Graphic Novelty²


February 2022

Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story

Jessica Cruz is a high school student living in Coast City. She’s just gotten a museum fellowship and hopes to study the Aztec gods, her favorite exhibit. She doesn’t have time for parties or hanging out with her two best friends or her new friend from the museum fellowship, John Stewart – she’s got too much to do and too many expectations on her. Her parents are undocumented immigrants from Mexico, and Jessica herself is part of the D.A.C.A program – but that’s not common knowledge. She’s been keeping her head down ever since a popular mayoral candidate has been campaigning on making Coast City “safer” by advocating for a stronger I.C.E. presence. When Jessica’s Papá is arrested by I.C.E., she feels like she’s falling apart. As she isolates herself, bent on revenge, she dreams of two Aztec gods: one emphasizing hope and willpower, the other giving into her anger and destruction. How can she help her Papá if she can’t even help herself?

I cried at multiple points during the story. Jessica Cruz is a character near and dear to my heart, in part due to her Hispanic heritage. Spanish is well-executed in the dialogue, which lends an extra layer of authenticity to the story. I and many other readers will emphasize with her struggle to choose willpower or anger. The Aztec gods she dreams about are not only metaphors for these emotions, they represent the Green and Red Lanterns, respectively. John Stewart serves as a friend and mentor for her in the comics, and serves the same purpose here, as well as acting as a jumping-off point for conversations about intersectionality between Black and Mexican American experiences. Together, they choose where to focus their energies for the best outcome: in anger, or in hope?

The art is truly unique, and the most memorable I’ve seen in quite some time. The square figures evoke ancient Aztec and Mayan carvings. While greens and blues are the dominant colors, the backgrounds and background figures are often washed in one or two colors. Overall, the palette is desaturated pastels – but because it looks as if they were watercolors painted wet right over pencils. It has that distinctive gray tone. I LOVED it and lapped it up like water.

If the gorgeous art isn’t enough to wow you, the story of a teen desperate to settle a war within herself to help her family and community will definitely knock you out. This is going on my Best of 2022 list.


Rivera, Lilliam, and Steph C. Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story. 2021.

School Library Journal reviews, part 4

I have been reviewing YA books and graphic novels for the School Library Journal magazine since 2018. I enjoy getting a sneak peek at some titles that will be coming out, as I order both genres for my library.  Reviewing is different than writing for my personal blog, as I am limited to 200-300 words for each review, and can only share once it has been published with their edits. The magazine wishes to be transparent with descriptions regarding race, so people don’t default to thinking characters are white, so any physical descriptions of characters are now required in the review. I’ve now reviewed twenty-five books for them- here are my first six, my second set of six and my third.

Secrets of Camp Whatever

Willow, a Latinx biracial tween with purple hair, is not pleased to be moving with her family to the town of “Nowhere.” To make matters worse, she is being dropped off at the same weeklong summer camp her dad used to attend. Willow also has to deal with an odd camp director who patronizes her once he finds out she is deaf and wears hearing aids. But all those troubles fade when she and her cabinmates discover that the foggy island is inhabited by supernatural creatures. Friendship, humor, and teamwork help them grapple with Bigfoot, a witch, gnomes, and a vampire. Grine’s clean and appealing illustrations flow well. The art suits this whimsical mystery. Backgrounds are minimal, with more detail paid to the strange creatures and eerie woods than to the campers, and the palette is subdued, dominated by grays, lavenders, and blues.

Verdict: Sure to be a hit with young readers, especially fans of the Lumberjanes books and the TV series Gravity Falls. The conclusion hints that more magical adventures await Willow and her friends, which makes this new series one to invest in.

Shark Summer

Gayle and her single mother recently moved to Martha’s Vineyard from Boston to open a boutique ice cream store. Gayle, a star pitcher for a local softball team, breaks her arm during the championship and loses the game. Reeling with guilt at losing the game and inadvertently forcing her mom to take an additional job to pay hospital bills, Gayle joins budding cinematographer Elijah and bullied teen Maddie to film a movie for a contest with a $3,000 prize. They meet the production crew on a big-budget shark movie that is filming on the island and discover a gruesome local legend based on a past tragedy. While this graphic novel is aimed at middle schoolers, it has a mature sensibility and an eerie “Goosebumps” vibe. Gayle, Maddie, and their families are white, and Elijah and his father are Black; characters are from various socioeconomic groups. Family ties are strong, and a queer romance is hinted at. Marcks has a distinctive art style, capturing characters in a cartoony, almost caricature-like manner and conveying emotion well. His panels are small but easy to follow, with a soft purple hue that has narrative significance.

Verdict: A bridge between simpler narratives and more mature content, this is a strong addition to graphic novel shelves, with appealing art and a strong story about friendship.

The Summer of Lost Letters

Seventeen-year-old Abby Schoenberg has recently lost her grandmother O’ma and discovers a stash of old love letters among her belongings. The letters tell of a romance on Nantucket during the 1950s that was passionate but ended badly. Her grandmother never spoke of that time of her life and Abby’s curiosity is piqued, so with her parent’s permission she obtains a summer job on the island and begins to sleuth out what happened in O’ma’s past. Abby soon befriends Noah, the grandson of the man who wrote the letters, and the two confront some hard truths and prejudices that O’ma endured as a Jewish refugee, who lost her biological family in Auschwitz and then lost her secondary family in America. This is a blend of romance, history, and a coming-of-age narrative that all ties together well. Abby and Noah’s Jewish faith and background are respectfully represented and showcase the reality that some Jews have to downplay their religion and culture to fit in. Abby and Noah are cued as white and secondary characters have various ethnicities.

Verdict: This contemporary romance with a healthy mix of historical fiction, that also incorporates some deeper truths, will be a fun summer read. A solid YA purchase.

Treasure in the Lake

Childhood friends Iris’s and Sam’s interests have diverged now that they have reached middle school: Iris dreams of leaving their quaint town for archaeological adventures, while Sam is content with his life as is. When the local river suddenly goes dry, the kids happen upon a formerly submerged town downstream that had been abandoned years ago when a nearby dam threatened the villagers and was revealed only because of low waters. Adventures await these two friends, but soon an argument and rising waters put them in danger. Relying upon a Chibi style for the characters, debut author and illustrator Pamment has created an appealing town that seems inspired by the French countryside. Sharp-eyed readers will pick up on clues in various panels about the fantasy element in the second half of the story. Not everything is spelled out, but readers will gain a greater understanding through the illustrations. The palette is soft, with blues and purples dominating.

Verdict: A strong story about friendship that incorporates fantasy and whimsy; fans of Hilda and Adventure Time will be charmed. A great addition to any middle school library collection.

Glorious Wrestling Alliance

Glorious Wrestling Alliance is a tongue-in-cheek homage to pro wrestling that will have readers rooting for a scrappy crew of misfit athletes. Great Carp, who has a fish for a head, is the current champion, but he’s having an existential crisis. Other team members are grappling with identity issues: Miranda Fury resents being seen as a lesser wrestler because of her gender; Gravy Train, who has a gravy boat for a body, wants a different persona; and tortured poet Death Machine wants his writings to be taken seriously. A traveling tour results in comedy and mayhem as they all struggle to move into new roles. Cult classics in some circles, Hicks’s comics have been collected and colorized for the first time. His straightforward six-panel format, with occasional breaks for amusing maps or sidebars, capably brings the characters to life. The story has a Scott Pilgrim vibe, with witty dialogue and spot-on satire poking fun at the world of pro wrestling.

Verdict: This campy graphic novel is a knockout; sure to be popular with older youth and adults, who will enjoy the quirky illustrations and humor.

Cardboardia: The Other Side of the Box

Pokey, Mac, Masie, and Bird are four youth who discover mysterious tokens and find themselves pulled into a parallel world made out of cardboard. They only can enter this world through a cardboard box such as a paper recycling bin, and discover a creative mecca. But this world is threatened by the Grey Queen, and soon it is revealed that these youth were selected because of the magical gifts that they can harness together to save the kingdom of Cardboardia. The youth and their corresponding families are diverse racially and economically, with different family dynamics. The art is sketchy with faces that have overly large eyes. There is a nice array of different types of panels, with a colorful palette that changes between the worlds. Told in shifting perspectives, the story has an overly complicated beginning and ends in a cliffhanger.

Verdict: This start to a new series will resonate with readers seeking fanciful stories that incorporate friendship, creativity, and problem-solving.

Just Roll With It

Maggie is a new sixth grader, who is anxious about starting middle school and following in the footsteps of her accomplished older siblings. A fan of role-playing games, she carries around a 20-sided dice that she uses to help her make decisions in regards to friends and school. But when OCD tendencies begin to overwhelm her by letting the dice make her choices for her, fantasy begins to merge with reality. Maggie and her loved ones recognize she needs help and then take the steps in doing so. Maggie and her family are cued as South Asian and the story showcases a welcome diversity in her friends. Author Lee Durfey-Lavoie has written a compassionate story that puts mental health issues and getting the appropriate help in a positive light. With anxiety and depression rising in teens, this book shows youth that they are not alone. Artist Veronica Agarwal has crafted winsome characters that are inspired by anime and chibi animation that will appeal to a young audience.

Verdict: For fans of Raina Telgemeier’s Guts, this charming graphic novel about anxiety and learning not to let fear overwhelm you is a recommended purchase for all middle school library shelves.

It is a pleasure reviewing for this librarian’s magazine, and I hope to continue doing so in the future!


Faithless (Vol. 1)

Faith, an artist and amateur magic user, wants to make the world a little bit of a better place. When she accidentally spills her coffee on a woman named Poppy and helps her avoid a persistent ex-boyfriend, they go on an adventure that quickly turns romantic. Poppy is well-connected in the art world and invites Faith to a party. There, she meets Louis Thorn, a world-famous artist – and Poppy’s father. When Poppy leaves on a trip, Faith and Louis start to create art together, and become romantically involved. Is it grief? Faith has had two friends pass away recently under mysterious circumstances. Is it a search for something more? Enigmatic Louis offers Faith a choice: to become an artist, or to become forgotten.

… I forgot why I picked this up, sometimes I look up an author to find a title and end up finding an additional book that sounds interesting, I think that was the case here. I’m glad I stumbled upon this graphic novel, because I really enjoyed it. It’s an adult graphic novel: there are explicit love scenes, strong language, and drug usage. None was gratuitous in my opinion. At it’s core, this is a story about looking for connections with others, and trying to find meaning within those connections. Faith being both an artist and novice magic user serve the story well, as she tries to connect through her art and manifestations. There are hints of supernatural elements, which I’m looking forward to learning more about.

Flat, 2D colors and shading fill the book. Details of city life, art studios, coffee shops, bars, parties, small apartments and huge lofts, flood the panels and ground us in reality even if it’s hinted that something more is going on. Thin, wavery lineart ties everything together and blurs the line between real and magical.

As we closed the book we got a glimpse of Faith’s decision; I am eager to see how it plays out in the next volume.

– Kathleen

Azzarello, Brian, and Maria Llovet. Faithless (Vol. 1). 2019.

Dark Ark: Old Gods & The World That Waits

The first dark what-if tale of this series was fascinating. Many of us have heard the biblical story of Noah and the ark saving people and animals for the future, but this tale speculates that a sorcerer Shrae built an ark to save the unnatural animals. These next two volumes bring the Dark Ark to shore!

Old Gods- Volume Two

We get some backstory- showing Shrae’s parallel story to Noah’s, as he feverishly builds an ark, lying to the villagers that he will give them sanctuary. The few that he takes, are doomed to be fed to the monsters, and one horrible mother is very deserving of this fate. We find out how Janris and Khalee become friends, and we see how all of Shrae’s children are complicit in his dark deeds.

Shrae visits aquatic monsters Echidna and Typhon, children of the old Earth’s titans, who are the parents of the current monsters. These original Gods, have been all but forgotten, but demand tribute even as he tells them he is planning to save their monstrous children. He tells everyone what they want to hear, but backstabs everyone in his quest to keep the ark inhabitants alive. While this is based on a religious story, the narrative remains neutral, as you see Shrae balance duty vs morality.

The story ends with his ark safe, and the rain stopping. What awaits them now?

The World That Waits- Volume Three

Author Cullen Bunn has opened each volume with an introduction, and he immediately shares that there will be more of the story in a new series, called After The Flood. This is somewhat of a disservice to this story, which I thought would be the conclusion, as it then made the entire volume anti-climatic.

The story begins with two big events- Shrae’s first grandchild is born on the ark, and an island is sighted. Monsters and humans alike are eager to land and explore, but a surprise awaits them. Fallen angels, who survived the flood are there and immediately start hunting the ark inhabitants as they step off onto land. Khalee feels forced to take drastic measures and accepts her father’s dark magic herself to fight back against these new vicious foes. While the ark was certainly dangerous, they have now stepped out of the pan and into the fire, as landfall has just brought them more troubles. This, of course, sets up the next series that Cullen and the artist Juan Doe have planned.

The art in this volume was a big improvement from the previous two. While the humans remain blocky and indistinguishable from one another, the monsters get an upgrade. The purple-tinged pages of the monsters disembarking were drawn more precisely with some good action shots and interesting panel placement. The closeups of Nex, the vampire, definitely reminded me of the evil smile of DC’s Joker.

Overall, these three volumes told an interesting and sinister twist on the Biblical story of Noah, with Shrae’s parallel voyage. I’m also willing to check into the sequel, although on Goodreads I only see V1 of After The Flood, which was published in 2020, and none since then. Covid hit publishing hard, so I wonder if the entire scope of the story will eventually be wrapped up the way Bunn was hoping for.


Project Hail Mary

MacGyver in spaaaace!

Mark Watney from The Martian has been reincarnated as Ryland Grace, an astronaut who is tasked with saving all of Earth’s humanity! Can he do it? Well, golly gee-willikers, with science, he can!

The book opens with an amnesic astronaut waking up from a coma. He quickly discovers his two shipmates are dead, but he can’t remember who he is or what the mission is. The onboard computer won’t give him the information, so he ever so slowly starts to piece together what happened. His amnesia is a plot device that is clunky but effective in helping readers gain background knowledge at the same time Grace does. As his memories start to slowly slip back into place, he realizes he is on a suicide mission to help Earth fight back against an extinction event, as the Sun is dimming because of some space organisms eating its energy.

You will need to establish a suspension of disbelief at how Grace got involved and his part in the research, but afterward, Weir world-builds up a storm. The author certainly knows his science, as everything about the space mission seemed very authentic and credible. Earth is doomed to a deadly ice age within a generation if something isn’t done to prevent it, so world leaders band together to send a ship off. In space, Grace learns that Earth is not the only planet that is being affected, and meets an alien he nicknames Rocky (love him!), who is also trying to save his species. What I liked about this story, is the practical steps Grace and Rocky had to establish to be able to communicate. Although a science fiction story, this is no Star Trek where you can just beam yourself onto alien ships or planets, and use a translator to understand one another. Slowly, step by step, the two learn how to work together, despite constant malfunctions in their ships. There is a twist at the end in regards to how Grace came aboard the ship, and a realistic outcome of what happens to him after the mission is over. The conclusion doesn’t have a pretty bow on it, and we have to surmise some details about Earth’s outcome.

Taken in parts, the book has its weaknesses, but as a whole, the story is hopeful and optimistic and I enjoyed listening to the audio edition. This book joins Weir’s two other books, The Martian and Artemis, as matching our blog’s theme of geeky awesomeness.


Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Vol. 4)

Akiko is continuing to work at the call center and in Hidaka-sensei’s classroom while drawing and submitting manga to Bouquet magazine. Some of it sticks (such as a Thelma and Louise styled story), some doesn’t. When Bouquet ceases publication and a new magazine called Cookie starts up in its’ place. Challenged to write a youthful, more fashion-forward story, she writes “Dress Up Summer” which gets serialized. She’s finally bringing in money regularly from writing and drawing manga! After being invited to a publishing party in Tokyo, she meets Ishida Takumi and other manga creators for Cookie who live and work in Osaka. Akiko’s saved up enough by this point to move there… but what about Sensei and his students who are studying for their own exams?

I feel as if the pace slowed down a little bit in this volume, but in a good way. Akiko shows more details and events of her life during this time period. For example, she helps Sensei with a home project to make his garden look and feel more like Monet’s fabled gardens. We also see a visit from her boyfriend at the time, and all the sights they saw and the foods they ate in Miyazaki: including a meal from Sensei himself. All these events and details are meticulously rendered – so much so that I was craving the sushi that was shown!

A chapter that will be enjoyable for all readers (not just artists like myself) is the chapter where she explains the process of making manga. It’s so much more involved than even I thought! And so fascinating! It’s even more impressive that she did so much by herself, only in the evenings, for so long. It’s at this point that she recruits friends as assistants, for good reason!

More and more, this story becomes less about Akiko’s artists journey and more about the folly of youth and the illusion that comes with it: that we all have all the time in the world. From the beginning, she’s been foreshadowing that something has happened to Sensei since the events of this story, and that something is finally revealed in this volume. All her hints and “what if” sighs do nothing to make this gut punch any less heart wrenching and painful. At the end of this volume, she’s left with a choice: to go back to Miyazaki and help Sensei and his students, or to continue her upward rise in Osaka. I for one am very much looking forward to seeing her choice in the next volume.

– Kathleen

Higashimura, Akiko. Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Vol. 4). 2020.

Run: Book One

First you march, then you run!

Congressman John Lewis’s March trilogy was beyond excellent, so when his story was continued in this new series, I knew it would be a must-read. Co-author Andrew Aydin and illustrator Nate Powell were also attached to this new series, plus an additional artist L. Fury who was able to replicate the art style that Powell had established in the earlier books when Powell didn’t have time to be the exclusive artist. While March had given an overview of the Civil Rights Movement from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, Run then takes a deeper look at Lewis’s life from 1965 to 1966. This pivotal year would have some heartbreaking lows for him, but it was the start of his journey towards becoming a Congressman from Georgia years later.

The message I received from this book was not to give up. Not only did Lewis not give up when faced with setbacks and arrests from his work in the Civil Rights Movement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), he also didn’t give up when faced with personal disappointments. When he was replaced as chairman of SNCC with a radically different leader, he was devastated. He was honest with his failings, acknowledging the growing pains and fraught dynamics between many of the early leaders. While now he is recognized as one of the “Big Six” of Civil Rights activists and became a respected Congressman, he had some major stumbling blocks to overcome. But this shows the readers that they too can persevere, even after facing major obstacles.

The narrative and art are as strong as the March trilogy, with care shown to present as balanced a picture as possible. As with any memoir, all recollections are those of the author and are prone to their spin on the events. Main artist Fury tried to replicate the style that Powell had established and she did a great job of being historically accurate and faithfully duplicating what many real people looked like. The black & white illustrations really brought the story to life, giving us windows into Lewis’s life. This non-fiction narrative was further strengthened by the extensive biographies of people found in these pages, in addition to the notes and sources section at the end of the book.

This book is the start of what I believe will be another trilogy, but sadly Congressman Lewis died before it was published, although he had been involved with its story and had seen much of the artwork. Another artist had been attached to the project before Fury (I’m wondering what drama happened there), plus there were Covid issues, so the series was unfortunately delayed. With only a year covered in this book, there is so much more to share, so I hope Lewis was able to contribute more of his story with his team, so we get the entire scope of Lewis’s journey. His message of nonviolent civil disobedience and his quote “Make good trouble” are important truths to live by!


Black Cat (2019, Vol. 1): Grand Theft Marvel

Felicia Hardy’s relationship with Odessa Drake, the head of the New York Thieves Guild, is – complicated. She may have complicated it further from stealing a painting from Odessa, but who’s to say? She’s already moved on to bigger and better things. Black Fox, the man who taught Felicia and her father everything they know about thievery, is back in town, and has a job for Felicia and her boys. He’s got one last big job in him before he retires. The hit? The Vault of the New York Thieves Guild. First though, they need to procure some things from the Sanctum Santorum and the Fantastic 4’s house – and that’s just for starters. Simple, right?

This good ol’ heist story had the same feeling as Trail of the Catwoman did. From a story-telling standpoint, I feel this book fared better, even if from an artistic stantpoint I feel the Catwoman book was done a tad more stylishly (to be fair, it’s very hard to top Darwin Cooke). MacKay managed to get some great characterization in despite the non-stop action and breakneck pacing – all while maintaining a light and humorous tone. This was done mostly through flashbacks of Black Fox and Felicia or her father, helping to explain their relationship and how Felicia turned out the way she did. All memories were pertinent to the situation in the present time. I missed the first title card in the first flashback and so was confused until the next one, but this was probably my own fault and not that of the creators or design of the book itself.

Movement was emphasized above all else in the artwork here. The backgrounds, while drawn well, are colored with simple washes to further bring the characters and their actions to the foreground. Thin linework allows the characters to move as they need to. The action sequences (and there are a lot of them) were exciting and well-done. I felt overall that the colors were too dark and muted to really work for such an action-oriented story, but it didn’t take away too much from the experience.

This volume only had Felicia and the gang stop at two famed Marvel landmarks in New York City, promising more in further volumes. I’m curious to see where their adventures lead next and to learn more about Felicia’s character. Fans of Black Cat and and the Spider-verse are sure to enjoy, but Marvel fans in general (I’m sure there are Easter eggs that flew right over my head) and readers who like heist and action stories will also want to check it out.

– Kathleen

MacKay, Jed, Travel Foreman, Michael Dowling, and Nao Fuji. Black Cat (2019, Vol. 1): Grand Theft Marvel. 2020.

No One Else

Set on the Hawaiian island of Maui, single mother Charlene has been caring for her infirm father and young son Brandon alone for years. When her father dies, Charlene is unmoored and decides to go to medical school, when her musician brother Rob returns. While Rob seems like a nice guy, a fight with his father years ago had left Charlene with no one else to help when their father slipped into dementia. Charlene, Brandon, and Rob teeter through dysfunction as they try to come to a new equilibrium with this new family dynamic. It was an interesting look at how people process grief, and as someone who lost their mother a bit over a year ago, I could relate.

Despite its short length, this story packs a punch. Illustrated in black and white with grayscale, the only additional color used is orange. The panels show a slice-of-life in an environment we often correlate with paradise, but for this family, it is anything but. There is a theme of fire, in the sugarcane fields nearby, but the fire also symbolized rebirth, such as when fire (or trauma) burns your life to the ground. Life is messy, and there is no straight line to success.

Author and illustrator R. Kikuo Johnson expertly showcases a true-to-life look at grief and family dynamics. Bittersweet and tender- adults who are facing new chapters in their life will relate.


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