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Best Reads of 2019

It’s that post you look forward to all year: Graphic Novelty2‘s Best Reads post! Here we have each compiled the five most exemplary graphic novels we’ve read in 2019, in no particular order. Enjoy!

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Bone Parish

Nancy: 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. 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. There are a few twists and turns in the narrative, with a surprising revelation that will make you backtrack to look for clues. The story has the potential for a thought-provoking moral debate about drug culture and the sanctity of life and for the body after death. I loved Jonas Scharf’s art, and am eagerly awaiting the concluding volume later this month (V2 came out in September) and I will review both of them together at that time.

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I Moved to Los Angeles to Work in Animation

Kathleen: This was a sort of accidental read, in that for some reason I thought it was fiction, but in fact was non-fiction. In the end, it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise! Comic artist Natalie Nourigat documents how she transitioned to the animation industry in this part autobiography, part how-to graphic novel. She shares not only her background as an artist, but all the hard work she did to get into animation: building a portfolio, interviewing, and moving somewhere totally new to her. Included are interviews with animator friends and coworkers. The art and layout are simple and clean, to allow the text with information shine; it’s worth saying that while this graphic novel is more text-heavy than others, there is never a point where the reader feels bogged down by text. By reading this, I learned a lot about something I previously had no knowledge of, and had fun doing it.

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Harrow County series

Nancy: This eight-book series is an eerie southern gothic fairy tale about a young woman Emmy who is trying desperately to understand the mysteries of her possible origin and the decades-long secrets that the townspeople have. This story is so much more than an atmospheric supernatural tale- it touches on friendship, destiny, good vs evil and the choices we make and how they define us. Authored by Cullen Bunn, I read this soon after Bone Parish, so Bunn has quickly become a favored author of mine. But with all graphic novels, it is often the art that truly sets a book apart, and in this case, Tyler Crook’s illustrations do that. His haint creatures were creative and varied, and I thought of his work and H.P. Lovecraft’s as being similarly inspired. His work came to define Harrow County for me with its townspeople, rural landscapes and sinister woods.

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New Kid

Kathleen: This middle-grade graphic novel, written and illustrated by Jerry Craft, follows Jordan Banks, a seventh-grader who starts at a new school. Not just any school – the prestigious Riverdale Academy Day School. Jordan is an excellent student, and he got in on a scholarship, but he would have much rather gone to art school. He feels this way more and more as the school year goes on, as he experiences alienation and micro-aggressions from his predominantly white classmates and teachers. Jordan is able to express himself through his drawing and comics, but all he wants more than anything is to fit in. Reading this book and realizing what Jordan was going through made me uncomfortable, but I welcomed the discomfort, because it meant I was learning. Jordan’s story and all the hard truths that came with it were presented in an easily digestible manner for it’s targeted younger audience. Ideally both children and parents are able to use this graphic novel as a tool to grapple social and racial biases.

Warlords

Warlords of Appalachia

Nancy: Set in the near future, a corrupt dictator has been voted in as president, which plunges America into the Second Civil War. Afterward, 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.  Author Phillip Kennedy Johnson was new to me, but I 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.  Artist Jonas Scharf (mentioned in Bone Parish earlier) elevated this story further for he captures the look of Appalachia and it’s inhabitants, while also realistically rendering the military scenes.  Unfortunately, this graphic novel seemed to be a one-and-done, as I have not seen further stories from this duo.

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The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel

Kathleen: This graphic novel adaptation was my first experience of Margaret Atwood’s classic story. It follows the Handmaid Offred, a woman who lives in service to the Commander and his wife. Offred’s service is to bear their children, and nothing more. She is not allowed to read, write, or own anything, but she remembers a time before, when she was able to do these things and more. When she and the Commander begin to carry on a more-than-professional relationship, Offred realizes she might be playing for her freedom. The art of this graphic novel was, hands down, the best I’ve seen this year. Thin washes of watercolor and tiny, wobbly lines of ink give off a light and airy, yet foreboding and uncertain quality, as if (to quote from my original review) “you’re in a dream that could very quickly and easily turn into a nightmare.” The story was undeniably compelling, in a morbidly curious way, but Renée Nault’s spellbinding art is what sold this experience for me.

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Snow, Glass, Apples

Nancy: Every Halloween I like to find a spooky read, and this year it was a twisted fairy tale from the esteemed Neil Gaiman whose dark and whimsical tales are sure to please. He once again tackles the Snow White story, but this story is told from Snow White’s stepmother’s perspective and she is far from a wicked witch. Instead, the twist is that young Snow White is the evil one, and is a vampire who manipulates others. Plus, there is quite the erotica element to this tale, so it is for mature audiences only. While Gaiman’s tale is excellent, it is the art by Colleen Doran that makes this book stand out. She draws in an Art Nouveau style and takes inspiration from famed artists Harry Clarke and Aubrey Beardsley. Her art is reminiscent of stained glass windows with deep jewel blues and purples. She incorporates mandalas and nature into the backgrounds, so the illustrations are a feast for the eyes.

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Just Jaime

Kathleen: Lifelong friends Jaime and Maya have finally reached the last day of seventh grade! But they haven’t reached it together. Jaime feels that her and Maya don’t have the friendship they used to have, and wants to fix it on this special day. Maya has been pressured by the older and more popular Celia to end her friendship with Jaime, who she says has been bogging down the friend group. Will Jaime and Maya repair their relationship, or let it go along with the rest of seventh grade? Terri Libenson wrote and illustrated this middle-grade graphic novel, and perfectly captured a wealth of issues – friendship, maturity, reputation, drama – over the course of one day. We alternate chapters told from Jaime and Maya’s points of view, but their format differs too. The heavier introspective side of Jaime’s story is told in mostly prose with little illustrations. Maya’s story involves others, so we see her side in mostly graphic novel format, in order to witness firsthand what others are putting her through. Though alternating points of view is a common trope, never before had I seen different formats for the different characters; it was extremely effective here.

Wolverine S1

Wolverine podcast

Nancy: My wildcard is not a graphic novel, but the outstanding two-season Marvel podcast about Wolverine. The premise: Following a string of mysterious deaths in Burns, Alaska, Special Agents Sally Pierce and Tad Marshall arrive to investigate. They soon find there’s more going on than meets the eye. Season one proved to be more a murder mystery, while Logan was kept on the periphery of the narrative, but in season two he is front and center, with an adventure in New Orleans that includes Gambit and Weapon X. Each season consisted of ten episodes that were about 30-40 minutes in length, which made my 45-minute drive to work enjoyable. Check out the podcast online at Sticher, as the episodes are free to listen to.

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Batman: The Long Halloween

Kathleen: Y’all didn’t think I was gonna go through 2019 without letting a DC title on this list, did you? Get outta here ;D One Halloween night in Gotham City, Johnny Viti, the nephew of mob boss Carmine Falcone, is murdered. Surrounding his body are dollar-store Halloween decorations. Thus begins the spree of the “Holiday” killer: picking off members of the Falcone family one by one on a holiday, and leaving that holiday’s trinkets near the body. Allies Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and ADA Harvey Dent wanted to take down the mob, but not like this. Soon the lies, double-crosses, and finger points begin to affect them to the point where they suspect each other. At the time of publication, this was a groundbreaking story that I believe changed the way Batman’s character and stories were told thereafter. All parties involved in the story are human, and therefore fallible. We see them each fall as they each believe they are doing the right thing. The art is stark, dark, and minimalist, with a great emphasis on light and shadow, which allows for greater movement of the story and greater focus on the characters and their intentions. If you’re a Batman fan, you need to read this comic. End of story.

There you have it: Nancy and Kathleen’s unequivocal Best Reads of 2019! Nancy read many excellent horror and creepy stories this year, while Kathleen found some phenomenal middle-grade novels. Most shocking is how only one superhero read and listen made the list apiece, from our die-hard DC and Marvel fans! The world just might be ending 😉

Thank you all for sticking around another year. We both hope you all have a wonderful holiday season!

Nancy and Kathleen

Harrow County: Volumes Seven & Eight

Harrow County’s southern gothic thriller has drawn to a close.  I reviewed all eight volumes within six weeks time as this supernatural series hooked me in and I devoured it. The narrative stayed strong the entire series with no let down in the middle and the conclusion was everything I wanted it to be.

Volume Seven: Dark Times A’Coming

Kammi is back…as if there was any doubt she wouldn’t be! In this penultimate volume, forces are gathering to destroy Emmy and all of Harrow County. Emmy endures two significant losses but has no time to mourn as Kammi is relentless.  Bernice fights right alongside her and the two woman do their best to keep Emmy’s “sister” at bay. We find out why Emmy and Kammi are so important to the witch coven, and who they represent. Just as you think Emmy has scored a hard-won victory at the end, she makes a soul crushing decision and we know her biggest battle is still ahead of her.

As we head into the last volume, I wanted to give a final shout-out to Tyler Crook’s art. His  haint creatures were creative and varied, and I thought of his work and H.P. Lovecraft’s as being similarly inspired. His work came to define Harrow County for me with it’s townspeople, rural landscapes and sinister woods. The only complaint I had is of his giving Emmy and others too much of a red cheeked look- it looked as if they had bad head colds for no discernible reason, although I soon stopped noticing it. The two page spread opening this book was creepy awesomeness, and I will never look at a close up of someone’s teeth without flashing back to this series.

Volume Eight: Done Come Back

Emmy’s decision at the end of the last volume, which she thought would make her stronger, did the opposite. She has corrupted herself and betrayed her goodness by letting evil in willingly. She and the original witch Hester battle for dominance as the lives of everyone in Harrow County hang in the balance. The mythology runs deep in the story with the minotaur haint, The Abandoned, playing a significant role. The ending seemed appropriate to the feel of the series, and it concluded on just the right note. The story was fully told and brought to a fine end, but a whisper of  the narrative could be picked up for further stories if author Cullen Bunn and Crook ever wanted to revisit the series.

The afterword by Bunn and Crook was a bittersweet way to wrap up the series and it truly signified the end, as no storybook of Crook’s art bookend this volume. Bunn told an excellent story and brought it to a close in a satisfying way. A big plus in this series was that Bunn created a lovely friendship between Emmy and Bernice. It is a sad reality that friendships between two females in books often are non–existent, or their interactions revolve around a boy. But in this series the two friends have an authentic and deep friendship and there is nary a romance to be found. I loved that! Thus, this story is so much more than an atmospheric supernatural tale- it touches on friendship, destiny, good vs evil and the choices we make and how they define us.

I am so glad I visited Harrow County. This was a wonderful series that didn’t drag or go on for too long. Bunn and Crook told a strong story from beginning to end, with an epic arc that should satisfy all readers. Go ahead and visit Harrow County yourself- you will be glad you did!

-Nancy

Check out my other Harrow County reviews: Volume OneVolumes Two-Four, Volumes Five-Six

Harrow County: Volumes Five & Six

I’m all in for the Harrow County series, so you have the pleasure of several Harrow County reviews from me in a row. With middle volumes five and six, this story is ramping up the action towards the (hopefully) thrilling conclusion!

Volume Five: Abandoned

Volume four’s back story is continued in volume five with an explanation of who the giant minotaur creature, The Abondoned, is. Some outside hunters come to town to kill this haint, and Emmy does her best to intervene to prevent an epic bloodbath. As I suspected earlier, Emmy’s “twin” Kammi is not completely gone, and her meddling puts everyone in danger.

One of the guest artists and the colorist from volume three is used again for this volume, in the first two chapters. Again, I wish Crook had consistently stayed as the artist for the entire series, but McNeil’s artwork grew on me and was evocative enough to not break the narrative flow. But I was glad to see that even when guest artists are used Crook still draws the covers and the other artists are consistent with the opening two page spreads to each chapter. I continue to adore how Crook incorporates the words Harrow County into each of those pictures.

Volume Six: Hedge Magic

Hedge magic is a term that can mean someone who can use a weaker more informally taught nature type of magic. This comes into play as Bernice who has been taught snake handling magic by Lovey, confronts Emmy. But both Bernice and Emmy have been played the fool by Odessa, one of the witches that seemingly is good but isn’t. When the witch family learn that their plot to turn the friends against each other failed, they turn to an even more sinister way of defeating Emmy…

I have failed to mention that at the end of all the volumes Crook adds a sketchbook of some of his work, showing how the volume develops from storyboards to final inks. This is a fascinating behind the scenes look at how graphic novels develop. Sometimes he shows failed cover art ideas, other times he shows how he develops his characters. Also showcased has been some deviant art by other artists and some little joke drawings.  I look forward to these sketchbooks in each volume to see how Crook and Bunn developed their narrative.

Next week, I will conclude the series with volumes seven and eight!

-Nancy

Check out my other Harrow County reviews: Volume One, Volumes Two-Four, Volumes Seven-Eight

Harrow County: Volumes Two-Four

I just discovered the southern gothic supernatural series Harrow County and loved it! The story recently came to a close with it’s eighth volume, so I have the pleasure of being able to devour the entire series. As such, here are my reviews of volumes two, three and four.

Volume Two: Twice Told

In the first volume, Emmy discovered that she has powers and is somehow connected to witch Hester Beck who was killed by the townsfolk the day Emmy was born. Having survived an attempt of her life, the villagers now respect her and Emmy grows into her powers. She only uses them for good and becomes familiar with the supernatural creatures, called haints, that live in the surrounding area. But Emmy’s “twin” Kammi appears and upends everything. Kammi seems to be the mirror image of Emmy, as she is sophisticated and evil. Emmy’s best friend Bernice is wary of her, but Emmy is desperate for answers and overlooks Kammi’s behavior until Kammi confronts her with an army of evil haints. Emmy has her own coalition, but the ending seemed rushed, and I know this won’t be the last we see of Kammi.

Volume Three: Snake Doctor

In this volume we get some stand alone stories that do some world building for Harrow County. But I most enjoyed the middle story that centered on the appealing Bernice. It turns out Emmy doesn’t have the corner on magic, and Bernice becomes an apprentice of sorts to a snake handling witch who hunts out snakes that are manifestations of evil.  This should lead to Bernice being more of a partner to her best friend, which is a promising direction.

Two other artists are featured in chapters one and four and I did not like it at all. They don’t even try to mimic the style of Tyler Crook, and it is his evocative art that defines the series. I have always liked series that were consistent with their author and artist such as Locke and Key, Revival, The Walking Dead, Manifest Destiny and The Wicked & The Divine. But perhaps that observation should be the subject a future discussion post…

Volume Four: Family Tree

In the fourth volume we finally get some back story on Hester’s powers and meet some magical “family members”. Odessa, who had been referred to in the previous volume, is shown, and while she seems to be a sort of mentor to Emmy, she and the others want to destroy Harrow County and all it’s inhabitants so Emmy will stay with them. Well, Emmy won’t accept that, and it turns out her so-called family underestimated her powers. This was a typical origins story- some answers are given, while raising many more.

Cullen Bunn’s story remains strong, as did Crook’s art. My reviews of the remaining four volumes won’t be far behind, as I am *dying* to find out the rest of Emmy’s story!

-Nancy

Check out my other Harrow County reviews: Volume One, Volumes Five-Six, Volumes Seven-Eight

Harrow County: Countless Haints

Harrow County is an eerie southern gothic fairy tale, and after recently reading Bone Parish and now this, Cullen Bunn is becoming a favorite author of mine.

The opening pages begin with the hanging of suspected witch Hester Beck. As she is hanging from a tree while lit on fire, she swears revenge and tells the surrounding crowd that she will be back.  This old burnt hanging tree is on the edge of the property of teen Emmy and her widowed father. Emmy is about to turn eighteen and is helping her father with a calf’s birth, when a traveling salesman and his granddaughter Bernice arrive on the farm. The two men speak privately about their worries that Emmy could be a reincarnated Hester, and that her birthday will reveal a hidden evil. Later when Emmy is exploring the nearby woods, she discovers her first haint, a skinless boy that speaks to her. It is his later warnings that alert Emmy that danger is near, and her seemingly kind father doesn’t even trust her. A showdown occurs, and secret alliances are revealed. Who can Emmy trust? Her father? Bernice? The skinned boy? Can she even trust herself?

The story has a lot of potential, as Emmy is shown as a young woman who is trying desperately to understand the mysteries of her possible origin and the decades long secrets that the townspeople have. This is a much better adaptation of that sort of story than the disappointing Wytches. The title hints that countless more ghostly haints will be discovered, and how Emmy reacts and utilizes them will certainly be intriguing.

Illustrated by Tyler Crook, he creates an atmospheric southern locale with believable and varied townspeople. His dark woods scenes are my favorite, with his spooky corners that could harbor sinister haints. He opened each new chapter with a two page spread that somehow incorporated the words Harrow County into the background, and I enjoyed looking for how he would do it each time. His artwork is reminiscent of Emily Carroll’s work in Through the Woods, and the comparison holds up because both Carroll and Crook draw their characters young looking with an apple cheeked motif. In this case, Emmy was drawn way too young looking. At eighteen years old, she should have been drawn as a young woman and not so child-like, but other than that complaint, the artwork is a perfect match for the story.

As this was the first of an eight book series, I aim to visit Harrow County more in the future and see what awaits Emmy!

-Nancy

Check out my other Harrow County reviews: Volumes Two-Four, Volumes Five-Six & Volumes Seven-Eight

Bunn, Cullen & Tyler Crook. Harrow County: Countless Haints. 2015.

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