Red Winter by Anneli Furmark (Drawn + Quarterly)
Last month marked the 170th anniversary of The Communist Manifesto, and what better way to celebrate that wacky tract than by reading a somber graphic novel about revolutionary reds in 1970s Sweden? Anneli Furmark is one of that nation’s finest cartoonists, and Drawn + Quarterly’s translation of Red Winter, her chronicle of love and politics, is a must-read. In captivatingly crude lines, rough-hewn backgrounds, and light that alternates between hearth-fire warmth and subzero chill, Furmark builds a small town that feels like you can reach into the page and grab ahold of it. Against that backdrop, she tells a tale about a small group of friends and comrades who are gradually ripped apart by infidelity and betrayal of the planned proletarian uprising. It all moves with a distinctly Scandinavian deliberateness, and the resulting narrative is at once a universal story of human foibles and a fascinatingly specific time capsule from an area rarely chronicled in sequential art.
From Lone Mountain by John Porcellino (Drawn + Quarterly)
These days, anybody can make sequential art about the quotidian aspects of their lives and get it out to a wide audience. But not so long ago, putting your diary comics in front of people required considerable effort and gumption. Just ask John Porcellino, whose King-Cat Comics periodical has been running since the heady analog days of 1989. From Lone Mountain collects editions of King-Cat from 2003 to 2007, and it’s a marvel of grace and simplicity. Within its pages, we watch Porcellino traverse the country with his beloved wife and cat, mourn the loss of his father, and reminisce about his problems with alcohol, but he’s at his most effective when he keeps things exceedingly simple. Porcellino is a pensive man with a penchant for Zen thought, and many of the entries here read like Buddhist poetry. He’ll render minimalist renditions of the world in clear inks and accompany them with brief statements like, “Morning light, dreams” or just, “It’s beautiful.” The inclusion of extended prose sections and the “King-Cat Top Forty” lists of things he likes (his wife and cat are always at the top) is an added treat.