June 11, 2021

Wonder Woman: Dead Earth

Wonder Woman’s most unusual weapon…

Wonder Woman: Dead Earth, by Daniel Warren Johnson (DC Comics, 2020).

In case anyone has not had their fill of post apocalypse survival tales, DC Comics offers this standalone Wonder Woman story published under their edgy Black Label line. The Black Label imprint (like DC’s Vertigo line before it) allows comics creators to create stories that have more mature content, and to play with the characters without tying them to story continuity or canon. As such it attracts unique talents whose creativity might otherwise be restrained.

Here Daniel Warren Johnson (of the brilliant webcomic Space Mullet) has the freedom to waken the Amazon goddess from centuries of sleep, to draw her in a shredded costume, surrounded by scruffy refugees, against the backdrop of a ruined future. Mostly though it gives him an excuse to draw her driving a Jeep down the throat of a colossal monstrosity and shredding beasties with her bare hands.

The plot line bounces between two parallel stories: young goddess Diana on the Amazonian isle of Themyscira, then in the distant future as the immortal goddess Wonder Woman emerging from suspended animation in Batman’s cave centuries after a great disaster. Here she takes up the cause of the remnants of humanity, to find the source of the horrors.

Author/artist Daniel Warren Johnson gets to lend his unique style to the story. Characters are filthy, landscapes grimy, monsters are elastic and shreddable. In stylization his characters are reminiscent of of Frank Miller’s 300, but Johnson extends this iconic style in even more dynamic fashion. In his animation of force Johnson’s action stretches across a page, anatomy bending and blurring with the force of momentum. The onomatopoeia of his visual sound effects are satisfyingly humorous, echoing on the page. In this he picks up the torch that Will Eisner lit decades ago, where illustrated words can themselves connote the quality and textures of sounds. Yet overall the work is gritty enough that they don’t detract from the art or devolve into camp of the wham/bang/pow of the old Batman tv series.

Recommended for adult audiences, you’ll find it in our adult comics collection (741.5973 WONDER). The mayhem and gore content approach the level of Geoff Darrow (Shaolin Cowboy) or James Stokoe (Orc Stain). Readers who enjoy this sort of thing will find humor in the origin of the most unusual weapon she carries to the final battle. Readers will be interested to track down more works by the artist, and look forward to more artists turned loose on the DC Universe in the Black Label imprint.

May 7, 2021

DCeased

DCeased, by Tom Taylor and various artists (DC Comics 2019).

In an alternate universe, the global pandemic occurred in 2019.

DCeased was a six-issue mini-series set in the DC Universe (Superman, Batman, et al). The plot involved a virus called the anti-life equation. Spread either by blood or transmitted through video screen, the virulent infection swiftly altered anyone who came in contact with it to flesh eating zombies. Even superheroes proved vulnerable to this infection. When the ravenous ghouls chasing you have flight and super strength, you can pretty much write the world off and start over somewhere else.

Given the more subtle and pervasive worldwide pandemic, with all it’s villains and heroes, you can be forgiven if the narrative of a world destroyed by virus does not sound all that appealing to you. However! Perhaps the four-color version will prove a positive distraction in it’s delight in mayhem and dire circumstances. Just ask psychiatrist Harleen Quinn:

The story starts the action from the first page and hits the accelerator from there. No character is sacred, all heroes are vulnerable. The only pauses in the action exist to raise the stakes even further. Dialogue is crisp, at times witty, and serves the story. Booze sodden mage John Constantine turns in a reluctant starring role on one side plot. A team of artists bring the undead to life, in gore soaked pages and vibrant action. Clearly everyone on the team had good fun taking down the world’s greatest heroes one by one.

An adult title for the gore alone. Still this was a fast paced enjoyable roller coaster ride through the apocalypse. A recommended title for fans of horror and heroes alike. Some knowledge of the DC Universe helps, but the dialogue carries the book regardless.

April 28, 2021

Wine: a Graphic History

Wine: a graphic history, by Benoise Simmat, illustrated by Daniel Casanave (Self-Made Hero, 2020)

In 1978 San Francisco-based publisher Rip-Off press began publishing The Cartoon History of the Universe by Larry Gonick. A rollicking romp through history (from the big bang through the origins of sexual reproduction, then world history up to 2008) this comics series set the model for smirky and irreverent graphic non-fiction. Many subsequent volumes of well researched and quirky comics follow Wine: a Graphic History, carries this torch forward.

A deep dive into the where and when of wine and wine-making, narrated by a hipster Bacchus with beard and flannel shirt. This book touches on the stone age origins of spoiled fruit all the way up through the “wine revolution” where the demonstrations of rowdy French farmers raised the consciousness of organic wines as an anti-capitalist protest movement in the 1990’s.

Cartoony characters enliven what might otherwise be a dry text. At times the book gets lost in the vines of history, but enough light notes and one-liners carry the book along to a smooth finish. A recommended read for oenophiles or anyone who really wants to nerd out about wine.

April 14, 2021

Beetle and the Hollowbones

Beetle and the Hollowbones, by Aliza Layne (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020).

Beetle is a goblin witch. She is homeschooled by her grandmother, though she has trouble with the usual witchy things: potions, broom flight etc. Her best friend is a blob ghost who is unable to leave the shopping mall it haunts. Her childhood best friend Kat Hollowbones is returning from out of town. Kat is an apprentice sorceress training at a difficult and prestigious boarding school. Beetle is anxious that Kat might not like her anymore, that their different experiences have caused them to grow apart. Kat is returning to train with her aunt Marla: a very powerful sorceress who has both money and political influence. Aunt Marla has purchased the mall that Blog Ghost lives in and plans to tear it down within the week. Without a mall to haunt Blob Ghost is sure to cease to exist.

The book hits many of the usual notes in a teen angst tale: friendship problems, school, anxiety over events larger than your influence that grievously affect your life. Still the setting is appealing and unique, the characters are charming. In world building, the details are what make it sing. Here the charm is found in images both incidental and significant. Beetle has a fuzzy spider that behaves like a cat. The shapechanging Blob Ghost cannot speak and leaves jello slime behind wherever they go, but they come across as cute and in need of protection. (See above: Blob Ghost sitting on a massage chair making slobbery noises when it vibrates).

In all the book is charming. Hints of romance and teen themes may elevate it to our young adult collection, a few scary images may be scary to smaller kids, but otherwise it is recommended for all ages.

April 7, 2021

Bob Marley in Comics

Bob Marley in Comics (various artists, 2019 NBM publishing).

This week we are adding a few new graphic non-fiction books, including a book on the history of wine, the graphic adaptation of the Mueller report, and Bob Marley in Comics.

NBM has put out a string of recent documentaries of famous musicians (at our Library we own the notably excellent Billie Holliday by Munoz and Sampayo, 741.5946 in the adult collection). A few are deep dives into the lives of the musicians by a single artist who knows and loves the material. Here, a number of artists with various styles walk us through the times and life of Nesta Robert Marley, from his life as a wee youth in rural St Ann’s parish, through hard times in Kingston, to fame in London, to his death too young at age 36.

No ground is broken nor startling insights gleaned, the book is largely adapted from biographical sources widely available (a bibliography in the final pages can link you to some of the best or most well known). Yet it is charming to see artists’ representations of each era in the musician’s life. The style of each artist is well paired with the section of his life discussed, bright sunny colors bring you to the farms and hills of his birthplace; city scenes of the Trenchtown shanties are at once gritty, cluttered, dangerous and lively. The editors have paced the story well, with digressions and essays between significant sections to cast light on the importance of soundsystem trucks in Jamaica and the DJ’s who ran them, the Rastafari life style, the politics of the time, and so on. Knowledgeable readers may take issue with some editorializing on various subtopics, but the book does not linger too long on any subject in particular so it rarely interrupts the progress of the biography.

In all, the book is best animated by the subject himself. Bob Marley was an impressively focused and creative human being with a great heart, and nearly too much love to go around (as one essay discusses his various extra marital affairs in brief). It is clear the writers and artists have a great appreciation for ‘Tuff Gong’ Bob Marley. Each artist brings his spirit and energy to life in the few short pages they get, paying homage to a brilliant musician with their own talent. If you love his music as well, but know little of his history this is a pleasant enough exploration of where he came from. To see the various times he failed or fell short but persevered is inspiring to any who have a creative spirit. To see how many times his music could have disappeared into obscurity feels like that much more of a blessing that it found not only an international audience, but carries on into immortality, despite his brief life.

Appropriate for high school students and up, due to frank depictions of violence or smoking marijuana. In our Library it will find itself on the Adult side for those reasons. Recommended for music fans who are curious to know a little more about this iconic figure in world music.

April 2, 2021

DC DCeased: Unkillables, Batman: Curse of the White Knight.

New comics added for the adult collection!

In weeding our collections we scan the books to see which books circulate well. This helps us select books that match our readership. Hero comics generally check out well in our adult collection, so on a recent trip to Politics and Prose I picked up a few books released in the past year, including: Batman: Curse of the White Knight, by Sean Murphy; and DC DCeased: Unkillables by Tom Taylor and Karl Mostert.

One challenge in buying hero comics for a Library collection is to find books that are standalone stories. Commonly the books that are published in graphic novels and trade paperbacks are story arcs excerpted from the monthly series, or are part of a multi-title crossover event that represents an overarching theme for the year. Both Batman:Curse of the White Knight and DC DCeased: Unkillables fall into these categories, yet each stands up as worthy additions to our stacks.

Batman: Curse of the White Knight is a follow up to the well written Batman: White Knight storyline, wherein the Joker gets psychiatric help, temporarily curing his various co-morbid mental illnesses. (On re-order, to replace our missing copy). Here the story dives into the tangled pre-history of the Wayne family. A criminal entity known as the Elite has possession of Bruce Wayne’s secrets. They attempt to extort him into undoing the political good works set in motion by the then-sane Joker when he ran for office under his alter ego Jack Napier. Here he is back to his old mad mad mad self. An ancient secret has been revealed that ties the Wayne family to a blood feud with a predecessor of the Joker, since the foundation of Gotham.

The storyline tangles crime syndicates and ancient curses. A wildcard crew of dangerous mercenaries/zealots hunts for members of the extended Batman family. Batman dives into the archaeology of Gotham’s history. The book does require a base level knowledge of the Batman canon: familiar characters suffer tragedy; long running storylines wrap up. Casual readers may get lost in the cast of characters. Still Sean Murphy’s art is always is both energetic and personable. Characters distinguish themselves in both art and dialogue, action tends to be dynamic and not muddied even while a newcomer to the storyline may get lost in the weeds. It is best as a companion book to Batman:White Knight, but if the events of this story are not ret-conned in a later re-write or purge (as tends to happen in the comics world) then the world of Batman will have been significantly changed for all future stories. For this reason in particular it is a necessary addition to any library that follows this character.

Recommended for Batman fans, ages teen and up due to realistic gore and some adult themes.

DC DCeased: Unkillables (by Tom Taylor, pencils by Karl Mostert, 2020 DC Comics)

This book by contrast works well as a standalone story. The DC DCeased storyline was a multi-title crossover event wherein a world destroying virus ravaged the earth, turning heroes and citizens alike into savage zombies. Perhaps as commentary on our addiction to screens, the virus is activated by a glimpse at a screen: cell phone, computer, television etc. Now maybe the public appetite for fictional viral apocalypses is not as fierce as it has been. We may be ready for a new storyline in reality itself. Still this book of the crossover event manages to amuse and entertain as a distraction from the real life version.

The arc in this book follows Deathstroke, world’s greatest assassin as he first succumbs to the virus, then (not really a spoiler since he is prominent on front and back cover) recovers from it due to his healing factor. He is recruited by other surviving villains to team up to survive a world infested with flesh eating zombies. If heroes can’t save the world, perhaps the villains can.

Big dumb gory fun ensues. I’m a sucker for villains turned accidental heroes, and this one hits the mark. The cast of characters is entertaining. Dialogue is snarky and light for the most part. The Creeper in particular steals every scene he is in, with loopy good humor in the face of disaster. Recommended for adults and teens only due to over the top gore and a cadre of murderous children of and orphanage repurposed as an assassin academy. Villains find redemption or bloody endings. Heroes show up as dangerous menaces. Still, however the fictional world of super powered zombies resolved in the over-arching story arc, this book proved to have a satisfactory ending.

March 9, 2021

Comics Jam! Monthly readaloud. (3/12: The Witches by Roald Dahl, graphic novel by Penelope Bagieu)

Once monthly at the Takoma Park Maryland Library, on the 2nd Wednesday of the month, we have a reading of comics from the Library’s collection. This lets us preview incoming comics that are exciting and high quality. We meet currently on zoom, from 4-5:30 pm accessible here. After reading comics I will attempt to draw whatever ideas the kids can think up. A grumpy bicycle? Half dragon, half dump truck? Whatever you can imagine I will try to draw.

This week will continue our readaloud of Penelope Bagieu’s adaptation of The Witches by Roald Dahl. Penelope Bagieu is a French illustrator, known in our collection for California Dreamin’ (a graphic bio novel of Cass Eliot, of the music group the Mamas and the Papas, before she was famous) and Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World! Ms. Bagieu has a charming clear line style with personable characters and a strong sense of humor. The story is adapted faithfully from the classic, preserving both the wry wit and the sense of menace of the original. Recommended for all ages who like spooky stories and good humor.

February 18, 2021

More comics for beginning readers!

(New comics for beginning readers added to our collection February 2021).

Once kids develop some fluency in reading comics it is important to provide high interest stories that retain their interest. Now the artist can play with the relationship between word balloons and imagery. Word balloons provide comfort for new readers, they can only contain a limited number of words, it is clear who is speaking them. Changes in font can denote emotion or emphasis. These all help in a read-aloud for any parent who is willing to get a little silly and provide the proper voices for each character. 

Below are a smattering of new comics that we have added for beginning readers that are willing to read on their own:

Cat Kid: Comic Club, by Dav Pilkey (Scholastic 2020)

In our weekly Scribbler’s Cabal aka Sketch Club, kids meet to draw and share their ideas. Here Captain Underpants author Dav Pilkey teaches similar lessons (in a class nominally hosted by Dog Man’s sidekick Cat Kid, though a protesting fish dad intrudes and steers the action). Poop jokes and world destroying mayhem teach the lesson that comics can be created with a variety of media and subjects. In sketch club we ask kids to feel free to make interesting mistakes, in the Cat Kid Comic Club the entire class is instructed to go home and make the worst possible comic they can. They fail at making terrible comics, by making comically interesting (if scatalogical or world-destroying) comics. Dav Pilkey’s humor reaches the target audience, with his usual loopy humor, yet all the while, gentle lessons are being imparted that for the creative process it is more important to try than to seek perfection. In presenting supposedly low quality comics Pilkey shows his mastery of the medium. In one notable section he presents a comic in Haiku and photo essay, providing a pleasant change of pace before diving back into the happy nonsense.

Chick and Brain: Smell my foot! (Candlewick Press, 2020)

Newberry Honor Winner Cece Bell presents a comics reader for the younger set. Here cartoon bird Chicky attempts to instruct the world on manners. Brain attempts to get the world to smell his foot. “Who’s on first?” style hi-jinks follow. With simple page layout and only a few words per page, the book serves as an easy reader, winning a Geisel honor for distinguished books intended for beginning readers. Your littlest comics readers will likely regale you with the title phrase for the rest of the day. Smell my foot!

Peter & Ernesto: Sloths in the Night, by Graham Annable (First Second, 2020)

A gentle and friendly adventure wherein a pod of sloths look for their friend, and quite possibly also a dragon. The Peter and Ernesto books by Graham Annable is an easy reading series aimed at younger readers. Here the crew wanders off into the jungle at night, escaping mild danger and meeting glowing frogs along the way. Clear lines, solid colors, cartoony characters, it will appeal to new readers. Some panels of complete darkness aside from word balloons would require interpretation for kids who are not yet reading, but otherwise the story should be readily accessible even to early readers who are not yet translating all the words in the speech bubbles.

February 1, 2021

New adds: simple comics for pre-readers! (February 2021)

Comics are excellent resources for kids who are past the ‘chewing on books’ stage, and are trying to read on their own. Comic panels provide context for the reader to decode the content. This helps the early reader to understand story whether or not they can read the words. This is distinct from many picture books where in many cases the reverse is true (the language describes what is happening in the pictures).

The trick of course is in finding stories that are fun to read whether or not you can decode the letters. At the Takoma Park MD Library we are always looking for excellent books that are fun for our littlest readers to dive into.

Here are a smattering of new titles we are adding that should be fun to explore for kids who have decided they are ready to read books on their own:

Bone Adventures, by Jeff Smith (Scholastic, 2020)

From BONE Adventures (Combined volume). Scholastic Books © 2020 Jeff Smith

Comics readers of all ages know Jeff Smith’s classic nine volume epic Bone, about three cousins who lose themselves in a valley where dangerous rat creatures have begun to invade. Fans have been waiting for a decade for a peek back into that world. Sadly this is not that.

However! For brand new readers it is a friendly introduction to the three Bone cousins: Fone Bone is thoughtful, Phoney Bone is Greedy, Smiley Bone is goofy and imaginative. Clear simple expressive line drawings animate the action. Sight gags and images in thought balloons make it a good read for pre readers. Word balloons with large text, and few words per page help the beginning readers. As a bonus, the solo adventure by Smiley Bone serves as a counting book from numbers one to ten, then back again.

And good news for Bone fans, after 10 years waiting for development, the Bone series was finally purchased by Netflix who will release the epic as a cartoon series this year. Release date still pending…

The Paper Boat, a refugee story, by That Lam (Owlkids; Illustrated edition, 2020)

Panel from The Paper Boat, A refugee story (Owlkids, 2020)

Wordless, deep, meaningful. The story can be understood by discerning readers or any age but the context may evade some younger kids. The book works as allegory for the adult readers, and as story for the younger readers. An ant crawls across a dinner table seeking food. Ending up in the soup of a kindly girl, she rescues him with a chopstick and sets him free. In her life in a small village trouble arrives in the form of soldiers. She has to hide. In the ant’s life, the insect and its family climb aboard a paper boat the girl has folded. Sailing across troubled waters, the ants endure a difficult and dangerous journey. Finally they arrive at a new world: a busy city, in a new land. The final images show the same family from the village now in a tall apartment building in a new land. Backmatter explains the authors journey as a refugee from Viet Nam.

In sharing wordless books with younger readers, I find enjoyment ‘reading’ aloud by narrating what we see in the panels. As panels change you can describe the story and ask what they think is happening. This teaches the youngest readers to decode panels for themselves, intuiting that a change in panels denotes an advancement in time or a change of perspective.

Most of this story will be able to be understood by a kid reading alone. The jump from perspective of the ant to the girl and the context of the soldiers entering the village may evade younger readers requiring interpretation by an adult, but the travails of the ant across the sea will be easily understood and felt.

Owly, Just a little blue, by Andy Runton (Scholastic, 2020)

Owly, Just a little blue, Scholastic 2020

Scholastic has undertaken full color reworkings of the Owly series, and the books benefit from the changes. The colors are vivid, saturating the page, adding a great deal of enjoyment to these classic books. In re-working the books the editors have cleverly isolated some sequences into single panel pages, to set up page turns for surprises that might otherwise have been lost when packed all onto one page.

Many books in the Owly series are wordless. Owly is one of the first comics I put in front of any kid. The story reads clearly, with no difficult panels. The characters are charming, helpful, and experience emotions that are easily understood. In this story images are included in word balloons to help early readers decode the text.

April 9, 2016

James Sturm. Monday April 11 7 PM, Takoma Park Maryland library

James Sturm of the Center for Cartoon Studies, and the Adventures in Cartooning series, (and various other excellent et ceteras, see below) will be joining us here at the Takoma Park Maryland Library to chat about comics, his process, his career, life in general, and also to introduce his latest work:  Birdsong (Toon Books, 2016).   See event details:

http://tinyurl.com/zgtvha4

Here’s an auteur who truly writes for all ages: kids books (here with Birdsong, appropriate for ages 5-8) or his loopy and exuberant Adventures in Cartooning series, to very grown and thoughtful works in his adult comics.   Our library carries the following of these et ceteras:

  • James Sturm’s America: God, Gold and Golems ( 2007) Drawn and Quarterly
  • Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow (2007) Drawn and Quarterly
  • Market Day (2010) Drawn and Quarterly
  • Adventures in Cartooning with Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost (2009) First Second
  • Sleepless Knight with Andrew Arnold & Alexis Frederick-Frost (2015) First Second
  • Gryphons Aren’t So Great with Andrew Arnold & Alexis Frederick-Frost (2015) First Second
  • Ogres Awake! with Andrew Arnold & Alexis Frederick-Frost (2016) First Second