Graphic Novel Friday: Best Graphic Novels of March

TandCTGNIt's the last Friday of March, and that means it's time to celebrate great comics! This month, we feature several standout nonfiction narratives--one tackling a subject unlike anything done before in comics--and two fiction stories that run high on imagination. Let's dig in:

Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel by R. Sikoryak (Drawn & Quarterly): Every few months, Apple users click “Agree” to dense, lengthy contractual language that very few ever read. Who knows what we’re all agreeing to, really? Well, cartoonist R. Sikoryak does, because he not only read the whole thing, he turned it into the strangest, least-likely graphic novel adaptation of the year (next to Dark Horse’s recent Moby Dick). In Terms and Conditions, Sikoryak illustrates each page in a pastiche of another page or strip from a different cartoonist, where Steve Jobs appears as an avatar—examples include Steve as Homer from Matt Groening’s The Simpsons; as Deadpool from Rob Liefeld’s New Mutants; as Snoopy from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts; or even as a stand-in from Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant. Sikoryak keeps the imitation fresh and clever across 100+ pages of legalese, and while it’s a wonder how many readers will actually make it through the text, the ambition is clear and the result is a delight. (The cover, by the way, is an homage to Uncanny X-Men #211 by John Romita Jr. and Bob Wiacek.)

The Best We Could Do by Thi Biu (Harry N. Abrams): Debut graphic novelist Thi Biu chronicles her family’s escape from South Vietnam in the 1970s. It’s a devastating narrative, and as she faces becoming a parent for the first time, Biu reflects on her own relationship with her mother. The universal emotional sacrifices in parenting unite them across decades, across painful memories and the outright racism that greeted them when they finally reached America. Don’t worry, it’s not all wrenching, as Pultizer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen provided endorsement, saying The Best We Could Do is a “book to break your heart and heal it.”

Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez (Nobrow Press): “Oh Granny, what great, big teeth you have!” Our favorite fables and fairy tales often have a darkness to them. In Nightlights, young Sandy is an artist, her imagination striking as she goes to bed with the stars over her head and in the morning when she wakes to draw. But then a malevolent creature begins to haunt her dreams, and a new girl begins a schoolyard infatuation with Sandy’s talent. Writer/artist Lorena Alvarez creates a lasting fairy tale here with a sharp edge of darkness, while the illustrations and colors make her a storyteller to watch.

 

Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero by Michael DeForge (Drawn & Quarterly): Artist Michael DeForge’s latest trip through deadpan absurdity focuses on Sticks Angelica, a problematic protagonist who defines herself as “Former: Olympian, poet…minister…line cook,” among many other titles. After a scandal, Sticks retires to the woods, where she hopes for solitude, only to find her reclusive lifestyle bombarded by anxiety-ridden animals. Everyone has problems in Sticks Angelica’s forest, including guest appearances by a moose named Lisa Hanawalt (!) and a reporter named…Michael DeForge. It’s bizarre, charming, and the most accessible DeForge work in recent memory--plus, it’s presented in landscape format to add to the overall oddity.

California Dreamin': Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas by Pénélope Bagieu (First Second): And why not the graphic novel format to tell the story of Cass Elliot before she met the Mamas and the Papas? In Pénélope Bagieu’s biography, we see the talented Ellen Cohen before she became “Mama,” in Baltimore as the groovy '60s beckon her to the West Coast. In refreshing black-and-white pencils, Bagieu tells a free-flowing story in equally loose artwork, leaving her panel borders as shaky approximations, free from any Photoshop cleanup. It’s a bright biography, showcasing Elliot’s charisma, joy, and the depth of talent that propelled her to fame despite not fitting a depressingly traditional “image” of superstardom.

 

--Alex


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