Part II of the July graphic novels brought several surprises, a few of them highly recommended. Let’s get started…
Pixu: The Mark of Evil (2009/2015) Gabriel Bá, Becky Cloonan, Vasilis Lolos, and Fábio Moon (Dark Horse)
The concept of Pixu certainly isn’t a new one: the people living in four apartments of the same building are faced with an evil entity. What brought this evil about? How are these people connected? The creators present four viewpoints of the horror and how it affects them through the visual narrative. I use the words “visual narrative” because we really don’t need that much text. While some of the visuals are interesting, we really never get a story – or characters – that resonate with the reader. Unfortunately, Pixu is a story you’ve probably seen before and executed far better, which is a real shame, considering the major talent connected with this book. For die-hard horror fans only. Pixu was originally released in 2009 and is getting a re-release later this year. (black-and-white hardcover; adults only)
The Kurdles (J 2015) Robert Goodin (Fantagraphics)
The Kurdles may be an all-ages comic, and although it may not connect with all kids, for those with an appreciation for the strange, weird, and slightly twisted, it’s going to be a big hit. Take a closer look at that cover. Sure, we’ve got an owl carrying a cute stuffed bear through the woods, but it’s also raining and the bear’s carrying that stick for a reason.
Sally is the teddy bear in question and she’s having a rough day. Her owner, a brat of a little girl throwing a tantrum, has also thrown Sally out of the car. Trying to get home, Sally discovers a strange group of animal characters in a place called Kurdleton, characters who would normally be glad to help Sally, but they’ve got their own problems, the biggest being that their house is growing hair. And eyes. And a mouth.
The Kurdles is highly imaginative, vibrant and colorful without being too cute or sentimental. The artwork is clear and wonderfully rendered, the story expertly told and paced. Again, The Kurdles probably won’t be for every young reader, but it might be just the thing for kids looking for something a bit different. (color hardcover; all-ages)
Black is the Color (2013) Julia Gfrörer (Fantagraphics)
Although Derek and I recently reviewed the webcomic Black is the Color, I’m including it in my July Graphic Novels list since it has been published in book form (although it’s somewhat difficult to find). You can read the webcomic version here then listen to our discussion of the title here. Black is the Color is much more than a story of sailors and mermaids; Gfrörer’s work is filled with beauty, nuance, subtlety, and grace. Please check it out in either format. (black-and-white trade paperback; adults)
They’re Not Like Us, Vol. 1: Black Holes for the Young (2015) Eric Stephenson, Simon Gane, Jordie Bellaire, Fonografiks (Image)
I’ve never met Eric Stephenson but I feel as if I have. I absolutely loved his work on Nowhere Men, which was my pick for the best graphic novel collection of 2013. That book is about four scientists, guys so brilliant they achieve the status of rock stars, yet their brilliance causes problems not only for them but for the world (and beyond). They’re Not Like Us explores a similar concept, this time focusing on a group of young adults with special powers.
Syd is a young woman who has always had the ability to hear the thoughts of everyone around her. That ability has also been driving her crazy her entire life, causing her to think that something was seriously wrong with her. When she finds herself moving into a house with other people like her, Syd’s world is turned upside down. However, while Syd isn’t alone in her struggles, she can’t relate to the group’s leader, a man calling himself The Voice. The Voice seems to Syd (and maybe to us) superior, sadistic and coldblooded. Yet the other people in the house – all with super abilities – tell her that she’ll get used to it, that she’s part of a real family. Then things begin to fall apart….
They’re Not Like Us is something of a mixed bag for me, at least with this first volume. The concept seems familiar, sort of a postmodern X-Men, but with a leader lacking any of Charles Xavier’s compassion. The Voice’s sense of entitlement and “take-what-you-want, you-deserve-it” is a bit off-putting (if not downright disturbing), but I know it’s there for a reason. This first volume also at times seems crammed with text and a bit too melodramatic, but what Stephenson does with his concepts and ideas is interesting enough to keep me reading. (color trade paperback; adults)
Concrete Park, Vol. 1: You Send Me (2014) Tony Puryear, Erika Alexander (Dark Horse)
I simply do not understand why more people aren’t talking about Concrete Park. Maybe it’s because the concept seems too familiar, or maybe because it’s slipped under the radar of most comics readers. I hope it’s not because of its character diversity, which is something we need more of in comics, not less. Diversity certainly isn’t the only reason to read Concrete Park; the main reason is that it’s such a great story.
So what’s this great story about? Criminals and outcasts from Earth are exiled to a desert planet, to a place called Scare City, a city with a complex structure of gangs and gang lords. To make things even more interesting, Scare City contains shapeshifters, people who can get themselves out of trouble and place others in trouble, and with lots of gangs around, that’s some pretty serious trouble. As you might imagine, Concrete Park focuses on themes of slavery, identity and much more.
Puryear and Alexander – both screenwriters – give Concrete Park a vibrant, full-throttled pace that never lets up, yet provides us with interesting characters who’ll stay with you for a long, long time. This is an amazing book. Do not miss it, and when you’ve finished it, tell someone else about it. (hardcover; color; adults)
(The creators have posted a very informative study guide online.)
Far Arden (2009) Kevin Cannon (Top Shelf)
Crusty sailor Army Shanks is obsessed with finding the mythic island known as Far Arden, although just about everyone he encounters either outright denies its existence or warns of its dangers. Before Shanks can reach Far Arden, he’ll have to go through a series of strange (and often hilarious) adventures featuring college students, an old flame, polar bears, the Royal Canadian Arctic Navy, and more. Totally unpredictable, Far Arden is one of those epic adventures that you didn’t know existed. The combination of humor, adventure and sadness makes for a unique reading experience. Highly recommended. (black-and-white hardcover; mature teens and up)
The Blackhawk Archives, Vol. 1 (1941-43/2001) Will Eisner, Bob Powell, William Woolfolk, Charles Cuidera, Gill Fox (DC)
The DC Archives series reprints the very first Blackhawk stories from the pages of Military Comics #1-17. In those comics, a diverse squadron of WWII ace pilots known as the Blackhawks (led by a man called simply Blackhawk) battle the Nazis. This non-superhero title outsold all of the other WWII comics of its time other than Superman and survived from the 1940s to the present day (albeit not continuously), a feat very few titles can boast.
The stories themselves are fun, yet predictable, but you must read them in the context of their time in order to appreciate them. Even so, I admire the various ways the creators were able to make these tales interesting. It’s no wonder these comics were so popular in the 1940s and that the character of Blackhawk has survived to this day. Yet like many comics of this era, a little goes a long way and this volume is best read in small doses.
While this list – along with Part I – may not seem like an awful lot of graphic novels, I also re-read all six volumes of Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth for a project I’m currently working on. Maybe I can tell you more about it next time. In the meantime, I hope you’ll find something in this list to check out. If you do, let me know.