Robert Murray reviews D+Q books bought at SPX

“SPX 2007: A to Z Reviews” / Silver Bullet Comics / Robert Murray / October 19, 2007

The Small Press Expo has now completed its 13th show, revealing once again that the independent comic is still alive and kicking. This year’s show was among the best I have attended, with big guests aplenty: Jeff Smith, Bill Griffith, Gilbert Hernandez, Matt Wagner, and Kim Deitch, just to name a few. Also, I was introduced to some major league talents I was unfamiliar with, such as Rutu Modan and Joshua Cotter. Yes, the Marriott Bethesda North was bursting with comic creativity this weekend, and it’s my sworn duty to present some of that magic to you. I came to the show this weekend with $400 and a mission: To buy as representative a sampling as I could of the show’s best comics. So, as I did last year, I’m pointing out SPX highlights from A to Z, only this year I’m including my personal review of each item. I will have much more detailed reviews for some of these books later. Right now, I want to give you a sampling of the show as well as an approximation of the excitement and wonder of this fast and furious convention. And now, it is my pleasure to present SPX A to Z.

A - Aya by Marguerite Abouet & Clement Oubrerie:
This was an entertaining slice of African life that we rarely see in our American fiction, one filled with positive energy versus the militias and famine we’re used to viewing. The colorful world of the Ivory Coast circa 1978 is brought to vivid life thanks to the lively writing of Abouet and the cartoon-like artwork of Oubrerie (who writes children’s books for a living). In an almost Western fashion, Aya, with her friends Adjoua and Bintou, experience teenage romance, family conflicts, and goofy hi-jinks that would put a CW show to shame. The warmth of the entire package is well worth the price of admission, as is Abouet’s energy in detailing this peaceful period in the Ivory Coast’s history. Great first graphic novel by this team!

B - Big Questions #10 by Anders Nilsen:
This 41-page tale looks simple enough, but it is a complex blend of elements set within infuriating vagueness and a basically blank stage. It’s an easy enough plot at first glance: Two men are marooned near a fighter plane crash, one looking like some escaped mental patient, the other obviously the pilot of the plane. Crows watch as tensions build among the group of birds, mainly over a pile of doughnuts and loyalty to the group. Violence erupts. Yet, like much of Nilsen’s work, this description of Big Questions #10 does no justice, missing his fine panel constructions, the moments of quiet tension, and his ability to challenge readers using the simplest of lines and settings.

H - Laurence Hyde:
His woodcut graphic novel Southern Cross is presented in a fine facsimile edition by Drawn & Quarterly. This is a work of art originally published in 1951, featuring a tale completely told with 118 wordless woodcuts. It is a bold, powerful statement on war, life, and the effects of atomic bomb testing on South Pacific residents. These panels should be in an art museum somewhere!

M - Moomin: Book Two by Tove Jansson:
This is a collection of Tove Jansson’s comic strip that ran in the London Evening News during the 1950s, and are they visually clever! Moomin is a strange world that reminds me of “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” in regards to style. The simple emotions displayed on the wildly cartoonish characters are wildly expressive and affecting, carrying a mood that compares favorably with great comic strips such as Peanuts. Child-like innocence and intellectual sophistication combine to provide a witty comic that will warm your heart.

R - Rutu Modan (Exit Wounds):
Her first graphic novel is a spectacular accomplishment worthy of this high rating. Influenced by Windsor McCay and her own experiences of Tel Aviv, Modan tells a story of heartbreaking loss, redemption, and the never-ending mystery of life. The level of humanity present in the characters of Koby and Numi is staggering. This is the way you should make a dramatic graphic novel, and Modan proves here that she is an artist we will be hearing about for years to come.

X - As in x-factor, or a book that blew me away with its power and ingenuity.
This year, it was Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow by Anders Nilsen. I think this is one of the few graphic novels that has brought me to tears. Nilsen gets really personal in this book, combining real letters, photographs, and shocking illustrated pages to tell a tale of love and tragedy that has to be real. I don’t know how he gathered the strength to put this book together, but I’m glad he did, because this is probably the best memorial to Cheryl Weaver’s life that he could put together. This was, without a doubt, the most emotionally moving graphic work I have seen in a long time.

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