New Graphic Novels Detail Personal Journeys and Twists of Fate

As the story begins, Jimmy Yee, the Everyman protagonist of many of Shiga’s comics, is writing a suicide note. He hangs himself, and promptly wakes up alive and well in the same grotty motel. “I’ve been given a second chance,” he declares before slitting his wrists, with the same result. After a few more attempts to kill himself end similarly, this version of Jimmy, a psychopathic actuary with a gift for mental computation, figures out what’s going on: He’s actually a demon who possesses whoever is closest to him whenever his host body dies.

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From “A Contract With God.”

Naturally, the government wants to use Jimmy as a weapon, and his path to freedom involves committing suicide over and over in increasingly ingenious ways (with a lot of homicide thrown in, too). The result is a bit like Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s “Death Note” — escalating mayhem based on a plot gimmick with very specific rules — except that Shiga delights in letting the simple cuteness of his visual style sugarcoat horrific gross-outs. At the climax of the first volume, Jimmy has to figure out a way to kill his current host body, armed only with “nearly an entire square of toilet paper … double ply.” His solution is hilariously original, and so far beyond the pale that it has practically forgotten what the pale was.

Gabrielle Bell is a supreme miniaturist. Her tart, wry comics generally make their point in a few pages, then vanish like an uncomfortable party guest. Discomfort, actually, is the chief subject and substance of her work: Her characters slump and stare at their nails, obsess over their social awkwardness, fret over what to do about mysterious smells. EVERYTHING IS FLAMMABLE (Uncivilized, $25.95) extends that aesthetic to a book-length narrative, a memoir of Bell’s difficult relationship with her mother, Maggie.

When Maggie’s house, a four-hour…

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