Tommie Smith is the subject of one of the most iconic images from the Civil Rights Era, of two black men holding gloved fists high in a Black Power salute during the 1968 Olympics. In Victory. Stand!: Raising my Fist for Justice, Smith tells his story behind that moment. The graphic memoir, co-written with Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile gives an account of Smith’s life leading to the Olympics, his choice to make the political statement, and the aftermath.
The book opens with a race, specifically the 200 meter sprint finals. Despite a sharp pain in his thighs and a whirlwind of thoughts, Smith leaps at the sound of the starter pistol. We then immediately flashback to his childhood, 1949 in Texas. Throughout the next few chapters, Smith flashes back and forth between the story of his childhood and school years in the segregated South with his iconic race at the ‘68 Olympics.
Smith and Barnes juxtapose his pain and resiliency during the race with the harsh realities of living and growing as a Black boy surrounded by racial injustices. His parents were sharecroppers who were hardworking and kind, but treated in a way that was obviously cruel and unfair, even through the eyes of a young Smith. He talks about the ways he perceived these inequities, and the moment when he first came to the understanding that this was all about race. In college, Smith begins to realize that his voice matters. It is with that knowledge that he makes the decision to run in the Olympics and raise his fist to the sky. The last chapter details the trajectory of his life in the aftermath. Unfortunately, it felt rushed and included details that were not relevant to the theme of sports and the Civil Rights Movement. I also wish that the parallels with the 200 meter race and his life extended further into the story. However, these are small imperfections in an otherwise fascinating book from an important voice from history.
Anyabwile’s illustrations in gray, black, and white, are filled with texture, movement and emotion. Throughout the book, the illustrations add depth to the story. Much of the emotion and drama comes through in the backgrounds with textures, shadows or expansive black. Anyabwile also did a notable job capturing Smith’s growth from child to adult, sublely adjusting looks and style as time goes on.
At pivotal moments in Smith’s life, Anyabwile steps away from Smith’s story to illustrate more striking images reflecting the reality for Black people in America. When Smith’s family eventually moves to Southern California in hopes for a better life, the very next page features a haunting two page spread with a mother and her young children screaming in pain. In the background a Black man hangs from a tree next to a burning cross. Other images include references to such events as the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing and Martin Luther King’s Assassnation. Smith came of age at the dawn of the Civil Rights era, as he was finding himself and his place in the world, these moments and realities helped to shape who he became. Anyabwile deftly illustrates these pages. They are awash with black and expand beyond the panels typical of most pages in the book. These events are monumental and his illustrations reflect their importance.
Victory. Stand!: Raising my Fist for Justice is a notable addition to the graphic memoir genre. It is a definite purchase for my high school collection. Tommie Smith is an important voice from the Civil Rights Movement and I think this book will appeal to a broad range of readers.
Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice By Tommie Smith and Derrick Barnes Art by Dawud Anyabwile W. W. Norton & Company, 2022 ISBN: 9781324003908
Publisher Age Rating: 13 and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: African-American, Black, Character Representation: African-American, Black,
Things are heating up quickly for Paul and his sisters Marie and Sylvie. Members of the French Resistance during World War II, the three siblings begin to realize that war is only shades of gray and the black-and-white divides they want to see in their Nazi-occupied town simply don’t exist. As Paul’s hair-trigger temper leads him to work with hot-headed Jacques on ever-increasing acts of terror, Marie finds herself taking care of a fallen Resistance fighter while Sylvie struggles to face the fact that she doesn’t hate the Nazi soldier she has been dating in an attempt to gather information. With the Allies landing at Normandy and the end of the war rushing towards them, the children and their family must struggle even harder to keep faith in a time of war, death, and destruction.
The third and final book in Jablonski and Purvis’s Resistance series keeps the strong story going even as it ups the action to a breathtaking pace. Readers who loved the scenes of children fighting back against adult occupiers will still enjoy Paul and Marie’s tale and will appreciate the focus on the emotions with which the children are grappling. Both of the young teens, in addition to their family members, are constantly faced with hardship and deprivation and it has begun to wear them down to the bone. Marie is worried about her POW father and misses Henri, her and Paul’s Jewish friend who’d had to flee in book one. Paul’s anger is palpable and understandable. He can’t believe that anyone would sit by when they could fight back, but when his and Jacques’s destruction of a train leads to harsh Nazi reprisals, Paul is suddenly aware of the impact of his actions on the people around him.
There are still a few abrupt scene changes which mean that certain elements, like the fate of Sylvie’s Nazi “boyfriend,” are dropped. And I still would have liked to see a bibliography, so I could know which sources Jablonski and Purvis used, but overall this book is a strong ending to the series, pulling up from the occasionally bogged down second volume. Purvis’s art is as strong as ever, breathing real life and a strong undercurrent of tension into the story. Paul’s personal sketches are not used as much here as they were in book one, which is understandable considering what he is going through. When they are used, they are always effective.
This series has been a slam-dunk favorite in my best friend’s fifth grade classroom library, with her boys constantly checking out the first two volumes, but there’s enough action and historical interest to please middle school readers, as well. I’m thrilled to be able to add book three to her library and allow her students to enjoy the heart-pounding race to freedom along with Paul and Marie.
Resistance, book 3: Victory by Carla Jablonski Art by Leland Purvis ISBN: 9781596732932 First Second, 2012
History tells us of a violent feud between two clans in Feudal Japan—the blood-thirsty Akuno and the peaceful Omura. Though they were outmatched, the leaders of the Omura did not fear, for they had the power of prophecy on their side. Their legends told of a stranger with snow-colored skin, who would come in their time of greatest need and lead them to victory over their ancestral enemy.
This did not come to pass.
Unfortunately, the first snow-skinned stranger who came to the Omura was Captain Nathan Garin of the US Army. An idiot and a drunkard, Captain Garin led the Omura into battle, where they were promptly slaughtered. Since then, the Omura are largely forgotten, save as an example of how not to fight a war.
This history is largely meaningless to Todd Parker, a Japanese American professor of film history. His grandfather told him tales of the Omura, but he never expected it to be relevant to his life. Then again, Todd never expected to travel through time to feudal Japan while chasing the woman who stole his wallet, either. Now, on the eve of the final battle between the Akuno and the Omura, it is up to Todd to rewrite history and convince his ancestors of the folly of their beliefs.
White Savior is one of the most metatextual works of fiction I have ever read. Author and artist Eric Nguyen makes it clear how annoyed he is by the plethora of fiction in which a modern man uses his advanced knowledge to avert disaster. This applies to both historical fiction where a white savior is charmed by a different culture and the speculative fiction where a time traveler uses their knowledge of the future and technology to save the day.
Nguyen is not alone in this annoyance. The trope was prominent enough among classic science fiction that Mark Twain satirized it in 1889 with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I find this a fitting comparison because White Savior, much like the Mark Twain novel, is only saved from being preachy by being uproariously funny. What Blazing Saddles was to the Western, White Savior aspires to be to movies like The Last Samurai.
While the script by Nguyen and co-author Scott Burman tackles the racism of the white savior trope, he also mocks the time travel savior through his hero, Todd Parker. Far from full of helpful knowledge of the future, Todd mostly snarks about his misfortune and makes pop culture references nobody understands. He also breaks the fourth wall to a degree that would shame Mel Brooks.
Nguyen’s artwork is as sharp as his satire. He does a fine job illustrating the architecture and armor of feudal Japan. The colors by Iwan Joko Triyono are also good.
Dark Horse Comics rated this volume as 14+. I think that is a perfect rating, as the sophomoric tone and sarcastic examination of tired tropes is ideally suited to the cynical teen audience. There is some bloodshed and adult language, as well as some suggestive remarks when Todd wakes up to find himself being bathed by several women in a scene he is quick to say he is positive is not historically accurate.
White Savior By Eric Nguyen, Scott Burman Art by Eric Nguyen Dark Horse, 2023 ISBN: 9781506736273
Publisher Age Rating: 14+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Japanese-American Character Representation: Japanese-American
Every January, the American Library Association winter conference (now LibLearnX) hosts the announcements of the Youth Media Awards, featuring the selections of the many hard-working committees of the best titles for young readers from babies on up through teens. For...
Gene understands stories—comic book stories, in particular. Big action. Bigger thrills. And the hero always wins.
But Gene doesn’t get sports. As a kid, his friends called him “Stick” and every basketball game he played ended in pain. He lost interest in basketball long ago, but at the high school where he now teaches, it’s all anyone can talk about. The men’s varsity team, the Dragons, is having a phenomenal season that’s been decades in the making. Each victory brings them closer to their ultimate goal: the California State Championships.
Once Gene gets to know these young all-stars, he realizes that their story is just as thrilling as anything he’s seen on a comic book page. He knows he has to follow this epic to its end. What he doesn’t know yet is that this season is not only going to change the Dragons’s lives, but his own life as well.
Dragon Hoops By Gene Luen Yang ISBN: 9781626720794 First Second, 2020 NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)
Juni Taisen: Zodiac War is a teenage daydream; twelve warriors, each themed in appearance and/or powers after a figure of the Chinese zodiac, fight to the death for the prize of a granted wish. Fights are frequent showcases of bloodshed and the women are walking fetish displays. These battles, a regular fixture in the story’s world, require evacuating an entire city—the combat is too dangerous otherwise. Participants swallow a poisoned jewel that will kill them in 12 hours, giving everyone further incentive to seek victory, and the winner will be the last fighter standing. Ready, go!
If Juni Taisen is a theater of hollow delights, it also deserves credit for its storytelling virtues. Volumes one and two are good at keeping secrets. As characters match up against one another, twists and flashback reveals ensure that the reader has no idea who will die. Characters misrepresent themselves to one another regarding their powers, as in the case of the wolf-headed Dotsuku (The Dog), known for killing with bites. His actual ability is to inflict poisons with his bites, and when he uses strength—upgrading poisons to boost his cowardly ally Niwatori (The Chicken)—she immediately tears his face open and looks for more ‘allies.’
The artwork, especially Hikaru Nakamura’s distinct character designs and Akira Akatsuki’s gory action; sets a quality bar for the morbid and horny readers alike. All of the women either have massive or skimpily covered breasts, often paired with visible underpants and a leering perspective. One of the male combatants, Usagi The Rabbit, wears what amounts to a thong with suspenders, paired with high heels. Usagi’s drawn like a hulking, hunched Chippendale barbarian while the women have smooth, shiny legs and smiling, blushing faces. The rest of the guys wear cloaks, shirts, and armor—or in the case of Ushii The Ox, a Matador uniform. Their job is to look cool, a role I wish could have been extended to more female characters instead of, say, a miniature pair of wings obscuring their crotch. Or a panty shot on the front cover.
The action setpieces, which are reliably quick and bloody, lead to severed heads, flowing veins, flying bullets, and zombified servants. The creativity of the Zodiac fighters really shines as they pair off against one another like walking Rock, Paper, Scissors duelists. Will the explosives expert be a match for the drunk brawler, or are they hiding secret powers?
This series is rated T+ for Older Teens for the reasons outlined above. Readers looking for a Fortnite /Hunger Games/Battle Royale fix by way of bikini shots and swords through the chest will find plenty of schlock to devour here. Author notes and one-sentence text breaks allude to novelist Nisiosin’s light novel series that started this franchise (it’s also been adapted into an anime). I can imagine a prose version of events revealing more of the characters’ inner thoughts and adding complexity to what is a fairly straightforward affair, but what kind of murder-vixen fantasy is that?
Juni Taisen: Zodiac War, Volumes 1-2 By Akira Akatsuki Art by Hikaru Nakamura vol 1 ISBN: 9781974702503 vol 2 ISBN: 9781974702497 Viz, 2018 Publisher Age Rating: T+
If you are not familiar with Cartoon Network’s animated comedy The Amazing World of Gumball, then you are missing out on a unique show. Centered on a preteen cat and his dysfunctional family, the show combines different forms of animation (claymation, puppetry, live action, etc.), comedic adventures, and numerous pop culture references to create a zany, offbeat comedy for children to enjoy. Even in comic form, you can still receive that same humor that fans have enjoyed for years. The Amazing World of Gumball: Scrimmage Scramble, written by Megan Brennan and illustrated by Kate Sherron, gives fans and comic readers an invitation to another one of Gumball’s crazy adventures.
When Anais wants to learn about sports in order to make friends, she goes to her brothers Gumball and Darwin for help. However, as much as they try, the boys do not know enough about sports to help their sister—unless you count scenes and quotes from various sports movies. They do invent a new sport called Coolball, which goes viral and draws the attention of Spacemore Academy, their school’s rival in the Sister School Sports Day Scrimmage. The alien school has decided that this year’s sport will be Coolball, leaving Gumball, Darwin, and Anais responsible for their school’s team victory, and preventing the boys from going to summer school.
What makes The Amazing World of Gumball stand out is the variety of characters within the show. Not only are there anthropomorphic animals, plants, and food who populate the city of Elmore, but also aliens, balloons, puppets, and other various objects. It is a diverse population with quirky characters, making it entertaining and unexpected. The same goes for this comic adaptation, which takes the same humor and cast from the show and creates a new adventure. Kate Sherron’s artwork is simple, and although she strays away from the various character-specific animation forms, her technique fits this story. She uses exaggerated expressions whenever a character expresses a specific emotion, bright colors, and extra panels for pages with a lot of sports action. As for the writing, Megan Brennan creates a story with humorous references and in-character dialogue. The story itself is fun to read and creates a lesson about teamwork and friendship. This new adventure will entertain readers and may introduce them to a new television show.
The Amazing World of Gumball: Scrimmage Scramble is a colorful and fun comic that will be enjoyed by fans of Gumball and graphic novel readers. Those who are not familiar with the original show will not be confused with this adaptation, but it may encourage them to find the animated show. This is a great addition to a children’s graphic novel collection for both public and school libraries, especially if the librarians are familiar enough with their 2nd-6th grade patrons to hand-sell this title.
The Amazing World of Gumball: Scrimmage Scramble by Megan Brennan Art by Kate Sherron ISBN: 9781684152179 Kaboom, 2018 Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
On a quaint farm in the kingdom of Hyrule, young Link lives with his grandparents. His grandfather, a retired knight, is determined to teach Link the way of the sword. After all, the boy was born with a birthmark that looks like the sacred pyramid, the Triforce—clearly, he has a great destiny! Link goes to the city and takes the knight’s trial, but soon finds himself lost. He winds up in a temple decorated with a design that matches the Triforce mark on his hand. A voice speaks to him, commanding him to undertake a different kind of trial: the trial of the Triforce. Then a flash of light, and Link finds himself waking up somewhere very different.
Alone in a strange land, Link falls in with a troupe of traveling performers. He makes friends, and is especially enchanted by Din, their star dancer. But it all comes crashing down when they are attacked by the evil General Onox. The general wants to kidnap Din because she is actually a powerful being called the Oracle of Seasons. Link tries to defend Din, but is defeated. To save Link’s life, Din agrees to go with General Onox.
Link, of course, can’t let that stand. He sets out to rescue Din. Along the way, he gathers an assortment of allies: a boxing kangaroo, a talking baby chicken, and a mischievous witch. Armed with the Rod of Seasons, which lets him magically change the season at will, Link leads the way to victory against Onox. Onox, however, is just the pawn of a greater evil—an evil which is far from finished. Link is about to be pulled into a whole new adventure: time travel, skeleton pirates, and a possessed queen await. Can Link restore peace to the land and become the hero that Hyrule needs?
In addition to the brave, good-hearted, and sometimes goofy Link, both stories feature a rich cast of supporting characters. These characters enhance the story with their distinct personalities and even more distinct appearances—some are not even human. Like Link, they are easy to root for: while some may be stuck-up, excitable, sneaky, or otherwise flawed, they are all ultimately heroic. The stories are sweeping adventures with lots of action and humor. The battles are epic, full of magic and other special attacks, but without blood or gore. The villains are powerful and the stakes high. It’s sometimes actually believable that the bad guys could, if not win, perhaps kill some of our brave heroes. In the end, though, good triumphs and lives happily ever after.
These two stories are distinct but connected, much like the video games on which they are based. Each story has its own focus, with Link manipulating the seasons or traveling through time. The tone also varies slightly between the two: Oracle of Seasons is packed with strange and silly characters, while Oracle of Ages is slightly more serious. Still, the connections between them mean that both stories make more sense if read together, so pairing them up for this Legendary Edition makes perfect sense.
This edition comes with a fun extra: the short version of the Oracle of Seasons comic, serialized in a magazine back in 2001. With the whole story crammed into about twenty pages, this comic is very different from the regular version. And as the author’s note points out, it includes characters and items that don’t appear in the longer story.
Fans of the video games will enjoy revisiting their favorite characters—assuming the characters made the cut. The games were long and complex, so many elements were taken out in these adaptations. Still, the essence of the games comes across. And for readers new to the Legend of Zelda universe, the stories are readily-accessible, feel-good adventures. Just don’t worry too much about the unexplained presence of talking kangaroos or flying polar bears, and everything will be fine.
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages, Legendary Edition vol. 2 by Akira Himekawa ISBN: 9781421589602 VIZ Media, 2017 Publisher Age Rating: All Ages
With the Wonder Woman movie having a successful summer at the box office and multiple comics depicting Diana’s origin being released in the past year, it’s a great time to compare how the different elements of her origin are being presented.
The most recent origin published is Wonder Woman, vol. 2: Year One by Greg Rucka and artist Nicola Scott. Rucka and Scott are both familiar with Wonder Woman as they have worked on the character for years. Year One describes how Diana leaves Themyscira (also known as Paradise Island) to live in the contemporary DC Comics world. Steve Trevor’s plane crash is the impetus for her exile from the Amazon’s world, but most other aspects of her origin are updated or left as a mystery. Rucka expertly modernizes Diana and her supporting characters with believable modern motivations, cultural identities and sexual orientations. Steve is depicted as a competent and caring military man. Etta Candy is a skilled combat tactician and Dr. Minerva (the future Cheetah) is a troubled academic who knows enough to understand Diana’s ancient language.
Much like in the movie, Diana is depicted as new to the ways of man, but not naïve. She takes action but doesn’t surrender her values. Scott’s artwork is realistic and beautiful. She is a good artist for Wonder Woman as she draws women’s’ faces and bodies well from a variety of perspectives. If anything, her male forms seem too perfect, which is an interesting switch from most comics. Rucka and Scott make good choices about when to depict violence and when to leave things to the imagination. For instance, there is a contest to see which Amazon will accompany Steve back to the US. During the final contest, we don’t see how Diana wins, we just get the reveal that she will be the champion as she comes out dressed as Wonder Woman. Later in the book, she defeats someone we think to be Ares through inaction and her golden lasso, not through a drawn out battle scene. Rucka seems determined to focus on Diana’s mission of peace, not her skill at war.
Rucka also seeks to reset her origin story. In recent comics, a major change to Diana’s origin is that she was really a child of Hippolyta and Zeus and not made from clay. The movie Wonder Woman (spoiler alert) also adopts this part of her origin, which explains why she is so powerful. Rucka doesn’t reveal where she comes from, but makes it clear that she has been lied to about many things over the years, including her god-like beginnings. In this story, her powers are bestowed upon her from the ‘patrons’ on Earth, the Greek Gods. All of this serves to open up storytelling possibilities for future writers.
Another recent Wonder Woman book, The Legend of Wonder Woman, vol. 1: Origins by Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon, puts Diana back in the context of World War II and takes up the original birth story by having Diana formed from clay. There are many elements of her origin that show up in this book as well. Her training in combat, Steve Trevor’s crash landing, her victory in combat to become the Amazon’s champion, her introduction to the larger world and characters like Etta Candy are represented in both books.
Once away from Paradise Island, the stories diverge quite a bit. In Legend, Diana eventually goes to Europe during WWII in search of an ancient evil, which she fights and defeats. The evil she must ultimately defeats harkens back to Iron Giant and Attack on Titan in some ways. It also connects to DC’s long history in it’s reveal, which should engage longtime comic book fans. In general, her cartooning style is light, funny and visually appealing. Dillon’s coloring does a fantastic job and the artwork really pops off of every page. This story is a delight on many levels.
Both books are worthy library purchases for most teen collections, particularly since there is so much interest in Wonder Woman at the moment. Year One is more graphic and violent in tone and art style. Legend is much more lighthearted and humorous even though it tells a dark story as well. I could see De Liz’s book being appropriate for older elementary kids as well. There is very little blood in the violence depicted in her book, but there are many occult references as the evil Diana must face raising the dead, among other things. It is a shame that DC chose to discontinue De Liz’s take on Wonder Woman. While both books are good, De Liz’s will be the one I will be recommending to kids interested in memorable Wonder Woman stories that capture the hope and lighthearted nature depicted in the movie.
Wonder Woman, vol. 2: Year One by Greg Rucka Art by Nicola Scott ISBN: 9781401268800 DC Comics, 2017 Publisher Age Rating: 12+
The Legend of Wonder Woman, vol. 1: Origins by Renae De Liz Art by Ray Dillon ISBN: 9781401267285 DC Comics, 2016 Publisher Age Rating: 12+
The Jake MaddoxGraphic Novels series was designed with young readers in mind. These sports-centered stories all present a teen athlete who has a recognizable weakness, learns a lesson, overcomes the weakness, and then goes on to win the game in about 65 pages. Each book spells out the flaw clearly, and each ends with a glitteringly clear resolution. While these stories can be unbearably predictable for an adult audience, I believe they give readers who are working on skill development the right amount of practice to read for character, plot, and theme.
I also applaud the books for covering issues relevant to a wide range of students on and off the field. In Soccer Switch, Andre faces frustration and disappointment in a new coach’s unusual techniques. Comeback Catch focuses on Eddie as he learns to feel more comfortable at the batter’s mound instead of behind the plate. Daydream Receiver has Gus realizing he can’t just be caught up in dreams; he also has to work hard towards these goals. In Double Scribble, Diego has to overcome his disappointment of losing the game to regain a sense of himself.
However, a consistent weakness in the series is the lack of attention to graphic art relative to the story. These illustrated novels have a mild artistic sense, where the art serves mostly as a comprehension aid and does much less to push the story forward or to draw readers towards a deeper meaning. The art mostly relies on a limited range of emotions and gestures from the characters, simple paneling, and solid backgrounds. More attention could be paid to the visual senses of these stories, whether it be towards portraying the athletic victory or towards illustrating inner thoughts and feelings.
Another weakness is the use of sophisticated storytelling structures (flashback, inner monologue, dream sequences, and story-in-a-story) to tell highly readable stories. I am concerned that students who would be able to understand the characters, plot, and themes independently might get hung up on the structural elements, such as telling the difference between a character’s inner dream sequence and outer real-life action. However, some might make the case that these books can be used to teach readers about these structures.
I encourage children and teen librarians who are in need of engaging instructional tools for developing readers to look into the Jake Maddox series for their libraries and schools.
Comeback Catcher (Jake Maddox Graphic Novels) by Eric Braun Art by Bere Muñiz ISBN: 9781496537003 Capstone, 2017 Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
Daydream Receiver (Jake Maddox Graphic Novels) by Brandon Terrell Art by Eduardo Garcia ISBN: 9781496537027 Capstone, 2017 Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
Double Scribble (Jake Maddox Graphic Novels) by Brandon Terrell Art by Arburtov ISBN: 9781496537010 Capstone, 2017 Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
Soccer Switch (Jake Maddox Graphic Novels) by Brandon Terrell Art by Arburtov ISBN: 9781496536990 Capstone, 2017 Publisher Age Rating: 8-12