This summer, life and work seriously got in the way of my down-time, and this trend doesn’t seem to be slowing. As a result, it seems that all I have the time and inclination to read are graphic novels.

Some still question the value of graphic novels and comics, but I freely admit to loving them. They can be read in one sitting. Artwork is often glorious and serves to drive the story. Writing can be profound or just plain fun. Diverse genres cover everything from superheroes to true crime. You can choose something serialized or wrapped up in a single volume. The graphic novels I’ve been reading lately demonstrate the astonishing variety available these days.

The Outcast, volume 1, A Darkness Surrounds Him, by Robert Kirkman

If you put Robert Kirkman’s name on something, chances are people will read it or watch it, thanks to the success of “The Walking Dead.” I must admit, with some chagrin, to being one of those people.

“The Outcast” intrigued me, and not just because Kirkman wrote it. An unnamed evil has followed Kyle Barnes since childhood: demons that possess those he loves, such as his mother and his wife. He is left an isolated, broken man who hides in his house and refuses to interact with anyone. Until strange things begin happening in his hometown, that is, and a local pastor/exorcist comes asking for his help.

Kyle reluctantly agrees to accompany the pastor as he attempts to exorcise people who have been acting strangely and committing heinous acts. As he becomes more involved, Kyle learns that he himself has an effect on the demons possessing these individuals.

“The Outcast” unfolds gradually, until the danger becomes clear. There is an evil force stalking the town, and Kyle in particular.

The artwork reinforces this sense of something not quite right. Much of the action happens in nighttime gloom or dimly lit rooms. The color palette features muted blues, greens and grays, with only the red splashes of blood adding color. This series holds promise.

The Fade Out, Act One, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Opening scene: a hung-over screenwriter awakens in an empty bath tub after a wild night of partying. He exits the bathroom, only to discover the cold, motionless body of the star of his latest project. In a panic, he rushes out – after wiping his fingerprints from surfaces – without reporting the murder.

Thus begins this film noir graphic novel set in 1940s Los Angeles. Our hero is troubled; he drinks too much, suffers from post-World War II PTSD, and has developed writer’s block. But he is a decent man who, though he pretends to know nothing, wants to see the crime solved. He examines everyone around him with suspicion but seems helpless to do anything.

The use of narration echoes a story-telling device frequently used in classic film noir. Characters are lifted straight out of old Hollywood; some are based on real people, while others are the genuine article. Even the murder itself calls to mind unsolved crimes connected to the film-making business. “The Fade Out” also exposes underbelly of that business: racism, sexual exploitation of young women, a studio system that protects its stars and directors at any cost.

If you like mystery and movies, “The Fade Out” should appeal to you.

Over Easy, by Mimi Pond

A depiction of a very specific time and place, “Over Easy” serves as a fictionalized memoir and coming-of-age story.

This graphic novel follows Margaret, a straight-laced art student struggling to pay for school in 1978 Oakland, California. A cup of coffee and a sketch lead to her getting a job at the Imperial Café, first as a dishwasher, then a waitress.

The Imperial is not your standard diner. It attracts a unique crowd, from prostitutes to punk rockers, hippies to professional types. Delicious, creative food comes from the chaotic kitchen inhabited by foul-mouthed personalities. Waitresses wear cool vintage dresses and have an interesting array of lovers. Drugs are freely used, people have sex in the bathroom, and punk rock is forcing its way into a world of flashy disco and lingering hippies.

Slowly, Margaret comes out of her shell and transforms into Madge, who wears vintage clothes, attends punk shows and poetry readings, takes lovers and has a place of her own. She becomes more open to new experiences and unusual people while retaining Margaret’s talent, sensitivity and fragile confidence.

The Imperial Café is a way station for Margaret. She loves it there, but you sense that she will eventually move on to bigger things. In the meantime, she just goes with the flow, her workplace and her co-workers filling her days.

I hated to see “Over Easy” end. The detailed sketch of Margaret and her world quickly pulled me in, and I wanted to see more by the final page – not unlike the yearning that Margaret probably feels as she tries to figure herself out.

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