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Boom Studios

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.
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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.

Bone Parish

Cullen Bunn has created a new dark and dangerous graphic novel series, and this necromantic horror story grabbed me on the first page and never let go.

A quick synopsis: “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.”

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. In charge of this operation are Grace and Andre, with their four adult children. The oldest, Brae, is chomping at the bit ready to take over the enterprise and questioning his mother. Brigitte is the scientist who is the only one who knows how to turn the dead into ash properly and won’t reveal to others how to do so as to keep her position in the family safe. Leon and Wade end up doing much of the grunt work for the family, with both of them questioning the morality of it all.

As the popularity of the drug grows in the Big Easy, other drug cartels realize the scope of the operation and want in on the action. Several contact Grace with offers of buy-outs but she refuses. Not surprisingly they don’t take it well, and put a target on the family’s back. Some dirty cops are also involved, with Brae trying to control that aspect, but double crosses are part of the game.

There are a few twists and turns in the narrative, with a surprising revelation that will make you back track to look for clues. The story has potential for a thought provoking moral debate about drug culture and the sanctity of life and for the body after death. My excitement for this new series rivals what I felt for Briggs Land, another layered crime saga with an intriguing family led by a strong woman.

The art by Jonas Scharf was perfect for the story, and was reminiscent for me of Gabriel Rodriguez who illustrates the Locke and Key series, which is high praise indeed from me. He establishes the Winters family in a distinct manner, showing a welcome diversity within the family, in addition to when he draws other characters and realistic crowd scenes. The colorist Alex Guimarães really sets the tone with the coloring with an earthen palette for the everyday life, and vibrant pinks and purples to signify the hallucinogenic effect.

As much as I loved the story, I have a few criticisms. The big one: how is the drug controlled by the user? How do they tap into the specific memory of the deceased, as they would have a lifetime of memories to choose from? How do memories from the past physically manifest in those who are taking the drug? Will this be explained, or do we just have to have suspension of disbelief and go with the flow? Also, while I love that Grace is portrayed as a powerful and still sexy matriarch of the family, she looks too young to be a mother to her children, especially Brae. I, myself, am a mother to three teens and I still want to be thought of as a hottie, but Grace should be realistically aged just a tiny bit more.

I believe this new series has a lot of potential for growth and I absolutely will be reading future volumes, as I wish to find out what consequences are in store for the Winters family and those who choose to take the drug. Thank you to NetGalley for approving me to read this novel early, as I believe this series could really take off after it’s release in March.

-Nancy

Strange Fruit

I was encouraged to read this book by my trusted Graham Crackers comic book store staff. Their synopsis: what if a black Superman landed in the segregated South during the 1920’s? They have never steered me wrong with my purchases, and I was intrigued at how a superhero origin story could be upended by racism. In fact the title of the book is based off the song made famous by Billie Holiday, Strange Fruit, which is about lynchings and bigotry (video link below).

This magical realism tale is based off the historical 1927 flooding that affected many towns in the South along rivers. Blacks were disproportionately forced to shore up the crumbling levies, and were the ones whose poor land was most often affected the worst when natural catastrophe hit (as the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans was hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina in 2005). As the threat of disaster looms in this story, and racial tensions are mounting, an explosion occurs nearby. An alien ship has crash landed and out climbs a naked black man, whose ship disappears into the river muck. Mute, he is confused as to why white men dressed in their KKK regalia attack him. Another black man grabs the Confederate Battle Flag they dropped to wrap around our naked hero, who is sometimes referred to as Johnson (this refers to something he needs to cover) or Colossus. This covering courts controversy in town as he heads to the library to gain knowledge about this strange new planet. Just when political, social and racial tensions are reaching their breaking point, the levy also breaks, and his immense strength is utilized to help save the town. There is a rather grim conclusion, with no satisfying hero’s arc or hints of redemption available.

The artwork is amazing. Reminiscent of Alex Ross’s artwork in Kingdom Come (that Mark Waid also wrote), JG Jones’s artwork is photo-realism in style, and cinematic in scope. The panels often look like they are painted movie stills, with incredibly realistic looking characters. I am reminded of Dorothea Lange’s photography work of the Depression-era poor when I see how some of the people and community are portrayed, and I’m sure photographs of that time period were utilized for research by the illustrator when creating this story. The hero’s depiction seemed a bit overdone at times, but the underlying sinister legacy of racism came through loud and clear.

Image result for strange fruit jones waid cover

However, the narrative turned out to be problematic at times. On my first reading, I thought the story was powerful and thought provoking, and I loved the artwork. But when graphic novels are multi-layered like this one is, I like to read it a second time and ponder the message more deeply, so I can better pull my thoughts together. The two men who wrote and illustrated the story were raised in the South as boys but are white men. So the question is can white men properly depict what blacks experience, since they are not writing from an #ownvoices perspective? I recently took a graduate class on diversity in young adult literature, and that was a topic that came up again and again, as white privilege is a very real issue. The book did have a foreword written by Elvis Mitchell, a black film critic, which helped give it some credibility, and he brought up that this story helps raise awareness of race in comics. Created with the best of intentions, but imperfectly framed at times, I found this book provocative and well worth reading, even if it just raises more questions than it answers. If any one out there has read this book, I’d love to hear what your thoughts were after you read it.

-Nancy

 

Lumberjanes: Beware The Kitten Holy

Friendship to the MAX!

If you looked up “girl power” in the dictionary,  the cover of this graphic novel is what would show up. The Lumberjanes are a group of five girls who are attending a summer camp modeled after Girl Scouts. They are a diverse group- with a nice representation of body types, clothing styles, age and sexuality.

This is a magical realism tale, for the girls are immediately thrown into situations that have paranormal animals, and later they have an Indiana Jones type adventure. The girls aren’t fazed by any of it, although their older cabin leader doesn’t ever seem to see any of the creatures the girls do. But then there is the hip, tattooed camp director who seemed to be in on the mysteries.

Two of the five girls are a couple, and one girl seems gender fluid, but none of it is over emphasized. Instead it’s just a group of friends who work well together and always have each others back. Isn’t that we all should have in a friend group? The only complaint I have is that sometimes the dialogue is trying too hard. The girls love to throw famous people into their conversations as slang words- “What in the Joan Jett are you doing” and ” Good Juliette Gordon Low, we’re allowed to have something good happen once in awhile”. It was funny once, but then becomes too trite.

The author and co-creator of this story is Noelle Stevenson, who also wrote and illustrated the appealing Nimona. When I first read Nimona, Stevenson’s artwork was new to me. But as I have read more graphic novels in the last few years, I have noticed this cartoony hipster style is similar to the art work of Faith Erin Hicks, Emily Carroll and Molly Osertag. Although the illustrations are credited to Brooke Allen, the characters are so very Stevenson, that I’m thinking Allen had to draw based off the template that Stevenson designed. But the bold bright colors with a modern look will be a draw for young readers. And that’s why I picked it to read with the middle schoolers at my library for our next graphic novels book club. The story ends on a cliff hanger, and I and other readers will definitely want to read the next in the series to find out what adventures the Lumberjanes get into next!

-Nancy

Stevenson, Noelle, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters & Brooke Allen. Lumberjanes: Beware The Kitten Holy. 2015.

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