Last Things by Marissa Moss

Last Things Marissa Moss Cover (2)

An uncredited reviewer in Publishers Weekly writes: “Deeply affecting and harrowing… This is not a sentimental story of how suffering ennobles people.  Moss’s deliberately naive drawings effectively accompany her painfully direct text…The fact that the family does endure is impressive, and this book demonstrates how art can transmute suffering into literature.”

S/he is right on the mark.  Moss is a successful children’s author best known for the Amelia’s Notebook series has written and drawn the most grown-up of books.  When her husband, Harvey, is diagnosed with ALS, he becomes more and more distant from the family, and there is no easy resolution to their relationship or his illness.  This is not an illness story where everyone becomes a better person, but eventually, as Moss writes in her introduction  it is about the “strong bonds of family and how they can sustain us.”

Everything about the book brings home the situation they find themselves in. Like life, it has to be lived, and like life, there are ups and downs: many, many downs.  Moss is clear-eyed about what the disease is, what it does to Harvey, how she and the kids react.  In a way, this with the clear text and the expressive drawings and varied and inventive design of the pages to suit to the story would be enough.  But what makes this a great book is that alongside the story of the family and the illness,  There is more. Beyond the day to day, there is the life of the mind.  Of connecting to the thoughts and history of humanity. For Harvey, a professor of medieval art, this involves hanging on to his intellectual journey trying ever more desperately to finish his book Picturing Kingship on King Louis IX’s personal prayer book.  He cuts himself off to write his last work.  King Louis is christian, the family are Jews. And for the family it is Judaism and life-cycle events of a bar mitzvah and later on sitting shiva for Harvey when he dies that locate the mundane in a wider world. Human beings live, love, struggle and die, but our minds put this all in the context of humanity.

Book Trailer:

Review from The Forward
Washing Post article about the Jewish aspects of the book
Publishers Weekly review
Kirkus Review


Irmina by Barbara Yelin

A full-fledged novel that opens its wings and flies as a young woman sets out from pre-War Germany to London , returns to Berlin and ends in Barbados.  Yelin’s graphic novel opens up so much that happened in Europe in the twentieth century through Irmina’s finally unrequited love for a young Barbadian.

Irmina meets Harold, an Oxford student, at a cocktail party soon after she arrives in London, and she gets to know him as she attends a secretarial school and their romance deepens, through joyous times and the racism of the society, which she being German is outside.

In London, Irmina describes  herself to Harold as “typist, a Fraulein, Suffragette, Bluestocking, Communist and Emigrant.  She loses her accommodation, her parents are no longer able to send her money, and not wanting to become a maid, she returns to Germany, and reenters German society and meets a young architect, Gregor Meinrich.  Hitler’s power is increasing, and:

Gregor: “Progress isn’t being made anymore”
Irmina: “But it MUST! It HAS to go on! We’re sacrificing so much here!
Gregor gives up architecture and joins the German army.

In the final section, Irmina now a school administrator, receives an invitation from Harold to visit him in Barbados, where he has become the Governor General.

The colours of Europe are greys and browns. the Caribbean has a little more green and blue although they are still muted, and the air of melancholy that hangs over Irmina’s life is only brightened slightly in this last chapter.


The Arab of the Future 1 & 2



To be published in US/UK Sept. 12, 2017









TThese  are  the memoirs of Riad Sattouf’s childhood. He was born in France, but when his father graduates with his doctorate, they move first to Libya, and then to his father’s homeland, Syria.  The series was originally published in France to a mixed reception. The son of an Arab father and a French mother, Sattouf is often seen as anti-Arab. At the same time he s admired and seen as a master of graphica up there with Spiegelman, Satrapi and Sacco.  He has the hard satirical stance that worked for his regular column in Charlie Hebdo.    Sattouf has come to fame recently as the only Arab contributor to Charlie Hebdo, at the time of the massacre.  You can read more about him and the controversy around this book–some people find him racist and insensitive, others are great admirers.

These are full integrated graphic works.  The drawings are essential to the storytelling.  The people are cartoonish– each character’s nose is the most prominent feature. Despite the simplicity of the drawings the characters thoughts and feelings are clearly communicated.  A nice touch is that even though each the format is basically black and white, each country has it’s own colour wash: France is blue, Libya is yellow and Syria is pink, with the occasional object in full colour. Abdul-Razak (his father)’s radio is red. Gadafi, and portraits of him and his green book are green and the soldiers’ berets, when they get to Syria are deep red.

New Yorker
New York Times review of AotF
New York Times review of AotF 2
Guardian AotF
Guardian AotF 2
Arab of the Future website

Keiler Roberts: Sunburning

51775260I didn’t know anything about Keiler Roberts when I picked up, her graphic memoir, Sunburning, with its plain yellow cover, the book’s title a slightly lighter yellow, and a simple sketch of a woman with her midsection erased.

One one level, the book is nothing special.  A woman, going through her day, talking to her daughter and her husband.  But it’s much more than that. The drawings are simple and expressive.  And the stories too.  They are a string of moments, often funny, some awkward, some revealing.  Keiler is the centre of the stories with her daughter providing many of the funny lines. Keiler has bipolar disorder, and it is tough to handle some of the scenes where she is at her lowest, but on the other hand they are mundane in the right way.  She keeps going–doing what needs to be done.  Caring for her daughter. It is heroic in the proper sense of keep moving through the day.  If you deal with any mental condition, you know that if you get up and do what has to be done, it is not easy, but it passes.  Not every episode of mental illness needs to be on the police procedural show of the week.

It’s also about growing up, being a mother, a wife, a daughter.  It’s easy and it’s hard. You laugh and you care and you worry.  Somehow, Roberts’ wit and narrative ability keeps you wanting to take the next step with her, to see what tomorrow brings.

This is the true art that so many of us and so many artists and writers fail at.  So often we have to turn our life in choreographed stories and have to find the headline. But life is more open, less contrived and not so easy to encapsulate, and some art manages to allow us in, control our view just enough to keep us following along, without shaping it beyond truth to fiction.  Fiction has a different purpose, but in non-fiction, this is what we need.  Don’t expect to understand, share, ponder, and realize you have another experience to add to your own.

published by Koyama Press
available at your local bookstore or library – ask them to order it if needed!

There is more to know about Keiler, and here’s a full interview in The Toucan–the blog of Comic-Con.

RC: Why draw comics about yourself, as opposed to other subjects?
KR: Why draw comics about anything else? I’m really interested in what’s true – real life experiences. I only have full access to myself. It’s not because I think I’m especially interesting. I would do autobio from your point of view if I could.


Soft City by Pushwagner

soft-city-coverOn a screen everything is the same size and the same texture with the same frame. The New York Review Books publication of Soft City is a significant challenge to the saming of culture. It’s 9.7 x 0.9 x 13.6 inches and 3.4 lbs.

It’s a big book, and it took a long time for it to be published in 2008, after Pushwagner finished it in 1975. Chris Ware in the introduction writes that, “The whole seems drawn entirely from the need to realize a consuming vision, a writer ruminating (“Where is the mind when the body is here?”) while his artist half looks on in horror. For Ware, the book falls into neither, “the fine arts [nor] the underground comics” camp, “ultimately its tone feels dire and experimental; it wows visually but gets under one’s skin in an unfamiliar, uncompanionable manner introducing the awkward revelations of 1960s experimental film, writing and poetry to a medium at that point was more popularly associated with superheroes.

Hariton Pushwgner (Terje Brofos) begins with two blank, black pages before the third page, still black has the words “Good morning everybody.” The next page, still mostly black, says, “look…” but the bottom fifth of the page is a white strip with hundreds of small rough squares with what look like TV aerials on top. Then we get closer, and the white strip fills more of the page, “here comes…” and finally the page is white, the building fills most of the page and “the sun” peers above the building. The baby is awake. His is head huge.  As you move through the larger spreads, the family leaves the private world of their home and heads to the massive uniform worlds of the father’s workplace and the mother’s shopping day. The word “soft” appears on many of the pages.  The father reads the “Soft Times”; he works at “Soft Inc.;” the parents take a “soft pill” when they wake up.  When the father steps out of his front door, as far as you can see into the fold of the pages, identical men and one woman step into the corridor, pack into the lift,and rows and rows of mothers and babies wave from the stacked windows of the tower block. The crowd grows as he drives to work into Soft City.


Later we cut to the mother’s day, and “the Boss” watching his workers. In a spread of the boss’ office, the artist tells us “What a funny freedom untouched by human hands.” The boss thinks “Soft love is a 100% bonne affair” and “Atomize is de trix”.  His thoughts about the workers: “They are asleep.” Then he tells them, “120! Understand? Oracle filter.” The pictures make a more direct statement of humanity commodified and undifferentiated on a treadmill put in boxes.

This is a magnificent, unsettling work that maybe makes a statement that has been derived from Kafka and developed by Orwell and so many others.  And yet, it’s its own work, and an important piece of art in a world where our devices use software to softly steal our attention without us realising it is even gone. Work such as Pushwagner’s wakes us up.