This One Summer

by Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki

(First Second)

IT'S STILL SUMMER, so I'm willing to declare This One Summer a perfect graphic novel for holding off the creeps of fall. Written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by her cousin Jillian Tamaki, the brilliant duo behind 2008's Skim, This One Summer is another subtle exploration of adolescent female relationships. Central character Rose has vacationed at Awago Beach with her family since she was five, but this year a pallor hangs over the family, unspoken and mysterious. The story covers a surprising variety of topics: adoption, body positivity, grief, pregnancy, feminism, and what it's like to flirt with the fearsome realities of adult ideas for the first time. Jillian's incredible brush ink conjures trees that look like the tangled firs of Washington State, yet remind me of my own childhood in Northern Michigan. It's fair to say there's room for the memories of many of us in this beautiful book.

Petty Theft

by Pascal Girard

(Drawn & Quarterly)

I'VE FOLLOWED artist Pascal Girard's delicate, wiggly comics since Nicolas, his devastating 2009 breakout from Drawn & Quarterly. Girard churns out charming books on a nearly annual basis, capturing caricatures of friendship with unique hilarity and a kitchen-sink-style realism. Now he's taking a stab at romantic comedy: Petty Theft is about a nearly 30-year-old comics artist—Pascal—recovering from a long-term relationship. Dealing with a bad back, writer's block, and the large papier-mâché head of his ex glaring at him from the corner of his room, Pascal tries giving up comics to return to a world of construction work. He also happens to witness the kleptomaniacal habits of a beautiful young woman he'd very much like to date. Delightfully comedic situations ensue.

How to Be Happy

by Eleanor Davis


THE INTRODUCTION offers a disclaimer: How to Be Happy is not an advice book about overcoming depression. If that's what you're looking for, Eleanor Davis recommends some other books on the subject, cluing us in to her pragmatic approach to storytelling. Then, as we turn the page, she punches us in the face with the bright color blocking of her first story and doesn't let up until the book is done.

There's an incredible variety to this collection, from science fiction to childhood to fantasy to a delicate-but-hard-to-read story about the skinning of a fox. Through it all, Davis' color block work is incredible and her stories are completely married to her art. In her ink-drawn comics, you can almost feel the line squiggling under the page. As the book progresses it becomes apparent that the first story is her newest; we can watch her technique reverse-engineer with every turn of the page. I didn't know of Davis' genius before now, and now I stand in awe—the elegant, fascinating How to Be Happy is sure to win boatloads of awards this year.


by Carol Swain


NOBODY IS TALKING about this book, and they should be. I think the cover is the problem. While beautiful, the gray-and-pastel cover of Gast looks a bit like a brooding James Herriot book about sheepdogs. It isn't as exciting as the angular, shady pencil and ink work inside: Carol Swain has an incredible mastery of visual movement. Her disjointed, circling views of the Welsh countryside break continuity rules in exciting ways.

Gast's solitary central character, 11-year-old Helen, is a newcomer to Wales. As she explores her new home, the local animals help her investigate the life of a recently deceased genderqueer farmer who was both accepted and reviled. As a person who sometimes talks for cats, I can be picky about my anthropomorphisms—but Swain's are right-on.

Youth Is Wasted

by Noah Van Sciver

(AdHouse Books)

YOUTH IS WASTED collects several breakthrough comics from Noah Van Sciver's annual publication Blammo, now on its ninth issue. Reading it is like watching 2001: A Noah Van Sciver Space Odyssey: As the stories progress, Van Sciver constantly reinvents his comedic wheel. The first story feels like an autobio comic, and I was knee deep in it, wondering how an Insane Clown Posse-loving high-school dropout came to be such an indie comics darling, when I realized I was actually reading a work of highly realistic, deeply humorous fiction. Given its pothead, blue-collar guy protagonist, you might expect the story to be cruel—instead, a current of human kindness runs through it.