Down Below and Frankie’s World are among the comic and graphic novel highlights of 2022
Adding to O’Brien Press’s store of titles concentrating on the decade between 1912-1922, Michael Collins: Ireland’s Rebel Son rattles through the Big Fellow’s life from his involvement in the Easter Rising to his tragic demise. Writer Mario Corrigan’s pacing has a steely focus as he hits all the pertinent events, and allows an appropriate sense of space for his lying in state and funeral. David Butler’s art matches this subtly and with solemnity.
Visual art makes memorable historical detail, which makes Ireland’s Rebel Son essential for any secondary school students of history.
Myths and mythmaking
After focusing on Irish mythology for last year’s anthology title Turning Roads, independent publishers Limit Break turned to Greek myths but seen through a contemporary crime/noir lens for Down Below. Packaged in a swoonsome Stephen Mooney and Triona Farrell cover and featuring an almost completely different cast of writers and artists, Limit Break are proving that Ireland is a fertile place for comic creators, vindicating writer Michael Carroll’s suggestion in his introduction to Turning Roads that that a second volume must surely lie over the horizon.
Hound of love
Glorying in a strong visual aesthetic, Paul J Bolger’s Hound is a clear labour of love. Originally released between 2014 and 2018 as an independently published trilogy, Bolger’s epic treatment of Cú Chulainn, co-written with Barry Devlin, saw respected American comics publisher Dark Horse release it this year as a weighty single volume.
The black and white artwork, augmented by the dramatic use of red, is striking and owes an obvious debt to Frank Miller’s Sin City, but Bolger’s character design is striking, adding to a doom-laden and tragic tale that is given its own distinctive twist.
Irish book of the year
Luke Healy’s Americana was our 2019 book of the year and marked him out as a unique voice in Irish comics. With The Con Artists (Faber & Faber), he outlines an incident that sees childhood friends Frank and Giorgio dramatically reconnect. When the latter becomes hospitalised Frank becomes bound up in his life.
In the prologue, Healy sets an ingenious sleight in motion that has us questioning notions of fact and fiction. How much of stand up comedian Frank is Luke Healy? Giorgio is undeniably a con artist, but the protagonist is wrestling with their own deceptions. Through his very simple illustration style, Healy has created a playful and humorous treatise on anxiety.
Children and young adults
With Jason Griffin’s sophisticated screenprint-style art and collage, African-American author Jason Reynolds’ Oxygen Mask (Faber & Faber) is an urgent and visceral account of being black in America in the year of 2020.
Continuing directly from book 1, Lize Medding’s The Sad Ghost Club 2’s (Hodder & Stoughton) message to never be afraid to let your friends in is an impressive expansion on its predecessor.
Closer to home, Aoife Dooley’s Frankie’s World (Scholastic) sees its spiky, punk rock loving, 11-year-old protagonist surmise that her differences must be due to her being an alien. Combined with her energetic storytelling, Dooley’s whimsical drawing style and restricted yet vibrant colour palette should chime with younger readers. Anyone who sees the world differently will find a friend in Frankie.
First person comics
Comics are constantly pushing boundaries, experimenting and innovating, and 2022 brought us two great examples, both of which put the reader in a first person point of view. Putting you in the shoes of computer repairman Wade Duffy, George Wylesol’s 2120 (Avery Press) has the reader following the page prompts in order for Wade to complete his task and find his way out of the labyrinthine building. As exhilarating as it can be frustrating (many puzzles must be negotiated), 2120 is infused with a strong sense of the ominous.
Equally modern feeling is Veronika Muchitsch’s Cyberman (Myriad Editions). Paying tribute to Hitchcock’s Rear Window, the reader is put in Muchitsch’s place as she observes and interacts with a true-life housebound Finnish man who streams his mundane life. It’s an affecting and beautifully rendered example of documentary comics.
Graphic novel of the year
There were some great books this year, such as the collected edition of Jeffrey Brown’s candid relationship trilogy Loved and Lost (Top Shelf Comix), Lazy Stewart’s poignant coming of age tale Alison (Serpent’s Tail), and Kate Beaton’s engrossing blend of memoir and oil industry critique Ducks (Drawn & Quarterly).
Most exciting was underground Montreal artist Julie Doucet’s return to comic art after a two-decade absence. Purely as an artefact, Time Zone J (Drawn & Quarterly) is striking, with its uncut French fold pages creating a sense of continuing flow as Doucet relays a brief and tempestuous affair in her indelibly inky style through a densely crowded menagerie of talking heads and animals. An exhilarating whirlwind heat fever dream.
more review of year 2022 articles
More in this section
Sign up for Scene & Heard, our dynamic weekly arts and culture newsletter curated by the Irish Examiner Arts Editor.
Music, film art, culture, books and more from Munster and beyond…….curated weekly by the Irish Examiner Arts Editor.
© Irish Examiner Ltd, Linn Dubh, Assumption Road, Blackpool, Cork. Registered in Ireland: 523712.