Reviews: graphic novels

The Sculptor. Scott McCloud. First Second. 496 pages. $29.99.

Comics theorist McCloud reportedly ached to have at least one big honkin’ graphic novel on his résumé. His two superb stints on his beloved creator-owned series, Zot and the amazing one-shot DESTROY!! didn’t fill the need, apparently. The Sculptor certainly does. It’s a dazzling, penetrating and unsettling meditation on creativity, commerce and love. It’s also a master-class in comics-making craft. As much as I’ll always continue to value and learn from his ongoing, expansive analysis of storytelling and semiotics, I hope McCloud continues building his creative credits.

Henni. Miss Lasko-Gross. Z2 Comics. 168 pages. $19.99.

The lead character superficially resembles Max from Where The Wild Things Are. But this is no Sendak bedtime story, though the character does get lost among a community of crazy creatures. It’s a relatively dour parable on religion, sexism and culture. Lasko-Gross is a skilled and canny artist and a gifted writer, so she nimbly elevates this rather grim fairy tale into something that’s highly compelling, provocative and entertaining.

Yo Miss: A Graphic Look At High School. Lisa Wilde. Microcosm. 160 pages. $12.95.

Wilde teaches at a charter high school in New York. She’s 60, and this is her first graphic novel, based on her experiences with a class of last-chance kids at her school. It’s breathtaking! Wilde adeptly conveys the youthful angst, hormones and dysfunctionality in a thoroughly engaging manner. She never glosses over or romanticizes her kids’ often-dire plights, nor does she contrive to portray herself heroically. This often-harrowing account is one of the most compelling things I’ve read in quite awhile.

Displacement. Lucy Knisley. Fantagraphics. 168 pages. $19.99.

Knisley continues her current series of graphic travelogues, and Displacement is nicely done but frustrating. Her is art is terrific and getting even better. But the story itself is an almost-endless bummer. Coming off a bad romance, she decided to accompany her elderly grandparents on a Caribbean cruise. One of them is incontinent and the other suffers from dementia. What could go wrong? Almost everything, actually, and only her craft and heart keep this volume from turning into a bummer and a disaster like her trip.

Superman Earth One. Vol. 3. J. Michael Straczynski and Ardian Syaf. DC Comics. 128 pages. $22.99; Superman: The Silver Age Newspaper Dailies Volume 2: 1961-1963. IDW Publishing. 288 pages. $49.99; Superman: The Silver Age Newspaper Dailies Volume 3: 1963-1966. IDW Publishing. 288 pages. $49.99.

Let a thousand Supermen bloom! DC continues to publish multiple iterations of the venerable and iconic character, including a somewhat “lite” version in their monthly comics. The Earth One series, a surprise hit by journeyman screenwriter Straczynski, is now in its third volume, this time without Shane Davis, illustrator of the first two. Syaf is not necessarily an upgrade, though if you’re a fan of contemporary mainstream comic art, you may not even notice the difference, as both artists are influenced by artist (and DC co-publisher) Jim Lee. Straczynski’s script is entertaining and surprising at times, which is a good thing, but not really compelling enough to justify this project’s continued existence, except, perhaps, for mercantile reasons. On the other hand, these two collections of classic newspaper strips, written by Superman co-creator Siegel and illustrated in the classic manner by the great Wayne Boring, are smartly written and depict the character and his supporting cast with wit and a sense of wonder undiminished by the decades.

Inner City Romance. Guy Colwell. Fantagraphics. 209 pages. $24.99.

Fine artist and painter Colwell’s sporadically appearing stories of race, class and culture are collected here, along with some of his other amazing work. The unique anti-racist series was a cult favorite, with little known about its creator; was he black or white? Helpful and revealing essays complement this representation of one of the greats of the golden age of underground comix.

Intelligent Sentient? Luke Ramsey. Drawn and Quarterly. 64 pages. $22.95.

A series of absolutely amazing, detailed and painstaking pages with no words that tell a story in sequence — I think. Damned if I can figure out the plot, but there are unifying themes, strange recurring characters and odd patterns in this brilliant, heady portable art installation from Ramsey.

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula. Andi Watson. First Second. 176 pages. $19.99.

Kids like gross things, but do any of us ever really outgrow our fascination with the fictional dead and creepy monsters? Watson’s silly and touching all-ages tale of a put-upon princess and the vampire chef who helps her is readable and entertaining. The art is simple, but the storytelling is really effective. Fun stuff!

Richard Pachter is a writer in Boca Raton.