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Book Love

Book love- I know it well. If you too love books, then this is the book for you!

Author Debbie Tung has created a relatable book of strips that details how bookworms feel about their beloved books. Drawn in black and white within a simple four panel format, the comic showcases a woman obsessed with books (I assume she is based on the author herself) and her understanding husband. So many of the strips hit home for me, as I have loved books since childhood. Libraries have always felt like home, so it comes as no surprise that I am a librarian, surrounded by what I love.

The premise of the book is all about book love, so there is no plot or characterization, it is ALL about loving books and sometimes avoiding interacting with people in favor of the books. Each strip can stand alone. At times the strips become a bit one-note, yet that is the basis of the book. As I do all the social media for my library, I hope some of these adorable strips become available for re-print (with author credit, of course!) because posts on book love are always a big hit at my library.

Thank you to NetGalley for giving me an advance copy; I just wish it was being published a few weeks earlier, so people could scoop up copies to give to the book lovers in their life. So, if you are a bibliophile, this book of comics is for you, and will be available in January!

-Nancy

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Of Dust and Blood: The Battle at Little Big Horn

The 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, aka Battle of the Greasy Grass, is featured in this beautifully illustrated graphic novel.

The reader is witness to the days preceding the battle, and the battle itself through the eyes of a scout for the 7th Calvary named Greenhaw and a Lakota Sioux warrior named Slow Hawk. Author Jim Berry, hoped to give an equitable viewpoint of the battle in this piece of historical fiction, so he framed the narrative to be from two fictional men from either side, and who interact with the real historical figures of Sitting Bull, General Custer and Crazy Horse. Berry introduces the story with information about how he collected the historical research and how he reached out to the Native American community for translation assistance and fact checking. A map, art gallery and bibliography round out the book.

We first meet Greenhaw, who is penning a letter to his lady love Rose. Many of Custer’s scouts were Native American, or were of mixed ancestry and could translate for him, but that is never addressed in the story. While brave, he just wants to make it out of the battle alive, and be reunited with Rose.  Slow Hawk is a Lakota Sioux, who wishes to avenge the death of his brother and parents. In the panel below we see him replicate his brother’s war paint on himself, in order to honor him. When Crazy Horse gifts a new horse to Slow Hawk, he is ready for battle and will do what ever it takes to win. The chaos of battle is evocatively shown, and you are thrown in the middle of the battlefield, as leaders are making split second decisions that aren’t always the best. You will root for both Greenhaw and Slow Hawk to survive, but in war nothing is certain.

The art is a wonder in this story. Val Mayerik, who has illustrated for other graphic novels such as Conan and is the co-creator of Howard the Duck, completely elevates this story. He should branch out in his art career as the way he depicts war scenes and moving horses was just outstanding! While this story is certainly an abbreviated version of the battle, Mayerik’s art helped tell much of the tale. His strong coloring and care in which he drew the Native Americans and landscapes gave an authenticity to the entire narrative.

As a history fan, as soon as I saw this graphic novel listed on NetGalley I knew that I wanted it. The device of using fictional protagonists worked, as there are other novels about the leaders on either side of the battle, and this format allowed for balanced and sympathetic portrayals of both sides.  However, there were a few choices by the author that I questioned. In the introduction, a casual mention is made of a Native American descendant of Custer, as oral tradition says that Custer had a child with a Cheyenne woman – yet this fact is disputed, so giving a small explanation should have been included for those who are not aware of the story. I applaud that the Lakota language was used in the narrative, but a dying soldier speaking Italian with no translation was also shown, to jarring effect. I came away knowing that the author really did his research and wanted to give an accurate portrayal of this controversial battle. I recommend this book, both for the historic representation and the gorgeous art!

-Nancy

Gothic Tales of Haunted Love

Gothic tales + haunted love + diverse characters = yes, please!

This strong anthology has 200+ pages of short illustrated stories that are horror-themed, as they are a tribute to 1970’s Gothic pulp novels. Each story has a different author and illustrator, with lends to many different styles within this collection. The stories are extremely diverse, with characters of different nationalities, cultures and sexual orientations plus they take place in several different time periods. This variety will give every reader some stories that they will absolutely connect with as there are stories with revenge motifs, historical heartbreak or the supernatural.

As with any anthology there are some stories that are stronger than others. Pair that with a graphic novel format, and there are some illustration styles that will not appeal to everyone, but the art as a whole is well done with evocative coloring. The book includes eighteen new stories, and one reprint of an original Korean Gothic comic. A prologue, art gallery and author bios round out the collection.

My favorites included:

Crush– Janet Hetherington, Ronn Sutton, Becka Kinzie & Zakk Saam: An African American governess falls in love with a widowed Sea Captain, father of the seven children she cares for. When he disregards her as a love interest, she obtains revenge.

The Return– David A Robertson & Scott B. Henderson: A Native American woman comes back from the dead to be reunited with her fiancee, but she finds a better man who sees beyond her beauty to what was in her heart.

Green, Gold, and Black– Cherelle Higgins & Rina Rozsas: Set in Jamaica on the eve of a slave uprising, an enslaved woman is giving birth. She is chained by her white mistress, for her husband had raped the woman and the child is his, and she is consumed by jealousy. This is the most heartbreaking of all the stories, although I found a nugget of hope in the end, depending on how you interpret the mother’s visions.

Mistress Fox– Megan Kearney & Derek Spencer: A bride shares an unsettling dream with her guests the morning after her wedding – the night before, her new husband had killed a maid that he was having an affair with. You know she is framing her cad of a husband, but there is one more sly twist at the end.

I received an online copy from NetGalley for an unbiased review back in April, but I had downloaded it close to it’s expiration date, and had to do a quick review based off only one day at looking at it online. That just wouldn’t do, so I ordered a print copy for my library, so I could re-read it and have library patrons enjoy it too. And isn’t that the point- to purchase a book you’d like to read over and over again- and then share it with others?!

-Nancy

Scarlet

Scarlet is a vigilante who is determined to fight back against a corrupt system and she uses violence for change. Written by Brian Michael Bendis, who is known for his skill in writing character’s dialogue, Scarlet is a deliberately provocative story meant to push boundaries. Originally released  in 2010, it is being re-released for it’s timely story line during this #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and Women’s March era, and I obtained a copy through NetGalley.

Scarlet is living life as a typical Portland teen when she and her boyfriend get targeted by a dirty cop’s drug pat down. When her boyfriend punches the officer and they make a run for it, they are followed and shot at. Her boyfriend dies, and Scarlet is sent to the hospital in a coma. The police cover themselves by painting the couple as drug dealers and the officers are hailed as heroes who saved the community from a drug cartel. When Scarlet awakens, she is furious and decides she wants revenge.

The gimmick is that Scarlet breaks the fourth wall and talks to the reader. Thus, the narrative is from her perspective and she is sharing what she wants you to know, so you get her spin on the action. This mostly works, but at times it’s a bit pretentious. Scarlet isn’t always likable, and can definitely be perceived as an anti-hero.  Her unsavory ‘violence is the answer’ motto is tempered by the realization that some big changes in our world have only come to fruition through violence. Martin Luther King Jr was able to further the Civil Rights Movement through love and non-violent means, but he was counterbalanced (and helped) by Malcolm X’s methods, as Gandhi was also helped by radicals. This is an uncomfortable truth that should be further delved into.

The artwork is stylized with an edgy noir vibe. Mostly drawn in black and white or with a muted earthen color palette, some splashes of color include Scarlet’s red hair, blood and occasional details such as a pride flag. The art is sketchy at times, but also includes photographic type detail. Artist Alex Maleev is fond of closeups of people’s faces, which can be hit or miss at times, but his unique style is a good match to the story.

This series is worth looking into further to see if Bendis finesses this culturally relevant story and develops Scarlet into more than a gun-toting cop killing hottie.  I look forward to Scarlet moving from vigilante to true revolutionary.

-Nancy

The Divided Earth

The Divided Earth is the final book of The Nameless City trilogy, and wraps the narrative up in a thrilling and satisfying conclusion!

Preceded by books The Nameless City and The Stone Heart, the story takes place in the fictional city Daidu, named by the Dao’s, the most recent conquering nation. However, due to centuries of conquest, the inhabitants of many different nationalities simply call it The Nameless City. This politically important Asian city sits alongside a mountain pass and is the only route to the sea, making it a critical location for trade and military movements. An ancient people carved a passageway through the mountain, but the technology they used has been lost to the ages.

The main characters are teen Kaidu, a Dao recently of the distant Homelands who is sent to the city to train as a soldier, a street-wise girl named Rat who has lived in the city her whole life, Ezri, who is the General’s son and who has just taken drastic measures to rule the city and his dangerous bodyguard Mura. These four young people have just discovered a mystical tome in the monastery that they believe has powers to dominate all the surrounding nations.

Ezri and Mura take the book that holds the formula for making Napatha, a powerful fire that can destroy armies and eat through stone, and plan to use it for the Dao nation to remain in control of the city. Both have complex and diverging reasons for wanting this power, and author Faith Erin Hicks deftly weaves in their back stories to explain their viewpoints. We see in the above panel how Ezri desperately justifies his actions, and his layered portrayal shows that he isn’t crafted to be a pure villain in the story.

Additional characters come into play, as adults from Kai and Rat’s life play integral roles in trying to thwart the war that Ezri and Mura are intent on starting. The conclusion has Ezri and Kai, two young men who come from privileged upbringings, face off. Paired with that, is the poignant confrontation between Mura and Rat whose backgrounds include tragedy and broken homes. These matches between the pairs show how similar starts in life don’t always lead to the same paths; as love and support from others and your own personal integrity can help shape you.

The conclusion is satisfying, with a three year time jump to show a realistic wrap up to the story. A few details were a bit pat, but as the story is geared towards young readers, the arcs for the four main characters ended appropriately. I was invested in the city’s inhabitants and would love to visit them again in a future story by Hicks. As such, I was excited to be approved for this book by NetGalley, so I could get a sneak peek at how the series concludes.

Hicks has crafted a story that tied in adventure, friendship and the cost of war.  She creates a believable world inspired by 13th century China and her artwork was wonderful with the precision of her backgrounds and how she captures emotion.  The coloring by Jordie Bellaire is lovely- and her work should get a shout out, as a colorist’s work establishes an aesthetic that is a crucial part of the storytelling. This captivating trilogy is a must read, not only to a YA audience, but also with older readers who will enjoy the nuanced tale.

-Nancy

Other People

Other People is two beautifully told stories about family and community relationships, with spot on character studies.

The first story, Days of the Bagnold Summer, is an in depth look of a summer between a mother and her teenage son after his plans to visit his father in Florida fall through. Set in a small British town, Sue and Daniel uneasily move through their days, with Sue trying to connect with her metal-head teenager. Daniel skulks around home, not truly upset about not making the annual trip to visit his father and stepmother, but not wanting to admit it to his mother.  Six weeks pass, with Daniel slowly gaining some insight and empathy towards his mother, who does her damndest in trying to prod him lovingly in the right direction. Their interactions were so true to life, and the conclusion with the two of them heading to a family wedding was sweet.

I connected with this story at many levels, as Sue is shown at the library she works at, and as a librarian myself, I laughed at some of the observations she made about patrons there. But it was a mother trying to relate to her teen that was the most poignant for me. Actually I am a mother to three teens- and believe me, there are days that are hard with them. I had so much compassion for the character of Sue and I wanted to shake clueless Daniel, although at heart he wasn’t a bad son. I look forward to the movie they are going to make of this story.

 

The longer second story, Driving Short Distances, was another character study, this time between Sam and his boss Keith. Sam is  27 and at a crossroads in life, as he failed out of university and had a breakdown; so Keith, who is a distant relative of the family, takes him on as a sort of an apprentice in his distribution and delivery business. That Sam truly never figures out what Keith does on his endless errands is a running gag. Keith’s false boasting and foibles become evident as Sam is stuck in the car with him for hours a day, but Sam becomes more confident as the story progresses and he knows he has to stop being carried about in the current and grapple with making himself a new life. The story is a sort of love letter to small town life, as Keith and Sam interact with the same residents day in and out, and I laughed out loud several times. By the end, you are aching for both men, as this tender story shows how toxic masculinity can prevent men from really connecting with one another.

Image result for driving short distances

Author Joff Winterhart really captures the frailties, oddities and connections between people especially in small communities where people have known each other and their families for generations.  His sketchwork captures the essence of people, warts and all, drawn in black and white with excellent shading. His blue overwash in the second story hints towards the depression that both men exhibit, showcasing that Winterhart’s deceptively simple looking artwork is quite effective. I am thankful to NetGalley for bringing to my attention this graphic novel and it’s charming stories.

-Nancy

Bloodshot Salvation: The Book of Revenge

So…there’s a lot of blood in Bloodshot. Who woulda’ thunk it?

Having read virtually no Valiant titles except for Faith:Hollywood and Vine, I only had a passing recognition of Bloodshot, but no real understanding of who he was or his backstory. I picked up this digital copy because Jeff Lemire (who must be an android and not sleep because his output of titles is amazing) is the author and I’m a sucker for a good revenge story.

Bloodshot aka Ray Garrison is a former soldier who worked for the shadowy Project Rising Spirit, and whose nanites in his bloodstream could transform him into a killing machine with healing powers (shades of Wolverine from Marvel). His memory has been wiped several times, but he has escaped from the decommissioned PRS in the previous Reborn series, and has established a family with his girlfriend Magic. They have a baby daughter who seems to be perfectly healthy and free of Ray’s powers.

It’s all too good to be true, and frankly Ray decides to f**k everything up by going after Magic’s father who is a cult leader and has been harassing her to rejoin his compound. Plans go sideways, his daughter Jessie gets sick and PRS gets new funding and doesn’t want any former soldiers on the loose. There are time jumps, transfigurations and many many deaths. Then there is the required twist and cliff hanger to make you come back for future volumes.

The artwork is excellent, with a gritty realism and a subdued color palate. The artists are very fond of exploding eyeballs and showcasing gore. But I do have a complaint: the front cover is misleading. It shows Jessie as a young girl with the trademark white skin next to her father. This scene did not happen, and in fact, Jessie has not seen her Dad in years at this point. While I assume they will be reuniting in the next volume, this cover was very inaccurate.

I’m glad I had a chance to read this title through NetGalley, as Vin Diesel is signed on to portray Bloodshot in a movie adaptation, and now I have a passing understanding of the Bloodshot saga. I’m rooting for Ray’s family to have a happy ending, but we all know it won’t come easy.

-Nancy

Manfried The Man

Quirk Books proved to be an apt publisher for this quirky graphic novel about cats and humans having their roles reversed.

Steve Catson is a slacker who has a dead-end job but loves his man, Manfried. When his chubby ginger disappears out a carelessly left open window, Steve is distraught. He needs to own up to his failings and find his man,  and in so doing he is able to help the local Man Shelter and find a new career path.

The artwork is clean, simple and attractive; typically with a six panel layout per page. The cats who portray the pet-owners walk on their hind legs and live just as you would expect humans would. It’s the little men, that will make you pause and laugh, as it’s quite odd to see naked men acting like cats. While the artist draws that cats in various colors as you’d expect to see, it’s the men (never women) drawn with different body types, ages, and nationalities that make the panels distinctive. And instead of a meow, the men always say “hey” to one another or to their cats to get their attention.

The book proved to be a more nuanced than I originally thought it might be. The front cover let’s you know this is a graphic novel, not a collection of strips , as many might expect. While stand alone strips with this role reversal would certainly be funny, this longer narrative lets you move past the juxtaposition of the roles, and you really start to connect with the characters. The story makes you root for Steve to grow up and get Manfried back. I definitely would welcome more stories about these two. Thanks to NetGalley for this clever book!

-Nancy

Image result for Manfried the Man book
This strip is from the creator’s Tumblr site, not the book

A Tribute Anthology to Deadworld

The graphic novel series Deadworld and their titular character King Zombie has been around since 1986, and made zombies cool before The Walking Dead and World War Z. I’ve looked at some of the issues and amazing artwork of Deadworld before, but never truly read the series, so when this anthology became available on NetGalley, I was anxious to read it. While I was surprised that it wasn’t a graphic novel, instead it was a novella of eight short stories, I was pleased as short stories are a favorite genre of mine.

Before the eight stories there is an introduction by editor Lori Perkins, then a lovely tribute to comic publisher Gary Reed by Kevin VanHook and another tribute to the series by Thomas F. Monteleone with a shout out to the enigmatic King Zombie.

The Guitar Girl by Jason Henderson established an Old West feel in this story in the Deadworld universe. Dana, who tries to spread music and hope in a post-apocalyptic world, reunites a family.

Small Town Gay Bar by Andrew Robertson felt like an 80’s slasher movie, and required a suspension of disbelief as to how the zombies infiltrated this small Southern bar. Ending with a cliffhanger, I hope the appealing heroes make it to safety.

The Girl by Jennifer Williams had a dystopian feel with a mystical bent. Our plucky heroine didn’t get the glorious ending you were hoping for.

Home on the Range by Ken Haigh showcased the zombies as more a nuisance than a threat and had an innocuous ending.

Rearguard by Sarah Stegall had the best world building with a Creole family that truly seemed real. Ailing Harriet sends her grandchildren to safety with a box of family mementos while she stays behind. Her position as rearguard hearkens back to her days in the army as a young woman, and she takes out a zombie horde to keep her beloved family safe.

Gonna Get Close To You by Jamie K. Schmidt was on odd mashup of mob assassins, revenge and unrequited love. We get a reference to the Zombie King in this story and the idea that not all zombies are mindless minions.

Another Man’s Skin by George Ivanoff shows what family members will do for each other to ensure their survival. There is no room for sentimentality when you are battling the undead. Felt like a Twilight Zone episode with a twist I saw coming.

Pit Stop by Jeremy Wagner drops us in the middle of a post-apocalyptic world with Rhonda and two children trying to make it to safety. It definitely had a Walking Dead vibe and felt like it was part of a longer story instead of having a conclusion as the other stories did. Thus it was apropos that their was a mention that this story was an excerpt from Rabid Hearts. I was intrigued enough by this tale to want to know more about this story’s characters, so I’d like to know where to track down the longer story.

I enjoyed all the stories, as each writer added something strong to this Deadworld anthology. My interest has been piqued and I plan on tracking down some comic issues of the series next time I stop in my local comic book store. As my previous  T5W post shows, I am a big fan of the zombie genre, and this short story collection supplied by NetGalley for an honest review, was a welcome addition to my reading list!

-Nancy

Perkins, Lori, A Tribute Anthology to Deadworld and Comic Publisher Gary Reed. 2017.

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