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Gender Queer

September 18th-24th is Banned Books Week, so I took the opportunity to read Gender Queer, a graphic novel that has been challenged numerous times since its publication in 2019.

Author and illustrator, Maia Kobabe, has written a memoir about their experiences growing up. Born a female, they now identify as non-binary and asexual and wish to use the e/em/eir pronouns. Maia struggled with their identity from an early age, and through various experiences decided what identity worked best for them. I believe Maia’s memoir could help someone struggling to realize that they are not alone, and it often is a zigzag path to discovering one’s true self.

So what exactly is so controversial that it is number one on the Top 10 Most Challenged List, considering it was nominated as a Stonewall Honor Book? One reason is the description and illustrations of sexual acts. Another is that some people judge gender identity harshly. What some people don’t understand, they will reject and demand others also reject it. But as author Judy Blume once said, “Censors don’t want children exposed to ideas different from their own. If every individual with an agenda had his/her way. the shelves in the school library would be close to empty“.

Now I don’t want to pretend that this book didn’t raise any issues with me- I think the adult themes make it a better fit for the adult collection than the teen collection, but it is on the teen 2023 Illinois Lincoln List, and as a teen librarian, I have a shelf for these award-winning books. Thus it will remain there and then go back into the teen/adult graphic novel collection next January when I showcase the 2024 list (they are always a year ahead). I’m proud to work at a library that does not censor. In fact, our rural library has all ten books found on the 2021 list. As I handle the social media for our library, I have shared graphics, links and pictures on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts about Banned Books Week. Ultimately, people need to decide for themselves if they want to read this book, and I believe fully in everyone’s freedom to read! ❤

The Sixth Gun: Cold Dead Fingers

As I am a big fan of Cullen Bunn, mostly because of his Harrow County and Bone Parish series, I have circled this title a few times but hadn’t found the time for it yet. Luckily for me, my Goodreads comics group choose this supernatural western for this month’s group read!

Set some years after the Civil War, we learn of six powerful guns, each containing a dark power. Confederate General Hume had discovered all six guns and divvied them up among his evil cohorts and wife Missy. But a priest was able to murder him and took control of Hume’s gun, as ownership only passes after the death of the owner. Dark magic is used to keep Hume in suspended animation, not truly dead, so his eternally youthful wife takes it upon herself to find the sixth gun and reunite it with her husband so he can use it to unleash further destruction. In a parallel journey, Drake Sinclair, formally one of Hume’s henchmen but who turned away from owning one of the other guns, wishes to obtain the sixth gun for himself. Missy’s Pinkerton detectives and Drake converge on the isolated farmstead of the former priest and his step-daughter Becky. Becky inadvertently grabs her step-father’s gun when he is killed in the shoot-out, now making her the sole owner of the gun. And now the battle for ownership of the gun begins!

The characters were intriguing- Drake was an anti-hero whose motives were a bit suspect, Missy was at first a damsel in distress but started gaining a backbone later in the story, Billjohn was a tough gunslinger who had a heart of gold, Missy was slavishly devoted to her husband, while Hume was a caricature of a crazed tyrant. There were several epic battles and a cliffhanger that points to more adventures for Drake and Becky.

The art by Brian Hurtt seemed much too cartoony at first, but I soon stopped noticing and I felt it fit the narrative. There were a lot of supernatural aspects to the story, and the loose art style represented it well, without having to get into realistically gruesome depictions. The action was depicted in four to six panels a page, one-page spreads were uncommon. As it’s set in the Old West there is an appropriately sepia look to the panels, along with red shading to represent the bloodshed and hellish landscapes. However, there was one very distracting art choice towards the end- writing out all the noise effects as words during one certain battle. Used sparingly, words can be used effectively in art, but it was overdone.

This proved to be a solid start to a long series- nine volumes with several spin-offs. While I don’t know if I will continue with it, this horror-imbued western appealed to me and I was glad that it was part of my Halloween reads this month.

-Nancy

Rogue Planet

Eight crew on the salvage vessel Cortes track a rogue planet because they believe it to have a large payload. But things don’t go as planned!

The crew members are introduced to the readers as they land on this unknown planet, with five crew venturing out to discover the never named payload. They immediately discover a graveyard of space ships that crash-landed, but that does not detour them, nor the large blobby creature that had multiple lungs, mouth and teeth that looms above them. Strangely, they keep sauntering along looking for their mythical payload. But soon enough this creature attacks them, picking them off one by one and incorporating them into their mass. When they are down to only three crew of the original eight, they try to leave the planet, but soon join the other crashed ships. An alien race who live on this planet are shown worshipping another life-form, with some sort of Genesis plot and sacrifice rituals. The last survivor finds a remaining humanoid from another ship and his hallucinations seem to tie into what is going on, but then the narrative is bookended by the aliens and their rituals that didn’t make sense to me. 

The art was solid with a good variety of layouts, and it definitely aimed to have an Alien movie vibe. Saying strange creatures are Lovecraftian is an easy way to describe a certain style of art, and it leaned that way but wasn’t quite there. The crew members had a nice diversity to them, and the colors really popped. In fact, my pdf version of this graphic novel was the easiest to read online yet and the colors were vivid, which I so appreciated, as online reading is not my preferred method. 

Cullen Bunn is an established horror writer, with his Harrow County and Bone Parish being among my favorite graphic novel series. However, this stand-alone scifi story didn’t bring it home for me. While it wasn’t bad, it was cliched and somewhat bland. Not a single character stood out, and the ending confused me. However, Bunn is a favored author of mine, and I was glad to get an early look at this book through NetGalley.

-Nancy

Spectacle: Book 1

Anna and Kat are twin sisters working in the Samson Brothers Circus. Anna works as the circus psychic – but she doesn’t believe in any of that supernatural stuff. She’s a woman of science, who only believes in what she can prove, what she can see with her own eyes. Kat is a knife thrower, and her charisma wins over both the audiences and the other members of the circus. It’s a complete shock when Kat is found murdered in the train car her and Anna share. Even more shocking? Kat is still here, as a particularly demanding ghost, and she is sharing Anna’s body. Anna is freaked! There’s supposed to be no such thing as ghosts! Her sister isn’t supposed to be dead! Together, Anna and Kat must solve the mystery – and figure out the reason behind the strange phenomena the circus has been experiencing lately.

The circus setting of this graphic novel is very refreshing. The circus is a place where you can always expect the unexpected: and this story delivers. It’s at once a murder mystery, a supernatural suspense, and a story about family. If you’ll pardon the pun, having this many elements in the story is quite a juggling act! Megan Rose Gedris manages to keep the momentum going without sacrificing one aspect over another. As characters, Anna and Katy both contain multitudes, and there are hints that not everyone in the circus, even the twins themselves, are not what they first appear to be. The art is appropriately colorful, lively, off-kilter, and highly expressive. Gedris is a highly talented creator – I can’t wait for the next volume!

– Kathleen

Gedris, Megan Rose. Spectacle: Book 1. 2018.

Fresh Romance (Vol. 1)

Romance isn’t really my thing. I’ve read a few romance novels, but I find the actual romances uninspiring, forced, or too problematic – definitely not romantic! So I picked this one up already pretty ambivalent about it.

I’m happy to report I was pleasantly surprised by this anthology! There are four stories inside, all romances, but of differing flavors ;D

  • School Spirit by Kate Leth, Arielle Jovellanos, Amanda Scurti, and Taylor Esposito. High school friends Miles, Corinne, Justine, and Malie are planning for prom and graduation. Malie and Justine want to go together, but their relationship is a secret and they’re not sure if they’re ready to make it public. Corinne has a magical gift and technically isn’t allowed to date mortals like Miles. Will prom night be the one night they’re allowed to be themselves, and together? Or will they find themselves ripped apart by those who don’t understand? A sweet and salty tone combined with inclusive characters and brightly colored artwork made for a delicious read.
  • Ruined by Sarah Vaughn, Sarah Winifred Searle, and Ryan Ferrier. A historical romance that begins on Catherine Benson’s wedding day. She marries Mr. Andrew Davener, a lucky marriage to be sure, after Catherine was involved in a scandal the previous summer. They are both nervous around each other, each keeping secrets of the past from the other. How are they to rebuild their reputations and make their marriage work? This one ended on the worst cliffhanger!!! I’ll be seeking out the second volume for sure to find out what happens! The art is clean, simple, and yet bearing that certain expressiveness and dignity called to mind with classic English literature. Beautifully rendered.
  • The Ruby Equation by Sarah Kuhn, Sally Jane Thompson, Savanna Ganucheau, Steve wants, and Sonia Harris. Ruby is stuck working in a coffee shop on Earth making people fall in love. Gross! She knows she’s destined for more, and she can’t wait to finish this mission so she can herd laser seahorses in another realm. She can skip making multiple matches if she makes one big, great match – one involving an individual who’s given up on love entirely. I found the art too overly detailed and cluttered in this one to really get into it.
  • Beauties by Marguerite Bennett, Trungles, Rachel Deering, and Kris Anka. A retelling of Beauty and the Beast in which the Beast is captured by Beauty’s father, a merchant prince. The prince and his first two daughters each love the Beast, but as a possession. Beauty loves him as an equal, and frees him from her family’s prison. How are they to hide when they are being hunted? The artwork looked like old woodcuts or prints like you might find in an old volume of fairy tales.

Overall, I enjoyed this anthology. There was something in it for all kinds of romance readers – even the reluctant ones like me 😉

– Kathleen

Various. Fresh Romance (Vol. 1). 2016.

Graveyard Quest

This book was quite an acid trip. Based off KC Green’s webcomic, Gunshow, his 59 strips about a petulant gravedigger with mommy issues has been turned into this unique novel, with an added epilogue bonus.

The gravedigger (no name given) has inherited the family business of you guessed it-gravedigging. He keeps his beloved mother’s bones in a box near his bed so he can converse with her, much to the dismay of his father’s angry ghost. His father steals the bones, sending the gravedigger on a quest to retrieve them from the Underworld. So begins a journey that has him meet a wise mole, train bandits who want to hijack their way to Heaven, a town of worms that live off the rot of the corpses he buries, Charon the river Styx conductor, and the creature Beelzebub who desperately wants to go back to Hell. How do all these expletive spewing characters relate to his odyssey? Well…let’s just say it’s the journey not the destination for the gravedigger to find closure with his father.

Green’s art style is primitive at best with a simple color scheme. The cover has a different art style than the story inside. The gravedigger’s eyes aren’t big enough and it looks like he is wearing lipstick on the cover, and is rather off putting, but as none of Green’s art is appealing in a traditional way, I guess it doesn’t really matter. (Edit- a commenter clued me in that the cover is like the game Fester’s Quest) The style of art and storytelling is reminiscent of the tv cartoon show Chowder, with Charon reminding me of this awesome clip from the series!

So if you have a warped sense of humor, like to swear and are familiar with Gunshow then this book is for you!

-Nancy

GYQ2

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