Comic

LEAVING RICHARD'S VALLEY

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LEAVING RICHARD’S VALLEY BY MICHAEL DEFORGE

Michael DeForge’s Leaving Richard’s Valley invites you in with its quirky style and zany characters—keeps you reading with unexpected turns, insights into city living, and subtle commentary on modern capitalism. “Do you ever get this feeling that living in a city is kind of like being at a party that’s gone on too long?” asks Paul the Spider, one of the many creatures that has joined Richard’s Valley, a health-obsessed cult that has turned its back on the “toxicity” (both metaphorical and literal) of the city and has made a home in a Toronto public park. Their leader, Richard, is vapid, enigmatic, and slowly growing bored of his followers and the life he has built for them. When a group of friends breaks Richard’s strict rules to save Lyle the Raccoon from a mysterious illness, they are exiled by Richard and his fanatical lackey, Caroline the Frog. Forced to make their way in a city plagued with cults and gentrification, the animal friends quest for a home, a community, and a purpose in their new world.

Michael DeForge’s simple, delightfully bizarre style opens the mind to new interpretations of faith, the hero’s journey, and the purpose of art in the modern world. Entirely black and white, this is a world in which spiders become masseuses and supermodels, snakes fall in love with raccoons, and butterflies interrupt the narrative to provide the history of fictional places. A witty and strange rumination on cult mentality, obsessive love, and city life, Leaving Richard’s Valley surprises the reader with each page.

Drawn & Quarterly.

—Review by Claire Pincumbe

UNCERTAIN MANIFESTO

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UNCERTAIN MANIFESTO BY FRÉDÉRIC PAJAK, TRANSLATED BY DONALD NICHOLSON-SMITH

The first volume of Frédéric Pajak’s Uncertain Manifesto (currently in its seventh volume in French) is composed of oblique relationships. The relationship between its large illustrations and short snippets of text is loosely associative, even mysterious. The chapters range from memoir to historical account to philosophical musing. At first, the book feels something like a stack of random pages ripped from Pajak’s sketchbook, notes haphazardly compiled rather than meticulously ordered. Though, as the book progresses, a greater arc emerges. Uncertain Manifesto is haunted by the memory of Europe hardly holding onto “the vestiges of peace, and with these crumbs improvising a society that erases other societies,” as Pajak hints in the introduction. The book exists in the shadows of other manifestos—centrally, Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto—but, by the end of this first volume, one gets a sense that Pajak has set about concocting some kind of balm, something to ward against the dangers of entrenched ideology.

Much of the book chronicles Walter Benjamin’s travels during the 1930s, and his thoughts on the rise of fascism. A reflection on the nature of fascism, likely felt important when the first volume appeared in French in 2012—in 2019, Uncertain Manifesto’s arrival in English feels vital. In less capable hands, such a genre-defying, heady enterprise might have sagged under the weight of its own ambition; here, it’s full of wit and life. Powerful precisely on account of its subtlety.

New York Review Books.

—Review by Landon McGee

OFF SEASON

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OFF SEASON BY JAMES STURM

Originally released serially, during the fraught and divisive days leading up to the 2016 Presidential Election, James Sturm’s graphic novel Off Season tells the story of a marriage as it crumbles. Mark and Lisa are divided by their failed attempts at understanding and comforting one another’s inner despair; each chapter is a short vignette, taking on one moment at a time. The mundane springs to the surface—snow tires, kids demanding cookies, a cold beach; meanwhile the fraught backdrop of the election, economic instability, the universal pains of watching someone you love die—all take the background as American burdens: impossible to look at directly, impossible not to carry.

Sturm’s art is muted in shades of grey and blue, sometimes so soft it seems perceived through tears. All the characters are drawn with cartoon dog faces, which lends a gaze of kindness to their worst moments, and also reminds us how much one struggling, broken-hearted person resembles another. The story moves slowly, through present-day and memory, showing the reader how the moving pieces of a life can work in harmony or grate against one another. In one scene, Mark (who is the focalizer of the story) lies awake listening to his wife sob, and admits being, “. . . slow to recognize what I am hearing.” Confessional moments like these offer mirrors of our own moments of missed connection, slow-to-start empathy. Through close examination of these moments, Sturm offers a meditation on where things go wrong, and the difficult self-reflection we must employ to steer them right again.

Drawn & Quarterly.

—Review by Joy Clark

THIS WOMAN'S WORK

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THIS WOMAN’S WORK BY JULIE DELPORTE, TRANSLATED BY ALESHIA JENSEN AND HELGE DASCHER

Julie Delporte’s This Woman’s Work, translated by Aleshia Jensen and Helge Dascher, is a beautiful and resonant autobiographical meditation on art, gender, and identity. The author sifts through her cultural consumption to find the root of her frustrations with gender inequality, sometimes so deeply ingrained that it is impossible to pinpoint their original source. She wonders, “What are the images that hold us captive?” Captive, that is, in repeated performances of gender that feel impossible to break. In pursuit of this question, Delporte presents the reader with her recollections of paintings, film stills, statues and texts, all evoked in bright and expressive colored pencil. Through vignettes, she wrestles with difficult breakups, pregnancy, and the fear of being alone. She expresses her anxiety and frustration with gender roles too. Recalling experiences of sexual assault as a child as well as potent micro-aggressions and barriers ingrained in the language of the adults she loved—and indeed, language itself, the masculine-centric French—the artist seeks to be liberated from womanhood, imagining herself as a wolf or a dolphin.

At the same time, much of her meditation centers on the life of Tove Jansson, a Finnish author and painter whose story and work inspires Delporte to explore her own trajectory as a working artist and the additional stumbling blocks that female artists face. Still, as she reads Jansson’s books and letters, it is through them that she eventually begins to feel that she is finally able to find that she is “falling in love with the idea of being a woman.” While This Woman’s Work captivates in its personal expression of womanhood in all its vicissitudes and complexities, Delporte, by placing her life within the contexts of larger cultural narratives and the lives of other artists, also earnestly opens the door to other women’s experiences, asking how much of her story is her own, and how much is “the story of all women”?

Drawn & Quarterly.

—Review by Rome Morgan

BLAME THIS ON THE BOOGIE

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BLAME THIS ON THE BOOGIE BY RINA AYUYANG

Rina Ayuyang’s graphic memoir, Blame This on the Boogie, reads like a sequence of freestyle dance numbers of her life, chronicling her childhood, motherhood, and career, as well as the ways in which music has propelled her through each. Music and dance rule the world of Rina’s imagination—help her through school boredom and bullying, and live in her adult mind as a place of escapism, obsession, and artistic appreciation. Boogie is a love letter to the style and art of golden age musicals, to football, dance, and family, and an exploration of the ways in which we cope with juggling the thrills and responsibilities of daily life.

Ayuyang’s stunning, bold style leaps off the page and draws you in close, pulling you into the images where you find tiny captions, thoughts, and text hidden on road signs and football jerseys. The bright colored pencil drawings slide from realistic to otherworldly with the grace of a broadway musical changing scenes—at times combining memory with song or football practice with dance number. Reminiscent of concept art for animation, these images thrum with movement and life. Blame This on the Boogie manages to create its own beat, a visual rhythm that sweeps you through to the last page.

Drawn & Quarterly.

—Review by Claire Pincumbe

WOMAN WORLD

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WOMAN WORLD BY AMINDER DHALIWAL

Woman World compiles Aminder Dhaliwal’s popular Instagram comic about a world in which men have mysteriously gone extinct. Although this premise has been explored in comic books before, Dhaliwal’s characters experience less apocalyptic panic than low key curiosity. What did men look like? Were high heels a type of construction boot for creating tiny holes? In a world without men, does feminism still exist?

But characters don’t spend too much time puzzling over the past and its obscure artifacts. They’re too busy with day to day concerns like relationships, self-care, and building a new society from the ground up. It doesn’t include old social stigmas—some women go nude, others wear a hodgepodge of clothing, and no one frowns at a fart joke. And while this isn’t a complete utopia—women still struggle with external obstacles, as well as internal ones like anxiety and self-confidence—at the end of the day women support each other and differences are celebrated. And that is what is most endearing about this book—imagining a world where women feel free to be their authentic selves, no strings attached.

Drawn & Quarterly.

—Review by Rome Morgan

SLUM WOLF

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SLUM WOLF BY TADAO TSUGE, TRANSLATED BY RYAN HOLMBERG

Tadeo Tsuge’s Slum Wolf, a collection of stories from the sixties and seventies, translated by Ryan Holmberg, conjures a fantasy of post-war Japan that is as bleak as it is raw and energetic. With loose lines interspersed with careful details, Tsuge creates a world of forgotten ruins, populated with forgotten people, impoverished and marginalized. These stories don’t offer the hope for a better life waiting somewhere outside the world of the slums, yet moments of calm and deliverance are achieved in the connections between people, in the bonds that can form even under the harshest conditions, and offer a reprieve from poverty and trauma.

Ex-kamikaze pilot Keisei Sabu’s reckless brawling becomes the stuff of legend in the slum. His antics echo throughout the collection like a ghost, that of a man who never expected to find himself growing old. The disciplined soldier turned company man, Ryokichi Aogishi, finds that his past traumas and regrets keep a comfortable middle-class life just outside his reach. These characters—as well as the drunks, vagrants, and prostitutes that reside among them—are striking in their expressions, contorting in a way that defies realism, but instead achieves a naturalistic translation of emotion with a spontaneity of gesture. One can feel Tsuge’s desire to preserve a sketch of this moment in time, not with a moralizing or political aim, but simply to carve a space where post-war trauma can exist undisturbed.

New York Review Comics.

—Review by Rome Morgan

THE STRANGE

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THE STRANGE, BY JÈRÔME RUILLIER, TRANSLATED BY HELGE DASCHER

The first of Jérôme Ruillier’s graphic novels to be translated into English, The Strange, offers readers an intricate and poignant exploration of the daily struggles faced by an undocumented immigrant in a fictional, amalgamated Western city. The protagonist, a “strange” in this new city, starts his journey with nothing but hope and a small amount of money, both of which are siphoned away as he is pushed into a corrupt, unbearable cycle of abuse, xenophobia, and betrayal. After the brief opening the protagonist’s language isn’t translated on the page—instead, his story is told by those he encounters. Some help him, some fear him, but rarely does anyone understand him. It is only through their eyes that we see the protagonist and even to the reader, he is a “strange.” Rather than inviting us into the protagonist’s head, we are invited to witness the facts of his circumstances, his constant fear in this new place and the hostility he encounters from every direction.

Ruillier’s straightforward and striking style lends itself perfectly to the themes of the novel, and the simple, limited color palette points the reader’s focus to the elements that the author chooses to highlight. By depicting the characters as non-human animals and stripping away all real world identifiers of people and place, Ruillier gives the novel a sense of global authenticity. The Strange is a universal story, an unflinching portrayal of the vulnerability of the undocumented, and a commentary on the rights and comforts taken for granted by those who so harshly judge the “strange.”

Drawn & Quarterly.

—Review by Claire Pincumbe