Graphic Novelty²


Top Shelf Productions

They Called Us Enemy

I have been a fan of George Takei for years, as his character of Lieutenant Commander (later Captain) Hikaru Sulu of Star Trek was one of my favorite TOS crew members. I have admired his civil and LGBTQ+ rights advocacy and have followed his popular Oh Myyy Facebook site for years. So it was a no-brainer that I was going to pick up his debut graphic novel, and it was a bonus that it was this month’s selection for Goodread’s I Read Comic Books.

In the same vein of the March trilogy by John Lewis, this book takes a long hard look at America’s shameful secret of forcing Japenese Americans into internment camps during World War II. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, there was mass hysteria that people of Japenese ancestry would be loyal to Imperial Japan and attack our mainland. President Franklin Roosevelt forced the relocation and incarceration of about 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, most of whom lived on the Pacific Coast. George Takei and his family were one of these families.

George was a young boy when he, his parents and a younger brother and sister were forced from their Los Angeles home and sent to the first of two camps that they would spend three years in. They lost their house and dry cleaning business and endured humiliation after humiliation. That Takei and his siblings were so young, they did not fully understand the ramifications of their relocation, whereas his parents were the ones who had to deal with the daily legalized racism of these camps. In fact, Takei found some pleasure during those years as his parents worked hard to shelter their children and normalize their upbringing as best as they could. But these years also helped shape him into the leader he is today, for he learned about courage, leadership and activism from both his parents who made hard decisions in that time period.

Although this memoir concentrates on a retelling of his family’s time in the camps, Takei does take time to give a larger picture of what was happening in the world before, during and after his incarceration. He names some key political figures who pushed for these camps, but also extends grace to those that helped fight the injustice. It is a great irony that President Roosevelt, who helped the country out of the Great Depression and has many other laurels to stand on, was the one who signed orders for thousands of American citizens and/or residents to be sent to these internment camps. No wonder there was little mention of them in my history books growing up, for while we can condemn other countries for gross injustices, our country had taken away the liberty, finances and dignity of a segment of our population just because they were of a certain nationality.  And this story sadly has a parallel today, as President Trump had set up camps for families trying to immigrate from Mexico, and has been blatant about his prejudices against people he does not deem American enough.

Harmony Becker was a perfect choice to illustrate this graphic novel, for her evocative black and white drawings were historically accurate, and brought to life daily camp realities, showing both the good and bad from a child’s perspective. In fact, some of her drawings slid into an anime-style when George and his siblings were experiencing joy. This not only was a great way to show their emotions, but it is also a nod towards Japanese culture. That Becker is #ownvoices elevates the story, for her talent and cultural sensitivity go hand in hand. I also wish to mention co-writers Steven Scott and Justin Eisinger, who helped shape the narrative into a strong lesson for us all. Takei and his team deserve major kudos for shining a light on issues from the past so that way we learn from them today.



Jane and Ben are hoping to get a place to live together. Jane’s still living with her parents, who don’t have the best relationship. They looked at a house they think would suit – their future housemates are their age, the roof leaks, their room would be tiny – but anything is better than at home. The owners want a down payment that is more than they can afford, but Jane is getting desperate. Their friend Natalie is coming back from Japan – she’s a model and she spent a few years abroad. When Natalie reveals a secret to Jane during a drunken night, is it an opportunity to reconnect with her old friend, or is it a chance for Jane to get everything she thinks she wants?

I’m on the fence about this one. I can definitely see where it was going. It’s an obvious allegory for the disconnected and impersonal relationships we can have now in the age of social media and conversations in text. I just wish it wouldn’t have done it in such a cliche fashion: younger adults as the main characters, two of them in a rocky relationship, the other successful and eliciting lots of jealousy. You definitely know where the story is going a quarter of the way through the book.

The art was… serviceable. It wasn’t to my taste, but again, I can see why the style reflected the story and the themes. It’s flat, only three colors are used, and lots of negative space around them portrays the emptiness in the characters. The tone is impersonal, creepy. Even though you know how it ends, it still packs an emotional punch at the last page.

Fellow readers, did you like or dislike this one? I am, unfortunately, very firmly in the middle!

– Kathleen

Gooch, Chris. Bottled. 2017.

March: Book Three

Lewis, John, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell. March: Book Three. 2016.

The conclusion of the March trilogy of books took me longer to read than expected- but I felt that was a good thing, for I was able to truly enjoy and understand the message more fully. There were many times during my reading of the three books that I would stop and do some additional research on the person or situation described in the book, and that to me is always a good sign of a non-fiction book…I want to know MORE.

The second book ended with the tragic bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham AL in 1963, and the third books picks up there to give us a tableau of the destruction that killed four innocent girls. I appreciated that an effort was made to highlight other everyday heroes of that time period, plus share other lesser know casualties such as the two boys who lost their lives following the chaos of the Birmingham bombing. They all deserve the respect of having their stories shared and their names remembered.

Representative Lewis is honest in admitting that there was a significant amount of infighting among members of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) as different agendas were presented and voted on, in how the groups could further the Civil Rights Movement. There were so many injustices being inflicted on Blacks all across the nation, especially in the south, thus there were many different perspectives on ways to combat these issues. Lewis chooses to concentrate on voting rights, although his wishes and actions don’t always match the stated goals of the SNCC. The narrative does a full circle in this book, as the undated march across the bridge in the first book is clarified in the third as being the pivotal Selma AL march to demonstrate the need for voting rights.  The march and the media attention it garnered helped push through legislation for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.

As with any memoir, all recollections are those of the author and are prone to their spin on the events. While an effort is made to be fair and partial, some bias still seeps through the narrative.  John Lewis clearly aligns himself with the non-violence philosophy of Martin Luther King Jr, and throws some (mild) shade at some of his former SNCC co-leaders who took another path in the Civil Rights Movement. No matter, he is still a giant of the movement, and others can stand tall because of their different but still significant contributions.

I feel I have not given enough credit in the past two reviews to the co-author Andrew Aydin and the artist Nate Powell. Aydin helped Lewis organize his recollections and put it together in a cohesive story. The books were originally his idea, and he masterfully connects the story arcs and did extensive research. Powell helps the books come alive, and makes the narrative flow through his powerful black and white illustrations. His work is historically accurate and he faithfully duplicates what many real people looked like, for as I did further research on some of the people, real photographs show that he captured their essence. This book series would not have been half as excellent if not for their collaboration with Representative Lewis.

While this book is the stated conclusion to the series, there remains a possibility of further stories. Who is calling on the last page and why? I’ll pick up any additional books from the amazing trio of Lewis, Aydin and Powell!


Review of March:Book Two can be found here.

Review of March: Book One can be found here.

March: Book Two

Lewis, John, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell. March: Book Two. 2015.

Congressman John Lewis continues to share his inspiring story of the Civil Rights Movement, and his part in it, from 1960-1963.

The book’s title becomes very evident from Mr. Lewis’s desire to march in protest, despite the possible cost in freedom and life. He and many others band together under the Nashville Student Movement. Groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) grow in prominence with different agendas that will promote racial equality such as voter registration and direct action.  These brave groups participated in the Freedom Rides in the deep South that got the nation’s attention.

What impressed me was the planning and education that went into the movements and the protests that they were part of. Before the modern era of computers and cell phones, coordinating everything was a tremendous amount of work, in helping the protesters follow the law and stay safe. On the flip side, seeing the abuse that the protesters endured was sickening. People can say that many white citizens were raised with racial bias and they didn’t know any other way due to their cultural upbringing, but the hate and violence that some participated in can not be excused in any way.

The protesters have an ally in Martin Luther King Jr, who preaches about the injustices heaped upon the Freedom Riders and shares these prescient words about Governor Patterson of AL, “His consistent preaching of defiance of the law, his vitriolic public pronouncements, and his irresponsible actions have created the atmosphere in which violence could thrive”. 55 years later, and these words could describe another leader in our midst. Y’all know who I’m referring to!

The book ends with the tragic bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL, in 1963. This became a turning point for the Civil Rights Movement and contributed to support for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that Book Three will cover. The message of the March books is certainly timely with the important Black Lives Matter movement going on today.

I have found so many parallels in these March books and what is going on in Standing Rock, North Dakota, right now. Please consider supporting the Sioux Nation and the Dakota Pipeline Protesters, who have been protesting peacefully since April. This article in Bustle gives five ways in which we can help- we should no longer stand by and see people sprayed with tear gas and water hoses.

These books are a must read for all youth (and adults) today, who don’t remember the sacrifices that were made for the freedoms we hold dear today. We must understand the past, so as not to repeat those mistakes in the future.


*Review of March: Book One can be found here.

*Review of March: Book Three can be found here.

March: Book One

A vivid account of Congressman John Lewis’ human rights struggle and the greater Civil Rights movement that he was an integral part of.

The book opens with African Americans marching across a bridge and bravely facing a squad of white policeman. The story then quickly segues into modern day (2009) in which Lewis is preparing to attend President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration. He speaks to a visiting woman and her two grandsons, and through their conversation, he reminisces about his past and early days of the Civil Rights Movement. His story of growing up poor in rural Alabama and overcoming severe discrimination to attend college, which leads to him meeting a young Martin Luther King Jr, was a lesson in determination and diligence.

March would be perfect to use in a classroom to better understand the Black Civil Rights Movement for the graphic novel really brings the struggle alive to the reader. The evocative black and white illustrations make you truly see what was happening, for words can be glossed over, but the pictures make you experience it. Any text book for young readers can’t go into much detail about this era, so this book and the sequels, will add much needed dimension to a student’s understanding. The reader will get the big picture of the movements that changed American race relations for the better. Lewis and all the protesters were everyday people, who had had enough, and were true heroes for their choices. Could people today do the same?

I did have a few small quibbles though- some information given does not provide enough background. The book opens with a march across the bridge, but it is unclear that Lewis was one of the leaders, for the date and his name are not given during this scene. Plus the grandmother and boys stopping by Congressman Lewis’s office was a contrived way to make Lewis start reminiscing about his past to get the narrative going. More information is needed to complete the story, but perhaps that’s the point, to make people research more about this era and to set the stage for the next two books.

I look forward to reading Book Two and Three, and learning about the continuing saga of the Civil Rights movement, for John Lewis is truly a man to be inspired by!


* Review of March: Book Two can be found here.

*Review of March: Book Three can be found here.

Lewis, John, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell. March: Book One. 2013.

Essex County Collected

Lemire, Jeff. Essex County. 2009.

Essex County is a beautifully written love letter to the author’s childhood home in rural Essex County, Ontario, Canada. This three part graphic novel interweaves a hundred years of history and family connections into a heartfelt epic about regrets, memories and family roots.

The first story, Tales From The Farm introduces you to a hurting boy, Lester, living with his uncle after his mother’s death from cancer. He derives his strength from always wearing a hero’s cape and mask, despite the derision of his peers. He befriends a simple man in town, Jimmy, who goes along with playacting superhero stories with him. Jimmy has a connection to Lester that is hinted at but not confirmed.

The second longer story, Ghost Stories, shares the decades in the making estrangement of two brothers Lou and Vince LeBeuf. The story is told from Lou’s perspective, as an old man, whose memories merge in and out of the past and current day. The two brothers, both excellent hockey players, move to Toronto as young men to join a minor league hockey team called the Toronto Grizzlies. Vince’s girlfriend Beth is loved by both men, and ultimately the falling out between the brothers is over her. A question of paternity arises, with Vince and Beth leaving the city to move back to Essex County and marry. Lou stays behind, lonely and filed with regret, making a life for himself in Toronto. Twenty five years go by, and only his mother’s funeral brings him back home. It takes yet another family tragedy to keep him there.

The final story, The Country Nurse ties all the connections together. Anne is a widow who is a traveling nurse, and a caretaker to Lou. As a nurse, she is privy to many people’s lives, thus she sometimes has to prod people into making the best decision, and sometimes has to take matters into her own hands. Her loving spirit runs in the family, as a story about her grandmother emerges, showing the final community and family threads. Anne’s care helps heal some rips in some family dynamics and brings the story to a poignant conclusion.

The illustrations are done in black and white, and look deceptively simple. Lemire’s stark lines are reminiscent to me of children’s author/illustrator Bill Peet, known for his work at Disney and books about animals and rural settings. There are signs of connectedness through out the multi-paneled pages, once you know what to look for. Anne is shown sewing a quilt, for her story pieces all of the tales together into a whole just as a quilt does.  Before the final family tree is revealed, showing all the links between the families we have met on the preceding pages, you can see family resemblances take shape. The picture on page 10 and then again on page 442, show two young men a hundred years apart in history, in the same pose but for different reasons.

I’ve been reading this book on and off for several weeks now, savoring each story. Themes of what makes a family, living with decisions that can’t be unmade, and the hope of reconciliation run through out the novel and have given me much food for thought. Lessons I came away with after putting the book down: put away your pride and don’t wait until tomorrow to make an effort, for tomorrow is not promised. Now go kiss your mother!



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