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Art Masters: Basquiat by Julian Voloj and Søren Mosdal

24 April 2019

The dazzling, provocative 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.

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In Basquiat, the latest book in our Art Masters series, writer Julian Voloj and artist Søren Mosdal meld biographical research with speculation to capture the inner and outer lives of the archetypal New York artist.

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Grounded in true events, from the SAMO graffiti project to encounters with Andy Warhol, Basquiat is propelled by a clash between the artist and his demons. It shows a man grappling with questions of art and love, fame and friendship, while creating some of the most influential and enduring art work of the 20th century.

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Julian Voloj and Søren Mosdal's graphic novel is a compelling portrait of a man whose influence, three decades on from his death at 27, stretches far beyond the world of fine art into design, fashion, music and beyond. 

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Basquiat is released on 9th May and is available from all good book stores. 

Memoirs of a Book Thief by Alessandro Tota and Pierre Van Hove

17 April 2019

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.

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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".

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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.

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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!

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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.

Cannabis: An American History

2 April 2019

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.

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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.
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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.
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In the early 20th century, the Mexican Revolution sent Mexican people fleeing north, with cannabis culture in tow.
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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".
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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.

Where I Work | Aimée de Jongh

22 March 2019

Dutch cartoonist Aimée 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 The Observer's list of the Best Graphic Books of 2016. This is where she works, and here's what she has to say about it:

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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.

Event | Jérôme Tubiana and Alexandre Franc discuss Guantánamo Kid at the London Review Bookshop

29 January 2019

On Tuesday 12th March, Jérôme Tubiana and Alexandre Franc will discuss their graphic novel Guantánamo Kid at the London Review Bookshop. They'll be in conversation with Jeremy Harding, a contributing editor at the LRB, from 7pm.

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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.

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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.

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The event takes place at the London Review Bookshop, 14 Bury Place, London, WC1A 2JL. Tickets are £10 and available here.