Fall for Comics With This Remarkable New Series of Books

Enter the wonderfully weird, dark, and absurd world of comics with New York Review Books' newest series. The editors give us a first look at their three exciting new releases.

One of cartoonist Glen Baxter's absurdly funny comics, out this May in a new NYRC compilation.

Even if you're not a fan of comics, it's hard to ignore them when someone describes them to you as "wandering into someone else's dream." Those are the words of Gabriel Winslow-Yost, assistant editor at The New York Review of Books magazine, and co-editor of the new New York Review Comics series, launching March 22nd.

Lucas Adams, left, and Gabriel Winslow-Yost at the NYRB offices in New York.

The idea for the series all began in 2013, when Winslow-Yost bonded with a new NYRB intern named Lucas Adams over their shared love of comics. It was not long before the two began plotting to bring beloved, hard-to-find works back to life. Born in the spirit of NYRB Classics, an imprint of the magazine that reissues out-of-print books, NYRC will publish new editions and translations of graphic novels, and collections of single-panel comics.

The forthcoming NYRC titles.

The two co-editors, both Tintin fans as children (Winslow-Yost remembers Tintin and the Shooting Star as the first book he ever read), have a compelling devotion to the form. "I love that with comics, you can't waste words," Adams says. "You have to pack as much imagery and story as you can into small spaces... [These stories] can't be told with the same power anywhere else."

The editors' shared love of comics is also about how wonderfully weird they can be. "It's like you've flipped open the top of someone's head, and can see all the little gears and levers, and how they fit together—or don't," Winslow-Yost says. "It's the best kind of weird: the kind of weird that invites you in and shows you things you never would have thought of."

Winslow-Yost and Adams, at work.

Now, with the release of the first book in the series today, we asked the editors to share some of their insight and wonderment in the world of comics. Read on to see some of their favorite pages from the three NYRC titles out this spring, and you just might be inspired to join them in cartoon superfandom.

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Agony by Mark Beyer

Originally published in 1987, this full-length graphic novel follows couple Amy and Jordan on a darkly funny urban adventure of codependency and resentment. The new edition features an introduction by novelist Colson Whitehead.

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"In Agony, everything hits at once. Amy and Jordan don't get time to wallow in how crappy that movie was, they have to worry about this ghoul that's about to behead Amy—it's depressing, and it's hilarious, and it's true. (Also, I love the crazy way Beyer drew this street: it's like everyone's trapped on some nightmarish stage-set.)" – Winslow-Yost

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"This is the page I turn to the most to give someone the essence of Agony. It's so immediate, and it's so Beyer: nightmare bear creature, Amy and Jordan in extreme peril, all rendered in Beyer's perfect, homemade style." – Adams

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"People sometimes say that Mark Beyer draws crudely or childishly, and I think that's nuts. He uses very simple figures, and has a pretty weird attitude toward perspective, but there's a very sophisticated sense of composition underlying all that. Here, Amy's plight has gotten so dire (she's being dissolved by acid—don't worry, she recovers) that his art becomes almost abstract, like a medieval illumination, or a poster advertising the movie of this moment." – Winslow-Yost

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"For all the scenes of torment and absurd suffering in Agony, this panel is one of the only moments of actual, quiet reflection in the whole book. I love that Amy and Jordan get to have a moment like this one, even if it's fleeting, and they'll be back in the jaws of sharks and being throttled by hostile villagers soon enough." – Adams

Agony, $11, nyrb.com.

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Peplum by Blutch

The French cartoonist who works under the name Blutch is the mastermind behind Peplum, a surreal graphic novel set in ancient Rome. The historical saga, in a new translation by Edward Gauvin, follows a bandit who finds a woman frozen in a cave at the edge of the empire, and journeys back to Rome with her.

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"Blutch is an expert at mixing incredible things together, from the Satyricon to classic Hollywood cinematography. I love this panel because it's Blutch as master mixer: he places Caesar's regal profile in dramatic, cinematic shadow, and puts Shakespeare's words on Caesar's lips, mere moments before his assassination." –Adams

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"Blutch is a master with ink, and these panels—of the men, cargo, and animals crowded into the hold of a Roman ship—show just how good he is at depicting texture, faces, and atmosphere. You can practically smell those oxen (and I love that one pig on the left edge, really feeling great about his whole situation)." –Winslow-Yost

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"Peplum is packed with many scenes of frenzied action that can feel utterly disorienting. In this one, our hero is clutching the woman frozen in ice that he's obsessed with, just as he's about to be set upon by pirates. It's a strange, wonderful image, the kind that stays with you long after you close the book." –Adams

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"Peplum is a real mix of genres and tones. Sometimes it's an adventure, sometimes a comedy, sometimes a nightmare. Here, it's practically a poem: a love scene between the main character and an actress who has fallen for him that suddenly breaks free from the story and becomes an elegant, passionate dance." –Winslow-Yost

Peplum (April 19), $20, nyrb.com.

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