Tagged: You Know: For Kids

Roaming by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

Roaming by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

The publisher says this is an adult book, but it’s about young people (nineteen; at my age nineteen is very young) figuring out what they want out of life and how to live in the world, so it’s at least thematically appropriate for not-quite-adult readers. I’m tagging it thus; complain in comments if you think high schoolers should be shielded from the view of first-year college students traveling to New York, drinking and smoking pot, swearing and causing trouble, staying in hostels and getting busy. (And then I’ll point and laugh at you, because you are just wrong.)

Roaming is the third major graphic novel by cousins Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki, after 2008’s Skim  and 2014’s This One Summer . (So we can expect their next book together about 2035, assuming three points can be extrapolated infinitely.) I don’t know how they work together. Jillian is a cartoonist who does other projects all on her own, both writing and drawing. Mariko has written other comics, but I don’t think she draws. So my assumption is the art is all Jillian, but not that the writing is all Mariko. And we all know what they say about assumptions.

It’s set in 2009. Two friends who grew up together in some random Toronto suburb, Zoe and Dani, are meeting up at Newark Airport on spring break, to spend a week together in NYC, after going away to different Canadian colleges for the past year. Zoe is aiming for a STEM-ish degree; Dani is studying art – again, they’re second-semester freshmen, so all of this is new and somewhat tentative.

When they meet in Newark, Dani has brought along a new friend: Fiona, another art student, assured and opinionated and a former New Yorker herself. We think this will be the story of how Fiona’s presence affects Zoe and Dani’s old comfortable friendship, and that’s true…but not in the way we first expect, seeing quiet Zoe react warily to brash Fiona.

It’s organized into five sections, corresponding to the five days. We open with Zoe alone in that airport, and we close on a subway, all three women heading to one last new experience on the day they’ll fly out. And much-too-old me ended the book thinking they’re heading in the wrong direction, even if they do have most of the day, to be sure to get to the airport on time. But that’s old-person thinking; they’re trying to cram as much experience into a few days as possible – to be somewhere they’ve dreamed about for years. So I can worry about them, but I can’t fault them.

The plot is deceptively simple: they wander around the city, doing things – apparently from a list Zoe and Dani worked out ahead of time. Fiona, who was not part of the planning and is vastly less go-along and vastly more opinionated about everything NYC, pushes them in very different directions – not always the ones you’d expect. And Zoe connects with Fiona. And Dani and Zoe talk, eventually, about who they used to be as friends and who they are now after a year away at different universities.

My fingers wanted to type “universes” there. It’s almost equally true. They’re doing different things, living different lives, and we get only snippets of those new lives here – but enough to know they’re as tumultuous and often uncomfortable as most lives. They have idealized visions of each other – their dreams from high school, mostly – and Roaming is, in part, how they learn that they each are not the people they dreamed about being – maybe not yet, or maybe not ever.

What it’s mostly about is circling back to someone who was really important in your life, thinking you can pick right back up where you left off, and you both have changed. You may still be friends, you may still be really close friends, but you’re not sixteen anymore: you’ve both already changed, and you will both keep changing.

And the dialogue is great; true, in that broken, rambling, random way that people really talk. Half-thoughts, cut-off sentences, pasts alluded to rather than detailed. The Tamakis don’t tell us everything about Dani and Zoe, but they tell us what we need to know, and they show us how Dani and Zoe used to be with each other, and how they are now.

This is a lovely book about an important time of life, and an important kind of transition. We all have old friends, and we are all changing, all the time. Even if we’re no longer nineteen, Roaming has a lot to say to us.

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

Thorn by Jeff Smith

Thorn by Jeff Smith

It’s always complicated looking at the early stuff. Especially when “the early stuff” hasn’t been publicly available for a few decades, and was very much a trial run for the later stuff, which used a lot of the same elements and ideas in a more coherent, consistent way.

That’s why it took until 2024 for Thorn: The Complete Proto-Bone College Strips 1982-1986  to be published; Jeff Smith knew that as well as anyone, and Bone, even now, is his major work, the core of his resume, and probably still his largest source of income. Add that to any creator’s standard disinterest at looking back at juvenilia, and this is work that could easily have stayed moldering in a vault indefinitely, only to roll out in some posthumous Complete Works or similar exercise.

But, for whatever reason, Smith decided to look back, to clean up, and to publish a comprehensive collection of his earliest major work: it shipped to his Kickstarter backers recently and is scheduled to hit regular retail channels this summer.

It’s a big book: over three hundred pages, on good paper, in a wider-than-tall format suitable for printing strip comics two-up on each page, in a large, clean presentation. And the material is equally comprehensive, with all of the strips Smith did in college – the full run of Thorn from his college paper The Sundial, a short try-out called Mickey & Rudy that ran very briefly during a Thorn hiatus, and a book-formatted one-pager from another campus publication – surrounded by notes, introductions, and other material to put it into context and explain how it all came to be.

So, physically and technically, this is impressive. It’s the best possible presentation for this material, treating it all seriously and presenting it all well and clearly. The material itself if a bit more of a mixed bag, which is what we all assumed.

Thorn was a daily strip – five days a week, during the four quarters of the Ohio State academic calendar – and it has the rhythms of a daily. It wanders, it digresses, it has one-off silliness and gags. Dailies, especially by college students, tend to be “about” everything in their creator’s worlds, almost equally, and that’s the case here. The first two years of Thorn feature a shorter, substantially different version of the main plot from Bone, alongside other material and including topical elements that dropped out of the later comic-book version.

Most obviously, Thorn was a Reagan-era strip. There’s a Reagan caricature that shows up late in the run, and other digs earlier on. Smith has a whole quirky subplot about Thorn’s religious mania, which loosely ties into a storyline about a con-man evangelist – it was the 1980s, and shady evangelists were big in both pop-culture and the real world. There’s also plenty of Cold War material, including a major antagonist – a Russian-accented pig who denies he’s a pig – that dropped out between this version and Bone.

It’s not all successful, or artfully done, but it’s all authentic. Smith was young, working on deadlines, and getting his stuff down on paper to tell stories. Some of the threads don’t go much of anywhere, or are phrased weirdly – the Thorn religious material, and her subsequent feminism, have particularly stilted phrasing a lot of the time, either because that’s how those topics were discussed in Ohio in the ’80s or because that’s how Smith could phrase them for a general newspaper.

The art runs through the same variations, too: some of it is as crisp and clear as early Bone, and some is a lot sketchier, or with half-formed ideas left in the drawing or half-erased. Thorn herself in particular isn’t as pretty as I think Smith wanted her to be: her face is usually an only-slightly-younger version of Grand’ma Ben’s. Or maybe what I mean is that she’s treated as an adult here, and turns into an ingenue for Bone. She clearly does seem to be somewhat surer of herself, and possibly older, here than in Bone.

All of that is reading Thorn with one eye on the future. It’s more difficult to think of it as a thing complete in itself, to imagine how we would look at it if Smith had never reworked this material into Bone, if he’d, for example, done something like RASL or Tuki first in the comics field. That’s also partially because a few years of a daily, even one with a clearly defined central story (at least for those first two years) like Thorn, isn’t generally one thing: it’s a conglomeration of dozens or hundreds of things, one per day, for as long as the strip runs. Dailies generally stop rather than end – even this one, with that clear plotline, kept going almost as long again after the big climax.

Thorn is a fun ’80s-era college strip, and a fascinating signpost on the way to Bone. Smith was a solid artist even this far back, and does at least workmanlike art all of the time, and quite nice art fairly regularly. It’s a quirky, interesting precursor to a major work, and it’s great to see it get published in this definitive edition.

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

Pixels of You by Ananth Hirsh, Yuko Ota, and J.R. Doyle

Pixels of You by Ananth Hirsh, Yuko Ota, and J.R. Doyle

It’s not usual for a creative team to accrete members over time. OK, sure, you can think of bands that got bigger as they got successful enough to add, for instance, a horn section, but those accretions tend to be semi-separate: The Fantastic Desperadoes with the Horns of Doom! People get replaced, of course. But it’s not common for new people to come in, set up, and just be added.

So I’m wondering what will be next for the team behind Pixels of You , a 2021 graphic novel from Amulet, Abrams’ teen-comics imprint. Co-writers (and partners in life, too, I think) Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Oda did the book Lucky Penny together before this – there, Hirsh was billed as the writer and Oda as the artist, but we all know artists in comics do at least half the storytelling (which means “writing”) anyway.

This time out, they have a new artist – maybe to have a particular look, maybe for other artistic reasons – J.R. Doyle, who also does a webcomic called Knights Errant and seems to do storyboard work as well.

Pixels looks nothing like Penny, and the tone is completely different, so that’s my assumption: Hirsh and Oda knew they wanted this new project to go in a different direction  If so, it worked: I had to look them up to remember what it was I read by them, and didn’t bring any expectations to Pixels.

Pixels of You is a personal drama, enemies-to-friends division (maybe more than friends, as is often the case), set in a near-future SF world. AI is ubiquitous and well-integrated – the SFnal kind of AI that quite likely will never actually exist, humaniform persons who are just part of human society. They don’t seem to be an underclass, though there are hints of prejudice and most AI persons may be vaguely considered lesser than meat-people. There are also hints that AI personhood, or possibly citizenship, are contingent in some way, with regular tests AI persons need to pass to stay in their current status.

Indira is a young woman working as an intern in an art gallery: she’s a wannabe photographer, and her boss is influential in that world. The internship is a strong way into the world she wants to be part of, and she’s trying to make the most of it. She also has a cybernetic eye – totally realistic-looking; no one knows unless she tells them – from a tragic accident in her past, and either that accident or the eye or both are the source of health issues, pain and bad dreams and sometimes worse.

Fawn is the next intern in line at the gallery: she’s on her way in as Indira is finishing her time. Fawn is a human-presenting AI, the “daughter” of two traditional-looking AI persons who seem to be quite successful – maybe managerial-class jobs, something like that.

They meet at a show, and immediately get on each other’s worst sides: Fawn insults Indira’s work, without know it’s hers. Indira is prickly and standoffish to begin with, so gives as well as she gets.

But the gallery owner needs them to work together, and forces them to do so: the next show, which was originally planned to be a combined look at their separate work, now will be of work they make together.

Both Indira and Fawn are well-meaning, mostly nice people, so they don’t stay enemies all that long. (Coming from Penny, I might have expected a longer, funnier sequence of squabbling, physical or verbal, but Pixels is a quieter, much more serious book.) They do learn to work together, they do learn each other’s secrets, they do become friends.

That sounds trite, I suppose, but any story is trite when stripped to the barest plot. The team here tells this one well – there’s a lot of single-panel pages to show what Fawn and Indira’s work looks like, and a lot of semi-wordless sequences, since photography is more about seeing than talking. It’s a sweet story, even if I do have some quibbles with the SFnal background.

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

Tin Man by Justin Madison

Tin Man by Justin Madison

First up, I have to answer the question I had when I picked up this book: yes, that tin man. Well, one of those tin men, to be clearer.

Justin Madison’s debut graphic novel Tin Man  is set in a version of L. Frank Baum’s Oz, and his tin man, Campbell, has the familiar shape and form Americans expect from their tin men since 1939. But that’s not particularly clear at the beginning of the story, and it’s never important. It’s something bigger than an Easter egg, I guess, since there are plenty of references to Baum here, but it’s all background.

We’re in a recognizably modern world: suburbia, TV news, two-paycheck families, junkyards, high school students who play video games and hang out to do mischief. The land is called Oz, which is mentioned but not emphasized. It looks mostly like our world, with a few tweaks.

There’s a major space industry, and people can build space-capable ships in their backyards, in best Tom Swift fashion. Kids can aspire to get out of their dead-end towns by getting into the very selective VASTE Institute, something like a STEM magnet high school with much more emphasis on spaceships and big wrenches.

But they’re still kids, and that’s what Tin Man is about. Three young people who each want something – though they don’t all exactly know what they want, when the book begins – who meet, and who each find something like what they want (or need) by the end.

One of them is Campbell, the tin man. He grew up with his people, in the forest, chopping down trees. But he heard of a wizard, in a far-off city, who makes mechanical hearts for tin men that allows them to feel, and Campbell wanted that for himself. His father didn’t understand why; they fought; Campbell ran away. There’s a bit more to the story, but that comes out in the course of the book.

Campbell meets Fenn in a junkyard. Campbell is there: living or hanging out or just existing. Fenn is a local kid, maybe ten or so. He’s obsessed with space; his hero is Jed Astro, a famous explorer. And Fenn is picking through junkyards as he tries to build a spaceship himself – he finds a mechanical heart, he befriends Campbell, he’s the glue that pulls this story together.

The third character is Fenn’s older sister, Solar. She used to be an academic whiz, head of the class at her high school, recruited for VASTE. But she’s hanging with the stoners and bullies now, dating the worst of them: slacking off, skipping school, avoiding work and responsibility, looking to get a job at a local garage and give up on all expectations.

Fenn wants his old sister back: the one who cared about space and science and the future. The one that worked with him and was good at the same things he cares about.

Solar wants… Well, she used to want to go to VASTE, to go to space, to get out of this town and make something of herself. Now, she doesn’t seem to want anything.

Campbell wants that mechanical heart, we think – but we learn that he’d already gotten it, and how that went.

Meanwhile, Terrible Twisters are running through Oz, getting closer. And Solar’s new friends – especially her boyfriend, Merrick, their leader – are mean and destructive and getting worse. And we learn why Solar changed, what happened in her life (and Fenn’s) recently that soured her on life.

And they all get what they want, or maybe need, at the end, as the twisters hit and Merrick continues to be a horrible human being and Fenn’s homemade spaceship turns out to be unexpectedly useful.

Madison has a somewhat indy-comics style, a little grungy, with dot eyes: it reminds me a little of Jeff Lemire, though not that grungy. His places are real, his people expressive, his colors crisp and bright. And he’s just sneaky enough, with his Oz references and unobtrusive storytelling, for a reader like me who eats that stuff up. Tin Man is another one of the flood of recent graphic stories aimed at teens, but, like the best of that flood, it’s not limited to them.

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

Enlightened by Sachi Ediriweera

Enlightened by Sachi Ediriweera

I think I’m writing for people roughly in my position: respectful, interested, only slightly informed. People who might have unexpected or unhelpful resonances with a book about different lives and different traditions on the other side of the world. (Do those old-fashioned clothes from Southeast Asia look like epic fantasy garb to anyone but me?)

I say that up front. If this is your culture, your tradition…well, I hope not to be wrong, or infuriating. But I doubt I will be helpful or insightful; you know this better than I do. Reviewers don’t say that often enough, I think: what you see always depends on where you stand, so I want to be clear about where I’m standing and the things I can see from there.

Enlightened  is a graphic novel, published for middle grade readers, about the life of the Buddha, Prince Siddhartha. It’s by Sachi Ediriweera, a Sri Lankan cartoonist, designer, and filmmaker. It is subtitled “A Fictionalized Tale,” and it’s about Siddhartha’s search, but it’s not a work of religious proselytization.

Maybe I should say that again: if there is a Buddhist equivalent of Chick Tracts, this isn’t it. This is a lightly fictionalized biography of a person of world-historical importance, the kind of book young readers will find, hopefully enjoy, and then probably write a report about. Siddhartha’s core insights are presented here, and the path he followed to find them, but the point is to inform, not to convert. [1]

Edirirweera tells his story slowly and quietly, starting with Siddhartha as a young prince chafing under the restrictions of his over-protective father. Ediriweera drops us into this world without explaining it, but the outlines are quickly clear: medieval-level tech, vast gulfs of wealth and poverty, what seems to be many small kingdoms living together peacefully, a mature and self-contained civilization.

Siddhartha’s is a story about suffering: despite his father’s coddling, he learns that other people suffer, that life is often pain. His people believe that they are reincarnated over and over, living lives slightly better or slightly worse, depending on the choices they made previously.

So Siddhartha grows up, still coddled and kept in the palace, with almost no contact with the outside world. He marries the princess of a neighboring kingdom, Yashodara. And when their son is born, he realizes he must break out and see the real world, and that this is his chance. He does; he runs away from his palace and wife and son and father and luxurious life, to join a monastery and live as a poor monk.

Years pass. Siddhartha has no contact with his old life. He studies and meditates and thinks and talks to other monks. In the end, he comes to a revelation: life is suffering, suffering is caused by desire, and so the only way to end suffering is to not desire. He teaches his new Eightfold Path, he gathers students, he becomes famous.

That leads him back to his old family. In the way of religious stories, there’s a bit of anger, but everyone is completely convinced, almost immediately, by the obvious truth of Siddhartha’s path. And so everyone comes to follow his path, as they can. I may be making this sound like a radical philosophy – and it could be one, in a strict form, all leave-your-goods-behind and break-the-wheel – but there’s a lot of nuance. There’s a huge spectrum between desiring everything and desiring nothing, and Buddha’s path is a positive, peaceful one, as Ediriweera presents it – perhaps even assuming nearly everyone will fail, that eliminating all desire is a project over multiple lives, multiple passes through the world. I don’t see any sense of hurry here: it’s all about letting go of things, and the more you can let go of, the better off you will be in the end.

Ediriweera tells this story quietly, as I said, in an unobtrusive style with a few, mostly light colors overlaid on his black (for figures) and cool blue (for backgrounds) lines. It is a peaceful, undemanding look for the art, and entirely appropriate.

What I know about the life of the Buddha is scattered and random; Enlightened told me that story again in a clear, organized way and explained things to me that I probably didn’t realize I didn’t understand. It’s a fine, meditative, thoughtful journey through the thinking and life of a man we could all do well to emulate – and I hope its path into the hands of the younger readers of North America is simpler and easier than I fear it will be.

[1] I expect to see various astroturfed mothers pretending to support liberty demanding it be removed from school libraries, though. This is a county where yoga is feared as a gateway drug to Buddhism. And, no, I am not exaggerating .

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

Are We Lost Yet? by Will Henry

Are We Lost Yet? by Will Henry

I’ve had this same problem my entire book-reviewing “career” – what to say about another book in a series, when it’s the same kind of thing as the ones before. Even if you really like the new one, you’ve already said the things you could say.

So, let me start out by saying that Are We Lost Yet?  is the fourth collection of Will Henry’s “Wallace the Brave” daily strip. The comic itself appears in newspapers and on GoComics every day; the three prior collections are Wallace the Brave , Snug Harbor Stories , and Wicked Epic Adventures  (links are to my posts). This one was published last year, so it includes comics that I’ve seen since I started reading the strip online, which is nicely circular.

(In fact, there’s one of my favorite panels in here, which I clipped and saved to use as a reaction image online – though I never get as much use out of the things in that folder as I think I will. I’ll shove that into this post, a little further down, so you can see if your tastes in humor and reactions are anything similar to mine.)

Those three posts are all pretty substantial; I like this strip and have enjoyed trying to explain the things I like about it. I’ve probably devoted less time to Henry’s cartooning in these posts than I should: he’s a supple cartoonist who fills his panels with details but always in a quick-looking, energetic style. He’s really clearly on the side that cartoons should be cartoony: eyes goggle, bodies fly in reaction to events, sound effects proliferate with a variety of perfectly onomatopoetic lettering.

I don’t want to repeat myself, but this is a great strip, one of the best of its kind and one of the most fun and energetic strips currently running. The only contemporary thing as creative and amusing as Wallace the Brave I can think of is the Peter Gallagher Heathcliff, which is otherwise utterly different.

I know Wallace is the central character, the hero, and we’re supposed to relate to him. But he’s just too much of a cockeyed optimist for me to take seriously, too much of that wide-armed American huckster, always with a new story to tell that he utterly believes in the moment. No, for me the best and most important character is Spud, dragged into situations he’s not good at handling over and over again by his best friend, but always himself and never about to change to be more like that annoying/wonderful friend.

This is a fine modern comic strip, in a mode a lot of people have liked in a lot of styles over a lot of years, so I have to think a lot of you will like Wallace the Brave if you see it. So go see it.

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

Wicked Epic Adventures by Will Henry

Wicked Epic Adventures by Will Henry

This is the third collection of Will Henry’s Wallace the Brave daily strip; it follows Wallace the Brave  and Snug Harbor Stories . Usually, with a series, the advice is to start at the beginning – but any half-decent newspaper comic has to be capable of standing on its own, every single day, out of any context, providing a little moment.

And Wallace – if it’s not in your paper (it’s not in mine), you can read it online at GoComics every day instead – is much better than half-decent. It’s at least all-decent: funny, involving, memorable, drawn with verve and written with a puckish wit.

So you could jump into Wicked Epic Adventures  first if you wanted. Or either of the preceding books. Or, probably, the fourth book, which I haven’t read yet. Or, as most people do with daily strips, with the daily strip itself, until you get the point where you want to read a big clump in one designed package at once.

Wallace is a person: a six-year-old boy in the bucolic New England town of Snug Harbor. His creator lives in Rhode Island, but I’ve gotten more of a Maine vibe from Snug Harbor – it’s not near a big city, and seems to be on an island or otherwise separated from anywhere else. (Tourists arrive by ferry at a dock, for another touchpoint.)

Wallace McClellan is one of those relentlessly positive, endlessly active kids – the kind of person who has so much energy and crazy ideas that he would be annoying if he weren’t so nice. (And, frankly, I still find him annoying some of the time.) He’s also the center of the two semi-separate casts of the story, as often happens in a strip comic. One group is his family; the other is his friends at school.

His father is a commercial fisherman; it’s a bit vague about whether Mr. McClellan works for a larger company or is an independent guy with his own boat and operation. His mother doesn’t work outside the home, but is an avid gardener and surfer, and a more modern version of the tough, loving mom figure than you see in most strip comics. She also seems to be the source of Wallace’s imagination and crazy ideas. His younger brother Sterling is less prominent here than he’s become more recently, but he’s a different and pure kind of wild child.

In school, Wallace often fails to heed the grounded, helpful Mrs. Macintosh, who is mostly in these strips to be a voice of reason when there needs to be an unheeded voice of reason. His best friend is Spud, my favorite character: a quirky, food-obsessed fussbudget who I suspect would be much more at home further away from all this nature and who gets dragged along on all of Wallace’s crazy schemes without ever enjoying or agreeing to any of them. And then there’s Amelia, who is still “the new girl” at this point – fairly newly arrived in town, with the take-charge, no-nonsense attitude of a girl who is smart, knows it, and has plans for herself and the world.

The core plot for these strips is still mostly “Wallace does something nutty” – that has changed a bit, more recently, with particularly Amelia driving some plotlines and the newer character Rose being a voice of reason that does get heeded, at least sometimes.

And the joys of a daily strip are in how the creator works out semi-standard plots with well-defined characters – Henry does that well in Wallace, which follows the rhythms of the school year (we get a summer vacation in this one) and relies on everyone’s established character points for his storylines. He’s also a light, visually inventive artist, happy to dive into sidebar visions and ideas, with a line that’s always illustrative and loose.

Bottom line: Wallace the Brave is one of the best strips currently running, fun and distinctive while still clearly in the great tradition, with interesting echoes of a number of predecessors. If daily strips are anything you’ve ever cared about, you should check it out.

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

Maybe an Artist by Liz Montague

Maybe an Artist by Liz Montague

I say this a lot, but audiences are important. If you’re putting something out into the world, and don’t have a sense of who would care about it, it might be because no one will.

But “people like me” is a valid answer. “People like me at age 10” is an even better one. People get quirkier and more specific every year they live; every eighty-year-old is an entirely different microsegment. But kids are still early in that journey; they’re weird and particular but still care about a lot of the same things.

And a good “this is the kind of weird kid I was” book is always welcome. Maybe an Artist  is that kind of book, from cartoonist Liz Montague. It is about her childhood, and it is aimed at people who are children now – or who will be children when they read it; there’s no reason it won’t still be read in thirty years, by the kids of the kids reading it now.

Montague has had cartoons published in The New Yorker, had a strip called “Liz at Large” in Washington City Paper, and did other pretty high-profile cartooning gigs (a Google doodle! illos for the Obama Foundation!), even though she is, if I’m counting correctly, only about twenty-seven.

She gets into that quickly at the end, but Maybe an Artist is about how she got there – it’s the story of how drawing and art were important to her as a child, starting at the age of five in 2001. It’s really tightly focused on Montague, and deeply in her head most of the time. The external stuff of her life is included, some of the time, but it’s all about Montague, and, in the end, all about the pull of creating art and cartoons.

It won, eventually. We know that, because we have the book. But it wasn’t the path Montague or her family thought she was on – she was supposed to get an athletic scholarship to a good school, study something that would lead to a “good” career, and move forward. (And she did a lot of that: Maybe an Artist might be helpful for a lot of driven kids, or kids with demanding parents, to show how you can mostly follow the path laid out for you and still get to exactly the place you want to be.)

Here’s an example: the back cover mentions that the book includes how she “overcame extreme dyslexia through art,” but the book itself never uses the word “dyslexia.” Montague shows her problems with letters, and how she used art to work through it, but this is not a book about problems, or about diagnoses – it’s not that kind of YA graphic novel at all.

Montague has a cartoony, immediate style throughout, and keeps her young self front and center in the book – most of the panels are about Young Liz in one way or another, and Montague gives her younger self a lot of great facial expressions. She also lays out the book in a light, breezy way, with panels most of the time, filling up most of the page a lot of the time, but spilling out or vignetted regularly as well, to give more energy and life to her story.

This is much more a a purely YA book than I usually read; the audience is very much young maybe-artists. But Montague’s voice is true and straightforward and helpful; she gives a great account of the struggles and turmoils of her younger self. So there are joys, even for those who are very much past the maybes of their younger lives.

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

Danger and Other Unknown Risks by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

Danger and Other Unknown Risks by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

I have no idea why this very specific and distinctive book has such a generic-sounding title. I could make up stories of epic battles behind the scenes, with different factions jockeying for utterly different titles (How Daisy Saved the World! My Y2K Story – Really! The Second-Worst Journey in the World! What I Did on My Summer Vacation World-Saving Trip! My Story, by Marguerite de Pruitt!), and only able to agree, after months of internecine warfare, on this one. But that would be entirely fictional, if amusing.

What we have is Danger and Other Unknown Risks , a title which could apply to practically any adventure story ever told. This one is written by Ryan North and drawn by Erica Henderson, the team that did the Squirrel Girl  comic for several years to vast acclaim and strong sales and the adoration of a huge number of fans, more of them small and/or female than was typical for a Marvel comic.

The cynical side of me assumes that they did Danger so they could have something similar that they would own; the sunnier side of me assumes that they liked working together so much that they just had to do it again. Either way, this is very much the same kind of story: spunky, young, optimistic heroine in quirky adventures across a world that needs to be saved. Marguerite, though, does not have the plot armor Doreen Green did, does not have any superpowers – she has one spell, which has different effects in every realm and borderline useless everywhere – and, even though she is a well-trained Chosen One, her failure is very much possible.

Our world has been transformed. Y2K happened – several hundred years ago, we think, while being a bit vague on how many hundreds – but was instead a magical transformation. The world is now radically balkanized, with obvious borders between different magical zones where physical laws can work entirely differently. (Our heroine, Marguerite, tosses a toad across borders as a testing mechanism, which implies some places don’t support biological life at all…but we don’t see any of those potentially fatal realms in this book.)

Marguerite has been sent by her uncle Bernard – this is the kind of “uncle” like Donald and Mickey and Scrooge, where the actual parents, if there ever were any, are never even mentioned – on this world-saving mission, along with her companion, the talking dog Daisy. The two need to find three specific artifacts and bring them back to Bernard, who will use them in a massive spell that will Save the World. The world needs saving, Bernard says, because the magical realms are diverging more and more every day, and that will eventually Destroy the World if it is not Saved.

Readers of books for younger people may guess that Not All Is As It Seems. Marguerite and Daisy discover Shocking Revelations and The Real Truth and have to Change Their Mission. But they’re always going to Save the World. Along the way, they steal those three artifacts of the Before Times, run away from and/or confront various nasty or otherwise opposed forces, meet some friends and helpers, and, as always with North/Henderson stories, model positive friendship at all times.

Reader, they do Save The World. How could they do otherwise? And if you’ve been looking for something to scratch that phantom Squirrel Girl itch, this is exactly the thing for it.

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

Snug Harbor Stories by Will Henry

Snug Harbor Stories by Will Henry

I used to read a lot of strip-comics collections: I assembled a full set of Doonesbury back in the day, kept up with Dilbert until the writing on the wall was too obvious to ignore [1], and had multiple books from probably a dozen other currently-running strips over the years. But, somehow, the past decade or so has made that seem old-fashioned. Maybe because of so many re-runs (Get Fuzzy, for example, which I still read in the paper but can never tell if it’s actually new, because it generally isn’t) and legacy strips (too many to mention, not that I ever cared for most of them in even their earlier forms), maybe because of just the weight of time.

Will Henry’s Wallace the Brave is probably the first newspaper strip where I’ve read two collections in…ten years? More or less? So I may end up grumping about some aspects of the strip, because what I apparently do best is grump, but let me underline that first: I like this a lot more than just about anything else I’ve seen in a newspaper for a bunch of years.

Snug Harbor Stories  is the second collection of the strip, after the self-titled first book . It was published in 2019, soon after the strip started running in newspapers. (If I’m reading the Wikipedia entry correctly, it had an extended try-out on GoComics starting in 2015, the first book hit in 2017, and it was actively syndicated into papers starting in 2018.)

And this is a strip comic, so this book is the same kind of thing as the first book, only more of it. I feel like the strip these days is really focused on the kids and from their point of view – so, for example, the teacher and parents are seen from a metaphorical kid-height rather than being viewpoints – but some of these earlier strips are more obviously coming from an adult perspective. I enjoyed that difference, but great strips develop focus and stick to it, so the overall change is both expected and admirable.

I also thought there were even more inventive layouts in this book than the first one, which could be Henry getting comfortable with what’s possible within the physical constraints of the strip. My mostly-uninformed idea would be that inventiveness is easier digitally – as when the strip was only on GoComics in the early days – than in print, but maybe newspapers are not quite as hidebound and backwards-thinking as I assume.

I still like Spud as a character a lot better than Wallace, though I don’t think I’m supposed to. Wallace can just be too much of a muchness, constructed to be the eternally wide-eyed optimist dreamer, like a Tom Sawyer with all cynicism and sneakiness surgically extracted. Spud is quirky and weird and particular, like normal people. But one of the things that makes a great comics strip is characters you argue about, even in your own head – strips are formed over time, through lots of moments and jokes and recurring ideas. So even my saying, “I like Wallace the Brave the strip better than I like Wallace the character” is a good sign for the strip as a whole.

Anyway, this is about a bunch of six-year-olds, and, like all comics, they’re smarter and more articulate and have more physical freedom of action than any six-year-olds have ever had in the real world. Calvin and Hobbes is the most obvious predecessor: the two strips have a similar sense of infinite possibility and joy in the outdoors and exploration. But Wallace is more about community and friendship – Wallace himself is central, but he’s not the whole strip. He’s the catalyst or the glue, but the strip is as much about his friends and family as about him specifically.

And Henry is an inventive, somewhat loose artist with great sound-effects, a willingness to draw weird stuff (people, places, layouts – all of it) and a complete and total lack of fussiness at all times. It’s a lovely, always organic-looking strip full of energy and life

I still think the best way to discover a strip is day-by-day rather than in clumps; the good ones stick in your mind even in small doses like that. But, when you’re ready for a larger dose, Snug Harbor Stories (and the book before and, so far, two books after) are there.

[1] From the evidence of my bookshelves, I think this was 15-20 years ago, which is even longer than I thought. I also should note that I wrote this post in early January, before the recent unpleasantness. But Dilbert‘s creator has been a wealth of unpleasantness for quite some time now.

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