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Graphic Novelty²

Author

Kathleen

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

Heartless Prince

Evony, Princess of Destireth, was orphaned as an infant by a witch attack on her kingdom. Since then, she’s lived in the kingdom of Gallea with the king and queen and their children, Ammon and Nissa. She has the unique ability of being able to sense witch familiars. After a deadly encounter when a familiar follows his parents home from a hunting trip, Ammon wants to show them that they must fight the threat, not simply hide behind the kingdom’s magical barrier. He and Evony begin to sneak out of the castle at night to hunt and kill familiars. They are caught one night out, not by the king and queen, but by the witch Aradia. She rips out Ammon’s heart. Slowly, he will start to become a familiar. When Nissa is kidnapped and spirited to the Witchlands, Evony can no longer sit idly by. She follows her adopted siblings into the witch’s realm, not knowing how far she will really have to go to get them back.

At it’s core, this is a story about finding the humanity in yourself and in others. It might be difficult to see and hold onto, but the risk is always worth the reward. However, in the same vein, what was supposed to be the big plot twist about Evony’s true heritage was very predictable for me – target audiences may still be surprised. The end was well set up for a sequel, so I anticipate more of this theme going forward.

At the same time, the creators don’t pull punches with the action. While not overly violent, there are scenes of battles and bloodshed. The figures are drawn lean and quick, emphasizing constant movement. Evony is obviously no stranger to weapons and wields twin sickles, which is honestly the coolest thing ever. Though Evony and Nissa are both princesses, they are wonderfully resourceful and cunning. Nissa was plotting her escape from the witch’s lair even before Evony came to her rescue!

It felt to me like there were a lot of Russian influences in this book. The way the figures were drawn and dressed reminded me of medieval Russian illustrations or tapestries. The backgrounds also evoked older Disney films for me (Hyperion Disney was the publisher for this one – happy accident?). Each area of this world had a different color palette. Gallea’s palace and grounds were warm yellows and greens. All scenes with the witch Aradia were deep, dark reds and blues that were nearly black. The Witchlands themselves were cold, sterile whites and gray-blues. Not only was this a nice visual cue to differentiate places, it emphasized how many layers there are to this world.

Overall, I enjoyed this graphic novel for the lovely Russian-inspired illustrations and butt-kicking princesses. Older middle-grade and YA readers will love the creepy witch atmosphere and action. Looking forward to more 😉

– Kathleen

De Vito, Angela, and Leigh Dragoon. Heartless Prince. 2021.

Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero

Willow Zimmerman lives in the Down Rivers district of Gotham City, a historic Jewish community. Her mantra is, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” So it happens that she meets her newest friend Garfield while petitioning outside her school for more funding for Gotham’s public schools. She introduces Garfield to the stray Great Dane she’s been calling Lebowitz. After Willow’s mom tells her she’s stopping her cancer treatments because they’re costing too much, Willow gets an overnight job cleaning the animal shelter. The money she brings in isn’t enough. An old family friend, E. Nigma, reaches out to Willow after a long time of no contact due to drug abuse. He’s clean now and looking to reconnect. After hearing of Willow and her mom’s troubles, Eddie gives her money and offers her a job: game runner for his poker nights. She now makes INSANE money, enough to cover her mom’s medical bills and much more… but she discovers that Eddie’s poker buddies and their wealth are slowly tearing down her own neighborhood. After a run-in with Killer Croc and Poison Ivy, Willow gains the power to talk to dogs, including her Lebowitz. How can she use her powers for good if she knows that her job supporting her family is part of the problem?

There’s a lot going on in this graphic novel, but in the end… it didn’t really feel like it went anywhere. It felt unfinished in that for all of Willow’s wanting to change the world, losing her drive, and finding it again resulted only in her willingness to continue her double life. Perhaps the creators were trying to set up for a sequel? Willow is a whip-smart and passionate young woman, which on the one hand is good for my heart, but on the other, just makes it even more upsetting that she didn’t really seem to grow by the end. Great lengths were gone to so that readers could see how busy Eddie’s job kept her and how it alienated her from her friends and mother. Her character arc by the end felt like a compromise rather than true growth.

For all that, it was enjoyable. It was interesting seeing Gotham’s supervillain attacks from a citizen’s perspective rather than a hero’s; one example is them calling buildings Poison Ivy has attacked “greened” buildings. Riddler is not a character we see used too often and I think his inclusion here was generally effective.

Great swaths of color permeate the book. Oranges dominate, underscoring Willow’s vivaciousness and love for her home. The linework reminded me of George Pérez’ artwork: delicate, yet strong. There are plenty of Easter eggs for DC fans to pick out in the backgrounds: Harley Quinn graffiti, a Flash button on a backpack, a poster of Black Canary’s band. And, of course, all the pups were so cute 😉

While it fell flat for me from a story and character arc perspective, Whistle is still an inspiring and enjoyable graphic novel. I hope to see more of Willow, Lebowitz, and everyone else in the future.

– Kathleen

Lockhart, E., and Manuel Preitano. Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero. 2021.

Beneath the Trees: The Autumn of Mister Grumpf

Beneath the Trees by creator Dav is a series of four books for young readers originally published in France starting in 2019. Each book coincides with a season. The Autumn of Mister Grumpf is the first volume.

Mister Grumpf, the badger, is trying to clean his leaves before winter sets in… but he keeps getting distracted. First, Squirrel and his rowdy kids go by, trying to stock up on nuts before it gets too much colder. Hedgehog wants to share one more worm before hibernating for the season. And young Mouse needs help with his kite stuck in a tree. With all the help he’s giving others, can he finish his own task before the snow starts?

I can sum this graphic novel up in one word: ADORABLE. I loved every single minute of reading it, and I’m far older than the intended young readers audience 😉 There is a great message here in doing everything you can to help others and being neighborly, but not at the expense of letting others take advantage of you. Dialogue is succinct and easy to understand for young readers.

The author and artist, Dav, states that traditional hand-drawn Disney films were the biggest inspiration for this series. It’s immediately obvious even if you have no further context. The backgrounds and characters are round and cute, with exaggerated features. Colors are bright and vivid and extra crisp, just as you would find on a sunny autumn day. My favorite part was actually inside the front and back covers of the book. Printed here are Dav’s sketches that could have been taken from behind the scenes of a Disney film.

Everyone kids and up will enjoy this graphic novel about a grumpy yet helpful badger. Older readers will especially appreciate the traditional Disney inspiration. Looking forward to the next installment.

– Kathleen

Dav. Beneath the Trees: The Autumn of Mister Grumpf. 2021.

The Orphan King (Vol. 1)

Young Prince Kaidan is sent away to study with his Aunt Taleissa on the Isle of Women. He is bestowed the great sword Taliburn before he’s sent away as a reminder of his birthright. Upon returning home, he’s found his whole kingdom in ruins and himself on the run from the Knights of Vermillion. They want to hunt him down, as his resurfacing is a threat to the empire of Scathelocke. Kaidan, now passing himself off as Kay, is taken in by a band of people living in the forest. Anne, Robert, and Sturdy John seem like decent people… but are they truly on his side? With everyone hunting for him, who can he possibly trust?

I was pretty excited for this one, and it did not disappoint. It’s a riotous, rollicking adventure that doesn’t let up on the gas – yet, it’s pretty emotional too. Flashbacks with threads of Kaidan wanting to live up to his parents’ expectations, and rivalries from both his childhood in the kingdom and his time on the Isle of Women, have the potential to be explored in later volumes.

The tone was overall cinematic in scope, from both a writing standpoint as an action-oriented character study, and in the art. There is a phenomenal sense of place stemming from the medieval backgrounds and character designs. The colors are muted, with blues and greens dominating, further evoking the feeling of medieval England. Characters are drawn with emphasis on movement, with sharp expressions and angular linework.

Though this graphic novel is intended for middle-grade and YA audiences, this is one epic Arthurian retelling that folks of all ages can enjoy. I’m highly looking forward to the next volume.

– Kathleen

Chin-Tanner, Tyler, and James Boyle. The Orphan King (Vol. 1). 2021.

Clean Room (Vol. 1): Immaculate Conception

Chloe Pierce’s fiance has committed suicide, leaving behind a self-help book as his only clue. Chloe spirals in her grief and become hospitalized herself. She comes to with the realization that in order to unravel the mystery of Philip’s death, she needs to investigate the author of the book: Astrid Mueller. She’s become THE self-help person to most of the world, including Hollywood. Her biggest success story is a former child actor whom she helped to get clean. As a reporter, Chloe has the clearance to get into her headquarters in Chicago and demand an audience with her. However, after seeing the fabled and feared “Clean Room,” it’s clear that Astrid and her company are not what they seem. The suicide of the child actor, under the same circumstances as Philip, has not only Chloe but the rest of the world questioning what it is Astrid actually does.

Horror is not usually a genre I read. I picked this up because Gail Simone co-wrote it with Jon Davis-Hunt, and as an extra bonus, Jenny Frisson created the covers. There’s a great start here for a commentary on the dangers of cults preying on faith and religion in a supernatural horror setting. The events here in the first volume are wrapped up nicely, yet open-ended enough to intrigue readers into the second volume.

The art was totally gross… but in a good way that befits the story and it’s creepy, ominous, and antagonistic tone. There is nice contrast between the inside of Astrid’s headquarters (sterile colors and precise linework) and the outside world (muddier colors and messier lines) that I appreciated.

I gotta say, it was entertaining enough for me to get through with (relative) ease, but it’s not one I’ll be continuing. There’s a reason I don’t read horror – I’m a certified scaredy cat – and it seems not even the great Gail Simone can convert me =P

– Kathleen

Simone, Gail, Jon Davies-Hunt, and Quinton Winter. Clean Room (Vol. 1): Immaculate Conception. 2016.

Salt Magic

When Vonceil’s older brother, Elber, comes home from World War I, he does the worst thing imaginable: proposes to his boring sweetheart, Amelia. Long gone is her mischievous brother. He’s changed into someone quieter, more responsible, more… ordinary. Vonceil can’t forgive him that. She sometimes feels too big for their small Oklahoma farm near their small Oklahoma town. Shortly after Elber and Amelia’s wedding, a glamorous woman named Greda comes to town, asking for him. They had had an affair while he was in Paris. When Elber refuses her pleas to come away with her, she flies into a rage and curses the family’s well, turning it to salt water. Feeling responsible, Vonceil sets out across the West to undo the curse and save her family.

I was totally absorbed by this middle-grade Wild West fantasy. Though there are truly some unique fantastical elements, it’s firmly rooted in reality. Research was obviously done to ensure all the details of rural life between the World Wars was accurate.

Speaking of details, there was something Studio Ghibli-esque about this graphic novel. I think a lot of it had to do with the high attention given to all those little touches. The character designs were similar as well: Vonceil’s short stature, cropped black hair, and wide face reminded me of Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service. In addition, magical elements being strongly rooted in reality is another Ghibli touch. Though the colors here are muted to sun-bleached or salt-stained tones, it felt like reading a Ghibli movie in every way but name.

Middle-grade readers and up will enjoy this tale of love, sacrifice, and living life to the fullest. Apparently this is Larson and Mock’s second graphic novel – excuse me while I seek out the first 😉

– Kathleen

Larson, Hope, and Rebecca Mock. Salt Magic. 2021.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

Once, there was a young boy who met a mole. The mole was obsessed with cake, but otherwise made good company. Together, they rescue a fox caught in a trap. The fox in turn saves the mole – it sounds made up, but it’s true! After meeting the horse, the party begins a journey together across the wilds to take the boy home.

At least, this is my interpretation of the story. This didn’t feel like a graphic novel with a beginning, middle, and end so much as an illustrated journal, a sketch diary, and a gratefulness or wisdom log, all at the same time.

Most of the text is dialogue: conversations, little nuggets of wisdom, without much exposition. It’s presented in a way that recalls fairy tales and fables, with the cadence and rhythm of the prose. Just like those old tales, there is a lot of truth to this story, too. The characters talk to each other about believing in themselves, finding a home in the people you love, and to be kind. My only criticism of this book is the text itself, which was in a lovely script that truly fit the story and tone, but may be hard to read for some.

The illustrations are simply beautiful. They’re sparse, yet full of movement and life and texture. Most importantly, THE SKETCH LINES WERE LEFT IN, WHICH IS MY FAVORITE THING EVER!!! This is most evident in the horse, so of course, those were my favorite 😉 Most of the illustrations are in black and white, with a few important ones in color. All appeared to be in ink, with washes of either ink or watercolor.

I hope you pick up and experience this graphic novel for yourselves. Reading this felt like I went on a journey with the characters and came home to a nice warm bowl of soup. No matter who you are, you will find something for you in this delightful graphic novel.

– Kathleen

Mackesy, Charlie. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. 2019.

Amethyst (2020, Vol. 1)

Amy Winston leads a double life. On her 16th birthday, she receives gifts from her adoptive parents on Earth, then heads to Gemworld for her royal birthday bash. When she arrives, she finds Amethyst, the kingdom she rules over, has been completely destroyed, and all her subjects missing. Well, except for her trusty Pegasus, Ypsilos. She wonders if Opal, the evil king of the northern lands, has anything to do with it. Entreating the other Houses for help has so far been a wash, but a Turquoise warrior named Phoss and Maxixe, Prince Aquamarine, join her quest. Out of ideas, they follow a crystal healing book Amy got as a gift from her adoptive parents, opening her third eye chakra – and allowing Amy to see that all her subjects, including her birth parents everyone assumes to have died – have been trapped in amethyst. Can they figure out how to reverse the spell before it’s too late?

I read and highly enjoyed Amethyst’s too-short New 52 run and the ’80s omnibus (must not have gotten around to reviewing it for the blog, on the to-do list!) and. This reboot has so far been the least enjoyable of the title for me. I don’t think it’s bad, per say, but it just doesn’t quite scratch the fantasy comic itch the same way the original does.

The writing felt like it skipped around a bit. Some aspects weren’t fully explained for someone who’s new to the title (or who’s rusty, like me). Eventually you just learn to live with it as you’re reading, but it’s a tad frustrating. Though it tried to tell a story of found vs. birth family, there are too many threads going with too little significant character development. Ultimately, it falls flat even though everything is seemingly wrapped up by the end. This trade paperback covers issues 1-6 of what’s planned to be a 12-part series, so I have to wonder what the second 6 issues are going to tackle. For someone who is strictly looking for an action/adventure story, this will be less of an issue, for there’s plenty of fight sequences and traveling through fantastical lands to go around.

To make up for the subpar story, the art is LOUD – but in a good way. The visuals are overall trippy and psychedelic. Colors are rendered in bright jewel tones. Figures are drawn with bold, confident lines, while backgrounds are almost more like muted washes, to help the characters and their actions stand out.

While this isn’t the Amethyst title for me, there is still plenty of action and adventure to carry it for another reader. The art serves this purpose by pushing the figures to the forefront. I’ll pick up the next trade paperback and see if it gets better for me in the second half.

– Kathleen

Reeder, Amy. Amethyst (2020, Vol. 1). 2021.

A Bride’s Story (Vol. 11)

This volume picks up right where the last picked off: with Talas reuniting with Mr. Smith in Ankara. Her story is told here. When she and Mr. Smith parted the first time, she was deeply unhappy. She got married so her elderly mother wouldn’t worry about her, but she confessed her feelings for Mr. Smith to her new husband. Wanting to make her happy, they set off for Ankara under the guise of going on a pilgrimage to pray for a long and prosperous marriage. As Talas and her husband wait in Ankara, she asks him to pawn her jewelry and possessions for more money so they can stay longer. When they find him, she begs him to take her with on the rest of his adventures… to which Mr. Smith agrees, despite the dangers that may be in store for her. As they travel to the port town Antalya, taking pictures all the way, they find something they may not expect…

Ahhh I loved this volume (I mean, I love all of them, but this one in particular) because it took place mostly in Turkey. The change of scenery – from the wide plains of Karluk’s introspective journey to the crowded and noisy towns – is nice from a storytelling point of view. What’s also fun is further connection of story threads not previously thought related. Mr. Smith makes a comment about wishing he hadn’t thrown away his pocket watch – only for it’s story to be told and it to reappear 😉

There was also a short story at the beginning about winter with Amir and Karluk’s family that was brisk, cold, and poetic.

As always, looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Mori, Kaoru. A Bride’s Story (Vol. 11). 2019.

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