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Top 21 Graphic Novels:

April 2016

Blutch, Chester Brown, Brecht Evens, Manuele Fior and Jiro Taniguchi - this month brings us yet more remarkable graphic novels from near and far - from the US, UK, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Brazil, South Africa and The Netherlands. There’s also vintage Krazy Kat dailies by George Herriman, a biography of New Yorker cartoonist supreme Peter Arno, an unconventional autobiographical take on Batman, and an anthology entirely by women gamers.

My April 2016 highlight, out of so many to choose from, is Barbara Yelin’s Irmina, a beautifully observed and observant romance during the rise of Hitler. The Munich-based Yelin is exhibiting her artwork in the exhibition Comix Creatrix: 100 Women Making Comics at House of Illustration, King’s Cross, London. I will be interviewing Yelin at the Goethe Institut in South Kensington, London on Thursday March 3rd (along with fellow SelfMadeHero author from Germany, Reinhard Kleist). Yelin will also be in conversation and signing Irmina at House of Illustration on Saturday March 5th with a special British guest. Do come and meet her.

And I hope you find some treats to look forward to among my recommendations below… 

5,000 Kilometers Per Second
by Manuele Fior

The publisher says:
A love story told elliptically in stunning watercolours. Winner of the prestigious Grand Prize of the 2010 Angoulême Comics Festival, 5,000 Kilometers Per Second tells―or almost tells―the love story between Piero and Lucia, which begins with a casual glance exchanged by teenagers across the street through a window and ends with a last, desperate hook-up between two older, sadder one-time lovers. Executed in stunning watercolours and broken down into five chapters (set in Italy, Norway, Egypt, and Italy again), 5,000 Kilometers Per Second manages to refer to Piero and Lucia’s actual love story only obliquely, focusing instead on its first stirrings and then episodes in their life during which they are separated―a narrative twist that makes it even more poignant and heart-wrenching. 5,000 Kilometers Per Second is another delicate graphic-novel masterpiece from Europe. 144pgs colour hardcover. Enjoy some sample pages from the French edition…

An Olympic Dream: The Story Of Samia Yusuf Omar
by Reinhard Kleist
$22.95 / £14.99

The publisher says:
The image of Samia Yusuf Omar running for last place at the 2008 Beijing Olympics will forever be imprinted in the minds of all who saw it: the lean Somalian, wearing knee-length leggings and a baggy T-shirt, came in seconds behind her competitors. What the cheering crowd couldn’t know then was what it took to get there. An Olympic Dream follows Omar’s second attempt to represent her country at the Olympics, this time in London. Reinhard Kleist pictures the athlete training in one of the most dangerous cities in the world; her passage through Sudan and into Libya; and her fateful attempt to reach Europe. By telling the story of one remarkable woman, Kleist gives voice to the thousands of migrants who risk their lives daily for a better future. 152pgs colour paperback. Preview interiors here…

Chainmail Bikini: The Anthology of Women Gamers
by various artists, edited by Hazel Newlevant
$20.00 / $10.00

The publisher says:
Chainmail Bikini is an anthology of comics by and about female gamers! 40 cartoonists have contributed comics about the games they’re passionate about—from video games to table-top role-playing to collectible card games. The comics in Chainmail Bikini explore the real-life impact of entering a fantasy world, how games can connect us with each other and teach us about ourselves. Featuring: Amanda Scurti (Hey, Jana J!), Aatmaja Pandya (Travelogue), Anna anthropy (Rise of the Video Game Zinesters),Anna Rose (Strange Paradise), Annie Mok (Rookie Magazine), Becca Hillburn (7 Kara), Buntoo (Q*Star), Caitlin Rose Boyle (An Itty Bitty Summoning), Carey Peitsch (Adventure Time: Marceline Gone Adrift), Diana Nock (Poorcraft), Elizabeth Simins (Bad at Games), Hazel Newlevant (If This Be Sin), Jade F. Lee (Lacrimancer), Jane Mai (Sunday in the Park with Boys),Jeremy Boydell (Self Care with Dog),June Vigants (Benny & Fritz), Kae Kelly-Colon (Make Your Death), Kate Craig (Heart of Ice), Katie Longua (Munchies), Kinoko Evans (The Epic of Gilgamesh), Kori Michele Handwerker (Prince of Cats webcomic), Laura Lannes (The Basil Plant), Liane Pyper, Maggie Siegel-Berele (Jesus Loves Lesbians, Too), Megan Brennan (Pencil Pup), merritt kopas (Videogames For Humans), Mia Schwartz (Strawberries), Miranda Harmon (System Upgrade), MK Reed (The Cute Girl Network), Molly Ostertag (Strong Female Protagonist), Natalie Dupille (The Feminist Bakery), Rachel Ordway (Art School Adventures), Sara Goetter (Boozle), Sarah Stern (Game Boss), Sarah Winifred Searle (Drawing Conclusions), Sera Stanton (Temi), Sophie Yanow (The War of Streets and Houses), Yao Xiao (Baopu). Read a preview here…

Dark Night: A True Batman Story
Paul Dini & Eduardo Risso
DC Vertigo

The publisher says:
The Caped Crusader has been the all-abiding icon of justice and authority for generations. But in this surprising original graphic novel, we see Batman in a new light—as the savior who helps a discouraged man recover from a brutal attack that left him unable to face the world. In the 1990s, legendary writer Paul Dini had a flourishing career writing the hugely popular Batman: The Animated Series and Tiny Toon Adventures. Walking home one evening, he was jumped and viciously beaten within an inch of his life. His recovery process was arduous, hampered by the imagined antics of the villains he was writing for television including the Joker, Harley Quinn and the Penguin. But despite how bleak his circumstances were, or perhaps because of it, Dini also always  imagined the Batman at his side, chivvying him along during his darkest moments. Dark Night: A True Batman Story is the harrowing and eloquent autobiographical tale of Dini’s courageous struggle to overcome a truly desperate situation. It is a Batman story like none other and one that will truly resonate with fans. Art by the incredible and talented Eduardo Risso (100 Bullets, Transmetropolitan). 128pgs colour hardcover

Guardians Of The Louvre
by Jiro Taniguchi

The publisher says:
A famous manga artist provides the latest entry in the Louvre collection of graphic novels. After a group trip to Europe, a Japanese designer stops in Paris alone, intent on visiting the museums of the capital. But, bedridden in his hotel room with fever, he faces the absolute solitude of one suffering in a foreign land, deprived of any immediate or familiar recourse. When the fever breaks somewhat, he sets out on his visit and promptly gets lost in the crowded halls of the Louvre. Very soon, he discovers many unsuspected facets to this world in a museum, meeting artists and their works from various periods, in a journey oscillating between feverish hallucination and reality, finishing at the crossroads between human and personal history. With this inner journey, Jiro Taniguchi invites us on a temporal and artistic trip to discover a sense of place under the leadership of some tutelary figures that appear to him, familiar or unknown ... the guardians of the Louvre. 136pgs colour hardcover.

Highbone Theater
by Joe Daly

The publisher says:
Existential stoners go on a suspenseful quest in this ambitious graphic novel from the South African cartoonist. In Joe Daly’s most ambitious stand-alone graphic novel, Palmer ― wallflower, mystic seeker and paper mill worker ― moves into a new apartment with his outwardly self-assured and womanising friend. Events take a peculiar turn as Palmer befriends an iconoclastic co-worker, Billy Boy, and plunges head-long into the mysterious and sinister world of sorcery, psychological operations, subterranean organisations and wild-goose chases. 568pgs B&W & part-colour hardcover.

How To Talk To Girls
by Neil Gaiman, Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá
Dark Horse

The publisher says:
Enn is a sixteen-year-old boy who just doesn’t understand girls, while his friend Vic seems to have them all figured out. Both teenagers are in for the shock of their young lives, however, when they crash a local party only to discover that the girls there are far, far more than they appear. From the Locus Award-winning short story by Neil Gaiman—one of the most celebrated authors of our time—and adapted in vibrant ink-and-watercolour illustrations by the Daytripper duo of Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, this original hardcover graphic novel is absolutely not to be missed. 64pgs colour hardcover

by Barbara Yelin
$24.95 / £16.99

The publisher says:
In the mid-1930s, Irmina, an ambitious young German, moves to London. At a cocktail party, she meets Howard Green, one of the first black students at Oxford, who, like Irmina, is working towards an independent existence. However, their relationship comes to an abrupt end when Irmina, constrained by the political situation in Hitler’s Germany, is forced to return home. As war approaches and her contact with Howard is broken, it becomes clear to Irmina that prosperity will only be possible through the betrayal of her ideals. In the award-winning Irmina, Barbara Yelin presents a troubling drama about the tension between integrity and social advancement. Based on a true story, this moving and perceptive graphic novel perfectly conjures the oppressive atmosphere of wartime Germany, reflecting with compassion and intelligence on the complicity that results from the choice, conscious or otherwise, to look away. 288pgs colour hardcover.

Library Of American Comics Essentials Presents: King Features Volume 1: Krazy Kat 1934
by George Herriman

The publisher says:
Much attention has been paid to Herrriman’s Sunday full-page comics, yet it is in the daily Krazy Kat strips that the cartoonist most frankly illustrates many of his major themes, especially the shifting nature of social identity. The 1934 strips reprinted in this book fit anyone’s definition of “essential.” They show Krazy Kat at top speed, ever-changing, endlessly inventive, with language that sparkles with double meanings, and more, in lines such as “his malady drills me to my sole.” The year includes homages to old jokes and bricks, followed by playful references to sex, drink, and even drugs. The daily Krazy Kat strips are often Herriman’s most personal works and standouts in this year include Krazy Kat’s attempt to write a memoir and the Kat’s quietly waiting for the last leaf of “ottim” to fall (a tender scene that finds echoes in Charles Schulz’s drawing Linus admiring the last autumn leaf’s stubborn spirit). It could also be argued that the daily is more accessible to the new reader. Herriman biographer Michael Tisserand provides an insightful introduction. 328pgs B&W hardcover.

by Melissa Mendes
Alternative Comics
$? / £10.99

The publisher says:
Lou is an 11 year old tomboy growing up in a small, working-class town in New England in the 1990s. This one summer it becomes clear that her brother Eddie’s boss at the pizza shop is mixed up in some unsavoury business. Things become more precarious after Eddie’s boss vanishes. 160pgs B&W paperback. Review by Andy Oliver on Broken Frontier…

Mary Wept Over The Feet Of Jesus
by Chester Brown
Drawn & Quarterly

The publisher says:
The iconoclastic and bestselling cartoonist of Paying for It: A comic-strip memoir about being a john and Louis Rielreturns with a polemical interpretation of the Bible that will be one of the most controversial and talked-about graphic novels of 2016. Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus is the retelling in comics form of nine biblical stories that present Chester Brown’s fascinating and startling thesis about biblical representations of prostitution. Brown weaves a connecting line between Bathsheba, Ruth, Rahab, Tamar, Mary of Bethany, and the Virgin Mother. He reassesses the Christian moral code by examining the cultural implications of the Bible’s representations of sex work. Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus is a fitting follow-up to Brown’s sui generis graphic memoir Paying for It, which was reviewed twice in The New York Times and hailed by sex workers for Brown’s advocacy for the decriminalisation and normalisation of prostitution. Brown approaches the Bible as he did the life of Louis Riel, making these stories compellingly readable and utterly pertinent to a modern audience. In classic Chester Brown fashion, he provides extensive handwritten endnotes that delve into the biblical lore that informs Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus. 280pgs B&W hardcover.

Murder By Remote Control
by Janwillem van de Wetering & Paul Kirchner
Dover Graphic Novels

The publisher says:
There’s no lack of suspects when a notorious oil tycoon is murdered in the midst of his plans to establish an oil refinery in the pristine Maine wilderness. Was the killer the local defender against outsider encroachment, the privacy-minded New Yorker, the libidinous eccentric, the retired movie star — or someone else? This trippy detective story, unfolding in a sequential art format and filled with hypnotic imagery, combines the talents of internationally renowned mystery writer Janwillem van de Wetering with those of Paul Kirchner, acclaimed Marvel Comics and Heavy Metal artist. 112pgs B&W paperback.

Gahan Wilson said in The New York Times:
Murder by Remote Control is an enjoyable entertainment that succeeds in demonstrating very effectively that this form of storytelling has a unique potential and can work a special kind of magic.

Original Fake
by Kirstin Cronn-Mills & E. Eero Johnson
G P Putnam Sons Books For Young Readers

The publisher says:
In this Banksy-inspired illustrated novel, an escalating sibling rivalry train wrecks and vengeance is a street-art act of war. Introvert Frankie Neumann hates his life, and understandably so. He’s got a weird, tutu-wearing sister, Lou, and even weirder parents, Bridget and Brett—Frank Sinatra and Dr. Frank-N-Furter impersonators, respectively. And, he’s just the guy who makes pizza at Pizza Vendetta. Though he has secret artistic aspirations of his own, his over-the-top family makes him want to stay in the background. But Frankie’s life is about to change—becoming way more interesting, even a little dangerous, but definitely cool. After his shift at the pizzeria one night, Frankie meets David and Rory, cousins and errand runners for the mysterious Uncle Epic, a legendary anonymous street artist and Frankie’s absolute idol. Little could Frankie dream that his new adventures with Uncle Epic would lead to the perfect opportunity to strike back at his insufferable sister for a lifetime of torture. But things go haywire quicker than you can say “street art kicks righteous ass,” and the lines are suddenly blurred between art and Frankie’s real life. 352pgs black-and-red hardcover. More info here…

by Brecht Evens
Drawn & Quarterly

The publisher says:
Brecht Evens, the award-winning author of The Wrong Place and The Making Of, returns with an unsettling graphic novel about a little girl and her imaginary feline companion. Iconoclastic in his cartooning and page layouts, subtle in his plotting, and deft in his capturing of the human experience, Evens has crafted a tangled, dark masterwork. Christine lives in a big house with her father and her cat, Lucy. When Lucy gets sick and dies, Christine is devastated. But alone in her room, something special happens: a panther pops out of her dresser drawer and begins to tell her stories of distant Pantherland, where he is the crown prince. A shape-shifter who tells Christine anything she wants to hear, Panther begins taking over Christine’s life, alienating her from her other toys and friends. As Christine’s world spirals out of control, so does the world Panther has created for her. Panther is a chilling voyage into the shadowy corners of the human psyche. The Drawn & Quarterly edition of Panther is an extended director’s cut, featuring additional material not included in the original book. 120pgs colour hardcover.

by Blutch
New York Review Comics

The publisher says:
The man known as Blutch is one of the giants of contemporary comics, and Peplum may be his masterpiece: a grand, strange dream of ancient Rome. At the edge of the empire, a gang of bandits discovers the body of a beautiful woman in a cave; she is encased in ice but may still be alive. One of the bandits, bearing a stolen name and with the frozen maiden in tow, makes his way toward Rome—seeking power, or maybe just survival, as the world unravels. Thrilling and hallucinatory, vast in scope yet unnervingly intimate, Peplum weaves together threads from Shakespeare and the Satyricon along with Blutch’s own distinctive vision. His hypnotic storytelling and stark, gorgeous art pull us into one of the great works of graphic literature, translated into English for the first time. 160pgs B&W paperback.

Peter Arno: The Mad World Of The New Yorker’s Greatest Cartoonist
by Michael Maslin
Regan Arts

The publisher says:
The incredible, wild life of Peter Arno, the fabled cartoonist whose racy satire and bold visuals became the unforgiving mirror of his times and the foundation of the New Yorker cartoon. In the summer of 1925, The New Yorker was struggling to survive its first year in print. They took a chance on a young, indecorous cartoonist who was about to give up his career as an artist. His name was Peter Arno, and his witty social commentary, blush-inducing content, and compositional mastery brought a cosmopolitan edge to the magazine’s pages—a vitality that would soon cement The New Yorker as of the world’s most celebrated publications. Alongside New Yorker luminaries such as E.B. White, James Thurber, and founding editor Harold Ross, Arno is one of the select few who made the magazine the cultural touchstone it is today. In this intimate biography of one of The New Yorker’s first geniuses, Michael Maslin dives into Arno’s rocky relationship with the magazine, his fiery marriage to the columnist Lois Long, and his tabloid-cover altercations involving pistols, fists, and barely-legal debutantes. Maslin invites us inside the Roaring Twenties’ cultural swirl known as Café Society, in which Arno was an insider and observant outsider, both fascinated and repulsed by America’s swelling concept of “celebrity.” Through a nuanced constellation of Arno’s most defining experiences and escapades that inspired his work in the pages of The New Yorker, Maslin explores the formative years of the publication and its iconic cartoon tradition. In tandem, he traces the shifting gradations of Arno’s brushstrokes and characters over the decades—all in light of the cultural upheavals that informed Arno’s sardonic humour. In this first-ever portrait of America’s seminal cartoonist, we finally come eye-to-eye with the irreverent spirit at the core of the New Yorker cartoon—a genre in itself—and leave with no doubt as to how and why this genre came to be embraced by the masses as a timeless reflection of ourselves. 304pgs B&W hardcover.

Rinse, Spin, Repeat: A graphic memoir of loss and survival
by Edie Fassnidge
Unbound Books

The publisher says:
On Boxing Day in 2004, Edie Fassnidge set off for a day of kayaking off the coast of Thailand with her boyfriend, mother and sister. That’s when disaster struck. She felt a shift in the air; she spotted something on the horizon; and seconds later, the first wave came crashing down upon them. Separated from her family and covered in open wounds, Edie battled for hours to get to safety: colliding with rocks; tumbling underwater as if in a giant washing machine; grappling with overgrown branches and venomous ants… all the while hanging on to the hope that she wasn’t the only one to survive. Rinse, Spin, Repeat is a graphic memoir depicting Edie’s experience of surviving the Indian Ocean tsunami that claimed over 200,000 lives and changed hers forever. Using simple illustrations and concise text, she unfolds her feelings in the hours and days of pain and uncertainty that followed. She also reflects on her struggle to find peace in the aftermath of the tsunami, which ultimately empowered her to become the person she is today. It is a simultaneously devastating and inspiring story that will capture the heart of anyone who has wondered how it is possible to keep going after life has crumbled to pieces. 244pgs B&W hardcover

Sooner Or Later
by Peter Milligan & Brendan McCarthy

The publisher says:
1986. Thatcher’s Britain. The Financial ‘Big Bang’ saw the rich get richer. Riots erupt in prisons across the country. And Micky Swift is still on the dole! Disillusioned with his dour existence in dreary Camden, Micky’s life is suddenly turned inside out, when he is plucked from the present and dragged into the 30th century as the property of one Mr & Mrs Katsbreath – a case of mistaken identity. Unwanted, trapped in the future and still unemployable, If Micky wants to return home (time travel isn’t cheap you know!), sooner or later he will need to find a job. The complete surreal tale from master comics creators Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy. Never before collected in one edition. 96pgs colour paperback

The Gods Lie
by Kaori Ozaki
Vertical Comics

The publisher says:
Natsuru Nanao, a 6th grader who lives alone with his mother, strikes up an unlikely friendship with the reserved and driven Rio Suzumura. Natsuru plays hooky from soccer camp that summer, and instead of telling the truth to his mother, he spends all his time with Rio and her kid brother at their rickety house, where a dark secret threatens to upend their fragile happiness. 224pgs B&W paperback.

The Nameless City Volume 1 (of 3)
by Faith Erin Hicks
First Second
$21.99 / $16.99

The publisher says:
Every nation that invades the City gives it a new name. But before long, new invaders arrive and the City changes hands once again. The natives don’t let themselves get caught up in the unending wars. To them, their home is the Nameless City, and those who try to name it are forever outsiders. Kaidu is one such outsider. He’s a Dao born and bred—a member of the latest occupying nation. Rat is a native of the Nameless City. At first, she hates Kai for everything he stands for, but his love of his new home may be the one thing that can bring these two unlikely friends together. Let’s hope so, because the fate of the Nameless City rests in their hands. 240pgs colour hardcover / paperback. Check out an extract here…

The Odyssey Of Sergeant Jack Brennan
by Bryan Doerries, Joëlle Jones and various

The publisher says:
Jack Brennan is a Marine Corps sergeant whose infantry squad has been cleared to return home from a grueling deployment to Afghanistan. A few years prior, Sergeant Brennan lost one of his closest friends—a young combat veteran—to suicide and has vowed to do everything in his power to keep his Marines from a similar fate. On their last night in-country, Brennan, who has long kept a tattered copy of the Odyssey with him on deployment, shares his version of Homer’s classic with his fellow soldiers to help prepare them for the transition back home. Brennan plunges into a rich retelling of Odysseus’s long journey home from the battlefield at Troy, during which Odysseus and his men confront numerous obstacles—from the lure of a psychedelic lotus plant to ghoulish shades in the Land of the Dead to the seductive songs of the deadly Sirens—as they try to make it back to Greece. Along the way, Brennan and his fellow Marines map the struggles faced by Odysseus and his men onto their own—isolation, addiction, guilt, depression, and loss. Through his retelling, Brennan reminds his squad that the gulf separating the battlefield from the home front is deep, wide, and sometimes hard to cross—that it is possible to travel all the way home and, like the characters in the Odyssey, still feel lost at sea. Tragic, poignant, and at times funny and hopeful, The Odyssey of Sergeant Jack Brennan brilliantly conveys the profound challenges that many of today’s veterans face upon returning to civilian life, even as it tells “the oldest war story of all time.” 160pgs colour paperback.

Posted: February 14, 2016


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My Books

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

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

Comics Art by Paul Gravett from Tate Publishing