A compelling performance with great pacing that makes abstruse political theory both intelligible and memorable.




The astounding life of a 20th-century original as told by a skillful cartoonist frolicking in long form.

This creative biography takes considerable liberties in retelling the story of Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), the German political theorist who fled the Nazis to Paris before settling in the United States and becoming the first female professor at Princeton. Krimstein (Communications/DePaul Univ.; Kvetch as Kvetch Can: Jewish Cartoons, 2010), who draws for the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal, among others, ventriloquizes the writer’s thoughts and conversations, an approach that risks making her into a “Great Philosophers” finger puppet. However, he bases this narrative bricolage on well-regarded Arendt biographies and intellectual histories as well as her own writing. Moreover, the book relates the starkest moments in a tumultuous life without trivializing—e.g., Arendt’s arrest and detainment for researching Nazi propaganda and her time in a French work camp. Krimstein’s wry, expressive faces enliven the debates and lend poignancy to the turmoil that beset Arendt and her circle of intellectual refugee friends, including Walter Benjamin, who vouchsafed his final manuscript with Arendt just before his death. Krimstein shares his wonder at the richness of Arendt's networks in countless name-dropping cameos supported by lengthy but skimmable footnotes. Arendt’s coverage of the Adolf Eichmann trials in Jerusalem alienated her from her community of American Zionist supporters, and her infamous affair with her one-time professor and Nazi sympathizer Martin Heidegger, revealed after her death and illustrated here in moments of overt historical fiction, further damaged the popular reception of her work. This timely reimagining revives her distinctive existential spirit and dwells on her theory of the “abyss,” the rip in the fabric of humanity she attributed to totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. The irony remains that this book celebrates—even as it violates—Arendt’s arguments for keeping public and private lives separate. Perhaps the cartoons’ hasty, unfinished style acknowledges the unbridgeable distance between the author and the personalities he imaginatively inhabits.

A compelling performance with great pacing that makes abstruse political theory both intelligible and memorable.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63557-188-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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A sugarcoated but undiluted vehicle for schooling American readers about their rights and responsibilities.



A searching interpretation of that sonorous document the Constitution, with cartoons.

Why have a Constitution to begin with? Because, remarks film and TV writer Hennessey—who, even if his prose is bound by balloons, turns out to be quite the Constitutional scholar—the founding fathers were keenly aware that civil rights were never formally written down in Britain, “and that deeply troubled the framers.” That’s as much of an establishing conflict as is needed for a superhero piece, and Hennessey, paired with artist McConnell, does a fine job of turning the making of the document, despite all the dull stretches in the Constitutional Convention that James Madison recorded in his diary, into a drama. Happily, Hennessey is aware of the truly radical origins of the Constitution, even as he notes its conservative strains. For example, he remarks that the system of checks and balances is a remarkable innovation, even if it sometimes seems that presidential actions—as with military intervention in Vietnam and elsewhere—go unchecked. In addition, laws are difficult to make in this country for very good reason: “Otherwise we might get too many of them.” Combining words and appropriate images, sometimes comic and sometimes earnest, the narrative visits such matters as the three-fifths law of determining apportionment, the writ of habeas corpus, eminent domain and conceptions of property and freedom of assembly and movement (for instance, the Articles of Federation forbade “vagabonds and paupers” from crossing state lines). Also covered are the many guarantees Americans take for granted—not least the Ninth Amendment, which states that certain rights not enumerated (“The right to scratch a dog behind the ears?”) shall not be denied.

A sugarcoated but undiluted vehicle for schooling American readers about their rights and responsibilities.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8090-9487-5

Page Count: 142

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2008

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Playfully drawn and provocatively written, the memoir reinforces Bell's standing among the first rank of the genre’s artists.


“Graphic memoir” only hints at the artistry of a complex, literary-minded author who resists the bare-all confessionalism so common to the genre and blurs the distinction between fiction and factual introspection.

Who are “The Voyeurs?” In the short, opening title piece, they are a mixed-gender group standing on an urban rooftop, watching a couple have sex through a window in a nearby building. They tend to find the experience “uncomfortable,” even “creepy,” though those who remain raptly silent may well be more interested, even titillated. Bell (Lucky, 2006, etc.) is also a voyeur of sorts, chronicling the lives of others in significant detail while contemplating her own. As she admits before addressing an arts class in frigid Minneapolis, where she knows the major interest will be on how she has been able to turn her comics into a career, “I feel I need to disclaim this ‘story.’ I set myself the task of reporting my trip, though there’s not much to it, and I can’t back out now. It’s my compulsion to do this, it’s my way, I suppose, of fighting against the meaninglessness constantly crowding in.” The memoir encompasses travels that take her from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and from Japan to France, while addressing the challenges of long-distance relationships, panic attacks, contemporary feminism, Internet obsessiveness, the temptation to manipulate life to provide material for her work, and the ultimate realization, in the concluding “How I Make My Comics,” of her creative process: “Then I want to blame everyone I’ve known ever for all the failures and frustrations of my life, and I want to call someone up and beg them to please help me out of this misery somehow, and when I realize how futile both these things are I feel the cold, sharp sting of the reality that I’m totally and utterly alone in the world. Then I slap on a punchline and bam, I’m done.”

Playfully drawn and provocatively written, the memoir reinforces Bell's standing among the first rank of the genre’s artists.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-9846814-0-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Uncivilized Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

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