The value of this work lies in its presentation of the seeds of germination for what came later.

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THE LOST WORK OF WILL EISNER

The earliest comic strips by the pioneering cartoonist and seminal graphic novelist.

In the history of American comics, no legacy looms larger than that of Will Eisner (1917-2005). The annual Will Eisner Award is “the most prestigious award in the comics industry,” and he was one of the inaugural inductees in (what else?) the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame. If he were a musical artist with a boxed set, these would be his earliest demos, uncollected until this slim volume and unfamiliar to his legions of fans. This book is clearly intended for Eisner completists, readers who feel that his high school “Harry Karry” strip and the conventional (and occasionally funny) “Uncle Otto” can help illuminate the development of the mature work that was to come. According to one of the introductory chapters, the collection is “the cartooning equivalent of folios by a teenage Shakespeare, or the schoolbook scribbles of a post-adolescent Picasso.” The strips assembled here, dating from the mid-1930s, surfaced in a printing plate discovery. The “Uncle Otto” strips are presented first and are more comic and spare than the style that would flourish with Eisner’s most famous work, “The Spirit.” In these mainly four-panel strips, the protagonist never speaks, but wordplay abounds (one of the funniest finds him following the advice to “strike a happy medium”). Described as “a slapstick take on the spy serial,” “Harry Karry” began when Eisner was in high school but ultimately connects more directly to the work that would follow, both in the narrative form and the darker, more complex artistry.

The value of this work lies in its presentation of the seeds of germination for what came later.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9973729-0-8

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Locust Moon Press

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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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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