Thursday, October 20, 2022

Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts

Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts is a graphic novel that works on a number of levels, and I was gobsmacked by how much it affected it. One, it is a memoir by academic Rebecca Hall doing research for her dissertation projection. Two, it is an account of the facts of women's roles in slave revolts. Three, it contains a number of fictionalized accounts of the events concerning slave revolts, as very often there are no concrete records extent concerning women's involvement in them. Four, it is an exploration of how the institution of slavery still haunts and informs contemporary society. Five, it is enterprise that demonstrates how history gets defined and then redefined, and how this process has palpable effects on us all, whether acknowledged or not. It's a tour de force graphic novel that packs a wallop intellectually, aesthetically, and emotionally.

One especially affecting and effective trope in this book is a constant mirroring of the past and present in its imagery. A good part of the book takes place in New York City, and there are several panels and pages that show scenes from the 17th and 18th centuries and how they inform our present. Scenes of slave auctions push right up on images on contemporary Wall Street, juxtaposing the predominant business practices of both eras. The artwork by Hugo Martinez aptly emanates a rawness that highlights the horrific and dehumanizing social conditions depicted throughout the book. It is a difficult read in many ways, as it does not let anyone off the hook for their various roles in either perpetuating or trying to ignore grave injustices carried out over centuries. And the images touch many a nerve along the way.

In the end, I was amazed by the scope of this book. As an academic, I can appreciate the great effort and distress involved in doing this research and creating this account. As a reader, I was moved by the historical accounts and sheer horror of the depraved acts of slavery and racism. I was also moved by the bravery and perseverance of people who were enslaved and how they contended against their captors. As a citizen, I was distressed by how public institutions, including records clerks and companies like Lloyd's of London work to obscure and even protect past misdeeds. Additionally, I was struck by how Hall's background as a lawyer also informed insights into how the institution of slavery stripped people of basic humanity through legal codes. As a researcher, I can also appreciate just how frustrating it could be to delve into a topic where little to no historical record exists. This absence should be galling to us all in the present day.

Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts is an important, modern classic that belongs on library and classroom shelves as well as on syllabi. I am so glad that one of the students in the graphic novels class I am currently teaching selected it. I feel everyone should read it.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been glowing. In a starred entry, Kirkus Reviews summed it up as "an urgent, brilliant work of historical excavation." Etelka Lehoczky called it a "remarkable blend of passion and fact, action and reflection," and added that "Wake sets a new standard for illustrating history." In a detailed and riveting review Jordan Alexander Stein wrote, "It pushes past the limits of what’s possible, to tell us a story that wasn’t but now can be."

Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts was published by Simon & Schuster, and they offer more information about it here.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Good On Both Sides: A (Th)Ink Anthology

Good on Both Sides is a collection of political and historical comics strips by Keith Knight, who has been publishing regular comic strips such as the K Chronicles since the early 1990s. Knight's work here is contemporary, commenting not only on current events but also the current state of our country. I love his point of view, acerbic sense of humor, and his insights. 

Note: I got images from Knight's website. The book is in black and white.

The general issue with collections like this is that the humor often gets lost as time goes by and people forget the contemporary references that make the jokes work. I think Knight smartly protects against this by including many historical portraits that add their own context. By including several celebrations of and quotations from historic figures like Thurgood Marshall and Edna Lewis he provides a long view on how long certain struggles have been going on. Many of the issues we deal with today in terms of civil rights and race have been fomenting for a long time. 

Reading over what I have written above, I am making this book of comic strips sound like a textbook, which is entirely not the case. Knight's artwork is a delight, offering lots of energy and character with seemingly simple and streamlined line-work. Good On Both Sides made me laugh several times. It is funny, insightful, and provocative, and I very much enjoyed catching up on strips that I had not seen.

As I mentioned above, gentleman cartoonist Keith Knight has been a fixture in the alt-comics scene for decades now, and he has also received added exposure by having his life/works used to make the Hulu series Woke. He has won a number of accolades, including a Harvey Award for his strip K Chronicles, multiple Glyph Awards, an Inkpot Award for his career achievements, and an NAACP History Maker Honor. He spoke about the current state of his life and work in this interview.

I was not able to find many reviews of this book online, but the one I found was positive. Joel Oliphint wrote that although "the subject matter in Knight’s cartoons...can be heavy, he uses humor to help the medicine go down."

Good On Both Sides was published by Keith Knight Publications, and you can find more info about it here. You can also support Knight on Patreon here.

Thank you to the author/publisher for providing me with a review copy!

Monday, October 10, 2022


I am very late to the party in reading this book, and I am so glad that one of the students in my graphic novel course selected it to read with the class. Shortcomings is a modern class graphic novel, originally published as three issues in the late 1990s/early 2000s comics series Optic Nerve. It follows the trials and tribulations of a trio of Asian-American 30-something young adults as they navigate romance, friendships, and the demands of adult life to varying degrees of success. 

Ben Tanaka is the main protagonist, a Japanese-American movie theater manager who is acerbic, hyper-critical, and somewhat obsessed with white women. At the start of the book he is living with his girlfriend Miko Hayashi, who organized an Asian-American film festival, which Ben finds "shitty." Alice Kim is from Korea, and she and Ben went to college together, and they share a love for hating on things. She is also single and ready to mingle with a good number of people. When Miko decides to take a four-month-long internship in New York City, she and Ben go "on a break," which leads to a series of misadventures. Ever stirring the pot, Alice learns something about what Miko is up to in NYC and sends for Ben to come see. 

All this roiling drama is a huge draw for this graphic novel, and it also features strong characterizations that make you feel repelled by and also empathetic towards the protagonists. It is an engrossing and vexing reading experience, a book that lingers long after it is read. The artwork is crisp, expressive, yet also very open to interpretation. I love how it is paced, with lots of personal interactions punctuated by memorable and provocative images. I loved this book, and I will seek out more from its author, whose works I have been remiss about picking up.

This book's creator Adrian Tomine, the 2021 Eisner Award winner for his memoir The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist. He has been publishing comics for more than 20 years now, most notably his series Optic Nerve as well as the graphic novels Summer Blonde, Killing and Dying, and Scenes From an Impending Marriage. He speaks about his early career and work on Shortcomings in this interview from 2007.

This book is very well reviewed. In a starred review for Publishers Weekly Junot Díaz called it both a "lacerating falling-out-of-love story" and "an irresistible gem of a graphic novel." PopMatters wrote, "In place of a conclusive affirmation, Shortcomings weaves an intricate portrait of the various responses to age and identity that set in during the early years of post-twenties life." Jim Woldof called it "a meticulously observed comic-book novella."

Shortcomings was published by Drawn & Quarterly, and they offer an excerpt and more info here.

This book has been optioned to be adapted into a motion picture. I am very interested in seeing how it turns out.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

History Comics: The National Parks: Preserving America's Wild Places

As a person who has been to a good many of them, I feel that the National Parks are one of the best parts of the USA. They are full of stupendous views, fantastic landscapes, unique flora, and surprising fauna. All of these features are sumptuously captured in the artwork of this volume of History Comics, and what's more it also provides excellent historical context for their creation and the people behind the scenes.

Have I mentioned that it is narrated by a Sasquatch and an eagle? It is!

This book details the major figures behind the origins and continuation of the National Park Service, warts and all. It tells about how Native Americans were removed from many of these spaces and how their concerns were largely ignored. It chronicles the racism experienced by the buffalo soldiers who were among the first rangers protecting Yosemite National Park. It portrays the many accomplishments of naturalist and The Sierra Club co-founder John Muir while also noting his racist and paternalistic tendencies. In all, I feel it is an excellent piece of scholarship that balances facts with entertainment, not shying away from the more negative aspects of history. The National Parks is one of the best of this fantastic series of graphic novels.

That this book is so well crafted is no surprise, given that it was written and drawn by Falynn Koch. She is a veteran of the History Comics series, having drawn The Wild Mustang. She has also drawn a couple of entries in the Science Comics series, Bats and Plagues, as well as a Makers Comics book about baking.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Kirkus Reviews called it "a witty yet complicated history of the national parks." Johanna Draper Carlson wrote that it "can be read multiple times, with new facts standing out to the reader each time through."

The National Parks:  Preserving America's Wild Places was published by First Second, and they offer a review and more information about it here.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Four-Fisted Tales: Animals in Combat

Four-Fisted Tales is a highly entertaining and informative book that taught me all sorts of things about animals in combat. Apparently, the US military has been using dolphins for all sorts of missions (allegedly, because lots of info about it is classified) for decades. Among the many things I also learned from this book are that World War I soldiers marshaled fireflies to help create natural light at night that did not give up their positions, rats can be trained to be highly effective at detecting land mines, and slugs were used to protect soldiers from mustard gas. Also, there are fascinating stories about animals like dogs and bears that not only served as mascots for specific units but also got involved as actual combatants. Truth is truly more fascinating than fiction. 

From a heroic tale about a messenger dog named Satan.

What really makes these tales work is the masterful artwork that portrays various species not only with accuracy but also feeling, as well as detailed depictions of vehicles, buildings, landscapes, and other realistic features that make the environs of each panel live and breathe. Consequently, Four-Fisted Tales invites multiple re-readings, as it is easy to breeze through the whole book due to its fascinating subject matter and clear storytelling, but it also features intricate artwork that can be pored over again and again. Additionally, the war stories are compelling in and of themselves, without sugar-coating so even the more whimsical tales remind readers of the grim realities of battle.

This book's creator Ben Towle is a professor of illustration at The Columbus College of Art and Design. He has been nominated for 4 Eisner Awards, and is known for comics that tell fantasy tales, like Oyster War, and others that are nonfiction graphic novels like Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean. He speaks about his work on Four-Fisted Tales in this interview.

A 2022 Eisner Award nominee for Best Publication for Kids, this book has been well-reviewed. Rob Clough wrote, "Towle tells stories that are cruel and absurd as well as frequently funny and even inspiring, and it’s important to acknowledge that it’s all part of the war experience." Greg Burgas opines that it illuminates "a neat aspect of a depressing part of history – war ." Publishers Weekly called it an "undeniably captivating book."

Four-Fisted Tales was published by Dead Reckoning, and they offer more information about it here.

I had the pleasure of getting a copy of the book from Towle at HeroesCon this past weekend. He drew a lightning bug in my copy, and he is a swell fellow!

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Mr. Boop

Mr. Boop collects the four books of a webcomic about a man who is married to Betty Boop, works at Subway with Bugs Bunny, and is roommates with Peter Griffin. Despite its inclusion of beloved cartoon characters, this book is definitely not for children. One of its prime targets is copyright laws and corporate ownership of characters, and the series loves to push boundaries by putting these characters in inappropriate and adult situations. However the series also has a heart, as it is a look at romantic relationships and how they play out. The set-up is a faux diary comic where Alec, the narrator, speaks about his love for his wife, Betty.

Things spiral out of control pretty quickly, as Alec's insecurities cause him all sort of grief and anxiety about his wife leaving him or him stupidly deciding to divorce her. Also, his co-worker Bugs Bunny starts explicitly telling him how jealous he is of Alec's relationship with Betty and how he is plotting to murder him. Once Alec realizes that Bugs is not joking, he and Betty decide to have a threesome with him to defuse the situation. And it works. And then they do the same thing with a variety of other cartoon characters. This all happens in the first quarter of the book, which ends tragically, and the rest takes many dramatic, silly, and surreal turns.

Reading this book, things get raunchy and weird pretty quickly, but I found something utterly compelling and charming about it all. The episodic quality of the individual strips is addictive. I also think there is some sort of alchemy about the sorts of satire and parody that are going on here, coupled with the intentionally amateurish drawing style and some clever commentary on corporate machinations, that combine to make this a memorable, unique, and baffling reading experience. As I wrote earlier, this book is definitely not for kids, and I don't think it is necessarily for everyone's tastes, but it really appeals to a unique demographic (which includes me).

The mastermind behind this grenade of a book is Alec Robbins. Robbins has worked in all sorts of media, and he also currently produces another webcomic CRIMEHOT. He speaks about his work on Mr. Boop in this interview.

Almost all of the reviews I have read of this book have been positive. Publishers Weekly called it "a Rube Goldbergian maze of multilevel, tongue-in-cheek internet ironizing, catnip for those who love such stuff." Kalyleigh Hearn called it "a Tijuana Bible for the Twitter age, racy and absurd and a jab in the eye of every intellectual property law in existence. It’s also the most romantic comic strip of the year." In a contrary take, Lane Yates offers a long meditation on why he did not really enjoy this book.

Mr. Boop was published by Silver Sprocket, and they offer a preview and more info about it here. There is also much more material, including the strips, videos, and a video game, about Mr. Boop at its official webpage.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

History Comics: The Stonewall Riots: Making a Stand for LGBTQ Rights


History is a tough thing to conceive of for some learners, as it's difficult to remove oneself from one place in time and try to imagine themselves in another. This volume of History Comics, The Stonewall Riots: Making a Stand for LGBTQ Rights, tackles this issue by literally having its protagonists, a trio of adolescents named Natalia, Jax, and Rashad, who are diverse in terms of gender and sexuality, go back in time (without their cell phones, the horror!). Then and there, they are witness to the actual events leading up to the Stonewall Uprising, and they get to know some of its major players. 

This graphic novel is more about getting to know a tone and people than it is about presenting specific facts and dates to memorize, and I think where it excels is in contextualizing what led to this series of protests that gave momentum to a significant push for LGBTQ rights. The artwork is full of personality and depicts characters in stark, energetic fashion, pairing well with the plot to make this book have a very human focus. The characters and readers both get well acquainted with the people who made history.

Significantly, this book also does not sugar-coat the people or events, nor does it conclude that the struggle is over in the present day. In fact, it points out how much work still needs to be done and also provides a slew of resources for how young people can also get involved in various organizations today. It is a fantastic resource for learning about history as well as for encouraging contemporary activism, and I think it is a much-needed book for classroom and school libraries.

The Stonewall Riots was co-created by writer Archie Bongiovanni and artist A. Andrews. Bongiovanni has co-created comics in all sorts of formats, from graphic novels like A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns to webcomics like Grease Bats and other shorter ones published at The Nib. Andrews also has created a number of different sorts of comics including A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex and Disability.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been positive. Brett at Graphic Policy stated that it is a great primer that "captures the moment," "the feel," and "the build-up of it all." Krystal Moore and Felix Whetsel called it "a timely introduction to the history of the LGBTQ community, and the people who fought to get us where we are now." Kirkus Reviews summed up, "Engaging account that invites young people to continue to advocate for equality now."

The Stonewall Riots: Making a Stand for LGBTQ Rights was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and much more here.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Caravaggio: A Light Before The Darkness

To say that the pandemic has affected my life, work, and productivity is an understatement. This graphic novel I have been meaning to read and review for about a year, and I am happily and thankfully (and finally!) glad to post it today.

Caravaggio: A Light Before The Darkness is set in the late 16th/early 17th century, and this book took me back (not to the 17th century, I am not THAT old) to my undergraduate days when I took an art history class and attended a lecture about the art of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. He was an important figure of the Baroque style, and he lived a tumultuous and eventful life, all of which are conveyed effectively in this book. He is known for his sense of drama and lighting in his work, with a masterful use of chiaroscuro that influenced many painters afterward. In apt fashion, the artwork in this book employs his painterly style in its depictions.

Just as dramatic as his artwork was his personal life, which was characterized by sex scandals (with men and women), duels, and multiple brawls. Ultimately the fallout from this violence caused him to live in exile, and he died under controversial circumstances. This book delineates all these events in spirited and cinematic fashion, which is fitting as the script for this book came from an unproduced screenplay. I think it works well as a graphic novel, capturing the flare and intrigue of Caravaggio's life as well as the spirit of his artistic achievements.

This book is a collaboration between author and screenwriter Ken Mora and artist Cyrus Mesarcia. Mora is best known for a number of animation projects from his company Bella Fe Media. Mesarcia has drawn the comic book series Carson of Venus and a number of horror comics. Mora speaks about his work on this book in this interview.

All of the reviews I was able to locate of this book have been positive. Publishers Weekly called it "a spirited introduction to Caravaggio’s life and times that should appeal to readers of classic graphic illustrated style comics." Jean M. Roberts wrote, "I enjoyed this graphic novel and highly recommend it to readers of historical fiction who enjoy adult graphic novels and a unique reading experience." As of this review, it has a 4.43 (out of 5) star rating on Goodreads.

Caravaggio: A Light Before The Darkness was published by Markosia Enterprises Ltd. It was originally published as a six individual issues, partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign.  It is also available as webcomic on WEBTOON.

Sunday, June 5, 2022


Tunnels is a splendid graphic novel, intricately plotted, expressively drawn, and colorfully executed. Its plot is complicated, and its characters bold, with each of them so focused on their desires that they do not see a bigger picture. The main character is Nili, an unemployed, single mother who strives to complete her archaeologist father's ultimate quest: to locate the Ark of the Covenant. Because of the onset of dementia, he had been removed from his academic position and is convalescing at home.

 "Aiding her" on her journey is her brother Broshi, but he is secretly in kahoots with Prof. Rafi Sarid, their father's ex-collaborator who is conniving to take the glory that comes with discovery for himself. He has dangled Broshi the prospect of tenure for information leading to locating the Ark, but he has no intentions to honor his deal. Also on the journey is Doctor, Nili's young son who wants nothing but to be left alone with games on a cell phone. The entire enterprise is bankrolled by Emil Abuloff, an antiquities dealer with a penchant for buying artifacts pilfered by ISIS. He is looking for a legitimate score to offset the ill-gotten gains he has made off of terrorists.  Doing the actual digging are two parties, first a team of sycophantic Jews led by Shmuel Gedanken and two Palestinian brothers, Mahdi and Zuzu  who dig the tunnel but want it for smuggling purposes. Gedanken also has in tow Aviva, a red cow that is to be slaughtered upon discovering the Ark.

If you have stuck with me thus far, you can see that there is much going on in this book character-wise. However, just as important as the characters is the setting, the contested lands in Israel and Palestine where huge walls and armed soldiers loom. At stake here are not just the fame that comes with discovery but also the power afforded to political and religious supremacy. Not to mention the fact the some of these people believe that possessing the Ark means that their forces will be unstoppable.

Despite all of these seriousness and intrigue of this quest, the book also features a sense of humor, full of Tintin-esque, colorful characters whose eyes and mouths frequently explode in cartoonish manner. Aviva the cow is also a wild-card, getting into all sorts of mischief and mucking things up. So, this books is a strangely balanced concoction of political jostling, family and academic drama, archaeological adventure, and farce. It is a fascinating, compelling, and substantial book, masterfully crafted and brilliantly illustrated. It also features an essay to close the book, where the author explains her intentions and narrative choices in great detail.

Tunnels was created by Rutu Modan, who has published two other graphic novels. Exit Wounds and The Property, in the US, with both winning Eisner Awards. She has also illustrated a number of picture books, created a variety of short comics, and edited the Hebrew edition of MAD magazine. She speaks about her work on Tunnels in this interview. This book was translated into English by Ishai Mishory.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Hillary Brown wrote that "all these characters are so flawed and fascinating and prickly. They’re predictable and unpredictable in equal parts, which makes them interesting to watch." Etelka Lehoczky opined, "Contemplating the shallowness and entitlement of Modan's characters, readers may wind up reflecting on their own." Rachel Cooke wrote, "Every page is gripping, every frame profoundly political."

Tunnels was published by Drawn & Quarterly, and they offer a preview and more here.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Piece By Piece: The Story of Nisrin's Hijab

Piece By Piece: The Story of Nisrin's Hijab is a complex, harrowing, and compelling graphic novel that tackles some difficult subject matter, namely prejudice and violence directed toward Muslims in the United States. This book is set in 2002 in Portland, Oregon, and it stars Nisrin, a young woman who embraces Islam and traditional garb, despite her parents' views. They still recall the violence in Bangladesh becoming independent from Pakistan in 1971, and their scars color their views differently.

Her wearing a head scarf marks Nisrin as an outsider in school and her community, and one day she and an African-American friend find themselves targeted by a crazed individual spewing anti-Muslim hate. Both girls are beaten badly, and face long recoveries. Nisrin in particular suffers from instances of PTSD, and she finds it difficult to deal with her new surroundings in high school, where she finds herself bullied by some students and shunned by some teachers. She finds it hard to make friends, though eventually she does hit it off with a girl named Veronica.

Reading this book is bracing, because it depicts serious subject matter in a frank manner. However, I appreciated the experience of reading it, because it is engrossing, and I feel that I learned much more about Bangladeshi culture and history. Also, the vivid painted imagery is powerful and atmospheric, drawing the reader into this work in direct and impactful fashion. Its imagery and narrative are both haunting and enlightening, showing the horrors that victims of hate crimes suffer as well as how some immigrants experience life in the US.

This book's creator Priya Huq is a Bangladeshi artist, and this is her debut graphic novel. She publishes work with Radiator Comics, and she speaks more about her life and how it affected the making of this book in this interview.

All the reviews I have read about this book have sung its praises. Kirkus Reviews concluded, "Remarkable storytelling presents a multilayered struggle around identity and power in an anti-Muslim climate." Amanda MacGregor wrote, "This is a very emotional and powerful read, with the assault and resulting trauma coloring much of the story." Mahasin A. Aleem called it "A solid addition to collections of all types and a welcome exploration of what it means to navigate the complexities of Muslim identity in the United States."

Piece By Piece: The Story of Nisrin's Hijab was published by Amulet Books, and they offer more information about it here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The Fifth Quarter: Hard Court

The Fifth Quarter: Hard Court is one of those sequels that I feel is better than its predecessor, which is saying something because I very much enjoyed book 1. In this book, Lori finds herself facing some new situations. Now in sixth grade, she and her friends are getting older and some are developing new interests and spending more time apart. Her dad is going to go back to work for the first time since she was born, and her mom is going to coach her rec league basketball team. Plus, she and her friend Elyse are growing their skills at basketball camp. There, their coach calls them the "Dream Team," with Lori being more offense-minded and Elyse more a defensive specialist. They still predominantly play during the fifth quarter for their middle school team, but Elyse gets more chances to get into actual games. This situation causes Lori to have some hurt feelings and jealousy. 

What I think pushes this book beyond the first one is the way it shows the dynamics between various relationships in very detailed and realistic fashion, warts and all. Lori's parents have their arguments over money, work, and their parenting roles. Lori has issues with her friends, parents, and little siblings. Also, a good portion of the book involves flashbacks to Lori's mom's childhood, so we learn about her own highly competitive nature as well as her strained relationship with her father and step-sister. 

Looking back, I gained insight into how she pushes Lori and herself to succeed. Getting to see a family reunion at the Passover Seder brings things full circle, as we get to see the aftermath of her childhood and how relationships turned out over the decades.

And I have not even mentioned the game-play, which is also a major aspect of the book. The various scenes of basketball are well paced, exciting, and dramatic. I really appreciate that there is no magical transformation, that Lori still has her struggles , even with extra coaching and attention from her mother. Some of her struggles even come from that very same coaching and her mother, which is both ironic and apt. Her mother pushes her to succeed and have a killer instinct, but she also might be pushing a bit too hard and also rehashing trauma from her childhood. This seemingly simple tale is actually pretty complex and imbued with nuances.

I love a good scrappy underdog tale, and this graphic novel is that as well. It shows that with effort and practice that there can be some success and growth, even if it's still not all sunshine and roses. Plus, as a parent, I really appreciate the vivid portraits of the adults as well as the children. There was so much I could relate to, and I desperately hope that this series will continue. It is simply superb.

I have this same exchange at least three times a day with my own kids.

Mike Dawson created this book. He has written and drawn more than a few graphic novels over the years, including Freddie & Me, Angie Bongiolatti, and Troop 142. He also has done a lot of  graphic nonfiction and essay work, including the collection Rules for Dating My Daughter and plenty of comics for The Nib. He speaks about his work on this book as well as other topics in this interview.

The reviews I have seen about this book have been largely positive.  Kirkus Reviews summed it up as "Buoyant and breathless, scoring on several levels."It currently has a 4.4 (out of 5) star rating on Goodreads.

The Fifth Quarter: Hard Court was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and more information here

I read an advance digital copy of the book, and it will published in July.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Dionysos: The New God

Dionysos: The New God is the last book in the 12-volume Olympians series that chronicles the major gods and goddesses of Greek mythology. The whole enterprise is narrated by Hestia, the first-born child of Rhea and Cronus who eventually gives up her spot in the pantheon to Dionysos, and she gets her due as well. 

In many ways this book is the most straight-forward of them all, with the tales mostly following the main character with few tangents into related myths. Still, it is both highly engaging and informative, telling a tale about a god that shares many aspects with modern religions.

This book is rewarding as a stand-alone volume but it is also a clever send-off to the entire series, full of subtle references to past tales and characters. Dionysos differs from the other gods because his mother is a mortal woman and he grows up on Earth rather than Olympus. His early life is full of chicanery, as he was initially female and lived as a daughter raised by his mother's family before he transformed into a male and moved in with a band of satyrs. Along the way, he invented wine and became a god of celebration, fertilty, and madness. 

Dionysos is imbued with unique characterization, reflecting a complicated trajectory of life. He straddles multiple categories, such as immortal/mortal. female/male, and joy/madness, and his depictions, with two colored eyes, is appropriately beguiling. The flow and storytelling of this book are also superb, and I feel this book is a more than worthy coda to an excellent series. I am really looking forward to what O'Connor does next, which will be a four-book series entitled Asgardians, which will retell Norse mythology.

In addition to the Olympians series, artist/writer George O'Connor has created the American history journal account Journey into Mohawk Country and the dystopian future book Ball Peen Hammer, written by Adam Rapp. He also drew the political graphic novel Unrig: How to Fix Our Broken Democracy with author Daniel G. Newman. He speaks about his work on this last Olympians book in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been glowing. In a starred entry, Kirkus Reviews summed up, "A by turns epic, amusing, and tragic caper that’s even more toastworthy (for obvious reasons) than its 11 predecessors." wrote about it and the whole series, "They’re a treasure for all,  young or old, steeped in the stories or barely recalling them from high school."

Dionysos: The New God was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and more here.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Radiant Black Volume 001: (Not So) Secret Origin

I have read a lot of superhero comics in my days, and Radiant Black is a very good one. I like how it plays with common tropes and makes them fresh and exciting. To start, it stars a man named Nathan Burnett, who is not the typical alter ego. To begin, he's relatively older, a 30-year-old white man who is a struggling author, has racked up substantial credit card debt, and is forced to move back in with his parents. While he feels humiliated to be back in his hometown just outside of Chicago, his childhood friend Marshall is thrilled to see him and also give him a healthy dose of grief. One day, while they are out catching up and drinking, Nathan encounters some strange mini-black hole/ball of energy and is transformed into a helmeted, super-powered being. 

Of course, he decides to use his powers for good, but things become complicated by the mystery of what gave him his powers and also the growing realization that he is not the only one in the world who has been so gifted. 

What made this book work well for me was its character work, suspense, and plotting. Nathan makes for an intriguing hero and Marshall is much more than a comedic, smart-ass sidekick. Their relationship is makes for fun reading, as does how well the details of Radiant Black's origin are teased across the length of this book. Add some genuinely surprising plot twists, and the result is an engrossing, addictive, and fun series. I will definitely be checking out more of it.

Radiant Black was created by writer Kyle Higgins and artist Marcelo Costa. Higgins is best known for his comics work on Batman and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Costa also worked on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers as a colorist. In the later chapters of this trade paperback, they are joined by guest artists Eduardo Ferigato and David Lafuente. Higgins and Costa speak about their work and inspirations for this book in this interview.

The reviews I have read about this collection of the series' first six issues were mostly positive. Henry Varona called it "already one of the most immersive and exciting superhero comics of the decade." Kris wrote, " If you grew up reading comics or watching the TV shows the creative team is riffing on here, then you’ll likely enjoy the series." Colin Moon was not thrilled with the first four chapters of the book, but opined, "For all my griping — and all the spinning of the book’s wheels — the final two issues of this collection reignited my excitement, making me much more willing to join the adventure in progress."

Radiant Black was published by Image Comics, and they offer a free preview and more about the entire series here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Mundane Adventures of Dishman

I recently received this book after contributing to its fundrazr campaign. The Mundane Adventures of Dishman is a beautiful hardcover collection of  mini-comics mostly published in the 1980s. It is a fun take on superheroes, one that tries to imagine what "real life" superheroes would be like, but it also has a lot of heart and a good sense of humor. The story is: After being exposed to radioactive Fiestaware (a real thing!) over time, schoolteacher Paul Mahler developed the ability to instantaneously clean and put away dirty dishes, which is a very specific though handy trick. Of course, he decides to use his powers for good and to help his community.

After raiding his and his fiancee's wedding savings, Paul procured a pair of costumes (so he could have one ready when he did laundry) and starts roaming the neighborhood looking to assist others. Eventually, he figures out a novel way to fight crime but he also alienates his fiancee, who is A) angry he spent their savings without her consent and B) freaked out that he is being ludicrous about the whole superhero thing. So, (small spoiler) she leaves him.

After this turn of events, Paul starts hanging around his co-worker Helen, and they sort of kindle a relationship. So, in addition to the superhero tropes, there is also a good amount of drama in the mix.

What makes this book exceptional is how it captures a sense of humanity in its characters. Paul feels like someone we get to know over time, and his supporting cast quickly becomes fleshed out. It also features plenty of funny scenes but none that are really mockery. Each chapter is brief but compelling, even though most of what happens is (like the title states) relatively mundane. I think this book may have been meant as a parody at first, but it grows into something much more sincere and relatable. It is a gem well worth seeking out.

This book is the creation of John MacLeod, a painter and cartoonist who has also made the webcomic Space Kid as well as a comic called Not That Magic. He shares his current work and drawings on  Instagram.

I was not able to locate many reviews of this book, but what I have read about it has been positive. Tom Brevoort called it "perhaps the most full-on realization of the trend towards more realistic depictions of super heroes in comics in the 1980s." As of this post, it has a 4.14 (out of 5) star rating on Goodreads.

This collection of The Mundane Adventures of Dishman was published by Black Eye Books, and they offer more info about it here.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Yummy: A History of Desserts

Yummy is the first graphic novel I have ever read where food sprites are the narrators. Our main host is Peri, and she has great enthusiasm for all things sweet. She embarks on a highly engaging, deep dive into the history of desserts that also spans the globe. There are chapters about cake, pie, donuts, ice cream, gummies, brownies, cookies, and macaroons, and I learned a lot about each delicious sweet as well as world history and even some science. What is more, she is accompanied by two other food sprites who give insights into major innovators in the worlds of desserts and baking, like Fannie Farmer, as well as dispelling myths or exploring legends about the origins of specific foods like chocolate chip cookies, waffle cones, and nun farts (for real). There are even recipes for delights such as ice cream, snickerdoodles, and blueberry pie.

Along the way, I also saw lots of insight into how sociocultural matters have influenced dessert. At first, they were only really for special occasions or available to those either lucky enough to live in places where specific ingredients like vanilla or sugar could be cultivated. Also, the time and energy put into making some of these foods also meant that they were likely only for those rich enough to afford bakers to make them. Over time, innovations due to increased trade and travel meant that some foods evolved, such as egg tarts in China coming from goods originally traded from Portugal or the Persian beverage sharbat evolving into Italian sorbetto and eventually American sherbet.

There is so much jam-packed into this book that makes it rewarding to read and re-read. I suggest that it be approached in chunks, as there is a lot to take in, even for enthusiastic readers. Also, some sections are a little text heavy, but the colorful illustrations and characters bring a great sense of joy and energy to the proceedings. This book is a delight to read as well as a treasure trove of information.

This is the debut graphic novel by Victoria Grace Elliott, though she is not a newcomer to comics. She is best known for her webcomic Balderdash, or a tale of two witches. She speaks more about her work on this graphic novel in this interview and is currently working on the sequel, Yummy: A History of Tasty Experiments.

All of the reviews I have read of the book have been positive. Jason Flatt called it "smartly crafted, adorably illustrated, wonderfully rich." Steven Thompson observed, "Although ostensibly about foods we know, we also learn a considerable amount of geography, ancient history, and even more than a smattering of science." Lisa Gullickson wrote that the book is "charming beyond measure, and that is what makes the message so effective."

Yummy: A History of Desserts was published by Random House Graphic, and they offer more information about it here.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Mel the Chosen

Mel the Chosen is a book about Mel, a girl who is tired of decisions being made for her. She wants to grow up so that she can make her own choices and be taken seriously. When she finds herself in the presence of three magical creatures who inform her that she is the one who is ordained to defeat the dreaded Malcape, she is excited to have a purpose. But she also quickly blanches at the constraints of being "the Chosen One," as her ability to make her own choices is restricted by the terms of her quest. Also, she finds that Malcape has a way of sensing and twisting a person's wishes, making him a very dangerous adversary.

What makes this book exceptional is two things: First, Mel's character is well defined and interesting. She is not the typical, vanilla "do-gooder" type, but a skeptical, savvy, and out-spoken soul who makes for an interesting protagonist. Second, the artwork, a combination of line drawings with watercolors makes for some excellent atmosphere as well as character designs. The magical creatures seem appropriately otherworldly. The magical realms are strange, beautiful, and menacing. The characters are expressive and feature a wide range of emotions and feelings. 

There are plenty of books that use the trope of "outsider who is an exceptional being in a world parallel to our own," but this one plays with the conventions and makes them fresh and interesting. Also, the drawings are gorgeous to behold and revisit. I very much enjoyed reading this book and think that it would be very popular with a middle grades audience.

Rachele Aragno created this graphic novel, which was originally published in Italy as Melvina, and translated into English by Carla Roncalli Di Montorio. It is her debut graphic novel, and she wrote in an afterward that she would love to revisit this world and check in with Melvina when she gets older. She speaks about her work on this book in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read of it have been positive. Ryan Sonneville called it "stunning" and  "a worthy addition to any library." Publishers Weekly wrote, "A sometimes bewilderingly fast pace paired with loosely explained plot elements muddle the story at times, but also contribute to the adventure’s engrossing atmosphere and humor." Kirkus Reviews summed up, "Dynamic, evocative color and movement easily carry this allegorical fantasy wherever the text is weak."

Mel the Chosen was published by Random House Graphic, and they offer more information about it here.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Sk8 Dad Summer: ramps, rebellion, and raising a kid

Sk8 Dad Summer is one publication in the 2022 Birdcage Bottom Books distribution list, for which there is a Kickstarter currently happening (and I hope that you help fund - go check it out!). As a parent of young children, I found a lot to relate to in this book. It is a refreshingly real look at parenting that I feel captures the spirit of contemporary culture. And although I have not been a dedicated skater, I could empathize with wanting to share my interests and joys with my children, though they often have their own ideas about what is cool and what they would prefer to do.

The main narrative of this book involves the author making a half pipe in his backyard, but he uses this device as a platform for pondering multiple aspects of his life. He thinks about when he was as a young skater and how his life has changed now that he is in his 40s. Once, he literally had to scavenge materials and deal with prohibitive authorities, but now he is part of the authority structure and can readily buy high quality construction materials. Now, he tries to encourage his child to skate, with mixed results. It also makes him think of his own relationship with his father, who was a preacher. The skate ramp also becomes a center of activity for the neighborhood, attracting both nearby children and parents, so it embodies a certain sense of community. 

All of these threads of the story weave into a humorous exploration of  parenthood, community, marriage, and life in general. In many ways, it reminded me of the recent aging punk anthology I read, in that it shows how being a skater informed his life in a way that has colored his experiences and formed his ethics. And although it is relatively short, this book is memorable, packing a heartfelt and emotional punch. It is highly entertaining, insightful, and frequently funny. I loved reading it, and I cannot wait to have a hard copy in my hands.

This book's creator Brett Hamil is an artist, comedian, and writer who regularly publishes comics in Seattle's Child. He also draws a weekly political comic for the South Seattle Emerald. I just been getting into his various works, and I have dug what I have seen so far.

I could only locate one review of this book so far, and it was a positive one. Cheryl Murfin (scroll to page 57) called it a "sweet, funny, poignant little book." It deserves much more attention, and I hope it receives it.

Sk8 Dad Summer was/will be published by Birdcage Bottom Books, and they offer a preview and more here on their Kickstarter page. Please consider funding this and other great books from this indie publisher. The campaign ends in a week on March 17, and they could use your support.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Clutter: A Scatterbrained Sexual Assault Memoir


I recently received this book as a reward for backing its Kickstarter campaign. Clutter is a frank and enlightening look at one person's coping mechanisms for dealing with sexual assault. It is a thoughtful and moving account of how trauma affected her life, as she went through a few ordeals as a young girl, and all her attempts to tamp them down were for naught. 

I appreciated the honesty and candor put on the pages here, and it is hopeful to see how she eventually learned to deal with trauma through a combination of methods, including therapy and mindfulness exercises. I know that the statistics on sexual assault for females are pretty horrific, and having a text like this that can be a beacon to those who might not want to broach what is largely a taboo topic. It could be a great resource for someone who is suffering in silence, and I feel it could also be helpful to those who might know someone who experiences sexual violence, as it provides insights into relationships and how one might try to be an ally. 

Given the subject matter, there is much in this book that can be difficult to read, but I feel that the colorful, attractive artwork makes the text more approachable. That, combined with the format, which is broken up into shorter episodes and comic strip-like formatting in places, creates an inviting structure that puts a sense of order on the "scatter-brained" reflections. This book might not be for everyone, but I feel that it is an important one for its audience.

Clutter is the creation of Ariel Bordeaux, and an earlier version of it served as her senior thesis at the Center For Cartoon Studies. This version is expanded and contains an epilogue and copious footnotes. Bordeaux is known for her auto-biographical comics especially, the mini-comics series Deep Girl, as well as other works such as the comics series Raisin Pie. She speaks about her art and career in this interview.

I was not able to find any reviews of this book online, which is a shame because I feel it deserves much more attention. It currently has a 4.33 (out of 5) star rating on Goodreads.

Clutter was published by Fieldmouse Press, and they offer a preview and more info about it here.