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PG Tips No. 16:

Paul Gravett's Recommended Reading

In a regular series of PG Tips articles, Paul Gravett reviews books of and about comics from his recommended reading list.

Stop Forgetting To Remember
by Peter Kuper
Crown Publishing
In what he calls a ‘straight auto-lie-ography’, Kuper adopts the thin disguise of Walter Kurtz, a pseudonym loaded with tributes to his ‘guiding lightbulbs’, from the Walts (Disney, Kelly, Wood, et al) to Harvey Kurtzman and Jacob Kurtzberg, alias Jack Kirby. bning the turbulent decade from 1995 to 2005, incuding 9/11 and the Iraq War, the cartoonist Kurtz recounts the life-shattering responsibilities of parenthood, in striking contrast to memories of his freewheeling younger self wracked with angst over masturbating or losing his virginity, or experimenting with drugs and bisexuality. That lost freedom is symbolised by a pigeon which flies in from the front endpapers to his studio window ledge, reappears through the chapters and provides the book’s poignant ending, flying off on the inside back cover. To distinguish time, fantasy and memory, Kuper devises two colour schemes, black and brown, and remixes earlier confessionals collected in 1995’s Stripped with over 130 pages of new stuff. Born after 13 years’ gestation, it shows Kuper’s mastery of the medium’s formidable armoury and a touching frankness about his life from boy to father.

The Salon
by Nick Bertozzi
St. Martin’s Griffin
Dive into this hallucinogenic tale about the modern art of murder, set in 1907 Paris at the birth of Cubism, and you’ll follow Pablo Picasso, fellow artists and friend Gertrude Stein as they desperately hunt down a lunatic decapitating avant-garde painters, before they become the next victims. One secret weapon to solve this mystery is a particular lysergic liquor, a blue absinthe that allows humans to step inside paintings. But what if one painter became so addicted to staying in this second dimension with his model that he started fixing his paintings of paradise for her with this magic absinthe? Then what if his jealous, murderous muse makes her way back into our world? Bertozzi conveys these transitions graphically by evaporating his painterly black ink and assorted two-colour overlays into shades of the pure blue of the drink. Working in a uniform, two-by-two rectangular grid, he is clearly having fun portraying famous Modernists in broad brush strokes, such as Picasso’s machismo, penchant for working naked and heavy Spanish accent. Bertozzi even puts sound effects into French, like ‘Thunque!’ and ‘Spluche!’ Aside for a minor lettering kvetch (his commas look too much like full stops), this is an intoxicating brew.

by Kevin C. Pyle
Henry Holt
Moving house again, young Dean pals up with three local boys to ‘play army’ and turn a wooded part of the neighbourhood into their ‘theater of operations’. Their war games are mostly harmless japes like initiating Todd, the youngest ‘private’, by insisting that he steal an enemy flag, in reality a crotchety lady’s laundry. To show how the kids’ shared reality and fantasy slip and slide, Pyle interweaves these prosaic scenes, shown in black and different second colours, with the equivalent panels right out of a war comic book poorly printed on four-colour newsprint. Their pranks take a darker turn, however, when they ‘rescue’ Todd from a dishevilled stranger in the woods by stoning him and then set fire to his humble shack. On Halloween, Dean’s military dreamworld comes up against some harsher truths, when he is followed in the wood by this stranger and has to listen to his painful life story: ‘The damn army was a whole ‘nother nightmare’. Comics have long been propaganda for the U.S. army to motivate gullible fresh recruits. So, in today’s context of Iraq, this book may help other boys like Dean to deal with peer acceptance, masculinity, authority and parental expectations and in the process grow older and perhaps a little wiser.

by Nick Abadzis
First Second
Fifty years ago this coming November 3rd, the Russians stunned the world with their second satellite launch only a month after Sputnik 1. To turn this rushed project into even more of a Cold War publicity coup, they decided to send up the first living creature from Earth into space: a cosmonaut dog named Laika. In this richly rewarding 200-page gem, Abadzis pulls out all the stops to brilliantly combine his fascinating research, much of it revealed only in the recent post-Soviet era, with the affecting emotional journeys of the scientists, trainers and above all one curly-tailed pooch, plucked from the streets and shot out to the stars and to stardom. Visit the Laika website here.

by Marguerite Abouet & Clement Oubrerie
Jonathan Cape
Africa’s Ivory Coast was booming in the 1970s. Yopougon City in 1978 is the setting for Aya by the Paris-based couple, writer Abouet, who grew up there, and artist Oubrerie. In pithy dialogues and vibrant, well-observed drawings, they capture the characters of their level-headed heroine Aya, wise beyond her years, and her more naive friends, coping with family and social tensions, with the pleasures and pressures of street life and night life, and those universal teenage anxieties of dating, sex, pregnancy and hastily arranged marriage. There’s such a winning humour and humanity about this. Complete with glossary, dressing tips and recipes, it’s your ticket to another Africa we rarely get to see. Choose the British edition for its crisper printing than Drawn & Quarterly’s original.

Houdini: The Handcuff King
by Jason Lutes & Nick Bertozzi
From private lock-picking rehearsal, cunning publicity stunts and tense press conference to his jump in chains from Harvard Bridge, this telling day-in-the-life reveals the lust for acclaim and fame that drove the world’s most famous escapologist. Lutes and Bertozzi also speculate about the ‘key’ role of his wife Bess Rahner. Their 82-page, two-toned account is supported by five pages of informative ‘panel discussions’. Read a preview here.

Incredible Change-Bots
by Jeffrey Brown
Top Shelf
There’s another side to Brown, different from his unflatteringly frank love confessionals. In his superhero ‘parody-tribute’ Bighead, unauthorised Wolverine zombiefest Dying Time, and now this take on Transformers, he can indulge in pure pop-culture nostalgia and add some polish and here marker-pen colours to his art. I much prefer the exuberant childlike wonkiness and political allegory of his ‘Awesomebots vs. Fantasticons’ to this summer’s overegged movie. Give me a golf-cart robot named Balls or Papercut, a titanium-steel origami crane, anyday. "Who needs girls when you get to hang out with robots?"

Posted: December 16, 2007

The above reviews originally appeared in Comics International in 2007.


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Article Tags

Clement Oubrerie
Jason Lutes
Jeffrey Brown
Kevin C. Pyle
Marguerite Abouet
Nick Abadzis
Nick Bertozzi
Peter Kuper
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Featured Books

Stop Forgetting
To Remember

by Peter Kuper

The Salon
by Nick Bertozzi

by Kevin C. Pyle

by Nick Abadzis

by Marguerite Abouet
& Clement Oubrerie

The Handcuff King

by Jason Lutes
& Nick Bertozzi

Incredible Change-Bots
by Jeffrey Brown