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book review

This One Summer, by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

The Love Bunglers by Jaime Hernandez, Fantagraphics, 112 pages, $19.99

Hernandez introduced his signature character three decades ago in the landmark series Love & Rockets, where Maggie la loca debuted as an irrepressible, spiky-haired punk. Today, Maggie's a little more cautious and weary, but no less unlucky in love. Whether with Ray, who's long mooned after Mags, or with Calvin, her prodigal, traumatized brother, Maggie's tentative interactions throughout show how easily love gets destroyed and rebuffed. Jumping between time frames and narrators with masterful ease, Hernandez lets a lifetime's accumulated pain lurk troublingly beneath the surface, until it pierces through with sudden, devastating clarity. New readers need not worry: the artist, known for reducing his images to their perfect, bare essentials, telegraphs the plot with similar concision. Exposure to Maggie and Ray's tortuous back-story may enrich the experience of reading The Love Bunglers – one of the wondrous, aching triumphs of modern comics – but the duo's bungled passions remain universally bittersweet.

Safari Honeymoon by Jesse Jacobs, Koyama Press, 80 pages, $15

Safari Honeymoon takes place on a distant, savage planet, where two newlyweds have hired a guide to help them navigate the perils of that picturesque but malevolent world. Although these sci-fi trappings may produce some eco-political resonance – there are hints, if you squint, of Silent Running's floating green utopia, or Fantastic Planet's dream of peace – the book's true appeal lies outside its genre framework. What proves rather more entrancing is Jacobs's obsessive, fecund drawing. Each element on a page varies only slightly from its neighbours, resulting in detailed behavioural studies of bizarre, imaginary flora and fauna. That the London, Ontario cartoonist cut his teeth working on TV's Adventure Time makes sense, given the almost stop-motion quality of his critters throughout. But the artist's concern with the squishy, tactile processes of mutation, infection, and evolution goes beyond what animation captures of life, and gestures instead toward the natural world in all its bewildering complexity.

This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, Groundwood, 320 pages, $18.95

Where the Tamaki cousins' much-feted Skim took place over the course of a tempestuous, chilly school year, they situate their follow-up in cottage country, in sunnier times. The setting has changed, but the relationships the authors probe – like the testy friendship between young Rose and friend Windy, or the precarious marriage of Rose's parents, eroded by some unspoken anguish – remain as convincing and strained as ever. Weary of childhood and eager to move on, Rose looks to beguiling but questionable models of maturity, whether they're horror flicks or, worse, the local teens busy experimenting with love. The terse dialogue and keen observations in Mariko's minimalist script find astonishing counterparts in Jillian's florid, unfettered compositions. While the subject matter – teen pregnancy, connubial strife, coming-of-age – may be thorny, the artwork is swooningly Romantic, filled with tormented souls in funnybook Friedrich landscapes, and Turneresque vistas of lakewater, shadow, and campfire.