Every year seems to raise the bar.

READ REVIEW

THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2010

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

ISBN: 978-0-547-24177-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010

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An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

BERLIN

BOOK ONE

This black-and-white historical narrative, written and illustrated by Lutes, collects eight volumes of his ongoing comic book set in Berlin during the late ’20s. It’s a multilayered tale of love and politics at the beginning of the Nazi era, as Lutes follows the stories of three characters: a 20ish art student from the provinces, a textile worker, and a young Jewish radical. Their lives intersect in only the subtlest way—Lutes depicts them crossing paths at some great public events, such as the Mayday march that closes this part of his book. And Lutes plays with perspective in a visual sense as well, jumping from point-of-view frames to overhead angles, including one from a dirigible flying above in honor of the Kaiser. At street level, Lutes integrates his historical research smoothly, and cleverly evokes the sounds and smells of a city alive with public debate and private turmoil. The competing political factions include communists, socialists, democrats, nationalists, and fascists, and all of Lutes’s characters get swept up by events. Marthe, the beautiful art student, settles in with Kurt, the cynical and detached journalist; Gudrun, the factory worker, loses her job, and her nasty husband (to the Nazi party), then joins a communist cooperative with her young daughters; Schwartz, a teenager enamored with the memory of Rosa Luxembourg, balances his incipient politics with his religion at home and his passion for Houdini. The lesser figures seem fully realized as well, from the despotic art instructor to the reluctant street policeman. Cosmopolitan Berlin on the brink of disaster: Lutes captures the time and place with a historian’s precision and a cinematographer’s skill. His shifts from close-ups to fades work perfectly in his thin-line style, a crossbreed of dense-scene European comics and more simple comics styles on this side of the Atlantic.

An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-896597-29-7

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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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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