Sav­age towns and sober­ing jour­neys

There was no short­age of weighty is­sues in this year’s best graphic nov­els, writes Don O’Ma­hony

Irish Examiner - - Arts -


The ar­rival this year of an Ir­ish set graphic novel by Ir­ish cre­ators De­clan Shalvey and Philip Bar­rett by an Amer­i­can pub­lisher feels like a land­mark mo­ment in Ir­ish comics. Bet­ter known for his work as an il­lus­tra­tor on Dead­pool and Moon

Knight, Shalvey in­tro­duces us to the world of small town gang­ster on the rise Jimmy Sav­age.

Set in Lim­er­ick at the turn of the mil­len­nium, Sav­age Town is a pacey tale told in the ver­nac­u­lar with lash­ings of black hu­mour.

Ma­jor Themes

Two graphic nov­els ap­proached the refugee cri­sis from dif­fer­ent an­gles. Kate Evans’s Threads (Verso) re­counts her ex­pe­ri­ence of vol­un­teer­ing at the Calais Jun­gle in late 2015 and early 2016.

Evans hu­man­ises the vast mul­ti­tude she en­coun­tered liv­ing in atro­cious con­di­tions and suf­fer­ing from the ar­bi­trary whims of lo­cal po­lice. Her re­sponse is un­abashedly emo­tional but is given added force by clear-eyed anal­y­sis.

From the other per­spec­tive, Artemis Fowl writer Eoin Colfer and his graphic nov­els col­lab­o­ra­tors An­drew Donkin and Gio­vanni Rigano cre­ated Il­le­gal (Hod­der). Based on the ac­counts of African mi­grants, Il­le­gal charts the story of Ebo, a Ghana­ian boy who fol­lows his brother across the Sa­hara desert, run­ning the gaunt­let with peo­ple traf­fick­ers, to find their miss­ing sis­ter in Europe. Pub­lished by Hod­der Chil­dren’s Books, it has a happy end­ing of sorts but con­tains some quite sober­ing im­ages.


To the pan­theon of great graphic mem­oirs add the name Thi Bui and her de­but graphic novel The Best We Could Do (Abrams Comics Arts). The birth of her first child prompts Bui to re­flect on her own ori­gins and the per­ilous jour­ney she as a young child and her par­ents took in 1978 to flee Viet­nam for a bet­ter life in Amer­ica.

Not just a fam­ily his­tory, The Best

We Could Do is a fas­ci­nat­ing and in­for­ma­tive look at a com­plex coun­try and his­tory, as well as a nu­anced look at iden­tity.

Also of note is Paula Knight’s The

Facts of Life (Myr­iad), a pow­er­ful ac­count of her strug­gle with both in­fer­til­ity and the deeply in­grained so­ci­etal ex­pec­ta­tions of moth­er­hood that is told with no small amount of sto­icism and de­fi­ance.


Born in the 1884, Wil­liam Seabrook was a writer and ad­ven­turer who lived among Be­douin tribesman, par­tic­i­pated in voodoo rit­u­als in Haiti and dined with can­ni­bals in Africa. He was also a bondage fetishist and in­vet­er­ate al­co­holic. Joe Oll­mann’s The Abom­inable Mr. Seabrook (Drawn & Quar­terly) pulls no punches but it’s a fair ac­count of a life lived on an edge and a wel­come spotlight on a ne­glected fig­ure.

An im­pos­si­ble man to be around, no doubt, and de­spite be­ing stub­born, pig-headed and self­ish it’s hard to deny the af­fec­tion that seeps through Oll­mann’s inky il­lus­tra­tions.

Rein­hard Kleist’s Nick Cave Mercy

on Me (Self Made Hero) blurs the work and the life of Nick Cave to por­tray a driven and al­most mythic fig­ure. The art­work is su­perb and dy­namic and while it helps to know a lit­tle about Cave this is a book that rec­om­mends it­self be­yond the ranks of Cave devo­tees.


Reread­ing Han­nah Berry’s Live­stock (Jonathan Cape) dur­ing the UK govern­ment’s re­cent ker­fuf­fle, and mind­ful we are now be­ing led by a so­cial me­dia savvy Taoiseach who likes to share his socks on Twit­ter, its sav­agery and cyn­i­cism res­onated even more strongly.

As pol­icy be­comes seem­ingly dic­tated by me­dia spin Berry’s satire should cause one to ques­tion what is news, what isn’t and why? Jil­lian Ta­maki’s aptly ti­tled col­lec­tion of short sto­ries Bound­less (Drawn & Quar­terly) were a rev­e­la­tion. Some­times mor­dant, oc­ca­sion­ally un­set­tling but al­ways imag­i­na­tive, Ta­maki’s tales and the telling of pushed the bound­aries of the medium.


The best graphic novel this year hands down was an English lan­guage reis­sue of a col­lec­tion of comics from the 1970’s about a New York pri­vate de­tec­tive by Euro­pean-based Ar­gen­tinian ex­iles José Munoz and Car­los Sam­payo. Alack Sin­ner: The

Age of In­no­cence (Euro Comics) is like John Coltrane for the eye­balls.

From left, De­clan Shalvey’s Sav­age Town; Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do; and The Facts of Life, by Paula Knight.

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