An unusual, unforgettable, incomparable pulpy punch.


Award-winning cartoonist/illustrator/author/playwright Feiffer (Backing into Forward, 2010, etc.) delivers his first graphic novel, a sprawling, kinetic noir of giant women, jumbled identities and warped relations.

Annie Hannigan hates her mother. The resentment—and teenage Annie’s incessant acting up—stems from her sense that mom Elsie has abandoned her since the murder of Annie’s father, an honest cop who ran afoul of the mob during Prohibition. Lately Elsie has been busy working as the secretary of alcoholic, abrasive private eye Neil Hammond, an associate of her late husband’s who promised to solve the murder, though he's made little progress for two years. When a towering, classy blonde steps into Hammond’s office and hires him to track down an equally tall, equally blonde woman, it sets off a series of events that will pepper the subsequent decade with bullets, beatings and betrayals. Mixed in is a prizefighter who is light on his feet but down in the mouth; Annie’s milquetoast partner in crime who comes into his own while serving in WWII’s Pacific theater; fleshy scandals of golden-age Hollywood; a mysterious bat-wielding giant of a woman who communicates only through song; and Feiffer’s twistedly comic take on humanity. Things come to a head during a USO show in the jungles of Tarawa, where parties bristle with cross-purposes and secret agendas until gunfire lays the truth bare. The story is wickedly imagined and deftly plotted, drawing on numerous classic noir influences while including charmingly unique flourishes like Elsie thwarting a pack of street toughs (one of whom wears a crown à la Jughead) after appropriating a pistol from a disagreeable communist liquor-store clerk. Feiffer’s illustrations have a rough-hewn quality, with the jumbled lines of his figures and faces clumping evocatively like Giacometti sculptures, while his human forms move with the fluidity of Degas’ horses across open panels of dancing and boxing. The entire work feels pulled from an earlier time yet explosively modern, a madcap relic animated by an outrageous mind.

An unusual, unforgettable, incomparable pulpy punch.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-87140-314-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.



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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Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.


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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