Today's graphic novel review theme: books that are unusual, even by my standards.
"The Dancing Plague" (Story/art by Gareth Brookes; SelfMadeHero; 192 pages; $20.99): From the description: "Set in 1518, and told from the imagined perspective of Mary, one of the witnesses, 'The Dancing Plague' tells the true story of when hundreds of Strasbourg's inhabitants were suddenly seized by the strange and unstoppable compulsion to dance. As difficult to interpret now as it was then, the story of the 'Dancing Plague' finds suitably extraordinary expression in the utterly unique mixed-media style Gareth Brookes has devised to tell it."
To which I reply: This is one seriously weird book.
First, Brookes appears to create his comics via pyrography, defined as "a method of making drawings or designs by means of heated implements." The effect is unusual, and Middle Ages-looking, compounded by flesh-toned, heavy stock paper.
So do I recommend it? I guess, but it depends on your comfort level for "cheerful profanity" and blasphemy. I'm pretty thick-skinned, but even so I raised an eyebrow now and then.
"Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?" (Story by Harold Schechter, art by Eric Powell; Albatross Funnybooks; 224 pages; $29.99): Eddie Gein is the true-life figure who launched a thousand horror movies. Gein's deranged behavior and bizarre obsessions in 1950s Wisconsin gave rise to Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "The Silence of the Lambs."
Taking on this seminal serial killer story are artist Eric Powell ("The Goon," "Hillbilly") and writer Harold Schechter ("Deviant," "The Serial Killer Files"). I'm not familiar with Schechter, though he does seem to have done some painstaking research. I am very appreciative of that.
However, I only thought I was familiar with Powell, as I have plenty of his work in the Comics Cave. But formerly I enjoyed his work for what I interpreted as a midcentury "Mad" vibe from the magazine's movie and TV parodies. But here in "Eddie Gein," I see he is far more than that. Yes, the Mort Drucker and Jack Davis influences are still obvious. But through his superb use of wash, spot-on caricature and superior draftsmanship, Powell leaves the "Mad" masters in the dust to claim a spot on the cartoonists' Mount Rushmore himself. I had no idea he was this good, and I'm tempted to reread the book just for the art.
"Queen of the Ring: Wrestling Drawings by Jaime Hernandez 1980-2020 HC" (Writer/art/cover by Jaime Hernandez; Fantagraphics; 128 pages; $24.99): Artist Jaime Hernandez has been acclaimed for decades as the most talented artist in Los Bros Hernandez trio of creators, who together have created the wonderful, semi-magical "Love and Rockets," an anthology series featuring an ensemble of instantly recognizable characters from both rural Mexican towns and the urban barrios of Los Angeles.
Here are his scenes of 1970s women's wrestling — never intended for publication, they are rendered with casual tools (colored pencils, markers, felt-tip pens, etc.). The art is beautiful. The subject matter is inexplicable.