Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Graphic Lit: Hodge-podge time

Time for a speedy rundown of some notable graphic novels that hit stores in recent months.

Quickly now, and with feeling:

"Mom’s Cancer"
by Brian Fies
Harry N. Abrams, 128 pages, $12.95.

Fies chronicled his mother’s battle with brain and lung cancer online, as a weekly Web-based comic. The collected result is a somber but touching look at how a family deals with a life-threatening event. Fies’ use of visual metaphor is particularly striking, such as when he portrays himself and his siblings as battling superheroes to show their frequent infighting, or shows his mom walking a tightrope while describing the various side effects of her medication. Fies’ narration tends to overemphasize the point at times, but this is still a powerful little comic, recommended for anyone who’s ever had to deal with a major family crisis.

"Jimbo’s Inferno"
by Gary Panter
Fantagraphics Books, 48 pages, $29.95.

Art-comix icon Panter deconstructs and reconfigures Dante’s "Inferno," with hell turned into the "vast gloom-rock mallscape" Focky Bocky and punk rock Jimbo taking Dante’s role.

Panter’s faux primitive style is always a delight (and the production value is stunning), but there’s no question that your enjoyment of this book is invariably determined by your familiarity with Dante’s original poem, despite what Panter might claim in the preface. It’s a rewarding book for literary scholars, though, and those who’d like to try something a bit out of the ordinary.

"Every Girl is the End of the World for Me"
by Jeffrey Brown
Top Shelf, 104 pages, $8.

Brown continues chronicling his romantic tussles with members of the opposite sex with the usual self-effacing humor that longtime readers have come to expect.

"Girl" is a decidedly better book than his last (the disappointing "AEIOU") perhaps because it doesn’t focus on one relationship but several potential ones that, naturally, never really come to fruition. Anyone who’s ever sighed afar at the girl/boy who works at the coffee shop will appreciate this slim book.

"The Abandoned"
by Ross Campbell
Tokyopop, 192 pages, $9.99.

I haven’t cared much for a lot of the books in Tokyopop’s OEL (i.e., "manga" made by Westerners) line. Nor am I particularly fond of zombie stories. Campbell’s grisly tale, however, captivated me. I really enjoyed his lush art, his use of red to heighten tension, and the way he lets his characters interact between disembowelings. "Abandoned" stays firmly within its genre, but it’s a sharp, smart little horror story that will thrill fans looking for a good, bloody scare.

"Noble Boy"
by Scott Morse
AdHouse Books, 32 pages, $12.95.

Morse pays a loving tribute to his mentor, Maurice Noble (best known for his work on several classic Chuck Jones cartoons), in this slim volume, gussied up to resemble a children’s board book.

Morse’s art is as lovely as ever. Less pretty, however, is the forced poem that accompanies the drawings. Considering that for the same price you could get a copy of "Mom’s Cancer," "Noble Boy," though made with love, is such a slight affair that it’s hard to justify a purchase.

"Brownsville"
by Neil Kleid and Jake Allen
NBM, 208 pages, $18.95.

Kleid and Allen look at Depression-era Brooklyn, N.Y., when Jewish gangsters ruled the city, using a fictional up-and-coming thug as a tour guide through the times.

There are so many characters, however, and the book speeds along so quickly that the reader never has a clear sense of who is who or why he should care. Allen’s art carries a placid weight to it that robs a good deal of the book’s drama as well. Together, Kleid and Allen do something you wouldn’t think possible: They make a crime story that’s not only confusing but also boring.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006

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