Tamamo the Fox Maiden and Other Asian Stories

Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales is the umbrella title for a series of three compilations themed after a specific region of which this one is the third. The first two cover Europe and Africa while the fourth one, on Oceania tales, is in publication. All have been funded through Kickstarter efforts.

I had high hopes for this collection of Asian folktales, but was dismayed to discover that few of them have source notes or any markers for context. The geographic location is mentioned, but no background is provided for readers who may not be familiar with yokai, kitsune, demons, and other supernatural beings from Japan, China, India, Georgia, Laos, Myanmar, Turkey, Iraq and Tibet. I was very pleased, however, with the reworking of “The Ballad of Mulan” which followed the ancient tales rather than the Disney film. Aside from this tale and a few others such as the title story and “Urashima Taro,” most of the stories may not be familiar with young audiences. This is not a criticism, but it is also where source notes could have made this an outstanding addition to the ongoing reworkings of folklore in the comic book format.

The length of the stories varies as does the black and white art work in this anthology. Several of the tales have been modernized to including texting and other nods to contemporary life, but the vast majority have retained the ancient settings; particularly those by a diverse range of illustrators including Gene Luen Yang, Nina Matsumoto, and Carla Speed McNeil. Most of the other creators in this collection are known better through their webcomics and indie titles. The illustrations range from manga-like cartoon-y artwork to detailed and realistic penciling and the application of black and shadows. The mood of the stories is also as diverse as the tales themselves, with a mixture of light and dark themes. Some of the tales are excerpts from longer legends and books such as Yang’s “From the Journey of the Monkey King” from American Born Chinese. All the tales offer warnings or advice for the protagonists and the readers. Unfortunately for many of the protagonists, there is a great deal of pain in learning these lessons. They do, as the overall theme indicates, offer a cautionary edification for the reader.

I wish I could recommend this for library collections but the lack of source notes for this storyteller is truly a stumbling block. There is no need in today’s publishing world not to respect the tales and culture from where the stories originated. Very few of the entries even acknowledge that the individual tale has been adapted.

Tamamo the Fox Maiden and Other Asian Stories 
By C. Spike Trotman, ed. Kate Ashwin, ed. Kel McDonald
Art by Carla Speed McNeil, Gene Leun Yang, Nina Matsumoto, et al
ISBN: 9781945820342
Iron Circus, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: all ages
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)

Browse for more like this title
Related to…: Inspired by myth, Retelling

Poppies of Iraq

In Poppies of Iraq, Brigette Finkakly tells the story of her childhood in Mosul, Iraq during the political turmoil of the 1960s and 70s. After her family emigrates to France, she watches as the rise of Saddam Hussein and the accompanying upheaval impact her family. As she reflects on her home country today, Finkakly mixes personal narrative, historical context, and cultural information into a thoughtful, if somewhat fragmented, narrative.

Toward the end of Poppies of Iraq, Findakly remarks that she loved the moments when her family was together, and Poppies of Iraq’s strength lies in those family stories. Woven with historical context, Findakly’s family stories reveal the impact of the political unrest and cultural differences on people’s lives and freedom. Poppies of Iraq reveals these details in a quiet and reflective way; it is definitely a work to read carefully because it can be easy to miss the significance of the individual stories.

Although the personal narrative sections are solid, Poppies of Iraq has excess material that does not consistently contribute to the narrative. Throughout the book, there are brief interludes that reveal cultural facts about Iraq. For example, one section explains that sometimes relatives will give a sterile family member a baby to raise—a fact that has no real bearing on the narrative. Although the random cultural facts are usually interesting, they break up the story’s flow and prevent a real narrative arc from forming.

Lewis Trondheim’s simple artwork effectively conveys the narrative. Trondheim eschews traditional panels, and the illustrations are arranged fluidly on the page with corresponding text above. Due to the book’s small size, the simple illustrations work well, and Findakly’s flat, soft colors enhance the narrative’s quiet tone.The book also includes some small photographs of Findakly’s family. It is possible to distinguish major characters, but a lack of captions and poor image quality prevents consistent identification or comprehension of the images. This review is based on an advance copy, so it is possible that the photographs will be clearer in the final version.

It is difficult to pinpoint an age range for Poppies of Iraq: there is no particularly questionable content, but the narrative’s fragmented structure and some of the cultural and historical references—which aren’t always full clarified—lead the reviewer to believe that adult audiences would be most likely to enjoy this work. Poppies of Iraq may especially interest readers who enjoyed works such as Marjane Satrape’s Persepolis or Zeina Abirached’s Game of Swallows—both of which focus on the authors’ lives in the Middle East.

Poppies of Iraq
by Brigette Findakly Lewis Trondheim
Art by Lewis Trondheim
ISBN: 9781770462939
Drawn & Quarterly, 2017

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq

American involvement in the Middle East has been going on for over a decade, and stereotypes and conceptions about those involved are quite common. But what are the stories of those living there? In Rolling Blackouts, cartoonist Sarah Glidden explores the experiences of citizens and refugees by chronicling the trip she took through Turkey, Iraq, and Syria with her journalist friends, Sarah and Alex, and a military veteran, Dan. Among the individuals and groups they meet are a man accused of terrorism and deported from the United States; Iraqi refugees living in Syria; and refugees living in former prisons. The result is a thoughtful, nuanced narrative that examines these experiences and the role of journalism.

Early on in the story, Glidden claims Rolling Blackout’s focus is on the process of journalism and its ethics. However, as a reader, I found the stories of those interviewed more compelling and more immediately visible. Glidden weaves Sarah and Alex’s struggles of finding and developing a good story into the narrative, and these elements help contribute to the reflective nature of the story as well as to humanize the journalists, who, according to Sarah, are frequently viewed with suspicion and disgust.

The meat of the story lies in the experiences of the people the group interviews. Glidden does not force individuals’ words to fit a particular narrative. As a result, Rolling Blackouts reveals the wide variety of opinions and experiences among those directly affected by the conflict as well as the messy nature of the lives affected. Glidden’s simple, clean artwork allows readers to focus on the individuals’ experiences as they describe them. Glidden excels at demonstrating characters’ personalities through gestures and expressions, and the soft colors evoke a thoughtful mood. The artwork fits well with the slower pacing of the story: Rolling Blackouts is not a book to be read in one sitting, but rather requires one to pause to reflect on the stories being told.

Rolling Blackouts will appeal to teenage and adult readers seeking a nuanced story about the impact of the conflicts in the Middle East. The book also would provide a great opportunity to discuss journalistic ethics and the methods of constructing a story. Because this book does not provide much historical context, readers seeking background information will want to look elsewhere. That being said, Rolling Blackouts’ thoughtful portrayal of the experiences of those in the Middle East will give it a place in most library collections.

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq
by Sarah Glidden
ISBN: 9781770462557

Drawn and Quarterly, 2016