Graphic Novel

Kent State by Derf Backderf & Underground by Mirranda Burton

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January–February 2022, no. 439

Editorial cartoonists gamble their all on a same-day art, their work created, read, and discarded on the day of publication. The makers of graphic novel journalism use the language of cartooning, too, but in their case it’s a marathon, not a sprint: they spend years arranging thousands of images and tens of thousands of words across hundreds of pages in order to create their books. Two new graphic novels cast a picto-critical eye on the war in Vietnam and show how it came home to roost, bringing death and imprisonment to suburban streets in Australia and the United States.

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What distinguishes graphic novels (aka ‘big fat comic books’) from other books is how completely the page registers movements of the maker’s hand. Before we begin the business of reading, we look, and what we see is not margin-to-margin Helvetica or Times New Roman: it’s the mark of the makers, be it Alison Bechdel or Kristen Radtke or Mandy Ord. We might even think of the making of comic books as being closer to letter writing than novel writing. Accustoming ourselves to the style of a particular graphic novelist (‘Aha! That’s how Bechdel depicts euphoria!’) is a large part of the pleasure of reading comics – the business of aligning one’s own visual point of view with the maker’s. Perhaps this is why autobiographical works have been such a vital force behind the rebirth of comic books as ‘graphic novels’.

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Even in these golden years for Australian comics, Tommi Parrish stands out for their insight and talent. Their work takes weighty topics like gender, work, and friends and examines them through focusing on individual experiences, interior moments. It’s all brief grabs of sensations and ideas, which depends on ...

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Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63 by Marcelino Truong, translated by David Homel

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June-July 2017, no. 392

For those seeking a concise illustrative history of the Vietnam War, Marcelino Truong’s graphic novel, Such a Lovely Little War, is the ideal place to begin. Those seeking a graphic novel memoir as engaging as Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1986–92) or Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2001–2), will be unsatisfied.

‘Marco’, as th ...

Mr Unpronounceable and the Infinity of Nightmares is the third volume of Tim Molloy's stories featuring Mr Unpronounceable, a modern-day shaman ...

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The Australian graphic novel, being a fairly new phenomenon, has no unifying aesthetic, no identifiable form. While it is possible to group the characteristics of French, American, and Japanese comics, Australia’s finest exponents are stylistically on their own. Nicki Greenberg crafts adult work from a child’s figurative toolkit, Shaun Tan’s comics are drenched in high fantasy draftsmanship, and Eddie Campbell still operates with the New Wave gumption that swept the comics world of 1980s Britain. Each artist addresses Australia in his or her own fashion, and there is no risk of Australian comics developing their own miniature genres: an equivalent to our inner-city grunge literature, for example, or to the steely, rangy ‘red dust’ short story.

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The unnamed, eleven-year-old narrator protagonist of The Cartographer has an epileptic fit after witnessing a horrific rape-murder. The year is 1959. His father has just left the family days after his identical twin brother was killed by faulty playground equipment. The child’s closest friend is his wheeler-dealer grandfather, but it is in his own head that he thrives. To act out his grief he inhabits a series of superheroes, chief among them the Cartographer, creator of an intricate, pictorial, ever-growing map of Richmond and Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs, above and below ground. Cartography (he learns the word from an old army manual) is his way of avoiding trouble. Unfortunately, trouble follows him wherever he goes.

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It’s a simple proposition: short graphic stories about city life, and one narrator – Mandy Ord – drawn with a single bulging eye. But the slice-of-life stories in Sensitive Creatures are rarely straightforward. Sweeping and brittle, kinetic and lush, this is a consistently surprising volume, at once an autobiography, a collection of vignettes, and a comprehensive catalogue of an artist’s career.

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Habibi  by Craig Thompson

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February 2012, no. 338

Habibi, Craig Thompson’s new graphic novel, is an epic six years in the making. Set in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, spanning ancient and modern epochs, Habibi tells the story of Dodola and Zam, child slaves who fall in love and dwell on a boat moored in a desert, before being dragged violently into lives of suffering and misery. It is a melodramatic tale full of humour, conflict, and heartbreak. It reminded me of Osamu Tezuka’s histories and of Will Eisner’s gritty, realistic fables.

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Lawyer Nicki Greenberg spent six years converting The Great Gatsby to graphic novel format, an interesting project that was universally acclaimed and respected... ... (read more)