Horrors at Duke University: Sex, privilege, athletics and race

The real story of how the Duke lacrosse rape case began -- and what happens when sex, sports and elitism combine

Topics: Books, Duke, Lacrosse, Editor's Picks, The Price of Silence, , ,

Horrors at Duke University: Sex, privilege, athletics and raceJoe Cheshire, attorney, at podium, and David Evans, senior captain of the Duke lacrosse team, right, make a statement in front of the Durham County Detention Center, May 15, 2006. (Credit: AP/Gerry Broome)

Although no one knew it yet, Duke’s perception of itself, as well as how the university was perceived by the rest of the world, began to change sometime around midnight on Monday, March 14, 2006, after a night of shenanigans and heavy drinking by forty-one of the forty-seven members of the tight-knit varsity lacrosse team—all but one of whom were white. The party took place at a nondescript rental house at 610 North Buchanan Boulevard, off Duke’s East Campus, where three of the lacrosse players lived. It was spring break, and the rest of the Duke campus was quiet. Two days before, the Duke lacrosse team, then ranked third in the country, had defeated twentieth-ranked Loyola 9–7 in San Diego, improving its record to 5–1. After the Loyola win, coach Mike Pressler said, “Now we look ahead to one of the most difficult weeks in Duke lacrosse history,” a reference to the team’s upcoming March 18 match against rival University of North Carolina, followed by games against Cornell and Georgetown in quick succession. Little did Pressler know that for whatever reason—boredom, feeling sorry for themselves for having to be in town when everyone else was on spring break, or simply because they could—most of the guys on his lacrosse team would decide to have their own version of Girls Gone Wild on North Buchanan Boulevard in Durham, North Carolina.

After lacrosse practice on March 13, at around 3 p.m., Dan Flannery, a twenty-one-year-old senior cocaptain from Garden City, New York, ran a few errands and then went home to 610 North Buchanan. He found a number of his teammates already there. According to Jason Bissey, who lived next door, he and his roommate, Derek Anderson, remembered that the drinking began an hour before Flannery returned home. A group of guys were playing “washers,” whereby a player tries to toss metal washers into a cup from a defined distance.

“I remember in particular one young man wearing a sort of suspenders-like harness that would hold two cans or bottles of beer,” Bissey said. Anderson remembered that as the day turned into night at 610 North Buchanan, more and more people showed up at the party. He remembered seeing as many as thirty people in the backyard, playing washers. “They were pretty loud that night,” he later told police. “They had been playing washers for about seven hours.”

Flannery confirmed that the drinking began early that day. “We decided to start drinking [because] we were on spring break,” he explained. At least once a week, the team usually went together to Teasers Men’s Club on Ramseur Street in Durham, a topless bar — it boasted of being the “area’s finest” — where to be admitted one had to be at least 21 years old. Since some of the players at the house were not 21 or had lost their fake IDs, they decided to see if they could hire two strippers to come by at 11 p.m. that night to dance during the party for a couple of hours. This was, apparently, a spring break tradition for the Duke lacrosse team. Recalled Ryan McFadyen, a six-foot-five defenseman from Mendham, New Jersey, “The tradition is: ‘Hey, it’s spring break. We’re the only guys on campus.’”

McFadyen remembered March 13 was a gorgeous day. At the practice that morning, they did a running workout with the speed coach. He also remembered that Coach Pressler came to the practice with something like $10,000 in cash that he handed out to the players for “meal money” for the eight days of spring break. “Coach Pressler handed out meal money for the week to every guy on the team that Monday,” McFadyen said. It was like, ‘Yeah, here’s five hundred bucks. Here’s five hundred bucks. Here’s five hundred bucks.’” Afterward, he got a message on his cell phone from David Evans, Flannery’s housemate and another cocaptain of the lacrosse team. “I remember the message he left,” McFadyen recalled. “He said, ‘Hey, we’re having a barbecue over at 610. Get yourself and the sophomore guys over here. I need a six-foot-five-inch hunk of meat in my backyard right now. Get over here.’ So people were making their way over. Some guys were there early. Some guys were there at two or three.” The idea was just to have some fun while the rest of the students were away.

McFadyen got to the party around two o’clock. “Guys were drinking,” he said. “We were hanging out. I don’t think I had any beers yet, ’cause I know I went back to eat and went to the gym, worked out again.” When he was at the party the first time, he noticed some of the guys were betting some of their meal money on games of beer pong. “Who wants to play?” he recalled people saying. “Who wants to play?” He then went to work out and got a ride back to the party. “We were there all day, grilling, having beers, playing washers, beer pong, just having a good time, playing some music. . . . Everyone was drinking, and someone said, ‘Oh, let’s go to the strip club.’ Someone’s idea was like, ‘Let’s just have dancers come to the house as opposed to risking people going out and getting in trouble. We’ll just order dancers to come here,’ a very common occurrence on campus. I know Duke tried to issue some sort of moratorium, make a rule against it after the fact, but between keeping the frats on campus, sororities doing it during their rush week and people doing it during random events, it happens all the time, so it’s common for sure. For us, it was just ‘We’ll just do it here. It’ll be very casual.’ It’ll be the smarter choice, because there won’t be anyone outside the team to screw anything up or get into trouble or risk anything.”

After searching Google for the phone number of the Allure Agency, Dan Flannery called and spoke with the woman who answered. They discussed the rate for each stripper — $400, half of which the dancers could keep — whether certain ethnicities of strippers could be selected and if there was a maximum stripper-to-partier ratio. He gave the woman a fake name — Daniel Flanigan — but his real cell phone number. “She called me back twenty to twenty-five minutes later telling me that she had two girls,” Flannery recalled in a subsequent written statement. “The first had brown hair with light brown highlights, measurements 35-25-35 (vaguely) and a 36C chest. The second girl was [H]ispanic with roughly the same measurements. The lady on the phone told me the girls were in their mid- to late twenties and had worked together before.”

Flannery shared this information with his buddies, and they decided that hiring the two strippers was a good plan. Flannery then called his other teammates, not already there, and invited them over for the party, which was going to be a night of drinking, watching TV and playing “Beirut,” another name for the drinking game beer pong, where cups partially filled with beer are arranged in a pyramid shape on a table and each team takes turns trying to bounce a Ping-Pong ball into the cups. If the ball goes in, a member of the opposing team has to drink the beer. The skill required to get the Ping-Pong ball into the cups is pretty low, so the consumption of beer is pretty high — which is the point, after all. Another housemate, David Evans, also then 22 and the co-captain of the lacrosse team along with Flannery, collected $25 from each lacrosse player at the house to pay the $800 cost of the two strippers.

McFadyen remembered when he got back to the party for the second time, “People were collecting money, like, ‘Hey, we’ve got dancers coming. Instead of going to Teasers, they’re coming here.’ All right. The whole team’s here. I’ll hang out.”

Around 6:10 that night, “Melissa” from the Allure Agency called Kim Roberts, also known as Kim Pittman, a thirty-one-year-old half-black, half-Korean woman who had been working at the agency for about six months. She lived at 1602 Albany Street in Durham, had a young daughter and was in some trouble with the law. She had been convicted of embezzling from a previous employer in Durham County and had then run off to California, in violation of her parole. She returned to Durham, even though there was an outstanding warrant for her arrest for missing a meeting with her parole officer. Her job prospects were pretty dim. Dancing as a stripper was a way to get some steady work and pay her bills. Allure told her to show up at 11 p.m. at the house on North Buchanan for a bachelor party of about fifteen guys. “I went to Priscilla’s to purchase an outfit for the evening and proceded [sic] to get ready for the night,” she wrote in a statement given to the Durham police about a week later. She believed the party would be relatively small and tame because she assumed the guys would be older—the friends of a guy getting married — and that she would be dancing with another, more experienced woman in case things got out of control.

When Roberts arrived at 610 North Buchanan around eleven o’clock, she decided not to stop at the house. She had quickly realized that this was not likely to be a bachelor party but rather a Duke student party at what looked like some off-campus house. She was right. “At first I didn’t want to stay, because I saw all these young guys,” she said. She drove around the block and then pulled up to the house.

Flannery—known to her as “Dan F.”—met her when she got out of the car. She still didn’t like the setting but Flannery got her to relax, although her anxieties were not much allayed when she saw player after player coming out onto the front lawn of the house to take a piss. Flannery told her that actually the party was a gathering of friends, not a bachelor party after all, and that they were all graduate students on sports teams at Duke. Flannery described Roberts as the “Hispanic” stripper—even though she was not—and “very friendly and outgoing.” He said she told him she had graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — even though she had not — and that the other stripper, described as a black girl, would be arriving shortly. “She drove her own vehicle, seemed very conscious, sober and eager to start the party,” Flannery explained in his written statement. She waited another thirty minutes or so for the other dancer, Crystal Gail Mangum, to arrive at the house.

While Roberts was waiting, she saw a Durham police car drive by the house a few times. This made her nervous—there was the outstanding warrant for her arrest, after all — so she moved to the back of the house. Evans made Roberts a drink — Diet Pepsi and whiskey—and she and Flannery hung out in Evans’s room for a while, waiting for Mangum to arrive. She went outside at one point to smoke a cigarette and Flannery accompanied her. She also collected her $400.

She had been told that members of the Duke baseball and track teams were at the party, but then learned that the party comprised Duke lacrosse players.

One player told her the guys were expecting one of the strippers to be white and the other to be Hispanic. Even though Roberts was not Hispanic, she looked like she would fit the bill, so the general expectation was that the other stripper would be white. “As we waited, I met a few of the fellas in the house,” Roberts said, “and chitchatted for several minutes. The guys were anxious and asked me to call Melissa and check on the second girl. We were told that she was on her way.”

When Mangum, who is black, finally arrived, there was some initial concern about whether the dancing should proceed, given the boys’ preference for white dancers. Like Roberts, Mangum was a single mother — of two children — and a student at the predominantly black North Carolina Central University in Durham. She also seemed unsteady on her feet. “When the black girl arrived,” Flannery explained, “she was dropped off by a male and was suspected to be high and drunk. She could hardly speak and her words were slurred and at times incomprehensible. . . . Guys on the team were commenting on how messed-up/high the black stripper was.” Added Evans, “She was obviously on some kind of drug from the start, the black stripper. She couldn’t walk or talk clearly.”

But Flannery and his buddies decided to move ahead with the evening entertainment as planned. “People are kind of shoveling up money,” McFadyen recalled. “I heard Dan saying, ‘These girls are coming. Let’s go. Everyone get around.’ And I’m in the back playing washers with Kevin Mayer and having a couple beers. But nothing was out of the ordinary. Every party there is somebody who is the DD”—designated driver — “and someone who’s drunk, and every level in between. And guys were just having a good time. I remember Dan telling people, ‘Hey, the girls are coming. Let’s get inside.’ So we file in. The main living room is packed. I hopped into someone’s bedroom. Eddie Douglas was in there. We sat down. We were watching baseball on TV.”

McFadyen also remembered what Flannery said about the two dancers. “He was like, ‘Oh, we have two girls, both blondes, in their late twenties, 36-24-…’ He gave some measurement. All right, great.” But then, after the players had assembled and the dancing was about to begin, McFadyen remembered that Flannery had told everyone: “‘Hey, both girls are here, and they’re chocolate.’ I was like, ‘Whatever.’ D. Wood” — Devon Sherwood, the only black player on the team — “gets up and goes, ‘Hell yeah, bring them in.’ I said, ‘I don’t care if they’re black, white, whatever. They’re just here to dance, show some skin and that’s it.’”

Mangum — whom Roberts referred to as “Precious,” while she referred to Roberts as “Nikki” — went to the back of the house, met Roberts “for the first time” and then went inside to get her $400 payment, which she then showed to Roberts. Flannery and Evans then spoke to the women about “the routine and the logistics of their dance.” They also spoke about the need to be “respectful” during the performance. “Okay, you guys seem very respectful,” Roberts recalled telling the guys. “If everybody acts as you are acting, I’m sure we’ll have a fun time. I’m sure we’ll have a good time.” Roberts said, “They completely assured me that everybody in there were good guys — ‘Everybody in there is respectful, and you will be fine and safe.’ [I was] completely assured of that.”

With the decision made to proceed, Roberts told Flannery to go back inside the house so she could speak with Mangum alone and “get to know her” before the dancing began. “We talked,” Roberts explained later. “We joked a little bit. I told her I was new to this and didn’t really know what I was doing. [She] told me that she danced at a club and was a little more experienced. She told me about her kids … It was a regular, normal conversation, nothing that set off any alarm bells in my head.” Roberts disputed the notion that Mangum was incoherent when she arrived, even though later the statement that Mangum was “loopy” would be attributed to her.

They headed into the house, into Evans’s bathroom, to get changed and prepared, even though Mangum was already in costume. (She also showed up at the house with cuts on her knee and foot, according to pictures of the event.)

“We conversed about our plan for the dance,” Roberts explained. While the two women were in the green-tile bathroom, “there was a knock on the door,” Roberts continued, “and we were handed two drinks of equal amounts.” They sipped the drinks but soon “Precious’s cup fell into the sink,” Roberts said.

They finished getting dressed, and then Flannery led the women out of the bathroom to the living room “to do our show,” Roberts continued. At that time, most of the students were in the front room of the house, drinking, watching TV, listening to music and waiting for the dancing to begin. “There were about twenty to twenty-five young guys there who were all sitting down,” Roberts recalled. “Precious and I began our show, which, in my opinion, seemed to be going well.” Observed Flannery, “Guys were cheering and yelling.” Roberts noticed that the guys had been drinking more than just beer — she saw a large bottle of Jack Daniel’s going around — and remarked at how young many of them seemed. “The girls entered the room, began to dance and make out with each other,” Flannery continued. “The black girl fell to the ground and the [H]ispanic girl sat on her face, engaging in or mimicking oral sex.” Recalled McFadyen, “So they come in. I remember hearing when they come in and start dancing . . . I remember when I first saw [Mangum], you could just tell. Her movements were wishy-washy. She was really fucked-up on something.”

Evans noted that Mangum “couldn’t talk or stand up straight, she was so high,” and that Roberts “took of[f] her bra” but “never her underwear.” Mangum, he said, “only pulled her top down halfway” and “never took off her underwear,” either. “The girls were sloppily dancing due to the black stripper’s state of mind and began to kiss,” he observed. Still, there seemed to be the expectation among the team members, Roberts later thought on reflection, that the dancers “would fully degrade each other during the course of the performance.” Evans reported that that was, in fact, what happened next. He said Mangum “went down” on Roberts. Neither Roberts nor Mangum recalled having oral sex.

At the time, Roberts said she was increasingly nervous for their safety. “As soon as we showed ourselves in our costumes, it was on,” she said. “They were ready to see whatever they were going to see, and so it got loud from there and there was no time. There was no time. There was no wait. It was just a go from there… You have to think of two little girls among how many big boys? That in and of itself is intimidating if they are not being respectful of my feelings, my space… How is someone supposed to perform a show if they’re wondering, ‘Okay, what’s this guy talking about over here? Am I going to have to worry about my safety?’ Things were said that made me concerned for my safety.”

After the women got up off the floor, according to Flannery, Roberts asked the guys, “Who was going to step up and take their pants off[?] No one would.” Peter Lamade, then 21, from Chevy Chase, Maryland, and a graduate of the Landon School — a feeder school for Duke athletes — asked Roberts “if she put objects up her vagina.” Her response, according to Flannery, was “something along the lines of ‘I would put your dick in me but you’re not big enough.’” Then Lamade grabbed a broomstick, showed it to Roberts and said, “Would this do?” (Another version of this incident, according to Matt Zash, had Lamade wondering if the dancers had brought with them any “sex toys,” to which Roberts supposedly responded, “What’s wrong, white boy, is your dick too small?” To which Lamade responded by grabbing the broomstick and telling Roberts, “Here, you can use this” and “I’m gonna shove this up you.”)

With events having taken a seemingly nasty turn, Roberts decided to stop the show. “That statement made me uncomfortable, and I felt like I wanted to leave,” Roberts explained. “I raised my voice to the boys and said the show was over. The commotion riled Precious up and caused her to get irate.” Roberts was “half-naked” at that point, according to Flannery, and Mangum was wearing a “glittery-type dress or getup.” He said Mangum had not taken off her clothes. Roberts was very upset at this point. She was “yelling and screaming about how we had disrespected them,” Flannery recalled. Roberts then grabbed Mangum and both women headed into David Evans’s room. “So, three minutes later, all of a sudden I look up and I see the one girl stepping over the couch and getting out of the room,” McFadyen remembered. “The guys were saying shit to each other.”

Flannery and Evans, as well as players Kyle Dowd and Tony McDevitt, followed the women into Evans’s room. “We tried to apologize and reason with the [H]ispanic stripper,” Flannery recalled. “The black stripper was mumbling and stumbling. I was apologizing to the [H]ispanic stripper and she offered to give me a private dance that I refused.” Roberts and Mangum then went into the bathroom and closed the door. “I told her I wanted to leave,” Roberts recalled. “Precious felt we could get more money and that we shouldn’t leave yet. She was uncontrollable at this point and was yelling at the boys, who were knocking at the door, to leave us alone.”

With the show over, a number of the lacrosse players were angry, as if they had paid $800 for next to nothing. “Guys on the team were upset and wanted their money back,” Flannery said. “Some guys wanted to call the police.” He tried to convince the women to continue the show, but that did not happen.

“At that point I was demanding our money back, because it appeared they were hustling us,” Evans recalled. Said McFadyen, “I remember the two girls were in the bathrooom. They had locked themselves in. I guess they had already pooled all the money together and paid them up front for, like, two hours; it was $400 an hour for two, ‘Here’s $800,’ and it had been, like, ten minutes. So then it was ‘Hey, listen. We understand your friend is really fucked-up. She’s not fit to dance. She needs to be taken somewhere, or you need to take care of her. But we paid you for two hours. Can we get some of the money back?’ I remember walking by and seeing Dan and Evans were having this conversation.”

According to Evans, it took another $100 — that Flannery paid — to get the two women out of the bathroom and to leave the house. Jason Bissey, the nextdoor neighbor, heard the commotion brewing outside about the feeling of being cheated by the dancers. Meanwhile, Roberts changed her clothes in the car and just wanted to drive away but didn’t want to leave “Precious” by herself in the house. She said the guys came to her car window and asked her to help get Mangum, who had passed out on the back porch of the house. “By this point, it seemed that the fellas may have been ready for the evening to be over,” Roberts said. “I told them that if they could get her to my car, I would get her out of their hair.”

That is what happened. “The [H]ispanic stripper stomped out the back door with the black stripper in the midst of changing back into her clothes,” Flannery remembered. “I was talking to the [H]ispanic the entire time she was walking to her car, apologizing… The [H]ispanic girl entered her vehicle and was very angry. I tried to calm her down. [S]he wouldn’t leave without the black stripper. We both thought the black girl was still in the bathroom. However, she was passed out on the back stoop of the house, half-naked. At this time I went to the back of the house w[ith] Kevin Coleman” — another teammate — “who photographed her passed out there and picked her up. I put her arms around my shoulder and walked her to the other girl’s car.”

When Mangum got into Roberts’s car, Roberts noticed that she did not have her bag. Roberts asked her if she “had the most important thing, her money.” Mangum told Roberts she did have the money. “But she did not seem coherent,” Roberts recalled. “She then told me that we should go back to the house because there was more money to be made there.” Roberts asked Mangum again if she had her “things” and Mangum said yes, she did, but Roberts didn’t see them. “So in my opinion, she was talking crazy,” Roberts recalled. She locked Mangum in her car and went back into the house to try to find Mangum’s bag. She and Flannery looked around for Mangum’s bag but couldn’t find it. “I said, ‘I’ve done all I can,’ and went back to my car,” she said.

Evans was growing concerned that the Durham police might come by, what with all the yelling and screaming and the fact that Mangum was stumbling around barefoot and, apparently, without her top on. “The [H]ispanic girl was in her driver’s-side seat, while the black girl was circling the car, yelling,” Evans remembered. “Her boobs were exposed and I thought that we were going to get a noise violation and that she was going to get a public nudity charge.”

Evans tried to convince her to go back inside and get her purse and shoes. But she wasn’t going back inside. Frustrated by the scene outside, Evans said he went back into the house and told everyone to leave because of the commotion outside. “Everyone was like, ‘Everyone’s got to go. Let’s go to Charlie’s. Let’s go to a bar. Everyone make your way out,’” McFadyen said. “Guys were all over the house, walking out the front door, walking out the back. I think we were out of beer at that point. People just kind of dispersed.” Evans said his teammates were still miffed. “They kept [asking me,] ‘Did we get the money back, because we got hustled’; they had only stripped for maybe five minutes,” Evans recalled. “I said, ‘No, and I would gladly pay to have them leave.’ This would be bad publicity for our team; otherwise I would have called the police then. Ryan McFadyen said that he wanted to take the money from the black girl’s purse. I told him he was stupid ’cuz the girl had a driver who prob[ably] had a gun and would kill us.”

McFadyen had stayed behind briefly to use the bathroom. “Most guys are exiting to the backyard,” he said. “Some guys are leaving. Some guys are walking down to the one bar. Some are walking to the other. Most of the guys are walking this way, toward East Campus so they can go to Charlie’s. I was taking a pee. I remember seeing the one girl” — meaning Roberts — “walk out. I don’t know. I guess everything is settled. I’m walking out and Dan Loftus was there. Dan said something … Dan opens the door and says, ‘Oh, you’re welcome,’ and she’s like, ‘Fuck you.’ Dan looks at me. Dan does a really funny face. His face was like, ‘Oh, she’s a little testy, huh?’” As the women were getting ready to leave in Roberts’s blue Honda, and then again as they were driving off, racial epithets started flying. Jason Bissey, who was already concerned about all the noise and the partying, said he heard one of the players yell, “Hey, bitch, thank your grandpa for your nice cotton shirt!”

Roberts said the verbal assaults were even more offensive than Bissey recalled. “They just hollered it out, ‘n—-,’ ‘n—-,’ ‘n—–’ ” said Roberts. “They were hollering it for all to hear. They didn’t care who heard it.” Flannery remembered that some of his teammates were on top of the stone wall that surrounds Duke’s East Campus and were yelling at the Honda as it pulled away. He saw that Roberts had stopped the car, gotten out, and yelled something back. Roberts later conceded she may have provoked a response by yelling “You limpdick white boys, you’re not real men. You had to pay for us” at them. At that point, Flannery said, the guys on the wall screamed, “Go home and feed your kids.” Roberts replied, “Fuck Duke, I’m calling the cops. That’s a hate crime.”

For his part, Matt Zash remembered overhearing one of his teammates say, “Well, we asked for whites, not n—–,” whereupon he heard Roberts say, “That’s a hate crime, I’m calling the police.” As she drove away, Roberts said, she kept thinking to herself, “It was almost unbelievable. All I kept going back to was, ‘I can’t believe these are Duke students.’” Recalled McFadyen, “We’re sitting on the East Campus wall. Five minutes later, the girl comes out, gets in her car, pulls her car around. Dan Flannery walks out with the other girl, who is passed out in his arms… He’s carrying her out, puts her in the car. There was an exchange of words between some of the guys sitting farther down from me on the fence with Kim Roberts, whatever her name was, and she drives off.”

Since he didn’t have his fake ID with him, McFadyen and some of his younger teammates went back to their dormitory room at Edens Quad, on Duke’s West Campus. “That was probably around midnight at that point,” he said. “Hung out for a bit. I wrote my e-mail. I go to sleep.” The e-mail he wrote, although in exceedingly poor taste, was supposedly a riff on the Bret Easton Ellis novel American Psycho, which many Duke students were required to read. The book and the movie based on it were favorites of McFadyen’s.

“To whom it may concern,” McFadyen wrote, “Tommorow [sic] night, after tonights show, ive decided to have some strippers over to edens 2c. all are welcome. however there will be no nudity. I plan on killing the bitches as soon as the[y] walk in and proceding to cut their skin off while cumming in my duke issue spandex… all in besides arch and tack[.] please respond[.]”

In any event, it was bedtime after a long day and night. The Duke lacrosse team had a practice the next day at 11 a.m.

Excerpted from “The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite, and the Corruption of Our Great Universities” by William Cohan, published on April 8, 2014 by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed with permission. All rights reserved.

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    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

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