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Review: New comics from Inio Asano, Nick Drnaso, Jim Woodring and Charles Barnard Add to ...

A Girl on the Shore

By Inio Asano, Vertical, 408 pages, $19.95

Like the controversial films Fat Girl or Kids, Inio Asano’s high-school romance A Girl on the Shore deals explicitly and honestly with its young characters’ sexuality. Asano’s approach is raw and unblinking, but never salacious, perhaps because his book’s diffident couple – popular Koume and reclusive Isobe – try their best to ward off any tricky emotional attachments. For them, sex is about anything but love, and hardly even passion. Instead, their rutting is all about power: Koume’s been used as a plaything by an upperclassman and she vengefully looks for someone to use in return, while Isobe’s willing to submit to such treatment, if it helps ward off his suicidal depression. They avoid each other at school, speak to each other hurtfully and shame each other sexually, but their volatile behaviour hides the connection that draws them increasingly together. This kind of intensity must be difficult to maintain: Asano shies away from the ferocious, naked neediness of earlier chapters as the book draws to a close, though his drawing – which sets off spindly, ductile figures against awesomely finicky backgrounds and streetscapes – retains all of its expressive force.

Beverly

By Nick Drnaso, Drawn & Quarterly, 136 pages, $24.95

Nick Drnaso’s steady, patient debut delivers a suite of interlinked stories about blinkered, confused suburban youths, stranded somewhere in 1990s middle America. There’s the kid who accidentally gets his co-worker fired; the sister who’s creeped out by her brother’s weird silence throughout a long road trip; the girl who gets drunk at her former friend’s party and tries to rekindle their girlhood experiments; the teen who swears she was assaulted by an “olive-skinned” bogeyman (Drnaso tells her story solely through the gossip of classmates and neighbours). Tensions about race, class and sexuality thrum in the background, while the artist’s surfaces remain placid throughout. His colours are as muted as his characters’ emotions, and his drawing and pacing as mechanical and lockstep as the lives that these people lead. This clean regularity masks something sinister, some trouble that lurks beneath the affectless front that these stories and people put up. Critique of unthinking middle-class life has long been routine – there’s something of Michael Haneke’s best films, here – but Drnaso’s diagnosis of the sickness at the soul of sheltered communities is novel in its discordant effects and keen observation.

Frank in the 3rd Dimension

By Jim Woodring and Charles Barnard, Fantagraphics, 26 pages, $30.50

Jim Woodring’s signature creation, Frank, has always wandered through worlds in which it’s been easy to get lost. The bucktoothed, big-footed cartoon everyman – a cross between Candide and Felix the Cat – inhabits a wordless universe chockablock with thingamajigs decorated in whorling arabesques, and populated by squirming and unpredictable critters. Woodring once described the cheerfully macabre, often inexplicable images he distills from this world as “glowing with unseen energy,” or “fluorescing.” Frank in the 3rd Dimension could only fluoresce more if each page were backlit in neon: Here, the artist’s uncanny compositions burst into three dimensions as though they were shining with some inner life – irradiated, molten. Each of these 27 tableaux – digitally converted to sculptural 3-D by Barnard (red-and-blue specs are included) – invites contemplation of the mysteries layered into its depths. When Frank explores shadowy corridors, what can we glimpse around the corner? How has that hole been torn in the sky and what is that goop leaking through it? Though the book is short, it repays this kind of pensive, religious attention: These are images to stew in and gawp at, rather than simply to read.

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