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.