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In These Graphic Novels, Something Is Horribly Amiss

You never know what’s going to go wrong, until you do.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

The first indication that something is horribly amiss comes after 16 pages of indigo ink in the cartoonist Beth Hetland’s terrific debut graphic novel, TENDER (Fantagraphics, 157 pp., $19.99). As the heroine, Carolanne, prepares a meal, she cuts into a slab of meat she’s cooking and we get a glimpse of a new color: red.

It’s not quite right to say that the book is subtle — its lovingly rendered gore is profuse and shocking — but Hetland has a wide variety of scare tactics at her beck and call. She excels at incongruity, interrupting what seem to be spare, predictable renderings with creepy little details that suggest the infernal depths of Carolanne’s obsessions and fears.

Hetland’s broader subject is the unbearable weight thrust upon women who are expected to marry and have children no matter the cost to themselves. It’s a unique, textured dread, and Hetland eagerly explores the eccentricities of Carolanne’s mind as she imagines the worst that can happen, no matter how improbable or unhinged — and when it inevitably does happen, the lengths to which she will go.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Every work by the polymath video game designer Jordan Mechner is essentially about rewinding time, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that REPLAY: Memoir of an Uprooted Family (First Second, 318 pp., $39.99) braids together so many time periods so adroitly. There are three primary strands: Mechner’s own nomadic existence as he globe-trots seeking funding and staff for his latest projects, often at the expense of his family’s stability; his father’s boyhood fleeing the Nazis during World War II; and his grandfather’s misadventures as a conscript from a city in eastern Austria-Hungary that becomes part of Romania during the First World War and ceases to be home.

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