Friday, July 30, 2010

Adventures in Cartooning Activity Book

This activity book is a sequel to Adventures in Cartooning, a rollicking adventure featuring a knight, an elf, a hungry horse, and a gum-chewing dragon. It builds on the drawing and composing lessons of the prior book, combining the adventures of these fun characters with blank pages where readers can add to the story. The story begins when the sun bursts into tears because it does not get to hear stories like the moon when children go to bed, putting into motion a sequence of bizarre events. The last chunk of pages are a series of blank panels where readers can draw their own stories and cheer the sun up.

This book's creators all have a connection to The Center for Cartoon Studies. James Sturm is the Director of the Center, Andrew Arnold is a current student, and Alexis Frederick-Frost is a graduate. Arnold and Frederick-Frost do not have many other credits yet but Sturm has created lots of comics and graphic novels, tending toward historical fiction but also dabbling in superheroes and even breakfast cereal mascots.

Critics have seen many positive features in this book for younger readers. The reviewer at Charlotte's Library wrote that the book is full of happiness and engagement for a certain 7 year old. Jonathan Liu, the Geek Daddy at Wired, relates a similar story where his daughter won't let him look at the book until she finishes her drawings.

First Second, the book's publisher, has an extended preview of the first book available here.

A great, big thank you to Gina for the review copy!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cat Burglar Black

This graphic novel opens with a bang: a young girl clad in black is running through a forest chased by a huge wild boar. As she climbs a tree to escape its sharp tusks, we turn to see what events led to this predicament.

The girl's name is Katherine, though everyone calls her K. She is an orphan who does not know much about her parents, and she was raised in an orphanage by a terrible woman named Mother Claude who trained the children to become master thieves obedient only to her. K was her best pupil but eventually was set free when the crime ring was shattered. Cast about in the world, K comes to live with her Aunt Vivian at Bellsong Academy, a boarding school full of shady, mysterious teachers and interesting students that has fallen on hard financial times. In time, K learns that there seems to be a grand scheme behind her life events, and she gets recruited to save Bellsong Academy from bankruptcy by "procuring" a few items from a couple of rich, local families.

This graphic novel was written and drawn by Richard Sala, an accomplished illustrator who has been creating comics since the early 1990s. He uses a distinctive style and specializes in tales of mystery and monsters with a an underlying black sense of humor. His most famous works are the graphic novel The Chuckling Whatsit and the stories of Peculia that appeared in his Evil Eye comic books. More news about his various and upcoming works can be found at his blog. More information about the genesis and writing Cat Burglar Black can be found in this interview from Newsarama.

Cat Burglar Black has been named to a number of "best of" lists by book and library organizations, including The Young Adult Library Services Association's Great Graphic Novel for Teens 2010, the School Library Journal's Best Comics For Kids 2009, and Booklist's Top 10 Crime Fiction for Youth. A number of reviews, plus more information about the book can be found at its official page at Macmillan. As Andrew Wheeler has noted, the book is a rare one that can appeal to a wide range of readers.

A preview is available here from the book's publisher, First Second.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Kill Giants

Barbara Thorson stands out in her class. She wears bunny ears as an accessory, carries a strange bag she named Coveleski, and is obsessed with giants and fantasy gaming. She does not have many friends and seems to be out of touch with reality. Prone to outbursts and other questionable actions, she finds herself having to meet with the school counselor, a situation that further alienates her from most of her classmates. Over the course of the story we find out why she is acting the way she is, the secrets she tries so hard to hide, and about a cataclysmic event she feels coming.

The story was written by Joe Kelly, a veteran comic book writer who has substantial runs on Marvel Comics' Daredevil, Deadpool, and X-Men as well as DC Comics' Superman, JLA, and Supergirl. He also belongs to the Man of Action studio that created the cartoon series Ben 10. Jm Ken Niimura, who is mostly known for his commercial and fine art work, provides the illustrations. His combination of realism, cartoons, and scratchy expressionism makes for some impressively moving images. Additionally, his pacing conveys grandeur, empathy, and atmosphere.

A beautiful book in terms of the blend of story and art, I Kill Giants has received rave reviews. A reviewer at Reading Rants called it "bold, angry and surprisingly sweet" and also wrote that "I Kill Giants is the perfect antidote for those days when you feel like the bad guys may be winning and you need a little lift by first lunch." Blogger Nymeth wrote that "the story's sheer power, the expressive artwork, the excellent characterization, and the sensitive way in which the characters' emotions" made this one of her favorite graphic novels. Timothy Callahan adds to the praise, "Rarely has the anxiety of adolescence been so well presented, and in such an engaging, magical way." Paul Montgomery at iFanboy suggests the book be read then shared as it is too good to leave shelved.

In terms of awards, it was named Best Indy Book of 2008 by IGN. It has also been included on multiple "best of" lists, including New York Magazine's 10 best comics of 2009 and the Young Adult Library Services Association's 2010 top ten great graphic novels for teens.

Originally published as 7 issues from 2008 to 2009, I Kill Giants is available in a collected edition from Image Comics. Preview pages from the first issue are included here in this interview with Kelly.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Interview with Gene Yang

Tom Spurgeon posted an interview with Gene Yang a few weeks ago. In it, they talk about American Born Chinese, The Eternal Smile, and his newest book, Prime Baby. If you like his work, check it out!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Amelia Earhart: The Broad Ocean

Amelia Earhart is famous for being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean and also for disappearing into thin air during her attempt to circumnavigate the globe. She rode a crest of celebrity, along with other air pioneers such as Charles Lindbergh, in the early days of the 20th century. At the time air travel required brave, lucky, and expert pilots and mechanics to operate and maintain the machinery. Because she was a woman Earhart's lifestyle and exploits were looked at as scandalous by some at the time, but she was also regarded a groundbreaking heroine.

Those aspects are some of the main foci of Amelia Earhart: The Broad Ocean, which deals with the preparations for her transatlantic trip from a small town of Trapassey, Newfoundland. While there waiting for the right weather conditions, the setting and details of the situation are delineated as part of a news story gathered by Grace Goodland, a young local reporter. The story does a great job of being compelling while giving us lots of great facts and information about the race among women aviatrixes (Earhart had some stiff competition) to make the long trip across the Atlantic.

Sarah Stewart Taylor, the author, is better known as a mystery writer whose series of Sweeney St. George novels have earned her an Agatha Award nomination. Here is an interview with Taylor where she explains what went into creating this graphic novel. The art was provided by Ben Towle, 2004 nominee for an Eisner Award for New Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition. His spare style conveys great emotion and atmosphere, and the black, white, and blue palette really pops on the page. These interviews with Comic Book Resources and Good Comics for Kids lend more insight into his work on the book.

A product of The Center of Cartoon Studies, this graphic novel is well composed. It has a great introduction from Eileen Collins, the first woman to pilot a space shuttle, and detailed endnotes about the historical figures and events. Accordingly, this book has been well reviewed. Booklist named it to their Top 10 List of Biographies for Youth. In a New York Times book review Tanya Lee Stone wrote that "kids are going to eat this book up," but took some issue with the mix of fictional elements with the historical facts. Brigid Alverson called it "a rich resource for school and library use." Librarian blogger Stacy Dillon called it "stunning and interesting."

Publisher Disney/Hyperion provides a discussion guide and some other information about the book here. Some preview pages are available here from Deep Glamour.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Cartoon History of the Universe II, Volumes 8-13: From the Springtime of China to the Fall of Rome

This book is the second of five in a series from creator Larry Gonick. It follows immediately after the last volume, which ended with Alexander the Great's quest to conquer the world stalling in India. In this volume, we learn more about what went on in the eastern hemisphere, with great attention to the history of ancient India, the growth of the Chinese empire in Asia, and the rise of major world religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Confucianism (which is more a way of life than a religion, but still...).

The second half of the book returns to the western hemisphere, documenting the rise of the Roman republic into an empire, but also telling tales about the northern peoples, including the Huns, Goths, and Germans, who rose up to eventually topple it. Paralleling these accounts is the rise of Christianity as a major world religion.

Even when tackling major issues and events, Gonick inserts wit, humor, and personality into the proceedings. As see by the range of reviews on Goodreads, this book is generally well-liked, with people stating they enjoy learning from the comic format. In a New York Times book review Jonathan Spence wrote that it was "a curious hybrid, at once flippant and scholarly, witty and politically correct, zany and traditionalist." He also adds that the book falls victim to one of the plagues of textbooks in general, that it covers topics in a quick manner without much elaboration or analysis.

Gonick offers a sample page on his website, and a lengthier preview is available from

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Cartoon History of the Universe I: Volumes 1-7: From the BIG BANG to Alexander the Great

This book began as a series of comic books that started in 1977. It covers history from the Big Bang until the time of Alexander the Great (roughly 350 - 320 BCE) with well-researched facts, footnotes, citations, resources for further reading, and the timely infusion of humor. The author/illustrator Gonick plays the narrator, portraying himself with wild Einstein-style hair and amazing abilities to travel through time and space.

Volumes 1 through 7 cover a broad range of history, from the origins of the universe and life on Earth to the Ice Age and the rise of human civilizations. The high points include sections on Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, the Middle East via the Old Testament (or the Torah), Mycenaean Greece, and Athens. At the end of the book are pages dedicated to brief commentary on the references that inform the cartoons, which could also be read for further information.

Writer and artist Larry Gonick has been creating comics since the early 1970s, and he has made a cottage industry out of his Cartoon series of nonfiction. His works range in topic across chemistry, genetics, statistics, and sex. He has served as a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT as well as a cartoonist for Discover and Muse magazines. He and his work have won a number of awards including a Harvey and an Inkpot. For those interested in his life and work, this interview with Richard Morris is quite informative. This interview with Chris Mautner at Robot 6 gives some insight into the Cartoon History of the Universe books, his magnum opus.

The Cartoon History of the Universe books have been very well received and have been translated into many languages and sold internationally. Reviews have been largely positive, and many of them point out that it was entertaining and effective to learn about history via comics. J. Stephen Bolhafner called it "a delight to read." Jerry Stratton stated that this book and the rest of the series "should be on every bookshelf of the English-speaking world." Gonick also catalogs a diverse range of reviews on his website.

Gonick offers a sample page on his website, but a lengthier preview can be found at