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Graphic Novelty²

Author

Kathleen

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

Heartstopper (Vol. 3)

Now that Nick is out as bi to his mom, and Charlie has told his parents that he and Nick are dating, the boys start thinking about telling others as well. They’d like the secret to be out, but they also want to take it slow. Charlie is afraid of Nick getting bullied the way he was. They get a taste of this when Nick’s brother David comes home from uni for the summer holiday. Fortunately, they have the upcoming school trip to Paris to have something to look forward to. Plenty of shenanigans ensue with Nick and Charlie trying to be discreet, and some of their classmates and friends falling for each other in the City of Lights. As Nick and Charlie try to keep their relationship a secret, they discover secrets about each other, too. How much longer can they keep it up?

The more this series goes on, the more the story deepens. While there is plenty of drama (and this volume had a lot with the Paris trip!), it never feels over the top or out of place. New feelings and concepts are introduced organically and not just for the sake of inclusion. For example, Charlie explains his lack of eating as stemming from feeling a lack of control during the period he was outed. This makes sense for his character. It also works at introducing mental health issues and, assuming eating disorders, for young men, which are typically overlooked. If my thinking that Charlie has an ED is correct, I have no doubt that it will be handled as delicately and empathetically as prior issues have been.

This was a pretty easy read to get out of the slump I’ve been in. The font is bigger and though it’s in a handwriting style, it’s never unreadable. The only color throughout the book is a minty green, becoming lighter or darker depending on the mood and/or setting. While the characters and backgrounds are more abstract, emotion is more the point, and it comes across perfectly.

Looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Oseman, Alice. Heartstopper (Vol. 3). 2021.

The Venture Bros.

Before we start this post, I want to apologize to our dear readers for my spotty posting lately. There is still a lot going on between the house and the new-to-me job and I’m still trying to find a good reading/writing routine. Doesn’t excuse of course, but I hope it explains. I hope to be posting normally again within the next few weeks. Now, on to the post!

My husband is quite proud of himself for finally getting me to watch this show. I go so far as to say it’s probably his greatest achievements yet =P The Venture Bros. is one of his favorite shows, but try as he might, I couldn’t get into it due to the dumb humor (more below). Just as he kept telling me, it got better after Season 2, and oh boy was he right. Season 3 hits and it goes from 0-100 real quick.

What started as an episodic satire of boy adventure shows of the 1960s-70s with adult humor quickly turns into a story of characters breaking the molds of who they think they’re supposed to be. Take a few of the main characters, for instance (as spoiler-free as it can be):

  • Hank and Dean (fraternal twins and the titular Venture brothers) are heirs to the boy-adventuring, super-sciencing Venture legacy started by their grandfather and continued by their father… but is it who they really are, and more important, do they even want it?
  • Dr. Venture (Hank and Dean’s father) is a former boy adventurer and classic super-scientist… but how can he possibly carry on the Venture name when his father did everything perfectly?
  • The Monarch is a self-proclaimed villain and Venture’s arch nemesis… but can he become more than his self-inflicted hate?
  • Dr. Girlfriend is The Monarch’s significant other… does that mean she’s just a villain’s girlfriend, or a villain in her own right?
  • Henchman #21 is a henchman in The Monarch’s ranks… is he just a henchman, or can he step out of his villain’s shadow and hold his own? (OMG my fave actually as far as character development)
  • … And so on

The more the show goes on, the more all of these characters break out of the molds and classic tropes that Seasons 1-2 put them in. Not only from a writing standpoint, but a character standpoint. At some point, each character questions their identity, legacy, and motivations, and wonders if it’s who they really are and/or want to be.

Speaking of motivations, this show is MADDENINGLY VAGUE about the motivations of some characters and questions the audience have of them… which the writers know full well and poke fun at from time to time. After a while I kept watching, and wanted to keep watching, because I had questions that needed answering!

Going back to humor: Seasons 1-2 were so hard for me to get past because they mostly rely on the “so stupid it’s funny” type of humor. Which I hate. But Husband loves (This is why we make a good couple). He’s more into slapstick and satire, whereas I’m more into irony and sarcasm. Some of the “so stupid it’s funny” humor still remains, but it’s less prevalent after Season 3 when the story deepens and spreads out over individual seasons and between seasons… Which made it much more bearable for me.

Much of the humor also comes from references to old media show is based on (like Jonny Quest, Hardy Boys, etc.) and obscure and/or nerdy media. Superhero references become more common as the show goes on and it finds it’s niche in poking holes in these tropes specifically. They even get some famous superhero VAs in for some cameos and/or recurring characters in later seasons 😉

In finishing Season 7 over the weekend, I understand why Husband was so upset about it’s cancellation last year. Long gaps were common between seasons because of the animation style and workflow. But to have the show cancelled as Season 8 was being written and with Season 7 ending on such a heartbreaking cliffhanger, so many questions still unanswered… it had to have been a gut punch.

Shortly after cancellation, HBO announced that they would pick up The Venture Bros. for a final movie that will wrap up the show. Husband got HBO Max (mostly) for this reason.

In researching for this post, I found a commonly cited interview where the creators have said the show is about failure. I can definitely see that being the case, but that’s not all. I think it’s more about learning to be who you are despite the expectations that other have of you, despite who you – and everyone else – think you are supposed to be.

If you’re having a hard time getting past Seasons 1-2 for the humor – I promise, it gets better with Season 3 onwards. The writing ramps up and it morphs into an extraordinary character study set in a world built for and by organized heroics and villainy. Husband is looking forward to the movie for a satisfying ending to the series, and now I am too.

– Kathleen

Publick, Jackson (creator). The Venture Bros. 2003-2018.

Witch Hat Atelier (Vol. 3)

The Knights question Coco after the accident at the riverbank. The power she and Agott displayed was too great for their level. They found nothing for now, but will come back later. The risk of the secret of magic getting out is too great, and they can’t afford to make exceptions for anyone. However, Quifrey finds a strange kind of ink in Coco’s bag. He takes her and the ink to a Mr. Nolnoa, who specializes in inks. They discover that it’s the same kind of ink that was used on the cobblestones in Coco’s adventure with the dragon – but what does it mean? And when Coco becomes plagued with nightmares and falls ill, can she recover with the help of her new friend Tartah?

The more I read this graphic novel, the more curious the story becomes. We see a darker side to the usually cheerful mentor Quifrey, and we have to wonder what game he’s playing at. There is also the mystery of the Brimmed Caps, which has deepened in this volume. I’m excited to discover more how it all comes together.

Tartah has been among the most interesting characters introduced so far. He has a condition called “Silverwash Syndrome,” which in this universe is comparable to color-blindness. He sees the world through a wash of silver, not in colors. When Coco falls ill, they work together so he can find an herb that will hopefully bring her fever down. There was some commentary about him fitting in, and how it’s a shame more accommodations weren’t being made to help him function and succeed in the world. By working together with Coco, they find a solution that gives both of them hope – not that he can become normal – but that he can learn to work around his affliction.

With the deepening mystery and interesting characters – now one with a disability that isn’t just magically fixed! – I’m looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Shirahama, Kamome. Witch Hat Atelier (Vol. 3). 2018.

Poison Ivy: Thorns

Pamela Isley is a loner who loves plants. So much so that she releases a gas (toxic to humans, not plants, of course) in a local park in an effort to stop it from being bulldozed and constructed over. A few people get seriously sick, and residents in the surrounding area need to evacuate. This leads one of Pamela’s classmates, Alice Oh, to stay temporarily with Pamela and her father. Though Pamela would rather hang out in the greenhouse her mother donated to her high school than with her peers, Alice is all right. She’s helped Pamela avoid Brett, a guy at school who bothers her. However, Pamela isn’t sure she can trust Alice; especially with the family secrets she and her father keep. As she and Alice get closer, as more than friends, can Pamela open up?

This is a perfect pre-Halloween read. The overall tone is dark, gothic, and creepy. Most of the story takes place in the Victorian Isley mansion, or in settings surrounded by plants. Readers who know that Pamela eventually becomes Poison Ivy will be interested in this origin story, but horror and suspense fans will find plenty to appreciate as well. Pamela’s honest struggles to open up and do the right thing in this story juxtaposed against the knowledge of who she eventually becomes is what makes this read so tense.

What was most interesting to me was the seamless inclusion of feminism into Pamela’s character. She states more than once throughout the book that she has had enough of men controlling her body. It fits within the context of the story (that I can’t go into for spoiler reasons), but also is interesting given the history of the character as a femme fatale who uses her womanly charms to get what she wants. A teenage Pamela standing up for herself, specifically to stop men from taking advantage of her body, added a depth to her character that I hadn’t realized was missing until now. I had good timing reading this shortly after the new abortion laws being passed in Texas (though admittedly, Pamela takes “my body, my choice” to the extreme here!).

Contributing to the suspenseful atmosphere are the murky, muted colors and low lighting in the art. Pamela’s red hair is the brightest thing on most pages, but not by much. The linework is sharp and thin, evoking the titular thorns and reminding readers that no one person or place is safe.

Though you’ll come for the perfectly creepy atmosphere and art, you’ll stay for this queer and feminist representation of Pamela Isley becomes Poison Ivy. Add it to your TBR pile this October!

– Kathleen

Keplinger, Kody and Sarah Kipin. Poison Ivy: Thorns. 2021.

My Last Summer with Cass

Megan and Cass spend summers in the cottage their parents rent. Megan’s family drives to Topinabee, Michigan from Illinois; Cass’ family from Pennsylvania. The two girls are inseparable artists. After an incident where they were caught drawing on the walls, they start to collaborate on each others’ drawings. Each subsequent summer, they show each other what they learned in art class over the past year and create new work together. Something changes the summer they both turn 13. Cass’ father is away on a “business trip,” Megan’s father is pressuring her to give up art to study business and take over the family hardware store. The next summer they spend together is their senior year of high school, in New York City where Cass and her mother have moved. Megan meets Cass’ artist friends and connections and sees how she’s grown and changed since last they met. Cass encourages Megan to take chances, but when will it go too far?

Upon closing this graphic novel, it immediately shot to the top of my Top 10 list for this year. It’s indescribably good and gave me all the feels. The writing deftly shows how growing up changes us and our friendships: for better or worse. We see how each character handles the expectations from family and how they are able (or not) to operate and express themselves with the constraints they are given. These cues build up to the climax, which (without spoilers) is so dang HEARTBREAKING given all the progress that both characters had made. Afterwards, they must learn how to rebuild what they had broken.

Muted pastels color the whole book, as if you’re watching the story unfold through a summer haze. The linework is messy, loose, and sketchy, conveying movement and emotion above all. It recalls charcoal or pastel pencil. These media are known for being easy to erase and start over again, which perfectly reinforces the main theme of reformation. Once I realized that that was probably the idea behind the art choice, I was blown away all over again.

I can’t talk any more about this graphic novel without spoiling it, so I highly recommend you experience it for yourself. You will fall in love and get your heart broken, and perhaps mended again, by Megan and Cass: two artists who learn how to take chances and be honest not only with each other, but with themselves. I cannot, CANNOT, recommend this graphic novel enough. Easily the best I’ve read this year.

Kathleen

Crilley, Mark. My Last Summer with Cass. 2021.

Marvel’s “What If…?” Episodes 1-3

The latest Marvel TV show, What If…?, premiered last month. The episodes are self-contained story arcs narrated by a being called The Watcher, who takes the viewer through different universes. In these alternate realities, we see familiar events occur differently.

Episode 1 shows us a universe where Peggy Carter took the Super Soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers. While she is now stronger than most men, she still encounters the same barriers as before… just because she’s a woman. When a dangerous mission comes up, she knows she has to go. She’s the only one who can carry it out. She takes up the shield and becomes Captain Carter, with the help of Howard Stark and Steve himself. A strong start to the series where Peggy shows how strong she really is!

Episode 2 shows us a universe where T’challa became Star Lord instead of Black Panther. The Ravagers abduct him instead of Peter Quill! Yondu, his adoptive father, tells him that Wakanda was destroyed. Viewers follow Star Lord and the Ravagers as they attempt to steal the Embers of Genesis (a powerful artifact that creates plant life, and therefore can end hunger across the galaxy) from Taneleer Tivan: the Collector, and the most powerful man in the universe. This was unfortunately Chadwick Bosewick’s last performance before his passing. It was a very emotional episode for me and is easily my favorite so far not only for him, but the high stakes heist!

Episode 3 shows us a universe where the Avengers never assembled. Nick Fury tries to call them together, but they all die under mysterious circumstances. The injection that Natasha Romanov gives Tony Stark is accidentally fatal. Thor is shot dead by Clint Barton, who maintains he didn’t shoot before dying himself in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody. In her final voicemail to Fury, Natasha declares, “It’s all about hope!” Can Fury deduce what she meant before it’s too late for him, too? This one might be the most thought-provoking one of the three, speculating what the world would be like without the heroes that have defined the series.

Of the Marvel TV shows to come out in the last year, this one is up there on my favorites list. It certainly is fun to ponder “What If…?” and explore other possibilities for the universe. Since it appears they are setting up other multiverses in other shows, it’s a nice, easy way to explain to viewers unfamiliar with the concept. It’s also easier viewing in the sense that, as mentioned above, each episode is it’s own self-contained story. The only overarching element (so far) is the Watcher himself. Unless there is a big reveal at the end where everything becomes connected, you may be able to watch any one episode that seems interesting to you.

They’ve got most of the cast to reprise their roles for this series. Chadwick Boseman reprised his role as T’challa, as mentioned above. Haley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner, and Mark Ruffalo reprise their roles, among others that I won’t spoil 😉 It adds a lovely layer of immersion and truly feels part of the universe. If they had used different voice actors for everyone instead of a few, it would feel like more of a spin off.

However, I feel something is off with the animation. A still is nice to look at. Movement seems a little jerky to me, and facial expressions don’t quite capture the intended emotions. Husband compared it to watching a Telltale video game, but I feel as if Telltale animations are smoother than this. Telltale games are more graphic (with the thick lines and blocky coloring) in style; the show seems to be trying to emulate a moving comic book. I appreciate the attempt, but it’s falling a little flat for me =(

Overall, I’m looking forward to more of the series! Even if the animation is falling flat for me, the writing is thought-provoking, action-packed, and funny. My biggest hope is seeing a Thor episode! New episodes premiere on Disney+ every Wednesday. Look for Nancy’s post soon on episodes 4-6!

– Kathleen

Andrews, Bryan. What If…? 2021.

Kiki’s Delivery Service

It’s been quite a summer for me. I hit a milestone birthday, got promoted at my part-time job and am now down to 1 (ONE!) full-time job, and just this past weekend: moved into my husband’s and mine first house.

My body still aches from moving – I’m not as young as I used to be 😉 Not being able to go to the gym for over a year couldn’t have helped either. So this morning instead of unpacking more I had a feeling I needed to watch a Ghibli movie. Howl’s Moving Castle is my favorite, but – it didn’t seem right. Kiki was calling my name for some reason. So I curled up on the couch and clicked “Play.”

Kiki is a witch who has been waiting for the perfect night to leave home. As is tradition, 13-year-old witches leave their homes for a year to begin their training. On a clear midnight under a full moon, Kiki and her black cat Jiji take off on her mother’s broom and are drawn to a city on the southern coast near the sea. While searching for a place to live, they witness a baker attempting to give back a pacifier one of her customers dropped. Kiki offers to deliver it on her broomstick, and the rest, as they say, is history. The baker, Osono, gives Kiki her attic room and use of her phone for Kiki’s new flying delivery service in exchange for occasional help around the bakery. As time goes on, Kiki and Jiji gain customers, make deliveries, and find friends in aviation enthusiast Tombo and painter Ursula. After a delivery gone wrong, Kiki becomes depressed and slowly begins to lose her powers: flight and talking to Jiji. Will she be able to recover them and resume deliveries?

I see why I was drawn to this movie: it was just what I needed. Kiki is finding her independence and becoming self-reliant, but she also needs help occasionally from her loved ones. When she starts to lose her powers, she needs to look inside herself and find her inspiration again. After her introspective period, she doesn’t go back to exactly how she was before. She still can’t talk to Jiji, but she adjusts and accepts it. In her letter to her parents, she admits that while she’s having a great time and finding her way, she still gets homesick. By the end of the movie, she has grown through her “artist’s block” (as it were) and learned to be vulnerable and ask for and accept help when needed and offered – while still maintaining her independence.

The animation – oh, the animation! – is just lovely. It has a painterly feel to it. There are multiple points throughout the movie where there is just a pause. A pause to take in the scenery, or the character standing still. These points taking place in Kiki’s attic room reminded me of Johannes Vermeer’s paintings, most of which he composed and worked on in his attic room in Delft. While the characters’ movements and expressions are buttery-smooth, the big draw of these films for me are the scenery and attention to detail of everyday life. You can smell the bread and pastries in Osono’s bakery. You can feel and smell the wind coming off the sunlit sea. I was astounded by the sound direction: the pattering of Jiji’s feet on a wood floor, Tombo’s voice being distorted through the propeller on his invention. The thing that makes Ghibli movies so successful and immersive is this high attention to detail.

Immersed I was, so immersed that I’m fully awake, fixed my tea, and am rolling up my sleeves (well, I would if I weren’t wearing a tank top) to get cracking on unpacking before my second first day at work tomorrow. Just like Kiki, I have found my inspiration and am ecstatic to be starting many new chapters of my life all at the same time.

Kathleen

Miyazaki, Hayao. Kiki’s Delivery Service. Original Japanese release 1989; English dub released 1997.

Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human

“So… what is sex? Are there different forms of it? What counts as sex?” “What if I don’t like it?!” “What is consent and how to I give/get it?” “What if I’m not sure of my gender identity or sexuality yet?” “Why won’t anyone give me straight advice about relationships?!”

If you’re asking any of these questions and/or looking for sex ed in comic book form: this is for you. But it’s also so much more! Each individual chapter addresses the above questions, plus:

  • Body positivity and how to talk kindly to yourself about your body (but also in general!)
  • Masturbation and the different forms it can take
  • How to have safe sex, including what methods are good for preventing pregnancy and which are good for preventing STIs
  • Kinks, fantasies, and aftercare
  • Dealing with emotions such as jealousy and rejection

Each chapter is a conversation between two to four individuals about these topics. The characters are either friends, significant others, or siblings. All are presented as teenagers or college students, so each character is discussing with their peers. That was awesome! I think generations younger than I are becoming more comfortable with having these frank conversations with people they trust, and it was wonderful to have that shown! Also shown were a vast array of body types, including skin color, sizes, and differently abled! It reinforced the chapter on body positivity in a wonderfully passive way!

There were helpful (and anatomically correct) diagrams and illustrations throughout. There is also an index and a resources section at the back. Overall the language was plain and straightforward, though with some slang that (I felt) was a touch overused and will be outdated quickly.

Overall this was a very informative graphic novel that is presented in a no-nonsense, yet conversational and easy to understand manner. I think it’ll be easier for teens to digest this graphic novel – presented as conversations between peers of all types – rather than a more traditional or drier sex-ed book. Highly recommended for all YA library collections.

– Kathleen

Moen, Erika, and Matthew Nolan. Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human. 2021.

Allergic: A Graphic Novel

On her 10th birthday, Maggie and her family go to their local shelter adopt a puppy! She’s wanted absolutely nothing more for a very long time. But just as they find the perfect puppy and meet him, Maggie starts feeling sick. Her skin starts itching, her face swells up, and she can’t stop sneezing. So she ends up going to the doctor on her birthday. Later, at an allergy doctor, Maggie takes a scratch test and has an unusually strong reaction to most animals. The doctor advises Maggie to stay away from animals and pets until they can start her allergy shots. Maggie is devastated. With a new baby on the way, a new school, and her twin brothers having each other, Maggie feels all alone. A new girl named Claire moves in next door and things start looking up – until Claire gets a puppy. Can they still be friends even though Maggie feels betrayed?

There was so much more to the story than the main character discovering animal allergies. All kinds of big changes are happening around Maggie and she’s not sure how to deal with them at first. Change, of course, is inevitable, and there are multiple coping strategies shown. Taking deep breaths is reiterated throughout the novel, which we see helping not only Maggie, but other characters too! We also see Maggie talking to others about how she feels. While this doesn’t fix some things, it does help her to process them and see the positive side. In the case of her allergies, she starts to get shots which will make her reactions less severe over time. While she’ll never be cured, she can learn to live with it.

This was a middle-grade graphic novel, so it was broken up into chapters and the art was round and cutesy. I thought the chapters where Maggie go to the doctor were excellent. Everything Maggie went through was explained simply, accurately, and with compassion to ease fear and anxiety! Heck, even I’ve developed allergies in my old age and went through the same thing a few years ago, and even I felt better =P

This sweet story starts out with an allergy, but ends up being so much more. Maggie deals with a lot of changes at the same time, grows through them, and ends up finding that things might even be better than they were where we started off.

– Kathleen

Wagner Lloyd, Megan, and Michelle Mee Nutter. Allergic: A Graphic Novel. 2021.

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