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.
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Spies Like Thus

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9780553535204. 304pp.

(Note from Gene: I’ve known Kelly since back when she was a children’s librarian back in the early 2000s, I meet her to write a few times a month, and I loved her first book.)

Gene: So your book, your fantastic book. Give me your pitch for it.
Kelly: It’s about a girl, Annis, whose father is murdered and instead of becoming a governess she’d much rather become a spy. Unfortunately the War Office doesn’t see eye to eye with her.
G: Don’t you have to pitch it as a Regency first though?
K: I don’t, actually. I typically don’t. When I’m talking to elementary school kids about what I’m writing next, I say this happened 200 years ago and then I give that pitch. This one kid was like It’s exactly like Maximum Ride!  And I was like, um
G: I haven’t read that. But what about the Alex Rider series. This is if Alex Rider wore a dress and he could sew.
K: Yes. That is exactly not what it is like.
G: No.
K: It’s a Regency but it’s not a romance.
G: She doesn’t find for a while that her dad is murdered. She’s kind of cast out of her life because she and her aunt suddenly don’t have any money — all of her dad’s money goes missing. And she goes to the War Office in a very haughty moment, after she knows she has magical talent, and tries to convince them to hire her as a spy. She goes about it in completely the wrong way.
K: I think that is basically her approach to pretty much everything for most of the book, if not the entire book. She has her idea of how things should be done and nobody else ever agrees with her.
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Teenage Rebellion Is Fun

Joyride Volume 1: Ignition by Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly, Marcus To, Irma Kniivila. BOOM! 2016. 9781608869510. 112pp. Contains Joyride #1 – #4

In the future, Earth is ruled by a controlling Triumvirate that speaks of the evil that “lurks in the darkness of space.” They’ve built a shell around the planet to keep humans safe (or is it just to keep them under control)?

Uma and Dewydd have a daring escape plan. During their flight across the dark side of the moon to hitch a ride with a passing alien, a young soldier (Catrin) tries to stop them, but gets pulled into the alien starship as well. (Minor spoilers ahead). The villainous alien plans to make them slaves, but that doesn’t work out for him, and by the end of the first chapter the teens have their own spaceship and the freedom to head for the stars. Their only problems: Uma is a little crazy, Dewydd and Catrin both have secrets, and the Triumvirate sends its best soldiers (including Dewydd’s brother) after them.

Marcus To’s art is always upbeat, and here it seems to feed on the joy of teen rebellion. It reminds me of Mark Waid’s run on Legion of the Super Heroes, and that it’s time to dig up the issues of Joe Casey’s uncollected teenage superhero masterpiece The Intimates from my longboxes.

Fly Daddy Fly

My Dad’s A Birdman by David Almond, Illustrated by Polly Dunbar. Candlewick, 2008. 9780763636678. 128pp.

Gene: Before I moved last year I hadn’t seen this book for a long time, and I hadn’t really thought about it, but as I was looking at my shelf I realized this is the book from my daughter’s childhood that means the most to me. It’s one of the first chapter books we read together. It’s illustrated. And it’s all about a little girl coming to understand her very weird dad.
Sarah: (laughs)
Gene: It’s My Dad’s A Birdman by David Almond, illustrated by Polly Dunbar.
S: On the title page he’s eating a worm!
G: Lizzy’s the little girl. Her dad is kind of sad and unkempt.
S: Sad bathrobe dad!
G: She kind of takes care of him. There’s a guy named Mr. Poop who is taking entries for The Great Human Bird Competition, a contest to see who can be the first to fly across the River Tyne and win thousands of pounds. Mr. Poop comes around and calls for entries with a bullhorn, as one does. And Lizzy’s dad enters. He plans on wearing the wingsuit he’s made.
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Nerdy and Dirty

The Nerdy and the Dirty by B. T. Gottfred. Henry Holt, 2016. 9781627798501. 304pp.

Sarah: So Pen is a girl who thinks she’s a freak because she thinks about sex. She thinks she’s the only girl in her high school who masturbates.
Gene: Which she does all the time.
S: All the time. She thinks. It’s not interfering with her life. Her family is Catholic, and have some very strong feelings about sexuality, and her mom is kind of crazy in a way that she’s not totally functioning…
Pen can’t let anyone know the kinds of things that go on in her head. Not just sex things but her thoughts, her opinions, she can’t tell anyone what’s in her head because then people wouldn’t want to be around her any more. And she’s relatively popular, she has a cute boyfriend with stubble (that’s very important to her), wears a leather jacket, and she just speaks in single syllables.
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Pascal Girard’s First Graphic Novel

nicolas by pascal girard. Translated by Helge Dascher. Drawn & Quarterly, 2016. 9781770462625.

French-Canadian Gigard (Petty Theft, Bigfoot) is an amazing cartoonist, but I’d never seen this, his first graphic novel. According to the introduction, it was drawn in a three day period in 2006, and inspired by Jeffrey Brown’s AEIOU. (This edition includes a new, follow-up story.)

I love how raw the story is, both emotionally and in terms of how quickly it was drawn. The original tells the story of Nicolas, Girard’s younger brother, who died when he was a boy. It’s a simple series of moments that don’t usually last more than a page or two. They alternate between Girard playing with his brother (Ghostbusters!) and Girard after his death. The latter show how strange it is to be a kid in that situation as adults awkwardly try to offer comfort and parents burst into tears at Christmas. Then the book explores how Nicolas remains a presence in Girard’s life up to and including now, with a focus (especially in the new part) on how it affects his relationship with his younger brother, Joël.

It’s a tough read, but the way it’s told in vignettes makes it easier than Tom Hart’s amazing graphic memoir about the death of his daughter, Rosalie Lightning (though that book had moments of joy, too). And it’s a great way to see how Girard’s style has developed over the last 10 years — his drawings go back and forth between very realistic and a kind of comics impressionism in which lines never quite meet.


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.