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The 7 Best Graphic Novels of Spring 2016

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Sharp edges and blurred lines abound in these graphic novels, many of which push the boundaries of their genre. Get a literary high with Doonesbury’s marijuana whisperer, or wax dangerous with some Dixie vixens. How about K.I.T.T. and Michael Knight vs. The Showman Killer, in a showdown for your afternoon reading? You can go for whimsy with the Smurfs, a strong narrativ with lucky Penny, or even learn, in a touching, tactile way, about what it’s like to live with Parkinson’s. The diverse nature of these titles helps to clarify why graphic novels are grabbing such attention.

Dixie Vixens Vol 1

A Lit Cigarette

Book Cover
Adrian F. Wassel
Nathan C. Gooden
Michael Colangelo
Creative Mind Energy
Unknown
978-1-939424-13-6
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Adrian Wassel takes his southern background and warps it through the monochromatic lens of Nathan Gooden and Michael Colangelo’s art, in Dixie Vixens: A Lit Cigarette. The book follows three recent New York college graduates as they set off on a road trip to the South. The girls stumble into trouble in the form of a gathering of the Ku Klux Klan and a corrupt sheriff, who together have abducted a pair of Latino cowboys. While the three main characters aren’t exactly unique—a blonde knockout, a short-haired computer geek, and a brunette who is both sexy and serious—they are likeable, and they show some depth as they debate the ethics of hunting or using their bodies to get what they want from men. Wassel sets a masterful pace, and tension rises steadily throughout the book. The artwork is moody, distinctive, and different, with the expert use of a limited watercolor palette turning what would have been a pretty good black-and-white comic into a striking color standout. There’s some talk by Wassel in the author’s note of “subverting stereotypes,” and while it’s not evident in this volume, between that intriguing statement and a classic cliff-hanger ending, part two can’t come quickly enough.

PETER DABBENE (February 29, 2016)

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The Weed Whisperer

A Doonesbury Book

Book Cover
G. B. Trudeau
Andrews McMeel Publishing
Hardcover $29.99 (176pp)
978-1-4494-7224-5
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

G. B. Trudeau shows why he’s been a fixture on the comic strip pages for over forty years. The Weed Whisperer is the newest collection of his Doonesbury strips. The title refers to longtime character Zonker’s plan to move to Colorado and get rich selling marijuana legally, but there are several other amusing, and often hilarious, ongoing storylines, as well as a generous dollop of contemporary political and social satire. There are trenchant reflections of modern life—journalist Roland Hedley’s inane tweets, riffs on the effect of smartphones on personal interaction, and, of course, the effects of the legalization of marijuana. Trudeau also tackles meatier subjects like the treatment of women in the military and the difficulties faced by educated women who also want children.

It’s a treat to see even Trudeau’s daily strips rendered in color here. While some creators’ comic strips are daily islands unto themselves, Doonesbury is one that benefits from being read sequentially. The experience of reading a collection like this one, instead of one strip per day in a newspaper, is even more valuable in light of Trudeau’s past sabbaticals and his current policy of reprinting old strips daily, offering new ones only on Sundays. There may be less new Doonesbury forthcoming, but The Weed Whisperer shows that Trudeau’s wit is as strong and merciless as ever.

PETER DABBENE (February 29, 2016)

Lucky Penny

Book Cover
Ananth Hirsh
Yuko Ota
Oni Press Inc.
Softcover $19.99 (208pp)
978-1-62010-287-9
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Lucky Penny features a young woman who’s on her own, but hasn’t quite figured life out yet. It seems Penny’s luck is all bad, as she loses her job and her apartment, and ends up living in a storage unit and working at the local laundromat. She develops a romantic interest in a young man who works at the gym nearby, and trades barbs with the twelve-year-old who runs the laundromat for his parents. There’s also a bit of suspense when Penny’s storage unit is broken into, but despite the plot twists, this graphic novel succeeds on the ability of Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota to bring Penny and the other characters to life in a simple, quirky, charming way. Ota has worked on a long list of publications, and she shows an expert hand in visual storytelling. She draws Penny’s eyes using a myriad of styles: huge and watery, as black dots or narrow slits, with no pupils or extra-wide pupils. In a hysterical three-panel sequence, she uses this range to perfectly express Penny’s panicked realization that she’s packed her car keys deep within the contents of her apartment.

Penny is a poor soul who makes bad decisions, but she’s lovable throughout, and memorable even after the last page has been read. The graphic novel universe should consider itself lucky to have her.

PETER DABBENE (February 29, 2016)

Showman Killer

Heartless Hero

Book Cover
** Alexandro Jodorowsky**
** Nicolas Fructus , illustrator**
Titan Comics
Hardcover $15.99 (56pp)
978-1-78276-139-6
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Alejandro Jodorowsky and Nicolas Fructus bring a vivid and violent world to life in Showman Killer: Heartless Hero. At first glance, Showman Killer fits the mold of the stories Heavy Metal magazine is known for: there’s some nudity, some crudity, and lots of ingenuity. But Jodorowsky’s vision is even more cinematic, as he introduces a mad doctor who creates an emotionless, perfect “Showman Killer.” The doctor dresses up his creation with makeup and says, “I don’t want you to be considered as a human being, but as a character.” Translated from its original publication in French, the dialogue can sometimes be a bit choppy, but the main drawback is that throughout most of the book, there’s no one in particular to root for. The killer is ruthlessly effective, but he shows no real humanity until he’s entrusted with the care of a baby, near the end of the story. Despite the book’s beautiful artwork and richly developed fictional universe, and the author’s eccentric sense of humor, it’s this glimpse of more depth to the Showman Killer that gives a measure of satisfaction, as well as anticipation of the two future volumes that are planned.

PETER DABBENE (February 29, 2016)

Knight Rider

Knight Strikes

Book Cover
Adam Warren
Chuck Dixon
Frank Hanna
Garry Brown, illustrator
Jason Johnson, contributor
IDW Publishing
Softcover $17.99 (132pp)
978-1-63140-485-6
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Lion Forge Comics has resurrected several 1980s television properties into comic-book form—including Airwolf and Miami Vice—and Knight Rider: Knight Strikes aims to do the same for K.I.T.T. (a heavily modified talking car with plenty of useful gadgets and weapons), Michael Knight (K.I.T.T.‘s operator), and the world developed in both the original Knight Rider series and previous revisitations. There’s plenty of action in this collection, though not a lot of character development, an absence that might be explained by the use of different writers for each of the six tales included in this volume. These stories do their best to make Knight Rider relevant in the twenty-first century, with plots revolving heavily around computers and advanced technology. The dialogue, particularly from the integrated computer/car K.I.T.T., is often stilted, and considering the amount of history between K.I.T.T. and Michael, it would seem natural that their relationship would eventually develop into something more substantial than just discussing how to defeat the bad guys. Fans of the original series should enjoy this volume, but future efforts might need to push into new territory to keep things interesting.

PETER DABBENE (February 29, 2016)

The Smurfs and Friends

Book Cover
Peyo
Papercutz
Hardcover $19.99 (192pp)
978-1-62991-199-1
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Pierre Culliford, better known as Peyo, is famous as the creator of The Smurfs, but Papercutz shows that he had more than just those little blue gnomes to offer in The Smurfs & Friends. The book is a compilation of some of Peyo’s other work, better known in Europe, featuring Johan, a young hero of medieval times, and Benny Breakiron, a French boy who possesses superpowers but is susceptible to ability-robbing colds. These non-Smurf tales make up over half of the book, but for pure Smurfophiles, there’s “The Flute Smurfers,” written by Peyo’s son for the fiftieth anniversary of the well-known story “The Smurfs and the Magic Flute.” “The Flute Smurfers” serves as a prequel to the earlier tale, and features Johan and Peewit, Johan’s sidekick. Also included is a smattering of Smurf newspaper comic strips to round out the collection. While some Smurf fans may not be interested in the non-Smurf material, completists and those interested in Peyo’s other efforts will enjoy both the works themselves and Matt Murray’s detailed historical notes.

PETER DABBENE (February 29, 2016)


Peter Dabbene
Peter Dabbene wrote the graphic novels Ark and Robin Hood. He is a reviewer for Foreword Reviews, and his poetry and stories have been published in many literary journals, collected in the photo book Optimism, and in the story collection Glossolalia. His latest books are Spamming the Spammers and More Spamming the Spammers.

Peter Dabbene

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