Munnu: A Boy From Kashmir h/c (£16-99, 4th Estate) by Malik Sajad.
He’s just caught a stray bullet.
Occupied Kashmir during the 1990s and Sajad dubbed Munnu (“the youngest”) is seven years old. Echoing Malik Sajad’s own childhood, this is a dense, intense and arresting read that will tear your heart apart and have you sweating with vicarious fear.
Those who already relished Marjane Satrapi’s PERSEPOLIS, Belle Yang’s FORGET SORROW or Kunwu & Otie’s A CHINESE LIFE are going to love this. I’m thinking particularly PERSEPOLIS, for this too centres on the strength, resilience and resourcefulness of a family in the wake of oppression.
That’s one heck of a cover with its title in gold relief, but immediately striking inside is the way the images resemble prints made from woodcuts, in keeping with the artisan trade of Munnu’s Papa. On the very first page there’s a topographical map of the city, each landmark raised on contoured hills in a medieval manner.
This effect’s emphasised further in the white lines, as if scooped out, between the angular forms of the Kashmiri people represented by a black, stylised version of their national animal, the Hangul deer, with whose beautiful, white, diamond-shaped eye-markings Sajad succeeds in imbuing an enormous range and depth of emotion using surprisingly subtle, simple strokes.
National symbolism aside, it’s also an astute choice of animal, deer (ideally) being free-roaming herbivores associated with nobility, strength and grace. Under Indian occupation, of course, the Kashmiris’ days of free-roaming have here been substantially curtailed with a bludgeoningly repetitive and brutal enforcement but they certainly maintain their grace on the page.
There’s something far more affecting to me about seeing the face of a faun nuzzling the neck of a maternally protective deer than there would have been had it been a drawing of a human mother and child. Perhaps it’s the residual effect of having bawled my eyes out during Bambi at the pictures aged four or five. Indeed when humans do rear their ugly heads as soldiers, there are grotesque scenes of them molesting a sister visiting her brother in prison under the excuse of frisking her for weapons as those detained watch helplessly in the dark from behind iron bars.
It’s juxtaposed on either side by a peaceful gathering of prayer and song in a former cricket ground now given over to the gravestones of martyrs as far as the eye can see. There the Kashmiri people / deer raise their hands towards the heavens, their arms like the bifurcating branches of the trees up above them.
Another early scene shows them swarming round a sacred mulberry tree in grief as two bodies in “snow-white shrouds” are returned after being shot by soldiers during one of the all-too regular crackdowns when houses are wrecked as they’re searched for all men over a certain height who are then paraded in front of an informant to be identified as militants. The rolling mass, rippling with those white demarcation lines between so many individuals, looks like a swollen river engorged with grief. It is beautiful yet terrible to behold.
Another wise decision to win over readers is making the heart of this book Munnu’s family. His beloved, touchingly affectionate older brother Bilal boasts the antlers of a healthy young buck implying he’s in his late teens, whereas Munnu and his two other brothers have small budding stubs: Munnu is seven, his other male siblings no more than a couple of years older than him. His sister Shahnaz is closer in age to Bilal. His father sports a pair of geometrically elaborate glasses which come over like a Perspex visor and that made me smile. His perpetually worried mother in her shawl and headdress looks a little like she’s an example of origami.
The tight-knit family is everything, and they’re keenly aware that theirs is lucky to be intact: so many of Bilal’s teenage contemporaries have snuck across the border to the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir to received armed training before returning and to become some of those all-too-young martyrs in that repurposed cricket ground. Also, there are those crackdowns I mentioned and each time the tension is taut as the mother waits in agony at home for her husband and Bilal’s safe return, tearfully praying within each of the three segments of a slowly ticking clock between the second, minute and hour hands.
Growing up under these intrusive conditions which have had a severely deleterious effect upon Papa’s trade (once thriving tourism is now all but extinct) is no ideal childhood and Munnu’s nightmares after a family friend is shot during an identification parade are prolonged and horrific. Sure, there are regular childhood games to be played – like fantasy cricket using the page numbers of an Urdu / English dictionary to score – but it’s hardly normal for a seven-year-old when practising his art to be copying disfigured bodies and AK-47s from newspaper photos. When we carved ink-stamps from erasers (and we did) we made the shapes of horned devil heads not machine guns. There’s something far more sinister about a machine gun ink-stamp mass-reproduced on children’s exercise books than individual drawings – or indeed horned devil heads.
Religion plays a large part inside and outside his regularly disrupted schooling as principals are arrested when linked to militants and some teachers are more kindly than others. One respected elder perceptively remarks, “The heat of the pulpit can either make one divine or a devil”. But however brutal you rate the punishments at school (and I rather think you will), it’s as nothing compared to dragging bodies through a street behind a military van until all the skin on their faces is scraped off to instil fear in the population. Now that is medieval.
Together we follow Munnu through his first published political cartoon aged 13 – then regular employment as a daily visual satirist at the Greater Kashmir newspaper during his early teens – to his first introduction to comics in the form of Joe Sacco graphic novels of extended reportage. Whence this graphic novel. After everything he witnesses he’s not short of passion in denouncing the Indian army’s occupation – chronicled here is atrocity after casual and callous atrocity; the army will even vandalise the ambulance due to take Munnu’s mother to hospital later on – but is candid about his lack of historical knowledge to keep his cartoons fresh, partly because of the jumble of languages the population is forced to speak, read and write in, emphatically excluding Kashmiri.
So the reader is not made to feel relatively ignorant. It’s only halfway through MUNNU that we’re given a history lesson ourselves and – wouldn’t you know it? – good old empire-building Britain plays its woefully traditional, substantial part in fucking things up for Kashmir, catalysing bloodbath after bloodbath before the current conflict kicks off during October 1947 and Kashmir is carved up by the United Nations between the two nuclear powers of India and Pakistan without any consultation whatsoever about what the Kashmiri people want.
It’s a recurring response – of lack thereof. The fervent desire of the Kashmiri population for independence is completely ignored.
Whenever Munnu (increasingly referred to as Sajad as his reputation as an artist expands) is received by outsiders during a Kathmandu summit or when visited by E.U delegates he is patronised to death by well meaning westerners as being ignorant and simplistic in spite of the fact that he’s lived the life that they only hear of from afar.
“I might not know where the bullet came from but I could tell her who the bullet hit.”
But if you think that Malik white-washes the Kashmiri factions’ own roles in massacres (the statistics of which lie in the eyes of the various different statisticians), you’re very much mistaken because if the Indian Army’s atrocities weren’t bad enough, organised religion is used by some Muslim Kashmiri to decry the minority Pandit Kashmiri whose homes are mob-attacked with stones in order to drive them out. Hands up who’s even remotely surprised?
“Infidels, infidels, get out of Kashmir but leave your women here!”
The Pandit population does get out, en masse, but wisely take their women with them. But then there’s an internal free-for-all just to settle personal or religious scores on every side and there’s lovely, isn’t it?
The last fifty-plus pages are terrifying on so many levels. If this had been a mere history lesson it wouldn’t have been half so effective or affecting. But no, this is a highly personal account cleverly constructed so that you care.
At any given point any one member of the family could succumb to a bullet or an illness whose cure could have been readily available were there not an occupying army sabotaging access to treatments or even decent nutrition. I lost count of the times that Munnu or one of his family were detained, restrained, searched and beaten until they could prove they were who claimed to be.
So when a young American woman whom Sajad falls for loses his mobile phone while visiting a highly restricted area… well, she simply doesn’t understand the consequences of it being discovered there with his SIM card intact by the Indian Army.
There’s so much about life in Kashmir which I didn’t understand. Since the terrifying nuclear brinksmanship in 1999 which I remember so well, it’s rather fallen from our news cycles, hasn’t it?
This great graphic novel, I am convinced, will bring it back to the forefront of our attention. To those of us who read great graphic novels, at least. Good luck in waiting for the oh-so-trusted mass media to report.
There’s No Bath In This Bathroom (Sketched In) (£5-00) by Joe Decie.
Look at that cover! Such gorgeous greens!
Laugh at that title! How daft is our language?
It’s so full of contradictions and hilariously vestigial nomenclature once history’s moved on.
When America imported its language from England to receive a right royal twatting it was just waiting for a comic like this. North Americans call toilets “bathrooms”. Long have their bathrooms been without baths. But then, so have ours: I have two bathrooms at home and one of them has but a shower.
In this case it concerns a night on the town during Canada’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival with fellow comicbook creators like Dan Berry, spent in an open-all-hours cheap pizza establishment rumoured to be run by gangsters. It would have been a much more relaxed meal for Joe if he hadn’t needed the loo. Or at least if the loo had been a little more sanitary. You will not believe what’s in there. Or who.
There’s usually something magical about a Joe Decie tale whether it’s tall or not. For I don’t mean magical / fantastical (though that’s not out of bounds), I mean odd encounters or flights of thought, and this is no exception. How Joe reacts to them is always worth a smile.
I BLAME GRANDMA was created within 24 hours so the drawings were necessarily less embellished than the positively lush washes here. It verges on photorealistic. He’s a magnificent portrait artist too. Unlike many autobiographical cartoonists you can recognise Joe Decie immediately from his art – though he’s about half a foot shorter than I imagined – and his Dan Berry’s so lifelike, it’s eerie!
There are some fabulous gesticulations and comical expressions, my favourite being the bluff as Decie nods earnestly in agreement to something he couldn’t even comprehend.
Love the background winks to fellow creators Joe List, Liz Lunney and John Porcellino.
Monkey Nuts vol 1: The Diamond Egg Of Wonders (£9-99, DFB Library) by the Etherington Brothers.
Oh, he’s so very naughty indeed!
They will thrill, chill – and maybe dribble a little bit – at the sheer spectacle of it all! Is there anyone working in children’s comics today who can pack more colour and fine-lined detail into each and every page? I don’t think so! There are always extra background jokes in the form of signage but I positively wet myself during the cacophonous climax when the landscapes took on a life of their own! And upon Isla De Monstrea they’re as exotic as early Tombraider’s only with 25 gazillion times sharper definition!
Aarrgh! What is happening?! In order to distract all other contenders in his hunt for the Diamond Egg Of Wonders, Lord Terra has sent out a sonic signal which makes monsters drawn to the island like moths to his flame.
In their rampaging way stand but three idiotic individuals just like The Magnificent Seven, only fewer and far less magnificent:
Sid the tap-dancing monkey is addicted to lunching, munching and brunching on bananas! Rivet, the walking, talking, robotic, hot-beverage dispenser, is bananas! Police Chief Tuft is not bananas but he is as crazy as a coconut! Umm. Largely because he is one.
Are these three fully prepped for policing? Do they have take-down, truss-‘em-up tactics and tricks up their sleeves? Do they have their combined wits about them in order to conquer the chaos that erupts upon their delinquent doorsteps? They do not
They are about as witless as the most nit-witted numbskulls you can possibly imagine! I guess they’ll just have to wing it then.
Duck and cover!
Wave after wave of monsters hit Monster Island from tentacled terrors and petulant, primate-hating pyramids to a colossal, fire-headed fury in a very foul mood because he’s managed to get an alarm clock lodged up his bottom. Lodged up his bottom!
I once got an alarm clock lodged up my bottom and, let me tell you, when the alarm went off it was most discombobulating!
Tales Of Fayt: The Mystery Of The Crooked Imp (£7-99, DFB) by Conrad Mason & David Wyatt.
I say “so-called” because hook-handed buccaneer Crafty Crocklewick takes the time and trouble to deliver dire warnings about what lies ashore in the form of an annotated map upon which you will discover The Rusty Anchor and The Pickled Dragon amongst several insalubrious saloons!
The Rusty Anchor is described as “the safest lodging house in town, so long as you sleep with one eye open” while of The Pickled Dragon it’s suggested, “Try their gutspiller grog for a night you’ll never remember”. Given that the target audience probably averages around ten years old, they probably won’t remember that by the time they come to risk not remembering, but still. I love good map, me!
Bursting out from the pages of THE PHOENIX weekly story comic for kids, I can only compare the level of eye-popping detail to LONG GONE DON, BAGGAGE, MONKEY NUTS and the ingenious action-adventure puzzle book VON DOOGAN by stablemates The Etherington Brothers. The colouring style is softer and more painterly but behind that lie lines quite as crisp and just as much action.
Wyatt draws a mean, mist-shrouded pirate ship that’s run aground on the rocks beneath a silvery full moon and the Rattigan’s family mansion is rich with intricately carved woodwork even if, on closer inspection, you can spot some wallpaper peeling off its walls. I rather think the family has seen wealthier days.
Far worse, the Rattigans have learned that last night their horse-and-coach driver Whelk was set upon and their baby son Clarence abducted from the carriage so they have summoned The Demon’s Watch, a band of thinkers and fighters far more effective than Fayt’s official Dockside Militia, the Blackcoats.
Led by Captain Newton, a human-ogre hybrid, they are: ancient elf, Old Jon; green-skinned troll twins, The Bootle Brothers; wand-waving magician Hal; and young tomboy Tabitha with bright blue hair, determined to make her mark and so her membership official.
Immediately something seems off about the case but it’ll grow even more tangled before the day is done and the battle’s been won. Oh yeah, you can expect plennnnnnnnty of action involving fairies, a mysterious, red cowled mastermind, that pirate ship, an old-school Elizabethan theatre and its grandstanding lead Actor who is quite the troll, green beneath his grease paint.
He really is a complete and utter ham, and unfortunately writes his own lines. I guess for him it’s a theatrical release.
Tokyo Ghoul vol 1 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida…
With sincere apologies to Haircut 100.
So… we finally got in the manga title seemingly everyone’s been desperate for and I thought I better give it a read. Set in a modern-day Tokyo haunted by ‘ghouls’ with a taste for human flesh, it’s a horror with comedic undertones for reasons I will elaborate on shortly.
No one has ever caught a ghoul, but people suspect that they are walking amongst the population hiding in human form. Then, occasionally, the half eaten remains of some poor unfortunate will be found on the pavement in the morning. These attacks aren’t frequent enough to cause mass panic, or indeed apparently to stop people walking the streets alone at night, but obviously people are concerned.
When our shy central protagonist, bookworm Ken Kaneki, is invited out for a dinner date by the glamorous Rize, it all seems too good to be true. It is, obviously, as she is a ghoul who’s decided Ken is going to be her Special Of The Day. Fortunately for him whilst she is in the middle of pouncing on him and his kidneys (after he’s chivalrously offered to walk her home) some scaffolding collapses, killing her instantly. Unfortunately for Ken, after her late-night snack, he’s in need of an organ donor. Now where you suppose they might find somebody, without any bothersome next of kin to say no to such a worthy request?
You got it, poor old Ken ends up as the recipient of various ghoulish innards – instead of ending up as the contents of them – and that’s where his problems really start. Unable to turn to anyone human including best friend Hike for help, in case he decides to turn them into a sandwich, he’s forced to seek succour from his new-found half-brothers and half-sisters. And their social skills leave a lot to be desired…
Hmm. I can’t honestly say I was as instantly gripped this as I was by say, ATTACK ON TITAN. It’s an interesting enough premise, but I think it is going to be far too much battle manga-esque for me. Which is a surprise given it is on Viz’ signature Ikki imprint. But then again so was MARCH STORY and I thought exactly the same about that. So: upmarket battle manga with a decent premise, then.
Gotham Academy vol 1: Welcome To Gotham Academy s/c (£10-99, DC) by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher & Karl Kerschl…
Can I get away with describing this as a BATMAN / COURTNEY CRUMRIN-esque mash-up? I think I possibly can, just about… Along with BATGIRL OF BURNSIDE s/c and a slew of titles DC are just releasing such as BLACK CANARY #1 (both written by Brendan Fletcher) this definitely represents a welcome partial shift in their traditional ‘superhero’ output.
So… our hero Olive is attending the prestigious Gotham Academy. She’s a little bit of a social malcontent right now, having split up with her boyfriend and managing to alienate most of her friends over the summer. She also had a run in with Batman… which had quite an impact on her.
Initially struggling to settle in, including being bullied because her mum is in Arkham Asylum, she decides to turn teen sleuth when some masked figures are spotted on campus. Like any good, ridiculously posh American school, they are of course merely members of a secret society, but they are definitely up to some serious no good, that’s for sure. Can Olive uncover their dastardly scheme whilst avoiding demerits and detentions?
This is great fun with a slightly spooky edge, which I suspect might be both Brendan Fletcher and Becky Cloonan’s respective contributions neatly balancing out. Much like BATGIRL OF BURNSIDE s/c , the art, this time from Karl Kerschl, is relatively cartoonish but excellent nonetheless, and totally in keeping stylistically with the content and tone of the story. And whilst it is obviously intended to be relatively lightweight fare (DETECTIVE COMICS this is not, though arguably there is considerably more sleuthery going on here), it does handle the darker side of schooling, the bullying and social pecking order skulduggery that goes on everywhere, rather well.
I’ve seen enough of Brendan Fletcher’s work recently to realise he is actually a pretty good writer, certainly in terms of current DC output. I’d quite like to see him tackle completely non-caped contemporary fiction at some point.
Black Canary #1 (£2-25, DC) by Brenden Fletcher & Annie Wu.
“From the moment the lights went up, the Wizard’s Wand show in Detroit was a performance to remember. Paloma Terrific debuted her new custom gear in the rig. D.D. was finally playing to the crowd. Lord Byron sat perfectly in the pocket playing to the crowd. And silent wunderkind Ditto pulled sounds out of her semi-acoustic so otherworldly that Leon Theremin would’ve been dumbstruck.”
- From some music magazine or other.
Artist Annie Wu a great many of you will already know from the deliciously drawn HAWKEYE VOL 3, given which you will be far from surprised that this is not your average superhero comic.
It’s not even your average superheroine comic because although Black Canary still sports fishnet stockings, this isn’t about the long legs, thigh shots and deep, forward-thrusting cleavage otherwise known as “tits’n’ass” comics which are a total disgrace to the medium.
Here the fishnets are torn in punk and post-punk fashion and that’s a studded leather jacket on top of the bodice which reveals nothing at all except a new wave fashion sense as our trouble magnet, now lead singer of the rock band Black Canary, lets it rip into the mic.
Wu’s lines are all whoosh-whoosh on the page, hair flying everywhere or lolloping over the forehead when the cast is feeling more sedate. It keeps the story sweeping along beautifully and the story right now seems to centre on Black Canary’s mute guitarist Ditto, for although it looked as though D.D. was attracting all the violence spilling onto their set so cutting the gigs short and ruining their reputation, she was merely defending their territory.
Really they were after the silent and secretive Ditto – she of the ethereal strings – and their assailants were merely the vanguard. What’s coming next (and I do mean what, not who) I can only compare to the Umbral in UMBRAL. Lee Loughbridge’s colours do something clever there: they take over everything on the page – all the linework and shadow which would ordinarily be black – except for the creatures themselves.
The effect is to render the inky ones alien, otherworldly and the centre of your eyes’ attention. They’ve got the bands too. Thank goodness D.D. used to be in the Justice League. For five seconds.
So what’s her story, then?
Thors #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Sprouse.
“Names, Throg. I need an I.D. on the victims. So far Ray and I have nothing to go on.”
“What can I tell ya? They’re not in the database.”
“None of them? How is that possible.”
“You’re talking to a frog that carries a hammer, pal. Any damn thing is possible.”
It is now!
In SECRET WARS #1 the regular Marvel Universe and its Ultimate counterpart collided, obliterating both. Now all that’s left is Battleworld, consisting of concurrent cross-overs and major events from Marvel’s past playing themselves out further than they did before or in different ways. Each takes place in a different domain between which travelling is strictly forbidden by decree of Battleworld’s deity Doctor Victor Von Doom. He is the law; order is maintained by the Thors.
This, therefore, is now a police-procedure crime comic, and it’s cracking!
For a start the art is by TOM STRONG’s Chris Sprouse so it’s big and it’s bold with smooth and attractive figure work without being over-busy or brutal.
Its stars every Thor throughout history – well, Marvel’s history – and there have been many: Stormborn (the X-Men’s Ororo), Thorlief (the Ultimate Universe’s Thor) Beta Ray Bill (he has the head of a skinned horse!) and Throg (he’s a frog). There are in fact hundreds of the hammer-hefting hearties.
The primaries on this investigation are Thorlief and Beta Ray Bill and the pressure is on for it’s just been designated an “Allthing” by Odin. This means all hands on deck because the case needs to be closed quickly before Doom himself gets wind of it and demotes the two primaries which would involve losing a great deal more than their police pensions.
So what’s got them all baffled? Five dead bodies have appeared in five different domains but what isn’t different is their identities: they’re all the same woman. Five versions of the same woman have been murdered. Who is the woman? Clue: she’s ever so slightly central to the Marvel THOR mythos.
What I love about the best of these SECRET WARS satellite series (and there are hundreds of those too; amongst those reviewed so far and still / back in stock, OLD MAN LOGAN #1 and PLANET HULK #1) is that they each contain a different piece of the jig-saw puzzle which is Battleworld and the secrets that lie behind it. Beta Ray’s informant, living on the street out of a cardboard box, knows stuff:
“I can tell you what I’ve learned in the shadows, Stormbreaker. I can tell you why people are dying. Your good friend Loki can tell you about the greatest lie of all. But I don’t believe you’re gonna want to hear it.”
A lie that’s bigger than Loki’s? Blimmin’ ‘eck!
Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!
Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.
Wytches vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Scott Snyder & Jock
Rumble vol 1: What Colour Of Darkness s/c (£7-50, Image) by John Arcudi & James Harren
Russian Olive To Red King h/c (£18-99, Adhouse Books) by Kathryn Immonen & Stuart Immonen
Borb (£14-99, Uncivilised Books) by Jason Little
Invincible vol 21: Modern Family (£12-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley
Massive vol 5: Ragnarok s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Garry Brown
Oliver And The Seawigs (£6-99, Oxford) by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre
Cakes In Space (£6-99, Oxford) by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre
Rasputin vol 1: The Road To The Winter Palace s/c (£10-99, Image) by Alex Grecian & Riley Rossmo
Strangers In Paradise vol 5 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore
Strangers In Paradise vol 6 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore
Adventure Time Sugary Shorts vol 2 h/c (£16-99, Titan) by various inc. Roger Langridge, Noelle Stevenson, Frazer Irving
Batman And Robin vol 5: The Big Burn s/c (£12-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, various
Batman And Robin vol 6: The Hunt For Robin h/c (£18-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Andy Kubert, Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, various
Supergirl vol 1: Last Daughter Of Krypton s/c (£10-99, DC) by Michael Green, Mike Johnson & Mahmud Asrar
Supergirl vol 2: Girl In The World s/c (£10-99, DC) by Michael Green, Mike Johnson & Mahmud Asrar, George Perez
Supergirl vol 3: Sanctuary s/c (£12-99, DC) by Mike Johnson & Mahmud Asrar
Supergirl vol 4: Out Of The Past s/c (£10-99, DC) by Michael Alan Nelson, Scott Lobdell, Justin Jordan & various
Supergirl vol 5: Red Daughter Of Krypton s/c (£13-50, DC) by Tony Bedard & various
Ant-Man vol 1: Second-Chance Man s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Ramon Rosanas
Hulk: Future Imperfect s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Peter David & George Perez, Dale Keown
Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service vol 14 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Eiji Otsuka & Housui Yamazaki
Mobile Suit Gundam Origin vol 10: Solomon (£22-50, Random House / Vertical) by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko
ITEM! Artist Daren Bader interviewed about TRIBES OF KAI graphic novel which looks ferociously fine – and feline!
ITEM! Craig Thompson’s new graphic novel – for Young Adults – is on the horizon! Pre-order Craigh Thompson’s SPACE DUMPLINS from Page 45! There’s so many Craig Thompson SPACE DUMPLINS process pieces online on his blog! Duck under the bridge and scroll down!
Page 45 Reviews written by Stephen & Jonathan then edited by an Aye-Aye with no eye for errors.