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Graphic Novelty²

Month

June 2021

Curtiss Hill

Curtiss Hill is a dog, and a famous racecar driver. The 500 Miles of Escápula is coming up, so Curtiss goes to ask his mechanic Dino to build him a brand new engine – only to find that Dino’s disappeared. Could he have gone off to the war in Kalkany? As if Curtiss didn’t have enough to deal with, what with his racing rival Rowlf Zeichner trying to cheat his way to the top. Journalist Maugène Berk decides to interview them both for a piece – and discovers something shocking about each dog.

Don’t let the Disney-esque animal characters fool you. This is an adult graphic novel. There are multiple instances of and references to sex, drugs, and strong language. Much like the main theme of the story – that appearances are deceiving – the art is totally incongruous with the weight of the story that’s being told. Curtiss and Rowlf are two sides of the same coin, in ways that will surprise you.

The setting was deliberate. The character’s clothing, the cars, the war, and their language and mannerisms suggest that this story takes place in the 1920’s or ’30s. Adding to the immersion is the totally sepia color palette and the art style overall evoking early Disney cartoons and comic strips.

What’s right, wrong, or fair in love, war, and racing? The ending is left open so each reader can decide for themselves.

– Kathleen

Pau. Curtiss Hill. 2021.

Mid Year Freakout #5

I’m freaking out for the fifth time! I like this post idea, as it forces me to reflect on my reading halfway through the year instead of just at the end when Kathleen and I do our Best Of list. I had fun going through my Goodreads data, and bonus, it highlights the other genres I read since I read way more than just graphic novels.

Best book you read in 2021 so far

The novel Valentine by author Elizabeth Wetmore blew me away. It is a beautiful but heartbreakingly honest book set in 1976 in Odessa, Texas. Told primarily from several women’s perspectives, it shares the limited options, prejudice and violence that many women had to endure.

Best sequel you’ve read so far 

While I wouldn’t call it great, the sequel Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline gave a send off to characters Wade, Art3mis,  Shoto and Aech from Ready Player One. It continued to have nostalgia for the 80s era, and I enjoyed the audio edition narrated by Wil Wheaton.

New release you haven’t read yet, but want to

I’m a big fan of author Kristin Hannah who has written The Great Alone and The Nightingale, so I am anxious to read her newest book The Four Winds, set in the Great Depression, that came out a few months ago.

Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

I want Volume Ten of Saga released! In fact, no one has any idea when the next volume will come out, as fans have been waiting anxiously since 2018 after a heartbreaking last page in Volume Nine. ( I said this last year too- and still no word of when it will be released)

Biggest disappointment

b, Book, and Me by Kim Sagwa was a short YA novel about two friends in South Korea who have a falling out. Both teens were utterly reprehensible and I did not enjoy this surreal tale.

Biggest surprise

I just finished reading Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked The World by Pénélope Bagieu and was engaged by the 29 short biographies about women who were rebels for their times. The stories were cheeky yet educational and I’m surprised it took me so long to pick this book up.

Newest fictional crush

Duncan from the graphic novel series Once & Future that twists the King Arthur legends in delightfully warped ways. He’s a stand-up guy who has handled finding out his Gran is a monster-hunter and has taken meeting his long-lost murderous mother and half-brother in stride.

Favorite book to film adaptation you saw this year

I’m going to say Jupiter’s Legacy that premiered on Netflix recently. The graphic novels by Mark Millar had some great source material to pull from, and the multi-generational superhero series showed promise, but proved to be very uneven. I watched all the episodes, but wasn’t terribly surprised when it wasn’t renewed.

Newest favorite character

Author and illustrator Stjepan Šejić gave Harleen aka Harley Quinn an excellent origin story and really gave this anti-hero a nuanced backstory. I’ve always found her annoying in the past but this book transformed her for me.

Favorite new author (Debut or new to you)

Stjepan Šejić from the above mentioned graphic novel was new to me. His illustrations are amazing and I am surprised it was the first time I ran across his work. He is an author and an artist I will now seek out.

Book that made you happy

From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back follows the format of the previous book that has 40 authors sharing 40 stories about life in the Star Wars universe for background or supporting characters from the ending of A New Hope to the ending of TESB movie. These are fun books to read and I look forward to the next based off Return of the Jedi in two years!

Book that made you sad

The graphic novel Covid Chronicles was a sobering book at what the world has been going through for the last year and a half. “True stories from the front lines of Covid-19” is the tagline for this somber but excellent collection of ten short stories about the current pandemic. Published in December of 2020 these timely vignettes utilize the stories that NBC News used online that visualized life for front line and essential workers early in the pandemic.

Favorite review you have written this year 

For the third year in a row, Kathleen and I participated in a Fiction’s Fearless Females series, and this year I choose Nyota Uhura, for all strong female Star Trek characters owe a debt of gratitude to her. Beautiful, smart, ambitious, and an equal to the men – she is the original Star Trek role model. Even Uhura’s name has important meaning – Nyota means star in Lingala, a language from the Democratic Republic of Congo, while Uhura is the Swahili word for freedom. My post also included info about her real-life counterpoint Nichelle Nichols who helped NASA recruit women and minorities into their space program. Uhura and Nichols have merged into one incredible icon – who is fine, fierce, and fearless! 

Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)

Marvels by Kurt Busiek has Alex Ross as it’s artist… nuff’ said.

What books do you need to read by the end of the year? 

I review YA books for the School Library Journal magazine and they have been sending me a lot of middle school graphic novels recently. But I can’t mention titles until they publish the review first. But they all have been delightful and worth buying for my library.

I gave myself a Goodreads goal of reading 120 books this year, and I am already at 67, although some of those are short stories from the LeVar Burton Reads podcast. I look forward to reaching my goal and enjoying more excellent books this year!

-Nancy

Adler

Jane Eyre has returned to London from serving as a nurse during the Boer War. She finds herself staying with a woman named Irene Adler: an American adventuring actress and opera singer. Irene is awaiting a delivery of papers from Marie Curie in Paris. However, Ayesha, Queen of the Amazons, is doing everything in her power to intercept those papers. She loathes the British Empire for destroying her home and will do anything to get even. Those papers turn out to be plans for a radiation bomb. Can Jane, Irene, and their friends keep the papers safe, and if not, can they save the world?

This is a steampunk mystery that’s reminiscent of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, just with all female leads 😉 The cast is comprised mostly of Victorian era characters. I only caught the big ones, but fans of that literature will likely find more Easter eggs. Irene and Jane’s relationship reminded me a bit of Sherlock and Watson’s relationship on the 2010 Sherlock show, which I’m sure was intentional.

In the vein of capturing the Victorian spirit, both story and art were action-oriented yet atmospheric. A muted sepia-toned palette makes you feel like you’re reading a document from the time. The characters were drawn well, everyone having a unique touch to their clothing, but their poses felt a bit stiff for me during the action sequences.

Overall: A female character led mystery, adventure, with very little romance, set in Victorian London = perfect beach reading material!

– Kathleen

Tidhar, Lavie, and Paul McCaffrey. Adler. 2021.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked The World

I loved Brazen! Stories of 29 kick-ass women are shared- spanning centuries and continents.

I only recognized a few names- Margaret Hamilton, Josephine Baker, Temple Grandin, Betty Davis, Nellie Bly, Hedy Lamarr, Mae Jemison and Peggy Guggenheim. The other twenty one women were new to me, but now I want to know more about all of their lives!

Author and illustrator Pénélope Bagieu gave each woman three to five pages and would start their story at their birth before proceeding chronologically and would touch on what made each woman so unique. Many of the women are from years past, but Bagieu is able to capture the time period and mores of the era, to showcase how the woman (or sometimes women as there were two groupings of sisters) were rebels for their generation. She covers their lives in broad strokes, glossing over many aspects of their lives, yet sharing the fundamentals and getting to the essence of the story. These stories were also perfect to read in bite-sized portions, I could read about a few women at a time, and looked forward to the next time I could pick up the graphic novel and read a few more short biographies.

Nellie Bly

Each page typically has nine panels and is done in a cartoony manner, yet is accurate in how the women looked and their various environments. Color is used sparingly, to add contrast or to heighten the effect of a momentous event. Bagieu saves the real artistry for a closing two-page spread that is filled with color and symbolizes what they stood for. I looked forward to how she would convey their lives and what art style she would use- Art Deco, Surreal, Nouveau, Impressionism (both Neo and Post) or Modern Art are among the different types. My favorite was Betty Davis’s, for I had to turn it sideways to understand it, and all it’s parts perfectly came together to form a complete picture and vibe.

I applaud the diversity found within, for Bagieu choose an Apache warrior, a Chinese empress, an astronaut, a volcanologist, a Greek gynecologist, athletes, singers, painters- even a bearded lady! I do wonder where she got her information from, for a brief work cited would have led additional weight to her character studies. But I have spent time myself looking up additional information about the women in this book, and that is always a good sign of a strong non-fiction book when I want to know even more about the subject or person at hand. In the end, she lists 30 additional women to learn about, and I’m all in for reading another book about more brazen women!

-Nancy

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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