Tonight’s Homework: Graphic Novels
September sees several releases of the genre that has morphed from lowly to literary
Compiled by Brian Lampkin
The new school year brings a sweet reminiscence of comic books hidden inside text books as I pretend to pay attention to the weighty historical matter at hand. With apologies to “Old Sink or Swim” and “Wobbly Warren,” I was much more taken with Aquaman and the Silver Surfer.
In 2019, there’s no need to hide your comic art books. Graphic novels and histories have become respectable course work. Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1986) changed the way we think about the genre. Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (2006) was recently named by The New York Times as one of the 10 best memoirs of any kind, and recent graphic interpretations of The Handmaid’s Tale, To Kill A Mockingbird and Kindred should be prominent parts of a literary education. September offers a handful of new works sure to enhance our understanding of art, history and literature, but isn’t it more fun to read them illicitly?
September 3: Animal Farm: The Graphic Novel, by George Orwell. Illustrated by Odyr (Houghton-Mifflin, $22). In 1945, George Orwell, called by some “the conscience of his generation,” created an enduring, devastating story of new tyranny replacing old, with power corrupting even the noblest of causes. Today it is all too clear that Orwell’s masterpiece is still fiercely relevant wherever cults of personality thrive, truths are twisted by those in power and freedom is under attack. Now, in this fully authorized edition, the artist Odyr translates the world and message of Animal Farm into a gorgeously imagined graphic novel.
September 3: Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918, by Don Brown (Houghton-Mifflin. $18.99). What made the influenza of 1918 so exceptionally deadly —and what can modern science help us understand about this tragic episode in history? With a journalist’s discerning eye for facts and an artist’s instinct for true emotion, ALA Sibert Award nominee Don Brown sets out to answer these questions and more in Fever Year.
September 10: Atar Gull, by Fabien Nury. Illustrated by Bruno. (Titan Comics, $24.99). Nury is an award-winning French comics writer, with early successes such as Once Upon a Time in France, for which he received the 2011 prize for best series at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. He is most recently known for the original graphic novels The Death of Stalin (which was the source material for the 2017 dark farce film of the same name) and Death to the Tsar.
September 10: Punks Not Dead, Vol. 2: London Calling, by David Barnett. Illustrated by Martin Simmonds (Black Crown, $17.99). In the 1980s and ’90s, graphic novels lived in the underground music and political activist scenes. Tripwire magazine says, “[The] brilliantly realistic art of Martin Simmonds . . . is dripping in punk rock attitude . . . that pushes everything in London Calling up to eleven.” Graphic novels not dead.
September 24: The River at Night, by Kevin Huizenga (Drawn & Quarterly, $34.95). Huizenga uses the cartoon medium like a symphony, establishing rhythms and introducing themes that he returns to, adding and subtracting events and thoughts, stretching and compressing time. A walk to the library becomes a meditation on how we understand time, as Huizenga shows the breadth of of the medium of comics in surprising ways. The River at Night is a modern formalist masterpiece as empathetic, inventive and funny as anything ever written.
September 24: Excuse Me: Cartoons, Complaints, and Notes to Self, by Liana Finck (Random House, $20). Excuse Me assembles more than 500 of her best-loved cartoons from Instagram and The New Yorker over the past few years, in such distinctive chapters as: “Love & Dating”; “Gender & Other Politics”; “Animals”; “Art & Myth-Making”; “Humanity”; “Time, Space, and How to Navigate Them”; “Strangeness, Shyness, Sadness”; and “Notes to Self.” Melancholy and hilarious, relatable and surreal, intensely personal, yet surprisingly universal, Excuse Me brings together the best work so far by one of the most talented young comics artists working today.
October 1: The Best American Comics 2019, Edited by Jillian Tamaki (Houghton-Mifflin, $25). The Best American Comics 2019 showcases the work of established and up-and-coming artists, collecting work found in the pages of graphic novels, comic books, periodicals, zines, online, in galleries and more, highlighting the kaleidoscopic diversity of the comics form today. OH
Brian Lampkin is an owner of Scuppernong Books and the author of The Tarboro Three: Rape, Race, and Secrecy.