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This spring's best graphic novels showcase the power of comics to capture personal memories as no other medium can, from a friendship with one of histories most shocking mass murderers to the life of James Joyce's troubled daughter. Nonfiction comics also take a trip around the world, from the streets of Jerusalem to the avenues of Cleveland.
Leading the list is the follow-up to Alison Bechdel's revelatory Fun Home: Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama. While Bechdel's first book explored her difficult relationship with her closeted father, the new one shines a light on her mother, a creatively frustrated woman trying to deal with her own demons stemming from her husband's repressed life and suicide. The intertwined roots of father/daughter relationships are also explored in Dotter of Her Father's Eye by Mary and Bryan Talbot, a dense, revelatory twin memoir of Mary's life with her father--renowned James Joyce scholar James Atherton--contrasted with the life of Joyce's own daughter, Lucia, who is seen as "a kind of casualty of modernism." Mary Talbot is a respected scholar in her own right, and her husband Bryan's nuanced artwork captures themes of feminism and family in stunning visual metaphors.
Even darker memories fill Derf Barkderf's My Friend Dahmer, in which he recounts his teenage friendship with the future serial killer/cannibal. While we all had loser friends in high school, Backderf captures the origins of pure evil in chilling yet heartbreakingly human terms.
Turning to social history, two comics masters turn in very different views of very different places. Canadian Guy Delisle wanders the paradoxical streets of Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City in his latest travelogue; his clean, acute drawings bring alive both the brutal realities and stunning beauties as he and his family must deal with the three-week Gaza War. While Cleveland isn't a place that many people think of as beautiful, to the late Harvey Pekar it was a home and a muse. His posthumous Harvey Pekar's Cleveland, brought to life by the earthy art of Joseph Remnant, is a place of storied history, struggle, and simple human dignity.
For everything else there's The Graphic Canon, Vol. 1: Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons, first in a trilogy of giant volumes collecting comics version of world classics, from Robert Crumb's adaptation of Boswell's London Journal to Rick Geary's take on Revelations. While many are reprints, brand new adaptations have been commissioned as well.
Of course, comics haven't abandoned their imaginative side this spring. Batman gets a delightfully pulp mystery twist in Batman: The Court of Owls by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. And one of Europe's most beloved characters gets a new American translation with Corto Maltese: Ballad of the Salt Sea, the elegiac and atmospheric story of a 1920s adventurer as drawn with peerless chiaroscuro by Italian artist Hugo Pratt. And noted contemporary cartoonist Brandon Graham gets his King City Collected. A fusion of Japanese, European, and American influences, it's a futuristic romp set in a loony future of airy cityscapes, feline hit men, and shady mobsters.
For an earlier cultural fusion, there's Dal Tokyo, Gary Panter's expressionist comic strip awash in SF, cowboy, and Japanese influences. Originally published in the L.A. Reader and a Japanese magazine from the '80s, the strips, long unavailable, add an explosion of artful noise to the season's comics.
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Judge Dredd: Crusade by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, illus, by Mick Austen and Carlos Ezquerra (Feb. 14, paper, $16.99, ISBN 978-1-907992-67-4). The Thing meets Where Eagles Dare as two of the world's most popular comic book writers produce two high-octane Judge Dredd thrillers. …