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Graphic Novelty²

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November 2021

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

Once, there was a young boy who met a mole. The mole was obsessed with cake, but otherwise made good company. Together, they rescue a fox caught in a trap. The fox in turn saves the mole – it sounds made up, but it’s true! After meeting the horse, the party begins a journey together across the wilds to take the boy home.

At least, this is my interpretation of the story. This didn’t feel like a graphic novel with a beginning, middle, and end so much as an illustrated journal, a sketch diary, and a gratefulness or wisdom log, all at the same time.

Most of the text is dialogue: conversations, little nuggets of wisdom, without much exposition. It’s presented in a way that recalls fairy tales and fables, with the cadence and rhythm of the prose. Just like those old tales, there is a lot of truth to this story, too. The characters talk to each other about believing in themselves, finding a home in the people you love, and to be kind. My only criticism of this book is the text itself, which was in a lovely script that truly fit the story and tone, but may be hard to read for some.

The illustrations are simply beautiful. They’re sparse, yet full of movement and life and texture. Most importantly, THE SKETCH LINES WERE LEFT IN, WHICH IS MY FAVORITE THING EVER!!! This is most evident in the horse, so of course, those were my favorite 😉 Most of the illustrations are in black and white, with a few important ones in color. All appeared to be in ink, with washes of either ink or watercolor.

I hope you pick up and experience this graphic novel for yourselves. Reading this felt like I went on a journey with the characters and came home to a nice warm bowl of soup. No matter who you are, you will find something for you in this delightful graphic novel.

– Kathleen

Mackesy, Charlie. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. 2019.

Squad

Heathers + Pretty Little Liars + Werewolves = Squad!

Becca is nervous about starting a new high school after her parent’s divorce, but she is unexpectedly friended by Marley, one of a trio of popular girls. The other two, Amanda and RiRi, also accept her and soon they are a quartet. Becca endures a lot of peer pressure and veiled jabs from the group but is thrilled to belong. A shocking secret is revealed when the girls save Becca from a possible sexual assault at a beach party- they are werewolves! Becca with few qualms joins the squad, even knowing they need to kill once a month.

The group tries to spread out their killings to avoid detection and only prey upon creeps, but they don’t always succeed. Things come to a head when Becca accidentally kills Thatcher, RiRi’s boyfriend and a prominent athlete, and the girls end up leaving clues behind. The school population thinks the girls had something to do with it, yet they have no idea the true nature of the crime. Eventually, they cover their tracks to the public but now are on the radar of Allyson, a college student and former Alpha of the group who realizes the high school group of wolves are getting sloppy. In the midst of all this chaos, Becca and Mandy begin a sweet romance, with juxtaposes against the gore of the killings.

The art is bright and bold, with somewhat of a retro vibe. When the squad becomes werewolves the colors shift to a darker jewel-tone palette with black borders. Each girl stands out, with a nice variety of types found in the student body. Fashionistas will appreciate all the clothing changes and hairstyles of the girls.

This tale of fighting back against toxic masculinity is imperfectly told and requires a huge suspension of disbelief, yet was a fun read. Its chosen YA audience will eat it up (pun intended)!

-Nancy

Amethyst (2020, Vol. 1)

Amy Winston leads a double life. On her 16th birthday, she receives gifts from her adoptive parents on Earth, then heads to Gemworld for her royal birthday bash. When she arrives, she finds Amethyst, the kingdom she rules over, has been completely destroyed, and all her subjects missing. Well, except for her trusty Pegasus, Ypsilos. She wonders if Opal, the evil king of the northern lands, has anything to do with it. Entreating the other Houses for help has so far been a wash, but a Turquoise warrior named Phoss and Maxixe, Prince Aquamarine, join her quest. Out of ideas, they follow a crystal healing book Amy got as a gift from her adoptive parents, opening her third eye chakra – and allowing Amy to see that all her subjects, including her birth parents everyone assumes to have died – have been trapped in amethyst. Can they figure out how to reverse the spell before it’s too late?

I read and highly enjoyed Amethyst’s too-short New 52 run and the ’80s omnibus (must not have gotten around to reviewing it for the blog, on the to-do list!) and. This reboot has so far been the least enjoyable of the title for me. I don’t think it’s bad, per say, but it just doesn’t quite scratch the fantasy comic itch the same way the original does.

The writing felt like it skipped around a bit. Some aspects weren’t fully explained for someone who’s new to the title (or who’s rusty, like me). Eventually you just learn to live with it as you’re reading, but it’s a tad frustrating. Though it tried to tell a story of found vs. birth family, there are too many threads going with too little significant character development. Ultimately, it falls flat even though everything is seemingly wrapped up by the end. This trade paperback covers issues 1-6 of what’s planned to be a 12-part series, so I have to wonder what the second 6 issues are going to tackle. For someone who is strictly looking for an action/adventure story, this will be less of an issue, for there’s plenty of fight sequences and traveling through fantastical lands to go around.

To make up for the subpar story, the art is LOUD – but in a good way. The visuals are overall trippy and psychedelic. Colors are rendered in bright jewel tones. Figures are drawn with bold, confident lines, while backgrounds are almost more like muted washes, to help the characters and their actions stand out.

While this isn’t the Amethyst title for me, there is still plenty of action and adventure to carry it for another reader. The art serves this purpose by pushing the figures to the forefront. I’ll pick up the next trade paperback and see if it gets better for me in the second half.

– Kathleen

Reeder, Amy. Amethyst (2020, Vol. 1). 2021.

Redlands

A trio of witches take over the rural Florida town of Redlands, and play both victim and villain as the years go by.

Volume One: Sisters By Blood

The story opens in 1977 when the corrupt Redlands police force are trapped inside their police station when a lynching of the witch coven goes sideways. The three witches- Alice, Ro and Bridget- demand sacrifice to remain strong and many officers are killed. Skip to modern-day, and the women are masquerading as police detectives who are dealing with a magical serial killer who seems to be on to them. There are some additional flashbacks to 1984 and a sex trade cartel that Bridgit is trying to infiltrate. I was rather confused at the end because it seems as if the soul of a teen prostitute long-dead inhabits Bridget’s body and wants revenge years later. In the midst of this, there are lots of sexual encounters and violence, but the idea of these flawed witches trying to right some wrongs was enough to capture my attention and wonder where the story will go next.

I am familiar with the author, Jordie Bellaire, as a colorist on many of my graphic novel reads, so it was interesting to have her in another role. She mixes together an interesting horror and feminist vibe, reminiscent of Hex Wives that I read recently. The artwork is very sketchy, which I’ve noticed more of lately, and isn’t always a very attractive look. The women are drawn with a realistic but seductive look, as the female artist, Vanesa Del Rey, understands the feminine body. The coloring is dark to represent the swampy bayous of the region and the murky narrative.

Volume Two: Water On The Fire

After finding volume one intriguing, I looked up volume two to reserve but, but when I saw the cover there was no way I was going to order a copy through inter-library loan for my co-workers to see! Luckily, I found a copy through the online service Hoopla to read. While I am no prude, I was disappointed the cover is so very gratuitous.

This volume begins with a visit to the past- the way-back past! We find Alice in ancient Egypt (why would she be named Alice back then??), Ro in Viking era Ireland, Bridget during the Salem Witch Trial time period and their “Father” in all three eras who turned them all into witches and demands obedience. We learn more about Bridget’s police partner Casper (who is a ghost, hence the name), Ro’s adopted clairvoyant daughter Itsy, Bridget’s sometimes lover Laurent, and the revenge-seeking teen prostitute Nancy who is still inhabiting Bridget’s body- and it is becoming difficult to keep all the details straight.

This volume ends in a cliff-hanger of sorts- the witch’s evil father is pulling strings and setting the three women up to be on opposite sides of a crisis that only can result in bloodshed. It has been over two years since this volume with no more issues on the horizon, so my guess is the series was dropped. No loss- while it started out promisingly the narrative threads became too convoluted for me to understand or really care about. The artwork didn’t help, for it was often too scratchy and dark to pick up on details that might have helped carry the story. I hope that Bellaire keeps on writing, she just needs to streamline her stories.

-Nancy

No way was the cover going to be used in my post header picture!

A Bride’s Story (Vol. 11)

This volume picks up right where the last picked off: with Talas reuniting with Mr. Smith in Ankara. Her story is told here. When she and Mr. Smith parted the first time, she was deeply unhappy. She got married so her elderly mother wouldn’t worry about her, but she confessed her feelings for Mr. Smith to her new husband. Wanting to make her happy, they set off for Ankara under the guise of going on a pilgrimage to pray for a long and prosperous marriage. As Talas and her husband wait in Ankara, she asks him to pawn her jewelry and possessions for more money so they can stay longer. When they find him, she begs him to take her with on the rest of his adventures… to which Mr. Smith agrees, despite the dangers that may be in store for her. As they travel to the port town Antalya, taking pictures all the way, they find something they may not expect…

Ahhh I loved this volume (I mean, I love all of them, but this one in particular) because it took place mostly in Turkey. The change of scenery – from the wide plains of Karluk’s introspective journey to the crowded and noisy towns – is nice from a storytelling point of view. What’s also fun is further connection of story threads not previously thought related. Mr. Smith makes a comment about wishing he hadn’t thrown away his pocket watch – only for it’s story to be told and it to reappear 😉

There was also a short story at the beginning about winter with Amir and Karluk’s family that was brisk, cold, and poetic.

As always, looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Mori, Kaoru. A Bride’s Story (Vol. 11). 2019.

Locke & Key: Season Two

The six-book graphic novel series Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez is an all-time favorite of mine, so I was thrilled when Netflix released an adaptation of it last year. Season One was strong, with more emphasis on fantasy vs horror than the book. This opens the narrative to more possibilities, and also makes it a bit more open to a younger audience, although it stills skews towards mature storylines. The ten episodes continue to tell the tale of the Locke family who are fighting an otherworldly evil and has been doing so for generations.

The season begins with the trio of siblings- Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode – not knowing that two of their friends, which includes Kinsey’s boyfriend Gabe, are evil. In fact, their naivety is frustrating, as they tell many of their friends about the magic of the Keyhouse and trust too many people. They discover more keys in and around their home, giving them various powers that will prove useful in the future. Their mother Nina and Uncle Duncan are clueless as to what is happening around them, as adults can’t remember the magic they witness afterward (even after a giant spider attack in the clip below!). Tyler is nearing eighteen, and his girlfriend who is a bit older than him begins to forget magical things that she had experienced, so Tyler knows he doesn’t have much longer to help his siblings. Luckily, a memory key returns Duncan’s memories, which is crucial as he had known how to make new magical keys when he was younger. That later Nina is also given the key of memory was important, because it had become heartbreaking that she was not privy to what her children were going through.

Many shows that incorporate teens have actors and actresses that are much older and so very perfect looking, but the casting in this series is more realistic. The cast is (mostly) age-appropriate and has a welcome diversity, not just as token representation, but how authentic town inhabitants might look. The teens make foolish mistakes, and while they do have to “save the day”, it is chaotic and messy getting there. The adults aren’t portrayed like they are stupid, and loving family ties are shown. I like how this adaptation is playing out, as it is going deeper than just replicating the storyline from the books.

I’m excited that season three was green-lit at the same time season two was. They filmed the seasons back-to-back, which was critical for Bode and the other young actors, that they not grow up too much between seasons. The television series is really starting to veer significantly off the book series, so the conclusion was not what I expected and where it will be heading next is anyone’s guess! And I will be there to watch how the Locke family deals with all the magical mayhem.

-Nancy

A giant spider?? Eeeek! This was before Duncan reclaimed his memory of his magical past.

Future State: Wonder Woman

Future State is the event DC had this past summer that offered mini series on characters and events occurring either in the multiverse or far in the future after the events of Death Metal (which I’m ashamed to admit I still need to read…). This trade paperback collects all the Wonder Woman stories:

First, L.L. McKinney’s Nubia as Wonder Woman attempts to stop a villain named Grail from stealing artifacts from various goddesses. Sensing they may be connected, she seeks answers from her Aunt Nancy. Apparently these artifacts come together as a master key to open doors throughout the universe. The last piece Grail needs to steal is Nubia’s tiara… but there’s nothing THAT special about it, is there? This magic-based story, brought to life by Alitha Martinez, Mark Morales, and Emilio Lopez, is rendered in deep, vivid colors, and emphasis is given to character design and expressions. It creates a lush background for McKinney’s story.

Next is the first appearance of Yara Flor, who is my new favorite DC character! In Hell to Pay, she is the Wonder Woman of a distant future. She slays a hydra, meaning to take one of its heads to the Underworld to exchange for the soul of her sister warrior. A spirit called Caipora guides her into the bureaucratic Underworld. Through a series of mishaps, Yara finds herself in front of Hades himself, who offers her a challenge to find Potira’s soul and lead her out – or take her place. Joëlle Jones is both writer and artist for this mini series, with Jordie Bellaire coloring. While the story is essentially a retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, the main draw here is Jones’ art and Yara herself. Yara is fiery, impatient, quick to anger: so different from cool-headed Diana, and for all that, she’s lovable and has a good heart. Jones’ pencils strike just the right balance between realistic and cartoony, while Bellaire’s colors emphasize reds and mute greens, making Yara stand out on every page – just as she’d want.

If you couldn’t get enough of Yara with the last story, you’re in luck! The next story is Superman/Wonder Woman, which teams Yara’s Wonder Woman up with Jon Kent’s Superman. One morning, two suns rise over the Earth. The new sun is a tyrannical machine bent on destroying Superman. The current sun is a Brazilian god named Kuat, and he is none too happy about the intrusion. Both suns challenge Yara and Jon to a race or battle to determine which sun gets to stay – how can they possibly outwit them? I found this to be the weakest of the collection. While Dan Watters’ story was a fun look at a new Worlds-Finest-esque team-up, the art by Leila Del Duca and Nick Filardi left something to be desired. It seemed unfinished in parts: there is a panel in Issue #2 where Yara is in the background and we should be able to clearly see her face, but it’s nothing but two dots for her eyes and a red slash for her mouth. Overall the characters seemed to float above the ground, there wasn’t enough shadow to give depth or weight. The art took me out of the story and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have.

Last, but certainly not least, Immortal Wonder Woman takes a look at Diana, a long time into the future, after humanity and all her fellow heroes have died. She is trying to persuade the Amazons to take Swamp Thing and locate to another planet to save The Green. Her sister Amazons would rather stand and protect the planet they have left… but Diana knows they won’t be able to stand against the Undoing. It is a force that simply… eats worlds, undoes them as if they never existed in the first place. When the Undoing swallows the Earth, what will become of Diana? Becky Cloonan and Michael W. Conrad pen a great story about hope in the face of losing everyone and everything. Jen Bartel’s art really drives it home. Her colors are soft, almost pastel-like, and there is a soft light diffused throughout, like a sunset, even in the cold depths of space.

Overall, this was an enjoyable look at multiverse Wonder Women. I hope that this collection drives DC into a new direction with the character. There is much potential to play with gods from other cultures in Nubia and Yara, instead of the same, tired old Greek mythology. If you need some switching up with your Wonder Woman mythos, this is the one for you.

– Kathleen

Various. Future State: Wonder Woman. 2021.

Stillwater

In the town of Stillwater, nobody dies. That’s not just a promise…it’s a threat.

Ne’er-do-well, Daniel, who has recently been fired and beat up by a bouncer when he was a jerk at a bar, receives a letter telling him that a great aunt has died. Hoping for an inheritance, he heads to the small town of Stillwater with his best friend Tony to investigate. The town is off the beaten track and a police officer stops them on the outskirts, warning the two men to behave. While there they witness a boy being pushed off a building and with no townspeople reacting to his fall. They are flabbergasted when the boy recovers quickly and runs away, revealing the secret of the town to the two men. Tony is killed by the formally affable police officer, but it is revealed that Daniel was a former resident of the town who was smuggled out as a toddler, so his life is spared.

Daniel, who was known as Tommy as a child, meets his mother Laura who had made the sacrifice of secretly sending him away so he could grow up and not be eternally caught in the body of a small child. No explanation is given as to why suddenly the town inhabitants stopped aging and miraculously heal from accidents. They are naturally afraid of outsiders finding out and the government swooping in to do experiments on them, so they remove themselves from society, and iron-clad rules are established to keep them safe. But this isn’t natural, and people are struggling as the decades go by. There are now some splinter groups who want to rebel and leave town, and of course, Daniel is chaffing at being a prisoner in a toxic community he doesn’t remember. Warped by power, leaders will do anything it takes to stay in control, and some plot threads are left open to build on.

The art establishes a realistic small-town atmosphere. All the characters are unique in looks and personalities, with a good artistic representation of the different walks of life within the town’s inhabitants. I enjoyed the panel configurations, there was a nice variety of small and large panels that pushed the action forward. The coloring is subdued and fits the narrative of immortality dragging on, with no new experiences or people livening their lives up.

The book reminded me of the sci-fi book Pines by Blake Crouch, in that people are trapped in a seemingly idealistic town, but a secret is rotting the town from within and the graphic novel series Revival by Tim Seely and Mike Norton in which a strange phenomenon changes a town forever. I enjoyed this first volume in this new series, and want to tune in to see how Daniel, Laura, and all the other townspeople cope with the so-called gift of eternal life.

-Nancy

Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Vol. 3)

Everyone’s asking Akiko what she’s doing after graduation – but she doesn’t have a clue. She’s working part-time at a used bookstore while finishing school. It’s a pretty sweet gig – she gets to take home unsellable manga for free to read and study. While she still wants to become a manga artist, she still hasn’t drawn any manga, nor has she told anyone that’s what she wants to do. She ends up returning home to Miyazaki after graduating because Hidaka says he got her a teaching job. It ends up falling through, so he offers her a part-time job as his assistant instead. Her parents, eager for her to get on her feet, get her a job at her father’s company’s call center. Deeply unhappy and desperate, Akiko finally starts to draw manga and sends it to Bouquet magazine for a contest entry. She’s finally pursuing her dream, but how long until it gets out of the bag?

This volume was honestly pretty depressing. It reminded me of my days working two jobs, thinking I could also make art in my spare time. Though it does highlight the thing I appreciate the most about this manga: being an artist is hard. Finding the time to be an artist is hard. Akiko thankfully made it work for her, but not without her own unique struggles.

Something else to appreciate about this manga: she showed examples of other famous manga artists’ work by drawing a character in a few of their styles! Most I didn’t recognize, but it was a nice touch, especially considering her mention that she studied different manga and their styles during this period of her life.

Looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Higashimura, Akiko. Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Vol. 3). 2019.

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