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My Friend Tim Allen’s Stories

I met my friend Tim over 30 years ago in a writing class I took to find folks interested in writing the same kind of things I wanted to write — science fiction and fantasy and horror. Genre stuff. (My university looked down on that sort of thing.)

That group was filled with extraordinary writers and amazing stories, and Tim wrote many of the best. (He’s also always supported my work — he gave Bill and I detailed feedback on early Unshelved strips, and he even performed my much-much-too-long wedding ceremony.) Over the years I’ve begged and badgered Tim to follow my lead and just put his stories up somewhere for folks to enjoy. He would not listen…until now.

Tim has a website! https://timallenstories.net/ (There’s a convenient link beneath our comic strips if you misplace that.)

Pretty please, go read some of his work before he changes his mind and locks it in his vault again.

-Gene

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Graphic Novel Review: Gay Giant by Gabriel Ebensperger

Gay Giant by Gabriel Ebensperger. Translated by Kelley D. Salas with Mercedes Guhl. Street Noise, 2022. 9781951491161. 256pp.

Ebensperger’s comics are big and bright and his font of choice and drawings make everything feel positive, even when he’s working through some stuff. It’s probably got something to do with the art being overwhelmingly, wonderfully pink.

As a little boy Ebensperger played with girls and girls toys, and people often thought he was a girl. He didn’t feel that he fit in. He was a bit of a fashion trendsetter. He had a crush on both Chris Pine and Ferris Bueller at different times, and loved Jem and the Holograms. For a long time h kinda avoided admitting, even to himself, that he was gay. I don’t remember a big coming out scene with his parents or family, but there’s a hilarious description of the first time he masturbated, and a very touching first kiss. My favorite moments: the pages showing that he’s not really a giant compared to his brothers and others (including Totoro), and, when he’s a little kid, when he puts on his mom’s red shoes and asks his dad to pretend it’s his wedding. The whole thing has a bit of a science fiction ending that I didn’t see coming (and that I don’t think mentioning in this way will ruin for you).

 

 

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Graphic Novel Review: Leviathan (Adventuregame Comics) by Jason Shiga

Leviathan (Adventuregame Comics) by Jason Shiga. Amulet Books, 2022. 9781419757792. 144pp.

Every new book from Shiga (Meanwhile, Book Hunter, Demon) is a reason to celebrate, plus this is the start of a new series, so woo hoo!

It’s a pick-a-path type book that reminds me of old console RPG video games and which shares how-it-works DNA with Shiga’s Meanwhile (though there are no tabbed pages here, at least not in my advance review copy). There’s a page at the beginning explaining how the book works.

You start by ordering either mead or poppy milk and then show some ID, which involves choosing, among other things, your name, your eye color, and character class. And then you’re off trying find a job which leads to tracking down the Starlight Wand that controls the Leviathan, which either protects the Cobalt Isles or is a monster (you’ll find out which). There are clues to remember, loops you’ll probably get stuck in for a while, and a visit to the town library, which was both fun and, if I remember correctly, unavoidable.

Truly fun for all-ages unless the word “mead” is too much for you or your library.

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Picture Book Reviews!

Bathe The Cat by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by David Roberts. Chronicle, 2021. 9781452142708.

Grandma is coming for a visit, and one of the dads urges his family to clean. He makes a list of tasks on the fridge. The cat doesn’t like the last one, so he keeps rearranging the words. Hilarious book with really fun drawings.

 

 

 

 

 

Stella, Star Explorer by Kelly Leigh Miller. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2022. 9781534497672.

Stella isn’t sure why anyone would stay on Earth when they could live in space. So she and her dog Luna take off. They soon meet an Alien, Io, and his pet, Mimas, who are very lost (and, spoiler alert, who eventually lead her to appreciate the Earth). Love the combination of comics and the picture book format here, and Miller’s drawings are top notch.

 

 

 

A Home Under the Stars by Andy Chou Musser. Sasquatch Books, 2021. 9781632173270.

Toby didn’t want to move to the city. He can’t even see stars in the sky there. He can’t sleep. But then the lost lion in his closet needs to find the North Star, and Toby helps him (and a bunch of other animals lost in the city). I love the art in this book so much! It’s got great energy.

 

 

 

 

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Graphic Novel Review: New Books in Children’s Graphic Novel Series

Cranky Chicken: Party Animals by Katherine Battersby. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2022. 9781534470217. 104pp.

Three more short stories about Cranky and her friend Speedy (a worm). The first involves getting over being hangry, in which we find out Cranky is vegetarian and does not eat worms. The second involves a surprise party that’s not a surprise (surprises make Cranky cranky). The third involves a trip to the beach which, of course, Cranky is not looking forward to. All ends well because Speedy is an awesome friend. Beautifully drawn and hilarious.

 

 

Barb and the Ghost Blade (Barb the Last Berserker Book 2) by Dan & Jason. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2022. 9781534485747. 250pp.

Barb has the Shadow Blade (which she acquired in Book 1) and its power makes her awesome. She’s taking the new monster zerks she’s recruited, including her yeti friend Porkchop, to Maug Horn to try to figure out how to defeat Witch Head. Along the way they encounter bandits and Barb tells the story of how she became a berzerker in the the first place. That’s how we learn about the Ghost Blade, which makes Berserkers unbeatable. Of course Barb will need to figure out how to use the Ghost Blade to face her former teammates who have been turned evil and now serve Witch Head. (The fantasy violence in this book is more silly than anything, and most of the monsters are completely kid-friendly.)

Nugget and Hot Dog: S’More Than Meets The Eye by Jason Tharp (Ready to Read Graphics Level 2). Simon Spotlight, 2022. 9781665913294. 64pp.

Friends Nugget and Hot Dog go to camp, where they continue to use K.E.T.C.H.U.P. to help others (See the attached art sample.) Dijon is still evil, but when he and Crouton try to scare everyone at the campfire, their plan goes awry. This is the third book in a fun graphic novel series for early readers.

 

 

 

 

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Graphic Novel Review: Call Me Nathan by Catherine Castro & Quentin Zuttion

Call Me Nathan by Catherine Castro & Quentin Zuttion. Translated by Evan McGorray. SelfMadeHero, 2022. 9781914224010.

When Nathan was a girl he hated dresses. He preferred playing sports with boys, and felt disgusted with his body when he hit puberty. He liked borrowing his brother’s clothes and wanted to cut his hair. Luckily he had a girlfriend, Faustine, who saw right through him and told him he wasn’t a lesbian, but that he was really a guy. She is the first person he asks to call him Nathan, but he’s still a bit depressed and uncertain about who he is. He starts cutting himself. And then he finally tells his parents that he’s a boy and starts to transition. (This all sounds heavy, but Nathan has friends throughout (though there are idiots around, too). And his story has moments of humor — my favorite is when he says his counselor looks like the old man from Dragonball Z.)

After meeting a trans teenage, Lucas, at a party, Castro (a reporter) asked him and his parents if she could tell the story of his journey to become himself. This gave birth to Nathan’s story, a slightly fictionalized version of the truth, that she wrote as a graphic novel with artist Zuttion. It reads like a well-edited, pointed graphic memoir (though I do wonder a bit about which parts she made up, which she mentions but doesn’t specify in the introduction). The art and colors are wonderful, the panels are borderless, and the book left me feeling hopeful.

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Graphic Novel Review: Kaiju No. 8 Volume 1 story and art by Naoya Matsumoto

Kaiju No. 8 Volume 1 story and art by Naoya Matsumoto. Translation by David Evelyn. Viz, 2021. 9781974725984. Publisher’s Rating: T / Teen.

Members of the Third Division kill a giant kaiju attacking Yokohama. Their leader, Mina Ashiro (27), is celebrated by the media. Kafka Hibino (32) is part of a crew that has the thankless task that follows a kaiju kill: cleaning up the giant corpse. (In fact in this particular instance Kafka has the most thankless assignment of all, taking care of the intestines.) Once upon a time, after their homes were destroyed, Kafka and Mina vowed to join the Japan Defense Force and fight kaiju together. Kafka couldn’t pass the entrance exams. But now the maximum age for new recruits has been raised, and he decides to make one more attempt. The problem: he’s keeps transforming into a kaiju himself, and everyone is trying to hunt that monster down. Will he be able to use his new monstrous strength to join the Defense Force? Or will they find out what he is and put an end to him?

Giant monster fights, scatological humor, and pitch-perfect art that works for both make this one of the most entertaining manga I’ve read in a while. I’ve already put volumes 2 and 3 on hold at my local library.

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Graphic Novel Review: Decorum by Jonathan Hickman and Mike Huddleston

Decorum by Jonathan Hickman (words) and Mike Huddleston (art). Image, 2022. 9781534318236. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

The Church of the Singularity, led by AIs with an AI God at its center, is after an egg. The Mothers protect that egg, and hope it will hatch into a messiah. Neha is a courier working to pay for her family’s cryopods until she can afford the treatment for the plague they’re infected with. After making a special delivery to a well-mannered assassin, Imogen Smith-Morley, at what becomes a very violent moment, Neha is offered a place at a special school for contract killers. There she seems outclassed by the violent, murderous alien students, and seems to lack what it takes to kill for money. But when a huge bounty is offered for delivering the egg (or for killing what’s inside it, if it’s already hatched), the reward may be enough to make her do whatever it takes.

Hickman’s plot is intricate and moves the story right along; when it’s confusing it’s confusing in service to the storytelling, to get you to wonder WTF is happening and to get you to move deeper into the book. And it has those wonderful Hickmanesque touches, the white space, the well designed explainy pages and bits of iconography that you expect. But you’ll leave understanding that Huddleston is the shit, arguably the best artist working in comics. He uses a range of art and coloring styles, sometimes several on the same page, to great effect. Flipping through this book will amaze you. Reading it will make you stop several times in wonder. If it doesn’t, seek help.

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Graphic Novel Review: Flamer by Mike Curato

Flamer by Mike Curato. Henry Holt and Company, 2020. 9781250756145.

Fourteen-year-old Aiden Navarro is at camp with his Boy Scout troop. He’s looking forward to starting a new public high school after years of being teased at Catholic school. Right now he’s enjoying the silence of the woods when he can (it’s a break from his loud, abusive father), the structure of camp life, and spending time with his friend and tent-mate Elias. It quickly becomes clear (if not to Aiden) that he has more-than-friend feelings for Elias. The homophobic jokes the others boys make don’t seem to bother him, but at some point he becomes the target of quite a bit of bullying. As camp life continues, Aiden worries that the truth about what’s going on inside him will come out, though it seems inevitable; he feels like everyone will reject him, including his friend Violet (they exchange letters every week), and (minor spoiler) that life isn’t worth living after he feels like everyone knows.

I love the art in this book, which is simple and mostly black and white but, like the cover, has flames on some pages in full color. This is used to great effect throughout the book — my favorite moment is when Aiden is reading some X-men comics (he wishes he was Jean Grey and loves the Phoenix Saga storyline). It’s probably worth noting, if you’re thinking of picking this graphic novel up, that the end won’t leave you bummed out. I put it up there with the great camp graphic novels, all of which I enjoyed more than outdoor camp itself: the Lumberjanes series, Vera Brosgol’s Be Prepared, and Mike Dawson’s Troop 142.

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Graphic Novel Review: My Last Summer With Cass by Mark Crilley

My Last Summer With Cass by Mark Crilley. Little, Brown, and Company, 2021. 9780759555464.

Megan and Cass got to know each other during the summers when their families vacationed in Topinabee, Michigan. As kids they were inseparable. And, in a key incident, they once created a work of art together on a cabin’s wall. The place’s owner, a former kindergarten teacher, was more impressed than irritated, and made the girls’ parents to promise to enroll both of them in art classes. They continue to collaborate on art over the years even as Cass’s family falls apart.

Most of the book takes place the summer before Megan’s senior year of high school, when she goes to New York for a few weeks to stay with Cass and her mom in Brooklyn. The neighborhood is a world apart from where Megan lives in Illinois, and she has a bread from her father talking down to her about her artistic ambitions. (He wants Megan to take over the family hardware store, and thinks art is something she can do in her spare time.) Megan has a great time full of art and deep conversations, she and Cass collaborate some more, and then they’re even going to put a piece they worked on together in a show. But when it becomes clear Megan’s parents might see it in the gallery, Megan panics.

My daughter and I loved reading Crilley’s Akiko books together years ago; this story is much more mature but is a compelling read she’d love now. I was really impressed with the way Crilley uses non-white backgrounds throughout the book, which allows him to use white for emphasis and to draw my eye to different details; basically he continues to get better and better at the craft of comics, and everything he’s doing continues to wow me.

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