Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

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:

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



April 29, 2015

Last of the Sandwalkers, by Jay Hosler. Beetle scientists! Action science adventures!

Come Meet Jay Hosler at the Takoma Park MD Library tomorrow night!  Thursday 4/30, 7:30 PM.  As he introduces and reads from his epic tale Last of the Sandwalkers.  Reviewed below.

LAST OF THE SANDWALKERS (First Second Press, 2015)

Six bold beetles gear up to explore the world beyond their small oasis in the desert.  Is there life in the great sandy wastes?  Or will the anger of the great god Scarabus smite them for the heresy that is curiosity…

sandwalkers look what I found smallerlast_of_the_sandwalkers_bat

Biology professor Jay Hosler writes interestingly complex and amusing comics that are fairly rustling with intelligence and humor.  Best known for his Xeric Award winning Clan Apis, a friendly and personable look at the life cycle of bees, Hosler has also penned a handful of other amusing and edifying graphic stories.  Whether we listen in on conversations between Charles Darwin and a follicle mite that lives in his eyebrow (Sandwalk Chronicles) or dive into the soup of human imagination to retrieve a lost eyeball and learn how the structure of the eye evolved over time (Optical Allusions) Hosler clearly loves the process of blending education and entertainment,

In Last of the Sandwalkers Hosler tackles a more straightforward but perhaps more ambitious project:  to tell a stand-alone story entertaining on its own merits, while hiding all the biology in the narrative.  This is the epic quest of a small band of inquisitive bugs whose inquisitive nature dares them to question the dogma that keeps them in line.  Well equipped for anything they could anticipate, except perhaps for jealousy and betrayal…

The characters are well drawn, funny, with distinct differences in appearance and abilities.   Their insect technology is cleverly imagined, and aside from some mechanical wizardry, highly plausible.  It’s neat to see a biology professor imagineering what innovations bugs would invent to tackle the problems of their world.  The plot is tight, great dialogue, the friendship and teamwork of the crew animates the action and adds charm.  The secondary plot suggests the political  swordfighing of academia and the struggle of rigorous science against blind faith.  Friendly upbeat with tense action and fun ‘ick’-factor’ moments  (in one moment trying to placate corpse beetles that they are not trying to steal a semi-liquified dead rodent or eat the grubs it contains).  Ultimately the tone of the book suggests the optimism and irrepressible nature of science, that the quest for knowledge is a joy in and of itself, that satisfying one’s curiosity is something of a sacred mission.  Or to quote from the philosopher Calvin in dialogue with his companion Hobbes::

H:  Whatcha doin’?
C: Looking for frogs.
H:  How come?
C: I must obey the inscrutable exhortations of my soul.
H:  Ah, but of course.
C:  My mandate also includes weird bugs.

Which would seem to be the genesis of how one becomes a biology professor, or even a cartoonist known for drawing the lives of weird bugs,

Last of the Sandwalkers is highly recommended for all ages of readers, basically anyone who likes, bugs, science, adventure, humor, cyborgs, and great action.

August 27, 2014

MOUSEGUARD! David Petersen visits the Library. Thurs Sept 4, 7:30

Mouseguard author/artist David Petersen comes to chat with us and talk about his process, works in progress, plans, whatever — in another in our series of visiting artists coming to the Takoma Park Maryland Library (101 Philadelphia Ave  Takoma Park MD 20912) at 7:30 PM on Thursday 9/4/14


Stunning artwork,  beautifully painted, appealing characters, small heroes proving stoic and determined against outsized odds — if you have not yet met the valiant warriors of Mouseguard then you are in for a treat.  If you have read them you know the story:  the woods and wild spaces are patrolled by an intrepid band of determined guardmice.  They protect the towns of civilized mousedom against constant threat in the form of predators and politics.

Where Mouseguard soars above most other comics is in the meticulously detailed and lush art.  Divinity is in the details, the architecture of the buildings is both credible and to scale.  If you happened to know any mouse-sized carpenters you could actually assemble these forts stone by stone, plank by plank. Realism promotes this book out of our ‘all-ages’ section where little kids might be frightened by plausible snakes and weasels taking swords through the eye and such like.  But that realism lends verisimilitude to a world peopled by sword-carrying varmints.

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December 4, 2013

Mental Health in Comics, Recommended Books list, and follow up to our UMD College of Information Studies visit.

We had another great visit with Professor Ching’s evening class in Children’s Literature and Materials at the University of Maryland’s graduate College of Information Studies.   We tend to haul a few boxes of books up there to show examples of great books, but spend more time discussing the history and relevance of comics.  I always enjoy the back and forth with the students that follows since its fun to talk comics with bright and interested people.

Here I’m circling back to follow-up on a few questions raised or books we discussed, as well as to offer resources helping you find other great books we recommend, especially those in our collection.

As promised our Recommended Graphic Novel List is available as a Google doc that we periodically edit to add more titles that make it into our various collections.

You will also find more recent reviews on here of course, and on the Takoma Park Maryland Library’s Comics Page.

After the jump (and in following blog entries) I’ll suggest books that relate to some of the topics we discussed, starting with 3 books on mental illness.

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November 8, 2013

Memior, realistic fiction, fictionalized memoir. A selection from a talk at Emerson school.

I recently had a chance to visit Emerson high school in Washington DC to talk with students about their graphic novel memoir projects.  I brought with me a stack of great books to provide examples of what can be done with the format.  Here’s a selection of the best of them:

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July 29, 2013

Historical Fiction and Non-Fiction. Crogan’s Loyalty; Big Bad Ironclad

crogans loyalty sniper

Brother is set against brother in the excellent Crogan’s Loyalty, historical fiction set in the Revolutionary War.

This year during school visits we discussed historical fiction and I figured I’d take this space to highlight a few standout titles in our Graphic Novel collection.

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales:  Big Bad Ironclad.

This book works hard to do a great deal all at once in a very small space.  Pages are always cramped in a digest sized book, and while this works fine for manga where often one entire page is filled with a single panel,  here Hale manages to cram action, information and dialogue into dozen or more panels per page.

Within those size constraints Hale does fairly well.  Young comics readers won’t have to guess to untangle the flow of action sequences. and his flash-forward narrators (soon-to-be-hanged spy Nathan Hale and the Greek chorus of participants at his hanging) only occasionally obtrude on the flow of the story.   Now and again the nincompoopery of the hangman character fails to hit the funny bone, but otherwise the story serves its purpose:  teaching younger grade-level readers about a significant period of history in a breezy easy way.

The book is not trying for resonance or humanity or perspective. It seeks to make history kid-friendly. For graphics non-fiction it works pretty well, even if here at the library it doesn’t create its own audience or compel readers in to eagerly yank it from the shelf. To me well-done period fiction or non-fiction works best when it ignites further interest in the topic or era.  I ask myself not whether I learned something but: do I care to know more?

Crogan’s Loyalty by Chris Schweizer

Contrast with Chris Schweizer’s excellent The Crogan Adventures series.  These well-researched historical fiction action graphic novels follow the adventures of various ancestors of the Crogan family.  Tales of morality and moral ambiguity are told father to son to illustrate ethical lessons and a bit of history.

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February 24, 2012

Panel Check! Racist images in comics.

Before shelving a book in our collection, no matter the review nor recommendation, here at the Takoma Park MD Library we always run a ‘panel check’ on every graphic novel we add.

This means I read a great many comics of course, the point here is to confirm where a book belongs in our collection, and in our children’s section to avoid any upsetting surprises for patrons hunting for an appropriate book for their kid.  Adult language, realistic violence, sexually charged situations, mature topics– these are all reasons why a book may step up the ladder to the next higher age category.  (See promotion criteria at the bottom of this article).

Occasionally we get ambushed by a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing and buy a book intended for a young audience, but discover a single panel of art that bumps it to a higher category.   Kid-to-grown-up ‘booby-trapped’ books are especially upsetting when an otherwise great story, appropriate for all ages, is derailed by unfortunate racial stereotypes or caricatures.

Here is a smattering of otherwise excellent books that are tainted by their own prejudices.

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October 28, 2011

Criteria for judging quality in comics (from a talk at the University of Maryland).

I always enjoy our yearly session talking comics with the ‘gradual’ students at the College of Information Sciences at UMD, in large part because interesting questions get raised that I had not yet considered.  Here the question was:  ‘If you were developing an award for comics, what criteria would you use to decide if a comic is noteworthy?’  In other words, how do I tell if a comic is good?

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April 19, 2011

Amulet, by Kazu Kibuishi

After reading Bone by Jeff Smith I am often asked ‘what’s next?’     These next few posts are reviews of a few All-ages comics that join the canon of  stellar works I’d recommend to anybody.  Some are not new, but maybe new to you:

Amulet, by Kazu Kibuishi

In his ‘Hero with a Thousand Faces’ Joseph Campbell postulated that the Hero of  classical mythology must lose his parents early in life.  Perhaps the reason tall heroes have dead parents is that it opens up the boundaries of possibilities and exposes the youth to danger.  Perhaps the hero myth is simply the coming of age we all undergo.

In any case Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet hits every note of the classic hero’s journey.  Within the first ten pages he has offed one primary caregiver, as the father drives off a cliff in a car accident.  Attempting to leave their old life behind, Mom moves the two kids to an eerie home in the woods, left to her by dead grandpa Silas.   Daughter Emily finds a luminous necklace (the eponymous Amulet) in the library then shortly thereafter the two kids lose their second parent as Mom is snatched by a fleshy squid-spider.

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March 15, 2011

City of Spies

By Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan; art by Pascal Dizin

Think:  ‘Nancy Drew times  Tintin’ to get a sense of this book.   Set in World War Two-era New York City, spunky and imaginative tweenager Evelyn is sent by her father to spend the summer with an artistic and distractable maiden aunt in her Upper East Side apartment.   The father has a new fiancee to squire around the country club set, and Evelyn just may be in the way.

As Aunt Lia has little experience or expertise in parenting,  Evelyn has a great deal of free time to become bored, to mope, then to explore and get herself into trouble.  Some trouble manifests in a new friendship with the working class son of the building superintendent.

As kids do, they fall into a natural conspiracy– or,  it being World War Two:  counter-conspiracy.    Aunt Evelyn’s apartment building stands in the heart of the Germantown neighborhood of 1940’s Manhattan, thus to a ten year old girl  it’s entirely plausible there are Nazi collaborators wherever they look.   Perhaps this is a ‘girl who cried wolf’ situation, but perhaps not…

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