Comics

Playing Catch-Up: Five Recent Graphic Novels You Really Shouldn't Miss

And so we have arrived at the great annual inrush of breath that precedes San Diego Comic Con. Comics publishers have gone quiet as flacks' fancies turn to thoughts of booth staffing and booze guzzling, and the industry collectively attempts to keep its powder dry for big announcements from the con floor. It's a kind of four-color funnybook omerta.

But when the buzz out of San Diego starts up next week, it will of course focus on what's next — what the coming weeks and months have in store. Which is why right now is a good time of year to pause and highlight some of what's now — a handful of outstanding recently released books you might have missed.

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Cover of ANYA'S GHOST
MacMillan

This debut YA graphic novel about Anya, a bright if sullen schoolgirl who falls down a well and befriends the ghost she finds there, stakes out an unusual patch of narrative real estate: it's both seriously creepy and ... really kinda sweet. From the very first page, Brosgol's artwork charms — Anya is a real kid, navigating the emotional minefield of high school. Check out a preview. See what I mean.

Wandering Son, Vol. I by Shimura Takako, translated by Matt Thorn

Cover of WANDERING SON
Fantagraphics Books

With skill, restraint and a deep sensitivity to the roiling emotions involved, Shimura relates the tale of fifth-grade boy Shuichi, who wants to be a girl, and his classmate Yoshino, a girl who wants to be a boy. This is the first volume of the Japanese saga to be published in English, and translator Thorn does great work parsing the complex gender honorifics of the Japanese language. We only just begin to get to know our two leads, but Shimura's approach allows us to feel their confusion, their heartache and — when a perceptive mutual friend orchestrates a plan that starts them down the road to self-acceptance — their quiet, nervous joy. Check out the preview.

EmiTown by Emi Lenox

Cover of Emitown
Image Comics

Lenox's webcomic EmiTown, a cartoon journal of her life in and around Portland, Oregon, is incredibly charming, ebullient and quirky. Image comics has collected a year's worth of entries (May 2009 to April 2010) in a great big honkin' volume that you're just gonna plow through. Lenox's breezy, expressive, manga-inflected cartooning — and light comic touch — enlivens the everyday details she documents (dayjob woes, video game triumphs, foods and beverages consumed, etc.) to create one of the most compulsively readable journal comics out there.

Aquaman: Death of a Prince by lots of people, but especially David Micheline (story) and Jim Aparo (art)

Cover of AQUAMAN: DEATH OF A PRINCE
DC Comics

This new collection of Aquaman stories from the late 70s are all solid superhero yarns, to be sure, but they're more than that. The storyline contained in this book is one that changed Aquaman's character permanently — out with the old, smilin' Sea King, in with the hot-headed, imperious Broken Man. Not that you can blame the guy — over the course of a handful of issues, his infant son gets murdered, his wife leaves him to search for a miracle that could save the boy, his faithful sidekick Aqualad goes off in search of his real father, and the people of Atlantis depose him.

Grim, unrelenting stuff; if weren't for Aparo's striking art — he drew a lithe, balletic Aquaman (imagine Nureyev slicing through the murky depths or wrasslin' an octopus) — it'd make for tough going. As it is, it's a satisfying reproduction of a era that still shapes how he's portrayed, more than three decades later.

Even the Giants by Jesse Jacobs

Cover of EVEN THE GIANTS
Adhouse Books

What better time of the year than now, when the very air is indistinguishable from chicken stock, to kick back with a gorgeously drawn chronicle of the far, frozen North? Especially if it involves heartsick Arctic monsters? This debut from Canadian Jesse Jacobs is a stark, slim, wordless paean to love among the yetis — or yeti-like creatures, anyway. Two such giant beasts roam the (exquisitely rendered) frozen, desolates wastes of the upper world, finding solace in gobbling up the locals like so many chocolate-covered cherries. Even the Giants is more a mood piece than a story, but the mood in question is sad and beautiful and worth checking out. Here's a preview.

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