My Favorite Thing is Monsters
By Emil Ferris
Fantagraphics, 386 pages, $51.95
Chicago, 1968: Clad in the PI's signature fedora and raincoat, but drawn with the snout of a werewolf, young Karen Reyes plays the sleuth when her glamorous neighbour meets a mysterious end. She unearths secrets in the past of everyone she knows, from her poor saintly mother, who is dying of cancer, to her mercurial ladies' man brother, to their family's gangster landlord, to the victim herself, Anka Silverberg, a determined survivor of Berlin brothels and Second World War death camps, whose demise everyone seems too eager to write off as suicide. First-time author Emil Ferris records all this hubbub – as well as much more, including Anka's harrowing memoirs and misfit Karen's coming out – in a facsimile reproduction of a young girl's spiral-bound diary, drawn in what looks like ballpoint pen and pencil crayon. Modelled explicitly on 20th-century figurative painting – Karen frequents the Art Institute, name-checking Francis Bacon and Diego Rivera, as well as Grosz and Dix ("their real names, I swear!") – Ferris's eye-popping, opulent art also mines monster magazines and underground comics for complex visual metaphors. Virtuosic, unflinching, operatic and simply exhilarating, this is one of the greatest comics debuts, frankly, ever.
Pretending is Lying
By Dominique Goblet, translated by Sophie Yanow
New York Review Comics, 160 pages, $33.95
A touchstone work of comics autobiography, from one of the genre's key innovators, is finally translated, complete with expressive lettering newly handcrafted by the artist. Dominique Goblet's 2007 memoir bears aching marks of having long been mulled over – its pages of intensive pencil and brushwork look yellowed and tattered, its moments of pique scrawled out and raw, its bouts of uncertainty hazy and numinous. The title comes from an accusation "Dom's" stepmother shrieks at the artist's young daughter, and the pliability of familial duty and romantic love is Goblet's main concern. When her partner is indecisive about his commitment to their relationship, his ex lingers like a ghost on every page; when her estranged and alcoholic father erupts back into her life as an adult, she accesses childhood scenes of his neglect. Goblet's sense of time's inexorable passing imbues her sombre images with sadness, but also with empathy and maybe even joy, especially in an ecstatic climax where the action is displaced onto a whirling flight of birds and a scrim of Rothkoesque colour fields, calm and muted and warmly shimmering.
Black History in Its Own Words
By Ronald Wimberly
Image Comics, 88 pages, $22.99
This terse and simple but radical volume collects portraits that Ronald Wimberly made for The Nib, the online magazine of political cartooning in which the artist also published the virally popular "Lighten Up," his galvanizing essay on comic-book colour and race. Here, Wimberly handpicks a few dozen figures from black history – writers, musicians, innovators, freedom fighters – and emblematizes their words and their faces in no-nonsense grey tones, set off emphatically against vibrant backgrounds of teal, fuchsia and amber. The cohort he assembles is admirably confrontational. The book opens with Angela Davis, eyes set and voice raised ("radical simply means 'grasping things at the root'"), and the subsequent portraits include Black Panthers, feminist activists, champions of queer and trans rights (Fred Hampton, Audre Lorde, Marsha P. Johnson), as well as perhaps more conventional inspirations (Ice Cube, sternly defiant, or Muhammad Ali, in a graceful composition). Of the seminal artists Wimberly cites – including Krazy Kat cartoonist George Herriman and Jean-Michel Basquiat – his own approach most closely resembles that of Emory Douglas, who created vigorous, righteous agitprop icons for the Black Panther Party. It's a proud banner for Wimberly to carry.