By Michael Cho, Pantheon, 96 pages, $23.95
Already a celebrated illustrator, Toronto's Michael Cho is still finding his footing as a writer. Shoplifter, his graphic novel debut, sees him stumbling on occasion, recounting by rote the romantic and professional hiccups in the life of a twenty-something ad copywriter, so benumbed by a world where she only ever sees beauty "through some kind of screen" that she takes to shoplifting in order to feel any kind of thrill. Thankfully, Cho's meticulous artwork ends up being a more thoughtful response to the problem of our increasingly impersonal era than any epiphany he may try to pen. In his lovingly handcrafted throwback to mid-century illustration styles, Cho employs thick, organic brushstrokes and blushing pink highlights, implicitly counteracting the digital-age ennui suffusing his book. His streetscapes, in particular – familiar to readers of Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes, Cho's collection of Hogtown vistas – are full of the kind of bustling, idiosyncratic human detail his heroine seems to think missing from her life.
The Hospital Suite
By John Porcellino, Drawn & Quarterly, 262 pages, $22.95
The Hospital Suite is a massive undertaking for an artist accustomed to working in miniature. For the past quarter-century, John Porcellino has measured out his life in instalments of his King-Cat series of comics, each issue of which provides intimate glimpses into its author's existence – simple but profound reflections on unassuming moments, like walking home in summer heat, or driving through a snowstorm. Porcellino's attention has been sharpened by years of focus, and made intense by the minimal precision of his style – thin black lines, flattened perspectives, ample and pregnant negative space. In this all-original tome, he turns that scrutiny to the years of trauma he endured thanks to ailments that proved difficult to diagnose, and even trickier to treat. For an artist who so often picks out the fleeting poetic instant, Porcellino is equally and affectingly adept at tracing the prolonged, prosaic nature of suffering – and especially the tortuous reasoning of his obsessive-compulsive disorder.
By Bastien Vivès, Jonathan Cape, 204 pages, $28.99
Bastien Vivès doesn't cartoon Polina so much as he choreographs it. In this story of a young Russian girl's rigorous schooling for ballet, her rebellion against that classical training, and her growth into an artist on her own terms, every drawing is a dance, an expressive movement of ink bounding across the page. "People don't see what you don't show them," Polina's imperious teacher tells her at one point, and the young French cartoonist leaves out all but the most arresting of details. Blots of brushwork that look messy at a distance resolve themselves into graceful gestures, when read in sequence; the features of his characters fade in and out of definition, so that our attention is drawn to the form of their bodies rather than the emotions on their faces. It's a shame the French edition's hand-lettering has been ignominiously replaced by Comic Sans (!): Vivès's performance, in Polina, is otherwise flawless.