August Favorites

I can tell that the summer is coming to a close because all I want to do is drink buckets of tea. I always love tea, but I slow my consumption down in the sweltering summer months. As soon as it dips below 75, however, my body decides that it is now autumn. Needless to say, I’m excited for more clement weather and my favorite holiday right around the corner. (Not that anyone is going to be trick-or-treating this year, but I’m determined to stay positive about Halloween anyway.)

My working life looks a bit different these days. I’m taking on less so that I can take care of my daughter during the day, but my focus is also shifting to things that I really want to be doing. I’ve been having a lot of fun with podcasting lately; it’s something I obviously have enjoyed ever since I became a permanent host of Manga Machinations, but now it serves as a tie to my pre-mom identity. And it’s a great bit of social time I’m able to look forward to every week. We wrapped up our Kasane retrospective this month, and phew! What a series! I enjoyed it way more than I anticipated, and I really loved talking about it with the guys.

Generally, with these monthly favorites, I choose to profile series that I haven’t talked about before. So if I’m continuing to read a series, I don’t always bring that up, even if I really love it. I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that I’m still enjoying BEASTARS. I’m a couple volumes ahead of release because I get review copies, so I just gotta say…if you’re keeping up with it so far, or if you’re on the fence as to whether or not to continue…it remains really solidly written, beautifully illustrated, and completely wild. Going forward, I’m going to try to mention series I’ve continued to read, since that usually means I’m really into it. (I have a tendency to forget about series if I’m only lukewarm on them, even if they had a strong start.)

I had a chance to read a few manga this month that I had been eagerly anticipating, so I’m excited to finally be able to share those with y’all!

venusblindspotmasterumezz

Venus in the Blind Spot — by Junji Ito, published by VIZ Media

It’s always a good month when there’s a new Junji Ito book on the horizon. I usually try not to read review copies of his stuff, because I want the experience of buying and reading the book. But this time, I just felt really compelled to write a review for Comics Beat. I really loved it; I think it might be the strongest of his anthology collections available in English so far. I was especially excited to see his adaptation of Edogawa Rampo’s creepy short story, “The Human Chair.” Ito did not disappoint — I had the same visceral reaction to this manga version as I did the original prose. My favorite offering in this collection has got to be “Master Umezz and Me,” an autobiographical piece where Ito talks about his relationship with Kazuo Umezz’s work. I have this (perhaps futile) hope that this story will inspire English-language readers to become more interested in Umezz’s work so that we can have a reprint of Cat-Eyed Boy….

slaughterhousefive

Slaughterhouse-Five, or the Children’s Crusade — written by Kurt Vonnegut, adapted by Ryan North, illustrated by Albert Monteys; published by Archaia, available September 15, 2020

I was in an airport on my way to Japan when I learned about Kurt Vonnegut’s death. It was a huge blow to me, though I had only read a couple of his books at that point. Vonnegut was a huge influence on me as a teenager, and many of his ideas remain an integral part of my personal philosophy. I was thrilled when I found out Ryan North, the writer behind Dinosaur Comics and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, was responsible for writing an adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five. While I think that this comic is best appreciated if you’re already familiar with the original novel, I thought it was incredibly well done. I especially appreciate the in-story acknowledgement that it is an adaptation, talking about Vonnegut in the third person and pointing him out in crowd scenes to give the reader added perspective on his role during World War II. I’m not worried that Vonnegut will ever become an unknown name, but I like to think that this graphic novel version of one of his most beloved novels will help keep his legacy current.

idontknowhowtogivebirthimpregnant

I Don’t Know How to Give Birth — by Ayami Kazama, published by Yen Press

I have been waiting for this manga forever. It was originally intended for release around my own due date, but delayed twice over. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I finally got my hands on it. I’ve mentioned before that I intend on writing a full reflection on pregnancy through comics, and the real reason I haven’t already is because I was waiting to read this, the only manga translated into English that deals directly with pregnancy. In it, Ayami Kazama talks at length about her struggles with infertility, the excitement of finally becoming pregnant, the struggle to find maternity underwear, and the uncertainty of becoming a parent. Though her experience was very different from my own, I always appreciate hearing other moms talk about pregnancy and birth. It really reinforces for me that there’s no single correct way to have a baby or to be a mom, and I find that really reassuring as a new parent, myself. Kazama’s husband, Azure Konno (also a mangaka), has little pages at the end of each chapter where he mentions his own experiences of his wife’s pregnancy. I thought this was a really nice touch, since it takes (at least) two people to make a baby! I Don’t Know How to Give Birth also reminded me a lot of chii’s The Bride Was A Boy, in that it was an autobiographical manga that used factual information to gently educate its readership on the topic at hand. I think this is a great read for anyone, but it will be of special interest to new parents, or those planning on having children.

A pretty solid lineup for August, if I do say so myself! September is gearing up to be busy (and I always get busier in the fall, but let’s see what happens since COVID prevents me from going anywhere). Hopefully I’ll have a nice little roundup for you next month, as well. Until then, stay well!

Black Creator Spotlight: Ronald Wimberly

We all have those artists whose work we keep intending to read, but somehow they keep getting put off for one reason or another. For me, that was Ronald Wimberly, specifically his book Prince of Cats. I knew that I had to fill that gap in my comics reading, and so this second Black Creator Spotlight centers on Wimberly.

Ronald Wimberly is an award-winning comics artist whose work includes the aforementioned Prince of CatsBlack History In Its Own Words, and the ongoing LAAB project. LAAB is, in the words of its most recent Kickstarter campaign: “An annual broadsheet magazine full of art, comics, criticism, interviews.” When I was working at Comicopia, we got a stack of the first issue, and I was very impressed with the cohesiveness, clarity, and design sense of the magazine. Wimberly brings together many voices to talk on issues that are important to him, including Black identity. I had never seen anything like it in comics, and haven’t seen anyone doing something similar, either.

blackhistoryownwords

I had read Wimberly’s Black History In Its Own Words a while ago, and I knew that I loved his artwork. I’ve since reread it for this post, and I have a more informed perspective on it in the face of current events and conversations around anti-racism. In short, the book is a compilation of portraits of influential Black people, accompanied by quotes that Wimberly found meaningful. Initially begun as a project for The Nib for Black History Month, Wimberly spun it out into a whole book to be published by Image Comics — drawings spanning three years of work. I especially appreciate that not all of the figures profiled are names well-known to the average white reader; Wimberly purposefully includes rappers, artists, and radical feminists in the mix of voices. I remember being surprised to learn that George Herriman, the creator of Krazy Kat, was a Black man; as in so many aspects of my life, I assumed a white default. When I first read this book, I think I considered it a cute quote book with exceptional artwork; now I realize that Wimberly was collecting a medley of Black voices for Black empowerment and reflection on Blackness. For me as a white woman, the book is an important reminder that even though it is not “for me,” there is plenty for me to learn from it, and from the wealth of influential Black figures both past and present.

Prince of Cats made me glad that I was forced to read Romeo & Juliet multiple times — a feat which middle and high school English classes could never achieve. Wimberly recasts the play with all Black characters, sets it in 1980s New York City, and centers his narrative on Tybalt. He mixes Shakespeare’s lofty prose with street talk in a melodious marriage that reinforces the Bard’s own sense of humor at times. (“Redeem thy kicks for thy skin.”) I found myself thinking of the 1996 movie adaptation of the play starring Leonardo DiCaprio a lot during this reading; Wimberly sets a stage that is more easily recognizable to a modern audience, and changes perspective to highlight the destruction of seemingly arbitrary demarcations of difference. The gang violence portrayed seemed much more real and pressing to me than the fruitless feud of the Montagues and Capulets in Shakespeare’s original play.

princeofcatscover

And of course, Prince of Cats is visually incredible. Because of time constraints, I borrowed a digital copy of the comic from my library, even though it is not my preferred method of reading comics. The digital version has a unique feature that forced me to read most of the comic panel by panel, instead of page by page. Generally I take issue with this, because I know that artists put as much effort into page and panel layout as the illustrations themselves, and I know from LAAB that Wimberly has a strong sense of graphic design; however, this allowed me to get a much closer look at the little details he puts in every drawing. I love his use of thick black lines, his sense of movement. I was especially excited by the visual references to Japanese culture, including a few specifically to AkiraPrince of Cats is a celebration of Shakespeare, but also of hip-hop, samurai films, animation, and Blackness. It’s not a straight adaptation, but rather a work that breathes new life and meaning into what can feel like a stale play to many readers. (But maybe I’m biased; I prefer Hamlet.)

Wimberly recently had a comic of his pulled from the New York Times for its “controversial” image of a burning cop car. This page was the end of a series of diary comics, and it is disappointing (to say the least) that the Times decided that Wimberly’s very real, raw emotions about police brutality were deemed inappropriate. For those who want to experience more of Wimberly’s personal comics, and his ongoing work through LAAB, you can subscribe to his Patreon (where membership levels are “Alibi,” Co-defendant,” and “Co-conspirator”), follow him on Instagram, and/or follow him on Twitter.

[Note: Wimberly does not have direct links to purchase Black History In Its Own Words or Prince of Cats through his own website or social media profiles. Instead of linking to their Image Comics pages, I encourage interested readers to get in touch with Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, a Black woman owned comic shop out of Philadelphia, PA. Their website says that Prince of Cats is currently out of stock, but many shops are willing to place special orders for customers. And regardless, they’re a good shop to support!]

 

The Revolution Will Be Japanified: Pure Invention and the Multifaceted Influence of Japanese Pop Culture

My daughter has a plush octopus named Veronica. Veronica, a Squishmallow brand toy, came with her name, as well as a stated interest in pretzels, reading, and having adventures. She also has two perfectly round black eyes and a teeny tiny smile all set close together, a face that I would easily describe as “kawaii.” When I was a child, the general public would not have understood this descriptor. Now, however, it is easy to take for granted how much this Japanese ideal of cuteness has taken over the marketing of toys — among other things.

pureinventioncover

Matt Alt’s new book, Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World details how we came to this point, beginning with the history of US-occupied Japan’s rise from the humiliation and devastation of World War II as the country who would take over the toy business. From the creation of a simple tin-scrap jeep in the 50s, to the invention and improvement of karaoke, arcade games, video game consoles, and the eventual export of anime and manga, Japan has wiggled its way into the Western consciousness even in spite of especially American fears and prejudices concerning a Japanese takeover. As Alt states, the science fiction of the 80s was littered with the idea of Japanese power dominating white Western culture (see: Blade Runner). Though we are not all speaking Japanese and committing our allegiance to the Emperor, these visions of Japanese aesthetic co-opting our everyday lives was remarkably prescient.

Not every aspect of this globalization of Japanese tastes has been as innocuous as toy design, however; Alt spends a great deal of time tracing the alt-right’s rise on 4chan, a forum inspired by the Japanese 2channel. 4chan originated as an anonymous forum for exchanging anime screenshots and the creation of memes, but in time anonymity provided a mask for disenfranchised white men and boys behind which they could say whatever they liked to whomever they wished. Despite anime and manga’s Japanese origins of affiliation with leftist radicals, Western Twitter is rife with belligerent users referred to as “anime avatars,” who seem to enjoy reiterating far-right talking points and harassing those whose views do not align with their own.

It is fascinating to see the trajectory of Japanese influence on the West, complete with both the ways in which it has fostered incredible progress and in which it has reinforced white supremacist ideals. The world we know today was not created in a vacuum, and Alt has given the historical context for a host of surprising facets of our modern lives. But he has also written a fascinating history of Japan itself, as both influenced by Western culture and drawing upon its own traditions and expertise. Take, for instance, the creation of Hello Kitty, that well-known ambassador of kawaii. Sanrio founder Shintaro Tsuji’s childhood exposure to the American “birthday party” inspired him to make cute necessities, something special for children from a man whose own childhood was fraught with war and poverty. The story of Sanrio’s growth, hiring women designers at a time when women were rarely in positions of power (and even here, would have to fight for top positions) and connecting with the children of a booming economy, is a testament to the way in which Japanese companies court the tastes of girls.

An entire chapter of Pure Invention is dedicated to the economic powerhouse that is female consumerism. Teenage girls have always been at the forefront of what is trendy, and no more so than in the popularization of pagers, cell phones, and fashion on Tokyo’s bustling streets. I remember when “Harajuku style” was all the rage to Japanophile teens here in the US (because I was one of those teens), and I still swoon whenever I see a photo of delinquent girls from the 90s in their over-long sailor skirts. They’re cool. They’re aspirational. And they helped drive sales for decades, even when the Japanese economic bubble burst, tossing Japan into a depression, the perfect example of the fallout of late-stage capitalism.

I am a great lover of history, and obviously a lover of Japanese pop culture, so perhaps I was predestined to enjoy this book. But beyond the subject matter, it is an exhaustively researched, eloquently written text which had me reflecting on my own experiences with the likes of Sailor Moon, Power Rangers, and my best friend’s Nintendo 64 in the 90s and early aughts. Looking back through my personal past, I can track the steady increase of Japanese and Japanese-adjacent sway on my media and consumer diet, a microcosm of what was happening to youth culture on the whole at the time. I look around my home and, though I am perhaps a special case as a manga collector and critic, see hundreds of examples of Japanese influence in my life. I recall having a lactation consultant, of all things, comment on the pile of manga I had sitting on my coffee table when she came to work with me, because her son reads manga — not a conversation I was expecting to have while preparing to learn about latching and milk supply! But so omnipresent is the saturation of Japanese goods that I did have that conversation, and have had many like it in equally surprising circumstances.

Manga has its own special place in Pure Invention, alongside anime and discussion of the student riots of the 60s and 70s. Osamu Tezuka is rightfully profiled, Alt even mentioning the God of Manga’s place in his own life. But the important takeaway is the rise of manga and gekiga as a catalyst for leftist movements, the heroes of these comics serving as inspiration for a group of young people who sought change and justice as they struggled to find work and purpose in their lives. It is the opposite of the American alt-right co-opting anime today, spouting ideas about how Japan is a country untouched by “political correctness” — an interpretation that shows just how little these individuals understand about Japan, and which implies that they are perhaps the ones who most need to read this book.

I am hesitant to say that Pure Invention is nostalgic, exactly, because Alt is far too aware of the drawbacks of Japanese globalization as well as the benefits. But he is open about his own youth being touched by the various new innovations in tech and media through the 80s and 90s. He never takes over the narrative with his own story, but rather provides context for growing up as a young American giving in to the onslaught of imagery and ideas from the East. That touch of intimacy helps the reader feel invested, as well, and like they can trust Alt — someone who, probably much like them, cares deeply about Japan. Matt Alt has been writing about Japan for many years, though this is the first of his books that I have had the pleasure to read. I intend on finding more of his work soon, as I was thoroughly impressed and engaged with this book.

You can learn more about Alt, his books, and his localization company at his website.

 

July Favorites

I’m not the biggest fan of summer. It’s been in the 90s here for weeks, and Sev and I have mostly holed up in either her bedroom or mine, the only places in the apartment with window unit air conditioners. I’m looking forward to the end of July, and the end of August, if I’m being completely honest. The heat makes me lethargic and grumpy, feelings that are compounded by this whole coronavirus ordeal.

Still, this pandemic has afforded me even more time to read, something I thought would vanish as soon as I had a baby. I hope that you all have had similar experiences with being able to reinvest in the things that make you happy, even if circumstances are rough right now.

This month I made a comic haul purchase through Comicopia, and I’ve also been borrowing comics through the library — both through Libby and through Hoopla. This is my regular reminder to you all to support your local comic shop, support your library, and if you simply must order online, try to do it through Bookshop, which will in turn support independent book stores. I don’t mean to sound like a broken record here, but I am really concerned for the state of small businesses and libraries in the wake of this virus.

But enough of the doom and gloom! Let me tell you about some comics that made me happy this month.

prettydeadlyreaperofvengeance

Pretty Deadly, Volume 3 — by Kelly Sue DeConnick (story), Emma Rios (line art), Jordie Bellaire (colors), and Clayton Cowles (lettering), published by Image Comics

I know I don’t usually profile comics in a series after the first one, but Pretty Deadly comes out so infrequently that I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to write about it on this blog before. My pitch when I used to hand sell it at Comicopia was “it’s a Southern Gothic comic about Death’s daughter,” and that usually caught a customer’s attention. The second book focuses on wartime, and this third one is a 1930s Hollywood noir. Discussion questions at the back of the book mention how the creative team is intentionally invoking the era of pulp comics: westerns, war comics, and noir. The comics history nerd in me thrilled at that. In this volume, subtitled The Rat, Deathface Ginny, the Reaper of Vengeance, is helping Frank Fields, linked to the reapers through his family, find out how his niece died. The pair hop from one Hollywood haunt to the next, interviewing other reapers until they get some answers. It’s gruesome, it’s gorgeous, it’s probably my favorite currently running non-manga comic. I can’t recommend it enough, even though I know it will be a while before we see another installation.

ihadthatsamedreamagain

I Had That Same Dream Again — by Yoru Sumino (original novel) and Idumi Kirihara (art and adaptation), published by Seven Seas Entertainment

Once again, I’m glad that I read something I wouldn’t normally have tried, because I find myself surprised by how much I enjoyed this all-in-one manga. I Had That Same Dream Again was originally a light novel, from the writer behind I Want to Eat Your Pancreas. I have not read Pancreas, but going into this adaptation, I knew that it was an emotional novel, manga, and film. I Had That Same Dream Again also has an emotional tug, though it is an ultimately happy story. The action follows grade school student Nanako, who doesn’t really have many friends in school. She does have friends outside of school, however: the kindly Obaachan, the sweet and sassy Skank-san, Minami-san, the aspiring high school author, and a little black cat. Nanako brings her daily troubles to her friends, who encourage her to do the right thing at every turn. Nanako finds that these friends will disappear soon after she has a particularly helpful conversation with them, and this mystifies her. I don’t want to spoil it, though the twist becomes obvious about halfway through the book. It’s a really gentle, thoughtful, somewhat bittersweet manga.

chainsawmanhug

Chainsaw Man, Volume 1 — by Tatsuki Fujimoto, published by VIZ Media (available to read through Shonen Jump subscription, in print October 6, 2020)

I read the first couple chapters of Chainsaw Man when they initially came out on Shonen Jump. I had had a subscription to read Kazuki Takahashi’s new manga (yeah, I’m that nerd), and since I had finished doing that and still had a subscription, I thought I’d give the newest series a go. I really liked it even then! But I’m notoriously bad at keeping up with things as they come out (I can’t tell you the last time I even knew what anime were airing at any given time), so I let it drop. I’m glad VIZ is doing a print version of this strange, hyperactive, gruesomely fun series! Protagonist Denji is a simple man who just wants something to eat and some boobs to grab (remarkably not as sketchy as it sounds, somehow). He’s been “hired” by a demon hunting agency because his own pet demon, a doglike creature with a chainsaw nose, saved Denji’s life by merging with him and becoming his heart, thus allowing him to transform into a demon himself. The premise is wild, the artwork is frenetic, and the entire thing is a great deal of bizarre fun.

princeofcatscover

Prince of Cats — by Ronald Wimberly, published by Image Comics

This is one of those comics that I’ve been meaning to read for ages and have only finally gotten around to. I plan on writing about it more extensively in the next Black Creator Spotlight, but suffice to say I’m completely on board with Ronald Wimberly’s reinterpretation of Romeo & Juliet, a play which I’m honestly a little tired of otherwise. Focusing on Tybalt, mixing Shakespearean dialogue with AAVE, and rolling in some Japanese influence makes this a truly unique, rich comic that makes me feel more invested in the characters than reading the original play ever could. (I swear I’m not a Shakespeare hater, but Hamlet is more my speed.) And I can’t get enough of Wimberly’s artwork, which I was able to see very clearly up in the digital version of this comic, as it took me through each individual panel up close. I bought a physical copy of Wimberly’s Black History In Its Own Words, and will be snagging a physical copy of this soon, as well.

That’s gonna do it for July. My to-read list is huge right now, so look forward to a similarly robust entry next month. And if you’re looking for a deeper exploration of a series, you should check out the retrospective of Daruma Matsuura’s Kasane that we’re doing on Manga Machinations!

 

Black Creator Spotlight: Bianca Xunise

I’m kicking off the Black Creator Spotlight with a profile on Bianca Xunise, a Chicago-based artist whom I have followed on Twitter and Instagram for years now. I initially began following her because of her involvement in the Chicago goth scene, and for her punk and goth related jokes, outfits, and musings. In the course of the last few years, I have been treated to her comics as well, many which center around her experiences with racism, sexism, and mental health. Xunise is a cartoonist whose work has appeared in many places including Vogue and The Washington Post, though you may recognize it most readily from The Nib.

A few weeks ago, I finally purchased four of Xunise’s mini-comics through her Gumroad: The Ignatz Award-winning Say Her NameRock Against RacismGothThrob Magazine #1, and The Devil’s Music. Having paid attention to her posts, I knew what to expect and that I would enjoy it. In fact, I hope to one day re-purchase all four, along with more of her other works, in a physical format.

Xunise’s artwork reminds me, favorably, of Charles Schultz’s Peanuts. Her figures have sweet round faces and the easily readable facial expressions that are essential to the cartoon medium. A major important difference is that Xunise’s focus is frequently autobiographical, centering the narrative on the experiences of being a Black woman in the alternative music scene, rather than on a little white boy in Everytown, USA, with only one Black neighbor. Her straightforwardness and willingness to be vulnerable with her audience about her life give her comics the weight of truth.

SHNC2

Say Her Name, a 2017 Ignatz winner, contains several short stories in which Xunise uses anecdotes from her own life to illustrate the larger, systemic issue of racism in America. The first story relates Xunise’s fears for her brothers in the wake of the shootings of young men like Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Philando Castile, as well as her father’s run-in with a police officer who mistook him for another Black man. She discovers that even she, model citizen though she is, is not immune to the judgments of the police. She also details an incident of microaggressions around Halloween, and the time her childhood friend levied a slur at her, effectively ending their friendship.

TheDevilsMusicbyBiancaXunise-1

Xunise learns as a teen that her own mother had a similar experience when she was young, common ground that has likely existed between Black parents and their children for generations. Xunise’s relationship with her mother seems complex, and she touches more on her mother’s parenting style in The Devil’s Music, where she reveals her mother’s preoccupation with her return to the Christian church. This dedication to her religion meant that Xunise’s mother did not allow secular music in the house — unless it was from her own childhood. This seems like an unlikely origin story for a person with so much pop culture knowledge, but it is Xunise’s deep understanding of music history that drew me to her work in the first place.

RARbyBiancaXunise-1

To that end, I was very drawn to Rock Against Racism, which appealed to my interest in music and history. Somehow, I came in to this mini not knowing much about the Rock Against Racism movement (just a passing reference here and there), and Xunise lays out the basics in a clear, engaging way. She reminds readers that music has always been political, for better or for worse. Beginning with the story of a drunken hate speech from Eric Clapton in 1976, Xunise then launches into the various counterculture music movements that sprung up in the 70s and 80s. I especially appreciate the way she highlights musicians of color who are too frequently overlooked in such overviews of music history. I know that I am guilty of not paying attention to such artists, and Xunise’s brief profiles of artists like Mona Baptiste, Pauline Black, and Steel Pulse (as well as her discussions about them and others on Twitter) have inspired me to dig a little deeper when looking for something to listen to.

GothThrobbyBiancaXunise-1

After all, music is the main reason I started following Xunise. I was really excited to read GothThrob Magazine #1, which talks about her various gothy loves. Included in this list are Dave Vanian of The Damned (pictured on the zine’s cover), the Mothman, and the Chicago goth scene itself. The tone of this mini is much lighter than the others, a sweet indulgence that moves beyond Xunise’s worries and woes to her joys. She makes a point to talk about two incredible Black woman musicians who helped shape rock music: Sister Rosetta Tharpe (one of the first musicians to play the electric guitar way back in 1945) and the exuberant Poly Styrene, of the punk band X-Ray Spex. Xunise is flexible in her definition of punk music to being more about pushing against the system that solely focused on a style of music, a philosophy which I share and am glad to see touted by an artist I respect so much.

Recently, Xunise hosted a “Comics as Resistance” workshop with The Believer, which you can watch here. If you do watch, I encourage you to support her Patreon. Using comics as a form of protest or resistance highlights Xunise’s background as a person in the alternative scene, conjuring up images of punk zine fests. Though Xunise definitely fits into that category as a punk creator, I would say that in many ways her work bridges a gap, pulling readers into her orbit who might not otherwise have experience in the goth or punk arena with her incredible ability to reach out authentically to her audience. Once again, it is her deep knowledge and openness of heart that keep me coming back for more of her work. I will absolutely be keeping a close eye on her career; I can’t wait to see what she has on the horizon!

May & June Favorites

Toward the end of May I began to lose steam on writing, partially because of mom duties, but chiefly because of current events — namely, the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests. Between the fight for racial justice, the extremely blatant displays of police brutality, and the ever-looming specter of COVID-19, there were so many things going on in the world that were so much more important than my opinions on comic books. I needed to step back for a little while so that I could more actively engage with what was happening.

To help hold myself accountable to continuing anti-racism work, I will be starting the Black Creator Spotlight series in July, with the intention of featuring a new Black comics creator once a month. As always, I have a lot of lofty goals for this blog that may be upended by motherhood, but this is important to me. I hope it will inspire readers to branch out in their comic book choices. While I continue to search for ways to be helpful, this is one way I can use my skills to uplift Black artists. I also intend on continuing my Comics Lockdown series, as it seems that we’ll be in COVID hell for a while longer, at least here in the US. I’m working on being better about scheduling my posts regularly so that I can balance all this new content I want to bring to the site.

Needless to say, since this is a two-month favorites post, there are a lot of comics on the list! And as June is Pride month, a lot of them are queer or queer-adjacent. That wasn’t really intentional, since I try to keep up with new and upcoming releases and queer content is what publishers have been putting out. But it’s a happy coincidence, and I hope that Pride helped to reinvigorate and inspire the community to keep striving for positive change for all people in all walks of life.

lowridersinspacecover

Lowriders in Space — by Cathy Camper & Raúl the Third, published by Chronicle Books

The Lowriders books were something I had intended to read for a long time. Raúl is a Boston-area local, and he visited Comicopia several times while I worked there. In addition to being a warm and friendly person, his artwork is just so beautiful, and I love the fact that he illustrates the Lowriders series with only ballpoint pens. Lowriders in Space is the first book in the series, and I finally read it when I was gathering titles for the “Middle Reader Mayhem” installment of the Comics Lockdown series. It follows Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria as they trick out a new ride to win a car competition to fund their very own garage. They inadvertently rocket into space in their lowrider, decking it out with Mars dust and constellations, and avoiding a black hole with the clever use of white-out. This is the kind of comic kids clamor for, with wild adventure and new ideas. The essay in the back about lowrider culture is one of my favorite parts, as the whole story is a love letter to the drivers who want to ride bajito y suavecito.

lovemeyoudontgettodecide

Love Me for Who I Am, Volume 1 — by Kata Konayama, published by Seven Seas Entertainment

I will admit to very nearly skipping this manga over because of the suggestive cover, which I think does not help the manga’s chances. I was actually really impressed by the story, so glad that I got over my biases a little bit to check it out. It revolves around Mogumo, a non-binary high school student who feels as though they are not understood by any of their peers. Their classmate, Tetsu, decides to invite Mogumo to work at his older brother’s maid cafe — a cafe where all the staff are otokonoko, or boys who dress like girls. Upon learning the nature of the cafe, Mogumo insists that they are neither a boy or a girl, that they like wearing girls’ clothes because they feel better on, but that’s not how they identify either. As a result of this declaration, readers are able to learn more about the various identities of the characters at the cafe. It’s a really sweet, non-judgmental exploration of different gender expressions that doesn’t shy away from how difficult it can be to break away from the binary and forge your own path.

blmetaohmy

BL Metamorphosis, Volume 1 — by Kaori Tsurutani, published by Seven Seas Entertainment

I was so thrilled when I heard that this series had been licensed, and the first installment has only made me more certain that it’s exactly what the North American manga market needs. Ichinoi is a seventy-five-year-old calligraphy teacher who lives alone after the death of her husband. She happens into a bookstore on a whim, and seeing the manga on display, remembers her own youth reading comics. She picks up a manga and loves the artwork on the cover so much that she decides to buy it. While reading, she discovers that it’s a boys’ love manga, something she had never read before — but she’s so invested in the romance! She goes back to the bookstore to get the following volumes, and she ends up befriending the teenage store clerk, Urara, who is also a BL fangirl. I love how the delicate artwork compliments the gentle story of a wholesome friendship borne out of love of a not-so-wholesome genre of manga. As a protagonist, Ichinoi is treated as a whole, complete character, whose everyday difficulties are portrayed with compassion, and whose personhood is well-developed. I’m really eager for the next volume in this series, when Ichinoi and Urara find themselves at a doujinshi event!

RARbyBiancaXunise-1

Rock Against Racism — by Bianca Xunise, available on her Gumroad shop

Bianca Xunise will be the first Black comics creator I cover in my Black Creator Spotlight series, but I wanted to take a moment to talk about her zine Rock Against Racism anyway. I really loved all four of the digital mini-comics I bought from her, but this one was a blend of a few of my favorite things: rock music, history, and comics. As much of a history lover as I am, I have to admit that I didn’t know much of anything about the Rock Against Racism movement, and Xunise laid it all out in clear, simple terms for readers in this mini. I’ve long admired how her adorable artwork simultaneously helps to teach and console her readers on issues of racism and sexism, and her knowledge of the alt music scene gives her a unique perspective.

rosegardenreadinggivesfaith

Goodbye, My Rose Garden, Volume 1 — by Dr. Pepperco, published by Seven Seas Entertainment

In the past, I have bemoaned the state of yuri manga. So much of it feels either like it’s pandering to the male gaze, or that it treats lesbianism as a “phase” that one grows out of after middle or high school. So I’ve been really pleased by some recent offerings in the genre. In particular, Goodbye, My Rose Garden speaks directly to my interests in literature, English nobility, and history in general. Hanako is a young Japanese woman who has traveled to England in an attempt to get her novel manuscript published. She is especially interested in having her favorite author, Victor Franks, read it and offer his critique. When she is told in no uncertain terms that Mr. Franks will not see anyone and has not time to read other authors’ work, she is despondent. But a young noblewoman by the name of Alice Douglas notices the entire exchange and, impressed with Hanako’s single-mindedness and ability to speak her mind, offers Hanako a job as her personal maid. Hanako gratefully accepts, and the stage is set for a turn-of-the-century melodrama, in which Hanako tries to help her mistress, who wants nothing more than to die because she is bound by duty to marry a man she does not love. I feel like a broken record every time I say it, but it’s such a relief to have queer romances set anywhere other than a modern high school, and it’s clear that Dr. Pepperco has done their research on the time period. Looking forward to seeing where this one goes!

fangscover

Fangs — by Sarah Andersen, published by Andrews McMeel Publishing (available September 1, 2020)

I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t recognize Sarah Andersen’s “Sarah Scribbles,” a quasi-autobiographical webcomic chock full of relatable content. Andersen brings her impeccable sense of humor and her appealing artwork to Fangs, which unites Elsie the vampire and Jim the werewolf in a spooky-cute romance. There is a vague time progression, but the story is mostly just vignettes about Elsie and Jim’s day-to-day interactions, learning how to navigate each others’ quirks, just like in any relationship. The catch is that those quirks mean Elsie can’t wear silver jewelry, Jim can’t open the curtains during the day, and no one ever sees Jim’s mysterious new girlfriend. This kind of sweet monster stuff is completely my jam, and I think it definitely has a solid spot amidst the modern fascination with the supernatural. The comics are available on Tapas already, but a physical collection is coming out in September!

Okay, that’s going to do it for May and June. I thought that having a baby would slow my book consumption, but it’s actually increased somehow. I hope to keep up that energy going forward so that I can have lots to recommend each month! Thanks for reading once again, and I hope you all keep an eye out for the Black Creator Spotlight series, starting (hopefully) at the end of this week!

 

The Black Creator Spotlight Series

I started this blog with the express intention of highlighting the comic works of marginalized creators, of lauding the works of women, queer folks, and people of color. The recent conversations around racism in the United States have left me with the realization that I have grown complacent in my coverage, and have not done my part in reviewing the works of Black creators. My expertise is around manga, a comic medium that comes from Japan and therefore is authored chiefly by Japanese creators — though often filtered through the translations and editorial work of white people. But when I consider how I can use my skills to help the conversation about anti-Black racism moving, I keep coming up with my writing about comics.

And so, I want to introduce a new type of column to this blog, where I consciously choose to highlight a specific Black comics creator at least once a month. I know that my platform is not huge, but this format helps not only to spread the word, but also to hold myself accountable to read Black-authored comics. No matter how diverse I think my shelf is, it has been humbling to dig deeper and realize that an overwhelming number of my favorite “diverse” comics are authored by white folks. And while I don’t think there’s anything wrong with white people writing about diverse characters (in fact, I think it’s overall a good thing), it’s not the same as reading works by creators of color, who also deserve to be heard.

My goal in featuring Black creators, as opposed to individual works by Black artists, is to make readers more aware of the creators themselves and go and support those individual creators. For these posts I will not be using my affiliate links, but rather links to the creators’ personal websites, shops, Patreon/Ko-Fi accounts, and so on. I will use this introductory post as a sort of index, updating it with links to each post as I write them.

Read and support Black comics creators.

Black voices matter.

Black Lives Matter.

The Series:

Bianca Xunise
Ronald Wimberly

Comics Lockdown: Middle Reader Mayhem

So many articles on comics out there in the world begin with “Comics: not just for kids anymore!” to a point where it’s eye roll-worthy. This need to brush the “kiddie fare” under the proverbial rug is not only obnoxious, but also disingenuous. There are lots of comics for kids — and they’re great, even for adults. “All ages” doesn’t mean it’s baby stuff, it means it’s interesting to readers of all ages.

I’m not going to put Raina Telgemeier or Dav Pilkey on this list, because I suspect that if you have children, you’re already quite familiar with these industry heavyweights. What I’m hoping to give you is the goods from some equally worthy but less well known creators, to help get your kids through the trying times between Dog Man books.

I’m referring to these comics with the publishing industry term “middle reader,”  or “middle grade,” which designates books for children between the ages of eight and twelve. Middle reader is not a genre, so these books will range in the types of stories being told. I may well include some middle reader comics on other, genre-themed lists later down the line, but I wanted this to be a helpful guide for parents who are looking for age-appropriate material for their young readers. Middle reader books, both in comic and prose form, are some of my favorite books. They are so often fun, imaginative, and inspiring, even now that I’m an adult with a child of my own.

aquicorncovecover

Aquicorn Cove, by Katie O’Neill — published by Oni Press

I wrote last week about how much I love Katie O’Neill’s work, much of which falls under the middle reader category. Of all her works, I think Aquicorn Cove is my favorite. It tells the story of young Lana, who is at the seaside visiting with her aunt and helping to clean up the wreckage in the aftermath of a horrible storm. While there, she finds a young, injured aquicorn, a magical sea creature similar to a sea horse. She nurses it back to health and then discovers that there is a whole colony of aquicorns under the sea, and another storm on the horizon forces her and the community to think about the ways in which people and the environment can learn to coexist. I’m a really easy mark for children’s stories about environmentalism (my favorite Dr. Seuss book is The Lorax, I’m sure you’re surprised to discover), and O’Neill does a great job of getting that message across without condemnation. And of course, there’s her beautiful artwork throughout, along with her inventive creatures and the inclusion of a character who uses gender-neutral pronouns. All around, a really stellar comic about compassion and community.

princeanddressmakercover

The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang — published by FirstSecond

The Prince and the Dressmaker probably doesn’t need my help, as it is currently awaiting a movie adaptation. But I love it, and so I want to share it with you. While Prince Sebastian’s parents are busy trying to find him a bride, he’s preoccupied with hiding a part of his life that he believes they will find shameful. Sebastian enjoys wearing dresses and going into the town as Lady Crystallia, a most fashionable young woman. To this end, he employs Frances, an extremely talented dressmaker who swears to keep his secret and make him the belle of every ball. Sebastian’s secret does get out, of course, but he learns how to be honest with himself and his family at the end. And Frances is able to further her own goals and career, as well. This is a sweet story of love, friendship, and acceptance, and I’m really excited to see what comes of the adaptation.

lunavampirecover

The Adventures of Luna the Vampire, by Yasmin Sheikh — published by IDW

I love weird, gross-out humor involving monsters. Luna the Vampire is such a series, with Grumpy Space (linked above) and Pickled Zits comprising its print editions thus far. Luna is a grouchy, lazy vampire girl who lives in space and has remarkably normal adventures — which is to say, normal for her. She attends her uncle’s zombie-fication ceremony, adopts a fat worm that was intended to feed giant spiders, and clears a raucous party out of her coffin-shaped ship with the help of Kir, the pet store clerk who seems to have fallen in love with her. It’s silly nonsensical fun wrapped in a pink ribbon, and I especially like it because it’s the type of humor usually marketed to little boys but which clearly has young ladies in mind — though I would recommend this for the older end of the middle reader spectrum, with the acknowledgement that it might be for a more worldly-wise kid.

makingfriendscover

Making Friends, by Kristin Gudsnuk — published by Scholastic

I was immediately in love with Kristin Gudsnuk’s work back when individual issues of her comic Henchgirl were coming out. Maybe it’s because she and I are approximately the same age, but I find her subtle references to anime just really get me. Making Friends makes use of this tendency of hers, as protagonist Dany inherits a magical sketchbook from her great-aunt which allows her to bring to life anything she draws within it. She finds out about this by sketching the head of her favorite comic book/cartoon villain, and when that head pops into existence, she realizes that she can navigate some of the anxieties of 7th grade by creating her own perfect best friend, Madison. Dany learns a hard lesson about facing consequences, but she also makes a lot of real friends along the way. Plus, there’s a magical girl sequence. What can you want more out of a comic than magical girls, I ask you? There is a sequel, Making Friends: Back to the Drawing Board, which I admit I have not yet had the pleasure of reading. But it seems like Dany hasn’t finished learning her lessons when it comes to magicking things into existence!

cursedpirategirlcover

Cursed Pirate Girl, by Jeremy A. Bastian — published by Archaia

My heart races whenever I look at Jeremy Bastian‘s exquisite artwork. I adore Cursed Pirate Girl, though I will warn you that the one volume does not contain the full tale, and it’s hard to know when new material is available. (There was an annual a few years back, if you can track it down!) Still, it is an incredibly beautiful and deeply captivating book where a young girl is on an adventure in the Omerta Seas to find her father. But of course, she’s cursed. Treasure Island meets Alice in Wonderland, albeit with a brash, brave little girl protagonist with hair longer than her whole body. Bastian clearly takes cues from 19th century illustrators, and his incredibly detailed ink work leaves a lot of territory to explore. This is the book for the kid who dreams of magical adventures, possibly ones which involve sentient skeletons. I’m currently reading the second book in Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series of novels, and I think it’s got approximately the same vibe; they both certainly transport me completely to my girlhood fantasies.

lowridersinspacecover

Lowriders in Space, written by Cathy Camper and illustrated by Raúl the Third — published by Chronicle Books

If the title of this book gets War’s “Low Rider” stuck in your head, well…that’s been me all week. In all seriousness, though, this is another lushly illustrated comic which follows Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria who dream of running their own garage. They catch wind of a car contest and know that they’ve gotta trick out a lowrider of their very own in order to win the cash and start their garage. They manage to fly their work in progress right into space, where they wrangle the stars and upholster their ride in red-Mars-dust velvet. One of my favorite things about this comic and its sequels (Lowriders to the Center of the Earth and Lowriders Blast from the Past) is that Raúl the Third has drawn the entire thing in ballpoint pen. It’s a great testament to using what you have to make incredible art, and the story itself is a gorgeous homage to lowrider culture. Just don’t be surprised if you suddenly wish you had a car that was bajito y suavecito!

princessdecomposiacover

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula, by Andi Watson — published by FirstSecond

It should surprise no one that this title popped out at me when I saw it on a shelf at Comicopia in my first year working there. Princess Decomposia is the daughter of the King of the Underworld, but that job isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. She has a lot of responsibilities, and unfortunately is forced to shoulder those of her father most of the time, as well. Seeing as he just fired the cook, she has to hire a new one immediately — and thus we meet Count Spatula, the vampire chef with an unrepentant sweet tooth. The two become fast friends, though a budding romance has to take a backseat to Princess Decomposia’s many tasks. This is a cute little volume about love blooming in spooky darkness, for the little Wednesday Addams in your life.

nicolacover

Nicola Traveling Around the Demons’ World, by Asaya Miyanaga — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

I’ve written about Nicola before, both here on the blog as well as for Comics Beat. It’s a delightful adventure where little witch Nicola, who has recently stumbled into Hell, has latched onto Simon, a traveling merchant. The two form a sort of father-daughter bond, and Simon becomes increasingly impressed with Nicola’s emerging magical talents — though she does not seem to notice her own powers herself. I felt so good after reading the first volume, like here was something that truly deserved being called “all ages,” something I could recommend to everyone without reservation. I love Asaya Miyanaga’s artwork, with its detailed hatching and whimsical creature designs. The physical copies of the book are printed in sepia ink, making the book something truly special.

birthofkitarocover

Kitaro, by Shigeru Mizuki — published by Drawn & Quarterly

I will never stop singing the praises of Shigeru Mizuki, whose comics about the adorable little monster boy, Kitaro, are so specifically my jam that I’m amazed they first came out before even my mother was born. Along with help from his father, Medama Oyaji (who is literally a giant eyeball with a tiny body), Kitaro helps settle disputes between monsters and humans. There are several volumes of the series out right now, but they are grouped by type of story instead of in any sequential order; I have linked to The Birth of Kitaro as my recommended starting point, since that’s where you learn our hero’s backstory. Translator and Mizuki expert Zack Davisson has written excellent informative essays in each of these editions, and those do follow an order. It’s a great way to learn more about the man who was Shigeru Mizuki, as well as the vast world of Japanese yokai — a subject very dear to my heart. If you or a kid you know are really into sympathetic monsters, potty humor, and/or the history of manga, I can’t recommend this enough.

witchboycover

The Witch Boy, by Molly Knox Ostertag– published by Scholastic, Inc.

I just love witchy stuff for kids. In this coming-of-age story, Aster wants desperately to be a witch. Unfortunately for him, only girls in his family become witches, while boys become shapeshifters — though he has not shifted yet, himself. Aster has to study in private, eventually using his hard-won abilities to help rescue the other boys when a dark entity threatens them. This is a wonderful story for those who have ever been made to feel different or wrong when they choose to be themselves. This is the first book in a trilogy, the other books being The Hidden Witch and The Midwinter Witch, which continue to follow Aster’s studies in witchcraft while expanding the cast, further exploring the challenge of bucking against tradition.

There sure are a lot of witches, monsters, and royalty this week. I told you middle readers get some of the best books! It was actually difficult to come up with this list because there’s so much good material out there, and still so much that I haven’t had a chance to read yet. I’m continually impressed by the quality marriages of story and art that exist in comics, but especially in comics “for kids.” I would absolutely recommend looking deeper into your library’s catalog for comics for this demographic, as I personally know a lot of librarians who cannot get enough of helping kids (and their parents!) find their next favorite read.

Until next week, I hope you all stay safe and well!

Comics Lockdown: Reading With Little Ones

Even before Severina was born, I was a big fan of books for children. While I was pregnant, we read to her in my belly, and we’ve been reading to her ever since she was born — regardless of the fact that she’s only now even starting to notice the pages in earnest. I believe that reading to children is the cornerstone of kindling their love of literature, and that reading is not only good for its own sake, but for fostering empathy and giving kids a quiet, personal activity for when they need alone time.

To that end, I’ve played a little fast and loose with my definition of “comic” here, since picture books are a sequential art in and of themselves — and I like them, besides. I have tried to stick with authors who also write “comics” at the very least, so that this list can act as an introduction to creators whom little readers can revisit later in life. This list will be for children from birth through early elementary school; I’ll do middle reader and young adult comics lists later on. I would emphasize that even if you think your child isn’t getting anything out of reading, they’re learning and retaining more than you think!

dewdropcover

Dewdrop, by Katie O’Neill — published by Oni Press

I’m a huge fan of Katie O’Neill’s work, ever since the print version of her comic Princess Princess Ever After came out. I even had the privilege of meeting her when she was Stateside for New York Comic Con a couple years ago; she was kind enough to do a signing at Comicopia. She’s extremely sweet, exactly the kind of person you would imagine writes and illustrates excellent material for kids — which she does! Dewdrop is her newest book, which follows a little axolotl as he encourages his friends, all of whom are lending their unique talents to the annual sports festival, to be the best they can be. The only text in the book is word bubbles, giving the full comic experience to even the youngest of audiences. Katie’s lineless artwork is bright and composed of simple shapes. One of my favorite aspects of her work is the focus on kindness, both toward other people and toward the planet. There’s more information at the back of this book about the animal characters, providing a little ecology lesson along with a gentle tale about helping your friends recognize their talents.

youarenew

You Are New, by Lucy Knisley — published by Chronicle Books

I’ve mentioned Lucy Knisley’s latest picture book in a past iteration of my monthly favorites, but it bears repeating. Like Katie O’Neill, Knisley opts to forego lines in favor of bright, bold shapes for little eyes to take in. This book focuses on all the situations in which we are new: new as babies, new as older siblings, new to a school, new when we recreate ourselves in our imaginations, and so on. It’s a lovely early introduction to change, and how exciting it can be when we look at it as an experience of newness. I think that this would be a very good read for a child who is struggling with change — and given the current state of the world, I know a lot of tiny people are having a rough go of it. Change is a common theme in Knisley’s work, much of which draws from her own lived experiences.

vamosmarketcover

¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market, written and illustrated by Raúl the Third with colors by Elaine Bay — published by Versify

This book has been favorably compared to Richard Scarry’s Busytown books, which is fair; however, I want to make it clear that ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market and its sequel ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat are in a league of their own. Raúl and his partner, colorist Elaine Bay, bring a thriving Mexican market alive for readers, seamlessly weaving in Spanish words and phrases as Little Lobo and his doggy companion Bernabé make deliveries for various market shops. There are both word bubbles and story text, making this a comic/picture book hybrid. Raúl’s dedication to Mexican iconography and obvious familiarity with the comings and goings of the mercado give the bustling scene texture and depth. His artwork, which has graced everything from beer cans to gallery walls, is a gorgeous cartoon-meets-desert-fever-dream, and it’s exciting that even the youngest of readers can enjoy it.

princessponycover

The Princess and the Pony, by Kate Beaton — published by Arthur A. Levine Books

Years before Kate Beaton had a baby of her own, she made a couple of excellent picture books which I have enthusiastically gifted to friends and family over and over again. The Princess and the Pony is the story of Princess Pinecone, a warrior princess who dreams of acquiring a mighty steed to help her in her conquests. Instead, she receives a chubby, flatulent pony with an absurd face. Hilarity ensues, as it so often does under Beaton’s expert pen. Get your giggles and spark a love of weird little girls (and their weird pets) in fiction.

wolvesinthewallscover

The Wolves in the Walls, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean — published by HarperCollins

I’m pretty sure Neil Gaiman has written every sort of thing possible, and that includes a bevy of books for children. My favorite of them is The Wolves in the Walls, wherein young Lucy tries to warn her family about the wolves living in the walls of their house. They dismiss her claims, all of them reciting that “When the wolves come out of the walls, it’s all over.” Of course, the wolves do come out of the walls, and it is Lucy who must decide to take her home back from the partying canine invaders. It’s a very silly book with Dave McKean’s spooky and wonderful collage artwork. I love the way he draws almost elastic-looking wolves in ink, sleeping in Lucy’s bed and eating Lucy’s mother’s homemade jam out of the jar. This book might not cut it for a child who is easily frightened by confusing or dark imagery, but for the kid with a sophisticated sense of humor, it’s a good bet.

monsterschoolcover

Monster School, written by Kate Coombs and illustrated by Lee Gatlin — published by Chronicle Books

This is one of those (many) circumstances where I bought a children’s book long before I was even considering getting pregnant because I was a fan of one of the people involved in its production. In this case, I follow artist Lee Gatlin, whose spooky and adorable comics first caught my attention many years ago, probably recirculated on Facebook or something. Monster School is an excellent use of Gatlin’s darkly adorable art style, and the poems by Kate Coombs convey a nighttime school experience that many kids would die for — literally, in the case of one sweet little ghost. What’s more, the poems are fun to read, and they utilize many different poetry formats, giving readers lots of rhyme schemes to try out. I read this to Sev recently, and while she probably didn’t understand a lick of it, I was very impressed and believe it will become a family favorite!

zomieinlovecover

Zombie in Love, written by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Scott Campbell — published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

I’ve been really impressed by how many high-quality “spooky” children’s books we’ve been able to acquire. This one was a gift, along with its sequel Zombie in Love 2+1, and I instantly recognized artist Scott Campbell from his Great Showdowns illustrations. Campbell’s watercolors expertly accompany the story of Mortimer, a lonely zombie who has been trying desperately to find his true love. He’s tried every piece of advice he can find without luck, until he finally stumbles upon his match at the Halloween ball! The sequel follows Mortimer and his love Mildred as they become new parents to a living human child, with all the ups and downs of parenthood. These are absurdly sweet, funny books with a touch of the macabre to keep things weird, and plenty of zombie jokes hidden in Campbell’s artwork.

hugmachine

Hug Machine, by Scott Campbell — published by Little Simon

Scott Campbell gets two books on this list, but I couldn’t resist another favorite gift — and he’s both writer and illustrator this time. Hug Machine is told from the perspective of a child who is an excellent hugger. He hugs everyone and everything, and is fueled by pizza. This one is a board book, so a great read for little ones who are enthusiastic about demonstrating affection, but haven’t yet mastered not putting books in their mouths!

chissweethomecover

Chi’s Sweet Home, by Kanata Konami — published by Vertical Comics

Manga is actually a challenging ask for very young kids. Most of what gets translated is intended for at least a middle school audience, though Japanese picture books like Everyone Poops have been childhood classics for decades. Chi’s Sweet Home is the one manga I always felt comfortable recommending to families with little kids. It’s a very simple tale of Chi, a little cat who lives with a family and gets into various mundane troubles. Big-eyed Chi is instantly appealing to little ones, and the low-stakes situations make for innocent fun. The manga now comes in large omnibus editions, so this is a tough grab for little hands. But for a family read-along, this is a great pick that will really throw kids into the world of comic books.

Every day, I find more books that I want to add to Severina’s library. My mother-in-law likes to joke about how she had to read The Poky Little Puppy over and over again to my husband, but we are very lucky to be living in a time with an overwhelming wealth of excellent children’s literature to suit all tastes. I can’t overstate how important I think it is for adults to read to children, and I hope that even in the chaos of quarantine, those of us who share our homes with kids are granted some time to have that experience.

Next week, we’ll be talking comics for older elementary and middle school aged children. This is a HUGE market in graphic novels, so it should be fun to try and come up with some hidden goodies buried among the mountain of bestsellers.

Until then, happy reading!

Comics Lockdown: A COVID-19 Reading List Series

For the past two months, much of the world has been in a state of lockdown, self-isolating because of the rapid spread of COVID-19. In the midst of all this, I have been wondering how I could reach out and help people find some comfort while they remain apart from friends, family, coworkers, and their normal daily lives. While it’s true that listicles of what to read in quarantine are abundant on the Internet right now, I thought I would try to share my own perspective with some themed lists of suggestions, especially since it seems like we’re all going to be keeping physical socializing to a minimum for a while yet.

My plan is to break the lists out into age groups and/or genres, in order to make them more easily digestible in one sitting. In my posts, I will be linking to Bookshop.org in case readers wish to buy the book in question. I also encourage readers to buy from their local independent comic or book shop if they don’t want to use my links, or to borrow from their local library. Many libraries are currently offering a more robust selection of ebooks, including graphic novels and comics, through Libby, Overdrive, and/or Hoopla. You can visit your library’s website for more information on how to access those apps, and I believe many libraries are also able to issue online-only library cards if you need one.

I know these times are challenging, and sometimes finding more tasks with which to occupy yourself can feel overwhelming. I don’t believe we should all be striving to be more productive right now; this virus has highlighted some major flaws in this country’s established operations, and it’s important to interrogate our need to be “useful.” But I do think that many of us, myself included, take comfort in books — and in this case, in comics. I hope that we are all able to find what we need right now, whether that be escapism, education, solidarity, or a call to action.

Above all, I hope we are all able to remain safe and healthy, and that we are able to return not to normal, but to an improved society that recognizes the importance of community and connection.

Happy reading!

The Series:

Reading With Little Ones
Middle Reader Mayhem