Cotton candy masquerading as a meal.

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GENIUS

A former child prodigy fails to launch professionally but learns the importance of “heart knowledge,” all in the shadow of the almighty screwball genius god, Albert Einstein.

Ted Halker was the kind of 10-year-old who “just thought light made more…sense…as a semi-solid.” But as he skipped grade after grade in school, always landing at the top of his class, the brilliant child came to the sobering realization that there was “a chasm between knowledge…and knowing”—a point driven home in the high school locker room by an older classmate who loudly observed Ted’s “tiny little weiner.” Nevertheless, Ted persevered, embarking on a career in theoretical physics, marrying a beautiful woman and raising two lovely children, even if his daughter curses her genius for making her a social outcast and his son is a total horn dog (so Ted swears him to masturbation in exchange for a used car of his choice). The wife is great, though…except for her recurring headaches and irascible, senile father, who now lives with the family and torments Ted. But for as much promise as Ted once held, he’s in a long dry spell at work that could put his head on the chopping block. That is, until his father-in-law’s past as a bodyguard for Albert “Bert” Einstein—Ted’s guiding star—provides an opportunity to finally blow the world away. The family drama is winning enough, even with the occasional forays into snarky ham-handedness or oversexed juvenility, but the professional striving feels half-baked, and the reverence for Einstein seems played out. Kristiansen’s art is striking, with etched figures in a mist of smudges and shade, bringing to mind Bill Sienkiewicz by way of Moebius. Kristiansen expresses moments of intellectual rapture as full-page bursts of color and shape, some holding vibrant seismographic patterns. But this abstract beauty doesn’t quite tie into the rest of the tale, and Ted’s world seems too insular, the supporting characters too distant, so even a truly earth-shattering idea seems of little consequence.

Cotton candy masquerading as a meal.

Pub Date: July 9, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59643-263-5

Page Count: 128

Publisher: First Second

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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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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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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