There are no larger truths to be found in this brief graphic narrative, and perhaps there will never be. These comics do not...

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THE ’STAN

A series of journalistic vignettes from the war that threatens to last forever.

As America’s involvement in Afghanistan extends toward (and past?) two decades, the challenge of coming to terms with it grows tougher than ever. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, some wondered whether it would ever inspire great literature, as the two world wars had, or whether we were too close to it to see it clearly. With Afghanistan, it is even harder to find meaning or significance while the U.S. remains entrenched, despite promises from presidents and candidates for a deadline on such involvement. As a former war correspondent and author of a previous graphic novel about his experiences (War Is Boring, 2010), Axe admits to mixed feelings over the possibility of America’s troop removal. “In my selfishness, I feared losing my easy access—via the U.S. Military—to Afghanistan’s most dangerous districts,” he writes. “The war had defined my young adulthood. The closer it came to killing me, the deeper my connection with the conflict. For better or worse, the Afghanistan war had made me who I was and am. I treasured that.” Such profound ambivalence runs through these stories, presented in collaboration with journalist Knodell and artist Delliquanti (O Human Star Volume Two, 2017), whose bold colors bring a vividness reminiscent of pop art to the murkiness of the conflict. Reportage and reflections from a variety of perspectives suggest that the American soldiers have no idea of what they’re doing there or how best to fight an enemy that is indistinguishable by uniform. Those who live in Afghanistan fear the Americans and the Taliban alike while knowing that war will persist and nothing significant will change even if America withdraws its troops.

There are no larger truths to be found in this brief graphic narrative, and perhaps there will never be. These comics do not depict a faceless enemy, but they suggest compassion, bravery, and even heroism despite the absurdities of a war with no purpose and seemingly no end.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68247-098-5

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Dead Reckoning/Naval Institute Press

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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

THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION

A GRAPHIC ADAPTATION

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.

THE VOYEURS

“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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