Graphic novels: 4 new releases where the characters will get under your skin and into your soul

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Alison

By Lizzy Stewart

Fantagraphics Books, 192 pages, $37.95

It’s not hard to find a coming-of-age story on bookstore shelves, but few carry the beauty and subtlety of “Alison,” a piece of illustrated storytelling that’s built on warmth and empathy.

It’s the life story of its title character, a young English housewife who, in building a career as a painter, swaps the Dorset countryside for London’s glittering and grimy art scene. From the 1970s through to the present day, we join Alison in lessons about life, relationships, aging and more.

This is a thoughtful, affecting book, and so well-made, with pristine paragraphs of prose standing alone or supported by illustrations, in between events presented as comics. It feels personal, but also universal, and is a slow, rewarding read. One highlight is the use of texture: a lovely ink wash technique adds depth everywhere. Pick this one up and look for it on lists of award nominations.

Palookaville 24

By Seth

Drawn and Quarterly, 112 pages, $39.95

Seth’s back with more “Palookaville,” perhaps the most unusual anthology around. Published on a shifting schedule and in various physical forms for 32 years, it’s now a hardcover confection of comic strip, photography and other features, all meticulously designed by Guelph’s mononymous master of comics. It’s wonderful, of course — and this time it includes a DVD.

In Volume 24 — and don’t worry about catching up; just jump aboard — the comics include the next part of Seth’s autobiography “Nothing Lasts,” which is Seth all the way: raw and engaging, built slowly with tiny pieces of blackline art and, as always, overlaid with one colour at a time. Elsewhere, photography pages reveal the puppets Seth made for a short film directed by Luc Chamberland and that movie’s on the DVD. It’s a fun watch.

Let’s be glad that “Palookaville” exists as a piece of Canadian art.

Best of 2000 AD Volume 3: The Essential Gateway to the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic

By John Wagner, Erica Henderson, Gordon Rennie, Frazer Irving, Ron Smith and others

Rebellion, 192 pages, $32

For an example of an anthology that’s often baffled North American audiences, grab a copy of “2000 AD,” the British science fiction weekly with punk roots and 46 years of material to explore.

There, the self-styled “Galaxy’s Greatest Comic” is hoist by its own petard, having produced so many brain-bending comics that it’s hard to know where to start. Now, however, the answer arrives: you should start with the buzzworthy, popular and superb “Best of 2000 AD” series.

It’s reached Volume 3 (with a fourth due in the fall), but the others are easy to find and all are stuffed with weird comics. In Vol. 3, “2000 AD’s” best-known character, Judge Dredd, stars in stone-cold classic “The Graveyard Shift,” while there’s psychedelic superhero action in “Storming Heaven” and supernatural horror in “Leviathan,” plus cover art by Erica Henderson and others. This is curated comics at their best.

The Skull

By Jon Klassen

Candlewick, 112 pages, $21.99

You’ll shiver and chuckle all the way through “The Skull,” by award-winning children’s book writer/artist Klassen, creator of “I Want My Hat Back” and — a personal favourite and Doug Wright Awards nominee from two years ago — “The Rock From the Sky.”

Manitoba-born and Ontario-bred, Klassen has looked to the forests of Northern Europe for this story, adapting a Tyrolean folk tale about a runaway girl’s encounter with a talking skull. The setting is filled with satisfyingly traditional elements: such as the mysterious castle with dungeons and a tall tower, and the brave youngster with a matter-of-fact approach to problems.

And it’s dark stuff. This is also satisfying, echoing earlier, non-sanitized versions of folk tales while remaining an all-ages story, even if parents of the most sensitive children might be advised to read it through first. The rest of us should expect to find it charming.

Mike Donachie writes about graphic novels from London, Ont.

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