If you like reading. You love finding a new author, and somehow it’s even better when that author is just starting out, and wows from the start. I began with Tillie Walden‘s extraordinary On a Sunbeam (You can read it here). Then her memoir of being a competitive skater Spinning. You won’t regret time spent with either of these. But I have just read her third graphic novel, A City Inside published by the wonderful Avery Hill Publishing. It’s a weird novel.
It begins with a young woman being told to relax and being given tea. I’m English, I appreciate that. Then she is told, “Swallow all your spit and breathe deeply.” The words “A City Inside” fill the next two pages. Continuing in the second person. “You left…trying to escape those southern ghosts…were too afraid to live in the city…so you decided the sky would be better.” She lives in the sky with a cat and meets “Her.” You is so taken with Her that You leaves the sky and moves in. Like a good poem, the story leaves sense at the edges and perfectly for a short graphic story, focuses on images of place. Her is even a place. All the old wounds inside You start to accumulate, and a new city is built. In You’s mind maybe? Not certainly. At the end, she steps out of the story and there Her is, in the waiting room. It is as though every line Walden makes on the page has meaning. Each panel is a small work of feeling. A work of story. A work of human emotion. At the end you are together with You and Her, and happy.
A young woman is buying tacos and Mark approaches her and says, “April, it’s me.” She replies, “You’re mistaken. Sorry…Have a good day.” Back at the motel her son, Eugene, is watching TV. “We’ve got to move,” she says. Eugene takes the bags to the car, and we realize that they are on the run. “April” (her real name is May) is a member of a gang who committed 52 simultaneous robberies in the same day in Prescott.
What’s so impressive about this book is that May is a murderer, who has double-crossed her gang and has implicated her son in her crimes, and she is loyal, an adoring mother, and someone who wants more for her son than she had. She gets more. He knows how to rescue her when some of the gang almost catch them. The two are rescued by a former banker who is now a truck driver, and they spend time with him in New Mexico, before May goes back to “sort out” the gang. There’s a twist near the end that makes the sympathetic drawings, and the loving relationship turn into a touching story.
There’s energy in the storytelling and the drawing. We are pulled along and cheer for May and Eugene to come through despite all they do. In the end we understand. Give it a go.
A Graphic Novel by Irene N. Watts and Kathryn E Shoemaker
Black and white images softly drawn. Shaded background. Any white is the word balloons, letters or aprons. Marianne arrives in London on the Kindertransport and is taken in by Mrs. and Mr. Abercrombie-Jones who were looking for an older child to be a second domestic in their home. They insist on calling her Mary Anne, and yet correct her when she mispronounces their names. They do send her to school where she makes friends. The painfulness of British anti-Semitism from schoolmates, caretakers, teachers and neighbours is scratched into the background of the narrative like the hatching in each frame. Marianne does make good friends in school who move on as she does when the London schools are evacuated–she goes to Wales where a couple hope that Mairi will replace their daughter who recently died. While the prejudices are not absent in Wales, the kindly Mr. Evans, guides Marianne through Llanelli. The end is too easy, but hopeful.
Daniel Raeburn: “I snicker at the neologism first for its insecure pretension—the literary equivalent of calling a garbage man a ‘sanitation engineer’—and second because a ‘graphic novel’ is in fact the very thing it is ashamed to admit: a comic book, rather than a comic pamphlet or comic magazine.”
I have discovered so many extraordinary novels, memoirs and non-fiction books that use cartooning to tell the story. My problem with the term “graphic novel” is not that it is pretentious–I suppose it is, but it describes what I am looking for–nor is it that it is a marketing term–all names for products that are sold are marketing terms: comics just as much as graphic novels. IT’s that not all graphic novels are novels. There is not a good term for the non-fiction, full length comics. Maybe it’s just “graphic non-fiction,” and in the end, graphic novels will be shelved with novels and non-ficiton shelved with its subjects. Graphic novels are another way of communicating, where a great deal of innovation is happening in how stories are told.
Two things keep Karel Capek’s “War With the Newts” from getting the recognition it deserves: its cover and its title. The best translation’s cover design, black text on teal, has all the panache of a dishwasher manual. And the title evokes spacesuit-clad heroes racing around cheap sets, firing laser guns at unscary animatronic lizards.
Forget all that.
Karel Capek: A Starter Kit
Here’s a brief guide to the newt-free portions of Capek’s oeuvre.
‘The Gardener’s Year’
When he wasn’t dreaming up sci-fi dystopias, Capek was in the garden. This cheerful, exasperated journal is fun even for readers who don’t know a daisy from a dahlia.
Capek’s most popular work while he was alive (it’s where the word “robot” first appears), today it reads mostly like a rough draft of “War With the Newts.”
‘Hordubal/Meteor/An Ordinary Life’
A trilogy of philosophical novels in which Capek dabbles in detective fiction and unreliable narration. Warning: It makes “War With the Newts” read like a conventional potboiler.
‘The Absolute at Large’
Capek, in 1922, foresees a device that can produce unlimited cheap energy, with the small catch that it might just lead to a world-destroying global war.
When he died in 1938, Capek was working on this bleak polyphonic novel about a half-crazed, compulsively plagiaristic composer.
Rivers of London began as a series of novels by Ben Aaronovitch.
Each volume is a separate story featuring Peter Grant, who is both a junior detective and trainee wizard. He is joined in the stories by his boss Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, a police colleague of Nightingale’s, and Peter’s girlfriend, Beverly Brook, who is the goddess of her namesake waterway.
The setting is the dark side of London, where criminality and evil collide. You can read the graphic series, or the novels or both, and on his own website Aaronovich has a chronology, which, of course, is not the publishing chronology, where you can read both in the sequence that the events unfold (mostly).
London is a background, and clearly the inspiration, but these could take place in any big city, on cusp of night and darkness, where reality meets the fears and real dangers that haunt us all.
Graphic series created and Written by John Allison .
I like this series of stories about three roommates at college in Sheffield. The tensions and deprivations and role play of college life comes through with humour and energy. Some of the same feeling as Fresh Meat, but more fun.
Along with J.G. Ballard and Michael Moorcock, Aldiss is a leader in British science fiction and fantasy, but like the others, he took that experience and sensibility and wrote some of the most vital novels that should just be thought of as fiction–irrespective of genre.