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.

You sank my battleshit!

The Song of Roland by Michel Rabagliati. BDANG, 2012. 9781894994613. 192pp.

Gene: Rabagliati is a Canadian cartoonist. This is part of a graphic novel series about a young man named Paul who grows up in Quebec and raises a family there. They are (I think) semi-autobiographical.
These books are beautiful because of Rabagliati’s cartooning and his style — his storytelling craft. And this (of the ones I’ve read so far) is the best of them, and it’s probably the most well known.
It begins in 1999, when Paul and his wife, Lucy, are on their way to see her parents and family. Her parents recently moved from Montreal to a place called Saint Nicholas, near Quebec City, where they used to have a summer cottage. And all of Lucy’s sisters are there, too. It’s a crazy, chaotic scene. Lucy’s dad calls his girls “rabbits” so his grandkids are all “little rabbits.”
Sarah: The art sort of reminds me of one of the cartoonists in Mad who drew in a really classic style. (I think I’m thinking of Dave Berg.)
G: It’s classically cartoony but somehow it’s way beyond that, too.
Continue reading “You sank my battleshit!”

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.

The Prisoner

Hostage by Guy Delisle. Drawn & Quarterly, 2017. 9781770462793. 436pp.

Sarah: This is the story of when Christophe André was kidnapped and held hostage in the Caucuses when he was working for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). I know from his other books that Guy Delisle’s wife worked for MSF, which is why he was in Burma and wrote the book about living there. So Delisle has links to that group.
Gene: Is she his wife or partner? Maybe the latter?
Sarah: We’ll fact check.
Gene: We probably won’t.
Sarah: Okay.
Gene: This is the story of André being kidnapped and then enduring captivity.
Sarah: They show where he was taken while in “a small Russian republic west of Chechnya.” It was so interesting that the kidnapping…I think I’ve been too affected by efficient TV kidnappings. His kidnappers were bumbling. André knew there was a huge amount of cash in the office safe. His kidnappers didn’t.
Gene: They pretended to be police. They were not after the money, apparently.
Sarah: Or they didn’t know about it. But then later they asked for money for his release. And maybe more than was in the safe? But they could have had both. André had the key to the safe in his pants.
Gene: Yeah but who would think a medical NGO would have a safe full of money?
S: They had it to pay everyone’s salaries in cash. And if that was the norm there, maybe people would know that?
G: The thing I liked was that it opens with him talking to Delisle, so you know he survived. So after they picked him up, he was imagining the worst things happening. They made him get out of a car in the middle of nowhere and he imagined being shot in the back of the head. But there was not a sense of terror because we knew that didn’t happen.
S: And the book is hugely long. So you know there’s more to the story. But yeah, they took him to someone’s apartment and handcuffed him to a radiator. All there was in the room was a thin mattress and a radiator. And the only time he was released from his handcuffs was when he needed to eat or go to the bathroom.
G: The story is so long and so repetitive that it gives a sense of what it was like for him to be stuck there. Turning the page sometimes, and between the panels, there’s an amazing sense of time. It doesn’t feel like Delisle digitally copied panels, it feels like he drew each panel, even though many of them are so similar in the captivity sequences, over and over and over again. So I felt the effort.
I think it’s important to say when pitching this book, you have to set aside an hour or an hour and a half to read it all at once to get a sense of the story’s time.
S: Yeah.
G: I think it wouldn’t have worked as a prose book because you would have put it down and left it and then come back to it over and over again, as one does. But I didn’t. I read straight through.
S: Me, too.
G: Didn’t it feel compulsive? Like you had to?
S: Yes! Each day he hoped it would be the day he got released. And he honestly had this hope all the time. And when he started to lose heart, when he felt like everyone had forgotten about him, it brought me back to the Tehran hostages. There were people in the US who were saying, we need them to know they haven’t been forgotten. And I realized that was a real thing.
G: I love the light and darkness in panels. I love everything about the design. Andre’s internal dialogue just kind of floats on the panels, and the spoken dialogue, the word balloons, they don’t have borders. It all deadens the color palette, so that nothing is distinct or set apart. And as the nights get darker and the room does, there are slightly darker shades of blue and the grey. Delisle really plays with them. It looks so simple but it’s masterful.
S: There are numbers at the beginning of the sections that tell how long he’s been held, but he couldn’t always remember what day it was, though it was really important to him to hang on to that.
G: There were really tense moment where — I don’t remember how long he was held captive — weird things happened that broke up his captivity. Someone’s wife came in to sweep up his room.
S: He saw her one other time, too.
G: Another time the door was left open, and there was a kid in the hallway looking at him.
S: That was so hard for me to read. It wasn’t just that André was humiliated, chained to a radiator like a dog while this little kid just stared at him, but to me that this little kid was in a situation where it wasn’t weird that there was a hostage in the house. He didn’t go oh my god I need to call the police! It’s like, oh yeah, okay.
G: That’s not a good neighborhood to live in.
S: No!
G: For me the most harrowing moment was when he figured out the door was unlocked, and then tried to decide what to do. That was absolutely scary. He’d been trying to find a way to escape but suddenly, after becoming so real, his terror at the thought of being caught trying to escape and what his captors might do to him after that —
S: I felt so much of this. And every day he was drinking thin vegetable soup and tea, and that’s all they give him, and you could see his pants getting looser and looser. It wasn’t until much later that he realized they were falling down and he’d lost weight. But Delisle shows it.
This book terrified me. It was really well done.
G: It’s so unlike anything by Delisle that I’ve read. I fell in love with his books about living in foreign places — Pyongyang, Shenzhen, Jerusalem, and Burma. Did you ever see the strange little books he did for D&Q, the first of his that were published in English? Albert and the Others, Aline and the Others — so wacky, so strange.
S: I liked the ones about bad parenting!
G: Those are funny. But he did these wordless little books in French about a little boy named Louis that are amazing, too. (Louis Au Ski, Louis À La Plage) They’re in that beautifully big French graphic album format. It’s good to see Delisle can escape being pigeonholed as an author. He’s much more than the guy who wrote about living in foreign countries
S: I really want to give this book to adult book clubs.
G: Right. It belongs right up there with Safe Area Gorazde and The Photographer. And it reminds me a little of Alan’s War by Guibert, about an American soldier in World War II whose service was pretty boring.

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.

∞ – 7

Seven To Eternity Volume 1: The God of Whispers by Rick Remender, Jerome Opeña, and Matt Hollingsworth. Image Comics, 2017. 9781534300613. Publisher’s Rating: T / Teen. Contains Seven To Eternity #1 – #4.

I read a few issues of this back when it started coming out, and I thought it was going to be better to read the collections. I was totally right. There’s so much going on in each issue, and the lack of explanation is wonderful. But it was impossible to keep it in my head from month to month as I waited for the next installment.

First, if I had to classify this, I’d say it’s a fantasy title. There’s lots of magic and enough different types of folks that it will immediately remind you of that D&D campaign you used to run. But it’s not quite high fantasy — there are also guns and an order of warriors that have super powers.

Adam Osidis’ father Zeb was once a powerful Mosak warrior. When one of his order, Garils Sulm, used his power to become The God of Whispers, Zeb refused to bow to him to to hear his offer and took his family into the wilderness. They are seen as traitors. (The God of Whispers grants your deepest wish, and in return you become his — he can see through your eyes and hear through your ears, and he can also control you. A huge portion of the population has accepted his offer.)

At the beginning of the book, the Osidis family is attacked by The God of Whispers warriors, including the creepiest flute player I’ve ever seen. Adam is ordered to go and hear The God of Whispers’ offer or his family will suffer. He is considering bending the knee and accepting to help himself and his family when the palace is attacked by remaining Mosak warriors. Adam is left with a choice — to help them in their quest to sunder The God of Whispers from those he controls, or to get what he wants most. Will he betray his fathers’ ideals or not?

I was a huge fan of the first Marvel Weird World comic (Marvel Premier #38), which I bought when I was 6 or 7, because the whole setting was just so unexpected. This world has as much appeal even though it doesn’t have a young female elf in a spiderweb bikini.