The Cardboard Valise
by Ben Katchor
The Cardboard Valise is the first new book in over a decade from the New Yorker and New York Times cartoonist who was once described by novelist Michael Chabon as “the creator of the last great American comic strip.” Collecting Katchor’s most recent series of weekly one-page strips, the book begins as a travelogue charting the excursions of unashamed xenophile Emile Delilah on fictional Tensint Island, but quickly becomes a fascinating, damning and at times surreal dissection of contemporary tourism and nationality. Undeniably postmodern, The Cardboard Valise owes a lot to Thomas Pynchon, and luckily shares his sense of humour, being frequently laugh-out-loud funny. The scratchy, grey-tone artwork adds to this tongue-in-cheek humour and stops the book from ever becoming preachy or dry, with brilliantly expressive faces and appropriately slanted panel composition. A fun and rewarding, if demanding, read, The Cardboard Valise is well worth seeking out.
by Yuichi Yokoyama
The latest and longest release from Japanese cartoonist and visual artist Yuichi Yokoyama, Garden is a thoroughly bizarre and wonderful comic. The book follows a group of ‘people’ (I use the term loosely, as the characters that populate Garden look more like a minimalist Japanese Legion of Superheroes) who, on finding the garden they hoped to visit closed for the day, decide to break in and explore the place anyway. I use the term ‘garden’ loosely too, as the space the characters find themselves in is far from your typical botanical fare, instead containing forests of mechanical cones, flowing rivers of rubber balls, planters made from upturned aeroplanes and much more besides. The reaction of the characters to their environment is far from typical too. Each time a they encounter a new marvel they describe the phenomenon in simple, almost scientific language: “There are many ponds. This one is jagged. There is a giant ball floating in this one. This one is made of stainless steel. We have now arrived at a significantly larger pond.” This continues for the entirety of the book’s 320 pages but at no point becomes tedious or samey, instead wowing you with the unceasing inventiveness of Yokoyama’s designs. Narrativeless as it may be, Garden is an absolute page turner.
Paying For It
by Chester Brown
Drawn & Quarterly
North American alternative comics luminary Chester Brown’s latest book is a revealing and personal account of his fifteen years of experience paying for sex. Played out in page after page of rigid 8-panel grids, each containing Brown’s minute, expressionless figures, Paying For It can sometimes feel clinical and distancing. However, the guileless honesty with which Brown presents his memoir ensures that the book remains engrossing. As much a polemic on the legalisation of prostitution as a recounting of events, Paying For It wears its aims firmly on its sleeve, but Brown is a master cartoonist and is more than capable of keeping his politics from pulling the reader out of the story. That’s not to say the book doesn’t have its problems though. Brown’s choice to keep the prostitutes he depicts faceless (in order to ensure their anonymity, he explains in his introduction) is obviously problematic, but on the whole his attitude towards the women he pays for sex is sympathetic. A fascinating book, Paying For It marks a welcome return from one of Canada’s greatest living cartoonists.