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!

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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….

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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.

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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: 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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¡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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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

April Favorites

Time moves differently when you have a baby. Though being stuck at home without seeing family and friends makes things feel sluggish, I also can’t believe that my daughter is approaching three months old in a mere few days. Maybe it’s the fact that I turned 30 at the beginning of the month, but I’m starting to feel like an old person who can’t stop saying “Where has the time gone?” Not that 30 is remotely old; in fact, I’ve been excited to reach this milestone for quite some time…though doing so while isolated has been an odd experience.

Still, some exciting things have happened this month. I’m back to recording with Manga Machinations! It’s so nice to be back talking about manga with the guys, getting a little time away from mom duties. I’m super excited that we’re doing a Yu Yu Hakusho retrospective series right now! I haven’t had an opportunity to write all my feelings about Yu Yu Hakusho (because they are vast and hard to articulate), but it’s one of my favorite series. To pique your interest, there’s an awesome promo video, as well as my reread thread on Twitter. And of course, there’s the first episode! Check it out!

Happily, I’ve been able to do quite a bit of reading this month. I’m starting to get into a good routine where that’s concerned, trying to read when Severina nurses (if she’s cooperative, which is less often lately), and then getting more reading done at night after she’s down for bed. Writing gets done during nap times — like right now, she’s sleeping on me in a sling. By the time I finish this blog post, I probably will have come back to it several times. There’s a learning curve to balancing working and parenting (and luckily I have my husband home right now to keep helping), but we’re getting the hang of it. In many ways, being at stuck at home right now is working to my benefit, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. At least there’s plenty to read!

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Happy Mania, Volume 1 — by Moyoco Anno, published by Tokyopop (out of print)

I’ve been feeling really nostalgic about manga lately. I’m wondering if this is a byproduct of no longer working in comics, and therefore not being up on everything that’s new right now at all times like I used to be. Regardless, this led me to find some used copies of old Tokyopop volume ones that I never got to read back when they were in print. As someone who came late to Moyoco Anno, it was important to me to check out Happy Mania. And as I expected, it was a riot. Protagonist Shigeta works at a bookstore and is desperate for a boyfriend. She continually keeps going out with guys who take her for granted, meanwhile her coworker Takahashi is clearly in love with her — and is a decent, dependable guy to boot. Shigeta is very much her own worst enemy when it comes to romance, and I continue to admire Anno’s willingness to depict women with glaring flaws. Her protagonists toe that line between insufferable and lovable, and as always, her frenetic artwork is a refreshing break from overly-trendy styles. It looks like there’s a sequel to this series in Japan. With the original out of print here, I doubt this new series will see the light of translation, but I can hope!

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Spy X Family, Volume 1 — by Tatsuya Endo, published by VIZ Media (available digitally through Shonen Jump, print version out June 2nd)

People have been talking up Spy X Family for a while, and I finally got on the train because it’s coming out in print, and I have an opportunity to review it for Comics Beat (which I plan on doing). This is another one of those circumstances where I kick myself for not reading it sooner; it’s way more up my alley than I had anticipated! A spy known as “Twilight” is put on a mission to infiltrate the prestigious school, necessitating the acquisition of a fake family. The catch is that his “family” cannot know about his mission, otherwise it will be jeopardized. He adopts a little girl named Anya, not realizing that she is the result of government experimentation that left her with psychic abilities. Through happenstance, he marries an assassin named Yor, who is also trying to keep her job a secret from him. Little Anya is the only one who knows the whole story, and she isn’t telling anyone! I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for found family stuff, and I especially love Twilight’s reasoning to become a spy in the first place. The first volume is equal parts hilarious and heartwarming, and I am definitely planning to continue reading.

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Wave, Listen to Me!, Volume 1 — by Hiroaki Samura, published by Kodansha Comics (digital available now, print version out May 26th)

Time to confess that I’ve never read Blade of the Immortal (and I suspect it’s not really my kind of manga). This is actually the first Hiroaki Samura manga I’ve read all the way through, and I was surprised by how much I liked it. Minare Koda is a loud-mouthed waitress who spills her drunken heartbreak to a local radio show host at a bar one night. He records her ramblings and airs them on live radio, pulling her into the world of broadcasting with his desire to harness her untrained but ceaseless voice and see what comes of it. Minare reminds me a bit of Shigeta from Happy Mania, actually, in that she’s a fast-talking lady preoccupied with her love life who goes off on wild fantasy tangents a lot. Samura is an excellent artist, so I’m really glad to be able to read something of his that doesn’t seem to rely on the, uh…torture of women. Though Minare might feel tortured to some extent in this series! There’s a current anime adaptation of this series airing right now, as well, which makes the print version’s timing excellent.

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The Art of Junji Ito: Twisted Visions — by Junji Ito, published by VIZ Media

When VIZ announced that they were going to be publishing this for North America, I was really glad I hadn’t dropped $90CAD on the original Japanese printing at TCAF last year — though it was extremely tempting. To say that it’s a gorgeous collection of paintings and illustrations is an understatement. The silver and black of the jacket is echoed on the interior pages that were originally black and white, giving the feeling that they are truly special. Most fans are used to seeing Ito’s pen and ink illustrations, and while there are plenty of those, it is exciting to see his painting work, and to learn in the interview at the back that his original intention was to be a painter and not a mangaka at all. As always, his quirky and self-deprecating sense of humor shines through in translation. This is a must-have for an Ito completionist (like myself), and a great addition to any art book library, as well.

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A Man and His Cat, Volume 1 — by Umi Sakurai, published by Square Enix

Square Enix is having a moment right now with the release of the new Final Fantasy VII remake. But a couple months back, they released their first manga as a North American publisher (having already been a publisher in Japan for many years). One of those new manga is A Man and His Cat, AKA the exact kind of thing I love to read. In it, a chubby, so-ugly-he’s-cute cat who has been ignored by shoppers at a pet store for over a year is worried that he will never find his forever home. One day, however, an older gentleman adopts him, naming him Fukumaru. The man had been living all alone after the death of his wife, and the two had always talked about getting a pet. The first volume is packed with situations instantly recognizable to those who share their home with a cat. In many ways, it reminded me of What Michael?, except there is a loose ongoing plot and far less absurdist humor. It’s sweet, it made me chuckle, and I’m looking forward to more!

If we stay in a state of relative physical isolation for much longer, all of my monthly favorites are going to be this long! Hopefully there’s something here to help you pass the time, as well. Stay safe!

March Favorites

Hey all, I hope you’re all doing well. This has been a wild month for all of us, I’m sure. For my part, not a whole lot of day-to-day has changed. I already work from home, so I’ve been meeting deadlines as usual (though I’m taking on fewer things right now as I still adjust to being a work from home mom). My husband is still on paternity leave until April 13, but it’s looking like he’s going to be working from home after that point, as well. We were already largely staying at home since Sev can’t get her flu shot until she’s 6 months old, but now the flu has been completely overshadowed by COVID-19. And of course, we can’t have any visitors now. My mother had been coming up from Connecticut weekly to spend the day with us, and we really miss her presence.

It almost feels silly to do a reading round-up, a little unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But I think a lot of people are trying to find ways to spend their time at home, so hopefully some reading recommendations won’t be amiss. And besides, sometimes it’s helpful for our mental health to try to keep some sense of normalcy in the face of adversity.

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The Golden Sheep, Volume 1, by Kaori Ozaki — published by Vertical Comics

This is one I missed when it initially came out and ended up borrowing from the library before we all had to avoid public spaces. I had read and loved Kaori Ozaki’s The Gods Lie, so I was eager to read something else of her’s. In The Golden Sheep, protagonist Tsugu Miikura is moving back to her hometown after having moved away in elementary school. She is eager to reunite with her three childhood friends, expecting that nothing would have changed between them in the intervening years. Unfortunately, she finds that tensions in the group are high, and her dream of coming home to something familiar winds up backfiring. Ozaki’s got an incredible ability to pepper her high drama stories with humor and gentleness. The simplicity of her character designs does not hinder their expressiveness; indeed, her characters are full of emotion. I may have to wait until I can go back to the library to read the second volume, but I’m looking forward to it!

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Kakushigoto: My Dad’s Secret Ambition, Volume 1, by Kouji Kumeta — published by Kodansha Comics, available digitally

I honestly wasn’t expecting to like this manga. I almost didn’t read it at all, in fact. At first glance, it can seem like one of those series where a father has a questionable relationship with his daughter. In this case, father Kakushi Goto is a mangaka who specializes in “dirty” manga. He is desperately trying to keep his career a secret from his little daughter, Hime. He wants to protect her from the embarrassment of having a father in a sleazy line of work, not realizing that everyone around him respects him and loves his work. In pursuit of keeping his secret, Kakushi gets into a lot of weird and humorous situations. But I was most struck by the fact that this really does seem to be a sweet story about a father who wants what’s best for his daughter, and a daughter who loves and supports her father no matter what. I personally also like the inside baseball stuff about the manga industry. My favorite part was the frankly absurd cameo by Kazuhiro Fujita, creator of Ushio & Tora and The Ghost and the Lady. Really fun, and available digitally — so good quarantine reading!

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Therapy Game, Volume 1, by Meguru Hinohara — published by VIZ Media’s SuBLime imprint, available June 9, 2020

This is another manga I liked more than I anticipated! This is the sequel series to Meguru Hinohara’s oneshot Secret XXX (coming out April 14), which I also had a review copy of and thought was reasonably cute. But Therapy Game has character types I like better: the aloof, beautiful, and very gay guy who is actually very sensitive, and the gentle, heartbroken guy who is trying to sort out his feelings. The story focuses on the brothers of the main characters from Secret XXX, Shizuma and Minato. Shizuma had been drinking his sorrows away in a gay bar after getting dumped by his girlfriend, and Minato happened to listen to him and then take him to a hotel room to sleep off the booze. Shizuma, allegedly straight and definitely wasted, ends up giving Minato an extremely memorable evening — which Shizuma completely forgets by morning. Minato decides that he’s going to get revenge by seducing Shizuma and then dumping him, but of course…real feelings crop up unexpectedly! It’s definitely a dramatic, sappy manga, and it leaves off on a bit of a cliffhanger in terms of the guys’ relationship. But I often feel like I have to wade through a lot of middling to bad BL, and this one stood out in character and artwork for me. You don’t have to have read Secret XXX to understand what’s going on, but a couple references might be lost on you. (I didn’t realize it was a sequel going in, only realizing it after seeing characters from the other manga.) Needless to say, this is absolutely a mature manga for readers 18 years old and over. There’s not a lot of explicit sex, but it’s definitely there, so reader beware!

And that’s March! I hope that by the end of April, we’ll all have some better news about COVID-19. In the meantime, I have to spend my birthday and Easter both at home away from family and friends, and that’s hard — but it’s necessary, and I know we’re all giving up a lot to make sure that we flatten the curve! Please be safe and responsible, and if you can, take advantage of any free time to catch up on reading, or take up a hobby, or just simply rest. And wash your hands! ;3

A Little Life Update + January & February Favorites

As promised, I didn’t update last month because I was busy being 9 months pregnant. On February 3rd, my daughter Severina was born, a little late but in good health! In the ensuing weeks, I’ve been busy trying to learn how to do this whole “mom” thing, and just generally enjoying her presence. She sleeps a lot, of course, so I’ve had a chance to get a little reading done as I ease back into work, on top of the reading I got done before she arrived. That means this is a longer “favorites” post than usual — a nice challenge for me as I get back into the groove of writing!

I’m also trying something new this month. I’ve become an affiliate of Bookshop.org, a website that is seeking to redirect some of Amazon’s book sale profits to independent bookstores. I try not to preach too much, but I have serious concerns about Amazon’s affect on the publishing industry, so I’m glad to be able to provide an alternative option to readers. Full disclosure: If you order books through my links, I will get a percentage of that sale. I am obviously very grateful if you do choose to do that — but I would also encourage you to try to do more of your book shopping through the website itself when you can’t get to your local independent bookstore or comic shop, regardless of whether it kicks back to me or not. It will benefit other affiliate bookstores and folks in the world of book retail and reviewing.

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What’s Michael? Fat Cat Collection, Volume 1, by Makoto Kobayashi — published by Dark Horse Comics

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will likely have seen some of my ravings about What’s Michael? in the past, and will know that I’m a huge lover of cats. This hilarious series is about the quirks of cats, as shown through Michael, a sort of stand-in for all orange tabbies everywhere, and his cat companions. This is also, however, a series about the quirks of cat lovers; frequently the human characters are depicted as going above and beyond what seems reasonable in favor of providing the best for their cats. My personal favorite recurring characters are the yakuza member known as K who doesn’t want anyone to know that he keeps and dotes on a cat, and his rival yakuza member M who doesn’t want anyone to know that he is horribly afraid of cats. Each man is worried about shattering his manly image, you see. Makoto Kobayashi seems to enjoy the incongruity of stereotypically masculine men loving cats, and it is clear from his keen observation that he himself is a great lover of felines. Dark Horse had originally published this series in smaller volumes back in the 90s, and I’m really, really excited that they’re bringing it back in this “fatcat” edition for a new wave of cat-loving readers!

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Our Dining Table, by Mita Ori — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

I read a lot of BL, and the majority of it is…not great, honestly. I wade through a lot of excessive drama seeking out romances that are sweet, or comforting, or just plain pleasant. Luckily, those kinds of BL are becoming easier to find, and I would count Our Dining Table among them — though honestly, the romance is more of a bonus than a feature in this cozy food manga. Yutaka is a salaryman who has trouble eating around others. One day, he intercepts the young Tane, a little boy with a big appetite who becomes obsessed with Yutaka’s homemade onigiri. Through Tane, Yutaka meets Minoru, his older brother, and the three fall into a pattern of sharing meals together regularly. Obviously a romance buds between Yutaka and Minoru, but the real draw is the focus on shared meals — regardless of their quality — as a vehicle for creating familial bonds. As someone who grew up in an Italian household (and who loves food), this idea of sharing meals as a family is really important to me. I loved to see it utilized in a “found family” narrative, highlighting the importance of nourishing each other physically and emotionally.

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

Okay, I’m cheating a bit here. You Are New is actually a picture book that I bought for my daughter before she was born. But I’m including it here because it is another in an ever-growing collection of works by cartoonist Lucy Knisley about…well, babies. I haven’t forgotten my promise to write a piece about pregnancy and parenthood in comics, and I’m slowly accruing a small horde of books and links to use to that end. Knisley keeps churning out content that simply demands to be part of that future post! In this case, she speaks directly to children instead of parents, assuring them that their newness — whether it’s because they were just born or because they are meeting new people or whatever the case may be — is a wonderful gift of growth and change. We are constantly in the process of reinventing ourselves day to day, and none moreso than children. I’ve read this to Severina a few times now, both before and since she was born. Soon, she’ll be able to appreciate the lovely, bright illustrations that depict kids of all ages and backgrounds. Until then, well…she’s still very new!

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Kodocha, Volume 1, by Miho Obana — published by Tokyopop (out of print)

This also feels a bit like cheating, since this is actually a reread — though I first read this manga in 8th grade, about seventeen or so years ago! I have a soft spot for “old” shojo (stuff from the 90s and early 00s, basically), and on a whim realized that I wanted to revisit this series, which is so good at balancing absurd, slapsticky humor with intense, soap opera-style drama. Protagonist Sana is a famous actress, and she’s having trouble at school with a bully named Akito. As she tries to fight back against his classroom tyranny, she learns about his tragic past and is spurred to help his family overcome their issues through her performance in a movie that closely mirrors their experiences. It sounds trite, and perhaps in some ways it is…but there’s something so appealing about the characters that I find myself drawn in, anyway. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but if you can find old copies of Kodocha at your library or used somewhere, I do recommend checking it out, especially if you remember the good old bad days of North American manga publishing.

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Blue Flag, Volume 1, by KAITO — published by VIZ Media (available April 21, 2020)

This is one of those series around which there’s been a lot of buzz, so I was really excited to see it getting a print release through VIZ this year. In many ways, Blue Flag seems like a straightforward high school drama revolving around an uncomfortable love triangle. Protagonist Taichi is entering his final year of high school, and discovers that he’s in the same class as his childhood friend, Toma. While Toma doesn’t seem to think anything between them has changed, Taichi feels that Toma’s popularity and good-naturedness separate them, and he doesn’t really considering Toma a close friend. He happens to discover that a timid girl in his class, Futaba Kuze, has a crush on Toma. She asks for Taichi’s help to get Toma’s attention — and complications ensue. The three get along well, but Toma is hiding his real feelings about his own affections, and Taichi suddenly feels far more attached to Kuze than he anticipated, especially considering he rather disliked her at the outset of the manga. I had never read anything by KAITO before, but his artwork is absolutely lovely, and he manages to keep a high school love triangle (one of my least favorite tropes) interesting through genuinely likable characters. So far, there’s no overly-dramatic backstabbing or eyeroll-worthy declarations of romantic intention. And besides, there’s an LGBTQ+ angle here as well, and I’m curious to see how that’s handled in future volumes.

myandrogynousboyfriendyouretheman

My Androgynous Boyfriend, Volume 1, by Tamekou — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

Upon seeing my Goodreads rating of this volume, a friend with whom I didn’t think I had much discussed my love of androgynous men commented, “Oh brand.” And truly, this is a very on brand manga for me in so many ways. Wako is a hard-working manga editor who isn’t terribly interested in her own appearance, but who loves cute and beautiful things. This affection extends to her boyfriend, the fashionable and feminine Meguru. This unlikely couple loves each other fiercely, and the story mainly revolves around the misconceptions others have about their sexualities (since some people assume Meguru is a woman, or that he is gay). So far, even though Wako and Meguru both deal with some struggles in their professional and personal lives, this is a series without any malice. These two lovebirds are happy with each other, and they work hard to maintain their relationship with a great deal of mutual respect and admiration. The first volume was simply relaxing and enjoyable to read, and I look forward to seeing what future volumes have in store.

Well, there’s two months’ worth of recommendations for you, dear readers! I’ll be getting back to reviewing for Comics Beat soon, too, so continue to look for my long-form reviews there. Much as the time away has been nice (and brief!), I’m looking forward to diving headlong back into manga writing, as well as my other work. It’s important to keep the mind active, even when caring for a child! At the very least, I’ll be back again next month for another favorites post, so keep an eye out for it.

ReadingwithSev