Lucy Knisley is one of the best creators of autobiographic graphic novels, an unwieldy phrase for a genre that’s not just growing but thriving. A slew of women dominate the field, including Knisley, Alison Bechdel, and Raina Telgemeier. Something New: Tales From A Makeshift Bride builds on the success and skills from her earlier work. (Knisley is a former A.V. Club contributor.) The thickest of her books, Something New focuses on her movement toward marriage, including an explanation of how she met, broke up with, and eventually reunited with her now-husband John. Knisley’s never been one to shy away from nuance or subtlety, in story or art. Something New feels like the logical next step for her, more ambiguous in some ways and more daring in others, and her art continues to grow to the needs of her ambition. Unlike some of her earlier work, it’s in full color, with her signature clean lines and not-quite-cartoony style.
Though it would be easy to assume that Something New is just for soon-to-be-brides who find themselves in similar situations to Knisley, the specific-turned-universal tone that she’s spent the last several years perfecting is on full display. This is a deeply personal story filled with the details of her own wedding, but it also confronts the wedding industry, Western assumptions about weddings and marriage, the challenges of dealing with parents during big life events, and perhaps most compellingly, the struggle to maintain your identity in the face of hundreds of years of traditions and hundreds of people’s expectations.
The themes from Knisley’s previous books are very much present: food and love from Relish, relationships and identity from An Age Of License, family and change from Displacement: A Travelogue. Something New is the next step in Knisley’s life, and longtime fans will find it gratifying and engrossing to see what that next step looks like. To people who do find themselves in Knisley’s shoes, Something New is a comforting reassurance that you are not alone, that weddings are crazy no matter what you do, and that you will survive it (hopefully). To people who are not so close to the subject matter, there’s still a lot to offer, between Knisley’s insights and her lovely art.
Ultimately, that’s what sells all of Knisley’s books. She artfully makes the details of her own experiences appeal to different readers, but it’s the emotion behind her writing and beautiful style that manages to be both sweet and brutally honest. Knisley does not gloss over bad behavior (her own or anyone else’s) but she highlights the good in people and situations, never losing sight of the fact that at the end of the day, weddings are rooted in love. The brilliance of Something New: Tales From A Makeshift Bride heightens anticipation for Kid Gloves and You Are New, two in-progress projects about becoming a parent and a guide to the world for infants that Knisley is working on while caring for her own son, born this summer. [Caitlin Rosberg]
Thought lost for decades, Hariton Pushwagner’s recently unearthed graphic novel, Soft City (New York Review Comics), reflects its author’s fine art tendencies and training. Printed at a size somewhere between a pamphlet comic and an IDW Artist’s Edition, Soft City reads less like any comic that you’ve flipped through and more like a sequence of images arranged linearly and hung on the wall of a gallery. It reads, paradoxically, at once slow and quick, its huge pages composed of single images or double-page spreads. Your eye lingers on the image, but it moves rapidly between them. There are a few pages that featured multiple panels, but they are rare, and Pushwagner includes no more than three or four.
These images, which Pushwagner also manages to render paradoxically, feature dense cityscapes, towering tenement blocks, bustling supermarkets, and Kafkaesque office spaces. But though the Norwegian artist fills his tableaus with incredible processions of people and technological conveyances, he draws them as hyper-abstractions. His lines are simple, and he draws them freehand, as evinced by the way they waver and wiggle, breaking off before they intersect. Buildings tower into the sky, but they are simple rectangles filled with hundreds of smaller rectangular pores (windows); everyone wears the same clothes, and men’s heads are contiguous with their hats, their chapeaus appearing as an extension of their foreheads.
The sheer scale of these simple drawings is dizzying, and Pushwagner affects a kind of baroque homogeneity—an ornate brutalism that has taken rigid austerity to grandly ostentatious heights. Soft City slowly exposes this space to us, unfolding at a pace that, due to its single-image and uncomplicated pages, may be read quickly but which, due to its minute rendering of movement and actions, gives the impression of occurring slowly. The obvious comparisons to Pushwagner’s fascistic sameness are Brave New World and Metropolis, which both Chris Ware and Martin Herbert, who write the introduction and afterword, respectively, make, but it’s closer to Brazil—Terry Gilliam’s vision of Kafka projected into the future.
Even that comparison, however, fails to convey the convulsion at the heart of Soft City, which rejects the rhetorical rationality of modernity in favor of a jumbled word salad. In a brief moment of lucidity, a character says “Heil Hilton,” bringing to mind the hotel magnate. There, Pushwanger reveals the fascistic tendencies of consumer capitalism, which he makes explicit by saddling many of his characters with a facile German accent. Modernity and fascism are brought to the foreground and interwoven, and Pushwanger, in filling the discourse of this hyper-rational, hyper-ordered world with pre-rational stream-of-consciousness, exposes the beating heart under the floorboards.
With this text, Pushwagner completes the subversive complex of his work, upending and overturning his readers with both the verbal and the visual. As a result, Soft City is as sumptuous as it is overwhelming: a vision of things to come that is more frightening for what it tells us about the world we already live in. [Shea Hennum]
In June, Netflix announced that it would be bringing Luke Pearson’s Hilda graphic novels to the screen with a 2018 animated series. The prospect of seeing Pearson’s fantasy stories in another medium is a very exciting one, but the best thing about this news is that it will direct more people to Pearson’s remarkable comics work. Hilda And The Stone Forest (Nobrow/Flying Eye) is the latest oversized hardcover in the ongoing Hilda series, and like its predecessors, it tells an imaginative, heartwarming, beautifully illustrated tale that all ages can enjoy. Exploring the relationship between Hilda and her single mother, it’s a great read for parents and their children, providing plenty of visual stimulus for younger readers in the context of an engaging narrative with a strong emotional foundation.
From the very first pages of Hilda And The Stone Forest, it’s clear that Pearson is an extremely clever visual storyteller. He opens with the expected establishing shot of Hilda’s hometown of Trolberg, followed by a panel showing a person crying for help inside their home, surrounded by speed lines that add a sense of motion to the image. That motion continues with the proceeding panel of Hilda running with her pet, Twig, and the combination of those two images gives the impression that Hilda and Twig are running toward a house that is planted on static ground. Sure, there are speed lines behind the house, but there’s nothing in the framing to suggest that there’s something peculiar about the ground it’s built on. With the page turn comes the reveal that the ground is actually the body of a four-legged creature that Hilda and Twig are chasing down, and it’s an unexpected surge of whimsy that is extra satisfying because of how Pearson toys with the readers’ expectation in the set-up.
Hilda has a tendency to get herself in extremely dangerous situations, and her mother is increasingly worried about her daughter’s recklessness and the lies she tells to cover it up. Hilda And The Stone Forest establishes this dynamic with a montage of Hilda’s adventures and the deceptions that follow, and this sequence is a prime example of how Pearson merges and domestic with the fantastic in his artwork.
Up to this point, Pearson mostly outlines panels with straight horizontal and vertical lines to break the action into clean squares and rectangles, but when there’s an influx of magic in the narrative, those straight borders become diagonal and the gutters between panels become thin black lines to speed up the rhythm between images. At the start of the montage, the flashes of Hilda’s lies to her mother are still presented in those straight rectangles, but as Hilda’s mom becomes increasingly suspicious, the shape of those panels shift, as does her mother’s visual relationship to other elements on the page.
These are early examples of the immense craft that has gone into Hilda And The Stone Forest. Throughout the book Pearson makes bold, intelligent choices with composition, color, and design to amplify the impact of his story. Hilda’s mom ends up joining her daughter for an accidental adventure in the troll-filled Stone Forest, and the two of them realize just how much they need each other as they navigate terrain that offers danger and wonder in equal amounts. There are some stunning images during their voyage, but that spectacle never distracts from the heart of the story beating in that tender familial bond. [Oliver Sava]
Comics had never seen the likes of Dame Darcy. The first issue of her one-woman anthology Meat Cake was published by Fantagraphics 1993, and her work resembled little else the venerable publisher had ever released. Certainly the most immediate touchstone is macabre master Edward Gorey, but simply pointing out the surface similarities between Darcy’s elaborately labored design sense and Gorey’s spooky illustrations only goes so far toward explaining her appeal. More than simply eerie (although it is that), Darcy’s work is unabashedly feminine. It’s a view of gothic fantasy straight through the lens of a girl’s obsessions—fairy tale forests, sinister (but also charming) wolves, paper dolls, and mermaids. In the context of an industry so thoroughly dedicated to showcasing and exploiting the merest whims of the masculine imagination (and this remains true for many, if not all, corners of the field today), Darcy’s work remains as striking now as it did over 20 years ago.
Fantagraphics has compiled the sum of Darcy’s work for the company in the Meat Cake Bible, reprinting all 17 issues of the original series run (1993-2008) in addition to a few extra never-before-seen features. It’s a hefty book, three pounds in hardcover, and it makes a convincing case for Darcy’s presence among the foremost cartoonists of her generation. Her absence from the field for much of the past decade means that there are readers now who may never have seen her work, even if they may be versed in artists who can surely claim Darcy as a key influence, foremost among them current rising star Julia Gfrörer. Now that Darcy’s comics work exists in a single volume—the better for borrowing and lending, something one can imagine happening quite a bit with this book—it is completely possibly that she will inspire a new generation of artists.
What is Meat Cake about? Women, mostly, and girls, who inhabit a claustrophobic neo-Victorian landscape that seems to have been constructed out of jumbled memories of a kid stuck home with a fever for a week and binging on the Brontë sisters. (In 2006 Darcy illustrated an edition of Jane Eyre, surely one of the most perfect such pairings imaginable.) The book is packed with stories featuring a cast of recurring players—the enchanting Richard Dirt (who, despite her name, is a gorgeous blond woman), the long-suffering Stregapez (who speaks in Pez blocks dispensed from a gash in her neck), and Effluvia the evil (well, mischievous) mermaid. There’s violence galore, as women’s bodies are continually stretched, folded, maimed, and made into monsters. But it’s violence as play, filtered through the Grand Guignol elasticity of a child’s imagination.
It’s a violent world, Darcy says, and not one especially friendly to women, even if these valences of desire and pain can be made less threatening through symbolic reenactment. That’s the power of Meat Cake Bible, and of Dame Darcy’s work in general. She has constructed a vivid and diverse universe that is at once wholly engrossing and wholly distinctive, built from vastly different raw materials from just about anything else the comics industry had to offer in 1993. It’s 2016 and Darcy’s work seems slightly—if only just—more recognizable, but no less compelling. [Tim O’Neil]