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.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Stage Dreams

Having read and loved As the Crow Flies, I have been looking very forward to reading this book by the same creator. Stage Dreams is a fun piece of historical fiction that features two queer women trying to find their way in the Old West. The first, named Flor, is a Latinx bandit who robs stagecoaches under the sobriquet of The Ghost Hawk. During one escapade she kidnaps Grace, who happens to be a trans Civil War deserter from Georgia. Because getting any ransom for her is a moot point, Flor instead uses Grace in a plan to defraud some Confederate robber barons who have designs on the New Mexico Territory.
Over the course of the book it is fun to see the two characters bounce off each other in their scheme and also develop a romance. They begin to see what the other can do, and they also show just how resilient and resourceful they both are. They are vibrant characters who really come to life through the vivid facial expressions, excellent line work, and the unique art style done with colored pencils. Of course, their scheme brings complications and things do go off the rails, but all resolves relatively well. The ending is also very open-ended, and it begs for a sequel.

I am a big fan of of this book's creator Melanie Gillman, who also teaches in the Comics MFA Program at the California College of the Arts. They have been doing a webcomic named As The Crow Flies, a celebrated work, nominated for Eisner and Ignatz Awards, the recipient of a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators, and named Best Book in the Middle Grades category for the 2018 Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards. They speak more about the creation of Stage Dreams in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Kirkus Reviews summed it up, "An engrossing escapade with a heart-stealing queer romance." Suzanne Krohn called it "a fun and thoughtful adventure romance."There are more reviews available on GoodReads, where it has a 3.87 star (out of 5) rating as of this review.

Stage Dreams was published by Graphic Universe, and they offer an excerpt and much more here.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Marie Curie: A Life of Discovery

As you might guess from the title Marie Curie: A Life of Discovery is a biography of the famed scientist, and this book certainly captures the high points of her career from her pioneering work in radiation to her discovering multiple new elements to her multiple Nobel Prizes. She is still the only person to win those prizes in two separate fields, chemistry and physics. She was a pivotal scientist whose work is paved the way for many others, and I feel it is pretty easy to either lionize as an otherworldly figure or highlight her as a token great scientist. But she was also a person, and that aspect of her life is what this book portrays very well.

Its primary way of making Marie Curie's life feel palpable is through its artwork, which is painted in impressionistic fashion. It inserts color into what could be a drab, factual account, and it also features some broader scenes and landscapes, setting tone as much as conveying plot.

What I liked is how much the art contributes to the pacing, especially with some of the larger moments where double page spreads allow the story to breathe. In particular, I felt the sequence where Pierre met his unfortunate end was powerfully rendered. The artwork also packs an emotional wallop when used to show intimate moments of her life, including the aftermath of a miscarriage, her struggles being a woman in a male-dominated field, and the fallout from her husband's untimely death. In addition, the framing sequence, where Marie and Pierre's daughter Irène recounts these tales as part of a family history also makes everything feel more personal and direct.
Marie and Pierre talking about her work. In the original Italian version of the book.
What I also appreciated about this book was how it featured multiple facets of her life, from her cultural identity as a Polish woman living in Paris to her celebrity, where she was portrayed in the press in negative ways. It is strange seeing just how much she was used to bash on women in the news of the day, first described as a mere assistant to her husband (when she was actually his peer) and later as gossip fodder for her relationship with Paul Langevin. Overall, I enjoyed this book and how it depicted Marie Curie's life and work in nuanced ways. In the end she comes across as a human being and not just some figure from a textbook.

This book's creator Alice Milani is based in Italy. She has also published a graphic biography of Wisława Szymborska, a Polish author who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1996. She shares her art in this blog.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. BookDragon wrote, "When Milani isn’t explaining in the text – fluidly translated from the original Italian by Kerstin Schwandt – she relies on atmospheric, pencil-and-watercolor art to augment the narrative of Curie’s brilliant life." Kirkus Reviews summed it up as "An appealing volume for graphic novel and science enthusiasts." Jody Kopple concluded, "With a complex story structure and sophisticated science content, this addition to the canon about Curie is ideal for upper middle and high schoolers."

Originally published in Italy, Marie Curie: A Life of Discovery was published in the US by Graphic Universe, and they offer more info and an excerpt here.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Zita the Spacegirl

Today is my oldest child's fourth birthday, and we just read this book, so it's appropriate that I post its review now. Zita the Spacegirl is a fun, exciting, suspenseful, and inventive adventure story. It starts when she and her friend Joseph find a crater while playing outside. In it is an old, strange remote device with a big red button.
Of course, Zita presses the button and a portal to another dimension pops open. Tentacles grab Joseph and he disappears as the portal closes. Zita is intrepid, presses the button again and leaps in to follow and rescue her friend.

What follows involves a lot of twists and turns. There are aliens of all sorts, a real menagerie of sizes, shapes, forms, and roles. Also, there are shifty characters who seek to exploit others, and some who seem to be more friendly. Zita falls in with a battle robot named 1, a giant mouse named Mouse, a large alien named Strong Strong, a shady, apparently human guy named Piper, and an old bucket of bolts named Randy.
Together, this ragtag band seeks to locate and rescue Joseph, who by the way has been taken by a doomsday cult who sees him as their savior. Because, oh yeah, an asteroid is on a collision course with this planet.

There is a lot going on here, clearly, but the storytelling is clear and bold. The characters are strongly defined and easy to know. And the action is fast and furious. This book is a lot of fun to read, even the scary bits, which come in the form of creepy aliens and dire situations. My son and I have read it and re-read it a few times already.

Ben Hatke is the author/creator of this book. He has quite a few other graphic novels and picture books under his belt, including more entries in the Zita series, the Mighty Jack series, Little Robot, and Julia's House for Lost Creatures. His artwork is deceivingly simple looking yet dynamic. He draws great facial expression, and he clearly loves designing some way-out looking aliens. He speaks about his work on this book in this interview (it's a few years old, but hey, no spoilers about the later books).

Zita the Spacegirl is a much celebrated book with lots of great reviews. Elizabeth Bird wrote that "what author/artist Ben Hatke does well is dip into a wellspring of familiar ideas to bring us a new world that truly is its own beast." Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review that concluded, "this debut is truly out of this world." April Spisak opined, "The amount of background detail fills out the story, inviting examination of the endless number of monster, alien, and robot inhabitants, even while the pace of the text itself is as fast as Zita has to be to save her friend before the world explodes."

Zita the Spacegirl was published by First Second, and they offer more info about it (including the whole slew of awards and accolades it has earned) here. This book is the first in a series, so fans have more to look forward to!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Nib Magazine Issue 4: Scams

I just read the fourth issue of The Nib print magazine, and it is a top notch collection of political cartoons, tales, and reports by excellent writers and cartoonists. I am a huge fan of The Nib, as a magazine and as a website that updates fairly regularly (practically daily). As of July, the entire enterprise is independent and reliant on the support of its readers, and I am glad to take this time to highlight what I feel is an excellent source of comics goodness.

This particular issue focuses on Scams, and it covers multiple topics, including the classic Nigerian Prince email swindle, ways that refugees are robbed by supposed help agencies, various Ponzi schemes, seemingly criminal real estate practices, good-old-fashioned counterfeiting, and electronic fraud. The stories are current, topical, and fascinating. Also, many also feature a good dose of humor. I love nonfiction comics, and this book is full of them.

Stand-out stories in this book include:

Emi Gennis's account of John Romulus Brinkley, "The Goat Gland Doctor" who was an infamous huckster with a huge radio signal.
"My Heart Burns" by Yazan al-Saadi and Tracy Chahwan, about smugglers and how they fleece Syrian refugees who are most vulnerable and desperate.
Josh Carter and Liz Enright's "Secret Agent Man," about one father's search for a big online score and its aftermath on his family's lives.
These stories are profoundly moving as well as eye-opening. These are the best kinds of comics: educational, informative, funny, and emotional. There is something here for everyone.

The Nib's website, where original work is regularly published, is here. Memberships to The Nib are available here. Rates start at $2/month, and the print copy costs $4/month. It's well worth it!

They are also currently running a summer fundraiser, if you are just inclined to make a donation, I say it's for a great bunch of folks.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Tonta

Long-time readers of this blog should know that Jaime Hernandez is a living legend and one of my favorite comics creators. He has won multiple Harvey and Eisner Awards for the long-running Love and Rockets series he co-created with his brothers, and I loved seeing his work in various anthologies over the years. Last year he also ventured into the arena of children's comics with The Dragon Slayer.

This book, Tonta, gathers together material published a few years ago in Love and Rockets: New Stories. For the most part, these stories focus on the titular Tonta (her nickname, Spanish for stupid or dummy), a teenager who tries to fit in the best she can. Her family is sort of a mess, with a network of older half-sisters and a half-brother who occasionally nose into her business. Also, her mother seems to be a black widow sort, leaving a trail of exes who have been suspiciously murdered. That last bit entails a prolonged legal drama that is woven throughout the book.
As you can see, Tonta also does typical sorts of teenager things, like sneaking booze, hanging out with people she shouldn't, hiding out in the woods with her clique, and cozying up to members of her favorite band. She is not always successful with her intentions, or come off the coolest, but she is a dynamic and expressive character. That is what I perhaps appreciated most about this book. You do not necessarily need to know a lot of background to catch on to the multitude of things that go on. Each character is defined and memorable. Each episode is powerful and economically communicated, and it is very easy to get swept up in the narrative flow. This book is yet another testament to Jaime Hernandez's incredible artistic and storytelling chops.

The reviews I have read about this book have been very positive. Publishers Weekly concluded, "This rambunctious ride may be more minor in the Hernandez catalog, but it’s still a master class in cartooning." Hillary Brown commented in a similar vein, "It seems like the abiding conception of Jaime Hernandez’s Tonta is that it’s a minor work of his, a sort of tossed-off compilation of stories focusing on a character who’s more an Io than a Jupiter, a character actor rather than a leading lady. But the fact is that reading it, for me, produced the same rush of blood to the brain and almost dizzying happiness as his “major” Maggie and Hopey stories."

Tonta was published by Fantagraphics, and they offer a preview and more here. This book features some profanity and nudity, so it is suggested for readers mature enough to handle those things.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Tyler Cross Volume 2: Angola

I reviewed the first collection about Tyler Cross here, but do not worry if you missed it because Angola stands on its own. Here the veteran criminal/smuggler gets set up during a supposedly simple job and sent to the worst prison in America. Surrounded by swamps, kept by sadistic, corrupt guards, and pursued by the several members of a crime family, Cross is beset by hardships. His daily struggle to survive is further complicated by the price on his head and the lascivious warden's wife. So, of course, he starts to plot an escape plan.

Tyler Cross is a character in the vein of Richard Starks' Parker, a tough, violent, and crafty criminal who is not going to undergo any transformation over the course of the story. He's in a spot; he's going to get out of it, and it's not going to be pretty. Still, I feel the plotting and artwork are both well executed, and I very much enjoyed the book. If you are seeking a suspenseful, action-noir story, this one has a lot recommending it.

This book is another collaboration between writer Fabien Nury and artist Brüno. Nury has written a number of historical comic books and graphic novels, including The Death of Stalin. Brüno has drawn several comics series, including Commando Colonial, many which seem to be historical pieces as well. The duo have also collaborated on a prior comic, Atar Gull, a tale about slavery.

The reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Publishers Weekly concluded, "As intricately woven as the first installment, this brutal, cool series remains recommended reading for crime thriller enthusiasts." Benjamin Welton called it "a classic crime caper told in the hardboiled style." Andy Shaw wrote, "The story isn’t as dynamic as the first, trapped as it is in a prison, but it’s just as intense and dark."

Tyler Cross: Angola was published by Titan Books/Hard Case Crime, and they offer more about it here. There is a sizable preview available here.

A third Tyler Cross series just wrapped up here.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Girl Town

An Eisner Award-nominated book, Girl Town is a collection of five stories that highlight different aspects of women's lives through fantasy and science fiction tropes. Two of these tales, "Radishes" and "Diana's Electric Tongue," won Ignatz Awards in the past.

The stories in this collection are:
  • The titular tale is about a couple of cliques of women I'd describe as frenemies. 
  • "Radishes" is about two friends playing hooky at a unique outdoor market.
  • "Diana's Electric Tongue" is the longest narrative in the book by far, and it is about a woman with a robot boyfriend and a troubled past relationship.
  • "The Big Burning House" is a visually ambitious, interesting mix of fandom, podcasting, and social media.
  • "Please Sleep Over" is about a divorcée and her girlfriend house-sitting where she grew up.

The visual styles of each story differ, and what unites them is the way that the people in them grapple with and try to mask their emotions. I loved how this book portrayed characters trying to stay strong and put forth a happy/positive face in times of adversity or trauma. Each story hinges on a moment or moments when that mask slips and the pain and emotion shine through. I loved these little moments and was moved by them, which speaks to the craft and skill in both plotting an impactful tale while also perfectly complementing the plot with drawings that carried lots of emotional weight. This is a book full of pain and beauty, each story one to savor.

Carolyn Nowak is the celebrated author of this book, and she has also published another adult comic titled No Better Words. If you check out her Patreon page you can see more about her work and future projects. She speaks more about her work on this book in this interview.

All of the reviews* I have read about this book have been positive. Publishers Weekly opined that "the full collection represents the emergence of a promising new comics talent." Kirkus Reviews concluded, "Nowak creates raw female characters and, by spotlighting them, demands that they be seen." Rob Clough wrote, "Nowak makes her work seem lighthearted and even breezy on the surface, but the reality is that her work is emotionally and intellectually dense." Alex Hoffman wrote that "these comics are weird, a little off kilter, different than expected."

Girl Town was published by Top Shelf, and they offer a preview and more here.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

*There is also the infamous The Comics Journal review, though I consider it the same way that Charles Hatfield does in his comment (scroll down). It's a lame, sexist, dismissive review that holds Nowak to an unreasonable standard.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Red Panda & Moon Bear

Red Panda & Moon Bear is a delightful book. It features a unique Latinx sister/brother superhero team. Both wear hoodies, Red Panda's giving her the strength of ten red pandas. Moon Bear possesses a magic crystal that he wields in a special gauntlet. Together, they defend their neighborhood from various menaces and solve mysteries. They face evil dogs, a ghost in a library, ice cream monsters, a nightmare, shape-shifting monsters from another galaxy, disappearing buildings, and scary trees.

Their adventures are fun and inventive, and I appreciate how they get through various situations not only by using their wits and sometimes their fists, but also by being empathetic and talking things through. They show that kindness and understanding can be effective for dealing with others and finding solutions to various dilemmas.
This book is fantastical in the best kind of way, with cool sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero elements woven throughout 11 chapters. And I love RP and MB's sense of adventure and cleverness. I think that perhaps the highest praise I have for the book is that I read it with my three-year-old, and he did not want to put it down. He not only insisted I keep reading each chapter, he even took it with him in his wagon when we went for a walk around our neighborhood. This book is enchanting!

When I asked him what he liked about it, he told me, "There's a mystery." "It's a little bit scary." And "I like Red Panda and Moon Bear (the characters)." So, there's something for everyone!

This book's creator Jarod Roselló is an artist, researcher, and educator who teaches creative writing at the University of South Florida. Although this book is his first for younger readers, he has published the graphic novel The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found as well as a bunch of shorter pieces. He has another graphic novel called Those Bears in the works for publication. He speaks about his work in this interview.

I was not able to locate many reviews of this book, but the ones I found were very positive. Cassie at Teachers Who Read called it "a perfect addition to the graphic novels in my classroom." It currently has a 4.71 (out of 5) star rating at Goodreads.

Red Panda & Moon Bear was published by Top Shelf Productions, and they offer a preview and much more here.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story

Peter Bagge is one of my all-time favorite comics makers. A multiple award winner with decades of credits, he created the seminal alternative comics series Neat Stuff and Hate and served as editor of the holdover underground comics anthology Weirdo. He has also created a number of graphic novels, including Fire!!, Woman Rebel, Apocalypse Nerd, Other Lives, and Reset. More recently, he has been a contributor to publications like Reason magazine (see his collections Founding Fathers Funnies and Everybody is Stupid Except for Me) and Vice Magazine (the Musical Urban Legends column).

Like Fire!! and Woman Rebel, Credo is a biography of a woman associated with a libertarian point of view. Rose Wilder Lane was the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, of Little House on the Prairie fame, and a respected author in her own right. In fact, this book suggests that she had at least a small hand in her mother's literary success, at least as an editor and polisher, and perhaps even more so as the author of several books (the exact nature of her role is suggested but unclear in this book). She was also a very vocal woman, partly fired up by her bipolar mental state, who associated with a good number of the political and literary figures of the day, including Ayn Rand.
Like the other books in this series, Bagge portrays various highlights from her life, and it is clear for the substantive footnotes that follow the main text that he has done extensive research into his subject. He also inserts his own political leanings as well as a good dose of humor. I did not know much about Rose Wilder Lane before I read this book, and I felt that it was an effective and informative introduction to her life and works.  He speaks about his work on this book in this interview with Etelka Lehoczky.

The reviews I have read about this book have tended to be positive. Publishers Weekly called it a "loopy, frantic, and personality-packed tribute." Ryan C. pondered if Bagge is "creatively stalled out" and wrote, "my hope is that he’ll give the biography format a rest for awhile and tell us where he’s coming from and why rather than using historical figures as mouthpieces and/or human shields for his worldview." Rob Clough praised the book for intermingling comedy and historical research.

Credo was published by Drawn & Quarterly, and they offer a preview and much more info here. There is also a sizable preview available from Reason.

On a final note, I was glad to serve on a couple of panels with Bagge at the Denver Pop Culture Con this year, where he signed my copy of this book. He's an informed and funny speaker and a good guy, too!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Congratulations, 2019 Eisner Award Winners!

The 2019 Eisner Award winners were announced at San Diego Comic-Con this past week, and I thought I'd highlight the winners who have been featured on this blog. You can find the complete list of winners here, and there are lots of excellent comics to check out. Congratulations to all!

Best Continuing Series
Giant Days, by John Allison, Max Sarin and Julia Madrigal (BOOM! Box)

Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 8)
Johnny Boo and the Ice Cream Computer, by James Kochalka (Top Shelf/IDW) - from the Johnny Boo series

Best Publication for Kids (ages 9–12)
The Divided Earth, by Faith Erin Hicks (First Second) - Book 3 of the Nameless City trilogy

Best Publication for Teens (ages 13–17)
The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang (First Second)

Best Humor Publication
Giant Days, by John Allison, Max Sarin and Julia Madrigal (BOOM! Box)

Best Reality-Based Work
Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, by Box Brown (First Second)

Best Graphic Album—New
My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image)

Best Graphic Album—Reprint
The Vision hardcover, by Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Michael Walsh (Marvel)

Best U.S. Edition of International Material
Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, by Pénélope Bagieu (First Second)

Best Writer/Artist

Jen Wang, The Prince and the Dressmaker (First Second)

Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art)

Dustin Nguyen, Descender (Image)

Best Coloring

Matt Wilson, Black Cloud, Paper Girls, The Wicked + The Divine (Image); The Mighty Thor, Runaways (Marvel)

The Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award
Lorena Alvarez (Nightlights, Hictoea: A Nightlights Story)


Saturday, July 20, 2019

Dog Man and Cat Kid

The Dog Man book series has topped best-seller lists, been translated into 23 languages, and had an initial printing of 5 million copies(!) for the sixth volume, so I figured I might check this little series out. Actually, I have been meaning to read one of these books, a spin-off of the wildly popular Captain Underpants series, for a while now. So when my wife came home after picking up one on a whim for me, I finally had the chance to see what all the hubbub was about. Dog Man and Cat Kid is actually the fourth book in the series, and it did a great job of recapping prior books and getting me right into the narrative.
 

As you just saw, Dog Man is the result of an experimental surgery that grafted a dying dog's head onto the body of a dying police officer, resulting one strange living crime fighter. He fights for good, beset by his nemesis Petey the Cat. In his latest plot, Petey cloned himself but was bummed to find out that the result was a kitten. So he gets Dog Man to adopt the kitten, that way he'll have a double agent acting on his behalf. However, the kitten has other ideas and actually wants to be more like the virtuous Dog Man. Still, he has doubts and thinks he might be inherently evil, so he lets Petey sway him at times. When Dog Man's adventures get optioned for a major Hollywood movie, Dog Man ends up being hired as a bodyguard for the film's star, Yolay Caprese, and Petey decides to do everything in his power to ruin the entire enterprise.

This book has a little bit of something for everyone: bad puns, parodies of Hollywood action movies and actors, some bathroom humor, giant robotic hot dogs, slapstick scenes, riffs on Steinbeck's East of Eden and other literary works, and superheroic action scenes. And in the end, I feel like after all the silliness, there actually was a decent lesson about being able to make choices and determine how you want to act in the world. I know that this series and Captain Underpants gets a bad rap, appearing at the top of banned book lists, but I thought this book was a lot of fun and had a good moral. Sort of a contemporary version of MAD Magazine, with a critical skewering of the adult world.

This book was created by Dav Pilkey, a wildly successful children's book and comics author who has the Captain Underpants and The Dumb Bunnies series to his credit. My son and I are also quite partial to his parody/homages Kat Kong and Dogzilla. He speaks about his life, books, and a number of other topics in this interview.

I was not able to locate many reviews of this book, and they tended to be either "love" or "hate" ones. Kirkus Reviews concluded that this is a book "that will tickle fancies high and low." It currently has a 4.54 overall rating at Goodreads.

Dog Man and Cat Kid was published by Scholastic Graphix, and they offer more info about it here.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Little Women

Good things sometimes come on small packages, and I am not making a joke about this book's title. It is a relatively slim volume, but it brought me great joy. It is not a strict adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic book Little Women, as I had expected, but half comic strips that show the highlights in a humorous light, half biography of her dad Bronson Alcott, AKA "the worst father in history." As you might can tell from the cover, this book takes a few liberties in heightening characters' responses to the plot. It also offers a smart meta-commentary on the book. It is funny and clever, and I feel that those who have read the original would really enjoy it. Heck, I've never read the original, and I enjoyed it immensely.
The second half of the book is a biography of the transcendentalist Bronson Alcott, Louisa May's father. He was an interesting fellow who dragged his family into all sorts of situations based on his beliefs. His specific views about how to live the perfect life led to several attempts at communal living, poverty, and veganism.

I just met this book's illustrator Ryan Dunlavey at the Denver Pop Culture Con in June, and he told me that there will be future entries in this series, only they will be mostly comic strip adaptations without the historical commentary. I am very much looking forward to checking out those volumes.

This book was drawn by Ryan Dunlavey and written by Grady Hendrix. Dunlavey's work typically combined humor with nonfiction and he is known for drawing the series Action Presidents!, Action Philosophers! and The Comic Book History of Comics. Hendrix is an author with an interesting and varied list of credits that touch on popular culture, horror, novels, and cookbooks.

I was not able to locate many reviews of this book, though it currently has a 4.33 (out of 5) star rating on Goodreads.

Little Women was published by Evil Twin Comics, and they offer more info about it here.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Apocalypse Taco

If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you'll probably know that I love Nathan Hale's comics and graphic novels. His nonfiction series Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales is the gold standard for historical graphic novels, as far as I am concerned. I loved his takes on fairy tales and the southwest, Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack. And I really liked his original sci-fi graphic novel One Trick Pony. With his new book Apocalypse Taco, not only does he win the prize for best original book title, he also provides a gripping, tense, icky, and fun sci-fi/horror tale.

The set-up of this book starts before a school theater production of Brigadoon, when the students are creating the set. A trio, including 11-year-old twins Axl and Ivan and 16-year-old Sid make a late night fast food run to energize the minds and bodies of the crew. Not only do they not get the food, the food tries to get them.
At first they think they have been transported to some alternate, hellish dimension. Then they find that their school and town have been transformed into imperfect replicas. Everyone and everything, including their families, friends, and homes have turned to goopy creatures that are chasing them. Not only that, they encounter other strange lifeforms, including one made up entirely of arms and another made up of teeth. All of this is clearly unsettling and horrific, but luckily they meet up with a graduate student (!) who starts to make sense of things.

I will not reveal more, as I don't want to spoil things, but clearly this is a book with a lot going on. I enjoyed how horrific and original it was, and I admire just how much it is genuinely a thriller that does not insult anyone's intelligence. The situations are strange and compelling, and Hale definitely establishes a mood throughout the book that builds suspense and has multiple payoffs in terms of the plotting. As much as I love his nonfiction work, I also really dig the fiction he has written. His takes build on common genre tropes, but he extends them to interesting, unique places. Hale is one of the best comics creators out there, for all audiences, in my opinion. Apocalypse Taco is a satisfying, gruesome tale that should appeal to readers looking for fun, sci-fi/horror.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have praised it. Publishers Weekly summed it up as "Weird, freaky fun." J. Caleb Mozzocco concluded, "Young readers, particularly those who are easily freaked out, may want to proceed with caution. More adventurous readers can plunge right in, with one caveat: There’s a pretty good chance their minds might get blown in the process." Sam Wildman wrote, "Apocalypse Taco has great crossover appeal for both adult readers and young readers – at least those who can appreciate a trippy surreal trip into the world of grotesque body horror." Kirkus Reviews called it "A well-balanced mix of sci-fi, horror, and humor."

Apocalypse Taco was published by Abrams, and they offer a preview and more info about it here.
I finally had the honor and pleasure of meeting Nathan Hale at the Denver Pop Culture Con last month, and he was gracious enough to sign my copy. HE ROCKS!