Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cici's Journal: The Adventures of a Writer-in-Training

Cici's Journal was an intriguing reading experience for me. It combines elements of a personal journal, picture books, and comics in following the exploits of a little girl who is curious and figuring out her way in the world. In many ways, the two stories here are quotidian, though the daily life they chronicle is full of wonder. In many ways, I felt like I was reading a graphic novel with a few sections that read more like a good elementary-aged novel excerpt. And I mean that in a good way.

The plot in this book follows Cici, an inquisitve and energetic ten and a half year-old. She is enamored with her friend Mrs. Flores, who is an author, and channels all of her energy into observing adults and trying to learn their secrets. She conducts investigations and writes them up, often with the help of her friends Erica and Lena. They act as springboards for her ideas and also they provide convenient cover stories to distract Cici's mom from what she is really up to.
In the first story (excerpted above), "The Petrified Zoo," she follows a peculiar, old man into the woods to find that he is decorating an abandoned zoo. The second story "Hector's Book" she notices an old woman who keeps checking the same book out of the library each week. And in addition to unfurling that mystery, her personal life comes more into focus. In many children's books that feature sleuthing, like Encyclopedia Brown or Nancy Drew, the main character can become pretty single-minded and insufferable. I liked that in this book, that type of behavior gets called out. Cici's friends, mother, and even her hero Mrs. Flores all show her how her actions alienate them, and she learns more about how to balance being a decent person as well as an effective writer.

In terms of story I liked the gentle, human way that both mysteries resolved as well as the attention to the personal interactions of the main characters. But my favorite part of this book was its artwork, which is gorgeous and vibrant. The characters all are full of color and personality. The settings are all well grounded in reality but also beautifully rendered, and I loved the visual storytelling and facial expressions.Just check out that excerpt above and you'll see what I am talking about.

The two books contained in this volume were a collaboration between artist Aurélie Neyret and writer Joris Chamblain. Neyret has published work in many anthologies and magazines in France, and she shares much of her artwork via her blog. Chamblain has written various other comics, most notably the series Sorcières Sorcières (website in French). Cici's Journal was translated into English by Carol Klio Burrell, and I felt she did excellent work making this entire enterprise funny and contemporary in a different cultural milieu.

The reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Publishers Weekly wrote that Neyret's "delicate, finely worked portraits bring elegance" to Chamblain's "smart" stories. Sharon Tyler summed up that it "is a book that made me smile. It reminded me of Harriet the Spy in the best of ways, and still felt new and fresh. I think this will appeal to a number of readers."

Cici's Journal was published in the US by First Second, and they have a preview and more info about it here.

A preview copy was provided by the publisher.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Science Comics: Dogs: From Predator to Protector

I went into reading this book thinking it would be a light, breezy read about the history of dogs. I was right about the first part, because boy was I surprised by how much more comprehensive and detailed it turned out to be, all while still being light and funny in tone. Pulling off this tough balancing act, the latest volume in the Science Comics series, Dogs: From Predator to Protector, touches on a great many scientific subjects, including genetics, evolution, and DNA. And better yet, it covers all this ground narrated by a cute and energetic pooch named Rudy.
As you can see from the excerpt, this is a colorful, interesting, and informative book. It touches on all kinds of issues and information about dogs, including an account of how they evolved from wolves, became friendly with people, and have been bred in particular ways to suit specific jobs and human whims. Along the way, there are many interesting episodes and asides, including information about how they see, smell, and hear. This book gets at how they socialize, why they sniff butts, why they chase balls, and what their barks can mean. Amazingly informative and gorgeously playful, this book should be a big hit with anyone who loves dogs, science, good comics, or learning about the world.

This impressive blend of educational and entertaining comics was created by Andy Hirsch. He has a number of comic book series, including The Baker Street Peculiars, as well as a couple of other graphic novels under his belt, including his own Varmints. He has volumes in the Science Comics series coming soon, one about trees and the other cats. He speaks extensively about his work on Dogs in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been glowing. Johanna Draper Carlson gave it high praise, writing, "All the Science Comics are great, but this is one of the best of the bunch, an outstanding read." Kirkus Reviews stated, "The scope and depth of information is truly impressive and could be formidable, but the comic-book format keeps things on the accessible side as well as helping to illustrate more complex points." Suzanne Costner wrote that it was "an excellent introduction to the history of domesticated dogs, and offers enough basic facts to give readers a good place to start researching the topic more deeply on their own."

Dogs: From Predator to Protector was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more about this book here.

A preview copy was provided by the publisher.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Demon, Volume 2-4

As I've written before, I seek out Jason Shiga's work. It is usually fun, funny, and cerebral, full of puzzles, strange gadgets, and/or unique situations. His series Demon is no exception, although here I have to say he has dialed his sensibilities to 11.

This series stars characters from Shiga's past works (Meanwhile, Bookhunter, and Empire State), though it treats them like actors playing new roles. As I recounted in my review of Volume 1, Demon follows the exploits of Jimmy Yee, an accountant who attempted suicide only to find that he kept coming back to life because he is a demon. Shockingly, he went on a murder/crime spree that put him on the authorities' radar. In the three books that follow, much gets revealed about his situation and its causes, and the cat and mouse chase between Jimmy and Hunter escalates to a bloodbath of global proportions. This series revels in depravity, but it is also amazingly clever, well thought-out, and masterfully executed. I cannot do justice to them in this space (and I don't want to spoil much either, so I'll simply give you a free-verse poem for each book:
2. surprise surpise
daughters can be demons, too
3. 100 years in the future
a demon meets his maker
plus uncovers a plot for world domination
4. the fight for freedom involves
a high body count
conjoined twins
and peg-legged amputees wielding baseball bats

Overall, I found these books to be compelling and almost impossible to put down. These adventures follow their own logic, are incredibly graphic, and delve into areas of bad taste in the most entertaining of ways. I think that the whole narrative is a smart, grotesque masterpiece, and I am kind of anxious to see where Shiga goes from here.

Shiga speaks about his future work as well as his take on Demon here. Publishers Weekly gave the books a starred review and wrote, "As with Shiga’s other books, there are puzzles aplenty to solve, with an added layer of urgent narrative drive." They also added that "the story will prove just as addictive for readers finding it in print." Dustin Cabeal called it "one of the funniest and yet intelligent books I’ve ever read."

Demon was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more available here (Volume 2), here (Volume 3), and here (Volume 4). This series was first published as a webcomic, but now only the first chapter is available online.

These books contain lots of violence, some profanity, and some sexual content, so I advise them for mature readers.

A review copy (of Volume 4) was provided by the publisher.