An enjoyably irreverent diversion.

INTRO TO ALIEN INVASION

Novelists King (Double Feature, 2013, etc.) and Poirier (Modern Ranch Living, 2004, etc.) team up with debut artist Ahn for a graphic novel that's a madcap tale of college cliques, girl power, and oversexed body snatchers.

When a sleazy college professor smuggles a sack of soil out of a notorious meteor-impact crater in Siberia, he figures he’s a shoo-in for a Nobel Prize in astrobiology. But soon the microscopic alien life forms embedded in his pilfered permafrost thaw out into tiny blue bugs hellbent on infecting or devouring all human life—a scenario first played out in a Siberian village near the original meteor crash site in 1923 (“They made us pregnant,” the lone survivor claimed. “They filled us with jelly!”). As the aliens spread across the professor’s liberal arts college in Vermont, a hurricane strands a cross section of the student body—goths, bros, arty chicks, young Republicans, theater kids, Greeks, trustafarians, and the professor’s star pupil, Stacey—who must grapple with classmates turning into towering humanoid insects or swollen egg sacks. Spurred by her superior intellect and a secret crush, Stacey takes the fight to the invaders. While the trajectory feels familiar, the story is told with energy and a subversive charm somewhere between Edgar Wright and Eli Roth. Small quirks like a claim that chicken nuggets grow in water (“Big as a Christmas ham!") win the day, while depictions of various college stereotypes (particularly a pair of bros with backward baseball caps and popped collars) are delightful grotesqueries. Ahn’s illustrations have the clean, fat lines of animation stills as they depict tidal waves of goo and alien assaults, and her details (the stippling of a weak mustache) are enjoyably offbeat. Bookish Stacey’s instant and unflinching acceptance of her role as alien-killer (and killer of infected humans, who mostly accept their doom) deflates some emotional heft, but the fun is too infectious to resist.

An enjoyably irreverent diversion.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-6340-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT

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

ISBN: 978-1-60819-961-7

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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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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