Comic Reviews


Embroidered Cancer Comic

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Embroidered Cancer Comic by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin is a short comic  (graphic novella?) that’s an autobiographical retelling of Elizabeth’s husband Bob being diagnosed with prostate cancer. The comic’s panels are entirely made up of embroidered line art illustrations, and whilst this artwork can appear somewhat unrefined, it still holds a charm and doesn’t get in the way of the reader connecting with the short, heavy story. The scene where the doctor breaks the news still moves me upon reflection.

If you’re interested in reading this comic for yourself, you can find it online at Embroidered Cancer Comic .

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The Lengths

Review by Matthew Nielsen

The Lengths by Howard Hardiman is graphic novel about Eddie, a young man from London who becomes a male escort under the alias “Ford.” Along with a separate name, he gets a second mobile phone to help keep his two lives apart. Not only does the story focus on his times as an escort, but also his personal life, such as with his friends and his boyfriend.

The art style is peculiar for two reasons. Firstly, there are rarely speech bubbles. Most of the dialogue is instead featured within the story’s on-going captions. However, the placement of the text usually works so that you know who is saying what. Secondly, all characters are portrayed as anthropomorphic dogs. It’s just a particular aesthetic, perhaps for the sake of keeping anonymity? Hardiman does a fantastic job of using a different dog breed for each character, and the whole dog-man thing is never brought up by the characters (nothing so blatant as “Oh, mate, I could proper murder a pack of Scooby Snacks, right now” or “My fur’s all messed up.”).

Overall I found the book quite peculiar, a tad jarring, but I kind of liked it. I wouldn’t call it “great” but I wouldn’t call it “bad” either. Have a think about it, and see if you’re up for giving this book a try.

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Project X Challengers: Seven Eleven

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Project X Challengers — Seven Eleven: The Miraculous Success of Japan’s 7-Eleven Stores is a non-fiction manga written by Tadashi Ikuta and illustrated by Naomi Kimura that chronicles the the ambitious founding of the Japanese 7-Eleven store. One may assume that this story is merely about an American 7-Eleven trying to plant its roots in Japan, but it’s more about people who discovered the 7-Eleven business format and decided to manage their own 7-Eleven company with the same template and business model, in exchange for a giving the original American company a portion of the Japanese company’s turnover. So what we’re dealing with is more of a new business startup than the mere expansion of an existing company. It’s almost like a different company with the same face.

In the manga we see the early days of the startup, when the main characters attempt to find a business model that can work well in Japan’s economy. Once the 7-Eleven format is discovered, negotiations with the company begin, but assistance (such as information and support) is very limited, much less than expected, and the Japanese company has to do a great deal of the work on their own.

This manga documents the struggles, challenges, and initial successes of the company in a fantastic display of overcoming the odds. On top of that, we explore a decent amount of the characters and their motivations, helping to move the narrative along. It makes a change from the interview-based documentaries we tend to see as videos. The art style gets the job done, rarely being sub-par, if at all. The graphic design for the products and posters used in the comic is sharp and detailed. The manga also provides a timeline at the end, not just of Japan’s 7-Eleven stores but also other relevant events in order to give context.

All in all, this book was informative and a lot more interesting than I assumed it was going to be. Give it a try. In the meantime, I’ll try and see if there are any more of these Project X Challengers books out there for me to read.

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Sarah’s Scribbles

Review by Matthew Nielsen

There are numerous creative, witty, relatable and funny webcomics (collectively titled Sarah’s Scribbles) made by the illustrator Sarah Andersen. You may have come across them online many times or maybe you’ve never heard of them, bu if you like at least some of the first couple of her comics you read, you’re going to enjoy many more.

Andersen’s short comics usually take up just one page and contrast how things may seem in the mind versus how they seem in reality. The comics often deal with social anxiety, coping with adulthood and responsibilities, various societal pressures, and reacting to how various other people talk, interact, or behave overall. I have had a great deal of enjoyment out of reading these comics. As many of my friends can relate much more to them than I, by reading these comics, I have been able to better understand the mindsets of some of my comrades. It seems that sometimes the best way to explain a problem is not through words but by sharing a link to one of Andersen’s insightful comics.

There are multiple books that collect these short stories in printed form, including Adulthood is a Myth, Big Mushy Lump, and Herding Cats. Opening a random page on any of these will most likely make for a quick morale boost any day.

You can find Sarah’s Scribbles online at http://sarahcandersen.com/

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Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley is an autobiographical journey of the author’s relationship with food. Knisley has enthusiastic high quality food lovers for parents and has spent a great deal of time and family connections working in or around the kitchen, and the author provides a wise and experienced account of her interactions.

Knisley is able to deliver a powerful range of memories, including sight, taste, and smell — very richly portraying food and locations. Her life stories are interlaced with the occasional random facts and recipes, the latter of which add a high level of practicality to the book. Knisley enthusiastically tells her tales, not just with selected positive highlights, but also with an admirable degree of honesty. The art style is simple, stylized, and consistent, aside from extra detail where necessary. For example, there was one scene showing a very nicely drawn croissant to emphasize the taste, texture and smell. I quite like it!

If you’re up for a journey into and beyond the kitchen with friends and family along the way, told by a positive and energetic artist, then you might want to check this graphic novel out.

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Artemis Fowl: the Graphic Novel

Review by Matthew Nielsen

An adaptation of the first book of the young adult fantasy series by Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl: the Graphic Novel is written by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano, and colored by Paolo Lamanna. Artemis Fowl  focuses on young genius (aged 12 in the first book) and his mission to restore his family’s wealth. His method of acquiring this wealth is via the discovery and attempted extortion of the LEP and their world. The LEP (or Lower Elements Police) is the guardian force of the Fairy Folk, as well as keepers of peace and order in a secret underground world of magical beings. They are technologically advanced and magical, and because they are able to erase memories and easily manipulate human technology, the Fairy Folk remain hidden and unknown to human civilization. That is until Artemis Fowl shows up. With the help of his immensely strong and tactile bodyguard/manservant simply known as “Butler,” Artemis sets up a plan that, if successful, will bring in a fortune.

The series is mainly aimed towards young adults and has various lighthearted moments, here and there, but it is not without death or violence (but you probably won’t see any of the characters dropping any F-bombs if you get what I mean).

Now,  I find that I very much prefer the original book. The artwork used in this graphic novel, especially the way the characters have been stylized, is not to my liking. The artwork is indeed quite detailed and very well-coloured, but the adaptation is pretty short, and so various things have been quite abridged. I would have preferred a longer book with more story, pauses, dialogue, and pacing. If that would have meant less detail and even no colour, I reckon it would have been more than worth it. Keep in mind I do love detail, but if it’s at the cost of story, then I do not enjoy it as much.

The characters in the graphic novel have been given some strange designs. For example, Butler has an extraordinary neck and the fairy character Holly is drawn noticeably taller than she was in the book. Also, the artist over-emphasized a character’s cleavage for some reason. Still, the way some of the characters have been stylized is not too bad. For example, the character Root was done pretty well, I reckon. Anyhow, it might be nitpicking in the end. We often find disappointments with other people’s interpretations of fictional characters we’ve imagined in our own way.

I read the first two Artemis Fowl graphic novels but didn’t continue after that. As for the original series, I stopped on the penultimate novel, as I was no longer happy with how the series had changed. I recommend most of the series to young adults, especially ages 9-13 or so. Books 1, 3 and 5 are my favourite, whilst Books 6 and 7 I found quite disappointing.

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Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes 2

Red Handed: the Fine Art of Strange Crimes by Matt Kindt is a series of short stories, which all unite at the end, about various unusual crimes (such as serial chair theft, signage theft, etc) and the individuals behind them. Often the stories seem light, even comedic, though there is a degree of seriousness to them as well.

What I liked about Red Handed are the crimes themselves, though some of the motivations of the crimianls I found less satisfactory. The artwork, relying on what appears to be watercolour and ink, seems a tad inconsistent and lacks the sort of clarity or charm that I personally prefer. However, this style might be exactly to your liking. Between the stories there are pages with black panels and mysterious dialogue between two unknown people (we find out who they are at the end). I did not find these scenes all that interesting, and they slowed things down for me. Sadly, I also did not enjoy the climax of the book that much.

All in all, Red Handed is a curious little book, and whilst I found it somewhat lacking, perhaps you might enjoy it. Have a look at it sometime, try one of the stories perhaps, and see what you think.

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Moby Dick

Review by Matthew Nielsen

The original Moby Dick by Herman Melville is, in many ways, a very large book about a very long voyage. It is well known as a tale of grudges and the price of vengeance; the story of the Peequaad whaling ship, their intense captain Ahab, and the mysterious white whale Moby Dick, all seen through the eyes of our main character Ishmael. The cartoonist Chabouté has created a very loyal adaptation of this journey, abridging it where necessary but keeping the majority of the key moments intact. Instead of the full body, we are left with the skeleton and main organs of the story, which still provide a satisfying retelling. As with any adaptation, it is very different from reading the original book. It certainly would be very difficult to match the feeling of that long and contemplative tome that examines many things personal, spiritual, biological, and universal.

What stands out the most in Chabouté’s adaptation is the artwork: harsh black and white portrayals of ropes and sail, man and boat, birds and beasts. On top of that, the character design — especially the faces — are what I find most appealing. The artist is not afraid to focus on a scene by using numerous panels. Where many other artists might only give a panel or two, Chabouté can spend several pages on the exact same event. This allows for a great pacing, and even though the graphic novel cannot live up to the original novel’s great length in it’s entirety, these extended sequences of pure silence and scenery allow for a patient reader to experience at least part of that original timing.

All in all, I strongly recommend Chabouté’s adaptation of Moby Dick to both those who have read the original book and those who have yet to read it. I feel it would satisfy both parties.

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Memories of Outer Space

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Memories of Outer Space by French creator Enki Bilal is a series of short sci-fi themed stories. Each has its own sick little twist and turn which, coupled with Bilal’s detailed and brutal artwork, creates an often skin-twistingly strange feeling when read. Bilal’s approach at drawing people and characters is bold, prominent, and often proudly ugly. In other words, he is unafraid to show people’s wrinkles, blemishes and all bodily faults — in contrast to the very smooth and clean look of, say, most anime or North American cartoony styles. Alongside such intense characters are multiple examples of beautiful backgrounds, interiors, and landscapes. It’s a great combination.

This review is short because the book itself is short too. The more I say about it, the more I risk spoiling its contents. But if you’re up for some mysterious journeys across the stars with trickery and brutality guaranteed, then this book is for you. I quite enjoyed it myself.

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Lucille & Renee

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Lucille and Renée by Ludovic Debeurme are two books are thick with pages and heavy with story. Debeurme’s artwork evolves from initially highly stylized and somewhat crude drawings to more uniformed and detailed illustrations as the story progresses. It’s a good reminder to always give a book a couple of pages before giving up on it, as more often than not the artwork either changes and improves or you’ll find other things that make the book appealing. In addition to the artwork, I also like the story.

The first book, Lucille, focuses on a young woman struggling with various issues including anorexia. Meanwhile, a troubled young man with challenges at home tries to get by in life. The two meet and their stories become one, and events begin to unfold. Renée is the second book, and initially focuses on a new character, the self-harming Renée, but also continues with Lucille’s characters where  the first book left off.

This pair of graphic novels is a somewhat painful tale of various people who experience pain and hurt in their lives, and the various outcomes that come of them trying to shape their own destinies. If you’re interested in seeing how it turns out, and if the artwork appeals to you, then give Lucille and Renée a try.

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