An excellent encapsulation of what makes sequential art such a compelling, singular art form.

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THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2018

Editor Gloeckner (The Diary of a Teenage Girl, 2002, etc.) and series editor Kartalopoulos curate the 13th annual collection of North American sequential art.

As Gloeckner states in her wonderful introduction, these are auteur comics—works birthed from a single creator (with the exception of one father-son team)—rather than the ensemble approach (writer, artist, inker, letterer) often seen in commercial comics, not to mention the by-committee production employed in TV and movies. While independent comics stalwarts such as Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly published many of these stories, self-published books make up a good chunk of the collection. The low-to-no budget required to produce comics allows for the indulgence of outsider visions, like the compellingly bizarre “Untitled” from Michael Ridge (guy and girl cruising in an old car, thick black lines inexplicably spilling from their eyes and mouths, closing with the repeated refrain “Buy Fuckin Pickels”) or Max Clotfelter’s “The Warlock Story,” an autobiographical tale of the artist’s shy, unpopular early days in school drawing outrageously violent and sexually explicit comics on notebook pages, which simultaneously earned him interest from cool kids and deep concern from school officials and his mother. Many of the works tackle contemporary issues such as gender identity, global terrorism, and class warfare. Others explore timeless concepts like artists struggling against the strictures of art school. The most effective have a sense of humor (Aaron Lange’s “Selections from Art School” or Keiler Roberts’ “Sunburning”). Sometimes the more refined and impressive the art, the less resonant the stories (Ted Stearn’s “The Moolah Tree”). But each story excels on some level, from intimate confessions to surreal mythologies.

An excellent encapsulation of what makes sequential art such a compelling, singular art form.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-328-46460-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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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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