Books

Reviews: What’s new and notable in graphic novels

Hilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth. Judd Winick. Random House. 208 pages. $13.99.

Veteran Batman writer, artist and MTV Real World participant Winick was weary of spinning the grim, gritty and gory stories his young kids couldn’t read, so he created this warm and funny all-ages tale, the first of a new series. It might not appeal to bloodthirsty fans of his old work, but it’s a total blast for the far less jaded.

Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist. Bill Griffith. Fantagraphics. 208 pages. $29.99.

The crowning achievement in the career of Zippy the Pinhead’s creator and comic foil, this deeply researched family history is much more than an account of maternal marital infidelities. Though that is its centerpiece — and Griffith amazingly reconstructs the details of the affair from his mother’s journals and her paramour’s romans a clef — he also invokes his own contemporaneous recollections and reminiscences with relatives. The art is a tour de force of craft, with mind-blowing images and brilliant composition, echoing the text’s evocation of the author’s melancholy, nostalgia and bemusement.

The Story of My Tits. Jennifer Hayden. Top Shelf. 352 pages. $29.99.

This rambling, rollicking, discursive chronicle is everything a graphic memoir can and should be. Hayden’s life story isn’t strictly mammocentric, but the focus parallels her evolving personality, relationships and values. As much about her family as herself, this is a deeply moving, serious and hilarious tale of growth, loss and transformation, highly recommended to all.

The Comic Book Story of Beer: The World’s Favorite Beverage from 7000 BC to Today’s Craft Brewing Revolution. Jonathan Hennessey, Mike Smith, Aaron McConnell. Ten Speed Press. 180 pages. $18.99.

This book is nothing less than the history of human civilization itself. This endlessly entertaining and assiduously researched chronicle spans the ages as it recounts the role of this beloved beverage in politics, art, religion, agriculture, chemistry and more. The episodic narrative is smartly explored and quite ably illustrated. For a heady splash of history that goes down quite smoothly, this book’s for you!

Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir. Stan Lee, Peter David, Colleen Doran. Touchstone. 192 pages. $30.

Creator of Marvel’s billion-dollar universe (along with Jack “King” Kirby and Steve Ditko, of course) Lee’s own not-so-secret origin tale is suitably depicted by the versatile David and Doran, both estimable creators in their own right. It’s a fun read, capturing Lee’s comically self-deprecating yet bombastic character.

Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio. Jessica Abel. Broadway Books. 240 pages. $17.

Her 2006 graphic novel La Perdida was wonderful, and since then, Abel has mostly taught and written expansively about the craft of comics storytelling. Though clearly captivated and inspired by the tale-spinning new wave of audio broadcasters and podcasters (Serial, RadioLab, This American Life), this book falls flat. Its sundry talking heads have a lot — maybe too much — to say, and the effect is stultifying and subverts the visual and visceral qualities of the graphic medium.

Nocturne: Book Two: Walled City Trilogy. Anne Opotowsky, Angie Hoffmeister. Gestalt. 456 pages. $39.

This second part of the trilogy is as gorgeous as the first. Set several years later in the same fabled Hong Kong district with a new cast, the story is more complex, with multiple threads and a confusing array of characters. But the dynamic and expressive art saves the day, and hope abounds that the forthcoming third and final chapter will rise above this presumed sophomore slump.

Neil Gaiman’s Teknophage. Rick Veitch, Bryan Talbot. Super Genius/NBM. 288 pages. $24.99.

Spawned during the pre-crash comics gold rush of the ’90s, created by Neil Gaiman and originally published by a now defunct South Florida company owned by the founders of the Sci-Fi Channel, this collection of long out-of-print and little-seen stories deserves a much wider audience. The wicked title character, an anthropomorphically evolved dinosaur and metaphor for the excesses of capitalism, is one of Gaiman’s oddest creations. The stories could easily have veered toward being overly didactic, but the all-star team led by Veitch and Talbot was way too smart to merely settle for such ripe, low-hanging fruit. Great, guilty fun!

Richard Pachter is a writer in Boca Raton.

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