Author: Gene Ambaum

Graphic Novel Review: Fence Volume One. Written by CS Pacat, illustrated by Johanna The Mad

Fence Volume One. Written by CS Pacat, illustrated by Johanna The Mad, colors by Joana LaFuente. BOOM!, 2019. 9781684151929. Contains #1-#4. Nicholas Cox faces Seiji Katayama in his first fencing meet, and everyone knows Cox is going to lose. (It’s not a surprise that he does, but there is a moment that hints at his potential.) Cox vows to defeat Katayama. Flash forward six months to Kings Row Boys School, where the two competitors are roommates. As the tournament to decide who makes the fencing team gets underway, the stakes are highest for Cox who has to make the team or lose his scholarship. The best things about the book are its hilarious moments (my favorite being the background chatter when Cox says he’ll beat Katayama eventually — apparently he’s not the first to make such a vow) and the natural way it includes diverse characters. This is a strong opening for the series, and this volume was on the […]

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Graphic Novel Review: Zenobia by Morten Dürr, illustrated by Lars Horneman

Zenobia by Morten Dürr, illustrated by Lars Horneman. Seven Stories Press, 2018. 9781609808730. 93pp. In the opening pages of this graphic novel, a young Syrian refugee’s boat capsizes. Under the water she has flashbacks about her joyous life at home with her parents, and about the day after the war started that they didn’t come home. She dreams of Zenobia, the warrior queen of Syria, and of the day her uncle came to get her s they could flee their war-torn country. It’s a quick, riveting read, and a book that’s nearly wordless. This is an affecting story that could find a home in any library.

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Graphic Novel Review: They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott, with art by Harmony Becker

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott. Art by Harmony Becker. Top Shelf, 2019. 208pp. Takei’s memoir about being interned with his family as a young boy, during World War II, and its aftermath, opens with him and his brother being awoken by their parents and told to get dressed. Soldiers enforcing Executive Order 9066 have arrived to take them away. It’s upsetting and powerful. Flash forward to Takei’s TED talk in Kyoto in 2014, and then the story of his parents and his own birth, Japan’s unexpected attack on Pearl Harbor and the US reaction to it — a history lesson that includes includes “Lock up the Japs” as a popular political position. Most of the rest of the book tells the story of the Takei family’s forced relocations and incarceration beginning in Spring 1942 at Santa Anita Racetrack, Camp Rohwer in Arkansas, and Camp Tule Lake in northern California. The details about crowding […]

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Book Review: The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition by Ursula K. Le Guin, Illustrated by Charles Vess

The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition by Ursula K. Le Guin, Illustrated by Charles Vess. Saga Press, 2018. 9781481465588. 992pp. I have a British paperback that contains the first four Earthsea novels that’s tattered from both my wife and I rereading it, but we both love it so much we’ll never throw it away. This brick of a book contains not only those first four books (my favorite is either A Wizard of Earthsea or The Farthest Shore, whichever I’ve reread most recently) plus Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind, a few other related stories, and the text of a lecture Le Guin gave in 1992. Vess’ drawings bring the entire book to life for me in a new way, which is saying something as these books live in my head. Most of the illustrations are black and white, though there’s a color plate at the beginning of each book in this volume. It’s worth noting that […]

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Graphic Novel Reviews: Waves by Ingrid Chabbert and Carole Maurel + In Waves by AJ Dungo

Waves by Ingrid Chabbert, Illustrated by Carole Maurel. Translated by Edward Gauvin. Archaia, 2019. 9781684153466. 93pp. This is Ingrid Chabbert’s account of losing her baby boy, who died shortly after he was born. Following his death, this graphic novel shifts from beautiful colors to black and white, though color slowly works its way back into the lives of Chabbert and her partner as they learn to live with their grief, and as Chabbert finishes the book she was working on for her son. This is a beautifully succinct graphic novel.   In Waves by AJ Dungo. Nobrow, 2019. 9781910620632. 373pp with a bibliography. Dungo alternates the story of the love of his life (and her death from cancer) with a brief history of surfing that begins in the Hawaiian islands in 1800. Kristin liked surfing, and while Dungo doesn’t claim to be an expert about its history, his illustrations do an amazing job of showing how it makes him and […]

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Graphic Novel Review: Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke. First Second, 2019. 9781250191731. 254pp plus a bunch of sketches at the end. I’m not a fan of crossover events in comics. Usually major comics companies bring together heroes or teams and no character gets enough focus to make the effort worthwhile. However Hatke’s Zita / Jack crossover is perfect as he brought together not only his two heroes, but every element you could have possibly loved in each series. He did it in a such a way that I’m going to go back and read both series again in order ASAP, followed by this book again. The giants are bringing a war to Jack that will destroy the world. Even with Zita and her friends’ help, they need to delay the giants from breaking down the door to Earth, and to find allies for the coming battle. Basically they’re going to need everyone’s help, and things don’t go as expected. […]

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Graphic Novel Review: Bloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovern

Bloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovern. Andrews McMeel, 2019. 9781449497477. 203pp. This is the most hilariously odd graphic novel set at the end of the Regency period ever. Miss Lucy takes a sword cane to some gentlemen that deserve it, and is invited to join a secret ancient immortal vampire cult. But then, a self-obsessed Lord Byron shows up with his psychic eagle, Napoleon, to save her. Covered in blood they fly to his castle in the Scottish Highlands. That’s just in the opening pages. In the rest: a magic castle, more vampires, an ambush, a hot vampire killer, cross dressing, Sir Walter Scott, betrayal, a ball, lust, a succubus, several amazing entrances, a lot of cartoony blood and violence, and a public bath in Bath. The whole thing is nonstop madness. You can read more of McGovern’s comics at http://emilymcgovern.com/, including the short that this graphic novel is based on. (I love the simple cartoony style of this book […]

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Book Review: Seattle Walk Report: An Illustrated Walking Tour through 23 Seattle Neighborhoods by Susanna Ryan

Seattle Walk Report: An Illustrated Walking Tour through 23 Seattle Neighborhoods by Susanna Ryan. Sasquatch Books, 2019. 9781632172617. 166pp with some amazing drawings of dogs on the endpapers. The Seattle Walk Report is a charming guide to the character of a bunch of different Seattle neighborhoods, including maps. Each walk includes fun features that are permanent and others that are totally random. They all encourage you to wander, keep your eyes open, and document what you see, in Seattle or wherever you are But since I’m from and live in Seattle, here are the bits I loved: Locks of the Ballard Locks, the two page spread of Parks Named After Seattle Women!, the drawing of The Central Library, and in particular the Lake City and Wedgewood Highlights. (I live mere blocks from one of the things on that page.) My wife seems to attract crows at certain times of year, so I’m sure she’ll love the So You’ve Been Attacked […]

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Book Review: The Ultimate Droodles Compendium by Roger Price

The Ultimate Droodles Compendium by Roger Price. Tallfellow Press, 2019. 9781931290692. 280pp. Includes a forward by Leonard Maltin, an essay by Price from an earlier book, footnotes to make some of the more obscure (dated) references in the drawings comprehensible, sketches/notes from Prices’s secret files, a primer on how to make your own Droodles + a short biography of Price. These simple, single panel gag comics by comedian Roger Price were popular in the ’50s and ’60s, and were republished earlier this year as a bit of dad humor just in time for Father’s Day. You may not be able to trust me on this review — I am, after all, a dad. Each Droodle is a simple black and white drawing that can only be interpreted in the context of its caption (or its alternate caption, and/or its commentary). If you’ve seen Frank Zappa’s 1982 album Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch, you’ve seen a Droodle. […]

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Graphic Novel Review: When I Arrived At The Castle by Emily Carroll

When I Arrived At The Castle by Emily Carroll. Koyama, 2019. 9781927668689. 72pp, black and white and red. A cat-like young woman arrives at a castle on a stormy night. Soaked, she’s invited by her beautiful hostess, and then insulted for being meek. The Countess is repulsive, the place smells of earth, and soon after a bath the young woman gets a look at the horror inside her host. It does not deter the young woman from her mission to kill the Countess. This is an erotic horror tale drawn in black, white and red. Like all of Carroll’s work, it’s a masterclass in comics; everything from the lettering to the layouts to the drawings themselves is perfect.

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