Japanese Notebooks: A Journey to
the Empire of Signs.
By Igort. Illus. by the author.
June 2017. 184p. Chronicle, $29.95 (9781452158709).
After publishing Goodbye Baobab (1985), a
book heavily influenced by Japan, Italian born
delicate watercolors with occasional historic
photographs and pen-and-ink portraits of the
people he worked with, the resulting collection
is less a complete story and more a conversation with the reader, complete with humorous
anecdotes, tangential asides, and the occasional
rant about how insane the workload is in Japan
compared to what artists are expected to produce in Europe. Throughout the narrative runs
a deep respect for the country and its customs.
He draws inspiration from its poets and philosophers, its artists and courtesans, its temples
and its skyscrapers. Dedicated to Hokusai and
Tezuka, one considered the creator of manga,
the other known as the Father of Manga, and
ending with an enso or hand-drawn circle that
in Zen Buddhism symbolizes enlightenment,
this memoir is ultimately the author’s reflection
on art and memory and the constancy and inconsistency of both. A captivating glimpse into
the mind of an artist. —Eva Volin
Last Things: A Graphic Memoir of Loss
By Marissa Moss. Illus. by the author.
May 2017. 176p. Conari, paper, $18.95
Moss, famous for the children’s series
Amelia’s Notebook, here turns to decidedly
adult matters. Readers are invited into her
home during one of the most intimate and
turbulent times in her family’s history, her
husband’s quick decline and untimely death
from ALS. As Harvey starts fading, Moss rises
to the occasion of becoming his caretaker, a
single parent, and a patient advocate battling
insurance and medical equipment companies.
She is honest about her failures and shortcomings in each role and candid about the
horrors of losing her partner to such a visceral
decay. Her signature, playful artistic style offers a much-needed dose of hopefulness when
presenting images of sterile hospital recovery rooms and pictures of Harvey breathing
through a ventilator plugged into the wall
of a gas station after the car battery dies on
a long drive home. Moss fully exposes herself
as a selfish, sentimental, and wildly resilient
human being. The confessional, warts-and-all
honesty of Moss’ heartbreaking story gives an
empowering glimpse into the realities of unexpected loss. —Courtney Eathorne
By Jon Nielsen. Illus. by the author.
Apr. 2017. 140p. NBM, $15.95 (9781681120898). 741.5.
Always sticking to his programming, surveillance bot R-TY, or Artie, finally leaves
with a purpose, namely, to find his purpose.
Artie, along with robotic bird friend O-WN,
or Owen, leaves the safety of his everyday routine to explore the surrounding world, and in
the process, their adventures touch on themes
of friendship, loss, and the meaning of life.
Talking about such issues in a cartoonish, almost childlike art style can be difficult, but
Nielsen makes a worthy attempt. The overall
message by the end of the piece is a bit vague,
which might confuse some readers, but the
open interpretation might spark an internal
dialogue in others. This contemplative volume has a lot of heart and artwork to match.
Nielsen’s oblong character design keeps the
tone light, making the overall message bittersweet and hopeful instead of bleak. Much
like Jeff Smith’s Bone (2004), Look straddles
the line between kid’s and adult graphic
novels with a story that’s deep and thought-provoking while still being fun and appealing.
The Adventures of John Blake:
Mystery of the Ghost Ship.
By Philip Pullman. Illus. by Fred
May 2017. 160p. Scholastic/Graphix, $19.99
(9781338149128); e-book, $12.99 (9781338166590).
741.5. Gr. 6–10.
Like Pullman’s indelible Lyra, Christina
Henderson is a girl who finds herself yanked
out of her accustomed world. Rescued from
drowning by the time-traveling ghost ship,
Mary Alice, she makes the
acquaintance of young
John Blake, swept up by
the currents of time when
he was an unintentional
participant in a secret,
conducted by none other
than Albert Einstein. The
ship is pursued in the present by a British se-
cret agent, a female maritime expert, and the
CEO of the sinister Dahlberg Corporation,
all of whom have meaningful connections
to the ship. With obvious affection for Tin-
tin, Pullman threads this complicated skein
of plot with customary measures of awe and
menace, and for an esteemed man of letters
on his first expedition into the graphic novel
format, he proves an expert visual storytell-
er. Fordham animates with characters who
have the detail and agility of a Studio Ghibli
cast. He shows particular flair for silent pas-
sages, evidencing as much gusto in nimble
fight scenes and breathless chase sequences
as in a meaningful glare and capturing the
vastness of the sea as it swallows a young
girl. Those eager for the release of Pullman’s
new His Dark Materials book this fall will
be delighted to bide their time with this.
HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Anything
new from Pullman is big news, and his first
original graphic novel won’t disappoint.
Future Quest, v. 1.
By Jeff Parker. Illus. by Evan Shaner
and Steve Rude.
2017. 176p. DC Comics, paper, $16.99
(9781401268077). 741.5. Gr. 4–7.
Once consigned to delivering punchlines
on late-night cartoon TV, the characters of
Hanna-Barbera’s classic line of adventure cartoons is now set loose with new vim and vigor.
Headlined by boy-adventurer Johnny Quest
and intergalactic policeman Space Ghost, the
entire coterie of characters, including rock-band superheroes, a caveman powerhouse,
and a bird-themed crime fighter, come together in a massive, time-and-space-spanning,
shared universe story that pits them against
evil agency F.E.A.R. and the vast, world-eating Omnikron. Though the story can feel
disjointed as we’re introduced to each character at breakneck pace, the heroes’ strengths,
gimmicks, and personalities are established
quickly and effectively. But it’s in its visuals
that Future Quest truly shines. Provided mainly by Shaner and Rude, the bold, clean, solid
lines tap into a nostalgic simplicity of bright
cartoon archetypes. Far from being mired
down by a wistful yearning for the adventures
of yesteryear, though, they serve Parker’s snappy script with a retro energy that will appeal
to any reader seeking that timeless commodity, fun. —Jesse Karp
A Land Called Tarot.
By Gael Bertrand. Illus. by the author.
2017. 112p. Image Comics, $19.99 (9781534300262).
741.5. Gr. 9–12.
In intricate, wordless spreads of fantasy
worlds filled with warriors, odd creatures,
mysterious symbols, lushly detailed
landscapes, and buildings rendered with architectural accuracy, a knight goes on a series
of quests. Objects glowing with unnatural
colors lead him to portals that take him to
other worlds, where creation and destruction
seem to loop around ad infinitum. At one
point, he seems to be born again, appearing
naked after a particularly destructive battle
with a dragon. There are hints of a plot here:
a knob on the knight’s helmet resembles the
crown on a bored, old king; rubble from
one section reappears elsewhere; symbols
recur across each episode; and so on. Each
scene has such impressive depth and detail,
rendered in crisp, black outlines and a jewel-toned palette, that it’s easy to get lost in each
spread, looking for meaningful symbols.
Though it’s quite difficult to suss out a coherent narrative from the meager clues, for
some readers, particularly those who love a
tricky puzzle, the enigmatic nature of Bertrand’s undoubtedly stunning visuals will be
a big draw. —Sarah Hunter