We’ve expanded the regular AVQ&A discussion prompts to ask several of our regular contributors (and you) a simple question: What are you currently reading? It’s Comics Week at The A.V. Club, so we’re wondering what comics you’re reading this month. If you have suggestions for future AVQ&A questions, big or small, email them to us here.
The thing I admire most about Marvel’s 2015 line of Star Wars comics is the way each one has established a distinct tone. Star Wars: Darth Vader, written by Kieron Gillen, is my favorite. It’s predictably dark and brooding, but not overbearingly so, and its shrewd premise manages to cast its familiar antihero in a new light. We see Darth Vader at a low ebb, having lost political capital in the wake of the Death Star destruction depicted in the original film. It’s a pleasure to watch Vader contend with indignities and scheme to work his way back into the Emperor’s graces. The Star Wars: Princess Leia miniseries was another gem, though—while the movies show Leia dealing with the emotional impact of her home-world’s destruction (briefly, at least), these smart, fun books showed her contending with the practical and cultural fallout. In non-Star Wars fare, I just picked up Palookaville #22 by the meticulous and brilliant Canadian cartoonist Seth. I can’t wait to see what’s inside its beautiful green foil binding.
I stopped buying physical comics about seven years ago, when I realized my apartment was filling up with boxes full of stuff I was never going to touch again. But the great thing about webcomics is that they’re the ultimate in convenience; I can go back and read A Softer World or Achewood any time I like, jumping to my favorite strips at the press of a button—disposable pleasures I didn’t actually have to dispose of. (That last example might not be the best one, since I also own and love the Achewood hardcovers, but that’s neither here nor there.) But sometimes I don’t want to just be done with a comic once I’ve finished with it; sometimes I want something I can stew on for a while. That’s when I turn to Meredith Gran’s Octopus Pie.
A slice-of-life comic—albeit one with the occasional feint toward magical realism when the mood takes it—Octopus Pie centers on Brooklyn roommates Hannah and Eve as they attempt to solve the endless puzzle of happiness in post-collegiate life. It’s a tricky book to summarize, honestly, because the thing that makes it great is Gran’s unwillingness to let easy labels dictate who her characters are—in the initial comics, Eve is “grumpy,” while Hannah is “the carefree stoner,” but the longer they spend on the page, the less those titles make sense or apply. It’s a book that’s less about big plot arcs or romantic entanglements—although it has its fair share of the latter—than about what those events mean for the characters and their attempts to build a stable sense of who they are and what they want.
It’s also a visual treat. Gran, who writes the Adventure Time spin-off comic Marceline And The Scream Queens, has a sense of character design that’s wonderfully cartoonish—sometimes aggressively so, when her playful side comes out. But despite their simple construction, her characters’ faces are singularly expressive, to the degree that major plot points can be conveyed with wordless looks. And the recent addition of color to the comic has only upped the visuals, contributing to beautiful compositions like the end of this comic, where a lost-feeling Hannah vanishes into the New York night.
Gran has said that she’s currently working toward an ending for her story, although she’s also said a webcomic can be “about to end” for a long, long time. In any case, I’ll be with it for as long as it lasts, enjoying the story’s blend of light-hearted comedy and deeper, hard-to-let-go-of meditations on the struggle for what “being a grown up” actually means.
I’m a huge fan of graphic memoirs, and one I often come back to when looking for inspiration in my own personal writing is Laurie Sandell’s The Impostor’s Daughter: A True Memoir. It follows the bizarre childhood of the author, a direct product of the great lengths her father went to reinvent himself and profit from it. The book opens with Sandell explaining in simple terms the confusing actions of her dad, which includes him receiving mail addressed to, and phone calls asking for, people Sandell had never heard of. But it doesn’t stop there and as each section of the book unfolds, Sandell’s father continues to grow into a larger-than-life character, claiming at one point that he was friends with both Henry Kissinger and the pope and that he was a Vietnam war hero. With time and an increasing amount of fables, Sandell begins to understand her father is not who he has led her to believe, though it’s too late to leave her own personality (and credit score) unscathed.
The memoir continues to follow Sandell through many of her own identity trials, one of which lands her in role of journalist—which seems especially authentic given her writing ability—and allows her to stumble on substantive proof that her father is an impostor. The illustrations follow the general theme of deception, in particular the text treatments, with moments of her father’s anger in slightly shakier text surrounded by more uneven speech bubbles, which perfectly mirrors the demeanor of a man who’s come too close to being caught in one of the largest web of lies I’ve ever read about. It’s a grossly fascinating read and the illustrations of a normal looking family only serve to remind the reader that everyone lies, not just one woman’s arguably insane father.