Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (8/24/11)
Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
Big Questions by Anders Nilsen
Drawn + Quarterly, 2011
Don’t get me wrong. I love comics. But it is rare that they rise to the level of real literature, even when they’re very good. Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions, on the other hand, should knock snobs like me on our posteriors. Harold Bloom writes that potentially canonical writing has “a strangeness that we either never altogether assimilate, or that becomes such a given that we are blinded to its idiosyncracies,” and Nilsen’s brick of a book starts out the first and ends up the second. The reader is both mystified by its story (an unexploded bomb and a plane crash into a rural area, where they are investigated by birds) and, almost against his or her will, captivated by it. Coming to this work with little idea of its subject, one is annoyed by its characters: “How can I possibly tell all these birds apart?” “Isn’t this kind of cutesy?” “Is anything going to happen?” But then the answers start to bubble up: you don’t need to/that’s kind of the point; no; and yes. Nilsen’s spare but beautiful drawings and that abiding strangeness create a sense of awe that is rarely produced by cultural efforts. Much of the book is not easily explicable, and rather than being frustrating, its willful obscurity instead suggests you need to submit to the artist’s vision, not fight the current. Nilsen is not going to lay out clear answers, as the title implies, but the questions, big as they are, don’t come with any sense of pomposity, and there is much in the way of both humor and tragedy contained within. Not since Bottomless Bellybutton have I read something so rich and strange. Pony up your $45 (or more, if you want the special edition, which is probably less likely to crack down the spine)—it’s worth it. (HB)
Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, And a Sun God From Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human by Grant Morrison
Spiegel & Grau, 2011
Part memoir, part history of the superhero genre, Grant Morrison’s Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, And a Sun God From Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human is both a charming paean to the capes and tights set and a discursive explanation of his own superhero philosophy. If you’ve read any interviews with Morrison or his all-text issue of Batman you’ll recognize the voice. It’s a bit flowery, heavy on the modifiers and poetic language, but never loses track of its key arguments despite jumping around from point to point. Between insightful, if familiar, history lessons on the creation and significance of various prominent superhero comics, Morrison discusses his background as the product of a home broken by his peace activist father’s infidelity, who at a young age found in superheroes a dream of humanity at its most advanced and inspiring. Morrison’s analysis is most fascinating late in the book, when he discusses the work of Frank Miller and Alan Moore, elucidating what separates Morrison from his more celebrated peers. Morrison’s fundamental optimism and disdain for easy cynicism has long distinguished him from his contemporaries, and in Supergods we understand where that attitude comes from. (GM)
The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde, #1-4, by Cole Haddon and M.S. Corley
Dark Horse, 2011
This four-issue series from Dark Horse has the unmistakable whiff of Alan Moore, not only because it addresses Jack the Ripper, but even more because of its combination of Victoriana and licentiousness. Haddon smoothly moves between flashbacks to Robert Louis Stevenson’s parable about the mind-body split and Investigator Thomas Adye’s work on the Ripper case with the assistance of the now secretly incarcerated Henry Jekyll, and the narrative has speed and fun. Corley’s art is lovely stuff, from the woodcut-like covers to the pleasingly non-stereotypically comic booky interiors, and the coloring is a pleasure to see. In fact, I rather prefer Corley’s work to Eddie Campbell’s smudgy yuck in From Hell; everything’s just as gruesome and nearly as smutty, but you can actually tell what’s happening. I can’t say that the comic is brilliant. For one thing, Moore did get there first, and so did some other folks, but it’s a perfectly pleasant read, and it leaves off with the hint of a promising sequel. (HB)
Blankets by Craig Thompson
Top Shelf, 2011 Reprint, 2003 Original Release
Blankets exists on a different plane of expression. Its words so poetic, its drawings so articulate, this emotional masterpiece reaches such a rare state of transcendence that it’s impossible not to be engulfed in its humanity. And it will make you cry. A lot. A series of outstanding vignettes from Craig Thompson, the autobiographic novel relives the author’s childhood grappling with Christian fundamentalism and falling in love with Raina, a beautiful fellow outcast he meets at a Christian youth camp. Thompson’s approach is both gentle and dynamic, laying sparse lines of delicate prose around moody renderings of winter still life and kinetic childhood nostalgia. This inspired delivery makes the brutally honest content much less abrasive. Thompson doesn’t shy away from relaying memories of a sexually abusive babysitter or adolescent alienation. This vulnerable transparency conveys a raw, cathartic experience of such rare candor that one can’t help but feel Thompson’s pain, pleasure and discovery as well as relive his or her own. This reprint precedes the release of September’s Habibi, Thompson’s 7-years-in-the-making Islamic epic. Devoid of bonus material, interviews or sketches, this is one of the few books that stands perfectly on its own in any given context. Blankets isn’t just one of the best graphic novels ever created, its one of the best literary works of our generation. (SE)
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