A girl a girl a girl

Pemmican Wars (A Girl Called Echo Volume 1) by Katherena Vermette, Scott B. Henderson, and Donovan Yuciuk. Highwater Press, 2018. 9781553796787. 47pp.

Echo is a thirteen-year-old Métis girl living in a group home and attending a new school. In her history class she falls asleep and finds herself having a realistic dream about being in the North-Westernern Territory in 1814 and witnessing a buffalo hunt. The next day she falls asleep at home, and when she again finds herself in 1814 it’s clear she’s not dreaming — which gives her a chance to make a friend and learn about her people firsthand.

I know this sounds a little like an After School Special, but the book doesn’t overuse words, is well written, and both Henderson’s art and Yaciuk’s colors are top notch. There’s more to love here including a teacher who prefers they / them pronouns and a difficult conversation between Echo and her mom. A timeline of the Pemmican Wars, a recipe for pemmican, and a few verses by Pierre Falcon at the back make this a great title for libraries. (The next book is due out in September.)

I know this isn’t cheap, but this is exactly the type of high quality, small press graphic novel that deserve librarians’ professional support.

When You Run to the Rock for Rescue

Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice from My Bipolar Life by Ellen Forney. Fantagraphics, 2018. 9781683961017.

Gene: Ellen Forney’s Rock Steady, which is a follow up to…
Sarah: Marbles.
G: But this graphic novel is more… advice-y?
S: Yeah. So Marbles was her autobiography about how she figured out she had bipolar. This, years later, is about how she has managed her bipolar. It tells how she has gotten her shit together and how she hopes you can get your shit together, too. It’s based on a lot of work she’s done, and it’s also based on a lot of success that she’s had.
G: It has are other options that she hasn’t explored personally, too, but she’s really clear about what specifically works for her.
S: And she interviews people. I really liked that she interviewed people from a Somali-American health project about how a person’s background and community can really affect what kind of help it feels like you’re allowed to ask for.
G: It was interesting, because it’s local, too, and we know what the Somali health project is because we live in Seattle. I assume that’s not a unique thing, but it’s our thing.
I don’t know exactly how to start talking about this book. I know people who have bipolar disorder, I’ve talked to them about it, a lot of this rings true for me. The thing that I related most to was some of the self-care stuff in the book, which I do when traveling.
S: Yeah.
G: Specifically for my fear of flying, which I manage with a lot of breathing, recognizing when my body is ramping up, and I’d never thought that it’s also a way someone might recognize that they’re heading into a manic episode or a depressive episode, and how much other people have to watch themselves.
The breathing exercises recommended for them were the same as mine, plus just taking time for yourself — it all seems really generally applicable to everybody who has something that troubles them, who has to figure out how to deal with their bodies.
S: Yeah. She talks about the percentage of the population that has bipolar, and it’s not a huge number, but I feel like not only do you want to have this book available for people with bipolar, there’s a lot of overlap with other illnesses and there’s a lot of advice here that’s going to work for people with a variety of issues. You can pick and choose what’s useful to you. There are some things that are much more important for people with bipolar. The chapter on sleep and insomnia is a big issue for her, but I know tons of people who have that problem for other reasons. I think her advice could work for them, too.
G: The insomnia stuff was great. No screen time near bedtime, have a routine…
S: …to let your body know it’s time to chill.
G: She gives a sense that things might change for you, and that you might have to readjust even after something works for a while. Which I’ve had to do around my sleep schedule — the same things don’t always work for me. And that feeds into my fear of flying and my jet lag. When I’m on the road, when I’m doing speaking gigs, it can be just go go go. I have to recognize that I need to take time for myself, that I need to make sure I get enough sleep, otherwise I’m hosed.
S: She talks about finding your warning signs, about red flags — when you know the shit is going down — but also about red flagpoles, which are the circumstances that often lead to your red flags, the things in your life like travel, a big change, or a loss.
G: Reading about seasons as a flagpole, I realized I’ve heard of that before. But being on the outside of it, I don’t get it, so having that reiterated to me was good.
S: And she’s not saying that it’s definitely going to happen, she’s not saying you’re doomed in this circumstance or that, she talks about it in terms of if you know that’s coming up, do all that you can to buffer yourself. You could apply that to your normal life stresses. If you know that going to visit your parents is hard on you, why don’t you make sure that you’re eating a balanced diet before you go so that you’re not all jacked up on sugar. The equivalent of that, but for bipolar.
I’ve got to say, the other thing I really like about this is that there are lots of books on how to manage all sorts of different conditions that are written by doctors, that are written by people with backgrounds in medicine and pharmacology, and they all have good tips, they all know the symptoms and how to manage them, but they haven’t lived it, so they can’t talk to you like a peer would. Because Forney is not only talking about how to deal with medicine, what pills you need to take, etc, she’s also talking about how to make sure you don’t forget to take it, here’s how you take it when you go on the road. She gets into… I think this was in Marbles, too… when you get a diagnosis like this, especially a diagnosis that kinda changes how you can live your life, and changes it when you’re fairly young, that’s a big psychological blow. I didn’t anticipate my life was going to be like this. I didn’t think that I was going to be limited in this way. It can be really hard to take.
G: For some people it’s that the whole this isn’t fair thing. Other people don’t need to worry about this.
S: That’s really baked into the whole book, I really appreciate that.
G: Whereas I liked the pictures.
S: Yeah, the pictures are so good, too.
G: I like the little personal anecdotes, I like the way the pages are laid out, almost like slides for a meeting, an image for each idea. Every page feels very organic, the way the information is packaged. Sometimes there’s a little doodle, sometimes more than a doodle.
S: She’ll go from a cartooney expression to show someone feeling emotions, then switch to more realistic drawings to talk about actual events in her life. She has these great, funny, entertaining ways of talking about… on this page on the importance of having lots of coping tools she has a drawing of a utility belt!
G: Like Batman’s utility belt, but featuring pill dispensers, red alert flags, mood trackers, and compressed sunlight. And a grappling hook, because everyone needs a grappling hook. And tissues.
S: Oh, man, that page on how to cry in public! I think that’s applicable to everybody, I think we need to print that out and have it available in a lot of places.
G: I did that the other day. I can’t remember why.
S: The whole thing is put together in the pattern of an acronym. Other books have acronyms like SMART, but hers is SMEDMERTS! Which she admits is long and unwieldy, but she draws a mascot, a little pig/gremlin creature.
G: It looks like something Elise Gravel might draw.
S: It’s a way to remember the tools you can use to stay Rock Steady. And the book has an index, so you can find what you need when you need it.

Crimes Against Fashion

The Fashion Committee: A Novel of Art, Crime and Applied Design by Susan Juby. Viking, 2017. 9780451468789.

The exclusive private arts high school in town has a competition for admission and one year’s tuition, and this year’s theme is fashion. Charlie Dean is utterly obsessed, knows all the legendary designers, and creates all her own clothes. John Thomas-Smith thinks fashion is moronic, but there’s no other way he can afford to attend the school to study metalwork. So the race is on to create an original look for a juried fashion show.

This book could have just been a silly competition story and I would have loved it, but it was a lot more. The chapters alternate between Charlie’s and John’s voices. Charlie’s difficult background slowly emerges from her pontificating about style and her design heroes. You can see what a lifeline this scholarship would be for her. John’s decision to join the competition shocks his girlfriend and best friend, which makes John even more determined. It also gradually opens his eyes to how much they want him to be stuck in the same town in the same way they are. John begins to see that fashion can have a positive effect and decides to design clothes for a bullied foster kid. Charlie starts to understand that maybe her life shouldn’t be on hold because of her father’s addiction.

I have no idea how I will booktalk this, but I know I have to share this book.

Squinting Towards Gibraltar

An Eternity in Tangiers by Faustin Titi and Eyoum Nganguè. Translated by André Naffis-Sahely. Phoneme Media, 2017. 9781939419798. 47pp plus an afterward.

Nganguè is a Camaroonian journalist living in Paris. Titi is an Ivorian artist living in Abidjan. Together they have created a short, compelling, beautifully drawn graphic novel about a young man from a fictional African city on the Atlantic coast.

Gawa’s family practically bankrupted itself to purchase the influence of a local bigshot who promised to get Gawa to Europe. The young man leaves behind his fiancée and his mother to be taken north, across drier and drier lands, before being abandoned in the desert with little water and told to walk. They are delivered to Morocco where, despite warnings, they’re taken advantage of again in their desire to cross into Spain. He’s stuck in Tangiers, where his legal attempts to leave Africa are denied and his illegal attempts are unsuccessful. The only choice he’s offered is to sell his body. Tangiers is his prison.

I love everything about this book. It’s so uninflected, it leaves all of the feeling up to the reader, whether a moment shows would-be migrants drowning or a memory of student protestors being beaten and raped back in Gawa’s hometown. It’s simple, straightforward, and amazing.

Go North

Nunavik by Michel Hellman. Pow Pow Press, 2017. 9782924049358. 149pp.

I couldn’t make it to TCAF again this year, so I’m making it up to myself by ordering a few French and French Canadian graphic novels. I loved Hellman’s Mile End, a graphic novel about the neighborhood of the same name in Montreal, so ordering this was a no brainer. And it turns out to be a sequel, kinda — it starts with a conversation about it between Hellman and Pow Pow’s publisher on a bench in front of Wilensky’s, and then with Hellman trying to draw another book about his neighborhood before finally setting out on a trip to Canada’s north. (His wife thinks it’s an odd sort of mid-life crisis.)

Hellman flies via prop plane (with lots of stops) to Kuujjaq. The guy next to him on the plane wants to know if he’s going to hunt, find a girlfriend, or to escape child support payments, and can hardly believe he’s a tourist. But after they land he shows Hellman around, and it gave me a great sense of the place, a thriving metropolis of the North with about 2,200 people, a giant junk yard, and a rather sad bar scene. Hellman goes outside after a night of drinking to witness both the northern lights and an idiotic four-wheeler crash. And that night sets the tone: the people are friendly, the place is gorgeous and scary, and it’s beautiful and frustrating and somewhat exhausting to people from the south. He heads north to hike over tundra to Pingualuit Crater, traveling a bit with a film crew trying to capture a caribou migration, and generally has a trip I’d love to make (except for those low-flying, exceedingly long rides in prop planes). Hellman Includes bits about the local history and culture. Most unexpected fact: the Inuit love to golf, and villages have courses in the tundra. And I learned about the Dorset culture for the first time, a race of “giants” who inhabited the area before the Inuit.

Minicomics by Eleanor Davis

Libby’s Dad by Eleanor Davis. Retrofit / Big Planet Comics, 2016. 9781940398525. ~32pp.

Frontier #11: Eleanor Davis, BDSM by Eleanor Davis. Youth In Decline, 2016. (No ISBN)  32pp.

Gene: Here are two mini-comics by Eleanor Davis, and I’m so pleased to say that one of them is available at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park (just north of Seattle), which suddenly has a nice little mini-comics section. I’m so happy to see they have that! That will keep me going back there and I’ll buy lots of books.
Sarah: I’ll make a trip there. I used to only be able to get that kind of stuff at specialty shops or downtown.
G: Zanadu Comics in downtown Seattle had some, but it just closed down. And Elliot Bay Books has a very small selection, but they’re mostly ‘zines.
This is Libby’s Dad.
S: I love Davis’ colors, I love her shapes.
G: It is the best. This comic is from Retrofit, which is cartoonist Box Brown’s publishing company. He publishes small comics, some of which are perfect bound, though others, like this one, is stapled. This looks like it’s drawn in crayon or colored pencil. It’s about five girls having a pool party at Libby’s house. Her mom and dad are divorced.
S: Look at that!
G: All the girls are very different: Libby, Emma, Mun-Hee, Hailey, and the narrator (“and Taylor, usually, but this time Taylor didn’t come.”) They talk about her. Libby says she did invite her. Mun-Hee: “No, Libby, you invited our friend Taylor. Not the weird Taylor who, like, replaced her.”
S&G: (both laugh)
S: I have to say, people will talk about needing diverse voices, and it’s a great sentiment, but then you actually pick up something like this and it’s like oh my god this is f’ing perfect! This is not the voice of anyone else. Diversity isn’t just good for the world, you’ll find some amazing work.
G: I love how loose and natural the whole thing feels. The drawings seem to have flowed out of Davis. They’re cartoony enough not to be anatomically correct, but they give a great sense of character and how a person moves and holds themself. And they’re just all colors. It looks like the word balloons are all pencils. It feels temporary, quick, like this came right out of her head. And look at that drawing of Hailey half in a pool with her hair floating.
So Libby’s mom told everyone that her dad said he was going to shoot her, and that’s part of the plot. The girls hang out, it’s night, the pool is kind of glowing. In the sleepover room they’re talking, and then they spill nail polish. And they’re terrified of telling Libby’s dad, all they can think of is the gun. There’s a representation of the gun in their thoughts, done in negative space because the girls are trying not to think about it, and it’s the most amazing page in a short comic full of amazing pages, as the girls freak out.
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