Graphic Novels & Comics

  • Are You My Mother?

    Alison Bechdel

    Reviews were so mixed on this graphic novel that I had decided not to read it, until recently when I started reading a borrowed copy and couldn’t put it down. A follow-up to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, which focused on her relationship with her father, this one turns to her relationship with her mother. And several of her therapists. Most people I know who didn’t like this book especially did not enjoy the pages of therapy sessions drawn into the story, but for me those parts fit in cleanly to the rest of the narrative.

    In a similar way to Fun Home, Bechdel excerpts other texts frequently in this story, including psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, Virginia Woolf, and Alice Miller,...more

  • Building Stories

    Chris Ware

    I assumed that I’d love this graphic novel due to its book-as-object nature, so much so that when I recently read Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s description of it being “not an actual book so much as a twee art project,” I also assumed that was an unnecessarily harsh opinion. Yet once I spent some time with it, I found myself agreeing with her more than I expected.

    Building Stories comes in a relatively gigantic box (roughly 12x2x17”), and I was glad that I opted to check it out from the library first instead of possibly ordering it online, as it was so much bigger than I anticipated — too big for the tote bag I had with me, so I cradled it home on...more

  • Calling Dr. Laura

    Nicole Georges

    It’s that time of year when I tend to think of Portland and my time living there — now five years distant; so it was fitting that Nicole’s new book came out right now. I read it in one snowy evening, finding many old familiars of that city and of the people. Nicole is someone I knew there, through mutual friends as well as crossing paths at the IPRC, but not incredibly well. I wasn’t aware of most of the story she captures in this graphic memoir, but I suspect that my relative closeness has a lot to do with my enjoyment of the book.

    After being told that her father died when she was two, a slightly ironic visit to...more

  • Americus

    MK Reed & Jonathan Hill

    I found this story centered around a fight to ban a series of fantasy books about witches to be rather black-and-white — and not just because it’s a graphic novel that is drawn that way. The characters are all clearly set into one camp or another, and there is no one in between. There is little sympathy to be found for those on the pro-ban camp, and the extent of their outrage is difficult to understand, especially as none of them admit to reading an entire book. But it’s not hard to be enamored of the various “good” characters, from the bookworm hero Neil to his kind, single mom to the defiant librarian, though they get a more nuanced portrayal. The Apatha...more

  • The Principles of Uncertainty

    Maira Kalman

    Maybe you saw these when they were posted as Maira Kalman’s blog on and now it’s only available as this book, which is not such a bad thing. It’s kind of a comic of paintings while also somewhat of a general elegy on the finiteness of life. People who have died are a recurring theme; even some of the people she mentions visiting back in 2006 have since passed on — Louise Bourgeois, Helen Levitt. But her sense of humor particularly tickles me. I read half of it before bed and the rest with breakfast.more

  • Tales from Outer Suburbia

    Shaun Tan

    The gorgeous art in this collection of stories would make this worth checking out on its own, but the stories are at times vaguely unsettling, examining the fantastically surreal edges of an otherwise banal world, while also remaining playful. In the end, it’s something kids would find entertaining, while adults may more appreciate the darker elements.

    When I was a kid, there was a big water buffalo living in the vacant lot at the end of our street, the one with the grass no one ever mowed. He slept most of the time, and ignored everybody who walked past, unless we happened to stop and ask him for advice. Then he would come up to us slowly, raise his left hoof,

  • One Hundred Demons

    Lynda Barry

    I came across a mention of this book after I finished Cruddy, more specifically a mention of the story about Barry’s relationship with Ira Glass entitled “Head Lice and My Worst Boyfriend.” The hilarity potential was irresistible.

    One Hundred Demons was inspired by a Zen painting exercise; each of the stories represents some kind of demon she’s battled with, usually imbued with the sort of nostalgic reflection that brings the word “poignant” to mind. Except Barry’s raucous sense of humor keeps the cloying possibility under control.more

  • Optic Nerve 10 & 11

    Adrian Tomine

    I finally got around to hunting down the second and third issues of this three-part story, and re-read #9 since it had been a while. It’s interesting how these issues manage to be very much like the Optic Nerves of the past while feeling far more developed at the same time. The artwork has relaxed from the rigid precision of earlier issues and is all inked, none of the screentone shading that tended to darken up the pages.

    The story itself continues following our depressed protagonist (probably the part of this storyline that most connects it to earlier ones) after his girlfriend’s departure to New York. Eventually he ends up following her there, and perhaps the best part is...more

  • The Push Man and other stories

    Yoshihiro Tatsumi

    If I’d paid better attention, I would have waited to read Abandon the Old in Tokyo in order to be properly anal and read the books in sequence. The introduction by Adrian Tomine is both a personal and technical opener to the series and how it came to be, including a note on the difficulty of translating the comics from Japanese — not necessarily the written words themselves but rather the format. The panels had to be re-arranged to flow from left to right as Western books read, with some frames mirrored in order to preserve the continuity inside dialogues.

    There was some suggestion in the second book that this first collection of stories (representing a collection of Tatsumi’s work from 1969)...more

  • Scrapbook

    Adrian Tomine

    This collection of Tomine’s “uncollected work” from 1990–2004 is divided into three sections: miscellaneous comics — either unpublished, drafts, or work that appeared in places other than Optic Nerve; (mostly commissioned) illustrations; and selections from his sketchbook. While these represent distinctly separate aspects of his work, they blend together nicely and given a well-rounded look at his career.

    It probably goes without saying that people not already familiar with and interested in Optic Nerve might not have enough context or patience to appreciate this book. Many of the comics he calls the equivalent of “outtakes” and aren’t as polished as his other work, and the illustration section is pretty much a portfolio that varies from indie rock cover art to copious little New...more