Unread by Me
One of the several things I admire about Roger Ebert is his economy of words. 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, 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.
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, and I recalled an issue of Espinosa's Alice in Wonderland that had found its way to me. Would you believe the birthday girl began reading it quietly to herself while her party was still rolling along? Princess was originally serialized by Antarctic before its 2003 hardcover collection — which Publishers Weekly praises for "a seductive palette" and inspirations that "seem to be equal parts Grimm fairy tales, animated Disney films, The Wizard of Oz, and Japanese manga."
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 an independent bookseller, B&N, Borders, or BAM, search out a comics shop or order online — from Amazon via the links below, even — and hope this stuff remains in print.
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 — yet still not nearly enough material, nor as well exposed, as those of us who very quickly knew we'd follow him anywhere might like. Publishers Weekly's starred review begins, "For 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 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, and one that I hope with the likely success of Asterios Polyp gets another look following 2004's tenth-anniversary reissue from Picador.
Cover to The Courageous Princess © 2007 Rod Espinosa. Cover to Magic Trixie and the Dragon © 2009 Jill Thompson. Cover to Asterios Polyp © 2009 David Mazzucchelli.
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