Thursday, December 30, 2010


Chiggers is the story of Abby coming back to another summer camp. This year a few things are different. Her good friend Rose is now a cabin assistant, which makes her busy and absent much of the time. Her other good friend Beth came in with new piercings and is buddying up more with Zoe. Her first bunkmate Deni gets sent home early because of chiggers. Her new bunkmate is Shasta, who likes fantasy novels, wears a bandana, dates a high school senior on the internet, and also claims to have been struck by lightning. And to top things off, Abby has a crush on a boy named Teal.

This graphic novel was written and drawn by Hope Larson, who is already an acclaimed creator. She has won both the Ignatz and Eisner Awards and has published work in prestigious publications like the New York Times. Larson has published four other graphic novels, including Mercury, and is now at work on a graphic adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. These interviews with Zack Smith and Kiel Phegley shed more light into her work on Chiggers.

Reviews of this book have been very positive. Johanna Draper Carlson commented that Larson's art uses a "beautiful visual thinking that reaches the reader emotionally." Eva M wrote that the artwork was "simple and expressive" and that she got lost in the narrative and relatable summer camp experiences. Jack Bauerstein83 noted that while not everyone (i.e. young boys) will find this book interesting, it well deserves checking out.

A preview is available here from Larson. The book's publisher Simon & Schuster posted a different preview here.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Monkey Food

Monkey Food is a treasure trove of 1970s memories. Fads such as CB radio, reading self-help books like You're OK, I'm OK, feathered hair, and waterbeds are all touched upon. The impact of the free-wheeling 1960's is also felt: Ellen and her family are a bit liberal to say the least. They belong to the Unitarian Society, vacation at a nudist camp, keep marijuana in the house, and host some pretty wild parties. Holding all of these references together are the very human portraits of the Forney family. Whether they are suffering through road trips, visiting mosquito-plagued campsites, or saving each other from flaming microwave ovens, their personalities really show through.

I Was Seven in '75 was created by Ellen Forney, an experienced artist and graphic novelist who has published a more adult collection titled I Love Led Zeppelin. She also worked with author Sherman Alexie, providing the illustrations for his well-received YA novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Reviews of this book have been very positive, particularly focusing on the vibrant and expressive artwork. Johanna Draper Carlson admires the loving and non-judgmental portrayals of the family members and who also appreciates the ability to browse this book because of its anthology format. Bob's Comic Reviews loves how Forney captures the feelings of childhood and called the book "just about perfect."

A preview for this and Forney's other works is available here.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tezuka Bibliography in English

Osamu Tezuka is a giant in the world of manga who created hundreds of titles, including Astro Boy (The Mighty Atom) and a biography of Buddha. There has been tons published about him in Japanese, but not so much in other languages. Katherine Dacey helps some of us out with her bibliography of the growing body of English-language commentary on his works.

Thanks to The Comics Reporter, where I found the link!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Multiplex Book 1: Enjoy Your Show

This book is a collection of Gordon McAlpin's webcomic, which has been regularly published on Mondays and Thursdays since 2005. It follows the employees of a local movie theater, chronicling their interactions with customers and each other, and there are lots of movie-based jokes, pranks, and fumbling attempts at romance. The main characters are: Kurt, the jokester manager; Jason, the ticket-taker with highfalutin tastes; Becky, the projectionist with a heart of gold; and Melissa, another projectionist and Kurt's girlfriend, who is often the voice of reason.

Aside from capturing the flavor of working in a customer service job, McAlpin also does a great job with the characterization of people growing up and finding their places in the world. He is an illustrator who specializes in digital publications who also does work in printing and advertising. Multiplex has been his long-term project, and thus far he has 5 books available online. He funded publication of this book by raising funds using Kickstarter. McAlpin talks about why he decided to do a print version of his work in this Newsarama interview.

This first book is full of the early entries in the series, with McAlpin offering commentary on his creative decisions. From the reviews, it seems that this comic's appeal depends on its audience. Johanna Draper Carlson reviewed the book and saw some features that could use improvement. She also commented on how the strip evolved over time for the better but also speaks to how some of the characters seemed stereotypical to her. On a different note, Jason Sacks wrote that "it's fun to see how the characters grow and change." Xaviar Xerexes wrote that although it may be tougher to enjoy these early strips than the later ones, they do serve as a good introduction to the comic. As for me, this is one of the few webcomics I regularly follow, especially for the relatable and developed characters. This development has taken time though, and I am not sure this collection captures enough of it.

The online version of the comics in this collection is available here, along with character biographies, guest strips, and other bonus features.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Missouri Boy

Missouri Boy is a book that brings up the big debate over why these books are called graphic novels in the first place. More a graphic poem than a graphic novel, it captures a number of moments from a 1960s American childhood: the sounds, sights, and smells of shooting off fireworks on the 4th of July, the feel of getting buried in fall leaves, and the sensations and silliness that come along with first crushes. The vignettes here are snapshots from a life, arranged chronologically, but they contribute to a larger picture of growing up, learning to deal with difficult situations and unkind friends, and setting off on one's own.

The author/writer is Leland Myrick, an accomplished illustrator who was nominated for the Ignatz Award and Harvey Award for Promising New Talent. His work has been published in many places, and he received a 2004 Xeric Grant to complete his book Bright Elegy.

Missouri Boy has received good reviews, but as we look at a sampling from sources such as Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Booklist , there is also a reservation. These reviews all point to the great artfulness, poetry, and emotional timbre of the book, but they also note how it may be more well received by adults looking back on their own childhoods rather than younger readers.

A preview is available here from the book's publisher First Second.

Wordle version of a Dissertation

Wordle: SBDiss

Friday, December 10, 2010

Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence

This story begins in 1958 when Geoffrey was 4 years old and starts to learn about violence. One of his brothers' jackets gets stolen, and his mother sends the boys out to retrieve it themselves. She wants them to learn to take up for themselves and not live as victims. From this beginning, Geoffrey has to deal with escalating situations that come with living in a single-parent home in a rough neighborhood in the South Bronx. What follows is a series of lessons in survival. As he grows up and he comes into contact with more people, Geoffrey learns to navigate among the neighborhood kids, tough guys, schoolmates, and various shady characters.

Geoffrey Canada first told this story in novel form. He has been associated with the Harlem Children's Zone and played a prominent role in the education documentary Waiting for Superman. He presents his autobiography as a model to address social issues, and here he is aided by Jamar Nicholas, an artist and educator who is also very involved with social justice. He is perhaps best known for his work with author Annie Auerbach on the Grosse Adventures series.

The good will that follows Canada's novel mostly extends to this version as well. The Library Journal's Martha Cornog highly recommended the book for tweens to adults and also added that Nicholas "has judiciously focused on the personal end, and his semirealistic black-to-grayscale art has just the right lived-in-yet-edgy feel." The San Francisco Book Review's Jamais Jochim remarked how well the flow of the story worked and also commented on the need for such personal narratives addressing gang violence. Reviewer Sean Kleefeld liked the book well enough but felt underwhelmed by an abrupt, hollow ending.

Chapter 1 is available here as a preview from the book's publisher, Beacon Press.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Yu the Great: Conquering the Flood

Yu the Great was an actual person, a dedicated civil servant who solved China's flood problem and went on to become emperor. He is considered the founder of the Xia Dynasty, the first dynasty in Chinese history and important as the beginning of a class society in China. This version of his story draws from myths and legends and tells his story with a fantastical bent. Here, Yu is the son of dragon, can talk to certain magic animals, can fly, and finds magic soil to help him in his endeavors. Many of the elements of his historical story, which come from a time period with little records, are told via symbols and figures.

This is another entry in Lerner Publishing's Graphic Universe series of myths and legends. The story is told by Paul D. Storrie, a frequent contributor to the series and the author of a growing number of comics and graphic novels, including adaptations of the Justice League cartoon and a series based on the Robin Hood legend. Sandy Carruthers drew this adaptation. He is also a frequent contributor to the Graphic Universe series of books but is also known for his work on Captain Canuck and, most famously, Men in Black, which became a blockbuster movie starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.

The comic book style art and story makes this a vivid book, and it is certainly a good comparison piece to read with the typical Greek and Roman myths we see. These two reviews by Chris Wilson and another author at the Graphic Classroom point to some of its positive features and also give some suggestions for potential classroom uses. The reviewers at Goodreads give a different impression: that it is a middle-of-the-road book. Like other entries in this series, it does rely on a good amount of academic research, and it has a glossary, further reading list, and other features that lend themselves to classroom use.

More information, reviews, and a preview are available here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Levitation: Physics and Psychology in the Service of Deception

Prolific science graphic novel writer Jim Ottaviani continues his science of the unscientific series with this look into the history of stage levitation. The book follows this sensational trick from its origins in the work of John Neville Maskelyne ("The Levi") who entranced turn of the (20th) century British audiences with his stage play The Entranced Fakir. His act was stolen and brought to the United States by Harry Kellar (who had tried to buy the act from Maskelyne to no avail) with fantastic success. The act was improved upon by engineer Guy Jarrett who wrote a much-used guide to magic and who also narrates the story. When Kellar tired of touring, he sold his act to Howard Thurston, a charismatic showman with a penchant for card tricks. Thurston went on to being one of the biggest acts of the 20th century.

In this book, Ottaviani focuses not only on how levitation tricks are done but also on the personalities of all the magicians who used them. As with his other works, this book is thoroughly researched and is chock full of information. The art was provided by Janine Johnston, a freelance artist with many credits, including Star Wars and Poison Elves comic books. Her gray-scaled art looks almost water-colored and provides a great atmosphere for the narrative. These two interviews shed more light on the two creators' work on this volume.

Reviews of the book have been largely positive. Johanna Draper Carlson recommended the book, commenting on Johnston's art and the great number of magical mysteries revealed within these pages. Chris Mautner offered that the story was full of slightly awkward exposition but was ultimately winning because of its "educational glimpses into areas of history that have mostly been ignored by the general public."

An excerpt is available here from publisher GT Labs. A study guide and review links can be found here.

For teachers interested in teaching this book, there are a host of materials here from the Get Graphic website.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A.D. New Orleans: After the Deluge

The ensuing disaster that followed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina cast much light on life in the US. It questioned the reliability and judgment of FEMA and raised questions about continued class and racial disparity, culminating in what then-President George W. Bush called the "worst moment of his presidency," getting called out on national television by Kanye West. In all of this fallout and confusion, what seems to get lost are the stories of the people who lived in and through the storm. This graphic novel tells their stories.

A.D. New Orleans began as a webcomic but is here expanded and developed into a longer narrative. It begins on August 22, 2005, one week before Katrina hit, and focuses on five stories: Denise's family has lived in New Orleans for generations, and she and her family try to weather the storm in a hospital and then, when that becomes untenable, the Convention Center. Leo and Michelle are a Bohemian, urban couple who decide to take off to shelter but return quickly to survey the aftermath. Abbas is an Iranian-born businessman who decides to weather the storm with his fishing buddy Darnell so that they can protect his shop and also have a good story about experiencing a "real hurricane." Kwame is the son of a pastor whose family flees the storm but then returns to facilitate assistance to those in need. Finally, The Doctor stays in the French Quarter and throws a hurricane party, secure in the fact that this high point of the city will take little damage. He also takes an active part in helping people once the weather passes and the horrible damage caused by massive floods takes its toll.

This graphic novel portrays the destruction but mostly focuses on the human stories, showing what it was like to be there, trapped on a roof. Or what it was like to come back to find all your possessions ruined. Or what it was like to see your home be portrayed like some foreign battle site on the nightly news. It also shows what life was like for people who were trapped and who were neglected for days before help came. Finally, rumors about looting and roaming bands of thugs are also addressed. It is necessarily, but not gratuitously, graphic with its portrayal of stark conditions and people's language in extreme situations.

Josh Neufeld is a comics journalist who worked at the time as a Red Cross volunteer and was deployed to Biloxi, Mississippi to help hurricane victims there. That experience moved him to write this story from those most affected by the storm, so for this book he interviewed actual people and portrayed their accounts as accurately as he could. He specializes in non-fiction work and was along-time contributor to Harvey Pekar's American Splendor. His work has been recognized with a Xeric Foundation Grant for his travelogue A Few Perfect Hours, and he was also nominated for Harvey and Eisner Awards for this book.

Along with these nominations, A.D. New Orleans has received much praise. Wired Magazine's Todd Jatras called it "a sterling example of comics with a social consciousness." It has also received substantive write-ups in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek. Reviewer Sean Kleefeld comments that the book is worth buying, even if the web version can be read for free.

Extended excerpts, chapters from the webcomic, discussion postings, related videos, reviews, and many other helpful and interesting links can be found on the book's official page.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Polly and the Pirates

Polly-Anne Pringle lived a sheltered life in a very proper boarding school. She strives to be as upright and respectable as her mother, a woman she believes to be the perfect lady. Her friends call her dull, but all of this changes when she is kidnapped by pirates and is brought out to sea. They are the former crew of the Pirate Queen Meg Malloy, and they think that Polly is her daughter and that she can lead them to her buried treasure. Polly tries to disabuse them of this notion and really, really wants to return to the safety of the boarding school, but she does show an uncanny aptitude for swashbuckling...

This charmer of a book was written and drawn by Ted Naifeh. He has created a number of graphic novels and comics series, including the Eisner Award nominated series Courtney Crumrin. Currently, he is writing a sequel to Polly and the Pirates as well as collaborating with Holly Black, author of the Spiderwick Chronicles and a bevy of other YA fantasy books, on the Good Neighbors trilogy. He talks about his career and works in this interview.

Reviews of this book have been very positive. Brian Cronin called it "delightful." Cindy Vallar commented that it is enjoyable to readers young and old. Reviewer Greg McElhatton very much enjoyed the art and wrote that "Polly’s a great addition to everyone’s library; she can set sail any time and I’ll be on board."

A 25-page preview is available here from Oni Press. A shorter preview for the yet unpublished sequel is available here.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Rabbi's Cat

As a fable or a parable, this book begins with a basic yet significant premise: the Rabbi's cat has gained the amazing ability to speak. The problem? He only tells lies. In response to this awful behavior, the Rabbi forbids the cat to spend any time with his daughter, lest he fill her head with falsehoods and nonsense. This crushes the cat who seeks her approval and affection and so he asks the Rabbi to teach him the Talmud so that he can become a better creature. The theological implications of the cat's request boggle the Rabbi's mind, especially when he starts asking for a Bar Mitzvah. Dealing with this situation requires compromises by all parties involved, especially when a young rabbi comes courting the Rabbi's daughter.

The creator behind this Eisner Award winning graphic novel is Joann Sfar, a French artist with more than 100 books to his credit since 1994. Sfar has won many awards for his work in Europe and the US, and he is well known for his series of Sardine in Outer Space and various Little Vampire books. He has a pretty sardonic sense of humor, as seen in the English version of his homepage.

The story takes place in the 1930's in Algiers, while it was still under French control, and it is replete with complicated religious and philosophical matters. This particular volume encompasses a wide range of story, as it contains the first three volumes Sfar published in France (there are 5 total). This dense yet energetic work has received some very positive reactions. Reviewer Douglas Wolk praised the strength of Sfar's level of detail regarding personalities and life observations. The Comics Shrew wrote that the book is not traditionally pretty but that it "on the whole is quite lovely and highly recommended whatever the status of your beliefs." NPR's Laurel Maury called it "a rare book that makes talk of art, faith and humanity as exciting as a rollicking thriller."

This graphic novel has also been made into a soon-to-be-released motion picture.

A preview is provided here from the book's publisher Pantheon Graphic Novels.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Koko Be Good

What does it mean to be "good?" How does one know when they have "grown up?" These are two of the major concerns in this graphic novel. The majority of the plot centers on Jon, a 20-something who is drifting about after college. He has lost touch with his friends, set aside his aspirations as a musician, and is gearing up to join his girlfriend in Peru to live charitably. Koko, a tempestuous and energetic woman bursts onto the scene, causing havoc while striving to make her impression on the world. Accompanying her much of the time is Faron, an acrobatic Latino teenager who is troubled by his family situation and his secret love of musicals. All three of the characters are having a hard time figuring out their places in the world.

This beautifully illustrated graphic novel debut was created by Jen Wang. She graduated with a Sociology degree from SFSU and has worked various jobs before her graphic novel work. Koko Be Good started out in different form as an online comic, and Wang has a number of shorter works online. This interview sheds more light on her work and inspiration for this book.

Reviews have been largely positive. Kristin Fletcher-Spear was impressed by the art and the characterization, particularly of Faron. Greg McElhatton wrote that Wang has "taken her talent to a new level with this book." Comicsgirl commented on all the intricate details in the art and story that make the book work. It seems that Jen Wang's graphic novel career is off to a great start.

A preview, a reading group guide, and some reviews are available here from the book's publisher First Second. A video preview is available here from the author.

Thanks to Gina for the review copy!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Nice Review of Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean

Sean Kleefeld posted this well done review of Sarah Stewart Taylor and Ben Towle's book I wrote about earlier this year. Check it out!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Atalanta: The Race Against Destiny

This book tells a pretty exceptional Greek myth: girl is born and rejected by father who wanted a boy. She is left in the wilderness to die but is raised by a she-bear. Afterward, a family of hunters take her in and teach her to be human, but she is the fastest, strongest human ever. S0 she becomes a great hunter and goes to the Oracle at Delphi to hear her fortune. Warned of a disaster that would accompany marriage, she decides she does not need any man.

BUT, she is so beautiful that men throw themselves at her. So to give herself some peace she makes a contest where any man who beats her in a race gets to marry her, but anyone who loses is put to death. Not many men take her up on this opportunity, but still there is a fellow named Hippomenes, who has a plan and a few golden apples...

This rare example of a powerful, positive female in Greek mythology is retold in this entry from Lerner Publishing's Graphic Universe series. The story was done with an eye to historical detail in terms of the clothing and locales (no one who go on record to say if the gods and goddesses were portrayed accurately). It was written by Justine and Ron Fontes, a married couple who writes children's books and graphic novels. They have written a few other titles from this series and over 500 titles overall. The art was provided by Thomas Yeates, the artist of the Robin Hood entry in the series as well as a long-time comic artist who specializes in horror and fantasy tales.

It was difficult to find reviews for this book, but here is a rather short, glowing one from a younger reader on I felt that this was one of the stronger books in the series, especially with the attempts to make Atalanta more personable and human than the cardboard characters usually found in such stories. Also, the academic resources included in the book make it ideal for classroom use.

A short preview and more information about the book and authors are available here from the Lerner Publishing Group.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Johnny Boo: The Best Little Ghost in the World!

Just look at that cover. With his tiny body and curly head, Johnny Boo just might be the cutest ghost ever (Sorry, Casper.) In this book, Johnny roams the forest with his pet ghost Squiggle. They frolic, drink melted ice cream, sometimes hurt each others' feelings, and reconcile. Of most importance, they encounter a pink and yellow ice cream monster who turns out to be friendlier than he seems. Still, somehow Squiggle ends up in its belly.

This book is the work of Renaissance man James Kochalka. Kochalka has published a daily cartoon since 1998 called American Elf. He has also published a great number of original graphic novels including Pinky and Stinky, Peanutbutter and Jeremy's Best Book Ever, and Monkey vs. Robot. He won the 2006 Harvey Award for Best Online Comic and four Ignatz Awards over the years for his other endeavors. In addition to drawing, he also teaches at the Center for Cartoon Studies and is a recording artist. His band, James Kochalka Superstar has released 9 CDs.

Most reviews are positive and highlight that this book intended for young readers also has appeal for older ones. Leroy Douresseaux commented that "although this book is for children under 10-years of age, even older readers can like its sweet, playful ambiance." Kris wrote that "this book will captivate the young and young at heart." Peter Gutiérrez called it a "small gem" that is "sweet without being sugary."

This volume is the first in a series of four (so far). A preview is available from Top Shelf.

Monday, October 25, 2010

To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel

Long before all the reality TV shows, dance has been attractive to people as an event, a way to celebrate, and an artistic endeavor. All three of these aspects come through in To Dance, an autobiographical story. Beginning at an early age, Siena was drawn to dance. She took lessons as a young girl and kept at it until she was accepted to the New York City Ballet under George Balanchine. During her time there, she got to thrill to brilliant performances and see famous dancers, including Mikhail Baryshnikov.

The joy and dedication really comes through in Siena Cherson Siegel's story. This interview explains some of the reasons she wanted to tell it. The expressive and evocative art was done by her husband, Mark Siegel, a graphic novelist and children's book author who is also the editorial director of First Second, one of the most acclaimed graphic novel imprints in the US. This short interview lends a little insight into his life and work.

To Dance was a well received book, as evidenced by this list of four star reviews from some notable journals. It was among the American Library Association's Notable Books of 2007 and was also a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book. It is also exceptional as one of the relatively few graphic novels pitched at girl readers.

A preview is available from the book's publisher Simon & Schuster.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Unsinkable Walker Bean

The Unsinkable Walker Bean has a lot going for it: beautiful art, an intriguing plot, and extraordinary story elements. Aside from the romance of being a castaway on a ship, the glimpses into deep sea trenches, and the fantastical creatures, the story is told alternately in small, personal vignettes and grand, cinematic moments. Aaron Renier really shows off his artistic and story-telling chops with this book, intended for readers age 9 and up.

There is so much detail in this book that it is hard to describe, but I'll give it a shot: The plot centers on Walker Bean, a young boy who ventures off on a sea voyage against his father's wishes in order to save his grandfather. The eldest Bean has been struck ill by a mystical pearl skull and only by returning it to its point of origin can he be cured. Most people think such talk is foolish and baseless, but Walker sets off any way. During his journey, he encounters many strange and interesting characters, including a doctor who is constantly working against him, a friendly youth with a dog, a cat-like girl who is a master thief, and a cook who has a walking, robotic teapot helper. Not to mention the two giant mermaid sisters whose vanity and greed has transformed them into giant lobster creatures who dwell in the deepest parts of the ocean until they pursue the pearl skull.

The Unsinkable Walker Bean is Renier's second graphic novel. His first, Spiral Bound, was very well received. He received an Eisner Award for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition in 2006. This interview offers insight into his art and work in general.

Reviews for this work have been very positive. J. Caleb Mozzocco commented on how much world-building he does in this book and states that it has "every chance of being the next big thing." The reviewer at Reading Rants wrote that he "couldn’t stop pouring over the intricately detailed panels" and commented on how it brought to mind some favorite children's books as well. James Bucky Carter stated that it was the "most enjoyable, fun, and exciting graphic novel I have read this year."

A preview, excerpt, and activity guide are all available here from publisher First Second. As it is, this book is laid out to be the first of a series of adventures.

Thanks to Gina for the review copy!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Cartoon History of the Universe III: From the Rise of Arabia to the Renaissance

Cartoon History of the Universe Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.

A lot of ground gets covered in this volume. It details the life of Muhammad and the rise and spread of Islam. It also touches on Asian and African history, follows the exploits of the Turks and other nomadic peoples, and covers medieval life in China, India, and Japan. Some other high points include "the Dark Ages," Muslim Spain, and the European Middle Ages from the Crusades to the Black Death. The book goes on to cover the Italian Renaissance and various naval expeditions to explore the world, concluding with Christopher Columbus's historic departure in 1492.

Larry Gonick wrote and drew this series of books, which has been coming out sporadically since 1978. This volume of the series won the 2003 Harvey Award for Best Graphic Album of Original Work, and has received many accolades. Reviewer Jerry Stratton raves that all the Cartoon History of the Universe books "should be on every bookshelf of the English-speaking world."

Some sample pages from the book are available here. Another preview is available from publisher W.W. Norton.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Brain Camp

Camp Fielding is the answer to troubled parents' prayers. Unruly, troubled, and academically challenged kids check in, and obedient, respectful, and ready to learn young adults check out. And what's more, the camp is absolutely free, though you do have to receive one of their private invitations. Meanwhile at camp and outside of parents' view, the campers face some odd circumstances, including a high amount of camper turnover, strange skin conditions that affect people's foreheads, and the occasional coughing up of feathers.

Jenna and Lucas enter into this "camp for losers," and begin to unravel what is going on. Lucas is a classic down-on-his luck kid. His mom struggles to raise him on her own, and he's fallen in with a bad crowd. Jenna's worst sins are being interested in drama and not following in her sister's footsteps and getting accepted into Yale at age 14. This unlikely pair are the last students excepted to the camp this summer, and they enter a world that is part arts and crafts, part Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Brain Camp is the second graphic novel collaboration between Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan. Both are playwrights who also write for television. Kim has been nominated for an Emmy Award multiple times and is also famous for her stage adaptation of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. Notably, Klavan is also a mystery novelist. Faith Erin Hicks provided the artwork. She has created a few of her own graphic novels, including The War at Ellsmere and Zombies Calling!

From what I have seen, reviews have been mostly positive. Jim Mroczkowski pointed out that Brain Camp is a graphic novel that does not insult adolescents' intelligence and called it "an excellent, unqualified recommendation for anyone who wants to get a young person into comics." Reading Rants found this "sweetly sadistic" story reminiscent of a scary campfire tale. Offering a contrary opinion, Johanna Draper Carlson wrote, "There’s an overall lack of cohesion, leaving me wanting more of the pieces that had nothing to do with the story while not particularly enjoying the predictable main plot."

A preview and video trailer are available here from the book's publisher, First Second.

Thank you, Gina, for the review copy!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Robin Hood: Outlaw of Sherwood Forest

Robin Hood is a well-known figure in the English speaking world, a legend whose story has been told in print, art, and movies. This version's hero is cut from the swashbuckling Errol Flynn/Cary Elwes cloth. There are five different stories within. The first shows how Robin Hood was tricked and had to become an outlaw. The second and third show how he meets Maid Marian and grows his band of Merry Men. The fourth and fifth stories follow his disputes with the Sheriff of Nottingham.

This book is another of the Graphic Universe graphic novels from the Lerner Publishing Group. It was written by Paul D. Storrie, a frequent contributor to the series about myths and legends, whose other titles include Hercules: The 12 Labors and Amaterasu: Return of the Sun. The art was provided by Thomas Yeates, a graduate of the Kubert School of Art who has had a long career illustrating a variety of comic books such as Swamp Thing, Tarzan, and Conan.

The School Library Journal's Joy Fleishacker reported that this book would be a good one for struggling or reluctant readers, especially because it"includes a map, glossary, and pronunciation guide, and list of print and web resources, [which] may encourage readers to delve more deeply into Robin’s adventures." A few more brief reviews are available at Goodreads.

The publisher's preview is available here.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sleeper, Season 1

Holden Carver is a spy out in the cold, with no hope of going home. He is a superhero who was charged with infiltrating a criminal mastermind's organization, but the only person who knew he was a sleeper agent has been shot and is in a coma, clinging barely to life. Eventually, he rises in the organization to become a Prodigal, one of Tao's chief lieutenants. To make matters worse, Tao, the criminal mastermind, has the ability to control people's minds, and Holden is severely compromised in terms of maintaining his identity. Throughout the series, he vacillates between completing his mission and simply losing himself in the villain's role.

Holden has a unique superpower given to him by an alien artifact that has grafted itself to his nervous system. The artifact absorbs all pain and injury he would feel and stores it. When Holden touches someone, they feel the pain and injury, sometimes with the intensity to kill. The artifact makes it difficult for Holden to feel anything, including emotions, further muddying his circumstances. His associates are similarly colorful, especially Miss Misery, a woman who gains strength, beauty, and invulnerability from criminal, amoral, and libidinous behaviors, and Genocide Jones, his super-strong, seemingly invulnerable friend who is also a muscle-man and assassin.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips created this series. They are frequent collaborators, and Sleeper was their first major undertaking. Since this series, they have gone on to others such as Criminal and Incognito. Brubaker is an Eisner Award winning writer who has also dabbled in being an artist at times. His most well-known works are Immortal Iron Fist, a run on Catwoman, his revitalized Captain America, and a well received series of Daredevil comics. Phillips has drawn a great number of American and British comics and received an Eisner Award for his work on Criminal.

Sleeper, Season 1 was originally published as 12 issues from Wildstorm, an imprint of DC Comics. It was followed by a second season that completes the narrative. It was a popular series, and it has received some attention from Hollywood: Tom Cruise and Sam Raimi are reportedly interested in creating a film version. Reviews have been largely positive as well. For example, Stephen Giordiano commented that the tightly plotted and compelling story really draws readers in. Paul W. Smith wrote that "both books fill the senses with blood and adrenaline, and ensnare the brain in a dangerous web of conspiracy." Jack Bauerstein83 called it a "hit on all counts."

A preview is available here.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


There are lots of coming of age stories out there, but Blankets may be one of the most beautiful. It tells the story of Craig, a young man who meets the girl of his dreams, Raina, at Bible camp one summer. Both come from strict, religious, and conservative households, but they keep their romance alive through letters. Finally, their parents relent and allow Craig to visit during his spring break in a supervised manner. Then they get to spent more time together and become even closer. The rest of the book follows their relationship, Craig's growing uneasiness with his surroundings, and also his leaning more and more on the arts to help him relate to the world.

The art captures a wide range of emotions and is simultaneously realistic and cartoonish. Craig Thompson took a great amount of time and care in telling and depicting this tale, making the reader alternately laugh, cry, worry, and seethe with anger. Perhaps most importantly, he tells this story without resorting to simple stereotypes or cliched solutions. He has created a number of other graphic novels, including Goodbye, Chunky Rice and the travel diary Carnet de Voyage, and his work has been celebrated with multiple Harvey, Eisner, and Ignatz Awards.

Blankets has received many accolades aside from professional awards. It was named on Time Magazine's Top 10 graphic novels ever published in English. It has also been published in multiple languages, winning the 2005 Prix de la critique in France. Reviewer Iain Burnside wrote that "it is essential reading for anyone who has ever been in love." In a detailed interview with Tom Spurgeon, Sean T. Collins dubbed it one of the major works of the decade. Andrew D. Arnold called it a "great American novel."'s Todd Murry speaks of some of the flaws in the book but still calls it "borderline essential reading."

A preview is available here from publisher Top Shelf.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Wire Mothers: Harry Harlow and the Science of Love

Harry Harlow was a controversial figure in his day. At a time when psychology was interested in pure science and the behaviorism associated with B.F. Skinner, Harlow was interested in love and the role it played in growing up, upbringing, and social systems. He conducted experiments with rhesus monkeys to see what would happen if they were raised in different social situations, including extreme isolation in a "pit of despair." He did most of his work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and served as president of the American Psychological Association in 1958-59.

This book chronicles his most famous experiments, in which he set up conditions where baby monkeys were left with "wire mothers" (a wire version of an adult monkey body) who had bottles and "cloth mothers" (models with soft features), and found that the babies would only go to the wire mother for food but otherwise remained with the cloth mother. This preference was especially pronounced if the baby was frightened. Harlow's experiments radically affected the growth and social abilities of his test subjects, sometimes resulting in monkeys who would become extremely depressed, psychotic, or simply socially inept. These experiments almost certainly would not be allowed today, but they did prove the large role nurturing, physical contact, and socialization had in development.

Wire Mothers was written by Jim Ottaviani, who has written a great number of scientifically themed graphic novels, including T-Minus, about the US-Soviet space race, and Dignified Science, about famous female scientists. He holds a number of masters degrees and formerly worked as a nuclear engineer. The art was provided by Dylan Meconis, an artist whose talents appear in an eclectic series of works, including Bite Me!, a story of vampires getting involved in the French Revolution, and Family Man, "a graphic novel about 18th century universities, religious doubt, and (eventually) werewolves." More information about Ottaviani and Meconis can be found in these interviews with the Comics Reporter and Comic Book Resources.

As in the past, Ottaviani's work is well reviewed. Star Hoffman called it "an absorbing work that is at once instructive, entertaining, and poignant." Colleen Mondor wrote that "It’s a great jumping off point for students" that "just might spark some actual interest in those poor souls." Johanna Draper Carlson loves Ottaviani's work and recommends the book.

A preview and study guide, among other resources, are available here from G.T. Labs.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Spiral Bound

Spiral Bound might be best described as a Richard Scarry Busytown book for adolescents. This graphic novel follows the lives of a few young animals, including Turnip the elephant who is becoming an artist during summer break, Ana the rabbit who is an investigative reporter looking for a story, and Stucky the dog who is building a submarine. Their different pursuits eventually lead them all to the town pond where a mysterious monster is supposed to lurk. Even though all of the characters are anthropomorphic animals, what really comes through are their distinct personalities and the emotional directness of their interactions. These are some very human critters...

This was the first book written and drawn by Aaron Renier, the Eisner Award winner for Talent Deserving Wider Recognition in 2006. He has illustrated for a variety of publications including a series of Knights of the Round Table books written by Gerald Morris. He has recently published another graphic novel The Unsinkable Walker Bean for First Second Books.

Spiral Bound was nominated for the 2006 Eisner Award for Best Work for a Younger Audience, and it has been generally well received. The American Library Association included it on their 2010 "Good Comics for Kids" list. Reviewer Greg McElhatton gushed that it was a "must read" and a "tour-de-force." The Onion A.V. Club sum things up well, writing that even though Renier's art looks like it's aimed at children, "his storytelling is sophisticated, his characters are winning and sympathetic, and his bizarre conceits—like the whale who teaches art classes from a giant truck-mounted fishbowl—are a constant source of surprises."

A preview is available here from the book's publisher Top Shelf.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank

A comic book version of the Charles Bronson character from Deathwish, Frank Castle has been a thorn in the side of the Marvel superheroes since 1974. After witnessing his family's execution at the hands of mobsters, Frank became the Punisher, a one-man army who wasn't afraid to take the law into his own hands to handle the bad guys. Originally intended as a throw-away Spider-man villain, the Punisher became strangely popular, reappearing as a guest star multiple times until given his own series in the 1980s. His adventures were even adapted into a 1989 movie starring Dolph Lundgren (not to mention two more films in the 2000s). The 1990s were not as kind to Frank as his comics fell in popularity.

In response, Marvel tried multiple gimmicks to spruce up sales. They teamed him up with Archie,

turned him into an African-American,

and made him into a supernatural avenger,

without success.

Welcome Back, Frank ended all this silliness, returning the character to his dark, gritty origins and adventures. In his return, he has to face a ruthless Russian mafia, various copycat vigilantes who are using his methods for their own purposes, nosy neighbors, and the meddling of police and Daredevil in his activities. It is a violent book, full of blood and guts, but also one that has a surprising number of darkly comic moments and situations.

Originally a series of 12 issues published in 2000-2001, this collection was written by Garth Ennis, an Irish writer famous for works such as Preacher, The Boys, Hellblazer, and Hitman. His stories tend to focus on moral/religious issues, loyalty between friends, war, violence, and the inanity of superheroes. The art was provided by frequent Ennis collaborator Steve Dillon, a British artist who has been drawing professionally since the late 1970s for a great range of publications, including Preacher, Hellblazer, 2000 AD, and Wolverine: Origins. Jimmy Palmiotti, a very accomplished comics artist and writer with tons of his own credits, inked the final work.

These stories were well received, and they marked the beginning of 7 years Ennis would spend writing Punisher stories. Reviewer Michael Deeley wrote that this book was "incredibly violent to the point of being funny" but also added that its punch lay in its compelling supporting cast. Will echoed the sentiment that Ennis created a Punisher "with guns loaded with satire.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Hercules: The Twelve Labors

Hercules: The Twelve Labors is a straight-forward adaptation of the most famous of Hercules' many adventures. The story begins briskly, with his birth and how he defended himself against serpents sent to kill him in his crib. It turns out that Hera did not take well to Zeus having a child with a mortal woman, and she does everything in her power to kill or humiliate the ultra-strong demi-god. Through her plotting he falls beholden to King Eurystheus, having to do his bidding. The King takes counsel from Hera and sends Hercules out on a series of labors, which all seem impossible.

Paul Storrie wrote this version of the story. He has written a number of the myth books in the Graphic Universe line. He has a number of other graphic novel adaptations, most notably a series of Robin Hood comics. The art was provided by Steve Kurth who has drawn a number of comic books over the years, including Dragonlance, G.I. Joe, and the recent Iron Man Legacy series. He displays his artwork in process on his blog.

Hercules: The Twelve Labors was a Junior Library Guild selection, and has received positive reviews for academic uses. The Graphic Classroom highly recommends it for classrooms. Joy Fleishhacker from The School Library Journal also celebrates the book, recommending it for use in grades 6 through 9 and commending some useful sections, including the glossary and further reading list.

A preview is available here from the Lerner Publishing Group.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Quitter

If this were a superhero story, The Quitter might have been called the Secret Origin of Harvey Pekar. A life-long resident of Cleveland, Pekar was a ground-breaking creator who brought memoir, ordinary life, and autobiography to the comic book world. His stories typically followed his job as a file clerk for a VA hospital, the people he interacted with there, his relationship with his wife, his daily routines, or the jazz music he so loved and appreciated.

Pekar self-published his stories in American Splendor, a series of comics that have been coming out since 1976. The series featured art by underground comix legend Robert Crumb, who was an early supporter. It also attracted a great number of other artists who told Pekar's stories. He also wrote a few graphic novels, including Our Cancer Year, a chronicle of his battle with cancer that won the 1995 Harvey Award. His comic works were adapted into a movie that won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and the FIPRESCI Prize at the Cannes Fim Festival. Pekar died in July of this year, and his life is properly celebrated in this obituary.

The Quitter tells the story of Harvey's early years, from his days growing up in a Jewish/Italian neighborhood and learning to take up and fight for himself. He also detailed his coming up under very traditional, old-country Jewish parents, trying to fit in various neighborhoods, and his many undertakings. The reader follows Pekar from job to job and pursuit to pursuit with access to his private thoughts and feelings. This is a very honest and uncompromising look into the life of a young person struggling to find his place in the world, a person who messes up and who tends to quit when things get difficult. Although it portrays relatively mundane events the book is still compelling and evocative.

Pekar's contributor here is Dean Haspiel, a writer/artist who has numerous credits in comics, graphic novels, and movies, tending toward biographical works. Of late, he won an Emmy Award for his title designs for the HBO series Bored to Death.

Like Pekar's other works, this one has been typically well received. The reviewer at Grovel liked Haspiel's attempts to capture the young Harvey but felt that this work was more for established Pekar fans than new ones. Blogger charlieblizz differed on opinion here and found the book's conversational tone very inviting. Rick K wrote that even though it is a thin volume "The Quitter has the heft of a full novel, only it is admittedly a lot faster, more fun and easier to read."

A preview is available here from the book's publisher, Vertigo.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty

Yummy is the strong story of a news report many often see but seldom register, the youthful gang member who kills an innocent bystander and provokes local outrage. Yummy is Robert Sandifer, who in 1994 became a poster child for gang violence after being featured on the cover of Time Magazine. He was notorious for his young age as a gang gunman (he was 11), the senseless violence surrounding his life, and his involvement in the Black Disciples gang active in Chicago. He got his nickname for his love of Snickers bars and cookies. In the book we see that he was childish in other ways also , such as sleeping with a teddy bear and being prone to violent outbursts. The story is told from the perspective of a fictional classmate, but it is based on media portrayals, public records, and personal accounts and packs an emotional wallop.

Yummy was written by Greg Neri who writes for middle graders and YA audiences, focusing on works for reluctant readers. He has published two other novels, Chess Rumble and Surf Mules. He writes about his reasons for writing Yummy in this interview and also on this page, which also has a number of positive reviews from Kirkus and other impressive organizations. The black and white art provided by Randy DuBurke sets a gritty tone and works well for evoking emotions. DuBurke has been a published illustrator for the better part of two decades, working for DC Comics in the late 1980s and early '90s but more recently focusing on children's books and graphic novels. His debut The Moon Ring won the 2003 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award for illustration.

The reviews for Yummy have been very positive. Doret commented on the craft of the book and the sadness and power of particular passages. The School Library Journal was impressed by the realism and hard questions the book asks in its detailed review while also providing links to interviews and further information. James Bucky Carter added that "It is not a fun read. But, perhaps it should be a required read. Expect to be angered and disturbed."

A preview is available here from the publisher, Lee & Low Books.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Kafka is part adaptation, part criticism, and part history of Franz Kafka's life and works. The Jewish Czech author is considered one of the great writers of the 20th century, credited with capturing the state of modern humanity in terms of industrialization, urbanization, and changing societal mores. The greatest sign of his importance is the adjective kafkaesque entering into popular use, a term that this book emphasizes. Among the roughly chronological account of Kafka's life, including his struggles with a domineering and abusive father and his mainly strange relationships with various women, are adaptations of his works. These include famous ones, The Metamorphosis and The Trial, but also shorter works such as The Burrow and his unfinished final work Amerika.

This book was created as part of the Introducing series of graphic novels that covers famous authors, philosophers, scientists, concepts, and fields of study. It was written by David Zane Mairowitz who is famous for his plays, literary criticisms/adaptations, and radio plays. He was also one of the founders of the counter-culture International Times. The art was provided by one of the most celebrated and controversial comics artists, Robert Crumb. Crumb is famous for his underground comix work, creating Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat, the album cover to Big Brother and the Holding Company's Cheap Thrills, and the "Keep on Truckin'" meme. He has been a long commentator on jazz and also on what he sees as the decline of American culture. Of late, he has produced a graphic adaptation of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Given the successes of the writer and artist, it's no surprise to find many positive reviews of this book. Brian Heater wrote that "Kafka is a terrific little book, and deserves to be embraced by those Crumb and Kafka fans." Chris Barsanti called it " one of the most exhilarating graphic works of the year." Giving a contrary take, and despite admiring Crumb's illustrations, Christian Perring was underwhelmed by the book.

A short preview is available here from the book's current publisher Fantagraphics Books. Past editions have had different titles, including Introducing Kafka, Kafka for Beginners, and R. Crumb's Kafka.