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Graphic Novelty²

Thirsty Mermaids

From Kat Leyh, best known for Lumberjanes, comes this story of three mermaids who use a spell to turn into humans and party on land for one night – so they think. Pearl, Tooth, and Eez wake up the next morning in an alley with a wicked hangover and the realization that they don’t know the spell to turn them back into mermaids. Vivi, the bartender from the night before, takes pity on them and takes them in. There’s a stipulation, however. Pearl and Tooth must get jobs to pitch in with rent while Eez figures out how to turn them back. Can they make it on land, or will they go back to the sea? Will they even want to?

This wasn’t one for me. I tried and failed to get into Lumberjanes at the suggestion of a coworker, but it just didn’t work for me – and neither did this one. The premise is trashy, in my opinion. The three main characters desperately want to go on land… to get drunk? I can understand the desire to experience things on land, but surely there could have been other ways of getting them there other than a desire to party. Then again, I’m not the target audience for this book and have never been a drinker, so this could be just me.

Now, this DID get better as it went on. It became a sweet story of acceptance, openness to new experiences, and making your own “pod” – or found family, for those who don’t speak mermaid 😉 It touches on issues such as body dysmorphia and anxiety. There is excellent LGBTQA+ and POC representation. The fantasy aspects of the story take second place to the “real world”, interpersonal, and inner conflicts of the characters.

I never felt like I got past the initial premise, so the second and third acts weren’t as effective for me as they could have been. Teens and young adults will likely take no issue with this, and find it uproariously funny to boot. They will fall head over heels for the characters, all their struggles, and all the ways they hold each other together.

-Kathleen

Leyh, Kat. Thirsty Mermaids. 2021.

One Soul

Eighteen different lives- one soul.

This ambitious book weaves together eighteen different lives, spread out through the centuries to tell a singular tale. Each page has nine panels, with the neighboring page having the other nine, thus you see eighteen lives at once, all in a similar time period of their lives. Author and illustrator Ray Fawkes created a unique mosaic, the small stories coming together to tell a grander one.

How you choose to read the story can vary, and quite honestly can be frustrating, until you find a system that works for you. After flipping through the book to get an idea of the structure, I ended up starting at the beginning and choosing one life to concentrate on and then proceeding chronologically through the book, eighteen times over. One life ends early, the panels going black to symbolize their death, with the other lives ending as various times, with one woman being the longest-lived. As you flip through the book, even if only concentrating on one panel at a time, you will start to notice patterns and themes in all eighteen lives as they proceed through life. My advice is to read this book in several different sittings, it will blur if you try to read it in one fell swoop.

The stories take place all over the world in all different eras. We start with a hunter and gatherer and end with a modern-day individual- with sad and happy stories, some people finding happiness while others endure brutal ends. They all start as innocent babies and due to circumstances and/or choices they all diverge and travel different paths until their lives end. The narrative becomes poetic, even more so when I decided to read some stories backward.

The black and white drawings were simplistic, but captured enough of the different time periods to give their stories an essence. At times the faces seem contorted and misshapen, and I found drawings of the hands to be especially blocky. Perspectives shift in the panels, sometimes to good effect, other times it seemed off. Names, locations and years are not given but you can surmise enough information to understand.

While religion was not touched on deeply, the title makes you think about the universality of life. While the eighteen lives here were all different, the goals of finding love and fulfillment are ubiquitous to all. This is a challenging book to read, and might not be to everyone’s liking, but I found the concept interesting enough to persevere.

-Nancy

18 different panels- 18 different lives

Magus of the Library (Vol. 4)

Theo returns to Aftzaak after passing his kafna exam for his training! Not only did he pass, but so did everyone he met on the road and in the exam: Ohgga, Natica, Sala, Peperino, Mihona, and Alv. As he meets the rest of his cohort, he begins to wonder anew how he fits in among them. As their entire first year is spent in training, he has some time to get to know them. Their class is led by Professor Xtoh, a hard and firm woman who does not tolerate softness. It’s during the Matriculation Ceremony that Theo sees Sedona again – as the head of the Protection’s Office. He meets her afterward and offers to return the book she gave him, but she encourages him to keep it. He vows to meet her again after he becomes a kafna. Will he be able to keep his promise?

I wasn’t expecting this series to have this big an ensemble cast of characters. It was a little overwhelming for me. The chapter breaks each had a few characters and bios on them, which did help, but I feel that a “cast of characters” page in volumes going forward would be very beneficial.

The most fun thing for me in this volume were the flipped gender roles. Theo is assigned a room with the only two other boys who passed the kafna exam: Alv and newcomer Sumomo. While very smart, he is intimidated by women as he comes from a family almost exclusively of kafna! At one point he explains how the women in his family had to become almost aggressively assertive so they would be taken seriously. The context of this passage is comical, but it was funny in part because it’s true!

Other than that, the poetic prose and rich lore and artwork keep me coming back. Looking forward to more!

– Kathleen

Izumi, Mitsu. Magus of the Library (Vol. 4). 2020.

Jupiter’s Legacy

When I saw a picture of hunky Josh Duhamel dressed as a superhero in a long grey wig, I was intrigued with this new series he was going to star in. Then I heard it was based off a Mark Millar graphic novel (which could be wonderful or terrible- there is no in-between) I wanted to give the source material a read before I committed to this series that premiers today on Netflix. It starts with a common trope- can the next generation of superheroes live up to the original heroes?

Book One

Starting in 1932, we are given a brief origin story, drawn as a throw back to the pulp-style comics that were churned out in the 1920’s & 1930’s with a vibe similar to Doc Savage, The Spirit or The Phantom. This sepia-toned introduction then contrasts sharply with the brightly colored modern day, filled with jaded Millennials who are second-generation heroes, who are all children from the original six. Chloe and Brandon, the young adult children of Utopian and Lady Liberty, are bored and resentful and absolutely not living up to their potential. Utopian’s brother Walter, who has amazing powers himself, starts to slyly convince his nephew Brandon that he should overthrow his parents and the entire world government. Leaving Chloe in the dark about his evil plans, Brandon convinces his fellow super-powered assholes they should take control and then they all do terrible terrible things.

Secretly pregnant, Chloe escapes and hides out with her boyfriend Hutch, who is the son of a former villian. Their son Jason turns out to have epic powers that they try to hide, but when Brandon’s leadership proves to be a disaster (no big surprise) this little family begins to make plans when they are discovered.

The art by Frank Quitely is very strong- capably going between the different time periods and showcasing the two generations and the many characters. He has a distinctive sketchy style for faces. Most pages have a four or five panel layout with only a few splash pages per chapter. This universe stands alone- it’s not a copycat of Marvel or DC- and was fully fleshed out.

This first book was a great introduction to the characters and story and I’m ready for more!

Book Two

Chloe, Hutch and Jason are on a quest- to find or rescue so-called former villains, who are actually good compared to the super-powered “heroes” in charge now. This book moves fast through the adventures of assembling a team and Hutch finding an additional surprising ally. Brandon and Walter continue their evil ways, and finally its showdown time. Chloe comes face to face with her brother and exacts revenge in regards to what he did to their parents.

This story arc was rushed, there were threads in the narrative that were left hanging and some character’s powers were either too much or too little with no consistency. There were some interesting aspects of the story that could have been expanded such as the alien connection, but a feel-good bow was added to the conclusion to wrap up everything. However, I was a fan of how Chloe, Hutch and Jason all picked up the mantles of family members they wanted to honor, and are planning a better future for themselves and the world.

The art remained a strength- I enjoyed all the varied costumes and some interesting backgrounds were drawn in. The cat and unicorn panel was a stand-out in the story, it was unexpected and fun. Plus, I liked the ongoing joke that simply wearing glasses was an adequate disguise (hello Clark Kent!).

This two-volume series definitely has me interested in following the Netflix series. In fact, I picked up the prequels, Jupiter’s Circle, and look forward to the sequel Jupiter’s Requiem coming out soon.

-Nancy

The Witcher (Vol. 2): Fox Children

Geralt and his traveling companion – the dwarf Addario Bach – embark upon a ship bound for Novigrad in exchange for their services. The crew is on a rescue mission and they need protection. They are looking to recover the elf girl Xymenna, daughter of fur tannery heiress Briana de Sepulveda, who was kidnapped by a vulpess. Geralt instantly claims they are mad: a vulpess is a rare creature, but deadly in that she fights with illusions and deception. The crew and the Witcher bicker as the ship steers ever more slowly into the swamp and eventually loses its’ way. Now they must band together to decide what’s real if they are to make it to their destination alive.

I’ve been reading the Witcher novels, which prompted me to pick the graphic novel series back up. The thing I enjoy most about this universe are the very gray areas in which it operates. There is no truly good character or creature, nor truly evil character or creature. The art reflects that with blocky figures and backgrounds and stark shading, creating an ominous atmosphere which forces you to guess character’s intentions. It was a fast, quick read (unlike the novels in my experience, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing) that would be good for the beach 😉 Looking forward to more!

– Kathleen

Tobin, Paul, and Joe Querio. The Witcher (Vol. 2): Fox Children. 2015.

Covid Chronicles

“True stories from the front lines of Covid-19” is the tagline for this somber but excellent collection of ten short stories about the current pandemic.

Published in December of 2020 (before another graphic novel with the same name and more contributors in February of 2021), these timely vignettes utilize the stories that NBC News used online that visualized life for front line and essential workers early in the pandemic.

These personal accounts span the globe, giving us intimate looks at people affected by this terrible world-wide crisis. Often times people become numb to mass suffering (which I first noticed during the 2004 tsunami) but connect with individual stories. Paul Slovic, a psychologist at the University of Oregon, explains: When numbers simply can’t convey the costs, there’s an infuriating paradox at play. Slovic calls it psychic numbing. As the number of victims in a tragedy increases, our empathy, our willingness to help, reliably decreases. This happens even when the number of victims increases from one to two. (Vox.com, September 5, 2017– written well before this pandemic)

The book begins with a foreword by actress and activist Alyssa Milano who warns that we will not “enjoy” these stories, instead they are to be “experienced”. And that proved to be very true- they were difficult but necessary stories that showed humanity in the midst of sorrow. The following ten accounts were interviews that Ethan Sacks the comic book author, and former journalist for the New York Daily News, conducted with acquaintances and then branched out to other people willing to share their stories and photos for the artist Dalibor Talajić to refer to when creating his evocative illustrations. The art was deceptively simple, yet conveyed great emotion.

The ten stories varied in locale (US, China, Mexico, Canada, Italy) with a mix of stories about medical staff, patients and researchers. There was an opera singer in Italy that went viral (check YouTube video at end of post), a man visiting family in Wuhan and having to stay for four months vs a few days, a street medic helping during BLM protests in Tulsa (I found the behind-the-scenes prep very inspiring), a journalist who finds out during the interview that the mother doesn’t know her adult son just died, doctors making tough calls and scientists tracking the early spread of the disease.

As the foreword warned, I did not enjoy this book, yet I am so glad I read it. It brought back memories of my anguish of having my mother hospitalized twice last summer (not with Covid) and not being able to visit her in the hospital. But it also reminded me of the kind healthcare workers who helped me speak to her daily with phone and video calls. There is a lot of kindness in the world, and this book shines a light on people who have stepped up to help during this terrible time.

-Nancy

The Disney Bros.: The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy

This slim graphic novel presents the start of the Walt Disney Company’s story. Together with Ub Iwerks, brothers Walt and Roy Disney start their own animation studio in 1928. Walt is the face of the company and the creative force; Ub is the main artist and animator; and Roy handles the business and financial aspects. We see the little studio grow and push the boundaries of animation – first adding sound, then color, then a full feature-length animated film called Snow White in 1937. We see the animation studio grow into a media conglomerate and a theme park revolutionary. We also see the Disney brothers and Iwerks grow together, then apart, then together again to create something the likes of which the world had never seen.

For everything it tried to accomplish – present Walt in a neutral light, track the founding and building of the company – it fell short in every case, because it was too short. Disney history, especially that of the man Walt himself, is fascinatingly convoluted and I felt there was a lot of context missing from it as a result of the short length. It felt from the art style and writing that this was supposed to be for middle-grade or YA readers. In that regard, I can appreciate the effort; as an adult reader, I found too much lacking for it to be particularly educational or enjoyable. It really needed to be the length of Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics (208 pages to Disney Bros’ 112) for it to be effective from a narrative standpoint.

It was more effective in its presentation. There were chapter breaks in order to give young minds (and older ones) a breather 😉 The colors were bright, cheerful, and very Disney-fied. Though it was hard to distinguish individual characters from one another, the figures were drawn in a visually pleasing manner: short, lean bodies with big heads and bulbous noses, recalling cartoon strips popular at the time.

While I didn’t enjoy this as much as I hoped, middle grade and YA readers will get an abbreviated look at how the Disney company started. The “Further Reading” section at the back will allow them to further satiate their curiosity.

– Kathleen

Nikolavitch, Alex, and Felix Ruiz. The Disney Bros.: The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy. 2020.

LeVar Burton Reads: Season Eight

I love being introduced to new authors by LeVar’s podcast, and then serendipitously finding that author in other works and books soon after. This podcast has really expanded my reading boundaries and I look forward to listening to a new story weekly for several months at a time while each season lasts.

Silver Door Diner by Bishop Garrison

A young boy stops in a diner and is taken under the wing of a waitress there. Thinking he is a runaway she tries to get a few answers from him, but the conversation goes sideways when he reveals he is an alien observing Earth before a nuclear war happens and a time loop occurs. Their conversation is sweet and the ending reveals that perhaps there is a chance for Earth after all.

The Takeback Tango by Rebecca Roanhorse

Roanhorse crafted an excellent layered story set in space about a crime heist but also went deeper about the evils of Imperialism and the fight against cultural appropriation. A young woman who survived a slaughter of her people on her home planet, and then later of her adopted family, wants to take back cultural artifacts from the invaders. She meets a young man at the gala she has infiltrated and while it is predictable that he will become an ally (and maybe something more) their banter was delightful. I really enjoyed this short story.

Daddy by Damion Wilson

Daddy, a short speculative fiction story, deftly combined the melancholy of caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s with teleportation. The story begins grounded in the reality of a woman whose mother and sister are dead, with her recent divorce and her father’s declining mental capabilities weighing on her. When he starts appearing at locations far away from his assisted living home, she is confused. The fantasy/sci-fi aspect of the conclusion tie in nicely to this well-written tale.

Alluvial Deposits by Percival Everett

Everett is an evocative writer, he makes a town and its inhabitants come alive, so the town itself becomes a character. Robert, a Black hydrologist, needs to take water measurements in a small Utah town but runs across a racist older woman who runs him off her property but not before hurling racist insults at him. There are the required quirky small-town residents at the diner he frequents, and in the end, when he goes back with a sheriff to gain access to the property he has some compassion for the old bigot when he sees what a small life she lives. Healing and reconciliation are the themes of this short story gem.

The Regression Test by Wole Talabi

A regression test “is defined as a type of software testing to confirm that a recent program or code change has not adversely affected existing features”, and in this story, an elderly woman is asked to test some new software that is based on the mind of her mother, who was considered a genius during her lifetime. As she asks this AI some probing questions, she realizes there must be some glitches, and then the story takes a hard turn. Author Wole Talabi is also an engineer, and I like how he combined his skill set with a sci-fi twist.

Flyboys by Tobias Wolff

Flyboys was such a poignant coming-of-age story about the changing nature of friendships. Two boys are creating an elaborate airplane and realize they need a key component that a third boy has in his family barn. The boys head over to the third boy’s house, and the narrator shares that he used to be good friends with this third boy but had recently drifted away from him as he didn’t know how to handle that his friend had some medical problems and that his big brother had died. Instead of being there for his friend, he took the easy way out and befriended the rich boy, but that new friendship wasn’t balanced. The three boys work well together and the first two head back home with the part they need. What will happen next? Will the two let the third into their project and social circle? Or will they remain a twosome, excluding the third, as he was only good for what they could get from him? This story really made me look back at friendships from my youth. There were times I felt left out and discarded, but I also know there were times I did the same to others. Friendships ebb and flow, but a sudden ending of a friendship can be heartbreaking, and this story really brings that message home.

Killer of Kings by Anjali Sachdeva

This fantasy frames the real author John Milton who wrote Paradise Lost, as being inspired by an angel who becomes his muse. The angel inadvertently reveals some doubts about God’s infallibility, which works itself into his writings, and is later replaced by another angel to Milton’s dismay. This short story is solid, but I myself was not moved by it.

An Equal Share of the Bone by Karen Osborne

An Equal Share of the Bone was a melancholy sci-fi short story that grabbed me by my heart and didn’t let go. A trio of space sailors are on the hunt to kill a theriida, a type of space whale, filled with plasm that could make them rich. When they successfully capture one and begin the harvest, things go terribly awry, and hard decisions are made. Greed, loss and regret are capably shown, but a small nugget of hope remains at the end of the tale.

Salt by Rosemary Melchior

Sigga is a teen who has been banished to a penal colony on an icy island because her community declared her a witch when she spoke out against some injustices she witnessed. But her quiet determination hints that she is not to be underestimated as she leaves the relative safety of the penal settlement and heads northward towards her goal. What she is seeking to obtain revenge against those who wronged her was the perfect twist in this evocative story.

Getaway by Nicole Kornher-Stace

In this Groundhog-inspired tale, a heist goes very wrong, and the five women are caught in a never-ending time loop. The getaway driver tries hundreds of different scenarios but the outcome is always the same. But slowly as she learns from her mistakes, she realizes the loop is expanding to include more time, so perhaps sometime far in the future she will escape the loop, so she just learns to live with what she is given in the here and now.

Vaccine Season by Hannu Rajaniemi

A young boy visits his estranged grandfather in this speculative fiction tale, in hopes of giving him a vaccine that would help him in the post-pandemic world. His grandfather resists and shares some poignant back-story to explain why. In a moment of danger, the grandfather has to make a split-second decision in regards to his grandson. While it had a hopeful and thought-provoking ending, I did feel a choice was forced upon him unfairly.

St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid by C.L. Polk

A sapphic love story about a teen who finds out that the magic she uses to help her girlfriend comes at a cost. The tale has fairy-tale underpinnings as Theresa Anne was given to her mother as a first-born price paid by some anonymous couple who wanted some wish granted, similar to Rumpelstiltskin and Rapunzel. She and her mother are witches aided by magical bees with sacrifices and destiny tied up into this melancholy short story.

This was an enjoyable season with Flyboys, Salt, and The Takeback Tango being my favorites stories. Try listening to the podcast yourself, “but you don’t have to take my word for it”. Plus, now that the season is over, give LeVar what he wants- the Jeopardy hosting gig!

-Nancy

A Map to the Sun

Ren the basketball player meets Luna the surfer one morning when Luna asks to play ball with her. The two form a fast friendship and for the rest of that summer, they’re joined at the hip. However, when Luna moves from Los Angeles back to Oahu due to her sick mom, she ghosts Ren. She comes back unexpectedly in high school – looks like permanently. Luna inserts herself into Ren’s friend group, trying to pick their friendship up right where it left off. Ren is guarded and aloof, not wanting to get hurt again, and feeling she can’t meet Luna where she’s currently at. When new teacher Marisol starts a girl’s basketball team, Luna and Ren join along with Nell, Jetta, and So. All have their strengths and weaknesses, all are trying to escape from something, and all are using their place on the team to do it. Can they come together as a team?

The art is a big draw for this one. It’s rendered in neon, L.A. colors that vibrate off the page. At the same time, there’s a dreamy pastel quality to it. The palette of both the artwork and dead space between panels changes depending on the mood of the story at any given moment. This did make it hard to read at times, such as when purple font is on a red background.

At its’ core, this is a story about friendship. Finding and making friends, maintaining the relationships, building your friends up and working together. Each girl has a different ethnicity, background, or sexual orientation. This isn’t treated as a novelty within the story – it’s just who they are. They are all refreshingly accepting of one another, and that’s what it’s about. These girls need to come together to form an effective team, especially Ren and Luna, whose fraught history serves as the main conflict. Everyone has friend troubles that they’ve needed to overcome in order to move forward.

A Map to the Sun might look like a sports story at first glance, but it’s much more than that. It’s an ode to the power of forming female friendships and working together to build something bigger than yourself. Rendered in vibrant neon, the art will imprint itself in your mind as well as the story.

-Kathleen

Leong, Sloane. A Map to the Sun. 2020.

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