Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Red Panda & Moon Bear

Red Panda & Moon Bear is a delightful book. It features a unique Latinx sister/brother superhero team. Both wear hoodies, Red Panda's giving her the strength of ten red pandas. Moon Bear possesses a magic crystal that he wields in a special gauntlet. Together, they defend their neighborhood from various menaces and solve mysteries. They face evil dogs, a ghost in a library, ice cream monsters, a nightmare, shape-shifting monsters from another galaxy, disappearing buildings, and scary trees.

Their adventures are fun and inventive, and I appreciate how they get through various situations not only by using their wits and sometimes their fists, but also by being empathetic and talking things through. They show that kindness and understanding can be effective for dealing with others and finding solutions to various dilemmas.
This book is fantastical in the best kind of way, with cool sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero elements woven throughout 11 chapters. And I love RP and MB's sense of adventure and cleverness. I think that perhaps the highest praise I have for the book is that I read it with my three-year-old, and he did not want to put it down. He not only insisted I keep reading each chapter, he even took it with him in his wagon when we went for a walk around our neighborhood. This book is enchanting!

When I asked him what he liked about it, he told me, "There's a mystery." "It's a little bit scary." And "I like Red Panda and Moon Bear (the characters)." So, there's something for everyone!

This book's creator Jarod Roselló is an artist, researcher, and educator who teaches creative writing at the University of South Florida. Although this book is his first for younger readers, he has published the graphic novel The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found as well as a bunch of shorter pieces. He has another graphic novel called Those Bears in the works for publication. He speaks about his work in this interview.

I was not able to locate many reviews of this book, but the ones I found were very positive. Cassie at Teachers Who Read called it "a perfect addition to the graphic novels in my classroom." It currently has a 4.71 (out of 5) star rating at Goodreads.

Red Panda & Moon Bear was published by Top Shelf Productions, and they offer a preview and much more here.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story

Peter Bagge is one of my all-time favorite comics makers. A multiple award winner with decades of credits, he created the seminal alternative comics series Neat Stuff and Hate and served as editor of the holdover underground comics anthology Weirdo. He has also created a number of graphic novels, including Fire!!, Woman Rebel, Apocalypse Nerd, Other Lives, and Reset. More recently, he has been a contributor to publications like Reason magazine (see his collections Founding Fathers Funnies and Everybody is Stupid Except for Me) and Vice Magazine (the Musical Urban Legends column).

Like Fire!! and Woman Rebel, Credo is a biography of a woman associated with a libertarian point of view. Rose Wilder Lane was the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, of Little House on the Prairie fame, and a respected author in her own right. In fact, this book suggests that she had at least a small hand in her mother's literary success, at least as an editor and polisher, and perhaps even more so as the author of several books (the exact nature of her role is suggested but unclear in this book). She was also a very vocal woman, partly fired up by her bipolar mental state, who associated with a good number of the political and literary figures of the day, including Ayn Rand.
Like the other books in this series, Bagge portrays various highlights from her life, and it is clear for the substantive footnotes that follow the main text that he has done extensive research into his subject. He also inserts his own political leanings as well as a good dose of humor. I did not know much about Rose Wilder Lane before I read this book, and I felt that it was an effective and informative introduction to her life and works.  He speaks about his work on this book in this interview with Etelka Lehoczky.

The reviews I have read about this book have tended to be positive. Publishers Weekly called it a "loopy, frantic, and personality-packed tribute." Ryan C. pondered if Bagge is "creatively stalled out" and wrote, "my hope is that he’ll give the biography format a rest for awhile and tell us where he’s coming from and why rather than using historical figures as mouthpieces and/or human shields for his worldview." Rob Clough praised the book for intermingling comedy and historical research.

Credo was published by Drawn & Quarterly, and they offer a preview and much more info here. There is also a sizable preview available from Reason.

On a final note, I was glad to serve on a couple of panels with Bagge at the Denver Pop Culture Con this year, where he signed my copy of this book. He's an informed and funny speaker and a good guy, too!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Congratulations, 2019 Eisner Award Winners!

The 2019 Eisner Award winners were announced at San Diego Comic-Con this past week, and I thought I'd highlight the winners who have been featured on this blog. You can find the complete list of winners here, and there are lots of excellent comics to check out. Congratulations to all!

Best Continuing Series
Giant Days, by John Allison, Max Sarin and Julia Madrigal (BOOM! Box)

Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 8)
Johnny Boo and the Ice Cream Computer, by James Kochalka (Top Shelf/IDW) - from the Johnny Boo series

Best Publication for Kids (ages 9–12)
The Divided Earth, by Faith Erin Hicks (First Second) - Book 3 of the Nameless City trilogy

Best Publication for Teens (ages 13–17)
The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang (First Second)

Best Humor Publication
Giant Days, by John Allison, Max Sarin and Julia Madrigal (BOOM! Box)

Best Reality-Based Work
Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, by Box Brown (First Second)

Best Graphic Album—New
My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image)

Best Graphic Album—Reprint
The Vision hardcover, by Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Michael Walsh (Marvel)

Best U.S. Edition of International Material
Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, by Pénélope Bagieu (First Second)

Best Writer/Artist

Jen Wang, The Prince and the Dressmaker (First Second)

Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art)

Dustin Nguyen, Descender (Image)

Best Coloring

Matt Wilson, Black Cloud, Paper Girls, The Wicked + The Divine (Image); The Mighty Thor, Runaways (Marvel)

The Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award
Lorena Alvarez (Nightlights, Hictoea: A Nightlights Story)

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Dog Man and Cat Kid

The Dog Man book series has topped best-seller lists, been translated into 23 languages, and had an initial printing of 5 million copies(!) for the sixth volume, so I figured I might check this little series out. Actually, I have been meaning to read one of these books, a spin-off of the wildly popular Captain Underpants series, for a while now. So when my wife came home after picking up one on a whim for me, I finally had the chance to see what all the hubbub was about. Dog Man and Cat Kid is actually the fourth book in the series, and it did a great job of recapping prior books and getting me right into the narrative.

As you just saw, Dog Man is the result of an experimental surgery that grafted a dying dog's head onto the body of a dying police officer, resulting one strange living crime fighter. He fights for good, beset by his nemesis Petey the Cat. In his latest plot, Petey cloned himself but was bummed to find out that the result was a kitten. So he gets Dog Man to adopt the kitten, that way he'll have a double agent acting on his behalf. However, the kitten has other ideas and actually wants to be more like the virtuous Dog Man. Still, he has doubts and thinks he might be inherently evil, so he lets Petey sway him at times. When Dog Man's adventures get optioned for a major Hollywood movie, Dog Man ends up being hired as a bodyguard for the film's star, Yolay Caprese, and Petey decides to do everything in his power to ruin the entire enterprise.

This book has a little bit of something for everyone: bad puns, parodies of Hollywood action movies and actors, some bathroom humor, giant robotic hot dogs, slapstick scenes, riffs on Steinbeck's East of Eden and other literary works, and superheroic action scenes. And in the end, I feel like after all the silliness, there actually was a decent lesson about being able to make choices and determine how you want to act in the world. I know that this series and Captain Underpants gets a bad rap, appearing at the top of banned book lists, but I thought this book was a lot of fun and had a good moral. Sort of a contemporary version of MAD Magazine, with a critical skewering of the adult world.

This book was created by Dav Pilkey, a wildly successful children's book and comics author who has the Captain Underpants and The Dumb Bunnies series to his credit. My son and I are also quite partial to his parody/homages Kat Kong and Dogzilla. He speaks about his life, books, and a number of other topics in this interview.

I was not able to locate many reviews of this book, and they tended to be either "love" or "hate" ones. Kirkus Reviews concluded that this is a book "that will tickle fancies high and low." It currently has a 4.54 overall rating at Goodreads.

Dog Man and Cat Kid was published by Scholastic Graphix, and they offer more info about it here.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Little Women

Good things sometimes come on small packages, and I am not making a joke about this book's title. It is a relatively slim volume, but it brought me great joy. It is not a strict adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic book Little Women, as I had expected, but half comic strips that show the highlights in a humorous light, half biography of her dad Bronson Alcott, AKA "the worst father in history." As you might can tell from the cover, this book takes a few liberties in heightening characters' responses to the plot. It also offers a smart meta-commentary on the book. It is funny and clever, and I feel that those who have read the original would really enjoy it. Heck, I've never read the original, and I enjoyed it immensely.
The second half of the book is a biography of the transcendentalist Bronson Alcott, Louisa May's father. He was an interesting fellow who dragged his family into all sorts of situations based on his beliefs. His specific views about how to live the perfect life led to several attempts at communal living, poverty, and veganism.

I just met this book's illustrator Ryan Dunlavey at the Denver Pop Culture Con in June, and he told me that there will be future entries in this series, only they will be mostly comic strip adaptations without the historical commentary. I am very much looking forward to checking out those volumes.

This book was drawn by Ryan Dunlavey and written by Grady Hendrix. Dunlavey's work typically combined humor with nonfiction and he is known for drawing the series Action Presidents!, Action Philosophers! and The Comic Book History of Comics. Hendrix is an author with an interesting and varied list of credits that touch on popular culture, horror, novels, and cookbooks.

I was not able to locate many reviews of this book, though it currently has a 4.33 (out of 5) star rating on Goodreads.

Little Women was published by Evil Twin Comics, and they offer more info about it here.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Apocalypse Taco

If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you'll probably know that I love Nathan Hale's comics and graphic novels. His nonfiction series Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales is the gold standard for historical graphic novels, as far as I am concerned. I loved his takes on fairy tales and the southwest, Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack. And I really liked his original sci-fi graphic novel One Trick Pony. With his new book Apocalypse Taco, not only does he win the prize for best original book title, he also provides a gripping, tense, icky, and fun sci-fi/horror tale.

The set-up of this book starts before a school theater production of Brigadoon, when the students are creating the set. A trio, including 11-year-old twins Axl and Ivan and 16-year-old Sid make a late night fast food run to energize the minds and bodies of the crew. Not only do they not get the food, the food tries to get them.
At first they think they have been transported to some alternate, hellish dimension. Then they find that their school and town have been transformed into imperfect replicas. Everyone and everything, including their families, friends, and homes have turned to goopy creatures that are chasing them. Not only that, they encounter other strange lifeforms, including one made up entirely of arms and another made up of teeth. All of this is clearly unsettling and horrific, but luckily they meet up with a graduate student (!) who starts to make sense of things.

I will not reveal more, as I don't want to spoil things, but clearly this is a book with a lot going on. I enjoyed how horrific and original it was, and I admire just how much it is genuinely a thriller that does not insult anyone's intelligence. The situations are strange and compelling, and Hale definitely establishes a mood throughout the book that builds suspense and has multiple payoffs in terms of the plotting. As much as I love his nonfiction work, I also really dig the fiction he has written. His takes build on common genre tropes, but he extends them to interesting, unique places. Hale is one of the best comics creators out there, for all audiences, in my opinion. Apocalypse Taco is a satisfying, gruesome tale that should appeal to readers looking for fun, sci-fi/horror.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have praised it. Publishers Weekly summed it up as "Weird, freaky fun." J. Caleb Mozzocco concluded, "Young readers, particularly those who are easily freaked out, may want to proceed with caution. More adventurous readers can plunge right in, with one caveat: There’s a pretty good chance their minds might get blown in the process." Sam Wildman wrote, "Apocalypse Taco has great crossover appeal for both adult readers and young readers – at least those who can appreciate a trippy surreal trip into the world of grotesque body horror." Kirkus Reviews called it "A well-balanced mix of sci-fi, horror, and humor."

Apocalypse Taco was published by Abrams, and they offer a preview and more info about it here.
I finally had the honor and pleasure of meeting Nathan Hale at the Denver Pop Culture Con last month, and he was gracious enough to sign my copy. HE ROCKS!

Friday, July 5, 2019

Mars Attacks!

What better way to celebrate Independence Day than with some fireworks? I am not the biggest fan of licensed comics series, but I have gone on the record saying I'd buy anything Kyle Starks makes sight unseen. And I am also a big fan of Chris Schweizer's work. Plus I have a fascination for the gruesome trading card series this comic is based on. So I decided to check this series out, and boy I am I glad I did.

The story begins when lifelong loser Spencer Carbutt decides to hit up his father, who is a retired marine living in a retirement village, for some cash. Just then a giant alien invasion happens, and instead of staying to die, the duo hit the road. Along the way, Spencer and the Major meet up with a militia, befriend a dog, hook up with the military, and work out a lot of personal issues. Seeing them resolve their relationship in the midst of the brutal slaughter of humanity makes for an interesting juxtaposition. It also makes for some curious and funny situations.

Like many of Starks's other works, this book is full of action, snappy dialogue, and interesting events. Schweizer's artwork here smacks of Harvey Kurtzman's classic war comics, and it is full of character, energy, and pathos. Both creators really seem to revel in all the action, gore, and aliens zapping things, but they do not sell the book short because they also offer decent characters that are easy to relate to and root for. Mars Attacks! is a fine piece of entertainment, a fun summer blockbuster in comics form.
Two-time Eisner Award nominee Starks and three-time Eisner Award nominee Schweizer are two of my favorite comics creators. They previously collaborated on the series Rock Candy Mountain. I have also enjoyed Stark's other works, including Kill Them All, Sexcastle, and The Legend of Ricky Thunder. He is currently writing the series Assassination Nation. Schweizer is also an accomplished graphic novelist whose series The Crogan Adventures and The Creeps are personal favorites. Starks speaks more about working on the Mars Attacks! series in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Steven Martinez wrote that it was "a really fun comic" that "captures the campy feel of the 1996 movie, and it tells a touching story about a father and son facing the end together." Kate wrote, "I have fallen in love with this series and the unexpected emotion in it."

Mars Attacks! was published by Dynamite Entertainment, and they offer more info about it here.