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Review: New comics from Sarah Glidden, Anya Davidson and Isabel Greenberg

Band for Life

By Anya Davidson

Fantagraphics, 260 pages, $39.99

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It's fitting that a short tribute to the Ramones appears partway into Band for Life: Anya Davidson's brief, perfect stories about a group of struggling noise musicians are the comic-book equivalent of three-chord punk rock. Pared down and subtly philosophical, Davidson's strips – many of them serialized online at Vice – chug along in four-four time, telling tightly paced, true-to-life stories about the freaks in the band. (Davidson draws people like midnight-movie monsters, colours them with highlighter-marker hues and cartoons with an easy-to-read classicism – the results resemble a radioactive Josie and the Pussycats.) There's Linda, who serves as the band's stable centre, when she's not overtaken with despair about militarized police or animal testing; there's upper-class dropout Krang, trying to balance rehearsal time and his new boyfriend; or there's Annimal, the drummer, who needs to find a steady sitter for her twins almost as much as she needs to stop getting blackout drunk. Davidson nails the dynamics that make up this band, but it's her generous, empathetic attention to the rhythms of life that truly sets these comics apart.

The One Hundred Nights of Hero

By Isabel Greenberg

Bond Street Books, 224 pages, $38

Expanding on the universe she created in The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, Isabel Greenberg unfurls a new series of linked tales about the power of storytelling and sisterhood in an empire that tries to keep women illiterate and oppressed. Hero is Greenberg's Scheherazade figure, weaving stories in order to fend off the advances of a suitor who's trying to seduce and doom her mistress (and secret lover). Individual moments or drawings have power: When a new bride reveals to her husband that she can write, his anger is chilling, and when bog monsters menace a village, Greenberg depicts them with nightmarish invention, as yellow-eyed tubers with fangs. On a larger scale, though, drawings fail to flow from panel to panel, while the narration stumbles over its frame stories, or blunt exposition and cloying affectation ("Lesson: … don't murder your sister, even by accident"). The author finds slightly surer footing when the stories are inspired by love – that bond between Hero and her mistress, or the Moon, in one story, and her earthbound paramour – or else fired by indignation, all the "rage and sadness and helplessness" that patriarchy inspires.

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq

By Sarah Glidden

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Drawn & Quarterly, 298 pages, $29.95

Mere months before the start of Syria's civil war, Sarah Glidden travelled from Istanbul to Damascus, through Iraqi Kurdistan, observing the efforts of her journalist friends to explore the chaos caused by the Iraq war. Rolling Blackouts is her meticulous, probing record of that time, at once a densely layered reckoning with the region's complex politics, as well as an inquiry into journalistic methods. On one hand, Glidden portrays her friends as they hunt for stories and reflect on ethical dilemmas, while on the other, her drawings restage the traumatic memories their interviewees share. The most in-depth of these re-enactments involve Sam – a Kurd and American citizen, detained and deported for murky links to al-Qaeda – and Dan, an ex-U.S. Marine whose contented exterior proves a challenge for Glidden and her colleagues to penetrate. The artist's calm, considered cartooning preserves that impenetrability, elevating uncertainty to a kind of worldview – "we have to acknowledge what we don't know," her friend says. Glidden pays careful respect to the unknown: Her lucid watercolours document all she can see of concrete reality, expertly capturing landscape and body language, beneath which reside unfathomable depths.

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