Books  |  Reviews

Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (11/9/11)

November 9, 2011  |  2:00pm

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

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Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes (The Carl Barks Library Volume One)
By Carl Barks

Fantagraphics Books, 2011
Rating: 9.6

I might as well review the Sistine Chapel or game seven of the 1992 National League Championship Series or any early installment of WarGames: The Match Beyond. You don’t need to read another two hundred words about the greatness of Carl Barks, about his masterful talent for body language and facial expressions, about how his finely realized characters and sprawling fictional world made the Duck family the most soulful and human among Disney’s abundant roster of anthropomorphic animals. This first volume of Fantagraphics’ beautiful new reissue series collects 200 pages of Barks stories from 1948 and 1949, reinforcing Barks’ sterling reputation while introducing his work to a new generation of readers. Barks’ strips combine high adventure with humor and subtle cultural commentaries, along with a few of the lamentable and potentially offensive stereotypes expected from work of the era. His stories remain grounded in character, though, from Donald’s constant exasperation to the rambunctious innocence of the Nephews to the old man irritability of Uncle Scrooge, who only makes a few brief appearances in this volume. My only complaint involves the pacing. The book is divided into three sections, with four longer stories comprising the first hundred pages, followed by nine shorter stories, and then a small selection of one-page gag strips. Barks’ reputation was built on his longer adventures, but front-loading this volume with them leads to a disjointed and diminishing reading experience. Otherwise Lost in the Andes is a gorgeously packaged collection of some of the finest comics ever made. (GM)

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Freddy Stories
by Melissa Mendes

Self-published, 2011
Rating: 7.9

Melissa Mendes is young but uncannily perceptive about children. Or perhaps she’s so perceptive because she is so young. Freddy Stories is a nice little book supported by a Xeric grant that collects her comics about a girl named Freddy, and it is gentle and subtle in the way the best children’s literature is. Where it has an advantage over books that only use words is in the way it can show Freddy’s thought processes from the outside, without junking them up with adjectives. Little happens in these strips, certainly little of great import. Freddy digs holes. She eats pizza. She loves her dog. She spends two weeks at her grandmother’s house. There’s nothing magical here except for the ordinary rhythms and explorations of childhood, and that is in itself rather wonderful. Mendes can spend four pages sending Freddy to borrow some flour and poke around in her great uncle Sully’s house, including taking a sip of beer, but the panels don’t feel wasted or boring. She also stays away from moralizing, although embarrassment, reluctance, and general stubbornness and stupidities do make appearances. It is a book for the curious and the independent minded of all ages. (HB)

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Peanuts #0
by Charles M. Schulz, Vicki Scott and Ron Zorman

BOOM!, 2011
Rating: 6.9

When BOOM! Studios announced that the Peanuts property was going to be written and drawn by people who aren’t Charles Schulz, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. The seminal strips and TV specials are far too autobiographical to Sparky Schulz, even with their cartoonish flights of fantasy. As David Michaelis detailed in his biography Schulz and Peanuts, Charlie Brown was the author’s avatar (though the name belonged to a friend), Snoopy was his glass-eating childhood dog and the Little Red Haired Girl was a fellow art student who Schulz coached in softball. The idea of somebody else channeling Brown’s bittersweet neurosis didn’t make me angry. It just felt unnatural. Peanuts is such an inseparable part of its creator’s life that it ceases to be itself when conceived by anyone else. Even with that assumed standard, the creators behind Peanuts #0 do an admirable job of paying homage, smartly avoiding the stark, personal undertones that hid under the strip for 50 years. The one new contribution focuses on the fuzzy members of the gang, as Snoopy and aviary companion Woodstock search for new real estate after the latter’s nest is destroyed. The action’s lighter, quicker and warmer then one would expect from a comic about kids selling psychiatry on the block, but that’s OK. After all, these creators would do well to explore new directions rather than imitate an auteur whose life and work were virtually inseparable. I’m cautiously optimistic, but it doesn’t look like the new Peanuts will yank the proverbial football up from its loyal fans anytime soon. (SE)

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Zahra’s Paradise
by Amir and Khalil

First Second, 2011
Rating: 5.9

Saying Zahra’s Paradise is a lot like Persepolis is like saying the visual art of Occupy Wall Street closely resembles that of Thomas Hart Benton. They both come out of the same basic culture, but that doesn’t make them any more than cousins at most. Amir and Khalil’s book began as a webcomic, which shows to some extent, although not in any innovative panel composition. More than anything, its story of a mother looking for her son in the aftermath of Iran’s 2009 political protests that followed a shady election is speedy and passionate, not deliberate and focused on composition. The narrative doesn’t catch you up until about halfway through the book, at which point you tear through the rest only to be disappointed with the end. The art is adequate. The writing isn’t terribly strong. The translation seems a little spotty, with some idioms footnoted but many potentially confusing items relegated to the glossary you don’t know exists until you finish the book. But there’s something here nonetheless, probably the reality of events in Iran, the defiance felt in these pages, and that makes it exciting despite its flaws. (HB)

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