Rock Candy Mountain Volume 1 by Kyle Starks, colored by Chris Schweizer. Image, 2017. 9781534303171. Contains #1 – #4 of the series.
Starks’ hilariously violent graphic novel homage to 80s action films, Sexcastle, was one of my favorite books of 2014, and his follow-up was in the same vein and just as fun. His third creator-owned project is just as great.
It opens in 1948, with the Devil tearing up a hobo camp and all the men living there. (Starks has a real talent for making gruesome moments somehow fun, and Schweizer’s colors really add to that tone.) The Devil is looking for Jackson, who is elsewhere, jumping a train and helping out a young man returning to Kentucky after a run of bad luck in California. The pair soon run afoul of the hobo mafia’s boss, and Jackson has to show how good he is in a fight: “He’s got punch diarrhea and their faces are the toilet bowl.” Foul-mouthed government types are after him, too. Jackson’s motivation: he’s trying to get to Rock Candy Mountain. His secret: he traded his soul to the Devil. Complications abound, and so do hilarious and unexpected bits of dialogue.
Volume 2, which was just published, concludes the series.
Draw Stronger: Self Care for Cartoonists and Visual Artists by Kriota Willberg. Uncivilized Books, 2018. 9781941250235. 144p.
Most cartoonists I’ve worked with have experienced some kind of cartooning-related injury. Turns out drawing for hours on end, whether on a computer or desk or whatever, isn’t great for the body. This nonfiction graphic novel isn’t trying to replace a qualified healthcare provider for illustrators, but it does give a lot of useful advice for those who draw a lot (or, like me, spend all day hunched over a computer) and want to avoid pain and injury. After a discussion about not ignoring pain (a devious looking lightning bolt with evil eyebrows) and indications that it’s time to see a doctor (if your neck is tied in an actual knot, just call 9-1-1) there’s an explanation of repetitive stress injuries with an anatomy lesson. (Great, except that even thinking about my spine and how it moves always makes me queasy.) I desperately need to reread10 the section on posture, and I think we’d all be better off thinking and training like we’re athletes — changing how we work, getting enough rest, stretching, etc.
This is one of the more useful and approachable nonfiction comics I’ve read, and it’s right up there with Ellen Forney’s Rock Steady (which offers advice on living with bipolar, based on experience) in terms of its approach.
Pemmican Wars (A Girl Called Echo Volume 1) by Katherena Vermette, Scott B. Henderson, and Donovan Yuciuk. Highwater Press, 2018. 9781553796787. 47pp.
Echo is a thirteen-year-old Métis girl living in a group home and attending a new school. In her history class she falls asleep and finds herself having a realistic dream about being in the North-Westernern Territory in 1814 and witnessing a buffalo hunt. The next day she falls asleep at home, and when she again finds herself in 1814 it’s clear she’s not dreaming — which gives her a chance to make a friend and learn about her people firsthand.
I know this sounds a little like an After School Special, but the book doesn’t overuse words, is well written, and both Henderson’s art and Yaciuk’s colors are top notch. There’s more to love here including a teacher who prefers they / them pronouns and a difficult conversation between Echo and her mom. A timeline of the Pemmican Wars, a recipe for pemmican, and a few verses by Pierre Falcon at the back make this a great title for libraries. (The next book is due out in September.)
I know this isn’t cheap, but this is exactly the type of high quality, small press graphic novel that deserve librarians’ professional support.
An Eternity in Tangiers by Faustin Titi and Eyoum Nganguè. Translated by André Naffis-Sahely. Phoneme Media, 2017. 9781939419798. 47pp plus an afterward.
Nganguè is a Camaroonian journalist living in Paris. Titi is an Ivorian artist living in Abidjan. Together they have created a short, compelling, beautifully drawn graphic novel about a young man from a fictional African city on the Atlantic coast.
Gawa’s family practically bankrupted itself to purchase the influence of a local bigshot who promised to get Gawa to Europe. The young man leaves behind his fiancée and his mother to be taken north, across drier and drier lands, before being abandoned in the desert with little water and told to walk. They are delivered to Morocco where, despite warnings, they’re taken advantage of again in their desire to cross into Spain. He’s stuck in Tangiers, where his legal attempts to leave Africa are denied and his illegal attempts are unsuccessful. The only choice he’s offered is to sell his body. Tangiers is his prison.
I love everything about this book. It’s so uninflected, it leaves all of the feeling up to the reader, whether a moment shows would-be migrants drowning or a memory of student protestors being beaten and raped back in Gawa’s hometown. It’s simple, straightforward, and amazing.
Nunavik by Michel Hellman. Pow Pow Press, 2017. 9782924049358. 149pp.
I couldn’t make it to TCAF again this year, so I’m making it up to myself by ordering a few French and French Canadian graphic novels. I loved Hellman’s Mile End, a graphic novel about the neighborhood of the same name in Montreal, so ordering this was a no brainer. And it turns out to be a sequel, kinda — it starts with a conversation about it between Hellman and Pow Pow’s publisher on a bench in front of Wilensky’s, and then with Hellman trying to draw another book about his neighborhood before finally setting out on a trip to Canada’s north. (His wife thinks it’s an odd sort of mid-life crisis.)
Hellman flies via prop plane (with lots of stops) to Kuujjaq. The guy next to him on the plane wants to know if he’s going to hunt, find a girlfriend, or to escape child support payments, and can hardly believe he’s a tourist. But after they land he shows Hellman around, and it gave me a great sense of the place, a thriving metropolis of the North with about 2,200 people, a giant junk yard, and a rather sad bar scene. Hellman goes outside after a night of drinking to witness both the northern lights and an idiotic four-wheeler crash. And that night sets the tone: the people are friendly, the place is gorgeous and scary, and it’s beautiful and frustrating and somewhat exhausting to people from the south. He heads north to hike over tundra to Pingualuit Crater, traveling a bit with a film crew trying to capture a caribou migration, and generally has a trip I’d love to make (except for those low-flying, exceedingly long rides in prop planes). Hellman Includes bits about the local history and culture. Most unexpected fact: the Inuit love to golf, and villages have courses in the tundra. And I learned about the Dorset culture for the first time, a race of “giants” who inhabited the area before the Inuit.
The Unsound by Cullen Bunn and Jack T. Cole. Boom Studios, 2018. 9781684151783. Contains #1 – #6 of the series.
I don’t recommend many horror graphic novels, but this one was great.
When nurse Ashli Granger arrives at Saint Cascia for her first day of work, she finds a razor blade on the counter of the empty reception desk. It’s not the only indication that something’s not right with the place, but it’s hard to tell what’s off in a mental health facility that’s overcrowded, understaffed, and located in a building that looks straight out of a Munsters episode. Plus there are those three people hanging out together, leading people off, watching — do they work there? Are they patients? Are they demons or is that a trick of the light?
The dummy that talked to Ashli? That didn’t freak me out. The guy looking through the paper plate mask did, though. So did the visions of cutting, and the talking drain, and the three patients who told her the prince is waiting. There’s more than a little blood, a riot, and then a psychedelic chase through parts of the hospital that can’t possibly exist. And a whole lot more razor blades.
The writing is crisp, the settings are somewhere between A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hellraiser, and the colors hold the whole thing together, creating a vibe that varies between realistic, creepy, hallucinatory, and murderous.
Ringside Volume One: Kayfabe by Joe Keatinge and Nick Barber. Image, 2016. 9781632156952. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature. Contains issues #1 – #5 of the series.
Daniel Knossos was once known in the wrestling ring as Minotaur, but now he trains up-and-coming wrestlers at a school in Japan. Otherwise he wants nothing to do with his former fame. As the book opens he’s starting a trip home to the US on very personal business — trying to locate his former boyfriend, Teddy, who called him for help. But finding Teddy is tough, and Knossos needs the help of a very smart guy who works for his friend Andre’s bail bond office.
What’s amazing is that the few images of wrestling in the book are spectacular and absolutely left me wanting more, and the creative team holds back. Instead they use them as a backdrop, creating a contrast between choreographed and regular world violence, making the latter realistically horrific. (Ever been hit with a pipe wrench? Me, either. Let’s keep it that way.) They build the characters of Knossos and his friends, creating a story with emotional resonance in which being a tough guy charging at a problem is clearly not the best approach. And if you’re a fan of wrestling there’s a lot here for you, too — a look behind the scenes at the business courtesy a friend of Knossos’ who is still in the ring, and the green young wrestler he’s on the road with.