The Greatest of Marlys!
Drawn & Quarterly, £14.99
Loading article content
Marlys is eight years old. Pigtails and freckles. Loves animals and candy. Fights with her teenage sister, Maybonne. Is starting to get interested in boys. Still gets spanked by her mum when she does something naughty. She is a girl. She is the girl.
Marlys writes: “My sister, says, she will, kill, herself, when, the, last, leaf, falls, from the tree, outside, her, bedroom, window! So, I, glued, 79, of, the, leaves, on!”
The Greatest of Marlys gathers up a passel of Lynda Barry’s comic strips from the late 1980s on and in doing so reveals what a supple form the four-panel comic strip can be and how acute is Barry’s take on pre-adolescent life.
Marlys is quite simply one of the great comic book characters, a noisy, brash, sometimes badly treated child who never lets her natural optimism be crushed. Barry doesn’t indulge in nostalgia or sentiment here. These strips have the directness and power of lived experience. The images are busy and potent. The words veer between the demotic and the poetic. And the whole thing pulses with life. You will be richer for reading it.
The One Hundred Nights of Hero
Jonathan Cape, £18.99
Well, this is pretty glorious too. Taking place in the same fictional universe as Greenberg’s debut The Encyclopedia of Early Earth (or possibly the one next door), this is a take on the Arabian Nights idea; a feminist fable about storytelling and fairy tales which argues for magic and female autonomy. As such it mixes up male oppression and magic harps. In other words think Scheherazade meets Gloria Steinem.
Greenberg’s art is rough-hewn but distinctive, enlivened by subdued colour washes. But it’s the book’s spiky humour and the sheer joy of the narrative that keeps you turning the pages.
Drawn & Quarterly, £9.99
Pascal Girard drew Nicolas – the story of the death of his five-year-old brother and the consequences of that event in Girard’s life – in less than three days. The result is raw, rough and unpolished but brutally affecting for something so simple in style and story. There are fascinating comparisons to be made with the new afterword which is beautifully crafted by a cartoonist on top of his game. And yet it’s the original that hits harder.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer may be an octogenarian now but his latest book – the second in a trilogy of American noir – has all the brio and energy of the work of a much younger man. The despair, though, seems of an age with its creator. Mixing up anti-semitism, the Red Scare, union-bashing and Hollywood, this is a sour, jaundiced vision of the American dream. But there’s a joy to be found in Feiffer’s rough, raucous line work. And the story has a despairing pull to it.
Notes on a Thesis
Jonathan Cape, £16.99
Riviere’s comic take on an academic’s quest for a PHD is sharply drawn and often very droll. But rather like its protagonist Jeanne it now and again gets a little lost in the labyrinth that is French Higher Education. That said, if you have an academic in your life (or are one yourself) there may be one or two nervous chuckles of recognition to be found in its pages.
Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay
Drawn & Quarterly, £14.99
Another reissue from the 1980s, Ben Katchor’s dusty melancholy vision of a vanishing urban world feels even more resonant nearly three decades on. Katchor’s comic strips from the turn of the 1990s follow Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer as he ventures around a city (let’s say New York, though any eastern US city will work) trying to capture the place as it changes.
Knipl is constantly remembering the world as it was, a world that contained “goulash buildings” and lorries carrying “live fish”, cinemas with neon signage, the ghost letters of old sign writers. In short, the detritus of the past in memory and architecture.
And then you read a strip that features phone boxes and you realise that Knipl’s present is now fading into the past he was so obsessed with.