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Guest Review: Tiger vs Nightmare by Emily Tetri

Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri. First Second, 2018. 978-1626725355. 65 pp.

In this graphic novel for children, readers learn Tiger is lucky, so lucky that she has loving parents who dote on their only cub, a warm house, and any and all of the food she desires — not just raw meat- but exotic, homemade dishes. She also has a monster for her best friend. Monster lives in her bedroom,  eats dinner with Tiger, and stays up all night to combat any and all of the nightmares Tiger may have. Most of the time, Monster has no issue keeping watch so Tiger sleeps safely.  Unfortunately,  Tiger has “one of those days” that ensures a restless night. Monster vows to take his guard duties even more seriously than usual. When Nightmare shows up, Monster cannot scare him off. The two friends will have to work together to defeat Nightmare.

This is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel for kids that even adults will enjoy. Tetri does a wonderful job conveying the friendship at the heart of the story with just a few colorful brush strokes whereas the grays, blacks, and whites she uses to draw NIghtmare show readers how scary and cold he is.

Thanks to Murph’s Mom for this guest review.

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Graphic Novel Review: Eileen Gray: A House Under the Sun by Charlotte Malterre-Barthes & Zosia Dzierzawska

Eileen Gray: A House Under the Sun by Charlotte Malterre-Barthes & Zosia Dzierzawska. Nobrow, 2019. 9781910620434. 155pp. including biographies of everyone involved and a bibliography.

Eileen Gray was an artist, designer, and the architect best known for the now-famous house she created for her lover, architect Jean Badovici, on the coast in the South of France in the 1920s and early 1930s. This graphic novel is a biographical sketch centered around her work on that house, known as E-1027. It also includes scenes of her childhood, of her studying lacquerwork, and of other friendships, but her relationship with Badovici is at the center of the narrative. It’s clear he doesn’t understand her, and that costs him their relationship after he allows another architect to ruin E-1027 for Gray.

I have a minor interest in architecture and had never heard of Gray. I picked up this book because everything Nobrow publishes deserves a look, and I’m so glad I did. This is one of the most stunning graphic novels I’ve seen in the last few years. I learned a little on my first read through, and I’ll learn more as I reread it over and over. The book is as beautiful as E-1027 must be, and now I’ve got to visit there sometime to see the building (now a historical monument) that inspired this book.

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Graphic Novel Review: Bezkamp by Samuel Sattin and Jen Hickman

Bezkamp by Samuel Sattin and Jen Hickman. Lion Forge / ROAR, 2019. 9781549304040. 251pp.

In one of the narratives of this graphic novel, a teenage girl, Janny, survives with the help/companionship of a small, winged alien. Giant, fanged and thorny creatures abound, and she soothes some of them with music.

On another part of the alien planet, near the village of Bezkamp, Nem collects forbidden technological artifacts. The land and its people are threatened by corruption, a kind of poison or sickness which is dealt with by Nem’s father and aunts, warriors who also keep the village safe from the monsters beyond their borders. Nem is no warrior, and after his father blames him for another’s death, things heat up between them. Nem lacks rage and fire, doesn’t follow the rules of Bezkamp, and doesn’t want to be a warrior. After his father finds Nem’s collection of artifacts, he takes Nem out beyond Bezkamp’s borders to test him. Nem will become a warrior or die trying.

It’s out there, after things go wrong, that Nem meets Janny. Together they discover the history of Bezkamp, and perhaps a way for it to thrive long-term.

Most of the characters speak in a strange English vernacular that I struggled with at times, though it adds to the story when Bezkamp’s past is made clear. I couldn’t resist the illustrations, particularly the way the wild areas are colored — they feel joyously alien.

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Book Review: The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds

The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds. Gollancz, 2007. 9780575078185. 410pp.

I’ve been looking for a go-to space opera series since Iain M. Banks died, and I think I finally found it with the help of JB at BLMF books. (This bookstore is hidden in the bowels of Seattle’s Pike Place Market, but so worth finding if you’re looking for something to read.) JB said that where Banks is whimsical, Reynolds is brutal. Music to my ears.

The book did not disappoint. Ten thousand human habitats (the Glitter Band) orbit a star far from Earth. They’re utopian societies of a sort (some are disastrous) that participate in a democracy maintained by agents of the Panoply, a kind of military/police force. At the beginning of the book, Prefect Tom Dreyfus, with the help of his deputies, is investigating a subversion of the democratic process, but soon he has bigger problems to investigate — a habitat has been destroyed. Evidence points to it having been done by one of the Ultras’ lighthugger ship’s drives, but that’s just the start of an event that threatens all of the habitats. Telling you what it involves would really spoil the way the book unfolds. Truly brutal, necessary decisions are made along the way. Destined to become an HBO series.

I believe this is a prequel of sorts to the Revelation Space series, which I must now read in its entirety.

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Graphic Novel Review: Max & the Midknights by Lincoln Peirce.

Max & the Midknights by Lincoln Peirce. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 9781101931080. 288pp.

Big Nate creator Lincoln Peirce gives such a great pitch for this book himself in the form of a comics format book report by Nate, which appears before the title page. You can check it out — I’ve included it as part of this review.

This 279 page book slips between comics and prose naturally. The illustrations are great, the laughs are frequent, and the combat is not at all gory. It has everything you’d expect in a fun medieval quest — knights, swords, dragons, magic — plus a talking goose and fart jokes. Highly recommended.


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Book Review: The Crap Hound Big Book of Unhappiness

The Crap Hound Big Book of Unhappiness edited by Sean Tejaratchi. Feral House, 2019. 9781627310857. 544pp.

Tejaratchi’s Liartown is one of the funniest, most thumbed through books on my shelf, so I’m primed to love whatever he publishes. This is a huge reference book without an index or table of contents in which images from 20th century ads, grouped together by theme (suicide, armageddon, accidents) and because of common graphic elements (handguns, grimaces, explosives). One set of images rolls into the next. The only context for each element is the other bits of advertising on the same and surrounding pages. It’s not quite a history of 20th century negativity or graphic design, and it’s kinda both. It is often hilarious and sometimes disturbing — every time I flip the book open I need to see what came before and after the page I landed on. It’s like playing a party game I don’t know the rules to, and like shopping for a new tattoo.

Here are a few bits from Tejaratchi’s introduction that explain the book:

“In thirty years of paging through old magazines and newspapers, clipping and saving reference material, I’ve found the unhappiest artwork is routinely the most striking.”

“…this book is limited to what was visually rendered for commercial purposes in the 20th century.”

The end of introduction also tells of two pieces of striking art he decided not to include, and it has a note on the sequencing.


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Graphic Novel Review: The Hard Tomorrow by Eleanor Davis

The Hard Tomorrow by Eleanor Davis. Drawn & Quarterly, 2019. 9781770463738. 152pp.

Hannah and Johnny live in a truck in the woods. She’s trying to get pregnant. He’s supposed to be building their house while she works, but he spends more of his time smoking pot and hanging out with his buddy Tyler, a doomsday prepper. Hannah takes care of the elderly Miss Phyllis, and spends time with other members of Humans Against All Violence (HAAV). (Her friend Gabby is also a member, and Hannah seems more than a little enamored with her.) Hannah’s world is full of love and support, which is great since this is a police/surveillance state under President Zuckerberg.

After the HAAV’s leaders are detained by police, Hannah rushes to a protest that gets out of hand. It’s a moment that has repercussions for her friendships, marriage, and the lives of everyone in the story, including the baby Hannah and Johnny are trying to create. Somehow Davis has created a story that shows how messed up everything feels and still manages to express a fragile, brave hope.

One of her thank yous at the front of the book is to the person Davis was going to give birth to three months hence, which she wrote in April of this year. There are quotes from Kate Beaton, Lisa Hanawalt, and Jaime Hernandez on the back of the book, praising it. Hanawalt calls the book a “bullshit antidote.” Hernandez praises her drawing. Beaton sounds like she wants to give Davis the Nobel Prize for Literature. I agree with all of them.

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Graphic Novel Review: The Lie and How We Told It by Tommi Parrish

The Lie and How We Told It by Tommi Parrish. Fantagraphics, 2019. 9781683960676. 123pp.

Cleary runs into Tim at the grocery store where she works. They hang out and catch up after her shift ends. Tim is getting married soon, to an older woman. Cleary is still working on her music, and a relationship with a man she was dating has just ended. They talk about an intense relationship she once had with a record producer that did not end well. They wander.

When Tim goes into a liquor store for a bottle of wine, Cleary reads an illustrated novella she finds outside the store, a book that claims to be about unconditional, everlasting love. At its center is a relationship that starts in a moment of honesty between the narrator (a strip club dancer) and a customer.

Tim and Cleary start drinking and talking. Things start feeling a little heavy when they discuss their same-sex relationships, and why they never got together. Tim’s difficulty in talking about being with men is obvious, and it makes the rest of their time together uncomfortable.

Despite this, the book is completely enjoyable. The conversation at its center feels honest and real, and Parish’s art is beautiful both in the main narrative (fully painted, colorful) and in the book within a book (black and white, masterfully inked). I’m going to recommend this to almost every adult I know.

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Graphic Novel Review: The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner. Aladdin / Simon & Schuster Children’s, 2019. 9781534431461. 272pp.

Steinkellner’s debut kids graphic novel is a fun, beautifully drawn story in which thirteen-year-old Moth learns she’s a witch (as were her mother and grandmother) and discovers her powers. There’s a talking cat, a new student who becomes a fast friend, and a connection to the Founder’s Bluff, MA, witch hunt that Moth learns about in history class. Moth’s mom initially doesn’t want her daughter to have anything to do with magic, but it’s clear that Moth isn’t about to give up practicing her new powers. There are a few bullies, and the school play has a few issues (Moth is in charge of costumes), but by the end of the book Moth is flying. (She also learns who her dad is, and why her mom didn’t want her doing magic.)

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Bonus Book Review: Kids Are Weird (and Other Observations of Parenthood) by Jeffrey Brown

Kids Are Weird (and Other Observations of Parenthood) by Jeffrey Brown. Chronicle Books, 2014. 9781452118703. 101pp. 

Guest review by Murphy’s Mom.

Oscar (who is based on Jeffrey’s real-life son) is a three-year-old who has much more insight and a much bigger vocabulary than most the toddlers. Oscar claims his pet snake is “sad because he doesn’t get to have any love.”  The simple but expressive artwork Brown uses when drawing his family members is as wonderful as Oscar’s candid musings are hilarious and thought-provoking.  My favorite comic in the book shows Oscar’s sitting in class, bored out of his mind. He sighs, “Instead of getting closer to my destiny, I keep getting farther away.” Chin up, Oscar, we’re all there with you, bud!
Books like this resonate with me for two reasons: I listen to kids in the library after storytimes — they’re total weirdos —  and I was a weird kid myself. I learned to read chapter books and how to write my name when I was four which really pissed off my kindergarten teacher later, when I told her I’d already read the primers she handed me. Growing up preferred eating peanut butter straight out of the jar versus in a sandwich. My mom told me (with malice) when I was about ten that she hoped I had five kids “just like me.” Two years later I decided not to have any kids. Thirty plus years on I have no regrets about growing up to be an even weirder adult with a strange husband and a pretty mixed up dogs. We are happy as a couple sans children — though I was once called a “selfish bitch” by a library patron with several wild kids for going this route. I bet she’d like Jeffrey Brown’s book as much as I did, though. 
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