Drinking at the Movies
by Julia Wertz (Three Rivers)
"My life is the abortion Juno should have had," declares Julia Wertz in her new graphic novel Drinking at the Movies. In the book, Wertz—creator of the comic The Fart Party, which, as she likes to note, is about neither farts nor parties—documents her first year in Brooklyn, after impulsively moving from San Francisco.
Diary comics are plagued by a tendency toward self-aggrandizement—a running tally of how adorable the cartoonist's life is, from petting kitties to drinking tea out of mason jars to canoodling with other comics-writing friends. Wertz dodges that trap with relentless and usually very funny self-criticism. She may be the hero of her own comics, but she's easier to picture as an acerbic sidekick, that friend who drinks too much and tells it's-funny-because-it's-true jokes about generally sucking at life.
Wertz is a perfect spokesmodel for those of us who are acutely aware that we're walking stereotypes, but not sure what the hell we're supposed to do about it. (Come on—if you moved to New York, you'd probably live in Brooklyn, too.) Drinking at the Movies is another hipster-moves-to-New-York tale, sure, but at least Wertz knows that's what it is, and manages to be damn funny and charming about it. ALISON HALLETT
The Unsinkable Walker Bean
by Aaron Renier (First Second)
The line between cute and annoying is a thin one, or so my girlfriend tells me when I'm trying to be one and end up being the other. That line's also crossed pretty often in indie and minicomics, and usually by creators who could learn a thing or two from Aaron Renier—a former Portlander (and former Mercury contributor) whose funny, loveable comics are consistently charming without being cloying.
Renier's latest—the pirate-y adventure The Unsinkable Walker Bean—might not be as striking as his previous book, 2005's delightful Spiral-Bound, but any deficiencies are balanced out by the many things the book does right. The story—in which dorky Walker Bean gets sucked into an epic and mysterious trek involving friendly pirates, a snarky talking skull, and a couple of hideous sea monsters—punches along briskly, telling a surprisingly big tale that's packed with clever moments and sets the stage nicely for a sequel. Sign me up. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Ruts & Gullies
by Philippe Girard (Bdang)
In 2007, Canadian comic artists Philippe Girard and Jimmy Beaulieu went to St. Petersburg for a comics convention. Ruts & Gullies: Nine Days in Saint Petersburg is Girard's recounting of the trip—a translation of his original French-language comic Les Ravins—told simply and whimsically through Gallic line drawings that recall Ludwig Bemelmans and Jean-Jacques Sempé. Girard's impression of both Russia and its citizens make up the bulk of the narrative; there's a little bit of culture shock, and a healthy amount of tourism, and not much else. A very small slice of Ruts & Gullies deals with Girard saying a final farewell to his friend Guillaume, who died of cancer two years previous, but the trip to Russia and Girard's processing of his grief seem unconnected. Meanwhile, the rest of Ruts & Gullies has Girard simply sharing—as all travelers do—his fond memories of the trip, and if some of his dense, scribbly drawings fail to convey the sights and sounds of St. Petersburg, it works as a pleasant if inconsequential travelogue. NED LANNAMANN
Koko Be Good
by Jen Wang (First Second)
Jen Wang's art so far outstrips her storytelling that her debut graphic novel, Koko Be Good, really deserves two separate reviews. The book is undeniably beautiful: graceful lines practically vibrate with energy, sepia watercolors capture variations in mood with a limited palette, and character expressions are so vivid that they frequently render Wang's dialogue superfluous. Problematically, though, the story and characters serve as little more than an awkward framework for Wang's artistic abilities.
The book focuses on a wild young girl, Koko, who decides to learn to "be good" after she meets a musician, Jonathan, and learns of his plans to travel to Peru with his girlfriend to work at an orphanage. The question posed by the book—what does it mean to be good?—is a sweet, earnest one, but caring about the answer requires a certain attachment to the character doing the asking. The two-dimensional Koko is less a character than a collection of character traits: She's half manic pixie dream girl, half Ramona the Pest, pogoing around the panels in chaotic action sequences that are frequently quite difficult to follow.
Wang's debut is a frustrating one, so accomplished in some regards and so lacking in others, but I wouldn't be surprised if she puts out a great book someday, when her storytelling is as assured as her art. ALISON HALLETT
by Will Dinski (Top Shelf)
"Unsettled" is an appropriate word to describe the feeling one has putting down Will Dinski's latest, Fingerprints. In this dark and fast-paced graphic novel, Dinski poses the question: What if there was an effortless way for anyone to look like the most beautiful celebrity in the world?
Fingerprints is the tale of Dr. Fingers, a successful plastic surgeon whose business is challenged when his former assistant develops a do-it-yourself face-augmentation device that allows anyone to look like the most famous actors in America. The fad reaches extreme and disturbing levels when Fingers' own wife uses the device to transform her face into the face of the actress that Fingers considers to be his plastic-surgery masterpiece, and who he also happens to be having an affair with.
While the art in Fingerprints is somewhat underwhelming, the societal questions that Dinski raises are worth pondering. And luckily for us he asks them in both engaging and hilarious ways. NOAH DUNHAM
Cuba: My Revolution
by Inverna Lockpez, Dean Haspiel (Vertigo)
With black and white and shocking blasts of red and pink, Cuba: My Revolution tells the story of Sonya, a teenager in Havana who strongly believes in change for her country. It's December 31, 1958 when Sonya goes from New Year's Eve sangrias to cheering about Fidel Castro taking over the Cuban government. In her idealistic fervor, she joins the new militia and trains to be a doctor, forgoing her dreams of being an artist. In 1961, she's sent as a medic to the Bay of Pigs, where the atrocities are numerous and she's imprisoned for treating a prisoner, despite her adamant loyalty. Sonya undergoes days upon days of interrogations, torture, and starvation, yet she still believes in Castro's revolution.
This is writer Inverna Lockpez's real-life story about growing up in the Cuban revolution, fleeing to the US in the late '60s, where she became a renowned artist. Her writing is full of her initial hope and subsequent disillusion, fear, and persecution after five short years of living in the revolution. Lockpez's powerful story is all the more heightened by Dean Haspiel's (The Alcoholic, The Quitter) beautiful art—it's crisp, Cubist, propagandized, and evocative—with surprising coloring by José Villarrubia. Cuba: My Revolution is a memoir full of passion and doubt, with exceedingly well-done artwork—a fine comic book, indeed. COURTNEY FERGUSON