Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: By The Numbers

In case you care to see, here are the number of books I read last year, arranged by publisher:
    • First Second - 15
    • Dark Horse - 11
    • Image Comics - 9 
    • Fantagraphics - 6
    • NoBrow Press - 5
    • Top Shelf - 4
    • Drawn & Quarterly - 3
    • Oni Press - 3
    • Bergen Street Comics Press - 2
    • Pantheon - 2
    • Random House - 2
    • Simon & Schuster - 2
    • Valiant Comics - 2
    • Abrasivemedia - 1
    • Adhouse - 1
    • Amulet - 1
    • Capstone Press - 1
    • DC Comics - 1
    • Dynamite - 1
    • Farrar Straus and Giroux - 1
    • Fulcrum Press - 1
    • IDW - 1
    • Koyama Press - 1
    • Marvel Comics - 1
    • NBM - 1
    • Papercutz - 1
    • Seven Stories Press - 1
    • Springer - 1
    • St. Martin’s Press - 1

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (TACCHC) is one of the best biographies I have read about a comics artist, which is doubly impressive given that the subject of the biography is fictional. It is truly amazing how much was fabricated for this book. It is full of dazzling details, including in-progress sketches, manga excerpts, paintings, museum pieces, and other artifacts that make this book seem as chock-full and well-researched as an actual artistic biography.
The premise of this book is that Charlie Chan Hock Chye is supposed to be "Singapore's greatest comics artist," but in our world the political realities of the time period prevent his coming about. Really, this book is more about the various conflicts with colonialism, communism, and self-government that define modern-day Singapore than it is about a single person, though all of these movements, conflicts, and events are filtered through the medium of comics. The artist is an imaginary symbol of what was lost in the various decisions over time. His potential greatness is represented via various pastiches in the style of several comics virtuosos, including Osamu Tezuka,
Walt Kelly,
Mort Drucker, Frank Miller (a la Dark Knight Returns) and Winsor McCay. And perhaps the fact that all of these styles are borrowed are supposed to speak to the collage that constitutes Singapore's culture. Whatever the intention, the amount of thought and craft in this book is astounding. It is truly a work to read, ponder, and contend with.

Sonny Liew is the artist/creator of this book. He has been nominated for an Eisner Award and is best known for his collaboration with Gene Yang, The Shadow Hero, as well as his artwork on the current Dr. Fate series. His past works also include  Malinky Robot, Vertigo’s My Faith in Frankie, and Marvel’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. He speaks extensively about his work on TACCHC in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read of this book either praise it or remark on just how substantial and complex a work it is. Douglas Wolk called it "a mercurial delight." Etelka Lehoczky wrote that it seemed that Singapore itself,  "the pressure-cooker country — tiny and polyglot, globally competitive and politically repressive — seems to have been poured into this dense book." Dan Kois called it "funny and rich and satisfying, and one of the best comics of the year."

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye was published by Pantheon and they have more info about it here.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Th3 Anomaly: Crossing the Rubicon

One of the highlights of my year was to speak about Th3 Anomaly, a unique, fantastic experience. It's both an art installation and a graphic novel. Funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign, this steampunk narrative stars Nikola Tesla, Jules Verne, and Sarah Bernhardt as wayward travelers who end up embroiled in a time travel caper. They sail flying pirate ships, contend with ninjas, assassins, and cyborg warriors. They strive against the machinations of a shadow organization who seeks to find, steal, and exploit puzzle devices called Rubicons that hold the key to traveling through time and space. There are also romantic and family relationships that complicate matters, and the plot is a fun one that holds up well with further readings. (Personally, I felt the book was pretty dense the first time through, but I got much more out of it during return readings).
As you can see from the excerpt above and below, the artwork is gorgeously rendered through paintings, which are also available from their author/creator David Landry.

It was my distinct pleasure to get to speak about this work during the Integrative Research Panel that closed the 2016 Literacy Research Association Conference in Nashville, TN. It was great to hear about varying views and analyses of the work, as well as hearing the author speak about it. Also, getting to see a chapter's worth of paintings as well as some of the props and costumes used to stage and create the artwork was a very rewarding and thrilling experience.

Personally, I found it fascinating to speak about the mechanics of comprehending comics with how they represent and filter experiences of time and space when talking about a work that so explicitly trucks with those concepts in terms of its story and composition. At some point the talk will be posted at the LRA Conference page, and I feel it will be well worth checking out or revisiting.

Th3 Anomaly was a project from abrasiveMedia, and you can buy the book digitally or in hard copy directly from them here. You can also learn more about abrasiveMedia in this article.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Something New

Something New is the latest book by Lucy Knisley, whose memoir Relish was one of my favorite books of 2013. Like all of her works I have read, this book is also autobiographical, an account of her relationship with her husband-to-be John as well as their unique wedding. It is full of her trademark personality: original, quirky, nerdy, and funny. I love how she is very honest and unassuming about herself and her life, and her voice comes through so strongly its palpable.
What's also excellent about this book is that it is not just a personal tale, but it also explores questions about why people get married, why certain customs exist, and how marriages typically play out. Also, there are a few places where she explains strange wedding customs or gives other interesting or amusing factoids. It works very well not just as a story about marriage but also a commentary on marriage as an institution.
I am not going to lie. I loved this book. And after reading it, I want to hang out with her and her husband, and I am sort of bummed that I do not know them at all. And perhaps my favorite bits are where she includes actual photographs of the events, which highlight the moments she captures so well in her storytelling.This book is at once intimate and universal, while also being entertaining and funny. It's utterly heartwarming in the best sense of the word.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive.  Oliver Sava praised "the clean, expressive style that makes Knisley’s work so rich and engaging." Kirkus Reviews called it "a visual and emotional achievement." Publishers Weekly stated that Knisley "has a knack for presenting a highly precise type of whimsy that stops just shy of precious overkill."

Something New was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more available here.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Vision

I read a lot of comics over the course of a year, and I do read a bunch of superhero ones, too, though I rarely review them here. For this book, I will make an exception. Vision is a recently completed 12-issue series collected into two trade paperbacks. The main character is The Vision, a synthezoid with incredible powers originally created to destroy The Avengers. Now this character has existed for decades and has a very convoluted history, and this series takes it all into account while telling an original, streamlined, and compelling tale. Also, impressively, I feel like it is still completely accessible for someone who is new to the character.

In response to all that has happened to him in the past, Vision decides to literally make a family and move to the suburbs. He synthesizes a wife (Virginia), two children (Viv and Vin), and a dog, and moves to Arlington, Virginia just outside of Washington DC. There, they try to fit in, doing normal things like going to work, keeping a house, and sending their kids to school.

Of course, nothing can ever be normal and things get strange. Villains and shades from the past creep into the present, and there are a few shocking developments that turn into murders. All of these twists and turns seem part of a standard superhero yarn but here are all turned on their heads, put into a much different context, which makes the story so much more interesting, horrifying, and affecting. No matter what is happening in these books, the events are filtered through the reactions and sensibilities of this family, and they are surprisingly well-realized, complicated characters. Their wants, needs, and personalities take center stage and elevate the narrative tremendously. These books are some exceptionally well composed, both in terms of the story and the artwork, with cliffhangers and revelations that hit with great impact.

This series was created by Tom King, a comics writer who has since signed on exclusively to DC Comics, and Gabriel H. Walta, who has drawn a good number of comics for Marvel. Jordie Bellaire colored the entire series, which looks beautifully dark and muted for the most part, though the constant repetition of reds and greens creates an otherworldly tone. Artist Michael Walsh also drew one of the chapters. King speaks more about his view of this series in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read of these books have been full of praise. Rich Johnson piled on some hyperbole, called the series "Marvel’s Watchmen." James Whitbrook wrote, "That complete tonal difference, and the way it holds up a subversive mirror to everything The Vision has been about as a character for years, is what makes The Vision unlike anything we’ve seen from Marvel in such a long time." Laura Sneddon summed up, "Overall, this is an unexpected modern classic from Marvel, and unquestionably their greatest comic this year."

Vision was published by Marvel Comics and they have more info about the entire series and these collections here.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Head Lopper Volume 1: The Island or A Plague of Beasts

Head Lopper: The Island or a Plague of Beasts is a fun, rollicking, beautifully rendered adventure story. The story follows a hulking, bearded warrior who is known by several names:
Ever humble, he would prefer to just be called Norgal. As his many monikers imply, he is a skilled monster slayer, and his specialty is cutting off their heads. Here he is hired by the ruler of Barra to rid the realm of a plague of beasts unleashed by an evil sorcerer. He is accompanied on his journey by the head of Agatha Blue Witch, who constantly annoys and cajoles him.
In this book, he encounters and fights many adversaries, including the evil sorcerer, ghosts, giants, witches, giant fire-breathing wolves, a conniving royal advisor, greedy and vengeful priests, and a treacherous little man named Gnym. All of these creatures and beings are wonderfully, horrendously, and gorgeously drawn, which adds tremendously to the appeal of this book. There are also lots of twists and turns, double-crossings, and surprises in the plot that keep things very interesting and compelling for the reader.

This beautiful genre confection was created by Andrew MacLean, whose earlier graphic novel Apocalyptigirl was similarly fun and sumptuously illustrated. He might not have much work published as of yet, but the ones he display an excellent sense of craft and artistry. He speaks at length about his work on Head Lopper in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been ringing. Justin Partridge wrote, "Rarely has high fantasy looked this stylish or been this fun of a read." Publishers Weekly opined that "the strength of the action sequences and dynamic page layouts make it a worthwhile read overall." Patrick Larose praised MacLean as he "manages to take these typically thin-character types and makes them feel full and engaging again."

Head Lopper Volume 1 was published by Image Comics, and they have more about the book and series here. This book is pretty violent and bloody and has a few spots of profanity, so it is suggested for readers mature enough to handle those things.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Science Comics: Volcanoes: Fire and Life

Volcanoes: Fire and Life, the third volume in the Science Comics series, approaches its subject matter via a science fiction tale. In the not-too-distant-future, the Earth is in another Ice Age, and humans are scrambling to find anything they can to use as fuel to keep warm. Aurora and her brother and sister Sol and Luna are being taught by their instructor Pallas to track down resources, when they happen upon a library. Instead of looking at the building and its contents as possible fuel, Aurora starts exploring the books and learns all about volcanoes.
Much of what she finds informs her about life on Earth before she was born. It also inspires her to explore solutions to their current situation, but she gets push-back from her siblings and teacher. Still, she is very persistent and her explanations touch on a lot of information about the Earth, plate tectonics, earthquakes, and volcanic activity. She gets into all kinds of historical and technical information, and all of this data comes across in an interesting way. Moreover, I enjoyed how this book also presents a conundrum where people have to puzzle out different methods to solve a pressing problem and use science to find solutions. This book is not just didactic, it's also very engaging.

This volume of Science Comics was created by Jon Chad, an instructor at at The Center for Cartoon Studies. He has a couple of other excellent science themed graphic novels under his belt, starring his Leo Geo character. He also wrote and drew a bunch of mini-comics and zines as well as the horrible and hilarious The Bad-ventures of Bobo Backslack (not for children). He talks about his work on Volcanoes in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Johanna Draper Carlson wrote that "Chad does a great job keeping both the story and the education moving along." Russ Dobler opined that "The information in Science Comics: Volcanoes is expansive and well-presented, with the use of narrative hammering home otherwise hard-to-retain concepts." Rosemary stated that "The diagrams are vibrant, with comic book art adding some fun and easily memorable background information to the mix."

Volcanoes: Fire and Life was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more available here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Black Dahlia

This book is based on the titular Black Dahlia murder that has captivated people's attentions for decades. Young actress Eizabeth Short's body was found in a neighborhood yard California in 1947, cut neatly in half, mutilated, and drained of its blood. Who committed this horrific crime and for what reason are both unsolved mysteries shrouded in time, and this well-researched book details what is known and many of the proposed explanations.
 
As you can see in the excerpt, this book is superbly crafted, with historical details, police reports, maps, and numerous other sources used to replicate the context of the murder and its investigation in intricate ways. And I have to say, even though the subject matter could easily become prurient or sensationalist, the narrative here is more documentary and the artwork not sterile but not overly graphic either. In sum, this book is a strong piece of nonfiction I could see being read by upper middle or high school students and adults. I have a good number of the murder books in this series, and this one stands among the best entries.

I am a huge fan of Rick Geary's work. He has been making comics for decades now, winning major awards for his efforts, and telling all kinds of historical tales in graphic novel formats (just check out these reviews and see what I have written about them over the years).

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Andrew A. Smith called it "another page-turning whodunnit from one of America’s finest and most unique writer/artists." Derek and Andy from the Comics Alternative agreed it was "one of the most enjoyable reads of the bunch." Judith Reveal seems pretty new to graphic novels and what they can do, and she praised the book in her review.

Black Dahlia was published by NBM, and they have a preview and more available here.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Rosalie Lightning

In my life exactly three graphic novels have made me cry, this being the third. Rosalie Lightning is about a couple dealing with the death of their almost-2-year-old-daughter, and as a father of a just-past-1-year-old there is certainly a lot of empathy I could have to this tale. But just saying that this book tells an emotionally charged story sells it far short. The subject matter is raw and very human, but how it is presented is what makes this book exceptional.
Its author, Tom Hart, is a long-time comics artist and also a teacher. He has drawn comics about Hutch Owen for decades now, and he also runs the Sequential Arts Workshop in Gainesville, Florida. He puts all of his experience and expertise in display in fine fashion throughout the book. He varies his style from a cartoony, big-fingered style to portray the past and a much more scratchy, dark style to convey his present. He borrows styles, excerpts, and quotations from classic works by EC Comics, Tezuka, and Miyazaki (among others) to create a common visual language and a set of symbols that appear throughout the book, striking very specific notes at opportune times. Not only is this a masterful comic, it is also a master class on how to use comics to their full effect.
All of the reviews of this book I have read have been glowing. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and called it "a masterpiece—and a luminous tribute to a brief, beautiful life." Kirkus Reviews summed up, "A bracing, deeply saddening journey into death and loss whose wryly affirmative resolution, “joy breaking through the storm clouds,” is nothing but hard won." Rob Clough wrote, "The book can be described as any number of things: a prayer, a diary, an extended ritual, the act of creation used as as a way to face tragedy, a howl of anger and despair, and an emphatic display of gratitude both to those who helped him and Leela and the art that helped comfort him."

Rosalie Lightning was published by St. Martin's Press, and they have a preview and more info about it here.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Nod Away

Nod Away is a complicated book, a cerebral science fiction story with strong characters, a well-defined universe, and lots of intriguing plot threads. There are two parallel narratives. The first focuses on Dr. Melody McCabe, a scientist newly arrived to the International Space Station Integrity to work on a project where a wormhole will be opened up.

In this future time, many people are connected to a new type of social network, nicknamed Streaming, via a surgically implanted patch. It is interesting to see how the world here is an extrapolation of ours, where media and technology have a huge impact on how people interact and are socialized. Dr. McCabe is an outlier of sorts, as she is biologically incompatible with the Streaming technology and so is not connected. Much of this book sheds insight into how she becomes acclimated to life in space, and it is an awkward and bumpy experience, to say the least.
The second storyline seems related to the first, though I am not clear on how yet. It follows a solitary figure traversing a barren, rocky landscape on some seemingly uninhabited planet.
The book ends on a huge turn of events that left me bewildered but also eager for more. At first, I did not know that this was the first book in a series, and I went back and poured over it to try to make sense of everything. I found it exciting to explore the intricacies of this book, and I have formulated a bunch of theories about how things might relate. But I will just have to hang tight to see where things go, because this book is the first of a proposed seven, and Cotter is at work at a Nod Away Volume 2. I am excited to where everything is going and how it will connect in the future.

Nod Away is the creation of Joshua W. Cotter, author of the prior series/graphic novel Skyscrapers of the Midwest. He also created Driven By Lemons, a book containing an interesting mix of comics, sketches, and prose. He spoke about his work on Nod Away in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about the book comment on its strong character work and attention to detail in both story and art. The fine folks at Comics Alternative wrote, "Part of the beauty of Nod Away us that it paints a narrative picture best observed from a broader context, while at the same time the fine detail of Cotter’s art compels us to investigate its many intricacies." Zach Hollwedel summed it up as "A lingering, at times dense, page-turner of a science-fiction achievement." John Seven commented that "with each unexpected moment, the actions of the characters, because he has given such care to them, remain true and consistent, becoming the anchor in the wild ride."

Nod Away was published by Fantagraphics, and they have a preview and more available here.

Nod Away features some sexual scenes, violence, and occasional profanity, and it is suggested for readers mature enough to handle those things.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

BIG NEWS! March Book 3 wins the National Book Award

In a huge first for graphic novels, March, Book 3 (published by Top Shelf) has won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. This book concludes the trilogy of the autobiographical account of Congressman John Lewis's life and involvement in the civil rights movement. I reviewed the first book in the series here.

This is a historic moment for comics and graphic novels. Congratulations to all involved!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Who Killed Professor X?

This book has nothing to do with the X-Men, but it is one of a rare breed: a graphic novel about mathematics that actually engages in substantive mathematical thinking. Who Killed Professor X? is a mystery where the titular professor is murdered and the investigation into his death involves a good number of suspects. All of the suspects are based on historical figures like Isaac Newton, René Descartes, Pierre de Fermat, Marie-Sophie Germain, Pheidias, and Blaise Pascal. And as the investigators meet each figure, they learn about their lives and theories, lending some insight into mathematical concepts and breakthroughs.
Adding to the intrigue, each suspect gave their statement to the police in the form of a mathematics puzzle or equation, so the trick becomes to solve that puzzle to determine whether or not they could have been close enough to murder the good professor and escape unnoticed.
The author states that this book can work for those with some math knowledge and others who have none, and I have to agree. The solutions are in the back of the book, much like in a typical math textbook, as are pictures of the actual historical figures. As the book progressed, the puzzles got more difficult and I could not solve all of them on my own, so I appreciated reading the solutions.  Although reading them was helpful and informative, I also got a lot out of the historical narratives where I learned a bunch about each person. Those narrative made the characters and their motives intriguing, so instead of this set-up seeming gimmicky, I found myself interested in solving the puzzle in each chapter. I also thought it was very clever how each person's biography played into their potential motives for murdering Professor X.

This book was written by author/educator Thodoris Andriopoulos and drawn by Thanasis Gkiokas. It was originally published in Greek, and it was based on an educational video game. Andriopoulos speaks more about his work on this book in this interview.

Almost all of the reviews I have read about this book have come from mathematics publications, and they have been pretty positive. Peter Ruane declared it "a delightfully presented heart-warming tale." Paul Dabraski opined that it was not the most polished book he's ever read but called it "a fun way to test your brain." Adhemar Bultheel gushed that "it is safe to say that anybody will love the book."

Who Killed Professor X? was published by Springer, and they have more info about it here. There is a video preview of the book available here.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Secret Coders: Paths and Portals

In this second book of Secret Coders, the mysterious happenings at Stately Academy are partly explained but only to the extent that the explanations open up new mysteries. Classmates Hopper, Eni, and Josh discover that the janitor on campus is not what he seemed to be. Also, the principal and rugby team suddenly become fascinated by what the trio is up to.

I am not going to spoil what happens, but I will say that you will probably not get so much out of this book unless you read part one. Also, I feel that the same things that dragged down the first book a bit, parts of exposition where the intricacies of code and how it plays out, are also present here.
 
 

Still, as you can see, there is more of an effort to ameliorate those passages with some accompanying illustrations. On a more positive note, I liked how the chapter cliffhangers ended with readers being asked if they can visualize or figure out what the instructions in the code would cause to happen. The storytelling may not be perfect, but the narrative is intriguing, fun, and interesting. This second book of the trilogy ends on a cliffhanger, and I will definitely be snapping up the third when it is published.

This book is a continuation of the collaboration between Gene Yang and Mike Holmes. Yang is one of the premier comics creators working today. He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and is currently the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. He also won the Printz Award for his graphic novel American Born Chinese. He explores themes of immigration, belief, identity, and growing up in his many works, including The Eternal Smile, Level Up, The Shadow Hero, the twin volumes Boxers & Saints, and his current run on New Superman. Holmes is best known for his work on the weekly comic True Story and drawing Adventure Time comics. Yang speaks more about Paths and Portals in this interview.

The reviews I have read for this book have all been positive. Kirkus Reviews summed up, "Between the creativity-encouraging coding lessons and the character-driven plotlines, this sequel charms from PenDown to PenUp." Common Sense Media opined, "Learning to code can be a daunting task, but this clever graphic novel makes it look, if not simple, at least understandable." Brett Schenker at Graphic Policy raved, "Even as an adult I found myself learning as Yang masterfully teaches without you feeling like you’re being taught to."

Paths and Portals was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more available here.

There is also a unique website for the whole series, complete with videos and activities. You can check that out here.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Tetris: The Games People Play

Tetris is one of the most addictive video games ever, but who kho knew that the backstory behind  it was so interesting, complex, and convoluted? And who knew it would also involve a pretty dark, grisly murder/suicide? Tetris: The Games People Play covers A LOT of ground. It gets into the origin of games, which harkens back to prehistoric times; a couple of Russian engineers designing a game; the history of the Nintendo company, and a lot of international businesses and legal dealing.

One of the things I enjoyed was how much the book captured the technological context of each time. Seeing the landscape of the 1980s in Russia, no less, lends insight into what computers were like and how programming was practiced. Certainly, I appreciate seeing how things used to be captured, especially in a time where a lot of the technology we use is so polished and removed from its source codes, etc. The simple, boxy, and somewhat clunky artwork in the book, along with the monochromatic coloring also contribute to this retro feel.
I also enjoyed reading about all of the business and legal drama that went on regarding Tetris. There were multiple large corporate interests involved, and lots of arcane legal challenges, as the game was state-owned by a communist country who employed a special operative to negotiate rights and pay rates for an increasing amount of platforms. I feel it would have been easy to get lost in the procedures, but the storytelling here is very clear and straight forward.
Not only was this book fascinating in its content, it was also compelling in its delivery. Its creator Box Brown, the man behind one of my favorite graphic novels of 2014, Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, makes a tale that is both a journalistic documentary and a suspenseful series of twists and turns. Brown has a bevy of comics credits and he also publishes a variety of others' works under the RetroFit imprint. He speaks in a very in-depth way about the Tetris book and his work on it in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book comment positively on the interesting plot and situations, though one of them was more critical of the art than others. Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review, concluding, "A clean and engaging visual style supports a story that sustains narrative drive, humanizing the characters and making readers care about every development." The School Library Journal also gave it a starred review, and Chantalle Uzan offered the verdict, "This quick, thoughtful read will find an audience among teens interested in pursuing a career in video game design or those who wonder just how video games like Tetris have spread like wildfire." Publishers Weekly commented positively that "Brown’s drawings are simple but highly effective, using a black, white, and yellow color scheme to evoke the limited or nonexistent graphics available to Alexey." James Smart offered a contrary opinion, writing that "the artwork is forgettable and the characters are flat, leaving the book feeling – in contrast to the game – all too putdownable."

Tetris: The Games People Play was published by First Second, and they have a preview and lots of information available here.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo

Charles' family has moved to Echo City, and he is not happy about it. Not only is he removed from his friends, he has to live in a dilapidated, old house while his dad renovates it. When he starts hearing noises come from his closet, he is creeped out. When his belongings start disappearing he is disturbed. When he comes face to face with a giant, bug-eyed creature, he is terrified.
Then, a neighbor kid gives him a strange business card to contact Margo Maloo. Once he does his life is transformed and he becomes aware of a parallel world to our own, populated by ghosts, goblins, trolls, and ogres. And although all of this is exciting, it is also horrifying, because some of those creatures have it in for humans. Also, Charles, who is an avid blogger/kid journalist, cannot divulge any of those secrets, which is somewhat maddening.

The combination of youthful hi-jinks coupled with monsters and supernatural intrigue is a delight. I very much enjoyed the characters, the situations, and, perhaps most importantly, the creatures in this book. There is much to recommend it to upper elementary and middle school readers, or anyone who likes monster stories tinged with humor (like me). If it were in a classroom library, I would expect it to be in constant circulation.

Drew Weing is the artist/writer who created this wonderful book. He won a 2016 National Cartoonists Society award for long-form on-line comic for his work on Margo Maloo and has also published a prior graphic novel Set to Sea.  He speaks more about his work and this book in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been glowing. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it "a beautifully conceived and executed trio of stories." In another starred review, Kirkus Reviews concluded that "A tough, ambitious, and courageous heroine is always welcome, and Margo and Charles are an odd couple kids will enjoy rooting for." Jessica Greenlee cited numerous strengths, including "humor in odd places" and how it "stresses the power of negotiation."

The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more available here. The webcomic is ongoing, so if you want to follow in further adventures check it out here.

Weing also has a Patreon page where a person can sponsor him and get some exclusive sneak peeks and additional content for a nominal monthly fee.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Geis: A Matter of Life & Death

Geis: A Matter of Life & Death is a fascinating and exciting graphic novel debut. Impressively, it is also the first book of  a trilogy. The plot here is set in a medieval time, when the Great Chief Matarka is dying without leaving an heir. In this land, the custom is to have a contest among 50 worthy people to determine who the new chief will be. The twist in the proceedings is that an evil sorceress has tricked those 50 participants into signing a geis, a taboo spell that bounds them to specific quests. Should they fail in those quests, they not only die but their souls will become bound to the sorceress.
 
 

I thought that the artwork and the plot of this book were both exceptional. There are multiple twists that kept me guessing and intrigued for what was to come, and the book ends on a cliffhanger. The artwork is expressive and elegantly detailed, even with its muted color palette. But perhaps the best part of the book is its characters, who are brilliantly complicated figures full of contradictions and nuance. I cannot wait to see where this series goes.

This book's creator Alexis Deacon is an accomplished children's book author, two-time winner of the The New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books Award. Among his many works are Beegu, Slow Loris, and While You Are Sleeping. He speaks about his work on Geis in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been very positive. Kirkus Reviews wrote, "Scenes switch among the players with cinematic authority, offering both unforgettable images and unanswered questions aplenty." Matthew Garcia remarked that it was full of "spectacular storytelling." John Dubrawa called it "a wholly sensational piece of fiction" and "one beautiful looking nightmare."

Geis: A Matter of Life & Death was published by NoBrow Press. They have a preview and more available here.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Fade Out: Act One


I am a HUGE fan of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Their first collaboration, a combination of superheroes and espionage, Sleeper, was followed by Criminal, a series of  hard-boiled crime tales. Since then, they have created all sorts of crime series, like Fatale, where it was mixed with mystical horrors, and Incognito, where there were superheroes involved with the witness protection program. In The Fade Out, they turn back to a straight noir tale.
The narrative here is set in post-WWII Hollywood. It involves a drunken screenwriter, a dead starlet, a blacklisted screenwriter, a crazed director, and shady studio executives. The drunk screenwriter is privy to information that what was reported as a suicide was actually a murder and that there is a cover-up. Of course, there are multiple interested parties (suspects?) and the entire situation is as clear as mud. One of the strengths of this book is that the plot is extremely intricate and the characters are types of a sort but also intriguing because of their circumstances. I am trying not to spoil things and doing a poor job of describing just how great this book is. I should just say that if you are fan of noir, murder mysteries, or classic Hollywood, you should check this book out.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been glowing. Publishers Weekly concluded by calling it "a strong beginning to a serial mystery that offers a fresh spin on the genre." The reviewer at Comic Bastards summed up, "you should come to The Fade Out for the plot and the atmosphere, stay for the characters, and never think about McCarthyism the same way again." Sean M. Thompson wrote that it was full of "great characterization, excellent pacing, a great mystery, and brilliant art and color."

The Fade Out was published by Image Comics, and they have more information and previews available here. There are violence, sex, and nudity in this book, so it is suggested for mature readers.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Demon, Volume 1

Jason Shiga is a comics creator whose works I seek out. They are interesting in a cerebral way, as he often includes puzzles in his stories. I thought Bookhunter, his hard-boiled librarian yarn (who thought that would be a thing?), and the peril/escape story Fleep were both great pieces of action and intrigue. I was very much taken with the choose-your-own adventure tale Meanwhile, in both book and app form, and his sort-or-love-story Empire State was very well done. What is pretty funny to me is that the star of those last two books, Jimmy Yee, a sweet, naive character, also stars in Demon, but in a very different vein.

This graphic novel is the tale of a man trying to kill himself in various ways. He checks into a motel, writes a note and then hangs himself, only to awake in the same motel minutes later. I am not going to spoil what is going on, but after multiple further attempts at suicide, he figures out what is happening and then the story really goes into some depraved territory. Jimmy does not really care about his life, or the lives of others it becomes clear, and a spree of violence ensues. Of course the authorities take great interest in these events, resulting in a clever cat and mouse game. Jimmy is wily and tough to trap, they find.
 
 
I found this book to be completely compelling, well-plotted, and enjoyable, even as it revels in its depravity. Jimmy is a surprisingly dark but hilarious figure, and I found myself rooting for him in sort of the same way I rooted for Light in Deathnote. He's despicable, but his resourcefulness is quite admirable.

All of the reviews I have read have lauded this book for its smart, humorous, and dark features. Rob Clough praised various elements of the book: "There are clever action setpieces. There are mysteries within mysteries. There’s squirm humor that gets its charge from violating social norms and expectations." Greg McElhatton wrote, "Don’t get fooled by the simple nature of his figures; Shiga really knows what he’s doing here and he’s a genuine talent." Lauren Davis opined, "While Demon has a much more morbid—not to mention violent—tone than Shiga's recent work, it still has that pleasantly mind-bending quality that makes Bookhunter and Meanwhile so much fun."

Demon, Volume 1 was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more available here. This series was first published as a webcomic, but now only the first chapter is available online. The entire story will be published in what will be a 4-volume series.

It contains a lot of violence, some profanity, and some sexual content, so I advise it for mature readers.