Browsed by
Category: Uncategorized

Mary: The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter
The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter
by Brea Grant & Yishan Li 

Mary: The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter
The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter
by Brea Grant & Yishan Li 

Description
When angsty teenager Mary Shelley is not interested in carrying on her family’s celebrated legacy of being a great writer, but she soon discovers that she has the not-so-celebrated and super-secret Shelley power to heal monsters, just like her famous ancestor, and those monsters are not going to let her ignore her true calling anytime soon.

Everyone expects sixteen-year-old Mary to be a great writer. After all, her mother, her aunt, and her grandmother are all successful writers (as they constantly remind her)—not to mention her famous namesake, the OG Mary Shelley, horror author extraordinaire. But Mary is pretty sure she’s not cut out for that life. She can’t even stay awake in class! Then one dark and rainy night, she’s confronted with a whole new destiny. Mary has the ability to heal monsters… and they’re not going to leave her alone until she does.

With the help of a mysterious (and mysteriously cute) stranger, a Harpy, a possessed stuffed bunny, and her BFF Rhonda, Mary must uncover her family’s darkest secret if she’s going to save the monster world… and herself.

REVIEW:

This was fine. Li’s artwork is attractive, there is an assuredness with the panel layout, and line work makes this a pleasing book to look at. Storywise this is very much standard supernatural YA fair. The titular Mary is a likeable protagonist suffer under the weight of expectation from her family to become a great writer but wants something different for herself.
For the most part, Grant’s script balances teenage angst, horror with quippy humour rather well. It very much falls into a Buffy The Vampire Slayer mould of YA stories. It works well enough, and there are some stand out characters such as the Harpy with a toothache. Its when the quirky monsters are on the page that the book soars. However, I did not connect with any other human protagonists as much. The pacing of the story felt rushed toward the end, and there was a moment of Deus ex machina involving one of Mary’s schoolmates that did not work.

This book isn’t aimed 40-something blokes, but for teenagers looking for supernatural YA there’s is a lot to admire about Mary. Not my cup of tea, but it does what it sets out to do and does it rather well.

Book Review: Just Act Normal: A Pie Comics Collection by John McNamee

Book Review: Just Act Normal: A Pie Comics Collection by John McNamee

Just Act Normal: A Pie Comics Collection by John McNamee
Oni Press
Pub Date 17 Nov 2020
Description
“A dry, sarcastic humor that hits you hard in the chuckles.” — BoredPanda.com

This third collection from The Onion and the New Yorker contributor John McNamee features his most absurdly relatable comics on our futile attempts to seem “normal,” and why that’s hilarious.

Pie Comics began as a college comic strip way back in the mid ’00s, when flip phones roamed the earth. But after a shoulder injury forced cartoonist John McNamee to simplify his drawing style and improvise comics, Pie Comics evolved into the beloved strip it is today!

This third collection from The Onion and the New Yorker contributor features his most absurdly relatable comics on our futile attempts to look “normal,” and why that’s hilarious.

Review

This is a fab collection of comic strips. Ranging from the absurd and amusing to the enlightening and scathing McNamee consistently hits heights few others can match. The art is delightful. Doing simple well is not easy. I chuckled, and, guffawed all the way through reading this. There isn’t a week strip in the collection; it is all top-quality stuff. McNamee is a gag machine who is equally skilled at making fun of mundane everyday life to more serious topics like depression and death. Utterly brilliant. Persistently entertaining and always funny.

Book Review: Battle Born Lapis Lazuli by Maximilian Uriarte

Book Review: Battle Born Lapis Lazuli by Maximilian Uriarte

Battle Born Lapis Lazuli by Maximilian Uriarte

Little, Brown and Company
Pub Date 28 Jul 2020  

Description

From the bestselling author of The White Donkey, a heartbreaking and visceral graphic novel set against the stark beauty of Afghanistan’s mountain villages that examines prejudice and the military remnants of colonialism.
In this hotly anticipated new work from Maximilian Uriarte, creator of the popular Terminal Lance comics and The White Donkey, tells a “thrillingly cinematic” (Publishers Weekly) story of the personal cost of war and the power of human connection.Lapis Lazuli is a rich blue semiprecious gemstone found deep in the Sar-i-sang mountains of Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province. For thousands of years it has sustained the nearby mining villages, whose inhabitants lived peacefully in the mountainous landscape–until the Taliban, known in the region as the Horsemen, came to seek the riches stored deep beneath the earth. Taliban rule has turned the stone into a conflict mineral, as they steal and sell it for their own gain.At the behest of the fledgling Afghan government, seeking to wrest back control of the province, United States Marines are sent into the mountains. A platoon led by their eager and naive commander, First Lieutenant Roberts, and a stoic, fierce squad leader, Sergeant King, must overcome barriers of language and culture in this remote region to win the locals’ trust, and their freedom from Taliban rule. Along the way, they must also wrestle with their demons–and face unimaginably difficult choices.A sweeping yet intimate story about brutality, kindness, and the remnants of colonialism, Battle Born: Lapis Lazuli is an epic saga from the voice of a new generation of military veterans.

Review:

Mild spoilers. I have mixed feelings about Battle Born Lapis Lazuli. In many ways Uriarte latest is stunning. The artwork is magnificent. The linework and flow of the panels are elegant, capturing both the intimate moments of camaraderie and violence of battle equally well. A particularly memorable sequence sees a parent lamenting the loss of their child as American soldiers stand by helpless unable to offer comfort. A lot of research went into crafting the story, paying respect to the culture of the people of Afghanistan and to the sacrifice that foreign troops made there. Battle Born is not afraid to show the ugliness of people, the way that war degrades and dehumanises us all. There is a cinematic quality to the landscapes as well as the action sequences. It feels like part-war movie, part-western. It captures both the sense of being trapped by chaotic, unmanageable geopolitics of an unwanted soldier in a country with a rich and complex history and, the frustration of being a hampered by locals who are highly suspicious of any foreign presences.

The main characters all feel like lived-in characters. We get a glimpse of the inner lives of every character that has page time, there are no two-dimensional stereotypes, everyone has an internal driving force that affects the way that they react to the awful conditions that they are put in. Sergeant King, who is our protagonist, is a compelling figure, equal parts stoic and vulnerable, Uritate imbues King’s eyes with a deeply ingrained sadness. King is fierce, intelligent, and, inspires loyalty. Chavez and Forest as sporting characters well-grounded and provide King with a platform for levity and pathos.

Pretty positive so far. Where my problems with the book arise is with its tacit approval of torture and war crimes. I am going to say this three times: Torture does not work. Torture does not work. Torture does not work. There is a sequence in which a prisoner of war is beaten. My reading of the story is that due to high emotions that these actions were justified or understandable. In a tragic book, one of the recurring themes is how we in the West use our “civilised” view of ourselves to justify cruelty to those who aren’t. Maybe Uriate was trying to get across the point that even the best of us can do unjustifiable things. I don’t know. I did find it disturbing. In addition to being morally repugnant, torture does not produce accurate, reliable information. Any story that propagates the myth that it does is lessened in my eyes. There are further war crimes later in the book, but by then, the damage to my experience was already done.

It’s unfortunate that a few pages so marred my enjoyment of the whole. Maybe it’s my regret that the character didn’t take. This is first-class stuff, but I just can’t get on board with some of the messages it puts forward. It deserves to be read and probably read widely.

Book Review: Karmen by Guillem March

Book Review: Karmen by Guillem March

Karmen V1 by Guillem March

Europe Comics

Pub Date 17 Jun 2020   

Description

This is a graphic novel about death and suicide… but not in the way you think. It’s about death that can be reversable, when and if the right angels are looking. The dead person here is Catalina, a self-absorbed student who kills herself out of heartbreak. The angel is Karmen, an angel of the facetious, unusual sort. Her capacity for empathy is so great that she leads “her” dead on a journey toward redemption and, believe it or not, back to life! Full of surprises, metaphysics, and beautiful women, this graphic novel is tender and not devoid of humor.

Review

Last year I sent travelling around Spain for a month. The architecture around Andalusia left a lasting impression on me. It is one of the first things that struck me about Karmen is that the book has a powerful sense of place. This story unmistakably takes place in Spain. Also, for a story that explores the themes of suicide, regret, and, relationships, it is not dour. It treats these themes with the seriousness that they deserve with becoming maudlin or mawkish.

The art is splendid. I particularly enjoyed the colouring, which plays with a palette that gives the pages a subtle otherworldly ambience. Karmen takes place in a lived-in world. Mallorca where the story takes place wonderfully presented here. The characters designs are also notable for the bold choices March makes. For a comic where one of the leads is mostly naked, it rarely seems voyeuristic. Indeed the nakedness is a rather blunt metaphor for the character’s vulnerability. However, any comic which prominently features naked woman is open to accusations of the male gaze. Yet most the panels are composed in a way that I think manages to avoid this.

Catalina is a rather unlikeable character. I felt relatively little sympathy for her and did not understand her reasons for taking her own life. It isn’t easy to enjoy a book where you don’t enjoy spending time with one of the leads. This is made up for with Karmen who is reminiscent of Death of the Endless from Sandman by Neil Gaiman. Karmen is playful, almost mischievous as she guides Catalina into the afterlife. Karmen gives Catalina a chance to see the world and the life she had through a different lens. I think the book is about how we can empower ourselves to make better decisions. Part It’s a Wonderful Life, and part Kore-eda’s After Life Karmen is a comic that is a skilfully accomplished character study that blends the fantastic with the mundane.

I enjoyed Karmen a great deal; however, the nudity and themes explored might make it unsuitable for some readers who might consider it exploitative and excessive. I can understand this argument to a point.

Some of the panels in Karmen are exquisitely composed, giving real weight to the story where relatively little actually happens. This is a book about accepting the consequences of your actions and dealing with the aftermath. The importance of conversations and what is and is not said to those we hold close. The final conversation between Catalina and Karmen is especially powerful. There is a sense of wonder and tragedy that runs through the book. Dan Christensen did a commendable job with the translation. This is an outstanding comic that I hope finds a broader audience.

A Tale of Two Arthur: Book 1 by Nine Antico & Grégoire Carlé

A Tale of Two Arthur: Book 1 by Nine Antico & Grégoire Carlé

Description

A Tale of Two Arthurs is an impressionistic chronicle of two very different men: Jack Arthur Johnson, the black American boxer, and Arthur Cravan, the white French poet and provocateur. These two men fought an improbable boxing match in Barcelona in 1916 which acts as the pivot point of this double-portrait which is also a kind of mirror: for despite their differences they were both fiercely independent individuals who in their own ways defied the mores of their time with a mixture of bravado, intelligence, and brute strength. Accompanying both men on their journeys is a celebrity chimpanzee named Consul who serves as the uniting thread — as well as the unlikely narrator — of this adventurous and ambitious comic.

Review

Reviewers note: A lot of the story relied on double-page spreads that weren’t available to be viewed on ARC given. The flow of the story would without a doubt work better in a hard-copy.

This was fine. The art while not to my taste did an acceptable job illustrating the drama of Jack Johnston’s life inside and outside the ring. Johnson’s life takes up the majority of the book and rightly so. However, Arthur Cravan shares top billing and his history as told here seem like an afterthought. To me, it felt like a cheap gimmick. The fight between the two, which was a freakshow put on to raise money, never felt like the books true focus. Caravan who had a fascinating life and it would have given the book more balance to have had more of it told. While we understand Johnson’s reason for taking the fight Caravan’s are just glossed over. We never get a sense of why the public wants to see these two collide and more importantly why they are willing to pay for it.

I’d struggle to recommend this but it is not a bad book. The fight scenes were well done and the dialogue captures Johnson’s brashness. I’m certainly interested in reading more about Caravan’s adventures both before and after the fight.

Book Reeview Strange Fruit, Volume II
More Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History
by Joel Christian Gill

Book Reeview Strange Fruit, Volume II
More Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History
by Joel Christian Gill

Strange Fruit, Volume IIMore Uncelebrated Narratives from Black Historyby Joel Christian Gill

Fulcrum PublishingComics & Graphic Novels | Teens & YAPub Date 1 Feb 2018   

Description

Like all legends, people fade away, but not before leaving an incredible legacy. Strange Fruit, Volume II: More Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History is a collection of stories from early African American history that represent the oddity of success in the face of great adversity. Each of the eight illustrated chapters chronicles an uncelebrated African American hero or event. Joel Christian Gill offers historical and cultural commentary on heroes whose stories are not often found in history books, such as Cathay Williams, the only known female Buffalo Soldier, and Eugene Bullard, a fighter pilot who flew for France during World War I. These beautifully illustrated stories offer a refreshing look at remarkable African Americans.

Review

Strange Fruit is a superb anthology of telling the stories of overlooked black Americans. Having not read Strange Fruit 1, this book reminded me very much of Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu. I loved that book. While Strange Fruit doesn’t soar to quite the same heights of Bagieu’s Eisner award winner, it accomplishes what it seeks out to do expertly.

The comic anthology is a smart way of telling stories about people that, most of the figures in this book I had not heard of before. All of them have fascinating stories and that their narratives aren’t better known is a shame.

As with all anthologies, there are weaker sections, the Cathy William’s section seemed to me to be underdone. Another weakness is the art. I found it adequate for the most part, but it only really excelled in the Willie Kennard, and Tom Wiggins. To my eyes, some of the facial designs across all the characters were similar. This wasn’t helped by the colouring, which was uniform throughout, it might have helped to choose different tones for each era or figure. Anthologies for all their strengths do have the inherent weakness of not being able to explore the tales in depth.

That said I would very much recommend this book. The writing and dialogue effortlessly carry you into the lives that these people lived and it certainly sparked an interest in my to find out more about them. The stories of these black Americans are fascinating and Strange Fruit does a fantastic job of bringing them into the light.

BOOK REVIEW: Ever After by Olivia Vieweg

BOOK REVIEW: Ever After by Olivia Vieweg

Ever After
by Olivia Vieweg

Lerner Publishing Group
You Like Them

Graphic Universe ™
Comics & Graphic Novels | Teens & YA
Pub Date 1 Sep 2020 | Archive Date 10 Sep 2020

Description:

Vivi and Eva are two travelers in a countryside filled with the undead. After a train breaks down, stranding them between safe zones, the young women partner up to stay alive. Vivi is struggling with grief—and guilt—over the loss of her sister. Eva is hiding the start of a horrifying transformation. Together they’ll face heat, zombie hordes, and their own inner demons, searching for signs of life in a land of the dead. This graphic novel addition to an enduring genre is thoughtful and emotion-driven, but also full of zombie scares and action.

Review

Hey look it is a zombie horde! Post-Societal collapse scenarios are a staple of YA fiction. Therefore it is not easy to tread new ground and it is equally easy to fall into cliche. Ever After does not manage to avoid these cliches; however, there is enough heart to make you care about the characters and what happens to them.

First to the criticisms. Zombie stories are played out. The zombie lore in Ever After is somewhat muddled. I wasn’t sure what the rules to the virus were which left me confused at points. The review copy provided had lettering that bit lower res that the art but I think this is due to the fact it is a translation.

Now the positives. While Veiweg’s art style is one that I never really warmed up to, she does a beautiful job of creating both intimate character moments and shocking visuals. There is an injury near the ends of the book that made me wince at the awfulness of it. This is what you want in a Zombie story, gore, and, a sense of building tension as the plight gets worse and worse.

Despite being over 200 pages, the story moved at a fair clip. I read it in one sitting, which perhaps was a disservice to the book.

Like any good road trip movie, our protagonist’s relationship develops over time with both ups and downs. The characters are believable, and their relationship with each is one that I wanted to succeed.

Reading this also made me question if I would have enjoyed it more if I weren’t in lockdown? Can you separate a book from the circumstances in which you are reading it? I don’t know. However, the incongruity of the Vieweg’s cartoonish illustration with the subject matter is not something I think I overcame. That and my personal burnout on zombie stories meant I did not enjoy this much. For a younger audience (anyone under 30 years old) I think. There are thrilling moments, genuine scares, and, moments of real emotion in this book. Worth a read if you like your zombie stories with a heart.

15/30

BOOK REVIEW: The Stringbags by Garth Ennis & P.J. Holden

BOOK REVIEW: The Stringbags by Garth Ennis & P.J. Holden

The Stringbags

by Written by Garth Ennis; Drawn by P.J. Holden; Colored by Kelly Fitzpatrick; Lettered by Rob Steen

Dead Reckoning

Comics & Graphic Novels History

Pub Date 20 May 2020 | Archive Date 1 Sep 2020

There is much to admire about The Stringbags, but it missed the mark for me. It left me with the feeling that I should have liked it more than I did. Stringbags follows the adventures of a fighter crew in World War 2 as part of Britain’s Royal Navy. Our heroes are not the top guns they are “the other guys” saddled with an outdated Fairey Swordfish biplanes. Garth Ennis writing of characters as always is splendid and especially of the banter between them is humorous. Ennis effortlessly establishes that these guys have been serving together a long time. And that they are looked down upon by colleagues and superiors. They are goofball underdogs determined to do their bit.

Holden does a masterful job of doing both the little and big things exceedingly well. The expressions of joy, frustrations, relief, and, horror on the faces of the characters are depicted with a deft touch. It has a feel of retro war comics. The actions scenes show the chaos, terror, and, excitement of battle. The colours by Fitzpatrick are slickly handled and give a real air of the 1940s to the book.

I think my problem with the book starts with its tone, which I felt was all over the place. At times it feels like an Ealing comedy where our lads are bungling from one scrape to another and then it pulls in another direction entirely by showing the full monstrosity of what humans do to each in battle. I read an interview where Ennis talks about the book, and he mentions that war while awful is also the arena where great acts of bravery are done. I think he tried to walk a line of showing that war is a terrible thing that should not happen and that it is also the arena for acts heroism. He is only partly successful. 

My other problem is a minor personal bugbear. Pilots on the Allied side in WW2 stories are almost always portrayed as British or American. The massive contribution that Polish and other European pilots played in the air defence efforts is overlooked. I know this is entirely irrelevant as there probably weren’t any Polish pilots in the engagements shown in the book. Irrational, I know, but it bothered me that this wasn’t mentioned. 

For fans of World War 2 stories, this book is highly recommended. The mixture of historical facts, technical accuracy, and, relatable protagonists works well. For everyone else, this is entertaining enough but fails to really soar.  

Book Review: Frankie Comics by Rachel Dukes

Book Review: Frankie Comics by Rachel Dukes

Frankie Comics by Rachel Dukes

Oni Press

Pub Date 25 Aug 2020

A comic about cat ownership. Some good gags but I struggled to finish the book as I didn’t care about the cat or any of the characters. You’re getting what you think you’re getting. Not for me but it is okay for what it is.

Book Review: Guantanamo Voices True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison by Sarah Mirk

Book Review: Guantanamo Voices True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison by Sarah Mirk

Guantanamo Voices True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison
by Sarah Mirk

Published by Abrams ComicArts

Pub Date 8 Sep 2020

Cover art

Description
An anthology of illustrated narratives about the prison and the lives it changed forever

In January 2002, the United States sent a group of Muslim men they suspected of terrorism to a prison in Guantánamo Bay. They were the first of roughly 780 prisoners who would be held there—and 40 inmates still remain. Eighteen years later, very few of them have been ever charged with a crime.
In Guantánamo Voices, journalist Sarah Mirk and her team of diverse, talented graphic novel artists tell the stories of ten people whose lives have been shaped and affected by the prison, including former prisoners, lawyers, social workers, and service members. This collection of illustrated interviews explores the history of Guantánamo and the world post-9/11, presenting this complicated partisan issue through a new lens.


A Note From the Publisher
Sarah Mirk is a multimedia journalist whose work focuses on telling nuanced, human-focused stories. She is an editor of The Nib and the former online editor of national feminism and pop-culture magazine Bitch Media. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Review Note: The copy provided for the review was an uncorrected proof. As a result, the resolution was not high. Because of this, I found some sections of the book difficult to read. The finished book will be in full colour.

When reviewing some books, it is difficult to separate one’s political convictions from playing a role in the way one views a book. When a book’s subject touches something as emotive as detention without trial, it can be easy to get carried away with one’s own righteous indignation. Simply put does a one enjoy a book because it confirms one’s own biases about a subject. This is something I grappled with while reading Guantanamo Voices.

This is a story we all know. Hundreds of detainees were held without trial or charges for years. It should turn the stomach of anyone. Guantanamo Voices examines how we got here, what went on, and, how or indeed if we can move on.

The publisher describes it as an anthology of illustrated narratives which is the perfect description. The format reminds me of a book like Penelope Bagieu’s Brazen. The trick here is that each one of the oral history’s featured is brought to life by a different artist. Given that I am reviewing an uncorrected proof, some changes to the artwork might be made. That said the artwork is gorgeous. Moazzam Begg story especially captured the Kafkaesque hopelessness that detainees faced. They were tortured, humiliated, and, imprisoned with little or no hope of freedom. Some of the stories read like absurd scenes from The Thick of It or Veep while others read like horror stories.

Some of the art styles while all individually brilliant do jar with one another occasionally, but this is only to be expected when you have a diverse array of creators working on one book—an almost inconsequential quibble given the quality of illustration throughout.

As compellingly told as the stories were, they were also grim. Most of the stories left me angry and exasperated. Was this just an effect of my own biases being confirmed or something else? This is recent. This is now. Mirk reminds the reader in the coda not to get carried away. The people running the centre are not evil. It would be easier to understand if they were moustache-twirling villains, but they are not. They were soldiers that were given lawful orders. These terrible things that people at the time tried to stop from happening.

Mirk does a fantastic job of reminding us how urgent the story of Guantanamo Bay still is. It is also a reminder that graphic novels have an essential part to play in journalism. Guantanamo Voices should be mandatory reading for anyone who has doubts about voting this year. Even putting aside my perceptions of Gitmo before reading the book, Guantanamo Voices is a fine non-fiction graphic novel that I would highly recommend. I’ll be buying a copy once it is released.

25/30