The Hartford Advocate Reviews PAUL MOVES OUT!

Graphically Novel

The Hartford Advocate    |    Alan Bisbort    |    September 22, 2005

Four fine publishers, four fine new comic art titles, four more steps toward the takeover of the publishing industry. No, but seriously, the breadth of these four randomly chosen new titles -- which you can find in the misnamed "graphic novel" section of your bookshop, along with mounds of Manga -- only proves what those of us who love the comic art genre have said all along. That is, their combination of visual inventiveness and literary skill opens new playing fields for the imagination. Or, as Daniel Clowes mock-pompously puts it (through his character, Harry Naybors, in Ice Haven ), "Perhaps 'comics' more closely replicates the true nature of human consciousness and the struggle between private self-definition and corporeal 'reality'."

Uh huh, and they're a hell of a lot more fun to read than the navel-gazing, hand-wringing nothingness of contemporary fiction.

Take Michel Rabagliati's Paul Moves Out . Paul's is a sweet-tempered saga, this beautifully designed hardcover volume picking up where Paul Takes a Summer Job left off. Paul is Canadian, which means he's sensible, well-educated, peace-loving, etc. Paul's thoughts are not particularly deep but they're open and engaging. You discover that you like him, his girlfriend, his neighbors, his friends. They aren't rich, glamorous or even ambitious. They aren't violent or potty-mouthed. They are generous and civilized, the sort you'd want living above you in an apartment building. Paul Moves Out recalls the hopeful promise when early love corresponds with early adulthood, before it all unravels into bitter, flabby, cynical middle age. Rabagliati, born and raised in Montreal and weaned on Tintin and Asterix comics, has a unique and confident style that matches the believable encounters in his urban neighborhood and at art school. The funniest sequence occurs when the students take a trip to New York, during which the design professor tries to climb into Paul's bed. It would be nice to see a little bit more of this sort of existential dread creep into Paul's world. Maybe in the next installment.

Richard Moore's spoof of horror comics, Boneyard , has all of the elements of creepiness: rotting corpses, skeletons, gargoyles, vampires, mob hysteria, zombies, Republicans. Like the Harry Potter books (or Bullwinkle cartoons), Moore's work is intelligent enough to be enjoyed by both adolescents and adults. Originally published in black and white, the first volume in the series has been "colorized" and the brand new Volume 4 picks up the actions with all sorts of goofy mayhem, including one character's "Doomsday Frog," with which he'd hopes for world domination.

Clowes is the one artist with whom readers might be familiar, as his Ghost World saga was used, for the most part, as the storyboards for Terry Zwigoff's intriguing film of the same name. Ice Haven is a series of strips -- Clowes calls it a "comic-strip novel" -- that are loosely centered around a fictional northern town whose characters intersect and overlap and shadow one another, not unlike in the film Short Cuts (based on Raymond Carver's stories) or Dylan Thomas' verse play Under Milkwood . Among the quirky cast are Random Wilder -- a frustrated intellectual and poet who serves as the reader's tourguide through Ice Haven -- and his nemesis, Mrs. Ida Wentz, as well as a morbidly alienated boy named David Goldberg and famous "thrill-killers" from the past, Leopold and Loeb. Trust me on this: It makes a kind of warped sense in the end.

Finally, the impressive debut issue of Mome , a new comics art anthology, is either an indication of the widening interest in the genre or an insane gamble on the part of Fantagraphics, the publisher that's not afraid to put its money where its mouth -- and heart -- is. The quarterly, built to showcase "the best new talent in the sequential arts," has been spared little expense, with high-quality paper, full color, and trade paper binding (at $14.95, it's a bargain). It's intended to echo Art Spiegelman's Raw from the 1980s and Zap Comix , the brainchild of R. Crumb and his posse in the late 1960s. Mome has a foot in the latter camp, with Crumb's daughter Sophie contributing three short strips that show the talent nut didn't drop far from the tree.

Four new titles demonstrate why the comics remain ascendant

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