We reach for graphic novels and memoirs because we treasure the experience of art plus story, of exploring a world of finely crafted illustrations that convey multitudes. Each of these four new comic books is a treat for the eye and balm for the brain, thanks to a heady mix of perspectives and representations of life in all its scary, funny, illuminating, weird, joyful glory.
Fans of Nicole J. Georges’ Lambda Award-winning graphic memoir, Calling Dr. Laura, will be thrilled she’s returned to form with Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home. The book opens with a pooch’s 15th birthday party, where the dog lunges at two children. Initially, it seems “bad dog” is an accurate moniker, but as Georges winds back through time, it’s clear there’s more to the story.
Teenage Georges adopted Beija as a gift for her then-boyfriend. When he left, the dog stayed, and Beija remains the author’s companion into adulthood. Their relationship is not without its (many) challenges: Beija is fearful and reactionary, and she gets in fights at the dog park. But then again, Georges chooses homes filled with noisy strangers and lets Beija off-leash at said park. Via flashbacks, Georges introduces her loving but neglectful mother and macho stepfather, and as loneliness and anger become the author’s constant cohorts, the impetus for dubious choices becomes clearer. Happily, as a young adult, Georges finds her queer feminist vegan identity, learns to practice self-expression through art and thus becomes a better pack leader for Beija.
Fetch does have the occasional crowded page and inelegant transition, which can make for a bumpy read. But overall, the art is wonderful, and the story is engaging and heartwarming. It’s a moving chronicle of triumph over difficult beginnings and the struggle to find people, a place and pets that feel like home.
From Fetch. © Nicole J. Georges. Reproduced by permission of HMH.
SURREALISM IN THE SKY
Julian Hanshaw’s Cloud Hotel is a beautifully rendered and engrossingly weird work of autobiographical fiction inspired by the UFO that Hanshaw and his family encountered when he was a boy in Hertfordshire, England. Hanshaw’s titular hotel, a colossal, light-beaming rectangle with lots of rooms inside, is a place for kids who have gone missing in the woods.
Remco is one of the lucky ones: Upon his return from his first journey to the sky, his beloved grandfather finds him in the woods. As pages turn and the hotel shifts and changes, Remco discovers he’s the only child who can move between the hotel and his regular life. Readers will wonder whether that’s a good thing as Hanshaw masterfully builds suspense and foreboding, prompting questions like: Where and when is the hotel? Who are the children? Is any of this real?
Curious readers who like a trippy, absorbing story with touching family moments and a wondrous depiction of another reality will enjoy Cloud Hotel. And fans of Hanshaw’s previous work—like Tim Ginger, which was short-listed for the British Comics Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize—will be ready to check right in.
History and mystery, horror and grief, ghosts and memories all collide in Idle Days, a darkly dramatic, occasionally explosive tale written by Thomas Desaulniers-Brousseau and illustrated by Simon Leclerc.
In Canada during World War II, Jerome is a military deserter hiding at his grandfather Maurice’s remote forest cabin. Jerome is angry about the war, restless in his isolation—and soon he becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to the people who lived in the cabin before his grandfather. Rumors of murder and suicide capture his attention as battlefield bloodshed haunts his dreams. He’s also mourning the recent death of his father and striving to elude capture, but “Wanted” posters and radio broadcasts ensure the war cannot be ignored.
Leclerc’s liberal use of black, red and orange evokes fiery warmth, while his skillfully drawn, violent tableaux convey the horror and fear in Jerome’s memory and imagination. Idle Days’ title plays on the aphorism, “Idle hands are the devil’s playthings,” and to be sure, such days build to Jerome’s reckoning with the past, acceptance of the present and a hint of what might lie in the future. It’s an absorbing amalgam of imagery and story that’s far from wordy, as illustration-only pages leave many aspects of the story open to readers’ imaginations. It’s scary stuff.
About Betty’s Boob by Vero Cazot and Julie Rocheleau is a nearly wordless sequential narrative, but Betty’s voice surges off the page. When we first meet Betty, she howls with post-op fear and rage as she demands to be given back her just-removed left breast. She attempts to return to life as usual, gift-boxed synthetic breast in hand, but is frustrated at every turn—by a boss who insists all employees have two breasts (it’s in the contract!), a boyfriend who rejects her and a woman who tries to bite the apple that serves as a poignant yet functional prosthetic. This surreal story has cleverness and wit sprinkled throughout, like the store that sells “luxury breasts since 1973,” some of which cost “8008” euros. Ultimately, Betty strikes out on her own, and through a sequence of delightfully wild events featuring dancing, costumes, wigs and a dazzling array of pasties, she finds acceptance and a new identity within a boisterous burlesque troupe.
The artwork is vibrant and kinetic, and its depiction of goings-on both fantastical and reality-bound is detailed and eminently appealing. About Betty’s Boob is an inspiring, entertaining story of pain and grief transformed into joyful self-acceptance—societal expectations be damned.