MARKET DAY (Drawn & Quarterly, $21.95), by James Sturm, is a glimpse into a day in the life of a Jewish rug-maker. Mendleman puts every ounce of his passion and care into making the most artful rugs anyone has seen. He is thrown into despair when he can no longer sell his wares at the market, and must begin to think more about money and responsibility than about the craft itself. Sturm’s story is heartbreaking, and his artwork is equally powerful. Each panel is a dynamic collection of color and forms, and carries the sober, powerful pace of the craftsman’s day forward. Sturm’s work is as delicately woven and masterfully conceived as the beloved rugs of his character.
In FORGET SORROW (W.W. Norton, $23.95), Belle Yang, tells the story of a Chinese family, using panels that recall the black-and-white ink paintings essential to Eastern culture. Beginning with this visual cue, Yang recreates a world of characters and settings that ring absolutely true. At the same time, she imbues the tale with a spiritual presence that’s evident in every pen-stroke. First and foremost, however, Forget Sorrow is about family. With the merest illustration and description, Yang conjures uncles, grandparents, and siblings who have the nuance, charisma, and weight of real people. This book is not only a landmark in graphic nonfiction, but a significant addition to the canon of Asian family memoir.
From Charles Burns, one of the most important graphic novel artists working today, X’ED OUT (Pantheon, $19.95) is a masterpiece. The first in a projected series, it opens with a young man waking up in a dream and not knowing where he is. Details are familiar, but he can’t place them. His new world is strange and terrifying. He narrates flashbacks to his waking life, where he follows a young female photographer with an abusive boyfriend. Burns is excellent at creating an atmosphere of violence and ugliness which at the same time seems utterly familiar (like a dream). He tells the story of our time without pulling punches but with an artistry one might not recognize.