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Review: Sean Rogers reviews comics by Ulli Lust, R. Sikoryak and Connor Willumsen

Voices in the Dark

By Ulli Lust, based on a novel by Marcel Beyer, translated by John Brownjohn, translation adapted by Nika Knight, New York Review Comics, 368 pages, $39.95

Ulli Lust's first major book weighed in at nearly 500 pages, fictionalizing the Austrian cartoonist's travels throughout Europe. Her follow-up may be slimmer, but it's also more ambitious, with Lust adding washes of colour to her palette and taking on the final days of the Third Reich as her subject matter. Adapting Marcel Beyer's 1997 novel The Karnau Tapes, Lust seems most at ease with the parts of the story narrated by Helga, Joseph Goebbels's daughter, whose sheltered life gradually crumbles. Here the cartooning is direct and intuitive, but the passages narrated by young Hermann Karnau look rather more strained, their verbose captions merely preserving Beyer's prose without transforming it. A Nazi audio engineer with a penchant for pseudoscience, Karnau's passion is sound – in nasty, bravura sequences, he records the groans of dying soldiers and the shrieks of tortured camp inmates, as well as the elder Goebbels's broadcasts. Karnau's deafness to the suffering around him is unforgivable; Helga's gradual awakening to her society's rot is distressing and tragic.

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The Unquotable Trump

By R. Sikoryak, Drawn & Quarterly, 48 pages, $21.95

Credit R. Sikoryak with a consistent method: Using the style of decades-old funnybooks, he "adapts" literary masterpieces, or the iTunes Terms and Conditions, or, here, quotations from Donald J. Trump. As in much conceptual writing and art, that simple idea serves as the hook, but the details of Sikoryak's execution – his brainy gags and technically impeccable mimicry – make every page provoking and ingenious. In his latest, the artist plops the American president's orange skin, yellow mop and B-movie babblings onto corny old comic-book covers. "I'm a supermodel!" Trump says in the heat of the primaries, drawn as a Basil Wolverton/Mad magazine-style grotesque; postelection, he's the gargantuan duckling Baby Huey, scurrying away after carving his own likeness into Mount Rushmore. Sikoryak excavates absurd scenarios that perfectly complement the presidential pearls of wisdom – Manichean, bombastic and often moronic. I wonder if the campiness of Sikoryak's comic-book inspirations defangs his satire too much. Trump's cartoon avatars may seem nefarious, but he also comes off as ludicrous, bumbling and, worst of all, harmless – immune to parody yet again.

Anti-Gone

By Connor Willumsen, Koyama Press, 120 pages, $18

While wunderkind Connor Willumsen is known for his innovative short stories, they remain uncollected for now. The Canadian cartoonist's debut, instead, is a graphic novel every bit as invigorating, at least in brief bursts. Sensitive body-builder Spyda and studious millennial Lynxa inhabit a near-future world of endless leisure and anomie, where they sail through a submerged city before landing at the mall to shop, do designer drugs and watch a blustery blockbuster. At this length, Anti-Gone's sci-fi stoner shtick can wear a bit thin – the characters, especially, are exasperating – but the story really just provides a constant through-line for Willumsen's relentless experiments with everything from pacing and framing to figure-drawing and dialogue. In the artist's analytical hands, every innocuous gesture and vapid conversation offers fascinating glimpses of our world seen anew. Using disorienting close-ups, floating in the white space of the page, Willumsen zeroes in on moments that typically go unremarked – dropping a coffee cup in the trash or snapping a hairband around a ponytail. Such bizarrely piercing bouts of attention are trippy and eye-opening, a match for the feeling our antiheroes seek with their pills and powders.

Video: Illustrator Carey Sookocheff on 'Buddy and Earl,' a book about a dog and an adventurous hedgehog (Globe and Mail Update)
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