|The time Schlitize met Jackie Cooper...|
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Friday, September 25, 2020
Sunday, September 20, 2020
As a professor at UTK and a grad of UGA, I have an antipathy for gators. But Investigators is utterly charming and hilarious, and 5-year-old is currently obsessed with it to boot. It stars two gators named Mango and Brash who are agents of Special Undercover Investigation Teams (SUIT). You can tell them apart by their jawlines and coloring. Mango's jaw is round and he is dark green, while Brash is lighter green and has a square jaw. Clad in their high-tech Very Exciting Spy Technology (VEST), they go into action to solve some extraordinary cases. In this book they are trying locate a famous cupcake baker named Gustavo Mustachio, who has gone missing for two weeks, and suspect foul play.
Also, they want to foil a villain who has stolen a device that digitizes physical money and automatically deposits it electronically. It even works through walls, which makes it especially harmful. It might not be so much a spoiler that these two cases eventually intersect.
As you might tell from the names of devices and agencies, this book is full of puns, and Mango is very fond of them, too. The back and forth conversations and sound effects are frequently funny. This book is also full of pop culture references and snappy dialogue, and the sum of all these things makes it a fun book to read aloud. There is also some potty humor, as the agents' main mode of transportation is flushing themselves down into sewers.
Adding to the fun visually is a wild array of characters and character designs. There is a triceratops escape artist named Houdino. There is a villainous crocodile who is part baked good named Crackerdile. There is a giant chicken who is also a scientist/inventor named Dr. Doodledoo. There is also Doctor Copter, a brain surgeon who was bitten by a rabid helicopter and who is compelled to transform into a helicopter to cover anything especially newsworthy. There is lots of whimsy and invention at play in this book, and my 5-year-old is really taken by this motley assortment of characters. He especially wants to read and re-read the chapters that tell Dr. Copter and Crackerdile's origin stories.
The end-papers also have a few bonus features, including a guide on how to draw the main characters, which my son is very into. Altogether, this book has lots to offer in terms of readers young and old. It is fun to read together. It has vibrant, unique characters. The plot is off-the-wall and the dialogue laugh-out-loud funny. It truly is a great graphic novel for all ages, which is a pretty hard trick to pull off.
This book was created by John Patrick Green. I enjoyed his first graphic novel Hippopatomister, and he has also drawn a number of other books for children as well as the mini-comic Teen Boat! written by Dave Roman. He speaks about the origins of the Investigators series in this interview.
All of the reviews I have read of this book have been positive. Kirkus Reviews concluded that it was "silly and inventive fast-paced fun." Publishers Weekly called it "fast-paced fun for the bad pun and dorky joke crowd: 'Now let’s flush ourselves down the nearest toilet and GATER DONE!'" Kate Quealy-Gainer wrote, "While the art is a bit more sophisticated than Pilkey’s Dogman, the tone is the same, and those waiting for the next installment of that series may want to spend time with this weird reptilian pair."
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
Thursday, September 10, 2020
I never would think that a graphic novel about crows would have me completely rapt, but this book Crows: Genius Birds is exceptionally good. I've read almost all the books in the Science Comics series and this one is easily one of the best. It has a fun framing sequence and is chock full of interesting facts about corvids. The framing sequence involves the smartest crow in the world recruiting a dog named Buddy to help him dump over receptacles on garbage day so they can both feast. Along the way, the crow regales Buddy on all sorts of crow facts, including how they can learn to identify people's faces, imitate bird calls and human voices, and even use tools.
The artwork in this volume is very clear and colorful. I admire how it switches back and forth from propelling the plot and elucidating information or explaining an experiment. It is one of the most accessible and engaging science books I have read, and I think it would be attractive and useful for a wide array of readers.
I am very impressed by what I think is the graphic novel debut of Kyla Vanderklugt. She is not a novice comics creator, and in the past she has contributed to a number of comics anthologies, including Flight and Spera.
I have not seen many reviews of this book, but the ones I've read have been very positive. Johanna Draper Carlson wrote that it "is one of the best of this series. It’s everything a non-fiction graphic
novel should be: informative, attractive, well-drawn, and fun to read!" Jonathan H. Liu concluded, "If you like crows and want to learn more about them, this book is a great resource." It currently has a 4.53 (out of 5) star rating on Goodreads.
Saturday, September 5, 2020
Apparently, the fine folks at First Second have found a lot of success in their Science Comics series and have branched out into other areas. That series has been of overall high quality, and I have high expectations for whatever they publish. Their first other series is Maker Comics, which is sort of a practical extension of the SC series, with titles about fixing cars, baking, and building robots. I reviewed one title here, and I was pretty impressed with it. More recently, they also branched out with a series aimed at social studies topics, History Comics. They have two titles out so far, and I review them below.
The first book I read was The Great Chicago Fire: Rising from the Ashes, which is about the huge 1871 blaze that destroyed a huge section of The Windy City. This book makes the events here very personal, following a couple of siblings Franny and J.P. who live nearby where the fire started and have to traverse the city in order to avoid the flames. They are great point-of-view characters who both narrate historical/geographic information and also put a human face on the goings-on.
This book gets into all sorts of issues, including the prejudice against immigrants and how the legend was created that blamed Mrs. O'Leary (and her cow) as the cause of the fire. Attention is also paid to the urban planning (or lack thereof) at the time and how the city was rebuilt in the aftermath of the fire, with the advent of skyscrapers and other technological innovations. All of these were showcased 22 years later at the 1893 World's Colombian Exposition.
The end of the book is rounded out with some nifty features, like a timeline of events, a list of facts about the Chicago Fire, and a map of relevant historical sites to visit today. I really enjoyed reading this book, and I feel it's a good, highly accessible introduction to the series.
It was written by Kate Hannigan, a former journalist who has written a number of middle grades and picture books, including the multiple award-winning The Detective's Assistant. It was illustrated by Alexandra Gaudins, who also drew The Brain entry of Science Comics as well as a number of digital and webcomics.
All the reviews I have read of this book have been positive. Esther Keller wrote, "The fast-paced read is highlighted with superb artwork that evokes the time period and gives readers the feeling of chaos that ensued in Chicago." Kirkus Reviews concluded, "A fictive plotline adds a strong “you are there” feel to this informative account."
The second book I read was The Roanoke Colony: America's First Mystery, which is about the first attempts of the British to establish a permanent colony in North America. It is narrated by Wanchese and Manteo, two indigenous leaders that the English encountered. They offer a good contrast with their viewpoints, as in reality Wanchese was more weary of the British and their intentions. Both also traveled to England, and Manteo was the first Native American to be baptized into the Church of England.
This book is more packed with information, and it gives a broad context to the times and geography. It tells of the various indigenous nations that were active in the area, along with their political structures, homes, and tools. It sheds extensive light on the British politics of the day, with particular attention to Queen Elizabeth I (who brushed her teeth with honey-!!!), "debonair hot boy" Sir Walter Raleigh, and pilot/pirate Simon Fernandes. It chronicles conflicts with rival European nations and also pirates. The failure of this colony lie in a great number of factors, including colonial cluelessness, skirmishes with local peoples, lack of supplies, improper training of colonists, needlessly cruel leadership, and privileging capitalist interests over people's general safety. I was impressed by how much nuance and detail is packed into this book with it still being so accessible and engaging.
This book does not have the same features that concluded The Great Chicago Fire, but I also feel that it covers lot more content in terms of historical context and complexity. Instead it ends with possible solutions to the mystery of what happened to this "lost colony" that was left to its own devices for months. These final pages offer a number of possibilities, starting with the evidence that they literally left a note on a tree that they had gone to the island of Croatoan (where Manteo was from) but storms complicated any search efforts. Among these possible endings are that the colonists may have been slaughtered by any number of factions, including natives or the Spanish, abducted by aliens(!), or assimilated into local nations. Reading this book, it is easy to see why this mystery is still so compelling, especially when presented in such a well-researched manner.
The creator behind this book is Chris Schweizer, who also made the volume of Maker Comics I just reviewed. Like I wrote then, he is a comics Renaissance man who has created a few series like the Crogan's Adventures and The Creeps. He has a bent toward historical works and is one of the best artists working right now, IMHO.
I have not found as many reviews of this book online, but the ones I have read have been full of praise. Carin Siegfried wrote that it "was a lot of fun, really informative, and I especially liked how the story was told from the perspectives of the Native Americans." As of this writing, it has a 4.14 (out of 5) star rating at Goodreads.
Sunday, August 30, 2020
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Frogcatchers is a brief but memorable book about memory, aging, and second chances. It begins with an older man waking up in a strange room, attached to medical equipment. As he gets untangled and disconnected he begins to wander; then he finds he is in a strange hotel building. When he goes outside, he finds himself in a tunnel where a young boy is hunting for frogs. As he gets his bearings, he finds more mysterious items and learns about the ominous being known as the Frog King, who runs the place.
I don't want to describe much more about the plot of this book, because of spoilers but also because it is more based on tone and sensation than narrative. There are extended passages without words, where the scratchy images establish context or feelings. Sometimes the imagery also complicates to the overall enigma that is this place and setting. I know that it does not always look polished, but I feel that is what makes it exceptional. The lines are expressive and capture so much feeling with their kinetic energy.
When I called this book brief I meant that it goes by quickly, but it also invites multiple re-readings and opportunities to suss out just what happened. It is a quiet, introspective book that offers interesting insights into what makes a life worth living.
This book's author Jeff Lemire is one of the most prolific comics creators in the field today. He has a huge list of comics credits and has won a few major awards along the way to boot. He is best known for The Essex County Trilogy, Black Hammer, and Sweet Tooth. He speaks about his work on Frogcatchers in this interview.
All the reviews I have read about this book have been raves. Irene Velentzas called it "a visually and narratively rich tale that suggests the key to navigating life and the self is to remain amphibious, to see under the surface of things, to grasp at opportunities, and to remain open to the constant change found within life’s current." John Seven commended the emotional work in this book, opining that it is "more like a visual poem than a character drama." Kevin Apgar gushed, "Unlike so many other graphic novels that sometimes overstay their welcome, I didn’t want Frogcatchers to end. Ever."
Thursday, August 20, 2020
Saturday, August 15, 2020
Mr. Butterchips is an interesting character, a monkey who aspires to be a stand-up comedian but who is largely relegated to make ends meet by partnering with an organ grinder. His job brings him into contact with a wide cross-section of people, making a sturdy platform for him to express his cantankerous views of social conditions, politics, popular culture, and all sorts of other matters. The first half of the book is episodic, in the vein of a weekly comic strip. And I was pretty amused to see how he tackles contemporary hypocrisy and injustice through comedic commentary, targeting things like "the war on Christmas," pro-lifers, big pharma, Comicsgate, and anti-vaxxers.
The second half of the book is a single, sustained narrative about Mr. Butterchip's misadventure with controlled substances in the streets (and sewers) of San Francisco. This story is more surreal, reminiscent of underground comix, with the city and its denizens being the butt of the jokes. I have only been to SF once, so I might not get all of the "in" humor, but I was still entertained by the tale, which also has a few mild suspense elements.
One of the best features of this book to me was seeing how the character, setting, and situations evolved over time. At first, the episodes are given to finding a tone and also establishing the character, which has it fits and starts with mundane things like girlfriend trouble and struggling to make rent. Over time, Mr. Butterchips develops more of a voice and the targets of its satire become more pronounced. By the time I got to the large story that ends the book, I felt a familiarity with things that made the plot hum. It was a lot like reading old volumes of comic strips and seeing how they grow into themselves. I'd be interested to see if there will be more adventures with this acerbic primate in the future.
These comics were created by Alex Schumacher, and most of them appeared monthly in Drunk Monkeys. He has completed a number of projects, including the webcomic Decades of (in)Experience and the self-published print collection Defiling The Literati. He speaks more about his work and career in this interview.
I was only able to find one review of this book, but it was very positive. Aaron Iara wrote, "Our news feeds and social media are chock-full of people arguing and discussing the issues of the day. However, hearing these arguments from a heated drunken monkey is so much more fun." He summed up by recommending "Mr. Butterchips to fans of political cartoons, boisterous stand-up comedians, and off-beat comic books."
Mr. Butterchips was published by SLG, and they offer more info about it here. This book features profanity, adult themes, drug use, and some sexual situations, so it is recommended for readers mature enough to handle those things.
Monday, August 10, 2020
Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Thursday, July 30, 2020
Saturday, July 25, 2020
Monday, July 20, 2020
I think that this book does an excellent job of balancing information with entertainment. It certainly tells its story with verve and a sense of humor, but also does not steer away from revolting realities like the sexism evident in early space programs or the role that Nazis played in researching rocket flight. I think that the artwork is detailed and well-researched, and the pacing and story-telling allows ample space in some wordless sections for the narrative to breathe and the grandeur of the larger events to be highlighted.
This book's creator Don Brown has a sizable number of publications under his belt, focusing especially on nonfiction and biographies for school-aged readers. He is known for the Actual Times series as well as the graphic novel The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees. He speaks extensively about his work on Rocket to the Moon! in this interview.
All of the reviews I have read of this book have been positive. In their starred review, Kirkus Reviews called it "a frank, often funny appreciation of our space program’s high-water mark." Publishers Weekly wrote, "Brown’s visual storytelling offers humor, vibrancy, and a wealth of historical insight." Esther Keller noted that "Brown creates his own sense of style that will appeal to middle grade readers."
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
|Kirby's influence extends way beyond comics.|