Friday, October 20, 2017

Blood-Drenched Creature Double Feature

I had a chance to buy this book this summer at HeroesCon, but instead went with All My Ghosts. I really liked that one, and I was intrigued enough to buy this Blood-Drenched Creature Double Feature on Comixology. Like the title promises, it offers two stories (in a flip book format in hard copy). And I also must say that the title misses out on its other promise, as the book is sadly devoid of any creatures. Still, I found it a fun, if silly, romp through horror story genres.

The first story is a teen summer camp murder tale called Bee Sting. It is a fun, gory tale about a couple of teenage boys who decide to become camp counselors in order to meet and hook up with girls. Their plan seems to be working until a potential bee allergy leads down a path of unlikely twists that takes them to a convention of redneck cannibals.
Granted, this set-up is not the most novel or literary set of plot devices, but the story is still fun and energetic. There is an obvious love of the slasher genre that makes the book enjoyable and a sense of humor that sells a lot of ridiculous circumstances. I had a good time reading this story, even if it was not the most highfalutin kind of narrative.

For those interested, Bee Sting was made into a full length, indie film that led to a sequel called Bear Sting.

The second story in this book is The Curse of Stranglehold, and it is more of a horrific urban legend. The premise is that a teenage outcast mysteriously vanished 20 years ago, and he was presumably murdered by a mob of angry, jealous rivals. Two decades later, the teenage descendants of the townspeople dare to drive up to and make out in the infamous scene of that crime, and those who are sexually active pay a terrible price. They also learn much of the past misdeeds of their parents.

As with the first story, this one was a fun take on a hackneyed genre and has its charms, even it I saw the ending coming. I liked it less than Bee Sting, however, mostly because the end of the story devolved into many panels full of expository text rather than action played out via the images.

These stories were a collaboration between writer Matthew D. Smith and artist Jeremy Massie. The duo have another work under their belts, the current ongoing, all-ages series Amazing Age. Massie has a few solo titles to his credit, including the aforementioned All My Ghosts and a quirky superhero tale called The Deadbeat.

I was not able to track down many reviews of this book, and the ones I did find were somewhat negative. Jessie Sheckner concluded about Bee Sting, "Smith and Massie both have a great deal of talent – that much is plainly evident – however they’d do well to either channel their work into something with more originality and substance or, at the very least, avoid sleepwalking through clichés in a tired narrative that ends with a bad lesbian joke." Roby Bang called The Curse of Stranglehold "a decent comic," but felt that "the art is inconsistent and sloppy, dragging down the overall quality of the work."

Blood-Drenched Creature Double Feature was published by Alterna Comics, and they offer a preview and more info about the book here. Given the subject matter and gore, I recommend this book for more mature readers.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Moonshine, Volume 1

Moonshine is a high concept series, a period piece comic with lots of horror aspects. The main plot deals with the Mob in 1920s New York City seeking to get a supply of choice moonshine for its nightclubs. The source they seek is Hiram Holt, a scarred patriarch who defends his property with extreme prejudice against anyone who threatens him. That includes snoops, thieves, and even federal agents. What is more, he has at least one large, furry, ravenous, and viciously powerful creature at his disposal.
Lou Pirlo, a gangster with an appetite for vice, is sent down to persuade Holt to sell his liquor to be distributed in New York City. He does not exactly fit in in rural Appalachia, West Virginia to be specific, which leads to some incidents. Also, he does not exactly get on well with Holt, but he does end up making a deal with his children, which rains down some pretty dire consequences. One of Pirlo's vices is an eye for beautiful, dangerous women, and he finds two that fit that bill. One seems to want to help him, and the other appears to have more sinister motives.
This book is full of bloody violence, double crossing, and murder, and the supernatural elements add a degree of heightened menace to the noir setting. I also very much appreciated the unresolved mystery behind the identity and intentions of the wolf creature (creatures?). This book ends on a quiet note after a huge confrontation, but it also left me yearning to see how certain events will resolve. Also, it does not hurt that the artwork is phenomenally executed, with strong lines and many cutting figures.

The duo behind this book are writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso. The pair collaborated on the long-running and influential comic series 100 Bullets, which won multiple Eisner and Harvey Awards. Azzarello has also written a number of other comic series for DC Comics, most notably Batman and the New 52 version of Wonder Woman. Risso has also worked largely at DC, on many books with Azzarello. Both creators speak about their work on Moonshine in this interview.

The reviews I have read have been mostly positive, with minor quibbles about the general pacing or the use of accents. Chris Tresson opined, "It was slow, but a good kind of slow." Sam Wildman wrote, "It’s a well written book with fantastic artwork that brings Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso back together to tell an intriguing story of werewolves and bootleggers. Despite the somewhat slow build up, it has a satisfying conclusion and really makes me believe in the potential of future story arcs." Benjamin Bailey encouraged people to "buy this book to see Risso unleashed and creating some of the finest pages he’s ever crafted."

Moonshine Volume 1 was published by Image Comics, and they have a preview and more information about the series here. This book collects the first six issues of the series, which is still ongoing.

This book features a lot of violence, some nudity, occasional profanity, and adult themes, so it is suggested for readers mature enough to handle those things.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Cast No Shadow

The protagonist of Cast No Shadow is a slight high school student named Greg, and he has a few very relatable circumstances. He is dealing with the loss of his mother, who died a few years ago. He is uncomfortable with his dad's girlfriend moving in with them. His best friend Layla has always had his back, but lately has a crush on Jake, a really popular kid who used to torment Greg when they were younger. Jake keeps wanting to hang out with Greg, calling him "little buddy," which annoys him to no end. And they all live in a small town full of tourist traps, the latest of which is the largest hairball in the world.

All of these features are pretty normal for adolescents to deal with, but Greg is not exactly normal. He was born without a shadow, which might not seem like the most ground-shaking condition, but it does mean that something is different about him. What it seems to be is that he is somehow able to see ghosts, especially the one of Eleanor. She is a poltergeist who scares people away from her abandoned house, but she and Greg hit it off, becoming romantic. So Greg and she spend a lot of time together, which sets off something sinister within Greg that ends up threatening the entire town.
I am not going to spoil much more, because I most of the fun of this book lay in its gradual reveals along the way. I will say though that I felt this story was very engaging and interesting. There was a lot more showing and not telling at the onset of the book, which made making sense of the dual narrators a real mystery. However, as the plot got toward the end, there was a lot of information dropped in quick fashion that made for a bumpy ride. Still, I loved the artwork and characters. They were portrayed in a cartoonish manner, but still are very realistic and nuanced. In the end I was enchanted by the internal logic of this storyworld, with its unique take on ghosts and the afterlife. The ending may seem cheesy to some, but I liked this cheese very much.

Cast No Shadow was a collaboration between writer Nick Tapalansky and artist Anissa Espinosa. Tapalansky has a few other graphic novels under his belt, including A Radical Shift of Gravity, Samantha Loring and the Impossible World, and Awakening. This book is Espinosa's first graphic novel, though her work has appeared in a number of comics anthologies.

The reviews I have read about this book point to its strengths but also its hiccups. Dustin Cabeal summed up, "The story and art stumble in places, but ultimately find its way and presents a story that I enjoyed reading as an adult, but one I would have loved to have read as a child." Publishers Weekly concluded that "although Greg’s lingering pain over his mother’s death is keenly felt, the mysteries surrounding Nick’s shadow and Eleanor’s past are inelegantly and confusingly addressed in rapidly deployed info dumps, leaving the conclusion rushed and unsatisfying." Kirkus Reviews tersely summarized it as "Engaging but not without flaw."

Cast No Shadow was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and more info about it here.

A preview copy was provided by the publisher.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Wolf, Volume 1: Blood and Magic

Wolf is a detective book that has a lot going on, including a number of supernatural elements. The book's protagonist Antoine Wolfe is seemingly immortal. He is hired by an incredibly rich, racist, and crooked businessman to retrieve an adolescent girl who may be the antichrist. His best friend is a tentacle-faced demon straight out of the chronicles of Cthulhu. He also runs afoul of criminal vampires, multiple ghosts, apparitions, and spirits, not to mention a werewolf, too.


This book features many of the conventions of noir books, including a hip narrator, lots of double-crosses, shady characters who are up to no good, and revelations that complicate everyone's lives. I quite enjoyed reading this book, even if it was not the most ground-breaking kind of story. Some clever plot twists and novel interpretations of classic monster tales helped, as did the expressive and creepy artwork. The coloring is especially exceptional, as you can see from the excerpt. If you are a fan of noir detective tales with a dash of supernatural mayhem, this is a book for you.

Wolf is the creation of writer Alex Kot and artists Matt Taylor and Lee Loughridge. Kot has worked on a number of works from comics to video games for multiple companies. Taylor is a commercial artist and comics creator with a number of credits. Loughridge is a colorist who has worked on many Batman titles as well as some indy works like Deadly Class and Southern Cross. Kot speaks at length about his work and inspirations on Wolf in this interview.

The reviews I have read of this book have mostly rated it as solid, if not spectacular. Peter Marinari enjoyed it very much, stating, "Kot and his collaborators have conjured a bit of true magic with this ouroboros of a tale that forced me to pick it up for a re-read just seconds after I finished." Kieran Fisher liked it fine and opined about the series, "It’s not quite perfect yet, but it’s certainly headed in that direction." There are also a number of reviews of it on Goodreads, where it has an aggregate 3-star rating.

Wolf is published by Image Comics, and they have a preview and more information about the series here. I borrowed this volume using Comixology Unlimited service, and it is intended for mature readers.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Secret Coders: Robots and Repeats

In this fourth book in the Secret Coders series (I reviewed books 1 & 2 here), the trio of programmers at Stately Academy, Hopper, Eni, and Josh, find themselves in even more ramped up situations. In the last book, they learned about the secret history of the school and found out that the source of their woes was the evil genius Professor One-Zero. Now, not only is the evil Professor changing the school schedule to further his evil schemes, but the school administration tries to break up the group so they can't foil any more plans. And the avenue for doing so is going through each of their families!

Not only does this book feature one of the more realistic parent-teacher meetings I have read, it also has a revelation that one of the characters who has been around since the beginning is actually from another dimension. That, coupled with the trio's getting to know the Turtle of Light (the most powerful turtle in the world), raises the stake on their investigations. So, simply put, there is a lot of dramatic build-up here that I think will get paid off in Book 5 (due out next year).

I have two caveats about this book, as well put together and interesting as it is: 1. It really helps to have read this series from the beginning, so this book is not a great jumping on point for a new reader. 2. The sections where they explain the specifics of coding still bogged me down some and took me out of the story. I know that those parts are necessary for solving the puzzles and moving the plot forward, but they are just a bit slow.

This book is a continuation of the collaboration between Gene Yang and Mike Holmes. Yang is one of the premier comics creators working today. He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and is currently the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. He also won the Printz Award for his graphic novel American Born Chinese. He explores themes of immigration, belief, identity, and growing up in his many works, including The Eternal Smile, Level Up, The Shadow Hero, the twin volumes Boxers & Saints, and his current run on New Superman. Holmes is best known for his work on the weekly comic True Story and drawing Adventure Time comics.

The reviews I have read about this book have been mixed. Kirkus Review complimented it, writing, "Yang’s integration of coding concepts into an actual mystery plot even as he continues to deepen character development in under 100 graphic pages looks effortless; Holmes’ panels continue to visualize those concepts inventively." Conversely, Dustin Cabeal wrote that this will be the last book in the series he will read, because "the teaching moments are breaking the story too often, and it feels like the experiment here was to have both be interesting and work together. They’re not and haven’t been which is a shame." For further contrast, more reviews for the book can be seen at Goodreads, where it currently has a 3.5 star rating.

Robots and Repeats was published by First Second, and they provide a preview and more here. This series also has its own dedicated website with videos, info about all the books, and downloadable activities.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Loose Ends

Originally a limited series published about 10 years ago, but not finished, Loose Ends was re-published as a 4-issue limited series earlier this year. It is subtitled "A Southern Crime Romance," perhaps to associate this work with the writer's more famous work Southern Bastards.Out of those three descriptors, the one that stood out the most for me was "Crime."
As you can see from the opening vignette, the protagonist Sonny is a drug-runner. Here he decides to take a detour to pay off an old debt, settling up with his ex with a good chunk of change for raising their son. Of course, things go south in an unexpected way, setting off a chain of events where Sonny ends up on the lam with a voluptuous woman named Cheri. He does not realize it at first, but she is an acquaintance from his adolescence. Together, the two share a kind of romance, though it's more like the best thing two desperate people can do to stave off loneliness, despair, and poor choices.

The two are pursued by double-crossed criminals, dirty cops, and the authorities, but they are also dogged by the past, which appears in many instances via flashbacks such as this:
In these, we are privy to what went on during the tortured duo's high school years. We also see Sonny's days as a soldier in Afghanistan as well as the pivotal moments when he turned to crime. This book is ambitious in that it tackles a great many social issues wrapped up in a pretty violent, compelling crime drama. I won't way that it sticks the landing in every case, but it is a good read, and a book I plan to revisit. The action is intense, and the drawings and colors are electric and spectacular.

Loose Ends is a long-term collaboration between writer Jason Latour, artist Chris Brunner, and colorist Rico Renzi. Latour is more known for his artwork on the Eisner and Harvey Award winning series Southern Bastards as well as for writing Spider-Gwen. Brunner has drawn a bunch of comics, usually working with Latour and Renzi. Renzi colors lots of comics, including Spider-Gwen and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Latour and Brunner both speak about their work on this series in this interview.

The reviews I have read of this book have been pretty mixed, except for the universal praise for the artwork. AJ Zender called it "a visually and intellectually beautiful story that captures the extreme highs and lows of Sonny Gibson’s life." Daniel Vlasaty had a more tempered response, writing that it "felt some important pieces to the story were left underdeveloped, and just dropped into our laps without much explanation or follow-through." Jason Segarra concluded that it was "high on visuals, but a little rushed as a story."

Loose Ends was published by Image Comics, and they have previews and more available about it here. Because of violence, sexual situations, and profanity, I suggest this book for more mature readers.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Through the Woods

This book is another one I am kicking myself for not reading years ago when I first got it. Luckily, one of the students in my Graphic Novels and Multiliteracies seminar chose it for our weekly read, and not only did I get to experience it but will get to discuss it, too. Put simply, Through the Woods is a collection of five gorgeous, horrible, and chilling stories.

These stories are reminiscent of classic, gothic horror tales a la the Brothers Grimm. They feature dark strangers, wintry settings, isolated families, envy, loneliness, ghouls, mysterious manors, and labyrinthine forests. Also, they are all master classes in pacing, revelation, and building suspense. Everything in this book, the artwork, the poetic text, the character designs, and the layouts, contributes to beautifully rendered stories, an atmosphere of dread, interesting characterizations, and scenes of pure fantasy and amazement. I am not even going to go into detail about the separate stories, because I think a reader should get to experience them for themselves to get the optimal impact.

I cannot heap enough praises on this book. It blew me away.
Seriously, you need to buy or borrow this book RIGHT NOW.
This book's creator is Emily Carroll, who won multiple awards for this debut, including two Eisners and an Ignatz. She publishes much of her work online and has a good number of her stories available to read online at her website. They are well worth checking out. She talks extensively about her work and career in this interview.

The reviews I have read of this book have been glowing. Amal El-Mohtar called it "stunningly beautiful" and "magnificently executed." Sarah Horrocks wrote, "There is also a poetry to Carroll’s written word that you rarely get in western comics." Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review and summed up, "A sure winner for any reader with a yen to become permanently terrified. Brilliant."

Through the Woods was published by Simon & Schuster, and they have a preview and more info about it here.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869, Book One

Castle in the Stars is an all ages science fiction/steampunk tale that looks and feels like a fairy tale. It has something for everyone: A brave woman who pushes the bounds of science and discovery, seemingly losing her husband and son in the process. Shifty Prussian spies who seek to kidnap people. Hot air balloons powered by a supernaturally powerful fuel. A castle. A Bavarian king under siege. A band of crafty children who are up to mischief. Gorgeously painted imagery (just check out that preview).
After the events in the excerpt, things shift a year into the future where Seraphin and his father Archibald still wonder what happened to Claire. Archibald is upset that his son will not let go of his mother's seemingly crazy scientific ideas. But some unwanted, unsavory visitors come on the scene to indicate that perhaps she was not so off-the mark in her search for aether after all. What happens next takes father and son far away to a wonderful castle where they strive to complete her research and find out what really happened to her.

This story is complex yet easily grasped, and it is one of those rare ones that I feel is entertaining to a wide variety of ages from the very young to adults. The artwork plays a very large part in my recommendation, as it is a colorful and lush feast for the eyes. The larger format of the book is apt for admiring and revisiting these sumptuous images.

This book contains the first three chapters of a series originally published in France. Its author Alex Alice also has a number of other works, including a trilogy based on the opera Siegfried, available in English. His blog has not been updated in a while, but you can learn more about him at his entry at the Lambiek Comiclopedia.

All of the reviews I have read sing this book's praises. Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review, concluding, "Like the best steampunk, this story is one excellent distraction after another, with enough blueprints to hold people’s attention while they’re waiting for Book 2." Publishers Weekly summed up, "Lushly painted scenes, an abundance of banter among the young heroes, and plenty of action and gadgetry make for an engrossing tale of discovery and betrayal." Todd Young wrote, "The art and creativeness of the story make it a book I would recommend to anyone, regardless of age." Kelly Fineman called it "Perfect for folks interested in history, alternate history, steampunk, space exploration, science, and adventure."

Castle in the Stars was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and much more here.

A preview copy was provided by the publisher.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Fantasy Sports Number 3: The Green King

This just in: Comics creator Sam Bosma, who is also known for his work as an artist on the cartoon show Steven Universe, has created another masterful graphic novel in the Fantasy Sports series. Fans of this blog might have realized by now that I am in love with these books (please see reviews for books 1 and 2). In this third book, they wash upon an island where a great beast has taken control. And there is a change of pace, narratively speaking, as the duo gets separated. Left to her own devices, Wiz gets to take part in a lot more action, embroiled in a mini-golf match with the titular Green King. Along the course, she learns much about him and how he has been reduced to his current state of despair.

Mug, conversely, is imprisoned and does not see much action. Still, with his interactions with his jailers and a couple of key flashbacks to the early days of the Order of the Mages, things get put into a different context. At the end of the book, when the two are reunited (spoiler- I guess), they compare notes and what they have observed and come to the conclusion that things they have taken for granted might be very much up for contest. Something about the Order stinks, and in the next book a whole lot of shoes are going to drop.

One of the best things about these books is their size, big enough to feature the gorgeous artwork and invite repeated rereadings to see all the detail and Easter eggs strewn about. Personally, it will kill me that I have to wait a year for the next, final book in the series. It is consistently phenomenal. If you love great comics, fantastic character designs, action, intrigue, humor, and a dash of sports, this series is for you.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been very positive. Kirkus Reviews called it "A hole-in-one," adding, "This slim, oversized volume is fast and furious fun, mixing fantasy and sports in a distinct and refreshing way." Stephanie Cooke wrote, "There are plenty of great indie and small press books out there, but few are as beautiful and as fully realized as Fantasy Sports." Antony Esmond opined, "The energy of this series is off the scale and after one read I’ll guarantee that you’ll head back to see what Easter Eggs you missed."

Fantasy Sports Number 3 was published by Nobrow Press, and they have a preview and more information available here. There is also a video preview available here.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King

I have to admit something, I have not read Mighty Jack, the book that immediately precedes this one. After reading this volume though, I feel I need to remedy that situation pretty soon. This second book in a series is fantastic, full of action, adventure, and suspense, and all done in a playful and thoughtful manner. The premise here is a take-off on the classic Jack and the Beanstalk tale, only now is prodded on to rescue his autistic little sister Maddy, who was kidnapped by an ogre through a portal into a floating world full of fantastic, gruesome creatures. Magic beans were involved in all of this, of course.

And although the title of the book only features Jack, he is not alone on his journey. His partner-in-quest Lilly is no shrinking violet. The two of them contend with adversity and injury along the way. And when they get separated Lilly finds herself face to face with the Goblin King, a conflict which takes her to a surprising place.

Even though I did not have the prior book, at no time did I really feel lost or uninformed. The story started midstream and caught me up to speed in no time. I was also thrilled and moved by the stakes at hand and the stamina and fortitude the human protagonists display. Plus, the book ends in a way that completes this story but also opens up a huge avenue for further adventures. Put simply, this book is breathtakingly awesome.

This book's creator Ben Hatke is a graphic novelist and artist known for his Zita the Spacegirl trilogy, the graphic novel Little Robot, and the picture book Julia’s House for Lost Creatures. His artwork is usually simple and expressive, and I feel it very pleasing and fun. In this book his art got more detailed in a way that made things more dynamic though still as enjoyable.

All the reviews I have read of this book have been full of praise. Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred reviewed and summed it up as "Another outstanding adventure from a master storyteller." Dustin Cabeal wrote, "Hatke can write serious moments, fun and exciting adventures and still keep a perfect pace while telling the story." Trisha Jenn Loehr called both Mighty Jack books "absolutely stunning."

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and much more here.

A preview copy was provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Pantheon: The True Story of the Egyptian Deities

As you might guess from the cover, depicting a buff Horus kicking his uncle Set square in the family jewels, this is not your typical take on ancient myths. Read from a contemporary stance, Egyptian mythology is full of some strong, strange stuff, including incest, murder, sex, sibling rivalries, and dismemberments. Pantheon: The True Story of the Egyptian Deities tells those stories in a faithful fashion (it is prefaced by a Egyptologist who vouches for it), but it also modernizes them with a current sensibility, slang, and sarcasm. The result is pretty hilarious, gross, and compelling. For the most part, the book focuses on the misadventures of the brother/sister/husband/wife duo of Osiris and Isis as they contend with their brother Set and his efforts to disrupt the world and their lives. But everything begins with the story of creation that I partially excerpt here:
As you can see, the artwork was appropriately cartoonish and quite clever in many places. I loved how it was a combination of iconography and comic conventions and also how it balanced storytelling with joking. The dialogue and pacing in the excerpt give an accurate picture of the tone of the entire book. Many of the events seem surreal and hilarious, but they are also reflective of the superhuman flaws and personalities of the gods themselves. They mess up continually, feud, and allow themselves to be ruled haphazardly. Still, despite the capriciousness and hilarity, there is an element of sincerity and depth that especially arises in the book's ending. Before reading it, I had a passing knowledge of the Egyptian pantheon, but I feel that I learned much more here. I also got a good number of laughs from it, which was a huge bonus.

Pantheon is the work of Hamish Steele. It is his debut graphic novel, and he got funding for its initial version via a Kickstarter campaign. He also works on a biweekly webcomic called Deadendia.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been celebratory. Publishers Weekly wrote, "After the parade of slapstick and gross sexuality that comes before it, it’s a surprising conclusion that makes the ancient stories feel relevant and alive." Joe Gordon called it "an utter, cheeky delight." James Smart opined, "This take on ancient Egypt is educational as well as hilarious." Kevin Harkins called it "one of the cleverest ideas I have seen in a while."

Pantheon was published by Nobrow Press, and they have a preview and more info about it here. I suggest this book for mature readers because of profanity and a number of these attributes listed on the back cover:

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Best We Could Do

Parenthood changes a person, and it is the framing sequence of The Best We Could Do, a complex, heartfelt, and evocative book that touches on family, history, and humanity. The initial scenes from a hospital precipitate everything that follows, and this book touches on a great number of serious topics. It looks at relationships with parents, but it also puts her specific relationship into context by delving into their pasts. Along the way, we are privy to their formative years in Vietnam, get to know about their families and their hopes and aspirations, and then see how life played out. Like the narrative throughout the book, these depictions are presented in non-linear, rich, and human fashion. The parents' lives are not simple hero narratives, but shown to be full of tragedies, triumphs, luck, routines, patterns, and stamina.
Also, the setting of this book shows the effects of colonialism on a country, the effects of war, the travails of being a refugee, and the discomforts that come from being an immigrant. This last set of concerns is especially topical right now, as we see similar situations over the world, with there being a dehumanizing and hateful backlash to people trying to find a place in the world. This book puts a much needed human face on such circumstances without resorting to simple good/bad narratives.
The simple, sparse artwork tells a strong story with a devastating economy. Several simple juxtapositions communicate volumes, such as drawing a country to be a person's spine or seeing a mother's pained face in the delivery room where her daughter is about to give birth. These simple features belie complicated pasts and relationships in a few strokes, and the muted colors and stark figures add much affect in surprisingly powerful fashion. I did not know what to expect when I started this book, but I loved it. As a parent and a son of immigrants (though not ones from such plights as the ones here), I found much to relate to, sympathize with, and ponder in this beautifully and intricately rendered book.

Thi Bui created this book over the course of many years, beginning it from her thesis project on her family's oral history. She teaches high school, and this book is her debut graphic novel. She speaks about her work on it and much more in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been glowing. Robert Kirby called it "an important, wise, and loving book." Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and wrote, "In excavating her family’s trauma through these brief, luminous glimpses, Bui transmutes the base metal of war and struggle into gold." John McMurtie noted that "Bui’s memoir elicits complex emotions from understated pen-and-ink drawings."

The Best We Could Do was published by Abrams ComicArts, and they have a preview and much more information about the book here. There is also another lengthy preview from PEN America.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Shape of Ideas

Social media made me read this book. I follow this book's author on Instagram and also saw a shout-out to this book on Twitter from one of my friends, so I thought I would check it out. First off, let me say that it is not a traditional graphic novel in terms of telling a single narrative. It is more like a collection of chapters that revolve around and extend specific themes. So what I am saying is that this book is full of chapters that operate like pieces of jazz music, with comics riffing on motifs. And each comic is a meticulously constructed gem. This is not a book to plow through but one to bask in and savor.
As you can see from the excerpt, these comics are clever and cerebral. The artwork is colorful and clear, slightly reminiscent of Tom Gauld's style (to me at least), which I feel is a wonderful thing. I loved this book's playful, inventive qualities, and I feel that it has much to offer in terms of inspiration, advice, or understanding for aspiring artists or those who appreciate the arts. A few of the entries may seem redundant, but most are noteworthy and unique. And there were quite a few sections that I felt were phenomenally well executed. There are far more hits than misses in this book.

The man behind this book, Grant Snider is an orthodontist by trade and also well known for creating Incidental Comics. His work has appeared online and also in many prominent venues like The New Yorker and The New York Times Book Review. He speaks about his work on this book and in general in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been positive. Publishers Weekly summed up, "The tongue-in-cheek wit and self-deprecating style make this a pleasant introduction to the joy and frustration of making any kind of art, and the beautifully designed presentation—with a charming die-cut cover—is a fine proof of concept." Andrew Jarman called it an "incredibly unique and wonderful graphic novel that I absolutely loved." Kevin wrote, "While there is some repetition of ideas here, Snider’s exploration of the creative mind through comics and graphics will surely make you contemplate the wistfulness of creativity, and perhaps inspire you to make your own."

The Shape of Ideas was published by Abrams ComicArts, and they have a preview and more information available here.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Paper Girls, Volumes 2-3

Today, I look at the next two installments in the Paper Girls series (my review of Volume 1 is here). These two trade paperbacks cover issues 6-10 and 11-15, and the fact that I read both may spoil the fact that I found much here to keep me entertained and involved with this title.Still, won't you stick around and see what I thought about each in detail?
Volume 2 takes the girls 28 years into the future to 2016. There, at least one of them runs into her future ("old") self, and they all search for the lost member of their quartet. Along the way, a few more clues about who are chasing them get dropped, though much is still left unanswered. Mostly, the girls find out that they can't always trust everyone (even other versions of themselves) and learn about "foldings," times and places that line up just right to allow time travel to happen. Each chapter in this volume ends with a revelation, and the ending cliffhanger was a good one.

My favorite part of this volume, apart from the excellent artwork, continues to be the clever dialogue and relationships between the girls. They might not be the closest of friends, but they do get along in their own ways. And they are biting and swift in their judgments. Also, there are a bunch of jokes in their observations of future life that I thought were funny. Overall, it was a pretty brisk, fun book that left me wanting more.
Luckily, Volume 3 just came out so I did not have to wait to see what progressed. In this book, the girls end up in about 10,000 BC, a prehistoric period when people are pretty primitive and rough. The quartet meet a young woman, her baby, and three men who want to steal that baby away. Also, they also meet up with another time traveler who fills in some more information about what may be happening. This installment is more action-packed, with lots of disappearances, chases, large animals, and combat with stone weapons. And I quite enjoy seeing how each of the different volumes is set in a different historical epoch and has its unique flavor.

In the end, I enjoyed reading these books. They tell a story that is simultaneously slow to develop and efficiently plotted. I say slow because I am three volumes into this series, and I still do not definitively know what is going on. However, much transpires in these stories in a short time, and I feel that each chapter unfolds in seemingly effortless fashion. Also, although the plot may tread on some material common to other scifi tales, those elements remain fresh and exciting. I genuinely want to know what happens next, and I feel like I read each of these books as if I am devouring them. The worst thing I can say about them is that I felt they read too quickly. And I want more. Now.

These books are a collaboration between by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang. They both are comics industry veterans who have won multiple awards over the course of their careers.Vaughan's many writing credits include the series Saga, Y The Last Man, Ex Machina, and Runaways, which all feature strong character work, high concept stories, and suspenseful pacing. He has accomplished much over his career, both in comics and in other media, such as when he was writer and producer of Lost. His track record of creating smart, fun, and exciting series is intact with Paper Girls. Chiang is known for his exceptional work on a number of DC Comics titles, most notably Wonder Woman and The Human Target. Both creators speak about their work on Paper Girls (and there are spoilers - beware) in this interview.

Paper Girls won the 2016 Eisner Awards for Best New Series and Best Penciller/Inker, and all of the reviews I read of it have been positive. Thea James wrote that the second volume "continues to impress and delight." Heather Duff opined, "This series continues to be awesome, it looks good, the girls are brilliant sassy characters." Shelby Luebers called the plots "funny and curious" and also complimented that "the girls are real."

Paper Girls is published by Image Comics, and they have previews and more about the whole series here. It will resume publication in November. These books do contain a fair amount of profanity, so it is recommended for readers mature enough to handle that.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is a provocative title for a book that is not as titillating as it is confessional. This rare, autobiographical manga was originally published online on Pixiv, where it gained a wider readership and popularity. Although there are a couple of sexual interludes in the latter pages of the story, what it mostly entails are the ruminations and observations of a 28-year-old woman on her life and circumstances. Kabi struggles with finding herself, both in terms of her family and friends. She seeks the acceptance of her parents, though feels she falls way short of their expectations. She bounces from job to job, seeking friendship and social capital, though not really finding either.
All of these situations have a crippling, debilitating effect on her, all of which she expounds on in great detail. I found this to be a very personal and revelatory book, and I feel that I learned much about her situation, more about what it feels like to come of age in Japan, and also about the business side of becoming a manga artist. Many of the events of the book are also unsettling and discomforting, but I found the whole enterprise to be fascinating and quite moving.
Eventually, Kabi makes arrangements to visit a "love hotel" for a session with a female prostitute. It is a sexual scene for sure, but it is also a very emotional time that exposes many other pains, hangups, and thoughts she has. Far from being fulfilled, she is left with more questions than when she began. In all, I was shocked to see how far-ranging and introspective this book was, and it was a powerful read.

This book's creator Nagata Kabi is fairly new to the comics world, and she apparently has another manga she is working on called Solo Exchange Diary. She talks about her works and career in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been full of praise. Shea and Derek from The Comics Alternative called it the apparent "manga of the year" and added, "This is a manga all about self-discovery, a diary-like account of the author’s attempts to understand herself within the context of her culture and her yearning for what she calls 'next level communication.'" Kat Overland called it "a wild ride from start to finish." Aria wrote, "I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by this – but I was."

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness was published by Seven Seas Entertainment, LLC, and they have more information about it here. As should be clear by now, this book is intended for mature readers.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Comics Squad: Detention!

I recently read this third installment of the Comics Squad series (see my reviews for Lunch! and Recess!), and I loved the range of stories focused on that time of day reserved for atoning for misdeeds, detention. Some of these stories seem autobiographical, some are more fictional, one recasts classic Greek mythology, and another follows some microscopic organisms. And the creators involved are some of the tops in comics, including a number of prominent award winners and best-sellers.

I don't think there is one bad story in the bunch here, but I did have my favorites. Victoria Jamieson told an fun and unexpectedly touching story about a new girl in school whose unconventional detention is to help out in a kindergarten classroom. There she has a few encounters with a rambunctious and unruly student who gives her a couple of runs for her money but also teaches her something interesting. I also very much enjoyed George O'Connor's Greek mythology-infused tale of Sisyphus. It was chock full of mythological references and pad puns (two of my favorite things).
The rest of the stories are mostly in the humorous vein, and some also had some inventive touches. I really liked Ben Hatke's short exploration of imagination in his tale about a boy getting in trouble for having a cell phone in school and then having to invent ways to pass the time without it. I have also liked his art style, but here it is looser, which was a nice change of pace. I also thought Jarrett Krosoczka's Lunch Lady comic featuring the Breakfast Bunch was thrilling and fun, though I was bummed to find out it ended on a cliffhanger. Hopefully, that story gets picked up in the next volume of this series.
With all of the great things going on in this book I should also write about two things that may put people off: 1. There is an agenda to sell more graphic novels to younger readers. They are clearly cross-promoting other series they publish (Lunch Lady, Babymouse, and Squish). Personally, I feel this volume would make an excellent "gateway book" to further reading, and I like much of what I have read from those particular series. So the commercial push does not bother me much, and I feel introducing readers to other tales they might like is actually one of the book's strengths. 2. A lot of the stories share the theme of going to detention for drawing in class. I know I had my own run-ins with teachers about when and when not to draw and can relate, but I feel like the joke gets a little stale by the end of the book.

Still, I very much liked the range of tales here as well as the variety of topics and art styles. This collection is a fantastic anthology for young readers, and I think it would be an excellent classroom library book.

I had a difficult time finding reviews for this book, but the one I did find, written by Heidi Grange, who stated that "all the stories are quite absurd, but thoroughly engaging and entertaining and bound to be enjoyed by many young readers."

Comics Squad: Detention was published by Random House, and they have a preview and more available here.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Usagi Yojimbo Saga, Books 1 & 2

Today I am writing about two books that contain more than 600 pages of comics each following a creator-owned character that originated in 1984.
I have read the adventures of Usagi Yojimbo before, mostly because his creator Stan Sakai worked on a ton of Groo comic books I read when I was a kid. But it has been years since I have checked in on him. Luckily, Comixology Unlimited has the first two books of The Usagi Yojimbo Saga available to borrow, and I got to read a great many of these wonderful stories over the past few weeks.

The plot mainly follows Miyamoto Usagi, a samurai living in 17th century Japan (during the Edo Period) who has lost his master and now wanders the road alone. He has a code of ethics, and he seeks to help those in need and often finds himself embroiled in interesting situations. What I find most impressive about this series, it features "funny animals" but they are some of the most human and evocative comics I have ever read. Sakai is masterful at creating tense situations and full characterizations in very short order. His artwork is impressively detailed and smooth, and the economy of his storytelling is superlative. He can portray small scenes of poignancy equally as well as large scale battles. Just check out this preview:

The tales in these books range from one-page gags to multi-page episodes to one multi-chapter epic (called "The Grasscutter"). I was shocked and amazed to see how much material was incorporated from all these disparate episodes into one long narrative in Book Two. The scope and scale of the world-building here is nothing short of remarkable. I feel that these books are masterpieces of comics, and what is more they are accessible for readers of almost any age. And apparently I am not in the minority here, as "The Grasscutter" stories won one of Sakai's five Eisner Awards. If you read comics and have never read Usagi Yojimbo, you should make time to do so immediately.

You'll be glad you did.
The Usagi Yojimbo Saga was published by Dark Horse, and they have a preview and more info about the series here.