Graphic Novel Review: Bezkamp by Samuel Sattin and Jen Hickman

Bezkamp by Samuel Sattin and Jen Hickman. Lion Forge / ROAR, 2019. 9781549304040. 251pp.

In one of the narratives of this graphic novel, a teenage girl, Janny, survives with the help/companionship of a small, winged alien. Giant, fanged and thorny creatures abound, and she soothes some of them with music.

On another part of the alien planet, near the village of Bezkamp, Nem collects forbidden technological artifacts. The land and its people are threatened by corruption, a kind of poison or sickness which is dealt with by Nem’s father and aunts, warriors who also keep the village safe from the monsters beyond their borders. Nem is no warrior, and after his father blames him for another’s death, things heat up between them. Nem lacks rage and fire, doesn’t follow the rules of Bezkamp, and doesn’t want to be a warrior. After his father finds Nem’s collection of artifacts, he takes Nem out beyond Bezkamp’s borders to test him. Nem will become a warrior or die trying.

It’s out there, after things go wrong, that Nem meets Janny. Together they discover the history of Bezkamp, and perhaps a way for it to thrive long-term.

Most of the characters speak in a strange English vernacular that I struggled with at times, though it adds to the story when Bezkamp’s past is made clear. I couldn’t resist the illustrations, particularly the way the wild areas are colored — they feel joyously alien.

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Book Review: The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds

The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds. Gollancz, 2007. 9780575078185. 410pp.

I’ve been looking for a go-to space opera series since Iain M. Banks died, and I think I finally found it with the help of JB at BLMF books. (This bookstore is hidden in the bowels of Seattle’s Pike Place Market, but so worth finding if you’re looking for something to read.) JB said that where Banks is whimsical, Reynolds is brutal. Music to my ears.

The book did not disappoint. Ten thousand human habitats (the Glitter Band) orbit a star far from Earth. They’re utopian societies of a sort (some are disastrous) that participate in a democracy maintained by agents of the Panoply, a kind of military/police force. At the beginning of the book, Prefect Tom Dreyfus, with the help of his deputies, is investigating a subversion of the democratic process, but soon he has bigger problems to investigate — a habitat has been destroyed. Evidence points to it having been done by one of the Ultras’ lighthugger ship’s drives, but that’s just the start of an event that threatens all of the habitats. Telling you what it involves would really spoil the way the book unfolds. Truly brutal, necessary decisions are made along the way. Destined to become an HBO series.

I believe this is a prequel of sorts to the Revelation Space series, which I must now read in its entirety.

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Graphic Novel Review: Max & the Midknights by Lincoln Peirce.

Max & the Midknights by Lincoln Peirce. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 9781101931080. 288pp.

Big Nate creator Lincoln Peirce gives such a great pitch for this book himself in the form of a comics format book report by Nate, which appears before the title page. You can check it out — I’ve included it as part of this review.

This 279 page book slips between comics and prose naturally. The illustrations are great, the laughs are frequent, and the combat is not at all gory. It has everything you’d expect in a fun medieval quest — knights, swords, dragons, magic — plus a talking goose and fart jokes. Highly recommended.


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Book Review: The Crap Hound Big Book of Unhappiness

The Crap Hound Big Book of Unhappiness edited by Sean Tejaratchi. Feral House, 2019. 9781627310857. 544pp.

Tejaratchi’s Liartown is one of the funniest, most thumbed through books on my shelf, so I’m primed to love whatever he publishes. This is a huge reference book without an index or table of contents in which images from 20th century ads, grouped together by theme (suicide, armageddon, accidents) and because of common graphic elements (handguns, grimaces, explosives). One set of images rolls into the next. The only context for each element is the other bits of advertising on the same and surrounding pages. It’s not quite a history of 20th century negativity or graphic design, and it’s kinda both. It is often hilarious and sometimes disturbing — every time I flip the book open I need to see what came before and after the page I landed on. It’s like playing a party game I don’t know the rules to, and like shopping for a new tattoo.

Here are a few bits from Tejaratchi’s introduction that explain the book:

“In thirty years of paging through old magazines and newspapers, clipping and saving reference material, I’ve found the unhappiest artwork is routinely the most striking.”

“…this book is limited to what was visually rendered for commercial purposes in the 20th century.”

The end of introduction also tells of two pieces of striking art he decided not to include, and it has a note on the sequencing.


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Graphic Novel Review: The Hard Tomorrow by Eleanor Davis

The Hard Tomorrow by Eleanor Davis. Drawn & Quarterly, 2019. 9781770463738. 152pp.

Hannah and Johnny live in a truck in the woods. She’s trying to get pregnant. He’s supposed to be building their house while she works, but he spends more of his time smoking pot and hanging out with his buddy Tyler, a doomsday prepper. Hannah takes care of the elderly Miss Phyllis, and spends time with other members of Humans Against All Violence (HAAV). (Her friend Gabby is also a member, and Hannah seems more than a little enamored with her.) Hannah’s world is full of love and support, which is great since this is a police/surveillance state under President Zuckerberg.

After the HAAV’s leaders are detained by police, Hannah rushes to a protest that gets out of hand. It’s a moment that has repercussions for her friendships, marriage, and the lives of everyone in the story, including the baby Hannah and Johnny are trying to create. Somehow Davis has created a story that shows how messed up everything feels and still manages to express a fragile, brave hope.

One of her thank yous at the front of the book is to the person Davis was going to give birth to three months hence, which she wrote in April of this year. There are quotes from Kate Beaton, Lisa Hanawalt, and Jaime Hernandez on the back of the book, praising it. Hanawalt calls the book a “bullshit antidote.” Hernandez praises her drawing. Beaton sounds like she wants to give Davis the Nobel Prize for Literature. I agree with all of them.

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Graphic Novel Review: The Lie and How We Told It by Tommi Parrish

The Lie and How We Told It by Tommi Parrish. Fantagraphics, 2019. 9781683960676. 123pp.

Cleary runs into Tim at the grocery store where she works. They hang out and catch up after her shift ends. Tim is getting married soon, to an older woman. Cleary is still working on her music, and a relationship with a man she was dating has just ended. They talk about an intense relationship she once had with a record producer that did not end well. They wander.

When Tim goes into a liquor store for a bottle of wine, Cleary reads an illustrated novella she finds outside the store, a book that claims to be about unconditional, everlasting love. At its center is a relationship that starts in a moment of honesty between the narrator (a strip club dancer) and a customer.

Tim and Cleary start drinking and talking. Things start feeling a little heavy when they discuss their same-sex relationships, and why they never got together. Tim’s difficulty in talking about being with men is obvious, and it makes the rest of their time together uncomfortable.

Despite this, the book is completely enjoyable. The conversation at its center feels honest and real, and Parish’s art is beautiful both in the main narrative (fully painted, colorful) and in the book within a book (black and white, masterfully inked). I’m going to recommend this to almost every adult I know.

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Graphic Novel Review: The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner. Aladdin / Simon & Schuster Children’s, 2019. 9781534431461. 272pp.

Steinkellner’s debut kids graphic novel is a fun, beautifully drawn story in which thirteen-year-old Moth learns she’s a witch (as were her mother and grandmother) and discovers her powers. There’s a talking cat, a new student who becomes a fast friend, and a connection to the Founder’s Bluff, MA, witch hunt that Moth learns about in history class. Moth’s mom initially doesn’t want her daughter to have anything to do with magic, but it’s clear that Moth isn’t about to give up practicing her new powers. There are a few bullies, and the school play has a few issues (Moth is in charge of costumes), but by the end of the book Moth is flying. (She also learns who her dad is, and why her mom didn’t want her doing magic.)

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Bonus Book Review: Kids Are Weird (and Other Observations of Parenthood) by Jeffrey Brown

Kids Are Weird (and Other Observations of Parenthood) by Jeffrey Brown. Chronicle Books, 2014. 9781452118703. 101pp. 

Guest review by Murphy’s Mom.

Oscar (who is based on Jeffrey’s real-life son) is a three-year-old who has much more insight and a much bigger vocabulary than most the toddlers. Oscar claims his pet snake is “sad because he doesn’t get to have any love.”  The simple but expressive artwork Brown uses when drawing his family members is as wonderful as Oscar’s candid musings are hilarious and thought-provoking.  My favorite comic in the book shows Oscar’s sitting in class, bored out of his mind. He sighs, “Instead of getting closer to my destiny, I keep getting farther away.” Chin up, Oscar, we’re all there with you, bud!
Books like this resonate with me for two reasons: I listen to kids in the library after storytimes — they’re total weirdos —  and I was a weird kid myself. I learned to read chapter books and how to write my name when I was four which really pissed off my kindergarten teacher later, when I told her I’d already read the primers she handed me. Growing up preferred eating peanut butter straight out of the jar versus in a sandwich. My mom told me (with malice) when I was about ten that she hoped I had five kids “just like me.” Two years later I decided not to have any kids. Thirty plus years on I have no regrets about growing up to be an even weirder adult with a strange husband and a pretty mixed up dogs. We are happy as a couple sans children — though I was once called a “selfish bitch” by a library patron with several wild kids for going this route. I bet she’d like Jeffrey Brown’s book as much as I did, though. 
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Graphic Novel Review: Die!Die!Die! by Robert Kirkman (creator/writer), Scott M. Gimple (creator/co-pilot), Chris Burnham (creator/artist)

Die!Die!Die! by Robert Kirkman (creator/writer), Scott M. Gimple (creator/co-pilot), Chris Burnham (creator/artist). Image, 2019. 9781534312142. Includes Die!Die!Die! #1 – #8. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

Basically, this is a John Woo action movie in comic form: triplet brothers are trained by their father as assassins for hire; one now works for the US government, one wants the other two dead, the third comes out of retirement to help rescue his captured brother. From the cover it will be no surprise someone gets their nose cut off, and that bullets fly throughout. The whole thing opens with a slick SUV vs motorcycle chase right out of a Bond movie. It also includes plenty of betrayals, double-crosses, and probably the most extreme disguise ever — I cant wait to see it in a movie.

My favorite part was the foul-mouthed, take-no-shit Senator who leaves men in her wake (and naked in her office). A close second were the DIE!DIE!DIE! pages the creators sprinkle throughout. (They always complete a sentence that starts on the page before them. Beautiful. See the sample image that’s part of the review.) A fun read that promises more to come.

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Reviews: Talking to Strangers (audio) by Malcolm Gladwell and Stay by Lewis Trondheim, art by Hubert Chevillard.

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. Unabridged, read by Gladwell. 8 hours 42 minutes. Hachette Audio. 9781549150333.

It was this conversation between Gladwell and It’s Been A Minute (podcast) host Sam Sanders that got me to try this book, even though audiobooks aren’t really my thing.

I finished listening to it in record time because it sounds like a podcast, with high production quality, interview snippets, and even music to supplement Gladwell’s reading (which itself is great). I hope more nonfiction audiobooks follow this example. (If you know of any others, please list them in the comments.)

To sum up the book, we’re not good at understanding one another, and the world would be better if we all stopped making hurried judgements about each other. Sandra Bland’s death bookends a variety of other case studies that might seem unrelated, but which Gladwell connects and explores. I particularly liked his discussion of the conviction of Amanda Knox because she didn’t have the expected reaction to her roommate’s murder. That stayed with me, maybe because Knox lives near Seattle.

After I finished this, I read the graphic novel Stay. In the opening pages a young woman and her fiancé arrive at a beach for a short vacation. It’s windy. He’s decapitated by a flying metal sign. And she’s just kind of blank. She talks to his parents on the phone in a way that everything seems fine, then goes to check in to their apartment. There are signs that she’s on edge and deeply upset, but they’re hidden moments — mostly she doesn’t seem to be reacting to what happened, even when she’s having conversations with a stranger about herself and the man she loved.

Without listening to Gladwell’s book, I may not have finished Stay, but because of it observing the woman’s grief and her expression of it felt intimate.

Stay by Lewis Trondheim, art by Hubert Chevillard. Lion Forge, 2019. 9781549307713. 128pp.

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