Graphic Lit -- 11/6 and 11/13
And with this, I think I'm finally caught up. These reviews originally ran in the Patriot-News on the dates listed above. Enjoy.
"Hank Ketcham's Complete Dennis the Menace: 1951-1952"
624 pages, $24.95.
"Peanuts" and "Krazy Kat" may seem like obvious choices for completist compilations, but "Dennis the Menace?" Fantagraphics does a solid job of convincing readers of the strip's importance with this first volume of a projected multibook series. Far from the misunderstood angel of the later gag cartoons (and TV show), the Dennis portrayed here is a real terror, fully living up to his nickname and resulting in some side-splittingly funny gags that hold up remarkably well after 50 years.
The real surprise of this book is what a supreme draftsman Ketchum was. His cartoons vibrate with life; his line expertly controlled yet maniacally detailed. To read this book is to discover a treasure you never knew existed.
"Paul Moves Out"
by Michel Rabagliati
Drawn and Quarterly
Rabagliati's thinly-veiled autobiography is filled with so many remembrances and reminiscences that at times the book is in danger of tipping over into "a bunch of stuff that happened to me" territory.
That it doesn't is testament to the author's considerable skill as a storyteller. In this third volume of Paul's onslaught into adulthood, the title character finds himself attending art school, finding true love and preparing for a life of work and domesticity. I really like the way Rabagliati uses conversation to reveal emotional connections between the characters, to say nothing of his lovely art. This book is a real gem.
"The Rabbi's Cat"
by Joann Sfar
A cat living in 1930s Algeria eats a parrot and immediately gains the ability to talk. The first thing he requests, after lying about eating the parrot, is a bar mitzvah.
So begins Sfar's brilliant, episodic examination of spirituality, philosophy and family as seen from the perspective of a beloved pet. The book changes focus from the cat to his owner, a widowed rabbi, and the rabbi's daughter about halfway through, but remarkably enough, the book does not lose any of its charm or warmth despite the shift.
There are few cartoonists working today willing to make comics about such heady subjects as the nature of God, the tenuous relationship between children and parents, and various issues of ethnicity and identity. Even fewer do so with such good humor and obvious joy. We are lucky to have a book like this out there.
"Y: The Last Man -- Ring of Truth"
by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerraand Jose Marzan Jr.
192 pages, $14.99.
The plot is the kind of "high concept" story that Hollywood adores. A plague rips through Earth, instantly killing every male mammal on the planet except for one twentysomething slacker and his pet monkey. What sounds like the start of a Z-grade soft-core flick actually becomes a thoughtful examination of gender politics and human relations. Vaughan wisely takes the concept seriously, and Guerra's straightforward, realistic art helps keep the book grounded.
"Ring of Truth" is the fifth volume in the ongoing series, and finds our hero and his friends in San Francisco trying to find a cure for the plague while being assailed by various shadowy figures. Newcomers will likely want to start with the first volume, but wherever you enter into the story, "Y" proves to be surprisingly gripping.
"The Monkey King Vol. 1"
by Katsuya Terada
Dark Horse Comics,
Imagine Rob Zombie directing your favorite Bible story and you have a slight idea of what this ongoing series, a blood and sex-soaked adaptation of a classic Buddhist folk tale, is like. The plot involves the Monkey King heading east to obtain the original Buddhist texts and the demons he fights along the way, but you'd never really know that from reading this first volume, which explains the copious notes in the back of the book.
A book like this is entirely reliant upon familiarity with the tale being told, or, in this case, warped, and I imagine many Westerners will simply scratch their heads upon first read. Terada's art is sumptuous, however, if disturbing at times, and some manga fans will no doubt be happy to enjoy the book on that simple level alone.
"Seimaden Vol. 1"
by Higuri You
176 pages, $9.99.
An amnesiac young woman is torn between a noble, heroic warrior and a seductive, evil demon in this fantasy manga for young girls. No points for guessing which guy turns out to be the romantic, tragic lead and which turns out to be a dull clod. This is the perfect comic for girls who like to swoon over Professor Snape from the "Harry Potter" books.
"AEIOU or Any Easy Intimacy"
by Jeffrey Brown
224 pages, $12.
This is the third volume in Brown's "girlfriend trilogy," and easily the weakest of the three. That's not to say that it's bad, it just doesn't reach the same heights as "Clumsy" or "Unlikely." It mines the same territory, though, as Brown presents some rather cringe-worthy vignettes from a dysfunctional love affair. The fade-in, fade-out structure allows for Brown to plumb certain moments for greater emotional depth, but at the same time it hampers the narrative structure of the story. We're left not quite sure what exact footing Brown and his significant other are on. Fans of Brown's previous books will enjoy this book; it just might be time for him to tackle other subject matters.
Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005