Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT

Design veteran Chwast delivers another streamlined, graphic adaptation of classic literature, this time Mark Twain’s caustic, inventive satire of feudal England.

Chwast (Tall City, Wide Country, 2013, etc.) has made hay anachronistically adapting classic texts, whether adding motorcycles to The Canterbury Tales (2011) or rocket ships to The Odyssey (2012), so Twain’s tale of a modern-day (well, 19th-century) engineer dominating medieval times via technology—besting Merlin with blasting powder—is a fastball down the center. (The source material already had knights riding bicycles!) In Chwast’s rendering, bespectacled hero Hank Morgan looks irresistible, plated in armor everywhere except from his bow tie to the top of his bowler hat, sword cocked behind head and pipe clenched in square jaw. Inexplicably sent to sixth-century England by a crowbar to the head, Morgan quickly ascends nothing less than the court of Camelot, initially by drawing on an uncanny knowledge of historical eclipses to present himself as a powerful magician. Knowing the exact date of a celestial event from more than a millennium ago is a stretch, but the charm of Chwast’s minimalistic adaption is that there are soon much better things to dwell on, such as the going views on the church, politics and society, expressed as a chart of literal back-stabbing and including a note that while the upper class may murder without consequence, it’s kill and be killed for commoners and slaves. Morgan uses his new station as “The Boss” to better the primitive populous via telegraph lines, newspapers and steamboats, but it’s the deplorably savage civility of the status quo that he can’t overcome, even with land mines, Gatling guns and an electric fence. The subject of class manipulation—and the power of passion over reason—is achingly relevant, and Chwast’s simple, expressive illustrations resonate with a childlike earnestness, while his brief, pointed annotations add a sly acerbity. His playful mixing of perspectives within single panels gives the work an aesthetic somewhere between medieval tapestry and Colorforms.

Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60819-961-7

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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Rich, creamy art and playful paneling make for a fun read.

THE GIGANTIC BEARD THAT WAS EVIL

Cartoonist Collins’ debut graphic novel is a long, smooth fable of a man whose unkempt facial hair ravages the tidy city of Here.

Here sits on an island, surrounded by the sea, separated from the far-off land of There. And whereas Here is all row houses and trimmed trees and clean cheeks, There is a dark, disordered place that would mix your insides with your outsides, your befores with your nows with your nexts—unpleasant business brilliantly depicted in panels breaking across a single body as it succumbs to chaos. So the people of Here live quiet, fastidious lives, their backs to the sea, and neighbor Dave delights in doodling it all from his window as he listens to the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” on repeat. But an irregular report at his inscrutable office job triggers the single hair that has always curved from Dave’s upper lip to be suddenly joined by a burst of follicles. Try as Dave might, his unruly beard won’t stop pouring from his face in a tangled flood—and soon it threatens the very fabric of life in Here. Collins’ illustrations are lush, rounded affairs with voluptuous shading across oblong planes. Expressions pop, from the severe upturn where a sympathetic psychiatrist’s brows meet to the befuddlement of a schoolgirl as the beard’s hypnotic powers take hold. With its archetypical conflict and deliberate dissection of language, the story seems aimed at delivering a moral, but the tale ultimately throws its aesthetics into abstraction rather than didacticism. The result rings a little hollow but goes down smooth.

Rich, creamy art and playful paneling make for a fun read.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-05039-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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A thin sliver of illustrated memoir that barely hits its stride before fading away.

CHICKEN WITH PLUMS

Satrapi (Embroideries, 2005, etc.) recalls the tragic final days of her great-uncle, an Iranian musician who died of a broken heart after his wife destroyed his favorite instrument.

Set for the most part in Tehran circa 1958, this graphic memoir tells the story of Nasser Ali Khan, a renowned master of the tar, an Iranian stringed instrument. A man of taciturn demeanor and moodiness, Khan believes himself too much of an artist to perform non-creative labor; he barely contributes to the household upkeep with either work or money. Not surprisingly, his firecracker of a wife doesn’t take well to this attitude and eventually cracks, snapping his beloved tar in two and sending Khan to his bed, where he grows gloomy and frets. This day-by-day reconstruction shows Khan’s wife and brother trying to rouse him back to the land of the living. But his artist’s pride (the tar was Stradivarius-like in its perfection) is not easily mended. As always, Satrapi’s artwork is simple and expressive, with its rich pools of black ink and swooping, lyrical curlicues. Only occasionally does she break out of a strict frame-to-frame design, but when she does, the results are breathtaking. One beautiful page depicts the family of one of Khan’s sons seated around the TV: In the top half, they’re happy and chatty, watching a woman sing; in the bottom, all is in perditious shadow, a bearded man lecturing on the screen, with the text reading simply, “But in 1980 war erupted and that was the end of happiness.” Unfortunately, the volume is so short that the story doesn’t have enough time to take root, and what could have been an emotional and heart-rending drama becomes instead an intriguing footnote.

A thin sliver of illustrated memoir that barely hits its stride before fading away.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2006

ISBN: 0-375-42415-6

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2006

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