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NBM Publishing

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HOUSE OF CLAY
Written and Drawn by Naomi Nowak

Josephine grew up wealthy, and became quite used to it. Now, however, her family’s circumstances have changed, and she must head off for a job that she hopes will help her earn enough money to go to nursing school. The job itself is as a seamstress in a seaside town far from home, and she will live in a dormitory owned by the company. Asking to be called Posy, she expects very little of her new life, but gets more than she bargained for, including a new best friend, a mute girl named Edith, and a strange old tarot reader with a dog that acts as Josephine’s homing beacon. But her largest obstacle to nursing school isn’t her family or her job: it’s that she faints at the sight of blood. So it looks to be a long and strange year for poor Posy.

This is Nowak’s second graphic novel this year, after UNHOLY KINSHIP, and it is assuredly a step in the right direction. She’s an extremely gifted artist; I’d go as far to say that she looks like the second coming of P. Craig Russell. But her story skills sharpen a bit here. KINSHIP was emotionally alive but structurally rocky. This book still has some issues with the storytelling, as Nowak’s gift for imagery tends to overwhelm the narrative, but story-wise, it’s cleaner and clearer. Take away Posy’s dreams and some of the surrealism, and you still have a satisfying story about a young woman finding herself.

I don’t see any reason why Nowak won’t continue to get better and better. She’s young, very talented, and has a traffic-free road ahead of her. Very few people in comics are doing work that you could compare to hers, and there’s always a place on the shelves for someone doing something that looks unique and appealing.

Marc Mason

DINOSAURS ACROSS AMERICA
Written and Drawn by Phil Yeh

DINOSAURS is one of those unusual books whose backstory is damned near more interesting than its actual contents. Phil Yeh is the founder of Cartoonists Across America & The World, an organization dedicated to the promotion of literacy and the fine arts through the use of cartoons. He’s traveled the globe with many artistic colleagues, and they’ve left behind a series of murals designed to promote literacy. He’s also been a guest at a number of book fairs and conferences, and while there he sold about 180,000 copies of a black and white version of this book. The word you’re looking for? Amazing.

Now that book has been colored and produced in hardcover by the folks at NBM, and they’ve done a terrific job with what turns out to be a snazzy little learning tool. The basic idea is this: the dinosaurs meet the geographically challenged Patrick Rabbit and take him on a tour the U.S., teaching him about each state. He always learns the capital and an interesting fact or two about the state’s background.

At some point in their early schooling, each kid has to go through the process of learning about the states and their capitals, and this book would certainly be a good tool for that effort. Really, that’s the only way you can truly measure this book- the cartooning is impeccable, the facts presented are undeniable- so putting it into the hands of a kid who wants to learn is the way to go. And I’m going to do just that.

Marc Mason

ANGEL SKIN
Written and Drawn by Christian Westerlund and Robert Nazeby Herzig

Joshua Barker’s life is total shite. At least, that’s what he believes, and he’s certain enough of it to eat a gun and take a journey to the other side. But when he gets to the afterlife, he’s not greeted by bright clouds, pearly gates, or 72 virgins. Instead, he finds a world that looks damned near exactly like the one he just left… except dirtier, nastier, and in need of a solid waste removal program. But if that wasn’t enough to get his next life off to a rotten start, he also discovers that he might be the one single person with a chance to actually talk to God, and many of the inhabitants have issues with the deity they perceive as having let them down. Now, in Joshua, they see opportunity… while Joshua can’t see anything but the grim, horrible reality around him and anything resembling hope wasting away.

I give ANGEL SKIN credit: it tries really, really hard. The creators have worked hard to make a statement about the nature of life and how things are always what we make of them, no matter where we find ourselves. ANGEL SKIN puts forth the idea that maybe, just maybe, the world would be a healthier and saner place if more people would take responsibility for themselves and stop pinning things on God. These are sentiments I echo whole-heartedly.

But in getting there, Westerlund and Herzig take the easiest and most direct route. There’s nothing really subtle about ANGEL SKIN; what could be subtext is merely text. When God explains what has happened to Heaven, I was disappointed; I already knew, parsing out the nature of the characters up until that point.

However, this is common for young creators, and this being the duo’s first work, it was to be expected. The hardest thing for any writer to do is trust the tale instead of the storyteller. But letting go of that power takes time and experience. It’ll come; I look for improvement in their next effort.

Marc Mason

FOREVER NUTS: THE EARLY YEARS OF MUTT & JEFF
Written and Drawn by Bud Fisher
Edited by Jeffrey Lindenblatt

NBM’s latest archival project finds them heading way back into the past and bringing lost or forgotten classic comic strips back into the public eye. FOREVER NUTS gets off to a strong start by offering up a delicious collection of Bud Fisher’s classic MUTT AND JEFF material.

The material in this volume was originally published between 1909-1913, which should give you a strong idea of just how hard it was to put this collection together. Because not only are these some fine cartoon strips, their look and presentation are remarkable. The restoration here is something to be admired, and the hardcover package makes it a worthy piece for the shelf.

However, the cartoons are almost secondary in interest level when compared to Allan Holtz’ wonderful introduction, which takes the reader through the history of the strip, Bud Fisher’s artistic life, and even some juicy stuff about the way newspapers worked a hundred years ago.

Fisher really was a terrific artist and writer, finding characters and themes he could build upon, and creating material that truly set itself apart from others working at that time. While MUTT AND JEFF, on a personal level, isn’t my cup of tea, I can admire it for what it meant and what it accomplished on the page. For sophisticated readers, this might make an excellent holiday gift.

Marc Mason

THE SAGA OF THE BLOODY BENDERS
Written and Drawn by Rick Geary

Rick Geary’s “Treasury of Victorian Murder” returns with BLOODY BENDERS, and that’s good news for fans of high-quality graphic novels. This time around, he moves away from some of the more famous murderers he’s profiled in the past, and turns his eye to a family (that may or may not have been a family) that spent a lengthy amount of time wiping out lonely travelers crossing through the Kansas prairie.

Their name was The Benders, and they were made up of a mother and father and a son and daughter. The family built a home along a well-used trail and sold groceries, as well as a place to spend the night. The daughter also offered her services as a spiritualist, conducting séances and the like. However, it was all a ruse for one purpose: to kill people and take their money. The mark would sit for dinner with the daughter and be struck down with a hammer by the father, who lurked behind a curtain. The body would then be dismembered in a cellar, or taken somewhere and dumped, or perhaps even buried somewhere on the farm land.

Geary does his usual excellent job of researching The Benders’ saga, and even offers up different versions of how the story might have truly ended. It looks great, as each volume has, and reads at a brisk pace, much zippier than other efforts in the series. The Victorian series is almost tailor-made for libraries; these books not only entertain, but they enlighten. Great stuff.

Marc Mason


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