By Daniel Clowes, Fantagraphics, 180 pages, $43.50
In Daniel Clowes's first new book in five years, grieving widower Jack Barlow devotes his life to finding the man who killed his wife, Patience. In our near future, he stumbles across a time machine that sends him jumping around through Patience's past, looking for ways to prevent her demise. Despite its complex chronology, stretching between 1985 and 2029, Patience harbours fewer mysterious gaps than is customary for Clowes. Instead, the book's simple and unshakable faith in justice and love drives Jack's story forward with "unholy momentum." (While Clowes's sneering dialogue and unflinching portraiture remain signatures here, this knack for headlong plotting is novel and gripping.) In between hallucinatory renderings of time travel's effects – think pink walls of gristle – Jack's single-minded fixation on Patience leads him to bouts of frightening aggression and creepy over-protectiveness. In other Clowes comics, these kinds of alienating quirks put a critical distance between reader and hero, but here they serve to make Patience herself all the dearer. Her strength and her snark make her vivid and real – even though she's regrettably consigned to a supporting role in her own story.
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye
By Sonny Liew, Pantheon, 320 pages, $39
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye assembles sketches, strips and comic books from across the artist's long career, intertwining with the history of Singapore from the Second World War on. With textbook clarity, Chan's comics allegorize the nation's struggles for independence and subsequent authoritarian rule – though both Chan and his artwork are fictitious, created by Sonny Liew. Through Chan, Liew envisions a history of political critique and a tradition of cartooning that were both discouraged in 20th century Singapore. Though Chan himself remains too much of a cipher, his oeuvre – fabricated by Liew, and presented here in ersatz scraps and tatters – is convincingly diverse. Liew fancies that such an artist might have created something along the lines of Walt Kelly's political Pogo, or MAD-style spoofs of "official" history, or revenge fantasies featuring exiled dissidents, influenced by Frank Miller's Batman. Liew is an adept impressionist, borrowing gravitas from such bygone styles. He may seem unsure about investing his own rubbery style with similarly earnest meaning, but any such shortcomings tend to get overpowered by the book's huge ambitions: Liew is inventing an artistic lineage for himself.
The Complete Wimmen's Comix
Edited by Trina Robbins, Fantagraphics, 728 pages, $145
Begun in 1972 as a rebuke to the "boys club" that constituted underground cartooning, Wimmen's Comix eventually ran for 17 hard-won issues. This deluxe two-volume edition collects the whole series, along with its predecessor, It Ain't Me, Babe – two decades of righteous, funny, defiantly feminist comics, including pioneering efforts at autobiographical, historical and queer cartooning. The early years are distinguished by art brut outsiders: Aline Kominsky(-Crumb)'s abject exaggerations of her body and her life or Willy Mendes's matriarchal tableaux, which look more like textile art than cartooning. Then the intricate storytellers arrive, such as Sharon Rudahl, with her proud biography of her bubbeh or Roberta Gregory's pensive account of coming out. And finally there are the consummate drawers, from Melinda Gebbie and her art nouveau bacchanals, to Phoebe Gloeckner's feverish teen sexuality or the late Dori Seda's carefree breeziness, and Vancouverite Carel Moiseiwitsch's punk agitprop. While several contributors are now quite wellknown – Alison Bechdel of Fun Home, for one – The Complete Wimmen's Comix helps correct the fact that too few women cartoonists of past generations currently have anything in print, despite how vital their work yet remains.