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

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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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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