Graphic Novel Review: Cannonball

Cannonball by Kelsey Wroten. Uncivilized Books, 2019. 9781941250334. 264pp.

Recent art school grad Caroline Bertram seems to be going nowhere. She’s trying to write but is not satisfied with the results. Her gig copy-editing medical textbooks is shitty, and so is her attitude, but she doesn’t want to apply for a better job. She takes in a cat, befriends her bro neighbors, and finds a new hero, a champion woman wrestler called Cannonball. She does finally finish writing a book, which sets up the hilarious second part of the book.

I absolutely love Wroten’s art — every page is great, and it switches to different styles to show us some Caroline’s works in progress. It’s a great example of a simple-looking drawing style used to its fullest potential, and the coloring is magnificent. My favorite things about the book: the casual, occasional nudity, the frequent rants, Caroline’s dad chewing her ass (I never want to be like that to my daughter), her cat trying to kill her, and her on-air meltdown near the end of the book.

Hilarious and just altogether unexpected, this is my favorite graphic novel so far this year.

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Graphic Novel Review: Sea Sirens

Sea Sirens (A Trot & Cap’n Bill Adventure) by Amy Chu and Janet K. Lee. Viking, 2019. 9780451480170. 144pp.

Trot surfs Huntington beach with her cat, Cap’n Bill, while her grandpa fishes. Her grandpa has dementia, and after he wanders off, Trot’s mom says they both have to stay home when she’s not around. But Trot sneaks out to go surfing when her grandpa is taking a nap. Cap’n Bill falls off their board, and then, under the waves, he helps some mermaids battle a group of serpents. (After Trot goes to look for him they are both granted the ability to breathe underwater.) The sea sirens are all quite taken with Bill — they’ve never seen a creature like him — and they give him the power to speak, too. Soon Trot, Bill, and their new friends are on a rescue mission to the deepest trench in the ocean.

The story is more fun and dreamlike than threatening, and I can’t wait to see how Lee’s amazingly colorful art brings the undersea kingdom to life. (My review copy is black and white except for a few colored pages. Still wonderful, but I bet the published version is extra beautiful.)

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Book Review: Bloody Rose

Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames. Orbit, 2018. 9780316362535. 560pp.

This is a sequel to one of the funniest fantasy novels I’ve ever read, Kings of the Wylde. Unlike the first book in the series, it’s not about a bunch of middle-aged adventurers getting back together; instead it’s an epic fantasy novel that’s got a lot to say about family. (The first book did, too, but it’s a much stronger element here.)

Click on the comic below to see a larger version.


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Graphic Novel Review: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. First Second, 2019. 9781626722590. 304 black and white and pink pages.

Frederica “Freddy” Riley is 16, lives in Berkeley, and is in love with Laura Dean, who doesn’t treat her very well. As in, Laura Dean keeps cheating on Freddy and then dumping her and then getting back together. It’s a bit of a disaster. Luckily Freddy has supportive friends, but it’s clear she’s alienating them, too — they’re tired of helping her pick up the pieces, and of dropping them whenever LD offers her a little attention. And it’s not like Freddy doesn’t realize there’s a problem — she’s writing to an advice columnist for help — but she doesn’t seem able to help herself.

I loved everything about this book, from the way the characters’ sexual orientations were mostly a non-issue to the artful use of pinkness throughout. This is an entertaining, complicated story of friendship and romance told in words and pictures that work flawlessly together. I liked it so much I bought a copy for my daughter for her birthday, and gave it to her right after prom.

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Graphic Novel Review: Bad Gateway

Bad Gateway by Simon Hanselmann. Fantagraphic, 2019. 9781683962076. 176pp including a number of beautiful paintings of Meg that capture Hanselmann’s love for her, and an uncolored, two-page summary to catch you up on the story of Meg (a green witch), Mogg (her boyfriend, a cat), and Owl (their “friend” and now former roommate).

The rent is due, and without Owl around Meg and Mogg and Werewolf Jones are in trouble because they’ve spent all their money to get high. Mogg gets a job at a cat cafe. Werewolf Jones pitches a plan that involves hiding in a fake arcade cabinet and getting a hand job. Meg heads for the welfare office where she puts on a spectacular “presentation” about why she needs benefits. All that is over by page 48, and if you haven’t laughed out loud by then you should probably close the book. I could fill this pitch with grim details, but it wouldn’t do the book justice. Did I mention drugs? There are lots of them. Everyone needs a bath and makes horrid decisions. It’s somehow funny as hell, and every volume leaves me rooting for Meg.

This is the fourth volume Fantagraphics has published since 2014, though there are lots of mini comics and smaller books. They’ve been translated around the world, and a recent exhibit at the Bellevue Arts Museum (across Lake Washington from Seattle) reminded me of how many minis my collection lacks, and that the world is full of lovely non-English editions, too. The exhibit was surreal for two other reasons: 1) there were recreations of scenes from the comics, including a diorama of life-sized characters watching Friends and Frasier on the living room couch; and 2) an older library patron who didn’t recognize me was a docent, and explained the books to me in detail. (I kept waiting for her to say, “The witch fucks the cat!” but that only happened in my mind, though she did tell me about the drugs and Werewolf Jones, and she seemed quite taken with a photo of Hanselmann as a kid.) I’m including photos from the exhibit, along with a few pages of art. I didn’t take any photos of the original art from this book, all of which were displayed on the walls. They were beautiful, but photos weren’t allowed, and it felt disrespectful to sneak one.


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Graphic Novel Review: Through a Life

Through A Life by Tom Haugomat. Nobrow, 2018. 9781910620496. 184pp.

Nobrow’s books are always beautiful, but this one wowed me. Each two-page spread is a moment from a year in the life of a red-haired dude named Rodney, starting when he’s in the womb (1955) (in Ketchikan, Alaska), to an incubator (1956), then a crib (1957). With little variation, the left page is Rodney, looking out of wherever he is, and on the right is what he sees (usually in a window or something window-like). I loved it from the moment I saw the Star Trek posters on his wall (in high school), when he watched Planet of the Apes on TV, and then saw Alien in a theater (like I did, even though I was much younger than him when that happened). There’s personal and newsworthy tragedy woven in as Rodney’s interest in space pushes him to study it, and then enter NASA’s astronaut program. The drawings are understated, which somehow makes the dramatic moments more stunning. All use the same color palette to great effect and none of the people pictured have a face.

It’s simply spectacular, the kind of graphic novel that will take everyone by surprise.


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Graphic Novel Review: The Iliad

The Iliad: A Graphic Novel by Gareth Hinds. Candlewick Press, 2019. 9780763681135. 272 pp. including author’s notes, a map showing where the armies gathered at Troy came from, a prologue, page-by-page notes, and a bibliography.

Hinds’ graphic novel adaptations of classics are always beautifully painted and worth reading. They remind me of things I’d forgotten (or, more often, they teach me the truth of what I saw in movies). Reading this I learned that The Iliad doesn’t include the entire siege of Troy, or even Achilles’ death. Instead it ends with Hector’s burial, after Hector’s father Priam begs Achilles to let him return his son’s body to Troy. All of this happens after Achilles not only kills Hector but drags his bloody body behind his chariot for a fair while, by leather straps threaded through Hector’s heels. And that is after the Achaeans gather around and stab Hector’s body, after a fight to the death. This book’s most entertaining sequences are gory, violent insanity. Achilles is pretty close to a complete bastard — he only enters the fight after his best friend is killed. Why? Because Agamemnon wanted to take Briseis from Achilles — a woman who Achilles kidnapped after killing her husband and brothers. (More creepy: she seems into him.) At the point the book starts the Greeks have been trying to sack Troy for ten years. They’re not only exhausted, they have to deal with gods interfering all the time, protecting one side or the other, including swooping down onto the battlefield to save whomever they’d like.

This is an crazy story with bloody scenes that would have, when I was in middle or high school, inspired me to reread certain classics one more time (and much more closely).

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Graphic Novel Review: Bone Parish Volume One

Bone Parish Volume One by Cullen Bunn (words), Jonas Scharf (illustrations), and Alex Guimaráes (colors). BOOM! Studios, 2019. 9781684153541. Contains #1 – #4 of the series.

This is the introductory volume in what promises to be an intense, psychedelic, brutal crime series. The ash is a new drug made from the remains of the dead. Whoever snorts it experiences events from the deceased’s life. While it’s fun to snort a rock star, the supply is pretty limited, and acquiring the ingredients is as illegal as distributing the product. At the center of it all is a family in New Orleans. Only they know how to make the drug, and they’re now fending off takeover offers, rivals, and crooked cops.

If you’ve never read any comics by Cullen Bunn, look up his work. He’s a great writer, and I’m a huge fan. The art in this one is stellar, too, especially when Guimaráes’ colors and Scharf’s drawings express the effects of the ash.

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Coffee Table Book Review: Off the Grid

Off the Grid: Houses for Escape by Dominic Bradbury. Thames & Hudson, 2019. 9780500021422. 271 pp. including an Off-Grid Guide to get you started thinking about things like planning, materials, energy/heat, light, waste, water, and landscaping; thumbnails of architectural plans; and an index.

The ultimate cabin book includes photos of (and words about) beautiful, small homes in scenic locales, with each small building focused on design, green living, and an appreciation of the natural world. I could live in any of these as long as it had more built in bookshelves. My favorites include:
the Watershed in Wren, Oregon. Rainwater from the roof pours into a trough in front of the door!
the 72H Cabin in Henriksholm, Sweden. The wall is a door is a wall.
the Outside House in Maui, Hawaii.  It has the coolest detached porch I’ve ever seen.
the Sky House in Oroville, Washington. I grew up in Seattle and I’ve never heard of it, but I now have a retirement plan.

Needless to say this is the perfect coffee table book. The photos alone take me out of body, and make me want to both travel and clean up my house.

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