Tuesday, April 17, 2018

NZ Graphic Novel Picks for Best International Comics of 2017!

Above: Dream's of Here: Far from Home by Alex Cara. Copyright Alex Cara 2018.

Every year I contribute some New Zealand graphic novel picks for Paul Gravett's 'Best Comics of 2017: An international Perspective', highlighting some of the standout graphic novel from around the world published in 2017. There's some great international reads on this list from such countries as: Argentina, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Serbia, Singapore, Switzerland and the Philippines. 

Presented below are my New Zealand picks, along with links to their authors and respective websites where you can purchase your own copy!  I'll also be looking to review some of these in more detail in future reviews.

Out of the Woods by Brent Williams and Korkut Öztekin. Copyright Brent Williams 2018.

Out of the Woods
Brent Williams with Korkut Öztekin

In 2009 Brent Williams was a successful lawyer in Wellington, New Zealand, when he became unwell. He didn't know why he could no longer bring himself to work, see friends, or connect with family members. It was like he had fallen into a deep pit, from which there was no return. That pit was depression and anxiety. Brent's father, well known property developer and philanthropist Sir Arthur Williams had been a ruthless, overbearing force in his life. Publicly, Sir Arthur was a respected leader of NZ society, but behind the doors of Williams' Karori home, domestic violence was a daily occurrence.

Fast forward 40 years, Brent's past has caught up with him and held him in a vice-like grip. Denial, shame and a misguided belief he had to fight these illnesses on his own made his situation worse. Not until he acknowledged that he was ill and accepted help could his recovery begin. Out of the Woods is Brent's story of realization and recovery, told entirely through the watercolour illustrations of Turkish artist Korkut Öztekin. A highly original graphic memoir, it aim is to help people understand and overcome depression and anxiety.

Above: Moa by James Davidson. Copyright James Davidson 2018.


When a sacred Maori treasure is stolen by the dastardly Otto, it's up to the Moa Rangers, Kiwi Pukupuku and Possum Von Tempsky, to return the taonga and save the day! Ride along with Kiwi and Possum on their side-splitting adventures battling mythical creatures and dangerous hunters in colonial New Zealand!

The latest release from Earth's End Publishing is a collection of James Davidson's acclaimed children's comic book series, Moa. Set in colonial New Zealand, Moa chronicles the wild adventures of the Moa Rangers, Kiwi Pukupuku and Possum Von Tempsky, defenders of our native forests. Moa combines the fun and humour of classic Disney comic books with New Zealand's historical past and Maori mythology to create a classic adventure series sure to delight and entertain readers of all ages. This deluxe treasury collection contains the complete Moa story in a hardback edition.

Author James Davidson is also an educator, serving as the Head of the Arts Faculty at Opunake High School in New Zealand. Moa has been a way for him to explore the layered history and mythology of New Zealand through the medium of comics, and to create stories that can entertain and educate kiwi kids about the land they live in.

Above: Incredibly Hot Sex with Hideous People: Diary Comics by Bryce Galloway. Copyright Bryce Galloway 2018.

Incredibly Hot Sex with Hideous People: Diary Comics

Bryce Galloway second zine-derived book, Incredibly Hot Sex with Hideous People: Diary Comics pulls together nine years of Galloway's diary comics, first published in his zine of the same name. Within these entries you'll witness Bryce's ongoing sprint to catch the morning bus, see his children grow, watch Bryce deal with back pain and diarrhoea, meet his 'DW' (de facto wife) who halfway through this book becomes his wife. Actually, if you read closely you'll find lots of personal growth taking place on the page, from getting a cellphone to a promotion to Senior Lecturer at Massey University.

Unlike James Kochalka or John Porcellino's more conventionally styled diary comics, Galloway does away with panel boarders and (most) speech balloons to capture the notable moments of each day in an organic free-flowing style. The line-work is confidant and loose, capturing the energy and feeling of his memory of events rather than a more detailed rendering. Although this comes with its own unintended side effects: at one point DW calls him out on his depictions of her (which at times looks like a maniacal zombie).

And that's one of many enjoyable layers of this book, watching Galloway share his utterly fearless depiction of his daily life through his diary comics, while also having to consider his family's involvement and participation. Should he focus more on the 'sweeter moments'? He could, but as any reader will tell you, suffering makes for far more interesting art. Warts and all, this is a hugely enjoyable read. You'll come away feeling like you know a great deal about Galloway's day-to-day life, and perhaps be inspired to create a diary of you're own...if only we could all be this brave.

Above: Dream's of Here: Far from Home by Alex Cara. Copyright Alex Cara 2018.
Dreams of Here, Far from Home

'O! Fortunate reader; you will find within these pages nine settler narratives, fun for 'New Chums' and 'Gone Natives' alike, and rendered in extravagant colour. Thrill to the fears and fancies of these exotic intruders, with their night-terrors and naiveties, and dreams of here, far from home.'

With Dreams of Here, Far from Home, cartoonist Alex Cara has created a collection of early New Zealand colonial cartoons - appearing here as Settler Comics - that perfectly homage the newspaper cartoons and illustration plates of that bygone time, while infusing it with her own distinctive style and sly sense of humour. 

For an artist still in her twenties this is a remarkable book; building on the confidence of her first published work on the graphic novel, Nothing Fits (with writer Nate Tamblyn) from 2014, this publication announces the arrival of a fully fledged cartoonist destined for great things. If you like the historical and stylistic remixing of Moore and O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, you'll love  Dreams of Here, Far from Home. Right now it is only available directly from the author on her website, but this deserves a wider audience - so seek it out, you won't be disappointed.

Above: Crow of Whareatua: A New Zealand War Story by Sid Marsh. Copyright Sid Marsh 2018.

Crow of Whareatua: A New Zealand War Story
Sid Marsh
Lasavia Publishing

Set in 1869, Te Kooti Arikirangi te Turuki is the founder of the Ringatū religion and commander of the deadliest Māori guerrilla force of the nineteenth century. Te Urewera is the battleground: a wilderness of forest, bird, mountain and waterway. Crow of Whareatua brings to life a one-month period of a brutal war, one which was to shape New Zealand’s destiny.

Originally self-published in 1999, Marsh's comics adaptation of Te Kooti's clashes with colonial forces in the New Zealand Land Wars was something of an oddity. At the time graphic novels were still looked down on in literary circles, and comics were on a downward spiral following the collecting bust of the 90's. There was no audience looking for an historical NZ graphic novel, told in stark black and white artwork reminiscent in its layout of the British war comics like Commando. Which is why it's great to now see Marsh's overlooked graphic novel getting a second life from Lasavia Publishing.

Crow of Whareatua is well researched and unconventional - Marsh's artwork is raw, sparse and uncluttered, which might turn off some traditional comics readers, but it rewards a closer reading. Marsh's passion for his subject is undeniable, making this a welcome addition to any respectable NZ graphic novel bookshelf.

Above: The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O'Neill. Copyright Katie O'Neill 2018.

The Tea Dragon Society
Katie O'Neill
Oni Press

Christchurch based cartoonist Katie O'Neill has quickly become one of our most successful cartoonists on the world stage. Having gained fans and recognition for her award-winning graphic novel, Princess Princess: Ever After, and locally for her contributions to Faction and High Water comics anthologies. Having concluded her webcomic series, The Tea Dragon Society was published last October as a large format hardcover from US publisher Oni Press.

The Tea Dragon Society is a charming all-ages book that follows the story of Greta, a blacksmith apprentice, and the people she meets as she becomes entwined in the enchanting world of tea dragons. After discovering a lost tea dragon in the marketplace, Greta learns about the dying art form of tea dragon care-taking from the kind tea shop owners, Hesekiel and Erik. As she befriends them and their shy ward, Minette, Greta sees how the craft enriches their lives--and eventually her own.

You can check out the full list of international recommendations at Paul's excellent website and hub for all things comics HERE.

- AK!