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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.

Gender Queer

September 18th-24th is Banned Books Week, so I took the opportunity to read Gender Queer, a graphic novel that has been challenged numerous times since its publication in 2019.

Author and illustrator, Maia Kobabe, has written a memoir about their experiences growing up. Born a female, they now identify as non-binary and asexual and wish to use the e/em/eir pronouns. Maia struggled with their identity from an early age, and through various experiences decided what identity worked best for them. I believe Maia’s memoir could help someone struggling to realize that they are not alone, and it often is a zigzag path to discovering one’s true self.

So what exactly is so controversial that it is number one on the Top 10 Most Challenged List, considering it was nominated as a Stonewall Honor Book? One reason is the description and illustrations of sexual acts. Another is that some people judge gender identity harshly. What some people don’t understand, they will reject and demand others also reject it. But as author Judy Blume once said, “Censors don’t want children exposed to ideas different from their own. If every individual with an agenda had his/her way. the shelves in the school library would be close to empty“.

Now I don’t want to pretend that this book didn’t raise any issues with me- I think the adult themes make it a better fit for the adult collection than the teen collection, but it is on the teen 2023 Illinois Lincoln List, and as a teen librarian, I have a shelf for these award-winning books. Thus it will remain there and then go back into the teen/adult graphic novel collection next January when I showcase the 2024 list (they are always a year ahead). I’m proud to work at a library that does not censor. In fact, our rural library has all ten books found on the 2021 list. As I handle the social media for our library, I have shared graphics, links and pictures on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts about Banned Books Week. Ultimately, people need to decide for themselves if they want to read this book, and I believe fully in everyone’s freedom to read! ❤

Surviving the City: From the Roots Up

This is a short sequel to Surviving the City which was a powerful graphic novel about two young First Nations women in Canada that face the perils of being Indigenous in the city together. We are reunited with Miikwan and Dez, after the death of Dez’s grandmother. Dez is struggling with her foster home placement and acts out, although a bright spot is that she and another Indigenous girl have begun a tentative new relationship. Dez is also coming to grips with being a Two-Spirit person, and letting Miikwan and others in her community know. As they prepare for an upcoming pow-wow, she lets her elders know that she doesn’t wish to follow the strict gender rules that are in place.

This was another well-done story that showcases the modern Indigenous experience, yet I did find it heavy-handed. In the last book, the author and illustrator effectively showcase dead Native women as spirits surrounding their loved ones and dark alien-type creatures besides men that wish these women harm, and they did so again, but too much so. Although I thought this was too much a message book, I believe a YA audience will find it appealing, informative and inspiring.

Devil’s Highway

Drive like hell!

Most of the AWA Upshot titles I have been reading recently are dark- and this certainly fits the bill. Sharon, a former soldier who has been out of touch with her father, plans to go home to visit him for Christmas but discovers he was killed in the diner he owned. When she bullies the local policemen into giving her pictures of the crime scene she sees that an intertwining snake was carved into his chest.

Sharon enlists a friend to help and gains intel from a soldier she formally worked with, and discovers an evil network of truckers who work together to hide their serial killings. Prostitutes at truck stops are easy prey for them, and indeed it was one that escaped that Sharon’s Dad hid, that led to his murder. Sharon’s quest for vengeance pays off, and her fighting skills when confronting some of the truckers are second to none. While she does obtain justice in the end, the network still exists and other predators still remain out there. As this is labeled volume one, I assume Sharon has more adventures ahead of her.

Set in the winter in the Midwest, the snowy landscapes and bundled-up people are accurate to the region. As a Midwestern girl, I recognized many of the towns and highways they referred to. The story is illustrated well with good panel placement, but at times close-ups of faces can be a bit off. Appropriately dark-hued, the panels include pink and red tones when there is (much) violence. Letters from the creators and an early mock-up of the first scene, that changed, were included at the end.

This was an interesting read with a kick-ass heroine, but the violence and references to sexual assault were too much for me. I don’t mind gritty stories, but this story takes it to an extreme.

Top 5 Comic Authors

Who are my top 5 comic authors? Let’s see!

Joe Hill

Locke & Key– need I say more? But I will! His six-volume horror/fantasy series is what put Hill on my radar years ago, but I have enjoyed many more books of his since then. With his Locke & Key series now on Netflix, and his novels and short-story collections in high demand, DC has given him a prestige project, his own label- Hill House Comics. This label had some great stories, plus adding in his very dark The Cape, has made Hill my go-to horror writer.

Cullen Bunn

The eight-volume eerie southern gothic fairy tale, Harrow County and necromantic horror trilogy Bone Parish make Bunn a favorite of mine. He writes creepy and suspenseful stories with excellent character development.

Faith Erin Hicks

Hicks is a double-whammy, for she both writes and illustrates. Her historical-fiction trilogy The Nameless City is timeless, and I demand a sequel to Friends With Boys! Her first YA book Comics Will Break Your Heart shows that she is as strong a writer as she is an artist.

Brian Wood

I almost didn’t put Wood down due to his sexual harassment allegations, but I have to be honest, I loved much of his early work. The seven-volume Viking saga Northlanders was fascinating, as was his two-volume series Rebels about colonial America. Due to the scandal, we will never know how the timely and gritty Briggs Land would have concluded.

Robert Kirkman

Invincible and The Walking Dead were both long-running series that I loved. That Kirkman wrote them concurrently for many years blows my mind. They both had huge casts and had their characters’ age, which I always like in stories, so kudos to him for creating two distinct and believable universes.

Honorable Mentions- Derf Backderf (My Friend Dahmer, Trashed, and Kent State) & Brian K Vaughn (Saga and Pride of Baghdad)

Who are your favorites, and why???

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

It has been 40 years since the second Star Trek film, The Wrath of Khan, was released in the theatres. This now classic film saved the franchise, as the first movie had been rather underwhelming. When my oldest son told me that Fathom Events was sponsoring the movie for a week in the theatres and wanted to know if I’d like to go, I was ALL IN! While Star Wars has been an easy sell to my children, and all three are fans of that franchise, sadly, none (until now) have shown any interest in the Star Trek universe.

In preparation for watching the movie, we first watched the episode Space Seed (1967) which was one of the last episodes of season one of TOS. My God- was it equal parts awesome and cringy! The Enterprise crew come upon an old spaceship of 1990s origin, a time referred to as WWIII and the Eugenics War, thus records were spotty during that era. The ship is named Botany Bay, in reference to the penal colony of Australia from the late 1700s to the early 1800s. Kirk, Spock, Scotty and ship historian McGivers beam down and find 70+ people in deep hypersleep. The first to revive was no other than Khan Noonoen Singh, a genetically enhanced human who ruled much of Earth in the 1990s. McGiver is much taken by him, attracted to his charisma, and the feeling is mutual. As the rest of his followers awaken, he convinces McGivers to help him overthrow the Enterprise, in a disturbing masochistic scene. Of course, they don’t succeed, and in a surprising move, Kirk offers them sanctuary on a nearby uninhabited planet, with McGivers very willingly choosing to go with Khan. In the last lines of the episode, Spock and Kirk ponder what their society will be like 100 years from now.

Flash forward fifteen years, and Kirk has now been promoted to Admiral but a recent birthday makes him feel old and out-of-touch. Spock and Scotty are training a new batch of recruits on the Enterprise while it is docked, and Kirk, Bones, Uhura and Sulu head to the ship together for a tour. In the meantime, Chekov, who is now a first officer on another ship, and his captain encounter Khan and his remaining crew on the now desolate desert planet, that was knocked off orbit six months after they arrived. Khan’s wife and many of his followers are dead and he wants vengeance! This all ties in with a group of scientists who are developing the Genesis device, that alters dead matter into new life. Khan is able to use Chekov’s ship to capture the Genesis tool and they go into battle with Kirk and his ship of young and untested crew members. While Khan has the chance to escape with his followers with an incredible cargo, instead he is a revenge-obsessed megalomaniac, who is determined to make Kirk pay. An epic battle and a devastating sacrifice are made, while these two men helm their ships in a game of cat and mouse.

While I had seen both the original episode and the movie years ago, it was obviously the first time for both for my son. He laughed at the sexism (both unintentional and intentional) found in Space Seed, but he was impressed with the movie and now wants to watch the fourth movie, The Voyage Home (the one with the whales!) with me in the future. As with books and movies you revisit years later, you pick up on new things that you didn’t notice or had forgotten about. Why was Khan now so old, yet his followers were so young? I was glad that my son also noticed the glaring inconsistency with Chevok (which the actor later admitted knowing about, but he didn’t want to ruin his chance for a juicy scene) but I was truly bothered by the lack of character development that was given to Uhura and Sulu. In light of Nichelle Nichol’s recent death, it made me angry to see how little they gave her and some of the other characters to do in these movies. I still cried at Spock’s sacrifice and admired the brio Ricardo Montalban brought to the role of Khan.

This was a fun experience to share with my son, and reminded me why I became a fan of Star Trek so many years ago. Live long and prosper, my friends!

This much-parodied line is the best!

ElfQuest podcast premiere

My beloved ElfQuest is now a podcast! Yesterday the first episode, in a 13-part series, was released to the public. I was proudly part of the Kickstarter campaign over a year ago to help finance this new venture by talented creators Wendy and Richard Pini.

This movie begins with what happened in the first comics: “When a fierce tribe of woodland elves – the Wolfriders – are burned from their homes by hostile humans, their chief, Cutter, must tap every reserve of strength and will to lead his people to safety.”

This “audio movie” stars voice actors Cree Summer, Alejandro Saab, Osric Chau, Amber Benson, Aaron Douglas, Clare Kramer, Will Friedle, Zehra Fazal, Robert Picardo, Tim Russ, Ray Porter, and many more.

Make sure you turn in weekly to find out how the Wolfriders persevere and begin meeting more elf tribes from the land of Two Moons. Find this amazing series on Apple podcasts!

What a cast!

Nightmares and Dreamscapes

While Stephen King will always be considered a horror writer, some of these stories had more of a science-fiction bent or had a coming-of-age angle. These stories were written in the 1970s to the early 90s, so it is a time capsule of life then- certainly “modern-day”, yet very dated several decades later. I’ve also noticed in many of his works, that he has bad things happen to good people. That actually scares more people, because these people are not deserving of their fate, and readers worry that tragedy could befall them around the next corner, and that is frightening indeed.

Suffer the Little Children

An old-school third-grade teacher thinks one of her students is possessed. When she also begins to suspect it is spreading among her students, she takes drastic measures.

Crouch End

Two detectives investigate a neighborhood in north London that seems to have an otherwordly portal that opens without notice which has caused people to go missing over the years.

Rainy Season

Inspired by Shirley Jackson’s story The Lottery, a married couple is unlucky enough to visit a town that demands a sacrifice every seven years. Venomous toads rain down on the town one night, and the townspeople move on quickly afterward, explaining away the tragedy and are not willing to break its ugly cycle. The audio edition was voiced by Yeardley Smith, so it was incredibly distracting to have the story read by someone who sounds like Lisa Simpson, from the cartoon series The Simpsons.

Dolan’s Cadillac

When a schoolteacher’s wife is killed by a mobster for testifying against him, the husband vows revenge. He then plans the most ridiculous, convoluted and difficult Rube Goldberg type of trap to capture this man on a deserted stretch of road.

The House on Maple Street

Based on the story prompt and picture from Chris Van Allsburg’s children’s book The Mysteries of Harry Burdick, four siblings discover their house is transforming into a rocket ship and they conspire to get rid of their ogre stepfather.

Umney’s Last Case

Told in a noir-type manner, a detective’s life starts to go to shit with people leaving him and disrespecting him. Holed up in his office licking his wounds, a client comes thru and reveals he is an author and that Umney is a character of his in a book and he intends to change lives with him.

Head Down & Brooklyn August

Head Down is an essay that is an ode to baseball and Brooklyn August is a short poem also celebrating baseball. Neither is horror related at all.

Chattery Teeth

A traveling salesman buys a set of novelty teeth for his son, and when his trip across a desert goes sideways because of a psychotic hitchhiker, this little gift helps him out in an unexpected manner.

My Pretty Pony

“Time is a pretty pony, with a wicked heart” is the theme of the story as a grandfather ruminates on the nature of time to his grandson. Kinda boring, and not horror related.

Sneakers

A recording engineer notices dirty sneakers in a bathroom stall near him for weeks, before finding out that a drug deal gone wrong years ago resulted in a haunting of the building by the victim. This ghost tells him who killed him.

Dedication

A working-class mother is thrilled that her son has written a novel that is bound to be a best seller and she tells a friend how she was able to use some black magic years ago to give her son his writing gifts. Overly long story.

The Doctor’s Case

King decided to write a non-canon Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson story in a pastiche manner- honoring the original style and building upon it. In this story, a horrible father is found murdered and the duo needs to figure out if it was his put-upon wife or abused sons that did it. Dr. Watson figures it out before Holmes, and it is unrealistic, but true to the style of British mysteries written during that time frame.

The Moving Finger

What’s worse than finding a rat in your NYC apartment? How about a moving finger?!

The End of the Whole Mess

A man recounts in a journal how his prodigy younger brother discovered a cure for aggression in a water source, without noting it also brought on dementia. While trying for world peace, he instead doomed the whole planet to death. The last part of the journal reminded me of Flowers for Algernon.

Home Delivery

A timid young widow who is pregnant needs to learn how to cope by herself when there is a zombie apocalypse and those in the local graveyard come back to life. This was a surprisingly strong story with realistic details on how a small island community would survive.

It Grows on You

Set in Castle Rock, King’s favorite fictional Maine town, a house seems to mysteriously have new wings added on that correlate when bad things befall the townsfolk. This story didn’t seem complete.

The Fifth Quarter

A heist gone wrong…a double cross…a shootout. Meh.

You Know They Got a Hell of a Band

A couple takes a scenic backroad and gets lost, leading them to the picturesque town of Rock and Roll Heaven, Oregon. The town inhabitants look very familiar, and soon they realize there is no escape from this strange vortex. Reminded me of Pines by Black Crouch and In the Tall Grass written by King years later with his son Joe Hill. Grace Slick was the inspired choice for the audio narration of this story.

The Night Flier

A sleazy tabloid journalist reports that a vampire is on the loose. What happens when his headline is actually true?!

Popsy

The vampire is back! A gambler makes a grave mistake when he grabs a child to sell and finds out he shouldn’t have messed with Popsy and his creepy grandson! An effective story that was also one of the shortest.

Sorry, Right Number

Written like a screenplay, a wife receives a frantic call phone call from someone in distress but doesn’t realize until five years after her husband’s death who was actually making the call. The audio version was terrible.

The Ten O’Clock People

A bizarre story about how people who are trying to quit smoking and thus are in nicotine withdrawal are the only people to see how evil bat people are taking over society.

The Beggar and the Diamond

A short retelling of a Hindu parable. I thought it was an odd addition to this collection.

Chattery Teeth, Home Delivery and Popsy were my favorites from this long 816-page book. While I didn’t enjoy every story, I admire how King likes to vary his writing style and tries new approaches. His short stories have always appealed to me, and I will continue to seek out his work.

The Anatomy of Desire

Adapted from the classic 1925 book An American Tragedy, this audiobook was completely updated for our modern world.

In this story, social media fitness influencer Cleo Ray is on trial for killing her lover Beck Alden. Cleo supposedly killed Beck to hide her same-sex relationship from her new boyfriend Sandy, who is a rich influencer and who she wants to marry. The trial is set in a conservative area of CA, with a district attorney up for election vs the celebrity defense counsel paid for by Cleo’s rich uncle. The narrative is set up like a podcast (which made for a powerful full-cast audiobook) and we get interviews with Cleo and all the other participants, minus Beck. Cleo admits she went in with the intent to drown Beck on a canoe trip but didn’t go through with it, although an accident causes Beck’s death anyway. That she escapes the scene of the crime and doesn’t report the death, looks very bad for her case. As the trial proceeds we learn about Cleo’s childhood, but do her past misdeeds and trauma excuse her current actions?

During my book reading, I watched the 1951 movie A Place in the Sun starring a young Elizabeth Taylor, which is also adapted from the original story, and in both stories, I found the character Cleo (Clyde in the movie) reprehensible. I didn’t buy the adoration they had for their new loves and was furious at how callous they were to toss off their first partners. But the book as a whole is excellent because it is indeed a tragedy of how selfish actions led to so much heartbreak and loss for the people involved.

The Complete Maus

Maus is extraordinary! I read this two-part graphic novel series years ago and remembered the framework, but re-reading it was eye-opening as further life experiences can make you look at it with whole new eyes.

My Father Bleeds History

The first half of the story details the beginning of WWII as seen through Vladek Spiegelman, a Polish Jew, as told to his son Art, the author and illustrator of the book. Art began to collect his father’s remembrances in the late 1970s after an estrangement of a few years, as the two were never close, and the suicide of Art’s mother had been devastating to their already tenuous bond. Vladek shares his memories of his courtship with his wife Anja, their marriage, and the birth of their firstborn son Richieu in 1937. Tensions were building in Europe and he eventually was drafted into the Polish Army. As things begin to spiral downward Vladek is incredibly resourceful, brave, and sometimes just lucky as his extended family is moved into Jewish ghettos and some of them are shipped off to the concentration camps. Vladek and Anja sent their beloved son into hiding with another family and later discover his heartbreaking fate.

Although the tale moves forward chronologically, there are interludes in the modern-day of Art and Vladek and their life outside of NYC. Vladek has remarried unhappily and is a miser who is set in his ways. His early life has warped him, but Art also deals with the fallout, as a “survivor of survivors” who can’t live up to his idealized older brother, who died before he was born. Art also includes a dark comic he had written about his mother’s death, Prisoner on the Hell Planet, illustrated in a different style than Maus. The book ends with his parent’s capture and arrival at the infamous Auschwitz in 1944, and readers will be riveted, dreading what comes next.

I have some Eastern European ancestry thru my father’s side of the family who were immigrants from Germany and Poland and settled in Chicago around the turn of the century. While they were of the Catholic faith and were in America before WWII, I saw some parallels between what I remembered of them and some personalities found in this series. It really made me ruminate on that side of my ancestry and how their pragmatic and no-nonsense traits live on in me.

And Here My Troubles Began

The title of this second book prepares you for what is to come because although they had already endured tragedy after tragedy, more was to befall Vladek and Anja. The two are separated into different camps, and we only get Vladek’s perspective as he had burned Anja’s later journals in a fit of grief after her suicide. He survives the inhumanity of Auschwitz and a forced match to Dachau, again due to his ingenuity, and amazingly so does Anja despite her frail health. Liberated at different times, they eventually are reunited, later immigrating to America and having Art.

Again, Vladek’s stories of his past and interrupted by windows of his life now, as Art and his wife Francoise deal with Vladek’s declining health and his current troubles with his long-suffering second wife Mala, who is also a survivor of the camps. Art feels guilty and wants the best for his father, but Vladek can be impossible to deal with, and he worries about how he should portray his father in the book he is writing and illustrating, so as not to have Vladek become an unflattering Jewish caricature. He also had to juggle how to portray others, as some showed incredible kindness while others were outrageously cruel, and he didn’t want to make sweeping judgments against an entire country. Art very capably shows the realities of inter-generational trauma and dealing with the elderly Vladek. It’s a double-edged sword- his parents survived at great cost but were forever altered by what they went through.

The artwork is deceptively simple, but it actually shows the realities of the camps in an incredibly precise manner. The black and white illustrations often had six to eight panels per page, which were more orderly when Art and his father were in the modern-day, and more varied in the past to signify the chaos of Vladek’s life. I now understood better the reason why the author portrayed the characters as animals- with mice representing those of the Jewish faith, cats as Nazis, Poles as pigs, the French as frogs and Americans as dogs. This storytelling device surprisingly made them seem more human, as the reader better understands the unfairness of characterizing an entire culture or nationality as the same. It also made them trying to pass as non-Jewish with a mask on, more poignant. Plus, the picture Art drew of himself at his art table on top of mouse corpses while receiving accolades for his first book was heart-rending, for this book took a toll on his mental health too.

This was a perfect book to re-read as we head into Banned Book Week next month. We simply can not close our eyes to the horrors of the past or the realities of today, and books that address those issues should be read by everyone. This book truly was deserving of the Pulitzer Prize it won in 1992!

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