed. (The endnotes offer a close study of the kinds of power women wielded in Genesis.) The downside of fitting all the text in is that many pages are packed tight with small panels, and too rarely—as with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—does Crumb expand his lens and treat signature events dramatically. Even the Flood is fairly restrained, though the exodus of the animals from the Ark is beautifully detailed. The author’s respect for Genesis is admirable, but it may leave readers wishing he had taken a few more chances with his interpretation, as when he draws the serpent in the Garden of Eden as a provocative half-man/half-lizard. On the whole, though, the book is largely a tribute to Crumb’s immense talents as a draftsman and stubborn adherence to the script.

An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06102-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009

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