Sep 282017

This is the final installment of the biography of Congressman John Lewis’s youthful campaign for civil rights for America’s black population.  Books One and Two cover the fight for desegregation in the later 1950s and early 1960s.  Book Three details what it took to force President Johnson to introduce legislation allowing the federal government of the United States to override southern states that forbid blacks from voting.  For years John Lewis led the Southern Nonviolent Coordinating Committee through peaceful demonstrations to enable Americans with dark skin to register to vote like other Americans.  Repeatedly, men and women approaching courthouses hoping to register were met with police beatings, enabled posses of armed white men, obstinate white judges, and murderous Klansmen.  The story is a bloody one and sprinkled throughout are references to an event that was unimaginable in 1964:  John Lewis, the Congressman, attending the inauguration of Barack Obama.  And yet, today, gerrymandering of voting districts mean that Republicans (with negligible support or accountability to black voters) control the Presidency (who did not win the popular vote), both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, and a majority of governorships and statehouses.  Everyone should read this book.  And consider kneeling during the National Anthem.

Apr 242015

marchbookone_softcover_lgThese graphical biographies cover the early years of John Lewis, now a congressman, but formerly a preacher and activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.  Book one revolves around the desperate attempts by African Americans to desegregate southern restaurants.  It sounds simple enough: walk up to the counter and ask for a cup of coffee and perhaps a couple of slices of toast.  In reality, nearly all southern commercial establishments from the Civil War through the 1960s were designated off-limits to people of color.  The act of entering, sitting, and ordering was illegal and could be met with beatings and incarceration (and though it is not covered in the book, terrorism, see The Warmth of Other Suns).  To chose a nonviolent response while whites screamed, hit, kicked, and spit on you was an act of remarkable bravery.  Book two describes the 1961 Freedom Rides by blacks protesting segregation on interstate buses and bus terminals.  Protesters were met with firebombs, the KKK, and police beatings.  The cartooning and simple language make the books accessible to readers of all ages, who, if they are paying attention, will recognize that current protests over #black lives matter have deep roots and that the work of generating equality has not yet been achieved in America.

Mar 222015

PROPERTYModan is part of the first generation of Israeli graphic novelists.  In The Property, an elderly Israeli grandmother returns to Poland with her granddaughter to search for a building confiscated from her family at the start of World War II.  The grandmother is making her first trip back to Poland reluctantly.  The granddaughter, age early twenties, accompanies grandma to provide moral support, out of curiosity, and to learn history.  Once in Poland the granddaughter meets a handsome Polish tour guide to bygone Jewish Warsaw.  While the farce of modern day Polish infatuation with all things Jewish after three million Polish Jews were slaughtered in the Shoa is piercingly and humorously rendered in Modan’s drawings, a potential romance blossoms between the young Israeli and Pole.  While granddaughter is traveling Warsaw on the back of a tour guide’s motorcycle, the grandmother meets the man who took over her family’s apartment and numerous secrets are revealed as the two old people speak, none of which can be described without spoiling the book.

Jan 052015

chastIt’s a cartoon memoir of the passing of Roz Chast’s, a New Yorker cartoonist, parents.  Her parents lived into their 90s and died the long, slow decline of Americans that can afford resuscitation, hospitalization, round-the-clock care, and reasonable nursing homes.  Only the book isn’t entirely about dying.  Rather, Chast captures with painful honesty the relationship any adult has with an aging parent, which I have to say, includes almost everyone who is not yet an orphan.  So a cartoon book is an excellent way to describe the relationship between children and their parents which so readily alternates between being laugh aloud funny, guilt-inducing despair, unbridled, and occasionally insufficiently requited love, and bone-breaking frustration.

Nov 262014

yiddishkeit_62025Even the title of the book isn’t really translatable, encompassing as it does more than a language.  Yiddishkeit is a people, it’s culture, and an era of history, all but obliterated by the Nazis.  So all the more interesting to take on a language, a sound, and the essence of Ashkenazi Judaism in a graphic novel, that is with pictures.  Yiddishkeit, the book and the culture, are a sprawling amalgam of history and storytelling, plays and text, cartoons, and serious literary analysis, and above all, opinionated.  Pekar, Buhle, and their coauthors have assembled a textbook with a surprising format, but they capture the spirit and for those of us that love Yiddishkeit, we are glad that they

Dec 262012

A graphic, graphic-novel of the author’s descent, ascent, descent, and ascent through bipolar disorder.  Her story is told with exceptional clarity, honesty, more than a little humor, and wisdom.  It speaks to anyone that has ever suffered from a high, a low, or something worse, which I believe probably includes everyone.  Her images and text are partnered perfectly and together prove to be remarkably informative.  Her story opens with a discovery chapter, followed by denial, a highly educational center wherein author and psychiatrist spend considerable amount of time engaging in therapy and searching for the right cocktail of medications, and a satisfying conclusion.

Apr 172012

Girl meets boy.  Girl loses boy.  Girl and boy are reunited, but with issues.  That part seems straightforward enough, but this telling of the simultaneously heartrending and heart warming version of a traditional tale is unlike any other.  The structure of the relationship of Dodola and Zam is constructed on legends from the Holy Quran.  Their tribulations unfold in a graphic novel bursting with images of Middle Eastern cultures, both historic and contemporary, Islamic designs, and Arabic lettering.  The more you know about Islam before entering the text, the more you will gain, but even with limited knowledge, Craig Thompson’s retelling of Old Testament stories (also part of the Quran) are fascinating.  His drawings are warm and thoughtful, his main characters respectable and real, and the plot is part 1,001 Arabian Nights and part Quran lesson.  As a package the book flies by.

Jul 132010 coming of age memoir of a girl discovering her lesbianism at the same moment she is learning that her obsessive-compulisive, tyrannical father was a closeted homosexual.  They story line sounds like a novel in part because Bechdel sees her childhood through the lens of fictional analysis.  That left me disconcerted to be reading a graphic novel with references to Proust, Joyce, the Odyssey, Greek mythology, Henry James, Collette, and so on.  To the extent I could follow the literary references I was moved by the author’s transparent, often painful, honesty about her life.  The book triumphs as a graphic novel precisely because it combines the genres of high literature with a comic book.

Jun 182010

This is Marjane Satrapi’s second half of her graphic (comic book) memoir of life as an Iranian exile in Europe as a young teen followed by her return to Iran as an older teen. It is more personal, and therefore, more compelling even then Persepolis 1, especially the second half of the book about life in Iran after the eight-year war with Iraq has ended. August 2006.

Jun 182010

A memoir in graphic novel form of growing up under Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. It’s a good introduction to the history of the era and a fine description of living as a liberal beneath the feet of an autocratic religious regime with their minions of spies and enforcers. The comic book format makes for a very quick read, but the storyline is too superficial. January 2006.