Always Be Prepared

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence. First Second, 2017. 9781626722804. 185pp.

When Mabel (a blue alien, at least to us) tries to teleport a harmless alien (to her, it’s all relative) to her family’s spaceship as part of her homework, she accidentally gets Avani, a young girl who doesn’t enjoy being a part of Flower Scouts. Avani’s parents are hoping the group helps her make new friends — they just moved. But Avani is into things most of the other girls aren’t: rodeos, punk, and hip hop. But I digress.

Onboard the spaceship, with the help of a translating comm badge, Mabel and Avani hit it off. Mabel is a Junior Star Scout trying hard (and probably failing spectacularly) to finish up some awesome badges: piloting, jetpacks, lasers, collecting, xenoscatalogy. That all sounds awesome to Avani. She joins the troop and starts having secret off-planet adventures. She really wants to go to Camp Andromeda with the rest of the troop, but she needs her parents’ permission to go. Spoiler: she finds a way around this. I can’t wait for some parent to object to this book in their kid’s library because the main character lies to her parents. At Camp a rivalry develops between her group and a troop of toot breathers (aka methane breathers) that drives the second half of the book. Avani’s love of rodeo comes into play at the end.

It’s amazingly colorful and action packed, and there’s a sense of low-stakes, not quite life-or-death adventure that I think a lot of younger kids will love without getting too freaked out. This awesome graphic novel should be in every school and public library.

Cricket Bat Girl

Motor Crush Volume 1 by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr. Image, 2017. 9781534301894. Publisher’s Rating: Teen Plus / T+. Contains Motor Crush #1 – #5.

Short pitch: Slick, colorful, LGBTQ-friendly futuristic motorcycle racing story by the creative team behind the best Batgirl series ever.

Motorcycle racer Domino Swift has a big World Grand Prix race coming up. She’s being hounded for interviews by a floating robot/camera that looks like a cat. Competitors who want an extra edge put an illegal chemical called Crush in their tanks to make their bikes go faster. If they’re caught they’re thrown out of the league. Domino secretly competes in violent illegal street races to win a supply of Crush. (Her weapon of choice: a nail-studded cricket bat.) But Domino doesn’t need the Crush for her bike, she needs it for her inhaler.

After her stash of Crush goes missing, Domino tries to steal what she needs, leading to a spectacular chase (one of many). Her bike is wrecked, so she turns to her pink-haired former girlfriend and ace mechanic, Lola. Lola has problems, though — when she left racing, she took out a loan that she can’t pay back, and now she’s in trouble with all the wrong people. To make everything right Domino bets the only thing she has on her next race: herself.

“Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.”

Brave by Svetlana Chmakova. Yen Press, 2017. 9780316363174. 248pp. Publisher’s Rating: A All Ages.

I’ve been a fan of Chmakova’s comics since reading Dramacon, a series about a young comics creator which I highly recommend. This is a sequel of sorts to (or at least a book set in the same universe as) Awkard, set at the same school. Some of the characters from that book may be in this one, too. (Hard for me to remember. I’m getting old.)

Jensen wants to become an astronaut and save the world, which is good because he’s on the lookout for danger everywhere. He seems most obsessed with sunspots and the coming zombie apocalypse, though he admits Berrybrook Middle School is also dangerous. He has friends in Art Club, he’s being bullied by two boys, and he’s desperate to impress the kids who run the school newspapers so they’ll publish his article on sunspots. Except… well, if you asked Jensen, he wouldn’t say he’s being bullied. His Art Club friends don’t treat him very well. When he does get to help out at the newspaper, he’s assigned busywork. The one bright spot seems to be Jorge, a jock in Jensen’s English class who volunteers to work on a presentation with him (and sticks up for him a bit).

It’s a bit sad and wonderful and not too after school special-ly. Jensen starts to see that the way he’s being treated isn’t right, stands up for himself, and looks for friends and a place to belong. He’s a good dude. A lot of the kids who’ve been a little nasty to him are good kids, too. (Not the bullies, not really, but you may have some sympathy for one of them by the end of the story.)

Chmakova’s manga-inspired art and storytelling has always wowed me. She uses the best aspects of manga storytelling to bring her characters to life, using their expressions to give them a rich emotional life. Both Awkward and Brave are subtly but beautifully colored, too. If you put them in front of upper elementary and middle school readers they’ll jump off your shelves.

Enter The Hound

Animosity Volume 1: The Wake. Marguerite Bennett, Rafael De Latorre. Aftershock Comics, 2017. 9781935002895. 120pp Contains Animosity #1 – #4.

One day all of the animals woke up and started talking. They were not happy with us.

Cue an entertaining, multi-page comics montage of animals that have just started speaking including: a cat threatening a man who beats his wife, irritated sloths, a cow in a slaughterhouse trying to talk a man out of killing it, pandas offing each other as they scream “Why did you keep us alive for so long?” and a hound dog, Sandor, confessing his love for Jesse, the little girl that chose him, the unwanted runt of his litter.

It’s kind of like a zombie apocalypse. As pissed off animals start taking out the humans, a few loyal and much loved pets try to keep their humans safe. Sandor calls these the Angry Hungry Days.

Cut to a year later. Jesse’s family is gone. (There’s a lingering mystery as to what happened to them and whether or not Sandor had a hand paw in it.) Sandor is trying to get Jesse from New York to California, to reunite her with her brother. To start that journey he needs to use his hound dog’s nose to do a favor for the Animilitary, who have a fort on the other side of the Hudson River. It is the beginning of an eventful and violent journey across what is left of the U.S.

Thanks to my buddy Ryan for recommending this one to me.

Join The Comic Book Liberation Army

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.

No Teddy Bears’ Picnic

The Woods, vol. 1: The Arrow by James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas. Boom Studios, 2014. 978161398308.

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.

8-Bit Nostalgia

Impossible Fortress: A Novel by Jason Rekulak. Simon & Schuster, 2017. 9781501144417.

Sarah: So do you find yourself wondering if a book is intended to be an adult or teen book and then judging it differently?
Gene: Yeah.
S: I think I would have been harsher to this book if it had been a teen book.
G: Isn’t it a teen book?
S: It is not a teen book.
G: I read it like it was a teen book.
S: I read it as an adult book, so I was a little bit more forgiving of the fact that it meandered.
G: But it’s clearly a teen novel. It just relies so heavily on nostalgia that you can’t put it on the teen shelf. It’s much more for us.
Continue reading “8-Bit Nostalgia”