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Graphic Novel Review: The House by Paco Roca

The House by Paco Roca. Translator: Andrea Rosenberg. Fantagraphics, 2019. 9781683962632. 132pp.

Three siblings — José, Carla, and Vicente — return to their father’s place in the country with their families, after his death. As they work to fix it up, they remember him.

My favorite thing about the book is the way everyone’s memories occur in panels alongside and sometimes with moments in the present. It feels just as natural as the conversations and relationships in the book.

I’m a huge fan of Roca’s work, and I’ve read everything by him that’s been translated into English. This is right up there with Portugal as my favorite. It’s quiet, touching, and entirely adult in the best way possible.

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Graphic Novel Review: The Phantom Twin by Lisa Brown

The Phantom Twin by Lisa Brown. First Second, 2020. 9781626729247. 206pp.

Conjoined twins Isabel and Jane working a sideshow until a surgeon tries to separate them. The operatin fails and Jane dies. Isabel can still see her though; she’s a ghost who’s always with her sister, no matter what.

Isabel tries to get used to her prosthetic limbs as she finds a new way to make a living. She no longer fits in with the other members of the sideshow, but when she goes to a tattoo parlor with the tattooed lady, she meets an artist who thinks she’s pretty great. A romance develops. He gives her prosthetics which help her to create a new act. All doesn’t go according to plan, though it wraps up nicely.

Brown’s other books include Goldfish Ghost by Lemony Snicket and Long Story Short, in which she retells classic books in three panel comic strips.

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Kids Graphic Novels

Don’t Worry, Bee Happy by Ross Burach. Acorn (Scholastic), 2019. 9781338504927. 48pp.

Cute bees, a grumpy frog, and three short stories make this a great comic for early readers. My favorite is Best Friends Picture Day in which they try to convince Froggy to smile.

 

Dewdrop by Katie O’Neil. Oni Press, 2020. 9781620106891. 40pp.

O’Neil’s picture book is about a kind axolotl preparing a cheerleading routine while trying to help her friends. It’s a simple story in which she encourages them to see their strengths and embrace their creativity. The drawings are adorable.

Drew and Jot: Dueling Doodles by Art Baltazar. KABOOM!, 2019. 9781684154302. Over 100 pages.

Baltazar (DC Super Pets, Tiny Titans) is one of my favorite kids comics artists. If you ever see him at a con, go check out his crayon drawings, they’re amazing. And so is this graphic novel about a young comics artist named Andrew. His new friend Foz draws comics, too. As they plan a crossover for their characters, Drew and the evil Doctor Danger, the characters jump books all on their own. Then Andrew’s sister starts drawing in his notebook, and things get really out of hand as her alter ego, Bombastic Fantastic, takes over.

It’s fun, Baltazar excels at drawing fun comics in the kids’ style, AND there’s a giant poop monster.

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Graphic Novel Review: Grass by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim.

Grass by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim. Translated by Janet Hong. Drawn & Quarterly, 2019. 9781770463622. 480pp.

This is the story of Lee Ok-Sun, a Korean woman who was kidnapped when she was fifteen. She was forced into sexual slavery as a comfort woman in the service of Japanese soldiers in Manchuria during World War II.

In present day she lives in the House of Sharing in South Korea’s Gyeonggi Province, a nursing home for former comfort women, where the author gets to know her. Granny Ok-Sun talks about her life as child — she was so poor she once tried to feed her little brothers the bark of pine trees. Eventually her parents gave her up for adoption to a couple with a restaurant who said they’d send her to school. Instead she was treated as a slave, and eventually ran away. She was working in a tavern when she was kidnapped.

Keum Suk Gendry-Kim shows Lee Ok-Sun’s time as a comfort woman in detail, and it’s horrible, but the focus is always on Lee’s survival and humanity. She always had friends, and even managed to laugh once in a while. After the war she made a life for herself in China and returned to Korea for the first time in fifty-five years in 1996.

For me personally, I wish my mother-in-law were still alive to tell me a little more about her life under Japanese occupation in Korea, especially about the extreme hardships she endured. (I do know that her elder sister married very young to avoid being forced to become a comfort woman herself.) Thanks to Lee Ok-Sun for sharing her story, and to Gendry-Kim for her amazing storytelling and delicate touch.

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Graphic Novel Review: Naomi: Season One by Brian Michael Bendis and David F. Walker, art by Jamal Campbell

Naomi: Season One by Brian Michael Bendis and David F. Walker, art by Jamal Campbell. DC Comics, 2019. 9781401294953. Collects #1-#6. http://www.powells.com/book/-9781401294953?partnerid=34778&p_bt

Nothing much happens in the small town where Naomi lives, but Superman just had a fight there yesterday. And, unbelievably, she missed her chance to see him. Adopted herself, she is obsessed with Superman, and the fact that the news didn’t even report the incident. Talking to her friends, she hears about a superhero event around the time they were born, which has become something of an urban legend. This leads her to Dee, the local car mechanic who seems to know something about it. And of course this puts her on the path to finding out out who she really is and where she’s from — an entertaining start to what feels like it’s going to be quite a hero’s journey.

This YA graphic novel feels like it hit the sweet spot between longtime DC fans and folks who don’t read superhero comics. I can’t imagine anyone who loved any of the better Marvel universe movies, child or adult, wouldn’t enjoy it.

 

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Graphic Novel Review: Ripples: A Detective’s Diary by Wai Wai Pang

Ripples: A Detective’s Diary by Wai Wai Pang. Peow, 2017. 9789187325298. 150pp.

Thirteen-year-old Luke Phelps is missing. Each page in this graphic consists of field notes from a Big City Police Department notebook. The pages show what Detectives Kylie and Pan find, plus what they learn in their interviews. All entries are time stamped. It’s very smart and well designed, and the resolution isn’t scary or horrific. I loved this as an adult — I’ve never seen a graphic novel like it — and I would have loved it as a kid when I devoured innocent mysteries.

Worth noting: even the copyright page is brilliant. (I’m including it in the review, too.)

 

 

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Nonfiction Review: The Lines That Make Us: Stories from Nathan’s Bus by Nathan Vass

The Lines That Make Us: Stories from Nathan’s Bus by Nathan Vass. Introduction by Paul Constant. Tome Press, 2018. 9781732764101. 213pp.

Vass drives a Metro bus in Seattle. He loves the tough neighborhoods he drives through and their residents. He’s not just friendly with them, he’s friends with them, and remembers their names. He’s not simply compassionate, he’s real and open and, I think, very still and easy to talk to. His stories show the difference a moment of kindness and the absence of judgement can make in others’ lives, and how important it is for all of us to make genuine human connections no matter what work we do. I’m going to try to follow his example, especially when I’m working a library.

The chapters are all entries from Vass’ blog (and the photos throughout likely are as well). Here are two to check out:
Fecal and Philosophical Matters
I’M A LIGHT-SKINNED BLACK WOMAN!

Vass has an entry for those new to his blog and there are highlights listed in a column on the right. Not all of the entries are in the book, but everything I’ve read on his blog so far has been great, too.

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Picture Book Review: Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace: An Autobiography by Ashley Bryan.

Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace: An Autobiography by Ashley Bryan. Caitlyn Dlouhy Books / Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. 9781534404908. 108pp including an index and list of sources.

Highly honored children’s book illustrator Bryan tells his story in a book filled with his art, photographs, and letters home. The emphasis is on his WWII experiences and racial segregation. His letters home tell of his experiences from the mundane to the harrowing to the totally puzzling (he was made a winch operator after basic training for no logical reason). Luckily for us, Bryan kept drawing throughout, and saved quite a number of drawings from that time, which he shares here.

I loved the illustrations of people throughout the book, in particular the energy of the quick sketches of Bryan’s fellow soldiers. In Boston, before being shipped overseas, he was billeted in an old schoolhouse in South Boston. Against regulations, he made friends with the neighborhood kids and even created art with them. (There are some drawings of the kids, too.) In Glasgow, the black GIs were warmly welcomed by the Scottish people, and it sounds like this irritated the white officers from the US who continued to try to enforce US Army segregation policies. Eventually the black soldiers were restricted to base after work, while whites weren’t. (Through sheer tenacity, Bryan still managed to find a way to study drawing while in Scotland.) This mistreatment continued throughout the war and even past its end, when black GIs were among the last to leave Europe because the ships took the white companies home first. “Only if there was an empty space might one or two Black soldiers be allowed on those first departing boats, and only if those ships had a segregated section for the Blacks to quarter in.”

I thought this would be a simple picture book, but it’s so much more. Though the book’s main text is simply written, I think middle and high school students would find as much value in it as younger kids, and could use it as source material for papers as well as inspiration to follow their passions.

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Graphic Novel Review: Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang.

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang, with art assists by Rianne Meyers and Kolbe Yang plus colors by Lark Pien. First Second, 2020. 9781626720794. 436pp plus notes and a bibliography of sources.

Gene Yang documents a possible championship year in the life of the Bishop O’Dowd High School boys basketball team, the Dragons. Yang is not a basketball fan, but he pulled me into the book by adding himself to the story (he taught at Bishop O’Dowd), showing his awkwardness as he begins interviewing Coach Lou and learning a bit more about the game. There is a lot of on-court action, which is great, but Yang also sits down with the starters and tells their stories. Along the way he also shares the history of basketball. My favorite parts, though, involve Yang himself, from the handshakes to his sincerity to the way he shows himself creating comics and dealing with the opportunities that have come this way.

I’ve enjoyed every book Gene Yang has created, but this is my favorite. (And I don’t care much about basketball.)

 

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Graphic Novel Review: Stargazing by Jen Wang.

Stargazing by Jen Wang. First Second, 2019. 9781250183880. 224pp including an afterward about how the story relates to Wang’s life.

Moon Li and her mother have been having some trouble, so Christine’s parents let them move into the mother-in-law unit behind their house. Christine is worried about Moon living there because she’s heard Moon is a bully. After a meal at Moon’s house, and her mom’s amazing vegetarian dan dan noodles, she and Christine seem on the way to becoming friends. They even decide to dance together in the school talent show, to a song by Moon’s favorite K-Pop star. There’s some distance between the two as Moon doesn’t seem interested in learning Chinese, and her energy feels a bit out of control (especially compared to Christine’s, whose parents watch her every move). After Moon gets into a fight at school, and Christine gets a little jealous of her at a birthday party, she embarrasses Moon, and then things get serious.

The friendship between Moon and Christine has a flow that feels realistic, and it’s enjoyable to watch Christine try to navigate the small awkward moments between them as they grow closer. I’m giving this one to my daughter, who’s been a fan of Wang’s books since Koko Be Good.

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