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Sparkplug Highlights: Mine Tonight and The Hot Breath of War, by Trevor Alixopulos

Stylish, violent, and sordid — but also thoughtful and, occasionally, hopeful — Trevor Alixopulos has crafted two powerful books about war, politics, and relationships that will draw you in and force you to take a hard, long look at the realities of our modern world. 
In Mine Tonight, individuals with high ideals and few scruples struggle and scheme among the backdrop of the second Bush administration, the giddy chaos of WTO protest-era Seattle, and the moral fog of post-9/11 New York. The tricks of memory and the ambiguity of politics add the the intrigue of a tale that is both intensely personal and widely relevant. Lukas, an amoral gun for hire, finds himself embroiled in the corruptions of the 2004 presidential election; his journey and demons are aggressively rendered in black and white drawings, which fluidly convey anger, fear, and motion.
The Hot Breath of War is a looser book, conceptually, but no less powerful. Entwining several seemingly unrelated episodes featuring vastly different characters and experiences, this book ultimately creates a vivid picture of life during wartime. Alixopulos uses subtle storytelling and skillful artistry to explore love amid conflict and the seduction and love of violence itself. While the art in The Hot Breath of War is more cartoonish than the art in Mine Tonight, it still remains graphically sophisticated and urgently shows movement and emotion.
The Hot Breath of War and Mine Tonight are perfect for fans of Joe Sacco or Jules Feiffer, but they stand on their own merits as unique graphic novels that speak to our current political and personal affairs.
“If you’re anything like me, tales of the 2004 presidential election can still be a little traumatic. Luckily Mine Tonight deals only peripherally with that event, instead focusing on the maturation of a young man named Lukas, from his certainty that the world was going to end any minute to deep cynicism, all the way back to a belief that he could possibly make things a little better. The prologue gets most of that out of the way and is crucial to show just why he’s willing to sign up for a fairly ridiculous mission: get 5 million dollars from a front group of a billionaire (with the permission of said billionaire) and pass it along to the Kerry campaign, all while keeping his famous name out of it. . .It’s a wonderfully morally ambiguous tale. Although Lukas knows that his actions will likely have little to no effect on the election, and although he knows that his lack of ruthlessness might well be what keeps the people in charge doing their thing, he’s still trying somewhat hopelessly to make things a little bit better. This is probably the best thing Trevor has done yet (although he has plenty of minis I still haven’t read, so who knows), relevant for our times yet never preachy.” Kevin Bramer, Optical Sloth
The Hot Breath of War combines the loose, single-image essay style that was popular briefly in the ’50s and ’60s and marries it to a series of short stories interconnected by happenstance and theme. That’s where things get difficult, because Alixopulos’ latest seems like a meditation on life through war and, in one or two places, vice-versa. In some of the more affecting moments, there’s a sense that life is way too fragile to insert the horrifying weight of seizure and goal-taking through violence and death into its delicate mix. Yet there’s also a vitality present in some of the non-war sequences that relates to the human desire to connect in some way, that suggests the out-sized roles we play in order to place ourselves exactly where we want to be include that of soldier and victim.” Tom Spurgeon, Comics Reporter