Friday, December 15, 2017

The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry

The Hunting Accident is a complex series of tales that are surprisingly true. Overall, it tells a series of stories about fathers and their sons, and the main narrative pertains to Charlie Rizzo and his father Matt. After the death of his mother, Charlie has to live with his dad, who is blind and lives in Chicago. Charlie did not know much about his father, but over time he learned of how he lost his sight in a hunting accident when he was a teen. He also begins to help his father in editing literary reviews and commentaries, primarily about the medieval Italian poet Dante.

Life in Illinois is much different than life in California, and over time Charlie falls in with an unsavory crowd. When he is implicated in a crime, he learns much about his father's murky past, including the real reason he went blind and also that he served time in prison. Of course, these revelations cause quite a stir. But the accounts of the truth that come from this discord are full of surprises and unexpected turns, including the strange fact that part of Matt's redemption in prison came from the circumstance that his cellmate was Nathan Leopold, a thrill killer whose exploits were once termed "the crime of the century."
Overall, this graphic novel is one that makes me appreciate reading comics. The story is full of twists and turns as well as plenty of emotion and the artwork is exceptional, with dark flourishes and nightmarish imagery, both combining to make a narrative that could only really be told via comics. I read a lot of graphic novels, and this one is impressively well crafted.

The Hunting Accident is the first graphic novel by both writer David L. Carlson and artist Landis Blair. The duo originally produced a limited run of a slightly different version of this book with a Kickstarter campaign. Carlson is a Renaissance man, and Blair is a painter and illustrator who has also illustrated the book From Here to Eternity by writer Caitlin Doughty. Carlson speaks more about his work on the book in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been very positive. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called it an "ambitious debut graphic novel" and added, "Blair’s exceptional pen-and-ink work, which mixes the tangible world with the psychological, brings all the strands together seamlessly and powerfully." Seth T. Hahne elaborated that this tale could have been very dry but that Carlson "twists it into something ranging and delicious, a complexity revealed by pieces and parts through visions and allusions." Oliver Sava called it a "gorgeous nonfiction tale" that "is filled with innovative layouts and stunning rendering."

The Hunting Accident was published by First Second, and they have a preview and more information about it here. There is also a separate official website devoted especially to the book here.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Spinning

Spinning is a beautiful, spare, and painful book. It is an autobiographical memoir about a young girl growing up, with one of the few constant things in her life being competitive ice skating. Also, from about the age of 5, she has known that she is gay, though she does not tell anyone for fear of being rejected or worse.

Much of this book takes place in skating rinks, but it is mostly about a search for identity and acceptance. Tillie has a few friendships, though they get disrupted when her family moves from New Jersey to Texas, where ice skating is a rarer and less popular thing. Tillie has a rough relationship with her family. She is a twin, though she does not seem especially close to her brother. He appears only sporadically in the book. Her father is a jokester who usually ends up taking her to early morning practices, but their conversations are merely functional. Her mother seems distant and moody, and what we see of her makes her seem prickly at best. 
Although she is "good" at skating, Tillie does not seem especially fond of it. She seems to be going through the motions over 12 years, skating and competing but really looking for something else. She is searching for some connection, whether it be a friend or mentor. Ironically, because she feels sad and alone, she takes part in a sport where she has to go off frequently and be alone. And cold, it's also cold out on the ice.

Author/artist Tillie Walden is the creator behind this book. Only 21 years old, she already has been nominated for two Eisner Awards, won two Ignatz Awards, and also published three other graphic novels, including The End of Summer, I Love This Part, and A City Inside. She also is working on a webcomic, On a Sunbeam. As I hope you can tell form the excerpt above, Walden's storytelling is beautifully understated. She uses a lot of negative space and very strategic dialogue to great effect. Tillie the main character appears lonesome for much of this book, and that loneliness is reflected in the artwork. Her isolation also leaves her ruminating, and I feel that is also reflected in the storytelling, as it is very calculated and thoughtful. For those interested, you can learn more about Walden's life and work in this article or this interview. I really enjoyed this interview, too.

All of the reviews I have read about this book say it is stellar. Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review and summed it up as "A quiet powerhouse of a memoir." Publishers Weekly also gave it a starred review and called it "A haunting and resonant coming-of-age story." Booklist also gave it a starred review (3 for 3 here!) and reviewer Sarah Hunter concluded, "A stirring, gorgeously illustrated story of finding the strength to follow one’s own path."

Spinning was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and more here. I feel that this book would be appropriate for most YA readers. It features mature themes, and there is one instance of sexual violence, but I feel it will resonate with many adolescent readers.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Pashmina

Pashmina is a magic-infused tale of growing up and learning about family. Its main character is Priyanka Das, a teenager who loves to draw and is somewhat introverted. She tries her best to fit in, urging people to call her "Pri," and attempting to blend into the background as much as possible. She is a talented artist, and one of her teachers keeps encouraging her to enter a cartoon contest with some of her work.
On the home front, Priyanka is troubled because there are many things she does not know about why her life is the way it is. Her mother raises her by herself, and she is strict and somewhat overbearing. Many years ago she moved to California from India, and she refuses to talk about Priyanka's father or life in India, saying that those subjects are closed. One day, after an argument, Priyanka finds a scarf in a suitcase, and when she wraps it around herself she is transported Wizard-of-Oz-style to an idealized and dazzling India, where a bird and an elephant take her on a tour. This circumstance sates her for a little while, but when the opportunity to visit her aunt in India arises, Priyanka takes it, and there she learns much about her mother and the decisions she made.
I enjoyed the back and forth between the "real" and "magic" worlds that happens in the narrative and how the artwork fluctuates from stark black and white to vibrant, fully colored scenes to reflect those shifts in venue. I also thought that the characters and situations were very realistic. This story is a powerful one that I think many readers can relate to. I certainly found much that informed my own experiences as the son of immigrants, even if not from the same place or aided by a magic scarf. If there is any justice in this world, this book will be very popular with the YA crowd.

This book is an impressive debut graphic novel by Nidhi Chanani. She has illustrated children's books in the past, and she speaks about her work on them in this interview. She also was named a Champion of Change by President Obama, which she speaks about here. She speaks about her work on Pashmina in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been full of praise. Kirkus Reviews called it "both a needed contribution and a first-rate adventure tale." Michael Berry wrote that it was "Funny, wise, and moving." In a starred review from School Library Journal Andrea Lipinski concluded, "This dazzling blend of realistic fiction and fantasy is perfect for fans of characters who have to overcome obstacles on their way to growing up."

Pashmini was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more about it here.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Abominable Mr. Seabrook

I was a big fan of Joe Ollmann's Mid-Life, and when I saw he was publishing a new book, I was excited to read it. Whereas Mid-Life was a piece of fiction with some autobiographical aspects thrown in, his new work The Abominable Mr. Seabrook is a well researched, nonfiction biography. Its subject William Seabrook was a journalist, author, occultist, and traveler who explored lots of exotic locales and wrote about them for popular audiences. His biggest contribution to US culture may be his account of voodoo in Haiti The Magic Island and how that book popularized the concept of the zombie for Americans. Even though he was famous in his day and hobnobbed with lots of folks still held in high regard, Seabrook has all but fallen off the radar.
Part of the reason he faded into obscurity is the prolonged downward spiral chronicled in this book. He had penchants for alcohol, womanizing, BDSM, drugs, and pushing boundaries altogether, a horrible combination of attributes that resulted in his suicide by drug overdose in 1945. Those same attributes led him to many interesting situations, including being an ambulance driver during World War I, roaming with Bedouins in the Arabian Desert and mountains of northern Iraq, dining with cannibals in Africa, and spending months in an asylum for addicts. He was able to spin many of these experiences into prose, but as we see in this graphic novel, he was not an easy person to be around.

As you can tell from what I just reeled off, I learned much about Mr. Seabrook from this book. It is jam-packed with information from the various chapters that focus on specific moments in his life. Also, Ollmann does not pull any punches with Seabrook's life, and I have to say that authenticity was double-edged for me. First it is an impressive feat to accomplish, a mark of great craft and attention to detail. Second, it is also pretty exhausting and terrifying to see this depraved and troubled man's life in such detail. I love the obvious love, effort, and dark humor that went into this book, but I also had a tough time getting through parts of it because they were so raw. From start to finish it's beautiful, engrossing, and devastating. I'd definitely recommend it to mature readers interested in this fascinating author, and I'd also add that I would read it in installments. TAMS is not a book to plow through.

All of the reviews I have read have commented on the amount of care, research, and craft went into this book. Genevieve Valentine wrote that "the depth of research is impressive, and there are evocative beats of loneliness or connection that remind us why the graphic novel can be such a powerful medium for conveying such small, human moments." John Paul praised it as "a masterful bit of visual storytelling." Chris Mautner called it an "ambitious biography."

For those interested, Ollmann speaks extensively about his work on this book in this interview.

The Abominable Mr. Seabrook was published by Drawn & Quarterly, and they offer a preview and more info about it here. The author also has a sizable preview excerpt here.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Witch Boy

I bought this book because I am a big fan of Molly Knox Ostertag. I love the webcomic she draws, Strong Female Protagonist, and I also very much enjoyed the sci-fi tale The Shattered Warrior that was released earlier this year. The difference with this book, The Witch Boy, is that she both wrote and drew it, so I was eager to see how it turned out. It is an impressive solo debut, and I appreciated very much how she told a nuanced tale of young people finding their way and also having to navigate their family relationships.

The narrative here follows Aster, whose family is touched by magic. All the women in the family become witches and are trained in mystical arts. All of the men are shapeshifters who learn how to fight and defend their homes and families. Aster is an outlier because he cannot seem to shapeshift, but he is highly interested in magic and sneakily learns how to cast spells and use magical objects. On top of this break with tradition, he is also quite friendly with a non-magical girl (can I call her a muggle if it's not Harry Potter related?) named Charlie.
His actions disrupt tradition, causing his parents concern and also opening him up to criticism from others. However, when strange creatures start lurking about and his boy cousins start disappearing, his in-between status might just be what is needed to get to the bottom of things. If it seems these details are vague, it's because I don't want to spoil much. I found this book very compelling and human, and I loved how the family and relationship drama was portrayed in real and complex ways. The Witch Boy is a double threat, a fun tale of magic and intrigue that has a few genuinely scary bits but also an exploration of how families can be loving, frustrating, and supportive, even when traditional roles are broken.
All of the reviews I have read about this book have been glowing. In a starred review for School Library Journal, Andrea Lipinski summed it up as "An excellent choice for reluctant readers, fans of fantasy, and those looking for books that explore gender roles." In another starred review, Kirkus Reviews concluded "With charming artwork, interesting supporting characters, natural-feeling diversity, and peeks of a richly developed world, this book leaves readers wishing for more." Mugglenet called it "smart and fun."

Ostertag speaks more about her work and inspirations for this book in this interview.

The Witch Boy was published by Scholastic, and they have more info about it here.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Showtime

How I happen upon graphic novels is a varied thing. I read this one, Showtime, because someone I follow on Twitter recommended it as an antidote to "restricted nerd bullshit." So I decided to check it out and see what she meant by that. I have to say that this book is a pretty unique reading experience in terms of its scope, focus, and narrative. For starters, it's narrated by a rat who is pushing a can of Coca-Cola up a staircase. Secondly, it's about a weird car trip, a reclusive magician, and a trio of hitch-hikers who purport to be stranded wait-staff on the way to a gig.

The magician in question is in the mold of a David Copperfield or David Blaine, who trucks in grand public illusions, including a floating cruise ship. His works have made people question reality, which is also what this narrative does, and he is coming back for a comeback tour after years of being out of the public eye.

As you might guess from the high concept set-up, this tale is full of potential avenues for interpretation and existential exploration. It is thought-provoking and philosophical but also relatively fantastical. I will not say it is a book for everyone, but I do feel that it is expertly constructed and very satisfying to read in terms of intellectual and aesthetic experiences. It features a fascinating story and also creative and provocative lay-outs. Just check out this page:
Showtime was created by writer/artist Antoine Cossé. He has a few other works under his belt, including such titles as Harold, Mutiny Bay, and La Villa S., as well as several anthology entries. He also posts many excerpts from his various works at his blog. He speaks about his comics work in general in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been positive. Madeleine Morley called it a "richly cinematic tale." Laura S. Hammond concluded, "Dark yet ironically funny at times the sinister elements and plot twists will enchant those who have a penchant for the uncanny and weird."

Showtime was published by Breakdown Press, and they have extracts and more info about it here. For those interested, you can learn more about Breakdown Press in this interview.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cici's Journal: The Adventures of a Writer-in-Training

Cici's Journal was an intriguing reading experience for me. It combines elements of a personal journal, picture books, and comics in following the exploits of a little girl who is curious and figuring out her way in the world. In many ways, the two stories here are quotidian, though the daily life they chronicle is full of wonder. In many ways, I felt like I was reading a graphic novel with a few sections that read more like a good elementary-aged novel excerpt. And I mean that in a good way.

The plot in this book follows Cici, an inquisitve and energetic ten and a half year-old. She is enamored with her friend Mrs. Flores, who is an author, and channels all of her energy into observing adults and trying to learn their secrets. She conducts investigations and writes them up, often with the help of her friends Erica and Lena. They act as springboards for her ideas and also they provide convenient cover stories to distract Cici's mom from what she is really up to.
In the first story (excerpted above), "The Petrified Zoo," she follows a peculiar, old man into the woods to find that he is decorating an abandoned zoo. The second story "Hector's Book" she notices an old woman who keeps checking the same book out of the library each week. And in addition to unfurling that mystery, her personal life comes more into focus. In many children's books that feature sleuthing, like Encyclopedia Brown or Nancy Drew, the main character can become pretty single-minded and insufferable. I liked that in this book, that type of behavior gets called out. Cici's friends, mother, and even her hero Mrs. Flores all show her how her actions alienate them, and she learns more about how to balance being a decent person as well as an effective writer.

In terms of story I liked the gentle, human way that both mysteries resolved as well as the attention to the personal interactions of the main characters. But my favorite part of this book was its artwork, which is gorgeous and vibrant. The characters all are full of color and personality. The settings are all well grounded in reality but also beautifully rendered, and I loved the visual storytelling and facial expressions.Just check out that excerpt above and you'll see what I am talking about.

The two books contained in this volume were a collaboration between artist Aurélie Neyret and writer Joris Chamblain. Neyret has published work in many anthologies and magazines in France, and she shares much of her artwork via her blog. Chamblain has written various other comics, most notably the series Sorcières Sorcières (website in French). Cici's Journal was translated into English by Carol Klio Burrell, and I felt she did excellent work making this entire enterprise funny and contemporary in a different cultural milieu.

The reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Publishers Weekly wrote that Neyret's "delicate, finely worked portraits bring elegance" to Chamblain's "smart" stories. Sharon Tyler summed up that it "is a book that made me smile. It reminded me of Harriet the Spy in the best of ways, and still felt new and fresh. I think this will appeal to a number of readers."

Cici's Journal was published in the US by First Second, and they have a preview and more info about it here.

A preview copy was provided by the publisher.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Science Comics: Dogs: From Predator to Protector

I went into reading this book thinking it would be a light, breezy read about the history of dogs. I was right about the first part, because boy was I surprised by how much more comprehensive and detailed it turned out to be, all while still being light and funny in tone. Pulling off this tough balancing act, the latest volume in the Science Comics series, Dogs: From Predator to Protector, touches on a great many scientific subjects, including genetics, evolution, and DNA. And better yet, it covers all this ground narrated by a cute and energetic pooch named Rudy.
As you can see from the excerpt, this is a colorful, interesting, and informative book. It touches on all kinds of issues and information about dogs, including an account of how they evolved from wolves, became friendly with people, and have been bred in particular ways to suit specific jobs and human whims. Along the way, there are many interesting episodes and asides, including information about how they see, smell, and hear. This book gets at how they socialize, why they sniff butts, why they chase balls, and what their barks can mean. Amazingly informative and gorgeously playful, this book should be a big hit with anyone who loves dogs, science, good comics, or learning about the world.

This impressive blend of educational and entertaining comics was created by Andy Hirsch. He has a number of comic book series, including The Baker Street Peculiars, as well as a couple of other graphic novels under his belt, including his own Varmints. He has volumes in the Science Comics series coming soon, one about trees and the other cats. He speaks extensively about his work on Dogs in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been glowing. Johanna Draper Carlson gave it high praise, writing, "All the Science Comics are great, but this is one of the best of the bunch, an outstanding read." Kirkus Reviews stated, "The scope and depth of information is truly impressive and could be formidable, but the comic-book format keeps things on the accessible side as well as helping to illustrate more complex points." Suzanne Costner wrote that it was "an excellent introduction to the history of domesticated dogs, and offers enough basic facts to give readers a good place to start researching the topic more deeply on their own."

Dogs: From Predator to Protector was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more about this book here.

A preview copy was provided by the publisher.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Demon, Volume 2-4

As I've written before, I seek out Jason Shiga's work. It is usually fun, funny, and cerebral, full of puzzles, strange gadgets, and/or unique situations. His series Demon is no exception, although here I have to say he has dialed his sensibilities to 11.

This series stars characters from Shiga's past works (Meanwhile, Bookhunter, and Empire State), though it treats them like actors playing new roles. As I recounted in my review of Volume 1, Demon follows the exploits of Jimmy Yee, an accountant who attempted suicide only to find that he kept coming back to life because he is a demon. Shockingly, he went on a murder/crime spree that put him on the authorities' radar. In the three books that follow, much gets revealed about his situation and its causes, and the cat and mouse chase between Jimmy and Hunter escalates to a bloodbath of global proportions. This series revels in depravity, but it is also amazingly clever, well thought-out, and masterfully executed. I cannot do justice to them in this space (and I don't want to spoil much either, so I'll simply give you a free-verse poem for each book:
2. surprise surpise
daughters can be demons, too
3. 100 years in the future
a demon meets his maker
plus uncovers a plot for world domination
4. the fight for freedom involves
a high body count
conjoined twins
and peg-legged amputees wielding baseball bats

Overall, I found these books to be compelling and almost impossible to put down. These adventures follow their own logic, are incredibly graphic, and delve into areas of bad taste in the most entertaining of ways. I think that the whole narrative is a smart, grotesque masterpiece, and I am kind of anxious to see where Shiga goes from here.

Shiga speaks about his future work as well as his take on Demon here. Publishers Weekly gave the books a starred review and wrote, "As with Shiga’s other books, there are puzzles aplenty to solve, with an added layer of urgent narrative drive." They also added that "the story will prove just as addictive for readers finding it in print." Dustin Cabeal called it "one of the funniest and yet intelligent books I’ve ever read."

Demon was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more available here (Volume 2), here (Volume 3), and here (Volume 4). This series was first published as a webcomic, but now only the first chapter is available online.

These books contain lots of violence, some profanity, and some sexual content, so I advise them for mature readers.

A review copy (of Volume 4) was provided by the publisher.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Creeps Book 3: Curse of the Attack-o-Lanterns

This third book in The Creeps series (I reviewed the first two books here) caps off their adventures. In this volume, our quirky quartet finds themselves up to their eyeballs in trouble again (with the local authorities as well as with a new supernatural menace). They not only have to deal with service detention, they also have to contend with an ages-long curse, a modern day witch, an unlikely romance, and murderous pumpkins with deadly bites.
The curse begins...

Like the other books in the series, this one was delightfully gruesome, with some legitimately horrible and scary moments. Also, it rewarded astute readers of the first two books, using many established character traits and situations from those books to pay off in some very touching, human moments as well as great jokes and dramatic scenes. This book features masterful storytelling as well as some masterful comics making.

This book was also the creation of Chris Schweizer, an impressively talented comics creator who has been nominated for multiple Eisner Awards and is well known for his work on the  Crogan's Adventures. Currently, he is providing the colors for Rock Candy Mountain, an action series about hobos in post-World War II America. He talks extensively about his work on The Creeps books in this interview.

I was unable to locate reviews for this book, which I think is somewhat strange and unfortunate because this book is at least as good and enjoyable as the second book, The Trolls Will Feast. That book had a much more inventive villain, though I feel this book has a more intricate and complex plot. It does have a four star rating on Goodreads, and there seem to be at least of couple of reviews here as well, though they are behind a pay wall.

Curse of the Attack-o-Lanterns was published by Amulet Books, and they have a preview and more here.

I tracked Schweizer down at HeroesCon this past year, and he was a swell guy who was also kind enough to sign and draw a little sketch in my copy:
Thank you!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Head Games: The Graphic Novel

A graphic novel adaptation of an Edgar-nominated novel by Craig McDonald, Head Games follows the exploits of Hector Lassiter, a fictional pulp novelist and adventurer who seems to find himself constantly in interesting, difficult spots. At the beginning of this book, he happens into possession of Pancho Villa's skull, which brings him all sorts of unwanted attention. There are treasure hunters who want it for a map that is supposedly hidden in/on it. There is the mysterious Skull & Bones Society who want it for their collection. There are shady businessmen, federal agents, and collectors who either want it for their own or to auction it off to the highest bidder. And all of these groups are not afraid to get rough or murder in order to get it.
Along the way, he falls in with poet/journalist Bud Fiske and the haunted, feisty actress Alicia Vicente, and together they dodge lots of adversity and peril. At the time of this book, Lassiter is more like a lion in winter, but still he is quite capable and athletic. His status sets up a hearty context for self-exploration, rumination, and reflection, and there is lots of personal drama to go along with the high adventure. Also, there are a bunch of cameos from famous people of the period, including Orson Welles, Ernest Hemingway, Marlene Dietrich, and even a young George W. Bush.

I am a big fan of books like this one and am particularly fond of the adventures of Travis McGee and Parker, as well as pretty much anything by Max Allan Collins or Lawrence Block. As it is, this volume is a thrilling tale that stands on its own, but I would love to see how other volumes in the series could follow in its wake. I know that this book is technically the 7th in a series of 10, and, without spoiling things, I was a bit shocked and amazed by how it resolved. I hope this book sells like hotcakes, because I really want to follow Lassiter's exploits in graphic novel form. I'm already adding the novels to my ever-growing to-read list.

The two people behind this adaptation are Kevin Singles and Les McLaine. I was not able to locate much info about Singles, but I do know that this book is his graphic novel debut. McClaine is a veteran of comics and animation, an Eisner Award nominee, and is best known for drawing the series The Middleman and the webcomic Jonny Crossbones.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Publishers Weekly called it "a breezy thriller designed to hit the sweet spot for crime fans and history buffs alike." Pharoah Miles summed up, "Overall, it feels like those old pulp novels that Robert Parker and Dashiell Hamlett used to write, a time capsule of very different men and women." Maite Molina wrote that it has "plenty of action and humor to keep you engaged from start to finish." Tom Batten proclaimed it "Good fun for fans of pulp, crime, or historical fiction."

Head Games was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and much more here. I don't think this book would appeal to younger readers, but I should add a small caution that it contains violence and some brief nudity.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Blood-Drenched Creature Double Feature

I had a chance to buy this book this summer at HeroesCon, but instead went with All My Ghosts. I really liked that one, and I was intrigued enough to buy this Blood-Drenched Creature Double Feature on Comixology. Like the title promises, it offers two stories (in a flip book format in hard copy). And I also must say that the title misses out on its other promise, as the book is sadly devoid of any creatures. Still, I found it a fun, if silly, romp through horror story genres.

The first story is a teen summer camp murder tale called Bee Sting. It is a fun, gory tale about a couple of teenage boys who decide to become camp counselors in order to meet and hook up with girls. Their plan seems to be working until a potential bee allergy leads down a path of unlikely twists that takes them to a convention of redneck cannibals.
Granted, this set-up is not the most novel or literary set of plot devices, but the story is still fun and energetic. There is an obvious love of the slasher genre that makes the book enjoyable and a sense of humor that sells a lot of ridiculous circumstances. I had a good time reading this story, even if it was not the most highfalutin kind of narrative.

For those interested, Bee Sting was made into a full length, indie film that led to a sequel called Bear Sting.

The second story in this book is The Curse of Stranglehold, and it is more of a horrific urban legend. The premise is that a teenage outcast mysteriously vanished 20 years ago, and he was presumably murdered by a mob of angry, jealous rivals. Two decades later, the teenage descendants of the townspeople dare to drive up to and make out in the infamous scene of that crime, and those who are sexually active pay a terrible price. They also learn much of the past misdeeds of their parents.

As with the first story, this one was a fun take on a hackneyed genre and has its charms, even it I saw the ending coming. I liked it less than Bee Sting, however, mostly because the end of the story devolved into many panels full of expository text rather than action played out via the images.

These stories were a collaboration between writer Matthew D. Smith and artist Jeremy Massie. The duo have another work under their belts, the current ongoing, all-ages series Amazing Age. Massie has a few solo titles to his credit, including the aforementioned All My Ghosts and a quirky superhero tale called The Deadbeat.

I was not able to track down many reviews of this book, and the ones I did find were somewhat negative. Jessie Sheckner concluded about Bee Sting, "Smith and Massie both have a great deal of talent – that much is plainly evident – however they’d do well to either channel their work into something with more originality and substance or, at the very least, avoid sleepwalking through clichés in a tired narrative that ends with a bad lesbian joke." Roby Bang called The Curse of Stranglehold "a decent comic," but felt that "the art is inconsistent and sloppy, dragging down the overall quality of the work."

Blood-Drenched Creature Double Feature was published by Alterna Comics, and they offer a preview and more info about the book here. Given the subject matter and gore, I recommend this book for more mature readers.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Moonshine, Volume 1

Moonshine is a high concept series, a period piece comic with lots of horror aspects. The main plot deals with the Mob in 1920s New York City seeking to get a supply of choice moonshine for its nightclubs. The source they seek is Hiram Holt, a scarred patriarch who defends his property with extreme prejudice against anyone who threatens him. That includes snoops, thieves, and even federal agents. What is more, he has at least one large, furry, ravenous, and viciously powerful creature at his disposal.
Lou Pirlo, a gangster with an appetite for vice, is sent down to persuade Holt to sell his liquor to be distributed in New York City. He does not exactly fit in in rural Appalachia, West Virginia to be specific, which leads to some incidents. Also, he does not exactly get on well with Holt, but he does end up making a deal with his children, which rains down some pretty dire consequences. One of Pirlo's vices is an eye for beautiful, dangerous women, and he finds two that fit that bill. One seems to want to help him, and the other appears to have more sinister motives.
This book is full of bloody violence, double crossing, and murder, and the supernatural elements add a degree of heightened menace to the noir setting. I also very much appreciated the unresolved mystery behind the identity and intentions of the wolf creature (creatures?). This book ends on a quiet note after a huge confrontation, but it also left me yearning to see how certain events will resolve. Also, it does not hurt that the artwork is phenomenally executed, with strong lines and many cutting figures.

The duo behind this book are writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso. The pair collaborated on the long-running and influential comic series 100 Bullets, which won multiple Eisner and Harvey Awards. Azzarello has also written a number of other comic series for DC Comics, most notably Batman and the New 52 version of Wonder Woman. Risso has also worked largely at DC, on many books with Azzarello. Both creators speak about their work on Moonshine in this interview.

The reviews I have read have been mostly positive, with minor quibbles about the general pacing or the use of accents. Chris Tresson opined, "It was slow, but a good kind of slow." Sam Wildman wrote, "It’s a well written book with fantastic artwork that brings Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso back together to tell an intriguing story of werewolves and bootleggers. Despite the somewhat slow build up, it has a satisfying conclusion and really makes me believe in the potential of future story arcs." Benjamin Bailey encouraged people to "buy this book to see Risso unleashed and creating some of the finest pages he’s ever crafted."

Moonshine Volume 1 was published by Image Comics, and they have a preview and more information about the series here. This book collects the first six issues of the series, which is still ongoing.

This book features a lot of violence, some nudity, occasional profanity, and adult themes, so it is suggested for readers mature enough to handle those things.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Cast No Shadow

The protagonist of Cast No Shadow is a slight high school student named Greg, and he has a few very relatable circumstances. He is dealing with the loss of his mother, who died a few years ago. He is uncomfortable with his dad's girlfriend moving in with them. His best friend Layla has always had his back, but lately has a crush on Jake, a really popular kid who used to torment Greg when they were younger. Jake keeps wanting to hang out with Greg, calling him "little buddy," which annoys him to no end. And they all live in a small town full of tourist traps, the latest of which is the largest hairball in the world.

All of these features are pretty normal for adolescents to deal with, but Greg is not exactly normal. He was born without a shadow, which might not seem like the most ground-shaking condition, but it does mean that something is different about him. What it seems to be is that he is somehow able to see ghosts, especially the one of Eleanor. She is a poltergeist who scares people away from her abandoned house, but she and Greg hit it off, becoming romantic. So Greg and she spend a lot of time together, which sets off something sinister within Greg that ends up threatening the entire town.
I am not going to spoil much more, because I most of the fun of this book lay in its gradual reveals along the way. I will say though that I felt this story was very engaging and interesting. There was a lot more showing and not telling at the onset of the book, which made making sense of the dual narrators a real mystery. However, as the plot got toward the end, there was a lot of information dropped in quick fashion that made for a bumpy ride. Still, I loved the artwork and characters. They were portrayed in a cartoonish manner, but still are very realistic and nuanced. In the end I was enchanted by the internal logic of this storyworld, with its unique take on ghosts and the afterlife. The ending may seem cheesy to some, but I liked this cheese very much.


Cast No Shadow was a collaboration between writer Nick Tapalansky and artist Anissa Espinosa. Tapalansky has a few other graphic novels under his belt, including A Radical Shift of Gravity, Samantha Loring and the Impossible World, and Awakening. This book is Espinosa's first graphic novel, though her work has appeared in a number of comics anthologies.

The reviews I have read about this book point to its strengths but also its hiccups. Dustin Cabeal summed up, "The story and art stumble in places, but ultimately find its way and presents a story that I enjoyed reading as an adult, but one I would have loved to have read as a child." Publishers Weekly concluded that "although Greg’s lingering pain over his mother’s death is keenly felt, the mysteries surrounding Nick’s shadow and Eleanor’s past are inelegantly and confusingly addressed in rapidly deployed info dumps, leaving the conclusion rushed and unsatisfying." Kirkus Reviews tersely summarized it as "Engaging but not without flaw."

Cast No Shadow was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and more info about it here.

A preview copy was provided by the publisher.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Wolf, Volume 1: Blood and Magic

Wolf is a detective book that has a lot going on, including a number of supernatural elements. The book's protagonist Antoine Wolfe is seemingly immortal. He is hired by an incredibly rich, racist, and crooked businessman to retrieve an adolescent girl who may be the antichrist. His best friend is a tentacle-faced demon straight out of the chronicles of Cthulhu. He also runs afoul of criminal vampires, multiple ghosts, apparitions, and spirits, not to mention a werewolf, too.

 
 

This book features many of the conventions of noir books, including a hip narrator, lots of double-crosses, shady characters who are up to no good, and revelations that complicate everyone's lives. I quite enjoyed reading this book, even if it was not the most ground-breaking kind of story. Some clever plot twists and novel interpretations of classic monster tales helped, as did the expressive and creepy artwork. The coloring is especially exceptional, as you can see from the excerpt. If you are a fan of noir detective tales with a dash of supernatural mayhem, this is a book for you.

Wolf is the creation of writer Alex Kot and artists Matt Taylor and Lee Loughridge. Kot has worked on a number of works from comics to video games for multiple companies. Taylor is a commercial artist and comics creator with a number of credits. Loughridge is a colorist who has worked on many Batman titles as well as some indy works like Deadly Class and Southern Cross. Kot speaks at length about his work and inspirations on Wolf in this interview.

The reviews I have read of this book have mostly rated it as solid, if not spectacular. Peter Marinari enjoyed it very much, stating, "Kot and his collaborators have conjured a bit of true magic with this ouroboros of a tale that forced me to pick it up for a re-read just seconds after I finished." Kieran Fisher liked it fine and opined about the series, "It’s not quite perfect yet, but it’s certainly headed in that direction." There are also a number of reviews of it on Goodreads, where it has an aggregate 3-star rating.

Wolf is published by Image Comics, and they have a preview and more information about the series here. I borrowed this volume using Comixology Unlimited service, and it is intended for mature readers.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Secret Coders: Robots and Repeats

In this fourth book in the Secret Coders series (I reviewed books 1 & 2 here), the trio of programmers at Stately Academy, Hopper, Eni, and Josh, find themselves in even more ramped up situations. In the last book, they learned about the secret history of the school and found out that the source of their woes was the evil genius Professor One-Zero. Now, not only is the evil Professor changing the school schedule to further his evil schemes, but the school administration tries to break up the group so they can't foil any more plans. And the avenue for doing so is going through each of their families!

Not only does this book feature one of the more realistic parent-teacher meetings I have read, it also has a revelation that one of the characters who has been around since the beginning is actually from another dimension. That, coupled with the trio's getting to know the Turtle of Light (the most powerful turtle in the world), raises the stake on their investigations. So, simply put, there is a lot of dramatic build-up here that I think will get paid off in Book 5 (due out next year).

I have two caveats about this book, as well put together and interesting as it is: 1. It really helps to have read this series from the beginning, so this book is not a great jumping on point for a new reader. 2. The sections where they explain the specifics of coding still bogged me down some and took me out of the story. I know that those parts are necessary for solving the puzzles and moving the plot forward, but they are just a bit slow.
 

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.

The reviews I have read about this book have been mixed. Kirkus Review complimented it, writing, "Yang’s integration of coding concepts into an actual mystery plot even as he continues to deepen character development in under 100 graphic pages looks effortless; Holmes’ panels continue to visualize those concepts inventively." Conversely, Dustin Cabeal wrote that this will be the last book in the series he will read, because "the teaching moments are breaking the story too often, and it feels like the experiment here was to have both be interesting and work together. They’re not and haven’t been which is a shame." For further contrast, more reviews for the book can be seen at Goodreads, where it currently has a 3.5 star rating.

Robots and Repeats was published by First Second, and they provide a preview and more here. This series also has its own dedicated website with videos, info about all the books, and downloadable activities.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Loose Ends

Originally a limited series published about 10 years ago, but not finished, Loose Ends was re-published as a 4-issue limited series earlier this year. It is subtitled "A Southern Crime Romance," perhaps to associate this work with the writer's more famous work Southern Bastards.Out of those three descriptors, the one that stood out the most for me was "Crime."
As you can see from the opening vignette, the protagonist Sonny is a drug-runner. Here he decides to take a detour to pay off an old debt, settling up with his ex with a good chunk of change for raising their son. Of course, things go south in an unexpected way, setting off a chain of events where Sonny ends up on the lam with a voluptuous woman named Cheri. He does not realize it at first, but she is an acquaintance from his adolescence. Together, the two share a kind of romance, though it's more like the best thing two desperate people can do to stave off loneliness, despair, and poor choices.

The two are pursued by double-crossed criminals, dirty cops, and the authorities, but they are also dogged by the past, which appears in many instances via flashbacks such as this:
In these, we are privy to what went on during the tortured duo's high school years. We also see Sonny's days as a soldier in Afghanistan as well as the pivotal moments when he turned to crime. This book is ambitious in that it tackles a great many social issues wrapped up in a pretty violent, compelling crime drama. I won't way that it sticks the landing in every case, but it is a good read, and a book I plan to revisit. The action is intense, and the drawings and colors are electric and spectacular.

Loose Ends is a long-term collaboration between writer Jason Latour, artist Chris Brunner, and colorist Rico Renzi. Latour is more known for his artwork on the Eisner and Harvey Award winning series Southern Bastards as well as for writing Spider-Gwen. Brunner has drawn a bunch of comics, usually working with Latour and Renzi. Renzi colors lots of comics, including Spider-Gwen and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Latour and Brunner both speak about their work on this series in this interview.

The reviews I have read of this book have been pretty mixed, except for the universal praise for the artwork. AJ Zender called it "a visually and intellectually beautiful story that captures the extreme highs and lows of Sonny Gibson’s life." Daniel Vlasaty had a more tempered response, writing that it "felt some important pieces to the story were left underdeveloped, and just dropped into our laps without much explanation or follow-through." Jason Segarra concluded that it was "high on visuals, but a little rushed as a story."

Loose Ends was published by Image Comics, and they have previews and more available about it here. Because of violence, sexual situations, and profanity, I suggest this book for more mature readers.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Through the Woods

This book is another one I am kicking myself for not reading years ago when I first got it. Luckily, one of the students in my Graphic Novels and Multiliteracies seminar chose it for our weekly read, and not only did I get to experience it but will get to discuss it, too. Put simply, Through the Woods is a collection of five gorgeous, horrible, and chilling stories.

These stories are reminiscent of classic, gothic horror tales a la the Brothers Grimm. They feature dark strangers, wintry settings, isolated families, envy, loneliness, ghouls, mysterious manors, and labyrinthine forests. Also, they are all master classes in pacing, revelation, and building suspense. Everything in this book, the artwork, the poetic text, the character designs, and the layouts, contributes to beautifully rendered stories, an atmosphere of dread, interesting characterizations, and scenes of pure fantasy and amazement. I am not even going to go into detail about the separate stories, because I think a reader should get to experience them for themselves to get the optimal impact.

I cannot heap enough praises on this book. It blew me away.
Seriously, you need to buy or borrow this book RIGHT NOW.
This book's creator is Emily Carroll, who won multiple awards for this debut, including two Eisners and an Ignatz. She publishes much of her work online and has a good number of her stories available to read online at her website. They are well worth checking out. She talks extensively about her work and career in this interview.

The reviews I have read of this book have been glowing. Amal El-Mohtar called it "stunningly beautiful" and "magnificently executed." Sarah Horrocks wrote, "There is also a poetry to Carroll’s written word that you rarely get in western comics." Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review and summed up, "A sure winner for any reader with a yen to become permanently terrified. Brilliant."

Through the Woods was published by Simon & Schuster, and they have a preview and more info about it here.