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Books To Read: Best Graphic Novels:

February 2015

Welcome back to my monthly analysis of the most interesting new publications coming into shops and online starting from two months ahead. As eclectic as ever, February 2015’s PG Tips range from reprints of comic books starring Black Americans and two British adaptations of an adventure classic, to brand-new graphic novels by Andi Watson about a delightful vampire chef with a sweet tooth and by sophisticated French auteur Annie Goetzinger about the fashion legend of Dior. My pick of the bunch, though, is Nocturne (wraparound cover above) by Anne Opotowsky and Angie Hoffmeister, the second in Anne’s ambitious Walled City Trilogy after the first volume, His Dream Of Skyland. Published by Australia’s Gestalt Comics, it’s a massive, mesmerising 456-page collaboration between an American writer and German illustrator, set in the Hong Kong of the 1930’s (exclusive sample spreads below). You can’t get much more transnational than that. Join me as we explore today’s global comics medium at its finest!

by Lucy Knisley

The publisher says:
In the latest volume of her graphic travelogue series, New York Times-best selling cartoonist Lucy Knisley must care for her grandparents on a cruise. In her graphic memoirs, Knisley paints a warts-and-all portrait of contemporary, twenty-something womanhood, like writer Lena Dunham (Girls). In the next installment of her graphic travelogue series, Displacement, Knisley volunteers to watch over her ailing grandparents on a cruise. The book’s watercolours evoke the ocean that surrounds them. In a book that is part graphic memoir, part travelogue, and part family history, Knisley not only tries to connect with her grandparents, but to reconcile their younger and older selves. She is aided in her quest by her grandfather’s WWII memoir, which is excerpted. Readers will identify with Knisley’s frustration, her fears, her compassion, and her attempts to come to terms with mortality, as she copes with the stress of travel complicated by her grandparents’ frailty. 168pgs colour paperback. See a couple of her sample pages at The Comics Reporter…

Exploring Calvin and Hobbes
by Bill Watterson
Andrews McMeel Publishing

The publisher says:
Enjoy this beautiful companion book to the extensive Exploring Calvin and Hobbes exhibition by that same name which ran at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library at Ohio State University that ran in 2014. The exhibit is Bill Watterson’s personal exploration of how the wonder of Calvin and Hobbes came to be. It includes original art of Calvin and Hobbes, along with Watterson’s original commentary. The show also includes art from cartoons and cartoonists that Watterson has identified as influential in the development of his art, including Peanuts, Pogo, Krazy Kat, Doonesbury, Pat Oliphant, Jim Borgman, Flash Gordon, Bloom County, and Ralph Steadman. The book also includes an extensive, original interview with Watterson by Jenny Robb, the exhibition’s curator. The Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum and Library is the repository of the Bill Watterson Deposit Collection (including the entirety of Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes artwork). 160gs colour hardcover.

Girl In Dior
by Annie Goetzinger

The publisher says:
In February of 1947, the crème de la crème of Paris haute couture have flocked to see Christian Dior’s debut fashion show. In a flurry of corolla shaped skirts, the parade of models file down the runway and the mesmerised audience declares the show a triumph. When Clara—a freshly hired chronicler and guide to the busy corridors of the brand-new fashion house—is hand-picked by Dior to be a model, she knows her life will never be the same. A biography docudrama that marries fiction with the story of one of the greatest couturiers in history, this work is a breathless and stunning presentation of Christian Dior’s greatest designs, beautifully rendered by bestselling artist Annie Goetzinger. 128pgs colour hardcover. Watch Annie in this French video and see a preview of her pages at NBM…

Illustrated British Classics: The Last Of The Mohicans
by James Fenimore Cooper, Ruggero Giovannini & Cecil Doughty
Book Palace

The publisher says:
James Fenimore Cooper’s poignant tale superbly presented as a comic strip by the talented artists Cecil Doughty and Ruggero Giovannini. In this volume, we re-present two very different adaptations of James Fenimore Cooper’s popular adventure classic. Originally published in 1826, The Last of the Mohicans has been adapted countless times for films, television, radio and comics. Set in 1757, when France and Great Britain battled for control of North America, it is the story of the two daughters of Colonel Munro, commander of a beleaguered fort and their journey to be reunited with him. The girls, Cora and Alice, are rescued from an ambush by Hawkeye, a hunter, and his two Mohican companions, Chingachgook and his son, Uncas. Together, they endeavour to get the girls to safety. The first adaptation in this book was drawn and painted in full colour by renowned Italian artist Ruggero Giovannini and appeared in the British weekly Tell Me Why in 1968. Giovannini’s strip is “simply the finest, most authentic and most colourful, picture strip adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans ever to appear”. The second version, from Look and Learn weekly, was drawn in fine and authentic detail by Cecil Doughty and was originally published in 1980. Using as much as possible Cooper’s own words, it can be fairly classed as one of the most faithful picture strip adaptations of the story. Although obviously taken from the same source material, both versions differ in more ways than just the look of their artwork. These, and the further differences when compared to various cinematic versions, will hopefully inspire readers to seek out and read Cooper’s original book. Limited edition of 500 copies worldwide. 78pgs part-colour paperback. The Book Palace present four example pages here…

In God We Trust
by Winshluss

The publisher says:
Five years after the magnificent Pinocchio (Knockabout, 2011), Winshluss returns with the hilarious In God We Trust. His multi-levelled retelling of The Bible revises the founding myths of the holy book. We are guided through the maze of the Old and New Testament by St. Franky, with a nose like a strawberry from drinking altar wine and a sceptical atti-tude. With him, we visit the scenes of Scripture and believe it or not, this is not what we thought! A true spiritual journey, In God We Trust is an absurd epic with startling ranging of drawing on display. 104pgs colour hardback.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Part 1 - Phantom Blood
by Hirohiko Araki
Viz Media

The publisher says:
The legendary Shonen Jump series, now available in English for the first time, in a deluxe edition featuring color pages and newly drawn cover art! JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a groundbreaking manga famous for its outlandish characters, wild humour and frenetic battles. A multigenerational tale of the heroic Joestar family and their never-ending battle against evil! Young Jonathan Joestar’s life is forever changed when he meets his new adopted brother, Dio. For some reason, Dio has a smouldering grudge against him and derives pleasure from seeing him suffer. But every man has his limits, as Dio finds out. This is the beginning of a long and hateful relationship! 256pgs part-colour hardcover.

Nocturne: Volume Two of The Walled City Trilogy
by Anne Opotowsky & Angie Hoffmeister
Gestalt Comics

The publisher says:
Nocturne takes place in two eras, one during the day, the other in complete darkness. The first era leaps forward from Volume One, His Dream Of Skylandinto the 1930’s. These are the years when the British shape Hong Kong into the playground for free trade for which it becomes famous. The eccentricities rub off on everyone, the greed is more palpable, lust and caution ride herd on both the young and old. Despite British attempts to evacuate the Walled City, the population has resiliently grown by leaps and bounds. Both the British and the Chinese have deemed the city a legal and civic No Man’s Land, and so the place evolves into a world of its own. The Triads, exiled men of China, take hold inside the city, and the place becomes lawless, free-thinking, harmonious and chaotic.

Our three acrobats - the wily thief Yubo, the fallen acrobat Xi and the inspired, intrepid postal worker Song - are shaped by the city. Their world becomes by turns richer, more seductive, mysteries peel away, only to reveal a sort of nighttime they’ve never known before. But before we find them again, we are on the docks, in Calcutta, years earlier. A small child, lost, utterly helpless, is taken onto a boat bound for the Far East. This subtle crime pushes its way through time, and when it does, it serves to immerse, to upend those half a world away, in Hong Kong. And with that, the woven frame of Imperialism spins its fates. The Walled City itself proves again, in Nocturne, that darkness can do so very many nasty things. The illustrations reflect the deeper wells and caverns of the narrative. Lush Asian hues, ever deepening layers of imagery, which create a prismatic, delicious and beautiful read. 456pgs colour paperback. Read an interview with Angie Hoffmeister here…

Princess Decomposia & Count Spatula
by Andi Watson
First Second
$14.99 / $19.99

The publisher says:
Princess Decomposia is overworked and underappreciated. This princess of the underworld has plenty of her own work to do but always seems to find herself doing her layabout father’s job, as well. The king doesn’t feel quite well, you see. Ever. So the princess is left scurrying through the halls, dodging her mummy, werewolf, and ghost subjects, always running behind and always buried under a ton of paperwork. Oh, and her father just fired the chef, so now she has to hire a new cook as well. Luckily for Princess Decomposia, she makes a good hire in Count Spatula, the vampire chef with a sweet tooth. He’s a charming go-getter of a blood-sucker, and pretty soon the two young ghouls become friends. And then…more than friends? Maybe eventually, but first Princess Decomposia has to sort out her life. And with Count Spatula at her side, you can be sure she’ll succeed. Andi Watson (Glister, Gum Girl) brings his signature gothy-cute sensibility to this very sweet and mildly spooky tale of friendship, family, and management training for the undead.176pgs B&W paperback/hardcover. Read the first eight pages here…

Saint Cole
by Noah Van Scriver

The publisher says:
In critically acclaimed cartoonist Noah Van Sciver’s new graphic novel, angry, alcohol-fueled Joe works overtime at a pizzeria to support his ever-expanding family—and he wants out. This sophomore graphic novel from Noah Van Sciver may seem like a left turn from his critically acclaimed debut graphic novel biography of Abraham Lincoln (The Hypo), yet upon closer reflection, it showcases Van Scriver’s preoccupation with pathos and the human condition. Saint Cole depicts four days in the life of a twenty-eight-year-old suburbanite named Joe, who works at a pizzeria to support his girlfriend Nicole and their infant child—and then Nicole invites her troubled mother to move into their two-bedroom apartment until she lands on her feet again. Joe reacts by retreating into alcohol: he wants out, and he’s angry. He’s in a position to act rashly—and he does. 116pgs B&W paperback. Noah’s posted pages on The Expositor Comics website here…

Seth Conversations
by Seth
University Press of Mississippi

The publisher says:
Canadian cartoonist Gregory Gallant, pen name Seth, emerged as a cartoonist in the fertile period of the 1980s, when the alternative comics market boomed. Though he was influenced by mainstream comics in his teen years and did his earliest comics work on Mister X, a mainstream-style melodrama, Seth remains one of the least mainstream-inflected figures of the alternative comics’ movement. His primary influences are underground comix, newspaper strips, and classic cartooning. These interviews, including one career-spanning, definitive interview between the volume editors and the artist published here for the first time, delve into Seth’s output from its earliest days to the present. Conversations offer insight into his influences, ideologies of comics and art, thematic preoccupations, and major works, from numerous perspectives—given Seth’s complex and multifaceted artistic endeavours. Seth’s first graphic novel, It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, announced his fascination with the past and with earlier cartooning styles. Subsequent works expand on those preoccupations and themes. Clyde Fans, for example, balances present-day action against narratives set in the past. The visual style looks polished and contemplative, the narrative deliberately paced; plot seems less important than mood or characterisation, as Seth deals with the inescapable grind of time and what it devours, themes which recur to varying degrees in George Sprott, Wimbledon Green and The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists. 256pgs B&W paperback.

by Peter Bagge  & various artists

The publisher says:
This situational comedy graphic novel is about a newspaper strip “sweatshop” of aspiring cartoonists who are attempting to make it big like their boss, but on their own terms. Mel Bowling is the unhappy, out-of-touch creator of a very bad, daily newspaper comic strip called Freddy Ferret (a cross between Dilbert and Garfield). He spends most of his time listening to Rush Limbaugh and coming up with horrible catchphrases to merchandise, while his “sweatshop” cast of studio assistants grind out all the hard work. Sweatshop is a hilarious situational comedy from acclaimed author Peter Bagge (Buddy Does Seattle, Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story) that ingeniously incorporates the visual styles of cartoonist guest stars like Stephen DeStefano (Popeye) and Johnny Ryan (Prison Pit) to give voice to Bowling’s colourful cast of misfit, aspiring cartoonists (plus a cameo by Neil Gaiman!), all attempting to make it big like their boss, but on their own terms. Originally published as a six-issue series by DC Comics in 2003 that was never collected, this is one of the best and most undervalued works of one of the key voices of his generation. 152pgs colour paperback.

The Spectators
by Victor Hussenot
Nobrow Press
£14.99 / $22.95

What if we are merely shadows, our characters defined by a simple inflection of light? The realm of possibilities opens up, because in our world we are nothing but spectators. The Spectators unfolds as a poetic and philosophical introspection on the nature of man. Victor Hussenot’s palette is awash with subtle color, gently carrying the narrative and allowing the reader to envelop themselves in the lyricism of the work. Reminiscent of French New Wave cinema with its clipped dialogue, gentle pacing, and departure from a classic narrative structure, The Spectators is an exciting new graphic novel by a unique illustrator. Victor Hussenot is a French artist who has already seen major success in his career and is continuing to go from strength to strength. Whilst studying Visual Arts at Beaux-Arts de Nancy, France, he was shortlisted for Angoulême’s Young Talent Prize. From this he went on to meet Warum, his first publisher, and has since published several other books in French. Hussenot has exhibited his work all over France. He lives in Paris. 96pgs colour hardcover.

The Untold History of Black Comic Books
by Prof. William H. Foster III & Craig Yoe

The publisher says:
A groundbreaking collection in both scope and detail, The Untold History of Black Comic Books traces the changing image of African Americans in comic books from the 1940s right up to the present day. Just in time for the new millennium exploration of diversity in the field, this exciting work presents sample comic books featuring African Americans from the past seven decades! Perfect for fans and comic scholars alike, it includes nearly 200-pages of rarely seen classic and mainstream comics, many in full-color, researched and compiled by two of America’s foremost comic book historians. 252pgs colour hardcover. Check out Foster’s own website Finally In Full Color here…

Posted: December 2, 2014


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My Books

1001 Comics  You Must Read Before You Die edited by Paul Gravett

Comics Art by Paul Gravett from Tate Publishing

Comics Unmasked by Paul Gravett and John Harris Dunning from The British Library