Black-and-white artistry perfectly complements the noirish plot.

THE NOBODY

Taut, elliptical graphic novel serves as both existential parable and homage to an earlier era of classic comics.

Written and illustrated by Lemire, creator of the Essex County Trilogy (The Country Nurse, 2007, etc.), the story could hardly be simpler or more spare. A strange man arrives in the small town of Large Mouth: “Home of the World’s Biggest Bass! Population 754.” He comes without a vehicle, identification or much in the way of possessions. He is wrapped head to toe, arm to arm, and finger to finger in bandages. He wears glasses that are more like goggles, obscuring his eyes. He introduces himself as John Griffen. He is “The Nobody” of the title. The year is 1994. Explains 16-year-old Vickie, whose father owns the town’s diner, “All I know for sure is that after he came here, everything changed forever.” Well, yes and no. Though Vickie is the only one who develops a friendship with the bandaged stranger, the small town seems to absorb his presence until he’s almost part of the citizenry—or maybe part of the scenery. He keeps to himself; he doesn’t make trouble. Vickie works at the diner under her dad’s watchful eye; he has been particularly protective since his wife disappeared when Vickie was nine. Vickie has a hole in her life that perhaps the stranger can help fill. She takes him meals. She learns that he was formerly a professor in Chicago and that he remains involved with some mysterious chemistry experiments. He seeks in Large Mouth the peace of mind that he couldn’t find in Chicago, while she hopes to escape to the big city and leave her small-town boredom behind. When another woman disappears from Large Mouth, Griffen is the immediate suspect. Is he really a friend to Vickie, or is he a threat? Is he even John Griffen?

Black-and-white artistry perfectly complements the noirish plot.

Pub Date: July 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4012-2080-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2009

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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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