Long Red Hair
By Meags Fitzgerald, Conundrum, 96 pages, $17
Early in Meags Fitzgerald's memoir, her younger self raptly, obsessively rewinds Jessica Rabbit's sultry show tune in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The cartoonist chooses not to spell out that moment's sexual significance, trusting her readers to interpret the ways that such scenes – and such hair – intertwine with the book's explorations of queer desire and personal identity. Other anecdotes from the artist's life can be less interesting or emphatic, while her wording and anatomy can be distractingly wonky, but Fitzgerald's strengths more often involve concept than craft. While the author envisions "my sexuality as being composed of two wholes," her formal choices show what she means: The narrative pliantly shifts between childhood and adulthood, privileging neither, and her art is a duotone blend of reserved, mossy greens and more insistent reds. The two different time frames and colours exist in a complementary relationship, so that every page embodies the fluid identity coursing through Fitzgerald's story.
Invisible Ink: My Mother's Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist!!
By Bill Griffith, Fantagraphics, 208 pages, $39.99
Already a pioneer of underground comix, and perhaps the last great daily comic strip artist (his Zippy the Pinhead carries giddily on), Bill Griffith now earns yet another distinction, as memoirist. Invisible Ink is a dense, digressive personal essay that tries to understand the fading world of his parents – especially his mother, an irrepressible and adventurous soul, though duty-bound to her postwar family. Griffith places her at the heart of his book, illustrating passages from her journals and fiction, but he's also fascinated with the way her life casually straddles 20th-century America. Barbara Griffith, we learn, was a TV quiz show contestant, a Levittown resident, and the descendant of a chronicler of the Old West. A military wife and suburban mother, she nevertheless carried on a lengthy relationship with a cartoonist and pulp novelist, who sports a Vandyke and escorts her to Greenwich Village folkie gigs and Mark Rothko shows. All the while, with his meticulous, etching-like drawings and conversational tone, Bill Griffith imagines his mother's ambitions and passions with empathy and stirring respect.
Killing and Dying
By Adrian Tomine, Drawn & Quarterly, 128 pages, $26.95
Adrian Tomine's new collection – his first book of fiction in eight years – takes its title from a story about a stuttering teen's success at her stand-up comedy routine one night, and her abject, mortifying failure on another. To fail – as an artist, a partner, a parent – is inevitable in each of these six lonely stories, but it's also bitingly, bitterly funny. Tomine's mastery as a writer has long been acknowledged, thanks to the complexity of his characters' psychology, or the subtle fissures that crack their guarded dialogue. Here his cartooning skills are similarly peerless. The jovial penmanship in a story about a gardener with delusions of artistic grandeur easily gives way to another tale's seething brushwork, where a discharged veteran roams his old haunts. Benumbed hints of colour or drably prefab locales and landscapes, evoke a listless California all Tomine's own. But it's the way the artist captures nuances of body language – endlessly observant postures and gestures, paced in tight grids – that allows him to create such vibrant human beings, more alive in these comics than most actors onscreen.