Graphic Novels

“No Sailing Waits and Other Ferry Tales”

By Adrian Raeside

ISBN No. 978-1-55017-596-7

Okay, technically it isn't a graphic novel but the last book of cartoons I reviewed was a Calvin and Hobbes collection, so the good stuff is few and far-between - kind of like the B.C. Ferry sailing schedule. The first thing you should know about Adrian Raeside is that he’s lived on Salt Spring Island and Vancouver Island so he draws what he knows: terrible ferry service. Departure delays, high ticket prices, and bad cafeteria food are just some of his nitpicks about a system so broken that it’s beyond political repair. In this collection of 30 years of ferry-themed comic strips, goofy ferry officials, stunned patrons, and inept politicians make regular appearances. Unless you’re an employee of B.C. Ferries it’s hard not to appreciate the humour. Raeside’s trademark, of course, is his lumpy, misshapen characters who convey their level of gullibility by being either chin-less or borderline obese. Few cartoonists do “wide-eyed” characters better.




“Aya of Yop City”

By Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie



It’s the late 1970s and the people of Yop City, just off the Ivory Coast of Africa, are having affairs, landing and losing jobs and wondering aloud who fathered young, pretty Adjoua’s new baby. Finally, an Africa that patrons of daytime television can get on board with.

For while it sounds an awful lot like a bad Maury Povich episode on paternity tests, “Aya of Yop City” is perfect for a graphic novel because this kind of grey area subject matter would be trickier than hell to pull off in print fiction (a light tone would be considered derogatory; a serious tone unflattering and racist; just think of the balancing act of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye”). In graphic novel format, however, the story is…well, sweet. The Angry Black Rapper loaded down with bling and a mouth full of grillz has really demoralized the market for serious stories about black culture (I mean REAL black culture; not mediagenic black culture). And while you’d think that graphic novels – the renegades of publishing – would have downgraded black culture even further with their love of the shock element, the GN format is actually ideal for depicting the small detail, nuance, and dynamics of an African village in loving and affectionate terms. Even better, the illustrations are quietly charming with the occasional big, full-page set piece reminding you that this is an intimate epic bit of story-telling.  

Impress Me Much

“Swallow Me Whole”

By Nate Powell

ISBN No. 978-1-60309-033-9

Publishing September 2008


Pity the comic book industry. Their most obvious fanbase is fanboys, those dwellers of parents’ basement suites who spend all of their time gaming, role-playing and indexing the latest bit of Trek trivia into their cramped minds. They’re not interested in great literature; they’re interested in being wowed and awed. That’s why comic books and graphic novels favour stunt publishing (Funky Winkerbean confronting his alcoholism) over the politely trailblazing (the living-with-HIV graphic novel, “Blue Pills”). What’s the point in toiling over the Great Graphic Novel – I mean the Great Serious Graphic Novel - when its core audience will probably miss it?

But with even mainstream movies more awful than ever and novels with pedigrees in a collective humdrum slump is it possible that serious, ambitious graphic novels might finally establish themselves as the missing link between film and word? Is “Swallow Me Whole” the best chance yet of a Graphic Novel filling a void created by our drive-by culture?

Aimed at mature readers 16 years and older, “Swallow Me Whole” is about teen siblings pathfinding their way through a minefield of eldercare, peer pressure, OCD and mental illness. This is one heavy novel – graphic or otherwise - and Powell is up to the task of telling its story in ways that are both provocative and thoughtful. Nothing about the book feels contrived.

What sets SMW apart from other graphic novels, however, is that not since Robert Altman’s “Images” has a medium so perfectly conveyed the experience of schizophrenia (Altman fans take note, Powell’s panels even come with the kind of overlapping dialogue favoured by the film director). The visions in SMW fit with their setting and their characters and feel totally organic to the storytelling. The austere dark and whites of the drawings give the effect that this drama about the pressures of growing up is a nightmare in sunlight of sorts. Even better, Powell announces a sense of dread (of the daily grind, the impending hallucinatory episode) with a surprisingly effective cloud of black tentacles rolling in from one side of the panel. There’s just something so…so…right about so many choices in this book that you’re almost afraid to talk about how good it is for fear of breeding pessimism among those who haven’t read it yet.

After a book is published it takes a long time for the dice to stop rolling. Sales have to be calculated, reviews have to be quantified. But for Swallow Me Whole” the verdict is already in. It’s the best graphic novel since Craig Thompson’s “Blankets.”

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