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PG Tips No. 21:

Paul Gravett's Recommended Reading

In a regular series of PG Tips articles, Paul Gravett reviews books of and about comics from his recommended reading list.


Rumble Strip
by Woodrow Phoenix
Myriad Editions
£12.99
"If you want to get away with murder, buy a car." Woodrow Phoenix understands both the allure and danger of driving; his sister died in a car crash when she was 11, and yet he loves his Audi A3. So he’s perfectly placed to deliver this passionate wake-up call about the absurdities of road deaths, over 1.2 million of us worldwide each year. How can killer-drivers so often get away with little more than a fine, reprimand, and perhaps a temporary ban? His unique approach drops all dialogue and balloons and uses only captions for his ascerbic, discomforting commentary, accompanied by subjective views of roads and their painted markings of directions and abstract figures, eerily devoid of any cars or real people. Without showing a single human being, this is an extraordinarily human book, whose ideas and questions about how the car impacts on your life will echo in your mind long after you’ve finished reading it, whether you’re a driver, or a pedestrian, or both. Mind how you go…


Twelve Hour Shift
by Sean Azzopardi
Phatcatz
£6.95/$14
You’ve probably barely noticed them, those anonymous men on the front desks of big buildings, concierges, porters, security. You might grumble about working nine-to-five, but imagine the tedium of their twelve-hour shifts? Sean Azzopardi knows all too well, but luckily he has an outlet, his alter ego Steve Jones, through which to exorcise some of his experiences and feelings. Now after three years of self-publishing short stories, he’s put twenty into this 148-page collection, about the anguish of resigning from a permanent post, the unpredictability and detachment of temping, the horrors of officious bosses, the daily commute, the awful uniforms, and breaking one of the golden rules of portering: never fall asleep at the desk. What comes through is the pleasure Sean finds in cartooning about the everyday strangeness he encounters. As he concludes, "Thank goodness for a life of living in my head."


Skim
by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki
Groundwood Books
$18.95  
On the cover, shielding her eyes from the sun, she has the oval, moon-white face, petite mouth and high eyebrows of a Japanese courtesan from an 18th century ‘Floating World’ print. But Skim, alias Kimberley Keiko Cameron, is a "not-slim" goth loner and wannabe teen-witch at a private girls’ school in 1993. Skim, the graphic novel by the Canadian Tamaki cousins, is her diary, its hand-drawn spine warning ‘Skim’s Journal, Private Property!’ The intimate truths we glean from her diary entries and thought-track regularly contrast or counter with her conduct and comments to others, as she copes with her broken arm, her separated parents, her gradual disillusionment with her sassy best friend and her awakening sense of self. When her classmates are rocked by the suicide of one girl’s boyfriend, a jock rumoured to be gay, her teachers overcompensate in their grief-counseling. All except Skim’s favourite, Drama and English teacher Ms Archer, a "freak" like her, the first person to whom she opens up over shared illicit cigarettes. This sparks Skim’s first love, their secret kiss in the woods set within one silent spread of lush nature. Writer Mariko and artist Jillian stunningly entwine their acute dialogues and visual riches in brush, soft pencil and grey tones, illuminating this adolescent romance in all its conflicted depths. The most sophisticated and sensitive North American graphic novel debut of the year.


With The Light: Volumes 1 & 2
by Keiko Tobe
Yen Press
$14.99/£10.99
Around two people in every thousand have autism. If anything, the stigma of an autistic child is far greater in Japan than in the West, so this perceptive manga drama about one young mother’s stresses had a real social impact there, winning awards, being adapted for TV and above all enlightening the public. Once you adjust to Tobe’s shojo or girls’ manga stylings of oversized eyes and emotions, each 500-page volume, combining two Japanese editions, involves you in the confusion, denial and understanding of this incurable affliction. A different connection gradually builds between mother and son, who, although he rejects her hugs and never speaks, soothes her tears by picking her flowers.


Britten & Brülightly
by Hannah Berry
Jonathan Cape
£12.99
All power to Dan Franklin at Jonathan Cape for seeking out fresh British graphic novelists for his list. Nothing is black and white in Hannah Berry’s watercoloured noir debut, her murky, moody washes echoing the moral shades of grey of her cast. This includes her downtrodden detective from Ecuador, Fernández Britten, who is hired by a publisher’s daughter to uncover the truth about her fiancé‘s supposed suicide. A ‘heartbreaker’ for sixteen years, for once Britten would like the painful truths he has to deliver to a client to have a positive effect. Across 100 pages, Berry has a wry, witty way with words, from Britten’s remorseful handwritten voiceover to his dialogues with his surreal partner, a cynical teabag! Where else will you read lines like, "Look, I’m sorry: I infused in your waistcoat"?


That Salty Air
by Tim Sievert
Top Shelf Productions
$10
Another first-timer, Sievert examines one impoverished man’s changing relationship with the sea and its denizens. Revered at first as a majestic friend and bountiful provider to a young fisherman, the sea becomes his cruel nemesis when it claims the life of his mother. Grief and fury turn him to drink and cloud his mind to his pregnant wife’s vulnerability and their escalating poverty. Sievert sensitively orchestrates the ebb and flow of his tale, keeping speech sparse and curt until it needs to well up and burst out, sweeping from the surface world down into the waters beneath and up again.You can tell this is a deeply felt parable for the author, and one that can touch anyone faced with the inexplicability of loss. Take the plunge.


Franz Kafka’s The Trial
adapted by Chantal Montellier & David Zane Mairowitz
SelfMadeHero
£12.99
Kafka’s infamous novel about a humble clerk’s baffling arrest by the state and his descent into the labyrinths of bureaucracy to prove his innocence has haunted me since I studied it in school and watched Orson Welles’ masterful movie starring Anthony Perkins. Author Mairowitz has adapted it for the theatre and also wrote the insightful biographic novel Introducing Kafka, illustrated by Robert Crumb and reissued by Fantagraphics. So he’s a fine choice to help convert this feverish nightmare into comics. He is joined by Montellier, France’s grande dame of bandes dessinées, an outspoken, politically engaged storyteller in her own right, tragically little known abroad. She brings her passionate intensity and invention to every page. Her staring cover portrait of Joseph K. multiplies throughout, as do an ornate clockface and a Posada-like dancing skeleton. Her panels buckle and rip asunder as if from the emotions contained within. As bold type, jagged balloon shapes and other graphic elements collide and collage, Mairowitz and Montellier make their pages reverberate with symbolism and paranoia. This Trial is a triumph.

Posted: July 27, 2008

These reviews first appeared in Comics International, the UK’s leading magazine about comics, graphic novels and manga.

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Chantal Montellier
Hannah Berry
Jillian Tamaki
Keiko Tobe
Mariko Tamaki
PG Tips
Sean Azzopardi
Tim Sievert
Woodrow Phoenix

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Featured Books


Rumble Strip
by Woodrow Phoenix


Twelve Hour Shift
by Sean Azzopardi


Skim
by Mariko Tamaki
& Jillian Tamaki


With The Light
Volumes 1 & 2

by Keiko Tobe


Britten & Brülightly
by Hannah Berry


That Salty Air
by Tim Sievert


Franz Kafka’s The Trial
adapted by David Zane Mairowitz