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Graphic Novelty²

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July 2022

IN.

Nick is a freelance artist who seems unable to connect with his few friends or even his family. Although he hits it off with a doctor he meets at a bar, and they quickly begin a sexual relationship, he is unable to connect with her in any meaningful way. He has quips for everything, yet he knows he is on the outside looking in, and wants to try harder to connect with people in his life but is unsure how to do so. The narrative shows him haltingly trying to push himself to engage, and when he does so, the illustrations switch from black and white to color. When a tragedy befalls him, he aches for what could have been if he had just tried connecting earlier.

At first, I had a hard time relating to Nick, as he seemed like a slacker who was a woke fuck-boy whose new girlfriend had to drag him towards maturity. But the story grew on me, as Nick matured and reached for a more meaningful life. While I liked author Will McPhail’s minimalist illustrations, and how he captured the feel of NYC, the eyes he drew for everyone drove me mad. All the eyes looked like googly eyes so everyone looked surprised and showed little emotional connection (maybe that’s the point?). He illustrates regularly for The New Yorker and his one-panel cartoons are wry and astute without the eye issue (or maybe it’s less obvious with one panel vs an entire book), so he obviously was making a stylistic choice for this book. Nevertheless, I’ll look for future books by McPhail, as he has an interesting voice.

Bird Box + Malorie

Bird Box (2014)

Author Josh Malerman took a possible horror trope- what if you can’t see- and turned it into an excellent harrowing thriller. Malorie is a young woman facing an unexpected pregnancy when the world starts to experience an apocalyptic disaster of people going mad once they see new creatures that have inexplicably appeared. With her family dead, she is able to make her way to a safe house where she joins other survivors who try to cope with this new world order.

While the book takes place in Malorie’s present day as she is trying to row to safety on a river with her two young children, her memories take us back to when the crisis started and continues through her travails with her housemates. The idea of having to blindfold yourself outside is terrifying, as her world constricts with little hope of salvation. While there were some problems with the narrative, especially in the timing of events regarding the birth scene, I was captivated by the entire book. I very much look forward to watching the movie next and comparing the two. (Aside- Sandra Bullock portrayed Malorie well in the Netflix movie, and it had a diverse cast. It changed up a few things but was a solid adaptation)

Malorie (2020)

As a big fan of Bird Box, and pleased that it ended on an optimistic note, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read Malorie but I’m glad I did. After a few years at the School for the Blind, chaos erupts and Malorie and her two children, Tom and Olympia, are on the run again. They happen unto an abandoned summer camp and make their home there for a decade, but their life there is interrupted by someone who brings them news of the outside world. The trio ventures out once they hear that Malorie’s parents might be alive and that there is a train that can take them northward. Tom and Olympia, now teens, have been kept safe by their mother and her many rules but are chaffing and want to be in the larger world. Tom, who is an inventor, learns of a town that has people who are trying to live with the creatures that have overtaken their world, and Olympia is hiding a huge secret from both her brother and mother. The idea of traveling 30 miles with a blindfold on and surrounded by creatures that will turn you mad if you see them, is horrifying, and things of course spiral out of control for them, even after finding the train. The conclusion was rushed, after a slow start, but it again ended optimistically with a chance for salvation for this family that preserved despite overwhelming odds.

Love Death + Robots: Season Three

Love Death + Robots is back with season three! With a scifi/fantasy concept, the different episodes somehow play to the themes of love, death and robots (although not every episode has a robot per se) and are very adult in nature. In fact, a quote that they are for “mature, messed up adults” is right on the money. I feel seen by that description!

The animation styles differed wildly from episode to episode, with some being cartoony while others were photo-realistic. Some of the stories were funny, others heartbreaking, but all were good in their own way. Often in a collection of short stories, there will be some clunkers, but all of the episodes were strong.

Three Robots: Exit Strategies

The three wise-cracking robots from season one have yet another post-apocalyptic trip, surveying the wreckage of a planet whose people died, when greed and poor planning doomed them. Of course, there are uncomfortable parallels to our world today. It had a cutesy animation style.

Bad Travelling

A thanapod, an enormous man-eating crustacean, boards a ship and attacks the sailors. They are forced to sail it to an island so the giant crab can attack the inhabitants, but the captain wants to fool the creature by sailing to a farther away uninhabited island, putting the crew in danger for longer. When the crab has babies, the danger increases- who will prevail?

The Very Pulse of the Machine

An astronaut is exploring Jupiter’s moon Lo, when her partner dies in an accident. She begins to hallucinate as she tries dragging her partner’s body to the space shuttle. I was unclear what really happened at the end.

Night of the Mini Dead

The shortest episode features sped-up characters battling a zombie apocalypse. Two horny teens inadvertently cause the world to end, but it’s only a blip in the entire space cosmos.

Kill Team Kill

Animated to remind you of GI Joe, a team of Green Berets encounters a cybernetic bear. Don’t become too attached to any of the characters! This episode had some fun raunchy dialogue.

Swarm

A scientist travels to a planet to study its ecosystem and meets another researcher there. They are both amazed at how the animals co-exist within a caste system, and he hopes to utilize them to benefit Earth. Threatened, the swarm assimulates one of the scientists, but the other vows to fight against becoming a symbiote species to the intergalactic hive.

Mason’s Rats

In a futuristic Scotland, a farmer’s barn is overrun by rats. He calls in a pest company and hi-tech machines battle the rats until a truce is called. The animation was Pixar-ish and relied on sight gags.

In Vaulted Halls Entombed

A team of soldiers try to rescue a hostage and get lured into a mountain tunnel and are soon surrounded by Lovecraftian creatures. Their numbers are depleted until only two soldiers survive when they are confronted by a Cthulhu-type diety. One soldier is seen staggering away, but her eyes and ears are missing and she is muttering an alien language. What awaits her and anyone she encounters?

Jibaro

This was a perfect episode to conclude the season with- it was so amazingly unique with outstanding life-like animation. Based on a Puerto Rican folktale, a group of conquistadors and priests get seduced by a siren who lures them to their death in a lake. A deaf knight survives and two become entranced with one another. But when he leaves her for dead, and her blood restores his hearing, he too joins his comrades in a watery grave.

My favorite two episodes in this short season were Bad Travelling and Jibaro, but this series has something for anyone no matter what type of art style or storytelling they prefer. Here’s to hoping for a season four!

Later

Later is a short horror novel by Stephen King, that could best be compared to the movie The Sixth Sense as the young teen Jamie can see dead people, but that would do it a disservice as this book is more than that.

Jamie has always had the ability to see and speak to dead people, but only his single mother knows, who wisely tells him to keep his abilities to himself. Sadly, she does not follow her own advice and tells her cop girlfriend, who then uses Jamie’s abilities to her own ends. The first time she does so, a demon attaches to him with dire consequences. Told from Jamie’s perspective, this is more a slice-of-life story with supernatural underpinnings, rather than the horror story it claims to be. This pulp-style book gave me a Pet Sematary vibe, and other reviewers said it reminded them of It, but I never finished that book as it was much too long (I much prefer his smaller books and short stories). The ending tied up some loose ends, and it didn’t quite end on a cliffhanger, yet the narrative could definitely be picked up for more stories in the future. If so, I am ready for more adventures with Jamie! 

Step Aside, Pops

Step Aside, Pops is a continuation of Kate Beaton’s popular Hark! A Vagrant. It includes awesome riffs on history and literature and is done so in an intelligent and hilarious manner.

Beaton who is now a regular contributor to the New Yorker, was formally a history major and worked in museums for a time, takes her sharp wit and skewers historical and literary figures with a modern lens. She illustrates in black and white and sketches out caricatures of recognizable people in absurd situations. Her ironic strips point out the foibles of the past, and how that would play out in the modern day. No one is immune from her humor- as she pokes fun at America’s Founding Fathers, Frédéric Chopin, Nancy Drew, superheroes, Puritans, plus so many others.  I found the satire surrounding the characters of well-loved novels the most amusing, especially about how horrible Heathcliff is in Wuthering Heights. An additional bonus is the commentary she added at the bottom of some of the pages. The only criticism I have is some of her drawing’s dialogue is very small, and unless it is in bold, it is hard to read.

Check these smart cartoons out yourself on her blog: http://www.harkavagrant.com/ I would definitely recommend this witty collection of strips, especially if you have rolled your eyes at a ridiculous plot point, literary trope or questionable historical fact. Enjoy!

Wonder Woman’s outfit was so obviously designed by a man- what woman wants to run around in a bathing suit and heels?!

Suicide Woods

This short story collection was excellent! The ten stories were all atmospheric and wonderfully creepy. I first became aware of the author as the writer of the excellent Wolverine podcasts, but am now glad I looked up other work by him and will now search out other novels by him.

The Cold Boy- The visiting nephew of a taxidermist falls through the ice in his backyard pond and comes out changed. It had a Pet Semetary vibe.

Suspect Zero-A woman con artist is underestimated, much to the dismay of those who interact with her. The train intro was intriguing.

The Dummy- A female high school student who wrestles is attacked by a fellow teammate but the stuffed dummy she had been practicing on, seems to save her.

Heart of a Bear- This was a strange tale that was never going to end well for the family involved. A bear is entranced by a family and becomes human-like for a time, without the townspeople noticing.

Dial Tone- Don’t underestimate the quiet man working alongside you. His mild manner could be covering a black heart.

The Mud Man- A busy man accidentally creates a doppelganger out of mud, but this mud man starts to become more engaged with his family life than he was. Another tale of people accepting a strange creature in their midst without raising the alarm.

Writs of Possession- More a sad slice-of-life story about evictions than a horror story. A deputy steels herself for the sorrow she has to witness as she evicts people from their homes.

The Balloon- A pandemic story that was written before our current crisis so it feels strangely prophetic.

Suicide Woods- My least favorite story, yet the book’s namesake. Suicidal individuals have joined a support group that has a radical way to make them appreciate life again.

The Unchartered- This last story is more a novella, and could have been fleshed out into a full novel. A woman working for a mapping company hires a trio of adventurers to chart some islands off the coast of Alaska where some previous workers have gone missing. On a whim, she joins them, but their small plane crashes and the survivors are sucked into a mind-bending and horrific experience.

These stories all have a sinister edge to them and I enjoyed all of the dark tales.

100 Bullets: Volumes 1 & 2

I’ve heard of this older noir series that ran from 1999- 2009 with 100 issues, but never checked it out until now, which is surprising as I like darker stories. And it certainly lived up to the hype I had heard about it…

First Shot, Last Call

Dizzy Cordova is a young Latina recently released from jail who is mourning the death of her husband and infant son who were gunned down while she was away. While on the bus home Agent Graves sits next to her and gives her a briefcase with an unmarked gun and 100 bullets to exact revenge on those that killed her family. We get a lengthy look at her gang-infested neighborhood and the hard life she and other women are living, showing how few possibilities await Dizzy. She finds out who betrayed her while she was in jail and exacts her revenge. We also get a shorter story about a bartender who was ruined by fake child-porn accusations, and Graves also gives him supplies to kill and tells him who is to blame.

The art by Eduardo Risso is very unique- characters at first seem like caricatures and the illustrations are very angular and dark-hued. But the urban decay is actually captured realistically and this art technique pays off in helping set the style for the entire series.

Split Second Chance

At first, I was under the impression the series would be short stories, only linked by the mysterious Graves, but author Brian Azzarello has a longer more ambitious story in mind. While some of these vignettes might prove to be stand-alones, readers begin to get a backstory on Graves and his shady connections. A character from volume one shows up and we are pulled into a conspiracy that runs deep. The central question is who is Graves and why does he pick the people he does to become vigilantes? Not all are successful for various reasons, but truth be told, I found some of the shorter stories more interesting than some of the longer linked stories. That one about the waitress was heartbreaking and unexpected.

The stylized art keeps you riveted, and while not everyone might like the look, it matches the stories and helps the series stand out. I’m unsure if I will continue reading further into the series, as it is a big commitment with 13 volumes, and conspiracy storylines are prone to becoming too convoluted. So while I plan to set the rest of the series aside for now, I have a feeling the story will pull me back in eventually.

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