1. Congress of the Animals
If this one doesn’t leave you speechless, it will for sure leave you saying “WTF? I was surprised to discover Jim Woodring so late in life. He’s been creating comics for more than thirty years for Fantagraphics, and Frank –the cheerful, responsible cat/dog/whatever creature — has been a staple character for him. His worlds are founded in surrealism; if you’re a fan of Salvador Dali you won’t be disappointed with Jim Woodring.
The story starts off with who I refer to as the Platypus King, enjoying a ride in his luxurious hot air balloon. An unfortunate mishap causes him to collide with our main character, Frank, who subsequently loses his home in the disaster. When a contractor offers to build Frank a new home, Frank, unfamiliar with the concept of money, must get to work for the man for the first time in his Disney-esque existence.
Frank learns it’s a dog eat dog, creature eat creature world where every giant blob or platypus must fend for himself. The story makes no sense to the point that it actually makes perfect sense. Despite all of the nonsense within, the story comes full circle; nothing seems to change by the end, but we get the sense that Frank has learned some valuable lessons.
I found myself captivated by Woodring’s detailed linework, his monstrous inventions, and his uncanny ability to tell stories without relying on a single word. This is a 99 page graphic novel; an enormous amount of work went into it, and it’s a gorgeous piece of art first and foremost. I’m sure I fully understand this book, but I was happy to be able to appreciate it.
2. Un Ocean d’Amour
Available on Comixology and Amazon, the language of this book is listed as French, but the book is actually totally void of dialogue.
It starts off with a glimpse into the routine of a homely old married couple: an old French fisherman and his annoyingly attentive and adorable housewife.
One day, venturing out to sea with his partner, the old man’s little fishing vessel is caught up in the net of a great big longliner, thrusting him into a cross-ocean adventure facing storms, pirates, and a diet of nothing but the disgusting canned sardines his wife gives him for lunch every day. She, distraught by her missing husband, is not about to wait at home twiddling her thumbs. Deathly afraid of the ocean, she sets out on a luxury cruise to Cuba in search of him.
The artwork is wonderfully colorful and emotive, reminiscent of Les Triplettes de Belleville by Sylvain Chomet. You can feel the motion in the waves of the ocean, as if you were watching an animated film, somewhere between the hand-drawn style of the 50’s and the polished digital style of today.
This a light-hearted but engaging adventure that anyone can enjoy, regardless of age or language.
3. The Longest Day of the Future
Lucas Varela, Argentinian, has illustrated comics for Dark Horse and Vertigo, but this is one of few projects he has both written and illustrated on his own. He says his style is of “clear line and an underground spirit; sinisterly silly, pink, rotten, and dismally friendly.” I’m not sure what that means, but I’m inclined to agree.
The story takes place in a futuristic world of flying cars, bizarre technology, two sinister corporations vying for control of the population, and one harmless worker bee who just dreams of going on vacation in “Paraiso”.
When he accidentally gets mixed up in a plot to destroy his company’s arch-nemesis, he’ll need to find the courage to complete his mission, or he’ll never make it to his beloved Paraiso.
IIn his silly style, Varela makes it easy to root for his meek but determined protagonist, without relying on any text outside of the occasional sign or billboard in the background.
I met Nunumi at the Comic Arts Festival of Montreal in 2017, and I almost passed by her booth, but I’m very glad I didn’t. At first glance, SkyRover looks a bit like a Japanese manga for children, but to think that would be a mistake.
The story follows a young firefly collector, busy about her task of collecting and building tiny homes for her new friends, so they’ll be happy and will, in turn, light the homes of her grateful customers. Some fireflies are musicians, scientists, or artists. She provides everything they need for a happy existence.
One day, she notices that one of her butterflies has stopped shining. She tries everything to motivate him, to no avail. Suddenly everything isn’t so simple, and she’ll have to completely re-think the way her world works.
Another great story for anyone young or old, but if you’re going through a transitionary phase in your life, as I was before I founded Black Panel Press, this story will help shed some light on the situation.