We'll lead off with a look at Beauty, which is far more than just skin-deep...
Words and Color by Hubert
Line Art by Kerascoët
Published by NBM
This book has been out for a couple months now but hasn't received nearly the same volume of attention of Drawn and Quarterly's earlier Kerascoët book, Beautiful Darkness. Despite the lack of publicity it has apparently sold well because NBM has announced it's second print run is due out in February. I have to think the success and visibility of Beautiful Darkness was a great boost for this book. But Beauty is just as good as Beautiful Darkness, and narratively it's much richer.
Over the course of 150 pages the story follows most of the life of our protagonist who has been cursed with a magical beauty that initially wrecks havoc on the lives and kingdoms of the men that come within sight of her. The color palettes of the changing seasons, the fairy tale castles, and the men squaring off in warfare are a visual treat. Recommended for fans of "Castle Waiting" in that Beauty pulls off subversion and aversion of traditional gender roles in a fairy tale but doesn't end up feeling anachronistically modern while doing it. This would make a great present for your sister who is an occasional comics reader.
On Loving Women
Written and Illustrated by Diane Obomsawin
Published by Drawn and Quarterly
Humanoid animal characters are often used to put some distance between difficult subjects and the creator working on them (see Maus for the literal textbook example, but also Blacksad and its coverage of race issues as another), allowing them to explore without making those they portray fully human. On Loving Women uses a similar trick, but its stories, while sometimes heartbreaking, are far more uplifting. A collection of recollections from Obomsawin herself along with friends and lovers, it's about young women discovering they are attracted to other women. They are learning how to love, and find joy and pain in their explorations, each of which is told in a short story form, running usually between 5 and 8 pages, though a few are longer.
Obomsawin quickly draws the reader closer to these girls, and you begin to feel as if they are sharing their most intimate secrets with you--which is exactly right. But because of the narrative structure--each is first person--this doesn't feel like an intrusion. The women here want us to know what it was like to kiss a girl for the first time, have a sexual experience, or think about what it might mean to them to be a lesbian. They don't pull punches, either--if there's sex, we see it, so while it makes a lovely book for a person trying to focus on their own sexuality, it might need some supervision if you wanted a teen who needed help coming out to read over the stories. (I think it would be perfect for this, by the way.)
The women in On Loving Women are mostly a collection of cartoon-style lines, not unlike Sam Henderson, though without the rough edges. Her bodies are drawn to be long and thin, and there's not a lot of variety in body shapes. She is, however, very good at setting moods, and doing little touches like motion lines or making a character's eyes grow extra-wide to help provide emotion and depth. Backgrounds and clothing give place, like dressing as Nuns or playing sports, and there's a great use of grey scale in this graphic novel to highlight certain parts of the page. On Loving Women is a different style of memoir, like a Studs Turkel interview mixed with a one-woman artistic anthology. It's definitely worth seeking out if this concept--and the subject matter of learning about one's sexuality--appeals to you. (Review by Rob McMonigal)
Written and Illustrated by Blaise Larmee
Published by 2D Cloud
An icy, anthropological satire of artistic pretention, Comets Comets presents a pair of artists, Hall Hassi and Davidson Middle (even their names provoke an eye roll) as they are interviewed for a podcast and describe their work. Sample dialogue: "…if you stick to certain routes, contested intersections…you can generate polemics without taking on a ton of risk." Another penetrating insight ends with vapid real-speak, instantly breaking through the artists' veneer of sophistry: "Oh my god totally." This 32-page minicomic would make a fine companion to Tom Wolfe's infamous 1975 lampoon The Painted Word, suggesting as it does that conversations about art are all too often little more than circle jerks of inflated egos and empty pseudo-intellectual posturing. Larmee delineates the conversation in a loose, freewheeling line, in one panel deliberately (mercifully?) rendering the conversation illegible under blotches of obfuscating dark colors. This is a sublimely sophisticated and winning satire. (Review by Rob Kirby)
The Collected Counter Attack
Written and Illustrated by Alisa Harris
This past year, creator Alisa Harris collected her various mini-comics, Counter Attack, into a very attractive hardcover edition thanks to the help of Kickstarter. She re-worked some of the early illustrations (a creator is never satisfied with their old work, as they grow, change and improve), and works things chronologically from their time as kittens up to the last of the mini-comics.
Anyone who owns cats will immediately relate to the situations, whether it's leaving cat puke in just the right place for the human to step in it, playing with game board pieces, or having rules about where to sleep in the bed. The illustrations focus squarely on the kitties and their immediate surroundings, giving only so much details as are needed to set context. Some times, that's as simple as a few lines to indicate a wall, and at others there will be details of books and drawers. Harris uses thick black lines to outline her subjects, including the cats, with white space being the only color--there's no gray scale--other than the color chapter headers. Though not intricate in detail, there's plenty of emotion on the cats to keep things varied. Harris shows them at rest, at play, and active in ways that owners will know well.
The Collected Counter Attack is a lovely art book for cat lovers, who frequently go hand in hand with comics lovers, making this book, which includes a tribute to one of its subjects who passed shortly before it was complete, a great gift for yourself or a cat lover in your life. (Review by Rob McMonigal)
Written and Illustrated by Jon Macy
Published by Northwest Press
Fearful Hunter is a strange dreamy erotic story. A young druid questions his vocation; a reluctant werewolf falls in love; a jealous mentor watches the romance and plans its ruin. Mostly set in a primal forest, the patterns of leaves and vines serve to both conceal and reveal the character's lust, hope, and betrayal. A very fun book definitely NOT for kids. (Review by Maia Kobabe)