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Graphic Novelty²

Author

Kathleen

I'm an artist/librarian in Chicago who loves reading, creating, and playing video games!

And Now I Spill the Family Secrets

Margaret Kimball’s memoir starts with her mother’s suicide attempt on Mother’s Day 1988: the secret in her family, the thing they never talk about. She traces the event and the effect it had on her family throughout her life, and backwards through her family tree. With the gift of hindsight, she identifies how she grew up around her mother’s mental illness through her parents’ separation, divorce, and her father’s remarriage. And now, catching up to the present day, how she sees her mother in her brother Ted.

This was a tough read. The presentation was unique and immaculate. The illustrations were entirely in black and white and almost solely scenery (such as a room in a house, a street, or the exterior of a building) or memorabilia such as photographs, video stills, and transcripts of diaries. The only figures we see at all are those from the recreations of photographs and video stills. In that regard, this memoir feels extra personal and criminally invasive. I felt while reading as if I was going through her dirty laundry – which was probably the point. Since no one in her family talks about anything important, neither does the book offer a figure to serve as a narrator nor any characters other than who we see in Kimball’s recreations. The reader is left along only with Kimball’s words in a room we don’t know.

However difficult it is to get through, we are rewarded with an intimate portrait of how mental illness affects a family. I’d give it to an older teen. The presentation is easily among the best I’ve seen this year, so it’s worth checking out for that alone.

– Kathleen

Kimball, Margaret. And Now I Spill the Family Secrets. 2021.

The Sprite and the Gardener

Wisteria is a new sprite who just moved to the Sylvan Trace subdivision. In days of old, sprites helped humans grow and maintain their gardens, but sprites don’t really do that anymore. Humans developed their ways of gardening and they didn’t need the sprites anymore. Wisteria is disappointed about that. However, she finds that a property on Meadowgreen needs some help… so Wisteria nudges their morning glories along. Elena, the girl who lives there with her mom, is overjoyed to see them bloom in the morning. How can sprites no longer do something that make humans so happy? Wisteria wonders. Can she continue to help Elena without being discovered or ostracized by her peers?

This graphic novel was bigger than I was expecting. The story was short, but the book itself measures almost 9 x 12 inches. This must have been to let the gorgeous illustrations shine. They were reminiscent of the art nouveau style, with luminous, rich colors and thin, flowing lines. While the art is grounded in reality (especially for the plants), the color usage lent it a touch of whimsy and magic.

I’d been in kind of a reading slump, and this graphic novel lifted me out of it. As mentioned above, the story was short. It was also adorable. Both Wisteria and Elena want to help the plants and people they love in their own way. They have to learn to work together and accept help from those who offer it. Just because things change doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing – change can be good!

The library I checked it out from had it under “Teen,” but I thought it skewed a little younger. Very young kids will love the illustrations and it would be great for a storytime or for parents to read with them. Though of course, people of all ages will enjoy it, as I can attest to 😉

– Kathleen

Abrego, Rii and Joe Whitt. The Sprite and the Gardener. 2021.

The Backups: A Summer of Stardom

Performing arts students Jenni, Lauren, and Maggie audition for and land the roles of backup singers for Nika Nitro’s summer tour. Jenni can’t believe she gets to be up close and personal with her favorite pop star all summer. Lauren’s under orders to not study her beloved classical music for a while. Metalhead Maggie just needs a job for the season. Though the three girls are very different, they become close and start to enjoy working with one another, even under the heavy tour demands. Of course, mischief and hijinks ensue as well. Can their newfound bond handle the strain?

Because this is a middle-grade graphic novel, what started as a “never meet your heroes” story took an unrealistically saccharine turn and ended too neatly and happily for me to really believe it. That’s my only complaint, though! Otherwise, it’s a fun, quick read about friendship and hard work. It’s fun to see girls of different musical interests come together for a common cause. There was plenty of diversity as well.

Bright and glittering colors pop off the page. The concert sequences were especially fun, with different lighting and star effects that made you feel you were in the venue. The figures were cutesy and cartoony, but not overly so, unless the melodrama of a situation called for it.

Here’s another beach read for you! This middle-grade novel tells a cute and colorful story about hard work and female friendship and support, with a happy ending.

– Kathleen

de Campi, Alex, Lara Kane, Dee Cunniffe, and Ted Brandt. The Backups: A Summer of Stardom. 2021.

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights

Here in graphic novel form is a history of women and their struggle to earn rights. Women warriors, rulers, writers, speakers, leaders, of all colors, from antiquity to today, are included. The name, years of birth and death, a portrait, and a short story or biography (including direct writings or quotes were applicable) are included for each woman.

The overall narrative is constructed as an AI classroom, in which school girls asked about how women got the right to vote. As the AI teacher shows us, women’s right to vote was very closely entwined with other rights: labor, birth control, civil, and disability. The fictional girls in the story learn from the immersive AI environment, but also from each other.

Though text-heavy and stuffed full of information, I found it to be an easier read than expected. The time stamps were very helpful. There are also chapter breaks, often with a fun two-page spread of a big scene with multiple women related to that chapter title. Trying to guess all the real and fictional character was a lot like playing “Where’s Waldo”! Each chapter (for the most part) followed a different time period, and the art would change slightly accordingly to reflect that time. It would even change within chapters according to place: for example, going from the Mayan Empire to the Vikings to the Celtic Empire.

What surprised me the most was simply how many women were featured here. Most were given 1-2 pages dedicated just to them; some, like women of the Civil Rights movement, were grouped together on one page. The writings and quotes accompanying each woman made reading about them so much more interesting and immediate. A great deal of research was done for this book to show, rather than just tell, how women created and continue to create change. Highly recommended.

– Kathleen

Kendall, Mikki, and A. D’Amico. Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights. 2019.

What Unites Us: The Graphic Novel

Journalist Dan Rather wrote What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism in 2017. This is the graphic novel adaptation of that book, which is a series of essays. The graphic novel is broken up into chapters, each talking about a specific topic on American patriotism. The first chapter defines patriotism and it is that definition that guides us through the rest of the book. Through stories both personal and historically significant, Rather illustrates how patriotism has evolved since he was a child. As patriotism encompasses many forms, so too does Rather talk about patriotism through the lenses of inclusion, exploration, and more.

The illustrations were lovely. Though they were minimalistic, to let the writing take center stage, they were still carefully crafted. Each line has purpose, with no frills or fuss. Red, white, and blue are the only colors used. Often, a whole panel will be red or blue, though some combine the two. For example: red can be the entire foreground and blue the background. Very occasionally the two will mix into what looks like a watercolor bloom.

Rather himself was the main “character,” who served as the narrator for the book. He “speaks” his essays to us, which gave it a nice personal touch, as if you were having a conversation with him. He mentions various public and historical figures, all of whom are drawn true to life.

While overall the book was thought-provoking, and I appreciated that he did not sugar coat yet remained optimistic… it’s a white man’s optimistic view of American patriotism. I would like to see, and will be seeking out, graphic novels which speak to women and BIPOC’s points of view on America then and now, and what we can do to make this country better for everyone. This graphic novel was published in a series called World Citizen Comics, more of which I’ll check out.

Happy Fourth of July for our American readers!

– Kathleen

Rather, Dan, Elliot Kirschner, and Tim Foley. What Unites Us: The Graphic Novel. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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