Graphic Novel Review: Thirst Mermaids by Kat Leyh

Thirst Mermaids by Kat Leyh. Gallery 13, 2021. 9781982133573.

Eez uses her magic to transform herself, Pearl, and Thorn — the other members of her pod — into humans so they can go onto dry land and drink. There are a lot of things they don’t understand, like clothes, money, and hangovers. After a friendly bartender (who makes a habit of being too kind) finds them sleeping in an alley and makes them breakfast, they tell her the truth; this is their first time as humans. Soon she’s helping them try to fit in and find work because, until Eez can figure out how to transform them back, they’re stuck on dry land.

This is a wonderfully sweary, colorful adult graphic novel with lots of teen appeal. It has a punk sensibility about being outsiders together, supporting your friends, and finding your place in the world. I was already a huge fan of Leyh’s comics (Lumberjanes, Snapdragon) and after reading this one I plan to read everything she publishes.

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Graphic Novel Review: Verse: Book One: The Broken Half by Sam Beck

Verse: Book One: The Broken Half by Sam Beck. WonderBound, 2021. 9781638490104. Includes maps and a guide that lets readers decode the alphabet of the Verse in the back.

Fife leaves his small village to go to Madenstone, where he hopes to train learn to use the Verse to augment weapons. On the journey there he encounters a traveler who gives him a small bit of Verse he can repeat to help him find his way. But later, when he tries, an amulet he has shatters. Afterwards he finds a young woman with horns on her head. She appears to be vel — they are distortions of those who have died, and are still able to use magic as humans did in centuries past. But unlike the vel she can speak, and seems more a person than a mindless destroyer; she tells Fife her name is Neitya and that she can remember nothing else. After getting over his initial reaction to her appearance, he offers to take her to Madenstone where someone may be able to help her, though they do their best to hide her horns. Along the way though they meet two warriors who take them to a hidden camp of warriors who hunt the vel. There’s a plot involving Neitya’s magical power, a group trying to control the destructive power of the vel no matter the cost, and the growing friendship between Fife and Neitya.

This graphic novel seems to be the first of an entertaining fantasy series. This one ends with a cliffhanger, so I can’t wait to read the next book.

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Graphic Novel Review: Bug Scouts: Out In The Wild by Mike Lowery

Bug Scouts: Out In The Wild by Mike Lowery. Scholastic Graphix, 2022. 9781338726329.

Doug (a bug) and Abby (a worm) are best friends. Together with their other best friend Josh (a spider) they welcome the newest member of the Bug Scouts, Luna (a lighting bug). Their top secret headquarters isn’t very secret, but there are free snacks, plus they’re all taking a hike to get a new bug badge. (Abby is obsessed with them; she has lots. Josh has very few.) In the woods they do some foraging and then come across a “terrifying” bug-eating frog.

Best part: Besides Lowery’s art, which is as great as always, there’s an excellent toadstool joke.

This graphic novel is perfect for readers transitioning away from picture books, and would make a solid read-aloud.

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Graphic Novel Review: Mamo by Sas Milledge

Mamo by Sas Milledge. BOOM! BOX, 2022. 9781684158171. Includes #1 – #5.

Jo seeks the help of a witch because magic is going nuts all over Haresden, the fae are misbehaving, and her mother has been cursed. That’s how she meets Orla, who is visiting after her grandmother Mamo’s death. Mamo was the Witch of Haresden, and when she died she didn’t make sure her bones were buried correctly, which is at the heart of most of the town’s magical troubles. Plus her spirit is angry. Now Mamo’s bones need to be buried correctly, and Orla is going to need Jo’s help to do that, to navigate the traps the fae and others have created.

I thought I was done with witchy graphic novels for young people, but this excellent book proved how wrong I was. It’s full of love and friendship, and creates a perfectly understated sense of wonder. My favorite moment was when Jo was having breakfast with her family and we find out her nickname. The irritated trolls are fun, too.

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Graphic Novel Review: Made in Korea by Jeremy Holt, George Schall, and Adam Wollett

Made in Korea by Jeremy Holt, George Schall, and Adam Wollett. Image, 2022. 9781534320116. Includes #1 – #6.

Chul is a Korean programmer who creates an AI algorithm and secretly (he thinks) uploads it into a proxy.

In Conroe, Texas, Bill and Suelynn visit friends who are celebrating the arrival of their artificial son, and soon they want a proxy of their own. (These so called proxies seem common, though expensive, because of some unnamed condition that makes having a biological child very difficult.)

The “daughter” they get, whom they name Jesse, is completely lifelike and adorable and also unlike any other proxy they’ve ever heard of. She reads voraciously, tries to make sense of the world, and soon wants to go to school.

Chul is fired and comes to the US in an attempt to become the person who raises Jesse, since he knows her nature. At school she becomes an annoying know-it-all for a bit and then she falls in with the wrong crowd — two guys planning a school shooting who realize that, functionally, she has super powers.

Telling more would ruin the story which is unpredictable and has such a lovely ending. Make this adult graphic novel part of your Pride Month display next year so that older teens can find it there.

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Graphic Novel Review: Iranian Love Stories by Jane Deuxard and Deloupy

Iranian Love Stories by Jane Deuxard (script) and Deloupy (art). Translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger. Graphic Mundi, 2021. 9781637790045. 140pp.

Deuxnard is the pen name of two comics journalists, a couple who traveled to Iran together to conduct the interviews illustrated by Deloupy. They met Iranian couples and individuals who talked frankly about their lives, about sex and marriage, and also about how they navigate Iranian society. (Between the interviews are a few pages featuring the reporters, telling about their experiences in Iran, and they also appear in the interviews.) An interview with Gila and Mila opens the book. Gila wants to make love, but Mila holds her back because if he dies it would be too dangerous for her if she isn’t a virgin. (They’re engaged, and do find ways to have a sex life but just don’t go all the way because Mila’s future in-laws can insist on a virginity test at the time of marriage.) They all worry when police drive by during the interview — Mila was taken in once when she was at a friend’s party, and was only released to her father because she was wearing a veil and hadn’t had any alcohol to drink. There are more details, of course, and this is just one of the ten interviews.

There’s a lot of criticism of the current rulership of Iran, and a few surprises for me: I didn’t know the extent to which music is outlawed there, and there are even a few young women who think everything in Iran is great because they have an amazing amount of power. There’s also a young married woman who is able to travel to Europe alone with her husband’s blessing.

I really enjoyed reading this book but my heart goes out to most of the young people in its pages, both those who despair that they’ll never have the lives they yearn for and those taking incredible risks to live as freely as they can. Worth noting: Deloupy is an expert at using scenery and flashbacks to keep the conversations compelling without distracting from them.

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Bookstabber Episode 21: The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu

Bookstabber Episode 21: The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu

An alien civilization threatens human life as we know it. Science is our only hope. Defeatism is at an all-time high. In other news, Gene and Willow read a book. Then they talked about it. (Gene: The Dark Forest is the second in a series, and, like The Empire Strikes Back, it’s also arguably the best.)


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Graphic Novel Review: Crushing: An Illustrated Misadventure In Love And Loneliness by Sophie Burrows

Crushing: An Illustrated Misadventure In Love And Loneliness by Sophie Burrows. Algonquin Young Readers, 2021. 9781643752396.

This nearly wordless story of loneliness and missed connections is told using pencils but not many colors, though red is used throughout to direct our eyes details and characters and to give them a little more life than background characters. It’s the story of a young woman and a young man, both of whom seem trapped in their own worlds, each trying and failing to catch the other’s eye. She works in a cafe and has awful experiences with dating apps. He’s bullied a bit and takes a job that requires him to wear a costume and pass out fliers. Exercise and music offer some respite. Then there’s a bike accident which leads to something good.

Lovely book, loved the drawings and the colors and just how raw this book feels in moments. I don’t think it’s a YA book, though it seems like that’s how it was marketed — it’s something less common, a graphic novel aimed squarely at adults in their 20s that some teens will enjoy too. So a warning for you school librarians (especially those of you under fire) who may be better off avoiding this sort of stuff for now: there’s some butts in the social app images, and some drinking in a pub as well.

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Graphic Novel Review: METAX by Antoine Cossé

METAX by Antoine Cossé. Fantagraphics, 2022. 9781683965152. 300pp

Cossé is a storyteller who uses large images, space, the level of detail in his art, along with a spare use of color, to tell compelling stories. This one is both futuristic and fantastic. It opens with the murder of a horse owned by the king of Ronin City. It’s the second murder in as many days. The masked “terrorists” fleeing the scene of the crime take pills and transform to make their escape.

In a mine an engineer sets off an explosion as part of the ongoing hunt for METAX, a mineral or the like that’s in short supply and that hasn’t been found for a while. It’s at the heart of Ronin City’s prosperity. It’s not too long before princesses arrive with the king’s advisor Mister Wig to threaten the engineer and his family.

There’s murder, mayhem, a magical garden, and a bit of magic in the rest of the story, an episode in a much larger tale that happens outside these pages. There’s a lot of images to love; my favorite by far are the pages showing the blasting in the mine at the front, and every page that has a bird on it.

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Graphic Novel Review: Never Open It: The Taboo Trilogy by Ken Niimura

Never Open It: The Taboo Trilogy by Ken Niimura. Translation: Stephen Blanford. Rewrite: Josh Tierney and Antonio Núñez Sánchez. Yen Press, 2021. 9781975325831. Publisher’s Rating: OT Older Teen.

Ken Niimura’s art always has a lot of energy. It’s somewhere between mainstream manga and cartoony, super polished and extremely sketchy. Here he combines his quick, well-placed lines with just the right amount of red to tell three stories inspired by Japanese mythology. Teens and adults will love this book.

In “Never Open It” a young fisherman, Taro, rescues a sea turtle and is rewarded by Princess Otohime with a trip to her undersea Dragon Palace. He doesn’t pass up the offer, which is a mistake, though life in the palace is awesome. When he wants to return home he’s given a red box that will allow him to go back there whenever he wants, though he can never open it. (He meets an old man who once went to the Dragon Palace, too, and who opened the box he was given.) In “Empty” two young monks are warned by their master that to stay away from a pot that contains deadly poison. They do not listen. In “The Promise” a young man helps a wounded bird and then meets a beautiful woman who becomes his wife. She earns money by weaving cloth on his mother’s old loom, but makes him promise never to open the door to the room while she’s weaving. (Of course the young wife is the bird. It did not end as I thought it would, and the red color really played a part.)

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