Comics/Graphic Novels

From Art Attack to Edifice: The Arts in Comics A-Z

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With all the Comic-Con stuff that went on this summer, it’s been a minute since I wrapped up Heroes A–Z and I figured it was time to start another adventure. This time we’ll go alphabetically through the arts, finding a graphic novel or comic that represents a different aspect of that gigantic and intimidating bucket. Ready? Alright, got my oxygen tank on and diving in 3…2…1…

A: Art Attack!

The PLAIN Janes

The Plain Janes by Cecil Castelluci and Jim Rugg (Little Brown)

Yes, this is a real thing. If you live in a city or a small town with any sort of active arts, crafts, or maker community, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. An art attack can be anything from a collaborative protest mural appearing overnight to a bridge’s railings being strung with handknit blankets and scarves mid-winter for the homeless community to take as needed (that was Pittsburgh’s last major art attack; it was amazing). In The Plain Janes, Jane Beckles moves with her family from the city to the ‘burbs, certain her life is ruined. When she meets a group of other, like-minded Janes, though, they pool their talents and and resist adult apathy by committing guerrilla art all over town.

B: Boy Band

Given volume 1 cover - Natuski Kizu

Given by Natsuki Kizu (Sublime)

In this particular case, by boy band I mean a band made up of boys: Uenoyama, Akihiko, Haruki, and Mafuyu. The manga follows the quartet in two distinct arcs: the first where they prepare for their fist live show and the second during which they’re getting ready for a music festival. As it happens, those arcs are also timed to follow the relationships that develop first between Mafuyu and Uenoyama and then between Akihiko and Haruki.

So much drama.

Real life drama can go screw, but I love manga drama.

C: Caravaggio

Caravaggio Vol. 1: The Palette and the Sword by Milo Manara (Dark Horse)

I debated with myself for quite some time about including this one; while Caravaggio is one of my favorite Western artists, Manara is responsible for the infamous, physiologically impossible Spider-Butt and for that, he cannot be forgiven. He did, however, keep the anatomy to the scientifically probable in Caravaggio, and while I wouldn’t call the series a biography, it captures both the ethos and pathos of the artist’s life masterfully while also using many elements of his singular and innovative artistic style to tie the prose and visual elements of the story together.

D: Drawing

Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir by Robin Ha (Balzer + Bray)

Robin Ha’s father wasn’t there when she was born and wasn’t there after; she grew up with her mother in Seoul, Korea, and the two of them were just fine, thanks. They even took special trips each summer. Which is why Robin was so surprised when, at the end of one of those trips, her mother announced with absolutely no warning that she was getting married and they’d be staying in Huntsville, Alabama, permanently. Robin was miserable: she was forced to leave her entire life behind without a chance to say goodbye, start at a new school where she didn’t speak the language, and live with siblings she had never met. She couldn’t even depend on the person who had always been there for her. And then, one day, her mother signed her up for a comics drawing class and everything changed…

Sometimes, all it takes is reconnecting with a single part of yourself to reclaim what you thought you’d lost and to flourish into the new self you so desperately need…

E: Edifice

Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention by Tings Chak

Originally released for those in the architectural field, Ad Astra Comix published a special edition of Chak’s collection of comics, essays, and interviews exploring Canada’s migrant detention system in 2017. The spaces in which undocumented individuals are held are, in fact, often maximum security prisons where adults and children are kept for indefinite periods. Chak extrapolates troubling conclusions about society as a whole from our willingness to allow other human beings to be treated thus.

Proceeds from the sale of Undocumented go to the End Immigrant Detention Network.

Only the first five letters of the alphabet and we’ve already covered yarn bombing, artists, art saving lives, music, and architecture as a way to explore the cracks in our social mores. Who says the arts aren’t necessary? People who have never done, looked at, or listened to an art, apparently. Can you imagine a world without the arts? I can’t, which is why I’ve chosen it as my next A–Z umbrella topic. If there are any sub-genres you’d like me to highlight, feel free to slide into the conversation @BookRiot on Twitter!