Graphic Novel Review: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. First Second, 2019. 9781626722590. 304 black and white and pink pages.

Frederica “Freddy” Riley is 16, lives in Berkeley, and is in love with Laura Dean, who doesn’t treat her very well. As in, Laura Dean keeps cheating on Freddy and then dumping her and then getting back together. It’s a bit of a disaster. Luckily Freddy has supportive friends, but it’s clear she’s alienating them, too — they’re tired of helping her pick up the pieces, and of dropping them whenever LD offers her a little attention. And it’s not like Freddy doesn’t realize there’s a problem — she’s writing to an advice columnist for help — but she doesn’t seem able to help herself.

I loved everything about this book, from the way the characters’ sexual orientations were mostly a non-issue to the artful use of pinkness throughout. This is an entertaining, complicated story of friendship and romance told in words and pictures that work flawlessly together. I liked it so much I bought a copy for my daughter for her birthday, and gave it to her right after prom.

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Graphic Novel Review: Bad Gateway

Bad Gateway by Simon Hanselmann. Fantagraphic, 2019. 9781683962076. 176pp including a number of beautiful paintings of Meg that capture Hanselmann’s love for her, and an uncolored, two-page summary to catch you up on the story of Meg (a green witch), Mogg (her boyfriend, a cat), and Owl (their “friend” and now former roommate).

The rent is due, and without Owl around Meg and Mogg and Werewolf Jones are in trouble because they’ve spent all their money to get high. Mogg gets a job at a cat cafe. Werewolf Jones pitches a plan that involves hiding in a fake arcade cabinet and getting a hand job. Meg heads for the welfare office where she puts on a spectacular “presentation” about why she needs benefits. All that is over by page 48, and if you haven’t laughed out loud by then you should probably close the book. I could fill this pitch with grim details, but it wouldn’t do the book justice. Did I mention drugs? There are lots of them. Everyone needs a bath and makes horrid decisions. It’s somehow funny as hell, and every volume leaves me rooting for Meg.

This is the fourth volume Fantagraphics has published since 2014, though there are lots of mini comics and smaller books. They’ve been translated around the world, and a recent exhibit at the Bellevue Arts Museum (across Lake Washington from Seattle) reminded me of how many minis my collection lacks, and that the world is full of lovely non-English editions, too. The exhibit was surreal for two other reasons: 1) there were recreations of scenes from the comics, including a diorama of life-sized characters watching Friends and Frasier on the living room couch; and 2) an older library patron who didn’t recognize me was a docent, and explained the books to me in detail. (I kept waiting for her to say, “The witch fucks the cat!” but that only happened in my mind, though she did tell me about the drugs and Werewolf Jones, and she seemed quite taken with a photo of Hanselmann as a kid.) I’m including photos from the exhibit, along with a few pages of art. I didn’t take any photos of the original art from this book, all of which were displayed on the walls. They were beautiful, but photos weren’t allowed, and it felt disrespectful to sneak one.


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Graphic Novel Review: Through a Life

Through A Life by Tom Haugomat. Nobrow, 2018. 9781910620496. 184pp.

Nobrow’s books are always beautiful, but this one wowed me. Each two-page spread is a moment from a year in the life of a red-haired dude named Rodney, starting when he’s in the womb (1955) (in Ketchikan, Alaska), to an incubator (1956), then a crib (1957). With little variation, the left page is Rodney, looking out of wherever he is, and on the right is what he sees (usually in a window or something window-like). I loved it from the moment I saw the Star Trek posters on his wall (in high school), when he watched Planet of the Apes on TV, and then saw Alien in a theater (like I did, even though I was much younger than him when that happened). There’s personal and newsworthy tragedy woven in as Rodney’s interest in space pushes him to study it, and then enter NASA’s astronaut program. The drawings are understated, which somehow makes the dramatic moments more stunning. All use the same color palette to great effect and none of the people pictured have a face.

It’s simply spectacular, the kind of graphic novel that will take everyone by surprise.


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Graphic Novel Review: The Iliad

The Iliad: A Graphic Novel by Gareth Hinds. Candlewick Press, 2019. 9780763681135. 272 pp. including author’s notes, a map showing where the armies gathered at Troy came from, a prologue, page-by-page notes, and a bibliography.

Hinds’ graphic novel adaptations of classics are always beautifully painted and worth reading. They remind me of things I’d forgotten (or, more often, they teach me the truth of what I saw in movies). Reading this I learned that The Iliad doesn’t include the entire siege of Troy, or even Achilles’ death. Instead it ends with Hector’s burial, after Hector’s father Priam begs Achilles to let him return his son’s body to Troy. All of this happens after Achilles not only kills Hector but drags his bloody body behind his chariot for a fair while, by leather straps threaded through Hector’s heels. And that is after the Achaeans gather around and stab Hector’s body, after a fight to the death. This book’s most entertaining sequences are gory, violent insanity. Achilles is pretty close to a complete bastard — he only enters the fight after his best friend is killed. Why? Because Agamemnon wanted to take Briseis from Achilles — a woman who Achilles kidnapped after killing her husband and brothers. (More creepy: she seems into him.) At the point the book starts the Greeks have been trying to sack Troy for ten years. They’re not only exhausted, they have to deal with gods interfering all the time, protecting one side or the other, including swooping down onto the battlefield to save whomever they’d like.

This is an crazy story with bloody scenes that would have, when I was in middle or high school, inspired me to reread certain classics one more time (and much more closely).

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Graphic Novel Review: Bone Parish Volume One

Bone Parish Volume One by Cullen Bunn (words), Jonas Scharf (illustrations), and Alex Guimaráes (colors). BOOM! Studios, 2019. 9781684153541. Contains #1 – #4 of the series.

This is the introductory volume in what promises to be an intense, psychedelic, brutal crime series. The ash is a new drug made from the remains of the dead. Whoever snorts it experiences events from the deceased’s life. While it’s fun to snort a rock star, the supply is pretty limited, and acquiring the ingredients is as illegal as distributing the product. At the center of it all is a family in New Orleans. Only they know how to make the drug, and they’re now fending off takeover offers, rivals, and crooked cops.

If you’ve never read any comics by Cullen Bunn, look up his work. He’s a great writer, and I’m a huge fan. The art in this one is stellar, too, especially when Guimaráes’ colors and Scharf’s drawings express the effects of the ash.

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Coffee Table Book Review: Off the Grid

Off the Grid: Houses for Escape by Dominic Bradbury. Thames & Hudson, 2019. 9780500021422. 271 pp. including an Off-Grid Guide to get you started thinking about things like planning, materials, energy/heat, light, waste, water, and landscaping; thumbnails of architectural plans; and an index.

The ultimate cabin book includes photos of (and words about) beautiful, small homes in scenic locales, with each small building focused on design, green living, and an appreciation of the natural world. I could live in any of these as long as it had more built in bookshelves. My favorites include:
the Watershed in Wren, Oregon. Rainwater from the roof pours into a trough in front of the door!
the 72H Cabin in Henriksholm, Sweden. The wall is a door is a wall.
the Outside House in Maui, Hawaii.  It has the coolest detached porch I’ve ever seen.
the Sky House in Oroville, Washington. I grew up in Seattle and I’ve never heard of it, but I now have a retirement plan.

Needless to say this is the perfect coffee table book. The photos alone take me out of body, and make me want to both travel and clean up my house.

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Graphic Novel Review: The Clandestinauts

The Clandestinauts by Tim Sievert. Uncivilized Books, 2018. 9781941250259. 224 pages.

Sievert’s epic homage to D&D adventures reminded me of several things: Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit (though it’s not as gory and has fewer penises), Joe Daly’s Dungeon Quest (though it’s not quite as ridiculous), Carlton Mellick III’s The Kobold Wizard’s Dildo of Enlightenment +2 (though it’s not quite as meta or purposely juvenile), and the over the top inventiveness of Adventure Time. All of that is an indirect way of saying I loved it; it’s violent, entertaining, and just plain fun to look at. I love the art so much I’d pay extra for an oversized edition if one was available.

Inside you’ll find: a slugman, automatons, wizards, warlocks, demons, mercenaries, a half hag, hell, cat people, piles of treasure, magic items, egg sacks, strange creatures, spells, and, of course, a quest. My favorite character is Ganglion the Grim, a bandaged warlock who uses his flesh to summon other worldly beings of great power that want to eat him.

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Illustrated Chapter Book Review: Mac B., Kid Spy: Mac Undercover

Mac B., Kid Spy: Mac Undercover by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Mike Lowery. Scholastic, 2018. 9781338143591. 150pp.

Fact: when author Mac Barnett was a kid, he worked as a spy. It all started with a call from the Queen of England, who needed his help — someone had stolen her crown jewels. So Mac packed his bags and took the next flight to London. The Queen even loaned him one of her Corgis for the duration of his mission.

This book is so delightfully silly I couldn’t put it down, and it was the perfect antidote to the grim, violent genre fiction I normally read. I first saw Lowery’s cartoony illustrations in the Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder series, and they continue to amaze me. No one has ever drawn a dog’s behind better.

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Manga Review: To Your Eternity Volume 1

To Your Eternity Volume 1 by Yoshitoki Oima. Translation: Steven LeCroy. Kodansha, 2017. 9781632365712. 196pp.

An orb that can take any form is cast to the earth. It lives for a while as a rock, and then as moss, and then, after a wolf dies nearby, it takes its form and becomes conscious. It “reunites” with the wolf’s master, a young boy alone in a village who teaches it how to survive. The people from the village left to find paradise, and to escape the harsh life in a snowy locale. Eventually the boy and the wolf set out to follow them.

This is another book that was hand sold to me by Chris at Seattle’s Comics Dungeon, who is now officially my go-to guy for manga. He let slip that the orb eventually takes human form, but then has to learn how to behave as a human. This is a compelling yet weird start to a story I’m going to follow in later volumes.

Also: this book put me right into the mind of Anne Leckie’s latest novel, and her first fantasy, The Raven Tower, which also has a lot to do with a powerful stone that fell to earth.


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