Books  |  Reviews

Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (10/5/11)

October 5, 2011  |  1:00pm

Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.

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Nursery Rhyme Comics
by various artists, edited by Chris Duffy

First Second, 2011
Rating: 8.0

Nursery Rhyme Comics is such a brilliant idea that it’s a shock it hasn’t been done before. Take 50 talented artists (e.g., Craig Thompson, Kate Beaton, Jaime Hernandez, Mike Mignola, Gahan Wilson) and give them each a nursery rhyme to illustrate and interpret. Voila, a charming book, rendered in a wonderful array of styles, from sincere to extremely goofy, and sure to delight both young readers and their cool parents. One of the best things about this anthology is the space it gives to female artists. Not that they’re close to 50% of the book, but many of its strongest and most beautifully done entries are by comics makers of the lady persuasion, such as Eleanor Davis’s clever take on “The Queen of Hearts” and Lucy Knisley’s twist on “The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.” These interpretations not only marry fun pictures with classic rhymes but also demonstrate one of the things comics does especially well when the words and pictures diverge from one another. It’s a book that can be read for years, rich in content of many kinds and very successfully executed. (HB)

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The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists
by Seth

Drawn + Quarterly, 2011
Rating: 7.0

The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists is the purest distillation of Seth’s aesthetic yet. It’s not his best work, but it’s perfectly representative of the man’s creative preoccupations. It’s both a heavily fictionalized history of Canadian cartooning and a spirit-crushingly sad elegy for the past. Seth gives us a guided tour of the Dominion branch of this fictional cartoonist social club, taking us room by room and digging deep into both the building’s architecture and the work of the club’s members. Extended glimpses of nonexistent Canadian comics like Kao-Kuk the Eskimo Astronaut and the pulp adventures of Trepanier the woodsman bump up against a stately tribute to Doug Wright’s very real Nipper strip. Seth constructs an entire fictional Canadian comics industry, with its own notable eras and seminal works, occasionally weaving in real figures like Wright, James Simpkins, and Chester Brown. Seth remains fixated on loss, decay, and the passage of time, but with no conflict or even characters there’s not much here to support that melancholy. It lacks the human element of the similar George Sprott. The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists fills an interesting niche in Seth’s larger story about Dominion, and his art is as lovely as ever, but on its own this book is one long morose sigh. (GM)

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Hellboy: The Bride of Hell and Others
by Mike Mignola, Richard Corben, Scott Hampton and Kevin Nowlan

Dark Horse, 2011
Rating: 8.3

Hellboy’s personal narrative is usually the least interesting aspect of his comic. Don’t get me wrong – his death last August echoed with all of the melancholy that comes with the retirement of a fictional friend you’ve known since grade school. It’s just that the
big guy has always felt more like a host then a hero — a silent, stoic guide to walk the reader through creator Mike Mignola’s angular portraits of gothic folklore. The material is structured as an endless homage to horror godfathers Poe, Stoker and Lovecraft, resembling an omniscient mythology more than a linear storyline. And it’s always achingly good. This is why collections like The Bride of Hell and Others resonate particularly well in the Hellboy mythos. These lost tales don’t stick into any concrete continuity regimen – they’re exotic snapshots from a character whose adventures encompass all horror literature. This collection features multiple high points. Richard Corben illustrates a dusty grindhouse trip to Mexico that sees Hellboy team up with lucha libre wrestlers to thrash a pack of marauding vampires. Even Scott Hampton makes an appearance with his lush, glowing illustrations for another vampire tale, this time set in England. The only misstep is Buster Oakley Gets His Wish, a hectic, unfocused yarn about satanic rituals, humanoid cows and probing aliens (Kevin Nowlan’s take on Hellboy is nothing to scoff at, though). If everyone’s favorite big, red brawler is heading to the afterlife next year, we can only hope that Mignola occasionally heads back to earth for more of these timeless outings. (SE)

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Holy Terror
by Frank Miller

Legendary Comics, 2011
Rating: 3.1

A.K.A., Batman and Catwoman Get Racist. No matter how many interviews Frank Miller does explaining that the protagonist of his new book isn’t Batman, the only noticeable difference between them is that the Fixer doesn’t have little pointy ears on his costume. The more Miller works, the clearer it becomes that he doesn’t know what satire is, and Holy Terror is more of the same: 85% muddy panels of punching, in which you can’t tell whose leg is where, overlain with grandiose monologues meant to carry the weight of the world, 5% attempted sexiness (with rather a lot of violence thrown in, plus some musings on love, all emphasizing fairly archaic gender roles), 8% social commentary with the subtlety of your average YouTube commenter, and (unfortunately) 2% interesting ideas. The idea of new propaganda isn’t a terrible one until you remember that propaganda is aimed at the ignorant, and Miller’s book is exactly that. He tries to evoke the horror of 9/11 anew, but the details aren’t filled in (razor blades flying through the air? from where, exactly), and the lack of information just feels lazy. There’s very little to Holy Terror, which has a lot of single-panel pages of jumping between buildings or wordless spreads that caricature contemporary political figures and don’t figure into the narrative as much as the atmosphere. What there is isn’t all that different from Miller’s work with Batman 25 years ago. If anything, he’s actively regressed to a less interesting, complex time in comics and politics. Want proof nostalgia is a waste of time? Read Holy Terror. (HB)

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