Author: Andrew Wheeler

Andrew Wheeler spent 16 years as a book club editor, most notably for the Science Fiction Book Club, and has been a judge for the 2005 World Fantasy Awards and the 2009 Eisner Awards. He is now Marketing Manager for John Wiley & Sons.
Back to Basics, Vol. 3: The Great World by Jean-Yves Ferri and Manu Larcenet
0

Back to Basics, Vol. 3: The Great World by Jean-Yves Ferri and Manu Larcenet

I like to think I’m flexible and adaptable – that I can figure out new things, incorporate them into my thinking, and move forward without a hitch. I’m probably wrong, though. We’re never the people we want to be or think we are.

Over the past few months, I’ve been reading more French comics by writer/artist teams – previously I’d mostly either read massive assemblages like Donjon  (which list in detail what each person does, since there are a lot of them) or single-creator works. And it’s taken me a surprisingly long time to internalize that the standard French (maybe Euro in general) credit sequence is artist-writer, the opposite of the US standard. (Colorists, on both continents, are named lower and lesser. Letterers and other folks, where they’re separate jobs, are even more variable.)

Which is to say, when the second volume of the Back to Basics series had a series of jokes based on the opposite of the actual credits of the book, I shrugged – either going along with the joke or mixed-up enough to think it was plausible – and presented it straight. (Or maybe I’m mixed up now. But I don’t think so.)

Anyway, this is a light-hearted bande dessinee series, written by Manu Larcenet – should I mention that all comics creators in the book have slightly altered, “funny” versions of their names? – and drawn by Jean-Yves Ferri, all about Larcenet’s move from Paris to the rural enclave of Ravenelles and his subsequent life there with his partner Mariette and the various colorful rural folk already living there. See my posts on the first and second books.

That brings us up to Back to Basics, Vol. 3: The Great World , in which the first Back to Basics book is finalized and published, in which Larcenet (or should I say “Larssinet;” see above) goes to a major comics show and wins “the Golden Eraser,” and in which Mariette is pregnant with their first child. (The baby is born right at the end, of course – Larcenet knows how to structure a book.)

As before, it’s all told in half-page comics, mostly six-panel grids, which tend to cluster to tell sequences. As I’ve said in the previous posts, it’s a lot like a daily comic in its rhythms and style of humor; as far as I know they weren’t serialized anywhere but they easily could have been.

This is amusing and fun, even if I seem to mostly write about which one of them does what job on the book. (That’s a silly side issue, but when you write about light humor, you grab onto anything specific and quirky to make it your shtick. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad summation of how Back to Basics works in the first place.)

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Ghost Tree by Bobby Curnow and Simon Gane
0

Ghost Tree by Bobby Curnow and Simon Gane

Brandt made a promise to his grandfather, when he was just a kid: come back to visit, ten years after “Oiji-Chan” dies, under a particular tree.

When you’re a kid, you agree to a lot of things like that. Adults say that something is really important, and you say “OK.” Maybe it is important, maybe you actually remember it decades later – maybe a lot of maybes.

Brandt did remember. Probably because it was a good excuse to run away; his marriage with Alice is crumbling, now that he’s in his early thirties, and the anniversary of his grandfather’s death is as good a reason as any to head back to the rural Japanese landscape where he grew up.

Ghost Tree  is about what he finds there. As the title implies, it’s not just a tree – this is a book in which there are real ghosts, and some people can talk to them and interact with them. Brandt’s grandfather is one, but there are a lot more – that tree is a place where they gather, and ghosts, as we all know, are unquiet spirits who have something left unfinished.

Brandt isn’t fazed by the supernatural; maybe he’d suspected, or maybe this is just the kind of thing he always was hoping would erupt into his life. He’s happy to talk to his grandfather, happy to talk to various ghosts and try to help them work out their problems.

But his grandfather isn’t sure, now, if this was a good idea. He now thinks he wasted his own life with ghosts – neglected his wife, Brandt’s grandmother, who is still there in their old house, now quietly taking Brandt to task for the same flaws her late husband had – and he’s worried that Brandt will do exactly the same thing, will give up the world of the living for the simpler world of the dead.

Brandt has other things drawing him to that world: not just his breaking marriage behind him, but the ghost of Arami, his teenage girlfriend, the one who got away, who died not long after he left her and Japan so many years ago. The past is always tempting, especially when it hasn’t changed. Even when it’s a ghost you can’t touch.

There are other elements of this collection of ghosts, other issues and problems and creatures. But that’s the core of it: the question of how much energy and time to give to the past and the dead, and how much to give to the living and the future.

Brandt has to make that decision, in the end. Arami has to make a different kind of decision, because this is a cosmology where ghosts aren’t trapped, aren’t lesser or echoes – just people, later on, in a different way.

Bobby Curnow and Simon Gane (words and art, respectively – colors are by Ian Herring with Becka Kinzie and letters by Chris Mowry) tell this story well, in a mostly quiet mode. Gane gives the world a lushness and depth, and Herrings’s mostly subtle colors add to that depth. Curnow’s dialogue is real and his people realistic, and he doesn’t turn any of his endings facile or obvious. There are a number of excellent moments near the end, in particular: a panel that pays off the “usually one a generation” talk earlier, and a stronger ending to the Brandt-Alice story than I expected.

This is a fine graphic novel: as it says, about “love, loss, and how the past never truly stays dead.”

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Unshelved: Library Mascot Cage Match by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum
0

Unshelved: Library Mascot Cage Match by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum

Some comic strips are vastly more likely to be posted in specific places than others. Even decades later, Far Sides cling proudly to doors in various STEM-related departments in universities throughout the nation. Dilbert – probably mostly older ones, if we’re honest – lives on fabric-covered cube walls, most often in a position where the worker can see it and passing supervisors can not.

And Unshelved is going to be posted in the sorting rooms and other “backstage” spaces of a library – I’m pretty sure of it. The strip itself ended a few years back after running for roughly the first fifteen years of this century, but that’s no impediment: I expect a lot of them were printed out and taped up in the early days, and are still making new appearances, here and there.

I am not a librarian, and my days of regularly dealing with the wild consumer were decades ago. (I was a cashier, and then a supervisor of cashiers, for a Bradlees store starting my senior year of high school. I’m never going back, but I’m glad I had that experience, and it made me think everyone should work a year or two in retail or foodservice, at least once in their lives.) But I like librarians, and I think I have enough library-adjacent experience (library patron, editor, book blogger, book-award judge, retail drone) to comment meaningfully.

And, hey, it’s a comic strip that’s pretty funny. That was an inducement, too. (I did read the first collection some years ago – this is probably the second, or maybe third, but it doesn’t make that clear anywhere.)

So I got Library Mascot Death Match , a random Unshelved book that’s the only one available in my library system. (Proof once again that librarians are the opposite of self-indulgent.) It was published in 2005, so it depicts a library that is somewhat technologically out of date – more so, I mean, even than a library today would be, since local taxpayers are not well-known for showering money on libraries to continually upgrade to the shiniest of new tech. But I think the people and concerns and issues are probably still pretty similar, though I wonder if streaming has blown a hole in libraries’ role in loaning out various video formats.

The main character is a young slacker named Dewey; given the time-frame, I suspect he was originally meant to be part of my generation, but he may read as a Millennial these days. (there’s always a new “those slacker kids,” and there always will be). As with any workplace comedy, there is a fair-sized cast around him, and my one complaint about this book is that they are not introduced well – a comic with a big cast needs a page (web or text) to say who the people are and what their deal is.

Dewey and his co-workers deal with the public, argue about their coffee orders and other workplace food issues, and spat with teachers about whose job it is to keep kids occupied at different times of year. There’s also a long comics-page-format story in the middle, in which a massively overfunded bookmobile (I think it’s supposed to be a metaphor for Amazon, but it comes across as “some other level of government has a lot more funding than we do,” which is weird) has to be defeated to save their local library.

It’s all a little bit quaint (2005, remember) and a little bit specific (library) but more than a little bit funny. You do not need to be a librarian to find Unshelved funny; I will attest to that. And it’s still being re-run online , so you can read it in the wild, as it was meant to be read, without finding this book or spending any money whatsoever.

And that’s very appropriate for a strip about a library, isn’t it?

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

The Grande Odalisque by Vives, Ruppert + Mulot
0

The Grande Odalisque by Vives, Ruppert + Mulot

This stylish thriller of a graphic novel (or bande dessinee) was made by three people: Bastien Vives, Florent Ruppert, and Jerome Mulot. The title of this post is styled as they are credited on the book: Vives / Ruppert + Mulot. All three are writer/artists. Ruppert and Mulot are a team who typically work together on all aspects of a story. I have no idea how they broke this down: if it were an American comic, that order would imply Vives was the writer and the other two the art team, but French credits often work in the reverse fashion.

So: the three of them did this, in some combination. If we can see a movie without worrying about what, exactly, a Director of Photography does, I think we can bring a similar equanimity to The Grand Odalisque , which is very much like a big-budget classy thriller movie on the page.

It’s a large-format album, appropriate for the style and the substance. I found the dialogue lettered just a bit too small and too lightly; take that into account, particularly if you intend to read this digitally.

It is a thriller, which means a lot of things: our heroines are amazingly competent, stunningly gorgeous, and massively flawed; the world is full of dangers, but not fatal ones; and hitting someone on the head or shooting them with a tranquillizer dart is a foolproof, immediate way of making that person go unconscious for exactly as long as you require, with no ill effects. Any readers who want more realism need to go elsewhere: this is Mission: Impossible-style action on the comics page.

Carole and Alex are high-level art thieves; we see them steal Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe from the Musee D’Orsay in the opening pages of the book. They squabble like an old married couple, and have been doing this for about a decade, even though they’re both still quite young – Carole is a few years older, but I don’t think she’s hit 30 yet. Again, in a realistic world they would be killed or captured very quickly; this is not in any way a realistic world.

They are gorgeous, they are stylish, they are the best at what they do. But they can’t do the next job alone – getting Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque out of the Louvre. So first they enlist an arms dealer to get them guns, and then a getaway driver, Sam, who becomes the third woman of their team – presumably going forward, since there’s already a second book.

After some minor complications – their arms dealer is captured by Mexican bandits, and to my surprise the solution isn’t “he’s already dead” (again: this is not a realistic story) but “let’s go, in bikinis, to slaughter the drug-lord and half-heartedly take over his operations” – it’s finally time for the big caper, which is as widescreen and cinematic as could be hoped, with exciting motorcycle chases and automatic-weapons fire and both helicopters and ultralight aircraft.

And if, in the end, the reader thinks “there’s no possibly way they could escape, in public, in the middle of Paris, with that level of police attention,” well, what I have I sad three times already? You are not meant to take The Grand Odalisque seriously. But, if you take it on its level, with all of its tropes and assumptions, it is a lot of fun. If you read it, I recommend making every effort not to engage the critical side of your brain; it will be no help.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Ralph Azham, Vol. 1: Black Are the Stars by Lewis Trondheim
0

Ralph Azham, Vol. 1: Black Are the Stars by Lewis Trondheim

Ralph Azham does not live in the same world as Dungeon . We’re pretty clear on that; this is not Terra Amata. But it’s the same kind of world: whatever Joann Sfar brings to the mix for Dungeon, that style of fantasy seems to be the way Lewis Trondheim operates. (There are some lesser similarities to his “McConey ” books, too.)

So: we have a central smartass in a big, complicated world, full of anthropomorphic people who plot and scheme, with magic that really works and can do world-changing things but has very specific rules that need to be learned by trial and error. We have authorities who are corrupt or outright evil or just low-key incompetent – this is no surprise, since everyone is out for themselves, pretty much all the time.

Ralph Azham is our central character: another vaguely duck-like hero, like Herbert in Dungeon Zenith. He grew up in an isolated, unnamed mountain village out in the wilds of the kingdom of Astolia, the son of an engineer, Bastien, who moved there to help the locals prepare for a potential attack by the Horde of Vom Syrus. (We don’t know a lot about the Horde or its leader: they’re clearly real, and have been rampaging around the outskirts of this kingdom for decades, but we don’t know who Syrus is or what his goals are. I have a very strong suspicion at the end of this book, though.)

In this world, some children turn blue on the night of a double moon – this is a sign they have a magical power, and are Chosen Ones, or potential Chosen Ones. In Astolia, Couriers take those children off to the capital, but they don’t generally seem to come back.

Ralph is blue. He can tell, infallibly, how many children someone has had. It seems to also include knowing who else was involved in the creation of those children, even if they were never born. And a Trondheim smartass can get himself in a lot of trouble, especially in a small village, knowing who knocked up who, who had a quiet abortion, who had older siblings that are now dead, and so on.

Ralph was taken by a Courier. He came back, a failed Chosen One – so he thinks. Since then, he’s become the village scapegoat and annoyance – he hasn’t helped this at all, to be honest, but he’s not treated well at all. The truth about Chosen Ones, though, is much worse, for a lot of people.

Ralph Azham: Black Are the Stars  collects the first three album-length books of the series. There have been twelve books in French, published between 2011 and 2020, and, as far as I can tell, that’s the complete story: this is not something open-ended like Dungeon. The first book, Why Would You Lie to Someone You Love? , was published in a slightly altered form by Fantagraphics in 2014, but this volume is the first time the rest of the series has been translated into English. Three more English omnibuses are already scheduled, through next March: if all goes well, the whole series will be published within a year. (But the lesson of every Trondheim comic is: things never go well.)

What I’ve just told you covers roughly the first half of the first book. From there, the Horde does come, and violence ensues, as always in a book like this. Obviously, Ralph will leave his village to see the wider world. He will meet other Chosen Ones, and learn what happens to Chosen Ones. There will be magical items with very specific uses that are deployed in inventive and surprising ways. Ralph will learn that he has another, larger power, and two other people from his village – a kid, Raoul, and Claire, who is Ralph’s age – will also turn blue and travel the path of the Chosen One. There will be powerful people who are not who they seem, or who are corrupt and scheming, or both at once. There will be antagonists who are very hard to kill, and ordinary people who are far too quick to die.

The story is about Ralph’s family, maybe. Or about what it means to be a Chosen One. Or the usual overthrowing-the-corrupt story of epic fantasy. Or maybe just surviving in a dangerous world full of people with weapons and magic. This is only a quarter of the way through: it would be premature to say what the whole thing means at this point.

But it’s prime Trondheim: smart fantasy adventure with a sharp edge, pitched only slightly less cruel than Dungeon, accessible to smarter, slightly older kids but with depths only adults will recognize. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of it.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Goldilocks and the Infinite Bears by John McNamee
0

Goldilocks and the Infinite Bears by John McNamee

Discovering something creative that you like is fun. Learning that it’s over is sad. But what if you’re not sure if it’s over or not?

Pie Comics was (is?) a strip by John McNamee. It used to be on GoComics . It used to update regularly on Tumblr . The Tumblr page mentions a website that doesn’t resolve. But there have been three collections of the series, all of which seem to have come out after the last update to the Tumblr page.

My theory – which is mine, and what it is too – is that McNamee did this strip regularly in the mid-teens, and collected it mostly after it ended, and that there will be no more. But I’d be very happy if that theory were wrong.

(I also can’t find anything else by McNamee since the last Pie collection in 2020, so I hope he’s working on a bigger story that will come out very soon and make us all happy and laugh and rejoice.)

I’m thinking all this because I recently found the first collection, Goldilocks and the Infinite Bears , semi-randomly in my library’s digital-reading app and just read it. (The other two, unfortunately, are not also in the same app, so I’ll have to search for them elsewhere.)

So: yay! This is funny and neat, in a vaguely Tom-Guald-ian way – McNamee’s art style and his tone are both in the same vague space that Gauld has been working – and collects a hundred or so comics, mostly single-pagers (with a few epic two-pagers), mostly four-panel, and entirely about fairy-tale, folkloric, and other fictional creatures.

(Note: the Judeo-Christian God does show up a few times. I stand by my immediately previous statement.)

McNamee has a simplified, fun style that makes everything more amusing, and his writing is zippy and smart, too. I am happy that there are two more books to search out, and mildly optimistic that McNamee (who seems to still be pretty young – he references being in college in the Aughts) will do more Neat Stuff in the near future. If you, too, like funny comics about fairies, wizards, Godzilla, zombies, dragons, demons, Death, unicorns, Superman, and their ilk, you’ll want to check it out.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy by Jeff Lemire, Tonci Zonjic and Steve Wands
0

Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy by Jeff Lemire, Tonci Zonjic and Steve Wands

Nigrum Malleoleum est omnis divisa in partes tres.

Some Black Hammer books have numbers in the title: those are the main series. Before the book I’ll be complaining about today, there’s been Secret Origins , The Event , Age of Doom 1 , and Age of Doom 2 .

Some Black Hammer books have the words “Black Hammer” in the title, but no number: Streets of Spiral , the Justice League crossover . These are side stories about the whole team.

(Black Hammer ’45  is deeply confusing in this schema, but it actually fits in the next category. The “Black Hammer” referred to in the title is not the same as the other books, for maximum what-the-fuck-age.)

And some Black Hammer books are about other people in the same world, whose stories may intersect the main gang of mopey superheroes or may not obviously do so. (This is superhero comics: all stories intersect in the Grand Summer Crossover eventually.) Before this book, there was Sherlock Frankenstein , Doctor Andromeda , and The Quantum Age .

Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy , as the title implies, is in the third group. For those who weren’t counting along on their fingers, it’s the eleventh collection. It is written by Jeff Lemire, creator and co-owner of the whole shebang, with stylish gritty art by Tonci Zonjic (often breaking into double-page spreads, which are gorgeous and well-designed but made me wish I wasn’t reading the whole thing on a tablet) and lettering by Steve Wands.

Skulldigger asks the superhero question: “what if the Punisher instead used a metal skull on a chain to kill people, instead of guns? Wouldn’t that be totally awesome?!” It is perhaps the most ’90s idea ever to have been thought up twenty years later, and would have fit comfortably into either DC or Marvel’s mid-90s grim and gritty eras – which, of course, is the point of all of the Black Hammer comics: they’re meant to seem like that stuff you read long ago while at the same time being new stuff you can buy on Wednesdays.

(The argument about how all superhero comics have been doing this more and more consistently for roughly the past forty years is left as an exercise for the reader.)

Now, in any realistic universe, Skulldigger would be shot dead extremely quickly, but so would Batman, so he gets the same dispensation. At the time of the 1996 of this story, he’s been around for maybe a decade, and is seemingly the preeminent crimefighter in Spiral City.

So he’s not-Punisher. There’s also Detective Reyes, who is not-Rene Montoya (literally: tough female detective, lesbian, always fighting with her captain, olive skinned – I do wonder if Lemire does that on purpose or just can’t be bothered to change the details), one of the other viewpoint characters.

The third viewpoint character is Matthew. He’s twelve, and we see his parents get murdered in front of him in the first scene, with a particular overhead view that will make you think they just came out of a Zorro movie. (Black Hammer is many things, but it is never, ever subtle.)

Anyway, the story here is: random thug kills Matthew’s parents. Skulldigger arrives, kills random thug. Matthew becomes non-verbal at witnessing his parents’ murder, doesn’t respond to any questioning by cops including Reyes, is institutionalized. Reyes is obsessed with finding and stopping Skulldigger; her boss literally says “he’s killing the right kind of people, don’t waste time on him.”

Look, do I need to give all of the story beats? Skulldigger gets a sidekick. If you’ve been paying any attention, you know who that is. It’s not a good idea, but he at least seems to be devoted to training the kid so he doesn’t die immediately.

Oh, and meanwhile, an ex-superhero – formerly the Crimson Fist, now civilian Tex Reed – is running for mayor, on a “let’s get back to happy superheroing” platform. (He’s an unpowered guy, maybe a bit more Moon Knight than Batman, and now fiftyish and retired for ten years or so.) The Crimson Fist’s old nemesis Grimjim – who is not anyone in particular from another superhero universe, but is deeply in the Batman Villain template, something of a mash-up of Joker and Ra’s al Ghul conceptually and Killer Croc visually  – has to break out of not-Arkham Asylum to cause trouble.

Tex and Grimjim and Skulldigger have hidden connections, of course. Every superhero story is about the same people tripping over each other over and over again; there’s never anyone new.

It is grim and it is gritty and it is violent: this is supposed to be a 90s-style story, from the dark and decadent age of superheroing. We are meant to deplore that at the same time we revel in it.

Frankly, this is one of the most successful Black Hammer stories to date, in my mind: it tells a specific story, beginning to end, without getting caught up in extraneous crap. It isn’t burdened with the core series’ weird reluctance to move from the initial premise, and has the strengths of the whole series to date: Lemire’s naturalistic dialogue and strong plotting, and great storytelling art.

It’s still a pastiche grim-n-gritty Punisher/Batman comic that has no good reason to exist, mind you. But it’s successful at the things it sets out to do.

One last point: the descriptive copy for this book describes it as a tragedy. It is not. Not in any traditional sense, not in any way. “Tragedy” here seems to mean “a story in which sad things happen,” but that’s most of them. This is not a tragedy, not for Skulldigger or Skeleton Boy or Det. Reyes, or even for Grimjim. And a tragedy has to be a tragedy for the main character.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Delicates by Brenna Thummler
0

Delicates by Brenna Thummler

I don’t want to say there’s always a sequel…but, these days, it’s the way to bet. Anything that has any degree of success will have a follow-up, telling more of the story or doing as much of the same thing as possible.

So when Brenna Thummler’s first graphic novel, Sheets , was an unexpected success a few years ago, what would her next project be?

Yes, obviously: the direct sequel Delicates , which came out three years later (in 2021). And, though I might sound dismissive, Delicates does all the things a good sequel should: it starts from the end of the first book (rather than rehashing the same story/issues/ideas), adds more details and richness to the world, examines slightly different (but related) concerns, and moves the overall story forward.

Sheets took place, in retrospect, in the fall of Marjorie Glatt’s seventh-grade year. (We didn’t know then exactly how old she was; we did roughly know the time of year.) Delicates jumps forward a bit, to the start of another school year. Summer is ending: Marjorie is about to enter eighth grade.

In the wake of the events of Sheets, Marjorie has a new friend group, mostly because the boy she has a crush on, Colton, is part of it. The rest are all girls, and at the center is Tessi, a mean-girl-type who controls the conversation and is low-key angry most of the time. Tessi has her own issues, mostly with a mother who is trying, in a well-meaning way but not one that has much chance of luck with the terminally sour and image-obsessed Tessi, to engage and lighten up her daughter. But we’re not really on Tessi’s side – we don’t have an antagonist here as we did with Mr. Saubertuck in Sheets, but she’s pretty close.

Wendel the ghost is still Wendel, still basically the same. That’s usually the deal with ghosts, of course. If you want to change, you have to do it before dying.

And there’s a new central character: Eliza, the girl on the cover. She’s the oldest daughter of a favorite teacher at this middle school, has just been held back to repeat eighth grade, and is clearly on the spectrum somewhere. (No specific diagnosis is given in the book: she’s just who she is. But she has obsessions and verbal tics, and I may just be more prone to notice those things.) Her particular obsessions are photography, ghosts, and their overlap: she spends a lot of time trying to photograph ghosts.

She doesn’t know ghosts are real – or, rather, doesn’t know how ghosts actually work in Thummler’s fictional world. She’s pretty sure ghosts are real. I don’t know if she pictures them as Charlie Brown kids-in-sheets, but that’s what they are here.

Delicates is partially a book about fitting in: Eliza is too weird, too specific, to really fit in, Marjorie is weird but can cram herself into a shape Tessi & crew will be friends with, and Wendell only really has Marjorie, so he hates any ways she changes that makes her less friendly to him.

It’s also, like Sheets, a book in which death looms, always off the page and never specifically mentioned, but there all the time. All of Marjorie’s family is still dealing with her mother’s death: her father is engaging more with life now, but seems to be running around trying to do all the things his wife used to do, to keep all the old plates spinning, and to tightly control the few things he feels competent to control. Her kid brother Owen is doing something similar, on the level of a first-grader. And Marjorie, of course, is trying to be a “normal” teenager – have a friends group, be part of the group, maybe have a boyfriend if she can ever figure that out.

By the end, they’ll all have to be themselves instead of the people they’re trying to be. This isn’t exactly a book with a moral, but the story it’s telling aims in that direction: be who you actually are, and let other people do the same. Those are excellent things to remember, and Thummler tells a good story around them.

This is most obviously for people around Marjorie and Eliza’s age – the ones figuring out who they are, alone and with their parents and with their friends and with any potential boy/girlfriends. But, like all good YA, it’s a fine story even for those of us who have been pretty sure who we are for a few decades now, since we sometimes can still tend to forget.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag
0

The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag

Morgan Kwon knows exactly how her life is going to go. She’s going to get through highschool, being exactly the person she seems to be now, with exactly the same friends, and then she is going to get off Wilneff Island forever, go to some big city, and begin her real life as the person she really is. All she has to do is keep everything packed up in the right boxes until then, and everything will be fine.

Narrator: everything will not be fine

Morgan is at the center of Molly Knox Ostertag’s mid-grade graphic novel The Girl from the Sea , and I think every reader – even those on the young and thoughtless end of that age-band – will sense that Morgan protests too much, that she can’t keep all of the boxes separate. Her parents have already separated when the story starts, so that’s one box broken up…and that, of course, is the point: she’s trying to control the things she thinks she can control, because something so central to her life was just totally uncontrolled.

In the opening pages of Girl from the Sea, Morgan slips on some rocks and nearly drowns. She’s saved by what she thinks is a cute girl, Keltie. And, if we readers are paying attention, we notice one very big box that she’s trying to keep separate and closed: that she likes girls. She thinks that’s got to stay hidden until she gets away, that it can only be a piece of her eventual adult life.

But Keltie is not just a cute girl: she’s something more special, and already loves Morgan. She’s loud and pushy and wants things and can show Morgan different ways of viewing and living her life.

Some of that is a metaphor for coming out. But a lot of it is literal: Keltie is a selkie, transformed from seal to girl, and with a lot of the traditional folkloric issues. (Ostertag plays a bit with reader expectations for some of these, I think, especially Keltie’s skin, but she’s not retelling any specific story or doing the usual folkloric stuff here.)

So: this is a story about whether Morgan will let herself unbend, if she will let herself break through her own boxes and be the person she actually is right now. And what will happen along the way: do her friends and family react the way she fears they will?

Oh, and Keltie has something pretty important she needs to do, too – she’s not in human form for nothing. Oh, sure, she’s crazy about Morgan, too – that definitely is part of it – but she has a mission for her people as well, and that’s not optional.

I liked Girl from the Sea better than Ostertag’s Witch Boy  books – those were fine, but had a slight whiff of formula about them, a sense that they were Teaching Lessons and Being Good Models and all that. Girl from the Sea feels more personal and specific, tied to a specific place Ostertag knows well and centered in a deep but new relationship. I also like the way it implies conflicts that never happen – there are things that are huge in Morgan’s head but don’t really exist in the real world. It’s still very much a book for younger readers, so people even more cynical and world-weary than me might find it too too, but it’s the kind of book I love to see for young readers, the kind that tells them they can be exactly the people they really are and that they have good, loving places in the world that they just need to find or make.

That may not always be true, in the actual real world. But it’s an important story, and it needs to be said as often as possible.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Paris by Andi Watson & Simon Gane
0

Paris by Andi Watson & Simon Gane

I read this for almost entirely extraneous reasons, if that matters.

I’d seen the original edition of Paris  when it was first published, and wrote about it for ComicMix. (Be careful with that link; much of ComicMix’s back catalog seems to have been infested with hijackers, and there may be malware lurking about.) I vaguely knew that there was a newer, slightly longer edition, and had a perhaps even more vague idea of reading it, eventually, since I’ve been re-reading Andi Watson’s books over the last few years.

This is written by Watson, by the way, but the art is by Simon Gane. It’s the only time they’ve collaborated so far; Watson usually draws his own books. (Though they do have a new book together, Sunburn, coming up this fall.)

None of that is why I read Paris. And, looking back, it’s completely random that I did read it, only five days after this new edition was released.

I was browsing through Hoopla, the app my library uses, trying to find something to read that day. I’d just come back from a movie The Wife dragged me to. Now, it was not a bad movie, in any sense, but it was predictable and obvious and thuddingly normalizing in all sorts of ways: a well-executed thing that I didn’t mind watching but cared almost exactly nothing about. So I wanted something of a palate cleanser: something like that in superficial outlines, but more subtle, with better storytelling, and maybe something subversive about it. To be blunt, something with a bit of romance, maybe set in Paris in the 1950s, maybe without a moral of “common people are magical beings who make everyone’s lives better with their cheeky clear-headedness”.

Thus Paris. My original review covers the story (assuming you can navigate the “click Allow now!” pop-ups to read it): young American painter Juliet is in Paris, studying at the Academie de Stael in genteel poverty. Young British heiress Deborah is also in Paris, chaperoned by her horrible Aunt Chapman and having the most boring time possible in that city.

Juliet is hired to paint Deborah; they have a spark. Circumstances intervene to snuff out that spark, possibly before many readers have realized it is a spark, and not just a friendship. Will they meet again, and re-connect?

That’s the story. There’s some additional complications, such as Juliet’s lusty roommate Paulette and Deborah’s swishy brother Billy, but it’s a story about these two women, and whether they can manage to get together despite everything.

Gane has a very detailed style, that, to my eye, is influenced by both mid-century illustration and the lanky grace of high fashion. I don’t know if he always draws like this, but it’s a lovely choice for this story, making the City of Light a place of glamor and bustling life, real in its own way but idealized, the perfect vision of a romantic city of the past.

Like most of Watson’s work, the story here is low-key; you need to pay attention. It also helps to know a little French, since some phrases are untranslated until a set of notes at the end. But they’re all clear in context to readers who do pay attention.

The first time around, I thought of Paris as minor Watson, but I’ve revised that estimation upwards this time around. Gane’s art adds something unique and wonderful, and Watson is at his most subtle and allusive here, trusting his readers to see this story and not need to be told everything. You may need to read Paris twice to properly love it, but you don’t need to wait fifteen years between readings as I did.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.