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Review: New comics from Alan Moore, Tommi Parrish, François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters

Brighter Than You Think: Ten Short Works by Alan Moore

By Marc Sobel and various artists

Uncivilized Books, 200 pages, $33.50

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Alan Moore's most recent projects – his 1,300-page novel Jerusalem and the 12-issue comic book series Providence – may be massive undertakings, but the imagination and éclat of this little volume dwarfs those lumbering mammoths. Collecting taut, twisty stories from 1986 to 2003 – or roughly from the beginning of Watchmen to the end of From Hell, when Moore was at the height of his powers – Brighter than You Think is a showcase for Moore the miniaturist, cramming big ideas into tidy, gem-like structures. Critic Marc Sobel unfolds Moore's intricacies in essays throughout, and exactingly curates the stories selected, from the opening sci-fi AIDS allegory, through a Vietnam vet's time-jumbled account of atrocities, to the title biography of rocket-scientist/black-magician Jack Parsons. My own favourite is Moore's collaboration with art-brut weirdo Mark Beyer, who gnarls corporate Japan into a childlike nightmare, but the centrepiece is undeniably The Mirror of Love, a prose-poem history of queerness and intolerance, with artist Rick Veitch providing lyrical paintings of artists and lovers, along with evocative emblems of genderless seraphs.

Perfect Hair

By Tommi Parrish

2dcloud, 72 pages, $24.50

Tommi Parish's debut opens with a sort of guide to cartoon semaphore: A curved line with an arrow at the end denotes "movement," say, while the bespectacled figure in the stories that follow is Nicola, and the one with big pupils is Cleary. Despite such diagrammatic appearances, meaning is never so simple and clear in Parrish's cartooning. One strip may be a straightforward slice-of-life, coloured with substantial blocks of gouache, as when the tentative Cleary panics in a sex club, but then another vignette will take up a wispy, unreal, poetic register, as when sex worker Nicola twists off her breasts and steps out of her skin as if it's a contaminated hazmat suit. One exemplary strip combines these abstract and specific approaches, as a "Generic Love Story" takes place between the seemingly anonymous "Figure 1" and "Figure 2," only the details – Figure 1 likes to be hit during sex; Figure 2 will years later come out as trans; are they Nicola and Cleary? – make it anything but generic. Parrish's art excels at worrying these boundaries between symbolic thinking and actual experience, endowing big, clayey bodies with rarefied grace.

The Theory of the Grain of Sand

By François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters

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IDW, 128 pages, $25.95

Although this is the final volume to date in François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters's Obscure Cities series, readers need no familiarity with earlier entries before touring Grain of Sand's retro-futurist Brüsel. (Not Brussels, mind you, but close: the city is part of the shadowy Europe, magically askew from our own, that the authors have been dreaming up for decades.) Heroine Mary Von Rathen does hail from a previous book, but she's only here to investigate strange goings-on: An apartment repeatedly fills up with sand, stones appear in a library one by one from out of nowhere, a restaurateur starts to float off the ground. The phenomena are related, Von Rathen is certain, and as she follows her leads, Peeters's story moves nimbly along a course of inexorable logic. One tiny grain keeps adding to another until Schuiten's meticulously realist art tips over into visionary fantasies of urban life – sand pours in a deluge out skyscraper windows, a man floats like a dirigible over the rooftops, a cloud of white fog follows another around, visible from blocks away – that look something like Metropolis as drawn by René Magritte.

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