The best new graphic novels

Slide show: From "The Little Prince" to Daniel Clowes' latest -- 9 great releases from the illustrated genre

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    “A Sickness in the Family”

    by Denise Mina and Antonio Fuso (Vertigo Crime/DC)

    Scottish crime novelist Mina spins out a yarn about an extended family who buys the flat downstairs after their neighbors die in a murder-suicide. They tear out the central staircase, and then everything goes to hell. Adopted son Sam becomes convinced that their problems are caused by malevolent supernatural forces rising up from the hole. Were the Ushers (yes!) such a bickering, adulterous, greedy, selfish pack of degenerates before the stairs came out? Sam thinks not, but the exact cause of the the clan’s disintegration doesn’t become clear until the very end.

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    “The Guild”

    by Felicia Day and Jim Rugg (Dark Horse Books)

    This serves as the prequel to the beloved Web video series with the same title. No mere illustration could compare to Day’s endearingly vulnerable and befuddled live-action performances, but the comic format allows Day and Rugg to depict what the videos can’t: scenes from the online role-playing game where the mismatched members of the Knights of Good first met. Cyd Sherman, Day’s alter ego, is a mousy violinist stuck at the back of the orchestra and flailing in an exploitative relationship. Her therapist thinks her five-hour-a-day video game habit makes her “borderline antisocial” and urges her to form “real” friendships. Instead, Cyd tries, with highly amusing results, to turn the squabbling Knights of Good into a flesh-and-blood community.

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    “The Little Prince”

    by Joann Sfar, adapted from the book by Antoine de Saint-Exup

    Depending on their WTQ (Whimsy Tolerance Quotient), readers find Saint-Exup

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    “Picture This”

    by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly)

    A companion to Barry’s wondrous 2008 book, “What It Is,” which presented itself as a guide for people who want to write, this ravishing volume is an exhortation to draw, color, paste and paint from one of the world’s greatest cartoonists. There are Marlys comics as well, and a host of enigmatic and evocative characters, including the Nearsighted Monkey (apparently an avatar for Barry herself) and assorted cephalopod/elephant/ghost things of mysterious provenance. It’s rare that a book designed to encourage the creative impulse in others is itself a work of art, and the literally minded will probably find “Picture This” confusing. But anyone with an imagination will wander through these enchanted pages in delight, and (if not too intimidated by Barry’s own prodigious gifts) might just be inspired to pick up a pen or brush.

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    “Adventures of Unemployed Man”

    by Erich Origen and Gan Golan (Little, Brown)

    OK, I said no superheroes, but this one’s different: a satirical depiction of the roots of the current financial crisis in the guise of a Golden Age comic book. Starting out as Ultimatum Man, “The Dark Knight of Self-Help,” our protagonist blames the poor for having “chosen to fail.” Then he, too, ends up out of work after challenging the wisdom of the Just Us League, whose villainous members include Buzz Word, Pink Slip and Cobra (“Extend your benefits? I’ve got you covered! It’s just $2000 a month!”), not to mention that supreme evildoer, the Invisible Hand (of the market, of course). Backed by such allies as the Disempowered Rangers and Wonder Mother, the newly christened Unemployed Man vows to fight back. Crammed with clever puns, ingeniously illustrated and garnished with trenchant social commentary, this is surely the funniest economic primer ever written.

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    Created by Spaniards and originally published in France, this collection of three stories (two of which have already been published in the U.S. but have been out of print and difficult to find) is a tribute to classic American noir. Private detective John Blacksad plies his trade in a 1950s metropolis entirely populated by anthropomorphic animals. Blacksad himself is a cat, but his friends include a weasel reporter and a German shepherd cop. Beautiful, visually elaborate and cinematic, “Blacksad” is worth cherishing for the splendor of its artwork alone, but one of the stories in particular, “Arctic Nation,” rises well above its solid, Chandleresque fellows. A reflection on American race relations, it has all the white animals organizing against the “colored” ones (even members of the same species), a scenario that cleverly underlines the absurdity of segregation.

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    “The Hunting of the Snark”

    by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Mahendra Singh (Melville House Books)

    Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” is indelibly linked with the illustrations of John Tenniel, but until now this poem — an “agony in eight fits” describing the mock-heroic quest for an elusive creature — has not been similarly graced. At last, the legend of the brave, if peculiar, companions who set out to bag a snark (arming themselves “with forks and with hope”) gets lavish treatment from Singh. The panels, drawn in pen and ink to mimic 19th-century engravings, combine vaguely familiar images in new and alarming combinations, reminiscent of the surrealist collages of Max Ernst. Although the crabbed lettering leaves much to be desired, these may be the fittest illustrations ever created for Carroll’s distinctively Victorian nonsense concoctions.

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    by Daniel Clowes (Drawn & Quarterly)

    If you’ve ever stopped to imagine the private lives of some of Salon’s most socially dysfunctional commenters, then what you pictured probably looks a lot like the story of Wilson. Firm in his conviction that he “loves people,” Wilson is instead borderline delusional, solipsistic, isolated and teeming with free-floating rage. In a series of two-page vignettes, Clowes follows Wilson’s misguided attempts to rejuvenate a failed marriage and connect with the daughter he never knew he had, efforts that somehow end in a prison term. Although self-excoriating dissections of geek psychology have long been a staple of indie comics, Clowes enlivens the material by adopting a Sunday-funnies format (with a different style of artwork in each vignette) and applying the comic timing of, say, “Peanuts” to such subjects as grief, prostitution, incarceration and the inexplicable proliferation of nail salons.

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    “Parker: The Outfit”

    by Richard Stark, adapted by Darwyn Cooke (Idea & Design Works, LLC)

    More hard-boiled than a 10-minute egg, this, the latest adaptation of the Parker novels written by Stark (a pseudonym of Donald Westlake), is a pretty basic gangster narrative, elevated to style nirvana by Cooke’s retro, two-color art. Parker, a brutal, square-jawed, freelance crook in 1960s Miami, decides to take down the crime boss who’s put a contract out on his life. Many elaborately detailed heists ensue, along with some rather fascinating explications of numbers-running and money-laundering operations, with nifty diagrams. Parker may not be a terribly interesting guy, but the images he stalks through — picture a “Mad Men” underworld with a liberal dash of cool, midcentury jazz album covers — are transfixing.