Thursday, October 10, 2019

They Called Us Enemy

Looking over my past few entries, I have been grossly over-using the word "fun." Well, I am breaking the streak, because, not to downplay how good this book is, there's no chance of it appearing today. At a time when the US government is actively engaged in arresting and detaining refugees and immigrants, They Called Us Enemy is a strong reminder that such an atrocity is not unique to our times. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, FDR signed Executive Order 9066, which allowed the military to define certain regions as military zones and take actions to relocate questionable parties. This order meant that the military could round up all people of Japanese ancestry, whether they be US citizens are not, and regard them as potential spies or enemy sympathizers. That was the context for George Takei's family, who were Japanese-Americans living in California.
They were speedily allowed to pack a limited amount of belongings one night and then were put on a series of trains that brought them to some difficult, Spartan camps across the US. Some of them were put in places originally meant to house livestock. There, they had to learn to make do, cognizant that they were being treated as enemies by a country that they had accepted and worked hard to belong to. Although George and his brother were children who somewhat treated the whole thing as a weird adventure, his parents had to shoulder tough burdens of being disrespected and deemed inhuman.
What makes this book exceptional is how it pairs a strong narrative with artwork that is incredibly expressive and energetic. Between the postures and facial expressions, it is impossible not to feel something for the people depicted here. Their lives turned upside-down, their government betraying them, and them being treated like animals are all palpable experiences for the reader. Although this subject matter is difficult, I am glad that it is still being memorialized and brought back to light here. Especially now.

This book was a collaboration between writers George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott, and artist Harmony Becker. Takei is best known for his role as Sulu on Star Trek and is also a highly visible activist for civil rights. Eisinger is an Editorial Director for IDW, and I think this is his first comics writing gig. Scott also goes by the name Scott Duvall and is a blogger and comics writer with a number of credits for Archie and Arcana. This book also seems to be Becker's graphic novel debut but she also has created mini-comics and webcomics like Himawari Share. Takei speaks more in this interview about the creation of this graphic novel.

This book has been very well received and has gotten a number of starred reviews. Etelka Lehoczky wrote that "despite the grimness of its subject matter, They Called Us Enemy is a lively, vibrant book." Kirkus Reviews summed up,"A powerful reminder of a history that is all too timely today." Esther Keller wrote, "The black and white artwork is vibrant despite the lack of color," and added that the book "will add to a growing collection of nonfiction graphic stories that will help today’s younger generation understand our history and why we must say #neveragain."

They Called Us Enemy was published by Top Shelf, and they offer a preview and much more here.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Blackwood

Blackwood is a fun book, if you are into tales of horrific, otherwordly creatures trying to break into our world to devour and subjugate all of humanity. It is about four misfit teenagers who have been recruited to attend Blackwood College. Nothing seems to unite them except series of strange life experiences and some ability to either perceive or interact with supernatural entities. Campus life is eerie and weird, and soon everything escalates into an apocalypse-level event. The four motley teens need to find ways to unite their abilities in order to figure out what is happening and also save the world.
 

This book had a pretty interesting mystery that unfolded in intriguing and gruesome ways. The characters are more types who do not have much space for development, but they are sympathetic in the same way teens trying to survive 1970s/1980s horror movies were. The book had some cool features along the way, including professors trying to decipher arcane texts, a two-headed chimp mummy, giant mutated insects, and people infested with inter-dimensional tentacle beings. It was a fun read, and I think it ended in a satisfying way that also leaves things open for a sequel that will be published next year. I know I'm looking forward to seeing more stories set in this world, which is well detailed and has a lot of possibility for more grotesque supernatural hi-jinks.

Originally published as a 4-issue limited series, Blackwood was a collaboration between writer Evan Dorkin and artists Veronica and Andy Fish. Dorkin is a multiple Eisner Award winner most known for writing Beasts of Burden, but I am also partial to his work as writer/artist of the series Dork and Milk and Cheese. Veronica Fish is a painter who has done a lot of different work for Marvel Comics (Silk and Spider-Woman) and Archie Comics (Sabrina the Teen-Aged Witch and Archie). Andy is Veronica's husband who did the coloring artwork here and has worked on a variety of other comics, including ones about Batman and urban legends. All three creators speak about their work on this series here.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Forrest Hollingsworth called it "one of my favorite horror comics of the year." Dustin Cabeal wrote, "To have a book that’s entertaining, horrific and enticing makes Blackwood a comic no one should miss." Joe Grunenwald opined, "Dorkin, Fish, and Fish are at the top of their game here."

Blackwood was published by Dark Horse, and they offer a preview and more about it here.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Topside

Topside is a fun piece of sci-fi action. It stars Jo, a young woman who is a technician in the Core, an area in the interior of her planet. She keeps various things running, until one day she makes a mistake and tries to rectify it by taking an unauthorized trip to the planet's surface. There she plans to get some resources that will help her fix her error. What she does not plan on is running into a couple of shifty people who con her into their own schemes. She also did not plan on being tracked by a couple of bounty hunters, Karina and Lumi. Somehow, these five end up banded together on a journey across the planet's surface that may just be a wild goose chase.
I liked this book's set-up, and I feel that there are some good moments of suspense. My issue with it is that I don't feel that the ending paid enough due to the stakes raised from the onset. Things ended a bit too tidy, and without as much drama as I expected. However, there are a few things that do recommend this book. The artwork is energetic, clean, and very communicative. Also, one of the great joys of this book is the character designs, especially the bounty hunters. Karina is a giant woman with a shark head and Lumi is basically a walking light bulb. I might not have been utterly enraptured by the ending, but it is rather open-ended and invites sequels that might do justice to these entertaining and engaging characters.

This book's creative team writer J. N. Monk and artist Harry Bogosian also collaborate on a sci-fi webcomic StarHammer. Bogosian has drawn a couple of other webcomics, Demon's Mirror and A Better Place.

I was not able to find many reviews of this book, but the one I do cite here is positive. Kirkus Reviews summed it up, "Immersive, mysterious, and just the right amount of trippy." You can find more reviews of it at Goodreads where it currently has a 3.47 (out of 5) rating.

Topside was published by Graphic Universe, and they offer a preview and more here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Kid Gloves

Lucy Knisley is one of my favorite graphic novel creators, and I am a big fan of her prior graphic memoirs Relish, about her love affair with food, and Something New, about getting married. This book follows the progression of the classic song: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage. But Kid Gloves is a book that covers some wide ground, making it more than a simple graphic memoir. It contains a lot of medical information about pregnancy and pregnancy-adjacent topics like birth control and miscarriages, and those passages sit right alongside the biographical ones. In a way, it makes the book a little disjointed, as it hops from topic to topic, but it also makes it simultaneously useful, informative, evocative, and entertaining.
My wife and I have three children, and each one had a different story in terms of their birth. One of the things we've learned is that almost everyone who is a parent has a unique story about the conception and birth of a child, and those stories may or may not be instructive or informative. What I like about this book is that it talks frankly about having difficulties with conception, often accompanied by frustration and grief. It also delves deeply into the oft-stigmatized experience of miscarriages. It even shows how birthing can have its complications, and how the after-effects of childbirth can be varied and sometimes hazardous.

Knisley shares a lot about her life, and reading this book almost gives the feeling that the reader knows her, she is that intimate. I feel there is much here that can help a person or people struggling with aspects of becoming a parent in any number of ways. It shows that it is not always a simple, joyful, and easy path to parenthood. It does not sugar-coat the process, although it does tell its story with a lot of heart and humor.
The reviews of this book I have read leaned positive. Josh Kramer called it "a good read, full of pieces that work on their own while telling the story of Knisley’s pregnancy. It may be prone to tangents, but it’s very likely to have a real impact on readers." Publishers Weekly wrote, "Despite its tonal problems, the book is worth reading for Knisley’s fierce wit, strong point of view, and well-paced storytelling." Caitlin Rosberg opined, "While Knisley’s honesty about both the best and worst parts of pregnancy are compelling, what elevates the book to a must-read for those who want kids or love people who do is the context in which she places her personal experience."

Kid Gloves was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and much more here.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Stig and Tilde: Vanisher's Island

Stig and Tilde: Vanisher's Island is deceptively simple-looking adventure/survival tale. It features clean, colorful artwork and storytelling, and it's packaged in European-album style comics a la Tintin, but it's more of a young adult book than a children's one. It has some moments of peril and genuine scares.

The story begins when twins Stig and Tilde turn 14 and have to complete a rite of passage. In their town, traditionally 14-year-olds go live on their own on a wilderness island for a whole year, showing they can "rough it" and survive. In contemporary days, the custom has evolved into a month-long stay on an island that is well stocked with provisions and even has internet, so it's more of a vacation. The rub here is that they get off course and end up on an actual deserted island. And it's haunted.
Creepy.

I won't reveal more than that, because I think part of what makes this book enjoyable is experiencing how the plot unfolds. There is a slow burn of revelations that I found quite suspenseful and satisfying. Also, I appreciated how resourceful the twins were. They don't really panic in unexpected situations but find ways to deal with obstacles. I was very taken with their characterization. They are siblings who occasionally squabble or have their differences, but they also really care and take up for each other, which I found refereshing. I thought this book told its story well, featured great characters, and left me yearning for more. Luckily, there are two more volumes in this series to follow, so I'll get my wish.

This graphic novel is by Max De Radiguès, a Belgian comics artist who tweets updates about his works here. His other graphic novel work includes the adolescent drama Moose (one of my favorite books of 2015), the crime drama Bastard, and the biography Weegee. He talks about his career in comics in this interview.

The reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Andy Oliver praised its sophisticated delivery, elaborating that "action sequences flow sometimes with a sense of peril and sometimes with one of slapstick, visual characterisation ensures our empathy with the twins throughout, and a delicate employment of colour reminds us of the many facets of the island from its inviting beauty to its sometimes sinister air of menace." ReadItDaddy called it "absolutely brilliant in every way and totally refreshing after a diet of sickly sweet 'kid' comics."

Stig and Tilde: Vanisher's Island was published in the USA by NoBrow Press, and they offer a preview and more here.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel

Funnily enough, I have never read the book this adaptation is based on, but I have now read two graphic novel retellings this year. Little Women turned 150 recently, and Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy takes that classic tale and gives it a modern spin. The four March sisters are here part of a biracial, mixed family, where their father is a soldier deployed in the Middle East. Meg is the oldest, and she works as a babysitter/tutor for some rich kids and dreams of marrying into wealth. Jo is next oldest, and she strives to be an author. Beth is rather quiet and is an excellent musician. Amy is the youngest and most boisterous of the group. The sisters may not have much in terms of material possessions, but they love and support each other through a variety of hardships and obstacles.
They have to deal with troubles with friends and at school. They also try to navigate various romantic situations, and one of the sisters contends with issues dealing with her sexuality. A series of major life events, including a major illness and a grave injury to their father further challenge their lives. It being the 21st century, the medical drama plays out differently than  it did in the original, which I found refreshing. There are a few other touches that smack of both old and new, such as the text and email exchanges that resemble classic epistolary storytelling. That aspect in particular helps bring many of the character's inner thoughts into focus.

Although I have never read the original, I really enjoyed what I read here. The characters are well written, and I love the designs of their distinctive looks. This modern take on a classic seems a marked improvement from what have turned into the sexist conventions ingrained in the original. Who knows, and I am sure that readers 150 years from now may find it problematic in ways we've not conceived, but I feel that this adaptation is a great one for this day and age.

The creative team behind this book are writer Rey Terciero and artist Bre Indigo, and Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy is the first graphic novel for both of them. Terciero has been an editor and writer that has worked for many different publishers as Rex Ogle. Indigo creates webcomics, including one named Jamie. They originally started publishing this book online at a site called Tapas, and Indigo speaks about her role in creating it here. Both creators speak about the book here as well.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been positive. Kirkus Reviews concluded, "Sticking to the original storyline, this tale offers a contemporary vision of sisterhood that will appeal to a diverse audience." Publishers Weekly called it "smart and thoughtfully rendered," and added, "this modern retelling will resonate with today’s readers. Mombian called it a "must-read."

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy was published by Little, Brown Young Readers, and they offer more info here.

The publisher provided a review copy.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Lodger

Originally published as a 5-isse series, Lodger is a piece of awful business. It portrays two horrible, broken people who are on a collision course that one won't survive. The first is Ricky Toledo, a troubled woman whose life was rocked when she was 15. At that time, a handsome drifter named Dante ended up in her house renting a room. He had an affair with her mother that ended in violence, her mother's death, and her father's imprisonment.
Years later, Ricky is armed and on the search for that drifter, whose name is decidedly not Dante. He is "the Lodger," an itinerant serial killer who is a master of disguise, likes riding buses, and writes a travel blog about his exploits in veiled manner. Ricky wants revenge, and the result is a wicked game of cat and mouse, which turns out to be more like a game of "cat and cat."

This book is a testament to excellent graphic storytelling. The plot is intricate and hinges not only on a taut narrative but also frequent clues and images communicated through the artwork. The stark contrast in the black and white artworks lends a documentary aspect to the story, and reading the book is like experiencing some nasty, true-crime tale unfold before your eyes. Even though the subject matter here is dark, it is easy to admire the craft that went into telling this story. This book is grisly and ugly sometimes, but it is always compelling and gripping. The Laphams revel in beautifully rendering horrible things.

David and Maria Lapham are best known for their Eisner Award-winning series Stray Bullets, which has been published off and on in different incarnations since 1995. That series typically deals with crime related stories, but in a very human way. David has worked for lots of different comics publishers and is also known for the Vertigo series Young Liars, about a group of 20-somethings with disturbing secrets.

The reviews I have read of this book praise it, though they also tend to note the niche audience for this tale. Andy Oliver praised the book and  wrote, "Lapham’s crisp, clean and yet fluid art transitions between the drama of densely packed, moody set pieces and close-ups, and sudden, open moments of destructive energy." Jonathan O'Neal spoke to the density and atmospheric qualities of the book and noted, "but if you can show patience and the willingness to give yourself over the these characters, you will ultimately be rewarded." Derek and I discuss the first two issues of the series here.

Lodger was published by Black Crown, an imprint of IDW. They offer a preview and more here. Because of violence, profanity, and sexual content, I recommend this book for mature readers.