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Once & Future: The Parliament of Magpies

This third volume of the Once & Future series is as strong as the first two, and I am loving these twisted King Arthur tales!

The story starts out innocently (I’m not fooled), as Gran relaxes with one of her many cigs out on the patio of her senior home, when six magpies fly to her. She recites two nursery rhymes that would correlate with the six birds and realizes they are a bad omen of what is to come. Of course the colored orbs surrounding them is always a clue that magic and mayhem are around the corner. She calls her hunky ginger grandson Duncan over to help and he brings along his love interest Rose along as she has some foretelling powers.

While the story continues with a dark King Arthur and Merlin, some other English tales and characters are incorporated- such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Elaine of Astolat and Elaine of Corbenic. All of these mentions made me have to look up Wikipedia entries on them all, as my knowledge of Arthurian tales is rather scant. The way that Gran, Duncan, Rose, and Duncan’s mother Mary twist all of these legends around to suit them can be a bit confusing, yet it works. Rose is incorporated more into this story, as she takes charge of a beheading and then later befriending a flying dragon.

The concluding pages seem to put Arthur and Merlin to rest, but of course there is a twist that brings them alive once more. And now because of someone’s stupidity, the dark magic is out in the world for everyone to see, not just monster hunters and sinister government agencies. The strange creatures on the last page are creepily awesome. I look forward to what author Kieron Gillen and artist Dan Mora have planned next for readers!

-Nancy

Make sure you read The King Is Undead (V1) and Old English (V2)

A simple nursery rhyme foretells the chaos to come!

Free Comic Book Day 2021

For the second year in a row, Free Comic Book Day had to be adapted due to the ongoing pandemic situation. Normally FCBD is the first Saturday in May, but an August date was selected for the 20th year anniversary of this event. I distributed comics at my library today, and did so outside to be on the safe side. I had terrific teen volunteers who helped, and we had over 85+ people stop by to pick up comics in our small town, so it was a successful event! A bonus to having FCBD at my library is getting a sneak peek at the comics available, and the following were the ones I choose.

Every year I choose a Spider Man comic, as you can’t go wrong with Spidey! This issue features Ben Reilly as the Scarlet Spider, someone I wasn’t very familiar with, although I know there are more versions beyond Peter and Miles. It was a good introduction to Ben’s story, and will give readers time to look up info about him (like I did) before diving into a longer story with him. The second half of the comic was about Venom, Edward Brock, who when bonded with his symbiote is the King in Black. I often get Venom and Carnage mixed up, but Venom is more an anti-hero vs Carnage being a straight out villain.

Another automatic gimmie each year is the Avengers. This year’s story is a multi-verse tale (not typically a fav plot for me) and has cybernetic Deathloks who seems to be have some hero characteristics. They are waiting in a space station for a signal and then all leave at once to head to different Earth dimensions where they encounter different types of situations. The second half is a Hulk story who is battling the very weird big-headed M.O.D.O.K. The Hulk seems to be tired of the same old shit and decides to strike out his own into space, obviously setting him up for brand new adventures. I was happy to see an ad for the Wastelanders: Old Man Star-Lord podcast that I recently listened to and liked in-between the two stories.

This last comic for me is from the world of Something is Killing the Children, and expands on the society of monster-killers that Erica belongs to. Erica’s work in Wisconsin is suspect and her mentor Aaron is sent to rein her in. Some artwork is used from the graphic novels in this comic, but it is fleshed out with additional information to paint a larger picture of what to expect in volume three.

This is the least amount of comics I have selected from Free Comic Book Day- I just wasn’t feeling it this year, and not having DC as part of it anymore is a blow. But nevertheless, I was happy to provide FCBD to my library patrons, and hope that next year we can have a bigger event once pandemic restrictions have lifted.

-Nancy

Once & Future: Old English

In the first volume of Once & Future, British academic Duncan and his monster hunting Gran, Bridgette, fought off an un-dead King Arthur that some Nationalists had reanimated to keep Britain pure. While they were successful in defeating him, the king is now down but not out with the Otherworld in disarray, leaving other legends and deadly creatures to emerge and fight for power. 

The second volume begins with Duncan rightfully angry at his grandmother, who had kept secrets from him his whole life, and now he has to be on his guard for new dangers. His colleague Rose, who is also a love interest, uses some magic to determine where the next problems will pop up and he is exhausted keeping up with it all. But when Beowulf appears, King Arthur and an evil Merlin try to harness his strength to their advantage. And for those familiar with the Beowulf mythology, there are additional monsters such as Grendel and his mother, who show up at Bridgette’s assisted living home and cause havoc and destruction as Duncan races over to help. 

The artwork continues to be amazing, although I did notice a change in making some facial reactions extreme and anime-like. I prefer a more realistic approach, as the monsters and mayhem were always detailed and naturalistic, and I don’t want the hunky Duncan to become a caricature.  The Otherworld had vivid almost hallucinogenic colors, with the floating orbs a clue that magic was moving into the regular world and they should be wary. 

I continued to enjoy this new series, and look forward to more warped British mythology. King Arthur remains a threat, and Duncan also has to contend with his family disfunction as his long-gone mother and half-brother are part of the Nationalist group that opened the portal into the dark world. That the volume ends with a real-world politician ready to make an unholy allegiance open the story to more exciting plots! 

-Nancy

I love how Bridgette is so kick-ass!

Once & Future: The King is Undead

Do you think you know King Arthur’s story? Think again!

In this alternative fantasy world set in Britain, Duncan McGuire is a handsome but bumbling academic out on a disastrous date when he gets a call that his grandma is missing from her assisted living home. But his doobie smoking gran Bridgette turns out to be a monster hunter who has been keeping a lot of secrets from Duncan whom she raised. Soon he is in the middle of a crusade to block a woman Elaine from reanimating King Arthur who is not the kindly king of lore. In a Brexit-inspired plot, a group of Nationalists wish for him to keep Britain pure so they bring his remains back to life. Then it a race to prevent a dark prophecy from taking hold, with several twists and turns and improbable family connections.

Reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code plus The Mummy and National Treasure movies, the action is fast and furious and plays loose with history. In a familiar trope, an unsuspecting character is thrown into the thick of things and can shoot, fight with a sword and run like an Olympic sprinter as needed. (As an aside, I recently went to an axe-throwing business with my husband and friends and was disappointed that I wasn’t better. I had the strength but little finesse. What good will I be if a zombie horde or an evil reanimated king attacks my family? Unfortunately, I didn’t magically have the best skills like characters do in books and movies)

I really enjoyed the art by Dan Mora and how he drew the characters plus all the fantasy elements. Fond of many panels per page, the action flowed in cinematic-like sequences.  The only criticism I had was a certain female character was drawn too young- she was a mother to two adult sons and looked to be their sister. In comparison, her mother was drawn too old, so they should have aged the one a bit more and de-aged the other to be more believable. The colors by Tamra Bonvillian were superb, with rich colors and a psychedelic swirl of colors and floating orbs in the fantasy realm.

This was a very appealing first volume of a series I plan to follow. The mythology was deliciously warped and I look forward to future adventures with Duncan and his ass-kicking Gran.

-Nancy

Something is Killing the Children

Something is Killing the Children– if this title doesn’t grab your attention, I don’t know what will!

In a quiet Wisconsin town, children are disappearing. While most will never come back, a precious few escape and come back with horrifying stories of a monster in the shadows. The townspeople are distraught, so enter Erica Slaughter, who comes to Archer’s Peak ready to kill the monster on hand. This Goth looking Buffy The Vampire Slayer interviews a survivor and heads into the woods to kick some ass.

The world-building is intriguing, as you can’t help but wonder at Erica’s past and her intentions. There are hints that she belongs to a society of monster-killers, each with a small talking talisman- her’s being a purple octopus plushie.  She has quite an interesting look, her side-swept bangs always camouflaging one of her eyes along with what looks to be a glowing implant in the side of her face. She often wears a mask to cover the lower half of her face, with a fang motif, that I have to admit would be a bad-ass print to wear on a facemask nowadays with the pandemic we are in the middle of.

The artwork is definitely atmospheric- gloomy, creepy and bloody. Drawn by Werther Dell’Edera, his work is sketchy and imprecise. There are many closeups of people, and some come off as grotesque with an emphasis on crosshatching to signify lines and shadows. When fighting the monster, the gutters become black, with an even darker color palette. Colorist Miquel Muerto keeps all the colors muted, as to signify the darkness of the narrative.

I’ve heard good buzz on this new series- on Goodreads, on NetGalley and even better the staff at my comic-book store, Graham Crackers, recommended it to me.  It joins some books that have immediately hooked me in: Briggs Land (which Dell’Edera illustrated parts of V2), Locke & Key, Harrow County, Revival and Bone Parish. Thank you to NetGalley for an advance online copy so I could get in on what promises to be an exciting new horror series.

-Nancy

Bone Parish: Volumes Two & Three

Happy New Year!  Last January, I read the first volume of Bone Parish and loved it and I said in the comments: This series was like Briggs Land and Locke & Key got married and had a child. While early in the year, this could be one of my contenders for Best Reads of 2019. Considering it did make my Best Reads of 2019 list, how do the two concluding volumes match up?

To recap the premise of the first book:  “A new drug is sweeping through the streets of New Orleans—one made from the ashes of the dead. Wars are being fought over who will control the supply, while the demand only rises” and the Winters family of New Orleans has discovered how to manufacture the ashes of the dead into a powerful hallucinogenic drug that lets the person snorting the drug to experience everything the dead person lived through when they were alive.

Volume Two:

This book opens with the funeral of Wade, the youngest of the four Winter siblings, who was killed by a rival cartel who wants to take over the Winter’s ash business. You see the guilt, resentment, and anger that the surviving family members harbor, as they all cope in different ways. Unfortunately, this tragedy doesn’t seem to bring them together, instead, it drives them farther apart. Brigitte works on developing a new strain of ash in her laboratory to punish those that killed Wade and want to take over their business, while other cartel scientists try to create ash themselves with horrifying results. New villains are introduced while the Winters family struggles to stay ahead of the game.

I find the family dynamics fascinating- as Grace treats her daughter Brigitte with an icy aloofness as there seems to be no mother/daughter bond, Brae shows only disdain towards Leon whom he blames for Wade’s death while also being cruel to his sister and mother. Only Leon shows compassion for his family as he is the one that remembers that their dead father told them that family loyalty was all-important. As we work towards the conclusion, the reader can’t help but observe that creating this drug and building the drug empire is dooming their family.

The art and coloring remain as strong as ever. The visuals at the funeral tugged at your heartstrings, along with the monstrous consequences for the people who ingested the bogus ash from a rival cartel. The layouts of the panels guided you through the story, with effective coloring to show flashbacks.

Volume Three:

Alliances and betrayals between the Winter family and their rivals continue to evolve, with Brea unknowingly getting seduced by a bloodthirsty killer intent on getting revenge for her brother being killed earlier by the Winters. Leon begins to make some power moves, and he and his sister Brigitte experiment with how to tap into other people’s memories to look for clues. Leon barely survives the experience and his visions are suspect, although he views them as true. While I had considered him the most moral of the family, he then sacrifices someone during the gang wars.

We get a flashback to Brigitte introducing the idea of marketing the ash to her parents and I was shocked to realize it hadn’t been too far in the past. The Winters had lived in modest circumstances up until then, so the mansion and opulent surroundings that they lived in now were but recent acquisitions. But knowing that family members were already paying the price, was it worth it? She is literally playing God, trying to use her scientific knowledge with the mysticism she learned from a dead lover to cheat death. Things are spinning out of control with each family member operating separately and not uniting as their father had wanted them to. It all comes to a head, with a tragic conclusion, and fittingly, not everyone survives.

Jonas Scharf’s art was fantastic start to finish, with Leon’s visions being especially well-done. I have to say colorist Alex Guimarães’ work is the best I have ever seen. His vibrant pinks and purples to signify the hallucinogenic effect and the color palette that he uses throughout the narrative are second to none. I hope to see a lot more from this artistic team.

I was very impressed with the three-volume series, in fact, I wish it lasted longer, as I’m sad to be saying goodbye to the enigmatic Winters family. This necromantic horror story had it all- it was a riveting crime thriller and it had a thought-provoking moral debate about drug culture and the sanctity of life and for the body after death. A must-read for all graphic novel readers!

-Nancy

Black Badge

Premise: “An espionage series about a top-secret, elite branch of boy scouts tasked by the government to take on covert missions.”

I was intrigued by the idea of elite scouts who infiltrate different countries undercover, as both my boys are scouts. At first I was amused at the idea of scouts as decoys, but the story by Matt Kindt proved to be more nuanced than I expected with some deeper themes regarding political and social agendas.

Kenny, Cliff, Mitzi and new team member Willy begin their adventure in South Korea with a mission of getting into North Korea to spy. When caught there (and anywhere else) they claim to be lost, and government officials never take them seriously as a threat and always release them. They next move to Siberia, and later Pakistan, and we are introduced to a larger web of connections and conspiracies. A lack of communication between team members and higher ups was an unwelcome trope and led to the reader, and the team themselves, questioning who could really be trusted. The book ends with an upcoming Hunger Games-esque competition between this Black Badge squad and other young scout teams.

The sketchy artwork by Tyler Jenkins, colored in with watercolors and gouache by Hilary Jenkins, was reminiscent of Jeff Lemire’s work (who does a variant cover). While this style can be imprecise for small details, it gives the story an appropriate restless and shadowy look. Flashbacks, which often were suspect, are shown as boldly monochromatic and give you visual clues of time shifts. The layouts were varied with some nice splash pages, with the outdoor scenes drawn especially well.

Thank you to NetGalley for giving me an advance online copy. This new series could potentially take off with the YA crowd, as an edgier and more mature version of Lumberjanes, for both sexes. I’ll keep my eye on this as a potential purchase for my library collection.

-Nancy

Kindt, Matt, Tyler Jenkins & Hilary Jenkins. Black Badge. 2019.

Warlords of Appalachia

Another Goodreads suggestion was spot on for me- as this gritty dystopian tale had a timely political message that spoke to me.

The premise of the story: Set in the near future, a corrupt dictator has been voted in as president, which plunges America into the Second Civil War. Afterwards Kentucky refuses to rejoin the nation, leaving them a demilitarized zone and caught in the cross-hairs of the fascist leader who will do anything to bring these rebels into line. In the midst of this, mechanic and former soldier Kade Mercer reluctantly becomes Kentucky’s de facto leader as he leads his townspeople into the woods to escape from a military attack. Mystery surrounds his silent young son, who is kidnapped and held as ransom by the army, and in regards to the “blueboys” who live hidden in the mountains.

There are some interesting threads running throughout the narrative that were intriguing. Drug addiction is a very real problem in parts of Appalachia today, and author Phillip Kennedy Johnson incorporates drug addiction into the story as physically manifesting in people, turning them blue and zombie like. Political extremism and hero worship tie into President Roth’s portrayal, with uncomfortable parallels to our current president. There is also a religious aspect, as those following Kade have tied him to being “The Messenger” as foretold by the Prophet Luther. Both sides fanaticism doesn’t bode well for a meeting in the middle.

I was unfamiliar with author Johnson’s prior work, so I looked him up and found out that he is a musician in the Army. This explains his familiarity with the armed forces and their inner workings, plus the beautiful folk-like songs that begin each chapter. I was captivated by these songs and sang each aloud, reminding me of my mother’s family from Indiana and Kentucky. On a personal aside- I have retained a bit of my family’s Appalachian/southern vernacular, as I say crawdad instead of crayfish or crawfish, soda instead of pop, and I pronounce the diphthong // as ä making words like tired sound like tarred. I tease my kids by saying I swan instead of I swear, as my Grandmother used to. All of these little connections made me appreciate this story even more, as I imagined some of my family as these rebels.

Another huge reason as to why I enjoyed this tale was the art. Massimo Carnevale, who did all the cover art for Northlanders, drew this cover. He is a master of picking up the theme of the story and representing it in a way that is sure to grab your attention. I recently loved Bone Parish, so I was pleased to find artist Jonas Scharf as the main artist of this graphic novel too. Scharf captures the look of Appalachia and it’s inhabitants, while also realistically rendering the military scenes. Colorist Doug Garbark also adds to the mood by using a muted color palette to show the weariness of the people during the brutal occupation.

An afterword by the author gives some insight to the story, and perhaps should have been at the beginning to give some clarification to some of the threads I mentioned earlier that were at times confusing. I have not seen a continuation of this story, which is a shame, for I got sucked into this plausible world, and would like to see Kade and the other Kentuckians fight for freedom. This is too important a story to let go of and I hope Johnson and Boom Studios will be able to continue this series.

-Nancy

Johnson, Phillip Kennedy, Jonas Scharf & Doug Garbark. Warlords of Appalachia. 2017.

I Moved to Los Angeles to Work in Animation

In this part autobiography, part how-to graphic novel, Natalie Nourigat shares how she went from working on comics and freelancing in Portland, Oregon, to working as an animator in Los Angeles, California. She attended college to study Japanese business, and started her career drawing comics after school. While visiting an animator friend in Los Angeles, she decided to make the career transition. She shares her job hunting process, especially the process of building a portfolio, the environment of the studio she works in, and what it’s like to live in L.A. She even plumbs some animator friends and coworkers to share their experiences!

For some reason, I thought this one was fiction (I must have gotten mixed up with another graphic novel), but I didn’t mind at all once I realized it wasn’t. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised. The information is conveyed in a no-nonsense, yet conversational manner, as if you were speaking to a trusted mentor. The perks of working in animation and living in L.A. are definitely highlighted, but Nourigat makes no effort to hide the less-pleasant aspects, nor tries to diminish how hard she and others worked for their current positions. Knowing next to nothing about the animation industry going into this book, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about it now that I’m done. Mission accomplished for Ms. Nourigat =P

The layout and art (unsurprisingly, since she is a comic artist) are wonderful. Most often, the illustrations in a panel only contain a few elements (such as two people) either without a background or a minimal one, and are colored in two or three complimentary pastels. It reads in a straightforward way as well; I was never once confused about where to read next. The art and layout are clean and uncluttered, to allow the information in the text to take center stage. This one is more text-heavy than your average graphic novel, but I never once felt bogged down by the text due to the clean art and simple layouts.

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Page 4 of the graphic novel, showing the general layout and art.

Before I read this book, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have known where to start looking if a patron at work had asked me for information about getting into the animation industry. Now, I have a resource! The information is presented thoroughly and succinctly with little fuss. Even those new to graphic novels will have no problem reading this. A solid how-to that fills a niche market.

– Kathleen

Nourigat, Natalie. I Moved to Los Angeles to Work in Animation. 2018.

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