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Panel Mania: A Year in Review

With the sad news that PW Comics World over at Publisher's Weekly is closing, the future of Panel Mania, or First Look as it was latterly known, is rather uncertain.

It's been an honour and a privilege to have helmed the column in 2015, and I am so happy to have previewed some 18 comics in that time. Writing the column really allowed me to combine my comics experience, academic knowledge, and my previous years of bookselling expertise.

I hope to continue to have a voice at PW and keep tapping into my bookseller experience, but thank you all for a wonderful nine months. To every publisher, editor, publicity person and creator I've conversed with this year for Panel Mania/First Look - thank you.

Independent comic publishers have such lovely folk working for them, and some fiercely talented creators who are so passionate in their work. You folks are what keep my love of comics alive!

For now, here's a look back at the 18 titles that I saw as guaranteed hits with the right bookseller love behind them:


WrinklesWrinkles - Paco Roca (Knockabout Comics)

Wrinkles” A Haunting Portrait of Aging

My first new piece of the year was also the first of my stint as captain of the Panel Mania ship at Publisher's Weekly - a great excuse to spotlight some of the fantastic comics coming out this year.

Wrinkles hit a little close to home as I suspect it will do for many - watching our older relatives lose their sense of self is as frightening as it is heartbreaking - and it's a reminder that many of us will come to similar fates. The fact that it explores such a well avoided subject is precisely why, I think, it's such an important (as well as beautiful) read.

PW preview here - Extended review here


DisplacementDisplacement - Lucy Knisley (Fantagraphics)

Lucy Knisley Explores Aging in 'Displacement'

Accidentally carrying on a theme from Wrinkles, this title appealed to me primarily because Knisley's work is always wonderful, but also because January almost demands an uplifting read or two. This travelogue of the creators time on a cruise looking after her grandparents is a little heartbreaking but ultimately encouraging, and the mixture of comic panels, cartooning and letters make for softer read.

I did have a wee cry after reading though!

PW preview here - Extended review here


Girl in DiorGirl in Dior - Annie Goetzinger (NBM)

Fashion Forward with ‘Girl in Dior’

Spotlighting the upcoming translation of French comics maestro Annie Goetzinger, Girl in Dior, a fascinating blend of graphic narrative and fashion illustration, all with a strong undercurrent of rosy nostalgia and the occasional sharp stab of social commentary.

A very beautiful comic.

PW preview here - Extended review here


Two BrothersTwo Brothers - Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)

Ba and Moon Explore Home and Family in ‘Two Brothers’

A world exclusive preview of a highly anticipated new graphic novel.

Ten pages from the upcoming Two Brothers by Brazilian dream team Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, an adaptation of Dois Irmãos by the eminent author, Milton Hatoum. Two Brothers promises a story of strained family relations and identity, with more than a hint of intrigue bestowed by the two brothers translating the tale in both language and medium. This looks very promising indeed!

PW preview here - Extended review here


The Swords of GlassThe Swords of Glass - Sylviane Corgiat and Laura Zuccheri (Humanoids)

The Spectacular World Building of 'The Swords of Glass'

Laura Zuccheri's work is jaw-droppingly beautiful and the world building that she and Sylviane Corgiat have achieved here is first class.

This is a gorgeous book that I've already re-read twice, and would recommend to anyone on the strength of the art alone. It's a 200+ page sci-fi/fantasy epic with strange critters, costumes, and architecture a plenty.

PW preview here - Extended review here


BallisticBallistic - Adam Egypt Mortimer and Darick Robertson (Black Mask)

Go 'Ballistic' with Mortimer and Robertson

It started out as my choice for best comic of 2013. Now the first volume is complete and collected in a trade paperback, and set to be best comic of the millennium.

Ladies and gentlemen, do feel free to go ballistic for... Ballistic!

PW preview here - Extended review here


The OvenThe Oven - Sophie Goldstein (AdHouse Books)

Sophie Goldstein's Dystopian SF in 'The Oven'

I've long admired mini-comics, so I'm thrilled to preview her first long-form work, The Oven.

Keep an eye on those insects within....

PW preview here - Extended review here


The KurdlesThe Kurdles - Robert Goodin (Fantagraphics)

The Heart-Stealing Whimsy of 'The Kurdles'

A preview of Robert Goodin's GORGEOUS The Kurdles.

A lovely story of an abandoned teddy bear that finds her way to a new home and new friends - super suitable for all ages and I adore it!

PW preview here - Extended review here


Exquisite CorpseExquisite Corpse - Pénélope Bagieu (First Second)

Joie de vivre in Pénélope Bagieu’s 'Exquisite Corpse'

This weeks panel mania features a favourite artist of mine - translated for the first time into English by First Second Books!

Exquisite Corpse is a really fun read from Pénélope Bagieu - with one hell of an ending - and a perfect summer read.

PW preview here - Extended review here


The HeroThe Hero - David Rubin (Dark Horse)

From Zero to 'The Hero' with David Rubin

A super exclusive preview at Publisher's Weekly from the highly anticipated English language edition of David Rubin's masterpiece.

I really enjoyed this, and I'm looking forward to seeing the concluding volume later this year. I'll confess, I was singing Disney Hercules songs in my head for most of my read, but that's a good thing :)

PW preview here - Extended review here


The AutumnlandsThe Autumnlands - Kurt Busiek and Ben Dewey (Image)

Fighting Tooth and Claw in "The Autumnlands"

For my birthday week I couldn't resist featuring one of my current favourites, The Autumnlands!

This is a must-read book for all fantasy fans, and all animal fans too. Dewey is definitely an artist to keep an eye on.

PW preview here - Extended review here


The King in YellowThe King in Yellow - INJ Culbard (SelfMadeHero)

Return to Carcosa in Culbard’s ‘The King in Yellow’

Spotlighting one of my favourite artists in this weeks Panel Mania, with a comics adaptation of the infamous The King in Yellow by the magnificent INJ Culbard.

The original novel got a lot of attention recently thanks to references in True Detective, so now is the perfect time to dig in and see what all the fuss is about with this classic weird fiction.

PW preview here - Extended review here


DressingDressing - Michael DeForge (Koyama Press)

'Dressing' for Success with Michael DeForge

An exclusive preview from the indie king's latest publication, and another surefire hit that will appeal to fans of both alternative comics and art.

PW preview here - Extended review here


If You StealIf You Steal - Jason (Fantagraphics)

Jason’s Triumphant Return in “If You Steal”

Panel Mania has been renamed First Look and continues as normal twice a month - this time around it's an exclusive preview of Norwegian's finest and one of my absolute favourite artists.

Jason's upcoming If You Steal, complete with hitwoman Frida Kahlo and 50s horror comic pastiche, is a must-get for my bookshelf.

PW preview here - Extended review here


Puma BluesThe Puma Blues - Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli (Dover Publications)

‘The Puma Blues’ Returns in Complete Form

Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli's cult classic comic returns with a never before seen ending finally completing the story of The Puma Blues after nearly thirty years.

A very unique and powerful comic that will appeal to environmentalists in particular.

PW preview here - Extended review here


Love: The FoxLove: The Fox - Frédéric Brrémaud and Federico Bertolucci (Magnetic Press)

The Breathtaking Beauty of ‘Love: The Fox’

The animal theme for August continues with this new English market edition of Frédéric Brrémaud and Federico Bertolucci's stunning Love: The Fox, a highly anticipated followup to Love: The Tiger.

Love: The Tiger is a comic I am very passionate about, a beautiful story told entirely without words and by blending wonderful character work with realistic animal behaviour. Love: The Fox is equally gorgeous, with a more powerful story threaded throughout.

And it's GORGEOUS.

PW preview here - Extended review here


Macanudo #3Macanudo #3 - Liniers (Enchanted Lion Books)

The Whimsical World of Liniers's 'Macanudo #3'

Probably my favourite PW column of the year thus far, featuring the whimsical Liniers and his existential musings and humour in Macanudo #3.

With meta-humour and existential musings, Macanudo recalls to me fond memories of reading Calvin and Hobbes, or Krazy Kat, and the wonderfully wide cast of unique characters make this all the more charming.

PW preview here - Extended review here


Houses of the HolyHouses of the Holy - Caitlan Skaalrud (Uncivilized Books)

Caitlan Skaalrud’s Dantean ‘Houses of the Holy’

A fabulous debut graphic novel that will strike a chord with anyone who grapples with depression or their own mind.

Light on words and empty of dialogue, Skaalrud’s poetic expressions of inner turmoil are boldly honest, a mysterious building of hints to events already transpired and her struggle to triumph over the darkness within.

With PW Comics World closing, this is potentially the last Panel Mania/First Look.

PW preview here - Extended review here



Calling All Londoners: The Kewpies Are Coming

What do you get when you combine three of my favourite things: the history of women in comics, tattooed ladies, and animal rescue? Things & Ink's second Miniature Ink exhibition featuring kewpie dolls with all sales proceeds going to Battersea Dogs & Cats Home!

Miniature Ink II

I've been a subscriber to Things & Ink for a while, an independent tattoo magazine packed with gorgeous artwork and great articles, all with a supremely women-friendly approach. The Miniature Ink II exhibition at the Atomica Gallery in London begins on the 23rd of September, showcasing work from over 100 international tattoo artists who were given a kewpie doll as their canvas.

Painted this Kewpie doll for an upcoming charity exhibition at @atomicagallery @thingsandink

A photo posted by Wen (@wenramen) on

Kewpies, perhaps most well known now for their stylish place in traditional tattoo work, are rejuvenated from their initial popularity as flash tattoos in the early 1900s. These cute little characters were the creation of Rose O'Neill back in 1909 in the Ladies' Home Journal (US), tumbling down the side of her story pages and advertising multiple products. 

The Kewpies marched for suffrage, an important milestone on the road to improving women's rights given the national love for these little cherubs. O'Neill would parade through the streets, holding her Kewpie dolls high with banners running between them: "Votes for Women!" and "Give Mother the Vote!"

Done for @atomicagallery @thingsandink #MiniatureInk #charityevent

A photo posted by Heinz (@heinztattooer) on

Unusually for the time, O'Neill maintained all her rights to her creations, achieving great financial success and popularity, allowing her to bring attention to the cause without fear of bad press or harassment.

Demand was so high that the Kewpie doll was soon created in 1912, with many a soldier carrying them to war for luck, and it took at least twenty factories in Germany, as well as manufacturers in France and Belgium, to fulfil the orders.

Later, in the '30s, the Kewpies were given their own comics but that isn't what O'Neill is most renowned for in comics. That honour goes to 'The Old Subscriber Calls', a four panel comic rendered in O'Neill's favoured cascaded style published in 1896 in Truth magazine - the first recorded American comic created by a woman.

🔪🔪🔪 #miniatureinkII #occulttattoo A photo posted by Liz Clements Illustration (@lsbeth) on

You can see many more of the Kewpies before the exhibition on Instagram using tags #miniatureinkII and #miniatureink, get all details at the event page on Facebook here, and sales are on a first come, first serve basis.

You can also read more about Rose O'Neill on my site here, with more soon to come!

Hit the jump for the full list of artists: 


First Look: Caitlan Skaalrud’s Dantean ‘Houses of the Holy’

The second First Look of the month spotlights this fabulous debut graphic novel that will strike a chord with anyone who grapples with depression or their own mind.

Caitlin Skaalrud’s debut graphic novel is an intensely personal exploration of the artist’s own turbulent psyche. Already a strong voice in the world of indie comics thanks to her own Talk Weird Press micropress and her part in putting together the Autoptic comics festival, Uncivilized Books is bringing her work to a larger audience.

The protagonist of Houses of the Holy, a young woman, looks to repair terrible damage to her mind and soul, descending through a horrifically Dantean journey of the macabre and a suffocating depression. The occult plays a large hand, symbolic arrangements of bones and plastic both as the woman opens a sequence of doors in turn that leads to her eventual journey forth.

Light on words and empty of dialogue, Skaalrud’s poetic expressions of inner turmoil are boldly honest, a mysterious building of hints to events already transpired and her struggle to triumph over the darkness within.

The stark black ink cuts across the pages, reminiscent of the European expressionist woodcut novels of old, perfectly echoing the sense of engulfing darkness that can swallow souls whole and spit forth a wrecked shell of a mind. The collection of images that at first seem surreal and disconnected across panels, soon unlock the readers own most close guarded thoughts, a personal invocation from the artist of the way in which our minds hide truths in symbolism and denial.

Skaalrud’s pacing here is unusual too, the sense of anxiety at quickening action tempered by drawn out moments on particular details, reminding the reader of the importance of the journey itself.

Houses of the Holy is an exorcism, not perhaps of the darkness itself but of the fear and self-loathing it inspires within the psyche laid bare upon these pages. Intensely personal yes, but relatable and cathartic to many.

Read the full preview here: Caitlan Skaalrud’s Dantean ‘Houses of the Holy’

Houses of the Holy


The Independent on Sunday: Review of Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

The web sensation hit the books market last month to enthusiastic acclaim, and today's Independent on Sunday carries my large review of one of my favourite complete comic stories of all time.

This review was great fun to write, and it was fabulous to see artwork from Nimona adorning the sunday papers!

"Nimona though is where it all began, and where Stevenson’s most pure artistic expression is to be found. What begins in simple panel layouts and shark jokes, turns through expressive colour palettes into playful design and incredible characterisation that matches the dark evolution of the story. Stevenson has prioritised accessibility above radical composition, with simple but effective transitions and easy to follow dialogue bubble paths. This is perhaps why Nimona is as popular with new comic readers as it is with long-time fans."

Read the full review here: Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson - book review



Panel Mania: Joie de vivre in Pénélope Bagieu’s ‘Exquisite Corpse’

In this instalment, I'm looking at French superstar Pénélope Bagieu's first English translated graphic novel from First Second.

Exquisite Corpse is a really fun read from a favourite artist of mine - with one hell of an ending.

French superstar Pénélope Bagieu’s debut English-language graphic novel about life, love, and legacy, is a perfect read for women in their 20s, 30s, and beyond, a demographic oft overlooked by comic publishers.

Bagieu is a woman of many talents: illustrator, graphic novelist, and Paris’ most popular blogger. Her website, My Life is Completely Fascinating (Ma vie est tout à fait fascinante), began as a place to share her daily illustrated diary entries of her travels and day to day life. Bagieu’s most famous comic series, Joséphine – oft described as a French Bridget Jones, followed shortly after with demand leading to a further two volumes.

Cadavre exquis came next in 2010, marking her first foray into a complete graphic novel length story, and even greater critical success. It’s no surprise that Bagieu has since been made Chevalier (Knight) in the Order of Arts and Letters in her native France, testament to her cultural impact.

Exquisite Corpse focuses on the life of Zoe, a carefree woman in a dead-end job and relationship who starts to realise her frustrations as colleagues enjoy greater ambitions. Spying a man watching her from his apartment window she blusters her way inside to use the bathroom and immediately inflames the curiosity of the world-famous author she has completely failed to recognise.

The tension between the world famous Parisian literacy scene and the directionless but hard working twenty-something who has literally never stepped foot in a bookstore is cleverly played – two realities known well to many crashed together with no elitist judgement placed upon either.

Drawn into an unexpected conspiracy, the book maintains a light and airy tone while never stooping to belittle Zoe’s comparative lack of intellectual weight – her ability to maintain her sense of self is in fact a tremendous strength. The hidden depths within the characterisation of the principle cast subtly underpins proceedings, making Exquisite Corpse both a joy to read and packing one hell of a memorable punch. The ending in fact will have many readers literally jumping for joy.

Zoe is an absolute scene-stealer, her oversized eyes giving her facial expressions precedence over everyone else. She wears her heart on her sleeve, and gives frequent side-eye to the bizarre happenings around her. Not an overly likeable character, Bagieu’s style, fun, fresh, and with great knowledge of how women’s bodies actually work, makes her completely relatable.

For great summer fiction to read out in the garden or while enjoying un café, look no further.

Read the full preview here: Joie de vivre in Pénélope Bagieu’s 'Exquisite Corpse'

Exquisite Corpse

Exquisite Corpse


Panel Mania: The Spectacular World Building of ‘The Swords of Glass’

The latest Panel Mania is out and boy is it a good one! Laura Zuccheri's work is jaw-droppingly beautiful and the world building that she and Corgiat have achieved here is first class.

This is a gorgeous book that I've already re-read twice, and would recommend to anyone on the strength of the art alone. It's a 200+ page sci-fi/fantasy epic with strange critters, costumes, and architecture a plenty.

A dying sun, four cosmic swords, and a young girl determined to become a warrior in the name of vengeance. In this alternate world the rich rule over the weak, killing the poor and stealing women. But with the waters rising and the weather becoming more and more extreme, even the privileged find themselves locked in ivory towers to escape the solar wrath.

The oversized deluxe edition of The Swords of Glass (Les Épées de Verre) clocks in at an impressive 212 pages from Humanoids, collecting the complete four books in the series: Yama, Ilango, Tigran, and Dolmon. A chapter for every sword, and all bound in the generously opulent French style.

Once upon a time an artist named Moebius, one of the most influential pop culture icons of the 20th century, founded a comics art group that grew to be the publisher Les Humanoïdes Associés. Publishing infamous magazine Métal Hurlant and plentiful graphic novels by French creative legends, the company also birthed Ah! Nana, an innovative female-led magazine in the late ‘70s.

After troubled times and a resurgence for the industry and publisher, that spirit of equality and diversity is very much alive today in the form of this newly translated epic from Sylviane Corgiat.

The last ten years has been a busy time for the celebrated fantasy and science fiction writer, with Elias Le Maudit (Elias the Cursed) and Lune d’Ombre (Shadow Moon) winning particular acclaim, but it is due to the ethereal and delicate work of artist Laura Zuccheri that The Swords of Glass is such an unmissable treat.

Zuccheri is no newcomer to comics in her native Italy, with multiple contributions to Giancarlo Berardi’s Julia, but collaborating with Corgiat has perhaps given her the most high profile and award-winning platform to date, and Humanoids have certainly done the work justice.

Yama, the young village girl, is our first and main protagonist. In a Conan the Barbarian type intro, the world that she knows is stolen from her in brutal style, driving her to a life of fervent training in the name of vengeance. Unlike Conan and others though, while Yama is uniquely intelligent and hot-tempered, she must also face the additional perils of being female within a barbarian land.

Luckily for Yama she just happens to have been chosen by the sword that fell near her home, and lies imbedded in rock, awaiting her command. Yet the man who took Yama in as his own, and who has trained her all these years, seems to know far more about the sword than he is prepared to tell.

Characterisation is given in broad strokes, with actions rather than words defining the nature of our cast, but flashbacks are well placed when needed to avoid large spoken expositions. The world building is slow and almost sensual, large views are broken down into more thorough and highly detailed panels, and the wildlife and variation on humanoid races is a startling and successful choice.

In a story of fantasy and science fiction, albeit with a timely environmental angle, where vast cities dominate the page with their expert architecture and a theatrical array of superb costumes with shades of Japanese culture and Moebius in influence, it is the sheer beauty of this natural world that elevate the tale into something rather special.

Dense lush forests with strange creatures, spectacularly lit giant humanoid creatures striding across the dusky horizon, endless fields of green that the pig-tiger pet lollops across, even a cute monkey-like critter ably scampering up brickwork… it is rare to find an artist so comfortable with depicting such disparate scenes as well as composing striking character and expressive work. There is something so nostalgic and yet progressive about Zuccheri’s art as she realises Corgiat’s imaginative world, the comic is a pleasure to return to countless times.

Every blade of grass is painstakingly in place, every fantastical creature consistent in each appearance, and all anatomy precisely where it should be. The story is indeed gripping as the tale unfolds and new characters are introduced, but above all, Zuccheri’s work is simply breathtaking.

Read the full preview here: The Spectacular World Building of 'The Swords of Glass'

The Swords of Glass The Swords of Glass

The Swords of Glass