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March 18, 2010 Edition

The Dylan Dog Case Files, written by Tiziano Sclavi and various artists

Way before Anita Blake and Harry Dresden, there was nightmare investigator Dylan Dog. Former Scotland Yard detective and possible reincarnation of a man who died in the 1600s, Dog is the person to call for the most hard-to-solve cases. The seven stories collected here give readers a solid look at the horror genre from an Italian perspective, starting with the living dead and ending with the land of Zed, a paradise from which no one returns. Each story is drawn by a different hand but the black-and-white illustrations carry a consistent style: Dog is urbane and swashbuckling, the monsters he encounters are suitably shadowed and disturbing, and the women are lovely (though often evil).

The Discworld Graphic Novels, by Terry Pratchett

It’s been 25 years since the birth of Discworld, and to celebrate, Pratchett has come out with graphic-novelized versions of “The Colour of Magic” and “The Light Fantastic,” the first two books of what has become an extremely well-explored world. Join Twoflower, the Discworld’s first (and perhaps only) tourist and his ambulatory Luggage as they tour the alleys and pubs of Ankh-Morpork, experiencing the thrill of bar brawls (with photos to prove it) and hitching rides on pieces of computer equipment accompanied by Rincewind, a most incompetent wizard. As with any adaptation to another format, the diehard fans will have little quibbles (characters may not be drawn as they’ve imagined them and some abridgement has been necessary) but the artwork is solid and the humor is all-Pratchett.

Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness, by Reinhard Kleist

Kleist, acclaimed graphic novelist of nightmarish works in his native Germany, takes on the life of the Man in Black. He hits all the highlights, from Cash’s escape from the drudgery of the cotton farm to the Air Force, a marriage, and his rise to fame along with his drug addictions and, of course, the Folsom Prison concert, to his gradual decline. But where Kleist shines is when he cuts loose from the strict truth to illustrate Cash’s hallucinations and lyrics with powerful, haunting images.

Slow Storm, by Danica Novgorodoff

This moodily-drawn novel features siblings Ursa and her younger brother Grim, both firefighters in their small Kentucky community. Grim’s constant jibes about his sister’s gender, appearance, and education, and his continual undermining of her career as a firefighter have finally taken their toll, and on a call to a burning barn, Ursa finally breaks. Fortunately for her, Grim survives and blames the unseen Mexican immigrant who lives in the barn for his entrapment. Later that day, Ursa comes across Rafi, the immigrant, now wanted not only for endangering a firefighter, but also for starting the fire, and shelters him for the night. Their lives are similarly shrunken by their identities, Ursa as a woman, and Rafi as an illegal immigrant, but in the end when the police make a surprise visit to Ursa’s home, Rafi takes an option Ursa doesn’t have. Set firmly in Kentucky’s horse country, with heat lightning that reminds Rafi of his native Chiapas, this is a strong meditative story of lives coming into brief contact and then moving on.

Pitch Black, by Youme Landowne and Anthony Horton

Though this is the size and shape of a children’s picture book, Horton’s arresting autobiography is not for kids. He and Landowne, both artists, met on a subway platform in New York City and spent hours that first day going back and forth on the train, talking about life and art. Born to parents who didn’t want him and then given to a foster family who didn’t either, Horton finds himself on the streets as a teen, though he says the streets weren’t as bad as the city-run shelter he was in at one point. Eventually, he takes refuge on the subway and ends up being chased down a tunnel by the cops, where he finds a whole community in the pitch-black spaces. He’s been there ever since, and he takes readers (and Landowne) down to see where he lives and give us all tips for choosing shelter should we ever need one. The illustrations are loose and dark, fitting the spare words that Horton uses to tell his life story.

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