Peril lies in telling a story from multiple perspectives, but (when done well) so does payoff. Brady Udall braves the former to achieve the latter in his second novel The Lonely Polygamist. Golden Richards, the titular protagonist, can’t win. He’s perpetually disappointing his four wives, an ungodly large gaggle of children, his church and, eventually, his roughneck boss, all while battling a crushing ennui that threatens the small army of people who depend on him. There’s also Rusty, the disenfranchised stink-footed prepubescent who time and again learns that life is “one big gyp,” and Trish, the youngest and newest wife who has struggled to bring pregnancies to term and rarely even gets a night alone with her timeshare husband, mostly because he’s busy clandestinely building a brothel in Nevada for a man whose wife Golden’s falling for.
All that sounds messy, but in Udall’s hands there are no loose ends. He ventures into dark territory, much as he did in his debut The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, but he does so with heart. Despite – or perhaps because of – the many outlandish situations (at one point, newlyweds flee their picnic blanket when a cloud of radioactive gas looms), Udall manages to evoke existential themes with characters as overcrowded yet alienated as the book’s title suggests. – Josh Goller
Graphic novels have been home to plenty of groundbreaking memoirs but few could be said to be as brave or bold as Chester Brown’s game changing Paying for It. Rather than explore the typical indie comic memoir subjects – ennui, the meaning of art, being poor – Brown instead offers up an impressively blunt chronicling of his experiences as a john, detailing his awkward early forays into the sex trade and the eventual tranquility he gained from letting go of traditional ideas of how relationships work.
Because of Brown’s willingness to be so open about his experiences and his own foibles, Paying for It is able to shed a personal light on a subject that often gets reduced to inhuman data and slippery slope fallacies. Brown’s intent is mostly to reveal how sex services have worked for him and how they’ve enabled him to feel more comfortable in his own skin than any relationship ever did. While he does occasionally slip into questionable generalizations about monogamy and fills the entire appendix with libertarian arguments that the book would be better without, these facts arguably add to the worth of Paying for It, as they serve as valuable insight into Brown’s unique outlook.
Brown could have hidden or minimized the aspects of his personality that may have rubbed people the wrong way but instead he leaves everything out in the open, driving home his point that most johns are regular people, as flawed as everyone else but as unique and stable too. That may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but given the widespread perception that anyone visiting a sex worker must be broken in some way, Paying for It‘s humanity is precisely what makes it so important. – Nick Hanover
While a fictionalized version of the Civil Rights Movement burned up the multiplexes this summer, I decided to skip that adaptation of The Help and read The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson’s account of the great migration of African-Americans away from the suffocating Jim Crow laws of the South between 1915 and 1970. However, the North didn’t welcome these 6,000,000 travelers with open arms. As the Northerners greeted these new arrivals with the same wariness that they met the slews of Irish, Jews, Poles and others pouring in during the early half of the 20th century, Wilkerson posits that the blacks were never seen as a group of immigrants. In The Warmth of Other Suns, she clearly wants to correct that misconception.
By tracing the destinies of just three folks who escaped the South, Wilkerson creates three riveting stories that represent the history of an entire people. Wilkerson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and teacher at Boston University, has a personal stake in telling us these tales as her own parents fled the danger of the South to find a better life for their family. While it’s easy to shake our heads at the ignorance of the Northerners who not only shunned the new arrival, but also moved neighborhoods to avoid them, the book made me wonder about my own attitude if I had lived during that time. That’s what the best books do. They make us look at ourselves in a whole new light. – David Harris
Mickey Mouse wasn’t always so cute. Before he started wearing wizards hats and cartooning about with his brethren in titular domiciles, Mickey was kind of a bad-ass. He had adventures ranging from searching for buried treasure to outrunning a hanging posse and preventing Minnie from marrying a dastardly egg thief to save her uncle’s farm. Not exactly the kind of stuff you’d expect from a cartoon mouse with his face on everything.
Mickey’s escapades were the product of Floyd Gottfredson, one of the most unsung artists in comics history. Gottfredson scripted Mickey’s daily strip for four years and drew it for a total of 45 years, in which he was consistently putting out one of the boldest visions of an American icon. Finally starting to be collected, Gottfredson’s masterful first year was released by Fantagraphics, publisher of all good things, in a wonderful hardbound with essays by editor David Gerstein, himself a rabid Mickey Mouse/ Gottfredson fan.
Aside from the subject matter, the most striking thing about this volume is Gottfredson’s art. He demonstrates a supernatural knack for detail and fluidity that remains largely unchallenged in his representation of Mickey, as well as in animation/ cartooning/ sequential art. The way he captures motion with thin, wispy ink strokes and also manages to give Mickey and his cohorts genuine expressions is superlative. As a longtime appreciator of Gottfredson and proponent for his legacy, Race to Death Valley was the best comic release of 2011- a feat, considering the material is 70 years old. Take that, modern literature!- Rafael Gaitan
Luchadoras, Peggy Adam’s French-language graphic novel set in Mexico’s Juárez, originally debuted in 2006 but didn’t appear in English until Blank Slate Books translated it in early 2011. So it totally counts as one of the best books of 2011. The very mention of Juárez should elicit thoughts of the city’s weird and distressing epidemic of murders focused on young women, which Adam makes a vital component of her comic, but not the main plot. Rather, the main plot concerns a bartender with more immediate problems (her boyfriend hits her regularly, her daughter found a dead body) who befriends an American patron who’s completely out of his element. It’s a low-concept kind of comic – an indie world cinema take on graphic novels, complete with an ending that (satisfyingly) doesn’t wrap up every single narrative thread.
Adam isn’t all that well-known in English speaking countries – French comics have enough time permeating into wider comics culture – but she should be hot shit for comics’ more eclectic readers. While the subject matter will remind readers of Gilbert Hernandez’s Palomar contributions to Love & Rockets, her simple but astoundingly affecting black and white linework is reminiscent of the more stylistically idiosyncratic French indie comics creators like David B.
Comics are rad, but they go beyond superheroes, zombies and pop culture misanthropes. Luchadoras is a prime example of how amazingly diverse graphic literature can be and what subjects you can feature when all you need to create art is some Bristol board and a couple pencils. - Danny Djeljosevic
People have said a lot of things about MTV over the years, and this book is full of just that. More specifically, this is the story of the years MTV “actually played (ie. ONLY played) music videos” (covering 1981-1992) and went from a small cable network nobody believed in to the dominant voice in pop culture. As fascinating as that legend alone would have been, here we get the full story told to us in written excerpts from the people who were there. From the upstarts and investors who made it happen to the musicians and fans that had their worlds changed, never before has there been a more delightfully detailed account of the debauchery and degeneration of the only cable channel to become a full-fledged movement. Brutally honest and often hilarious, it stands the definitive account of the how you really win on/with the MTV! - Chaz Kangas