The smell of familiar houses

Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt With Family Addiction by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Scholastic Graphix, 2018. 9780545902489. 310pp.

Krosoczka’s mom was the third of five kids. Her parents weren’t too happy when she got pregnant (she was pretty young), but supported her by buying her a house near them. His early memories are happy, but there’s a dark edge there — men coming over, a recurring nightmare of being surrounded by monsters. After his mother gets arrested (not for the first time), his parents move Jarrett into their house. He lives there as his mother drifts in and out of his life, seeming to get better and then relapsing. She lets him down again and again as he grows up, discovers his love of creating comics, and finally even meets his father, who didn’t want to have anything to do with him when he was born.

The book is full of drinking and smoking (I bet his grandparents’ place smelled like my parents’ houses) and even has a little swearing (though I bet there was a lot more in real life). It was a dark, difficult read for me because it all hit so close to home. It’s stayed with me, and I’ve found myself returning to its pages over and over again since finishing it a few weeks back, and I know there are kids out there who will read it repeatedly even though it’s not as funny as his Lunch Lady, Jedi Academy, and Platypus Police Squad series.

“There are panels on every wall.”

Cruising Through The Louvre by David Prudhomme. Translation: Joe Johnson. NBM, 2016. 9781561639908.

Prudhomme’s entry into NBM’s English editions of graphic novels about the Louvre is one of my favorites. It starts with him getting a phone call while staring at Rembrandt’s self portrait, and reflecting on wandering the museum, “It’s like walking inside a giant comic book. There are panels on every wall.” But what he really enjoys is looking at people looking at those panels, and that’s the focus of this book. Tourists peering at paintings while holding up phones, people experiencing private moments that seem almost religious, groups of students on a tour, and of course the mob admiring the Mona Lisa (and ignoring the large painting on the wall across from it) — this is an appreciation of people’s attention and whatever focus they can muster. (My favorite guy in the Mona Lisa mob is ignoring the painting entirely, reading a book.) Prudhomme’s pencils bring the people, the artwork, and the building itself to life in a way that reminds me of being in the museum.  The woodwork alone is so intricate that it’s worth a visit by itself. (In fact when I was there years ago with my buddy Dave that’s all he looked at. The docents were very puzzled by his detailed questions about the floors.)

I need a Walkman to play all my old mixtapes

Luisa: Now and Then by Carole Maurel. Translated by Nanette McGuinness. English Language Adaptation by Mariko Tamaki. Humanoids, 2016. 9781594656439.

17-year-old Luisa falls asleep on a bus and wakes up in Paris seventeen years later and, with the help of a young woman (Sasha), she meets and is taken in by her 34-year-old self (they pretend they’re cousins). I was worried the book would have a wacky Freaky Friday vibe, but it’s a fairly quiet story in which the younger Luisa is horrified at how her older self has fallen out of touch with friends and settled for a career that’s not as glamorous as planned. Both Luisas are attracted to the older’s neighbor Sasha, and it’s no surprise there are conversations about a young woman Luisa just kissed in the past and hiding who they are (especially from their mother).

Younger Luisa’s clothes and Walkman took me right back to the 80s. The only time I’ve had a similar flashback to my teen years is seeing the hairstyles and shoulder pads in Papergirls, and when I see costumes in Uncanny X-men issues numbered in the mid 100s.

“And NOW, for the first time on stage…or almost!”

About Betty’s Boob by Vero Cazot and Julie Rocheleau. Translated by Edward Gauvin. Archaia (BOOM!), 2018. 9781684151646.

Betty dreams of lying in bed with her boyfriend and then of crabs scuttling over her naked body, about to start clawing at her left breast. She wakes up in a hospital bed, bald and not feeling well, and tries to put on her wig before examining her mastectomy scar. With a prosthetic in place she looks and feels great, but she’s a bit shattered when her boyfriend doesn’t want to get intimate. After her boss sends her out to get something “more suitable” to put in her bra (I don’t want to spoil the imagery of what she’s using at that point), the over-the-top shop she’s in is robbed by a masked group of villains, which is a hint of crazy things to come. I don’t think it’s telling too much to say she runs away and joins a show.

The first half of the book is almost wordless and very powerful, and the second half felt less emotionally harrowing (though there are still tough moments) as Betty discovers the joy of people paying attention to her body on and off stage. It’s a nicely done, somewhat fantastical payoff after the all too real emotions of what she goes through.

I know what I read last summer

In the air and on the ground in South Korea and Vietnam I made it through three book books in a month. That’s a lot for me. My secret: I read slowly. Must be why I like graphic novels so much.

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews. Pocket Books, 2013. 9781501168918. 576pp.

A personal recommendation by the owner of Seattle’s BLMF bookstore who said something like, “This got me reading spy fiction again.” This is indeed a great book that doesn’t center on the character in the movie trailer seducing everyone after going to sex/assassination school (though Dominika Egorova does to to that school). The book starts with a young CIA operative in Moscow (Nathaniel Nash) nearly getting caught as he goes out to meet a high level Russian double agent, then alternates telling the stories of Nash and Egorova as it brings each into the other’s orbit. The less said about the plot the better, but the characters are scary brilliant at every turn, and the situations they face will have your heart pounding.

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers. July, 2018. 9780062699220. 368pp.

Chambers is writing the most upbeat, character centered science fiction that I’ve read. Plot seems secondary to people in an absolutely brilliant way in the Wayfarer series, which started with The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. (You don’t need to have read it first, but there are some references to it in this one.)

This book revolves around life in the Exodan Fleet, the ships in which humanity left the Earth behind centuries ago as it set out for the stars. To members of a Galactic Federation, the Exodans’ way of life and level of technology are very backward, though to some their communal way of life is fascinating. The story is told from several points of view — young people who want to head planetside as soon as they’re able, a young man who grew up on the ground but has come to the fleet to try their way of life, an archivist in the fleet, a person who prepares bodies for recycling and handles funerary rites, and an alien who has come to study and report on Exodan society. The insects they eat sound delicious, and I’d go visit in a moment if this was a real place — not many books make me smile as often and unexpectedly as Chambers’ do.

The Crippler: Cage Fighting and My Life on the Edge by Chris Leben and Daniel J. Patinkin. Skyhorse, 2017. 9781510727731. 296pp.

I was a huge fan of Leben’s bloody slugfests in the UFC — he was tough and often seemed to keep fighting on pure heart. Reading about how tough his early life was and how he abused his body before and during his time as a pro fighter was a bit horrifying, but about halfway through the book I checked his Facebook page and saw photos of a smiling Leben in Hawaii with his family, and that pulled me through.
The only other MMA bio that I’ve read is strategist/fighter Georges St-Pierre’s The Way of the Fight, whose “this is how I became who I am” book stands in stark contrast to Leben’s “I can’t believe I made it through this” stories. Maybe the contrast means they should be read together?

You got peanut butter in my chocolate!

Here are two great graphic novels by pros at the top of their game.

Delilah Dirk and the Pillars of Hercules by Tony Cliff. First Second, 2018. 9781626728042. 247pp.

You ever read a graphic novel where suddenly a page or a panel is so awesome it just stops you cold? I love that moment. But it also makes me wonder: was the artist holding back on the other pages to achieve that effect?

Well Tony Cliff never holds back. Every page and panel of this graphic novel is beautiful, and feels like he poured all of his love for the time period and the characters into it.

The Delilah Dirk books center on the international adventurer and her faithful friend, Selim, in the early 1800s. This one is about the search for a lost city, with some bits about the price of fame and those who want to exploit history and archaeology for monetary gain. I know that’s a crappy pitch, but the less said about the plot the better. Start at the first one if you haven’t read any of Cliff’s books yet, so you can see how Delilah and Selim meet. I guarantee that the action scenes he draws will leave you breathless.

Come Again by Nate Powell. Top Shelf, 2018. 9781603094283. 272pp.

Powell has become well known for drawing the March trilogy, which is great, but he’s been putting out amazing work for years. This is his first indie graphic novel since winning the National Book Award. It’s about an affair gone wrong between folks who live in a nice little commune, and a little boy who goes missing. It’s mostly quiet, the layouts work as hard as the lettering, and Powell is a master of using black and white space with a minimal coloring palette. I know it’s not true but his lines make every page feel effortless. Read it to see a master comic creator at the top of his game.

Don’t Eat the Great Chuck Knit

The Great Puppy Invasion by Alastair Heim, illustrated by Kim Smith. Clarion Books, 2017. 9780544999176.

Hundreds of puppies invade the town of Strictville, which has a history of ridiculous rules. The adults think it’s a catastrophe and treat it like a horror movie. The large-eyed puppies just want to play. The entire joke depends on the cuteness of the puppies, and it totally succeeds.

Chuck and Woodchuck by Cece Bell. Candlewick Press, 2016. 9780763675240.

Caroline’s classmate Chuck brings Woodchuck to school for show and tell. He’s so funny the teacher invites him to come to school every day. And he’s super friendly to Caroline, helping her with whatever she needs, probably because Chuck likes her so much.

Bell’s graphic novel El Deafo is so good! Try that one, too, if you’ve never read it.

Cat Knit by Jacob Grant. Feiwel and Friends, 2016. 9781250051509.

Cat loves his new friend Yarn, but when Yarn changes (and becomes an itchy sweater knit by Girl), Cat isn’t sure he still likes Yarn.

Buy this for every knitter you know.

Don’t Eat That! by Drew Sheneman. Viking / Penguin Young Readers, 2018. 9781101997291.

A young girl scout out bird watching sees a brown bear about to eat a rock and screams at him. She decides to help him figure out what to eat to earn her Wildlife Buddy merit badge. But he can’t swim, has poor judgement, and even rabbits beat him up. Best moment: when he tries to chew on a tree with a very suspicious beaver.

Sheneman is a syndicated cartoonist with several picture books to his credit. This one is formatted like a comic book throughout, and the drawings are hilarious.