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The New World: Comics from Mauretania

by Chris Reynolds; Seth (ed.)

That we are living in a golden age for graphic novels is clear. Satrapi, Telgemeier, Tagame, Beaton, and Bechdel – what other generation of readers has had access to such a variety of visual narratives? It’s onto this crowded shelf that Canadian cartoonist Seth, along with New York Review Comics, introduces this new collection of work by Chris Reynolds from the 1980s and ’90s. And though it is unlikely that the (arguably obscure) British cartoonist will obtain quite the same cultural currency as some of these other luminaries, the publication of his neglected work is no less a sign of the continued strength of the comics medium.

Printed in bits and pieces in the U.K. before graphic novels had obtained mainstream respectability, the comics in The New World offer a glimpse into a hauntingly brilliant body of work. Seth has long been Reynolds’s most prominent champion; he both edited and designed this volume, which includes 17 short pieces as well as the longer story “The Dial” and the graphic novella Mauretania. Though each piece can stand alone, they are also interconnected, sharing themes, motifs, characters, and situations, and the book is thoughtfully ordered to work as a complete reading experience.

Reynolds’s work is visually idiosyncratic, full of very heavy lines, eerily still land- and cityscapes, and oddly squiggly, hand-lettered word balloons. The strangeness of the style perfectly reflects the content: Reynolds’s storytelling relies always on enigma, elision, and subtle absurdity. A building disappears. A business folds. A colleague in a helmet vanishes. These comics are steady, often quiet, and not so much poignant as dreamlike. In The New World, as in dreams, the mundane and the unusual spiral and reverberate.