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Earthling

Aisha Franz. Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-77046-166-6

It's easy to underestimate Franz's first graphic novel. The German cartoonist's art is simple, even by the standards of alternative-comics minimalism. While there are a few single large panels for effect, the majority of the pages are 12-panel grids made up of perfect square boxes with none of the customary negative space between them. The artwork matches the bare-bones layout, drawn in soft pencil like a rough draft ripped out of a notebook. The story at first seems to be a latter-day E.T. knockoff, as a little girl befriends an aloof extraterrestrial after following a drifting balloon to field of tall grass. Franz consistently manages to shake predictability however, through a series of strange and surreal turns, some easily written off as dream sequences and others left a bit more open. The saga of the alien is entwined with the story of a mother and her two daughters, all of whom grapple with very different but largely universal crises: regret, burgeoning sexuality, and teenage rebellion, respectively. The book's bare-bones layout begins to mirror the world they find themselves trapped in. This is a quiet book, but one with a lot to say. Despite its simplicity, it warrants deep and repeated readings. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight, Vol. 1: Double Feature

Alex De Campi, Chris Peterson, Simon Fraseret al. Dark Horse, $17.99 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-61655-377-7

Grindhouse movies, made-on-the-cheap, action- and gore-packed B-films, were the fodder of cheap-seat cinemas and drive-ins up through the ’80s. Directors like Quentin Tarantino repopularized the genre in the 2000s, and, here, writer De Campi (Smoke/Ashes) and a gang of lively artists—among them Francesco Francavilla and Dan Panosian—bring their bloodshed and havoc to the comics page. Like a classic midnight movie show, it’s a double feature, filled with sex, violence, fast cars and fast women—even “coming attractions” in the form of a grindhouse-style movie poster gallery. The first story puts the “bee” in “B-movie”: southern belles, transformed into honey-sucking killer bees, swarm their small town wreaking over-the-top carnage until the town’s single savvy police officer, a one-eyed female cop, gets called in. The second tale is set aboard a prison spaceship bound for exile in a distant solar system; the all-nubile, all-female (of course) prisoners riot against the clone guards and their sadistic warden in a bloody breakout. It’s all just about as violent, outrageous, and in-your-face as you’d expect from the title—which also makes it a adrenaline-filled thrill ride, packed with explosions, intestines, and drily witty quips. Mature content. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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An Age of License

Lucy Knisley. Fantagraphics, $19.99 ISBN 978-1-60699-768-0

Knisley (French Milk, Relish) continues to own the travelogue/graphic novel genre by bringing her characteristic humor and heart to this memoir of a summer in Europe. Created during a journey from a comics convention in Norway to the vineyards of Burgundy and a lover’s loft in Montmartre, the in-process method of writing and drawing her adventures as they happen gives a vibrant immediacy to situations and sensations. Belying her relatively simple but charming cartooning style, Knisley pages are a cornucopia of information and detail: oversized seagulls, bilingual schoolchildren, and lying sat-navs populate her travels. Her observations are frequently laugh-out-loud funny (for instance, on her new Swedish boyfriend: “They should sell these at Ikea!”). It’s easy to excuse a temporary lapse in keeping up her illustrated journal when she falls in love—a sequence evocatively drawn with much emotional impact. Knisley’s already established passion for foreign foods is highlighted: Norwegian pastries, mustard in a tube, the French milk of her previous memoir, and that punch line to so many Scandinavian jokes, lutefisk. The title comes from the French l’age licence—the freedom to explore, experiment, and feel joy, all feelings beautifully captured here. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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