Graphic Novelty²


Ten Speed Press

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century

“Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the twentieth century. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.” -Timothy Snyder, from On Tyranny

In this graphic novel, author Timothy Snyder who is a history professor at Yale has adapted his book of essays from 2017, into an illustrated edition aided by the artist Nora Krug. Obviously distraught over Trump’s presidency (although he refuses to name him in the book), he shares twenty lessons, that are meant to be a call to arms.

He ties the horrors of corrupt governments from the past as a warning and as a guide to resistance. Each of his lessons is expanded upon with examples of governments that fooled, bamboozled, or forced their citizens into subservience. Best read in small chunks, it will give readers a chance to think about his valid points.

Krug’s work is subversive and fragmentary- she combines several mediums of art into a unique collage of images on each page. Her watercolor and pencil art reminds me of Eastern European folk art (which is a nod that many of the governments mentioned are from that region), and she combines that with photographs and scrapbook-type mementos. It all adds to Snyder’s message of fighting oppression, and yes, tyranny. This was a sobering read as we close out the year, but a thoughtful one that is well worth your time.


Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights

Here in graphic novel form is a history of women and their struggle to earn rights. Women warriors, rulers, writers, speakers, leaders, of all colors, from antiquity to today, are included. The name, years of birth and death, a portrait, and a short story or biography (including direct writings or quotes were applicable) are included for each woman.

The overall narrative is constructed as an AI classroom, in which school girls asked about how women got the right to vote. As the AI teacher shows us, women’s right to vote was very closely entwined with other rights: labor, birth control, civil, and disability. The fictional girls in the story learn from the immersive AI environment, but also from each other.

Though text-heavy and stuffed full of information, I found it to be an easier read than expected. The time stamps were very helpful. There are also chapter breaks, often with a fun two-page spread of a big scene with multiple women related to that chapter title. Trying to guess all the real and fictional character was a lot like playing “Where’s Waldo”! Each chapter (for the most part) followed a different time period, and the art would change slightly accordingly to reflect that time. It would even change within chapters according to place: for example, going from the Mayan Empire to the Vikings to the Celtic Empire.

What surprised me the most was simply how many women were featured here. Most were given 1-2 pages dedicated just to them; some, like women of the Civil Rights movement, were grouped together on one page. The writings and quotes accompanying each woman made reading about them so much more interesting and immediate. A great deal of research was done for this book to show, rather than just tell, how women created and continue to create change. Highly recommended.

– Kathleen

Kendall, Mikki, and A. D’Amico. Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights. 2019.

Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics

Tom Scioli presents this unofficial Jack Kirby biography in “first person.” The author’s note at the beginning states that the prose was adapted from sources such as interviews, where Kirby recounted events in his own words.

Jack’s parents were from Galacia, though Jack and his brother David were born and raised in the Bronx, New York City. Jack’s childhood was rife with childhood gangs, Sunday and pulp comics, and his mother’s stories. As he grew up, he took odd jobs before breaking into an artistic career by drawing the in-between shots in animation. Eventually he started drawing comics. The biography details his career, first drawing comic strips, then superhero comics for both Marvel and DC, including his creation or co-creation of many, many characters we know and love today. We also see his personal life, from getting married, to time served in World War II, to his many, many collaborations with other creators, to his children being born and his parents and brother passing away, and how they all eventually made their way into his work – art imitating life.

The “first person” literary device was extremely effective. Though Kirby is gone, through this graphic novel, “written” in his own words and with his own distinctive voice, he lives again. The intimacy and immediacy of the narrative would have been lost without it. There are some passages that are in what I believe to be German and Hebrew, which only add to this effect. Though no translation is provided, you can get the gist of what’s being said from context =) There are some instances where different characters “speak” in the same style, but their exposition boxes are in different colors to indicate the shift.

Not only was the “prose” in the characters’ own words, the art was in Kirby’s own style. There were plenty of examples of his work, in the style of the times. As the book went on, you could see it change and evolve. The touch that was most fun for me were the pencil smears. The exposition boxes, speech bubbles, filler space, and some illustrations all had pencil smears on them. It wasn’t overpowering – everything is still legible – but it added an earthy, tangible touch to the book: like you’re holding a precious original instead of a mass-produced item.

The element that was least effective for me, and took me out of the experience at times, was the character design for Kirby himself. Every other character had small eyes, sometimes mere lines and dots for pupils without the whites, which was common practice at the time. Jack Kirby had big, anime-esque eyes. I imagine this was a deliberate choice made to differentiate him from other characters, but it looked weird and out of place. In that vein, a “cast of characters” page and yearly (or decade) timestamps would have also been helpful for navigating a dense read with many people in it.

The end of the book has a meaty “Notes” section, a bibliography, and an index.

All in all, this was an enlightening and endearing look at one of the most influential people in the comics industry. I learned a lot, and it was a real treat to get an “insider look” on how Kirby worked, and how his work was influenced by his eventful life. The “first person” prose is what makes this biography so special. Coupled with the resources at the back, I could easily see high school students using this graphic novel for a biographical project. Recommended for anyone who wants to see how comics were made.

– Kathleen

Scioli, Tom. Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics. 2020.

The Creeps

Have you ever had absurd but frightening fears that you can’t stop thinking about? If so, then this book is for you!

The Creeps written by Fran Krause is actually the second volume, following Deep Dark Fears, a  comic based on people’s quirky fears. The author takes user-submitted fears on his Tumblr website and illustrates them into this compilations.

These fears might seem laughable to others, but nevertheless result in anxiety and feel legitimate to the person worrying. As a person who sleepwalks and nightmares on a semi-regular basis, I know all about dreams feeling incredibly real, even though others around you try to convince you otherwise. Our deep dark fears are often connected to our sleep, when we are seemingly not in control of our bodies.

My irrational fear was when I was pregnant with my oldest son and my husband and I were camping with some friends and I had to use the outhouse, I worried excessively that the baby would drop out of me and fall into the abyss. I knew this was not probable, and a few months later when I did give birth and it took hours and was excruciatingly painful, it was proven to me that no babies just fall out. But I was in no mood to be laughing at my fear in those moments.

The artwork in this collection of ninety-seven comic strips is clean and reminds me of Noelle Stevenson’s artwork. While drawn to capture the essence of the situation, and not be hyper realistic, I sometimes felt distracted by the too simplistic rendering of details such as noses. The coloring is done with watercolors, so the pictures have an appealing lightly hued washed out look. The strips are often in a four panel configuration, but a nice bonus was two longer multi-page ghost stories that were done in black and white to great effect.

This was a charming book, and while it will make you laugh out loud several times, it will also make you feel better about your own idiosyncratic fears. Go ahead and share your own fears in the comments section!


Now who hasn’t worried that they have eaten a spider while sleeping?



Creeper alert!


This is why nightlights are necessary!


Ok, blogging friends…no one better die on me!

* I received this book from Blogging For Books, in exchange for an honest review.

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