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I spend a lot of my time reading old newspapers, and I’ll probably never stop being fascinated by how unchangeable human nature seems to be.

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For example, a few months ago, I stumbled across a weird fad of the mid-1930s that graced newspapers across the country: Apparently, there was a brief period during which the height of comedy was composing jokes that riffed on the theme of “who’s that lady?” Citizens would submit jokes to their local paper, which would collect and print them such-like: “Who was that lady I saw you with last night?” “That was no lady, she was an elevator girl and let me down.” Or, “who was that lady?” “That was no lady, she was a waitress and served me well.”

After a while, jokesters got tired of this form and it started to mutate into bizarre nonsense: “Who was that lady I saw you with?” “That was no saw, that was a chisel.” And even weirder: “Who was that ladle?” “That was no ladle, that was a knife.”

This meme-mutation, nearly a century old, is virtually identical to the way that memes of today evolve on Twitter — the only difference is that now it happens over the course of a weekend, instead of being dragged out for weeks by the limitations of physical media. At one point in the movie The Muppets Take Manhattan the character Pete observes, “Peoples is peoples.” He’s so right.

This week’s comic books feature characters in very different times and places — Americans intersecting with Japanese culture, humans in a future apocalypse, and treasure-hunters digging into the distant past. In each story, peoples is peoples. Thanks to Phoenix for helping to sort through this week’s releases!

WEEABOO

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I don’t mean this as a negative, necessarily, but coming-of-age stories tend to paint with similar colors. The settings may vary, but ultimately you’re likely to see plot beats rendered in familiar palettes: Burgeoning romance that pits friend against friend; teens realizing that it’s okay to be their real selves; an overachiever breaking down and shouting at his parents “why don’t you ever ask me what I want???” To keep such stories fresh, an innovative twist is necessary — American Graffiti’s highly specific nostalgia; Mary Tyler Moore playing villain-mom in Ordinary People; Spirited Away’s enchantment, etc. I am happy to report that Weeaboo masterfully captures the uneasiness of American teens navigating impending adulthood in the context of their shared obsession with Japanese pop culture. It’s Freaks and Geeks plus manga! Three teen friends approach their senior year with varying flavors of drama, with their real-life angst contrasted against anime tropes in their favorite media. One suffers with an emotionally abusive family, another struggles with an accidentally toxic romance, a third feels that her Blackness is a burden. It’s all building to an anime convention that takes the place usually occupied by a climactic third-act prom; John Hughes would be proud.

Rating: 🎌🎌🎌🎌🎌(5/5)
Written and illustrated by Alissa Sallah.

THE LABYRINTH

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I’m looking forward to having some of the best nightmares of my life after reading The Labyrinth, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi art book memoir. What a specific genre! This gorgeously bound, gorgeously printed, gorgeously terrifying hardcover is an intriguing hybrid of literary styles. Pages alternate between fantastic illustrations and poetic prose, and at first glance I thought it was one of those “The Art of” coffee table books full of concept art from a movie or video game. But no, this is a standalone story — appropriate, because it’s about standalone people. The world is mired in death, following the appearance of mysterious toxic orbs. Humanity has moved past the initial chaos and societal collapse, and our story takes place in the horrible aftermath of desperate wars. The planet’s survival has become a project of the few humans who remain, a project made possible through ruthless violence. If we must renounce our humanity to survive, will the survivors even be human? This book is one of the saddest stories I’ve ever loved.

Rating: ⚫⚫⚫⚫⚫ (5/5)
Written and illustrated by Simon Stålenhag. Edited by Amanda Setterwall Klingert. Project Managers: Nils Karlén, Tomas Härenstam. Layout & Prepress: Dan Algstrand. Translation: Ebba Segerberg. Proofreading: Brandon Bowling. Walpurgis Night translated by David McGuff.

TUNNELS

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A fascinating archaeological adventure in which an unlikely/uneasy alliance of Palestinians and Israelis race to find the Ark of the Covenant. I am not a fan of the art style, which I would describe as “Tintin-grotesque,” but the story is a twisty spellbinder with echoes of Indiana Jones. Though the characters are rendered with an odd visual simplicity, they’re written with great depth, with reasons for seeking treasure that are simultaneously competing and compatible. Also impressive is the juxtaposition of antiquity and modern-day political strife, providing a singular perspective on the eternal cycle of violence in which the people of the Middle East live. Though I enjoyed the book very much, I suspect that much of its meaning escaped me due to my lack of historical and cultural knowledge. The real-life context for the story is fleshed out in an afterword; how I wish that there had been a lengthier forward to get me up to speed before diving into this otherwise riveting chase. I am also left wondering how a Palestinian reader might receive this very Israel-focused work.

Rating: ⛏️⛏️⛏️⛏️(4/5)
Written and illustrated by Ruto Modan. Translation by Ishai Mishory. Story edits by Noah Stollman.

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ALSO: SUPERMAN IS BI, CITY OF ILLUSION, and EROTIC MASOCHISM

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Some more intriguing new releases this week: You may wish to examine the new Superman, in which our hero gets to kiss a boy — but be warned, it’s the fifth in a series, so you may be a bit befuddled if you do not first get caught up on back issues. There’s a new Robin adventure, or perhaps I should call it a Robins adventure, since it features many variations on the hero. (Marvel doesn’t own multiverses.) I like the look of City of Illusion, a fantastical magic adventure for youngsters that looks like a cross between Miyazaki and Pixar’s Luca. (No connection to the similarly-titled LeGuin novel, as far as I can tell.) I am also eager to check out Man in Furs, an intriguing glimpse into Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the 19th-century figure whose name and private sex life would come to describe an entire genre of sexuality.