Arts Desk

International Ink: Pirates, Ghosts, and Wookies, Oh My!

Books for review have been piling up again, but the fall con schedule has been working against me. Here's some quick hits of material I've read recently.

Set to Sea by Drew Weing (Fantagraphics, $16.99) is a graphic novel largely because there's nothing else to call these things yet. The book is about 150 pages long, but only has one illustration per page. It is always a good illustration, and this story of a would-be writer who's shanghaied into being a pirate is great fun. Weing's art is cartoony, but that helps lessen the violence of ship to ship battles with boarding parties hacking at each other with cutlasses.  Weing is a young cartoonist to watch.

Audrey Niffenegger is best known for her novels The Time Traveler's Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry, but she considers herself a graphic artist first. The Night Bookmobile (Abrams Comicart, $19.95) was serialized fora British newspaper, and tells the story of a woman who finds a bookmobile filled only with books she's read, and  that only appears at rare intervals at night. The graphic novel (see above) is adapted from a short story she did, and is quite spooky. Whether or not things end well for the heroine will depend on the reader's viewpoint. The book looks like a children's book, but it is decidedly not.

Tony Pacitti's My Best Friend Is A Wookie: A Memoir – One Boy's Journey to Find His Place In the Galaxy (Adams Media, $19.95) is an autobiography by a part-time comic book writer who's too young to write a memoir. Notwithstanding that, and the fact that although I'm in the Star Wars demographic, I'm not of it, I enjoyed this coming-of-age story very much. Pacitti captures the angst of growing up as a sci-fi loving geek, and the difficulties that brings through his school career, while writing about how the Star Wars movies helped him grow up while defining his life until he finally is able to outgrow them.

Eden by Pablo Holmberg (Drawn & Quarterly, $16.95) is a surprise. Holmberg is an Argentinian web cartoonist, and this book collects his four-panel strip, which is full of lovely moments. The characters are anthropomorphic animals at times, humans at other times, and the two strips on pp. 70-71 can be used to sum up the appeal of the book. On the first page, a walking donkey who's a king in a red gown and a crown hands a  blue vase to a cockatoo in a dress, telling her "I fixed your vase. Although I couldn't find the piece with the hummingbird. It's as if it disappeared." The final panel shows  a live full-color hummingbird in a tree, singing  to the sunset. The facing page shows a man in a tam-o-shanter sneaking into a house, thinking "10 seconds, just give me 10 seconds" as he sinks into an easychair. As he thinks, "One..." three children rush onto his lap in the last scene.

A Duel in the Somme by Ben Bova, Rob Balder and Bill Holbrook (ERF books) collects the start of a web comic about a computer engineer who's designing a World War I flight simulator game. He and his manager begin to battle for the hand of Lorraine whose company has contracted for the simulator. The "Battle for Lorraine" culminates in the two men fighting a duel in the skies through the simulation to see who will win a date. Holbrook's cartoony style works well in the story—he's good at pacing, and although the words in the story read more like prose, the whole package works well together.

Summer Pierre's Great Gals: Inspired Ideas for Living a Kick-Ass Life (Penguin, $15.95) is labeled as inspiration/self-help, but is more of an activity book by a cartoonist. A typical page has an illustration and biography of ex-slave Sojourner Truth with a facing page that is blank except for "Finish this sentence: I have courage because". Pierre's also sprinkled cartoons throughout such as 'Be a Secret Agent  for Good' and 'It's Time to Play... Break-A-Rule.' I'm definitely not the main audience for this book, but I've been able to page through it and enjoy it, so if you're a reader of the type who likes to interact with cartoon books while learning something, you might want to seek this out.

I've still got a large pile of interesting books to review including Darwyn Cooke's second Parker graphic novel, a Peanuts anniversary box set, and a history of National Lampoon, so come back to look for them after  Halloween.

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