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Graphic Novelty²

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Nancy

I'm a busy mom and teen librarian! I manage to fit in some time to be the co-writer of the blog Graphic Novelty².

LeVar Burton Reads: Season Seven

Season Seven’s theme was “surrender”. LeVar stated that sometimes we can not control our lives and the circumstances we are thrust into (Covid!), so these stories follow the idea that often we need to adapt and change to our surroundings. 

Pockets by Amal El-Mohtar

In the story, Nadia begins to discover strange items in her pockets, and some of them are so large as to not make sense that they could be found there. She confides in a friend who is a scientist, for she wants to know if this strange phenomenon can be explained. During the experiments, they meet another woman who is experiencing something similar and she helps Nadia stop questioning how and why and become more accepting of this new gift

Your Rover is Here by LP Kindred

A cab driver, Ahmad, is driving a fare out to a church and thinks his rider is singing to himself but then figures out it is actually evil chants. Ahmed then reveals he is actually a Jinn and combats the other man who was trying to hurt the congregation due to racism. This magical realism tale has a nice urban vibe and has an #ownvoices author, but didn’t excite me.

The Nine Curves River by RF Kuang

The fantasy story was devastatingly beautiful. Told from the older sister’s perspective, two sisters leave their island so the younger sister can give herself willingly to the dragon who will then end the drought in the region. Based on Chinese mythology this story of regrets and sacrifice will rip your heart to shreds. Read expertly by LeVar, he brought the dragon’s voice to life. I now want to read the author’s novel The Poppy War, for this tale is based on one of the character’s backstories.

Room For Rent by Richie Narvaez

This science-fiction tale had some bite, as you think about the different viewpoints of colonialism and how the dominating group justifies their actions. In this story, a pregnant alien is looking for a room to rent but finds out her new home is overrun with vermin, which actually turn out to be humans. We find out several types of aliens have overtaken Earth and now the original humans are being exterminated. At first, this alien seems kind and protects the humans, but soon enough her perspective changes and she condones her actions of killing them because she believes her kind deserves the land they unjustly took over. While this story has many parallels all over the world, my first thought was how whites took over Native American land and portrayed them as savages to excuse their genocide.

Cricket by Kenneth Yu

In this magical realism tale, the long-lived matriarch dies, leaving behind a large family that includes Richard the youngest son. It was his duty to take care of his mother and he looks bitterly at his older siblings whom he perceives as more successful as he. A magical cricket begins to speak to his family and says necessary truths to them all, especially about appreciating their life, but Richard in a rage kills it. A sad fable about how we need to not look outward for validation but try to improve the life we have in the here and now.

Madre Nuestra, Que Estas en Maracaibo by Ana Hurtado 

Yesenia is a put-upon mother from Venezuela who moves back to her parent’s home to care for her dying grandmother. Her marriage is ending, her children aren’t obedient, she left her unsatisfying career as a lawyer, plus then her parents heap more expectations upon her. Yesenia’s devout grandmother has always prayed for those at risk of purgatory, but when she is about to die herself, these souls come back and Yesenia has to fight them off thus helping pave a way to heaven for her Abuela and improving her life in the process.

Dune Song by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

In this post-apocalyptical desert world, a young girl struggles with surviving in a parched world. To keep villagers safe they are restricted to a fenced area, and if they leave, they are then banished. She and another youth decide to leave the safety of their village, so it becomes self vs community. The ending didn’t quite work for me, as I wasn’t sure if the wind storm signified their salvation or doom. I actually assumed the latter.

Wherein Abigail Fields Recalls Her First Death and, Subsequently, Her Best Life by Rebecca Roanhorse 

In this alternative timeline, set in the 1880s in New Mexico, Abigail is a Black young woman who is seeking revenge against the sheriff who killed her father years ago. She gives up her love interest to stay back and fulfill the covenant she made to kill him but realizes her hate is keeping her from living her best life. This story reminds me of the YA novel Dread Nation from Justina Ireland that also had an F/F romance set in the Old West with a magical realism angle. The podcast has a lengthy afterward by LeVar where he speaks of not being anti-white just because he is pro-Black. 

Low Energy Economy by Adrian Tchaikovsky

An asteroid miner on a solo space mission ruminates on his life as he mines for materials that Earth needs. He left his home hundreds of years ago, as he is put into hyper-sleep between landings, but he made the choice to take this job for his starving family would be fed for possible generations so long as his mining missions are successful. He is lonely and dying, with no way home, when upon his next awakening he is unexpectedly given the gift of seeing how his life’s work has benefitted his homeworld. A sweet tale about not giving up, even when you wonder if you are making a difference.

A Good Friday by Barbara Jenkins

Set in a Trinidad bar, a playboy meets a beautiful and religious woman but isn’t sure he wants to strike up a relationship with her because of her devoutness. But the tables are turned when she begins to take control, and ultimately he becomes her plaything. The story grew on me as it went, and because the story is framed as the man reminiscing years later, you don’t know if this new couple has a happy ending or not.

The Story We Used to Tell by Shirley Jackson

I was eagerly anticipating this story, as I have read other creepy tales by Shirley Jackson, a master of the short story. It started promisingly, with a woman visiting her recently widowed friend on her country estate when her friend suddenly disappears. After some investigation in her friend’s bedroom, she discovers a painting of the house and sees her in it, and then she herself is sucked in. I wish this eerie and atmospheric story had been a bit longer to flesh it out more. 

Little Man by Michael Cunningham

This re-telling of the Rumpelstiltskin tale will make you think how this gnome-man has been villainized unfairly (actually I always thought that!). In this story, we follow along as Rumpelstiltskin sees how a miller has gotten his daughter into an impossible situation with the king, and steps in to help. While somewhat thankful she takes up the king on his offer of marriage afterward, although he seems to be a horrible tyrant. Rumpelstiltskin tries to talk her out of it, but all she seems to want is riches and comfort, so that is when he strikes the deal with her for her first-born. That he loses and the king and queen unjustly remain in power, speaks to how life can seem so unfair at times, with the phrase “no good deed goes unpunished” seemingly apropos.

Mother of Invention by Nnedi Okorafor

This African futurism short story was longer and thus divided into two podcasts. Anwuli is a pregnant Nigerian woman who has been cast off by the father of her child after it is revealed he is married. The wife of her lover is vicious to Anwuli, placing the blame of the affair on her when her anger should be directed at the husband that betrayed her. Also shunned by her friends and family she retreats to a smart house, that cares for her when a deadly pollen storm unexpectedly hits the area and she goes into labor. The AI in her house ends up being kinder to her than any real people, and the ending was somewhat ambiguous as to what will happen next to Anwuli, her lover, his family and the houses that care for them.  An intriguing story that intertwined technology and human nature. A third podcast wrapped up this season with Levar interviewing the author Nnedi Okorafor

My favorite by far from this season was The Nine Curves River. Two others I would choose as my top picks are Room for Rent and Little Man.  As always I enjoy the stories that LeVar shares and suggest you check out his podcast if you haven’t already,  “But you don’t have to take my word for it.”

-Nancy

X-Men: Origins

This graphic novel gives us the origins of six X-Men: Colossus, Jean Grey, Beast, Sabretooth, Wolverine and Gambit. Each story is told by different authors and illustrators, thus there was some inconsistency in how each story unfolds.

Colossus by Chris Yost and Trevor Hairsine

Pioter is a young Siberian teen who is devastated when his older brother Mikhail is killed in the line of duty and during his grief turns into Colossus for the first time. A friend of Mikhail witnesses it but keeps the secret, but the Russian secret police suspect something. A baby sister Illyana is born and Pioter finds it harder to hide his powers so this gentle giant leaves his home and joins the X-Men to keep her safe. This story was my favorite, for despite its short length told a cohesive story that gave you enough details on his origins. The art was well done, especially a splash page of Pioter saving Illyana’s life. 

Jean Grey by Sean McKeever and Mike Mayhew

The story introduces Jean Grey as a teen who is so overwhelmed by her psychic abilities that she has become a recluse so her parents reach out to Professor X to help her learn how to control her abilities. He gets her past her trauma of feeling a friend’s death and teachers her to harness her gifts. But as a teen, she is still unpredictable and leaves the academy alone where she needs to use her powers to help when a crisis occurs. While chastised at the end by the Professor, you see Jean is healing. The art in this story was the best of the six, with a photo-realism style similar to Alex Ross. 

Beast by Mike Carey and J.K. Woodward

We are introduced to Beast as a burly high school genius named Hank who is mocked for his appearance but then heralded as a hero when he helps the football team win State. A bit of an explanation of his origins is given when it is revealed that his Dad was exposed to a high amount of radiation before he was born, thus genetically passing it on to him. Then there is a villain who wants to use Hank as his pawn and Professor X gets involved. Without Hank’s consent, he wipes the memory of Hank from his parents and the community and enlists him to join the X-Men. I hated the Professor for doing that, how cruel to rip Hank away from his family without warning. The art was hideous in this story- the artist was aiming for a photo-realism style found in the Jean Grey story, but it was muddy and distorted. 

Sabretooth by Kieron Gillen and Dan Panosian

Long-lived Sabretooth is seen as a child in the rural late 1800s who kills his older brother over a piece of pie on his brother’s birthday. Horrified, his parents lock him away but he grows into a feral and cruel teen who eventually escapes and kills them. As an adult, he meets Logan who he befriends but then betrays and begins a tradition of finding him every year to fight on his birthday (or perhaps his brother’s birthday?). I was quite put-off when Logan’s lady love is a sexy Native American with the name of Silver Fox. It was a racist and inaccurate depiction of Native women of that era and took me out of the story.

Wolverine by Chris Yost and Mark Texeira

This story draws from the 2001 story Wolverine: Origin and how Logan’s power came to him as a child in Canada when he witnessed his parents being killed. The story then deals with later years and how Professor X tries to show him that he is more than a killing machine and that he needs to tap into his morality and become an X-Men. The art is solid with good depictions of Logan throughout the years along with his iconic yellow costume. 

Gambit by Mike Carey, David Yardin and Ibraim Roberson 

I love me some Gambit, so I was willing to overlook that the story didn’t truly show his origins. Instead, it begins with his marriage to Bella Donna. The whole idea of them marrying didn’t make sense, as they were from feuding clans – the Thieves Guild vs the Assassin’s Guild. It was supposed to have a Romeo and Juliet vibe but I think the marriage would have been stopped before the ceremony, not immediately afterward. But…the rest of the story shows while Remy briefly works for bad people, his goodness wins out at the end. The art was decent, but sometimes facial features were oddly puffy looking.

This wasn’t the strongest collection of stories, as the shift in writing and art styles kept it from being consistent. I felt the Colossus and Jean Grey stories were the strongest, both in writing and art. The X-Men were one of my first comic loves, and even though I haven’t been reading a lot about them in recent years, I noticed inconsistencies in the stories. It was an interesting early look at some X-Men heroes and villains but not what I would consider canon. 

-Nancy

Plunge

Joe Hill saved the best for last in his five-volume Hill House Comics label!

The story takes inspiration from The Thing and Alien movies, and also a touch of the spiral-obsessed Uzumaki manga series. Set in modern-day, a distress signal from a drilling ship lost 40 years ago in the Arctic Circle is heard, so a salvage ship hired by an oil corporation heads out to find it. Onboard are Captain Carpenter, two of his brothers, a marine biologist couple, various crew members and a representative from Rococo International. They are quickly in over their heads when they stopover at an Aleutian Island near the Russian border, and discover the crew members from the Derleth (this is an Easter Egg reference, look up who August Derleth is), who are gaunt and eyeless but haven’t aged. 

In a somewhat convoluted storyline, the crew finds out that extraterrestrial worms have taken over the old crew, and they are purely vessels for the alien creatures. The greedy Rococo rep has had a secret agenda (of course) and wants to profit from the aliens with their math knowledge and an other-worldly component that could give them unlimited nuclear power. There are betrayals, deaths and action-packed scenes that will keep readers riveted. I also appreciated the poignancy of the brotherly love the Carpenter men showed one another.  

The art by Stuart Immonen was excellent, and his work elevated the story, so I am glad Hill convinced him to come out of retirement for this graphic novel. Often art in horror-themed graphic novels tends towards the sketchy and the dark, but Immonen’s work is precise and detailed, which brings the terror to the forefront more effectively. He really captured the personalities of different characters and made my heart go pitter-patter for the bearded captain, and that the alien creatures are Lovecraftian is an added bonus. The color palette by Dave Stewart was appropriately ocean-inspired with grey, blue and dull greens and the letterer Deron Bennett had fun with the opening chapter pages as he converted words into a new mathematical language. 

This new Hill House label has been uneven, yet very promising. The two titles penned by Hill, including Basketful of Heads were the best of the bunch, yet I appreciated that the horror-inspired graphic novels included a variety of authors to reach different audiences. Here’s to hoping there will be future Hill House stories!

-Nancy

Maids

Based on the gruesome 1933 double-murder in Le Mans, France, this story details how two sisters killed their employers and their crime might have had roots in the class struggle of that time period. 

Christine and Léa Papin were two very close sisters who came from a poor family and had been sent to be live-in maids to help support their mother. Christine had been working for the Lancelin family first and asked for her sister Léa to be hired to help with the heavy workload and long days. The mother and younger daughter condescend to the sisters and eventually work up to abuse. Christine and Léa bond together, and there are some uncomfortable hints of a sexual relationship between the two, but eventually, they reach a point where they won’t put up with the two women any longer. 

Author and illustrator Katie Skelly has a distinctive cartoony art style, that is replicated in her other graphic novels- simple lines that give the impression of the scene without drawing extraneous detail. Backgrounds are minimal, often with blocks of monochromatic color. The panels are streamlined, often only three to five per page with white gutters. I would like to comment on the noses- I am seeing more and more artists who simply draw a few lines to symbolize noses (Noelle Stevenson, Fran Krause) that are minimalist and somewhat off-putting. 

This was a fast and interesting read, and people might not realize until the end that it is based on a real crime. The pacing of the first two-thirds of the story was excellent, with flashbacks to the sister’s past, but their final breaking point came suddenly. The ending was abrupt and almost too light-hearted to be non-fiction, so readers might come away thinking it is simply a fantasy horror story. To learn more about the real-life Papin sisters, start with this Wikipedia article. But all in all, a solid graphic novel that might push readers to think about the exploitation of workers and how stress and bias can break people.

-Nancy

Daphne Byrne

This Gothic story is an interesting mix of Rosemary’s Baby meets The Omen!

Set in New York City in 1886, fourteen-year-old Daphne has just lost her father, and her mother is being bamboozled by a spiritualist who has a sinister plan in store for her. A ghostly young man appears to Daphne- and we are never sure of his intents or origins, but his shadowy specter convinces her to explore her inner darkness. Are some of her underworld experiences real or the delusions of a grieving daughter? But she takes her new-found power to help her mother when she is kidnapped by a nefarious cult-like group who wishes her to bear them a child of the Devil. 

The art is a mixed bag. Drawn in a pulp-fiction style, the art veers between cartoony and realistic. There can be detailed panels with cool imagery (look for creepy surprises drawn into some of the backgrounds), but then the faces can be distorted and shown incorrectly. Despite Daphne and some classmates being teens, some shadowing and lines were added to make them look old and haggard. Closeups were nobody’s friend in this book. A late scene of nudity made me chuckle, as I enjoyed seeing how they would draw the bodies to have something always blocking their private parts. The chapter breaks included cover art drawn in a different style that was striking- with the one of Daphne sitting at a graveside being my absolute favorite. 

This story appealed to me more than I thought it would- in one way it was campy, yet I liked the way Daphne gave into her inner demons to utilize them to her benefit. Thank you to NetGalley for giving me an advance online copy of this fourth entry in the Hill House label!

-Nancy

Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror

Happy Halloween! For the last few years I have posted a horror-themed graphic novel on Halloween Day, so this year I choose the classic three-volume manga series Uzumaki.

“Kurouzu-cho, a small fogbound town on the coast of Japan, is cursed. According to Shuichi Saito, the withdrawn boyfriend of teenager Kirie Goshima, their town is haunted not by a person or being but by a pattern: uzumaki, the spiral — the hypnotic secret shape of the world” is the premise of this eerie series that has definitely earned the acclaim it has been given. 

Kirie and Shuichi begin to notice their family members and townspeople’s strange fascination with spirals. It begins innocently enough, as many spirals are found in nature, with the teen’s fathers being the first to become entranced with the spiral’s power and beauty. Soon obsessed, people begin to experience terrifying body contortions and you will begin to need to have a strong suspension of disbelief as grotesque and unnatural occurrences happen that would have most people leaving the town for good. Kirie and Shuichi remain strong in the midst of turmoil, as they try to leave with their remaining family members when the town is destroyed by hurricanes, and then by the madness of the inhabitants who can’t escape. 

Each volume is divided into chapters, with eighteen chapters in all, and the final chapter The Labyrinth brings the story of Kirie and Shuichi to a close. While chronological, in volumes two and three the chapters begin to resemble short stories, so you can read a chapter at a time that is self-contained. The stories can spiral out of control, but that is part of the appeal in what makes this trilogy stand out.

The artwork is a masterpiece of time and effort by author and illustrator Junji Ito, with intricate black and white panels that show the town’s descent into insanity. The creatures are macabre and Lovecraftian in nature, so even if the narrative dips into absurdness at times, the art keeps you riveted. The spirals and the body horror found throughout the chapters will stay with you, even after you put the books down. Who knew that a simple spiral could become so treacherous and all-consuming? 

This series is not to be missed, as you too, should join other readers and dive into this whirlpool of terror!

-Nancy

Collage of Uzumaki images from Mother.Dot

 

Fangs

What happens when a vampire and a werewolf meet cute and fall in love?

Sarah Andersen, best known for her winsome Sarah’s Scribbles comic books (Adulthood Is A Myth, Mig Mushy Happy Lump & Herding Cats) has created an amusing new book about Goth vampire Elsie and grunge-rocker type werewolf Jimmy. Chosen as one of my Halloween reads, the story isn’t scary in the least, but was a nice break from my other horror-reads. 

Elsie and Jimmy meet in a bar and hit it off and after some get to know you chatting are soon hitting the sheets. While Elsie has been around 300 years, Jimmy is a new werewolf and they both need to get used to each other’s macabre habits. That they are monsters is the gag, yet some of their relationship issues are relatable as they work through the awkwardness and excitement of being a new couple.

The book has a striking red cover, but all the inside illustrations are done in black and white. Simple backgrounds and panel structure keep the focus on this appealing couple and their sometimes snarky conversations. Originally a webcomic, this book has a cute premise and is a fast read.  

-Nancy

 

 

When I Arrived At The Castle

I am a fan of Emily Carroll’s past work Through The Woods. This new graphic novel is very reminiscent of her earlier horror-inspired short stories, but this longer story is more adult with a lesbian erotica angle. 

A feline young woman arrives at the castle ready to do battle with the Countess, who appears to be a beautiful vampire. But she immediately falls under her spell and becomes more of a guest, than a warrior. Her passiveness makes the vampire despise her and toy with her. She is escorted to a corridor of red doors, where fairytale-esqe experiences await her. After a few frightening scenes behind the doors, the feline is ready to attack the vampire. Their erotic but macabre embraces end in an ambiguous manner.

Carroll’s art is rendered in only black, white and red to great effect. Few panels are used, instead, the art flows dreamlike from one image to the next. Some illustrations include intricate details, making the pictures sensual and Gothic-like. The red splash pages that included the text of the fairytales were striking. 

I came away from the story feeling it was atmospheric and unsettling, but with little in the way of plot. The dreamy aspect of it had some appeal, yet I felt dissatisfied with the story afterward. I don’t mind open-ended conclusions, but it needs to make sense. While seductive with lovely art, this story left me wanting.

-Nancy

The Dollhouse Family

A dollhouse lures generations of people into its clutches, but why?

In 1979 Britain, Alice mysteriously receives an elaborate old-fashioned dollhouse from a great-aunt that she was unaware of. She loves to play with it and the dollhouse family to escape the abuse that her father is inflicting on her family. With a child’s innocence, she accepts it when the dolls talk to her and is thrilled to use the chant they teach her so she can become small and join them. There is an unusual balance in the house, the dolls seem content yet they are aware there is an evil entity in the house that soon draws Alice in and tries to make a Faustian bargain with her. This is where the plot goes sideways to me- a tragedy befalls Alice and she spends years in a foster home. But as Alice grows up and has a daughter herself, we get odd flashbacks to Ireland in the late 1800s and how a surveyor’s exploration of a cave and his meeting with a succubus lead to the dollhouse. We get the expected fight of good vs evil at the end, but only after the narratives of past and present are confusingly knit together.

The art was good, and I actually found the illustrations portraying the past to be evocatively authentic and more to my liking than the modern-day depictions. I enjoyed the chapter openings that showed creepy dolls that gave a hint of what was to come. Some of the lettering in my online copy was off, such as additional details to the side of the illustrations were covered by the art or so faint as to be unreadable. I would hope in a print edition this would be corrected. 

Despite the strong start with the Hill House label, this third graphic novel isn’t up to snuff. It felt like a mix of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline plus a weak Locke and Key, which Joe Hill wrote.  In fact, Hill’s single-issue Small World was all about a dollhouse, so this felt like a convoluted British knockoff of it. But I still look forward to the last two titles in this label and am glad I was able to read an early copy through NetGalley. 

-Nancy

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