The City with a Thousand Names

The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks. First Second, 2016. 9781626721562. 240pp.

The Stone Heart by Faith Erin Hicks. First Second, 2017. 9781626721586. 256pp.

There’s a great city that’s called by different names by different peoples. The City has a thousand names but it doesn’t really have just one. It’s also got an impressive feature called The Hole in the Sky, a hole in a mountain through which the river joins the ocean, and which shows the power the original founders of the city, The Northern People, must have possessed.

The Dao are the city’s current rulers, having conquered it 30 years ago. Kaidu and other young Dao have just come to the nameless city from their homelands. They are surrounded on all sides by those who would like to conquer the city for themselves, so Kaidu and the others are being trained to fight. Kaidu’s father, General Andren, introduces himself to his son (they’ve never met) and takes him into the city, which he clearly loves.

Later, after a tough day of fighting lessons, Kaidu tries to return to the market he visited with his father. Lost, he asks for help from a young girl called Rat. She takes his knife and flees to the rooftops. A friendship slowly develops as Kaidu meets Rat for lessons in how to race across the rooftops of the city, despite their differences. After Rat overhears Dao soldiers planning to assassinate The (Dao) General of All Blades and his son (the soldiers want to return home instead of occupying the city), things get complicated. General Andren’s proposal to put a council of nations in place to oversee the city gains a bit of momentum, which leads to plot developments in the second book.

Hicks clearly put a lot of thought into the cultures and design of the city and its people, which shows in the story and the concept art in the back of each book. It’s amazing how each page showcases the setting without getting in the way of the characters. And I love the way she uses motion lines whether characters are running or fighting for their lives.

Full disclosure: My daughter and I are huge fan of Hicks’ graphic novels, especially Friends With Boys and Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong. (Dad’s note: my daughter could be a character in either book.)

We have found a witch! (A witch! a witch!)

The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag. Scholastic Graphix, 2017. 9781338089516. 214pp.

Aster’s family can use magic. Girls learn spells and potions and how to talk to trees, that kind of thing. Boys learn to shapeshift, and have the ability to see the demons they fight. Aster isn’t allowed to learn girls’ magic even though he feels drawn to it (and practices it in secret). Worse, his grandmother’s twin brother secretly learned girls magic, lost control, and had to be cast out because he was a danger to himself and the rest of the family. He prefers the girls’ company but can’t spend time with them during their lessons, and he’s a bit of an outsider where the boys are concerned, but he makes a friend outside of his family’s land, a normal girl named Charlotte who also hates the way boy and girl stuff is split up at her school.

Aster’s witchery gets stronger while his shapeshifting skills fail to develop. His parents don’t know what to do. There’s a big bad evil beyond the boundaries of the family’s land. Bad things happen, good things result. It’s really good. In less-skilled hands it could really come off as a thinly-veiled after school special about gender roles and sexual identity, but it reads like a good all-ages story full of magic. My advanced copy’s art was mostly black and white; the finished graphic novel will be color throughout, and based on the few pages that were colored in this, I can’t wait to read it again — it looks beautiful.

Riders! In Space!

Space Riders Volume 1 by Fabian Rangel Jr. and Alexis Ziritt. Black Mask, 2015. 9781628751093.  Collects Space Riders #1 – #4. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

“There’s nothing subtle about Space Riders, and that’s what makes it so great!…”  – John Arcude (BPRD, Rumble) from the back of the book

Amen.

If Benjamin Marra (Terror Assaulter, American Blood) and Jack Kirby had a baby that collaborated with Johnny Ryan on a space opera graphic novel, you might get this. Which means it’s full of cursing, violence, old school art and colors that seem to demand to be placed under black light. There’s a green woman in an armored bikini, a spaceship that looks like a skull, and more gunfire and laser blasts than is reasonable. Plus lots of classic Kirby Krackle. (But none of that Kirby Krackle though it’s also awesome)

You don’t need to know any specifics about the plot. If you are drawn to any of the above, you’ll love this.

Underground Comix

Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye Volume 1: Going Underground by Jon Rivera, Gerard Way, and Michael Avon Oeming. DC Comics / Young Animal, 2017. 9781401270827. Publisher’s Rating: Suggested for Mature Readers. Contains #1 – #6 of the comic series.

An amazing creative team resurrects a mostly forgotten DC Comics underground adventurer for this weird and somewhat hallucinatory title, part of Way’s new Young Animal imprint at DC.

Cave Carson’s wife has just died. (She had a secret origin, which plays into the story later.) His daughter is at school, and probably a bit screwed up by their past as a family of adventurers plus, you know, her mom’s death. Cave has an office job at the company where he stole the original Mighty Mole (imagine the Batmobile if it tunneled underground). Oh, and Cave has a robot eye that lets him see things. The company is training a team of young folks to go underground in the Mighty Mole Mk 2 and then… well, some kind of creature erupts from a Muldroogan warrior who has come to tell Cave of the danger to the underground city. Cave’s boss wants his daughter’s help, because he somehow knows her secret. Soon Cave, Chloe, and Cave’s friend, a hockey mask wearing hero called Wild Dog are on their way to the underground city in the once again stolen Mighty Mole, pursued by company agents in the Mk 2, ready to face creatures right out of Dune and Hellboy. It’s violent, kinda psychedelic, and really lighthearted, and Avon Oeming’s  art makes the whole story skip along like an old Hanna Barbara cartoon.

Glass Shark

If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams. Roaring Brook Press, 2017. 9781626724136.

It says something about the power of art and storytelling (and a lot about Lily Williams) that she can make a complex idea like a trophic cascade (the drastic changes in an ecosystem resulting from the disappearance of an apex predator) clear and compelling to a young audience. As she shows, even though sharks can seem scary, they are absolutely necessary to the health of the oceans. They keep their prey populations in balance which in turn keeps their food sources in balance, and so on and so on, which extends to populations on land as well. The book ends with steps ordinary people can take to protect sharks that are vulnerable to extinction, from buying sustainably caught fish to creating their own shark art.

The Sheer Joy of Colors

This Beautiful Day by Richard Jackson, illustrated by Suzy Lee. Caitlyn Dloughy / Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481441391.

Lee’s black and white and oh-so-blue Wave was so beautiful that, after finding it in a bookstore, I read it three times before I made it to the counter. This one also has a lot of that wonderfully blue water as three kids enjoy a rainy day. And then even more color explodes on the pages as more happy kids with umbrellas join them, the sky clears, and the gray goes away.

 

 

Little Red Riding Sheep by Linda Ravin Lodding, illustrated by Cale Atkinson. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481457484.

I can’t think of a folk tale where color is more important. Retellings don’t usually do much for me, but this one features a Heidschnucke sheep named Arnold who refuses to be in a traditional version tale and talks back to the writer/narrator, bringing more light into the forest, casting his friends in key roles, and finally just changes the story to altogether. My favorite picture is of his friend Einer, a muskrat, making his scary face.

Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney artist extraordinaire. Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville, illustrated by Brigette Barrager. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481461313.

After two colorful picture books, round things out with a bit of nonfiction about artist Mary Blair, who collected colors wherever she went. She was one of the first women to be hired by Walt Disney Studios, but the men there rejected her colors as too vivid and wild. After she left and became a successful illustrator on her own, Walt Disney himself invited her back to use her colors to design the It’s A Small World ride.

Femme Fatale

Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan. Candlewick Press, 2016. 9780763672331.

In Depression-era New York City, young Snow’s mother dies. Her heartbroken father marries a star from the Follies who promptly sends Snow to boarding school. When her father dies in suspicious circumstances, Snow returns. After discovering the majority of the estate will go to Snow, her stepmother becomes increasingly unhinged and Snow has to flee for her life.

This is less of a retelling of Snow White than a gorgeous remix of its ideas. The magic mirror is now a stock market ticker tape, the dwarves are a gang of homeless street kids, and the glass coffin is a beautiful department store window. The illustrations are gorgeous blacks, whites, and grays with a judicious use of color that really draws the eye, and each image has a wonderful sense of motion and character.