Author: Gene Ambaum

Graphic Novel Review: Buzzing by Samuel Sattin, illustrated by Rye Hickman

Buzzing by Samuel Sattin, illustrated by Rye Hickman. Little, Brown Ink, 2023. 9780316628419. 218pp. including an author’s not on his own OCD and a look at The Quest for Greenmoon campaign notes and the player’s character sheets. Isaac has OCD, and his worst impulses and bad thoughts about himself buzz around his head, unseen by everyone else, whispering to him and distracting him. After class one day Micah introduces herself and her friend Jaime to him. They’re both wowed by Isaac’s sketch of a dragon (and so is Jaime’s couldn’t-be-more-different twin, Carmen), and they invite him to play Swamps & Sorcery with them. Carmen tells him to prepare to venture to the Tower of Greenmoon. Isaac is excited, and clearly a little attracted to Micah; the feeling seems to be mutual. But his older sister Miriam thinks their mom might have issues with role-playing games, which she thinks lead to compulsions. And she does worry about that and everything else […]

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Graphic Novel Review: Infinity Particle by Wendy Xu

Infinity Particle by Wendy Xu. Quill Tree Books, 2023. 9780062955760. 267pp. Clementine Change just arrived on Mars, where everyone seems to have sentient, robotic personal assistants like she does. (Hers is named SENA, and it looks like a long-eared Pokemon. In fact most robots look like small, friendly creatures, including the owls at the library). Clementine is on Mars to work for one of her heroes, Dr. Lin, to print things for her in her workshop. Dr. Lin is not a nice person, but her assistant, Kye, is; he’s an AI robot modeled after a hero from a Chinese drama. There’s a lot that’s unusual about him — his level of isolation, plus the fact that Dr. Lin uses him as a data processor and to cook her meals. After Clementine shares some images of Earth with him, Kye starts to glitch. As she tries to help, they find the secrets at the heart of Kye, and Clementine reveals things […]

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Graphic Novel Review: Offshore Lightning by Saito Nazuna

Offshore Lightning by Saito Nazuna. Translated by Alexa Frank. Essay by Mitsuhiro Asakawa. Drawn & Quarterly, 2023. 9781770465053. Drawn & Quarterly’s English publications of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work introduced me to gegika. This book is right up there with Tatsumi’s Abandon the Old in Tokyo for me. I love Saito’s illustration and storytelling style, and particularly the way she writes and draws older folks in her work. Manga artists and people at the end of their lives appear in several of the stories in a way that seems to build to the last story, “House of Solitary Death”, which, according to the essay at the end of the book, Nazuna is still creating new episodes of. This is a compelling, realistic collection of short manga that will defy most people’s expectations of manga. I believe it belongs in all adult public library collections.

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Graphic Novel Review: Hockey Girl Loves Drama Boy by Faith Erin Hicks

Hockey Girl Loves Drama Boy by Faith Erin Hicks. First Second, 2023. 9781250838728. 287pp plus some extras in the back. Alix is an awesome hockey player, but she’s in trouble for punching out her team captain (who, frankly, deserved it). One day at high school she sees Ezra, a theater dude, calmly dealing with a bully hassling him for being gay. Alix asks him to teach her, and she becomes his apprentice. They hang out. After a while she finds out what we readers have known for a while — that Ezra is actually bi — and they start dating. This is a big deal for Alix, who has never even kissed anyone, and their getting together is wonderfully awkward. Both have a hard time with their mothers, but for different reasons (their fathers are both out of the picture), and Ezra’s best friend isn’t really in favor of his new relationship (for a good reason). It’s a wonderfully written […]

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Coffee Table Review: House Cat: Inspirational Interiors & The Elegant Felines Who Call Them Home

House Cat: Inspirational Interiors & The Elegant Felines Who Call Them Home by Paul Barbera with Rafael Waack. Thames & Hudson, 2024. 9781760764036. 240pp. This is a follow-up to Barbera’s Where They Purr features US cats (and interiors). In his introduction he calls out Lady Penelope as one of his favorite subjects — there’s a reproduction of Sputnik in the living room of her place, a penthouse in New York City’s financial district that also includes an adult-sized slide, a lamp that looks like a small horse, and the coolest place for a cat to take a nap I’ve ever seen. My favorite space is the one in Chelsea, New York, that’s filled with more books and cats (three) than my wife would ever allow. The shelves are amazing, but so are the stacks of books that seem to function as furniture. Amen. Includes a visual table of contents featuring cats, plus a number of photos of each interior/cat habitat, […]

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Graphic Novel Review: The First Cat In Space Ate Pizza by Mac Barnet and Shawn Harris

The First Cat In Space Ate Pizza by Mac Barnet and Shawn Harris. Katerine Tegen Books, 2022. 9780063084094. 316pp. There’s trouble with the moon — rats from another galaxy are eating it. It’s time to activate Project 47, a very special cat who is humanity’s last hope. This is a beautifully drawn adventure full of unexpected encounters. It seems like it’s going to be mad science, but then it becomes a total fantasy complete with moon royalty, monsters, and a charming, toe-clipping robot encountered as our hero travels from the Land of Cheerfulness to the dark side of the moon, where the rats have built their fortress. Buy it for a kid you really like, but read it before you give it to them.  

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Picture Books!

One Giant Leap by Thao Lam. Owlkids, 2024. 9781771475990. A space adventure inspired by that feeling you might remember from when you were a kid when you were so dressed up for winter you felt like an astronaut. Lam’s paper illustrations always astound me, and this book reminded me of long-forgotten snowstorms.   Slug in Love by Rachel Bright, illustrated by Nadia Shireen. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 9781665900461. Doug is a friendly slug who needs a hug, but no one is interested. Then he meets a snail named Gail. (Spoiler: things don’t work out, then they do.) I’ve had a bad week, and this was exactly what I needed to read this morning.   You Broke It! by Liana Finck. Rise x Penguin Workshop, 2024. 9780593660409. This is a fun collection of what are essentially one-panel comics featuring problematic parents yelling at their kids. From her bio at the back of the dust jacket: “[Finck] is […]

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Graphic Novel Review: Duel written by Jessixa Bagley, illustrated by Aaron Bagley

Duel written by Jessixa Bagley, illustrated by Aaron Bagley. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2023. 9781534496545. 316pp. including an author’s note by Jessixa, photos of her family and her fencing, and a look at the art process Aaron used to create the book. It’s Lucy’s first day at Butler Middle School, and she’s worried about a lot of things but none more than running into her sister Gigi, an eighth grader and the top fencer on the school’s team. In the cafeteria their paths cross, Gigi is mean and trips Lucy, and so Lucy pulls out her foil and challenges Gigi to a duel. They both end up in the principal’s office. Their mother is called in. And soon the entire school is buzzing, waiting to see the sisters have their bout. (Their father taught them both to fence, and they haven’t had a good relationship since he died a few years ago. Their mother is struggling and […]

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Graphic Novel Review: Blood of the Virgin by Sammy Harkham

Blood of the Virgin by Sammy Harkham. Pantheon, 2023. 9780593316696. 296pp. Seymour, a film editor, sells a script for what feels like a 70s grindhouse-type movie and then gets a chance to direct it. The production is out of control and there are budgetary problems. Seymour’s marriage is also in trouble. But enough about that, the plot details seem unimportant. What I think you need to know is that the story is adult, the is a true novel among graphic novels, and every element feels perfect: the pacing, the illustrations, the layouts, the lettering. Several comics folks told me to check out Harkham’s work, and I’ve been reading bits and pieces of this book in Crickets and Kramer’s Ergot for more than a decade; they were enjoyable, but it was more than worth the wait to read it in a single volume.

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Graphic Novel Review: Juliette or, the Ghosts Return in the Spring by Camille Jourdy

Juliette or, the Ghosts Return in the Spring by Camille Jourdy. Translated by Aleshia Jensen. Drawn & Quarterly, 2023. 9781770466647. Juliette returns home for a not-quite vacation, to deal with her anxiety. It’s unclear why she thinks spending time with her family might help. Her sister Marylou is struggling to balance her two kids, life with her husband, and an ongoing affair. (She frequently meets the young man she’s sleeping with in the greenhouse in her backyard. He owns a lot of animal costumes.) Their aging parents annoy them both in different ways. Juliette meets Polux, who seems interested in more than friendship, and who adopts a duckling to impress her. The book is about the interaction of all of these characters, and it all feels organic, personal, and compelling. Jourdy’s soft colors and panel-less borders make everyone in the book seem more human and their emotions more subtle. Juliette makes me think of Michel Rabagliati’s Paul books because they’re […]

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