Reviews: New books from Conundrum, Retrofit and more

It's my strong suspicion that Mucha's memoir, about her attempts to cope following the breakup of a long-term relationship, will largely be appreciated by the under-30 crowd. I'm not saying that older readers, especially those who have been through the mill a few times, will dismiss her story or be unsympathetic as she relates her woes, but I do expect them to regard some of Mucha's realizations and self-help profundities with a shrug and a muttered, "So what else is new?"

At a certain point in your life (usually past your 20s), you come to understand the importance of allowing yourself to properly mourn the death of a relationship, either through simple contemplation or hard-fought experience. There's nothing thematically in Get Over It that a certain segment of the population doesn't already know (even if they have trouble adhering to that wisdom).

Thankfully, Mucha is: a) self-aware and witty enough to avoid preachiness, be able to poke fun at herself and come up with some clever one-liners, and b) a talented artist, blessed with a crisp, clean, angular style. She brings a sense of design and fun to her pages that makes your eye snap to attention and makes this book a lively read. Unfortunately, she also relies far too heavily on tired visual cliches -- i.e., the many tortured conversations between her brain and heart arguing over her behavior. And some of her lesson-learned conclusions – surprise, life isn't really like the movies! -- are flat-out banal.

Get Over It is far from a slog; Mucha is far too appealing a cartoonist for that. But neither is it especially revealing or profound. Mucha's art is charming, but in a medium surrounded by noteworthy memoirs, you can't just rely on charm.

Amerika Based on the novel by Franz Kafka, adapted by Real Godbout Conundrum Press, 184 pages, $20

What is it with all the Kalfka adaptations lately? It seems as if every cartoonist and their maternal cousin has made a stab at trying to render The Castle or some other work by the famed Czech writer into comics. Is it the author's forays into surrealism? His unique imagery? The themes of alienation and oppression by a faceless, labyrinthine bureaucratic system?

Whatever the reason, most of these adaptations haven't been very good. The only exception off the top of my head is R. Crumb's rendition of The Penal Colony and maybe Peter Kuper's Give It Up. And now you can throw Amerika in the "nice job" pile as well. That's mainly due to the fact that the artist in question is Real Godbout, whom devout Robot 6 readers might remember me praising when I wrote about his work on the glorious Red Ketchup (take that link as a hint, Conundrum Press).

Instead of adopting some gloomy, expressionist style, Godbout's ligne claire art works in near-perfect concert with Kalfka's themes and text, serving to heighten the comedy and absurdity on display without undercutting the tension. He keeps most of the action framed at midpoint too, only offering a tight closeup or wide establishing shot when needed. The end result reads like a Tintin adventure into some dream-like fantasia that sort of resembles the United States, but is more like old Europe seen through a really fractured prism. In case you were wondering, that's a good thing.

Bear, Bird and Stag Were Arguing in the Forest and Other Stories by Madeleine Flores Retrofit Comics, $6

Four stories to be exact. Two of them fables. Two of them inventive visual mini-essays/musings on the body/soul dichotomy. I liked the first two stories best. The title tale is witty and clever and done in an appealing Adventure Time-ish style that I appreciated. The second, a much sadder tale involving a mother and child, is even more stripped down visually and shows that Flores can handle sharp tonal shifts and move from comedy to drama without much difficulty.

The final story, however, about how dreams are when your eyes go on magic adventures, I found rather overly sentimental and too cute by far and it ended an otherwise solid comic on a sour note for me. Some will no doubt find that final tale inspirational no doubt, but I can only tolerate so much fey allusions to the mystery and majesty of life and the universe before I feel the need to lie down.

Bird Witch by Kat Leyh Yeti Press, 153 pages, $20

The basic premise behind this book – two young girls, one a witch in training, the other a half-human/half-bird creature called a Tengu, become fast friends and have various adventures in the woods – is an appealing one. Leyh has a really nice color sense, and floods the book with lush browns, oranges, greens and night blues.

On the other hand, she still seems a bit awkward when it comes to her layouts and compositions. There were several moments in Bird Witch, especially during the more frenzied action sequences, where it took me a moment to figure out what exactly was happening or where characters were in relation to each other, or where a simple, large establishing shot would have helped a lot.

That's not an insurmountable problem and I'm sure with some more forethought (and perhaps a stronger adherence to a tight grid) Leyh will prove to be a noteworthy cartoonist. Right now though, Bird Witch suggests more than proves.

Benson's Cuckoos by Anouk Ricard Drawn and Quarterly, 96 pages, $19.95

Ricard's Anna and Froga series thrives on its characters behaving in familiar, but very childish, ways, frequently indulging in avariciousness, meanness, self-centeredness and general obnoxiousness. The trick in Benson's Cuckoos, Ricard's first graphic novel for grown-ups (at least in English), is that the adult characters behave in exactly the same manner. Set in an office, the boss, for example, cries and complains if he feels the other workers are ignoring him or don't appreciate him. He's also incapable of focusing on anything for more than 30 seconds (during a luncheon he shoves chopsticks in his lips to imitate a walrus). Another character dispenses insults and taunts with the charm of your average five-year-old.

Combine that absurdity with Ricard's simplified, charming funny animal art style and you've got a very funny comic. Ricard has a healthy appreciation for the ridiculous that is as infectious here as it is in the Anna books.

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