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.
Sam Alden is the real deal. I first noticed his work sometime last year, when a link to his comic Eighth Grade made the rounds. Unfortunately I don’t keep up with Tumblr as much as I should, so it was only recently that I caught up on the wealth of material he has online, including standouts like The Farmer’s Dilemma, which made its print debut at this year’s Angouleme festival.
Alden has a good command of brush and ink illustration and a fine colour sense, but what strikes me about his work is how he combines these traditional tools with the fluidity of an infinite canvas. He seems to be fascinated with the forms of the natural world and man’s (or at least his own) relationship with them. I admire his technical skill as well as his willingness to explore his emotions.
For a guy in his early 20s, Alden has built an impressive body of work with the aesthetic and approach of a fine artist who happens to make comics. I hope we get to keep him for a while.
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.
Eddie Campbell is probably best known for his collaboration with Alan Moore, the exhaustive examination of Jack the Ripper called From Hell; but for over 20 years he has been telling personal stories through a semi-autobiographical avatar called Alec. The Lovely Horrible Stuff is a story of Campbell as himself, addressing the reader in order to discuss his experiences with money.
The book is broken into two parts. The first examines Campbell’s finances as a freelance artist and self-publisher, and how those are thrown into disarray by some unfortunate dealings with his father-in-law. He depicts the stress this puts on his family (which has since presumably played a part in his divorce) with the fearlessness that has always characterized his work.
The second part of the book is a more general examination of economics through the tale of the giant stone coins from the island of Yap, which is to the north of Campbell’s adopted home of Australia. Campbell’s art style in the book differs from his previous work in that it incorporates collage and photos in addition to his usual linework. As a fan of his linework, I can’t say I that I felt it always worked for me; but his writing is as sharp as ever. That and the unusual subject matter makes The Lovely Horrible Stuff well worth reading.
Brian K. Vaughn (Runaways, Y: The Last Man) returns to comics with a very clever SF/fantasy fusion called Saga, illustrated by Canadian artist Fiona Staples. It’s the tale of Hazel, newborn daughter to soldiers on opposite sides of a galactic war; father Marko is from a race of men with horns who wield magic, and mother Alana is from a race of winged humanoids. Hazel narrates the story of her own birth as her fugitive parents try to escape from soldiers, bounty hunters and other dangers.
If this sounds a bit like Star Wars, it should; Vaughn first conceived of the series when he was a child, and has described it as “Star Wars for perverts” due to its adult content. I was initially lukewarm about the fit of Fiona Staples’ artwork for this series, feeling that the style of a P. Craig Russell or Charles Vess might be more suitable; but Staples quickly grew on me for her rendering of the various alien races that she and Vaughn have designed. It’s a hell of a ride and I am looking forward to the next volume.