Are You Listening by Tillie Walden

Texas. Raining. Traffic everywhere. The whole world is dark.  Shades of red and blue and purple. Bea decides not to get on the bus home, and instead, finds herself in Lucy’s Gas and Food, where Lou recognizes her. Lou offers to drive Bea where she’s going, knowing the Bea is on the run. They head west. They pull off the road and go into Big Spring, TX, pop. 50. Bea finds a cat. Its tag says it is from West, West Texas. They decide to take it home.  West is not on any map. They ask around. None of the directions are that helpful. Bea is 18. Lou is 27.  A mechanic.

They are running from their pain. There is a disturbing story that is driving Bea. It snows suddenly. Becoming friends. Lou teaches Bea to drive. Bea comes out to Lou, who never came out to her mother before she died. Two men, from the Office of Road Enquiry, are following them, and they want the cat. The women run from them several times. When they finally find West, there’s nothing at the place where the cat’s house would be. Suddenly, the world changes. Buildings and roads appear. They figure out what is going on. You will too. Walden introduces characters you want the best for—she is compassionate with their failings and foibles. You somehow see the world through their eyes. As the epigram from Adrienne Rich says, “All maps are fiction.” And fiction takes you places that you can’t find on a map, that you didn’t know you were going to, and when you get there, you have changed. Fiction is the map.

Sandman to Hark! A Vagrant: the best comics of the decade

Thank you to Sam Thielman ( @samthielman ) for this survey.

Old names and ambitious first-timers produced great graphic novels on everything from teen friendship and time travel to horrifying murder mysteries

Off Season by James Sturm

I seem to be reading a lot of downbeat graphic fiction at the moment. Maybe it’s what I need to reflect how I feel about where the world is going. The is a huge knot in my stomach at everything that seems so in flux. The same is true of the central character here, and his life is far worse than mine. The book is beautifully drawn, well told and you are drawn into the frustrations of the main characters life.

Set during the 2016 election, and narrated by the the main character who is the father of two young children and separated from his wife. The publisher is the reliably interesting Drawn & Quarterly.

“We see a father navigating life as a single parent and coping with the disintegration of a life-defining relationship. Amid the upheaval are tender moments with his kids—a sleeping child being carried in from the car, Christmas morning anticipation, a late-night cookie after a temper tantrum—and fallible humans drenched in palpable feelings of grief, rage, loss, and overwhelming love. Using anthropomorphized characters as a tactic for tempering an otherwise emotionally fraught situation, Off Season is unaffected and raw, steeped in the specificity of its time while speaking to a larger cultural moment.”

Reviews from :

Boston Globe

The Toronto Star

The Guardian

Punks Not Dead series

Two volumes of the collected comics available now. Starring Sid Vicous as a ghost helping Fergie find his father, whom he has never met. It’s worth reading. Sid is fun as a sidekick. The base story is set in contemporary Britian–Fergie’s secondary school, Jeremy Kyl style reality TV, and a struggling single-paernt family. In the background are devils from the underworld influencing these characters lives, interacting with them invisibly and overtly and Dorothy Culpepper is an almost one-woman exoricism department within MI5.

Part of the fun is seeing Sid try to come to terms with the 21st century. You realise that it was 45 years that the Sex Pistols tore into our lives.

Review on NPR

The Jungle – Graphic Novels

Read the original–it’s amazing and demoralizing that it still has relevance, but both these books are interesting ways to introduce the book to new readers. This is not a book that you would necessarily think of as being “suitable” for kids, and Peter Kuper, in his particular style makes the most of his 50 pages faithfully drawing the darkness and pain of an immigrant family coming to terms with the cruelty of poverty in the face of corruption and American capitalism at its most inhuman.

Then at moments, Kuper’s art is emotionally overwhelming in its own right.

Kristina Gehrmann, even though she isn’t aiming for new readers, draws sympathetic portraits of the family even as they face all their endless trials and humiliations. Her careful drawings bring details of Chicago painstakingly to life including recreations of newspapers adds on the title pages for each chapter. She honours Sinclair and finds the humanity at the heart of the story.

A City Within – Tillie Walden

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.

Tillie Walden is one of the places graphic books are going, and she is a graduate of The Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont.

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

Mira Jacob’s graphic memoir Good Talk is based around conversations Mira has with those around her in New York, between 2014 and 2016 with flashes back to her family in New Mexico and India. She  has an extraordinary talent for dialogue that is at the centre here. Much of the story’s present is autobiography alongside her developing romance with Jed,a family story and most affectingly a story of how race in America impacts individuals and families. 

The first scene is 2014. Mira and her 6-year-old son, Z, are discussing his obsession with Michael Jackson.  Z and Mira are drawn, and then cut out leaving a white border around each figure and super-imposed on photos of Jackson album covers and cityscapes of New York. Z is asking questions: “Who taught him to dance?” and “What is a LaToya?” before he moves on to “Was Michael Jackson brown or white?” Later on, in reference to the murder of Michael Brown, Z asks, “Is it bad to be brown?” Mira replies, “No, it’s great being brown. We look good in colors! We have history! We don’t get skin cancer as easily!” These exchanges establish the narrative and the subject matter of the whole work, but Z wonders why his mother is “yelling at me.” The graphic style of the drawn figures on top of the photographs, sometimes augmented by photographic portraits of some of the characters, allows the story to happen in the actual settings. The photos often open the narrative up beyond the rooms where the conversations are taking place.

“ Now every question Z asked made me realize the growing gap between the America I’d been raised to believe in and the one rising fast all around us. I kept thinking if I could go back in time and make sense of the things I’d been told growing up, I would be able to give Z better answers. Maybe even find a way toward that better country. Soon though with news of the Black Lives Matter Movement flooding our televisions, and the rise of Donald Trump, I would have just as many questions as he did.”

The book progresses through her parents’ story of an arranged marriage and her family’s worries about her love marriage (defined by Mira’s mother as “a marriage that is not arranged.” to Jed, a Jewish man; an hyper-awareness of shades of skin color that comes from her family thinking that she is “not fair” and therefore “no beauty.” There are attempts to arrange a marriage for Mira that fail–all the time she is moving through relationships at school, college after college in Seattle and New York.

Around the middle of the book, 9/11 happens.  The book turns here. Indians are taken for terrorists. Mira is mistaken for a young Indian woman who was lost in the twin towers who appears on a poster.  The hope of America disintegrates from here on out as Trump’s rise after the hope of Obama, strains the relationships between Jed’s parents and their daughter-in-law and grandson.

This is a subtle examination of how race works for people of color set in a narrative where most of the time the stakes are emotional rather than life or death, and this allows those of us, who because we are white, don’t feel the slights and digs and mispeakings, another place to feel them as they happen.  I read the memoir while at the same time reading Jacob’s impressive novel The Sleepwaker’s Guide to Dancing they echo each other. Give them both a try.

Excerpt published in The Guardian

Interview with Jacob in The Atlantic

Review of Good Talk from the New York Times

Kirkus Review of Good Talk
Kirkus Review of The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing

Boston Globe review of The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing

Weegee: Serial Photographer

Another review of a book by Max de Radiguès. This time with art by Wauter Mannaert and originally published in Paris, but with a full on Jewish–New -York-American subject: Arthur (Ascher) Fellig (also known as Weegee.)

Weegee obsessively photographs murders in the seamier streets of the city. He’s often there before the police and notoriously rearranges bodies to get a better shot. He knew the police. He knew the underworld and the prostitutes. Much of Weegee’s time is spent on the Lower East Side, where he has a marriage-like friendship with Rita a cafe owner, and has sex with Irma a local prostitute. But despite his notoriety, and the fact that the newspapers are buying his photos, he wants to be accepted in the art world and Hollywood, and he gets to try both. Just as in Bastard, the main character is unsympathetic , but Radiguès surprises and make him endearing. Check this book out. Check out the original photos. Weegee is also the inspiration for characters in films such as A Public Eye, Nightcrawler and Watchmen. And it’s Fellig photo which is the cover and inspiration for the name of Naked City’s (the John Zorn group) first album.