Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
Top Shelf, 2012
Not since Henry David Thoreau has one author exalted the common man as poetically and effectively as Harvey Pekar. A master of the mundane, Pekar’s conversational tone holds a mesmerizing authenticity that renders the ordinary into a vivid kaleidoscope of kinetic emotions and watershed moments. The last work before the writer’s death in 2010, Cleveland widens its lens to capture the metropolitan muse that has much in common with its beloved resident. Or is that the other way around? For all of its flaws, Cleveland’s rough edges embrace an honesty that celebrates the American dream and the eccentric individualism that tends to accompany it. And if anything, Pekar was pathologically honest. The first half of this book walks the reader through the city’s founding to its current malaise. Academic and candid, Pekar hones in on ugly racial divides while quoting population statistics. The second half is a stream-of-conscious autobiography framed by the city. Both are excellent, but the latter stands out like a letter from a departed parent. Only a writer like Pekar can shift from subjects as disparate as vegetables and wind-up airplane street vendors like a childhood friend catching up over August beers. And with this last volume, it’s heartbreaking that we’ll never be able to hear that unmistakable voice again. (SE)
Poor Angelman. Nicolas Mahler’s cute little doodle just wants to help humanity with his powers of “sensitivity, open-mindedness and being a good listener”. Sadly few comic readers are interested in a superhero who embraces his feminine side so thoroughly that his alter ego is a female writer for a women’s magazine. The writing wizards at Korporate Komics reboot Angelman’s eponymous comic multiple times, but none of it sticks. The inevitable Hollywood adaptation isn’t just a failure but kills off the entire superhero film fad. Yep, poor Angelman. Mahler’s satiric graphic novel mocks the business-driven creative process of superhero comics, eventually addressing the topic of creators’ rights that is somehow still contentious within the industry in the 21st century. Korporate Komics essentially owns all rights to Angelman’s life, which they basically turn into a living hell when Angelman writes a tell-all about how poorly his employers treat him. Mahler’s single-page strips are adorable and pack a bite, but the transition from treating superheroes as living people exploited for entertainment to equating them to real-life creators exploited by bad business deals isn’t particularly smooth. Still, this breezy book consistently charms even as it directly addresses some of the most depressing and enraging aspects of the comics industry. (GM)
Archaia Entertainment, 2012
Allison’s environmentally focused graphic novel has lovely illustrations, an important message, and a warm heart. What it doesn’t have is much of a narrative or reason to spend much time with it. Based on the reality of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating Sargasso Sea of trash, I Am Not a Plastic Bag anthropomorphizes a large clump of humanity’s discards, shaping them into a kind of creature whose messages are conveyed by the writing printed on some of its components (the only words in the narrative section of the comic). It’s lonely and sad, and it attempts to reach out to animals in the ocean and air, with some tragic results. The premise isn’t bad, especially as concerns the need to raise awareness of the consequences of our reliance on disposables and excess packaging, but little happens (or can happen) in its 89 pages, some of which are devoted to explaining the reality of the garbage patch and what you can do to help. It’s an admirable effort, but the book itself is, somewhat, discardable. (HB)
Houghton Mifflin, 2012
Stories about crosscultural conflict within a protagonist aren’t exactly rare in comics, but Ryan Inzana’s Ichiro rises above the standard synthesis of two opposing influences to become something weird and beautiful. Even before things go down a path one could describe as Hayao Miyazaki-esque in its sudden introduction of a very real parallel mystical world, Inzana’s writing is more interesting than the fish-out-of-water narrative would imply. His drawing is no less strong, with subtly different styles depending on whether he’s portraying everyday events, shape-shifting mythology, the interactions of gods, and so on. There’s nothing cutesy here, despite the story’s taking place in Japan, which would have been an easy mistake to make, and the sense of real danger, not betrayed by an easy “it was all a dream” ending, draws you in even more. Inzana’s book could be a bit clearer in the long last third, which takes you down the rabbit hole, but it’s worth overlooking the flaws to discover his original and serious voice. (HB)