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Graphic Novelty²

Author

Kathleen

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

Cheshire Crossing

What do Alice Liddel, Wendy Darling, and Dorothy Gale have in common? Well, everyone thinks they’re crazy. Each girl has claimed to have gone to a different world and had fantastical, yet harrowing, adventures. They are sent to Cheshire Crossing under the pretense of getting the best medical care. However, Dr. Rutherford, the director, and Miss Poole, their nanny, actually BELIEVE the girls. Dr. Rutherford believes he can teach the girls to control their powers to step in and out of alternate realities – and whatever other powers they may develop. Alice, having none of it, tries to escape. As Wendy and Dorothy try to stop her, the girls accidentally unleash the Wicked Witch upon Neverland, where she teams up with Captain Hook. Can three untrained girls and their nanny possibly have a hope of fixing their mistake?

Nancy reviewed this one for School Library Journal, and at her encouragement I took a stab at this one too. Andy Weir and Sarah Anderson are a lively creative team. They took the question of “What happens after happily ever after?” and decided that for these girls, ever after was not so happy. They are a little more grown up, and perhaps a little more hardened, than you remember, though they have not lost their original charm. It made for a fun romp across the real world, Neverland, Wonderland, and Oz.

I have to admit, like Nancy, it too left me a little confused as to which audience it was meant for. The writing and themes were undoubtedly for a YA audience, but the illustrations skewed years younger. If I didn’t know any better, at first glance I’d say it was a middle grade graphic novel, because of the straightforward panel layout, rounded forms, exaggerated features and facial expressions, and bright colors. In this way, this graphic novel is not as effective as it could have been. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have because I couldn’t get past the disconnect between the writing and the art.

For the target audience (I’ll say upper middle grade to YA), Cheshire Crossing is a fun, empowering take on classic female characters, and going off the cliffhanger ending, with much more in store.

– Kathleen

Weir, Andy, and Sarah Andersen. Cheshire Crossing. 2019.

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Grayson (Vol. 2): We All Die at Dawn

After crash-landing in the desert with his partner Helena, the deadly Midnighter, and a baby containing the heart of the Paragon, Dick has no choice but to walk to civilization – 200 miles away. To save the baby, Dick will walk. Midnighter follows, determined to take the baby, and the heart, for his own purposes. He asks questions that Dick himself is trying to get to the bottom of. Why does Spyral need the pieces of the Paragon? Who exactly is Mr. Minos, and what is his endgame? Will their questions on the secrets of Spyral die with the four in the desert, or will they live to figure it out?

The action and intrigue continue from Volume 1. We do see here a gentler side of Dick’s character, as he cares for the baby and plows onward through the desert. Midnighter is a little-known character, so it was nice to see him make an appearance in this volume. As we don’t yet know his motivations or alignment with Spyral, he only adds another layer of intrigue that we can unravel later on.

… I could go on, and leave a proper review, but I believe this panel, which is probably the greatest known to man, will just about sum up:

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My work here is done ;D

– Kathleen

Seeley, Tim, Tom King, Mikel Janin, Stephen Mooney, and Jeremy Cox. Grayson (Vol. 2): We All Die at Dawn. 2016.

The Perineum Technique

Contemporary video artist JH and Sarah met on a dating app, and hit it off right away. They meet on Skype regularly for hook ups. Though Sarah is elusive, cold even, JH can’t stop thinking about her, and starts to become obsessed. Despite his best efforts, he can’t seem to convince her to meet in real life. When finally she does cave, she asks him to meet at a swinger’s party, and asks a vow of abstinance lasting months while she’s on vacation. JH will do anything she asks, if only for the chance to get close to her. When she gets back, will they finally have a chance?

This is a very adult graphic novel that focuses on the juxtaposition of emotional intimacy in the age of online dating. We only focus on the “relationship” from JH’s point of view. We see him struggle with trying to connect to Sarah, but just like him, we readers are left to wonder about and draw our own conclusions about how Sarah is feeling. The most effective panels are of JH, alone, staring at his computer screen or his phone, waiting for an answer.

Though there is nudity, there is very little explicit sexual content. Instead we experience JH and Sarah’s sexual acts through visual metaphor, some of which are JH’s video art pieces. I found the cliff sequences quite clever: JH and Sarah are falling down a cliff, holding onto swords or daggers that make marks in the cliff face. For the most part they are parallel to each other, but sometimes they cross. Sometimes the sword or dagger marks wobble with increased or decreased frequency. To me this suggests the level of excitement or involvement that both parties have in the sexual act.

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Page 76 of The Perineum Technique, showing one of the visual sexual metaphors.

Though some of the mind games shown here probably went over my head, as I’ve never dated online, I was impressed by the artwork and the alternative ways that sexual acts were portrayed. We see two young adults struggling to find what they need, when they might not even realize they need it. Though I tend to roll my eyes at the “intimacy vs. technology” cliche, I found this one to be the most effective I’ve read so far.

– Kathleen

Ruppert & Mulot. The Perineum Technique. 2019.

Wonder Woman (Rebirth, Vol. 9): The Enemy of Both Sides

Aztek has come to Wonder Woman and asked for her help entering the realm of the gods to rescue one of her own. The legendary Amazon Atalanta has been missing for hundreds of years, and by Aztek’s description, it appears to be her. Diana can’t leave her aunt on her own any longer, but neither can Artemis, of the defected Amazons of the Bana-Mighdall. Atalanta is many things: an aunt, a legend, a hero – and three powerful women are coming to her rescue, whether the gods like it or not.

There is more to the story, but I can’t say anything further without spoilers 😉 Suffice it to say that this is a volume in which women of different viewpoints and talents come together for a common cause – which is always welcome, and appreciated! It was refreshing to see Aztek, who is a character I know little about, and for the Central and South American pantheon to have a bit of the spotlight, instead of the requisite Greeks.

This volume also contains the Wonder Woman 75th Anniversary Special, which is a collection of one-shots from many different writers and artists who’ve worked on Wonder Woman over the years. Many were no more than a few pages long, but captured Diana’s character succinctly and sufficiently at different points throughout her career. Here’s to another 75 years!

– Kathleen

Orlando, Steve, Laura Braga, Aco, Raul Allen, and Patricia Martin. Wonder Woman (Rebirth, Vol. 9): The Enemy of Both Sides. 2019.

Operatic

One of Charlie’s final assignments for middle school is finding “her” song for music class. A song that speaks to her soul, and feels like home, as Mr. K encourages the class. As summer approaches though, it’s hard to focus. She notices her classmate Emile more and more. The continued absence of another classmate, Luka, grows bigger and harder to ignore as well. During the opera unit, Charlie discovers the diva Maria Callas, and is deeply moved by her voice. As Charlie digs deeper into Maria’s charmed, yet tragic, life, she not only finds a woman to look up to, but qualities she can emulate. Or try to, anyway. Can it be done? Can modern-day lessons be learned from an opera singer who’s long since passed?

This is a debut graphic novel from writer Kyo Maclear and illustrator Byron Eggenschwiler. It’s in part a slice-of-life middle school story, and part biography of Maria Callas’ life. The story unfolds slowly, with Charlie’s discovery of the diva’s music occurring about halfway through the book, and her ruminations on her classmates, their music tastes, and more, sprinkled in throughout. In addition, there are characters here that are LGBTQ+, which was handled in a no-fuss way. I’d put the reading level at middle-grade to young adult.

The illustrations are beautiful. It’s mostly rendered in a bright gold through deep brown palette, though hues of blue are used for flashbacks, and red for Maria Callas’ life. The style is quirky and whimsical, flowy and dreamlike. It appears to be rendered in pencil and crayon for the most part, and some pastel, which gives it an overall very soft quality. I felt calmed as I read it, just because of the illustrations!

Overall, this was a lovely and soft debut from who is sure to be a winning graphic novel creating duo.

– Kathleen

Maclear, Kyo, and Byron Eggenschwiler. Operatic. 2019.

Grayson (Vol. 1): Agents of Spyral

Dick Grayson is a hero to many. During the Forever Evil storyline, Nightwing was unmasked, his secret identity revealed, and (seemingly) killed on camera to millions of viewers. To many, that hero is now a dead man… but they don’t know Dick. The former Boy Wonder is alive, well, and now goes by Agent 37 at the spy agency called Spyral. Partnered with Helena Bertinelli, the agent known as Matron, they hunt down pieces of the slain god Paragon, whose organs have the potential to become weapons of mass destruction. However, Spyral’s lead man, Mister Minos, has another motive: he wants to use these pieces to discover the secret identity of every superhero on Earth. Of course, Batman is on to Mister Minos’ duplicity – and Dick is his man on the inside. Though Dick is, for all intents and purposes, dead to the rest of the world, he has more to lose now than ever: his sense of self.

There have been a few times in Rebirth where Dick and Helena’s spy days have been referenced, and I was curious for more context. This is a solid start to the series. We’ve seen Dick constantly struggle to get out of Batman’s shadow (it’s partially why he became Nightwing), so it will be very interesting to see if and how he manages to do it here, especially if he’s still working with the Dark Knight.

Speaking of Batman, it is a little annoying how he seems to know everything… including that a super-secret spy agency is up to no good. I’m curious to see how he knew this, and I’m sure it will be revealed as the story goes on. Also yet to be revealed are Helena’s motives for joining Spyral. And how a girl’s boarding school became their front! There’s a lot of fun to be had here, but intrigue also.

The art is nothing to write home about. It’s certainly servicable: anatomy is accurate, expressions and lighting are natural, and backgrounds are understandably toned down to focus on the characters and action. But it suffers in that it’s in your run-of-the-mill, everyday comic book style. While there’s nothing unique offered here in the art style, it’s a solid foundation from which to build a graphic novel in which the story has more focus than the art. I, for one, am looking forward to more of the story!

– Kathleen

Seeley, Tim, Tom King, Mikel Janín, Stephen Mooney, and Jeromy Cox. Grayson (Vol. 1): Agents of Spyral. 2015.

Aladdin: Four Tales of Agrabah

This is a graphic novel anthology, with four stories that take place before and during the live-action Aladdin movie.

  • Love & Friendship: Aladdin shows a young street rat, like himself, around Agrabah, looking for the good parts.
  • Words & Deeds: After an escape attempt is thwarted, Dahlia tries to get Princess Jasmine to see that the world can be learned about through books.
  • Lost & Found: Abu, Carpet, and Rajah try to retrieve Aladdin’s lucky charm from a pack of street dogs.
  • Duty & Dreams: One thousand years before the events of Aladdin, Genie helps a young girl named Zayna realize maybe her current life isn’t so bad after all.

The intended target is elementary to middle-schoolers, so I was able to breeze through it. The panels and speech bubbles are spread out, not too wordy, and easy to follow. All four stories were short too, no more than a few pages, and each contain a lesson on finding the good in the bad, helping friends, and more. There was a fine balance in the art of detailed and yet simple, to stay easy on young eyes.

As an adult, I found the art too simple at times: for some panels where we are pulled out a little bit, all elements seemed rendered in amorphous blobs. While the renditions of the characters were for the most part true to their live-action counterpart, some of their expressions were too cartoony, and they crossed over into uncanny valley for me. The chapter with Abu, Carpet, and Rajah as the main characters did not go over well for me… some of the goofy things they get up to just does not translate well to live action, or even a rendition of a live-action film =P

Young readers will adore this graphic novel. They’ll find it entertaining, and it would be a good segway into more graphic novels. More important, they will be able to read it easily. A definite add for libraries and/or young Disney lovers!

– Kathleen

Bechko, Corinna. Disney’s Aladdin: Four Tales of Agrabah. 2019.

Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 5): Art of the Crime

One of Gotham’s old villains, Grotesque, is back, but he’s upped his game. Where once he was a petty art thief, he’s now turned to murdering those he steals from, and poses the bodies in an “artistic” manner. Batgirl tries to stop him, but an attack from an electrical escrima stick throws off the implant in her back that enabled her to walk again. What’s more, her memory appears to be failing as well as her legs. She has trouble remembering who Grotesque is, what he’s up to, and how she even planned to stop him. With dogged determination, Barbara plows on to foil his deadly plans – but potentially at the cost of her mind, and her legs – for good.

The writing in this volume really highlighted why I think the Batfamily is so popular. Though none of them have special powers, they are determined and willing to put their lives on the line to do the right thing, and above all protect the innocents of Gotham City. Barbara’s iron will, especially after regaining the use of her legs, and keeping on fighting the good fight though she could lose the ability to walk again, really shone through here. There were a few moments between her and her father, Commissioner Gordon, that suggest it’s a hereditary trait, and were very touching.

This volume did, however, feature a change in Barbara’s costume… I hate it. I absolutely hate it. The Burnside costume was so cute, and modern, and refreshing. Best of all, it was practical: covered everything that needed covering, offered protection against slides across pavement and rooftops, and was undoubtedly warmer in the winter.

While the new costume does harken back to older ones, especially in the colors, I cannot get over the “mask.” You can’t even call it that! It hides nothing! All I heard in my head from the costume change on was Blake Lively’s line in the abominable Green Lantern movie, where she exclaims, “You don’t think I would recognize you because I can’t see your cheekbones?” (IMDB)

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Joshua Middleton’s variant covers are stunning, but unfortunately the best part of Batgirl’s new costume.

Keep up the great writing, but bring back the Burnside costume!!!

– Kathleen

Scott, Mairghread, and Paul Pelletier. Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 5): Art of the Crime. 2019.

Just Jaime

The last day of seventh grade is finally here! For most of Jaime and Maya’s classmates, that means a half day of classes and cleaning out lockers, then field day, then the first official pool day of the summer. For Jaime and Maya themselves… they are absolutely dreading the day. They’ve been best friends since elementary school, but Jaime doesn’t feel like they’re friends anymore. She has a nasty feeling Maya, along with Celia and Grace, the rest of their friend group, don’t want to be friends with her anymore, and wants to try and fix it. Maya, however, encouraged by Celia, wants to find a way to break off their long-term friendship. If the popular, mature Celia says it’s the right thing to do, then it must be… right? Then why does she feel so guilty for what she’s about to do?

This middle-grade graphic novel takes a singular, and yet universal, aspect of navigating friendships, drama, and reputations, and examines it in great detail over the course of one day. We alternate between chapters from Jaime and Maya’s point of view, which was a smart design choice in that readers get to see some background information and events from both girls’ perspectives. What interested me about the layout was not so much alternating chapters themselves, but the format was different for Jaime and Maya.

Jaime’s chapters were mostly prose, with small illustrations between paragraphs. Even though her chapters are much more text-heavy, there is sufficient white space between the text and the illustrations so that it doesn’t feel like you’re reading a whole lot. This makes sense for Jaime, who spends much of the book inside herself, trying to figure out what went wrong. Her introspection-heavy side of the story might not have translated as effectively in either just prose or just graphic novel.

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Pages 6 and 7 of Just Jaime, from a chapter from Jaime’s point of view.

Maya’s chapters were in more traditional graphic novel format. Her chapters deal with more people than herself, as she interacts with Celia and Grace for most of the story. We see firsthand, rather than are told about, the friend group’s dysfunction. To show rather than tell Maya’s side of the story was an excellent choice. It allows the reader to discover that the friend group aren’t truly friends on their own.

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Pages 12 and 13 of Just Jaime, from a chapter from Maya’s point of view.

I’m not the intended target audience for this book, so me as an adult reader kept rolling her eyes at who I knew to be the perpetrator, and the extreme melodrama of youth and friend groups that I definitely don’t miss. However, middle-grade readers will adore it. It will get them thinking more critically about their own friends and friend groups. Perhaps they, like Jaime and Maya, will discover that friends can be found in unexpected places, and that old friendships can withstand anything.

– Kathleen

Libenson, Terri. Just Jaime. 2019.

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