A warmly off-kilter coming-of-age story that evokes more than it explains.

READ REVIEW

NAMING MONSTERS

A young woman struggles with modern woe and timeless nightmares in British graphic novelist Eaton's debut.

When teenage Fran lost her mother, the trauma derailed the placement exams she had been taking at the time. A year later she awaits the results of her retakes and whiles away the late summer hanging with best friend Alex, fooling around with pretentious boyfriend Sam, and wrestling with a vague epileptic condition that can suddenly send her spiraling into a semivegetative state. To thwart an onset, she recalls the details of folkloric creatures, a subject she specializes in (having tangled with a phantom or two). Fran’s monsters skew less familiar—no zombies and vampires here—and more disturbingly abstract, like the brag, “a local devil of the north country” that appears variously as “a naked man without a head, a calf wearing a white handkerchief or four men holding a white sheet.” With these deliciously unsettling details and the throbbing of her stacked, crosshatched lines shading images to the look of molded pewter, Eaton shows a great familiarity with the terrain of dread. One image—terrifying and almost totemic in its simplicity—shows Fran in a barren room, facing a darkly opening door. Near the end of the story, a pair of powerful nightmare sequences feels cut from the same cloth as the darker parts of David Lynch’s works—striking visuals, hauntingly concise language, and incantatory pacing. Yet cutting through the darkness and dysfunction are humor and hope. Eaton has a great ear for dialogue, and the Punch-and-Judy faces of her smaller figures have a folk charm befitting the work. Things spread a bit thin with the story ranging over teen angst, grief, wild grandmas, classism, drugs, divorce, explicit sexual awakening, pop culture, and the possibly supernatural, but an open heart anchors the work.

A warmly off-kilter coming-of-age story that evokes more than it explains.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-908434-21-0

Page Count: 175

Publisher: Myriad Editions

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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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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Rich, creamy art and playful paneling make for a fun read.

THE GIGANTIC BEARD THAT WAS EVIL

Cartoonist Collins’ debut graphic novel is a long, smooth fable of a man whose unkempt facial hair ravages the tidy city of Here.

Here sits on an island, surrounded by the sea, separated from the far-off land of There. And whereas Here is all row houses and trimmed trees and clean cheeks, There is a dark, disordered place that would mix your insides with your outsides, your befores with your nows with your nexts—unpleasant business brilliantly depicted in panels breaking across a single body as it succumbs to chaos. So the people of Here live quiet, fastidious lives, their backs to the sea, and neighbor Dave delights in doodling it all from his window as he listens to the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” on repeat. But an irregular report at his inscrutable office job triggers the single hair that has always curved from Dave’s upper lip to be suddenly joined by a burst of follicles. Try as Dave might, his unruly beard won’t stop pouring from his face in a tangled flood—and soon it threatens the very fabric of life in Here. Collins’ illustrations are lush, rounded affairs with voluptuous shading across oblong planes. Expressions pop, from the severe upturn where a sympathetic psychiatrist’s brows meet to the befuddlement of a schoolgirl as the beard’s hypnotic powers take hold. With its archetypical conflict and deliberate dissection of language, the story seems aimed at delivering a moral, but the tale ultimately throws its aesthetics into abstraction rather than didacticism. The result rings a little hollow but goes down smooth.

Rich, creamy art and playful paneling make for a fun read.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-05039-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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