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Graphic Novel Review: Golden Boy: Beethoven’s Youth by Mikael Ross

Golden Boy: Beethoven’s Youth by Mikael Ross. Translated by Nika Knight. Fantagraphics, 2022. 9781683965510. 194pp.

This entertaining, fictionalized story of Beethoven’s youth and young adulthood is the story of a frustrated, impoverished genius struggling for recognition. Ross’s illustrations are spectacular when Beethoven plays his music — colors swirl in the air to represent its components and its power. Given that this is about a famous composer, there is an unexpected number of hilarious shit jokes.

Ross’s first graphic novel transalted into English, Thud, was great, too. After enjoying Golden Boy this much I plan to read his work whenever I can.




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Graphic Novel Review: Constantine: Distorted Illusions written by Kami Garcia and drawn by Isaac Goodhart

Constantine: Distorted Illusions written by Kami Garcia and drawn by Isaac Goodhart. DC Graphic Novels for Young Adults, 2022. 9781779507730. 192pp.

This graphic novel reinvents Constantine as a hot, eighteen-year-old, bisexual British musician/song writer who dresses in black and favors punk music. He’s also a talented magician like both his father and stepfather, Roderick. Constantine’s relationship with his father is not good, and when Roderick tries to set up an apprenticeship for Constantine, he rejects that, too. But his friend Veronica gets him to reconsider — if he does the apprenticeship to learn about magic he can be the lead singer for her band. The story is a mix of drama involving the band, its gigs, and demonic magic gone awry.

The way creative teams weave in LGBTQ+ content into so many of these DC graphic novels for young people is great, and this is no exception. The weirdest thing about it is seeing Constantine without his cigarettes (read an adult Hellblazer graphic novel if you don’t know what I mean), but seeing him cast as a teenage bad boy who mostly does the right thing is fun. I enjoyed this book, and would have absolutely loved it when I was about fourteen.

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Graphic Novel Review: Our Encounters With Evil & Other Stories Library Edition

Our Encounters With Evil & Other Stories Library Edition by Mike Mignola and Warwick Johnson-Cadwell. Dark Horse, 2022. 9781506734149.

This collection contains the short graphic novels originally published as Mr. Higgins Comes Home, Our Encounters With Evil, and Falconspeare, plus preliminary sketches for each book and a few other illustrations.

All three stories feature Professor Meinhardt and his assistant Mr. Knox as they pursue the undead. Johnson-Cadwell seems like a perfect creative partner for Mignola; his art adds to the deadpan humor of both the stories and dialogue. His style has a little bit of the silliness of Richard Sala’s work but it really is altogether its own thing, and it turns what would otherwise be horrifying violence into giggle-inducing moments. It’s worth checking out for the sketches at the end of the book alone.

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One Of Those Days by Willow Payne

Willow wrote and drew “One Of Those Days,” a NSFW guest comic for Oh Joy Sex Toy about gender dysphoria. I highly recommend you read it when you’re away from your work computer. http://www.ohjoysextoy.com/one-of-those-days-willow-payne/

Make sure you check out the amazing comics Willow has been publishing at hauntedskull.com too. “Soiree” (the one with dinosaurs!) is one of my favorites.

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Graphic Novel Review: Other Ever After: New Queer Fairy Tales by Melanie Gillman

Other Ever After: New Queer Fairy Tales by Melanie Gillman. RH Graphic, 2022. 9780593303184.

Many stories in this collection of short works by Gillman started out as 24-hour comics, though they say they broke many of the rules McCloud set out for those. In the first, a young forest ranger confronts a girl eating the King’s magic flowers and then confronts the real beast from the forest. In “The Goose Girl,” a poor young woman refuses the Princess’ proposal because their marriage wouldn’t bring her happiness. (It all works out in the end in a way that’s unexpected and wonderful.) In fact all of these stories are great. The less I tell you about them the better.

Gillman’s beautiful colored pencils add to the sense of innocence and wonder in all of these tales, and make them feel timeless and true.

If you’re looking for something else to give a kid who loved Chad Sell’s Cardboard Kingdom series, this is it. It’s also perfect if you’re just looking for a good book of stories to read together, no matter how old you are.

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Graphic Novel Review: After Lambana: Myth and Magic in Manila

After Lambana: Myth and Magic in Manila: A Graphic Novel by Eliza Victoria and Mervin Malonzo. Tuttle, 2022. 9780804855259.

In Manila, magical, mythical beings live alongside humans, though magic is prohibited. Deadly, spontaneous diseases plague the city. Conrad, a human, has a flower growing in his heart, and soon it’s going to burst forth and kill him. Ignacio is trying to help. (Ignacio is not quite human, maybe.) When they go past the last stop on the train, Conrad doesn’t notice that Igacio’s eyes glow. The journey takes them into the Filipino version of faerie, into a magical place even more full of spirits where maybe Conrad can find the help he needs.

I really enjoyed this book, and in particular the way it doesn’t over-explain. Malonzo’s art is not inked, and its bold colors work with the lack of dark black lines to make everything feel a bit blurry, like the line between fantasy and reality in the book. It left me wanting to know more about sirenas and white ghosts, lambana and diwata. I’ve got a few more of Tuttle’s recent graphic novels from the Filipino creators in my to-read pile, but next I’ll probably check out Alternative Alamat, an anthology full of myths and legends, to gain a bit of the background knowledge that I’m missing.

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Graphic Novel Review: Heartstopper Volume 1 by Alice Oseman

Heartstopper Volume 1 by Alice Oseman. Scholastic Graphix, 2020. 9781338617436.

So many people told me how much they love this series that I’ve been avoiding it for years. It felt like my expectations were just too high. How could it meet them? But I finally picked it up and it exceeded everything I’d heard. If you’re avoiding it or have only see the Netflix adaptation, pick up a copy. The art looks way more simple than it is, and the pacing of the story, the beginning of what I assume is an epic YA romance, is just perfect.

It opens with Charlie meeting Ben for a secret kiss in the school library, just after the New Year. But then he meets Nicholas, a boy in Year 11 (a year ahead of Charlie) and wow, it feels like love at first sight. Charlie seems to be the only out gay kid at school, and Nick is on the rugby team — they seem different but become friends. Charlie clearly wants more than friendship but thinks Nick is probably straight anyway. (At least his feelings for Nick push Charlie to stop seeing Ben, who is still in the closet and doesn’t want anyone to know they’ve been seeing each other.) The whole will they or won’t they, is he or isn’t he of Charlie and Nick goes on for a while; Oseman does make Nick’s feelings for Charlie fairly clear, but not knowing how he’s going to deal with them really kept me on edge.

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Graphic Novel Review: Flung Out Of Space: Inspired By The Indecent Adventures of Patricia Highsmith by Grace Ellis and Hannah Templer

Flung Out Of Space: Inspired By The Indecent Adventures of Patricia Highsmith by Grace Ellis and Hannah Templer. Abrams ComicArts, 2022. 9781419744334. 208pp.

I only know Highsmith from her books, and I’ve only read a few of her more popular novels. So it was a little strange to read the author’s note at the front of this fictionalized graphic biography, in which Ellis notes “…Highsmith was an appalling person.” Apparently Highsmith was, like her most famous characters, a charismatic sociopath. I wasn’t sure I’d finish the book. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

Templar’s black and white and orange art is beautiful, and the pace of the book is masterful. I’m sure many will be drawn to the depiction of Highsmith’s life as a lesbian in the early 20th Century US, which was informative and entertaining and wow am I glad things have changed. (She even meets a lover in a group therapy session for women with her “problem.” Ha.) But my favorite thing about the book is that Highsmith wrote comic books during the Golden Age, which I hadn’t known before. Stan Lee makes a notable appearance. (I really hope that bit of the book is absolutely true.) And throughout Highsmith is determined to make it as a writer — she sees herself as a writer of good novels with criminal elements, not a writer of crime novels. Her attitude is often appalling, sure, but I have to say I didn’t walk away hating her, and I do highly recommend this graphic novel.

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Graphic Novel Review: The High Desert: Black. Punk. Nowhere. A Memoir by James Spooner

The High Desert: Black. Punk. Nowhere. A Memoir by James Spooner. HarperCollins, 2022. 9780358659112. 368pp.

Spooner’s memoir is about the year he and his mother moved back to Apple Valley, California, when he attended high school and discovered punk music. There’s a lot of overt, small town racism aimed at Spooner, plus a few pure assholes around. But he’s also able to reconnect with old friends, fan the flames of an intense crush, and to start to hang out with the only black punk kid in town, a guy who seems to be entirely himself. Spooner’s difficulties with his white mom (a teacher) and his distant black father (a PhD and a bodybuilder) feel real and fair. The book itself feels more honest than other high school coming of age memoirs that I’ve read, and it has a perfect ending. Minor spoiler: the whole year gives Spooner a community and sets him on his way to embracing punk’s DIY ethos This would be reason enough to have the book in any YA graphic novel collection, but it’s also an excellent read.

Spooner is known for his documentary film Afro-Punk and for co-creating Brooklyn’s Afropunk Festival. http://afropunk.com/


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