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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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Graphic Novel Review: Phenomena Book One: The Golden City Of Eyes by Brian Michael Bendis and André Lima Araújo

Phenomena Book One: The Golden City Of Eyes by Brian Michael Bendis and André Lima Araújo. Abrams ComicArts, 2022. 9781419761690.

Something happened, and now our world is a place filled with strange creatures large and small, plus anthropomorphic animals and alien beings as well as humans. It feels like technology doesn’t work anymore, like it’s been replaced by living (possibly magical?) vehicles that fly, a place for swords and armor and such, but that’s all not quite true and the truth of the world feels both elusive and stranger. (If that sounds like an homage to the work of French artist Moebius, it is, which Araújo makes obvious at times though he also more than makes this book a unique and beautiful thing all its own.) Oh and stories are a form of currency in the book, which is a lot of fun.

After Boldon (a boy) sees the Cyper warrior Spike fight for a meal, Spike’s blade is stolen by a thief, Mathilde, who escapes on a jetpack. Boldon tries to help Spike, and the pair end up setting off after blade together, toward The Golden City of Eyes, despite the fact that Spike absolutely hates Boldon’s voice. Along they way they run afoul of an otherwordly, villainous posse whose members are also after Matilde, and there’s a more powerful enemy or two later in the book as well.

The violence is fairly cartoony, the plot is lighthearted, and characters’ banter feels genuine. If you don’t know Bendis’s work you should check this out, it may make you love comics again — or look for his Ultimate Spider-Man or Powers, they’re also great places to start. Araújo has worked on comics for Marvel, DC, and others, and I enjoyed the series he created with Rick Remender, A Righteous Thirst for Vengeance. His art is spectacular, and never more so than when he’s working in black and white like in Phenomena. This graphic novel will particularly appeal to anyone who loves Last Man or Bone, or who has gotten a little old for Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet.

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Graphic Novel Review: Slash Them All by Antoine Maillard

Slash Them All by Antoine Maillard. Fantagraphics, 2022. 9781683966579.

Two high school friends are on their way to a party when a man kills them with a baseball bat. That same night Dan, another student, dreams of stabbing someone and burying her in the woods. The next day school is closed, but Dan would rather hang out at his house and play video games anyway. His friend Pola heads to the shitty, sketchy beach nearby, and witnesses two murders there, which makes her withdraw and question everything. Dan’s mom thinks Pola is bad news and wants him to avoid her. Pola has a strange encounter with the killer, and Dan seems to be rapidly heading to a bad place (and maybe becoming a serial killer too). It all leads to a dark, violent scene at a party that I’m still trying to figure out.

Maillard’s art is black and white and looks as if it was drawn in pencil — it really works with the story, and looks particularly great because of his choice not to use panel borders. Overall the illustration style makes the book seem realistic and straightforward, which is why the more unreal moments seem shocking.

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