Saturday, February 15, 2020

Nico Bravo and the Hound of Hades

There are about a million books based on concepts from mythology, and I think that 99% are not as enjoyable as this one. Nico Bravo and the Hound of Hades mashes together a good many concepts and universes in a story that is inventive and funny with just the right touch of mystery and suspense. Nico is a young orphan who works at Vulcan's Celestial Supply Shop. Vulcan makes all sorts of items that appeal to the mythological crowd, and he caters to pretty much every monster, god, demigod, and adventurer from all pantheons and folklore.
Joining Nico in stocking shelves, counting inventory, and running the cash register are Lula, a sphinx, and Buck, a unicorn. The first few pages of this book give us insight into the workings of this establishment, but after Vulcan whips up a new batch of items, including one giant magical sword, things take a turn toward adventure. Eowulf, a young descendant of Beowulf, buys the sword and sets out in the world to make her name. Her first task is do vanquish a mythical beast and she sets her sights on Cerberus. Nico 1.) does not think she's worthy of the weapon and 2.) wants to defend the three-headed dog as it is not so vicious and also maintains a vital role in keeping the dead in the underworld. He leaves the store to stop her and ends up on his own epic adventure. Along the way he learns some curious things about his past, meets one of his heroes, and runs afoul of some real monsters.

This book is chock full of cool variations on mythological themes. There are funny scenes in the shop, such as when potential customers Thor, Zeus, and Iskur squabble over the last jar of lightning. There are inventive artifacts like a bottomless backpack (that comes complete with wings that help its wearer travel). It also plays with the tropes of the hero's journey, and features lots of cameos from notable figures. It is a real smorgasbord for any fan of myths and legends.
This book is also a feast for the eyes, with the artwork being a huge reason why everything works so well. Many panels are crammed full of interesting and arresting details, in the vein of classic Mad Magazines, so there are multiple gags, references, or other cool things to observe. The characters are very expressive and colorful, and the storytelling is bold and extremely easy to follow. I also love how this book handles so much exposition in an economical way through of clever devices like trading cards.
Collect them all!
I was very impressed with this book as it features great characters, a plot full of twists and turns, and lots of mythological hi-jinx. It juggles all sorts of stories and players (I did not even mention the plot to avoid a dystopian future following the Unicorn Wars), and it does so with panache. I loved reading this book, and I am psyched that there will be two sequels, making up a trilogy.

Mike Cavallaro created this book, and he is no stranger to drawing graphic novels. He illustrated the YA sci-fi book Decelerate Blue written by Adam Rapp as well as the Foiled series written by Jane Yolen. He also drew the comic book series Impossible Incorporated written by J.M. DeMatteis. He spoke about his work on the Nico Bravo books in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been positive. Lori Henderson wrote, "Middle grade readers will love the adventure and humor this graphic novel offers." Publishers Weekly praised the "bright, psychedelic illustrations." Megan Rupe called it "a delightful fantasy comic...[that] has a lot going for it."

Nico Bravo and the Hound of Hades was published by First Second and they offer a preview and more information here.

Monday, February 10, 2020

3x4

When I survey the range of graphic novels out there today, I am amazed at the sorts of titles and topics they cover. Except when it comes to mathematics. Math is the one area that is apparently very difficult to translate into comics, and that is one reason why this book, 3x4, is noteworthy.

The premise in this book is a homework assignment where the students have to draw sets of 12. The amounts of sets and items is up to them. They can draw one set of 12, two of six, three of four, or four of three. I know that the author uses this exact assignment with adult art students, but it also works for teaching younger children about counting, multiplication, and elementary factoring. And the children take the assignment to heart, expressing their interests through their drawings.
Roses! And mmm, donuts.
A lot of the fun of this book shines through the drawings. It is full of simple figures and backgrounds rendered in geometric shapes and in vibrant colors. My 2-year-old love reading this book, pointing out all of the items that appear in the sets. He also likes to tell me whether we can eat them or not, but I think that means that the items themselves appeal to young readers and also that the illustrations are just that visually appetizing. Fans of the book Wordplay, which I reviewed earlier this year, will also be glad to see Annemarie return and play a prominent role here. This book has the illusion of simplicity, but it is elegantly complex and works on many different levels.

This book's author, Ivan Brunetti, an artist and educator who has been working in comics for a few decades. Currently an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago, he has done multiple covers for The New Yorker and created all kinds of solo work, including lots of independent comics and lately a growing number of titles for younger readers like Comics: Easy As ABC. He speaks about his work on 3x4 in this interview.

All the reviews I have read of this book have been glowing. In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews summed up, "So exemplary an execution of a simple concept that it can be read multiple ways—as multiplication, counting, sorting—without sacrificing fun." In another starred review, Publishers Weekly concluded, "As the characters work through the multiplication concept on their own terms, readers are sure to arrive at a clearer understanding." Kelley Gile gave it another starred review, calling it "a lovely graphic story that teaches a simple concept in a most engaging way."

3x4 was published by TOON Books, and they offer a preview and more here.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Stargazing

Stargazing is a beautiful book about an unlikely friendship and all the ups and downs that go into maintaining it. The main character is Christine, a young Chinese-American girl who comes from a conservative family that values family, education, and religion. She frequently studies and practices her violin and is a dutiful daughter. One day she encounters a girl named Moon, who comes trailing rumors of beating up other kids and maybe not really being Chinese. Her mom operates a plant nursery and they live a more bohemian lifestyle. To save money, Moon and her mom end up living in a spare unit on Christine's parents' property.
Moon is a big contrast to Christine; she is a confident vivacious person who is into art, dancing, and music, especially K-pop. She also has a special sort of vision, seeing all sorts of lights and celestial images, imagining that she is really from outer space. Her mom is much more permissive, and as they start to hang out more Christine gets exposed to more popular culture (and vegetarianism) and gets encouraged to get out of her shell. She does not always enjoy that process, and the pair have their conflicts. However, things take a serious turn when the true nature of Moon's visions is discovered, and the duo start to realize just how much they mean to each other.

At the center of this book is an exploration of relationships, whether they be friendships or family ones, and what really makes it work is the artwork. This book's creator Jen Wang has that rare ability to breathe life into her characters with her delicate linework and strong storytelling, and the coloring by Lark Pien further animates them while also creating a lush atmosphere and tonal shifts. Even though they are depicted in somewhat cartoonish manner, the people in this book seem real and relatable. I could spend hours just looking at the variety of their facial expressions and emotional reactions.

This whole enterprise is incredibly moving, and although a work of fiction it felt very real. I especially appreciated the endpapers of the book, where I learned just how personal this book was to the author and how she wove elements of her childhood into it. Her story and art combined to make a fully realized tale that is rich, sweet, and resonant.

Wang won multiple awards for her prior graphic novel The Prince and the Dressmaker, including an Eisner and the Mosaic Award from the Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards. She has a few other graphic novels to her credit, including In Real Life and Koko Be Good. She speaks about her work on Stargazing in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read of this book has been glowing. Publishers Weekly wrote in a starred review, "Plumbing the depths of Wang’s childhood for inspiration, this rich, heart-filled narrative will resonate with any reader who has ever felt different within their community." Caitlin Rosberg called it "a book that is full of sweetness and seriousness in turns, and offers a lot of kindness to characters and readers both." Nancy Powell summed it up as "a sweet and intimate story of friendship, of learning to be comfortable in one’s own skin, and learning to embrace the differences that make each person special in their own way." In another starred review, Kirkus Reviews concluded, "A shining gem of a book."

Stargazing was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and more information here.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Deep & Dark Blue

One of the big benefits from doing the podcast, Derek would say, was getting the books. It is really exciting to get all sorts of different types of work to read, I have to agree (storing them all is a different matter). Believe it or not, I still get review copies from publishers in the name of the Comics Alternative podcast. Today marks the date of our last posted episode, and to commemorate the day I am going to review a book I recently received.
The Deep & Dark Blue stars twin boys Grayson and Hawke, whose grandfather is the lord of House Sunderlay, a fictional feudal land where magic and destiny reign. Their personalities differ widely but they are still thick as thieves. After a bloody coup, they find themselves on the run and end up disguising themselves as girls (Grayce and Hanna).
 

The resourceful twins masquerade as initiates of the Communion of Blue, an enclave of magical women who weave using a mysterious blue dye that lets them to spin threads that reveal reality and manipulate elements such as fire and water. While in hiding, the twins learn much about themselves: Grayson that he has much to learn to be a true warrior and Hawke that he feels much more at home being female and called to magical weaving. Both of their growing realizations complicate their lives, but they also combine in an unlikely way to help them fulfill their roles to help restore a sense of stability in the upheaval.

The complexity of the plot is well complemented by the fine visual world-building on display here.  The setting and character designs are interestingly exotic, at once familiar but still unique. The expressions, color, and art really bring a sense of animation and emotion to the proceedings. I feel that the coloring is exceptionally well done, with great effects that really sell the moments of magic, make the action pop, and also make the small, intimate moments especially poignant. This book has multiple positive features, spinning a narrative of political and personal intrigue, with great moments of drama and suspense. It tells a tale that is both epic and human, and it does it in grand style.

The Deep & Dark Blue was created by Niki Smith, and it is her first graphic novel intended for a young adult audience. She has one other graphic novel, Crossplay, a story about cosplay, crushes, and identity set at a comic convention. She also has done a bunch of shorter comics works, notably for The Nib. She speaks about her work on this book in this interview.

All the reviews I have read of this book have been celebratory. In a starred review, Kelley Gile called it a "stunning work that does double duty as an absorbing adventure and a gentle musing on gender identity, family, and acceptance." In another starred review, Kirkus Reviews concluded that it was "woven with magic." Publishers Weekly wrote, "With capable worldbuilding and a positive look at transgender identity, Smith’s debut middle grade novel is likely to win over young fans of queer fantasy."

The Deep & Dark Blue was published by Little, Brown Young Readers, and they provide more info about it here.

The publisher provided a review copy.

In closing today, I just want to write that I miss my friend Derek and think of him often. I also miss podcasting and using that platform for having discussions and promoting comics. It is tough for me to think of doing that again without him, but I hope to be up and doing it again sometime in the near future. I had a great role model for how to do it, who set a high standard for humor, quality, and variety. RIP, Derek.

Monday, January 27, 2020

A big day for graphic novels at the ALA Youth Media Awards

This morning the 2020 winners of the American Library Aassociation Youth Media Awards were announced and there were a couple of historic firsts.

Jerry Craft's graphic novel New Kid, which I reviewed here, won both the Newbery Award and the Coretta Scott King Award. It is the first graphic novel to win the Newbery, and the third graphic novel to win the Coretta Scott King Award, with March Book 1 winning in 2014 and March, Book 3 in 2017.

Another big winner of the day was Jarrett Krosoczka's Hey Kiddo (my review here), which is the first graphic novel to win the Odyssey Award for best audiobook. I have not listened to it as of yet, but I loved the book version and am eager to hear how it got translated to an audio medium.
Both books are excellent, and I am very excited for both authors. Hooray for graphic novels!

Congratulations to all involved!!!

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Giraffes on Horseback Salad

Today, I look at another book that is emblematic of the ways I feel Derek helped broaden my thinking and experiences with comics. Every month on the Comics Alternative, we would do an episode looking at the "back pages" of the Previews catalog, where the non-"Big 2" books were solicited. Now when we started, I had not read that catalog in a looooong time. I had relied on people with more intestinal fortitude than I (like Mike Sterling) to tell me about the highlights (or in his case, the "lowlights") that were listed. My unfamiliarity with the format of the catalog really showed. I wanted to talk about EVERYTHING that was in the book, even the resolicitations, because I did not readily catch on how it worked. That first show was very long as a result, and I think that Derek was very gracious about it even though I got from his tone that he must have been wondering what a newbie I was being.

Checking out the catalog on a regular basis really opened my eyes to the multiplicity of offerings and publishers out there. It also made me pretty aware of what was not listed, particularly as I also read a lot of comics and graphic novels from publishers in the book world that particularly cater to younger readers. Still, I really enjoyed doing my "homework" in poring over the catalog each month, and it was exciting to talk about books that caught our fancy, sort of like being a kid back in the day with a Sears catalog around the holidays.

Giraffes on Horseback Salad was one of the books that really leaped off the page for us when we saw it in Previews, as it hit on a few of our interests. It is a graphic novel based on a lost script by Salvador Dali (!) for a movie that was to star the Marx Brothers(!). A book from one of the great surrealist artists featuring comedic characters made famous in the early days of film seemed like one of the potentially perfect uses of comics, in my opinion. How else could something like this be created and communicated today? We were both really excited about this intriguing, unique book, gushing about it. Lo and behold a few months later, the publisher sent us review copies, one of the best benefits from doing our podcast. I was excited to talk about it with Derek, but, sadly, we never got the opportunity.
So, you might ask, does this amalgamation of ideas and artifacts work? Yes, and no. I have to say that it would be a tall order to pull off in the best of circumstances. Not every work translates well across media, and what is more collaborations between creators with larger-than-life personas don't always go well. What this book does well is tell the story in multiple aspects. There is an essay by Josh Stack about his research into the script and how he managed to locate drafts, scraps of artwork, and commentary that would be used to create this book. There are dramatized scenes of the meetings between Salvador Dali and Harpo Marx that base this work firmly in history and their biographies (bolstered by input and artifacts from Harpo's son Bill). Finally there is some insight into how the comedy scenes were fleshed out by contemporary comedian Tim Heidecker. This front matter is extremely rich, compelling, and intriguing, and I have to say that it forecasts a "movie" that is fun enough but does not live up to expectations (how could it though?).

In many ways, the story is a like a typical Marx Brothers movie, with clever quips, bad puns, and zany situations. In other ways, it is sort of academic with its conflict between a staid, soulless, and capitalistic type of living and a surreal lifestyle centered on art, experience, and sensation. The protagonist is a man named Jimmy, a stand-in for Dali but played by Harpo. He is a man of industry who works for the father of his beautiful but vapid and conniving fiancee Linda. He suddenly realizes that he is unfulfilled when he encounters the mysterious figure known as The Surreal Woman. She is malleable, made of various substances, exhibits different countenances, and apparently has the power to alter reality with her parties.
The effects of The Surreal Woman are one of the best features of the book, as they help highlight the abilities of artist Manuela Pertega. She is not so interested in depicting all of the characters realistically, but she makes sure we can tell who is who, and where she excels is in portraying scenes and layouts in ways that ape Dali's art. There are plenty of disembodied hands, viscous fluids, flaming giraffes, and serendipitous spatial arrangements. Seeing how she lays out pages and propels the reader through the narrative is a real treat. I may not have known what was going on all the time, but I sure enjoyed the ride.

I think what sort of hamstrung the book was mostly the main character, who was supposed to be played by Harpo, but seems like one of the least Harpo-characters I have ever seen. He seems too uptight and loquacious, and Harpo was more madcap and always silent. I just could not see this character take shape. Also, the story gets a little too metaphorical for my liking, and behind that is a saccharine ethos that I do not think really maps on well to a Marx Brothers movie, which is more about comedic chaos and mayhem. Still, it is an interesting experiment and a worthwhile read. Perhaps this "strangest movie never made" might not be the greatest graphic novel ever made, but it offers lots of great history and a fascinating diversion for fans of the surrealist artist and classic comedians.

This book was a collaboration between Josh Frank, Tim Heidecker, and Manuela Pertega. Frank is a producer and pop archaeologist who has written a few other books about popular culture and music. Heidecker is a comedian/writer/actor known for his various Tim and Eric collaborations. Pertega is an artist/illustrator, and this book is her first graphic novel. Frank speaks more about the work that went into making this book in this podcast round table.

The reviews I have read praise many parts of this book, even if they admit that as whole not utterly cohesive.  J. Caleb Mozzocco opined that "one needs some knowledge of, and at least some degree of affection for, the Marx Brothers and their film comedies to buttress the comic." Etelka Lehoczky wrote, "It may not be a good story, but Giraffes on Horseback Salad makes a good book." Marissa Moss stated, "The creative team behind this book have risen to the challenge and created something completely unique."

Giraffes on Horseback Salad was published by Quirk Books, and they offer more info about it here. There is also a website for the book, which features reviews, events, and lots of other goodies here.

The published provided a review copy.

Monday, January 20, 2020

A spotlight on Silver Sprocket

One of my favorite things about Derek was how much he loved to read all sorts of comics. That included works from lots of publishers, and I was struck by just how much he seemed to know about a wide array of creators and countries. The breadth of his fandom was impressively comprehensive.

We would toss around ideas about shows we wanted to do and books we wanted to read, and I know we were thinking about a spotlight on Silver Sprocket. It is a publisher, creative crew, and gallery based in San Francisco, and they have a definite punk rock ethos. I had read and enjoyed a book published by them a few years ago, Liz Prince's Be Your Own Backing Band, and they have an interesting bunch of creators associated with their press. So when I had some holiday money this past year I got a few of their books, and I will share them with you here:

Big Punk is an 18-page story by Janelle Hessig where a lot happens. A punk woman who has been living in Fog City decides that the town is just to gentrified and hipster-ridden for her anymore, so she moves out to the country.
After a few weeks of peace and quiet, she grows bored and restless, and (without spoiling too much) she gets involved in a very unlikely relationship. With her life transformed, she settles in some, though still with a prickly relationship with the locals.

This book is funny and shocking, with some sexual humor as well as profanity, but it is also an interesting take on what happens to rebellious people as they grow older. Sure, they carry on the struggles in their own ways but their lives and popular culture transform as well. In a different way, it reminds me of the themes in Jaime Hernandez's Is This How You See Me? with its take on aging punk rockers. It is intriguing to see how defiant people eventually settle down, particularly when they do not necessarily mellow out.

I very much admired the artwork, too. It is very bold with clear storytelling, and best of all for me included lots of details, like the titles of books on the punk woman's book shelf, that really helped make this cartoony world feel real. It is a funny and provocative book, with a surprising amount of heart.
Striking a different note in its 32 pages, Magical Beatdown, Volume 1 by Jenn Woodall is a garish, revenge fantasy done as a mash-up of manga tropes. The protagonist is a mousy, goody-two-shoes who resembles Sailor Moon. She is playing arcade games when she gets accosted by some tough-looking juvenile delinquent types. The story then shifts from blue to hot pink (literally), and the main character transforms into a badass warrior who brutally murders everyone who crosses her. She also swears a lot. The story is satisfying in two ways: there is the joy in justice being served and the ultra-violence is done with verve and a sense of humor.
I won't say it is the deepest or most meaningful book I've ever read, but it's a delightfully gory confection. The artwork is very expressive and over-the-top, but at the same time quite gorgeous. There is a Volume 2, and it was a 2018 Doug Wright Spotlight Award Winner. I will definitely be checking it out soon.
Inspired by the philosophical work of Frantz Fanon, Your Black Friend by Ben Passmore checks in at a seemingly slight 12 pages, but they are dense with ideas and feelings. It chronicles a short series of exchanges at a coffee shop, but within those moments all sorts of history and culture get unpacked. The "black friend" observes an oblivious older white woman having an exchange with the barista, and it sets off his train of thought.
In a few short seconds, he ponders his past experiences with similar people, how black culture gets co-opted, how he feels he has to perform for both whites and blacks in ways that alienate him from both groups, and his own tenuous friendships. Towards the end of the story, he also has a brief revenge fantasy play through his head, but it is not nearly as explosive as that in Magical Beatdown, and it only highlights the futility and frustration he feels.

Your Black Friend is pretty text-heavy, but it is also propelled by an iconographic art style that features bold, primary colors for places and backgrounds but is aptly static when applied to the protagonist. It seems like there is great potential for explosive reactions, but he is constrained by culture and potential racist backlash and maintains a flat, seemingly nonplussed affect. He maintains his face like a mask, not betraying his thoughts about his plight.

This book is thought-provoking and powerful, and it won the 2017 Ignatz Award for "Outstanding Comic." You can read it all for free right here, but I think it is also well worth buying, perhaps in this collection.

After reading these comics from Silver Sprocket, I was very impressed with their offerings. I marveled at how subversively socially conscious they are, and I admire the contemporary punk ethos they communicate. At the same time, I did not really feel they were preachy, as they were very enjoyable reads as well.  These comics are the best sort, ones that are deep and entertaining at the same time.

All of these books are available here from Silver Sprocket, which also offers a good variety of other titles. Go check them out!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Come Again

In my last post I noted the death of Tom Spurgeon, a huge figure in contemporary comics. Today I start a series of remembrances about my friend and collaborator Derek Royal. Derek's death was too soon, as he was only 55. I met him several years back through our mutual friend Andy Kunka, and it was a couple of years ago now that he asked me to be the regular co-host of the Comics Alternative Podcast. Derek was a great ambassador of all comics. Our podcast focused on alternative comics, those not published by the big 2 comics companies. In that purview were works by independent presses, self-publishers, manga, European comics, webcomics, and comics for younger readers. I did a bunch of shows with him, got to interview some great creators, and also read a lot of comics that I might not have otherwise.
Derek, as rendered by Andy Hirsch
Derek was a voracious reader who read all sorts of work from all sorts of creators and publishers, big and small, local and international. He really pushed the boundaries of how I look at comics, and what is more he pushed me to examine my own thinking about comics. Most of all, he was a good friend and conversationalist. I really miss talking to him, not just about comics but also mundane stuff. We had lots of ideas for different directions to take the podcast, and I am sad not to get to realize those with him. In the spirit of revisiting my time with Derek and also revisiting some of the books we might have reviewed together, I plan to spend the rest of this month reviewing works pertaining to him. It is one small way I have to share his legacy of spreading the joy of reading a great variety of comics.

There are a good number of other tributes and memorials to Derek out there. The Philip Roth Society, which he founded, has a lovely write-up here. Comics for Fun and Profit has a good podcast about him here. I just listened to that one, and it was weird hearing him again. He sounds so vital and enthusiastic, as per usual, and I could not help but be struck by how I used to listen to him make our own episodes, how he would read the copy for our sponsor every time, and how I would also jump in at opportune moments to bolster what he was pitching. Derek did pretty much all the work on The Comics Alternative, and I felt most of what I had to do was read, be prepared with some talking points, and just be a good conversationalist. He did all the editing, posting, and everything else technical, which I find amazing.

My favorite tribute about Derek was from Paul Lai, who was co-hosted the podcast before I did. He and I had similar experiences with Derek, and I think he is much more eloquent in crystallizing just how special a guy Derek was. Go give it listen.

In one of the last podcasts we did together, Derek chose this book as one of his honorable mentions for favorite books of 2018. At the time, I thought I have it but have not gotten to it yet; I should put it on the top of my to-read pile. Then, after our hiatus and Derek's death, I did not really want to read it, almost as if I did another part of him would be gone. So, it has been on my shelf a long time, and I feel like now is the time for me to start addressing my feelings.

Come Again is by Nate Powell, a veteran and expert creator with a long list of praised works, including the Eisner and National Book Award winning March trilogy. He has also drawn a number of other graphic novels, such as The Silence of Our Friends, Swallow Me Whole, and Any Empire. He is one of the most accomplished graphic novelists of his generation. Powell spoke with Derek and Paul about his work on this book in this podcast interview.

This book is a unique one that defies easy categorization. It is a period piece, set in the 1970s at a commune in the Ozark mountains. The protagonists are a young boy named Jake and his mother Halushka (Hal, for short). They are pretty close to another family who has a young boy named Shane, but there are some secrets that are buried in that relationship. In a touch of magic realism, that secret is embodied by a cave where some illicit activities take place and where a mysterious creature lurks. I will try not to spoil so much, but one day Jake and Shane find and play in that cave, and one of the boys does not come out, touching off a frantic series of events.
 

The interplay between narrative and illustrations here is deftly woven. The characters are well portrayed with clear expressions and relatable emotions. This book is pretty dark, especially communicated via the artwork, which is very atmospheric. There are drastic contrasts between what transpires at night versus in the light of day, and I think the visuals definitely convey the idea of a tainted past impeding on the present.  Hal has a lot of baggage with her ex and others, and those feelings of dread creep into her relationship with Jake. In the end, she has to decide what to let go of in order to resolve matters. I won't way that I found the ending completely satisfying, but I this book sat with me a while and I have found myself flipping though its pages and revisiting what transpired. In terms of story and art, it sets a definite tone, and I feel that its exploration of personal relationships is thoughtful and haunting.

The reviews I have read about this book have been mixed. Etelka Lehoczky wrote, "Few creators could envision a story as unique as Come Again, and even fewer could have as much fun with it." Oliver Sava called it "striking but flawed." Tegan O'Neil was also ambivalent about the book, noting "I don’t know if the happy ending is necessarily earned because there’s something less than satisfactory" about how things resolve (If you want the spoilers, go read that review).

Come Again was published by Top Shelf, and they have more information about the book available here. This book features some profanity and adult situations, so it is suggested for more mature readers.

Friday, January 10, 2020

My Five for Friday: Goodbye, Tom & Goodbye, 2010s

The comics world experienced some big losses in the past year, and one of the biggest for me was that of Tom Spurgeon. His site The Comics Reporter was one of my go-to blogs for comics news, interviews, reviews, and convention information. I featured it in one of my columns for the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Education, and it was the inspiration for this blog you are reading (check out my first entry).

I met Tom a couple of times and had the wherewithal to actually document it the second one. Here we are:
Sterg and Spurge (we rhyme!)
Tom was a past editor of The Comics Journal and seemed to know everyone in the field. He was a champion not only of good comics but also of respecting and rewarding creators. He could be harsh in his criticisms, but he was also very constructive. I first encountered him online, via one of his Five For Friday calls. It became a regular thing for me to take part in, and when I finally met him in person he recognized who I was and commented, "You're the one who is so polite." That struck me as weird, because I thought I was just being cordial. I always thanked him for gathering and collating our responses, as I saw it was a sort of service to the comics community, done for free and on his own time.

In a way I think it was a symbol of what he always was, a comics industry social worker. He highlighted work he respected, advertised for all sorts of comics-related events in multiple cities, posted notices for assistance for comics creators who were sick or in financial need, and also conglomerated memorials and links to major news events. He was a huge supporter of comics, maintaining his blog, moderating panels, and planning Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC). I have not had the opportunity to attend CXC as of yet, and I have already expressed my admiration of his blog, and I also have to add that he was one of the most adept panel moderators I have ever seen at a con. In each case, he was not only familiar with each participants' work, he had thoughtful questions prepared, was respectful of everyone's time, and also spoke in engaging and entertaining ways. He was a masterful speaker.

Although I was only an acquaintance, you can read more intimate tributes to the man here and here. In the spirit of how I related to Tom most, I'll share one last Five For Friday here:

Five For Friday: 5 Things I appreciated About Tom Spurgeon
  1. His exhaustive list of how to survive San Diego ComicCon. I have never attended SDCC, but he always produced a huge collection of helpful hints, dining suggestions, and survival tips. He was like a den mother and master of ceremonies all rolled into one.
  2. "If I failed to list your comic, that's because I hate you." That's how he ended his weekly list of noteworthy comics publications, and it always cracked me up.
  3. The way he could weave his personal life into his comics fandom and appreciation. Exhibit A is his essay on his almost dying in 2011.
  4. The way he posted birthday wishes for comics creators, critics, and other industry people on his blog. He made the industry feel like a homier place, almost like a family or a real-life version of the Marvel Bullpen, only without hokey nicknames.
  5. Every year on Jack Kirby's birthday, he posted a huge series of his fantastic images from various series across the decades. They were always impressive and knocked my socks off. 
RIP, Tom. You made the world a better and friendlier place.
Chris at Adhouse Books made this special edition pin. All proceeds will go to the Hero Initiative. Check it out here!
So Long, 2010s!
The end of the decade also coincidentally marks a decade of this blog, and to commemorate this event, I have compiled my own favorites from these past 10 years. I only offer brief commentary along with a link to my original review. These are the books published in the last 10 years (in alphabetical order) that I feel the most about.
All the Answers - A look at a boy genius who became famous in the early days of television. Part biography/part cultural history/part exploration of the effects of memoir - it impressively works on so many levels.

B+F -A woman and a dog have adventures in a primordial world. A large format, gorgeous book.
Battling Boy - A fun, contemporary take on superheroes. Its sequels, which focus on Aurora West, are also very good.

Brazen - 30-something short biographies of notable women across cultures and history done by one of the best creators currently working.
Cardboard Kingdom -Representation matters, and this book shows a wide array of children who engage in creative play in their neighborhood. It is hilarious, charming, heart-breaking, and hopeful.
The Comic Book Story of Beer - I love beer, and this book taught me so much about its history as well as the various styles that have evolved according to different communities and cultures. This team of collaborators have a few nonfiction graphic novels out there, and they are all great.
Coyote Doggirl - A solid western tale told with lots of contemporary sensibilities. It's riveting and laugh out loud funny in parts.
Copra - A colorful, gorgeous unique take on superheroes. Hands down the most taut plotting and coolest character designs in superhero comics.
Crater XV - A gripping adventure story complete with missiles, long-lost loves, spies, and nautical escapades. I wrote, "This cartoon world is so realized and lively that it propels the narrative like a rocket."
Fantasy Sports - I love this entire series, but this first book made me laugh out loud multiple times. It's about two mages/treasure hunters playing a high-stakes game of hoops against an ancient pharaoh, and it is so much fun.
The Greatest of Marlys - A new compilation of comic strips from the 1980s/1990s. They are all tone poems that can make you laugh, cry, or cringe. Some of them build you up; others crush you.
The Hard Tomorrow - A dystopian future story set in the not-so-far-future that also delves deeply into people's personal relationships. The ending gave me goosebumps.
Hark! A Vagrant - Kate Beaton is one of the greatest comics artists going. She breathes so much life and humor into this collection of mostly historical and literary comic strips.

Infinite Kung-Fu -An amazing, inventive tale of martial arts and magic. There's a guy who can punch people so hard they spit up centipedes.
Last Man - I love, love, LOVE this series about a down-on-his-luck stranger who comes to a sleepy town to take part in a round-robin magic/fighting tournament. It combines the best features of Euro-comics and manga.
Lighter Than My Shadow - An incredibly moving, informative, inventive, and harrowing look at personal trauma and eating disorders.
My Favorite Thing is Monsters - A coming of age tale set in 1969 Chicago, with a murder mystery, a horrific Holocaust survival story, and homages to classic monster magazines. It's gorgeous, and one of the top 5 books I've read this decade.
My Friend Dahmer - An extremely troubling look at a childhood in the 1970s that produced the infamous serial killer. It's journalistic, full of incredible details, and provocative. Also one of the top 5 books I've read this decade.
The Nib - This is the print version of what I feel is the best webcomic site there is. A wonderful collection of political cartoons and nonfiction. I read the website pretty much daily.
Nimona - A moving tale about a sidekick that is more evil than the villain she works for. It is a funny, suspenseful book with a lot of heart, and I love how it plays with multiple genre conventions.
One Hundred Nights of Hero - This riff on the classic Arabian Nights story is one of the most subversive and delightful books I have ever read. It's a hilarious and brilliant satire/social commentary.

Pantheon -A very profane, funny, and accurate(!) retelling of ancient Egyptian mythology. It's not for kids.
Hades - A notable entry in the (soon-to-be) 12-book Olympians series. This one is more about Persephone than it is Hades, and I love the characterizations of each character as well as the energetic retelling of Greek myths. This one kids can read, though adults would like it too.
Relish - Part autobiographical memoir/part cook book, this is the first book I read by Lucy Knisley, who has made some of the most very funny, insightful, and personal comics of the decade.
Rosalie Lightning - This autobiographical tale of dealing with the loss of a young child is beautiful, moving, and also a clinic on how to make great comics. Another one of the top 5 books I've read this decade.
Dogs -My favorite entry from the awesome Science Comics series. It's a great history that also touches on topics like heredity and genetics. It's one of the most fun and informative books I've every read.
Sexcastle - Usually my favorite book by Kyle Starks, who has the magic ability to make the funniest and most kick-ass comics possible. This one is a fantastic riff on 1980s action movies, and it will make you laugh while keeping you on the edge of your seat.
The Shadow Hero - A modern update of what was the first Chinese superhero. It is a fantastic take on the superhero genre, with a strong dose of cultural insight and humor.
Spinning - This autobiographical tale of figure skating and coming out is a beautiful and painful book. Tillie Walden has produced a number of notable works since, though I have a soft spot for this one.
TEOTFW - Before it was a show on Netflix, it was this suspenseful and spare action story about two teenagers on the run. It features satanists, deadbeat parents, and all kinds of other creepy things. It's genre comics at its finest.
Tetris - I love pretty much everything Box Brown publishes, though this book is the one I recommend most. This true-life account of the famous video game blew my mind with how it touched on Russian history, game theory, and international finance. It is fascinating and super-informative.
 
Tomboy - A very relatable memoir about childhood, this book is funny, awkward, and honest. I wish it was read by every adolescent who thinks they are weird or different. Liz Prince rules!
Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood - This book retells the entire history of World War I in about 80 pages(!), and does it well. It's a clinic in presenting graphic information as well as a masterpiece of graphic nonfiction. It's the best entry in what I consider the best series of nonfiction graphic novels.

Vague Tales - Eric Haven loves playing with comics archetypes and taking them to very strange places. in the past I called his comics "beguiling, silly, confusing, thrilling, and fantastic." Probably I should have just summed them up in one word, "unforgettable."

Wizzywig -Ed Piskor has made some pretty great comics over the past decade, but this account of  a fictional hacker/culture jammer is the one that impressed me the most. It's a crazy ride that incorporates a number of unbelievably true events. Blurring that line between fact and fiction is what I found so compelling about it.

Well, that's my list. I hope your 2020s are roaring!