Skip to main content

Detail from the cover of Barnaby by Crockett Johnson

Barnaby: Volume One, by Crockett Johnson
Fantagraphics, 336 pages, $43.99

Much like Calvin in our own era, ever to blame for the faults of his pet tiger Hobbes, Crockett Johnson's 1940s comic-strip kid can never convince his parents that it's Mr. O'Malley, his portly, pink-winged fairy godfather, who's causing them headaches. Johnson's spare compositions and strange imagination would later make his Harold and the Purple Crayon a children's classic, but he found his first success with Barnaby. O'Malley is especially memorable, charming the reader with his brazen ineptitude as he blusters his way across the page, waggling his magic cigar, raiding the refrigerator. In its heyday, Barnaby won accolades from the likes of Dorothy Parker and Duke Ellington, but the strip has long been out of print. Now, with this much-anticipated collection of Barnaby's beginnings, new generations can rejoice to find Johnson's world as fresh, frustrating and witty as ever.

The Property, by Rutu Modan
Drawn and Quarterly, 232 pages, $24.95

In Rutu Modan's follow-up to her remarkable debut, Exit Wounds, a young Israeli woman accompanies her proudly stubborn grandmother on a trip to Warsaw. The matriarch intends to look into some property that their family had thought lost during the Nazi occupation – or so she claims. Her true motives remain a mystery, to herself almost as much as her granddaughter, and Modan follows each generation's sleuthing with effortless pacing and limber drawing. As these women fall in and out of love, the city alternately hides and discloses the legacy of the Jewish ghetto and the cartoonist finds complex shadings in the simple questions of property, belonging and justice.

Aesthetics: A Memoir, by Ivan Brunetti
Yale University Press, 120 pages, $26

"Typically, I loathe my strips nearly as much as I loathe myself," Ivan Brunetti writes in one of the self-flogging pensées that accompany this compendium of doodles, scraps and comics, culled from the past decade of his career. Best known for his New Yorker covers – reproduced here, along with the sketches and chin-scratching that went into their gestation – Brunetti has also written a simple, profound "how to" book on cartooning, and edited two authoritative comics anthologies. Though tinged with the artist's peculiar kind of wistful despair, Aesthetics is as expertly curated and devoutly minimalist as his other projects, and his insights into life and craft are real and pragmatic – and funny.

Paul Joins the Scouts, by Michel Rabagliati
Conundrum, 172 pages, $20

Since 1999, Michel Rabagliati has been detailing the adventures of his alter ego, Paul, with kindly patience and heart-rending modesty. This latest instalment, in typical fashion, expands to accommodate far more than its title suggests. Our young hero's Cub Scout experiences play out against the backdrop of the FLQ crisis and visions of a bygone Quebec, allowing Rabagliati to reminisce not merely about long-ago summer camps, but also such grander dramas as young love and politics, punctuated with brutal, poignant reminders of mortality. Drawn in the tradition of Franco-Belgian children's comics – think Asterix or Lucky Luke – Rabagliati's work short-circuits all expectations, using a familiar style to confront difficult subjects with candour and bracing innocence.