Maine-based writer and artist Travis Dandro’s second graphic memoir, “Hummingbird Heart,” opens with a tiny, undetailed sketch of the titular bird. On the next two pages, the hummingbird zips closer to the reader, resolving into a fully textured feathery being, which on the next spread is revealed to be flying toward a window box to dip its beak into a flower. This trajectory, from just-recognizable outline to dynamic specificity, echoes the emotional arcs of Dandro’s work.

“Hummingbird Heart” begins in 1991 in Leicester, Massachusetts, and its events directly follow those in “King of Kings Court,” Dandro’s first memoir. While each book does stand alone, reading “King” first is helpful for understanding the stakes and setting of “Hummingbird.”

In “King,” readers follow Dandro from childhood to adolescence, with a focus on the author’s complex family dynamics, specifically surrounding his parents. Dandro learns as a child that his biological father isn’t the dad he’s been raised by, but another man, David Pond. David, who is addicted to what appear to be opiates before turning to heroin when his doctor won’t fill his prescription, is a volatile presence in Dandro’s boyhood, in a boisterous mood one day and flying into a violent rage the next. David is arrested and sent to prison for some years, but he returns when Dandro is in high school and gets back together with the boy’s mother. David tries to win over his now distant son and prove that he’s a changed man, but his fits of temper continue, and he begins using again. The first book ends shortly after David Pond’s suicide.

“Hummingbird” starts in the direct aftermath of that event, with the aforementioned window box belonging to Dandro’s maternal grandmother, referred to as Nana throughout. Early in the book, she breaks her hip, and while in the hospital learns that she has cancer. She refuses chemotherapy, and Dandro moves back in (his family had spent some time living with her before) to help take care of her. Nana is foul-mouthed and short-tempered, but in a way that’s entirely distinct from Dandro’s bio-dad. The love she has for her grandson is clear – as is his for her – and her quips and swears are those of a crotchety woman uncomfortable with needing help. Their back and forth is endearing.

In between days at his grandmother’s, Dandro spends time with his friends, Zung and Joey. With Zung, he sneaks off to New York to visit the Museum of Cartoon Art; with Joey, he passes his days in high school; with both, he partakes in quintessential 1990s shenanigans like going to the mall and shoplifting copies of Nirvana’s album Nevermind. In the background, unspoken, his grandmother’s condition worsens and teenage Dandro’s own emotions begin to curdle.

Dandro, who began publishing a comic strip in his local paper when he was 13, is an incredible artist, and where his dialogue is spare, the imagery is dense, lush and sometimes deliberately overwhelming. Stretches of the book are wordless or nearly so, the comic panels conveying the emotional stakes, the sense of loneliness and grief and the inability of Dandro’s teenage self to express these feelings openly. One particularly magical scene, at the Museum of Cartoon Art, shows Dandro as he imagines himself in the world of comics. In the fantasy, his child-self accepts an umbrella from Krazy Kat, passes by Ignatz Mouse glowering down from a jail cell, and steps into a waiting dinghy that takes him over the side of a waterfall. Instead of tumbling down, the umbrella holds him aloft and he floats above beloved comic strip characters: Popeye and Olive Oyl, Calvin and Hobbes, the cast of Peanuts, Garfield and more. In these panels, words aren’t required to understand the love Dandro has for comics and the escape he finds in their figures and stories.

Travis Dandro’s second graphic memoir is more subtle than his first, quieter in terms of plot arc and overt drama, but the richly detailed world is deeply emotional. From close-ups of family photos to the densely lined woods, “Hummingbird Heart” is a beautiful book that asks its readers to slow down, pay attention, and notice the small joys and devastations that can, and often do, exist side by side.

Ilana Masad is a fiction writer, book critic, PhD candidate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and author of the novel “All My Mother’s Lovers.”

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