Broad in scope if somewhat narrow in emotional pitch, this stands to be, along with Houghton Mifflin’s The Best American...

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AN ANTHOLOGY OF GRAPHIC FICTION, CARTOONS, AND TRUE STORIES

An ambitious compendium of graphic narratives, designed to showcase both the varied styles and emotional depth of the field.

The focus here is limited to North America, but it’s still a vibrant landscape, and Brunetti, a Chicago-based cartoonist, makes room for many of the best-known talents around—Chris Ware, Gary Panter, Adrian Tomine, Dan Clowes, Harvey Pekar—along with pieces by lesser-known artists. Brunetti puts an appealingly broad range of styles on display, though he seems eager to celebrate a certain type of ironic story about loneliness and sad childhoods. To that end, Brunetti’s high priest isn’t a pioneer like Robert Crumb (who’s included here) or Will Eisner (who isn’t), but Peanuts creator Charles Schulz; there’s an essay by Schulz on the art of the comic strip, along with a few Peanuts homages, and the book’s populated by more than a few characters mired in Charlie Brown–like despair. A casual reader might come away thinking that comic art today is mostly the province of melancholy men and the sad sacks who invent them, but the collection also spotlights comics’ format possibilities: Richard McGuire’s masterpiece “Here,” for example, nests panels within panels to show the transformation of a small plot of land from the moment the earth cooled to the near future. And it’s not all boyish glumness: Dense, historically driven pieces like David Collier’s “The Ethel Catherwood Story” and Art Spiegelman’s Maus (excerpted) reveal those writers’ ability to illuminate history. And the finest piece, Jaime Hernandez’s “Flies on the Ceiling,” contributes a note of magic realism.

Broad in scope if somewhat narrow in emotional pitch, this stands to be, along with Houghton Mifflin’s The Best American Comics 2006 (also October), a definitive text on American comic art for a good while.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-300-11170-3

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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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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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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