Familiar Face by: Michael Deforge- An unnamed narrator living in a city where geography, architecture, and bodies are all subject to constant radical changes they refer to as “optimizations” is left adrift when her girlfriend vanishes without a trace. Unsure whether her solitude is owing to optimization or having been dumped, she searches for answers. Discerning the truth in a world where your computer attempts to distract you with pornography or jazz music before declaring it’s in love with you, and where city streets suddenly change direction or fold in on themselves and there’s no way to tell how many limbs you’ll have attached to your body from one day to the next proves difficult. It doesn’t get any easier when a terrorist cell hijacks the system and begins implementing changes of its own—unless these acts of terrorism are in fact signals from said narrator’s girlfriend, meant to explain where she’s gone and why.
Glass Town: The Imaginary World of the Brontës by: Isabel Greenberg- Growing up motherless in their father’s windswept parsonage, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne Brontë spun yarns about the fictional worlds of Glass Town and Gondal. Only fragments of these writings remain. Yet Greenberg (The One Hundred Nights of Hero) has cunningly reimagined both the worlds and the story of their creation, weaving historically attested and new episodes to produce this charming metafiction. Here, like Charles Dickens’s Ghost of the Christmas Past, the character Charles Wellesley visits the adult Charlotte at night to escort her through her memories of storytelling, encourages her to lay them to rest with fondness, and reveals a denouement marvelously right for the youngsters’ convoluted plot. The beguiling art suggests the charming awkwardness of do-it-yourself paper dolls with the bright colors of a youthful paint box.
Cowboy by: Rikke Villadsen- Villadsen deconstructs the oft-deconstructed western genre—along with gender, narrative, and the comics form—in this feverish stew of pulp tropes and postmodern games. In a Wild West town populated by stock characters—helpfully labeled The Sheriff, The Coward, The Smoker, etc.—a familiar story of gunslingers facing off at high noon is repeatedly disrupted with sex, scatology, surrealist digressions, and unusual eroticism. The closest thing to a coherent plot follows The Window, one of the interchangeable women whose role is to peer fearfully out of windows at the men in the street, as she grows dissatisfied and plans an escape. She grabs the artist’s pen, draws a mustache and testicles on herself, and dresses as a cowboy and attempts to ride off into the sunset. In other vignettes, a wanted poster talks back to an outlaw, and a lady of the evening floats out of her brothel like a balloon. The loose, blue-tinted watercolor art has a deliberately unfinished look, adding to the sense of a fictional world disintegrating into chaos. If the book saunters lackadaisically toward its final pages rather than building to a satisfying conclusion, maybe that’s appropriate, as it’s more of a a formal experiment than a complete story.
Umma’s Table by: Yeon-sik Hong- In this mature and nuanced follow-up to Hong’s graphic memoir Uncomfortably Happy, the artist and his wife are still living a poor but mostly contented life in the South Korean countryside. They now have a baby, Iwan, and Hong imagines the home they’ve built together as a tiny, idyllic private planet; all the characters are represented as cartoon cats. But the larger world intrudes in the form of Hong’s aging parents, who share a grim basement apartment in Seoul and are starting to require constant care. Having worked hard to escape his father’s alcoholic abuse and his mother’s depression, Hong feels that “only beyond my parents’ reach is my world free to grow.” But he comes to appreciate how the work he does to support his wife and child—cooking, gardening, raising chickens, making kimchi for the winter—grows from an urge to nurture passed down from his mother. “Almost every memory I have of my mother begins with her cooking,” he reflects, and food provides a link between Hong’s two worlds. In Hong’s cheerful drawings, the countryside bursts with life, and his culinary escapades are a jubilant theatrical sequence. But even as the narrative grows darker, the simple, friendly art remains surprisingly effective. This moving story about being both a parent and a child represents a creative leap forward for one of Korea’s up and coming contemporary comic artists.