Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen’s Genius tells the story of Ted Max, a genius weighed down by expectations and overwhelmed in his interpersonal relationships. Once a promising quantum physicist, his life seems to have come to a halt. He cannot think of any new ideas at work and is facing losing his job at a think tank. His wife has been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and he doesn’t know how to interact with his budding genius daughter and future frat boy son. And to make matters worse, his crotchety father-in-law won’t tell Ted the secret that Albert Einstein entrusted him with when he was “Bert’s” bodyguard. With no relief in sight, Ted begins to see himself unravel.
There has been a biographical graphic novel trend in publishing the last few years, but despite Albert Einstein’s strong presence in this graphic novel, this is not a biography. Seagle uses Einstein as a memory or an absence in Ted’s life. Kristiansen’s absorbing, lush pastel watercolor illustrations pair well with Seagle’s sparce and straightforward text, and make Einstein’s presence known throughout the novel. There is a sense when you read the book that you’re able to see some of the beautiful inner thoughts of a quantum physicist who has a difficult time voicing his feelings. I was much more touched by this book than I expected, and really felt Ted’s frustration with trying to live in the present when the future beckons and the past haunts. Ted many not be an everyman, but I think that most of us struggle with similar worries and heartbreaks.
In 1958, the pacifist organization Fellowship of Reconciliation released a comic book to help promote the bus boycott and recruit new activists called Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. The comic book introduced potential protesters to the Montgomery Method, a method of resistance that was adapted from the peaceful protest methods of Mahatma Gandhi and focused on taking the moral and spiritual high ground in every encounter.
With this important comic book as inspiration, U.S. Congressman John Lewis, along with congressional aide Andrew Aydin and illustrator Nate Powell (The Silence of Our Friends), has produced a stunning and important introduction to the civil rights movement and the Montgomery method. March Book One is the first book in a three part series that highlights the remarkable life of a man that was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington.
Powell’s black and white pen illustrations are fluid, easy to follow, and highlight the importance in the text. Powell has a real talent in using light and shadow to convey mood, and his style feels modern while still hinting at the classic comic book style in Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. The comic book format lends itself to Lewis’ talent for oral storytelling, and would make a great introduction to a civil rights movement icon for young people and adults.
Unterzakhn (yiddish for ‘underthings’) by Leela Corman tells the story of Jewish twin sisters at the start of the 20th century in New York City. Esther and Fanya’s stories are told in graphic novel form, spanning more than a decade from childhood through adulthood, with black and white illustrations reminiscent of Russian folk art. The sisters make decidedly different decisions in their lives, but they both chose career paths outside of community and family expectations of them and drift apart from one another (forcefully in one scene).
Fanya starts this story when she finds a woman bleeding in the street and is instructed to go find the “lady doctor”. This encounter brings her to Bronia, a feminist obstetrician who performs illegal abortions, and convinces Fanya’s mother to let Bronia teach Fanya to read. Fanya then begins to apprentice for Bronia, and adapts to the strident expectations of her teacher. While her sister is learning to work as an obstetrician, Esther begins working at the local burlesque theater and brothel — running errands and cleaning up. As she grows toward adulthood, her work changes and she loses her family in the process.
This is a quick, but in no way a light read. The writing and the illustrations show a lot of darkness and pain. The sisters always seem better when they’re together, showing the quick wit and love that seems to be reserved for each other. I had a difficult time putting this book down, because Corman made it easy to care about Fanya and Esther. This is a good read for fans of David Small’s Stitches or anything by Charles Burns.
I wouldn’t call myself a paranoid person. I do sometimes run to get into bed and pull up the covers as quickly as possible after watching a Law and Order: SVU marathon. After reading George Orwell’s 1984, I did start regarding every tv or computer screen with a small fear that it was a potential 2-way telescreen. Despite this, I am typically a level-headed librarian that loves to drop the phrase “peer-reviewed research” into regular conversations.
But Robert Venditti’s The Homeland Directive brought out the conspiracy theorist in me. When I finished reading the graphic novel, I wasn’t convinced that the federal government was spreading an infectious disease in hopes of scaring the population into submission and setting up the head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for the murder of her research partner. But when I was in the middle of the novel, it didn’t seem entirely far fetched. Venditti was able to take me out of my own perception of the world while I read this graphic novel, and left me thinking far after I finished reading.
Pairing with brilliant illustrator, Mike Huddleston, Venditti wrote a piece that feels outrageous and real at the same time. The illustrations are complicated and portray mood more than action, and the style changes with the setting and cast of characters. All together, this is a stylistic, powerful graphic novel with a well edited story and smart pacing. Everything that needs to be in the story is there, with no extras. I would recommend this book for fans of Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man series or Mat Johnson’s Right State.
Cartoonist Ellen Forney’s Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me is an honest, funny graphic memoir that explores her life following her diagnosis with bi-polar disorder. As an artist, Forney had mixed emotions about her diagnosis, ranging from excitement over joining what she called “Club Van Gogh” (the idea that creativity and great art come from mania) to frustration over the long road to recovery and finding the most effective drug cocktail. Forney never holds back in both words and illustrations, letting the reader join her in her head and get an idea of what it is to be an artist with bi-polar disorder.
Forney uses a combination of new illustrations and samples of the sketches that came from different times during her journey to recovery. The illustrations from her lowest depressive times are detailed, darker, and incredibly different than the cheery, simple cartoon illustrations that populate the rest of the book. While the book can come off as a tad self-indulgent and Forney’s journey is obviously her own, this is an excellent read for anyone that is looking for insight into what the recovery journey may look like for a person diagnosed as having manic depression. Even if it is just to help you feel like you’re a part of Club Van Gogh and no longer alone. When you’ve finished Marbles, I would suggest picking up the beautifully illustrated graphic memoir, Stitches: A Memoir by David Small or the unsettling account of a high school relationship with Jeffery Dahmer, My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf.
Webcomics collected for the printed page rarely hang together as cohesive singular works, and this book is no exception. They also rarely deliver a consistent laughs-per-page number or manage to be as fresh on page 50 as they are on page 1; and for these, Hark! A Vagrant is indeed an exception. Kate Beaton’s comic is very funny and accessible; she pokes fun at various literary and historical figures (both infamous and obscure), in addition to hipsters and teenagers and even superheroes. If you like smarmy, witty, smart comedy and drawings that range from the moody and surreal to the supremely cute, this book is a great choice!
Since the humor is hard to describe, just check out this comic. If you like humor about 200 year old inventors or have a soft spot for Tesla…
For more awesome, check out Kate Beaton’s comics at their original home: harkavagrant.com.
You may have noticed that many librarians have a love affair with Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife (case in point, Lynn just blogged about it and here I am blogging about it again). This is mostly due to the book’s bookiness–it is swelling with libraries, librarians, book artists and historical typefaces. Lucky for us, Ms. Niffenegger seems to have a love affair with Libraries, and thus continued her theme of bookiness in a graphic story titled The Night Bookmobile published in The Guardian last Autumn. The story revolves around a young woman who stumbles onto a bookmobile that holds every bibliofile’s deepest desire and a very personal collection of books:
You can find out what magic this bookmobile holds by reading it online via The Guardian or keeping your fingers crossed that a book version will be published in the US next fall!
P.S. Audrey Niffenegger’s newest novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, comes out at the end of September so better hurry and get your reserve on it!