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Eyes to the Future

2015's graphic novels move us forward

A consistent rallying cry among graphic novel enthusiasts is that, with so few new comics aimed at young readers, the art form might not last. 

Happily, a talented team of numerous, all-female funnybook creators is doing its level best to address the problem with the charmingly upbeat Lumberjanes to the Max Edition Vol. 1 (BOOM! Box, $39.99)

At a wilderness camp for girls, a clique of campers bands together to survive the summer, given their pesky propensity for encountering enchanted animals and ancient gods out in the forest. 

With a fierce dedication to friendship and adventure, the Lumberjane scouts are diverse, enthusiastic, girl-positive protagonists. The book makes a perfect gift for that kid (of any gender) in your life who loves the outdoors, magic or friends … and hey, who doesn’t love at least one of those?

 

Leading the pack of compelling comics for adults is The Private Eye: The Cloudburst Edition (Image, $49.99). Imagine the fallout if everything you did, said and searched online was instantly laid bare. Writer Brian K. Vaughan (Saga, Y: The Last Man) teams with illustrator Marcos Martin to bring to life the techno-noir Los Angeles of the year 2076, after an enormous “Cloudburst” data breach has made private online lives completely public.

When internet searching is no longer trusted, the best way to get answers to life’s mysteries is to hire PI, a pseudonymed private investigator with an invisibility jacket and a chip on his shoulder. Full of car chases, chain-smoking and femmes fatales, The Private Eye turns the traditional detective yarn on its head, along the way charting the border between security and privacy. It’s Raymond Chandler by way of Philip K. Dick. 

Speaking of femmes fatales, Lady Killer (Dark Horse, $17.99) presents Josie Schuller, a 1962 Seattle homemaker who inexplicably moonlights as a contract killer, hiding her true vocation from her husband and children. Creators Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich have created a complex, stylish antiheroine who at once embodies an uplifting, Kennedy-style space-age optimism and the steely-eyed pragmatism of a professional assassin.

Dripping with lush mid-century modern design and punctuated by Tarantino-esque ultraviolence, Lady Killer is a breath-in-your-throat thriller that makes the most of its 1960s setting, with Josie going undercover in lavish set pieces that range from the seedy (a strip club) to the sublime (the Seattle World’s Fair).

 

In his thoughtful, layered graphic novel Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen (Fantagraphics, $29.99), New Zealand writer-artist Dylan Horrocks introduces us to his alter ego Sam, a weary cartoonist who finds himself artistically stymied at his career’s midpoint. 

Sam tries to get his mojo back by way of a fantastic stylus that allows readers to enter the worlds of their own comic book collections. Along the way, Sam both enjoys and endures a walking, talking crash course in comics history, entering the universes contained in medieval manuscripts and anthropomorphic animal comics, and in manga and superhero adventures.

A worthy successor to Horrocks’ early 2000s magnum opus Hicksville, the plotline is a sort of Harold and the Purple Crayon for adults. Zabel is not for kids. The magic pen allows ultimate wish fulfillment, including some less than politically correct fantasies surrounding diversity, gender and sexuality. The dramatic tension arises from Sam’s efforts to negotiate his bizarre method of supernatural travel while retaining his 21st-century ethics and standards. 

The result is sublime: a breezy-reading rumination on the promise and the problems inherent in graphic novels’ complicated history, and the power the creator holds in shaping the medium’s future.