I’ve developed a fairly decent sense of restraint in my old age. Despite my ardent love of comics I will wait until a series is collected in trade paperback, or until I can find it at the library, or obtain it from my galley service. It’s not often that I glance through a book and immediately buy it because I must own it; but this is one of those books.
I had heard good things about it, of course, which is why I picked it up from the shelf in the first place. I knew that it had something to do with Buddhism, and that it had won lots of awards last year; but I hadn’t really properly seen it. And so last night, when I should have been working on my own comics, I devoured this one instead, and am better for it.
The Nao of Brown is the story of a young woman called Nao Brown; she is half-Japanese, half-British, and lives in London with a friend who is a nurse. Nao is a graphic designer in a bit of a downswing, recently dumped by her boyfriend and sacked from the job he had gotten her. She runs into an old friend from school who offers her a job in a geeky toy store that specializes in the kind of Japanese, anime-themed merchandise that Nao loves and knows about.
Nao has a Buddhist meditation practice and other strategies to help her combat her obsessive-compulsive disorder, which causes her to imagine violent things happening to others, especially those who are smaller than her (eg., children). Perhaps that is why she falls in love with Gregory, a burly appliance repairman who knows about Buddhism and Latin; but Gregory has issues of his own.
The Nao of Brown is not a perfect book, but it is so well-realized, from script to art to design. Like Blankets, Essex County, or Fun Home, it is an accomplished auteur piece that I would readily recommend to new readers or veterans alike.
Last Days of an Immortal by Gwen De Bonneval and Fabien Vehlmann is one of the most thought-provoking, interesting comics I have read in some time. Set in a future where humankind has evolved beyond violence (mostly) and is in contact with alien races, global law enforcement is composed of philosophers rather than truncheon-wielders. Thanks to advancements in medical science, humans can essentially live forever by transferring their consciousness into multiple identical bodies, with the only negative side effect being a loss of early memories if the minds are re-integrated.
One of the top Philosophical Police agents, Elijah, is called upon to mediate tensions between a couple of alien races; failure to do so could result in great destruction on Earth and off. At the same time, Elijah is disturbed and a little hurt that one of his oldest friends has decided to voluntarily end his own life without telling Elijah. As he investigates the root of the tension between the alien races, he comes to understand both the case and his relationships with greater clarity.
Last Days of an Immortal is an ingenious piece of writing wrapped in an imaginative art style that creates a vision of the future that is both contemporary and quaintly old-fashioned, as if a graphic novel had arrived from the era of Aldous Huxley. Long may it survive.
Young Korean-American cartoonist Derek Kirk Kim won Eisner and Harvey awards for his debut graphic novel Same Difference, and collaborated with Gene Luen Yang on The Eternal Smile. He returns with Tune, the story of an art student called Andy Go who loves comics and drops out of school because he feels he is ready to work professionally. When his dream job does not materialize, his parents force him to look for any job, leading to an interview that seems to good to be true. Meanwhile, he accidentally discovers that the girl he had a crush on in art school is into him too; when the interview leads to a real job that involves some travel, he is torn between taking it to please his parents and staying to explore the potential relationship with his crush.
When I say the job involves some travel, here is where Kim throws the reader a curve: Andy is recruited as an exhibit in an intergalactic zoo, living in a cutaway reproduction of his family home. It’s a clever touch to put Andy into a situation that is alien and yet not so different from home, where his parents provided for him. His alien bosses supply all of his favourite foods, TV, video games; almost everything a young single man could want. His parents’ more traditional Korean values are sometimes played for laughs, such as their reaction when they learn that he will not be returning home for a while.
Like all of Kim’s work, I thoroughly enjoyed Tune and was sorry to read recently that he has decided to step away from drawing his own comics, concentrating instead on writing and filmmaking (Andy Go also appears in a parallel film project called Mythomania). The second volume of Tune, available online at tunecomic.com, was drawn by the equally fine cartoonist Les McClaine (The Middle Man, Jonny Crossbones). Kim has also revealed recently that he is not sure Tune will continue in comics form unless sales of this first collection are strong. I hope that they are, for everyone’s sake. The comics world needs all the Derek Kirk Kim it can get.
Relish by Lucy Knisley is a charming graphic novel set for release from First Second in the spring of 2013 (in the meantime you can read an excerpt and other comics on her website). It is primarily a memoir of her childhood, recalling how her parents instilled within her a love of cooking and of fine foods. While it does touch on some painful moments here and there – her parents’ divorce, and her own tendency to use food for comfort – it never becomes maudlin. Instead she concentrates on different aspects of food, from working on a farm to serving as a caterer, enjoying the foods of different cultures, cooking for friends in college, and fine dining with her father. Knisley also eschews food snobbery, extolling the virtues of McDonalds french fries and occasional junk food.
Knisley’s linework is very clean and energetic, reminding me of Shary Flenniken; it is complimented well by her bright and vibrant colour palette. Best of all, each chapter of Relish ends with a recipe, cooking tips, or both (I plan on trying the instructions for making sushi, among others).
I found a lot to identify with in this book: a love of cooking and of fine food, the experience of parental divorce, and of having ancestors who either cooked professionally or could have if they had wished to. But I don’t think those kinds of touchstones are necessary to enjoy Relish; like good food, its appeal is universal.
This is the first volume of a projected 2600-page opus by young cartoonist Adam Hines, set in an alternate world where animals can talk. Other than that, the world is much like ours in that we humans still raise and slaughter animals for food, and keep them as pets; as a result it is by turns heartbreaking and horrifying. The first volume introduces many characters and themes, but it primarily revolves around Pompeii, a Barbary macaque that is the leader of an animal terrorist group; and Jack Hammond, a human FBI agent who pursues Pompeii after the bombing of a California college library. Pompeii and his hench-ape spend a chunk of time hiding in the home of a wealthy family, leading to a particularly haunting passage where Pompeii reads the diary of the mother who lived there.
The ambition, complexity, and artistry of this book cannot be understated. It frequently reminded me of another great series about man’s relationship with nature; The Puma Blues by Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli. The art reminded me of the tragically aborted Alan Moore/Bill Sinkiewicz series Big Numbers, by Hines’ use of collage, graphite, ink and mixed media. He employs mathematical principles to design panel and page layouts, reflecting the natural world that he depicts. Long silent passages of the camera drifting over darkened wheat fields or forests give way to human streets and buildings rendered in line art. Like Chris Ware, Hines employs a variety of visual devices and metaphors to compartmentalize the narrative, without losing the tension that runs throughout.
In short, Adam Hines and his book are the real deal. I read most of Duncan the Wonder Dog last night, and found difficult to put down and difficult to sleep afterward. It’s not for the faint of heart; great books or art never are.
You can read Duncan the Wonder Dog online here.
I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of Bigfoot Boy: Into the Woods by J. Torres and Faith Erin Hicks recently. It’s an all-ages graphic novel about Rufus, a ten-year-old boy who spends a long weekend at his grandmother’s house in British Columbia. Bored, he follows a neighbour girl called Penny into the woods and gets a little lost; in his attempt to find his way back he finds a strange necklace with a totem carved on one side and “sasquatch” on the other. Like a Canadian Captain Marvel, he discovers that when he says the word on the necklace, he is struck by lightning and turned into a sasquatch (or Bigfoot, for American readers). He takes this pretty much in stride and soon befriends a talking flying squirrel called Sidney. When he says the magic word backwards, he returns to human form (sans clothes). Unfortunately for Rufus, there are others who want to use the power of the necklace. Sidney and Penny help him understand his new powers so that he can survive and protect the forest.
I enjoyed this book very much and will be buying a copy for my own ten-year-old boy when it is released by Kids Can Press in September. Torres is a YA comics veteran and Shuster award winning writer that I have followed since his Copybook Tales minicomics, and Faith Erin Hicks is a talented Halifax artist with comics like the charming Superhero Girl and Friends With Boys under her belt. They make a great team here; Torres’ script is fun and well-paced for the preteen audience, and Hicks’ artwork is energetic and expressive. I hope there will be more volumes to come!
In the meantime, if you happen to be in the Toronto area, Torres and Hicks will be at Fan Expo Canada and launching the book at Little Island Comics in Mirvish Village on Sunday at 4 PM. Get out there and support quality all-ages and YA comics!
I am a big fan of Scott Pilgrim; my introduction to the series was to buy a copy of this book in its original incarnation from writer/artist Bryan Lee O’Malley at a book festival in Halifax. For the purposes of this review, I’m going to divide the potential reader into the following groups: 1) those who have never read the books, and 2) those who have. Whether or not you have seen the film is immaterial; the books contain a lot of additional story that is well worth reading.
So if you are in group 1, should you buy this book? Probably. I feel that the cover price is a bit steep ($25 for a colour hardcover, compared to $15 for the black and white paperback), and artwise this is the weakest of the series; but the story is still one of the smartest and sharpest things you will encounter on the shelves, and the colour by Nathan Fairbairn is very well done. The lettering has also been “remastered”, whatever that means, and the artwork generally sharpened and tweaked to show off the colour as well as possible.
And if you are in group 2? Personally, I don’t feel compelled to buy the series again in colour. Oni Press has added some nice design touches reminiscent of the film, and some “behind the scenes” material by O’Malley at the end, but I would rather save my money for O’Malley’s new book due next year (or his wife’s adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time, for that matter). Of course, your mileage may vary; I can easily imagine a hardcore SP fan replacing the paperbacks with these new hardcover editions.