The New York Times Graphic Books
list this year
includes many fine books of high pedigree, but it didn't overlap much with what
we've read and loved lately. The following are some of the comics we recommend
from the last few months, with some suggestions for appropriate gift
For adventurous kids:
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her
Sword by Barry Deutsch (Amulet/Abrams,
$15.95, 9780810984226/0810984229). Deutsch's charming and energetic
story takes the form of a classic hero tale, but its hero is, as the cover
declares, "Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish
Girl." The depiction of an Orthodox community is smart and sympathetic,
and Mirka's struggles with bullies and boring chores, as well as a stepmother
who turns out to be the opposite of wicked, will ring true to many kids. The
twist at the end makes us hope for a sequel.
Resistance: Book 1 by Carla Jablonski, illustrated by Leland Purvis, color by
Hilary Sycamore (First Second Books, $16.99, 9781596432918/1596432918). Set against the backdrop of World
War II, Resistance follows two siblings
who join the French resistance after their father is imprisoned by the Nazis
and a Jewish friend of theirs goes into hiding. Morally complex and filled with
nuanced characterizations, Resistance
gives young readers haunting images of the horrors of life in wartime and
believable young heroes to root for.
Amulet #3: The Cloud Searchers by Kazu Kibuishi (Graphix, $10.99,
9780545208857/0545208858). The latest in Japanese wunderkind
Kibuishi's Amulet series is dark and suspenseful enough to thrill 7- to 12-year-olds, but not too much so for parents' comfort. After their father's death, a
brother and sister find themselves in possession of an amulet--whose seductive
power is a little like Tolkien's Ring--and must use it to rescue their mother
from a magical world filled with friendly robots and animals, walking houses
and sinister elves.
For grownups who never grew up:
Grandville Mon Amour by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse, $19.99, 9781595825742/1595825746). This is the second of the Grandville
series, which follows the adventures of a anthropomorphic badger detective as
he tears his way through a beautifully rendered steampunk world. The previous
volume, Grandville, is a winner, too,
and both titles are available in gorgeous hardcover editions with spiffy
embossed covers. A perfect mix of fantasy, Victorian detective lit, sci-fi and
X'ed Out by Charles Burns (Pantheon, $19.95,
9780307379139/0307379132). Influenced by classic Tintin
adventure comics but incorporating Burns's dark, surreal sensibility, this
original graphic novel vacillates between a lush toxic dream state and a bleak,
art-punk 1970s reality. Sounds like an odd pick for the holidays, but Burns's
color and line are gorgeous, and this is a must-have for fans of his
groundbreaking work Black Hole.
Castle Waiting Volume 2 by Linda Medley (Fantagraphics, $29.99, 9781606994054/1606994050). This long-awaited second volume in
Medley's irresistible anti-fairy tale is as satisfying as the first, for all
the same unlikely reasons. The plot involves household activities like choosing
a new room, keeping the goat pinned up, bowling and dealing with unwelcome
guests--but the setting is a castle populated by quirky half-animal characters,
sprites, dwarfs and other travelers in search of solace. Medley's cheeky
drawings make them lovable, hilarious and even illuminating.
Scott Pilgrim Precious Little
Boxset by Bryan Lee O'Malley (Oni Press,
$72, 9781934964576/1934964573). We've already talked about Scott
Pilgrim quite a bit. Six volumes,
boxed set, 'nuff said.
The Walking Dead, Book 1 by Robert Kirkman (Image Comics, $34.99, 9781582406190/1582406197). With the new TV series on AMC,
loads of new readers are coming to Kirkman's innovative series about life and
death after the zombie holocaust. Image Comics is wisely putting out
collectors' editions of the original comics, with new material that will
interest old fans and new.
What I Did by Jason (Fantagraphics, $24.99, 9781606994146/160699414X). Part of Fantagraphics' project to
release all of cult favorite Jason's work in beautiful hardcover editions, this
volume collects three Jason graphic novels from the 1990s. "Hey,
Wait" tells the story of two childhood friends whose reunion unearths a
series of surprising revelations. "Sshhhh!" is a poignant life story
told without a single line of dialogue. Finally, the "Iron Wagon" is
a wonderfully deadpan adaptation of a classic Norwegian mystery tale.
For history buffs:
It Was the War of the Trenches by Jacques Tardi (Fantagraphics, $24.99, 9781606993538/1606993534). Selected as one of Library
Journal's best graphic novels of 2010,
this work by French comics master Jacques Tardi brings the grim realities of
World War I to life. A short section of Trenches was published by the cutting-edge comics anthology RAW nearly three decades ago, but Tardi's complete book was
never available in English before. Art Spiegelman hailed Trenches as "an essential classic" and dubbed it
"the comic book to end all comic books."
A.D.: New Orleans After the
Deluge by Josh Neufeld (Pantheon, $16.95, 9780375714887/037571488X). Now out in paperback, Neufeld's
story of four New Orleanians' experiences during and after Hurricane Katrina is
as powerful and relevant as ever.
Based on interviews and extensive research, A.D. features characters with authentic voices, and the visuals
are stunning. Neufeld's version is somehow suspenseful despite what we know,
and makes the storm feel immediate once again. Perhaps no other medium besides
comics can convey the strangeness of the events of 2005 so well.
For New York-ophiles
CBGB:OMFUG by various authors (Boom Studios, $14.99,
9781608860241/1608860248). The sadly long-gone birthplace of
punk is resurrected in this anthology of comics by plenty of talented newcomers
as well as Love and Rockets superstar
Jaime Hernandez (who did the cover). The narratives and art can be a bit hit or
miss--but what could be more appropriate for an anything-goes place like CBGB?
Two Cents Plain: My Brooklyn
Boyhood by Martin Lemelman (Bloomsbury,
$26, 9781608190041/1608190048). You know that "authentic old
Brooklyn" everyone's always lamenting or trying to recapture? Martin
Lemelman's 1950s childhood in his parents' candy shop and soda fountain was the
real thing, though it also included the aftereffects of the Holocaust and the
city's racial and class tensions. Thick with period detail and family history,
this is a sobering and yet still charming piece of nostalgia.
For classics lovers:
Dante's Divine Comedy: A
Graphic Adaptation by Seymour Chwast
(Bloomsbury, $20, 9781608190843/1608190846). Using an open and often panel-free
style, Chwast's inventive graphic novel adaptation re-imagines Dante's epic
poem as Prohibition Era fantasia of underworld imagery, flappers and dapper
gents in pin-stripe suits. Creative, classy and often surreally funny, Chwast's
Comedy is an unexpectedly fresh take on
this much-revisited work.
Kill Shakespeare, Volume 1 by Conor McCreery, Anthony Del Col and Andy Belanger (Idea
& Design Works, $19.99, 9781600107818/1600107818). We have no idea how the authors
came up with the premise behind Kill Shakespeare, but it's a hoot. Shakespeare's most legendary
baddies--Richard III, Lady Macbeth and Iago--conspire to send Hamlet to steal
the magic quill of the mysterious wizard Shakespeare. More The Tudors than the Royal Shakespeare Company, Kill Shakespeare delivers a fun pop thrill for the comic fan who knows
their Falstaff from their Rosencrantz. --Michael Bagnulo