Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
Does anyone else find it ironic that small children dress up as pirates for Halloween? Putting your fragile toddler in seafaring rapist-murderer garb is probably as offensive to the inhabitants of 1700s coastal towns as we’d find a Ted Bundy costume in 2412. This reality isn’t lost on cartoonist Chris Wright, who wrangles up some of the most vicious, oh-my-dear-god-did-he-just-do-that scallywags this side of sequential art in his scorching graphic novel, Blacklung. Isaac is a pretentious schoolteacher hijacked onto a pirate ship where a syphilis-mad butcher immediately chops off his fingers. The fop soon integrates into a crew of murderer-poets who rationalize their atrocities with a literary candor reserved for high school English curriculum. The most poignant narrative belongs to Brahm, the ship’s captain, who methodically maims and pillages to ensure a place in hell next to his deceased bride. Wright’s approach is engrossing, crafting a world deprived of morality and mercy articulated in intoxicating prose. The fact that Wright’s characters look like oversized plush puppets is initially off-putting, but the sheer amount of detail in his pen work leads to some eye-popping panels, including an origin story told in stream-of-consciousness hieroglyphics. Blacklung is a weird, compelling creation, telling a harrowing story of redemption and savagery through art that could initially pass as adorable before you get to the tongue necklaces. Highly recommended for those with strong stomachs. (SE)
First Second, 2012
Although it’s not as deep as Scott Pilgrim eventually became, Derek Kirk Kim’s webcomic, chapters 1-10 of which are collected here, has similarities to everyone’s favorite fun indie opus. Kim’s art, for one thing, has the same kind of cute, simplified, expressive manga look. His themes are along the same lines, too, impending adulthood and the onset of responsibilities primary among them. Gene Luen Yang’s work falls into the same category but is less lighthearted than Kim’s, which discusses the high expectations of East Asian parents but doesn’t seem to take them as much to heart. What it does best is its mix of the mundane with sci-fi elements such as alternate dimensions, in a manner made famous by Douglas Adams but clearly personalized here. The webcomic hasn’t really taken advantage of its format, sticking to a normally sized page at a time, so you’d do just as well to pick up the book, and even its chintzy uncoated paper has a tactile appeal you obviously won’t get online. Nimble and entertaining, it’s an unfortunately speedy read that will probably send you to the web to find out what happens next. (HB)
Image Comics, 2012
I was expecting more sex. Not because that’s why I read Multiple Warheads—it was kind of a distraction in the past—but because there was just so much of it in the one-shot that Oni Press released back in 2007. (And yes, I had to look that date up. I can’t believe it’s been over five years. What are we doing with our lives?) Brandon Graham’s psychedelic slice of post-apocalyptic tomfoolery returns with a new mini-series that reintroduces organ thief Sexica and her wolf-penised boyfriend Nikoli. The two live in the remnants of a world destroyed by war and filled with grotesque animal-human hybrids, fleeing from their past lives while another organ hunter tracks down a lucrative organ-filled hedonist. This might sound like a huge bummer but Graham is less interested in any kind of polemics or cultural commentary than he is in drawing fantastic, mind-bending art. His gorgeously skewed landscapes and pun-filled pidgin English are indebted to Krazy Kat, and the ornate and hallucinatory layouts and character designs look like a mash-up of Milo Manara and Moebius. The story hurtles through cartoonishly violent set-pieces and plentiful puns, fleshing out this weird little world that’s just a canvas for Graham’s amazing art. (GM)
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
What makes the Best American Comics series interesting (a new guest editor every year, each with idiosyncratic taste) is also what makes it inconsistent. It’s hard enough to cram a selection of what was good in comics over the course of a full year into about 350 pages without having a new person on the job each time. That’s where Jessica Abel and Matt Madden come in, providing guidance and institutional memory, but the results still vary. Mouly’s taste, for example, is stranger and darker than some previous editors’, and she ignores superhero stuff completely. For some reason, Craig Thompson’s Habibi, roundly acclaimed and not disqualified for any other factor I can determine, not only doesn’t appear but doesn’t even rate a mention in the also-rans at the end. Many familiar names do show up, though, and I was particularly pleased to see Joyce Farmer recognized for Special Exits. The addition of a kids’ section is a good one, but perhaps should have been spun off into its own volume, as it feels much too short, and the new intro pages to each selection help clarify and organize things. As usual, it’s beautifully printed and a good way to find new things you might like but a little dissatisfying in the end. (HB)