Friday, February 25, 2022

Save It For Later: Promises, Parenthood, and the Urgency of Protest

We are living through "interesting times," and Save It For Later is a great collection of essays that survey much of what has been transpiring over the past decade, with a rise in fascism as well as the need for political action and attention to our environment. These essays do not offer easy answers, but they do offer insight into how one might speak to one's children about the world and how they should act in order to make sure that they have a future that is equitable and safe. It is a raw and emotionally direct book that elicits feelings of pain and anxiety that accompany difficult events. It is also a harrowing look at political movements that seek to silence many and enforce a single autocratic ideology.

It would be easy to say that this book is a response to the rise of Trump, and now that he is gone many of the issues brought with his regime are gone with him. But these essays show that his presidency is but one manifestation of a slow, persistent political tide, where white supremacists and toxic masculinity have amassed political currency for hatred and authoritarianism. He also points out many ways that a progressive response to this should not be to ridicule or treat these movements as clownish, even when they might seem ridiculous, because the consequences of their actions can be harmful and even deadly. 

Still, the book is not all gloom and doom. Hope does lie in the future, with people who strive to find justice despite adversity, but it will take a lot of effort from many. Taking up the mantle of figures like John Lewis, this book is about how parents can talk to their children thoughtfully, discuss the political world, and act in ways that promote equity, equality, and freedom. It is not an easy book to read, but I feel it's an important one, especially right now.

This book was created by Nate Powell, one of the most accomplished graphic novelists of his generation. He is a veteran creator with a long list of praised works, including the Eisner and National Book Award winning March trilogy. He has also drawn a number of other graphic novels, such as The Silence of Our Friends, Swallow Me Whole, Any Empire, Come Again, and Run. He speaks about his work on these essays in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly concluded, "This sincere volume carries off parenting inspiration with gravitas." Henry Chamberlain wrote, "Powell manages to retain a certain level of rawness that adds authenticity. This is a real person who is just trying to figure things out, what’s best for him, his family, and his community." Hillary Chute called it "an absorbing reflection on intergenerational inheritance."

Save It For Later was published by Abrams, and they offer a preview and more here.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Turner Family Stories: From Enslavement in Virginia to Freedom in Vermont

Turner Family Stories is one of the most unique and interesting books I have read in recent times. It is a collection of comics that adapt an oral history recounted by 100-year-old Daisy Turner in 1983. These stories explored her family history, from her ancestors being abducted from Africa to her parents being slaves who eventually found freedom, as well as their way to New England, to her own struggles with equality throughout her life.

Of particular note, she spoke extensively of her legal battle with a white man who had promised to marry her but reneged and tried to destroy her life and reputation. Such first-hand accounts of history are powerful enough on their own, but here are made even more potent by translating them into comics.

As a collection of stories, this book employs a number of artists. I was highly engaged by the framing narrative, about two youth who speak to Daisy, leading to  separate accounts about her and her family, including the tale of how her parents made their way to Vermont, an adventure where her dad showed off his prodigious strength, and a supernatural episode when her mother needed help. The varying art styles, some more cartoonish and others more realistic, complement each other, lending a wide arrange of expression to the book. I think this collection is an excellent book as a teaching tool or for a fan of US or civil rights history. I hope that it is read far and wide.

Turner Family Stories was edited by Jane Beck and Andy Kolovos and features comics by Marek Bennett, Francis Bordeleau, Lillie Harris, Joel Christian Gill, and Ezra Veitch. The cover was drawn by Robyn Smith. It also couched well in history, with a foreward by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, introduction by Julian Chambliss, and preface by Jane Beck. There are interviews with artists Bordeleau, Harris, and Veitch about their work on this volume here.

I was not able to locate any reviews of this book online, though it did have a 5 (out of 5) star rating on Goodreads as of this writing. This superb book certainly deserves more attention!

Turner Family Stories was published by Vermont Folklife Center, and they offer previews and much more about it here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The Cranklet's Chronicle #1 & 2

The Cranklet's Chronicle is a zine about "women, Baseball, and social change," I think it is a fabulous series. The format is much like the floppy format of  comic books, only with a formal introduction and accompanying interview, and the stories within are remarkable, eye-opening, and riveting. The first issue focused on Joan Payson, a heiress, entrepreneur, and the first majority owner of The New York Mets. I grew up in New York state, but I am a Yankees fan and had never heard of her. I learned much about her and her life, especially how she found a way to bring a new team to the city after the western migration of the Dodgers and Giants gut-punched their fans. 

The second volume was even better than the first, in my humble opinion.

It focused on Effa Manley, the only woman currently inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, while also examining a number of social issues by delving deeply into the history and politics of African-Americans and Latinos in baseball. Manley lived a complex life, growing up as the child of a mixed race couple and becoming a larger than life figure. Eventually, her involvement in baseball, civil rights, and business resulted in her being owner of the Newark Eagles, a Negro Leagues team that won a World Series title.

Both books excel in transporting the reader back in time to the eras of each person while exploring the social and political dynamics they had to navigate. The best sorts of history educate people and also encourage them to re-think what they know about people, places, and events, and these books exemplify these ideals. I learned so much about important figures that I was completely ignorant of, and I was tremendously entertained along the way. I am eager to see if this series continues and where it will go next. It is a superb read for any fan of baseball, history, and/or feminism.

These zines are the creation of Ellen Lindner, an artist who was nominated for an Ignatz Award for her graphic novel The Black Leather Falls. She also has a few other comics about baseball, including a series of webcomics at Medium and the mini-comic Lost Diamonds. Lindner makes comics as a fan, activist, and scholar, and I found it very easy to be swept away by her enthusiasm and expertise. Her artwork is energetic and compelling, and I liked the simple color scheme she employs using black, white, and blue.

I was not able to locate many reviews of these zines, but the ones I have seen have been positive. Martin Brown wrote about #1, "What makes The Cranklet’s Chronicle so great, though, is that Lindner doesn’t just tell Mrs. Payson’s story, even though that’s her stated objective. She weaves Mrs. Payson’s life through several other narratives, tracking American history, baseball lore, New York’s relationship with the sport, and, crucially, her own story." #2 has a 4 (out of 5) star rating on Goodreads.

The Cranklet Chronicle was self-published by Ellen Lindner and you can buy copies directly from her here. I first heard about the zines and got my copies from Birdcage Bottom Books at the listing here.

Thursday, February 10, 2022


Twins is about Maureen and Francine Carter, identical twins who struggle with the transitions in their lives in unique ways. As they start middle school,  they have different academic schedules for the first time ever. 

Maurine especially feels anxious without her sister around, and she also struggles to perform well in the youth cadet corps (An ROTC-type program at her school). Francine starts wanted to be called Fran, and she is becoming more invested in school chorus activities. Also, as the more outspoken and extroverted sister, she is going to run for class president. Maureen, partly in order to get some extra credit for YCC, also decides to run not only for a class office, but for president as well. The two sisters' lives get consumed with their competition, which tests their relationship with each other, their mutual friendships, and their family.

The clear, colorful, and vibrant artwork excels in telling the story and setting tones, depicting the characters as distinct while also highlighting their various emotional states.  Where this book excels is in capturing the tenor of family relationships. Francine and Maureen love each other, but they are frequently at odds and argue. As a sibling from a large family and a parent who has multiple children, I have found that interpersonal dynamics can be mercurial, volatile, and/or comforting. I saw much here I could empathize with, from both twins. It is refreshing to see a book that explores just how messy family relationships can be while also showing how they can lead to growth and self-actualization. I also admire how much the parents are involved in their daughters' lives, trying to make choices to help both, even if their overtures are not always welcome.

I think that it would have been very easy for this book to be formulaic, but the character work elevates the enterprise. It takes its genre conventions and spins them in a way that makes it unique and human, relatable but also surprising. I loved reading this book.

Twins was a collaboration between writer Varian Johnson and artist Shannon Wright. Johnson has received many accolades and honors for his books, the most recent of which is Playing the Card You're Dealt. Wright is an illustrator and cartoonist who has worked with several prominent publishers and platforms. Johnson and Wright both speak about their work on Twins in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been stellar. In a starred entry, Kirkus Reviews summed it up as "a touching, relatable story of identity, sisterhood, and friendship." Avery Kaplan called it "a comic that you’ll want to start over from the beginning as soon as you’ve reached the last page." Rene Watson wrote that it is "a page-turner with moments that make you laugh out loud. Anyone with a sibling will appreciate the sarcastic and witty banter of these sisters."

Twins was published by Scholastic, and they offer more about it here. This book is titled Twins #1 in various places, though I have not seen a sequel solicited at this time. I very much hope to see more stories about these characters.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Montana Diary

Montana Diary is an interesting travelogue/mini-comic that melds history with current politics. It is about a road trip through "Big Sky Country" that delivers a history of the state, exploration of its national parks, sample of local culture, and reflection on contemporary politics and race relations. As a person in a mixed race marriage, Taylor shares her discomfort with social situations on her trip, admitting how she let her husband do the speaking, as she did not know how locals would react to them. She is also responding to the historical moment, living in the US after years of divisive hate becoming more and more pronounced. 

Thus, this book captures a few unique facets in its pages. It contains a response to a specific time, set in a particular place, and elucidating that place's history and geography. I think that the artwork is elegant and economical, depicting very human and occasionally humorous situations. It is alternately affecting, informative, and moving, portraying an intimate look into relationships and traveling. I think that it exemplifies the best characteristics of both diary writing and a travelogue, a compelling book that is surprisingly complex and enlightening in the short space of 32 pages. You will feel like you are there in the car with her, knocking back a huck shake while worrying about climate change.

Montana Diary is the work of Whit Taylor, who has been a very active cartoonist, editor, and contributor to multiple anthologies. She has won multiple Ignatz Awards, one for co-editing the anthology Comics for Choice and the other for outstanding series for Fizzle. She is also a contributing editor for The Nib.

The reviews I have read of this book have been positive. Rob Kirby wrote, "This thirty-two-page zine boasts a rich tapestry of content, more in fact, than many full-length graphic novels I’ve read of late. It’s an entertaining, genuinely rewarding read, created with equal parts heart and mind." Scott Cederlund opined, "It’s great to come away from a comic like this feeling like you’ve shared at least a part of the experience with the cartoonist and that’s what Taylor does in her cartooning."

Montana Diary was published by Silver Sprocket, and they offer a preview and more info here. You can also read the entire comic here, though I suggest you also buy a copy.