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.
Kimball, Margaret. And Now I Spill the Family Secrets. 2021.
“In a post-apocalyptic future, Marvel’s Wastelanders: Old Man Star-Lord finds Peter Quill and Rocket a little paunchier, a little slower, and a lot saltier than they were during the glory days of the Guardians of the Galaxy. They quickly discover the Earth isn’t what it used to be either, when they crash land 30 years after all the world’s super villains seized control.”
I’ve been very pleased with Marvel podcasts- Wolverine: The Long Night, Wolverine: The Lost Trail, Marvels and Black Widow: Bad Blood. On a whim, I checked if a new podcast was out and was pleased to see that Wastelanders had just started. Not typically a fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy, I gave it a try because I had felt the same way about the Fantastic Four and still enjoyed Marvels.
Quill and Rocket are sent to Earth on on mercenary mission, under threat of death to find a sacred object called the Black Vortex, just to find Earth in ruins and controlled by Doctor Doom. An alien-created “skinbot”, nicknamed Cora, accompanies them, and it is through her narration of record keeping that we find out a lot of background information. This introductory episode gave us a lot of worldbuilding but in a way that didn’t seem like huge info dump and seems to correlate with the Old Man Logan graphic novel timeline.
Bickering constantly, Quill and Rocket explore South Dakota’s Badlands and are helped by a local named Red. Past trouble is inferred, but we are in the dark about what happened to the former Guardians of the Galaxy or the fates of their former teammates. At times the actor’s voice are hard to distinguish between Quill and Rocket, as they sound very similar.
Red gives them refuge on his farm, where he shares what happened thirty years ago, and how this apocalyptic world came to be. They lay some traps and lay in wait for the local thugs to come looking for them. After defeating them and taking their horses, Quill, Rocket and Cora head into the hills to begin their search for the Black Vortex.
Deer on a Spear
As Quill and Rocket head towards the contact that Red gave them they pick up on a signal for a broadcast that is televising Kraven the Hunter following the very man they were hoping to speak to in a Running Man/ Hunger Games type of scenario. Quill tries to save the man to no avail, and now their contact is gone, and Kraven is on to them. The broadcaster was so wonderfully smarmy, you could really visualize the hunt from his commentary.
Heaven and Hellfire
Although this duo is older, they are none the wiser, and luckily a former X-Men Emma Frost who owns a local bar, comes to their aide. But she is keeping her cards close to her vest, so they are unsure if she is there to help or hurt them. I do need to add that Emma’s overuse of the word darling became grating. She sounded like Joan Collins from Dynasty and isn’t how I imagined she’d talk.
Splitting up to see if they can obtain the Black Vortex and get their guillotine collars off, nothings goes as planned (of course). But Cora ascertains that Emma is there to help, so there’s that.
A Quill-centric episode establishes that Emma’s powers are fading as she ages, but she has given Quill and Rocket a window of opportunity after putting Kraven the Hunter out of commission for a few days. Quill thinks he has a lead on where the Black Vortex is located after interviewing the town’s forgotten librarian. Hell yea- a librarian to the rescue!
Some backstory on what happened with the Guardians is established showing how Quill is racked with guilt and wants to atone for the deaths of his friends. An ally returns, but so does a foe, so all paths are converging as they try to infiltrate Doom’s compound.
In this penultimate episode, Quill and Rocket are moving towards discovering the Black Vortex with Kraven on their heels, in another narrated hunt. Cora and Emma Frost rally their allies that include the Ghost Riders to prevent Kraven from killing the duo. Rocket’s poor health can’t be hidden anymore and he tries to prepare Quill for a future without him.
Dawn and Doom
Sacrifices are made, with a devastating death, but Quill and Emma Frost prevail. So although they have scored a victory, we know it’s not over, as the episode is only half over. There is a surprising double-cross with a new villain emerging, with definite tie-ins to what has happened (or will happen-I’m unclear exactly of the timeline) in Logan’s story. I am left wanting more, but that’s good storytelling, for I will definitely tune into future podcasts.
I started this podcast apprehensively, as I’ve never been a big fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the bickering between Quill and Rocket was annoying to me. Yet, this podcast grew on me so kudos to Benjamin Percy who also wrote the two Wolverine podcasts I enjoyed last year. In fact, I recently read a short story horror collection by Percy, Suicide Woods, that I found excellent. This podcast is supposed to be the lead-in to a new universe set in the Old Man Logan future with Hawkeye, Wolverine, Black Widow and Star-Lord. I’m excited, as Susan Sarandon will be voicing Black Widow and I can’t wait for that story and how they will all tie-in together!
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 😉
Abrego, Rii and Joe Whitt. The Sprite and the Gardener. 2021.
When I read the first volume of Invincible back in 2016, I loved it! Yet, it took the awesome new animated series on Amazon Prime Video for me to dive back into the series. Cory Walker, who was the co-creator with Robert Kirkman and did the illustrations for the first ultimate volume, was replaced with artist Ryan Ottley for all the remaining volumes and this change was pretty seamless. So expect me to go through the rest of the 12 ultimate volumes in the next few months! Some spoilers ahead.
Mark aka Invincible and his mom are dealing with the fallout from the reveal that Mark’s father, Omni-Man, was actually a bad guy who was planning to take over Earth for his alien planet. His disappearance has left a void and Mark is struggling with his grief as he also tries to keep up with his senior year of high school, a girlfriend and of course fighting villains. There is a lot of character development as he struggles with balancing everything and keeping his identity secret. There are many many plot threads- the underwater duel ceremony (so ridiculous but so flippin’ funny), the Mars mission, an evil scientist on his new college campus, the multi-verse of Angstrom, the anti-hero Titan, and a love triangle with Eve and Amber. Sometimes the stories could become confusing, they’d drop a storyline, pick it up again unexpectedly, and then drop it again. This volume concludes with a story about Allen the Alien and gives some interesting backstories to Monster Girl, Rex Splode, The Immortal, Dupli-Kate and Atom Eve. I’m still digging the art and loving the font they use for explosions, with all the interlocking O’s.
Mark is settling into his new role as a superhero and adjusting to the loss of his father, but wait- an alien comes looking for help and brings Invincible to his insectoid planet, and guess who is there! Mark is a hella lot more forgiving than I would be, as he suddenly has to adjust to being introduced to his baby half-brother and helping fight off Vitrumites who come to collect Omni-Man. But that’s not all! Once he’s back on Earth with his brother in tow, he has to deal with the multi-verse of the villain Angstrom (I love all the dimensions that Mark was thrown into- with some digs at Marvel & DC heroes and an obvious Walking Dead dimension), the mad scientist at college and a scheme between Robot and the Mauler Twins. To top it off, he’s trying to keep his romance with Amber going, but all his adventures pull him away from her. It’s hard to be a superhero…
There are so many plot threads that run in and out of these volumes, but the evil scientist who has created the Reanimen and the Mars mission get some significant storylines. But the fact that Mark is half- Viltrumite is always an issue, so the Viltrum Empire is an underlying concern especially when they send Anissa, a woman soldier to scare Mark and give him a warning. Allen the Alien also gets mixed up with the Viltrumites, letting himself be captured so he can meet Omni-Man who is in jail awaiting execution. Those are significant storylines, but that’s never enough, as Mark has some additional curve balls thrown at him. His mother has agreed to raise his half-brother Oliver who is growing quickly and his romance with Amber is floundering. Mark is never there with her since he’s always on some mission that Cecil, who leads the shadowy government agency, is always sending Invincible off to. Their relationship ends realistically, with Eve waiting on the sidelines.
Now I am far enough in the series to make some observations- Kirkman makes several uncomfortable jokes about being gay and is pretty damn sexist at times. The storylines can be hard to follow, as there is no transition between scenes and location, just bam, you’re somewhere new (The Walking Dead did this a lot too). There are Easter eggs and connections to other Image publications such as Brit or Savage Dragon showing up unexpectedly is some group scenes. At times there is a lack of consistency between panels- Allen was a completely different color at one time and sometimes his head is drawn at different ratios, and at one point Mark was inexplicitly the same color as Oliver. While I am still very much a fan of this series, I can’t completely fan-girl over it, due to some problematic issues.
Performing arts students Jenni, Lauren, and Maggie audition for and land the roles of backup singers for Nika Nitro’s summer tour. Jenni can’t believe she gets to be up close and personal with her favorite pop star all summer. Lauren’s under orders to not study her beloved classical music for a while. Metalhead Maggie just needs a job for the season. Though the three girls are very different, they become close and start to enjoy working with one another, even under the heavy tour demands. Of course, mischief and hijinks ensue as well. Can their newfound bond handle the strain?
Because this is a middle-grade graphic novel, what started as a “never meet your heroes” story took an unrealistically saccharine turn and ended too neatly and happily for me to really believe it. That’s my only complaint, though! Otherwise, it’s a fun, quick read about friendship and hard work. It’s fun to see girls of different musical interests come together for a common cause. There was plenty of diversity as well.
Bright and glittering colors pop off the page. The concert sequences were especially fun, with different lighting and star effects that made you feel you were in the venue. The figures were cutesy and cartoony, but not overly so, unless the melodrama of a situation called for it.
Here’s another beach read for you! This middle-grade novel tells a cute and colorful story about hard work and female friendship and support, with a happy ending.
de Campi, Alex, Lara Kane, Dee Cunniffe, and Ted Brandt. The Backups: A Summerof Stardom. 2021.
I am late to the game in discovering this outstanding animated anthology series on Netflix. With a scifi/fantasy concept, the different episodes somehow play to the themes of love, death and robots (although not every episode has a robot per se) and are very adult in nature. In fact, a quote that they are for “mature, messed up adults” is right on the money. I feel seen by that description!
Season one (18 episodes) came out in 2019 and season two (8 episodes) recently came out in May, with a third season promised for next year. Another bonus is that the episodes are all short- the longest about twenty minutes, but several less than ten. Instead of summaries for all the episodes, here are my favs with some spoilers:
A farming community is under attack by aliens and they use their advanced technology to combat them. The portal closes and they are safe once again, but as the episode concludes you realise this group are actually the invaders as they have created domed communities across the planet.
Beyond the Aquila Rift:
A spaceship captain awakens from suspended animation in a space station that he wasn’t piloting to and is confused when an ex-girlfriend greets him and tells him his ship and crew accidentally came thousands of light years to this station. He rekindles his relationship with her, and they have a very graphic sexual encounter, but afterward he keeps on questioning her on how his ship got so off course. Then the horrific truth is revealed, his ship is caught in a huge space web and the spider-like alien is giving him and others caught in the web dreams based on their memories.
Two soldiers stationed in Afghanistan are revealed to be werewolves who are assets to their teams, yet derided by many of their fellow soldiers. When one of the soldiers is killed by a local werewolf, the first soldier wants revenge. Dog tags take a new significance in this poignant episode.
The Secret War:
Red Army soldiers stationed in Siberia valiantly fight other-worldly creatures. A high-ranking government official is shown to have accidently unleashed demons when a ceremony goes awry, but his mistake is covered up, so as to avoid bringing blame upon the higer-ups. Instead hundreds of lives are lost, with the potential of more, just to save face.
Snow in the Desert:
Snow, an immortal man with regenerative abilities, lives alone in a desert hideaway. Hirald, a woman bounty hunter, helps him escape from some others, but tries to convince him to come with her so scientists can study him. When other bounty hunters come to ambush him, a secret of Hirald’s is revealed, but it ends on a hopeful note, as Snow and Hirald might have a chance at love. The world-building in this episode was superb, and I read in another review that the author Neal Asher has a science fiction series that this episode fits into.
All Through the House:
Two English children think they hear Santa and sneak down to see him, but instead see a grotesque alien creature creeping around. They are cornered by the monster but found to be good and given a slimy present. Later they muse what if the alien had found them bad. This was a fun tongue-in-cheek episode.
The animation styles differed wildly episode to episode, with some being cartoony while others were photo-realistic. Some of the stories were funny, others heartbreaking, but all were good in their own way. Often in a collection of short stories there will be some clunkers, but all of the episodes were strong. I highly recommend this series if you haven’t watched it yet. I look forward to season three!
Here in graphic novel form is a history of women and their struggle to earn rights. Women warriors, rulers, writers, speakers, leaders, of all colors, from antiquity to today, are included. The name, years of birth and death, a portrait, and a short story or biography (including direct writings or quotes were applicable) are included for each woman.
The overall narrative is constructed as an AI classroom, in which school girls asked about how women got the right to vote. As the AI teacher shows us, women’s right to vote was very closely entwined with other rights: labor, birth control, civil, and disability. The fictional girls in the story learn from the immersive AI environment, but also from each other.
Though text-heavy and stuffed full of information, I found it to be an easier read than expected. The time stamps were very helpful. There are also chapter breaks, often with a fun two-page spread of a big scene with multiple women related to that chapter title. Trying to guess all the real and fictional character was a lot like playing “Where’s Waldo”! Each chapter (for the most part) followed a different time period, and the art would change slightly accordingly to reflect that time. It would even change within chapters according to place: for example, going from the Mayan Empire to the Vikings to the Celtic Empire.
What surprised me the most was simply how many women were featured here. Most were given 1-2 pages dedicated just to them; some, like women of the Civil Rights movement, were grouped together on one page. The writings and quotes accompanying each woman made reading about them so much more interesting and immediate. A great deal of research was done for this book to show, rather than just tell, how women created and continue to create change. Highly recommended.
Kendall, Mikki, and A. D’Amico. Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights. 2019.
This second Covid Chronicles short story collection (that came out a few months after the similarly titled Covid Chronicles that was penned by Ethan Sacks and illustrated by Dalibor Talajić ) is an anthology that incorporates many different authors and illustrators. It gives these creators chances to recount their experiences or share commentary about the pandemic to varying degrees of success.
COVID-19 Diary by Jason Charfield
This first story in the collection kicks off with a cartoony day-by-day diary of the author’s experience when he had COVID-19.
Librarying During a Pandemic by Gene Ambaum & Willow Payne
As a librarian, I was of course interested in how other librarian’s dealt with patrons once they reopened. While I didn’t run into the scenarios illustrated, it was an amusing story.
AndThis Is How I Leave You by Sean Seamus McWhinny
A poignant recounting of the author’s last days with his mother as she lay dying in a hospital and he was unable to be with her.
Small Acts by Stephanie Pitsirilos & Seth Martel
We can’t save the world, but our small acts of kindness can help. Lovely use of color in one of the best illustrated stories.
My New Normal: Rinse and Repeat by Rob Kraneveldt & Mike Garcia
A woman goes about her new normal routine and all her issues are swept under the rug in a fake blog entry in which she pretends everything went well that day.
Between Two Worlds by Julio Anta, Jacoby Salcedo & Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Excellent side-by-side comparison of how white people and POC have to deal with authority figures when they start venturing outside during the pandemic. The POC are harassed while whites flaunt the rules with no recourse.
Covid Hardball: World Leaders Step Up To The Plate by Rich Johnson & Eli Neugeboren
Illustrated to look like trading baseball cards, leaders have the facts about their response to the pandemic shared. Trump is vilified (in this story, in addition to a few others throughout the book). Dr. Fauci gets the MVP card.
Same by Jazmine Joyner & John Jennings (the only artist I was familiar with)
A woman locked down in a city apartment begins to experience paranoia and visions. But her cat shows her an alternate way out…
Author/illustrator Rivi Handler-Spitz was given several one page spreads throughout the entire book, and they were always spot on.
Frankly, I was not a fan of this very uneven collection of 63 stories. I’ve read many other anthologies such as Love is Love, Puerto Rico Strong and Where We Live (the best of the bunch), but this book just didn’t pass muster. Many of the stories lacked depth, were trite or were not illustrated well. I hardly recognized any of the contributors, so while I so appreciate their effort and intentions, readers who want a timely and poignant retelling of the horrible pandemic we all have been suffering under should read the Sacks/ Talajić graphic novel instead.
Journalist Dan Rather wrote What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism in 2017. This is the graphic novel adaptation of that book, which is a series of essays. The graphic novel is broken up into chapters, each talking about a specific topic on American patriotism. The first chapter defines patriotism and it is that definition that guides us through the rest of the book. Through stories both personal and historically significant, Rather illustrates how patriotism has evolved since he was a child. As patriotism encompasses many forms, so too does Rather talk about patriotism through the lenses of inclusion, exploration, and more.
The illustrations were lovely. Though they were minimalistic, to let the writing take center stage, they were still carefully crafted. Each line has purpose, with no frills or fuss. Red, white, and blue are the only colors used. Often, a whole panel will be red or blue, though some combine the two. For example: red can be the entire foreground and blue the background. Very occasionally the two will mix into what looks like a watercolor bloom.
Rather himself was the main “character,” who served as the narrator for the book. He “speaks” his essays to us, which gave it a nice personal touch, as if you were having a conversation with him. He mentions various public and historical figures, all of whom are drawn true to life.
While overall the book was thought-provoking, and I appreciated that he did not sugar coat yet remained optimistic… it’s a white man’s optimistic view of American patriotism. I would like to see, and will be seeking out, graphic novels which speak to women and BIPOC’s points of view on America then and now, and what we can do to make this country better for everyone. This graphic novel was published in a series called World Citizen Comics, more of which I’ll check out.
Happy Fourth of July for our American readers!
Rather, Dan, Elliot Kirschner, and Tim Foley. What Unites Us: The Graphic Novel. 2021.