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The Green Hand and Other Stories

By Nicole Claveloux, with Edith Zha, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith

New York Review Comics, 108 pages, $33.95

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Brooding surrealism from four decades back, The Green Hand and Other Stories actually comprises two separate books from the French artist Nicole Claveloux. First, there's the 1978 title volume in overripe colour, written by Edith Zha, while the book's second half offers solo outings from Claveloux – mainly 1980's The Little Vegetable Who Dreamed He Was a Panther and Other Stories, a showcase for meticulous black-and-white pen work and shaggy-dog fairy tales. The little root vegetable tries to overcome adversity; a young girl daydreams of killing her parents; a disinherited princess cavorts with a charming cat. Claveloux's technical skills are unparalleled here, but it's The Green Hand that's truly remarkable. An extravagantly freakish parable, it follows the suffocating relationship between a depressed and flightless fowl and a woman who fails to nurture an affectionate house plant. (Just go with it.) Their quarrel's familiar scenes of betrayal, soul searching and reconciliation get refracted through outré visuals that quote Dalí and Bosch, as well as Fred's Philemon. Like that comic-strip forebear, The Green Hand is a masterpiece of dream logic, but Claveloux's art stands on its own, a volatile Technicolor fever dream.

Body Music

By Julie Maroh, translated by David Homel

Arsenal Pulp Press, 304 pages, $28.95

The author of Blue is the Warmest Color returns with another treatment of love's ravages and ecstasies, this time in 21 vignettes spread throughout a cross-section of Montrealers. Maroh privileges the romantic entanglements of the "chubby, ethnic, androgynous, trans, pierced, scarred, disabled, old" and otherwise underrepresented, in configurations of sex and love that celebrate messy diversity rather than white hetero conformity. Two kids in puppy love question gender binaries; an Inuit woman's unrequited ardour literally blinds her; lovers bicker in sign language and seduce each other in Japanese. Maroh's sketches are admirably varied, but few have staying power, partly because the dialogue tends to the banal or ham-handedly poetic ("The chains of love around my heart are heavy and frozen solid"), and partly because the brief stories are low on substance. Still, her obvious love for Montreal and its denizens is tremendously endearing. The wintry night sky on the snow-covered slopes of the mountain, the bustle of bodies in the summery parks, the distinctive staircases lining the streets, all get drawn with a reverent mixture of architectural detail and soft-focus inkwash. Maroh creates more fascinating places than she does people.

Alack Sinner: The Age of Innocence

By Jose Munoz & Carlos Sampayo, translated by various

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IDW Publishing, 392 pages, $39.99

The signature creation of Argentine expatriates Carlos Sampayo and Jose Munoz, Alack Sinner is a melancholy ex-cop turned film-noir private investigator in bankrupt 1970s New York, a stoic loner who resembles John Garfield gone blond and booze-bloated. This first of two volumes collects stories from 1975 to 1982, which begin solidly realist and conventionally hard-boiled, but soon reach extremes of mannerist eccentricity as Sampayo pares down his exposition and Munoz fills his panels with leering carnivals of street grotesques, or widescreen compositions of corpses splayed artfully. The two longest stories are novelistic in scope and moral complexity. In Viet Blues, Sinner befriends a junk-sick jazzbo in Harlem, who is hurting and disillusioned after an ignoble tour in Vietnam, while in the final story, Sinner has neglected to renew his investigator's licence and seems at loose ends, launching himself on a hallucinatory trip through low Americana that involves road trips and prison and, somehow, Frank Sinatra (his face a sinister map of dark, weathered crevices). Peopling their stories with fat cats and failures, soaked with flop sweat and blood, Munoz and Sampayo powerfully envision American decadence and dissolution from their vantage point in exile.

Sookocheff says she doesn't plan to switch to digital illustration because she would miss the "accidents that happen when you're mucking around with paint" Globe and Mail Update
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