Mo’ Money

Monet: Itinerant of Light by Salva Rubio (writer) and Richard Efa (art). English translation by Montana Kane. NBM, 2017. 9781681121390. 112pp.

I’m not an art expert and I don’t read many biographies — I’m a guy who races through museums, often giggling with my daughter, to find the few works that catch my attention and make me stare at them. I’ve been caught up by a few of Monet’s huge, bright paintings but know little of him or the Impressionist movement — it’s worth noting that Efa’s art and design pays homage to many of his works — but I was still surprised how much I enjoyed this beautiful graphic novel.

The book opens late in the painter’s life, in 1923, with Monet reluctantly getting much-needed cataract surgery, fearing for his vision, and then reflecting on his life. Art was the only thing that took young Monet out of his grief over his mother’s death, and his first mentor was Boudin, who helped him see nature and taught him to paint it outside. Soon Monet dropped out of school, against his father’s wishes, and moved to Paris. But the school he attended there didn’t help him realize his vision, and through many struggles (financial, emotional, internal) he had to find his way to success and acceptance in the art world. He wasn’t always the nicest guy to his family, but his single-mindedness really made me admire him.

As Rubio notes opposite the last page, this is not a history book — a lot of license was used to develop characters, and the works are not always presented in the order they were created. But it gave me a great sense of the artist and his time.

For librarians and art lovers: At the end are 16 pages of reproduced art works (not all by Monet) and the panels in the book they inspired. (If I were going to read this for the first time, I’d probably start with his section, but only because I’m unfamiliar with so many of the paintings that are referenced. But discovering it at the end of my read had me flipping back through the book and enjoying it again, which was fun, too.)

Dinosaur vs Robot

There’s nothing better than checking in on graphic novel series I loved, finding out I’m 6 books behind, and realizing they’re all excellent. This isn’t an experience I’ve ever had before, but I just checked out a stack of Atomic Robo books at the Seattle Public Library. Here are the two I read last night.

Atomic Robo Volume 7: The Flying She-Devils of the Pacific by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener. Red 5 Comics, 2013.  9780986898525. Contains issues #1 – #5 of the series.

A post-WWII pirate adventure set in the South Pacific! Starring a group of jet packing, sky ship flying badasses keeping the world safe! (Plus, of course, that Tesla-invented, atomic-powered adventuring robot we all love.) There are misguided villains, amazing rescues, and a few spectacular dogfights. It’s all totally fun.

And (really cool) all of the She-Devils are based on women working in comics who Clevinger and Wegener have met: Lee Black, Yuko Ota, Lauren Pettapiece, Lindsay Small-Butera, Elizabeth Robbins, Veronica Fish, Sara Richard, and Bridgit Scheide.

Atomic Robo Volume 8: The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener. Red 5 Comics, 2014. 9780986898563. Contains #1 – #5 of the series, plus the Atomic Robo Free Comic Book Day 2013 story.

This one starts on Tesladyne Island in 2013. Atomic Robo’s popularity is at an all time low, so when cryptids are sighted in Venezuela, he leads the mission, which is suspiciously close to the heart of a base for the secret Nazi space program. Back at home, there’s some trouble when a nuclear weapon is delivered to Tesladyne. And what Atomic Robo and his team find underground in Venzuela has something to do with that, too — but it’s more about a deranged dinosaur “genius” with Marty Feldman eyes, silicate life forms, and maybe the Hollow Earth theory. The dino has an insane plot to wipe mankind from existence, which is a great excuse for adventure (and a lot of jokes). Good stuff.

I’d tell you how it ends, but it seems like a bit of a spoiler. It’s kind of a cliffhanger that leads right into the next book (which I’m reading tonight).

Bald Outliers

Tsu & the Outliers by Eric Johnson. Uncivilized Books, 2018. 9781941250242. 112pp.

Tsu is a kid that never speaks, and he’s bullied by kids who call him a freak. And he’s got powers of some kind — he can either speak with or control a Sasquatch (who visually reminds me a bit of Swamp Thing). After an episode involving a crashed bus, two cryptid hunters (one is a monkey, the other is something stranger) are on his trail. It all gets weird and dangerous and action packed, and Tsu ends up the bait in a trap for his buddy.

The action sequences have a berserk energy that I really enjoyed, and I’m a fan of books like this that use only one color of ink on a page (though there are two on the cover). It’s weird and fun and a little bit groovy — everything I hope for in a small press graphic novel.

Bald Knobber: a graphic novella by Robert Sergel. Secret Acres, 2018. 9780999193518. 84pp.

Unless you’re a student of American history, you’re probably looking the cover and worrying about what sorts of sex sites you’ll pull up if you Google “bald knobber.” That’s what I thought, anyway, though the truth is weirder. The bald knobbers were a vigilante group in 1880s Mississippi who wore horned black hoods. And despite the weird headgear they were guys who mostly sided with the North during the Civil War, at least according to Wikipedia and a few other articles I read online.

If you want to know a little more about them, read this book. When Cole tells his classmates about a book he read over the summer, Bald Knobbers: Vigilantes of the Ozarks, he pulls on his own horned hood before reading his report. The report appears in title boxes as we see what happened to Cole over the summer, which starts him being shuttled between his separated parents, who are both seriously pissed off at each other. There’s also his mom’s live-in boyfriend Brad, who Cole doesn’t like, and an asshat of a neighborhood bully who talks crap about Cole’s mom while burning insects with a magnifying glass. You know: typical children of divorce stuff. (Or at least it’s all very close to what I remember from my childhood, except for the hood.) I won’t ruin Cole’s vigilante justice against Brad, but it’s hilarious. Things between Cole’s parents keep getting worse as the parallels between Cole’s story and the history of the Bald Knobbers becomes clear. The end of both stories kind of beautifully peters out, though things aren’t quite finished between Cole and the bully.

The book is full of black ink, like the fabulous Teenagers from Mars. It’s deadpan and sad and realistic, and Cole’s dad is something of an alcoholic, so I really appreciated the laughs it provides. Some teens will, I’m sure, love this book, but I unreservedly recommend it to adults whose parents were divorced when they were kids. In fact I think I’ll get my middle sister a copy for her birthday.

The Goonies Gone Bad

4 Kids Walk Into A Bank: A Torrid Tale of Child Crime by Matthew Rosenberg, Tyler Boss, and Thomas Mauer. Black Mask, 2017. 9781628751888. Contains # 1 – #5 of the series.

This is flat out the funniest book I’ve read this year. It evokes 80s nostalgia for me the way Paper Girls does. Everything from the color to the pacing to the lettering combines with the art and design to make for a pitch perfect graphic novel. And it’s a crime story starring four pre-teens. Most chapters of the book open with some kind of role-play: literal D&D-type stuff, video games, toys. I wish I could go back in time and buy this as it came out in individual issues, because the covers (which I saw in the gallery in the back) are brilliant.

Paige (a foul mouthed, tough tomboy), Pat (a tall, awkward nerd), Berger (once you know he named his role-playing character Crotch the Sticky you know everything about him), and Walter (a shy scientist type) are heading out for ice cream with Paige’s dad after a role-playing catastrophe when four bad guys arrive at the door. Paige insults them and gets punched. Berger shoots an orc warlord into a dude’s eye. And then Paige’s dad pulls out the shotgun to make them to leave. That’s not the end of it, though. The kids find out Paige’s dad does know the guys, despite his denials, and that he owes them, so he’s going to help them rob a bank. To save her dad, Paige convinces her friends that they need to rob it first.

Most of the humor is in the conversations the kids have, and my favorite parts are when they’re talking at night via CB radio. (They even manage to pull a local pervert, who goes by the handle Doctor Gloryhole, into their heist.) There are Tarantino-esque moments, like when Paige sets a guy on fire, and everyone supplies their share of laughs, including a nearly silent foreign exchange student. Does the heist go as planned? No. Do people get shot? Yep. Will angry parents protest outside your library if their kids bring this book home? Only if they read it closely. And I hope they do — I’d love to see this book get all of the publicity it deserves.

B-15

Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, Joy San. Image Comics, 2018. 9781534307506. 80pp.

The story of Elle and her soulmate, Mari, opens in a home for seniors in 2038 (Elle is telling her story to a young woman who needs to hear it) and quickly flashes back to the day in 1963 when Elle first saw Mari. They’re best friends for years, and for a while Elle doesn’t know how to talk about her feelings for Mari. And then it becomes clear to everyone that they love each other in a way they’re not supposed to, which freaks their church-going families out. Mari is sent away to get married. Elle’s father makes her marry James the following year, and they start a family when he gets back from Vietnam. And the thing is it’s an amazing family, and they’re as happy as they can be without actually being in love. So when Elle finally meets Mari again (after quite a few decades of marriage), it’s clear to both of them what they’ve been missing. (This isn’t a spoiler if you look at the cover before you open the book.)

It’s a joyous, colorful, well told story full of love and hope. I don’t normally like framing stories in this “let me tell you about the past” way but it works here, and there’s a secondary reason for it that becomes clear at the end of the book. All in all this book is delightful, and I can’t imagine a public library in the world that shouldn’t have a graphic novel about grandmas in love on its shelves.)

Inhumanoids, Inhumanoids…

I subscribe to other review newsletters, I get notified every time my local library system buys a graphic novel, I haunt comic shops, and still it’s hard to get a handle on what great European graphic novels Humanoids is publishing in the U.S. Here are two that you’ll probably never come across unless you’re looking:

The Retreat by Pierre Wazem & Tom Tirabosco. Translated by Mark Bence. Humanoids, 2017. 9781594656156. 112pp.

Two friends, Serge and Igor, take a melancholy trip to the country to stay at their friend Matt’s family cabin in the woods (in Bordeaux, France, I think). It’s the last place they spent time with Matt before he died, and it’s the story of both trips and the conversations they had.

Serving this simple, touching, straightforward story, Tirabosco’s art feels thick and creamy, like he used mostly white crayons or pencils or the like on black paper. The color and texture of the paper, as well as the light application of white and some very strategic erasing seems to have played a role in really making the blacks pop off the page. Or maybe I’m totally wrong, I’m just guessing — but I’ve never seen anything that looks quite like this.

Adrift by Gregory Mardon. Translated by Mark Bence. Humanoids, 2017. 9781594658396. 116pp.

Adrift takes place mostly in the past as Mardon tells the life story of his grandfather, Adlophe “Dodo” Hérault. In 1937, at age 16, determined not to spend his life as a butcher’s boy in Douai, France, he joined the navy…where he immediately started working as a butcher. He got to see the world, though his crazy shenanigans often landed him in the brig. (One of my favorite scenes is of a bar fight he starts somewhere near Hong Kong. The crazy stuff he did is best discovered on your own, some of it quite funny.) When WWII breaks out and France is invaded, the tone of his story gets much less goofy, and he never does quite forgive the British for shelling the French naval vessel he was on. (The Brits feared the French would surrender to the Axis.) His love for the woman who would become Mardon’s grandmother is amazing, as is their life in northern Africa until they’re forced to relocate to France. His gruff exterior and his grandson’s love for him make the very end of his life that much harder and more touching.

This book reminds me of Guibert’s Alan’s War and How The World Was, rememberances of the life of his friend Alan Cope, an American who settled in France after WWII. Though I have to say, this also reminds me of my own gruff-seeming and entirely loving grandfather, especially of watching him shave.

The book is black and white and looks as if it was inked. The blacks and grays have a beautiful texture, particularly the shadows, that I’ve got no idea how Mardon achieved — it’s stunning.

Blow Your Own Bubble

Gumballs by Erin Nations. Top Shelf, 2018. 9781603094313. 160pp.
Reprints Gumballs #1 – #4 plus some additional material.

Nations’ mostly autobiographical comics vary in length from a single, page-sized panel to multipage vignettes. His square-jawed characters (and he himself) are at their best when expressing their awkwardness. If you’ve heard anything about this book, it’s probably that Nations is transgender, and it’s worth noting (because it’s at the heart of his story), but so is the fact that he’s a triplet. This isn’t a one-note After School Special of a book —  it has so much more to relate to, like “The Indecisive Cat,” “Things That Scared the Shit Out Of Me When I Was A Kid” (including both Max Headroom and Carol Anne in the original Poltergeist movie), and the awkward personal ads scattered throughout (Candace, I’m ready to hang out and play board games). The comics are great, particularly the colors and pacing, and they did make me reflect a little more on my own social awkwardness and, of course, all of the things I don’t have to worry about as a cisgender, heterosexual white dude.

I hope some of those extra pages include more personal ads!