Author: Gene Ambaum

Book Review: The Ultimate Droodles Compendium by Roger Price

The Ultimate Droodles Compendium by Roger Price. Tallfellow Press, 2019. 9781931290692. 280pp. Includes a forward by Leonard Maltin, an essay by Price from an earlier book, footnotes to make some of the more obscure (dated) references in the drawings comprehensible, sketches/notes from Prices’s secret files, a primer on how to make your own Droodles + a short biography of Price. These simple, single panel gag comics by comedian Roger Price were popular in the ’50s and ’60s, and were republished earlier this year as a bit of dad humor just in time for Father’s Day. You may not be able to trust me on this review — I am, after all, a dad. Each Droodle is a simple black and white drawing that can only be interpreted in the context of its caption (or its alternate caption, and/or its commentary). If you’ve seen Frank Zappa’s 1982 album Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch, you’ve seen a Droodle. […]

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Graphic Novel Review: When I Arrived At The Castle by Emily Carroll

When I Arrived At The Castle by Emily Carroll. Koyama, 2019. 9781927668689. 72pp, black and white and red. A cat-like young woman arrives at a castle on a stormy night. Soaked, she’s invited by her beautiful hostess, and then insulted for being meek. The Countess is repulsive, the place smells of earth, and soon after a bath the young woman gets a look at the horror inside her host. It does not deter the young woman from her mission to kill the Countess. This is an erotic horror tale drawn in black, white and red. Like all of Carroll’s work, it’s a masterclass in comics; everything from the lettering to the layouts to the drawings themselves is perfect.

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Guest Book Review: Waiter Rant

Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip- Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by The Waiter (Steve Dublanica). (He was anonymous initially, but later editions revealed his name at the end of the book, and now it’s on the cover.) 9780061256684. Harper Collins, 2008. 302pp. The Waiter who wrote this book didn’t plan to wait tables. The pace, the idea of taking home cash every night, and the lack of other job prospects in a slow economy kept him at The Bistro. The whole time he bemoaned his job — all he really wanted was to spend more time on this book. The chapter “Heaven and Hell” is one that anyone who works with the public will be able to understand, and my favorite. The Waiter recounts the time he had a shitty week — he was tired and cranky from working all the time and the tips were barely covering his bills. He was once again thinking about throwing in his apron […]

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Graphic Novel Review: Stanislaw Lem’s The Seventh Voyage: A Graphic Novel by Jon Muth

Stanislaw Lem’s The Seventh Voyage: A Graphic Novel by Jon Muth. Scholastic Graphix, 2019. 9780545004626. 80pp. Ijon Tichy is cruising in the vicinity of Betelgeuse, when his ship is hit by a small meteoroid. He suits up and goes outside to make repairs, but it’s impossible to do alone. His ship flies on, straight ahead, its velocity increasing. After a failed meal that he turns into a satellite around his ship, Tichy goes to bed, and is awoken by a version of himself from the future who wants to help with the repairs. He refuses to believe his future self was real, but he’s wrong — it’s the beginning of an absurd and comical time travel adventure. Jon Muth’s watercolors make this graphic adaptation of one of Lem’s Ijon Tichy stories even more lighthearted than it already is — when Tichy’s ship is struck in the first pages, he’s baking. And later the Tichy’s from different days and ties crowd […]

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Graphic Novel Review: This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews. First Second, 2019. 9781626720534. 330pp. On the night of the Equinox Festival, Ben and four friends make a pact to follow the lanterns down the river. Do they really become stars? They promise to ride their bikes for as long as it takes to find out. But then Nathaniel starts following them (his dad and Ben’s dad are best friends). One by one, Ben’s friends drop out and head for home until only he and Nathaniel are left. (Nathaniel is a bit of an outsider, and Ben’s friends are promise-breaking jerks, so this is clearly for the best.) They meet a bear on his way to catch fish, who thinks the lanterns are fish, and who wishes he could join them as they swim among the stars. They separate at a towering cliff the boys cannot climb. The boys do figure out a way forward, and of course they meet the bear again, […]

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Graphic Novel Review: Sunny Rolls the Dice

Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm. Scholastic Graphix, 2019. 9781338233155. 224pp. This is the third of the semi-autobiographical Sunny graphic novels from the siblings Holm, and it’s by far my favorite. 1977, Pennsylvania. Sunny is becoming obsessed with teen culture, in particular with magazines that rate her on the groovy meter and from which, after taking a quiz, she knows she is “not groovy.” She also loves comics and Dungeons & Dragons, which she starts playing with friends. (Her human fighter’s name is Aleta the Brave.) At some point her desire to be groovy leads her to stop playing D&D which makes her unhappy (at least until she figures out that that was a bad move). I think older grade school aged kids will love this book, but since I grew up in the 70s, this is pure nostalgia for me: bugbears, gelatinous cubes, off-brand action figures, roller skating, and pining for my very own […]

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Graphic Novel Review: Queen of the Sea

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis. Walker Books (Candlewick), 2019. 9781536204988. 394pp. Young Margaret lives on a small island in the Silver Sea, in a convent that belongs to the Elysian Order. She’s not sure where she was born, why she came to the island, or who her parents are, but she’s reassured by the nuns that she was sent there to be safe. Envious of kids who have parents, she bonds with the only “children” on the island: the wooden statue of the Sorrowful Child, and Eleanor, who is in a painting with her father, King Edmund. Margaret’s prayers are answered when the supply ship brings William and his overprotective mother, Lady Cameron. They’ve been exiled to the island after William’s father rebelled against the king. Margaret and William become close, and, years later, when he finally decides to leave the island, he’s the one that gets her to see that everyone there, including her, is a prisoner […]

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Graphic Novel Review: Savage Sword of Conan: The Cult of Koga Thun (Black & White Edition)

Savage Sword of Conan: The Cult of Koga Thun (Black & White Edition) by Gerry Dugan (writer), Ron Garney (artist), Travis Lanham (letterer), Alex Ross (cover artist). Marvel, 2019. 9781302919993. 128pp. Reprints Savage Sword of Conan #1- 5. Publisher’s Rating: Parental Advisory. This isn’t one of those high priced hardcovers where you can see the raw art with all of the blue line sketches underneath. This a book that was carefully produced, with all of the inked blacks that were in the comics, with some of the lines and shading turned to shades of grey for effect. It’s glorious, as you can see from the cover. I don’t know why you’d want to read Conan any other way, but there’s a regular (color) edition available too. It’s worth noting the writing is good, as so much of what’s been produced over the years by Conan licensees has been average. The story opens with Conan clinging to wreckage in the open […]

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Graphic Novel Review: Chlorine Gardens

Chlorine Gardens by Keiler Roberts. Koyama 2018. 9781927668580. 128pp. An autobiographical graphic novel about parenting, marriage, creativity, and aging, or at least those were the parts that spoke to me. I’m hard pressed to describe how much I loved this book or to explain how funny the deadpan moments were, right up through the end of the thank you’s at the end of the book (don’t skip ahead). Roberts made me both laugh and cry when she was sitting with her family, waiting for her grandpa to die. My favorite parts: Roberts talking shit about her current dog (she liked her previous dog better), the pages that are a meditation on different folks’ favorite things, her parents, and the moment when she tries to explain what I assume is the Korean dessert 팥빙수 to a friend.

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Picture Book Reviews

(click on any of the images to see a larger version) My Footprints written by Bao Phi, illustrated by Basia Tran. Capstone, 2019. 9781684460007. 32pp. After being made fun of at school, Thuy walks through a snowy landscape making the footprints of different animals. At home, her moms help her think of strong animals, including the phoenix and the Sarabha, because Thuy wishes she were strong and scary. The letter from the publisher that came with my review copy says the illustrations were done in graphite and digital color. They look hand drawn, and are so appealing that I had to pick this one up. My Tiny Pet by Jessie Hartland. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2019. 9781524737535. A family with an enormous number of pets downsizes to a tiny house in the woods. When the girl wants a tiny pet, her parents say no at first. But when she learns something in science, about a tiny animal smaller than an ant […]

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