“Parable of the Sower,” by Octavia Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy and John Jennings

“Parable of the Sower,” by Octavia Butler. Adapted by Damian Duffy and John Jennings. Abrams Comics Arts, January 2020. 266 pp. Paperback, $24.99. Recommended for ages 15 and up.

Thanks to Fables Books, 215 South Main Street in downtown Goshen, Indiana, for providing Commons Comics with books to review.

COVID-19 UPDATE: Fables is back open! Please enter through the back and follow store guidelines. High risk customers can still make browsing appointments before or after hours, and all customers can continue to order online at fablesbooks.com, over the phone 574-534-1984, or via email fablesbooks@gmail.com.

In the intricately imagined worlds of the late science fiction writer Octavia Butler, apocalypse is nothing new, whether triggered by aliens, viruses, or disintegrating social and political structures. Butler isn’t for everyone. She was the first science fiction writer to win a MacArthur “genius” grant, yet some have found her work too stylistically direct, too political, or both. As the years have passed since the publication of her 1993 novel “Parable of the Sower,” however, she’s looking more and more like a prophet.

Yet Butler, who died in 2006, refused that role. In a 1998 address at MIT, she called “Parable of the Talents,” the sequel to “Sower,” “a cautionary tale, although people have told me it was prophecy. All I have to say to that is: I certainly hope not.”

Lauren Olamina, the teen protagonist of “Parable of the Sower,” is a reluctant prophet herself. The story is told from Olamina’s journals, part of which sound like any literary-minded teen’s journal might in the face of apocalypse—Anne Frank’s diary comes to mind—but part of which also records a new gospel Olamina has named “Earthseed,” which she feels driven to set to paper as the world around her becomes increasingly violent, desperate, and unpredictable.

I won’t pull any punches: Butler’s story is largely bleak, and writer Damian Duffy and artist John Jennings’s adaptation sometimes proves gruesome. If you’re in a fragile emotional state about the world right now, I recommend you put this book aside for another time. As Jennings himself put it in a recent interview in “Publisher’s Weekly,” “Parable of the Sower” “outhungers ‘Hunger Games’; that’s ‘Little Bo Peep’ compared to this.”

That said, Duffy and Jennings, who won an Eisner award in 2018 for their graphic novel adaptation of Butler’s novel “Kindred,” have created the most beautiful apocalypse I’ve ever seen:

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“Making Comics,” by Lynda Barry

“Making Comics,” by Lynda Barry. Drawn and Quarterly, November 2019. 200 pp. Paperback, $22.95.

Thanks to Fables Books, 215 South Main Street in downtown Goshen, Indiana, for providing Commons Comics with books to review.

COVID-19 UPDATE: Amazon’s super-slow for books right now: you can get books from your local bookstore even faster, Goshen folks! E-mail or call Fables, and you can pick your books up curbside or have them delivered. Contact the store at fablesbooks@gmail.com or call (574) 534-1984 to order.

 And don’t forget about gift certificates, a great way to support Fables, as well as Goshen’s other downtown small businesses during the crisis.

Lynda Barry is like a crazy cat lady for drawings. She gathers and nurtures lonely, awkward, and abandoned drawings, the drawings that you gave up on when they didn’t turn out like you’d planned. “Making Comics,” the most recent book from this artist, novelist, professor, and creativity guru is a weird and beautiful hybrid—per usual for this recently recognized MacArthur “genius.” Part inspirational narrative and part activity book, “Making Comics” teems with recopied drawings that her students threw in the trash or left behind in class. Barry has been taking in stray drawings like these for years, not out of pity, but out of boundless and judgement-free love.

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“The Man Without Talent,” by Yoshiharu Tsuge

“The Man Without Talent,” by Yoshiharu Tsuge. New York Review Comics, February 2020. 240 pp. Paperback, $22.95. Adult.

Thanks to Fables Books, 215 South Main Street in downtown Goshen, Indiana, for providing Commons Comics with books to review.

COVID-19 UPDATE: Please help your local small businesses stay afloat! At the time of this post (Tuesday 3/24), you can still order books from Fables and arrange to pick them up curbside or have them delivered. Contact the store at fablesbooks@gmail.com or call (574) 534-1984 to order.

If you can afford it right now, you can also support Fables and Goshen’s other downtown small businesses by ordering gift certificates from them now, and then going on a big spree later on, when we’re all allowed out of the house again.

Note: New York Review Comics sent me a free copy of this book.

Contrary to the title of “The Man Without Talent,” Sukezo Sukegawa, the book’s main character, is exceptionally talented. His problem—which becomes the problem of his wife and young son as well—is that he insists on starting his own business in an entirely different field. If Suzeko lacks talent, it’s as an entrepreneur, not an artist. He and his family live in poverty as he tries and mostly fails to sell attractive found stones, old cameras, and other assorted junk. When he visits his local bookstore, however, the bookseller practically begs him to write more comics. His wife does too—not out of love for his comics, but out of desperation.

Witnessing Sukegawa and his family negotiate his aimlessness can be, at times, sad and frustrating. This guy is maddening: he refuses to act as the “hero” of the story, which likewise refuses the narrative a standard trajectory.

Part of the story’s point, however, as you soon figure out, is the failures of its inert protagonist—although, fortunately, there’s also more to the book than that. Much like the work of Frank SantoroSeth, or John Porcellino, “The Man Without Talent” will slow you down as it repeatedly rejects your expectations—you can’t speed from one plot milestone to the next. Once you give in and let the book shift you into a lower gear, however, the level of detail in the landscape is a reward in itself:

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