Graphic Novel Review: Fake Blood

Fake Blood Fake Blood coverby Whitney Gardner.  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. 9781481495561. 336pp. http://amzn.to/2EdN5XH

This new entry into the late grade school/tween graphic novel market stars AJ and his friends, who are just starting the 6th grade. AJ is the kind of kid librarians love: he boasts about the number of books he read over the summer and the summer reading prize he won (sunglasses). He likes Nia, the smartest girl at Spoons Middle School. She is obsessed with vampires. His sister BB offers AJ some classic advice (be yourself), but instead of taking it he “borrows” her copy of Moonlight (a thinly veiled stand-in for Twilight) and gives himself a vampire makeover complete with glitter and hair care products. After AJ convinces Nia he’s a vampire, the story picks up a bit of speed, and it’s clear that there’s a real (and not very threatening) vampire at school, too.

The illustrations are charming, and what I like about the book is that it’s big not just in terms of the page size —- the the panels don’t feel crowded, and there’s lots of pages for interactions between AJ and his friends. It has a pace all its own, and I think young readers are going to love it. (According to the jacket copy, Gardner is a coffee-loving former school librarian currently living in Victoria, BC. I’m not too far away in Seattle, so I’m hoping our paths cross sometime.)

Fake Blood Interior

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Graphic Novel Review: Dalston Monsterzz

Dalston Monsterzz coverDalston Monsterzz by Dilraj Mann. Nobrow, 2017. 9781910620359. 76pp.

This oversized graphic novel is beautiful and odd and slightly hard to follow in a way that feels like part of its epic strangeness. East London is full of colorful monsters and well-designed gangs. When hip, attractive, acrobatic young characters aren’t traveling around on scooters, they’re riding monsters. There are acts of violence, complicated page layouts, and many strikingly red panels that take place in a labyrinth — flipping through it will wow you. (But will the pink-haired young woman remind you of someone you went to high school with, too? No idea.)

Dalston image 2 regular

 

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Graphic Novel Review: Blackbird Days

Blackbird Days by Manuele Fior. Fantagraphics, 2018. 9781683960836. 104pp http://amzn.to/2QlRnSA
Blackbird Days cover
As a balding middle aged guy, I should probably support the decision to put Inspector Marcuzzi and his futuristic car on the cover of this collection of short graphic works. But honestly? I’m not drawn to books about guys who look like me, and I doubt you are, either. It was only after seeing the book a few times that I recognized Fior’s name as the author / illustrator behind 5,000 Kilometers per Second and The Interview and started reading.

The title story is very softly science fiction, and has some connection to The Interview. Of the rest I really enjoyed “Class Trip,” a very short tale about a rude student and the literature instructor he’s at odds with in which Fior doesn’t shy away from or mock middle aged nudity. “Postcard from Oslo,” a two page vignette about a young Italian woman staying in the Norwegian countryside, demonstrates his mastery of color and style — this one is less realistically drawn and colored than the former, and is possibly a bit more amazing for that.

The book is full of comics that will wow adult fans of the medium, and it includes at least one giant robot fight.

Blackbird Days Images

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Graphic Novel Review: Edison Beaker, Creature Seaker: The Night Door

Edison Beaker Creature Seeker coverEdison Beaker, Creature Seeker: The Night Door by Frank Cammuso.  Viking, 2018. 9780425291924.  160pp.

While hanging out with their Uncle Earl, Edison, his sister Tess (short for Tesla), and her hamster Scuttlebutt learn the truth about the family business: they’re not exterminators, they keep their town safe from the supernatural creatures that live on the other side of the Night Door. Now their uncle is missing, and so is the keystone, the only thing that has the power to shut the Night Door. The hunt for the keystone takes Edison into the darkness on the other side of the door, where he has to save his family from Baron Umbra and his shadowy underlings.

This beautifully drawn graphic novel is perfect for readers who enjoyed Cammuso’s other series: Salem Hyde, The Knights of the Lunch Table, and Max Hamm Fairy Tale Detective.

Edison Beaker interior

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Graphic Novel Review: Coda Volume 1

Coda Volume 1 coverCoda Volume 1 by Simon Spurrier & Matías Bergara. BOOM!, 2018. 9781684153213. Contains #1 – #4 of the comic book series. http://amzn.to/2DOx4HA

Sometimes coloring is so good it’s impossible to ignore. (See: Laura Martin’s work in the Planetary series and Issabelle Arsenault’s in Jane, the fox & me). Other times it just adds to the fun. (See any issue of Adventure Time or Invincible, and every book of Trondheim and Sfar’s Dungeon series). But once in a while colors are so berserk and eye catching I can’t understand how they work together — examples include Tula Lotay’s colors in Supreme: Blue Rose, the covers for Slam!, and now Matías Bergara’s insane mix of gradients in Coda. There may be thousands of colors on the first page, an illustration of a rotting husk of a giant dragon.  Somehow they work together to perfectly create this broken, post-apocalyptic, former high fantasy world. The writing is great, too —- Spurrier’s first bit of dialogue is “There are rats in my bowel!”

Think unicorns should be insane and have more horns? Fondly recall the way cat masters inject powers into their pets/partners in Brandon Graham’s King City?  Like to laugh at pathetic paladins?  This is the graphic novel for you. Plus it’s got a broken love story, a mobile city, and other goodies. It’s entirely worth reading.

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Graphic Novel Review: Grass Kings Volume 1

Grass Kings coverGrass Kings Volume One by Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins.  BOOM! Studios, 2018. 978168415115.  Reprints #1-#6 of the series.  176pp including a cover gallery and additional artwork.  https://amzn.to/2JYpDxJ

The Grass Kingdom isn’t too far from the city of Cargill, on some land by the sea. It’s a place full of people seeking the freedom to live as they like. They’re ruled by Robert, but he’s been doing way too much drinking since he lost his daughter and his wife. The Kingdom is surviving because it has an airport and everything its residents need, including its own police officer. After Robert gives shelter to a woman on the run, all hell breaks loose. The Sheriff of Cargill wants her back, and sends in a thug, Big Dan, to provoke a response. It all ends up with a threat against all the residents of the Grass Kingdom, and they show everyone why that’s a very bad idea.

Jenkins’ watercolors are fantastic, and they really sing in moments of violence — whether someone is getting cracked with a stone axe or shot in the head, he knows how to make the blood fly.

Grass Kings Interior

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Graphic Novel Review: Kitten Construction Company

 

Kitten Construction Company coverKitten Construction Company: Meet the House Kittens by John Patrick Green. First Second, 2018. 9781626728301.

Mewburg is building a new mansion for its Mayor, but the City Planner won’t consider Marmalade’s design because she’s a cute little kitten and “just too adorable to be taken seriously.” After meeting Sampson, an electrical engineer / kitten who’s only been able to work as a dishwasher, they form an all-kitten construction firm and set out to prove their skills.

This is a wonderfully silly book that I wouldn’t mind reading over and over again to the right kid. Green’s art and comics keep getting better, which is saying something since his last book was Hippopotamister. A big shout out to Cat Caro’s textured colors — they really up the cute quotient.

Kitten Construction Company interior regular

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Graphic Novel Review: The Unwanted

The Unwanted: Stories of The Syrian Refugees by Don Brown. HMHTeen, 2018. 9781328810151. 105pp.

Unwanted Cover photoBrown’s graphic novel opens with protests in Syria in March 2011, and the violence that followed. As Syrians flee the country and Assad’s soldiers, others join the fight. Hardships plus the possibility of torture and execution force many to make difficult choices for themselves and their families. Overloaded ships overturn at sea. Profiteers are everywhere.  It’s not clear who refugees can trust or where they can go, but leaving seems like a better, safer bet than staying.

The book doesn’t follow a single refugee on her harrowing journey, but instead summarizes the experiences of many based on diverse sources. Individual faces are often drawn somewhat indistinctly, more so in crowd scenes. Despite the circumstances, there are moments of joy and hope. The book made me realize both the scope and scale of what’s happening, and in giving specific examples (with sources cited) and bringing different people into focus (even for just a page or two), it makes it clear that every person in every crowd is dealing with their own particularly difficult experiences.

In Brown’s notes, he says he wanted to focus on the refugee experience, and disregarded everything else to avoid creating “an enormous, sprawling book, one that would not be well served by a graphic novel.” Included in the back are journal summaries from his visits to a refugee camp in Greece in 2017 (along with photos), source notes on particular pages that include the sources of dialogue, and an extensive bibliography. Kudos to him for all of this — it’s not the standard in nonfiction graphic novels, but it should be.  While this book may not answer every question about Syrian refugees, it is a great graphic novel.

Unwanted Interior regular

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Graphic Novel Review: Onibi

Onibi Cover (small)Onibi: Diary of a Yokai Ghost Hunter by Atelier Sento (aka Cécile Brun and Olivier Pichard). Translated from French by Marie S. Velde. Tuttle, 2018. 9784805314968. 128pp.

In a small shop in Suruwada, a young French tourist (Cécile) buys a magical camera with a lens polished by monks. Cécile and her boyfriend Olivier are told it can photograph supernatural creatures, or Yokai. As they explore the area and its stories, Cécile snaps a photo which is printed in blue at the end of each story (see below). The tales of the yokai are true, and invisible creatures are everywhere (including foxes and the worm-like bura bura along with more familiar types of ghosts).

Brun and Pichard were inspired to write this graphic novel on their trips to Niigata Prefecture and the folks they met there. Their love the people, the place, and in particular the food comes through. The creative team’s pencils and watercolors give great expressiveness to faces, colors, and light, and make every page a pleasure to read and reread.

Onibi 3 square

 

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Enter Pat Coleman — comic 496

Please help me welcome by buddy Pat to the Library Comic team.

He’s an illustrator and artist who’s also done a bit of cartooning (and is now going to be doing more more more) and a lot of work for the American Library Association. Pat’s a great guy to wander through museums with — he knows a ton about techniques artists use (at least someone can answer my questions!), sometimes disagrees with my questionable taste in modern art, and tells hilarious, cringe-inducing stories.

I love the style he brings to the library and the characters — it’s a bit more Scooby Doo, and at times a bit more spooky — and I can’t wait to see what’s going to develop as we work together.

-Gene

PS: If you recognize Pat’s last name from libraryland and you’re wondering, the answer is yes, he’s her husband.

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