The Abominable Mr. Seabrook.
By Joe Ollmann. Illus. by the
2017. 316p. Drawn & Quarterly, paper, $22.95
On the page before the title page, this graphic novel’s subject is summarily characterized as
“writer, explorer, alcoholic, sadist, cannibal.”
William Seabrook (1884–
1945) looked the part, heavy
featured and shadowy, like
early movie tough guys
Wallace Beery and George
Bancroft. It’s a look well
suited to Ollmann’s gruff,
blocky artwork, rendered in
black, white, and blue-gray.
Ollmann emphasizes Seabrook’s alcoholism, beginning the book with a late-life spree
(imaginary) before flashing back to a childhood in which Seabrook developed his other
obsessions. Ollmann also stresses Seabrook’s
inferiority complex and habit of running away
from jobs, lifestyles—any situation that became
too comfortable. Though some of his greatest
successes, such as his investigation of voodoo,
involved occult phenomena, he resolutely rejected supernaturalism. He was frank and
unashamed about engaging in unconventional
behavior of all kinds, including the cannibalism he reported sampling in Africa (later, he
said he’d been tricked then, but ultimately satisfied in Paris!) as well as his penchant for tying
up young women. Committed to an asylum
to dry out, he made another candid best-seller
out of the experience. Though hardly prepossessing, he fascinated women in the bohemian
circles he favored and had three stressful marriages. Thoroughly researched, masterfully and
personally written as well as drawn, Ollmann’s
presentation of this fascinating, thoroughly
repulsive man may be the best graphic-novel
biography ever. —Ray Olson
All Star Batman, v.1: My Own Worst
By Scott Snyder. Illus. by John Romita
and Declan Shalvey.
Apr. 2017. 192p. DC Comics, $24.99 (9781401269784).
Fresh off an extended, character-defining
run on Batman, the much-lauded Snyder returns with a brand-new writing assignment on
. . . Batman. He’s always had a penchant for
highlighting the character’s strength by subjecting him to a pounding, and Batman receives
some grueling beatings here, racing across the
country handcuffed to archenemy Two-Face
in hopes of restoring the criminal’s sanity. But
Two-Face is blackmailing a nation’s worth of
thugs, murderers, and assassins into intercepting them and sending Batman straight to Hell.
Taking advantage of the former friendship
between his two characters, Snyder lends the
speeding thriller some psychological weight,
while Romita Jr. manifests it all with some tru-
ly R-rated violence and its consequences on the
Dark Knight’s bloody and battered body. The
artist’s pages are so dense with intense faces and
satisfyingly thick bodies in motion, it’s easy to
take for granted that he’s among the smoothest,
most flowing visual storytellers in the business.
A backup story features Batman’s latest side-
kick, the African American Duke Thomas, as
he faces a psychological gauntlet known as the
Cursed Wheel. —Jesse Karp
YA: Any Bat-fan will be eager to feast
their eyes on this one, though it should be
reserved for older teens prepared for the
surprisingly raw action scenes. JK.
California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot before
the Mamas & the Papas.
By Pénélope Bagieu. Illus. by the author.
May 2017. 272p. First Second, $24.99 (9781626725461).
Before she was Cass Elliot of the Mamas
and the Papas, she was Ellen Cohen, whose
parents ran a Baltimore deli and fostered her
love of music. French graphic novelist Bagieu
(Exquisite Corpse, 2015) tells Cass’ pre-fame
story from the perspectives of many who
knew her. Her little sister says it was her arrival that made Ellen eat and eat to please their
parents. A classmate believes Ellen when, the
day they met, she tells him she’s going to be
a star. Later, Michelle Phillips wishes Cass saw
her as a friend, not a rival, while John Phillips insists Cass has no place in their band—a
fight he loses when a record executive declares
it’s Cass who makes their sound complete.
This testimonial approach—a woman’s story
told by everyone but her—works, thanks to
Bagieu’s fascination with her subject. Her
pencil-sketched characters are distinctive and
emotive (and occasionally high and big-eyed),
while their lively world is storybook-cute and
highly referential to the music Cass made
so familiar. Have headphones at the ready.
The Facts of Life.
By Paula Knight. Illus. by the author.
2017. 240p. Pennsylvania State Univ., paper, $24.95
Polly and April, best friends growing up in
1970s England, learn where babies come from
the same way many kids do, by overhearing
snippets of adult conversations, garnering mis-
information imparted by older brothers and
sisters, and catching glimpses of sexual behav-
ior in magazines and on television. The answer
to their questions is almost always the same,
that the girls will understand more when they
have children of their own. Because that’s what
girls are meant to do—become mothers. In this
memoir, part of the Graphic Medicine Series,
Knight discusses the sense of duty she feels to
have a baby, the struggle to become pregnant,
and the mental and physical anguish she and
her partner feel after multiple miscarriages. The
artwork is full of close-ups and two-shots that
nicely convey the conflicting emotions felt by
the characters, allowing the reader to under-
stand the depth of their hurt, confusion, and
exasperation. An interesting examination of
the idea that, to have it all, a woman must have
a child. —Eva Volin
By Dave Chisholm. Illus. by the author.
May 2017. 224p. Z2 Comics, paper, $24.99
The power of music is forcefully displayed
in this first graphic novel by jazz musician
Chisholm. Tom is a middling trumpeter,
treading water playing to a handful of fans at
a tiny cafe. One night a mysterious stranger
gives him an old horn, and when Tom plays
it, his music takes flight—and nearby people
drop dead. Tom’s newfound musical prowess
attracts growing audiences and an invitation
to play a legendary jazz club as well as a pair
of nasty dudes who demand he give the horn
to them, warning of worldwide disaster if he
continues to play it. Although the drawings
are somewhat slapdash, Chisholm’s panel layouts clearly convey the story with just enough
panache to keep things visually interesting; it’s
rather impressive, considering that cartooning
isn’t his main gig. This tale of a performer in
deadly thrall to his instrument may be a familiar melody, but like the jazz musician he
is, Chisholm plays it with imaginative variations that hook the reader to the very end.
By Manuele Fior. Illus. by the author. Tr.
by Jamie Richards.
May 2017. 176p. Fantagraphics, $24.99
The overworked premise of first contact with
extraterrestrial life receives gracefully understated treatment in this second graphic novel
from Italian architect-turned-cartoonist Fior.
Set in the near future, it follows Raniero, a
middle-aged psychologist ending his failing
marriage and alienated from his technology-driven society, as he becomes involved with a
young patient, Dora, who claims to have received telepathic communications from an
alien civilization. She tells the doctor the aliens
have contacted her because she is among the
few who can see the unworldly bright triangles that have appeared in the sky—signs that
Raniero has also viewed. As Raniero’s estrangement from his wife and friends grows, he finds
he can’t deny the evidence of the signals from
space, or his attraction to Dora. Fior’s visuals—
delicate, almost wispy drawings augmented by
subtly applied gray tones—are as subdued as his
approach to the world-changing events in the
story. Through his narrative restraint and graphic acuity, Fior makes the experiences of a single
man seem as important as the fate of mankind.