Truth is stranger than these comic fictions

Biographies of Donald Trump and Roger Casement stood out among the best comic books of 2016, writes Don O’Mahony.

The Guards by Shane Ormond and Kevin Keane

(NP Comics)

In a departure from the usual twice yearly brace of locally produced Cork horror and science fiction themed anthology comics, The Guards signals a more ambitious approach to comics storytelling.

Frustrated by the inability of the law to take down the local crime lord, impetuous detective Kate O’Sullivan bucks procedure and finds herself punished as a result. Her demotion sees her report to cynical old sergeant Lonnie, a man more used to dealing with the paranormal than penalty points.

How to Survive in The North, Luke Healy

(No brow)

The Antarctic adventures of Scott and Shakleton are familiar to many, but for his debut graphic novel Dublin comic creator Luke Healy focuses on the separateturn-of-the-20th century Arctic adventures of navigator Robert Bartlett and Inuit woman Ada Blackjack. Linking the pair is explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson. Making sense of the twin narratives is a third one featuring fictional contemporary academic Barnaby.

Healy shines a light on two extraordinary tales, which he illuminates with distinctive palettes as radiant as the aurora borealis.

The Trial of Roger Casement by Fionnuala Doran

(Self Made Hero)

While using every diplomatic skill at his disposal to satisfy the demands of the republican leadership, Roger Casement also had to struggle with his hidden sexual orientation.

Told at a barrelling pace in a narrative that jumps back and forth through the last five years of Casement’s life, and rendered largely in black & white with some occasional use of muted ambers and greens, this was a portrait that really got under its protagonist’s skin and presents a complex and modern figure.

Trump: A Graphic Biography by Ted Rall

(Seven Stories)

When Donald Trump was nominated as the Republican Party presidential candidate in July the world was still laughing. Amongst the plethora of Trump related books that emerged in the summer Ted Rall’s offered the most clear-eyed and sober assessment on the dangers ahead. One of the more distinctive political cartoonists thanks to his underground style, Rall took a scalpel to Trump’s character and the era and environment that spawned him and said: Be very afraid.

Rolling Blackouts by Sarah Glidden

(Drawn & Quarterly)

Further proving the suitability of comics to express complex political stories and philosophical points of view, Sarah Glidden capably takes the baton from Joe Sacco in this meaty piece of memoir cum reportage.

Documenting her journey through Turkey, Syrian and Iraq alongside a pair of Seattle reporters and an ex US marine, Rolling Blackouts is not just an insightful portrait of a complex region but also a meditation on the ethics and nature of journalism.It is also beautifully illustrated.

The Envelope Manufacturer by Chris Oliveros

Having stepped down in 2015 as head of esteemed literary comic publisher Drawn & Quarterly, Chris Oliveros returned to cartooning.

Perhaps drawing on the madness around keeping a fledgling comic publisher afloat, The Envelope Manufacturer documents the crippling knock on effects when a crucial piece of equipment fails.

Dripping in absurdity and pathos, the narrative feels more suited to avant garde film or modernist opera. It’s to Oliveros’ credit that he makes it work as a piece of graphic storytelling.

Patience by Daniel Clowes

(Jonathan Cape)

Along with Adrian Tomine, Chris Ware and Joe Sacco, Daniel Clowes is one of those few comic creators whose latest offerings feel like events. By subtitling Patience - A Cosmic Timewarp Deathtrip to the Primordial Infinite of Everlasting Love, Clowes is clearly sending up expectations. But while it has been decades since

he has done anything as weird as that title demands Clowes succeeds in challenging readers in ways previous offerings such as Wilson and The Death-Ray failed to do.

Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam and Other Stories by Simon Hanselmann

(Fantagraphics)

There were many great collections and reissues this year such as Lynda Barry’s The Greatest of Marlys, Ben Katchor’s Cheap Novelties and Mark Beyer’s nightmarish Agony.

However, a new discovery for this reviewer was the adventures of Megg & Mogg.

A witch and her moggy lover, Megg and Mogg share their house with uptight Owl and deadbeat Werewolf Jones and are the sort of dissolute drug fiends and sexual deviants that make the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers look like Walt Disney.

Biographies of Donald Trump and Roger Casement stood out among the best comic books of 2016, writes Don O’Mahony


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