A catharsis for the author that fits perfectly within a pivotal period for society and culture at large.

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COMMUTE

AN ILLUSTRATED MEMOIR OF FEMALE SHAME

One day’s commute offers time for the author to reflect on sexual predators, alcoholism, and the experiences she understands better now than she did at the time.

New York City–based writer and illustrator Williams (co-author: The Big Activity Book for Anxious People, 2019, etc.) presents a graphic memoir that female readers will find galvanizing and male readers should find illuminating. She explains early on that her reading on the commuter train is restricted to female authors: “I don’t read books by men because I feel sufficiently well-versed in the human male experience from my education.” The lessons were hard earned, and some were slowly learned, since the author’s perspective as a sober mother in recovery is very different than it was when she was experiencing sexual encounters as a blackout alcoholic. “Blackouts,” she writes, “are euphoric, quiet, twilight birth....It’s absolute, perfect freedom. So bring strangers home, because in this sacred darkness, intimacy is not a threat, it’s a compulsion. The dark has you covered.” Williams long felt some shame of complicity in what she now recognizes as outright rape, and she sees clarity in even murkier situations: “The yes or no of consent is not what separates mutual desire from predation,” she writes. “The game is rigged; all the power is concentrated on the other side. We are groomed for compliance.” Most pages are a single panel and self-contained, a series of reflections and impressions intercut with memories, as the woman on the page feels outnumbered by the men who sit too close to her, stare at her, or intrude upon her. Within her caricatures, she wonders which might be rapists and which might be rescuers. Over the course of the day, she reflects on her recovery, how the strong support of other women helped awaken her to a new life, and how their encouragement spawned this graphic, candid, courageous memoir.

A catharsis for the author that fits perfectly within a pivotal period for society and culture at large.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3674-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Abrams ComicArts

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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