Author: Gene Ambaum

Graphic Novel Review: Out in the Open

Out in the Open by Javi Rey, based on the novel by Jesús Carrasco. Translated from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel.  SelfMadehero, 2018. 9781910593479. – A young boy flees his village in an attempt to escape the abuse and violence he suffers at the hands of his father and the local sheriff. Men pursue him across a dry wasteland, but luckily he meets a kind, old man who offers help. When the sheriff’s men catch up with them, the old man suffers. – The boy’s nightmares are terrifying. At their center is the demonic, red-faced sheriff, and the boy naked or helpless before him. (In the worst of his dreams, his father leaves him for the sheriff.) – The colors Rey uses for the desert scenes made me feel the heat and dryness, and perfectly set up the hope-filled final scene.

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Graphic Novel Review: Mami

Mami by Diigii Daguna. Peow Studio, 2018. 9789187325403. 64pp. – Detective Haiyan Nieto catches the thief, Goyong, who he’s been after for years. Goyong soon disappears, but only after making it clear that he wants to be found by his favorite detective. – Daguna’s short graphic novel has on old school manga style, bright colors, a touch of romance, and enough pages about Pinoy food to send me out in search of a restaurant. (I still haven’t found a place in Seattle that serves Taho, but I will.) – Be sure to check out the other fantastic looking books by Peowstudio. http://www.peowstudio.com/

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Graphic Novel Review: Dementia 21

Dementia 21 by Shintaro Kago. Translator Rachel Matt Thorne. Fantagraphics, 2018.  9781683961062. 294pp. Includes an interview with Kago by Gary Groth, and a few piece of surreal, full-color art. – Seventeen strange and humorous tales about home health aide Yukie Sakai. She tries her best to earn good feedback scores while helping her elderly patients, but that’s not easy when they’re cursed, when the number of her patients multiplies endlessly, and when one old woman’s dementia and super powers combine to explode everyone she forgets. The tale of AI powered dentures was totally creepy, and it was followed by a purely funny story in which Yukie tries to care for an elderly giant hero, Redman, who once defended Earth from evil aliens. Recommended if you like manga in-jokes, and if you laugh at the same time you cringe.

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Graphic Novel Review: Piero

Piero by Baudoin. Translation and Introduction by Matt Madden. New York Review Comics, 2018. 9781681372969. 125pp. – This somewhat autobiographical graphic novel follows Baudoin (Momo) and his brother Pierre (Piero) as they develop their drawing talents. A fantastic moment early on, in which an alien needs dreams to fuel his spaceship, is followed by a powerful blast of energy from his gun to erase the memory of the alien’s visit. Later, after the brothers draw castles together, they fill the page with battling knights and huge explosions. Most of the time the brothers draw, hang out, and dream together. – The book is filled with beautifully rendered childhood moments, many of them about being lost in creativity. (There are also a few moments of palpable childhood terror.) The energy evident in the action-packed scenes seems to be lurk behind every panel. – Madden’s introduction makes me want to see more graphic albums by Baudoin done in brush work, which is […]

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Graphic Novel Review: Gideon Falls Volume 1

Gideon Falls Volume 1: The Black Barn by Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino, and Dave Stewart. Image, 2018. 9781534308527. Collects #1 – #6. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature. – Gideon Falls is a quiet little town, but something is seriously wrong there. The new pastor seems to sense it even before he’s under suspicion for murder. Norton knows it’s evil incarnate, and he’s trying to figure it out by combing through the city’s garbage and cataloging his finds. But he’s just been released from the hospital, and his therapist is about ready to have him committed again. Some think a holy war is underway. At the center of everything is the terrifying image of a black barn. – Lemire has been one of my favorite comics creators since the publication of Essex County. Kudos to his writing, Andrea Sorrentino’s shadowy art, and Dave Stewart’s colors in this volume. I filled my teenage years with supernatural horror, and maybe that’s why graphic […]

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Graphic Novel Review: The Lost Path

The Lost Path by Amélie Fléchais & Jonathan Garnier, illustrated by Amélie Fléchais. Lion Forge / Cub House, 2017. 9781941302446. Published as an oversized hardcover, which the art deserves. Three kids get lost in a forest with only a treasure map and their overactive imaginations. (One kids sees everything as robots.) There are many strange creatures including dancing porcupines, a giant sheep, and the coolest looking owl that’s ever been drawn. As the book switches back and forth between color and black-and-white illustrations, and throughout it left me with the sense that I was missing something, but in a wonderful way that will have me re-reading it over and over. It’s magical, and will become one of those graphic novels that I give every kid I know.

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Graphic Novel Review: Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation

Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation by Ari Folman, illustrations by David Polonsky (with a few by Hilda Noam).  Pantheon, 2018. 9781101871799. 149pp including an afterward and notes from Folman on adapting the diary. In order to adapt Anne Frank’s diary, Folman, Polonsky, and Noam made bold choices. This book does not contain every word and detail from the original — instead it’s spacious, interpretive, and altogether wonderful. It gives itself enough room to be a great graphic novel, to establish the time and place Anne Frank lived, and to share what was going on in her head while she hid (with her family and others) in the secret apartment above her father’s business. The terror of being discovered is always there, but so is the boredom of the situation. The focus is more on Anne and her life, though, and particularly her friend Kitty (her name for her diary). Her poor attitude and realistic relationships with her mother and […]

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Graphic Novel Review: My Beijing

My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder by Nie Jun. Translated by Edward Gauvin. Lerner / Graphic Universe, 2018. 9781541526426. 128pp including sketches in the back. These amusing stories of Yu’er and her loving grandfather are filled with quiet magic. When she wants to train to swim in the Special Olympics, she’s not allowed in the pool, but her grandfather rigs up a harness and a rope and teaches her to swim in the trees. When neighborhood bullies injur a butterfly, Yu’Er makes a new friend who takes it to Bug Paradise, an empty lot full of flowers and plants where Yu’Er listens to an impromptu natural concert. I don’t want to be more specific as the way the stories reveal themselves is beautiful. I think I can add that one reminded me of my favorite part of Peter Pan, and two involve a very gentle, dreamlike form of time travel. Nie Jun’s love for Beijing’s hutongs (the narrow lanes […]

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Graphic Novel Review: Herakles Book 1

Herakles Book 1 by Édouard Cour.  Lion Forge / The Magnetic Collection, 2018. 9781942367499. 157pp with a Greece-centric map of the world and character guide, plus orange endpapers (a bold choice!) The cover’s matte finish and gold foil give this graphic novel a lot of shelf appeal. Inside, the sketchy art looks like a combination of pencils and inks, and Cour is great at creating a sense of speed and power, particularly during the fight scenes. The book is alternately dark and moody, and full of deadpan laughs. Herakles is haunted by ghosts of those who’ve died at his hands or because of him — it’s not an exaggeration to say he’s a mass murderer. This sad, heroic version of the myths is epically readable with just enough full frontal male nudity to keep it out of all but the most daring high school libraries.

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Guest Book Review: If You Could Be Mine

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan, Algonquin, 2013. 9781616202514, 247 pp. In Sara Farizan’s raw and emotional debut novel, Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six years old. In fact, they love each other, which is great and wonderful, right? Wrong. Dead wrong. They’re both girls, and in Iran, homosexuality is seen as an abomination. It’s a crime that people are publicly executed for. Nasrin and Sahar know their government will never allow their same-sex relationship. But sexual reassignment surgery is funded by the government there because it is viewed as a means of correcting a “mistake” of nature. Sahar cannot deny her feelings for Nasrin, and she has to act quickly to get surgery and become male because Nasrin’s parents have arranged their daughter’s marriage to an older doctor. At the urging of a gay cousin, and advice from Parveen, a successful woman who had reassignment surgery herself, Sahar feels […]

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