Robopony

One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale. Amulet Books, 2017. 9781419721281.

I’m trying to read more ebooks, especially review copies. I’m out of space. To keep a book I need to get rid of one (or more if it’s thick). And that’s not counting the piles and boxes and books I have hidden in corners.

But when I see physical advanced reader copies of graphic novels at library conferences, I always pick them up. Hale’s new one is a perfect example of why. The finished book is going to be two color throughout, a combination of yellows and black ink washes. (There’s a page of finished art in the front of the book as an example.) Most of the rest of the ARC is finished line art for the book. I know it might not be as popular with young readers, but it makes Hale’s excellent line art, and in particular his old school textures, stand out. The real treat though are the incredibly loose sketch pages. Hale’s primitive, unfinished drawings border on scribbles, yet they show faces, emotions, and posture. Despite how unfinished they are, they’re genius. And together with the other parts of the book they really show the stages of putting a graphic novel together. Grab an ARC from your librarian friend who went to ALA Midwinter in Atlanta.

And just so I’m not remiss, the story is pretty cool, too. In a dystopian future, weird aliens hunt for the world’s technology and metal. When the find it they blow “bubbles” around it that carry off the resources and turn any humans in the way to dust. There’s a caravan of motorized vehicles whose human inhabitants stay on the move, avoiding zones full of aliens as they hunt for technology and information to preserve. But after three young people from the caravan discover a huge cache of hidden robots, including the robotic horse on the cover, the aliens swarm, the teens are separated from their people, and the horse (and a feral human they meet along the way) may be their only hope of staying ahead of the alien horde.

If Hale’s name is familiar to you, you’ve probably read some of his history comics or, like me, you loved Rapunzel’s Revenge.

I Want A Fish Purse

I Don’t Know What To Call My Cat by Simon Philip, illustrated by Ella Bailey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 9780544971431.

A grey cat shows up on a little girl’s doorstep. She’s thrilled when it decides to stay, but she can’t decide what to call it! Kitty isn’t specific enough, and Princess High-and-Mighty doesn’t fit after the cat rejects being dressed in a ballgown. Then it disappears and the little girl is left to play with her rambunctious replacement pet, a gorilla, until it reappears with a surprising new identity.

The illustrations are cute, bright, and full of eye-catching detail: the little girl’s room is crammed with cat-themed everything, the grey cat shows up at her door wearing a red scarf and carrying a fish-shaped purse and tiny violin case, and the vet discovers that the cat is a boy when he checks that box on a survey clipboard. Kids in cat-owning families will laugh at the girl’s attempts at loud and physical play with her new pet. This is worth reading again and again.

Rumble Cube

    
Rumble Volume 1: What Color of Darkness. John Arcudi, James Harren, Dave Stewart. Image, 2015.  9781632153838. Collects Rumble #1 – #5.  144pp.
Rumble Volume 2: A Woe That Is Madness. John Arcudi, James Harren, Dave Stewart. Image, 2016.  9781632156044. Collects Rumble #6 – #10.  160pp.
Rumble Volume 3: Immortal Coil. John Arcudi, James Harren, Dave Stewart.  Image, 2017.  9781632159281. Collects Rumble #11 – #15. 160pp. 
The BPRD books John Arcudi co-wrote with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola are some of my favorite rereads. This graphic novel series that he co-created with James Harren also has amazing monsters, supernatural heroes, a sense of humor, and a lot of heart.
In an unnamed (I think) American city near both a swamp and a failed Paul Bunyan theme park, an old man leaves his favorite bar after a night of drinking. He’s attacked by a sword-wielding scarecrow that cuts his arm off. The scarecrow is inhabited by the spirit of “some kind of monster-killing god” from thousands of years ago (Rathraq) and recently set free. He wants vengeance because the old guy is the wizard who separated his spirit from his immortal body. He also wants that body back (it’s just risen from the swamp and looks like some kind of bog mummy) along with his heart, which powers it. But of course the monsters that he once protected mankind from, the Esu, the ones he used to cut up with his mighty sword, are still hanging about and they don’t want that. Their queen hides his heart and threatens to destroy his immortal body. Battles ensue. 
On Rathraq’s side: Bobby the bartender, tough in a pinch but reluctant to kill; his friend Del, a potty mouth who wants to fight alongside Rathraq; and Apache, a dog Rathraq likes to talk to about his dead war hound, Slanjau.  Against them: a “man” with a pet hydra that he loves, a fire demon, and a hoard of creatures. And somewhere in between: half human / half Esu hybrids that need a little love and a lot of pizza. (They look like octopi made out of melting scoops of creamsicle ice cream.)

Legendary Friendship

Mac & Cheese by James Proimos. Henry Holt and Company, 2016. 9780805091564.

A macaroni noodle in a tie and glasses and a cube of cheese in an ear-flap hat are best friends despite their differences. They have three adventures together: they discuss tricky questions, have a disagreement about the artistic depiction of oranges, and go for a walk under the stars. Along the way they run into other pairs of friends: PB and Jay, Salt and Salt, and Oil and Water (who argue a lot).

This is a tremendously silly and sweet tribute to those classics on kid friendship like Frog and Toad Are Friends and George and Martha. (In fact the book is dedicated to authors Arnold Lobel and James Marshall.) Mac and Cheese sport delightful goofy expressions and stick arms. Their adventures have a lot of kid-appeal, even if kids don’t get the nods to earlier writers: Proimos has a knack for that well-structured and deceptively simple storytelling that made Lobel and Marshall legends.

Sometimes A Fantasy Is All You Need

Fantasy Sports No. 1 by Sam Bosma. Nobrow, 2015. 9781907704802. 56pp.

Fantasy Sports No. 2: The Bandit of Barbel Bay by Sam Bosma. Nobrow, 2016. 9781910620106. 56pp.

In short: large format, sports-themed, supernatural, all-ages graphic novels that show a heavy manga influence, and which belong in middle schools, some high schools, and all public libraries.

In No. 1, Wiz, an intern with The United and Ancient Order of Mages who wants a reassignment, as does her partner, the gigantic and muscular Mug. Mug says she’s not built for treasure hunting and complains that Mug knows nothing about magic and just breaks things. The archmage sends them out to work together again and to prove themselves by acquiring magical artifacts. First up, after solving a temple’s puzzle, they face the mummy of He of the Giant Steps in his tomb.The contest he chooses: basketball.

In No 2, after a baseball flashback showing how powerful Wiz is, her spell lands her and Mug on an island ruined by the Order of Mages (they rained down fire and took the treasure). The pair are robbed, but have a chance to reclaim their treasure (and more!) by winning Yahm’s Tournament, where they must ultimately face the town’s supernatural, completely synchronized champions at two on two beach volleyball.

These books are great. They’re oversized hardcovers that are great to hold. Bosma’s art reminds me of Osamu Tezuka’s best. And the violence is both cartoony and slightly over-the-top — in the first volume Mug rips an adversary in half, but in a way that’s kid friendly. (Now that I’ve said that will you ever trust me again?) In the second there’s a more cartoonily explosive over-the-net block that levels the beach.

Late note: I just read an advanced copy of Fantasy Sports No. 3: The Green King, which comes out in July 2017. Wiz must win a crazy round of putt putt golf to save Mug and avoid getting eaten, plus there’s a great flashback to a pro wrestling match Mug saw as a kid and even more evidence that The United and Ancient Order of Mages is up to no good. Best volume yet, but read the other two first.

Before I Leave for Laundry Day

I moderated a panel on diversity at Seattle’s Emerald City Comic Con last month (my strategy: stay quiet and out of the way), and I wanted to check out the work of the writers and artists on the panel, so I put these on hold at my local library.

Before I Leave by Jessixa Bagley. 9781626720404. Roaring Brook Press, 2016.

This is a sad little book (with an uplifting ending, don’t worry) about Zelda, a hedgehog whose family is moving, and who is going to miss her best friend, an aardvark named Aaron. There are great moments, like when Aaron tries to fit himself in Zelda’s suitcase, and when he’s sticking his tongue waaaaaaaay out at Zelda for the last time. The drawings have a very hand-done quality and have both amazing textures and expressive characters — the latter is especially good because there are so few words. My favorite thing about the book is the way the characters’ names have to be discovered in the pictures — they’re never mentioned in the text.

Laundry Day by Jessixa Bagley. 9781626723177. Roaring Brook Press, 2017.

This book features Tic and Tac, bored badger siblings whose mother gets them to help hanging up laundry. When she leaves them to finish the chore, they have a great time — so good, in fact, that they don’t want to stop hanging things on the clothesline when they run out of freshly washed clothes. (Spoiler: they pretty much empty the house.)

The drawings in this book have the same hand-colored feel, but they look more crisp. Possibly because the black lines here were inked while in the other book they were penciled? That’s my best guess. They’re just as brilliant, and I think a comparison of the two books would give young artists something to think about.

Neither On the American Continent nor States: Discuss

The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches From the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA by Doug Mack. W.W. Norton & Company, 2017. 9780393247602.

While sorting laundry quarters to see which should go in his wife’s state quarters collection, Mack noticed an extra five off to the side for the US territories: the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico. He realized he knew almost nothing about these parts of the US, despite being both a travel writer and having a degree in American studies. He set out to visit them. He imagined white picket fences, baseball, and banana trees: a tropical all-America. Instead, he found the world’s largest K-Mart, a park filled with erotic statues, a machine-gun shooting range for Japanese tourists, and huge tropical national parks.

Mack is a great guide — he’s funny, well-informed, curious, and has enough Minnesotan friendliness that he ends up being taken in and shown around by people he’s just met. His firsthand observations are interspersed with history and politics. These places became part of America during its “Imperial Moment,” an odd span of time when the US had aspirations to become an empire. There were a series of Supreme Court cases that established that the Constitution does not necessarily follow the flag. There are strange side-effects of not living within a state, like not having votes in the Electoral College (assuming the locals are allowed to vote in US elections, which in Samoa they aren’t). The details of their truly bizarre legal and political landscapes are jaw-dropping: not just the shockingly un-American laws (early Naval governors of Guam forbade speaking the native Chamorro language in public), but the laundry list of ways the territories are treated poorly or just plain forgotten that causes high rates of poverty and crime, and provides little to address these problems. I hope this book starts discussions about how we treat these parts of our country.

I kept telling people about things I learned as I was reading: the territories have the higher rates of joining the armed services than any state, the US Virgin Islands has the highest murder rate in the US, American Samoa prohibits non-Samoans from owning land (thus there are no resort hotels) while Guam allows non-Guamanians to lease land for 50 years, and the shade of blue on the Puerto Rican flag you fly indicates how you feel about independence vs statehood (a topic at every gathering). The story of how the US “colonized” one of the Mariana Islands by having Hawaiian high school boys stay there, fishing and gathering food, in shifts for four months at a time is unforgettable.  This book reminded me of the wonderful, engaging histories by Sarah Vowell. I hope Mack will be just as prolific.