Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: By The Numbers

Just in case you were curious (I was), I counted up all the books I reviewed over the past year here and arranged them by number by publisher. Here they are, for your reading edification:

  • First Second - 21
  • Image Comics - 11
  • Fantagraphics -5
  • Amulet Press- 4
  • Koyama Press - 4
  • Dark Horse -3
  • Abrams ComicArts - 2
  • Alterna Comics - 2
  • Drawn & Quarterly - 2
  • NoBrow - 2
  • Black Mask Studios - 1
  • Bloomsbury - 1
  • Boom!Box - 1
  • Breakdown Press - 1
  • DC Comics - 1
  • Delcourt - 1
  • Dover Publications - 1
  • Farrar Straus and Giroux - 1
  • Fulcrum - 1
  • Graphic Universe - 1
  • Hill & Wang - 1
  • Oni Press -1
  • Random House - 1
  • Scholastic - 1
  • Secret Acres - 1
  • Seven Seas Entertainment - 1
  • Simon & Schuster - 1
  • Top Shelf - 1
  • Uncivilized Books - 1
  • Vertigo - 1

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Rock Candy Mountain, Volume One: No Exit

First off, if you have been reading my blog for long, you'll know that I am totally in the bag for whatever Kyle Starks creates. I have pledged to multiple Kickstarter campaigns and send him money every month via Patreon (you can, too!). I love his brand of action/intrigue/punching/jokes/pop culture sensibility, and I try to sing his hosannas when given chance. Needless to say, I was excited to see he had an ongoing series in the works. And better yet, I am tickled to tell you that it's great. If you love action/mystery stories set in post-WWII America that feature lots of punching and witty dialogue, not to mention starring people who go by names of their geographic points of origin and/or prominent physical features, Rock Candy Mountain is the book for you.

Mostly, it tells the tale of a couple of hobos in post-WWII America. The first, a failed actor named Pomona Slim, is new to riding the rails and he needs lots of hand-holding. The second is Jackson, a mysterious figure who is great in a fight and has many secrets. Jackson takes up with Slim, and the two meet lots of interesting people along the way, like other hobos, tramps, bums, the King of the Hobos, and The Devil himself. They also end up in some shady spots, including railway lots, underground fight clubs, and prison. In addition, I should note, Jackson is wanted by the US government for having a specific (though unnamed) artifact. All of these ingredients add up to one spicy and delicious stew.

Abetting Starks in this series is Chris Schweizer, himself also an accomplished graphic novelist whose series The Crogan Adventures and The Creeps are some of my favorite comics from the past decade. He does the colors, contributing a muted though effectively nuanced atmosphere to the proceedings, which complements the energetic and emotive artwork to a T. He also has a Patreon page where I contribute every month. Starks talks about his collaborating with Schweizer as well as his work on this series and in general in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have sung its praises. Samantha Puc stated, "This book completely shocked me with its palpable humor and emotional depth." River Godbee called it "very unique," adding that it featured "a great story with some amazing art." Jeremy Nisen wrote, "Our only complaint is that this first volume only holds four issues' worth of the series, and we want more. Now. Perhaps even more than that mythical lake of stew, and of whiskey too."

Rock Candy Mountain was published by Image Comics, and they offer previews and more here. This book contains the first four issues of the series, and it features a fair amount of swearing and violence, not to mention a couple of adult situations, so it is recommended for readers mature enough to deal with such material (as you'll see in the excerpt below).

Monday, December 25, 2017

House of Women

Originally published as a series of mini-comics, House of Women is a gorgeous and thought-provoking science fiction story that I found somewhat unsettling. I think that such discomfort is a perfect response to have to a book like this, as it tackles some pretty large issues while also spinning a suspenseful yarn about space exploration. The premise of this book is that a group of female missionaries have been assigned by the Empire to a backwater planet in order to educate and study the local inhabitants while also converting them to their belief and political systems.
There are a few complications to their mission, of course. First, the last group of emissaries from the Empire mysteriously vanished, and they are searching for clues to what may have happened to them. Second, they can only work with the female creatures, as they are open to education, whereas the males are hostile and violent. Third, the planet appears to be an Edenic paradise in some ways, but there are also wild and savage features that offer some peril. Fourth, there is a mysterious male guide who offers them help from a distance, though he is from another planet and has his own (shady?) motivations for being there. Finally, the women are a varied bunch, and they all have their various reasons for their work. Some have more virtuous intentions than others, and some are more out for themselves than for supporting the group.

Overall, I have to say that this book is excellent. It is extraordinarily drawn, with beautiful black and white images that resemble woodcuts and feature clean, geometric images. The story and subplots are well-woven together, and I feel that the characters are strong and complex. And perhaps what makes this book work most is that it has a constant undercurrent of anxiety, fear, and violence just beneath the surface. This book is an exquisite work of scifi and horror that will make you jump while also making you think.

House of Women is another impressive graphic novel from the Ignatz Award winning Sophie Goldstein. She has published a couple of graphic novels prior, Darwin Carmichael is Going to Hell, a fun, myth-based webcomic collaboration with writer Jenn Jordan, and The Oven, which was also a provocative sci-fi tale. She speaks extensively about her work on HoW in this interview with the Comics Alternative.

All  of the reviews I have read heaped acclaim on this book. Publishers Weekly praised it in a starred review as "another remarkable graphic novel from a creator whose approach to SF consistently defies expectations." Laura McKinley wrote in a starred review for Library Journal that Goldstein "offers readers much to reflect on in this sexually visceral tour de force, filled with intense black-and-white imagery and exploring what it means to “civilize” people without first weighing the consequences." John Seven called it "extraordinary, smart, beautiful." Oliver Sava wrote, "It’s a gorgeous hardcover, and the elegance of its trade dress makes it stand out while informing the interior contents, which are similarly refined."

House of Women was published by Fantagraphics, and they offer a preview and more about it here. In addition to its serious, adult themes this book also features nudity, sex, and violence, so it is suggested for readers mature enough to handle such things.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

4 Kids Walk Into a Bank

4 Kids Walk Into a Bank was originally published this year as a 5-issue limited series. Its story focuses on Paige, a tough tomboy who is trying to keep her father out of trouble, only in perhaps the most terrible way imaginable. She may or may not have hatched a plan to rob a bank, so that he will not have the chance to do so first. Led by Paige, the rest of this unlikely quartet of tween wanna-be bank robbers consists of Stretch, who you might have guessed is tall, Berger, who is annoying and profane, and Walter, a soft-spoken science nerd who barfs a lot. Taken as a group, they are a motley crew, fascinating to observe as they interact and especially when they play together.
Of course, along the way are complications. Paige's uncle is a cop who is clearly onto what is happening. There are also multiple squabbles, including ones with bullies at school and ones with the bunch of ex-cons who want to wrangle Paige's dad into trying one more score. Also, the group is into using a CB radio, where they keep interacting with a shady fellow named Doctor Gloryhole, whose name might tip you off that this book is not intended for younger readers..

There are many reasons to recommend this book. The artwork is very attractive, crisp, and clean, and I feel like the characters are not only clearly detailed, they pop off the page they're so vibrant. Also, this book features a lot of snappy dialogue and clever narration. It's fun to read and often funny. The plot is intriguing and interesting. And not to spoil things but the story does not end happily, but I think I'd be disappointed if it had, because this whole situation is such a complicated mess. If I have anything negative to add about this book it's that the final chapter seems a little less well executed than the first four, but it still sticks its landing. Any book that leaves the reader wanting more is successful, I feel.

This story was a collaboration between writer Matthew Rosenberg, artist Tyler Boss, and letterer Thomas Mauer. Rosenberg has written a bunch of comic book series for Marvel and Archie. As far as I can tell this series is Boss's solo debut, though he publishes some of his work online. Mauer has worked in many capacities for several comics companies, and he had a hand in a number of Harvey and Eisner Award nominated and winning titles, including Image Comics’ POPGUN anthology series and the webcomic The Guns of Shadow Valley. Rosenberg speaks about his work on this series in this interview.

I was not able to locate many reviews for the book as a collection, but the ones I did find are very positive. Ben Snyder wrote, "I’m just going to spell this out and make it really simple, 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank is phenomenal and one of the best books that I have read all year. The ending is heartfelt and earned, Paige is one of the best characters in recent memory, and the art is stellar. Pick up this book." Heidi MacDonald called it "a virtuoso performance from the whole team."

4 Kids Walk Into a Bank was published by Black Mask Studios, and they have more info about the series here. You can access a preview of the first chapter (issue) here. This book features some puerile, profane humor as well as some violence, so it is recommended for readers mature enough to handle both.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry

The Hunting Accident is a complex series of tales that are surprisingly true. Overall, it tells a series of stories about fathers and their sons, and the main narrative pertains to Charlie Rizzo and his father Matt. After the death of his mother, Charlie has to live with his dad, who is blind and lives in Chicago. Charlie did not know much about his father, but over time he learned of how he lost his sight in a hunting accident when he was a teen. He also begins to help his father in editing literary reviews and commentaries, primarily about the medieval Italian poet Dante.

Life in Illinois is much different than life in California, and over time Charlie falls in with an unsavory crowd. When he is implicated in a crime, he learns much about his father's murky past, including the real reason he went blind and also that he served time in prison. Of course, these revelations cause quite a stir. But the accounts of the truth that come from this discord are full of surprises and unexpected turns, including the strange fact that part of Matt's redemption in prison came from the circumstance that his cellmate was Nathan Leopold, a thrill killer whose exploits were once termed "the crime of the century."
Overall, this graphic novel is one that makes me appreciate reading comics. The story is full of twists and turns as well as plenty of emotion and the artwork is exceptional, with dark flourishes and nightmarish imagery, both combining to make a narrative that could only really be told via comics. I read a lot of graphic novels, and this one is impressively well crafted.

The Hunting Accident is the first graphic novel by both writer David L. Carlson and artist Landis Blair. The duo originally produced a limited run of a slightly different version of this book with a Kickstarter campaign. Carlson is a Renaissance man, and Blair is a painter and illustrator who has also illustrated the book From Here to Eternity by writer Caitlin Doughty. Carlson speaks more about his work on the book in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been very positive. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called it an "ambitious debut graphic novel" and added, "Blair’s exceptional pen-and-ink work, which mixes the tangible world with the psychological, brings all the strands together seamlessly and powerfully." Seth T. Hahne elaborated that this tale could have been very dry but that Carlson "twists it into something ranging and delicious, a complexity revealed by pieces and parts through visions and allusions." Oliver Sava called it a "gorgeous nonfiction tale" that "is filled with innovative layouts and stunning rendering."

The Hunting Accident was published by First Second, and they have a preview and more information about it here. There is also a separate official website devoted especially to the book here.

Sunday, December 10, 2017


Spinning is a beautiful, spare, and painful book. It is an autobiographical memoir about a young girl growing up, with one of the few constant things in her life being competitive ice skating. Also, from about the age of 5, she has known that she is gay, though she does not tell anyone for fear of being rejected or worse.

Much of this book takes place in skating rinks, but it is mostly about a search for identity and acceptance. Tillie has a few friendships, though they get disrupted when her family moves from New Jersey to Texas, where ice skating is a rarer and less popular thing. Tillie has a rough relationship with her family. She is a twin, though she does not seem especially close to her brother. He appears only sporadically in the book. Her father is a jokester who usually ends up taking her to early morning practices, but their conversations are merely functional. Her mother seems distant and moody, and what we see of her makes her seem prickly at best. 
Although she is "good" at skating, Tillie does not seem especially fond of it. She seems to be going through the motions over 12 years, skating and competing but really looking for something else. She is searching for some connection, whether it be a friend or mentor. Ironically, because she feels sad and alone, she takes part in a sport where she has to go off frequently and be alone. And cold, it's also cold out on the ice.

Author/artist Tillie Walden is the creator behind this book. Only 21 years old, she already has been nominated for two Eisner Awards, won two Ignatz Awards, and also published three other graphic novels, including The End of Summer, I Love This Part, and A City Inside. She also is working on a webcomic, On a Sunbeam. As I hope you can tell form the excerpt above, Walden's storytelling is beautifully understated. She uses a lot of negative space and very strategic dialogue to great effect. Tillie the main character appears lonesome for much of this book, and that loneliness is reflected in the artwork. Her isolation also leaves her ruminating, and I feel that is also reflected in the storytelling, as it is very calculated and thoughtful. For those interested, you can learn more about Walden's life and work in this article or this interview. I really enjoyed this interview, too.

All of the reviews I have read about this book say it is stellar. Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review and summed it up as "A quiet powerhouse of a memoir." Publishers Weekly also gave it a starred review and called it "A haunting and resonant coming-of-age story." Booklist also gave it a starred review (3 for 3 here!) and reviewer Sarah Hunter concluded, "A stirring, gorgeously illustrated story of finding the strength to follow one’s own path."

Spinning was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and more here. I feel that this book would be appropriate for most YA readers. It features mature themes, and there is one instance of sexual violence, but I feel it will resonate with many adolescent readers.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


Pashmina is a magic-infused tale of growing up and learning about family. Its main character is Priyanka Das, a teenager who loves to draw and is somewhat introverted. She tries her best to fit in, urging people to call her "Pri," and attempting to blend into the background as much as possible. She is a talented artist, and one of her teachers keeps encouraging her to enter a cartoon contest with some of her work.
On the home front, Priyanka is troubled because there are many things she does not know about why her life is the way it is. Her mother raises her by herself, and she is strict and somewhat overbearing. Many years ago she moved to California from India, and she refuses to talk about Priyanka's father or life in India, saying that those subjects are closed. One day, after an argument, Priyanka finds a scarf in a suitcase, and when she wraps it around herself she is transported Wizard-of-Oz-style to an idealized and dazzling India, where a bird and an elephant take her on a tour. This circumstance sates her for a little while, but when the opportunity to visit her aunt in India arises, Priyanka takes it, and there she learns much about her mother and the decisions she made.
I enjoyed the back and forth between the "real" and "magic" worlds that happens in the narrative and how the artwork fluctuates from stark black and white to vibrant, fully colored scenes to reflect those shifts in venue. I also thought that the characters and situations were very realistic. This story is a powerful one that I think many readers can relate to. I certainly found much that informed my own experiences as the son of immigrants, even if not from the same place or aided by a magic scarf. If there is any justice in this world, this book will be very popular with the YA crowd.

This book is an impressive debut graphic novel by Nidhi Chanani. She has illustrated children's books in the past, and she speaks about her work on them in this interview. She also was named a Champion of Change by President Obama, which she speaks about here. She speaks about her work on Pashmina in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been full of praise. Kirkus Reviews called it "both a needed contribution and a first-rate adventure tale." Michael Berry wrote that it was "Funny, wise, and moving." In a starred review from School Library Journal Andrea Lipinski concluded, "This dazzling blend of realistic fiction and fantasy is perfect for fans of characters who have to overcome obstacles on their way to growing up."

Pashmini was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more about it here.