Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook

I try to read as much as possible, but there are books that have sat on my shelf for years. I am sad to say that this one, The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook, is one of those books. I say sad because this book is utterly wonderful and enjoyable, and I was depriving myself of a great pleasure by not reading it all those years. The art is exceptionally fun and detailed, the story brisk yet substantive, and the whole enterprise crackles with energy, humor, and inventiveness.

The plot begins with a nerdy young science enthusiast Julian gets transferred to a new school.

Shunned in the past for being too smart and into science, he tries to hide who he is, only to become friends with two disparate kindred spirits and form the titular Secret Science Alliance. Teamed with school jock Ben Garza and notorious troublemaker Greta Hughes, the trio come up with all kinds of wonderful gadgets, including bouncy shoes, retrieval drones, and a flying machine.
Hidden away in their secret headquarters, life is pretty great for these friends until an unlikely rival catches wind of their work and steals their notebook of inventions.There is so much to love about this book. It features brilliantly designed, interesting characters. The inventions are fun, fascinating, and wonderful to behold. The artwork is full of eye-popping detail, vibrant colors, excellent storytelling, and so much expression. I cannot recommend this book enough. Go and get it now!

This book is the creation of Eleanor Davis, who worked on it with her husband Drew Weing and friend Joey Weiser. Davis has won a few accolades, including the Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award, and has a number of books for adult (How to Be Happy and You & A Bike & A Road) and younger readers (Stinky) to her credit. She speaks about much of her work and career in this interview.

All of the reviews I read have heaped great praise on this book. Elizabeth Bird wrote, "This is the kind of title that rewards the reader over and over again." Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review that concluded, "With its bounty of factlets slipped in for learning on the sly, it’s a sure kid and teacher pleaser—a perfect package for tweens." Jason Azzopardi admired that it was full of "exuberance, stimulation and the love of possibility."

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook was published by Bloomsbury, and they have more info about it here.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Science Comics: Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared

This latest volume in the Science Comics series focuses on the invention of flying machines. Now, I know the Wright Brothers are extremely well known; they are featured on the backs of two states' quarters even. Reading this book, I learned that there was LOTS I did not know about the duo, including the fact that they had a sister named Katharine. She played a huge role in spreading the news about her brothers' work and also advertising and marketing their work to potential investors, and in this book she is the narrator who puts a very personal and human touch on the proceedings.
Not only is she a good choice because she has a magnetic personality, she was also a schoolteacher so she is a handy figure for explaining the science aspects of the story. There are a good number of passages where the science of flight is spelled out via exposition. And to be honest, I felt that some of these passages were a bit dense to read, but I appreciated the creators trying to break down some pretty difficult science.
Still, there is much to recommend this book. I felt that the artwork was vibrant and expressive, and it revels in depicting the various flying machines of the day. The story humanizes the achievements of some grand historical figures and also puts their work into historical context. Additionally, the book and endnotes cover a number of the notable pioneers/inventors/scientists of the day. Flying Machines might have hit a couple of spots of turbulence, but it is still a very good book.

This book is a collaboration between writer Alison Wilgus and artist Molly Brooks. Wilgus is a cartoonist and animator who worked on the Codename: Kids Next Door cartoon and Avatar: The Last Airbender comic books. Brooks is also known for her series Sanity & Tallulah. Both creators write about their work on Flying Machines in this blog post.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Johanna Draper Carlson wrote that it, like the others in the series, "combines the best of everything: fascinating stories, entertaining education, and talented creators who know how to make good comics." Kirkus Reviews called it "An accessible and engaging introduction to the Wright brothers and how they ushered in the age of flight."

Science Comics: Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more information about it here.

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

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.