Karen Haber Reviews The History of Science Fiction: A Graphic Novel Adventure, 1984: The Graphic Novel and Infected by Art Volume 9

The History of Science Fiction: A Graphic Novel Adventure, Xavier Dollo & Djibril Morissette-Phan (Humanoids 978-1-64337-914-2, $29.99, 216pp, hc) November 2021. Cover by Djibril Morissette-Phan.

The History of Science Fiction: A Graphic Novel is an ambitious book from the French publisher Humanoids, who – full disclosure – also publish graphic novels of my husband’s work, including Downward to the Earth (2018) and Robert Silverberg’s Colonies: Return to Belzagor (2019).

This full-color graphic novel attempts to cover the entire history of science fiction in one volume, an exhausting and, at times, elusive goal.

This is a nicely designed hardcover book with high quality paper, good color reproduction, and a bound-in ribbon bookmark. Despite the graphic novel format, the artwork often falls into the trap of static talking heads: the greats of Golden Age SF telling each other – and us – a whole lotta information, punctuated by an occasional robot or book cover. The Boys’ Club nature of golden-age SF is acknowledged along the way, and an attempt is made to come up to speed in terms of diversity in the last chapter, but the cumulative effect, after a leisurely introduction, is increasingly hurried name-checking.

As a jumpoff point for further reading and explo­ration, this work is a useful and attractive reference source, although the index could have been printed in a darker ink for greater legibility. Some of the portraits of the authors are more successful than others, but Djibril Morissette-Phan must be ap­plauded for taking on the daunting task of depicting SF authors from the dawn of the field. E for effort. My dream version of this book would be edited into two volumes, one devoted to the beginning and Golden Age, and the other focusing on modern SF, including contributions from Europe, Africa, and Asia, more thoroughly acknowledging the recent influx of diverse writers.

1984: The Graphic Novel, George Orwell & Fido Nesti (Penguin Classics UK, 978-0-241-43649-3, £20.00, 224pp, hc) April 2021. (Houghton Mif­flin-Harcourt 978-0-358-35992, $22.00, 223pp, hc) September 2021. Cover art by Fido Nesti.

1984: The Graphic Novel is a powerful ride that takes the reader into Orwell’s nightmarish totalitar­ian world. The 70-year-old tale of psychological horror has been freshly interpreted by Fido Nesti with jolting immediacy. The dystopian reality of Big Brother, telescreens, the Thought Police, and Room 101 are chillingly depicted in bleak greyed-down tones. and haunting imagery. This classic warning about thought control and speech control feels especially timely.

The hardcover volume is respectful and re­strained, with excellent production values. The cover recalls Russian Avant-Garde (1850-1930) style, and the limited palette inside gives a sickly cast to the images and story, as though it’s being viewed under awful fluorescent lights in some prison basement. Brazilian artist Nesti is self-taught and has worked in illustration and comics for more than twenty-five years. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Runner’s World, and Americas Quarterly, among other publi­cations. He has also collaborated on illustrating vari­ous book covers for a range of publishing houses, including the cover for Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (Penguin).

Infected by Art Volume 9, Todd Spoor, Bill Cox & Jon Schindehette, eds. (Art Order 978-1-7333814-2-0, $39.99, 327pp, hc) 2021. Cover by Justin Gerard.

Infected by Art Volume 9 is a triumph, published despite all the challenges of the pandemic lockdown. The Australian editorial trio behind this juried an­nual has maintained high production quality and design integrity. The book provides a diverse inter­national selection of subjects, artists, and media. The panel of judges included Ed Binkley, Tran Nguyen, John Picacio, and Dug Stanat.

Infected by Art Volume 9 maintains its usual excellent production values: most works featured one to a page, meticulous color reproduction, thick glossy paper, handsome dust cover, and useful, leg­ible index. The annual features a stunning selection of artists and subjects from around the globe. Note: the sculpture and sketching sections should not be missed. Many familiar names in the Infected by Art Volume 9 mix: Forrest Rogers, Raoul Vitale, Jody Lee, David Palumbo, Stephanie Law, Gary Villarreal, Ruth Sanderson, Travis Louie, Tom Kidd, Yoann Lössel, Rob Alexander, Dave Seeley, Lisa Falkenstern, Scott Gustafson, and Jean-Baptiste Monge. Among the new revelations are Third Place award winner (traditional painting) Kremena Chipilova (A Wish Upon The Gentle Breeze, The Three Golden Hairs, oils) whose work invokes old world illustration; Sidharth Chaturved, whose Six Hanging Men, oils, provides chills and haunting dark imagery; Matt Mrowka for poignant, detailed oils (Franklin’s Chair, Soloist); Michelle Mrowka (Delphinus, oils); and Kazuhiko Nakamura’s fiend­ishly detailed dark techno dreams (SALOME, ZBrush, Photoshop). There are too many excellent artists and artworks to name here, but all are worth investigating. Whatever your preference, imagina­tive realism: science fiction, fantasy, fantasy noir, or horror, when it comes to the sheer delight of looking at fantastic art, Infected by Art Volume 9 provides hours of provocative international art goodness.

Karen Haber is the author of nine novels including Star Trek Voyager: Bless the Beasts, and co-author of Science of the X-Men.

She is a Hugo Award nominee, nominated for Meditations on Middle Earth, an essay collection celebrating J.R.R. Tolkien that she edited and to which she contributed an essay. Her recent work includes Crossing Infinity, a YA science fiction novel of gender identity and confusions.

This review and more like it in the August 2022 issue of Locus.

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