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Graphic Novelty²

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June 2021

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

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