Automatically the Best Gift for Your Bookish Pals

Baking with Kafka by Tom Gauld. Drawn & Quarterly, 2017. 9781770462960.

This second collection of Gauld’s cartoons for The Guardian’s Review section, a sequel of sorts to You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, is crammed full of the sort of literature-based gag strips that you would immediately text or email to book-loving friends. Gauld covers genre conventions, stock characters, authors renowned and not yet discovered, and the unique life challenges of heavy readers  with some strips on art, history, and even crossword puzzles thrown in for good measure. It’s the perfect book to keep next to your stack of unread New Yorkers.

I (Heart) Sequential Art

Sequential Drawings by Richard McGuire. Pantheon Books, 2016.  9781101871591.

sequential-drawingsSpot illustrations from the pages of The New Yorker by the author of the graphic novel Here. Some are groups of related objects, others sequential. Luc Sante, in his introduction, points out that “McGuire has a special gift for endowing inanimate objects with personalities. He accomplishes this with the most minimal means.” In “Three Friends” a parking meter on a bent post looks like Munch’s The Scream. “Rock, Paper, Scissors” stresses violence as well as cooperation. (The entire sequence can be seen at the top of this GQ review.) “Flamingo Umbrella” starts with irritation but ends with pure delight. “Pigeon” is my favorite sequence — the birds’ poses perfectly express their ridiculousness.

The beautifully minimalist illustrations seem designed to remind me both that anything can be represented via a few simple lines and that creating such pleasing drawings requires a level of skill few possess.

And, you know, if you know a comics geek like me, there could be no better Valentine’s Day gift than this.

Coping with Art

It’s All Absolutely Fine: Life Is Complicated So I’ve Drawn It Instead by Ruby Elliot. Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2017. 9781449480424.

itsfineI saw Ruby Elliot’s comics passed around online, posted and reposted by people who felt the same way she does about coping with life and body image issues. They were funny and rang really true. This book is the first time I’ve read her heavier comics. 24-year-old Ruby Elliot has dealt with a lot in her life: an eating disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, and self-harm. She has been in some really dark places and survived. This isn’t inspiration porn, this is about feeling both emotionally raw and annoyed by having to struggle to just get through daily life. It’s frustrating. It’s demoralizing. Yet it’s also funny and hopeful.

Elliot’s voice is really strong and I’m looking forward to seeing her work as she matures. I think she’s going to be a world-changer (if she isn’t already).

My other favorite graphic novels on mental health issues: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, Marbles by Ellen Forney, Cat Rackham by Steve Wolfhard, and Psychiatric Tales by Darryl Cunningham.

Crazy Cats

Our Cats Are More Famous Than Us: A Johnny Wander Collection by Ananth Hirsh & Yuko Ota. Oni Press, 2017. 9781620103838. 416pp.

Collects Johnny Wander books 1-3, plus some bonus strips.

ourcatsLike a lot of great art, the best diary comic strips look effortless. They’re just little slices of daily life, right? But there’s a huge amount of art and skill that goes into setting the tone and telling of each. Johnny Wander tells stories of daily life in a light but not-too-sweet way: the rental house held together by spackle, the curry that came to Yuko in a dream (recipe included), and the ongoing conflict between Yuko’s love for real coffee and Ananth’s love for tooth-rattlingly sweet coffee drinks. I got to really like all of the characters: Ananth and Yuko, their roommates, their friends, Yuko’s parents, and (of course!) Ananth and Yuko’s cats. Comics fans might recognize appearances by Raina TelgemeierDave Roman, KC Green, and Rich Stevens.

This is a collection I’ll want to keep on hand. Reading Johnny Wander always makes me happy. Keep it with your emergency kit.

Fierce Bicyclists

Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection by Kate Beaton
Drawn and Quarterly, 2015

stepasidepopsKate Beaton, of course, is super awesome and funny. Her gag-strip humor range? Black Canary making friends with a heavy metal singer. Alexander Pushkin enters a cat show. The emotional fallout for a nasty boy called out in Janet Jackson’s Nasty Boys music video. Wuthering Heights jokes. Ida B. Wells. Hard as nails lady Victorian bicyclists. Extra bonus for book nerds: her strips riffing on Nancy Drew and Edward Gorey book covers.

Wow! Sweeet, Bro!

(We’re calling these posts where we try to surprise and delight each other with a book Book Wows!  Please let us know about amazing books we should look at together.)

sweet-broSweet Bro and Hella Jeff by Dave Strider. Designed with help from KC Green (, John Keogh (, David Malki ! ( and Andrew Hussie ( Topatoco, 2013. 184 pages.  9781936561032

You can still read the comics in this book online at

From Topatoco’s press release:

“Since the days of Gutenberg, publishers have tried to marry form with content in pleasing and impressive ways. And while there have been fancy books, and there have been bad books, never before in the history of the codex have the two been mismatched in so dramatic and pointless a fashion. Like a wrench torquing a bolt too hard and shearing off its head, so too does Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff completely and irrevocably break the notion of the printed book.”

G: There’s a fake coffee stain that’s part of the cover’s gloss laminate.

S: And it says “woopps.”  And there’s more on the back cover. A skate sticker. A piece of cheese with misplaced laminate. And there’s a raised area.

G: How long is this bookmark thing?

S: Pull it out. I had to wrap it up.

G:  It’s like 3 feet long.

S: And this is a commemorative coin.

G: On the inside front cover? Is it stuck there?

S: Yeah. I haven’t tried to take it off. I think it’s glued down. It says “Scotch tape zone.”

G: Oh my god. Ha!  Why are there pictures of Owen Wilson in this book? And what’s his name — is that Ben Stiller with a fake beard? Oh my god. (snorting)

S: The reason I had to purchase this is KC Green, one the people who helped with design of the book. The printers sent him page after page after page of “mistakes” telling him about problems with it. And he was like, no, that’s supposed to be like that. It’s full of these crazy meta book issues that upset the people who printed it. It reminds me of the first book of Barry Yourgrau’s NASTYbook series which was bound upside down on purpose, so you looked like an idiot while you were reading it (because the cover was upside down). The library rebound a couple of copies so it was right side up. They didn’t realize that it was a prank.

G: I can imagine. This is the craziest book with some of the weirdest layouts and the shittiest computer-aided drawing I’ve ever seen (though clearly it was done with purpose).

S: Bad drawing, bad reproduction.

G: Is this a coupon?

S: A fake Subway coupon.

G: For a sandwich that’s the size of bigfoot’s penis. (laughing) I don’t understand this book at all. WTF is this?

S: An animated bookmark of him falling down the stairs. There are two or three bookmarks in the book. And there’s a job application for Subway. A notes page. A picture of Jared. Page after page of nonsensical author notes.

G: What is this?

S: A fold-out page that says centaur fold. It’s a picture of a centaur.

G: (more snorting) Here’s a voucher for an overnight stay in a Subway restaurant.  And there’s a pocket in the back cover.

S: Yes, with a bookmark.

G: Is this a giant paperclip?

S: No. What does it say?

G: “Paperclop.”

S: And there’s a map, sort of. It’s the entire book.

G: $40 huh?

S: Totally worth it. This book is insane. It upsets people.