Gorgeous terror, harsh humour, horrible beauty: 4 new graphic novels where images speak volumes – Toronto Star

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Artist
By Yeong-shin Ma and Janet Hong
Drawn & Quarterly, 636 pages $44.95
Introducing the work of Yeong-shin Ma to a Canadian audience is a notable recent success by indie publisher Drawn & Quarterly. Last time, we had a taste of his style with “Moms,” a sharp, sardonic story of misbehaving mothers. Now, in “Artist,” we have a similar treatment for three aging creative types, each as flawed as the others.
“Artist” shows a hidden strength typical of well-made Korean graphic novels: it’s quick-paced and short on page details but, long on page count, the story’s gradual buildup leaves space for subtleties. This one’s an opus, letting our main characters change incrementally over time, showing the peaks and troughs of arts culture amid success, stupidity, jealousy and laughter.
It’s a hilarious book, too. There’s a harsh humour throughout, often showing up suddenly, and some real bitterness. Don’t sleep on the work of Yeong-shin Ma.
I Hate This Place
By Kyle Starks, Artyom Topilin and Lee Loughridge
Image Comics, 128 pages, $19.99
In graphic novels where big ideas must fight for space, Kyle Starks has refereed everything into an intriguing start of an ongoing series.
This is the first volume, collecting the six monthly episodes comprising the first arc of a horror story that just won’t let you leave. Young couple Trudy and Gabby move into a farmhouse they’ve inherited and find it has a ghost problem. It also has a problem with aliens and UFOs, monsters in the woods and a man with horns. There’s a series of rules the women must follow if they want to survive the night. Oh, and don’t forget the lost loot from a robbery or the killer hunting for it.
“I Hate This Place” offers bang for your buck. It’s yet another superb Kyle Starks collaboration, with gorgeous terror from the art team, in one of the best books this year.
The Basketball Game
By Hart Snider and Sean Covernton
Firefly Books, 87 pages, $19.75
We frequently see memoirs produced in graphic novel form, but “The Basketball Game” stands out among the rest, and not just because it’s adapted from an award-winning short film.
In the early 1980s, a scandal erupted in small-town Alberta when teacher Jim Keegstra was fired for spreading anti-semitism in the classroom. To combat his lies, the Jewish community invited some of Keegstra’s students to a summer camp so they could be around Jewish kids. There, despite some stress on the kids that might seem shocking today, they do seem to learn something from each other.
It’s a satisfying story. It’s a simple one, based on one time and place, but Snider and Covernton have still created a graphic novel that’s provocative and interesting. Crucially, it’s an all-ages book with teachers’ notes in the back, so it can continue to make an impact.
VMT
By William Simpson
Renegade Arts Entertainment, 168 pages, $19.95
Fan-favourite comics artist William Simpson is the writer/artist on a new graphic novel, thanks to Canmore, Alta., publisher Renegade. Simpson has been distracted of late as the lead storyboard artist for “Game of Thrones,” following a long comics career drawing characters such as Batman and Judge Dredd. It’s thrilling to see him make more comics and with vampires, no less.
Building on “Vamps,” the mid-90s comic by Simpson and writer Elaine Lee, this new book takes its gory, sexualized storytelling style to new levels: downwards. Simpson never balked at shocking scenes — notably when he drew DC Vertigo’s Hellblazer title — but this is often extreme, even exploitative, so it’s not for everyone.
But it’s Will Simpson and there’s the joy. Every page is horribly beautiful, even if it’s another beheading with bucketfuls of blood and full-frontal nudity. Simpson’s always had a special talent and it’s never gone away.

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