Giant Days, Vol. 1 by John Allison and illustrated by Lissa Treiman. Boom Box, 2015. 9781608867899. (Contains Giant Days 1-4)
Three college students, Daisy (an optimistic and naive former homeschooler), Esther (a disaster and drama prone goth) and Susan (the practical one) have ordinary(ish) college adventures: Esther accidentally causes disaster in the dining hall, Daisy takes drugs for the first time and then has to eat breakfast with her granny, Susan makes a zine against guys because she’s mad at a particular guy and it goes viral among young teens. When everyone catches a cold, Susan goes through terrible nicotine withdrawal because she’s too sick to smoke, Esther crashes what she believes a Santeria ceremony and is healed (it later turns out to have just been a wine-and-cheese party), and Daisy takes an imported Polish cold medicine that makes her so loopy that she makes friends with a pigeon.
The stories are hilarious and have a sweet friendship at their core. This feels like my favorite kind of sitcom, funny and kind but not too treacly. The faces and body language are delightfully expressive and compliment the tone of the stories. I recommend this to anyone who liked Lucky Penny.
Bryce is secretly a masked hero known as Scrap. After saving a kid from a few of Armstrong School’s bullies, he gets beat up himself. His friend Yoshi saves him with her her jump rope. (She holds the school record.)
Together they go to investigate calls for help coming from the field by the blacktop. They find a sick boy with pockets full of posies. His cheeks are rosy. Vanilla-bean-frappuccino-loving Juliet is infecting everyone. She loves Scrap, but he never noticed her no matter what she did. So to get his attention she’s spreading cooties. And a little while after the infected boys all fall down, they rise again as zombies.
There are moments in this graphic novel that make it clear this is all just imagined recess fun, but if I was reading it aloud to a kid I’d skip those panels. Every school playground needs a zombie apocalypse.
Kimball Taylor first came across masses of abandoned bicycles littering the Tijuana River Valley after a flood in 2008. Taylor’s pursuit of the story behind these bikes led to this sprawling, riveting non-fiction book.
Undocumented migrants were crossing the rugged border south of California’s Border Field State Park on bikes. Taylor ascribes these organized group rides to “El Indio,” a cautious yet ambitious young man running his own crew of people smugglers. Then the masses of abandoned bikes disappeared from the park! Taylor traced them to an unlikely recycler: a San Diego movie studio working for the Department of Defense.
The biggest draw for me as a reader was the local color. Taylor captures the appearance (and smell) of the horse ranches that line the flat river valley, the steep hills and ravines to the south, and the noxious mire of Border Field State Park. He also describes ongoing, often heartbreaking efforts to restore native plants and forestall erosion in the area. I’ve ridden bikes in that area, and I was astounded both by Taylor’s accuracy and the details I hadn’t known about.
Many of the issues Taylor touches upon should be or are the subjects of full books, from border security and official corruption on both sides of the border to the joy of riding a bike. His focus on one smuggler’s network and methods allows him to write about larger issues with depth as well as feeling.
Teenagers From Mars by Rick Spears and Rob G. Gigantic Graphic Novels, 2005. 0976303809. Collects Teenagers From Mars #1 – #8. 268pp.
I remember how much I loved this graphic novel when I first read it over ten years ago, and it’s just as good now. It’s a beautifully rendered fuck you to Frederic Wertham* and all the would-be goons who keep his attitude toward comics alive.
When Madison is shopping at Mallmart, some creep looks up her skirt. She beats the crap out of him and is escorted out by security. Nearby, at the comics counter, Macon argues with a woman complaining about a comic her son read. Macon’s boss intervenes, apologizes, and tells Macon to take down the comics and cancel the store’s next order. He says no. Macon doesn’t do well in the ensuing fist fight. When he arrives at a zombie party later that night, he pretty much already looks the part. He drinks too much. Madison arrives and goes to get made up like the rest of the undead. After she sits down in the makeup chair, instead of saying something inane like, “Go ahead and put on my zombie makeup,” she utters my favorite line of the book: “Kills me.”
They fall in like in the bathroom, and in love as they vandalize the Mallmart. The cops are pissed at their Comic Book Liberation Army graffiti — they see it as anarchy. Soon Macon is in jail, the zombie comic he’s been working on has been seized, and the town’s real zombies are burning comics in the streets. As soon as Macon understands that he doesn’t need to save or protect Madison (it’s clearly the other way around), they decide to retrieve his art and flee to avoid obscenity charges. Things do not go according to plan.
*Wertham is the asshat who, back in the 1950s, convinced Americans that comics caused juvenile delinquency. This resulted in all of the interesting adult comics titles disappearing and the mainstream American comics industry creating all comics content for kids for far too long. For more on this read The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America.
An entire high school, including students, teachers, and staff, is mysteriously transported to a monster-filled forest on another world. Some panic. The Student Council president tries to organize students to dig latrines (the water mains aren’t hooked up to anything anymore). The principal does his best to maintain control and keep the students in their homerooms. The chemistry teacher organizes a goon squad of the student athletes he coaches. And a motley group of students head into the woods unnoticed to try to find out what brought them to this strange place.
This has all the ingredients of a great survival story: strong personalities in conflict, a struggle for power, and an assortment of terrifying creatures intent on chomping all humans. It will be a bit bloody for some kids, but the ones who enjoy gore will love speculating about how their own teachers and fellow students would act in the same situation.
Sarah: Every superhero has an origin story. I’m not sure if every librarian has an origin story — I need to start asking. But I suspect that, when we were kids, we each had at least one reference book we loved. I bet for most it was usually the World Almanac or The Guinness Book of World Records, both of which you could buy through the Scholastic Book Fair. But these were the reference books for me.
Gene: I read The Guinness Book. I never thought “I’m gonna use this to answer questions.”
S: This has nothing to do with answering questions. This is more about the book that gives you the realization that “information is really interesting and I want to sink into it like a bog.” Continue reading “File Next to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”→
Memetic by James Tynion IV, Eryk Donovan, and Adam Guzowski. Boom Studios, 2015. 978160886743.
Everyone loves the new meme, a sloth giving the thumbs up on a swirly red and blue background. It isn’t just cute, it gives people a feeling of well-being, even euphoria. It gets passed around so much that people’s social media feeds are just the Good Times Sloth over and over. College student Aaron doesn’t get it, probably because he can’t see colors, and everyone’s sudden obsession starts to creep him out. He texts his boyfriend not to look at it, even though they had a terrible argument the night before. That evening, one of Aaron’s friends starts bleeding from the eyes, screaming, and attacking everyone around him. The syndrome spreads, starting exactly twelve hours after exposure to the sloth image. Aaron goes in search of his boyfriend. Meanwhile an ex-Pentagon official with macular degeneration and a researcher who predicted weaponized memes try to find the image’s origins as the world descends into chaos.
The story feels like a combination of a Twilight Zone episode and an apocalyptic action movie. It incorporates the best and worst things about social media into the spread of the syndrome, and it reminded me of the end of the television series Dollhouse in that it’s more of a horror story than a cautionary tale.