The advanced review copy of Dear Body, edited by Lea Bordier, that I read for this review states on its cover: “In Dear Body, 12 women and non binary describe their relationship with their own bodies in their own words.” As Bordier explains in the introduction, the twelve short pieces the volume contains are adapted from a video project that she created. The stories are translated from French, leading to some occasional awkward turns of phrase, but overall, it’s an easily digestible, thoughtful collection of women and non-binary folks’ stories about their bodies. Each story is illustrated by a different artist, offering a variety of voices and styles.
The stories contemplate topics such as pregnancy, rape, illness and injuries, feminine grooming and dressing, being fat, being Black, and being disabled. A common thread throughout several of the stories is how other people react to the bodies of the main characters, and how the words and actions of others towards their bodies contribute to the characters’ perception of themselves. It emphasizes how societal norms and ideals can affect our self-worth, especially when we defy those norms and ideals. Even more so, it questions why some people feel entitled to treat others a certain way based solely on their bodies. The main characters range in age, with some diversity among the dozen: one lesbian, one nonbinary person, one Black woman, and one Asian woman. One character, Camille, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, a walker, and crutches throughout her story.
The deep and introspective stories surprised me with a breadth of topics. Shonah struggled to be taken seriously by doctors and it took years to reach her diagnosis of Vestibulodynia. Blaise asks themself of feminine grooming rituals, “Am I doing this for them or for me?” Sophie took two bullets during a shooting and relates her slow recovery through surgery, physical complications, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Mathilde, a fat woman, gets called hurtful names and has trouble finding clothes that fit, but she also sings in a band, has a fun social life, and works out at the gym. Each story is told with lush, beautiful art. “Mathilde”, by Mademoiselle Caroline, reminds me of something you’d see in The New Yorker, with curving, painterly lines and bold pops of color. It also depicts a fat body naked in everyday scenarios such as lounging with a lover and showering at the gym, which complements the story well. “Sophie”, by Karensac, is drawn in a pleasant, cute cartoon style with an orange and blue color palette. Assigning a different artist to each story adds to each one’s unique feel.
The only minor issue with the collection is that the translation from French to English stumbles in some places. For instance, in “Aurelie”, the text reads, “I lost so much weight I had to be hospitalized. I didn’t attend my sophomore or junior year. I was pretty sheltered from comments because I was marginalized until I was 20,” (81). I think by marginalized, perhaps the author meant something closer to isolated. In “Mayalan”, the main character admits, “I had a lot of trouble accepting my body up until one day when I said: Enough!” (91). In the same story, Mayalan points out her faults on a diagram of her own body, with an arrow pointing to her ankles that reads “terrible hemline,” (89). Still, with Lea Bordier’s original video project in French, this may be as good as it gets for an Anglophone audience without French language proficiency.
Dear Body is a decent anthology with some lovely art and an array of themes, though Ivanka Hahnenberger’s translation is awkward at times. Consider it an optional purchase for adult graphic novel collections.
Dear Body By Lea Bordier Art by Carole Maurel, Karensac, Eve Gentilhomme, Lucille Gomez, Mademoiselle Caroline, Sybilline Meynet, Cy, Marie Boiseau, Anne-Olivia Messana, Mirion Malle, Mathou, Daphne Collignon FairSquare Comics, LLC., 2023 ISBN: 9798985927832
Publisher Age Rating: 16+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
In Layers: a Memoir, Pénélope Bagieu, the author and illustrator of the Eisner-winning book Brazen, explores the complexities of her youth with grace and wit. As adults, it is often tempting to view our past through a lens of cynicism or jest, especially when recounting embarrassing fumbles or difficult mistakes. However Bagieu cares for her younger self with respect, and in doing so she also respects the mistakes and fumbles of her young readers.
The book opens with the story of a beloved pet cat. The story is told with wit and humor, and some tears. You can’t share stories of childhood pets without tears, but it is a strong opening to a book that explores the complex spectrum of emotions associated with relationships and moments from our youth.
I think the intended teen audience will appreciate the emotional honesty of Bagieu’s work. Some of the memoir focuses on her days as a teen or in high school, but much of it follows her life in and just after university. It explores the awkward growing pains of this time, with a sense of pride for her younger self.
The memoir is split into chapters. They might better be characterized as comic essays, each one exploring a different theme or relationship. The stories are based on diary entries from Bagieu’s youth and range from lighter moments recounting some embarrassing story from her past to darker depths related to sexual assault and broken relationships.
In a few chapters, she illustrates difficult moments from her teen years paralleled against devastatingly similar ones from her life as a young adult. Literally paralleled. The stories from high school on the left side of the page, while the ones from her 20s on the right. It is a poignant choice to connect themes that are recurring elements in the lives of many young women who may read this memoir.
The handling of sexual topics is well done. It is a sex-positive book that does not use sex as a cautionary tale but does accurately portray the ways that young adults must navigate it. In one scene a nurse at a Planned Parenthood gives Bagieu advice on sexual health. In that essay, she notes how eternally grateful she was as a teenager to get clear and honest advice about sex from an adult. At a moment that for many may be filled with shame and embarrassment, she was treated with respect and care. I believe that Bagieu holds the same level of respect and care to her younger readers in the way she discusses sex in the book.
The hand-drawn black and white illustrations are not crisp and clean. The style isn’t dissimilar from her work in Brazen. But unlike in Brazen, she took away the color and added some chaos to the lines. When we look back on the chaotic time in our own lives in the transition from teen to adult, this stylistic choice is incredibly appropriate. Black and white pictures, with harried lines, are also reminiscent of the thoughts (sometimes in words and sometimes through pictures) scribbled into the diaries of young people.
Many adults, when imparting learned wisdom to the younger generation, condescend and/or tell their stories through rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia and focus on the lessons. However, despite telling stories from 20 years ago, these essays feel fresh and relevant to today’s teens. She does not organize the chapters on passed-on lessons, rather she focuses on honest snippets of her life. The moments of struggle juxtaposed against levity are honest and refreshing.
I think it is a strong choice for collections serving teens, and I think many young people will see themselves in the pages of the book.
Layers was originally published in France in 2021, and has been translated to English by Montana Kane.
Layer A memoir Vol. By Pénélope Bagieu, Montana Kane, , Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250873736
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: French,
Translated from French by Aleshia Jensen, Camille Jourdy’s novel follows Juliette’s trip home from Paris to visit her more provincial family. She is also on a journey to revisit her roots and to handle her own growing, crippling anxiety and fears. While her family is delighted to see her, they do not actually pay any attention to her and her increasing vulnerability because they are busy with their own lives, issues, and family ties. Her family is complicated and entirely relatable and authentic to readers of this gentle slice-of-life graphic novel.
While the graphic novel is filled with people of all sizes and backgrounds the main characters are members of Juliette’s immediate family. Juliette’s older sister Marylou, a married mother of two children, has a lover, a man who works in a costume shop and visits her dressed as a bear, a wolf, a white rabbit, and as a ghost. They have lustful and joyful sex on Thursdays in the greenhouse in her backyard.
Marylou is happy with having an illicit affair, but nameless Lover Boy wants more of a permanent relationship. The sisters’ parents have been divorced for a long time but still torment each other each time they meet. Their mother dresses and behaves as a free spirit, taking on a series of younger lovers as well as painting large abstracts that are displayed in a local gallery. Their father, who Juliette is staying with during her visit, is the opposite, he is filled with self-doubts and convinced that he is developing dementia. Juliette’s grandmother no longer recognizes family members or has a reliable memory except when she reveals a long-kept family secret to Juliette.
The only non-family main character is Georges, the current tenant of the apartment where Juliette and Marylou lived as children. He is also a lost soul and someone seeking restoration and love in the local bar. His encounters with Juliette offer the possibility of a romantic closure for the two of them and the duckling they adopted but, sorry for the spoiler, this is not the direction the author takes the reader.
This is a novel of close encounters and careful observation of the setting, the people, and their relationships. It is done without judgment and the reader glides along with Juliette as she maneuvers through emotional and timeless passages of disappointment, mortality, and fading dreams to a place Juliette and Georges refer to, the “tragic dimension.” At the same time, it is also a novel filled with wonder, humor, and enjoyment for the reader.
Jensen’s translation from the original French presents, with sharpness and amusement, a natural cadence of family discussions. We can see, hear, and feel each of the individual characters in the town and they look and sound like members of a close-knit community anywhere. The point of view often shifts without warning from small encounters to larger ones but the shifts do not feel disjointed as the details in each of the panels slow the reader into a meditative state where moving from one situation to another seems natural and organic. This is a novel to be savored and not rushed in the least.
First published in French in 2016, Juliette is Jourdy’s eighth book, and her expertise is immediately recognizable as she is effective in control of the pacing, the panels, the color, the storyline, and her characters. Her illustrations are precise and filled with minute details of family and small-town life. These details are even more pronounced because of the simplicity of the background and the shortage of borders. Most pages are filled with simple vignettes, snapshots of the characters, their relationships, and environment. These busy pages are interspersed with full page drawings that are filled with deeper color tones that often indicate a change of tone or staging. A caveat for public library collections: there are numerous pages filled with Marylou and Lover Boy’s sexual encounters in the garden. These are tastefully done but I think some North American communities may not be as open as the French may be in their depictions of humanity in all their encounters.
The subtitle, ‘or, the Ghosts Return in the Spring’ is evocative and revealing by the end of the novel. It may refer to the rather humorous adventures of the ‘ghost’ hiding from disclosure or, more possibly, the ghosts of memory, family relationships, and our own selves.
Juliette or, the Ghosts Return in the Spring By Camille Jourdy Drawn & Quarterly, 2023 ISBN: 9781770466647
Publisher Age Rating: adult
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: French, Character Representation: French, Anxiety, Depression
Vincent Van Gogh’s story has always been a complicated one, but the strength of his art and vision has always stood strong—as has his creative and emotional impact so many years after his death.
From Black Panel Press and Jamison Odone comes The Man in the Painter’s Room, a graphic novel telling of Van Gogh’s later years of life and unexpected death. Based on multiple sources and drawing heavily from the memories of the daughter of the innkeeper who housed Van Gogh after his departure from an institution, Odone’s narrative is an intimate look at the painter’s life. The book depicts Van Gogh’s falling out with fellow artist Gaugin through his hospitalization and correspondence with his family and ultimately to his final days wandering the French countryside to create his last works, all while facing the mental illness that followed him for so much of his life.
In delivering the story, Odone gives us a simple presentation that prioritizes quiet moments—interspersed with excerpts of letters between Van Gogh and his family—rather than a detailed biographical accounting. The writing leaves many of the specifics unexplained, opting instead to simply follow Van Gogh along his journey through a selection of scenes stitched together with just enough connective tissue to understand the context. This is not a book for someone wanting an exhaustive biography full of facts and details. Rather, The Man in the Painter’s Room seeks to understand the man himself—understand how Van Gogh moved through the world and understand the conflicting parts of his soul that ultimately drove him to his death.
The book takes a melancholy tone from the beginning, capturing the sparseness of the countryside and the lone painter lost amidst a larger world. But Odone’s writing never loses sight of Van Gogh’s vision. This was a man who sought beauty in every corner of existence, and we see Van Gogh enraptured by houses and skylines, turning the natural world into art that would far outlive him. And the story, even as it relays the biographical details, never limits itself to dry recollections of history. Reminiscent of Tom Gauld’s long-form storytelling, Odone’s work is run through with a dry and subtle humor that finds comedy in simplicity and turns the mundane into something that is always entertaining—and sometimes also profound.
Odone’s art captures the simple and unassuming life of its subject. Without complex detail, the panels weave together a stylized cartoonist style with flourishes of Van Gogh’s own view of the world, embodying a quiet artist in search of beauty and peace amidst a community that did not always see what he did. Stepping sometimes into the surreal and balancing realism with the weight of Van Gogh’s own difficult mental health, the artistic style and straightforward writing complement each other and keep the book engaging.
Ultimately, The Man in the Painter’s Room is a eulogy of Van Gogh’s life and legacy. A simple man who battled his own demons for much of his life; his artistic legacy continues to hold sway. Odone makes sure to recognize the impact that Van Gogh had on his contemporaries and those that followed. The book plays out more as a slice-of-life than true biography, but in balancing subtle humor with the beauty and tragedy of its subject, Odone’s tribute to a famous artist is well worth the read.
For any fans of biography or art history—as well as those who enjoy work similar to Gauld’s Mooncop—The Man in the Painter’s Room packs a lot into its minimal presentation. It will probably be of most interest to older readers who appreciate its subtleties, but there’s not much here that would offend younger readers either. In the end, it might be a slightly niche title, but delivered with both skill and empathy, it’s a caring tribute to both the artist and the man who left so much work to those of us who followed him.
The Man in the Painter’s Room By Jamison Odone Black Panel Press, 2020 ISBN: 9781999470432
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: French, Ambiguous Mental Illness, Depression
It is spring of eighth grade, time for a Riverdale Academy Day School tradition: a school trip to somewhere exciting and educational. For Jordan and his friends, that just happens to mean a trip to Paris. School Trip is the third installment of Jerry Craft’s graphic novels about Jordan, who readers first met in the Newbery and Coretta Scott King Award winning New Kid, and an excellent addition to the collection.
At the cusp of a new stage in his life, Jordan finally feels a part of the RAD community and can’t wait to travel overseas with his classmates and teachers. He never gets to see kids like him, other young Black kids from New York City, traveling the world and experiencing different cultures. This is his chance to be the main character and blaze a path. But there’s more than just the trip on his mind. Eighth grade will be over before he knows it and he’ll have to decide between RAD, where he’s no longer the new kid, or art school, the place that could help make his dreams come true. He knows what his parents want him to do and where his friends will be but hasn’t quite come to realize the best path for himself.
A prank causes some unexpected changes to the RAD trip to Paris, but the group makes the best of the situation. Along the way, the classmates learn more about each other, sometimes resulting in conflicts amongst the characters. Craft’s masterful storytelling gives these arguments and discussions depth, without seeming unrealistic for a bunch of eighth graders.
The trip exposes each student’s prejudices, fears, and unrealized ideas about themselves and their peers. Readers will see characters like themselves reflected back at them and School Trip gives them the space to discuss similar things happening in their lives. Witnessing Jordan and Ramon, amongst others, sticking up for themselves against unaware bully Andy may even give readers confidence to do something similar.
The introduction of the Thumbs-Downers in the story gives a realistic explanation to why negative, hateful people always speak the loudest and get the most attention. A two page spread between Drew, the focus of Craft’s Class Act, and Andy is particularly visually striking as a follow up to this idea. Andy is a Thumbs-Downer but he’s much more than that and must recognize his own privilege. This scene could, and should, cause reflection in young readers as they consider their own racial, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds.
As with Craft’s previous books, it is recommended readers keep an eye out for easter eggs throughout School Trip, especially anyone who reads lots of graphic novels. There’s even some aimed at older readers! Craft does a great job of setting his characters in very specific places without the cities and backgrounds becoming the main focus. Your eye is always drawn to the characters and their stories.
School Trip belongs on every library’s and classroom’s shelves, alongside its predecessors. Craft’s fondness and appreciation for these characters is evident throughout the book, something that readers of all ages will find themselves feeling as they follow along with Jordan, his family, and his classmates.
School Trip By Jerry Craft Quill Tree, 2023 ISBN: 9780062885531
Memories and truth often lay buried in our distant past, waiting to be aroused and awakened. For award-winning children’s author and illustrator Dan Santat (The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend;Drawn Together) that time has come, and he conjures forth his magical creativity to reimagine a 13-year-old version of himself in the graphic memoir A First Time for Everything. What unfolds is an endearing character-building story that chronicles the adventures of a middle schooler on an overseas trip one summer before entering the throes of high school.
The story starts off in Camarillo, a small town located on the outskirts of Los Angeles where Santat grew up. He was a shy kid, preferring to be invisible, and when asked to recite an impromptu poem during an assembly in the school gym one day, gets jeered at by his classmates. During the summer of 1989, through the encouragement of his parents, he embarks on a three-week class trip to study abroad in Europe. Many “firsts” abound for him: Trying out a Fanta orange soda drink, dancing at a night club, having a beer, asking a girl out, and experiencing his first (albeit botched) kiss. A chance encounter later leads him to fall into love with a blonde named Amy Glucksbringer from Illinois. Together, they sneak in to watch a Wimbledon tennis tournament. At one point he even gets lost in the streets of Salzburg during the middle of the night and is chased by a gang of punks.
Santat narrates his travels and escapades with honesty, wonder, and charming humor, transporting his younger self across France, Germany, and England. Panels packed with lively action peppered with humorous moments—some wordless and filled with sound effects—drive the narrative scenes between characters. Flashbacks shaded in light somber blues capture moments in time that impact his present circumstances. Sightseeing excursions unfold through quarter to full-page panels featuring sketches of world landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe, Palace of Versailles, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, showcasing his burgeoning talent as an artist. The back matter features a collage of photographs and mementos marking key points in his travels along with insightful tidbits on the process of constructing a memoir from memory.
A First Time for Everything packs much love and heart into the zany and often awkward exploits of an adolescent encountering milestones of self-discovery. A coming-of-age story replete with themes on risk-taking, identity seeking, and reconciliation, this graphic memoir will make an enchantingly delightful addition to middle grade collections, demonstrating that it’s never too late to live life to the fullest.
A First Time for Everything By Dan Santat Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250851048
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14 NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Creator Representation: Thai-American Character Representation: Thai-American
Eugene Bullard lived the kind of life that demands biographers take notice. He was the first Black fighter pilot from the United States, as well as a decorated soldier, boxer, vaudeville performer, and Paris businessman. His social circles included early 20th-century notables like Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes, and boxer Aaron Lister “Dixie Kid” Brown. During his pilot career, he had a pet monkey named Jimmy who accompanied him on all of his combat flights.
Now Let Me Fly: A Portrait of Eugene Bullard captures the kinetic energy of Bullard’s biography but also gives it weight. It’s a sensitive portrait of a daring young man encountering the possibilities and complexities of the world beyond his birthplace—small-town Georgia at the dawn of Jim Crow. The book’s success is due to a seamless collaboration between cartoonists Ronald Wimberly and Brahm Revel; Wimberly’s deft script allows Revel’s emotionally rich, vintage-inflected art to speak for itself and makes use of a clever frame story that positions Gene as the author of his own story.
Bullard did tell his story to the American public more than once, most notably on the Today Show in 1959. By that time, he was an unknown figure working as an elevator operator at New York’s Rockefeller Center. Now Let Me Fly imagines Gene trapped in an elevator with a white advertising worker who’s spellbound by Gene’s stories and later arranges for him to appear on the show. This accidental interviewer serves as an audience proxy, giving us space to process the emotional highs and lows of Gene’s story but also bookmarking moments when Gene’s story complicates the expectations of a non-Black audience.
Gene’s story opens with trauma—the near-lynching of Gene’s father by the Klan after he stands up for himself against an abusive supervisor. The episode underscores the precarity of the family’s life in the Deep South, and despite a tender relationship with his father, Gene begins running away from home. At thirteen he leaves for good, joining a group of traveling Romani and learning to race and perform with horses. At this time, many African Americans are moving north in the Great Migration, but Gene is determined to go farther—he’ll make his way to Europe, where he believes he’ll find true racial equality.
Perseverance, charisma, and a stint as a stowaway allow Gene to make his way to Britain and then Paris. Racism is still present in his career as a street and vaudeville performer, but to Gene, none of it compares to the violent apartheid of the South. He trains as a boxer and settles into a seemingly charmed life as one of many African American exiles living in Paris—but then World War I strikes, and the city he loves requires defense. Gene enlists as an infantry soldier in the Foreign Legion, the boldness that’s defined his life propelling him to courageous feats amidst a dehumanizing war. Sent home with grievous injuries, he nevertheless talks his way into being selected as a fighter pilot, finishing out the war as one of the few Black pilots in the air.
In Wimberly and Revel’s hands Bullard’s story is powerful, but it’s rarely sensational. His story has room to breathe, with wordless panels lingering on the bittersweet beauty of the Deep South and lively adventure of Gene’s life abroad, as well as frankly depicting his experiences with violence, both at home and at war. This frankness extends to use of language; the book reproduces historical slurs, including “gypsy” to refer to Romani people. The inclusion of slurs in historical works is a debated topic, and this word in particular gave me pause, but the author’s intention appears to be an honest rendering of history, which includes sympathetic characters using problematic language. I do think it would have been useful to include an author’s note discussing this choice, as readers may be unaware that “gypsy” is now broadly considered offensive.
“A man can be a lot of things in life, and there’s a lot of ways to tell his story,” Gene says in the final pages of the book. Now Let Me Fly is particularly interested in how Gene’s travels shed light on the systems of power that define the modern world. As Gene escapes the uniquely American racism of his birth and makes new connections, he glimpses opportunities for solidarity among people of different oppressed backgrounds, whether they’re terrorized Black Americans, ostracized Roma, colonized Moroccans, or infantry soldiers of all ethnicities caught up in the mechanized horrors of modern warfare. Yet the book acknowledges how fragile these possibilities are—for instance, in an episode when a Jewish tailor calls Gene by a racial slur, only to make amends when passersby verbally attack both Gene and the tailor’s assistant. “Most people can’t see how they’re wrong till something similar happens to them,” Gene observes. “For some, they still won’t.”
I read Now Let Me Fly in a single sitting, and I think many readers will have the same experience—this book, and Bullard’s story, are just that compelling. This is a standout in the field of graphic biographies and highly recommended for adult and teen readers.
Now Let Me Fly: A Portrait ofEugene Bullard Vol. By Ronald Wimberly Art by Brahm Revel Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781626728523
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: African-American Character Representation: African-American, First Nations or Indigenous
Trailblazing French filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché was present at the birth of modern film, a contemporary of the Lumière brothers and Georges Méliès. In Alice Guy: First Lady of Film, writer–artist duo Catel & Bocquet draw on original research from late media critic Francis Lacassin to document Guy’s career as the first major woman filmmaker and a pioneer of her industry.
The graphic biography opens with Guy’s 1873 birth and childhood in Europe and Chile. Lively and outspoken, Alice has an early interest in acting that is deemed unsuitable by her middle-class French family. Instead of taking to the stage, she goes to work as a secretary for what will soon become the Gaumont Film Company. Catel and Bocquet depict the chaos of these early years of film, with competing firms squabbling to dominate the new market. In this cutthroat environment, Alice is able to demonstrate business acumen and gain professional standing despite her gender.
In addition to business savvy, Guy has a vision for what film could be—a vehicle for telling stories. She teams up with a cinematographer to film the 1896 film La Fée aux Choux, a fantasy of cabbage-patch babies that may have been the first narrative film. As Alice finds success directing films for Gaumont, she and her collaborators develop the conventions that will define their industry, from filming on location to creating special effects to hammering out the logistics of public film screenings.
Alice also grapples with the ethical issues that face any unregulated new industry. She must take decisive action when an underaged actress is sexually assaulted by an older male professional on her set, or when a script about bullfighting raises questions of filming animal cruelty. Alice’s status as a woman filmmaker informs the way she handles these challenges and inspires her to take risks, from an attempted collaboration with activist Rose Pastor Stokes on a film about family planning to the production of A Fool and His Money, likely the first film with an all-African American cast.
Alice’s personal and professional life brings her to the United States, where she starts a family and New York-based studio with her husband, film producer Herbert Blaché. But their once-happy marriage ends in divorce, and business troubles bring Alice’s career to a premature close. Decades later, her role as a woman film pioneer has faded from memory: “The history of cinema has completely forgotten about me,” she tells Francis Lacassin.
Alice Guy’s story is an extraordinary one, and this biography is an exhaustive documentary source for information about her life. An appendix with a detailed timeline, bibliography and filmography, and 50 pages of biographical essays about historical figures depicted in the book makes this a valuable reference work for those interested in Alice Guy’s life and times.
As a casual reader, however, this book didn’t hook me. Catel’s elegant monochrome illustrations are versatile enough to capture both the domestic scenes of Alice’s personal life and the exciting variety of her film sets, but the story itself feels bogged down by the kitchen-sink detail of Bocquet’s script. A number of characters and episodes seem as if they’re present for the sake of completeness, giving the story a choppy, episodic quality. The result is a book that lacks a strong narrative arc, without a clear throughline of who Alice Guy was and what compelled her, creatively and personally, to succeed in this challenging new industry.
This book is recommended for larger graphic novel collections, particularly those that emphasize women’s history or media history. For those interested in learning about Guy’s remarkable life, it’s absolutely worth picking up, but general readers may not find it the most accessible entry point into her story.
Alice Guy: First Lady of Film By José-Louis Bocquet Art by Catel Muller SelfMadeHero, 2022 ISBN: 9781914224034
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: French, Character Representation: French,
Even before graphic novels took off, several publishers, notably Lerner and Capstone, featured graphic nonfiction produced in a similar vein to the series nonfiction that most librarians are familiar with. The series nonfiction in graphic format continue to be a staple for nonfiction collections, although there are more literary options, like the Science Comics series.
Lerner’s Graphic Universe imprint produces new series twice a year, in January and August, and they usually pick timely topics. The January 2022 series Medical Breakthroughs is no exception, with titles on vaccines, germs, antibiotics, and more. The particular title we’re looking at today is the history of incubators.
The information is collected briefly in 32 pages with a short framing story showing two White children and a White, male-presenting doctor looking at a miniscule infant in a modern incubator while the doctor explains what incubators are used for. The story then jumps back to the 1870s and the work of two French doctors who. while trying to raise France’s falling birth rates, were inspired by the incubators they saw used with birds’ eggs at the zoo.
The incubators these and other doctors developed were funded by the exhibition of the premature babies, culminating in a semi-permanent exhibit on Coney Island. By the time the exhibit closed in 1943, thousands of babies had been saved and incubators became standard equipment in hospitals. Incubators continued to be improved, with interest and funding reviving after the death of President Kennedy’s premature son and culminating in the invention of a rechargeable and affordable incubator called the Embrace Nest that would be accessible to all people, especially in developing countries. The story ends with a return to the premature infant at the beginning, now a healthy toddler with their older siblings and parents.
The artwork is not memorable, but it is neatly done, with carefully drawn images of the various machines, and people shown in the appropriate period clothing as the story moves through time. All but a few people in the background and some nurses are depicted as White, which is a drawback, as one of the points of Couney’s work (the doctor who established the “Infantorium” at Coney Island) was the acceptance of infants of all backgrounds in sharp contrast to the eugenics movement. Most panels show the doctors and occasional nurses moving through bland scenery and exchanging a few remarks while the narrative is carried on in descriptive paragraphs. The appeal to readers who want the story told primarily through art is limited, since, as in most series nonfiction graphic novels, the narrative is told primarily in prose or through multiple “talking heads.” There is enough detail in the art to show the change in time periods, from the 1870s to 2008, and some additional information is provided through the pictures, like a nurse feeding a premature infant through their nose or the doctors explaining what they are doing to spectators and anxious parents.
One title is listed as a source, and there is also a glossary, index, and brief list of information to explore further.
The length of these titles naturally limits the amount of information that can be included and these titles tend to be brief introductions, which will hopefully engage interest in exploring topics further. Like most series nonfiction, they are available only in paperback or expensive library binding, which can be prohibitive for smaller budgets. If you have to watch your pennies it can be difficult to justify an extensive outlay on nonfiction that may quickly become dated. However, this series primarily covers historical events and so should have a longer shelf-life. With an ever-increasing number of struggling readers as well as graphic novel fans, Medical Breakthroughs should be a solid purchase for most school and public libraries and a good choice to interest young readers in history and science.
Incubators: A Graphic History By Paige Polinsky Art by Josep Rural Lerner Graphic Universe, 2022 ISBN: 9781541581517
Guillaume Long, writer-illustrator of the comic blog À Boire et à Manger for French newspaper Le Monde, collects some of his comics into two volumes. Each comic has a symbol to indicate its category, with a legend at the beginning of the book. Some are recipes with difficulty levels 1, 2, or 3. Others may be restaurant guides, ingredient and cooking tool inventories, and “egotrip”—stories about Long himself, including travelogues. In addition, Long includes cooking tips from “the late Joël Reblochon”; this is presumably a misspelling of Joël Robuchon, a famous French chef who died in 2018. Interestingly enough, Reblochon is a French cheese, so the misspelling may be an intentional nickname.
One highlight is the comics about Pépé Roni, an armchair chef who explains the difference between similarly-named objects. A fun example is, “Don’t confuse work/life balance and work/knife balance.” “Work/life balance” is depicted as a man getting chewed out by his boss, and “work/knife balance” is the same man asleep and dreaming of his boss with a knife in his back. Another one I enjoyed is, “Don’t confuse a mandolin with a mandoline,” which shows someone attempting to play a mandoline slicer like a stringed instrument and, obviously, cutting up their hands. These comics are credited to Mathis Martin in the books’ cataloging-in-publication pages.
Long has a distinctive and funny voice. In one comic, he suggests you use a flyswatter to hit anyone who asks for sugar in their coffee. In another, he portrays the cloud of flour coming out of a mixing bowl as little ghosts. A guide to cooking spaghetti squash first suggests you make Jabba the Hutt out of the squash, then tells you to use your lightsaber to cut it. At times, jokes are weakened in translation. For example, in one comic he says to melt butter “with a little pot,” then shows someone with a joint and clarifies, “No, with a little saucepot.” In English, the joke doesn’t work perfectly, since the original command would likely have been to melt butter “in a little pot,” rather than “with a little pot.” Additionally, a comic falls flat with multiple references to anagrams that were unsolvable in English. One would think these comics that suffer from translation wouldn’t be included in the English editions.
There are other issues that make these books a little hard to digest—no pun intended. At one point, a Black friend asks Long why he doesn’t draw Black people, and he gets visibly uncomfortable and says “I don’t draw Chinese people either. Or Indian people.” Not true; in an earlier comic he goes to a Chinese restaurant where he draws one Chinese man with slits for eyes, and he draws a Chinese language (it’s unclear which Chinese language they’re speaking) as a bunch of messy scribbles. There is also a comic where a man seems to have murdered a woman with a plastic bag along with a joke about composting. Some of these jokes seem to be in poor enough taste that they shouldn’t have been included in the books.
The art style is cartoonish and would have fit well in Mad Magazine. Most of the comics are in full color, though the travelogues are in black pen on a beige background. Long employs hatched shading to add depth to his illustrations, which elevates the otherwise simplistic drawing style. Still, in a travelogue sequence in which Long goes to Venice with friends, one of his friends grabs his sketchbook and draws a few rowhouses in a more realistic style. He comments that his friend “draws so much better than me it hurts.”
Some of the recipes are useful, particularly the few pages in Volume 1 devoted to impressive appetizers that can be prepared quickly. Some of the inventories are useful as well, notably the list in Volume 2 of gift suggestions for foodies. The books are easy to navigate, with the aforementioned legend to indicate what purpose each comic serves. As in a regular cookbook, the index includes a table of recipes as well as an ingredient index. Still, due to some of the comics’ poor taste, I don’t recommend these books. Consider instead other comic cookbooks like Cook Korean!, Relish, or Let’s Make Ramen! and Let’s Make Dumplings!
To Drink and To Eat, vols. 1-2 By Guillaume Long Oni Press Lion Forge, 2020 Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781620107201 Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781620108550