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Graphic Novel Review: The Hidden Witch

The Hidden Witch by Molly Knox Ostertag. Scholastic Graphix, 2018. 9781338253757. 204pp.

This sequel to Ostertag’s The Witch Boy is just as good. It continues the story of Aster, a boy who wants to learn to be a witch with the girls, and his non-magical friend Charlie. Back at school, Charlie befriends a new student, Ariel, who is secretly a witch and who sends some nasty magic Charlie’s way. Aster is having a hard time catching up with the girls, so Grandmother offers him the opportunity to improve his skills by helping with a special project (something in The Witch Boy). While other creators might turn the story toward a huge battle, don’t expect that here; the emphasis is really on friendship and helping one another even when it’s difficult, forgiveness, and being true to oneself. Ostertag’s art throughout is fabulous — my favorite pages involve literal meetings of minds and frightening shadows.

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Graphic Novel Review: Woman World

Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal. Drawn & Quarterly, 2018. 9781770463356. 260pp.

What would the world look like if men not-so-suddenly disappeared and the world went through a series of natural disasters? “…this is the story of a village in this new world.” And the story is pretty great, from the little girl who thinks all men must have been like Paul Blart to the design of a new flag to a grandmother trying to explain the phrase “that’s what she said” to her granddaughter. In a world with no men, no one sees dick-shaped clouds anymore. It’s pretty much the most lighthearted, good-natured post-apocalyptic graphic novel ever. One more thing to recommend it: the final comic provides one of my favorite endings to a graphic novel ever.

Left this one on the dining room table and told my daughter I thought she’d enjoy it, but she beat me to the punch — she said she used to read it when Dhaliwal was still posting it to Instagram, and that she loved it. No idea why she never told me about it. Crikey.

The final book versions of the comics look like they may have been edited and added to a bit when compared to what was online, but you can get a sense of the series from the episodes still posted at https://www.webtoons.com/en/challenge/woman-world/list?title_no=100912 (click on the “First Episode”).

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Fiction Review: An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris

An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris. Saga, 2018. 9781481494922. 306pp. http://amzn.to/2WGtaWS

Cover blurbs from Lee Child, Seanan McGuire, and Anne Bishop? I picked this up out of curiosity, never having read a book by Harris, and then couldn’t put it down.

Lizbeth Rose is a small, deadly young woman in Texoma, where she works as a gunnie on a crew guiding/guarding others. Her part of the fractured, alternative version of the US feels more like the old west than not, though there are some modern conveniences, including weapons and vehicles, plus: magic. Gunnie Rose is the kind of quiet western hero who always does what she says she’s going to, whether that means killing, risking her life to get people to safety, or guarding wizards into Mexico to locate a descendant of Grigori Rasputin. The latter journey takes up most of the book, and an open secret of Gunnie Rose’s seems destined to set her at odds with said wizards (though it seems likely they’ll be killed before that’s an issue).

All in all a fun novel featuring just the right level of violence and a character I could root for, that came into my hands at just the right moment and saved me from a more boring book that I continue to work my way through. Seems destined to be a movie or TV show, especially in the era of Westworld, The Man in the High Castle, and the Road Warrior movies.

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Graphic Novel Review: Off Season by James Sturm

Off Season by James Sturm. Drawn & Quarterly, 2018. 9781770463318. 213pp. http://amzn.to/2FGeKiq

I fear there’s no pitch I can make for this book that will show how much I enjoyed it, but here goes: A marriage disintegrates during/with the help of the 2016 Presidential election. A dad struggles with work and the custody schedule while thinking about his estranged wife and his feelings for her. The most heartbreaking moment: when they take their kids trick-or-treating together. I remember the misery and awkwardness of those nights when I was little, and my divorced parents tried to hang out together in order to act like a family for a bit just for the sake of us kids.

Sturm paces the story perfectly within it’s constraint — there are two panels of equal size on each page. Highly recommended.

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Graphic Novel Review: Skybourne by Frank Cho

Skybourne by Frank Cho with Marcio Menyz (colors). BOOM! Studios, 2018. 9781608869862. Contains #1 – #5 plus a gallery of some covers, including variants by other artists.

Lazarus’ kids were “blessed with superhuman strength, impenetrable skin, and immortality. This is their story.” Thomas is off the map — he’s tired of being alive. Grace works for the Mountain Top Foundation, out to improve mankind’s lot through science and magic. On a mission to retrieve a magic sword, things go wrong. The Foundation talks Thomas into coming back with a promise and they’ll help him end his life. Cue magical calamities involving a famous wizard and many, many dragons.

It’s all really light and amusing. No one draws beautiful super people doing dangerous stuff better than Cho, and it’s fun to see their super punches knocking jaws and heads apart. It all reminds me a bit of Invincible in the best way. (If that kind super heroic violence is not part of your definition of fun, this book isn’t for you — it has more beheadings than the original Highlander movie.)

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Graphic Novel Review: Emma G. Wildford

Emma G. Wildford by Zidrou & Edith. Translated by Marc Bourbon-Cook. Statix Press / Titan Comics, 2018. 9781785869280. 104pp.

Emma, an English poetess, tired of waiting for news of her fiancé, defies the stuffed shirts at the Royal Geographic Society and sets out to find him. She picks up the trail of his expedition in Tromso, Norway, and heads to the shores of Finland’s Lake Inari with a guide. Things don’t go well, and while it was occasionally bruised, she never loses that free spirit. My favorite moments in this were unexpected like when Emma puts her brother-in-law in his place, and when she plays rugby in the snow with her guide.

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The Texas Library Association’s Annual Conference #txla2019

I’m about to head to my favorite library show of the year.  If you’re planning to be at TXLA 2019 in Austin, too, please stop by Library Comic’s booth (#1956). I’m also part of two programs this year:

— Library Comic Storyfest
(Monday 4/15, 10pm, part of TXLA After Dark).  Room 16AB lvl 4.
I’ll be swapping library stories with the (somewhat inebriated?) audience and turning one into a script. (See me type!) There will probably be prizes.

— Comics You Should Read
(Wednesday 4/17, 1:30pm, part of TXLA’s first Comic Book Day!) Room 18 AB  Level 4.
Come listen to my rant about pages / scenes from graphic novels I love. Chime in if you’d like. No spitting, please.

Hope to see you there!


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Graphic Novel Review: Grand Theft Horse

Grand Theft Horse: A Graphic Novel by G. Neri, illustrated by Corban Wilkin. Tu Books, 2018. 9781620148556. 230pp including photos of and an afterward by Gail Ruffu.

Neri (Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty) recounts the story of his cousin Gail Ruffu, who told him the story of how and why she stole a thoroughbred on Christmas Eve in 2004. She was trainer and part owner of Urgent Envoy, and hoped to use his love of running to turn him into a champion racehorse. When the other investors urged her to start racing him earlier than she wanted, Urgent Envoy was injured and needed time to recuperate. No one but Ruffu had the horse’s best interests at heart — they were willing to re-injure and drug him to try to make back their investment quickly. So she took UE, hid him, and ended up in a bunch of trouble, legal and otherwise. (I’ve never been to the track, and now I’m never going.) Also included: flashbacks to Ruffu’s childhood that show her lifelong fascination with and dedication to learning about horses.

Horses terrify me, but my dad loved them, and I have a few friends who do, too. This book took me as close as I’ve ever come to feeling that love. And the brown ink throughout reminded me of the smell of the barn, which I’ve never gotten used to.

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Biography Review: Confessions of an Igloo Dweller

Confessions of an Igloo Dweller: The Story of the Man Who Brought Inuit Art to the Outside World by James Houston. McClelland & Stewart, 1995. 0771042728. 322pp with numerous illustrations by Houston.

My buddy Mac tells a lot of stories about working in Alaska, and after I gave him Michel Hellman’s graphic novel Nunavik (about his trip there from Montreal), Mac started trying to push his collection of James Houston books on me. I resisted because I don’t read many biographies. I shouldn’t have.

Houston lived in the Arctic from 1948 to 1962, working as an art buyer seeking to create a market for Inuit sculpture and an agent of the Canadian government. It sounds like the jobs were just an excuse — Houston was drawn to what is now Nunavut and its people, and I think he would have done anything to live there as a young man. His tales are roughly chronological, and include adventures he lived (the most harrowing of which was when his young wife had a problem with her appendix, and had to be taken by dogsled to get medical help that was days away) as well as traditional tales he was told. He makes life in the far north sound incredibly difficult, but his delight at living there with his family and friends is always clear. Bonus: Houston was an artist, and when called for, his spot illustrations clarify whatever he’s explaining to those of us not lucky enough to share his experiences.

Houston wrote other books about life in the arctic, many of them novels for young people. At the risk of creating a long wait for myself, many of his books can be borrowed for free from the Internet Archive if you set up a free account. 

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Graphic Novel Review: Sing No Evil

Sing No Evil by JP Ahonen & KP Alare. Translated from Finnish by JP Ahonen. Abrams ComicArts, 2014. 9781419713590. 181pp.

Aksel is the singer and lead guitarist for the avant-garde metal band Perkeros. After a terrible review of his singing and a decent review of the band’s music, Lily (keyboards) brings in Aydin, who she found working at Kebab Muftak. His voice is magical. As the band practices with its new member, Aksel touches the reality bending Universal Melody. The older dude in the band, Kervinin (bass) warns him about trying to control it. Lily comes to the conclusion that Aksel is holding the band back. Bear (drums) growls a lot and shows his teeth. (Yeah, a bear plays drums.) As Aksel tries to again find the magic he touched, it becomes clear that other musicians are already its power for evil, and that Lily is in danger.

The musical sequences are kinetic and richly colored. The writing and the rest of the art is superb too. The two creators are friends who met in elementary school in Finland, and their long friendship and experience with music really comes through.

Other graphic novels that feature music: The Complete Phonogram by Kieron Gillen and Jamie Mckelvie (music as magic), and Zviane’s For As Long As It Rains (amazing visual representations of music).

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