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Etelka Lehoczky

The question popped into my head when I first started thinking about Celestia, Manuele Fior's new cli-fi graphic novel: Does anybody actually read cli-fi? (That's "climate fiction," the trendy-since-2013 genre whose authors delve into the narrative and thematic implications of the Earth boiling and killing us all.) Confession: I don't.

There's a particularly expressive drawing near the front of Rebecca Hall and Hugo Martínez' Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts that sums up what's unique about this graphic novel. Martínez draws Hall — a trained historian and lawyer — at the New York Historical Society, reading the records of a 1712 slave revolt in the city. She has found that two women named Sarah and Abigail were both sentenced to death in the wake of the revolt, but the authorities delayed one of the women's execution because she was pregnant.

Maybe you grew up reading his Conan the Barbarian comics and thrilled to the vigorous lines of his X-Men titles over the years. Maybe you were delighted by his dreamy, intricate fantasy paintings in the '70s or discovered his work in the Opus retrospective volumes of 1999-2000.

But even if you didn't do any of these things, you should still take a minute to see what Barry Windsor-Smith — Eisner Award Hall-of-Famer, genre-shaping fantasy artist and 50-year veteran of the comics industry — has been up to for the last three-and-a-half decades.

A March 7 story about the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer whose May 2020 killing of George Floyd ignited a nationwide racial reckoning, shows why Rachel Marie-Crane Williams' new book is so essential right now.

It was May of 1989 when John Porcellino ("a 20-year-old, hormonally charged, punk-inspired Rock 'n' Roller," in his own description) got the idea that would become a creative odyssey. "I wanted to publish something that I could make all on my own, that could contain whatever I wanted, that could reflect my whole life," he writes in one of Drawn & Quarterly's new reissues of his work. In a zine called King-Cat Comics and Stories, he chronicled prosaic or absurd experiences that, by '80s standards, were usually considered too trivial to merit documentation.

As the market for graphic novels has taken off lately, so have graphic adaptations. That's no wonder — they let publishers simultaneously recycle existing content and snare an all-ages audience. Fortunately, the profit motive can sometimes manage to coexist with good art — and even a new kind of art criticism.

There's a particular music myth that's been told and retold so many times, it can't possibly be true. It probably persists thanks to a combination of musicians' tendency to romanticize themselves and everyone else's tendency to romanticize an avocation they don't understand. The best example of it is the famous story about Robert Johnson meeting Satan at a crossroads, but there are countless other tales implying the same thing: that great talent requires some sort of devil's bargain, a trade for a crucial aspect of one's humanity.

Hand it to Katie Skelly: "Maids" is a pretty canny title for her graphic novel about a pair of killer domestic workers. It seems innocuously descriptive unless you pause (arrested, perhaps, by the barely-there bloody spatter speckling this book's otherwise prim cover) and think about the word's double meaning in English. A "maid" can be someone your hire to clean your house, or she can be a virgin girl. The second, fraught definition infects the first with a shimmer of sex and power, conveying a lot of things that go unspoken when people talk about housecleaners.

When you were in college, did you ever study abroad? The numbers say you probably didn't — only 1.7 percent of American undergrads studied overseas in 2017-18 — and that probability decreases with your parents' income bracket. Even so, among the college-educated classes, the experience of traveling to another country for a semester has far more mythic resonance than the numbers can justify. That's because it's the perfect adventure at the perfect time, for those lucky enough to afford it.

Though M. T. Anderson couldn't possibly have planned it, his new book The Daughters of Ys feels like it was created for just this moment. The story's driving force and key image — a torrential flood of natural and unnatural origin that sweeps away a city — is the perfect symbol for our era. If you've felt your brimming anxiety about the coronavirus overflow as you've tried to keep up with the never-ending tide of news about it, you'll sympathize with Anderson's characters.

Asterix the Gaul, which kicks off the first volume of Papercutz' new Asterix reissues, doesn't feel like the genesis of an international juggernaut. Sure, the 1959 cartoon is funny: Diminutive-but-crafty Asterix and his towering sidekick Obelix are Laurel and Hardy transplanted to 50 B.C., delivering gonzo comeuppance to the Roman soldiers who hope to bring all of France under Caesar's rule.

There's something a bit uncanny about Apsara Engine, the new comics collection by Bishakh Som. The world of comics is all about genre — superhero, sci-fi, fantasy, horror — and most of the time it's pretty easy to match any book to its proper slot. Even highbrow graphic novels tend to categorize themselves through the style of art they employ and the types of stories they tell. Not this book, though. Its images and concepts seem to come from a place all their own.

It's hard to decide whether Nicholas Gurewitch's new book is jarringly at odds with our current moment or perfectly suited to it. That's because it's a comedy about death — or Death, to be more precise, as in the Grim Reaper himself. Notes on a Case of Melancholia, or: A Little Death probably won't sell well in a nation gripped by a pandemic. But given the nature of this strange project, Gurewitch probably has a longer horizon in mind.

When you're confronted by the title of Ben Passmore's new graphic novel, it's all too easy to imagine any number of real-world problems the author might be referencing. Will Passmore spotlight the crisis around brain injuries in football, where the racial dimension (70 percent of National Football League players are black men) is as alarming as the NFL's attempts to bury inconvenient research? Maybe he'll focus on the abuses of college sports, whose institutions profit off the labor of unpaid athletes (again, often African-American) in exchange for illusory rewards.

The Janes are back — and guess what? They've grown up. Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg's young adult comic about four teenagers-turned-guerilla-artists charmed critics when it debuted in 2007. It's the kind of book you can't wait to give to the teen in your life, but not before spending a couple of hours reading it yourself. Its theme is earnest, peppy and — in these trying times — something many of us struggle to keep in mind: That art has the power to transform and invigorate us, both within and in our relationships with one another.

There are a lot of different ways to adapt fiction into graphic-novel form, but there may only be one way to adapt the work of H.P. Lovecraft. At least, that's how it feels after reading Gou Tanabe's take on Lovecraft's novella At the Mountains of Madness. Tanabe's approach is so spot-on, it makes every other attempt to draw Lovecraft (of which there have been no shortage over the years) seem ill-advised.

Among all the weird quirks in the world of comics publishing, one of the weirdest is the practice of crediting writers first on book covers and title pages. Why would you give top billing to wordsmiths in a medium that's defined by graphics? Not that writers aren't essential — of course they are. Usually, though, even the most innovative and evocative comics story stands or falls with its artwork.

So there's this pale, gawky, bald guy in mirror shades running through the desert. That's the central image of Connor Willumsen's graphic novel Bradley of Him, and it's also a kind of seed. From the image of a stubborn runner in an inhospitable landscape, Willumsen has built up a hilarious and philosophically challenging meditation on individuality, capitalism, celebrity, connection — and, under it all, absurdity.

"A bloody racist." When African novelist Chinua Achebe summed up Joseph Conrad this way in 1975, it was like a bomb going off in the literary canon. Spurred by Achebe's brash assault, some critics started arguing that Conrad's works should perhaps not be read at all. These writers pointed to Conrad's imperialist tendencies, his apparent inability to see Africans as equal to Europeans and his use of the n-word.

Being a male feminist has got to be tough. No sooner do you become aware of the virulent, insidious web of oppression that's permeated society for over 2000 years than you realize that, because you happen to be a man, the most effective thing you can do to fight it is to just shut up. Or as comedian Hannah Gadsby put it in GQ's recent roundup of Voices of the New Masculinity, "How about you scale back on your confidence? How about you try not to act in every situation?

Yes, there are monkeys. There are Hollywood cowboys and antique toys in Kim Deitch's graphic novel Reincarnation Stories, as well as cartoon magpies Heckle and Jeckle, a storytelling robot and a crystal ball. Frank Sinatra, D.W. Griffith, Bozo the Clown and even Jesus make appearances. These pages overflow. Even the cover pushes at boundaries, with the iconic Waldo the cat zooming out at the reader in a fiery flying car. All this might make Reincarnation Stories seem like a release, a purging, a great unmediated yowl or yawp from the depths of the artistic soul.

One of the really neat things about comic artists is their ability to make small stories into big ones. Stanislaw Lem's 1976 tale "The Seventh Voyage" is small in various ways: Besides taking place inside a cramped spaceship and featuring only one character (well, sort of), it's quite short and is told in a wry, dialed-down tone that comes close to disguising just how funny it is. In the hands of Jon J. Muth, though, every tiny development in Lem's plot becomes the catalyst for a painting showing a slightly different perspective on the action.

Even if Rusty Brown weren't the latest book from Chris Ware, whose instantly recognizable style and impeccable talent have defined the genre of art comics for some 30 years now, it would still be an event. The bricklike graphical epic documents a handful of ordinary lives in Omaha, Neb., meditating on the cosmic significance of everyday actions and the countless invisible connections linking people together.

Get ready to get woozy, get groovy and yell "Yee-ha!" September sees the arrival of a handful of audacious new graphic novels aimed at the young-adult crowd. With settings ranging from a contemporary Chinese-American community to the Old West, this trio of books tackles such unexpected topics as irritable bowel syndrome and transgender history with a combination of wit, heart and visual flair. It's a good month to be a preteen — or to read like one.

If literature is in trouble these days, it's not just because we're all on the Internet. Sure, it's hard to focus with a million tweets and popups and ads for shoes (especially ads for shoes) competing for your attention, but that's not the reason why more people don't set aside their devices and read novels for a couple of hours every night. The real problem is that we're living in an era with an unprecedented potential for catastrophe. How can you possibly be expected to wrench your attention away from, say, climate change to dwell on the torturous inner life of a single character?

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