One of the things I admire about Roger Ebert is his economy of words. (My own style is for the most part entrenched in verbosity, full of em dashes and semicolons.) No doubt it helps that he likely spent at least his pre-fame years on strict word counts at The Sun-Times; also that his readership has become familiar with certain phrases of his which, though perfunctory, don't sound as judgmental as they might from an unknown source. He will often refer to a film as "adapted from the novel, unread by me". You have to marvel at such concise, neutral disclosure.
The following books — all graphic novels in the sense that the phrase has come to encompass just about any work of comics with a square binding — are as yet unread by me, but likely not for long, and I have cause to recommend each.
Cover to The Courageous Princess © 2007 Rod Espinosa.
Rod Espinosa's The Courageous Princess [ISBN 978-1-59307-719-8] was released as a softcover by Dark Horse in 2007. Espinosa is a respected adapter of literary works to manga-style comics, but this is one of his original tales. It was recommended to me by the manager of Showcase, my local comics shop, as a birthday gift for my 7-year-old cousin; recalling an issue of Espinosa's Alice in Wonderland that had found its way to me, I picked it up. Would you believe the birthday girl started reading it quietly to herself while her party was still in progress? Princess was originally serialized by Antarctic before its 2003 hardcover collection, but — at least in the preview pages available at the link above — while the art is broken down into panels it otherwise resembles a traditional storybook, with narrative captions in lieu of word balloons.
Cover to Magic Trixie and the Dragon © 2008 Jill Thompson.
Magic Trixie and the Dragon [ISBN 978-0-06117-050-8] will be out from HarperCollins this coming week. Author Jill Thompson said recently that she's had a hard time finding the earlier MT installments, which I reviewed last month, at bookstores. If you can't find a copy at B&N, Borders, or BAM, search out a comics shop or order online — but let's make sure that more volumes are commissioned, because this is good stuff. PS: As fate would have it, Magic Trixie's blog was updated right after my review lamented that there'd been nothing new since Christmas.
Cover to Asterios Polyp © 2009 David Mazzucchelli.
David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp [ISBN 978-0-30737-732-6] is a hardcover graphic novel for grown-ups scheduled for release from Pantheon in July. Mazzucchelli rose to industry fame in the late '80s illustrating the gritty superhero stories collected in Daredevil: Born Again from Marvel and then Batman: Year One from DC, both written by Frank Miller. He published the ideosyncratic Rubber Blanket with Richmond Lewis and produced various short works — including a lovely, haunting story for one of the Little Lit collections — but not nearly enough work, nor as well exposed, as we'd like, those of us who very quickly knew we'd follow him anywhere. The Publishers Weekly review featured on Polyp's Amazon page claims that "[f]or decades, Mazzucchelli has been a master without a masterpiece," but that's not quite true: Avon's 1994 adaptation of the Paul Auster prose novel City of Glass, which Mazzucchelli translated into comics with Paul Karasik and expertly illustrated, is one of the medium's crowning achievements. If it doesn't qualify as being his masterpiece by dint of being an adapted work or a collaborative effort given the involvement of Karasik and editor Art Spiegelman, well, it's a masterpiece nonetheless — one that I hope, with the likely success of Asterios Polyp, gets yet another look following 2004's tenth-anniversary reissue from Picador.