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Graphic Novelty²

Heartstopper (Vol. 2)

Charlie’s dad picks him up from the fated party where he kisses Nick, leaving the rugby player awfully confused. After a stressful and sleepless night, Nick shows up to Charlie’s house the next day. They agree they like each other romantically, and want to keep seeing each other, but Nick wants to keep it a secret for now. He needs more time to figure himself out. Over the next few weeks, they carry on as usual, just with secret kissing breaks. They go out with Charlie’s friends for his birthday, and with Nick’s friends to the movies. For the most part, both friend groups accept the other boy – but inevitably, someone makes a “joke” that goes too far, and Nick is in a fragile space. How much strain will this put on their budding relationship?

I think the strongest part of this series is how much time it takes to explore the main character’s feelings. This is important for young men especially! So they know it’s okay to have feelings and express them in appropriate and healthy ways! While Volume 1 focused on Charlie, there is a shift to Nick here in Volume 2. We see him struggling to come to terms with himself and give himself a label with Charlie’s help, and it feels to me that Charlie gives kind and appropriate advice. Though I don’t have a lot of personal experience with this subject matter, everything surrounding it felt presented in a genuine, appropriate, and kind and caring manner.

Lightening some of the heavy load of this volume was the artwork. It was just as cute as the first volume, but not overly so. Though there’s no color, the character expressions are particularly adept at setting just the right mood and tone of a scene. There are some “manga-esque” elements at points such as speech bubbles with only hearts in them, and bokeh-esque backgrounds, but used sparingly at very important points of the story.

Looking forward to the next volume!

-Kathleen

Oseman, Alice. Heartstopper (Vol. 2). 2019.

The Down River People

Best described as a Southern Gothic tale, the story begins with a narrative about grief and loss before taking a sharp supernatural turn in the last half. 

Meyer is a young man whose single father recently committed suicide, leaving a speakeasy for him to run. His grief runs deep and there are poignant scenes as Meyer copes with anxiety, the new reality of running a bar and dealing with the local police. Suddenly his long-lost mother reappears with news that he has a younger half-sister from her second marriage to a pastor. After meeting his sister Meyer seems to bond with her, and you are rooting for him to heal. 

But then the story goes sideways and his affable step-father is revealed to be a cult leader. Not only do I want to avoid spoilers, but I also couldn’t explain what happens next even if I wanted to. The river plays a big part in the dream-like conclusion and I question what was real and what wasn’t. 

The artwork is evocative with a subdued color palette that moves almost exclusively to blue at the end. Panels are small with four to eight per page that established a solid riverfront setting. The southern community was realistically shown with varied townspeople. 

I’m on the fence with this story. Normally, I’m a fan of supernatural stories, but it didn’t mesh well with the beginning that was off to a strong atmospheric start before changing course. I wish the first theme of losing someone you love and how to cope afterward would have remained the focus. But still, it was an interesting read and I’m glad that I got to read an early online copy through NetGalley. 

-Nancy

Nubia: Real One

Nubia is lamenting what’s shaping up to be a boring summer with her best friends, LaQuisha and Jason. LaQuisha is going on a family road trip, Jason is heading off to soccer camp, and Nubia’s moms want her to work. Plans change when Nubia stops a robbery at the local EZ Shoppe… by throwing an ATM at the would-be culprits. Though she’s supposed to keep her powers a secret, one person definitely saw her: Oscar, the boy Nubia has a crush on. Though Nubia is detained by a police officer, he gives her description as someone who helped. Though Nubia is let go, Mamas Amera and Danielle ground Nubia and forbid her from going to the last party of the school year. Well, Nubia sneaks out anyway. She has to talk to Oscar and find out why he’s keeping quiet about her display of super-strength. No one would bother Wonder Woman or Supergirl if they had to save the day. How can Nubia use her powers for good if people automatically assume the worst about her, simply due to the color of her skin?

The most important part about this book is the diversity! Through Nubia, her moms, and her friends, we get a look at what it’s like to be Black in the United States. Through exposition and dialogue, we see Nubia’s fear at being stopped by a cop, her moms talking to her about what to do next time, how different characters react to microaggressions and being called racial slurs, and how a peaceful protest turned violent. It’s an uncomfortable read at times, but an important one. It may be easier for readers to digest as it’s shown through the lens of a fictional yet familiar character.

Expressive and colorful art makes this graphic novel a little easier to digest. The figures are long and lanky. I found it fun that Nubia towered over her peers, and the long, loose lines suggested she hadn’t quite figured out what to do with her limbs (or, more likely, powers!) yet. Many other iterations of a teenaged Wonder Woman use the same trope. Royal purples and deep pinks dominate the color palette; though many other colors are used, most are deep, saturated, and evoke a sunrise or sunset.

Nubia is a different kind of Wonder Woman, one that young women of all walks of life will be inspired by. I was moved to tears at more than one point in the story, and you will be, too. I’m excited to seek out more Nubia comics.

❤ Kathleen

MnKinney, L. L., and Robyn Smith. Nubia: Real One. 2021.

Incredible Doom

It’s 1994 and the internet is new. In this coming-of-age tale, four teens come together in an unlikely alliance as their home lives fall apart around them.

We are introduced to Allison, whose manipulative and abusive magician father tries to control every aspect of her life. She finds refuge in the new computer he brings home and discovers an online community and really connects with a young man Samir (Sam). We also really get to know Richard, a teen who has recently moved to a new high school, where he runs into someone he knew years ago from summer camp, who starts to bully him and creates false rumors about him to his new classmates. While being attacked in the hallway by this bully, an unlikely punk savior appears to help Richard- Tina, a tough computer expert who lives with other teens in a house in the country.

Eventually, Allison escapes from her violent father and she and Sam are on the run in the middle of the night. On a parallel journey, Richard is thankful for Tina’s help, but feels confused and trapped with Tina’s housemates, recognizing they aren’t true friends like his group of friends from his old school. But circumstances and their connection online lead the two pairs to meet on the last page, opening up further adventures for this new quartet.

This graphic novel effectively captures the early 1990s and reminds us of that era of technology -computer usage before the World Wide Web via dial-up with a text-based bulletin board system (BBS). It looks so very primitive now, but was cutting edge for a new generation of youth who would come of age with home computers. I remember being in awe of a family that I babysat for in my neighborhood who had a computer and then a few years later in college when one of my rich sorority sisters was the first to have her own computer vs the rest of us who had to use the college’s computer lab. Now everyone seems to have their own private laptops- how far we have come in a relatively short time.

The art is done in black and white with blue accents for shadows and to infer other colors. A variety of panel placements and computer screens successfully pull you into this world of technology and limitless possibilities. The art style reminded me somewhat of Scott McCloud of Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art and Daniel Clowes of Ghostworld. Clothing and hair-styles of the grunge inspired youth, are captured well in the minimalist illustrations, with solid line art.

Incredible Doom is set up to be an ongoing series, and I’m invested enough in the disenfranchised and realistic characters to look for future volumes. These tail-end Gen X teens are looking for connections, and I have enough nostalgia for that era to tune in for more.

-Nancy

The Montague Twins (Vol. 1): The Witch’s Hand

Alistair and Peter Montague are orphaned twin brothers who love to solve mysteries. They’re living with David, a professor, his wife Sandy, and their daughter Charlie, who is just as into mysteries as the boys are. One summer day, David insists they take a day off to have some good, clean fun. They take turns deciding what to do, and end up at the beach. It’s there that they see an anomaly in the sky above the lighthouse – that turns out to be the doing of a witch. David, Sandy, and David’s assistant Rowan then tell the boys that they have magic and must use it to solve the mystery. Being magic users themselves, David instructs Rowan to teach the teens magic as both a practical teaching exercise and to study the boys. Who is the mysterious witch? What does she want? Can the teenagers gain enough control over their power to find out?

I’m striking out lately! I don’t have the patience for mysteries, it seems. I feel Nancy would like this one much better than I did. It’s very much reminiscent of the 50’s era Hardy Boys, but with touches of modernity and the paranormal: the focus is on the mystery much more than anything else. Still, the characters have their unique and modern struggles. It’s interesting to see these issues through the lens of time.

The art also evokes old mystery illustrations and cartoon shows such as Scooby Doo. The figures are very geometric, with sharp angles. The color palette is dark and mysterious, but also has a pastel or sepia quality to it. It feels like you’re reading an older book even with the modern elements in the story.

Overall, this mystery is sure to please teens and adults who like paranormal elements in their mysteries (emphasizing the mystery bit) and those who like The Hardy Boys.

-Kathleen

Page, Nathan, & Drew Shannon. The Montague Twins (Vol. 1): The Witch’s Hand. 2020.

Jupiter’s Circle

After recently finishing Jupiter’s Legacy, I was intrigued to read the two prequels which detailed the six heroes’ early days. While Mark Millar remained the author, the artist switched to Wilfredo Torres, with the two covers by original artist Frank Quitely.

Book One

Told in six chapters, the chapters center on the other four members of the team besides the married couple, The Utopian and Lady Liberty. Set in the 1950s and 1960s, the Union of Justice team members are still grappling with their new identities and the fame that goes along with their powers.

The book opens with the reveal that Blue Bolt is gay, who is trying to hide that fact from his team. J Edgar Hoover tries to blackmail him, and he tries to commit suicide under the strain of his secret, but the team supports him and Blue Bolt gets his revenge against Hoover.

The Flare has a mid-life crisis and begins an affair with a nineteen-year-old girl who idolizes him, so he leaves his wife and three children for her. A horrible accident shows the true colors of his young girlfriend, with his loyal wife coming back to him. This story infuriated me- he didn’t deserve the second chance his wife gave him after so publicly flaunting his new romance. Asshole.

Skyfox and Brainwave have never gotten along, as Skyfox is always baiting Brainwave. Known as a playboy, Skyfox finally falls in love but Brainwave lays in wait, looking for a way to finally get back at Skyfox. Although both men are jerks, Skyfox deserves what happens next to him.

There was definitely a Mad Men vibe, with lots of smoking by everyone (it was actually funny seeing the heroes with cigarettes) and the sexism. On a side note, in the original series, a seventh person from the boat group was featured- they looked younger, like a teen. This character has never been seen or mentioned again. I hate when there are inconsistencies like that. The art by Torres is solid, but part of my lack of excitement is because I am comparing it to Quitely’s art that helped define the series. That’s why I hate when artists change within a series, people get attached to a certain art style and it’s hard to accept the next style even if it is good.

Book Two

There is a true shocker in this book, as it is revealed that The Utopian, married his fiancé upon first returning, when you assumed he and Lady Liberty had married immediately.

The rest of this second book deals with the fallout of Skyfox leaving the team because of his broken heart, and how he gets mixed up with some Vietnam War and Civil Rights protestors. He briefly reunites with the team, just for a final confrontation with Brainwave. Skyfox is then cast out, becoming a villain.

Because of the recent Netflix series (which was very uneven, but I will save my thoughts for a future post Edit- it was recently cancelled so I’m not going to bother writing a post about the tv series) these four books have been repackaged online on Hoopla as Jupiter’s Legacy Book One and Two, with the original two as Books Three and Four. While I understand the reasoning for doing so, reading it in that order does a disservice to the series, for these prequels are rather trite and soapy, so if you read them first you might not want to continue to the better two. Miller is planning a sequel, Jupiter’s Requiem, which I’d be curious to read and hope that the entire series as a whole lives up to the promise of how it began.

-Nancy

Fitz/The Flare, Walter/Brainwave, George/Skyfox, Sheldon/The Utopian, Grace/Lady Liberty, Richard/Blue Bolt

Witch Hat Atelier (Vol. 2)

Coco and her cohort discover that the portal they fell through at the end of the last volume led to a magic maze, which is guarded fiercely by the dragon that’s hounding them. Agott, Tetia, and Richeh think it’s Coco’s fault they’re trapped. When they bed down in a safe place for the night, Tetia conjures a soft, warm cloud (a spell of her own creation!) for them to sleep in. That gives Coco an idea. What if they used Tetia’s spell to lull the dragon to sleep and sneak past it towards the way out? It will take many spells drawn in tandem for it to work. Can the girls get out?

Meanwhile, Master Qifrey has made a discovery while looking for the girls. Both the Brimmed Caps (evil witches who shield their faces) and the Knights Moralis (kind of a police force for magic users) could be after Coco – for the same reason. How can he keep her safe so she can learn magic and free her mother?

This manga likes to leave off on middle-of-the-story cliffhangers between volumes. It took me a minute to remember what happened at the end of the last volume and thus make sense of the beginning of this one. It ended much the same way as the first: that is, we wrapped up the arc started in Vol. 1 in the middle of Vol. 2; the middle of Vol. 2 started a new arc, ended in the middle of that arc, and will conclude at the beginning of Vol. 3. This is unlike other manga I’ve tried which wraps up each arc neatly within the volume. I hope I don’t have such a long stretch between this volume and the next!

We continue the world-building here with a society of both evil witches and the knights who keep magic users in line. It will be interesting to see how they operate and what their interest is in Coco. There is also some character development and backstory, regarding Agott in particular, that will make for a fascinating foil to Coco.

I said in my review of Vol. 1 that I liked the classical attention to detail to everyday items and chores. That is shaping up to be a common theme in this manga. One of the “lessons” Qifrey teaches Coco is to use magic for everyday applications so it “sticks.” As a result, he asks her to be in charge of a meal, which means practice for her, and gives us an idea of how magic is used for cooking in this world – and what kind of food they eat!

To me, this is a fantasy manga reminiscent of both Harry Potter and The Rithmatist (Brandon Sanderson), with the slice of life elements of A Bride’s Story, which I’ve grown to love. Looking forward to the next volume!

-Kathleen

Shirahama, Kamome. Witch Hat Atelier (Vol. 2). 2019.

Library Lovers Book Tag

I am a librarian- how have I not done this tag before?? I was inspired by the brilliant Rachel of Life of a Female Bibliophile, who in turn was inspired by BookStackAmber (whose site I got the header picture from).

How often do you visit your local library?

All the time! Of course, I work at a library…

Are you the type of person who checks out more books than you know you can read or are you someone who only checks out the exact amount of books you intend on reading before they are due?

I typically have several books going at once- a graphic novel, an audio book for my work commute, and a print book. As for due dates, that’s what renewing is for!

All the books!

How old were you when you got your first library card?

My mom brought me to library regularly as a child, I don’t remember not having a card, but I would assume kindergarten.

Do you go to your library looking for a particular book or do you check out anything that peaks your interest?

Both- I love to browse, so typically it’s some titles I had in mind but also ones that capture my interest at the moment.

Do you use your library to check out just books or do you also check out dvds, audiobooks etc.?

I check out everything! Books, movies, music, audiobooks, hotspots, and magazines. I like physical books the best, but I also use Hoopla for a few online books.

If only I had a magic bag to fit in all the books I check out!

From what section of your library do you check out a majority of your books? ( YA, middle grade, adult, nonfiction.)

This blog proves I read a lot of graphic novels, but I also read a mix of YA, historical fiction, thrillers and non-fiction. I’m pretty evenly divided with my book genres ( I post all my reviews on Goodreads, but mostly graphic novels are on this blog).

What is your favorite part of using your local library?

I adore reading, but truth be told, I don’t own a great many books (but still more than the average person). I buy my children a lot of books, but I get a majority of my reads for free from the library. When I was growing up libraries didn’t have the programming they do nowadays, so I enjoy creating programs for the teens I work with, attending adult programs myself and when my children were younger taking them to story time.

I am not tagging anyone in particular, although I’d like to see how my writing partner Kathleen would respond. So, please go ahead if you are interested, and share your library love!

-Nancy

Truer words have never been spoken!

Thirsty Mermaids

From Kat Leyh, best known for Lumberjanes, comes this story of three mermaids who use a spell to turn into humans and party on land for one night – so they think. Pearl, Tooth, and Eez wake up the next morning in an alley with a wicked hangover and the realization that they don’t know the spell to turn them back into mermaids. Vivi, the bartender from the night before, takes pity on them and takes them in. There’s a stipulation, however. Pearl and Tooth must get jobs to pitch in with rent while Eez figures out how to turn them back. Can they make it on land, or will they go back to the sea? Will they even want to?

This wasn’t one for me. I tried and failed to get into Lumberjanes at the suggestion of a coworker, but it just didn’t work for me – and neither did this one. The premise is trashy, in my opinion. The three main characters desperately want to go on land… to get drunk? I can understand the desire to experience things on land, but surely there could have been other ways of getting them there other than a desire to party. Then again, I’m not the target audience for this book and have never been a drinker, so this could be just me.

Now, this DID get better as it went on. It became a sweet story of acceptance, openness to new experiences, and making your own “pod” – or found family, for those who don’t speak mermaid 😉 It touches on issues such as body dysmorphia and anxiety. There is excellent LGBTQA+ and POC representation. The fantasy aspects of the story take second place to the “real world”, interpersonal, and inner conflicts of the characters.

I never felt like I got past the initial premise, so the second and third acts weren’t as effective for me as they could have been. Teens and young adults will likely take no issue with this, and find it uproariously funny to boot. They will fall head over heels for the characters, all their struggles, and all the ways they hold each other together.

-Kathleen

Leyh, Kat. Thirsty Mermaids. 2021.

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