March 18, 2016
NYRB launches new imprint devoted to comics
by Wah-Ming Chang
New York Review Comics, the new imprint from NYRB Classics, just released its first title: Agony by Mark Beyer. Originally published in 1987, Agony charts the misadventures of Amy and Jordan, two hapless characters who seem cursed to go through some nth circle of hell on each page. A typically gleeful spread reads: “I’m going to lance your head. We’ll see if we can drain out some of the blood! / [Shortly] Your head’s starting to get smaller, but the whole apartment’s starting to fill up with blood.”
It’s Dante meets Alice in Wonderland. Or, as Colson Whitehead puts it in his introduction, a call to Samuel Beckett:
The flat landscapes of Agony evoke Beckett’s absurd wastelands. Surely Vladimir and Estragon live in the sublet upstairs, and Nagg and Nell from Endgame own the local diner, sans legs and still trapped in their ashcans. Beyer also shares Beckett’s humor and, unlikely as it is, his optimism. Agony is about agony, but it’s also about the hope that endures despite all that life throws at you. “In the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on,” laments the narrator of The Unnamable. It’s a nice echo of Jordan’s encouragement to his partner/roommate/double in Agony: “We’ve just got to keep trying harder. It’s a struggle, but what else can we do?”
NYRC, a welcome addition to the rich world of graphic novels, will publish six titles a year, some of them reprints and others new translations of classics. They won’t limit themselves to adult comics, however, but will also include children’s books, manga, and just anything that’s “fallen through the cracks,” according to the imprint’s co-director, Gabriel Winslow-Yost. He continues: “We know the New York Review of Books is seen as stuffy, but a lot of editors here love comics.”
This year’s comics includes a collection by Glen Baxter (also known as Colonel Baxter) and a new translation of the historical saga Peplum by the French cartoonist Blutch.
Wah-Ming Chang is the managing editor of Melville House.