Graphic Novelty²


April 2023


A hired killer is given a chance to earn absolution for her crimes, with the world as her judge, jury and executioner.

Seemingly inspired by The Running Man movie, Nina Ryan wishes to be pardoned for her sins but has to earn her atonement by pleasing a fickle audience. In essence, she has to kill bigger killers to be forgiven for her past killing. In the near future, she has bombs that were implanted in her brain, so if she disobeys they will go off, killing her. A camera is attached to her so an online audience can follow her every move, weighing in on whether her score should increase or decrease. So Nina is trapped by her audience, where every move she makes is judged. The narrative is supposed to be a moral story about society today and how the online world sucks us into living vicariously through someone else, as people make immoral choices online that they would not want others to know about. There is a news panel of talking heads, similar to Fox News, that push and pull the gullible audience into greater debauchery. The redemption of Nina comes at a cost, in a predictable ending.

Artist Mike Deodato Jr seems to be the go-to illustrator for AWA Upshot, and his work matches the tone of the story, with his gritty linework and love of grids. The coloring is appropriately dark-hued, with Nina drawn as a mohawked warrior, who is typically asexual but who can use sex appeal when needed.

AWA Upshot is a newer comic publisher that has promise, with its dark storylines but is in danger of becoming too one-note in its storytelling. While Absolution has some interesting commentary on our voyeuristic society, as a whole it doesn’t quite pull it off.


After reading the excellent The House by Paco Roca earlier this month, I looked up another book in which the author ruminates on the elderly and the passage of time.

Ernest is an elderly former bank manager, whose Alzheimer’s disease has become too much for his adult son and wife to handle, and is moved to a retirement home. His assigned roommate, Émile who is a scoundrel but good-hearted, shows him the ropes and he settles in well enough. In the weeks ahead Ernest meets the other residents, and they cope with the end of their lives in many different ways. Some retreat to the past, some become bitter and others try their best to make the best of their remaining days. Some of the stories are heartbreaking as dementia steals their minds, as you know Ernest is on that path already. The home’s workers are unsung heroes, and you will become angry at some family members’ inattentive care as they find any excuse not to visit regularly, while others bend over backward for their loved ones. While the story deals with a heavy subject, there is some whimsy built into the narration, and hopefully this story will make you think more critically about end-of-life care.

At times, I get on reading kicks on a certain subject, and my recent reads that include The House, Dancing at the Pity Party, and Ronan and the Endless Sea of Stars have been melancholy reads as they all deal with death and loss of family. But these subjects are my reality, as my husband and I have been in charge of caring for our parents and we have seen firsthand the challenge of life for the elderly as they lose control of their bodies, their minds and their finances. It is a very hard road for them and for their families, but maintaining their dignity is imperative. While society seems to take an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach to our seniors, I believe we should be better equipped for a time of life that comes for most of us and this graphic novel poignantly shines a light on it.

Top 5 Comic Artists

I previously shared my Top 5 Comic Authors, but who are my Top 5 Comic Artists? Let’s see!

Gabriel Rodriguez

Locke & Key is among my favorite graphic novel series and is penned by Joe Hill (on my Top 5 Authors list) and illustrated by the crazy talented Rodriguez. He brought the supernatural evil that the Locke siblings were fighting to life, and the recent Netflix series tried their best to replicate the amazing world that Rodriguez had created on the page to the screen. He designed a believable world, with each page brimming with detail. This duo is expanding the Locke universe and I am ready for it!

Mike Norton

I first discovered Norton as the illustrator of the eight-volume rural noir series Revival. Norton perfectly captured the inhabitants of a Wisconsin town that get caught up in a supernatural mystery. His line work is excellent and he knows how to capture the essence of characters. I recently read the anthology Superman: Red and Blue and they saved his illustrations for last as it was the best of the bunch. He is also known for his fantasy Battlepug series. I had the pleasure of meeting him at a C2E2 convention I attended a few years back and he was very charming!

Jonas Scharf

I first fell in love with Scharf’s work in the Bone Parish trilogy but also admired the one-and-done Warlords of Appalachia. He captures a gritty realism in characters that few artists can. I will be reading the supernatural trilogy Basilisk soon, another collaboration with Cullen Bunn (found on my Top 5 Authors list), so I can immerse myself again in Scharf’s world-building.

Fiona Staples

Saga would not be Saga with Staples! I noticed on volumes seven-nine that she was given first credit, and I applaud that because in graphic novels it is often the art that makes the story. Staples’ visuals are top-notch and while Vaughn’s storytelling is superb, it would not be the same sci-fi space epic if not for the illustrations. I am thrilled that after a multi-year break, Saga is back at it, and I look forward to admiring the new alien worlds she creates as the second half of the story unfolds.

Wendy Pini- the QUEEN!

ElfQuest is my cornerstone in the comics world. I was introduced to the World of Two Moons by my highschool boyfriend (now my husband!) and I fell immediately in love with this elven tribe. Artist Wendy Pini and her husband Richard Pini began this fantasy series in 1978 and wrapped it up in 2018- 40 years later. When I was introduced to it in the early 1990s, I eagerly read older copies and then kept up with it going forward. There were some experimentations with other artists for some of the branching-off storylines, but it was only Wendy Pini that I would accept as the artist. She defines ElfQuest and despite some good storytelling by her husband, I love ElfQuest solely because of her exquisite work. Long live the Queen of comics!

Honorable mentions: Faith Erin Hicks (but she was in my Top 5 authors, as she is a double threat!) Matthew Roberts (Manifest Destiny), Emily Carroll (Through the Woods, Out of Skin, and Speak), Skottie Young ( I Hate Fairyland) and Jeff Lemire (Roughneck, Essex County and Secret Path).

Who are your favorites, and why???

Dancing at the Pity Party

Author and illustrator Tyler Feder shares the profound grief she felt when her beloved mother died when Feder was nineteen in this moving and poignant memoir.

Feder, the eldest of three sisters, had an especially close bond with her mother so more than ten years after losing her mother she wrote and illustrated a graphic novel to both honor her mother and process her own grief. During Feder’s freshman year in college, her mother developed stomach pains that were sadly diagnosed as ovarian cancer, stage four. At first, the family had hope that their mother would recover, but within a year she died surrounded by her loved ones. Feder shares the stages of grief she went through, both before her mother’s death and in the weeks, months and years afterward.

The Feder family is of the Jewish faith, and while I had heard of families observing Shiva, which is a week of mourning after a loved one’s funeral, so I appreciated how Feder shared how this lovely ritual helps families with grief. She also capably shows how the loss of a loved one is a burden you will carry the rest of your days, but also the healing and growth that can occur because of what was endured. The illustrations were simple, yet evocative, and will appeal to both teens and adults. Many of the panels used pink and other soft colors, which was calming and affirming. A bit of humor, in the midst of the heartbreak, shows the realities of life and how life marches onward.

I recently read The House, another graphic novel about mourning a parent, and both were so well done about all the feelings that one can possibly go through as you lose a cornerstone of your early life. As I have lost both my parents, I can relate to Feder’s honest retelling of what she went through. I would absolutely put this in the hands of anyone who has lost their parent, especially if they lost a parent at an early age.

The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half was a layered story about identity, race and family. Stella and Desiree are twins who are light-skinned Blacks who live in a small town in Louisana, who as teens run away to New Orleans. Stella begins to experiment with passing as white and gets a job as a secretary where no one knows she is colored. When her boss takes a romantic interest in her and asks her to move, she takes the opportunity to escape, surprising Desiree with her sudden clandestine departure. Understandably devastated, Desiree later marries a Black man and has a dark daughter. When the marriage becomes abusive, she escapes back home with her daughter Jude, moving back in with her widowed mother. On the other hand, Stella marries her white boss, and while it is a happy marriage, she keeps her background from her husband and her blonde daughter Kennedy.

The story slowly unfolds, first with Desiree’s perspective, then Stella’s, and eventually Jude and Kennedy’s. Stella’s story proved to be the most engaging for it was interesting to see the justifications that she used to justify her abandonment of her sister and mother. She had to deny her past and family, and there was a self-loathing involved that was hard to bear. In an improbable twist, Jude and Kennedy meet as young adults in California and then again years later in NYC. The dance these cousins do, weaving in and out of each other’s lives and the secrets they reveal, yet also keep from one another is both frustrating and heartbreaking.

In addition to the story about the sisters and their daughters, the narrative also includes a transexual character that is treated with respect and gives a nuanced view of their life- which also includes secrets and abandonment of family. The issue of leaving or being left behind is also touched upon with Desiree’s long-term boyfriend. I found these stories sad, as no character seemed to have strong ties with anyone- their secrets kept them from establishing true ties of friendship or love with other people around them.

As someone who suspects that a great-great-grandmother was Mulengeon (tri-racial), I found this story of passing especially intriguing. Is leaving your family, your friends and your heritage worth it? This book gave me a lot of food for thought- and was a story I will think on in the days ahead.

The High Desert

James Spooner, film director of the documentary Afro-Punk, brings the late 80s punk scene to life in this memoir with evocative black-and-white art.

Spanning a year’s time, Spooner shares a pivotal year in high school he spent with his single mom in Apple Valley, California. They were returning after years away, and bi-racial James is wary of his new school, but hoping his old childhood friends will welcome him back. He shares the minutia of teen life, including all the stops and starts of friendship, teen crushes and the discovery of one’s identity. Spooner is a skater and fond of hard rock but begins to look into punk life, typically associated with white kids. But a new Black friend, who fronts a band, inspires him to delve into punk rock. But this new identity comes with a cost, as he runs afoul of a white supremacy group and struggles to connect with his white mother.

The black-and-white art is expressive, with a real effort to capture the essence of the era. At times, the line work can be imprecise, with some distortion of facial features, but you can tell Spooner was trying to capture accurate likenesses. Some full-page spreads showcase the bleak desert, somewhat of a metaphor for his life at the time. The story was overly long, with some uneven pacing, but the unique art matched the DIY aesthetic that is part of punk life. The story did make me reminisce about my own life, as I too grew up in the 80s/90s and a few of my acquaintances went punk in late high school. As a straight-laced athlete, I never understood the appeal, but now I appreciate why it might have spoken to them.

This memoir of growth, isolation, and racism is a love letter to the friends that helped buffer Spooner through his most difficult times and to the internal strength it took to become the artist and activist he is today. I advocated for it to be in the Top 10 of 2022 Best Graphic Novels for Adults Reading List when I was on the committee last year, and was glad when it was chosen!

The House

Paco Roca heartbreakingly captures the grief that many adult children go through after their parents die, which especially hits hard as the ten-year anniversary of my father’s death was this week and I still mourn my mother now gone two and a half years.

Set in Spain, three siblings have arranged to meet for a weekend at their family’s former country home after their father has passed. They plan to clean out and spruce up the place in anticipation of selling it. First to arrive is the middle child Jose and he and his wife begin to clear out the home. He reminiscences about his growing-up years, as the house was built when he was a child and his handy father was a task-master, as the family built the house themselves. (This character is a novelist, making me wonder if it is based on himself, as the book includes a photograph at the end that looked like the character Jose and his father.) After they leave with plans to return with paint and more supplies, the oldest brother Vicente arrives with his wife and teenage son. Vicente inherited his father’s handiness and sets to work immediately repairing the house, putting his son to work like he had put to work himself as a child. Last to arrive is the baby sister Carla and her husband and toddler daughter. We get windows into each adult child’s perspective of growing up with their stern father and quiet mother, who had passed away before her husband.

As the story progresses you see how each of the three was shaped by their father, both good and bad, and there are some regrets in their relationship with him in his final days. I sided with Vicente, for I too am the responsible eldest, and he had to make hard decisions about his father’s care when his two younger siblings were not available. But the three come together to build a pergola that their father had always dreamed of, and they eat their meals together as a family, leaving open the possibility of actually keeping the house to promote future family gatherings.

Roca’s delicate artwork is a marvel, as its sepia-toned panels pull you into the Spanish countryside, and moves between the past and present day. Additional details such as the family tree diagram and the almond tree rings were poignant additions to the narrative. So while this beautifully told story might have been about a single family, it represents many families once their parents are gone. This portrait of a family’s intimate domestic tragedies will make readers reflect on their own families, as sadly, we all lose our parents eventually. I try to maintain strong ties with my four sisters and extended family despite us all having busy lives, as once a family bond is broken it is hard to reestablish. This is a story I can see myself coming back to again, and picking up on new nuances in this fictional family dynamics, as my own family dynamics continue to evolve too.


I recently read Strange Weather, a collection of four horror novellas by Joe Hill that included the story Rain in it. A blogging friend told me that the story had been adapted into a graphic novel, so I of course had to track it down. Turning this short story into an entire graphic novel both helped and hindered the original story.

On an ordinary day in Boulder, Colorado, a deadly rainstorm suddenly appears- raining down crystal spikes that kill anyone unlucky enough to be outside. A woman named Honeysuckle had been excited that her girlfriend was moving in that day but instead sees her beloved die. She then takes off on a post-apocalyptic road trip to tell her lover’s father what happened and, of course, is besieged by other survivors. When she arrives back home after her adventure she learns who caused this deadly calamity and is shocked to find she knows the culprit.

The artwork by Zoe Thorogood was a mixed bag for me. Honeysuckle was an appealing hero, whom you were rooting for. You will get attached to the vibrant Yolanda quickly, making her loss hard. But Marc and the other males were very effeminate looking with weird stubble on their faces, and I found it distracting. The art reinforced some of the themes of the story, with her visit to the zoo heartbreaking. The panel placement was standard but did include some good full-page splash pages. The ending when you find out who started the deadly rain is abrupt, but it was in the original story too.

An interesting forward by Joe Hill and an art gallery at the conclusion round out the book. David M. Booher adapted the story well, showing how madness and violence led to devastating loss, but then gave us a glimmer of hope at the end. Overall, I give this a thumbs up because of Hill’s storytelling, but if I read this implausible story without knowing its source material, I don’t think it would have worked for me.

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