As parodies of human excess, the pigeons simply chase after the same promises in life. Amusing? Barely. Some may lap it up...

FRISCO PIGEON MAMBO

Self-publisher Payne, whose Nick Twisp series is making a splash (see below), creates his own Animal Farm in a fable of escaped lab animals that can’t give up booze, tobacco, and whatchugot.

Petey, Honky and Robin, pigeons at the University of Southern California lab at Berkeley, are being fed sherry, various brands of cigarettes, and Hygienic Pigeon Chow as part of a test group. The girl caring for the three reads to them from The Maltese Falcon. Robin, the narrator, who thinks they’re all human, leads the trio when six black-garbed Animal Rights Forever activists liberate the birds. The hungry pigeons enter the revolving door of San Francisco’s posh Palace Hotel and land on the buffet, where they find all manner of new food. Meanwhile, they would kill for a cigarette and at first just eat a butt off the ground, along with the fuzzy filter. At Sam Spade’s Mystery Book Shop, they actually meet The Black Bird and Joel Cairo and are chased by Pinkerton the Cat while all Frisco trembles under the attack of the blood-spattered Killer Pigeons. They join the homing pigeon Darla and Mr. Gerigar, a mental-health parakeet who quotes Freud, in their cozy billboard home. And they meet Wallace, a dead pigeon from the lab, who has marvelously returned to life. Will love and domesticity ever come to our feathered friends? Will Robin ever successfully integrate a Jungian identity and recognize that he’s not human?

As parodies of human excess, the pigeons simply chase after the same promises in life. Amusing? Barely. Some may lap it up but few will find it as riotous as the Nick Twisp saga.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2000

ISBN: 1-882647-24-6

Page Count: 184

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2000

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Gorgeous and troubling.

HEART OF DARKNESS

Cartoonist Kuper (Kafkaesque, 2018, etc.) delivers a graphic-novel adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s literary classic exploring the horror at the center of colonial exploitation.

As a group of sailors floats on the River Thames in 1899, a particularly adventurous member notes that England was once “one of the dark places of the earth,” referring to the land before the arrival of the Romans. This well-connected vagabond then regales his friends with his boyhood obsession with the blank places on maps, which eventually led him to captain a steamboat up a great African river under the employ of a corporate empire dedicated to ripping the riches from foreign land. Marlow’s trip to what was known as the Dark Continent exposes him to the frustrations of bureaucracy, the inhumanity employed by Europeans on the local population, and the insanity plaguing those committed to turning a profit. In his introduction, Kuper outlines his approach to the original book, which featured extensive use of the n-word and worked from a general worldview that European males are the forgers of civilization (even if they suffered a “soul [that] had gone mad” for their efforts), explaining that “by choosing a different point of view to illustrate, otherwise faceless and undefined characters were brought to the fore without altering Conrad’s text.” There is a moment when a scene of indiscriminate shelling reveals the Africans fleeing, and there are some places where the positioning of the Africans within the panel gives them more prominence, but without new text added to fully frame the local people, it’s hard to feel that they have reached equal footing. Still, Kuper’s work admirably deletes the most offensive of Conrad’s language while presenting graphically the struggle of the native population in the face of foreign exploitation. Kuper is a master cartoonist, and his pages and panels are a feast for the eyes.

Gorgeous and troubling.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-63564-5

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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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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