Stop Forgetting to Remember : The Autobiography of Walter Kurtz
By Peter Kuper
Crown, 208 pp., paperback, $19.95
First Second, 114 pp., paperback, $16.95
The Plain Janes
By Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg
Minx, unpaginated, paperback, $9.99
Jetlag: Five Graphic Novellas
By Etgar Keret and Actus Comics
Toby, unpaginated, paperback, $12.95
Memoir and coming of age are two popular themes for graphic novel s . Memoir can be particularly piquant when embellished, as in "Stop Forgetting to Remember," Peter Kuper's most ambitious book. This faux memoir is Kuper's way of disclosing his past in broad strokes, without copping to specifics. He calls it an "auto-lie-ography."
Subtitled "The Autobiography of Walter Kurtz," it's Kuper's busiest book. Unlike "Sticks and Stones," a wordless fable that garnered this exceptional illustrator acclaim in 2004, "Stop Forgetting" is packed with both image and text. Reading it is an oddly literary experience. In broad, earthy strokes, Kuper shows Kurtz's maturation from wimpy kid to stoned teenager (the acid trip will blow your mind) to befuddled yet responsible family man. Sex and focus are challenges for young Kurtz. Creativity and energy aren't.
While Kurtz is the sole narrator, there are numerous points of view, including that of a baby in the womb. Some pages are multiframed and, when tackling dreams, tinted brown; others are a single panel, black and white. Variety is the spice of Kuper's (make that Kurtz's) life. An adult book of astonishingly youthful vigor, "Stop Forgetting to Remember" is one of the great graphic memoirs, faux or not.
Other recent graphic novels that deal with coming of age but don't make it as far into adulthood are "Garage Band" and "The Plain Janes," the most conventional and contrived of the four books.
"Garage Band," the first full-length, English-language book by Italian artist Gipi, is awash with gorgeous, melancholy watercolor. Gipi's autumnal palette and spare, edgy lines fit his topic --making music -- like a glove.
Separated into five "canzones," or ballads, "Garage Band" tracks five boys as they negotiate capricious families and the treacherous music business. Lured by the promise of wealth but short on equipment, they steal the gear of a heavy-metal group, the Fallen Angels. During the theft, Giuliano , the de facto leader, drops his wallet in the garage his father has lent them for practice. The father and the Angels confront the boys, shame them, and mature them. As a coda, the book contains several pages of "studies," or practice sketches. These "rehearsals" are as resonant as the wordless pages at the end of the first three "canzones" that show the boys in full boogie mode.
The buzz on "Janes" suggest s it's something everyone, from its target audience of teenage girls to critics, "reluctant readers," and even librarians, can applaud. May be. But it's also a tad saccharine, perhaps in the name of idealism. Jane, a new transfer to a suburban high school, has been traumatized in an incident in "Metro City" strongly evocative of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A misfit with overprotective parents, she eventually hooks up with other outsider Janes. They form the Plain Janes, a cutely oddball , subversive group. "Plain" stands for "people loving art in neighborhoods," and the PJs create art installations and protest the existence of malls. I have no quarrel with the notion that art can -- and should -- change society, or with creating markets, and this is a liberalizing story. But it feels calculated, and lacks the spontaneity at the heart of the protest art it purports to celebrate.
Then there's "Jetlag," an anthology that doesn't lend itself to category. "Jetlag" is a collaboration between Israeli writer Etgar Keret and members of Actus Comics, a Tel Aviv group. The stories tell of a pornography-obsessed dwarf on an airplane flight (Itzik Rennert's florid, George Grosz -influenced art is downright juicy); of a depressed businessman who finds love with a Romanian acrobat (Rutu Modan's pictures, interspersed with the occasional, startling photo, are guileless and sinewy); and of a magician who'd rather not do magic anymore (Batia Kolton's eloquently muted art is so expressive you feel you're watching a puppet show). This small book is a portal to large and wondrous worlds.
Carlo Wolff writes frequently about graphic novels. He lives in suburban Cleveland and is the author of "Cleveland Rock and Roll Memories."