Tag Archives: graphic novel

Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke

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Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke

Radtke, Kristen. Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness. Pantheon, 2021. ISBN 978-1524748067 352 pp. $30

*****

Seek You is a masterful narrative of a lifetime of loneliness that is compared to a kind of condition that goes in and out of remission, and it’s a wonderful metaphor.

Part memoir, part history, Radtke examines loneliness through biology, sociology, psychology, art and pop culture, citing a number of studies, articles and books that document and examine our longing to connect, and why it’s so difficult. The prose is poetic if detached as she details hideous science experiments, gun violence, chat room lechers, depression, and abuse.

About a third of the way through, Radkte likens loneliness to being underwater: the weight of a sinking body, the inability to move with ease, the muted sounds… and the series of drawings that follow are poetic in their composition and pacing, culminating in a wave that washes everything away for the next chapter. It’s quite brilliant and arresting.

Fitting the theme of the book, the palate is predominantly blacks and blues, grey, purple and lavender that even on white backgrounds and with pops of mustard and salmon, feels murky and dark. The colors match the somber tone and steady march of the text.

The book is meticulously documented with a list of citations at the end.

History Comics: The National Parks by Falynn Koch

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History Comics: The National Parks by Falynn Koch

Koch, Falynn. History Comics: The National Parks. First Second, 2022. ISBN 978-1250265876 128 pp. $19.99

****

This comic panel format history is a fascinating look at the personalities (and egos) behind the creation of the National Park Service. An introduction from William Gwaitney, retired assistant regional director of the National Park Service, sets a passionate tone for the NPS in his introduction.

The book uses two characters, Bigfoot and a bald eagle, to represent the parks and the United States and frame the narrative. They introduce presidents and naturalists, legislators and business tycoons, and famous properties. They also define preservation versus conservation, where they are at odds and where they align.

The system evolved from a single park that straddled two states (Yellowstone) to include all federal parks: national monuments, recreation areas, military sites, urban parks, historic sites and natural wonders. The book also briefs on funding and management, environment and wildlife issues, and Mission 66 in 1966 to address visitor services (entrance fees, parking, and visitor centers).

Missing is coverage of the National Park System going rogue and actively resisting President Trump, the creation of @AltUSNatParkService and it’s 72.9K followers, and the government seeking to overturn laws and protections that keep the parks and their environments clean. Koch does not shy away from the reality of lands being stolen from indigenous peoples, or from dark and tragic parts of our history.

The art is cartoony with a subdued color palette. The characters are slightly caricatured which matches the fun and informal tone of the book. As each park is established, a name and date appear in the panel, culminating with a timeline that covers the establishments of all the parks, from 1851 to 2019. The book concludes with resources for further research (title and author, monographs only).

Informative and enjoyable, this just might inspire junior ranges or at least a road trip to visit your closest park!

My Life in Plants: Flowers I’ve Loved, Herbs I’ve Grown, and Houseplants I’ve Killed on the Way to Finding Myself by Katie Vaz

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My Life in Plants: Flowers I’ve Loved, Herbs I’ve Grown, and Houseplants I’ve Killed on the Way to Finding Myself by Katie Vaz

Vaz, Katie. My Life in Plants: Flowers I’ve Loved, Herbs I’ve Grown, and Houseplants I’ve Killed on the Way to Finding Myself. Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2020. ISBN 978-1524859602 144 pp. $

***

Short sweet vignettes, in chronological order, of plants loved and lost, given and received. Charming illustrations, simple writing, nearly graphic memoir.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

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The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Wang, Jen. The Prince and the Dressmaker. First Second, 2018. ISBN 978-1626723634 pp. $17.99

*****
A prince angsts over his family’s demand that he find a bride while he moonlights in ladies clothing. Only his talented dressmaker knows his secret… Sebastian’s secret prevents Frances from reaching her own potential, and they seem to be falling for one another. At what point can they continue to deny their true selves and dreams?

The story manages to be both subversive and inclusive. The gender-bending and identity issues will make LGBTQIA+ readers feel seen, and has a modern feel juxtaposed with the historical setting.

This is a beautifully drawn graphic novel with perfect timing and a wonderful sense of movement to it that propels the reader. Wang has crafted gorgeous costumes for her characters. The Parisian setting plays homage to the fashion industry and showcases the artist’s talent not just for fabulous gowns by the the architecture of the times. The setting and courtly life are appealing for fairy tale fans. The romance is so very sweet.

I bought this to own and we ALL loved it (Ms. 8, Mr. 10, myself – 45 – and my partner -48). Our copy is tattered from so many re-reads.

Wilde Life by Pascalle Lepas

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Wilde Life by Pascalle Lepas

Pascalle Lepas. Wilde Life. Kickstarter. 2016. ISBN 9780997524802 150 pp. $25

*****

Wilde Life (Volume #1) is a paranormal graphic novel set in the Midwest that may appeal to fans of Stranger Things. It follows the supernatural adventures of Oscar, a man on a mission to get out of town, who lands in a place where weird things happen. Never trust a cheap rental found on Craigslist: his house is haunted by an attractive ghost, a talking bear is less than impressed with his presence, and he befriends a local teenage punk who happens to be a werewolf.

The art is just gorgeous. Perspectives vary, the play of light on the page is often beautiful, and faces are expressive, with figures well proportioned. The writing is solid, the characters are interesting, the story is compelling, and the pacing phenomenal. An Easter Egg: in the online version, a mouseover reveals a clever tagline for each page, lending humor, insight or foreshadowing.

Told via a release of 3 pages a week (Wilde Life updates on a Mon-Wed-Fri schedule), there is a cohesive arc that makes it clear storyteller/artist has a sense of where things are going as the reader is left in suspense as to what will happen next.

Only one volume has been bound thus far; Wilde Life is a great webcomic that transcends well to the page.

Salmon Doubts by Adam Sacks

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Salmon Doubts by Adam Sacks

Sacks, Adam. Salmon Doubts. Alternative Comics, 2004. ISBN 978-1891867712. 128 pp. $19.99

***

The life cycle of a salmon serves as a metaphor for the human condition in Salmon Doubts. Fish struggle to survive hatching, make connections, be unique, explore the world around them, hit puberty, try to fit in, find a mate and return home to die. Focusing on basic questions such as “Why am I here?” this philosophical tale with its themes of identity and purpose in life will have special appeal to teens. Very highly recommended – a real quality addition to your graphic novel collections.

Review by Beth Gallaway

Ninety Candles: A Graphic Novella by Neil Kleid

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Ninety Candles: A Graphic Novella by Neil Kleid

Kleid, Neil. Nintey Candles: a graphic novella. Rant Comics, 2004. $5.99

*****

Conveyed entirely through images and dialogue, Ninety Candles is an experiment, begun when author Neil Kleid challenged himself to create a panel a day, unscripted, for three months. This sequential tale follows the life of a child who loves to draw, discovers comics, and takes the leap from aficionado to artist. Unconventional circular panels act as peepholes into pivotal moments of protagonist Kevin Hall’s life, illustrated with soft edges.

Ninety Candles is a perfect introduction to the graphic novel genre because it is easy to follow and explains a lot about the business of making comics. This is a fantastic and inexpensive add that will add depth to manga and superhero collections and appeal to a broad readership.

Peanut Butter and Jeremy’s Best Book Ever by James Kochalka

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Peanut Butter and Jeremy’s Best Book Ever by James Kochalka

James Kochalka. Peanut Butter and Jeremy’s Best Book Ever. Alternative Comics, 2003. ISBN 978-1891867460 280 pp. $

*****

Peanut Butter and Jeremy’s Best Book Ever is a whimsical collection of the adventures of a naive workaholic cat (who thinks he is an office employee) named Peanut Butter and a sarcastic trickster crow named Jeremy. Peanut Butter, who takes himself much too seriously, needs a nemesis-pal like Jeremy around to bring him back down to earth. Character development here is excellent–the two epitomize their species and display charmingly human affectations as well. The art is smooth, featuring simple lines and velvety black backgrounds.

Appropriate for children in that the themes, dialogue and artwork are easily comprehended, some of the plots and jokes may go over their heads. Saavy teens and collegiate intern-types will probably get the most out of Peanut Butter’s career track and Jeremy’s meanness. Some parents of young children may object to the name-calling and threats of violence throughout, but they are true to Jeremy’s character and should be taken lightly.

Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography by Sid Jacobson illus. by Ernie Colón

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Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography by Sid Jacobson illus. by Ernie Colón

Jacobson, Sid, illus. by Ernie Colón. Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography. Hill and Wang, 2010. ISBN 978-0809026852 160 pp. $18

This graphic biography chronicles the life of the Nazi movement (beginning with Germany in WWI) and its rise to power, and the life of Anne Frank (beginning with her parent’s courtship) and her development from carefree girlhood to pensive adolescent, culminating with the Armistice and Anne’s death at Auschwitz, just a few weeks before the end of WWII.

Each chapter contains at least one “snapshot:” a 1/3 to full page that, like a sidebar, imparts some background information, like a family tree with portraits drawn from photographs, a map that shows the territories in control of each of the combatants, and a page on concentration camps. The snapshots break up the narrative of Anne’s life and the progression of the Nazi movement.

The text is well-supported with facts and primary source material, such as interviews with concentration camp survivors, and of course, excerpts from Anne’s diary itself. The creators occasionally put undocumented thoughts into the character’s heads, and I was left wondering how they KNEW that’s what the person was thinking at the time.

The layout is very orderly, a classic 2 panel by 3 panel formation. Style varies slightly from page to page, employing the classic left to right Z formation for reading. A few split screen style illustrations show what various characters are doing, within the same timeframe. One especially clever panel on pg. 104 uses the spread of an airplane’s wings to transition a scene. Perspectives vary, making use of techniques such as silhouette, closeups, angles, and aerials, only the text breaks out of the neat boxes, and there are plenty of opportunities–chaotic moments–for such deviation. Chapter headings have unique full page illustrations with interesting angles.

The artist employs traditional devices such as a lightning bolt shaped speech bubble for speech coming from a radio, and puffy cloud like speech bubbles to indicate thoughts instead of spoken words. The somber hues of the artwork–especially the gray and beige of the concentration camps–are effective at setting mood, while the browns and golds lend an old-fashioned and historical feel. Many illustrations are beautifully rendered reproductions from actual photographs: of the building at 263 Prinsegracht, of emaciated prisoners in the camps, of Otto Frank. Several, rendered in grayscale, pack a real punch, forcing the reader to stop and contemplate the significance of the action captured. Anne’s palette shifts from pink, purple and white as a young girl to more sober maroons, browns and blues as a teen. The soft, hazy style of the illustrations on page 74 of rooms in the annex (devoid of their inhabitants) has a nostalgic, nearly ghostly feel; the same technique, employed in sepia on pg 139, is nothing short of haunting.

The chronology at the end of the book juxtaposes two timelines: Anne’s family (in black ink) and WWII (in red ink). Sources are credited on the final page, with only one suggestion for further explanation (the museum website).

I think this well-intentioned book would be a much more satisfying read if it had stronger art/editorial direction; it suffers from a textbook-like tone in too many places for the reader to become lost in the very powerful story of Anne’s life. In spite of the objective tone, the images in chapter 9, “Discovery” are absolutely heartwrenching. Chapter 10, The Story Lives On, chronicles the one surviving member of the eight who hid in the annex, and how Anne’s diary not only went on to see the light of day, but was made into a play and a film, translated into over 70 languages, and achieved her dream of someday becoming a writer.

I feel strongly that delivery is too lecturey in tone, and unfortunately diminishes the appeal of this book. In spite of the popularity of Anne’s story, the tragic appeal, the message about peace, harmony and acceptance. It’s not a balanced enough piece to warrant 5 stars. It has too much of a souvenir feel, like the book was commissioned to sell in the gift shop at the Anne Frank House to teach people about Anne’s life.