Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Graphic Lit: More reviews, more quickly

My pile of comics has gotten rather precarious, and you know what that means: time for another lightning round of reviews!

Must! Critique! Comics! Quickly!

by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie

Drawn and Quarterly, 112 pages, $19.95.

Set in the Ivory Coast circa 1978, “Aya” is a disarmingly sweet and funny soap opera about a group of young people falling in and out of love. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the book is that Aya isn’t even the main character. Instead, she serves as a Greek chorus of sorts as she observes her friends make incredibly poor romantic choices. The kind you make when you’re 20 and the future seems too far away to think about.

Despite the cultural differences, “Aya” is filled with characters that will resemble you or people you know. Issues of class and sexism swim underneath the surface, but again, seem intimately familiar. No doubt that’s the entire point.

“Garage Band”
by Gipi

First Second, 128 pages, $16.95.

Like “Aya,” Gipi’s tale of a group of teens attempting to form and desperately sustain a rock band deals with class and cultural issues that might seem foreign to U.S. audiences (Gipi is Italian).

Readers will easily identify, however, with the characters’ desperate attempts to escape their home lives through music, thanks to the author’s masterful way with his characters, both in terms of the dialogue and body language. Anyone who’s ever fumbled through the opening chords of “Smoke on the Water” during his high school years will enjoy this book.

“Daybreak Vol. 1”
by Brian Ralph

Bodega, 48 pages, $10.

Yes, it’s another post-apocalyptic zombie tale, but one with a difference. Ralph tells the entire story from a first-person viewpoint, so that all the characters and events seem to be addressing the reader directly, thereby upping the intensity.

The result is a book that seems more interested in exploring a desolate landscape than in providing your usual horror scares, though it’s certainly not without some thrilling moments. Fans of the genre would do well to check it out.

“Red Eye, Black Eye”
by K. Thor Jensen

Alternative Comics, 304 pages, $19.95.

After losing his job, girlfriend and apartment in 2001, Jensen grabbed a bus pass and started on a 10,000-mile road trip through the United States. “Red Eye” documents his travels, which seem to consist mostly of being tired and smelly.

That doesn’t sound like an appealing book, but Jensen is a good and funny storyteller, focusing on the small moments and amusing anecdotes that make up any journey. (I especially like the way he’s able to draw stories out of his hosts.) There aren’t any big revelations, but then why would there be? The kind of journey Jensen details, both inwardly and outwardly, is one of slow progression, not immediate disclosure.

“Escape From Special”
by Miss NoteLasko-Gross

Fantagraphics Books, 120 pages, $16.95.

In cringetastic detail Lasko-Gross chronicles her childhood and early adolescence, focusing on ugly moments of betrayal, embarrassment, isolation and general alienation. Thankfully, she’s not afraid to portray herself at her worst, and there are plenty of moments where she comes off as a brat (my grandfather would have called her “too smart for her own good.”)

The episodic nature of the book works against her to an extent, in that many of the supporting characters, namely her parents, seem like ciphers. We are so deep inside Lasko-Gross’ head that it’s hard to get a feel for the other people in her life. It would have enriched the book to have shown someone else’s perspective.

Still, it’s an engaging, strong first work that suggest a good deal of promise. I look forward to seeing what she does next.

“The Grave Robber’s Daughter”
by Richard Sala

Fantagraphics Books, 80 pages, $9.95.

No cartoonist does gothic horror better than Richard Sala, as this slim little scary book proves.

It’s a bit gorier and more gruesome than his usual work, as teenage sleuth Judy Drood goes up against a nefarious army of murderous clown zombies, but no less gripping because of it. It’s also a bit of a quick read, but those looking for a good, short scare will be well served here.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007



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