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Gregory Cwiklik (review date July 1999)

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SOURCE: Cwiklik, Gregory. “Paranormal Popularity.” Comics Journal, no. 214 (July 1999): 34-6.

[In the following review, Cwiklik traces the development of Mike Mignola's Hellboy series, praising the “wit” and “intelligence” of Mignola's story arcs and noting the influence of previous artists on Mignola's work.]

It's hard not to like Hellboy. First created by Mike Mignola in 1993, Hellboy is a supernaturally-spawned investigator of the paranormal and star of a series of short stories and graphic novels which have now been collected into several full-color books by Dark Horse. Hellboy may be popular entertainment, but it is popular entertainment done with wit, intelligence, and a sense of visual style.

Jules Feiffer has written (in The Great Comic Book Heroes) that comic books are “junk.” Of course this was several years before Zap! and the whole underground comics scene, but in any case, the term is used with affection as much as dismissal, in part because the comic book—by virtue of its low, popular culture status—is liberated from certain constraints and pretensions. Feiffer uses “junk” in its broadest, most suggestive sense, as possessing a seductive, pleasurable, allure. Well, if comics are junk, then Hellboy is the good junk. It is an example of what other mainstream comics should be aspiring to. Much of Hellboy's charm lies in its artwork. Stylistically, Mike Mignola owes a heavy debt to the late, great Jack Kirby. Mignola's figure drawing, his layout, his staging of the action all derive ultimately from the work Kirby was doing in the mid-'60s. But that is not to say that Mignola is some sort of clone or that anyone would mistake his work for Kirby's; he has developed his own distinctive graphic style and Hellboy is infused with his sensibility.

One of the things that sets Mignola apart from his predecessor is his strong use of what the Italians call chiarascuro—or the use of highly contrasting light and dark areas to define form, and to create dramatic compositional balance. This use of light and shadow also gives his drawings visual depth and a dark, gritty quality that helps bridge the gap between the realistic and fantastic elements which coexist in his stories. His inking has a clean, fluid quality to it and he's adept at rendering bits of statuary and carvings, bathed in shadow, to act as a somber backdrop to the action. His creative reworking of old engravings and such for title page headings also helps to deepen the mood. The coloring, done by a number of different artists, is uniformly excellent; the use of muted color schemes being particularly effective. In several stories the panels are printed against black pages, which is a nice effect. The production quality on these volumes is also superb. (Each book also has a gallery of Hellboy art by guest artists, another nice touch.)

Adolf Hitler's interest in the occult is well known, if probably exaggerated, and the graphic novel Seed of Destruction (co-scripted by John Byrne) opens during World War II. A team of Nazi occultists have parachuted to a special site in Britain to perform an arcane ceremony which results in the appearance of a strange creature who looks like an infant demon. But a group of Allied soldiers and paranormalists led by Professor Trevor Bruttenholm have gotten wind of this activity through some psychic waves in the ether and are also on hand. Bruttenholm take possession of the child (promptly dubbed Hellboy) and becomes his surrogate father. This historical flashback segment is well handled, with Mignola using both comic strip sequences and illustrations with typeset captions to...

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convey the narrative.

Moving to the present, we find the adult Hellboy visiting an aged and decrepit Trevor Bruttenholm, who's recently returned from an arctic expedition in which his companions, the Cavendish brothers, have perished. They'd been looking for a strange temple in the ice sought by nine generations of the Cavendish clan. All that the professor can remember is the discovery of some ruins and a hideous, tentacled idol.

When Bruttenholm is slain by a bizarre reptilian creature, Hellboy and his colleagues from the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense try to track down his killers. The grown-up Hellboy is an immense, bulky fellow with red skin, a tail, and knobby projections on his forehead (which we later learn are filed-down horns). His usual garb consists of trunks, a cartridge belt, and an overcoat whose pockets are stuffed with everything from grenades to amulets. He's a likable guy with a keen sense of loyalty and a sardonic sense of humor. His companions are an interesting lot, too. Liz Sherman is the possessor of vast and barely controlled pyrotechnic abilities and Abe Sapien is an “Icthyo sapien”—an amphibious fish-man of unknown origin who was found preserved in a glass capsule within a sealed and long-forgotten chamber under an old hospital.

The team's investigations take them to the Cavendish home, a dank old New England pile that is slowly sinking into a swamp. Chez Cavendish is filled with paintings of long-departed family members, old sailing ships, and whaling boats being crushed in the jaws of watery leviathans. The team encounters the murderous reptiles, but the real nexus of evil is turns out to be the former-head of the occult Nazi project, Grigori Rasputin. The same Rasputin whose baleful influence over the last Czarina got him ‘killed’ in 1916. But he was reawakened by the Dragon, Ogdru Jahad, “the Seven who are One,” the Serpent who will purify the Earth—a nasty creature(s) imprisoned in another dimension but attempting to return to this one. Rasputin tries to recruit Hellboy—having brought him into being for just that purpose—but Hellboy will have none of it. When Hellboy demurs, Rasputin tries to use Liz Sherman's latent powers—a move that results in catastrophe.

Needless to say, this whole cosmology is very influenced by the writings of H. P. Lovecraft (to whom this volume is, in part, dedicated). It was Lovecraft's contention that the gods and monsters of mythology and occult lore reflect the dim and distorted memories of malevolent beings who lurk just beyond the time/space barrier thirsting to reenter our world and engulf it in dark gibbering chaos. The tentacled creature in the ice is an echo of Lovecraft's dread Cthulhu. One of H. P.'s best stories, At the Mountains of Madness, also takes place in the Arctic wastes and the New England placement of the sea-faring Cavendish clan is suggestive of Lovecraft's own Arkham. I don't think the Hellboy stories possess the sheer creepiness of Lovecraft at his best, however. Of course where Lovecraft's protagonists are usually paralyzed with terror in dealing with the unknown, Hellboy and his companions seem very matter-of-fact, almost blasé, in their confrontations with supernatural forces. They don't like being pushed around by demons and werewolves, and having considerable powers of their own, take a much more aggressive approach towards matters. Also, the underlying deadpan humor that is evoked in these stories would be inconceivable in one of the rather straight-laced H. P.'s tales. Much of Hellboy's humor rests on a sense of the absurd. When Hellboy airlifts into Romania, the locals immediately assume that he's an American, his appearance notwithstanding, and he and agent Corrigan whip out their Paranormal Research and Defense IDs as if in an episode of Paranorm ala Dragnet.

The second volume, Wake the Devil, introduces new characters, but is also a continuation of Seed. Hellboy and his crew are looking for a vampire named Giurescu who they've traced as far back as the Napoleonic wars. It seems that Count Giurescu was mortally wounded on many occasions, but managed to return fully restored each time (the key to his restoration being the goddess Hecate). Giurescu and his vampire wives were recruited by Himmler during WWII, but Hitler distrusted the vampire so the whole brood was executed by stakes through the heart at Dachau. (An interesting narrative touch.) But once more Hecate is arranging to resurrect her favorite. Suspecting that Giurescu is alive, or as alive as the undead can be, Hellboy and company descend upon some moldering castles in Romania. Once again they encounter Rasputin, seemingly destroyed at Cavendish manor, but transformed and regenerated once more with the help of (his mother?) the legendary witch, Baba Yaga. Rasputin acts as a sort of Anti-Christ, saying things like, “Your faith has saved you,” to his disciples. His Nazi assistants, including the icy, voluptuous Ilsa Haupstein, have been preserved in a state of stasis since the war, but they now rejoin him and Ilsa sacrifices herself to become a giant, living iron maiden. Hellboy must do battle with her as well as Giurescu and Hecate and her harpies. A strange artificial man made of organic ingredients steeped in horse dung and given life by medieval alchemy, also makes an appearance.

The relationship between Hecate and Baba Yaga and the Dragon is somewhat murky and trying to figure out who is serving or incarnating which god or goddess is like opening one of those Russian dolls where you find another doll inside and then another inside that, and so on and so forth. That having been said, Mignola treats his material with respect even as he creatively reworks it. Although there is a certain amount of mythological mixing and matching going on in Hellboy, Mignola generally restricts himself to a contiguous area of Eastern Europe and the various elements fit together fairly well. Romania is on the northern edge of the Greek world, home of Hecate and her harpies, and if it seems just a bit odd that a Slavic witch should hide a soul in the Norse tree of life, its not really too much of a stretch. Our knowledge of Norse religion is fragmentary at best and there was a lot of cross-cultural contact between the two groups. After all, it was Swedish vikings who founded the Russian kingdom of Kiev.

The Chained Coffin and Others is a collection of shorter pieces. Several people have told Mike Mignola that his lead-off story, “The Corpse,” is the best Hellboy tale yet, and the artist now agrees—although at the time he first did it, he thought it a failure. Well, his friends are right: It is a rambunctious tale in which humor and pathos mix. It is unexpectedly witty, rich in Gaelic folklore, full of surprises and told with uncanny graphic verve.

The story centers on a baby who has been stolen from his Irish peasant parents by the Faerie folk, i.e., the Little People, the Children of the Earth, the Daoine Sidh of Celtic legend. In order to get the infant back, Hellboy has to lug the corpse of Tam O'Clannie—much beloved by the Faerie King—until he can find a place to give him a proper Christian burial. But the dead arise to deny him repose, crying out “No room!” at every turn. Finally Hellboy has to fight Grom (a man/boar) and Jenny Greenteeth (a ghoul who tries to make a snack of Tam's arm) before he can put his charge to rest. The tale is told with great macabre zest, but with an edge of melancholy as well, for the Children of the Earth are dying off and soon their king will lead them into the shadow world and the “Sons of Adam” will no longer see them.

Another tale relates how Baba Yaga lost her eye to Hellboy. “A Christmas Underground” is about saving the soul of a woman snared by a demon, and “The Wolves of St. August” concerns an entire clan cursed with werewolfism. “Almost Colossus” is a follow-up to Wake the Devil. Here Hellboy and agent Kate Corrigan are attempting to track down the artificial man, or homunculus, that Liz Sherman released. Liz is dying, because in reanimating him, too much of the life force was expunged from her body. In this volume, and to a certain extent, Wake the Devil, there is more of an emphasis on the purely supernatural rather than extra-terrestrial or extra-dimensional aspects of evil priests and religious incantations play a role and records of the Inquisition are used as evidence of past unearthly manifestations. Tactically speaking, there is a danger in this insofar as references to the Inquisition might forcefully and uncomfortably remind readers that the supernatural events have no basis other than in the “confessions” of suspects who were hideously tortured by those same religious authorities in the middle ages. This invites a deflating and rather ugly reality to intrude upon the fantasy. But that is a minor flaw. The real problem confronting Mignola is his reliance on formulaic plot development; in just about every piece an unearthly menace is identified, an inevitable bang-up occurs between Hellboy and the menace which culminates in a climactic battle in which the foe is destroyed—but never quite completely. Villains in Hellboy can be impaled, blown up, incinerated, chopped to pieces, etc., but if a single molecule of them remains floating about, they end up back in the picture somehow. Although it might seem quixotic to object to endless fisticuffs in a mainstream book like Hellboy, I'm not so sure that it is a pointless objection. To a certain extent Mike Mignola has become a victim of his own success—he's already transcended some of the limitations of his genre; now, if he wants to keep his series fresh and interesting, he needs to deal with the challenge of constructing his stories without relying on the rather simple narrative structure of the superhero comic.

Hellboy and his companions—even the non-powered ones, like Kate Corrigan—are appealing, interesting characters, but so far their personalities have only been sketched in, so there's room for exploration there. Both Hellboy and Abe live in a world of humans, yet are physically very different from those around them. One would think that a day in the life of an Icthyo sapien must be quite odd. Given the success of “The Corpse,” Mignola's continuing practice of reworking old folktales might also prove a fruitful source for different sorts of story ideas in the future. But however he does it, the trick that Mignola needs to pull off, is that of creating new stories that go beyond the predictability of genre convention, but at the same time retain all those qualities that make Hellboy enjoyable and interesting.

Roger Sabin (review date 24 December 2000)

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SOURCE: Sabin, Roger. “Strip Teasers.” Observer Review (24 December 2000): 18.

[In the following review, Sabin discusses several modern graphic novels, including Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Daniel Clowes's Ghost World, and Joe Sacco's Safe Area Goražde, arguing that such works represent “a new generation of cartoonists pushing the envelope of what a comic can encompass.”]

The rise of the graphic novel as a format has meant that publishers can market their products to bookshops, and thus reach an audience away from the specialist—and very male-dominated—comics shops. Which is just as well, because those shops have been having a hard time lately. Although things have stabilised since the drastic recession of the late 1990s, it is estimated that there are still only a third of the number in the US and UK that there were a decade ago.

Fortunately, the artform does not equate with the industry, and over a comparable period there has been a creative boom, with a new generation of cartoonists pushing the envelope of what a comic can encompass.

Chris Ware is one of those cartoonists. In his already classic Jimmy Corrigan strips, now collected by Pantheon—The Smartest Kid on Earth—he uses page layouts as an experimental laboratory. Frequently, the stories are non-linear, with only the smallest of clues to help the reader along. This gives them an almost claustrophobic quality, which complements the grimly amusing content—the hapless Jimmy, a ‘kid’ with the face of an old man, is forever on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

The laughs—and there are many of them—come unexpectedly and leave the readers feeling a little guilty that they've got so close to the action. Ware has justifiably been compared with the great masters of the early twentieth-century American newspaper ‘funnies’, and this volume is a great introduction to his work.

Daniel Clowes is another creator who has been garnering a lot of attention, not least because his latest graphic novel, Ghost World, has been turned into a movie. The book itself is a triumph of understatement, and follows the friendship between two alienated teens, Enid and Rebecca. Their rapport is caught with cringe-making precision: Enid: ‘Those stupid girls think they're so hip, but they're just a bunch of trendy, stuck-up, prep-school bitches!’ Rebecca: ‘You're a stuck-up prep-school bitch!’

The story is moving and funny, with crisp, duotone art; the only drawback is that the pacing is a little staccato and betrays its origins in a bit-part comic. Whether there's enough here for a meaty movie remains to be seen.

Joe Sacco prides himself on being a ‘war junkie’, and his comic-book reports on the world's trouble-spots have earned him comparisons with the cartoonists of the pre-camera era, sent to bring back visual impressions of events. But he is more than this, and as his new book, Safe Area Goražde, about life in a town in the aftermath of the Bosnian War, shows, his is a very twentieth-century take on New Journalism.

For example, he is unafraid to put himself at the centre of the story, thus challenging our notions of objectivity. Sometimes, he admits, this could be too much: ‘I wanted out, out of there … I wanted to put a million miles between me and Bosnia, between me and those horrible disgusting people and their fucking wars and pathetic prospects …’

And yet it's what gives the book its power, more than the scenes of atrocities, more than the reconstruction of the siege of Goražde itself. Sacco seethes with indignation and the message of this book is clear: if you don't heal the wounds of the past, they will bleed into the future.

Finally, two cartoonists from the hippy underground era have collections out. Robert Crumb, the man who started it all, is up to volume 14 of his Complete Crumb series, this time focusing on his work from the early 1980s, mostly from the hugely influential Weirdo magazine. There seem to be two Crumbs at work here: one is the radical satirist in the tradition of Hogarth, who can produce strips of such sublime quality as ‘Trash’, a howl of outrage against wasteful consumer society. The other is someone with the mind of a frustrated 13-year-old, obsessed with big-bottomed women. Thankfully, the output of the former Crumb outweighs the latter. Hunt Emerson has often been called Britain's answer to Crumb, but he has always ploughed a different furrow. Citymouth is a lightweight, amusing, collection about, well, huge mouths with cities inside. They endure all the problems of modern conurbations—pollution, traffic gridlock, attacks by giant Godzillas etc.—and they have the competitiveness of medieval city states.

This is Emerson on surreal override, and for sheer penmanship there are few who can touch him.

Laura J. Kloberg (review date summer 2001)

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SOURCE: Kloberg, Laura J. Review of Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, by Chris Ware. National Forum 81, no. 3 (summer 2001): 44-5.

[In the following review, Kloberg praises Chris Ware for his use of visual imagery to connect the past and present in Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth.]

Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan is a compilation of individual comic strips published over a period of several years. It is a remarkable visual treat, a book in which intricate drawings convey the story of three generations of Corrigans. The overall story is about a young man who lacks confidence and a sense of self-worth. When the book begins, he is looking for love and happiness at a time in his life when he chooses to meet his estranged father of thirty years.

Jimmy Corrigan first began in 1993 as a weekly comic strip in the Chicago newspaper New City, and was meant to take only a summer to complete. Five years later Chris Ware found himself stuck “in the swampy muck of a ‘story’ which now seemed to have no end in sight, and, even worse, likely no point. …” Despite Ware's feeling of being trapped, however, another year later the story was completed and ready to be published as a book.

For me, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth had an immediate visual appeal. The title itself is intriguing, and the graphic style is clean and crisp, stylized, yet it has great detail; it is crowded with images but not cluttered. All parts of the book lend to the rich visual mix. The book jacket itself is a work of art. When positioned around the book, it has upside-down type that lets you know there is no definite direction and which calls out to you to explore it further. It is cleverly composed and is loaded with illustrations and diagrams. You find yourself unfolding the jacket to study its many parts. Unfolded, it is a two-sided poster that maps a journey through time, illustrating Jimmy Corrigan's family lineage and history as well as providing an introspective journey into his thoughts. The jacket contains some narrative description as well. And if you don't have enough to contemplate, Ware also offers the possibility of cutouts that the reader can construct of Jimmy's world: the Zoetrope at the beginning, the house and yard where the first Jimmy (the grandfather) Corrigan grew up, and Jimmy Corrigan himself on the cover.

In addition, found in the end pages at the beginning of the book are instructions and descriptions in tiny type to help those who are not familiar with cartoon illustrations to follow this pictographic narrative. The end pages at the back of the book offer an apology and definitions.

Chapter (title) breaks emphasize Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth and add nice graphic pauses. As the story opens, we are still wondering who this Jimmy is and what makes him so smart. Chris Ware's use of flashbacks and dream sequences lets the reader know more of the whole story and more about Jimmy by allowing us to see what is in his mind. As the story unfolds, we begin to see the irony of the title. The truth is that Jimmy has tremendously low self-esteem and often fantasizes about being a superhero.

Several images reoccur throughout the book and tie together the plotlines: superheroes, birds, broken limbs, guns, peaches, redheads, and Jimmy Corrigan. The three generations of Jimmies look virtually the same, so if you are not paying close attention to the changing time periods, it is easy to become confused. The images bind the story together and reiterate the similarities between the Jimmies of each generation.

The superhero image occurs throughout the book. Jimmy himself wears a Superman shirt. Jimmy imagines himself a bird flying outside of the clinic like Superman, and when a bird crashes into the window, we are back with Jimmy in the clinic, back to reality. But in this comic world, superheroes are not invincible. A “superhero” jumps from the rooftop across from Jimmy's office building and dies. A toy Superman that a child plays with at a diner dives to the floor. Jimmy's dad picks it up to give back to the child, commenting how we would not want Superman to get hurt.

Of particular interest is the way Chris Ware has connected the past with the present. The book spans the time from Jimmy's great-grandfather in 1863 to the present; the different time changes are illustrated through a particular visual sequence of a bird gathering nest materials by various hospitals. This bird is seen first collecting a flowered twig around a war-zone tent-hospital, then by a hospital building in the 1890s, next at Lincoln Hospital in the 1930s, then at St. Mary's in the 1950s, and finally placing the twig in a nest on the windowsill of a present-day “doc-in-a-box” where Jimmy waits with a bloody nose. You have a sense that it is the same bird reflecting on times gone by, as well as different birds from different times.

Ware uses other visual devices to connect the present with the past. For example, my favorite two frames come just as Jimmy and his father are leaving the clinic where Jimmy has been treated for his bloody nose. The walls of the clinic are drab green, and Jimmy's father suggests to the doc that perhaps the walls should be painted a different color, and that he would be glad to get him an estimate. The doctor's response is that he kind of likes it that way because “when you get outside, everything takes on this sort of pinkish-peach color.” When they step outside, Jimmy's father asks “Does everything look sort of PINK to you?” As they stand on the left page, which is yellowish green, the opposite page is pinkish, and we have been transported back to the 1890s.

Ware's visual narrative style is shown vividly during a sequence in a diner during which Jimmy and his father are trying to get to know each other after meeting for the first time that Jimmy can remember. The panels or frames of the table at the diner show the passage of time. Each panel depicting the table appears once per page, along with other panels of the strip depicting conversation as Jimmy and his dad have lunch. The sequence starts with a dirty table with a tip; next it is cleaned; drinks appear; then drinks with a straw and a spoon; then partially consumed coffee; food is served; portions of the food are eaten; more food is eaten, leaving crumbs on the table; still more food is eaten; then we are back to a clean table. There are twelve panels of this table image, and each one looks very similar to the previous panel, yet each has something that is different to show the passage of time. For instance, in the two panels depicting a clean table, the direction of the shadow on the table is different. Later in the book, another layer of the story is revealed in a similar way. Ware tells the complicated story of the history and lineage of Jimmy's stepsister (the stepsister he never knew he had), back to 1893, in less than 30 frames.

Ware also has a marvelous ability to illustrate the tensions, the boredom, the awkwardness of everyday life by using onomatopoeic words appropriately placed for coughs and sniffs and clearing of throats, by people fidgeting with objects, by the sound of a key turning in a lock, radios, clocks, and phones. He captures Jimmy's isolation and his discomfort with the world through the combination of the drawings and the sounds.

All of these things—the use of color, the rhythm of the panels, attention to details and details within details, and the repetition of themes—keep the reader interested in a story that on the surface is mundane. The many layers of history and images keep the mind engaged. It is ultimately a very complex tale, one that bears rereading. I loved the interconnectedness of it all.

Roger Sabin (review date 2 September 2001)

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SOURCE: Sabin, Roger. “Side by Side in the Fantasy League.” Observer Review (2 September 2001): 16.

[In the following review, Sabin examines a selection of graphic novels—including Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Mark Kalesniko's Mail Order Bride, and Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima's Lone Wolf and Cub—asserting that such works should “appeal to readers beyond comics fans.”]

The forthcoming release of two major movies based on graphic novels—Ghost World, derived from Dan Clowes's tale of teen angst, and From Hell, based on Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's Jack the Ripper story—represents something of an opportunity for the graphic novels industry. If only it can capitalise on the ensuing publicity, then its much cherished ‘outreach programme’ (industry code) to appeal to readers beyond comics fans can be more fully realised. It's fortunate, then, that the latest crop of novels is so accessible to the general public (all the bookshops need to do now is stop shelving such material next to X-Men compilations).

Alan Moore returns to the late nineteenth century with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, illustrated by Kevin O'Neill, which pictures an alternative Britain where characters from Victorian fiction have a life of their own. The ‘league’ is led by Mina Murray from Bram Stoker's Dracula, and consists of H. Rider Haggard's Allan Quartermain, Jules Verne's Captain Nemo, R. L. Stevenson's Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde and H. G. Wells's Invisible Man, all brought together to combat an evil criminal mastermind from the East and his band of ‘sly Chinee’. Thus begins a penny-dreadful adventure that mimics modern superhero team-ups—Moore's own Watchmen comes to mind—while retaining an all-important sense of humour.

This is very postmodern humour, you understand—Quartermain is discovered in an opium den and the Invisible Man is caught hiding in a girls' school. Yet it never threatens to overwhelm what is essentially a ripping yarn of a rather quaint kind: you feel that Moore and O'Neill really yearn for a bit of old-fashioned romance.

The House on Borderland is a period piece of a different kind: an adaptation by Richard Corben and Simon Revelstroke of William Hope Hodgson's cult weird fantasy novel of 1908. The story revolves around a hermit's battle with monsters from his id—‘foul horrors from my veriest dreams!’—who appear in the form of horrendous) ‘swine things’ that besiege his house, While we're never sure that the character is on the borderland of sanity, his first-person narrative draws us from one action set piece to another, as he blasts his porcine foe with muskets.

Purists will argue that Hodgson's book has been turned into a cheap shoot-'em-up—and to some extent this is true. It is also the case that the novel's celebrated psychedelic, ‘end of the cosmos’ climax is done scant justice. What we have instead is a Hammer horror confection that is never scary, but which still manages to be vastly entertaining on an ‘'E's behind yer!’ level. Perhaps the complex, mad original could never be translated into a different medium: but as a homage, this will do nicely.

There are no such problems with subtlety in Mail Order Bride, Mark Kalesniko's atmospheric study of what happens when a 39-year-old Canadian virgin buys an Oriental partner via a brochure. As the shy Korean begins to assert her personality, reminding her husband ever more forcefully that she's not a fantasy (and not Chinese), so the resentment grows. ‘I don't fit the stereotype any more!’ she scalds him, before packing her bags.

This deceptively simple premise is given real emotional weight by the deft handling of dialogue and the delicately rendered black-and-white penman ship. The art is in the apparent artlessness, and the book announces Kalesniko as an exciting talent on the graphic novel scene.

Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima is a Japanese epic from the 1970s, here republished for the first time in the original pocket-size format (we're up to volume 11 in a huge 28-volume series). A samurai yarn about an assassin's trek across country with his young son (the cub) in tow, the scale of the comic allows for scenes to unfold ‘in the moment’, with bloody swordfights lasting many pages and choreographed in kinetic detail. The art style is more reminiscent of traditional Japanese scroll paintings than the ‘big eyes and speed lines’ aesthetic associated with contemporary manga, and the series deserves its reputation as a classic.

Locas in Love is a collection of interlinked short stories by one of the great names in alternative comics, Jaime Hernandez, and features characters created by him for the long-running series Love and Rockets.

Revolving around the love affairs of a group of Hispanic-American women, the tone is upbeat and lively, and the final 1960s-set tale, a childhood flashback, is a triumph of economical cartooning. Hernandez has been eclipsed by a new wave of alternative cartoonists since the 1980s (with Ghost World, Dan Clowes is definitely flavour of the month), but his confident style and understanding of layout still hold him in the front rank.

Jeremy Russell (review date January-February 2002)

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SOURCE: Russell, Jeremy. “True Crime.” American Book Review 23, no. 2 (January-February 2002): 18.

[In the following review, Russell lauds Brian Michael Bendis's Torso: A True Crime Graphic Novel as “a tour de force of graphic storytelling,” complimenting Bendis's use of photographs, collage, and realistic art.]

“Find the heads.”

It seems at first a simple investigation. If the two Cleveland homicide detectives who form the backbone to Torso's morbid tale can find the heads to two dismembered bodies, they figure that will give them enough clues to at least discover the identities of the victims if not the motive for the crimes. Unfortunately, from the moment that Eliot Ness is brought to town to root out corruption as Cleveland's new Safety Commissioner, nothing will go according to routine. Part by part, corpses will make continuous appearances, one with a direct challenge to Ness carved in its skin. Soon it begins to look as if one of the city's elite citizens has been performing medical experiments on poor vagrants, prostitutes, and homosexual night owls. Most of a body even surfaces at the Republican convention.

This isn't just some unsubtle allegory about the class struggle, but a true crime graphic novel built artistically from historical crime scene photographs. The crimes it relates took place in the late 30s and involved the first identified serial killer in the United States, a killer who was never captured. And Eliot Ness, coming almost directly from the success of his Untouchables campaign against Al Capone, really did get involved in this quagmire. He sank in so deep, it ended his marriage and his career.

Despite the enormous popularity, populous appeal, and veneer of social value of true crime stories, they do not often find their way into comic books—but not for a lack of reader interest. In comics' so-called Golden Era in the 30s and 40s, true crime was much in demand. Perhaps the most famous example is Lev Gleason Publications' monthly Crime Does Not Pay (1942), the creation of an early innovator named Charles Biro. It was both extremely violent and widely popular, boasting more than six million readers, but ultimately, like all its ilk, doomed by the Comics Code adopted in the 50s. Among other atrocities, the Comics Code, which all major comics publishers signed onto for more than 30 years, required that “scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gun play, physical agony, gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated” (rule #7). Other rules banned strong language, marital discord, and the ridicule of law enforcement, all of which effectively ended the possibility not only of true crime, but of any comic with essentially adult content. Torso, originally published as a comic book miniseries, might well have been bowdlerized out of existence even only fifteen years ago.

Now collected into a graphic novel, Torso is a tour de force of graphic storytelling, and we're lucky to have it. But like anything truly innovative, it is not always easy to read. Although highly influenced by past conventions, it follows its own muse and is an extremely sophisticated comic that will require close attention from the uninitiated. Fortunately, movement between panels becomes, through consistency, easier to comprehend. A familiarity with film techniques also serves the reader well, as scenes fade in and out and graphical slow motion and montage sequences convey the narrative.

The main thing Torso does differently is the use of photographs. Very few comics have incorporated photographs in the past, almost none successfully, and I would argue that none have done so with the same panache as Torso. The photographs are used as backgrounds, set pieces, and settings; they reappear with different measures of focus; most importantly, they are always seamlessly incorporated, so much so that at times you cannot tell where the photograph ends and the drawing begins.

One of the best uses of a photograph in the book comes when Ness and his wife are leaving a gathering of Cleveland's rich and famous. When a card falls out of her jacket, which proves to be one of the killer's notorious postcards, Ness turns back to the party, of which we are shown a photograph. Now, perhaps this is not a photograph of the actual event, perhaps it is not even the real location, but the tables are set and the upper-crust crowd is clearly enjoying its meal. We immediately comprehend the impossibility of determining who, in the scene before us, has not only been butchering the poor but is sneaking notes to his nemesis like some kind of Dean Moriarty. Worse than a needle in a haystack, the photograph is irrefutable proof, a solid fact, that this is a homogenous, unadulterated haystack. The killer is hay in a haystack or just another needle in the pin cushion, if you will. No drawing could have driven this home with the same impact.

Normally, photographs do not work in comic art because they stand out, but nothing could stand out in the graphic texture of Torso. In other words, the photos remain as clunky as earlier attempts—there is simply no smooth way to incorporate them—but Torso turns this natural roughness into an asset. So many of the photographs are of clues and victims that it gives the book a quasi-documentary feel, and the repetition of images other than the photographs eliminates the possibility of discontinuity.

At first, such repetition is reminiscent of low-budget cartoons that set stock scenes to different dialogue, but artists Brian Bendis and Mark Andreyko have something different in mind. They exploit the eerie feeling that comes from the reappearance of the same image. For example, imagine a face with a look of horror in panel 1, then the same face in panel 2, then the same face in panel 3: dammit, what's he looking at that has him so worked up for so long? Or, my personal favorite: in panel 1 is a creepy old house, which we know to be the killer's lair, and in panel 2 you have the same picture of the creepy old house but with the word “CHOP” written over it in serial-killer font so you know it's a sound coming from the house, then in panel 3 you've got the same word over the same house three times. Taking tiny steps like this from moment to moment puts so much in the reader's imagination that it is actually a stronger way to convey the tension. Bendis and Andreyko know how to tweak the imagination, which is no doubt why Torso was nominated for both the International Horror Guild's Award for Best Graphic Story and the International Eagle Award for Best Black and White Comic, and why it won the comic industry's most coveted prize, the Eisner Award for Comic Book Excellence.

It's easy to see why Torso has garnered so much praise: it is simply the most uniquely rendered graphic novel since Spiegelman's Maus. However, Torso's technique is exactly the opposite. Where Maus rendered its story with animal faces and mock comic layouts to explore the humanity, Torso uses photographs, collage, and realistic art to distance the reader and dehumanize the setting.

Despite all of this, Torso is not perfect. Those portions of the story that are clearly inserted into the facts to distinguish the narrative from a simple recounting of the crime itself, although deftly done, stand out and at times ring false. One of the detectives, it is revealed, had supposedly kept secret the fact that he had known the victims all along. The killer himself, when he arrives, is in some ways a missed opportunity, which the authors choose to leave a mere cipher. But it seems unfair to ask more of a work that has accomplished so much.

Where Torso succeeds is in its synergy of effects—the rough art, the huge spaces of black, the twisting layouts, the collage work, the repeating images, and the dark, tragic story. It all comes together to create mood in a way no comic has before. And Torso is essentially a mood piece, spinning out its true crime tale more to create a feeling of helpless frustration, oppression, futility, failure, and of course fear as a backdrop against Eliot Ness's bigger-than-life bravado. Against such a backdrop, even Ness must fail. And nowhere is the comic more brilliant than when depicting the tragedy of Ness's heroism thwarted by the forces of corruption. He could beat Capone, but he didn't stand a chance against Cleveland.

Larushka Ivan-Zadeh (review date 16 November 2002)

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SOURCE: Ivan-Zadeh, Larushka. “Fast Train to Weirdsville.” Guardian (16 November 2002): 29.

[In the following review, Ivan-Zadeh offers a positive assessment of Daniel Clowes's “compelling” characterizations in David Boring, asserting that “this is Clowes at his mature best.”]

Daniel Clowes's breakthrough book, Ghost World, was the tale of Enid and Rebecca, two cooler-than-thou teens caught in limbo between high school and the rest of their lives, and was hip in a way that only truly anti-hip stuff can be. With his crisp graphics, ironic tone and uncanny insight into teenage hell, 40-year-old Clowes has been creating two-dimensional characters with three-dimensional problems for years; but it was Ghost World's evocation of the particular pain of outgrowing childhood that really touched a chord. Serialised in Clowes's own comic, Eightball, and published here in book form during 2000, it gave a face and voice to all those American girls who don't wannabe Britney, way before Kelly Osbourne hit our screens. When the subsequent movie tie-in—a low-budget gem starring Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi—came out last year, it tripled book sales overnight. Ghost World has shifted more than 100,000 copies to date, creating a whole new readership for comics that grown-ups aren't ashamed to be seen with.

David Boring, Clowes's latest work, is an enigmatic murder mystery shivering with pre-millennial paranoia. Our “eponymous narrator” is a skinny 20-year-old security guard with an overactive sense of biography. Having escaped to the city to get away from his domineering mother (whose double-beehived hairdo gives her the air of Minnie Mouse after a hard night), David moves in with Dot, his lesbian best friend from high school. When another childhood friend, Whitey, is murdered, David goes all Raymond Chandler on us and tries to solve the case. “I love that I'm talking about ‘blondes’ and ‘alibis’,” he remarks. He gets entangled with an enigmatic dame called Wanda before taking a bullet in the brain. From then on the story ricochets off into Weirdsville as David retreats to the remote island playground of a dead millionaire, to wait out an unconfirmed world apocalypse.

David himself is not a particularly likable chap. Like the male characters of the seminal cartoonist Robert Crumb, many of Clowes's anti-heroes have a sweaty, guilty look, as if caught masturbating over pictures of the next-door neighbour's daughter. In our first peep at David, he is “naked, about to have sexual intercourse with what the consensus of the day would have held as a perfectly beautiful woman”. While thrusting away he begins to describe her, then trails off, bored. “Her trim, athletic figure was blah blah etc etc.” In fact, David is so pathologically detached from the world around him that it's difficult to care very much about him or, indeed, any of the other characters who, seen through David's eyes, are a far from endearing group of inadequate flakes, sinister control freaks and lust objects.

So what makes David Boring so compelling? Even its title is perversely uninviting. Shouted in declamatory Marvel style across the cover, it is partly a comic-buff reference to Superman artist Wayne Boring. Like many progressive writers of graphic novels (Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Chris Ware), Clowes grapples head on with his superhero heritage in a way that moves the medium forward. Despite his obscure link to the man in tights, and the bombastic middle name “Jupiter”, David is devoid of secret superhero skills—apart from the surprising ability to tell the shape of a girl's bum by her face. David's long-absent father was a cartoonist in the 1950s and his garish Technicolor strip, “The Yellow Streak”, is interspliced with Clowes's otherwise dramatically noirish panels. David struggles to formulate his identity through the past fragments of his father's comics, the shifting narrative of his own life (“what I had once thought was a romantic comedy is actually a horror story, complete with gothic effects”) and his filmic aspirations (“I'm better than my father. Movies are better than comics. Tomorrow I will write”). In doing so he emerges as more than just an obsessive, introverted misfit: he's a cipher for the graphic novel itself.

Deeply cool in both senses and beautifully controlled, this is Clowes at his mature best. David Boring might lack the bubble-gum charm and emotional charge of Ghost World, yet it is a subtle and intriguing book, whose compelling perplexity makes it well worth unlocking. And happily, the easy rhythm of the grid structure means you can read the whole thing inside an hour. So, read and re-read it, until it blows you away with a muted “Kapow!”

David Thompson (review date 5 January 2003)

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SOURCE: Thompson, David. “Eyewitness in Gaza.” Observer (5 January 2003): 15.

[In the following review, Thompson argues that Joe Sacco's Palestine and Safe Area Goražde act as vivid examples of the powerful messages that comic narratives can convey.]

If the mention of comic books still calls to mind images of caped crusaders and anthropomorphic mice, the graphic front-line reportage of Joe Sacco should upend your preconceptions. While the comic-book form typically deals with fantasy of a lurid and questionable kind Sacco's cartoons address the extremes of an altogether different world—our own.

With a degree in journalism and a background that spans teaching at New York's School of Visual Arts, editing, publishing and a brief spell drawing Maltese romance cartoons, Sacco is perhaps an unlikely star of war-zone reporting. Yet his time is spent exploring the planet's hellholes and his work has even been championed in the Economist, a magazine not previously known for its interest in comics.

Art Spiegelman, creator of the Pulitzer winning Holocaust comic, Maus, hailed Sacco's work as the vanguard of journalism, announcing: ‘In a world where Photoshop has outed the photograph as a liar, one can now allow artists to return to their original function—as reporters.’ Indeed, Sacco is arguably the only cartoonist in America to be held in equal regard by broadsheet journalists and comic-book enthusiasts.

Sacco's eyewitness Illustrations have attracted attention far beyond the twilight realm of the comic book and graphic novel. Published in 2000, his first major project was Safe Area Goražde, an unnerving first-hand account of the war in eastern Bosnia. The book earned widespread praise for its fusion of aesthetic and journalistic content, with the New York Times hailing Sacco as ‘an immense talent’, adding: “This medium will not let us separate actions, faces, bodies and scenes from the words that explain and amplify them … Sacco shows how much that is crucial to our lives a book can hold.”

His cartoon narratives have also earned the Malta-born artist numerous awards, including the Eisner Award for Best Original Graphic Novel (the comic-book equivalent of an Oscar) and the 2002 VPRO Grand Prix of Haarlem, in which he prevailed over the considerable talents of Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware. In 2001, he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship to work on his forthcoming project, Gaza.

Originally published in 1993 as a nine-issue comic series, Palestine is an illustrated account of the cartoonist's visit to the Occupied Territories during 1991 and 1992. Focusing on how private lives are impacted by public policies, Sacco depicts a retaliatory loop of routine horror, while navigating the region's infernal history and political sensitivities. Now republished in a single 300-page volume with a new introduction by the critic and historian Edward Said, Palestine remains, in light of recent events, as pertinent as ever. With luck, the graphic novel format will afford some measure of contact with booksellers beyond the ghetto of specialist comic stores and introduce Sacco's work to the wider audience it undoubtedly deserves.

Drawing on first-hand experiences, extensive research and more than 100 interviews with Palestinians and Jews, Sacco has gained access to unusually intimate testimony, giving space to details and perspectives normally excluded by mainstream media coverage. The enthusiasm and frequency with which Sacco is hauled into the homes of those he meets—to listen, take notes and drink endless cups of tea—underlines the desperation of the people he encounters; their hopes are pinned not on political promises but on telling their stories to a stranger who writes comic books.

Although the critical response to the American edition of Palestine has been overwhelmingly positive, a number of stridently Zionist web sites have, perversely, accused Sacco of ‘Jew-bashing’ and his Seattle publisher receives the occasional piece of hate mail. Yet Palestine is a remarkably even-handed work and essentially humanist in tone: ‘What can happen to someone who thinks he has all the power? What becomes of someone when he believes himself to have none?’

The original Palestine comic series won the 1996 American Book Award and the illustrations have since been exhibited across the US. The book's imagery is vivid, memorably atmospheric and faithful to the landscapes and cities of Palestine. It also evokes an almost surreal routine of bureaucratic harassment, roadblocks and tear gas, punctuated only by moments of mordant humour.

Despite the careful characterisation of those around him, Sacco's cartoon self is slightly unreal—a grotesquely exaggerated figure, complete with enormously elastic lips—a formlessness that, curiously, invites identification. However, his draughtsmanship is perhaps best demonstrated by his complex crowd scenes, with their differentiated faces, pointed detail and disjointed snippets of overheard speech and interior narrative.

Although Palestine is both visually engaging and a labour of artistic love, at its heart lies a commitment to hard-edged journalism and a challenge to the objectivity of the Western (and particularly American) media: ‘I came from the standpoint of “Palestinian equals terrorist”. That's what filtered down in the course of watching the regular network news.’ Sacco makes no pretence of the observer's invisibility and depicts his own initial disbelief of reported detentions and torture. Nor does he shy away from revealing his own ambiguities as a visiting Western journalist. (As a street demonstration threatens to erupt into violence, we see him bolstering his confidence by repeating to himself: ‘It's good for the comic, it's good for the comic.’)

With Palestine and Safe Area Goražde, Sacco has assumed the unlikely role of the pre-photography war artist, while exploiting the narrative and textual devices of the comic book. Others have employed the comics form to tell political, non-fictional or biographical stories, among them Steve Darnall, Marjane Satrapi and Ho Che Anderson, but Sacco's work is unique in its scale and ambition. Approaching such daunting topics with a disreputable and supposedly juvenile medium may seem futile, even absurd, yet Sacco's greatest achievement is to have so poignantly depicted contradiction, oppression and horror in a form that manages to be both disarming and disquieting. Palestine not only demonstrates the versatility and potency of its medium, but it also sets the benchmark for a new, uncharted genre of graphic reportage.

Debbie Notkin (review date June 2003)

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SOURCE: Notkin, Debbie. “Growing Up Graphic.” Women's Review of Books 20, no. 9 (June 2003): 8.

[In the following review, Notkin lauds Marjane Satrapi's frank autobiographical perspective in Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, noting that “Satrapi's unswerving commitment to the complex truth over the comfortable platitude will shake your expectations.”]

In the second panel of Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi lets her readers know what we can expect from the rest of the book. The panel shows four little girls in Islamic veils, lined up in a neat little row. On the far left, we see the barest suggestion of a fifth girl. The text reads, in part, “This is a class photo. I'm sitting on the far left so you don't see me.” Satrapi, like all autobiographers, controls what we see and how we see it; unlike many, however, she is extremely cognizant of her control and wants her readers to share her understanding. We are in good hands, and we know it at once.

In the nearly two decades since the first book publication of Art Spiegelman's Maus, the graphic novel has become recognized as a medium for serious narrative. Satrapi, now an established cartoonist in France, has chosen a medium that both suits her talents and makes her work accessible to a wide contemporary audience, perhaps including people of the age of her younger-self protagonist. The format also permits Satrapi to provide invaluable wordless commentary on some of her core points. For example, the visual of a kindly bearded god cradling a religious young girl in his arms conveys a sense of the child's religious feelings at a visceral level.

Persepolis stands up well from a variety of different perspectives. It's a telling memoir of girlhood; an informative and empathic window into the life of Iranian progressives as the country shifted from a dictatorship of the greedy to a fundamentalist regime; and a graphic novel providing immediate impact. As such, the personal, the political, and the aesthetic are all well-represented, and all are given comparable weight.

Ironies abound in Persepolis. An Iranian woman from a leftist family uses the quintessentially western format of the graphic novel to tell an incontrovertibly middle-eastern story. A young girl with deep religious beliefs is thrown into the center of a fundamentalist revolution, which she sees through the lens provided by her progressive, rationalist family. A regime committed to pushing an entire populace into a fundamentalist worldview not only pushes this protagonist away from religion, but out of the country.

Despite the message of the second panel (which follows a panel of Satrapi by herself, in the center of the space) the story by no means renders Satrapi invisible. On the contrary: She is the unmistakable protagonist of her own tale, visible in almost every panel, her voice the only storytelling voice. Yet, by cutting herself out of the “class photo,” she begins with an unmistakable graphic reminder that, as she is literally marginalized in the panel, so her life has been marginalized throughout the story and beyond: as a child in her parent's home, as a progressive growing up during a fundamentalist takeover, as a woman in a man's world, as a rebellious teen in an environment where rebellion can be literally deadly.

Although her story once she leaves Iran is not the subject of this tale, we can be certain that she has been marginalized as the emigré she becomes at the end of the story, and as the cartoonist she currently is. She is both ironically aware and accepting of that marginalization, willing to acknowledge its funny side, without trivializing.

Satrapi's stark black-and-white illustrations rely mostly on static images: Only at a few junctures, notably in fantasy sequences where the young protagonist is comprehending the death and destruction around her, do we see much in the way of movement in the panels. Panels vary in size, but not in shape, and each is contained in a box; the form is conventional and simple.

Persepolis is by no means a “comic book,” yet Satrapi's sense of humor pervades it just as it might pervade a prose work on a similar subject. None of the humor is without its pointed commentary, which often only makes it funnier. Here is Satrapi at age ten, laying out for her grandmother the laws she intends to promote when she becomes a prophet: “Rule Number Eight: No old person should have to suffer.”

“In that case,” says grandmother, “I'll be your first disciple. But tell me how you'll arrange for old people not to suffer.”

“It will simply be forbidden,” says Satrapi, spreading her arms in youthful confidence in the simplicity and clarity of it all.

Satrapi portrays growing up in a world that is changing so dramatically as to be both confusing and demanding. The bright, aware, compassionate child does not have an easy time of it. When the family maid falls in love with the son of the family next door, Satrapi's parents' assumptions about class fall under their daughter's undamaged scrutiny: She cannot comprehend how her otherwise liberal, egalitarian parents can condemn the maid for ignoring class boundaries. The ten-year-old girl crawls into bed to console the teenaged maid: “When I went back to her room she was crying. We were not in the same social class but at least we were in the same bed.”

Her uncle, a released political prisoner, comes to live with the Satrapis, and he and young Marji come to care deeply for one another. He gives her an only slightly prettified version of his story.

When Uncle Anoosh disappears, Satrapi's father tells her that he left the country without saying goodbye, but eventually admits that he has been returned to prison. She has one chance to visit him in jail before he is executed. Upon his death, in one of the book's most poignant moments, she bids farewell to the (unidentified) white-bearded god whom she had once seen as a protector.

Satrapi's mother is threatened on the street by fundamentalist men and, days later, wearing the veil is made compulsory for all women. The war with Iraq forces the family into basement shelters, strikes fear into the populace, elicits deeper fundamentalism from teachers and police, and brings a family of refugees into Satrapi's home. A friend's father gets 75 lashes for owning videocassettes, a deck of cards, and a chess set.

Yet, somehow, the family continues to live a surprisingly “normal” simulacrum of its previous life. Rather than stropping their parties and card games, they simply increase their protective efforts. Satrapi's friends still manage to score cigarettes, to sneak out of class for hamburgers, to party when “punk rock is in”: We cannot help but superimpose western teenagers in torn black t-shirts and cheek piercings on these fully-veiled Iranian teenagers. When Satrapi demands that her mother cover her for cutting class, and her mother refuses, she thinks “Dictator! You are the guardian of the revolution of this house!” Although Satrapi uses the cultural symbols of the Middle East, her phrase is not unlike the American teenager's “What makes you think you can run my life?”

As the fundamentalist regime tightens its grip, the ever-increasing dangers of the family's life are contrasted with a dogged attachment to normality. Readers get the impression that omnipresent danger forgotten or denied characterized Satrapi's girlhood. It is difficult to say whether this is a literary unwillingness to dwell in a constant sense of impending disaster or an accurate presentation of how people actually function under desperate circumstances.

Toward the end of the story, however, the tone changes dramatically. When Satrapi's street is bombed and her Jewish neighbors are killed, a completely black panel proclaims “No scream in the world could have relieved my suffering and my anger.” The young woman who emerges from this experience is too angry to be afraid. Her parents, clearly fearing for the life of their passionate daughter, arrange for her to leave the country, preferring to give her up and to send her to live in exile rather than to take the risk of keeping her at home.

Their reasons for not leaving with her are not addressed—perhaps the question didn't occur to the 14-year-old Satrapi. The sequence as she prepares to leave her home for Austria is deeply moving. The final panel is a testament to the emotional impact of a well-done graphic novel; it simply cannot be duplicated in prose.

In her preface, Satrapi says, “I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists. I didn't want those Iranians who lost their lives … to be forgotten.” In the end, however, this is only one of the many levels on which the reader experiences this story. Whether the preconceptions you bring to this book are about Iran, teenage girls, fundamentalist regimes, graphic novels, or all of the above, Satrapi's unswerving commitment to the complex truth over the comfortable platitude will shake your expectations and eventually satisfy you in a new way.

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