edited by Neil Gaiman ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 15, 2010
Every year seems to raise the bar.
Another star-studded anthology grapples with the challenge of whether comics can survive respectability.
Perhaps inevitably, with each annual edition, the balance shifts more from fresh (even raw) discoveries to luminaries already enshrined in the cultural canon. As series editors Jessica Abel and Matt Madden write in their foreword, “Everyone seems to be pushing to outdo themselves and to live up to comics’ new status as a Medium That Matters.” Thus, this year’s guest editor Gaiman (renowned for his Sandman series) couldn’t think of omitting at least a taste of Robert Crumb’s illustrated Genesis (which Gaiman calls “the most fascinating comic of 2009”). Or a couple of excerpts from David Mazzucchelli’s rapturously reviewed graphic novel debut, Asterios Polyp (2009). Or narratives from literary interlopers Jonathan Lethem and Jonathan Ames. Or the obligatory offerings from Chris Ware, whose entry “Fiction versus Nonfiction” serves as a sort of afterword (and opens with a quotation from John Cheever). Yet the range of possibility under the comic umbrella continues to astonish, with “The Bank” by Derf underscoring the connection between graphic narrative and punk rock, selections from Peter Kuper and Peter Bagge employing the comic strip as a political broadside, Josh Neufeld using the form for journalism (in the wake of Katrina) and Michael Cho for history (of the development of the atomic bomb). There are love stories as well as robots and superheroes, dream journals and family memoirs as well as fantasies. If there’s a problem with the pieces, it is, as Gaiman addresses, “Any extract from a longer work, no matter how well-chosen, is simply that: an extract from a longer work, and the real art is the longer work, with a beginning and a middle and an end, often in that order.” Yet readers who don’t follow the field as closely as the series editors do will discover new favorites and will probably be inspired to buy a few books.Every year seems to raise the bar.
Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2010
Page Count: 416
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online: July 28, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010
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Gorgeous and troubling.
Cartoonist Kuper (Kafkaesque, 2018, etc.) delivers a graphic-novel adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s literary classic exploring the horror at the center of colonial exploitation.
As a group of sailors floats on the River Thames in 1899, a particularly adventurous member notes that England was once “one of the dark places of the earth,” referring to the land before the arrival of the Romans. This well-connected vagabond then regales his friends with his boyhood obsession with the blank places on maps, which eventually led him to captain a steamboat up a great African river under the employ of a corporate empire dedicated to ripping the riches from foreign land. Marlow’s trip to what was known as the Dark Continent exposes him to the frustrations of bureaucracy, the inhumanity employed by Europeans on the local population, and the insanity plaguing those committed to turning a profit. In his introduction, Kuper outlines his approach to the original book, which featured extensive use of the n-word and worked from a general worldview that European males are the forgers of civilization (even if they suffered a “soul [that] had gone mad” for their efforts), explaining that “by choosing a different point of view to illustrate, otherwise faceless and undefined characters were brought to the fore without altering Conrad’s text.” There is a moment when a scene of indiscriminate shelling reveals the Africans fleeing, and there are some places where the positioning of the Africans within the panel gives them more prominence, but without new text added to fully frame the local people, it’s hard to feel that they have reached equal footing. Still, Kuper’s work admirably deletes the most offensive of Conrad’s language while presenting graphically the struggle of the native population in the face of foreign exploitation. Kuper is a master cartoonist, and his pages and panels are a feast for the eyes.Gorgeous and troubling.
Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019
Page Count: 160
Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019
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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
Page Count: 144
Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2013
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013
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