Mostly superb with bouts of just excellent.

READ REVIEW

MACDOODLE ST.

Rerelease of the complete comic strip by illustrator and poet Stamaty (Shake, Rattle & Turn That Noise Down!, 2010, etc.), which ran in the Village Voice in the 1970s—exploring the culture wars, the creative process, and the Zen-like powers of dishwashing.

The Conservative Liberation Front’s raid to protest Cafe Fizz's no-tie, pro-beard policy interrupts poet Malcolm Frazzle, hunkered down in a corner and on deadline for Dishwasher Monthly. Rabid Wayne Newton fans chase Malcolm from the cafe and through the city, where, on a bus, he meets an older woman who receives visions by peering through an empty whiskey bottle. She plays doula to Malcolm’s newest poem—a poem that will save the world from a would-be tyrant seeking to genetically engineer a mindless race of dishwashers. Though the story focuses on Malcolm, the main character here is the comic strip itself, which takes on an anthropomorphic appearance at the top of each page, alongside the title and mercurial tagline, as well as in several strips throughout the series, like one of pure doodles, no story, captioned, “Sometimes a comic strip just gets in a mooood.” Small, intricate patterns of faces make up the borders of many strips, sometimes complaining about the larger story. Stamaty treats the strip like a canvas, filling it with layers of meticulous detail; tight, clean lines; playful self-awareness; and monkeys washing dishes. In a new addendum, Stamaty looks back at the challenges of meeting weekly deadlines, how his level of work seemed unsustainable, and there is a shift about two-thirds of the way through the book: fewer strips with intricate borders and more panels filled completely with words. Though Stamaty’s words are sly and kinetic, one can’t help wanting more of his stupendous illustrations, somewhere between R. Crumb and Hergé.

Mostly superb with bouts of just excellent.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68137-342-3

Page Count: 120

Publisher: New York Review Comics

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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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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Rich, creamy art and playful paneling make for a fun read.

THE GIGANTIC BEARD THAT WAS EVIL

Cartoonist Collins’ debut graphic novel is a long, smooth fable of a man whose unkempt facial hair ravages the tidy city of Here.

Here sits on an island, surrounded by the sea, separated from the far-off land of There. And whereas Here is all row houses and trimmed trees and clean cheeks, There is a dark, disordered place that would mix your insides with your outsides, your befores with your nows with your nexts—unpleasant business brilliantly depicted in panels breaking across a single body as it succumbs to chaos. So the people of Here live quiet, fastidious lives, their backs to the sea, and neighbor Dave delights in doodling it all from his window as he listens to the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” on repeat. But an irregular report at his inscrutable office job triggers the single hair that has always curved from Dave’s upper lip to be suddenly joined by a burst of follicles. Try as Dave might, his unruly beard won’t stop pouring from his face in a tangled flood—and soon it threatens the very fabric of life in Here. Collins’ illustrations are lush, rounded affairs with voluptuous shading across oblong planes. Expressions pop, from the severe upturn where a sympathetic psychiatrist’s brows meet to the befuddlement of a schoolgirl as the beard’s hypnotic powers take hold. With its archetypical conflict and deliberate dissection of language, the story seems aimed at delivering a moral, but the tale ultimately throws its aesthetics into abstraction rather than didacticism. The result rings a little hollow but goes down smooth.

Rich, creamy art and playful paneling make for a fun read.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-05039-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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