Austin Chronicle talks about HARK!, PAYING FOR IT

“The Year in Books” / The Austin Chronicle / Kimberley Jones, Sarah Smith, James Renovitch,Cindy Widner, Monica Riese, and Wayne Allan Brenner / January 6, 2012

Luminarium (Soho Press), Alex Shakar's second novel, is a rewarding literary tribute to brotherly love, existentialism, and the possibilities of modern technology, with emotional and philosophical depths entangling you no less than the dark mystery of a dead brother who seems to be communicating with his still-living twin via the (corporately stolen) video game the two of them created. Chester Brown's Paying for It (Drawn and Quarterly), the acclaimed cartoonist's unswerving account of his regular, ah, use of prostitutes over the past several years, doubles (or at least exhaustively tries to double) as an argument for the rights of sex workers. Dave McKean's Celluloid (Fantagraphics), on the other hand, is an unfettered erotic fantasy told, wordlessly, with the sort of glorious imagery – a stunning mix of hand-drawn illustration and Photoshop wizardry – that made all those old Sandman covers such a mind-blowing delight. Kenk, the first graphic novel from new company Pop Sandbox, is sequential-art nonfiction about "the world's most prolific bicycle thief," as vividly documented by Richard Poplak, Alex Jansen, Jason Gilmore, and Nick Marinkovich. Webcomics get a welcome incarnation in the offline world as Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant (Drawn and Quarterly) brings the cartoonist's sharp wit and delightful send-ups of historical characters (real and/or literary) into paper and ink. Alison Bechdel, as editor of The Best American Comics 2011 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), offers just that in a hardcover volume of remarkable works conjured by artists from sea to shining sea. And The Godfather of Kathmandu (Knopf) is John Burdett's Royal Thai Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, struggling with murderous dope smugglers, his corrupt police chief, and his own half-breed and shakily Buddhist identity in the fourth of this thrilling Bangkok series. – Wayne Alan Brenner

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