Savage towns and sobering journeys
There was no shortage of weighty issues in this year’s best graphic novels, writes Don O’Mahony
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.
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.