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NBM Publishing

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FLOWER AND FADE
Written and Drawn by Jesse Lonergan

When Kyle’s uncle leaves the country and allows him to stay in his apartment, he has no idea just how much that will change his life. But when he meets Erika, his uncle’s neighbor, the picture becomes a whole lot clearer. Now, as the duo begin to develop a relationship, each must decide how much they truly like and care about the other, and how much of their attraction is based solely upon loneliness. But what if one of them ca’t tell the difference, and hearts break for no reason at all?

This debut graphic novel from Lonergan treads over familiar ground, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work. There’s a quiet charm here, and a sense of depth to the characters that these types of stories can tend to lack. Both characters feel fleshed out, even though the story is told solely from Kyle’s point of view, and that takes it up a notch in my estimation.

Lonergan’s art is simple and distinct, and his characters feel “true” when you look at them on the page. He also does solid work in depicting backgrounds, giving the story some added weight in making sure they are supported by a world we recognize. Ultimately, again, there isn’t really anything here we haven’t seen before, but the key in working with formula or genre is in making them feel lively, fresh, and entertaining. The reader is expecting a certain destination; the author must make the journey worth the trip.

In this case, Lonergan does. Solid debut.

Marc Mason

DUNGEON: PARADE VOL.1
Written and Drawn by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim and Drawn by Manu Larcenet

A new volume of DUNGEON material? That’s pretty much reason to party as far as I’m concerned. This latest series, PARADE, sets itself in the ZENITH era, which means we get the younger, happier Marvin the dragon, and the uncorrupted and hilarious Herbert the duck warrior.

This time around, we’re treated to two laugh-out-loud tales; in the first, a young apprentice comes looking to work for the Dungeon Keeper, and finding himself rebuffed, he opens a second dungeon next door. Except… his dungeon is a theme park. And he doesn’t abuse or terrify his employees and the adventurers who arrive at the gates. This also means he has the money to hire away most of the original Dungeon’s staff, including Marvin and Herbert, leaving the Dungeon Keeper with quite a dilemma on his hands. In the second story, a magic lamp of 1000 wishes is now down to one final wish to grant, and it’s in the hands of Herbert. And if you think that’s a bad idea, you’re right.

What makes the DUNGEON series so fantastic is a combination of factors. First, you have the wondrous tapestry that Sfar and Trondheim have woven together, bouncing the reader across eras in the dungeon’s existence. Then you have the wonderful characters that fill every page of the series with brilliant life. Then you have to add the incredible art. This volume brings the incredible Larcenet into the mix, and it’s almost unfair; you already had two of the greatest European creators alive working on the book. Now you’re adding another one. Sfar, Trondheim, and Larcenet together is sort of the American comics equivalent of putting Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and John Cassaday together on a graphic novel. They’re just that good.

Any volume of DUNGEON is a good one to start with. So you might as well make it this one. Highly recommended.

Marc Mason

THE CASTAWAYS
Written by Rob Vollmar and Drawn by Pablo G. Callejo

As the Great Depression ravages the country, 13-year old Tucker Freeman is given his walking papers by the aunt he and his family have been forced to move in with after his father wanders and doesn’t return. Armed with fifteen cents, a comb, and some cigarettes, he decides to hop a rail car and head west to try and make some money to send home. But his journey takes a surprising turn when he meets a fellow traveler name Elijah. Elijah is the first Black man Tucker has ever met, and he has the experience and wisdom to keep Tucker safe. Thus, a charming partnership is formed under the most brutal and unlikeliest of circumstances. It then remains to see where the young boy’s ultimate destination will be… and if he and Elijah can survive the dangers that face them at every turn, whether it’s railroad cops or their fellow hobos.

CASTAWAYS was the first collaboration between Vollmar and Callejo, prefacing their masterful BLUESMAN (also published by NBM). This excellent hardcover edition not only brings the chapters together in one place for the first time, but also gets printed in two-tone color and a coda chapter never seen before. As usual, the production quality provided by NBM is outstanding, and the book is greatly enhanced by the presentation alone.

The strength of Vollmar and Callejo’s collaborations is their ability to present genuine and real characters on the page, and to deliver pathos in ways that most graphic novelists cannot. Vollmar did a significant amount of research on the customs surrounding hobos and the structures of fractured families in that era, and CASTAWAYS bleeds authenticity, which is what gives it power. The only real misstep comes with the added coda, which gives the story a less ambiguous and more traditional ending. It feels a little forced and is actually more emotionally nourishing that what you feel like the tale needs. So my advice: buy the book, but quit reading when you get to the epilogue.

Good story, great art. Recommended for the mature, intelligent, and literate reader. CASTAWAYS is a very worthy purchase.

Marc Mason

GLACIAL PERIOD
Written and Drawn by Nicolas De Crecy

While comics and graphic novels still struggle to move beyond their second class status in North America, the rest of the world continues to move past us in appreciating the art form. GLACIAL PERIOD is a prime example; the Louvre (yes that Louvre) has begun working to put together a series of four graphic novels that revolve around the museum and the materials contained within. One of the greatest museums in existence is embracing graphic novels… while the U.S. is still looking to find new ways to call comic readers names. Any guesses why we’re losing the culture war?

De Crecy’s book is set in the far future, post a weather-related apocalypse of some sort. The planet has entered a new ice age of sorts, and Europe is buried in snow. But an archaeological team, aided by genetically enhanced dogs that talk and use their powers of smell to carbon date items, has descended upon old France to look for interesting finds. What they find is the Louvre itself, and the wondrous works contained within. However, what the team does not have is any sort of touchstone or basis for what they find inside. So some extraordinary humor ensues as they try and interpret the paintings and sculptures within and the society they represented.

Much of the best humor revolves around works by Delacroix, Bosch, and Monet, but if you don’t think the Mona Lisa will eventually play a role, then you aren’t thinking hard enough. While the characters, aside from the dog (amusingly named “Hulk” while his companion dog is named “Spiderman”- apparently comics survived the cataclysm), don’t really spring to life until they finally reach the museum and become more active, De Crecy’s gorgeous artwork and twisted sense of humor carry the day. In the end, though, Hulk is truly the star of the book, and it is his journey to the Louvre, and what he discovers within, that elevates this book into something special.

The Louvre’s graphic novel series is off to a very strong start. I look forward to seeing what the next three volumes have to offer.

Marc Mason

MISTER I
Written and Drawn by Lewis Trondheim

Lewis Trondheim continues his penchant for ingenious and inventive cartooning with MISTER I, a sequel to his well-received MISTER O. This book, a slim hardcover volume, features the twisted adventures of the title character and the darkly humorous fates he suffers along the way. How darkly humorous? Mister I dies at the end of each tale, and in gory fashion to boot.

Every page in this book tells one complete, dialogue-free story. Over the course of sixty small panels, Mister I comes into a situation, assesses what he wants to do (usually something ethically hinky like stealing a fresh pie from someone’s windowsill) and executes a plan that will eventually blow up in his face and cause his end. While this may sound fairly redundant or uninteresting, what makes MISTER I such a terrific piece of entertainment is the journey that Trondheim takes you on. Watching him depict the story through the subtle movements of the characters and the placement of objects in the panels is a master class in storytelling. Adding words to any of these gags would be criminal- they’re executed that perfectly.

Indeed, part of the thrill comes from seeing how Trondheim can alter the same scenario and come up with something fresh and inventive. Nearly a quarter of the book’s stories revolve around the attempted theft of that pie from the windowsill, and each time he goes back to it he manages to do something wildly different than before. This is another amazing effort from one of the true greats working in the medium today.

Marc Mason


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