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Graphic Novel Review: All Together Now by Hope Larson

All Together Now by Hope Larson. FSG, 2020. 9780374313654. 192pp including some great pages on how Larson makes comics at the back.

Larson’s Salamander Dream is one of my favorite graphic novels, and she’s deservedly well-known for her graphic adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time.

This is a followup to All Summer Long, which made a number of graphic novel and best lists for 2018 and 2019. It is the continuing story of L.A.-based middle school guitarist Bina. She and her friend Darcy find a drummer for their band, changing everything and maybe leading to the end of their friendship. Bina is also romantically interested in her sporty best friend Austin even though he has a girlfriend (at least at the beginning of the book). There’s a lot of awkwardness, including Bina going to a high school party with Austin’s sister, and a moment where Bina goes berserk (for good cause). Mostly it’s about friendship and figuring out what love means. (There’s a great conversation about relationships with both guys and girls with Austin’s sister, too.) Larson’s art makes the moments when Bina is really into her music sing, and also shows how hard it is to be creative on a schedule.

In a month where I’ve had a hard time finishing anything, I read this book in one sitting without putting it down. And I will probably read it again before the month is through.

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Graphic Novel Review: Limited Edition and Fanfare by Aude Picault

Limited Edition by Aude Picault. Translated by Matt Madden. Dargaud / Europe Comics, 2018. Available in English only as an ebook — links for where to buy it at http://www.europecomics.com/album/limited-edition/ 150pp.

Claire, a neonatal nurse, would love to fall in love and start a family, but the men she dates just aren’t ready to commit. She’s taking some time off from dating when she meets Franck, who starts pursuing her. They fall in love, and it seems like everything might work out. (Until it doesn’t seem like that, though Claire hardly seems to notice.)

Picault has a way of infusing scenes that would be otherwise terrible with a bit of humor — the way she draws body language allows her to express the tiny joys that we all have at even the worst of times. The sex scenes are funny even when they’re a bit sad, and Claire, even in her self-denial, comes across as an amazing woman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fanfare by Aude Picault. (in French) Guy Delecourt Productions / Shampooing, 2011. 9782756024271. 96pp.

I loved Picault’s drawings so much that I ordered this book from France. It centers on a tutu-wearing, mostly brass, mostly cross-dressing marching band at a festival full of bands in strange costumes. At the center of the narrative is a young woman, Alda, who is expecting to meet her beau Bilu at the festival, but instead learns that he’s on vacation with another woman. She’s hurt. Josée, the woman on the cover, comforts her, but it seems like the party might be over for Alda.

Picault’s drawings of the bands playing music, of the party, and in particular of the crazy costumes are full of joy, a beautiful counterpoint to Alda’s anger. You’ll find Picault’s drawings amazing even if you don’t read French.

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Graphic Novel + Novel Review: Displacement by Kiku Highes and No-No Boy by John Okada

Displacement by Kiku Hughes. First Second, 2020. 9781250193537. 277pp. plus photos of Kiki’s grandmother, a glossary of terms, and a list of books for further reading.

In the present day Kiku, on a walk in San Francisco with her mother to find her grandmother’s childhood home, is displaced to an earlier time where she witness a violin performance by her then-young grandmother. Back in her hotel room Kiku realizes how little she knows about her grandmother’s life. She wants to ask her mom for more information but then President Trump, on the TV, starts talking about keeping Muslims from entering the US, and she feels like it’s not a good time to talk.

She’s displaced in time again the next morning, and again after she returns to Seattle. Back in the 1940s she’s evacuated with those of Japanese ancestry and placed into the same internment camp as her grandmother. She goes to sleep hoping to wake up at home, but instead awakens in the camp. Luckily her roommate helps her adjust. Kiku’s time in the past is depicted realistically, with a mix of awfulness, nice moments, boredom, and injustice. She even has a bit of a romance with another girl, May. And then, just when things seem tolerable and predictable, her life is upended and she is sent off to the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah.

This is a great graphic novel, wonderfully drawn, and personal. I loved that Hughes wasn’t afraid to connect Japanese internment to President Trump’s policies. I look forward to seeing this book on banned book lists everywhere, and I hope that keeps it in print for decades to come.

Without meaning to, I read this right after finishing John Okada’s No-No Boy, which was just about perfect. No-No Boy tells the story of a young man, Ichiro, who has just returned to Seattle after being imprisoned for answering “no” to two questions in an interment camp — he refused to denounce the Japanese emperor and would not serve in the US military. It not only showed me Seattle in an entirely new light, it has a great supporting cast of characters that included Ichiro’s mother, who refuses to believe Japan lost WWII, his friend Kenji, who is slowly dying from a wound he received as a US soldier, and a lovely, sad young woman whose husband won’t return to her.

I’d probably have never gotten around to reading if I hadn’t attended the University of Washington Friends of the Library Lecture given by UW professor Sean Wong last January. He told the history of No-No Boy as well as how he helped bring it to prominence as a classic of Asian American literature. You can watch the lecture here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJO8bExdSdI

No-No Boy: a novel by John Okada. University of Washington Press, 1979. 0295055252. Introduction by Lawson Fusao Inada, Afterword “In Search of John Okada” by Frank Chin.

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Graphic Novellas Review: Crime!

Here are two crime graphic novellas worth reading, each about creators in tough spots at the end of their lives, both by longtime collaborators Brubaker and Phillips (with noteworthy colors by Jacob Phillips). Every page is a treat to look at, and I love how lean the books are — there’s no wasted space.

Pulp by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, colors by Jacob Phillips. Image, 2020. 9781534316447. 78pp. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature

Back in the late 1800s, Max was a wanted cowboy involved in real-life adventures like the ones he writes about. In New York City, 1939, he’s meeting with an editor about a story he wrote for Six Gun Western. Max wants to take his stories in new, subtler directions. The editor only wants shoot-em-ups, and the pay per word has just gone down. Pissed about getting swindled, Max gets into a fight and has a heart attack. He wakes up in a hospital and walks home where he doesn’t tell Rosa about the heart attack. He fears he’ll die soon and leave her with nothing.

Later, when he sees a guard carrying a bag of money outside a movie theater, he starts thinking about robbing an armored truck. Max is about to put his plan into action when a stranger intercedes. The man is one of the Pinkertons who hunted Max forty years earlier. And he wants Max’s help pulling a robbery.

 

Bad Weekend by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, colors by Jacob Phillips. Image, 2019. 9781534314405. Originally published as Criminal #2-#3. 72pp. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature

Comic creator Hal Crane is supposed to get a lifetime achievement award at a comic convention. He’s an arrogant, unpleasant prick, but an amazing artist. Jacob, his one-time assistant, agrees to help him through the con despite how things ended between them. Hal is not the ideal guest at the con — he’s being paid to help sell forged animation cells, he offers a cosplayer money for sex, and he’s continually pissed off. Then Hal pulls a gun on another comic creator. Someone stole pages of valuable, original art from Hal, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get them back.

 

 

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Graphic Novel Review: Uncomfortably Happy by Yeon-Sik Hong

Uncomfortably Happy by Yeon-Sik Hong. Translated by Helen Jo. Drawn & Quarterly, 2017. 9781770462601. 572pp plus an afterword by Jo.

This graphic memoir chronicles Hong and his new wife’s move to a home in the South Korean countryside. Facing constant money problems and deadlines for comics work that he’s not very invested in, at the beginning he seems to not enjoy much at all (other than his relationship). His wife, who is also an artist, seems much sunnier and consistent by comparison. As the year progresses they pull themselves out of debt and begin enjoying life on the mountain together (despite the rude tourists). Most impressive of all Hong changes, learning to let go, be present, enjoy his wife’s success, and roll with the punches as they face moving again at the end of the book. An amazing memoir with really fun, loose drawings that shows a maturing, loving marriage along with the slow pace of daily rural life in South Korea.

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Graphic Novel Review: One Story by Gipi

One Story by Gipi. Translated by Jamie Richards. Fantagraphics, 2020. 9781683963196. 128pp.

Writer Silvano Landi is in a hospital, remembering. He’s thinking of a young man suddenly seeing himself as an old man of his own age, and how that would drive him crazy. Landi might have been found by the sea where he was talking to himself. Or was he wandering the streets of a city naked maybe?

Those trying to treat him discuss his drawings of a service station, and a bare tree. He’s heavily medicated. His dosage is increased, but that doesn’t bring him back to reality.

A man in a trench, about to go over onto the battlefield beyond, writes a letter to the love of his life. As he and his companion cross no man’s land, other soldiers think they’re dead already. They head for the bare tree in the distance and face a machine gun.

Is it the tree in Landi’s head? Who was the soldier to him? How did the story destroy Landi’s life?

Gipi (Notes from A War Story, Land of the Sons) uses watercolors and plain, black and white drawings to create a landscape of times and places, real and imagined, that allow us to experience Landi’s break with reality. This is a very compelling story, and a beautiful, literary graphic novel.

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Book Reviews: Later books in a series

Shadow Captain (The Revenger Series Book 2) by Alastair Reynolds. Orbit, 2019. 9780316555708. 423pp.

Think the age of exploration and pirates in space, in an original setting, a designed solar system created over the course of many past human civilizations (which is clarified more in this book than in any of the others by Reynolds that I’ve read). The ships in question mostly get from place to place via solar sails, and many of thse “baubles” they visit are rich with treasure from the past. Human habitats vary wildly in design and state of repair, and a bit of alien tech is around, too. It’s a lot of fun with great characters, including a truly tyrannical pirate and two sisters who run afowl of her in the first book. That book is Revenger. You should start with it. I can barely start to explain the second without ruining it.

And, holy crap! The third book in the trilogy is already out. Got to get a copy.

 

Network Effect (The Murderbot Diaries Book 5) by Martha Wells. Tor, 2020. 9781250229861. 352pp.

If you’ve read all four Murderbot novellas, I can report that the first novel in the series is just as entertaining. But it’s got a lot to do with a character we met in on of those books, so the less said the better.

If you haven’t heard of the series, the Murderbot in question was a killing machine for hire (part meat, part tech) that hacked its own governor module, and then used its freedom to secretly watch entertainment videos (it is obsessed) and then to make decisions that went against its programming to help/save the humans it liked. Great character. Start with All Systems Red.

 

The Last Emperox (The Interdependency Book 3) by John Scalzi. Tor, 2020. 320pp. 9780765389169.

The third book in this series by Scalzi, which is a fun read on part with the Old Man’s War books. A civilization that uses a network of interconnected wormholes to journey between its outposts faces a crisis when the network starts to collapse. Lots of swearing and political intrigue plus more than a little violence — this is one of the smoothest, fastest reads I’ve had in a long time, and utterly enjoyable. Start with The Collapsing Empire.

 

Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb Trilogy Book 2) by Tamsyn Muir. Tor, 2020. 9781250313225. 512pp.

This book isn’t as totally batshit and swear-y as the first book in the series, Gideon the Ninth, but it’s amazing nonetheless. A group of overpowered necromancers hide from a giant monster at the edge of the universe with their god king. Two of them are newbies. More than one of them is completely crazy. Requires utter trust that the author has not gone crazy, too, and that this is truly a sequel to the last book, which if you’re like me you loved so much. Tamsyn Muir, I trusted you, and I’m not sorry I did at all!  I loved this one, too. Can’t wait for the third book!

Start with Gideon the Ninth, which I highly recommend for smart asses and anyone who loves smart-assery with swords.

 

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Reviews: Graphic Novels for Kids

Snail Finds a Home by Mary Peterson. Aladdin Pix, 2020. 9781534431850. 64pp.

Ladybug tries to convince strawberry-loving Snail to leave his bucket of strawberries. After he turns green and vomits he agrees, and she becomes his real estate agent, taking him to places he could live while trying to keep him from being eaten by a chicken. Yeah, it’s weird. The drawings are fun, it flows really well, and little kids are going to love it. (I can’t wait for a librarian somewhere to email me about a group of stoned older readers pulling it off a library shelf and reading it to each other.)

Wolf in Underpants Freezes His Buns Off by Wilfrid Lupano, Maya Itoïz, and Paul Cauuet. Translation by Nathan Sacks. Graphic Universe, 2020. 9781541528192. 40pp.

It’s winter in the woods, which is great if you’re prepared. But the Wolf isn’t happy because maybe he isn’t ready — he keeps saying, “They’re freezing!” — and it’s freaking the other animals out. They try to figure out what Wolf is talking about, and how to take care of it so that the cold doesn’t turn him evil or wild or the like. There’s a knitting owl, a lot of fondue, and a lot of overly paranoid animals. Very entertaining.

Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution (Graphic Science Biographies) by Jordi Bayarri. Translation by Dr. Tayra M.C. Lanuza-Navarro and Carin Berkowitz. Graphic Universe, 2020. 9781541578227. 40pp. including a timeline, glossary, index, and list of further resources.

This short, simple graphic biography of Darwin starts with him being interested in science as a kid and ends with the publication of his famous theory. Along the way he fails to become a doctor (as his father wanted) and a priest. See him get sickened by an autopsy! Witness him make the mistake of trying to store a beetle in his mouth! There’s at least one more bout of nausea in here.

I read two books in this series, and this is clearly the more inspired and readable of the two. Highly recommended if you’re trying to get young comics readers interested in science.

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Graphic Novel Review: Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh. First Second, 2020. 9781250171115. 224pp plus sketches, original covers, and process pages in the back.

When Snap goes looking for her dog, Good Boy, she finds him at Jacks’ place. She’s supposed to be the town witch and she scares Snap a bit, but Snap knows there’s no such thing as witches, and anyway the old woman helped Good Boy when he was hurt. So after she finds some possums who need help, Snap takes them to Jacks, who makes a deal with her: she’ll show Snap how to care for the possums if Snap works for her (collecting roadkill, but Snap doesn’t know that for a few pages). She’s soon helping Jacks articulate dead animal skeletons, and also hanging out with her new friend Louis, who loves the same movies she does. Everyone sees them all as weird.

There are stories within the story, one in particular that connects Snap and Jacks (who has a very interesting past), plus the monstrous One-Eyed Tom that stalks Snap’s family. There’s a bit of real magic, too, though friendship, love, and family are at the center of this graphic novel. (Leyh is co-writer and cover artist for the Lumberjanes series if you need more to recommend this. Plus it has one of the best library scenes ever (see below).)

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Graphic Novel Review: These Savage Shores by Ram V, illustrated by Sumit Kumar.

These Savage Shores by Ram V, illustrated by Sumit Kumar, colored by Vittorio Astone, lettered by Aditya Bidikar. Vault, 2019. 9781939424402. Contains issues #1 – #5.

Alain Pierrefont, an injured vampire on the run, arrives in Calicut, on the Malabar Coast, in 1766. Young Prince Vikram of the Zamorin hosts Alain, and the East India Company wants him to help exert influence over the young ruler to open a land trade route. Alain is warned by the Prince that “Savage things roam the nights in these parts.” He doesn’t take that warning at all seriously. He should have.

Other creatures roam the land, or maybe protect it. Soon the hunter on Alain’s trail is there, too, as are some of the other vampires who knew him in Europe. There’s a bit of romance, an ancient immortal, and quite a bit of violence. Kumar’s art and Astone’s colors work together to create the perfect atmosphere for Ram V’s story.

This book is right up there with Gideon Falls as one of the best horror graphic novels of last year. It has a lot of brooding shelf appeal, especially for anyone who reads the great marketing copy on the back.

 

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