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Graphic Novelty²

Author

Kathleen

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

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.

Seen: True Stories of Marginalized Trailblazers: Rachel Carson

The second volume in the Seen series focuses on Rachel Carson, whose writings and accomplishments on environmental issues eventually led to the creation of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in the United States. As a little girl, Rachel loved nature. She acquired a bachelor’s degree in biology, and a master’s in zoology and genetics. While working as a typist as a young adult during the Great Depression, she publishes her first article, then her first book, which unfortunately becomes overshadowed by World War II. She publishes her second book, The Sea Around Us, after the discovery and widespread usage of DDT. She goes on to publish her most famous work: Silent Spring.

Though Rachel faced public disbelief and outrage for her work, she never let it sway her. She let the facts, and sometimes lack of facts (lack of long-term effects of pesticides, for example) speak for themselves. She did her best to emphasize the potential consequences for humans as well as plants, animals, and insects. We are all connected in a symbiotic relationship and what affects one of us will affect the others. This is what Rachel strove to get us to understand before she passed away prematurely at 56 from cancer. Though she lived a short life, she lived a full one defending and speaking out about her passion.

Just like the first volume about Edmonia Lewis, the illustrations are no-fuss. There is also a bibliography and teaching guide at the end. This book is instead written in first-person as if Rachel was writing or speaking to us, as opposed to the third-person narration from Edmonia’s volume.

A wonderful second installment in a most welcome and informative series! Looking forward to the next volume.

– Kathleen

Willis, Birdie, Rii Abrego, and Kieran Quigley. Seen: True Stories of Marginalized Trailblazers: Rachel Carson. 2021.

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.

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