Even in yet another summer of the Superhero, as The Avengers shatter box-office records, The Dark Knight swoops back into town, and Spider-Man fires up his web-shooters, there’s still a place in the dark corners of the comic book world for the iconoclasts, journalists, children’s authors and Zen masters to ply their trade.
This year’s slab of highly anticipated graphic novels includes the return of a modern classic, the rediscovery of legends like Daniel Clowes, and rich histories of larger-than-life characters ranging from Julia Child to Hunter S. Thompson.
Read more reviews of graphic novels and books at Kirkus.
Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
As the fellas who run the popular podcast iFanboy recently pointed out, if you’ve read Grant Morrison’s überpopular examination of the comics sector Supergods, you have to seek out and read this long-awaited collection from Morrison and, making his American debut, superstar artist Frank Quitely. The author lumps it in with The Invisibles and The Filth as part of a borderline psychotic trilogy but the parody here is beyond mental. In fact, the books went far enough to inspire a 2000 lawsuit by the Charles Atlas Co., which deemed the satire of their long-running “the insult that made a man out of me,” bodybuilding advertisements unfair. The lawsuit was thrown out, and now readers can finally enjoy the collection at its maddest.
Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child
Commercial artist Hartland (How the Sphinx Got to the Museum, 2010, etc.) brings her full range of talents to this creatively illustrated and richly told picture book inspired by the life of one of America’s national treasures. In fact, the author and illustrator packed up her own love of French cuisine and traveled to the French countryside to research the life of the celebrated chef. Her book uses Hartland’s unadorned cartoon storytelling to showcase Child’s career in the OSS, her late-blooming education in French cuisine, her long marriage to Paul Child, and her unforgettable career on television. It’s a graphic work that we deemed, “perfectly pitched to introduce the determined woman who became synonymous with French cooking in America.”
Drawn Together: The Collected Works of R. and A. Crumb
R. Crumb and Aline Kominsky-Crumb
The Crumbs spent much of the past few years hailing the debut of their artist offspring Sophie Crumb and her book Evolution of a Crazy Artist and fielding raves about R. Crumb’s illustrated version of The Book of Genesis. Now the couple that have rocked the underground comix world since meeting in San Francisco some 40 years ago open the curtains on their unusual life together. The artists, who were startlingly open in works like Dirty Laundry and Weirdo Magazine, write and draw about their work together, their gifted daughter, and their expatriation to France. This should be a remarkable companion piece to Aline’s 2007 memoir Need More Love.
The Graphic Canon, Vol. 1: From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons
Edited by Russ Kick
Let’s face it, any English major can tell you that classic literature can be a little dry at the best of times. So it should be a boon to classrooms everywhere that editor Russ Kick of Disinfo.com has assembled an unpredictable grab bag of graphic adaptations of oral tales, plays, essays, sonnets and letters. We dare anyone to be bored by Tania Schrag’s explicit depiction of the infamous Greek play Lysistrata or Noah Patrick Pfarr’s racy take on John Donne’s “The Flea.” With selections ranging from Shakespeare to The Canterbury Tales to Dangerous Liaisons and artists like Rick Geary, Peter Kuper and Molly Crapapple, this is one textbook that doesn’t tempt its readers to a little shut-eye.
The Comic Book History of Comics
Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey
There have been plenty of books that meditate deeply on the comic book biz, from Michael Chabon’s fictional take in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay to Grant Morrison’s Supergods. But we find this irreverent and lighthearted take on the history of comics to be a unique piece of work by writer Van Lente (Marvel Zombies Return, etc.) and artist Dunlavey, who pulled off a similarly spectacular trick with their book Action Philosophers at Evil Twin Comics. With more humor than Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, the collection touches on the great stories of comic book and manga history, with nods to greats like Will Eisner, R. Crumb, Hergé and Roy Lichtenstein, among many others. An essential grab for anyone with even the most tangential interest in sequential art.
Beta Testing the Apocalypse
In the world of graphic novels, there are artists, and then there are artistes. Kaczynski (Cartoon Dialetics Vol. 1, etc.), alias Tom K, made a name for himself in the world of minicomics, publishing little masterpieces in the pages of MOME and getting the occasional mainstream hit in anthologies like Best American Nonrequired Reading. Kaczynski occupies a unique niche in the spectrum of visual storytellers, and these 10 short stories capture the artist’s unique voice, promising “riffs on dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technology.” Far out, man.
Top Shelf, who knows of what they speak, dubs this new graphic adventure by Piskor (who cartoons for the website Boing Boing and collaborated with Harvey Pekar on American Splendor) “the ultimate computer hacker graphic novel.” As Piskor became more and more interested in the history of phreaking, hacking and manipulating computer systems for good or bad, he created Kevin “Boingthump” Phenicle, a legendary figure whose bad habits include video-game piracy, the transmission of computer viruses and using the FBI’s own wiretapping software against them. Based on the true stories of original phreakers like Captain Crunch (who discovered the magical 2600 hz tone that would unlock long distance), Wizzywig is an epic story about how much information is dangerous and the audacity of youth.
Chris Hedges with Joe Sacco
This thunderbolt of a graphic novel earned a star for its angry, insightful and eye-opening manifesto that we called, “A call for a new American revolution, passionately proclaimed.” It’s a hell of a team-up when Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hedges and legendary cartoonist Sacco turn their reporter’s eyes on places like Camden, N.J., the poorest city in the nation; the coal mines of West Virginia; the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and communities of undocumented workers in California. It’s a startling, revelatory look at poverty in America, as the authors warn of the plague of corporate greed, the rise of neofeudalism in these desperate towns and cities, and the decimation of the middle class in America.
Gonzo: A Graphic Biography of Hunter S. Thompson
Will Bingley with Anthony Hope-Smith
There’s been a host of remembrances for Thompson since the legendary journalist took his own life that lousy February day in 2005, ranging from co-conspirator Ralph Steadman’s The Joke’s Over to Anita Thompson’s The Gonzo Way. Here’s hoping that this new biographical graphic novel by Bingley and illustrator Hope-Smith brings the good doctor into a new phase of reportage, one that relies less on those goddamned bats and Nixon rants, and refocuses on the legacy of a writer who transformed journalism, redefined reportage in his time and wreaked havoc on the American political landscape for generations. The monochromatic imagery, well-worn quotes and straightforward storytelling may not perfectly reflect the Technicolor weirdness of Thompson’s life, but to introduce young people to one of the great writers before their time, this might just be the ticket.
The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist
If there’s anyone in the last two decades of alternative comics who’s deserving of some critical examination, it’s Clowes. For those of us over 40, Clowes’ distinctive imagery, emotional wit and elemental snark has been a touchstone, from his career-defining comic book Eightball to the graphic novel-to-film adaptation of Ghost World to record covers for the Ramones and the Supersuckers. This monograph on the bestselling creator features all of Clowes’ best-known work and is a big draw for collectors with rare and previously unpublished illustrations and stories. Add in essays by the likes of cartoonish Chris Ware, and this volume becomes a treasure trove for die-hards and new fans alike.