Nobrow Press’ 17 x 23 series highlights accomplished smaller works in a pleasing package that speaks to graphic novel consumers who might not seek out short comics stories. Two recent releases are particularly success in the way they take story forms of old and present them through a modern lens, making traditional lessons applicable to any of us picking up these books.
In The Hunter, British cartoonist Joe Sparrow creates a fable of carnage — and devotion to it — without ever descending into the depression that seems inevitable in such a venture. Following the Fourth Earl of Reisenskog through his life, which is defined by a love of guns and the killing of animals, Sparrow brings to mind the scores of British aristocracy who, throughout history, brought a sense of entitlement to their violent ventures, whether war or safari. The Earl takes it all a step further, turning his love of violence into a parlor game when he promises to kill one of every creature, a process we follow him on through to its end.
As much as it is an examination of what a life of accrued death adds up to, it is also a statement on the reasons some people have such a focus, and ultimately settles on the idea of adrenalin. It’s not darkness that brings an obsession with death, but excitement, and in context of the bored aristocracy, it’s a chilling conclusion that explains a lot of world history.
And, yet, even with such an idea lurking beneath the action, Sparrow’s animated and colorful artwork is delightfully over-the-top, whimsical, animated, portraying the grim absurdity of the Earl’s life through a comical filter that makes it all a bearable burden for the reader to endure, and even a fun one. As a fable about death, it couldn’t be more delightful.
William Exley’s Golemchik takes equally dark material and and adds some light whimsy that results in an unexpected sweetness and sadness. Kevin is about to be abandoned for the summer. All his friends take off for summer camp, and he’s going to be left to have lone adventures in the woods for those months.
He feels pretty ripped off by that circumstance, but believes his summer vacation might be saved in the form a giant rock construct that comes to life. Kevin teams up with the creature to craft a dream adventure land in his local woods, but also finds its lumbering qualities are a detriment and might even lead to widespread terror. Wrought mostly in blues and reds that give the story an otherworldly quality, the large-headed, skinny legged children and the formless creature add some clunky innocence.
As the title makes plain, Exley is riffing on the legend of the Golem from Jewish folklore and made famous to those outside that tradition by the silent film. What’s surprising is that Exley makes use of the darkness that traditionally accompanies these tales and mixes it in with a more modern bittersweet quality that makes it an extremely touching story about a lonely kid that most of us can identify with.
John Seven is a journalist and children’s book author living in Western Massachusetts who has written about comics for a number of publications over the years. Follow him on Twitter @damnjohnseven. John will be contributing regular comics reviews to The Beat on Tuesdays at 5PM. To welcome him to the fold, this week we’ll be posting his reviews on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.