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.
Probably my favourite PW column of the year thus far, featuring the whimsical Liniers and his existential musings and humour in Macanudo #3.
An absolute must read for fans of Calvin and Hobbes especially.
It’s not often that cartoonists earn legitimate comparisons to strip maestros Charles Schultz and Bill Watterson, but that is precisely what Argentinian artist Liniers has achieved with Macanudo.
Published on the last page of newspaper La Nación, the popular daily strip has been running since 2002. Enchanted Lion Books have previously published two volumes of Macanudo for the English-speaking market, but this third volume has an incredibly eye-catching cover that will surely attract many new readers to the series.
With a focus on both meta-humour and existential musings, the frequently surreal strip does indeed recall Calvin and Hobbes as well as George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, and there are some neat touches of political satire that give a knowing wink to the Argentinian classics El Eternauta and Mafalda.
Liniers – real name Richard Siri – has created a series with little linear plotline but several recurring characters that turn up in occasional strips. Most frequent appearance goes to Henrietta, her sneaky cat Fellini and her teddy bear Mandelbaum, and a group of elves are often seen too, along with couple Lorenzo and Tersita, the two abstract beings Yellow Thing and Blue Thing, Z-25 the sensitive robot, and even Liniers himself in rabbit form.
Named for an old-timey Argentinian word meaning, “it’s okay”, Liniers intends for the comic to be a shot of optimism at the end of a newspaper filled with daily depressing news. And yet the surrealism he employs has kept Macanudo from US syndication and even translation until Enchanted Lion Books began publication in 2014.
In simple lines, joyous colours, and haphazard panelling, Liniers effortlessly spins his strips from surreal humour to moments of quiet thought or societal commentary, resulting in a cacophony of cartoons that beg to be read again and again.
And best of all, Macanudo is genuinely suitable for all ages with zero trace of patronising younger readers.
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.
And it's GORGEOUS.
A follow up to the hugely successful French graphic novel, Love: The Tiger translated to English earlier this year, sees writer Frédéric Brrémaud and artist Federico Bertolucci expand upon their astonishing look at the beauty and terror of our natural world.
While Love: The Tiger followed the eponymous animal through the jungle on the hunt for prey, Love: The Fox has a much wider scope – the island that the fox inhabits is the true protagonist of this story, suffering a massive volcanic explosion that impact the lives of every creature that call this land home. From the sleekit fox foraging for food, to a passing polar bear and mother whale, Brrémaud and Bertolucci have trained their focus within to very specific acts of love – acts that readers will surely empathise with strongly.
Glorious single page spreads are breathtaking, calling to mind Disney classics of old with their delicacy, and Bertolucci perfectly captures the various interactions between competing and panicked animals, allowing the occasional exaggerated expression to better convey a sense of drama that propels the reader along this cataclysmic track. This delicate balance of accuracy and expressiveness upon lush backgrounds is what makes Bertolucci’s sequential work truly unique.
Completely wordless, Love: The Fox does not flinch from the cruelty of either beast or natural disaster, yet without the presence of human characters this remains a wonderfully uplifting and powerful read.
Two more volumes are set to follow from Magnetic Press, starring a lion and dinosaur respectively, and all volumes are all ages.
The first First Look of August spotlights a newly finished classic.
Fabulous manta rays soar across open skies in this formerly forgotten classic, a labour of love that succumbed to distribution difficulties now fondly restored by Dover Publications.
The original cult series, an environmental sci-fi experiment in visual narration by Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli, ran for twenty-three and a half issues between 1986-89 to great critical acclaim. Ostensibly following the work of government agent Gavia Immer, stationed in a Massachusetts cabin in the woods, as he is tasked with displacing the transmuted creatures that have thrived in a post nuclear fallout America, the comic soon turns into a weird and wonderful passage of creativity.
As Immer struggles to find his place in the world, haunted by videotapes left behind by his late father who sought some incredible truth, loose narrative moves further into the background allowing Zulli to take the reins on a comic that becomes more poetry than prose as the lone puma stalks the edges of the shadows of man.
The melancholy puma is in stark contrast to the joyful swooping mantas, freed from their oceans to touch the clouds, and several sequences dispense with the need for humans or dialogue completely, simply following the unfurling nature that surrounds Immer – taking what is usually confined to the background and promoting it firmly into the fore.
Zulli is perhaps best known for his Eisner-nominated work on The Sandman, as well as his fan favourite run on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but his black and white portrayal of nature and wildlife within The Puma Blues is a highpoint of the comics medium, and deftly captures the environmental chaos and threat of ecological ruin that lies within the loose threads of narrative. Stream of consciousness meets dream sequences amidst more traditional fare, with startling layouts, epic gutters, montaged panels and breath-taking transitions.
Best of all, this deluxe 480 page hardcover contains a brand new 40 page ending from the original creators – the tale of The Puma Blues is finally complete.
Last week saw my interview with rising star Ales Kot published at The Guardian, where we tore into new horror noir Wolf and the very angry Material, particularly on matters of systematic racism.
“My honesty gets me in trouble,” Kot allows, “but my take is that if they can’t handle me at my realest, they don’t deserve to have me anyway. Which maybe sounds privileged, but it’s not – I turned down plenty of gigs when I had nothing in my bank account and was very sick, without a home, staying at my friend’s studio, not knowing what to do, or where I would be in a month, or if I would even be alive. Turning down work that does not feel right continues to be crucial for my attainment of the kind of career and life that I want.”
It's no secret that when my life was turned upside down last year by bringing home a tiny, adorable, paper-chewing puppy, that I swiftly made the switch to reading almost all of my comics digitally, and went so far as to rescue/donate my single issues to charity.
Aside from the ease of having my entire library at my fingertips, I've been really impressed by how many comics are available digitally, including indie titles. I first came across Sequential at the Edinburgh Book Festival and since then it's been a regular destination for me when I'm looking for something different.
Right now - and until August 1st - Sequential is celebrating its two year anniversary with a big 50-90% off the print price sale across over 350 titles from the likes of Dark Horse, Fantagraphics, SelfMadeHero, Blank Slate, Avery Hill, Secret Acres, Koyama Press and more.
And okay, I LOVE top ten lists. Not as anything objective, but the chance to see what everyone else is reading that I might be missing out on. So, without further ado, here's my pick of ten titles from the sale to feast your eyes upon.
(NB - each title has a short preview at the Sequential links.)