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Graphic Novel Review: The Book Tour by Andi Watson

The Book Tour by Andi Watson. Top Shelf, 2020. 9781603094795. 270pp.

British author G.H. Fretwell is on a tour to promote his new novel, Without K, and nothing is going right. Someone has stolen his suitcase, and no one is buying any of his books. After a night alone in his hotel room he’s questioned by two policemen about a missing bookstore clerk because he was the last person to see her. He find himself the center of a criminal investigation as his “book signings” get stranger and his accommodations seedier. What is the mystery’s relationship to the book Fretwell wrote? Why does everyone think he’s guilty? And why hasn’t a review of his book appeared in the newspaper? It is, as you may have suspected, very Kafkaesque.

Watson is one of my favorite artists, and the way he uses a 12-panel grid for layout in this book is masterful. It’s clear he had as much fun drawing the bookshops as he did the streets and alleys. This is a surreal, fun bit of bookish anxiety.

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Graphic Novel Review: Undiscovered Country Volume 1: Destiny.

Undiscovered Country Volume 1: Destiny written by Scott Snyder and Charles Soule, layouts by Guiseppe Camuncoli, finishes by Daniele Orlandini and Leonardo Marcello Grassi, colored by Matt Wilson, lettered by Crank! Image, 2020. 9781534315990. Includes Undiscovered Country #1 – #6. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

Thirty years ago the United States walled itself off from the rest world. No one knows what’s happened within its borders.

Outside the US, the world is a war-torn wreck in the midst of a global pandemic, and it has about six months left. But a message has come through from the US — there’s a cure for the sky virus, and they’re willing to negotiate its release. And they may even consider reopening the borders.

On the team headed into the US are an epidemiologist, a wanted mercenary, a journalist, and a few diplomats. Each has their own agenda. And what they find, shortly after a very rough landing, is not at all what they expect. (Imagine the world of Mad Max crossed with parts of Mortal Engines and Westworld, and you’ll be kinda close.)

This graphic novel is the best kind of batshit crazy, and a much-needed escape with a fair bit of social commentary thrown in. Ever had a nightmare about a carnivorous bison? This is your book.

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Graphic Novel Review: Days by Simon Moreton

Days by Simon Moreton. Avery Hill, 2014. 9871910395004. 148pp.

The minimalistic art in Days includes stories from Moreton’s autobiographical SMOO and anthology work. Style-wise it looks to have been drawn with pencils and most of the book falls somewhere between the work of John Porcellino (King-Cat, Thoreau at Walden) and Oliver East (Trains Are…Mint). The first story in the book astounded me — it’s about the town of Marlow, where Moreton moved when he was 11. Quick scribbles seem to capture the town mostly by noting its shadows. It ends with a meditation on aging and a drawing of an older guy in a pool that’s probably my favorite image in the book, though there’s a lot more to love: simple (but more detailed) drawings of houses, the birds of Falmouth, and simple drawings of people that capture so much of their character. I’m going to read every book and minicomic by Moreton that I can find.

No idea how this British graphic novel from 2014 ended up on the shelves at Seattle’s Kinokuniya, but I want to send out some love to whoever is buying all of the indy books for that section of the store. If you’re in town and love comics, I want to tell you it’s not just manga and toys upstairs.

 

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Book Review: When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey

When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey. Simon Pulse, 2020. 9781534432871. 342pp plus acknowledgements.

Here’s what you need to know to decide whether or not to try this book: in the opening pages, post-prom, Alexis just tried to lose her virginity to Josh in his bedroom. Things didn’t go as planned. His dick exploded when she was putting the condom on him, and Josh is dead. Josh was sweet and kind, but Alexis’ magic got out of control somehow. Now her five friends, who are also magic, are going to help her dispose of the body. Alexis is going to have to deal with who she is, what she did, and the cop who’s interviewing everyone in school.

This is a YA novel about friendship and learning who you are (with a dash of romance). Gailey also wrote River of Teeth along with other stories featuring hippos in the 19th century U.S., and Magic for Liars, in which a mundane detective investigates a murder at the school for magic where her sister works. I’ve read everything they’ve written and I want more.

I handed this over to my daughter immediately after finishing it — selected reading from the opening chapter made us both laugh.

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Graphic Novel Review: Cook Korean! + All American Girl by Robin Ha

Cook Korean! A Comic Book With Recipes by Robin Ha. Ten Speed Press, 2016. 175pp including an index. 9781607748878. 176pp.

The hanbok wearing Dengki teaches us how to cook (because Ha is busy drawing comics). There’s a guide to Korean ingredients and meals, including different kinds of rice and rice by-products — you’ll probably love nurungji — before Dengki shows us how to make rice perfectly, even in a nonstick pot on the stove. The chapter on kimchi includes easy and advanced recipes, not all of which are spicy and/or fishy. (I’m going to make the “square-cut kimchi gazpacho” (nabak kimchi) soon — it fits with my new heart healthy diet._ The section on vegetable side dishes includes one I love, acorn jelly, which is tasty but nearly impossible to describe. (Ha illustrates a mishap when making it, when she accidentally makes acorn rocks.) If veggies aren’t your thing there’s a huge section on making different kinds of Korean barbecue, including the green onion salad that’s usually served with it. There are also soups, stews, porridges, and snacks like the easy to make brown sugar pancakes (hotteok) and even kimchi pancakes (don’t put syrup on these).

The cookbook hints at her relationship with her mother and her childhood, which is why it was great to read her new book:

Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir by Robin Ha. Balzer + Bray, 2020. 233pp including a glossary and great acknowledgements pages, especially when she talks about her mom. 9780062685094. 240pp.

During a middle school vacation in 1995, Ha and her mother took a trip to Alabama to visit her mother’s friend Mr. Kim. After a few weeks in his house she told her daughter that they were staying, and that she and Mr. Kim were getting married. Alone, unable to speak English, and an outsider in a family with other kids her age, Ha had none of the comics she loved (they were all still back in South Korea) and no chance to stay goodbye to her friends. Her journey to becoming Korean American included a lot of abuse at the hands of racist school bullies. (Minor spoiler: she does eventually stand up for herself and find a teacher who cares.) At first Ha sees her mom as a bit of a tyrant who makes all of the decisions, but as she gets older her view changes. Raising a child born out of wedlock in Korea wasn’t easy, and her mom became a very successful businesswoman despite the obstacles she faced. Ha eventually looks back on her life in Korea and realizes it wasn’t perfect — she had to hide the fact that she had no father, and her family situation led to at least one teacher abusing her.
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This is a very balanced story of two strong women that reminds me a lot of the difficulties my wife had to navigate in South Korea as a strong willed, take-no-bullshit woman. And comics are at the center of it all for Ha! It’s got everything I could ask for, including references to old 90s K-Pop. This book belongs in all middle and high school libraries.

You can find other recipes and art by Robin Ha by going back a bit in her blog, Banchan in Two Pages  (“banchan” means side dishes)

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Graphic Novel Review: Animorphs Graphic Novel #1: The Invasion

Animorphs Graphic Novel #1: The Invasion by K.A. Applegate & Michael Grant, adapted by Chris Grine. Scholastic Graphix, 2020. 9781338538090. 240pp.

Alien parasites, the Yeerks, are taking over the Earth. Our only hope: five kids given the power to change into animals by a dying Andalite (another alien species, this one friendly). The kids need to keep our planet safe until more Andalites arrive. One kid is freaked out, another is maybe too into his new power, and the Yeerks may have already taken over the brother of a third, turning him into a human Controller. It’s intense.

Cartoonist Chris Grine (Chickenhare, Time Shifters) is the perfect artist to adapt this series — he’s known for drawing strange animal hybrids and weird creatures. His slug-like Taxxon Controllers are repulsive, the dinosaur-ish Hork-Bajir Controllers are scary, and their evil leader, an Andalite Controller named Visser Three, is monstrous. I don’t think I ever finished one of these books as a kid or library school student, but this adaptation is incredibly readable and I’m sure it will be a hit.

 

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Graphic Novel Review: Star Trek: Debt of Honor

Star Trek: Debt of Honor Facsimile Edition by Chris Claremont (writer), Adam T. Hughes and Karl C. Story (artists). IDW, 2020. 98pp. Digital only at http://www.idwpublishing.com/product/star-trek-debt-of-honor-facsimile-edition/ Originally published in 1992, so you may be able to find a print copy out there, too.

If you’re a fan of a certain age, this may be the perfect escape for you, too. It’s a classic Star Trek tale starring Shatner’s Captain Kirk and crew, a follow-up to Star Trek IV (AKA the one with the whales) written by Claremont. (You may have also grown up reading his X-men comics.) It involves an incident from Kirk’s past, Alien-like alien invaders, a romance with a Romulan with 80s hair, and of course “borrowing” the newly redesigned Enterprise. Plus it features the classic Klingons instead of the ones who look like Worf, along with an explanation.

There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but the story is solid and it’s a fun, quick read if any of that sounds good to you. If it doesn’t I suggest you go watch Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan again — you’ve missed something.

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Graphic Novel Review: Attack of the Stuff: The Life and Times of Jim Waddler by Jim Benton

Attack of the Stuff: The Life and Times of Jim Waddler by Jim Benton. Papercutz, 2020. 9781545804995. 112pp.

Stuff talks to Jim (a duck), and most of it is pretty rude. All his things ever do is mock him and make his life tough, including his salt and pepper shakers (they seem determined to make him feel useless), his peanut butter (it says it has a jelly allergy), and his toilet (it won’t let him use it because it has ambition). Business isn’t good at his hay store, and it’s hard for Jim to get the orange juice he wants at the orange juice shop. To get away from his things Jim goes to live in nature. But when the internet breaks and the everything is in chaos, the world needs Jim to talk to the electronics and figure out what’s going on.

Benton’s graphic novel is perfectly ridiculous, enjoyable by readers of any age, and just the escape I needed.

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Book Review: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour. Penguin, 2019. 9780142422939. 256pp.

This book has been on my shelf for far too long. When I finally picked it up the other day I could not put it down. I’ve never loved a book this infused with sadness, and I can’t imagine I’ll read a better YA novel this year. (If it looks familiar, it may be because it came out in 2017 and won the Printz.) The less you know about the book the better, I think, but below is a summary that’s as un-spoilery as I can make it.

Marin fled across the country from the Bay Area where something terrible happened. It’s clear it probably had something to do with her grandfather. She moved in with him after her mother died and they lived at the beach where her mom had loved to surf. Her and her grandfather’s lives were strangely and kind of amazingly separate in some ways — he was a poetic guy who spent lots of time alone and exchanged love letters with his Birdie. But Marin had a best friend, Mabel, and life with her grandfather seemed normal. But then whatever happened happened, and Marin ran off to her university, abandoning Mabel and whatever was developing between them. Now Mabel is coming to visit her in her university dorm where, over Christmas break, she’s the only person in residence. Marin is nervous and excited and not sure what she’s going to say. (Minor spoiler: What happened and why she fled comes out, because how could it not.)

Poetic, precise, and oh so well constructed, this is a book my wife, my daughter, and I will talk about for months, and one that I’m going to be recommending for far longer.

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Graphic Novel Review: Kerry and the Knight of the Forest by Andi Watson

Kerry and the Knight of the Forest by Andi Watson. Random House Graphic, 2020. 9781984893291. 288pp.

Kerry is rushing home to Meadowsweet when he’s tricked into taking a path through a cursed forest and gets lost. He saves a snail’s life, but then has to convince it to help him find his way home. It tells Kerry to find the Old Knight of the Road. But the knight isn’t the hero in armor Kerry was hoping for — it’s a waystone, whose duty is to guide travelers. And Kerry is going to need help as to get past the will-o-wisps, the seedlings, and the other agents of the malevolent spirit that has taken over the forest. Kerry’s chief attribute is his kindness. The knight thinks this is going to cause Kerry nothing but trouble. (Of course he’s wrong).

After the story, there are D&D-ish character sheets for everyone and everything in the story that include scores for Empathy and Moxie, plus instructions for readers to create their own characters. There are also a few pages from an early draft of the story plus thumbnails, including 43 simple sketches that show how Watson (with help from the book’s designer) figured out the cover design. It should all be inspiring to young comic creators.

I’m a huge fan of Andi Watson’s comics. His most famous graphic novels for kids are Glister and Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula, but if you live in the UK (or just shop there online occasionally), try to pick up his Gum Girl books if you can find them — they’re great, too.

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