Graphic Novelty²


Graphic Novel

Eighty Days

Jay is a pilot for Avo, the Aviation Guild who is responsible for all flight in the region. And who is slowly but surely taking more political and military power over more countries. He could care less about all that, though: he just wants to fly, and is good at it. In fact, he frequently turns down promotions even as his friend and fellow aviator, Sable, continues to climb the ladder. That starts to change when Jay meets Fix. Well, when Fix tries to steal from him, that is. As remedial action, Jay takes Fix on and teaches him how to chart a course, draw a map, how to use the radio, and so on. The two become close – more than friends. When Fix is caught smuggling food and refugees to countries outside Avo’s influence, Jay, who famously wants to “fly and stay free”, has a choice to make. Does he keep his head down to continue doing what he loves, or help the person he loves even if it means giving up his livelihood?

The story is told over the course of the titular eighty days mostly through means other than dialogue. Exposition and conversations are often given in forms of logbook entries, letters, telegrams, and so on. Each part of the book is told from the point of view of one of the three main characters. It took a little getting used to, but the interesting experience you get out of it pays off. It feels as though you’re simultaneously reading primary material from and watching a movie of an historical event. Thus, the plot becomes thicker than the cigarette smoke hanging in every other panel – but just as intriguing.

The art underscores this by being presented wholly in black and white. It appeared to be a blend of charcoal, pencil, and ink washes. Scenes of relative stillness or calm were rendered very cleanly, evoking newspaper cartoons or Disney classics from the World Wars. Character designs also drew from military uniforms, aviators, etc. of the time. Unfortunately, the action scenes were not rendered so cleanly and they were very difficult to decipher. Dogfights between planes have to be very hard to draw, so credit where it’s due! It was a tad disappointing for me, however.

YA readers and up who enjoy pseudo-historical fiction with a slow-burn romance will adore this story of love and war.

– Kathleen

Esguerra, A.C. Eighty Days. 2021.

Heartless Prince

Evony, Princess of Destireth, was orphaned as an infant by a witch attack on her kingdom. Since then, she’s lived in the kingdom of Gallea with the king and queen and their children, Ammon and Nissa. She has the unique ability of being able to sense witch familiars. After a deadly encounter when a familiar follows his parents home from a hunting trip, Ammon wants to show them that they must fight the threat, not simply hide behind the kingdom’s magical barrier. He and Evony begin to sneak out of the castle at night to hunt and kill familiars. They are caught one night out, not by the king and queen, but by the witch Aradia. She rips out Ammon’s heart. Slowly, he will start to become a familiar. When Nissa is kidnapped and spirited to the Witchlands, Evony can no longer sit idly by. She follows her adopted siblings into the witch’s realm, not knowing how far she will really have to go to get them back.

At it’s core, this is a story about finding the humanity in yourself and in others. It might be difficult to see and hold onto, but the risk is always worth the reward. However, in the same vein, what was supposed to be the big plot twist about Evony’s true heritage was very predictable for me – target audiences may still be surprised. The end was well set up for a sequel, so I anticipate more of this theme going forward.

At the same time, the creators don’t pull punches with the action. While not overly violent, there are scenes of battles and bloodshed. The figures are drawn lean and quick, emphasizing constant movement. Evony is obviously no stranger to weapons and wields twin sickles, which is honestly the coolest thing ever. Though Evony and Nissa are both princesses, they are wonderfully resourceful and cunning. Nissa was plotting her escape from the witch’s lair even before Evony came to her rescue!

It felt to me like there were a lot of Russian influences in this book. The way the figures were drawn and dressed reminded me of medieval Russian illustrations or tapestries. The backgrounds also evoked older Disney films for me (Hyperion Disney was the publisher for this one – happy accident?). Each area of this world had a different color palette. Gallea’s palace and grounds were warm yellows and greens. All scenes with the witch Aradia were deep, dark reds and blues that were nearly black. The Witchlands themselves were cold, sterile whites and gray-blues. Not only was this a nice visual cue to differentiate places, it emphasized how many layers there are to this world.

Overall, I enjoyed this graphic novel for the lovely Russian-inspired illustrations and butt-kicking princesses. Older middle-grade and YA readers will love the creepy witch atmosphere and action. Looking forward to more 😉

– Kathleen

De Vito, Angela, and Leigh Dragoon. Heartless Prince. 2021.

Beneath the Trees: The Autumn of Mister Grumpf

Beneath the Trees by creator Dav is a series of four books for young readers originally published in France starting in 2019. Each book coincides with a season. The Autumn of Mister Grumpf is the first volume.

Mister Grumpf, the badger, is trying to clean his leaves before winter sets in… but he keeps getting distracted. First, Squirrel and his rowdy kids go by, trying to stock up on nuts before it gets too much colder. Hedgehog wants to share one more worm before hibernating for the season. And young Mouse needs help with his kite stuck in a tree. With all the help he’s giving others, can he finish his own task before the snow starts?

I can sum this graphic novel up in one word: ADORABLE. I loved every single minute of reading it, and I’m far older than the intended young readers audience 😉 There is a great message here in doing everything you can to help others and being neighborly, but not at the expense of letting others take advantage of you. Dialogue is succinct and easy to understand for young readers.

The author and artist, Dav, states that traditional hand-drawn Disney films were the biggest inspiration for this series. It’s immediately obvious even if you have no further context. The backgrounds and characters are round and cute, with exaggerated features. Colors are bright and vivid and extra crisp, just as you would find on a sunny autumn day. My favorite part was actually inside the front and back covers of the book. Printed here are Dav’s sketches that could have been taken from behind the scenes of a Disney film.

Everyone kids and up will enjoy this graphic novel about a grumpy yet helpful badger. Older readers will especially appreciate the traditional Disney inspiration. Looking forward to the next installment.

– Kathleen

Dav. Beneath the Trees: The Autumn of Mister Grumpf. 2021.

Salt Magic

When Vonceil’s older brother, Elber, comes home from World War I, he does the worst thing imaginable: proposes to his boring sweetheart, Amelia. Long gone is her mischievous brother. He’s changed into someone quieter, more responsible, more… ordinary. Vonceil can’t forgive him that. She sometimes feels too big for their small Oklahoma farm near their small Oklahoma town. Shortly after Elber and Amelia’s wedding, a glamorous woman named Greda comes to town, asking for him. They had had an affair while he was in Paris. When Elber refuses her pleas to come away with her, she flies into a rage and curses the family’s well, turning it to salt water. Feeling responsible, Vonceil sets out across the West to undo the curse and save her family.

I was totally absorbed by this middle-grade Wild West fantasy. Though there are truly some unique fantastical elements, it’s firmly rooted in reality. Research was obviously done to ensure all the details of rural life between the World Wars was accurate.

Speaking of details, there was something Studio Ghibli-esque about this graphic novel. I think a lot of it had to do with the high attention given to all those little touches. The character designs were similar as well: Vonceil’s short stature, cropped black hair, and wide face reminded me of Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service. In addition, magical elements being strongly rooted in reality is another Ghibli touch. Though the colors here are muted to sun-bleached or salt-stained tones, it felt like reading a Ghibli movie in every way but name.

Middle-grade readers and up will enjoy this tale of love, sacrifice, and living life to the fullest. Apparently this is Larson and Mock’s second graphic novel – excuse me while I seek out the first 😉

– Kathleen

Larson, Hope, and Rebecca Mock. Salt Magic. 2021.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

Once, there was a young boy who met a mole. The mole was obsessed with cake, but otherwise made good company. Together, they rescue a fox caught in a trap. The fox in turn saves the mole – it sounds made up, but it’s true! After meeting the horse, the party begins a journey together across the wilds to take the boy home.

At least, this is my interpretation of the story. This didn’t feel like a graphic novel with a beginning, middle, and end so much as an illustrated journal, a sketch diary, and a gratefulness or wisdom log, all at the same time.

Most of the text is dialogue: conversations, little nuggets of wisdom, without much exposition. It’s presented in a way that recalls fairy tales and fables, with the cadence and rhythm of the prose. Just like those old tales, there is a lot of truth to this story, too. The characters talk to each other about believing in themselves, finding a home in the people you love, and to be kind. My only criticism of this book is the text itself, which was in a lovely script that truly fit the story and tone, but may be hard to read for some.

The illustrations are simply beautiful. They’re sparse, yet full of movement and life and texture. Most importantly, THE SKETCH LINES WERE LEFT IN, WHICH IS MY FAVORITE THING EVER!!! This is most evident in the horse, so of course, those were my favorite 😉 Most of the illustrations are in black and white, with a few important ones in color. All appeared to be in ink, with washes of either ink or watercolor.

I hope you pick up and experience this graphic novel for yourselves. Reading this felt like I went on a journey with the characters and came home to a nice warm bowl of soup. No matter who you are, you will find something for you in this delightful graphic novel.

– Kathleen

Mackesy, Charlie. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. 2019.

Heartstopper (Vol. 3)

Now that Nick is out as bi to his mom, and Charlie has told his parents that he and Nick are dating, the boys start thinking about telling others as well. They’d like the secret to be out, but they also want to take it slow. Charlie is afraid of Nick getting bullied the way he was. They get a taste of this when Nick’s brother David comes home from uni for the summer holiday. Fortunately, they have the upcoming school trip to Paris to have something to look forward to. Plenty of shenanigans ensue with Nick and Charlie trying to be discreet, and some of their classmates and friends falling for each other in the City of Lights. As Nick and Charlie try to keep their relationship a secret, they discover secrets about each other, too. How much longer can they keep it up?

The more this series goes on, the more the story deepens. While there is plenty of drama (and this volume had a lot with the Paris trip!), it never feels over the top or out of place. New feelings and concepts are introduced organically and not just for the sake of inclusion. For example, Charlie explains his lack of eating as stemming from feeling a lack of control during the period he was outed. This makes sense for his character. It also works at introducing mental health issues and, assuming eating disorders, for young men, which are typically overlooked. If my thinking that Charlie has an ED is correct, I have no doubt that it will be handled as delicately and empathetically as prior issues have been.

This was a pretty easy read to get out of the slump I’ve been in. The font is bigger and though it’s in a handwriting style, it’s never unreadable. The only color throughout the book is a minty green, becoming lighter or darker depending on the mood and/or setting. While the characters and backgrounds are more abstract, emotion is more the point, and it comes across perfectly.

Looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Oseman, Alice. Heartstopper (Vol. 3). 2021.

Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human

“So… what is sex? Are there different forms of it? What counts as sex?” “What if I don’t like it?!” “What is consent and how to I give/get it?” “What if I’m not sure of my gender identity or sexuality yet?” “Why won’t anyone give me straight advice about relationships?!”

If you’re asking any of these questions and/or looking for sex ed in comic book form: this is for you. But it’s also so much more! Each individual chapter addresses the above questions, plus:

  • Body positivity and how to talk kindly to yourself about your body (but also in general!)
  • Masturbation and the different forms it can take
  • How to have safe sex, including what methods are good for preventing pregnancy and which are good for preventing STIs
  • Kinks, fantasies, and aftercare
  • Dealing with emotions such as jealousy and rejection

Each chapter is a conversation between two to four individuals about these topics. The characters are either friends, significant others, or siblings. All are presented as teenagers or college students, so each character is discussing with their peers. That was awesome! I think generations younger than I are becoming more comfortable with having these frank conversations with people they trust, and it was wonderful to have that shown! Also shown were a vast array of body types, including skin color, sizes, and differently abled! It reinforced the chapter on body positivity in a wonderfully passive way!

There were helpful (and anatomically correct) diagrams and illustrations throughout. There is also an index and a resources section at the back. Overall the language was plain and straightforward, though with some slang that (I felt) was a touch overused and will be outdated quickly.

Overall this was a very informative graphic novel that is presented in a no-nonsense, yet conversational and easy to understand manner. I think it’ll be easier for teens to digest this graphic novel – presented as conversations between peers of all types – rather than a more traditional or drier sex-ed book. Highly recommended for all YA library collections.

– Kathleen

Moen, Erika, and Matthew Nolan. Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human. 2021.

Allergic: A Graphic Novel

On her 10th birthday, Maggie and her family go to their local shelter adopt a puppy! She’s wanted absolutely nothing more for a very long time. But just as they find the perfect puppy and meet him, Maggie starts feeling sick. Her skin starts itching, her face swells up, and she can’t stop sneezing. So she ends up going to the doctor on her birthday. Later, at an allergy doctor, Maggie takes a scratch test and has an unusually strong reaction to most animals. The doctor advises Maggie to stay away from animals and pets until they can start her allergy shots. Maggie is devastated. With a new baby on the way, a new school, and her twin brothers having each other, Maggie feels all alone. A new girl named Claire moves in next door and things start looking up – until Claire gets a puppy. Can they still be friends even though Maggie feels betrayed?

There was so much more to the story than the main character discovering animal allergies. All kinds of big changes are happening around Maggie and she’s not sure how to deal with them at first. Change, of course, is inevitable, and there are multiple coping strategies shown. Taking deep breaths is reiterated throughout the novel, which we see helping not only Maggie, but other characters too! We also see Maggie talking to others about how she feels. While this doesn’t fix some things, it does help her to process them and see the positive side. In the case of her allergies, she starts to get shots which will make her reactions less severe over time. While she’ll never be cured, she can learn to live with it.

This was a middle-grade graphic novel, so it was broken up into chapters and the art was round and cutesy. I thought the chapters where Maggie go to the doctor were excellent. Everything Maggie went through was explained simply, accurately, and with compassion to ease fear and anxiety! Heck, even I’ve developed allergies in my old age and went through the same thing a few years ago, and even I felt better =P

This sweet story starts out with an allergy, but ends up being so much more. Maggie deals with a lot of changes at the same time, grows through them, and ends up finding that things might even be better than they were where we started off.

– Kathleen

Wagner Lloyd, Megan, and Michelle Mee Nutter. Allergic: A Graphic Novel. 2021.

Seen: True Stories of Marginalized Trailblazers: Rachel Carson

The second volume in the Seen series focuses on Rachel Carson, whose writings and accomplishments on environmental issues eventually led to the creation of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in the United States. As a little girl, Rachel loved nature. She acquired a bachelor’s degree in biology, and a master’s in zoology and genetics. While working as a typist as a young adult during the Great Depression, she publishes her first article, then her first book, which unfortunately becomes overshadowed by World War II. She publishes her second book, The Sea Around Us, after the discovery and widespread usage of DDT. She goes on to publish her most famous work: Silent Spring.

Though Rachel faced public disbelief and outrage for her work, she never let it sway her. She let the facts, and sometimes lack of facts (lack of long-term effects of pesticides, for example) speak for themselves. She did her best to emphasize the potential consequences for humans as well as plants, animals, and insects. We are all connected in a symbiotic relationship and what affects one of us will affect the others. This is what Rachel strove to get us to understand before she passed away prematurely at 56 from cancer. Though she lived a short life, she lived a full one defending and speaking out about her passion.

Just like the first volume about Edmonia Lewis, the illustrations are no-fuss. There is also a bibliography and teaching guide at the end. This book is instead written in first-person as if Rachel was writing or speaking to us, as opposed to the third-person narration from Edmonia’s volume.

A wonderful second installment in a most welcome and informative series! Looking forward to the next volume.

– Kathleen

Willis, Birdie, Rii Abrego, and Kieran Quigley. Seen: True Stories of Marginalized Trailblazers: Rachel Carson. 2021.

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