By John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Illustrated by Nate Powell (Top Shelf Productions)
As racial unrest and controversial killings by police seem to flare almost weekly, there is perhaps no more important modern book to be stocked in American school libraries than the second volume of “March,” the autobiographical graphic novel series by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). For more than a half-century, Lewis — the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington — has been a champion of nonviolent protest. And in “Book Two,” we witness how the Southern-born Lewis rolls through D.C. for the first time, endures the terror of Freedom Rides, and works his way toward that fateful day in Selma when he thought he was going to die. “March” is a powerful marriage of eloquent, stirring words and artful, gut-punching pictures. This twinning assault on the senses drives home the toll of the sacrifices that should inform today’s protesters, from Black Lives Matter to the University of Missouri.
By Adrian Tomine (Drawn and Quarterly)
Tomine achieved comics stardom fairly quickly in his career, and now, as a father sniffing middle age, he is humble about the acclaim. But here’s the thing: As he continues to hone his formidable talents, Tomine is getting to a creative place that makes his brilliance appear effortless. “Killing and Dying” is a collection of six short stories, and in each, Tomine quietly accumulates emotional depth, panel by panel, till the reader achieves a beguiling intimacy with these characters. Tomine is a California transplant now in New York, and these stories often play with ideas of disorientation and disconnection. The thematic whole, all rendered in his clean line and clear voice, is a movable feast for the senses.
By Julie Birmant. Illustrated by Clement Oubrerie
Translated from the French by Edward Gauvin (SelfMadeHero)
At nearly 350 lush and visually liquid pages, “Pablo” is a tome worth your time. This biography of Picasso focuses on the master’s early life, his days in Montmartre and his creative dueling with Matisse. We see him through the eyes of his impassioned but clear-headed lover Fernande Olivier , which helps Pablo come alive on the page as a man of impetuous appetites and artistic impulses. The graphic novelists unfold their canvas slowly, letting us bask in the gradually told adventure, and take in all these beautiful earth tones. The result is a masterwork in more ways than one.
By Kate Beaton (Drawn and Quarterly)
Beaton’s second collection from her popular Web comic “Hark! A Vagrant” is even sharper than her first outing. The Nova Scotia-born cartoonist, who is a former museum worker, manages to do in three panels what some professors can’t always do over entire semesters. She breathes life into her characters with an uncanny ear for informal dialogue that rips aside the scrim of myth and takes a cheeky ball-peen hammer to anything elevated by lofty marble. The attitude’s the thing in “Hark!” — as the new title reflects. Beaton brings not just intelligence to her subjects, but also precise deflation, as the artist props up a pantheon of famous names — Caesar, Byron, Robespierre, et al. — for pen-and-ink skewering. Her jousting with history’s all-too-human figures makes for delicious jests.
By Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by J.H. Williams III (DC/Vertigo)
This revisiting of Gaiman’s epic “Sandman” — more than a quarter-century after the Dream was born — could easily have failed. But these otherworldly adventures, painted with a deft sense of the surreal, are in the surest hands with Gaiman. He revisits Morpheus’s universe with warmth and renewed delight, thus serving as a still-tickled docent through his textured storytelling of the supernatural. This overture only burnishes the epic visual symphony on which it rests.
Michael Cavna is creator of the “Comic Riffs” column and graphic-novel reviewer for Book World.