I was once interviewing a celebrity photographer and asked her what makes a good photograph.
“It changes how you see the world,” she said, an answer that changed how I saw photography; and the most intriguing new comic books out this week all have the power to shift your perspective in some way.
My favorite is A Cat Story, which provides a tour of a beautiful European hamlet from a four-legged point of view—just the getaway I needed right now—but Invisible Differences, Bitter Root, and Scumbag all gaze at the world through unfamiliar eyes as well. And although I didn’t LOVE love it, the new Dune book (a prequel to the novel and upcoming film) certainly alters the picture of sci-fi space operas in my mind.
Read on for this week’s recommendations, selected with help from our friends at Phoenix Comics (and when you’ve chosen which titles you’re going to pick up, remember to support your local comics shop)!
I want to live in this book. A Cat Story introduces us to Cilla and Betto, two itinerant cats wandering a beautiful European island in search of a home. Based on the author’s time on Malta, we’re treated to gorgeous lush landscapes, cobblestone streets, adorable houses crammed together—it feels like going on a vacation with two cats as your tour guide. Woven throughout Cilla and Betto’s journey are tributes to great works of art with a feline twist, just in case you wanted your vacation to include a brief peek into a museum or two. But my favorite aspects are the stories-in-a-story, when the cats regale each other with tall tales and myths, wondering where they might find the germ of truth in the traditional tales that cats whisper to each other. It’s an excellent pick for kids in the latter half of elementary school, for imaginative teens, and for harried adults in need of a little quiet calm escape.
Invisible Differences isn’t just entertaining, it’s educational and emotional and revelatory and very very cute. It’s the story of a young French woman named Marguerite who feels inexplicably different from everyone around her until a diagnosis of autism starts helping the puzzle pieces fit together. Marguerite’s feelings of frustration and loneliness are relatable to anyone, but her particular traits—needing to cut tags off of clothing, being overwhelmed by chatter, befuddlement over misunderstandings—illuminate the various aspects of autistic life that might come as a surprise to some. The art in the book is a great delight—I was reminded at times of the expressive line drawings of Jules Feiffer—and the use of color is particularly smart. The book will likely help anyone who is working to understand their own diagnosis, or that of someone in their life; but it’s also a sweet story about a wonderful woman who finds relief in understanding and accepting who she is.
Instantly engaging from the very first page, the second volume of Bitter Root careens through an astounding amount of adventure, monsters, and tough moral choices. Set in the Harlem Renaissance, the story surrounds a family of monster hunters who must face some unexpected enemies: Each other. Some of the family want to heal the monsters around them; others want to destroy the monsters; and their internecine conflict is infused with the magic of Harlem and jazz and the subjective nature of justice. The all-Black cast is fantastic, richly depicted with winning dialogue that wholeheartedly sells the century-old setting, and the world is so gorgeous and bright that I want thirty spinoffs about every character and location. It’s a rollicking adventure mixed with an urgent examination of racism—a slam-dunk that you’ll read over and over before buying more copies to excitedly give to your friends.
I am a fan of the David Lynch adaptation of Dune in much the same way that I enjoy the Star Wars prequels: They’re not exactly what you’d call flawless, but they are crammed wall-to-wall with CHOICES, all of which are bonkers. I could have done with a bit more of that energy in this story, which serves as a prequel to the novel and upcoming film. I’m always delighted to journey into the very far future and spend some time with the vile Harkonnens, the behemoth worms, the unsettling Bene Gesserit witches, and even House Atreides (despite their most interesting soap opera drama being left out of the 1984 film). The universe of Dune is, above all, richly weird, a sort of Game of Thrones on space-acid, and although the story established in this first issue is fine, it just doesn’t push the strangeness buttons as insistently as I’ve come to hope for. Accessible? Sure, it’s accessible, but so is a Geico commercial. Dune: House Atreides is a perfectly enjoyable sci-fi adventure, but it’s no The Phantom Menace. Perhaps you consider that a good thing.
The Scumbag really does live up to its title. A grossly-rendered heroin addict accidentally shoots up with a superhero serum, and now this slob must single-handedly save the world. Our antihero, Ernie, is an idiot and a mess and a hedonist who seems more interested in self-destruction than world-saving, and the book is never not reaching for sleaze. I’m not sure that the bad taste ever rises to the level of inspired good-bad taste that you might find in a John Waters film—personally, I found the toilet humor and yuck-sex to be surprisingly tame. It’s certainly raunchy, but not much more than the banter at a high school lunch table. Don't get me wrong, I like lowbrow; but as a kid who grew up during the era of Garbage Pail Kids, I need my raunch to be inventive.
Just a quick note about this one—the third volume of this addictive noir is now available, and it’s a great time to dive into the series if you haven’t already. November weaves together four mysterious stories in a gritty dangerous world, and thriller-fans will find it perfect reading for all of the rainy afternoons headed our way.