Shirt-sleeves rolled up, bent over drawing boards, puffing on cigarettes, the heroes of the remarkable artist Drew Friedman’s new book aren’t super ones, they’re the (mostly) guys who created Batman, Spider-Man, Plastic Man, and many others. Heroes of the Comics: Portraits of the Legends of Comic Books (Fantagraphics) showcases Friedman’s bottomless talent for drawing and painting portraits that capture every creased brow, dented nose, sagging jaw-line, and eye-wrinkle to wrest beauty from ordinarinss and exalt it.
The short text by Friedman (author of the popular Old Jewish Comedian books, among many others) accompanying each portrait fills you in on the often gritty, insider facts of comic-book invention and manufacture, but you get as much of that life experience simply by poring over the lovely, witty art.
Speaking of old Jewish comedians, Jules Feiffer, longtime Playboy and Village Voice contributor and recently a successful children’s-book author, tries something new with Kill My Mother (Liveright): a noir graphic novel. Set in the 1930s and ‘40s, it follows a couple of female protagonists who challenge the hardboiled detectives, thugs, and brilliantined pretty-boys who try to love, seduce, and betray them. Feiffer’s fluid lines and the long-limbed, balletic movements of even the most stumpy or elegant characters is strikingly effective, and his writing is terse and tense, constantly setting off little explosions of narrative surprise.
Kill My Mother is an amazing achievement, all the more so when you consider that Feiffer is, at age 85, venturing into new artistic territory with the alacrity of a spry wiseguy.
Ken Tucker is a pop culture critic who has written for The New York Times, New York Magazine, and National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air.” He tweets at @kentucker