By Julia Gfrörer
Fantagraphics, 80 pages, $19.99
In a small medieval village beset by plague, Agnès watches everyone around her die off, while she herself continues on, cursed with health and life. Hers is a bleak world, devoid of much hope – seeing a plague doctor wandering the lanes, she concludes, matter-of-factly, "He won't last." Even when she seeks comfort in bed with a neighbour, the language of their seduction is caustic and black: "Nothing will ever be well." The end of the world seems plausible and imminent thanks in part to the corporeal quality of Julia Gfrörer's cartooning. Death is real, flesh is grass: The artist's lithe figures and cobwebby lines perch on the page, fragile and precarious, so that when two hands diffidently touch for panels on end, or when snot and tears stream out of Agnès's face, or when dogs toss severed limbs about as if they're party favours, the lengthy sequences have an almost bodily effect. A grim portrait of submitting to despair, Gfrörer's book also offers slim glimpses of how humanity perseveres: Despite all the viscera and rot, there are still – occasionally – flowers, and fresh bread, and children who somehow survive.
New York Review Comics, 160 pages, $47
Begun in 1969 on a dose of LSD, completed in 1975 but lost for decades, rediscovered in 2002, and now finally published in North America, Soft City is Norwegian pop artist Pushwagner's frenetic, prophetic masterpiece. A searing satire of conformity, consumerism and mechanized empire, the book hasn't dated over the years, because no one's envisioned anything quite like it since. Presenting one day in the life of a featureless city filled with grey-flannel-suited office drones, the book rolls out its imagery with relentless force. Often stamped out in double-page spreads, the artist's thin lines spider off to form car parks and supermarkets and skyscrapers, all of them plunging into one-point perspective, sprawled out in scarily logical symmetry. Soft City reinvents the format of the printed book as a kind of technology – turning the pages feels like working a machine, with each flip helping to grind the book's robotic automata through their mindless, empty, repetitive workday. Pushwagner's grand orchestration of city life, efficiently functioning to no meaningful end, is breathtaking and damning in equal measure.
By Walter Scott
Koyama Press, 256 pages, $18
The return of Walter Scott's Wendy – the couch-surfing, anxiety-ridden, would-be millennial art star – may end up a bit vengeful, but that just means our heroine's finally finding some purpose. The author's sturdy character work means that, as Wendy wanders the gallery world from "vibey" Vancouver to Yokohama, Japan, then New York and raccoon-infested Toronto, her cringe-worthy stumblings eventually lead to newfound self-respect (beginning by blacking out and sabotaging her own exhibit, she finally comes to sabotage somebody else's show). Scott's familiarity with the art scenes he depicts – he's currently artist-in-residence at the Art Gallery of Ontario – means he can offer cutting commentary with convincing authenticity (a tongue-in-cheek "tip": Assiduously attending art events "gives the impression that you are deeply invested in the community." LOL). He's just as observant with his supporting players, especially when best friend Winona moves home to the rez, where her no-nonsense mom persistently and hilariously dismisses her artistic practice. Throughout, Scott draws as if there's a grant deadline to meet or a party to get to – his wonky, thick lines have an appealing haste to them, like Wendy herself, off-the-cuff and wilier than they look.