The Sounder

Excerpts from Mazen Kerbaj"s Beirut Won't Cry by Fantagraphics.
The latest offering from Seattle’s Fantagraphics Books, the legendary indie-alt comics and graphic novel publisher, is from one of Beirut’s very own illustrators: Mazen Kerbaj.

Beirut Won’t Cry, Kerbaj’s seminal visual diary of the summer 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon, is an updated English version of his blog from the time, previously only available in French. Though known in Arab and Francophone circles, Kerbaj is far less known to US audiences – and that’s where Fantagraphics comes in.

Not many American publishers would touch an outspoken Lebanese, Arab and essentially therefore ‘other’ artist in the current climate, and especially on a subject which is openly (and justifiably) critical of Israel, a key US ally.

But then Fantagraphics is all about flying in the face of considered wisdom, whether from a business point of view or that of the alternative, innovative and different artist voices it publishes – the reason it’s been at the forefront of comic book and graphic novel publishing for over 40 years. Aficionados and the industry alike consider Fantagraphics the best independent imprint out there, a recent poll by an industry trade newspaper having ranked it among the top five most influential publishers in the history of comics.

Kerbaj then fits perfectly into their catalogue. Think authors and illustrators like Robert Crumb, Peter Bagge, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Dan Clowes, Joe Sacco, Chris Ware and Carol Tyler to name but a few. Founders Gary Groth and the late Kim Thompson went after some of the above names like Crumb at a time back in the 80s when traditional comic book publishers would touch nothing but super heroes and fantasy. They begged, borrowed and did everything short of stealing to fund the business in the early days, but they always came through even in the darkest hours because of their belief that comics and graphic art could, was and should be eloquent and expressive and contemporary and documentary; dramatic and historical and satirical and political. Readers felt the same way, so much so that when the firm suffered what Groth called a “a severe shortfall” a couple of years ago they banded together to raise over $150,000 within days of Groth launching a Kickstarter campaign, enabling Fantagraphics to publish its whole spring and summer season of books at the time.

Some of Fantagraphics’s most notable work include Crumb’s complete collection, the Hernandez brothers’ Love & RocketsEightballBlack HoleGhost World, the launch of an adult-themed imprint titled Eros Comix and the publishing of The Comics Journal, a news and criticism magazine.

In a recent interview with online magazine Complex, Groth said, “We’ve been remarkably successful in proving the aesthetic legitimacy of the [comic book] form. We wanted to emphatically prove that comics and cartooning were every bit as good as any art form and I think we’ve gone a long way towards doing that.”

We couldn’t agree more. – RS

as chosen by Lebanese illustrator and comics obsessive Zeina Bassil, who also happens to be responsible for Papercup's graphic novel section.

Robert Crumb – The Complete Crumb Comics
Even if you’ve never read Crumb you’ll be vaguely aware of him and that’s in no small part down to Fantagraphics. The Complete Crumb Comics is a multi-volume series comprising the legendary American cartoonist complete works. Deeply original, vibrantly colourful, always trenchant and uncompromising Crumb’s work dissects American culture like no one before him and no one since.

Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez – Love & Rockets Series
Fantagraphics’s flagship title, the Hernandez brothers’ Love & Rockets series blew minds when it was first published in 1982, virtually inventing the alternative graphic novel for art kids and intellects. The stories chronicle Latino culture from the barrio to the below the border, punk rock culture, women’s wrestling and more and feel like the work of Gabriel Garciá Márquez in comic book form. There are many volumes but it doesn’t matter where you start as long as you start. Just brilliant.

Daniel Clowes – The Complete Eightball 1-18
Before his bestselling Ghost World graphic novels, Clowes created Eightball, considered one of the greatest and most influential comic titles of all time. The Fantagraphics box set features all 18 issues, which cover different novels/strips/rants with perverse wit and crazy characters. Surreal, hard-hitting, beautifully drawn, unmissable, Clowes is a voice for the ‘90s generation.

Sasaki Maki – Ding Dong Circus
Ding Dong Circus is a compilation of the best of Sasaki Maki’s work from alt-manga super magazine Garo between 1967 and 1974. 15 stories exploring Sasaki’s experimental collage methods of comic drawing and writing covering Japanese Pop Art and the critical avant-garde art scene of the 1960s make this pioneering and essential manga for all ages.

Joe Sacco – Palestine
Sacco is what’s known as a graphic journalist, tackling conflict zones and the people affected by them and Palestine is one of his best works, a landmark achievement in the New Journalism genre. Based on several months of research in the West Bank and Gaza Strip back in the 1990s, Sacco gets to grips in a humane and unbiased way with a situation, a place and peoples which is often misrepresented in mainstream media. Palestine also features a singular introduction by the late Edward Said.

Jason – Almost Silent
Coming in 2018, famed comics writer and illustrator Jason brings his inimitable, minimalist style to four tales featuring anthropomorphic animals and monsters and including love triangles, zombies and plenty of deadpan jokes. Often using few words Jason’s drawings are nuanced and expressive and totally worth making a fuss over.

Emil Ferris – My Favorite Thing Is Monsters
Super interesting, super clever and drawn in a kaleidoscopically and breathtaking full colour visual style Emil Ferris’s debut novel is the fictional graphic diary of a 10-year-old girl named Karen who tries to solve the murder of her upstairs neighbour and Holocaust survivor, Anka. Set against the tumultuous political backdrop of late ‘60s Chicago, Karen fills her diary with B-movie horror and pulp monsters she picks up from posters and magazines. Sublimely different, fascinating and wholly original.

Oliver Schrauwen – Arsène Schrauwen
This is the first full-length graphic novel from critically acclaimed Olivier Schrauwen and tells the story of his grandfather, Arsène, using a simple, clean bi-colour style, who travels across the ocean to a dangerous jungle colony in 1947 to work with his cousin where they attempt to build a modern utopia. Yet slowly Arsène, via a love-story with his cousin’s wife and fever-inducing jungle viruses, seems to lose his grip on reality as the reader loses his grip on what is imagined or real.

Joe Daly – Highbone Theater
Cartoonist Joe Daly creates a fantastic world in Highbone Theater following Palmer, a paper mill worker who moves into an apartment with his womanizing friend Perry. What sounds straightforward quickly descends into mystery as Palmer befriends a co-worker and plunges headlong into the mysterious and sinister world of sorcery, psychological operations, subterranean organisations, wild goose chases and self-discovery. It’s madness, brilliant slacker comic genre that artistically mixes Charles Burns and Herr Seele. An epic adventure.