Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cat Person

Cat Person is a fun and funny book, full of keen observational humor and not as many cat-centric comics as you'd think. I laughed at quite a few of the gags, but more often I sort of blushed/cringed with recognition at having had gone through similar situations.
The book is divided into a few thematic sections. The first is about Seo and her cat Jimmy, the second and third are about Seo's life, mundane routines, struggles with food, and creative struggles/triumphs. The fourth section focuses on aspects of her relationship with Eddie, which is partly long distance, and the fifth is a grab-bag of assorted gags.
If you have read many comics, you can see that the topics tackled here are not really novel, but this book does handle them in an enjoyable and fresh manner. What makes the whole thing work are two things: the expressive and vibrant depictions of the characters and the economy of storytelling that distills particular experiences and sets up the punchlines. Reading this book made me feel as an adult reader like I did when I was a little kid reading a Garfield book, being engrossed by moments of pure joy and hilarity. And I mean that in the most sincere way.

Cat Person was written and drawn by Seo Kim. She is a storyboard artist for the cartoon Adventure Time, and as far as I can tell this book is her only published work in comics to date.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Publishers Weekly called it "a winner. Even the cat jokes are not tired—a difficult feat in a world saturated with feline cartoon books and webcomics." Amy Ratcliffe wrote that it "has its own charming flavor. And, since it is in the style of a journal, you can drop in and out of the book as you please." Whit Taylor called it "a delightful, entertaining read about the little moments in life. Kim’s adeptness at picking up situational nuances, tied with her simple yet whimsical line, hints at an artist who is able to use the inherent ridiculousness of everyday life to her advantage."

Cat Person was published by Koyama Press, and they have a preview and more info about it here. The book has some occasional profanity, so it is recommended for folks who are OK with that.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Shattered Warrior

Shattered Warrior is a compelling piece of science fiction. Its plot may seem familiar: it's about the aftermath of an alien invasion of Earth, where humans have been enslaved to work for their conquerors. Here, the bad guys are the Derichets, who desire to exploit and plunder the Earth's mineral resources. The main character is Colleen Cavanaugh, who still lives in the estate of her formerly very wealthy and well-to-do family, all of whom have been seemingly murdered.
No longer a patrician but reduced to being a lowly factory worker, Colleen has little to live for and trusts no one. However, she learns that her niece Lucy is still alive and needs her help, which sets a series of events in motion.
Eventually, Colleen gets involved with a rag-tag group of resisters, and she falls begrudgingly in love with a rebel named Jann. Together, they come up with a plot to take out the Derichets and reclaim Earth for humanity. Much of what I have described may seem cliched, but I feel that the characterization and plotting in this book make the whole enterprise very engaging and interesting. There was a lot of exposition in the beginning but it paid off in the later chapters, which I felt made for some very compelling reading.

This book is a collaboration between writer Sharon Shinn and artist Molly Knox Ostertag. Shinn is a journalist who also also writes novels, typically in the genres of fantasy, science fiction, or romance. She has several series in her credits. Ostertag is known for her excellent webcomic Strong Female Protagonist and has another graphic novel forthcoming, named The Witch Boy. Both creators chime in about their work on this book in this interview.

The reviews I have read of this book have been mostly positive. Kirkus Reviews commented that "The plot may be familiar, but the social customs of each group are defined so precisely that every detail feels strange and surprising." In a similar vein, Brigid Alverson wrote, "There’s a familiar feel to this tale of revolution against an oppressive society, but it’s well done despite some implausible turns." April Spisak called it a "powerful graphic novel" with "crossover appeal."

Shattered Warrior was published by First Second, and they have a preview and a lot more information about it here. There is a lot of sexual violence, mostly implied, and one steamy romantic scene that had brief nudity, as well as a couple of same-sex relationships featured, so this book is recommended for readers mature enough to handle those things.

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Blank Slate

A few months ago, Comixology had a sale on some French digital comics, and I bought this book, simply because the art was by Pénélope Bagieu. And I have grown to love her work. I finally got around to reading it, and it was a treat. The narrative is about a young woman named Eloise. One day she wakes up on a park bench. She has obviously been crying and has a weird spot on her neck, but she can remember nothing about herself from before that moment. Not her name, address, family, or anything. She does know where she is and how to travel via the subway system, which she does once she puzzles out where she lives from what she could find in her purse.
 

Once she arrives home, she feels like a stranger looking into another person's life. She knows nothing about this apartment, does not feel associations from any of the books or movies there, and she does not even remember the name of her cat (let alone any computer passwords). And every time she encounters a situation where a revelation is about to happen, she takes these flights of fancy into alternate versions of what could happen. These are pretty jarring, but in a funny way.
Over time, she figures out some details, and enlists the aid of a co-worker to help her try to fit in despite her dilemma. I found the whole things pretty entrancing. The mystery unfolded in a deliberate, intriguing pace that kept me hooked for the whole book. There were no pat conclusions or easy answers. And in the end, the resolution seemed perhaps a little bit too pop-psychological, but it also felt apt for this book. If you are looking for a jaunty book that touches on everyday issues of identity, then I feel like this one might work for you.

This book was written by Boulet and features art and colors by Renaissance woman Pénélope Bagieu. Boulet is a very accomplished comics creator in France with a history of success using social media. Bagieu is fast becoming one of my favorite artists. She was awarded the high honor Chevalier des Arts et Lettres for her contribution to the world of art and literature, and she has drawn many different comics works, the most famous being Joséphine and the graphic novels Exquisite Corpse and California Dreamin'. Her artwork and coloring in this book are outstanding.

I had a difficult time finding reviews of this book, but it averages 5 stars (out of 5) on Comixology. Augie De Blieck Jr. found much to praise about the book, and added that "Boulet and Bagieu nail the ending in an unexpected, yet totally satisfying way."

Blank Slate was published by Delcourt (this page is in French), and they have more info about it here.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Real Friends

Real Friends is a memoir about the trials and tribulations of friendship in elementary school. The story here follows Shannon from her days in kindergarten to fifth grade. She has a tough time making friends at first but then meets Adrienne and something just clicks. They are inseparable for a while, but as they get older their relationship gets complicated by other friends, boys, and summer vacations. By the time second grade comes along, they start hanging around a girl named Jen. Jen is very popular and talented, and she ends up the leader of a collection of girls called The Group.
 
Much of this book involves Shannon's various adventures and misadventures with The Group. She strives to belong to it, but she also has to endure a lot of hardship and emotional pain from trying to fit in while being tormented by various Group members. On top of the friendship dynamics, we are also privy to Shannon's family life.  A middle child with four siblings, she often feels isolated and starved for attention. Adding to her load, her older sister Wendy has her own troubles and often unleashes her misery in Shannon's direction. In the end, I felt this book was a very relatable and accurate look at childhood friendships. The author also has a bunch of commentary before and after the story, and the whole enterprise resists easy answers and pigeonholing about people, which I found refreshing. Also, I very much enjoyed the emotion and various personalities conveyed through the art. This book is both vibrant and evocative.

This book is a collaboration between author Shannon Hale and artist LeUyen Pham. Hale is a prolific children's book and YA author, and she has a few graphic novels under her belt, too, including Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack. Pham has drawn a good number of children's books, including The Bear Who Wasn't There, and has worked with Hale before on a series of The Princess in Black books. Both creators speak about their work on this graphic novel in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been glowing. In a starred review for the School Library Journal, Mahnaz Dar summed up, "This tender, perceptive graphic memoir is bound to resonate with most readers, especially fans of Raina Telgemeier and kids struggling with the often turbulent waters of friendships and cliques." Kirkus Reviews called it "A painful and painfully recognizable tale of one girl’s struggle to make and keep 'one good friend.'” In another starred review, Publishers Weekly called it "a wonderfully observed portrait of finding one’s place in your world."

Real Friends was published by First Second and they have a preview and much more about it available here.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Saint Cole

Saint Cole is an unsettling book, the story of Joe, a 28-year-old guy who lives with his girlfriend Nicole and their infant Oscar. He is getting by, working at a pizzeria, just paying their bills, but he's got problems. He feels the pressure of being the sole source of income, and he turns to alcohol to feel better. When Nicole's mother moves in with them, things get more complicated, setting off a chain of events that lead Joe down a dark, dark path.
I am not going to say much more about the plot, because I do not want to ruin things. But the character work and pacing in this books are phenomenal. I could not wait to see what happened next, which was pretty exhilarating and horrible, like I was watching a slow motion train-wreck. And I must say, as dark and unrelenting as this book got, I appreciated the use of verbal humor and wordplay to sell a joke that gets set up at the opening of the book. Watching Joe figuratively and literally get punched in the face by life was a powerful story on its own, and it being punctuated with an unexpected punchline just highlighted how much craft and care went into executing this book. It also made me feel pretty disturbed and thoughtful about this book as a whole, which is the hallmark of a moving piece of art.

This book was created by Noah Van Sciver, author of the graphic novels The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln and Fante Bukowski. He is also known for his many mini-comics (some collected here) and the series Blammo. He has a Patreon page, where I am a sponsor for his work. He also has a Tumblr page where posts many of his works in progress. He speaks about his career and work on Saint Cole in this interview with the fine folks at the Comics Alternative.

All of the reviews I have read indicate that this book is a work to be reckoned with. Hillary Brown praised the artwork, stating, "There’s a smart mind at work here, drawing its visual references from a wide variety of sources." Paul Buhle called Van Sciver "a cartographer of his generation." Tom Murphy opined, "He captures perfectly the down-at-heel environment in which these less-than-aspirational characters play out their drama."

Saint Cole was published by Fantagraphics, and they have a preview and more info about it here. There are profanity, sexual situations, drinking, and some drug use throughout this book so it is suggested for readers mature enough to handle those topics.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Henchgirl

Henchgirl began as a webcomic, and here the entire saga is collected in one volume. The story follows a young woman named Mary Posa, who is physically quite strong and works in the Butterfly Gang run by supervillain Monsieur Butterfly.
Even though she makes much money from crime and is employed by a criminal, she is not really evil, just sort of aimless. She lives with a couple of roommates who know what she does (and do not hold it against her). In the end, this book is less about its superhero trappings and more about personal relationships and observations about trying to get by in the world.
Sure, comic book style action happens: banks get robbed, heroes clash with villains, aliens invade the Earth, but the heart of this book is seeing how the various characters react to various events and bounce off of each other. Many of these scenes are actually played for laughs, and some are hilarious. In addition, this book is also pretty inventive in terms of its plotting and characterization. I cannot say I was overly thrilled with how the story ended, but I very much enjoyed reading this book and could not put it down. If you are looking for a fresh, funny, off-beat, and more feminine look at superheroics, this is the book for you.

This comic was created by Kristen Gudsnuk, who uses a very cartoonish style that is charming but energetic. She also crams her backgrounds with lots of gags and details that highlight the story and add a touch of glee. She speaks about her work on Henchgirl in this interview.

The reviews I have read of this volume have been positive. Dustin Cabeal wrote that "not only is this one of the best superhero comics I’ve read in many years, but it’s one of the best comic books I’ve ever read, period." Publishers Weekly was more measured, stating that the opening chapters "of Henchgirl, drawn in a charming style somewhere between Scott Pilgrim and Steven Universe, have a delightful and spontaneous energy, but as the series progresses, Gudsnuk begins stitching her ideas into a narrative and things slow down a bit from the sparkling opening." Travis Pelkie summed up, "So if you’re looking for a book set in a superhero world where the real story is how a young woman finds her place in life, try Henchgirl."

Henchgirl was published by Dark Horse, and they have a preview and more info about it here.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Giant Days, Volume 1

Here's another series I recently dove into from Comixology Unlimited. This book follows a trio of young women as they embark on their first year at university. Esther de Groot, Susan Ptolemy, and Daisy Wooton are freshmen in a typical situation, namely they are a motley bunch tossed together by the random decisions of university housing. Esther is an outgoing goth who attracts lots of trouble, Daisy a naive, home-schooled student with poofy hair, and Esther is the sarcastic, "sensible" one thinks she knows best. As neighbors, they hang out, go to parties, navigate relationships, fight against male chauvinism, publish a zine, celebrate Daisy's 18th birthday, and get into dramatic situations. Typical college stuff.
 
 
Giant Days is a slice of life kind of story, with no superheroes, fantasy, sci-fi or other fictional affectations. The series works because the characters are interesting and complex, the artwork is clear, energetic, and fun, and the plots are relatable, funny, and compelling. Also, it is worth noting that the events here all happen in England at the University of Sheffield, so it has a very British sensibility and sense of humor. Still, I think the themes and situations here are fairly universal, helped along by the wit of the writing as well the clever drawings. I very much enjoyed reading this book, and I plan to dive into future volumes as soon as I can.

The comics in this collection, which cover the first four issues of the series, were written by John Allison, drawn by Lissa Treiman, and colored by Whitney Cogar. Allison is known for his webcomics Bad Machinery and Scary Go Round (both available here). Treiman is an artist and animator who has worked on movies like Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6. Cogar is an artist and colorist who has worked on Steven Universe comic books and a few films. Allison and Treiman speak about their work on this series in this interview.

The reviews I have read about this book have been largely positive. Johanna Draper Carlson wrote, "I quickly found myself caring about and rooting for the trio, even when they’re making silly (but age-appropriate) mistakes." Oliver Sava commented that the series creators have "used this slice-of-life concept to create one of the year’s most engaging, hilarious comics." Gregory Paul Silber was more lukewarm about this book, summing up that it "isn’t particularly ambitious or challenging (at least so far), but it’s an amusing read with appealing artwork."

Giant Days was published by Boom! Box, and they have more info about it here.