Comics can tell certain kinds of stories that prose, photographs and films can’t. They can also tell familiar stories in drastically different ways. The artists of some of this season’s graphic novels transform history into broad comedy or rollicking adventure. Others show us worlds frighteningly different from our own, or aestheticize the realities we know with something as simple as a set of squiggly lines or a canny splash of color.
Taking a Stand
Peter Bagge’s comics, notably his ‘90s-era “Hate” series, are built on broad satire and slapstick, his characters rubbery dolls who rage, fume and fret. WOMAN REBEL: The Margaret Sanger Story (Drawn & Quarterly, $21.95), a biography of the birth-control activist who defied the Comstock laws in the first half of the 20th century, is an unlikely but inspired pairing of author and subject. A more or less historically accurate biography, it’s played for boffo yocks on almost every page. Bagge throws in cameo appearances by the likes of the labor leader Big Bill Haywood and the sexologist Havelock Ellis, and brashly squeezes black humor out of even the savageries Sanger was trying to mitigate. He treats her capacity for vain self-delusion as grist for comedy but reserves his funniest blasts of contempt for the sanctimonious moralists she perpetually reduced to fits of frustration.