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book review

Ramshackle: A Yellowknife Story

By Alison McCreesh

Conundrum, 144 pages, $20

When she moved to Yellowknife in 2009 for what she had thought was a temporary stay, Alison McCreesh found herself taken with the northern capital's jerry-built character. Ramshackle presents her comic-strip diary of that first shambolic summer, as she learns local customs (honey bucket etiquette: Should you only use the bucket to go number two?) and discovers local history (some folks live in houseboats to avoid the city's anti-squatting policies). The artist becomes most enamoured with a last redoubt of squatters' shacks known as the Woodyard, a picturesque haven for thrifty bohemians that appeals to her love of the "simultaneously exotic and mundane." Her book, too, is warmly makeshift, looking busy, cramped and earthily coloured, but welcoming and amiable all the same. As McCreesh's title admits, her Yellowknife is just one among many – this is not the story of the city's mining industry, or government workers, or Dene peoples. Instead, her outsider's perspective and her good-humoured portrait of the Woodyard community help introduce her readers to a particular part of Yellowknife life, as McCreesh herself was welcomed once.

Shigeru Mizuki's Hitler

By Shigeru Mizuki

Drawn and Quarterly, 296 pages, $29.95

Before he passed away last month at the age of 93, Shigeru Mizuki accomplished enough to fill several lifetimes. Fighting for Japan during the Second World War, Mizuki lost an arm; becoming an artist nevertheless, he dredged up monstrous beasties to populate kids' comics, reviving interest in the yokai spirits of national folklore; cartooning about his own life and times, he helped invent the idea of comics for adults. The artist's latest to appear in English – a 1971 biography of Hitler – exemplifies how uniquely wonky and driven his work can be. While the plot rushes by in a torrent of dates and events, Mizuki will occasionally pause to cartoon some anecdote – Hitler whistling Wagner and eating chocolates, or admiring a colleague's moustache – that adds a hint of inscrutability to all the surrounding clear-cut facts. Hitler presents a view of history that's equal parts ghastly and absurd, careening from slapstick comedy at one moment (Il Duce, especially, is a petulant clown), to timeless and sombre tableaux the next (the rallies; the camps), striking a queasy imbalance that was always entirely Mizuki's own.

Soldier's Heart: The Campaign to Understand My WWII Veteran Father – A Daughter's Memoir

By Carol Tyler

Fantagraphics, 364 pages, $52.99

To summarize the plot of Carol Tyler's nearly 400-page, handcrafted, decades-spanning opus is to sell it woefully short. To begin with, it's an attempt to unearth and represent the wartime experiences of her rough-hewn, can-do father, who never spoke much about his service until long-buried memories of combat resurfaced uncontrollably in his old age. But while Tyler's scrapbook-style recounting of his peripatetic tour of duty – through Africa, Italy, France and Germany – grounds her memoir solidly in history, she surrounds her father's reminiscences with anguished, searching inquiries into her own unease, living in the shadow of what that war did to her parents. Almost every page – welling with colour, like a bruise, and flecked with tiny pen marks, like a million little scars – presents another example of Tyler's intuitive and incredibly sophisticated ways of figuring painful thoughts, feelings and memories. Her sinuous, digressive cartooning makes visible the connections between her father's post-traumatic stress disorder, her mother's stroke, her infant sister's long-ago death and her own troubled marriage, weaving these disparate strands together into a vast, knotty tapestry of middle-American life.