Graphic Novel Review: The Dead Hand Volume 1: Cold War Relics

The Dead Hand Volume 1: Cold War Relics by Kyle Higgins (writer), Stephen Mooney (artist), Jordie Bellaire (colorist). 9781534308398. 162pp. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature. Collects #1 – #6.

This was booktalked to me by the good folks at Austin Books & Comics, officially my new favorite comic store, when I was poking around their indy comics rack.

The pitch I was given went something like this: At the end of the cold war, a black ops American agent, Carter Carlson, enters Chelyabinsk-70 to track down a new piece of tech that could give the Soviet Union a new lease on life. Instead of a research center filled with top minds, he finds a few terrified, hungry scientists building vacuum cleaners. Flash forward to now. Carter is the sheriff in a small, all-American town with a huge, weird secret that has a lot to do with that mission. There’s a huge reveal at the end of the first issue, and things just get stranger after that (but not in a supernatural sense).

It was as good a read as the folks at the comic shop promised. Stop by if you’re near Austin, TX, and ask them to recommend a graphic novel or two for you — you won’t be disappointed.

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Graphic Novel Review: Hicotea: A Nightlight’s Story

Hicotea: A Nightlight’s Story by Lorena Alvarez. Nobrow, 2019. 9781910620342. 64pp.

The girls in Sister Epifania’s biology class are heading for a nearby wetland. Curious, animal-loving Sandy and her partner Tata have a disagreement over a snail, so Sandy heads off on her own. In the swamp she meets Hicotea, a turtle with a shell that’s more like a museum, full of beautiful art and artifacts, though his exhibit about the wetland is blank. Sandy volunteers to help, but when she goes through the door, instead of a wetland she finds a wasteland. Luckily she meets a friend who shows her his refuge, and tells her the wetland’s story.

There’s more, of course, but this is short and mythical and telling more would ruin it. The drawings, and particularly the colors, are absolutely dazzling. Anyone who flips through this book will have to read it, and there are positive messages about kindness, the environment, and the power of imagination. This belongs in every library’s kids section, but put it where adults will find it, too.

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Graphic Novel Review: I Was Their American Dream

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib. Clarkson Potter, 2019. 9780525575115.

Malaka’s parents immigrated to the US in the early 1980s, her father from Egypt, her mother from the Philippines. They met working at a hotel and married soon after, but their marriage didn’t last. Malaka lived with her mother and saw her father on weekends (and then less frequently after he moved back to Cairo). Both her parents soon started new families yet they’re kind and loving and driven to do their best for Malaka. She had to navigate both her parents’ cultures, plus figure out who she was at school and at work, plus who would accept her with and how to present herself. At times it seems like it must have been tough, though the tone of her memoir is overwhelmingly positive. The drawings are great, too.

This feels like the perfect book to read before or after watching Jo Koy’s new Netflix stand up comedy special Comin’ In Hot.

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Graphic Novel Review: Little Girls

Little Girls by Nicholas Aflleje & Sarah DeLaine. Image, 2019. 9781534310599. 176pp.

Sam and her father have just moved to Harar, Ethiopia, from Japan, and Sam is dreading another first day of school in a country where she has no friends and doesn’t speak the language. But she’s tough, and that helps her make friends with a tomboy, Lielet.

Two people have been killed. Lielet thinks it’s hyenas or lions, but people are saying they’ve seen a monster with glowing eyes: the kerit. The girls decide to investigate. Outside of town, they find what may be a giant den, when a spooky voice speaks to them (and sends them running for home). Soon there’s another victim. After they’ve gathered more information, they agree to take care of the problem themselves.

It’s a slow-paced, compelling story, with art that makes the book feel super-sized. I’d say more about the art but comics creator Sina Grace said it perfectly in her introduction: “It’s like Geof Darrow drew girl stuff.” It was easy to root for Sam and Lielet — they’re the underdogs in a conflict with a giant man-eating beast. Plus Harar permeates every aspect of the story to create a unique sense of place.

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Comic Collection Review: Oh No

Oh No by Alex Norris. Andrews McMeel, 2019. 9781449492533. 120pp.

A collection of webcomics from Starring a pink humanoid character, the comic strip’s drawings are simple, and the third panel of each ends with an “Oh no” which seem to function as criticism or comment on comic strip gags and making comic strips and struggling to make art. These comics are are brilliant. (And whether or not you’re already a fan, this collection is worth picking up for the Table of Contents, the Introduction, and the About the Author sections.) This is my favorite of the few online comics I read, and I’m excited to be able to both give this as a gift and to see it on library book display shelves everywhere.

You can read Norris’s comics online at and

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Graphic Novel Review: The Perineum Technique

The Perineum Technique by Florent Rupert and Jérôme Mulot. Fantagraphics, 2019. 9781683961833. 104pp.

JH becomes a bit obsessed with Sarah, who he meets on a dating app. They’ve had Skype booty calls, but he wants to meet in person. They finally do, at a masked swingers party where he falls asleep in her lap. Afterward she tells him about the perineum technique, which, through contracting a muscle, will allow him to stop ejaculating but still have an orgasm, and then continue having sex. JH starts practicing the technique while working on his videos (he’s an artist). Via text Sarah tells him that if he doesn’t ejaculate for four months she’ll see him again when she’s back from a trip to Las Vegas. JH practices the technique, gets hornier and hornier, and as he becomes more and more obsessed with sex images inspired by Sarah that start to take over his video work.

I laughed so many times while reading this book! The imagery alternates between the weird and the hilarious, as does the dialogue. JH is the kind of asshole it’s hard to sympathize with, and a lot of the humor in the book comes from perfect moments and his strange mental imagery during sex. If you’re wondering why JH and Sarah are holding swords on the cover, this is the book for you.

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Graphic Novel Review: Tyler Cross: Angola

Tyler Cross: Angola by Fabien Nury, art by Brüno. Translated by Tom Imber. Titan Comics / Hard Case Crime, 2019. 9781785867316. 104pp. Publisher’s Rating: Suggested for Mature Readers.

Tyler Cross left his beach house and his chica to help with an insurance scam, and he ended up in Angola. The prison is unforgiving — he has to do hard labor as part of a chain gang, and the Sicilian gang inside puts out a contract on him. After a cop tries to kill him, he needs to form an escape plan. Step 1: Befriend the man who is spending time with the prison Captain’s wife. Step 2: Scoop out someone’s eyes. (It’s not the most straightforward of plans.)

I’ve enjoyed Brüno’s art in two graphic novels, Nemo (a beautiful adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) and a western titled Junk (still only available in French, I think). His drawings always look a bit more cartoony than gritty, but it’s amazing to see the way he makes it work in this noir crime story. His style reminded me of when Darwyn Cooke’s adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker books, plus Tyler Cross is the same kind of lives-by-a-code bad guy as Parker.

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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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