Monday, December 31, 2018

2018: By the Numbers

At the end of the last few years, it has occurred to me to list all of the publishers of the books I have reviewed on this blog by name and number of titles reviewed. So, in case you share my curiosity or have a thirst for record-keeping (or are just simply in need of some quick reading material to put you to sleep), here is my list:

  • First Second 16
  • Dark Horse 5
  • Image Comics 4
  • uncivilized books 4
  • Drawn & Quarterly 3
  • Fantagraphics 3
  • Top Shelf 3 
  • Amulet Books 2
  • Birdcage Bottom Books 2
  • Hard Case Crime/Titan Books 2
  • Oni Press 2
  • Scholastic 2
  • Yen Press 2
  • Alterna Press 1
  • Bloomsbury 1
  • Farrar Straus Giroux 1
  • Fulcrum Press 1
  • Gallery 13 1
  • Iron Circus 1
  • Kilgore Books & Comics 1
  • Koyama Press 1
  • Little, Brown & Company 1
  • NBM 1
  • The Nib 1
  • NoBrow Press 1
  • Penguin Random House 1
  • Picador 1
  • Roar 1
  • Shout Mouse Press 1
  • Silver Sprocket 1
  • Sourcebooks 1
  • TOON Books 1
  • Vertigo 1
  • W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth

Hannah Arendt is a writer/thinker whose work on totalitarianism has come back into popular demand these days of "interesting times." The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt is a biographical chronicle that gets at her private and public lives in interesting fashion. It follows chronologically, beginning with her precocious and troubled childhood. As you can read from the following excerpt, her father's descent into syphilitic insanity was only part of the experience:
I got these preview images from Tablet Magazine

She was also a brilliant thinker who worked and studied with contemporary movers and shakers of the time, most notably Martin Heidegger, who was both her teacher and lover for a number of years. Over the course of this book, she escapes twice from the Nazis, once from Germany and the second time from Paris, and the third escape more has to do with how she reconciled her own thinking with Heidgger's, even as he was a Nazi sympathizer. She was a complicated woman who lived in complicated times, and I feel that her thinking is vital for dealing with thoughts of personal responsibility and justice, especially today.

In many ways, this book is dense with events, ideas, and the past. There is some built-in support in the footnotes, which helped the reader keep up with all the various historical figures, provided context, and served as further avenues for reading and research for those inclined. The art style is on the sketchy side, but I feel it is still rather evocative and energetic. Overall, this book provided me a compelling and very informative reading experience.

Ken Krimstein created this book, and his extensive research is apparent from the plotting and footnotes. His comics work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The New Yorker, and other high profile venues. He has a collection of cartoons called Kvetch as Kvetch Can, and he also teaches at DePaul University. His prose writing has been published in McSweeney's. Krimstein speaks about his work on The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt in this print interview, this podcast interview, and in this comic.

The reviews I have read about this book have been largely positive. Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review that concluded, "A compelling performance with great pacing that makes abstruse political theory both intelligible and memorable." Publishers Weekly called it a "fascinating if cluttered biographical portrait." Bookmunch summed up, "Krimstein’s artistic style may not be to everybody’s tastes but the story he tells, of a woman who fought for the importance of thought itself, is one that needs telling and retelling."

The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt was published by Bloomsbury, and they offer a preview and more here.

The published provided a review copy.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Complete Matinee Junkie: Five Years at the Movies

The Complete Matinee Junkie was another book I got as part of backing Birdcage Bottom Books' Kickstarter for 2018. It collects four shorter books into one complete volume, like the title says. Given the title, I thought perhaps that this book was going to contain a series of illustrated movie reviews over the course of the titular five years, especially because now I have two small kids and do not get to the movies nearly as much as I used to. There is some movie criticism here, but mostly this book is a collection of autobiographical comics that use movie-viewing as a backdrop.
Instead of being disappointed, I was pleased by this book's tone and perspective. I really enjoyed the view into the day-to-day life of the narrator and his girlfriend, and I was frequently tickled by their various observations and comments. This book might not have been heavy reading, but I felt it was very relatable, great fun with a great sense of humor. Also, he reproduces all his movie tickets as part of the comics, a touch I loved.

Jordan Jeffries is the creator behind this series and collection. I do not know that much about him but you can check out some of his works here. He speaks about his work on the series and also his movie-going in this interview.

I was not able to find many reviews of this book, but the ones I have read have been positive. Publishers Weekly summed up, "Even the most lackadaisical theatergoer will be moved by Jeffries’s sincere and enduring love of all that makes cinema special." Ryan C. wrote, "It’s packed with enough witty and wry observation to satisfy cineastes from the casual to the committed."

The Complete Matinee Junkie: Five Years at the Movies was published by Birdcage Bottom Books, and they offer a preview and more info about it here.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

In the Future, We Are Dead

I got this book as part of backing Birdcage Bottom Books' Kickstarter for 2018. In the Future, We Are Dead is a collection of nine short stories about death. They are rendered in black, white, blue, and red, via color pencils, and I was quite taken with the artwork. It is mostly done in a realistic style, which combined well with the prose to create great effects. In the excerpt below, for example, it punctuates a thoughtful, philosophic moment with a hilarious, if dark, counterpoint.
This book explores a topic that touches all of our lives, and I feel that Müller's comics are at once deeply personal and also surprisingly universal. I felt with her as she described the deep fears she felt as a child about death and the potential afterlife. Not only was she preoccupied by the potential terrible causes of death, including sickness, nuclear war, or grave injury, but she also wondered about what would happen after.

These various stories touch on different periods of her life, and it was fascinating for me to see just how her thinking transformed over the course of the book. She began to imagine the ghosts of her relatives in her grandparents' living room, which had formerly been used a place for viewing the recently deceased.
She pondered the fate of mummified Buddhists while she practiced  yoga and struggled with the corpse pose (Savasana). She thought about her relationship with an elderly neighbor and how personal and distant it was. She also explored her familial relationships, particularly at her father's funeral, and when she attempted to view her own life through the eyes of her brother. I found this book to be profoundly thoughtful, relatable, and personable. It is an impressive North American debut, a graphic novel that explores both life and death in excellent fashion.

You can learn much more about this book's creator Eva Müller and her work by visiting her website. I am looking forward to checking out more of her comics as they become available in the US.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been glowing. Publishers Weekly concluded, "This reflective graphic novel looks the Grim Reaper in the face—and sees that he isn’t an enemy, after all." John Seven called it "a work of self-scrutiny that finds profundity by finding the commonality in what can seem so personal and singular to us." Robin Enrico called it "a strong North American debut for Müller as it showcases her artistic abilities and the breadth of her storytelling."

In the Future, We Are Dead was published by Birdcage Bottom Books, and they offer a preview and more information about it here. I also found another preview, featuring different pages here.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

I Am Young

I Am Young is a dazzling collection of short stories that use music as a springboard to explore people's relationships to others and themselves. It features one larger narrative that is broken up throughout the book. That story is about Miriam and George, who meet at a Beatles concert in the 1960s and fall in love. Their relationship does not really work out, though they do check in with each other from time to time over the span of decades, sort of When Harry Met Sally-style, but (SPOILER) without the happy ending. The Beatles are a backdrop to their interactions, as they check in after pivotal events such as John Lennon's assassination and George Harrison's death. The story is presented in black in white in a "big eye" cartoon style, and I love how these comics feature both characters' voices in letters to each other that appear on the top and bottom of each page. I think this format requires going back and looking at these pages multiple times, but I feel that it was very rewarding to do so.

Other stories in this book appear in color and in slightly different styles. They center on other characters and they music they listen to, but I feel thematically they are linked by issues of longing, searching for one's place in the world, and also exploring life in general. In "Baby Fat" a young woman named Roberta marries her friend Pepe in order to get him a draft deferment. For him, it involves no romance, but she wants something more out of it that does not deliver. For both, the relationship does not play out as expected.
"K.M. & R.P. & MCMLXXI (1971)" is about two young women in high school who bond over Tom Jones, Camus, and literature. Both strive to be novelists one day, but there are some strains and anxieties about life after school that drive a wedge into their friendship.
"Nana" depicts an exchange between two high school teenagers who are into The Carpenters. Even though they share a love for that group, they are divided by social status, as one girl is very popular and the other more marginalized. I loved how this story in particular represented how music can play a part in joining and dividing people.
"Alvin" is set in the 1980s and is about an African-American, teen-aged boy who is into Chuck Berry. He is able to intellectualize his fandom and speak against why it's not inherently nostalgic, but even though he is into rock-and-roll, he is still out of touch with his peers. The reasons why seem partly to lie in racial terms, and the complex ways that a person can find himself separated from others while employing a strong sense of identity are both fascinating to watch in terms of character and more social considerations.
I Am Young simultaneously does two things well: it made me think about people's situations and searches for identity, and it also moved me with their emotional states. I loved this book by M. Dean, and it is a strong and welcome introduction to her comics. She was the first recipient of the Creators for Creators grant, and she also created the webcomics The Girl Who Flew Away and Coming Soon: Regents Walk.

All the reviews I have read of this book have been positive. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review that concluded, "This stunning debut pulls off the rare feat of drawing about music with authenticity and charm." John Seven wrote about its complexities, noting, "It’s not a depiction of the importance of music in young folks, but an examination of its place in young identity and relationships." Etelka Lehoczky was lukewarm about some of these stories but impressed with M. Dean's art and concluded, "This book about the past makes you wonder what its author will do next." Derek and I also discussed this book on a recent episode of the Comics Alternative podcast.

I Am Young was published by Fantagraphics, and they offer a preview and more here.

A preview copy was provided by the publisher.

Monday, December 10, 2018


Lafayette!, the latest entry in the series Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales, is the first to return to the time period of the first volume. It covers the remarkable life of the upstart French general who contributed to the American victory in the Revolutionary War and also helped forge the alliance between the erstwhile British colonies and France. Also, of late he has been brought back into the public sphere via the wildly popular musical Hamilton.

As you might could tell from the cover, here Lafayette is generally depicted as a broad, boisterous presence, though his origins are shown to be pretty grim. He came from a long line of military figures. Orphaned by age 13, the Marquis was left with great wealth and a position as a commissioned officer. He married early, and bounced from place to place trying to figure out a direction for his life. Inspired by Masonic ideologies, he felt the need to support the cause of the US Colonies, and he went over to North America to offer his services to George Washington. He began small but took on greater roles with the Continental Army over time, eventually commanding US troops in a pivotal victory at Yorktown.
What I especially loved about this book was how it took historical figures and made them human and relatable. It's easy to think of them as mythic figures but here they are shown with regular emotions, flaws, and humorous affects. Also, like the other books in this series, it is jam-packed with facts, but Hale also injects good doses of humor and irony, which make this book both compelling and a joy to read. I don't know how he keeps such a consistent level of excellence across the entries in this series, but I am very glad he does.

I am pretty sure I have reviewed all the graphic novels created by Nathan Hale on this blog, and I think he is brilliant. He makes fantastic, informative, and inventive comics, and this series Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales is the best historical series in the graphic novel business, IMHO. His fiction work, like the sci-fi tale One Trick Pony and a duo of adapted folk tales Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack, is also excellent. He speaks about this book and his work in general in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Robert Greenberger wrote that "Hale’s pages are filled with detail, using black, white, and shades of red to vividly bring the past to life." Kirkus Reviews summed up, "Fans of history, Hamilton, and/or Hale’s previous entries will be clamoring for this latest volume."

Lafayette! was published by Amulet, and they offer a preview and more here.
My favorite couple of panels in the book. They made me LOL

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction

I am not going to lie, Hey, Kiddo made me cry. This book is a memoir about a young man who grows up to learn that his mother is a heroin addict and goes to live with his maternal grandparents, Joe and Shirl. They are brusque and caring, though they have their own issues with alcohol. Still, they take care of Jarrett in their way and instill in him a great many positive characteristics, chief among them a strong work ethic. They also support him in terms of him following his interests, and they are instrumental in making sure he had venues to create art, which was cathartic to him in many ways. Also, it led to opportunities down the road that resulted in a career in making comics (luckily for us all!).
His father is a mystery to him, and for much of his childhood he refuses to even acknowledge the man exists, not that he was present for Jarrett in any way. When he reaches later adolescence, Jarrett finally does make a gesture to meet him, and he learns about his half-siblings, with whom he builds relationships. There is so much about this book that speaks to what families are and how people try to find love and acceptance in this world, but none of it is sugar-coated. This book is powerful both in terms of its story and artwork. Both are subtle and nuanced. Hey, Kiddo is a slow burn with lots of emotional punch, and even though I was raised in very different circumstances, I found much to relate to and empathize with.
The book also benefits from a variety of media, such as letters, coasters, artwork, and various other artifacts used as chapter breaks. These really brought home the reality of these events and situations, making them have just that more of an emotional impact. I loved reading this book. It was sad, sweet, and incredibly moving. I am very glad that it exists in the world to be something that various aged readers, not just the YA set it is marketed toward, can engage with and learn from.

Krosoczka is best known for his series of Lunch Lady graphic novels for younger readers, and he has also contributed multiple volumes to the Star Wars Jedi Academy series. I met him a few years ago at Knoxville's Children's Festival of Reading, and he was a swell guy. Go check out his website for multiple versions of his biography as well as some random facts about him. It's worth the visit!

This book has garnered Krosoczka a lot of positive attention and praise. He has been profiled by both NPR and The New York Times. Most impressively, Hey, Kiddo was named a finalist for a National Book Award. The NYT's Patricia McCormick called it "brave" and "inspiring." In a starred review, Publishers Weekly summed up, "This nuanced graphic memoir portrays a whole family and tells a story of finding identity among a life’s complications."

Hey, Kiddo was published by Scholastic, and they offer more information about it here. This book features some profanity, but nothing beyond what a typical YA book might contain.