Bold and brassy, with a solid grasp of its material.

READ REVIEW

MEN OF TOMORROW

GEEKS, GANGSTERS, AND THE BIRTH OF THE COMIC BOOK

An industry long in the shadows gets its due with a mainstream historical text.

Although the tide has lately turned toward respect for the more literary subfield of graphic novels, the critical community still largely ignores the superhero pulps that constitute the vast bulk of comic books. Fortunately, this punchy new history dives right into that world of brawny, ridiculous heroics and implausible scenarios with commendable and unapologetic gusto. Michael Chabon explored the Lower East Side, Jewish, immigrant roots of the industry in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000), but Jones (Honey I’m Home, 1991, etc.) digs deeper, limning the grubby details of an always-disreputable business and coming up with a fistful of gold. He excels at describing the early-20th-century New York milieu that nurtured the art form, “the bed in which the comic book was born: countercultural, lowbrow, idealistic, prurient, pretentious, mercenary, forward-looking, and ephemeral, all in the same instant.” Jones profiles such key figures as Harry Donenfeld, a pioneering comics kingpin (and buddy of gangsters like Frank Costello) with a lust for the deal and an unerring eye for what would sell, early industry greats like Jerry Siegel and Wil Eisner, and some not-so-greats as well (Batman creator Bob Kane had limited talent, to say the least). In one of the more astonishing scenes here, publisher Lev Gleason gets a great deal in 1941 on a few million pages of pulp stock, provided he can get it printed in a weekend; on Friday, he grabs a team of artists, who put out a 64-page Daredevil issue by Monday. If this sounds familiar, it’s the basis for one of Kavalier’s best set pieces.

Bold and brassy, with a solid grasp of its material.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2004

ISBN: 0-465-03656-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2004

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

BERLIN

BOOK ONE

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.

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

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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