Graphic Novel Review: Vague Tales

Vague Tales coverVague Tales by Eric Haven. Fantagraphics, 2017. 9781683960324.

This nearly wordless graphic novel starts with a man in a red polo shirt. There’s also a crystalline man, a hooded soul-eating monster, a masked barbarian, a sorceress in a green mask, and a fair amount of violence. The inking of this work is extraordinary, and the plot owes as much to old pulp tales as it does to sheer randomness — Haven’s book feels like the offspring of Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pitt and Fletcher Hanks’ I Shall Destroy All Civilized Planets. It’s a good bit of fun, and, depending on what page they see when they look over your shoulder, it’s guaranteed to alarm your friends or legal guardians. Buy it for your nephew who thinks he’s never read anything fun.


Vague Taless Interior 1 Vague Taless Interior 2

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Graphic Novel Review: His Dream of the Skyland

His dream of the SkylandHis Dream of the Skyland by Anne Opotowsky and Aya Morton. Top Shelf, 2018. 9781603094290. 312 oversized pages including an illustrated glossary.

Before Song Lu leaves for his new job sorting and delivering dead letters for Hong Kong’s post office, one of the prostitutes next door gives him a freebie while his mother is in the next room telling fortunes. On his way to work he helps some neighborhood men with a puzzle, then arrives at a building full of disorganized piles of undelivered envelopes.

Lots of soft blues and white give artist Morton the chance to use other colors to make seemingly random details pop, and lend nearly every page a sense of dreamlike wonder as Song heads to the Walled City of Kowloon (and elsewhere) to try deliver letters. There are gangsters and acrobats, plus Song’s friends and family in the mix along with a few mysteries besides the undelivered letters, and a tragedy or two. This is a beautiful graphic novel, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the trilogy.

his dream of the skyland interior

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Graphic Novel Review: Short & Skinny

Short & SkinnyShort & Skinny by Mark Tatulli. Little, Brown, 2018. 9780316440516. 250pp.

Cartoonist Mark Tatulli’s autobiographical graphic novel will appeal to lots of creative kids, and it’s also custom made for fanboys like me who were a certain age in 1977.

Mark is small for his age, and dreams of being a superhero, talking to the girl he likes, and being free of junior high bullies. His solution: send away for several of the muscle building kits advertised in the back of comic books, and then return to school after vacation a changed man. But over the summer something changes him more: seeing Star Wars! Mark wants to create his own parody of the movie (and does), which set him on a path to a decades-long career in TV before he starts making comics and illustrating books.


short & skinny interior

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Graphic Novel Review: The Wild Cat

The Wild Cat coverThe Wild Cat (Mr. Badger and Mrs Fox #6) by Brigitte Luciani (story) & Eve Tharlet (art). Translation by Nathan Sacks. Lerner / Graphic Universe, 2018. 9781541500877. 32pp.

The books in this kindhearted graphic novel series about badgers and foxes living together are as sweet as they are beautiful. After a show featuring the masked wild cat named Sylvester, Ginger, a young fox, wants to be just like him. When the young badgers tell her foxes don’t climb trees, she shows them otherwise, but then Sylvester and his companions (three genets) make fun of Ginger. She sets off to figure out whether or not she’s a real fox, and gets the assurance she needs from new friends and her Papa. (Plus her dad knows a secret about Sylvester, and calls the not so wild cat on his crap.)


The Wild Cat interior small

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Graphic Novel Review: Fake Blood

Fake Blood Fake Blood coverby Whitney Gardner.  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. 9781481495561. 336pp.

This new entry into the late grade school/tween graphic novel market stars AJ and his friends, who are just starting the 6th grade. AJ is the kind of kid librarians love: he boasts about the number of books he read over the summer and the summer reading prize he won (sunglasses). He likes Nia, the smartest girl at Spoons Middle School. She is obsessed with vampires. His sister BB offers AJ some classic advice (be yourself), but instead of taking it he “borrows” her copy of Moonlight (a thinly veiled stand-in for Twilight) and gives himself a vampire makeover complete with glitter and hair care products. After AJ convinces Nia he’s a vampire, the story picks up a bit of speed, and it’s clear that there’s a real (and not very threatening) vampire at school, too.

The illustrations are charming, and what I like about the book is that it’s big not just in terms of the page size —- the the panels don’t feel crowded, and there’s lots of pages for interactions between AJ and his friends. It has a pace all its own, and I think young readers are going to love it. (According to the jacket copy, Gardner is a coffee-loving former school librarian currently living in Victoria, BC. I’m not too far away in Seattle, so I’m hoping our paths cross sometime.)

Fake Blood Interior

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Graphic Novel Review: Dalston Monsterzz

Dalston Monsterzz coverDalston Monsterzz by Dilraj Mann. Nobrow, 2017. 9781910620359. 76pp.

This oversized graphic novel is beautiful and odd and slightly hard to follow in a way that feels like part of its epic strangeness. East London is full of colorful monsters and well-designed gangs. When hip, attractive, acrobatic young characters aren’t traveling around on scooters, they’re riding monsters. There are acts of violence, complicated page layouts, and many strikingly red panels that take place in a labyrinth — flipping through it will wow you. (But will the pink-haired young woman remind you of someone you went to high school with, too? No idea.)

Dalston image 2 regular


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Graphic Novel Review: Blackbird Days

Blackbird Days by Manuele Fior. Fantagraphics, 2018. 9781683960836. 104pp
Blackbird Days cover
As a balding middle aged guy, I should probably support the decision to put Inspector Marcuzzi and his futuristic car on the cover of this collection of short graphic works. But honestly? I’m not drawn to books about guys who look like me, and I doubt you are, either. It was only after seeing the book a few times that I recognized Fior’s name as the author / illustrator behind 5,000 Kilometers per Second and The Interview and started reading.

The title story is very softly science fiction, and has some connection to The Interview. Of the rest I really enjoyed “Class Trip,” a very short tale about a rude student and the literature instructor he’s at odds with in which Fior doesn’t shy away from or mock middle aged nudity. “Postcard from Oslo,” a two page vignette about a young Italian woman staying in the Norwegian countryside, demonstrates his mastery of color and style — this one is less realistically drawn and colored than the former, and is possibly a bit more amazing for that.

The book is full of comics that will wow adult fans of the medium, and it includes at least one giant robot fight.

Blackbird Days Images

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Graphic Novel Review: Edison Beaker, Creature Seaker: The Night Door

Edison Beaker Creature Seeker coverEdison Beaker, Creature Seeker: The Night Door by Frank Cammuso.  Viking, 2018. 9780425291924.  160pp.

While hanging out with their Uncle Earl, Edison, his sister Tess (short for Tesla), and her hamster Scuttlebutt learn the truth about the family business: they’re not exterminators, they keep their town safe from the supernatural creatures that live on the other side of the Night Door. Now their uncle is missing, and so is the keystone, the only thing that has the power to shut the Night Door. The hunt for the keystone takes Edison into the darkness on the other side of the door, where he has to save his family from Baron Umbra and his shadowy underlings.

This beautifully drawn graphic novel is perfect for readers who enjoyed Cammuso’s other series: Salem Hyde, The Knights of the Lunch Table, and Max Hamm Fairy Tale Detective.

Edison Beaker interior

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Graphic Novel Review: Coda Volume 1

Coda Volume 1 coverCoda Volume 1 by Simon Spurrier & Matías Bergara. BOOM!, 2018. 9781684153213. Contains #1 – #4 of the comic book series.

Sometimes coloring is so good it’s impossible to ignore. (See: Laura Martin’s work in the Planetary series and Issabelle Arsenault’s in Jane, the fox & me). Other times it just adds to the fun. (See any issue of Adventure Time or Invincible, and every book of Trondheim and Sfar’s Dungeon series). But once in a while colors are so berserk and eye catching I can’t understand how they work together — examples include Tula Lotay’s colors in Supreme: Blue Rose, the covers for Slam!, and now Matías Bergara’s insane mix of gradients in Coda. There may be thousands of colors on the first page, an illustration of a rotting husk of a giant dragon.  Somehow they work together to perfectly create this broken, post-apocalyptic, former high fantasy world. The writing is great, too —- Spurrier’s first bit of dialogue is “There are rats in my bowel!”

Think unicorns should be insane and have more horns? Fondly recall the way cat masters inject powers into their pets/partners in Brandon Graham’s King City?  Like to laugh at pathetic paladins?  This is the graphic novel for you. Plus it’s got a broken love story, a mobile city, and other goodies. It’s entirely worth reading.

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