Bibliophile, book thief, poet: Daniel Brodin, the troubled protagonist of Alessandro Tota and Pierre Van Hove's Memoirs of a Book Thief, is the perfect literary anti-hero. Like his beloved Arthur Rimbaud, Daniel has escaped a "loathsome" provincial town for Paris - and he's determined to make an impression.
On the evening of 10th April 1953, in the heated atmosphere of the Café Serbier, home to the Parisian literati, one luminary suggests giving the floor to an unknown. Daniel seizes his chance.
Under pressure, he recites not one of his own surrealist poems but an obscure piece of Italian verse he's certain no one will know: "The Shepherd's Bitch".
The audience is enraptured. Offers of publication, invites to literary soirées, promises of meetings with Jean-Paul Sartre: that night, Daniel gets everything he could have wished for. But there's someone else in the room who recognises his recital for what it is is: an act of plagiarism.
But as Daniel anxiously awaits his fate, he discovers another side to literary Paris. For this band of cultured rogues and pseudo-revolutionaries, surrealism is passé, work is for suckers and theft is tantamount to poetry.
In the light of their theories, Daniel's plagiarised recital can be seen as a revolutionary avant-garde act. He has revealed the Parisian intelligentsia for what they are: imbeciles!
But Daniel's reinvention of himself as an avant-gardist brings it's own problems. As one act of deception follows another, events take on a momentum of their own and Daniel is swept up in a lifestyle marked by criminal activity and excess.
In Memoirs of a Book Thief, Alessandro Tota and Pierre Van Hove have created an intoxicating coming-of-age story that will make you want to quit your job, drink a gallon of wine and embark on a psychogeographical expedition.
Box Brown is the world's pre-eminent creator of non-fiction graphic novels. Spanning subjects from wrestling to video games, his award-winning books - always surprising, witty and insightful - dig deep into the cultural history of the 20th century. His latest graphic novel, Cannabis: An American History, unravels another complex subject: the history of marijuana in the U.S.A.
The book begins in 16th century Mexico. It was while waging his violent colonial campaigns that Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés introduced hemp farming to the Americas. Over the next few centuries, cultivators observed that some of the plants were growing buds. At some point, they discovered the effects of consuming these buds. Gradually they began to cultivate the hemp for consumption, and in doing so changed its very nature: the buds grew larger and the stems less fibrous. In the early 20th century, the Mexican Revolution sent Mexican people fleeing north, with cannabis culture in tow. Marijuana entered the U.S.A. by means of the immigrant labour force and was eagerly shared among black workers. Of course, it didn't take long for law-makers to decry cannabis as the vice of "inferior races". So began an era of propaganda designed to feed a moral panic about a plant that had been used by humanity for thousands of years.
In Cannabis: An American History, Box Brown takes a deep dive into America's complicated and racialised relationship with weed, which continues to this day.
Dutch cartoonistAimée de Jongh's latest graphic novel, Blossoms in Autumn, is a collaboration with the veteran Belgian writer Zidrou. It is a moving, masterfully crafted exploration of growing old and falling in love. Her debut, The Return of the Honey Buzzard, was on TheObserver's list of the Best Graphic Books of 2016. This is where she works, and here's what she has to say about it:
My studio space in the centre of Rotterdam is pretty small, bedroom size, but I loved it immediately because it's in a former Heineken brewery. The design of the building is beautiful, with bright yellow and red tiles, and it has large stained-glass windows.
These days I often draw digitally, on my Wacom tablet and PC, which are on the other side of this studio. But my sketches, thumbnails and storyboards are still made on paper. On the walls are many posters and prints that inspire me while working. They don't change often. I don't play the guitar that much, but it's nice to stretch my fingers a bit after a day of drawing.
Blossoms in Autumn is out now and available in all good book shops. Read Broken Frontier's review of the book here.
On Tuesday 12th March, Jérôme Tubiana and Alexandre Franc will discuss their graphic novel Guantánamo Kidat the London Review Bookshop. They'll be in conversation with Jeremy Harding, a contributing editor at the LRB, from 7pm.
Guantánamo Kid tells the incredible true story of Mohammed El-Gharani, one of the camp's youngest detainees, who was held and abused for seven years without charge or trial. Endorsed by Amnesty International, and written in close collaboration with El-Gharani himself, this is a landmark work of graphic non-fiction with a fascinating backstory.
The journalist and researcher Jérôme Tubiana first met El-Gharani in N’Djamena in 2011, two years after his release for Guantánamo. They met every afternoon for two weeks, and Tubiana turned their conversations into a diary piece for the London Review of Books. Now, in collaboration with comics artist Alexandre Franc (Agatha), this astonishing story is told in comic book form.
The event takes place at the London Review Bookshop, 14 Bury Place, London, WC1A 2JL. Tickets are £10 and available here.
Let's face it, we could be in for a tumultuous few months. But if you're worried about civil unrest, just-in-time supply chains and Operation Brock, never fear: our spring list has it all, from hard-hitting true stories to unforgettable fiction. Here are six reasons to be cheerful.
Mohammed El-Gharani was no more than 14 when he left his native country, Saudi Arabia, in order to study English in Pakistan. Shortly after 9/11, he was detained during a raid on his local mosque and taken into the custody of the US army. He was flown first to Kandahar and then to Guantánamo Bay, where he was held and abused for seven years without charge or trial. El-Gharani was one of the youngest prisoners at the camp, and one of the few detainees of African descent.
Journalist and researcher Jérome Tubiana first met El-Gharani in N’Djamena in 2011, two years after his release from Guantánamo. They met every afternoon for two weeks, and Tubiana turned their conversations into a diary piece for the London Review of Books.
Now, Tubiana has teamed up with the comics artist Alexandre Franc (Agatha) to turn El-Gharani's story into an absorbing and intense graphic novel that has been endorsed by Amnesty International.
Since retiring, 59-year-old widower Ulysses has been in the grip of loneliness. When he meets Mrs Solenza, a former model who now runs a fromagerie, a relationship blossoms that surprises them both.
Beautifully drawn and masterfully told, Blossoms in Autumn is a life-affirming, emotive exploration of growing old and falling in love.
After delving into the history of the world's most popular video game in Tetris: The Games People Play,Box Brown turns his sharp eye for detail and drama to another fascinating subject: marijuana.
Cannabis: An American History, out in April, traces the long and troubled relationship between cannabis culture and the U.S. establishment, from the drug’s arrival in the country (by means of an immigrant labour force), through dishonest and discriminatory campaigns spearheaded by legislators and the press, to the drug’s Schedule 1 classification.
At a time of widespread legalisation in the States, Box Brown brings an endlessly fascinating, deeply problematic history to comic book form.
In April, an unforgettable piece of original fiction set in 1950s Paris: Memoirs of a Book Thiefby Alessandro Tota and Pierre Van Hove.
When poet and book thief Daniel Brodin seizes an opportunity to read a poem in front of the Parisian literati, he chooses not one of his own surrealist verses but that of an obscure Italian poet. It’s plagiarism - but it's a triumph.
Daniel’s recital marks his entrance into the Parisian avant garde: a band of cultured rogues and pseudo-revolutionaries for whom life is a playground for art, whether plotting a novel or planning a heist. In this milieu, the company is as intoxicating as the wine - but will success lose its dazzle if it is founded on theft?
In Maggy Garrisson, out in April, French comics legend Lewis Trondheim and artist Stéphane Oiry introduce an unforgettable heroine.
After two years of unemployment, Maggy Garrisson lands a secretarial job with a shady private detective. But when her new boss is beaten to a pulp, Maggy is drawn into a dangerous world of bent coppers, crooked businessmen and career criminals.
Set in a familiar, rain-soaked London, Maggy Garrisson is an atmospheric crime drama defined by its eponymous heroine: smart, subversive and unconventional.
The work of Jean-Michel Basquiat would come to define the vibrant New York art scene of the late '70s and early '80s. Punk, jazz, graffiti, hip-hop: his work drew heavily on the cultural trappings of Lower Manhattan, to which he fled - from Brooklyn - at the age of 15.
In Basquiat, published in May, Julian Voloj and Søren Mosdal create a vivid picture of the iconic artist's life and times, from the SAMO graffiti project, through his extraordinary rise to fame, to the development of the addiction that would cost him his life.
In short, it's going to be a damn fine spring. Get ready - and stay tuned.