To Drink and To Eat, vols. 1-2 

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

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)

 

Kid Beowulf, vol 4: The Tarpeian Rock

Beowulf and Grendel’s ancient road trip has taken a drastic turn in their newest adventure. Author and illustrator Alexis E. Fajardo takes his readers to the early days of Ancient Rome in his newest graphic novel Kid Beowulf: The Tarpeian Rock. Using his artistic creativity and storytelling, Fajardo treats young readers to an action-packed story with gladiators, large wolves, feisty girls, and a sword wielding pig.

Among the seven hills of ancient Italy, Beowulf and Grendel are forced to fight in the gladiatorial games. They become an unstoppable force, but the games have changed Grendel into a ferocious monster. As the twins try to find their way out of the arena, another pair of twins plot a rebellion. The unfair treatment of the Sabines by the Latins has reached a breaking point, prompting wolf twins Romulus and Remus, along with their friend Tarpeia, to sneak into the games and try to assassinate King Titus. But when one of the boys is arrested and the other goes into hiding, it may take more than a small band of rebels to set things right within the Italic tribes.

Those who have read the previous books in the series will definitely want to read this next installment. The myth of Romulus and Remus is retold with scenes of familial love and gladiatorial fights surrounded by references to the original story. Dramatic and heartfelt scenes move the story along, providing characters with the drive to do what is right. Expansive views of ancient Italy can be found throughout the story, with bright or dark colors signifying the time of day and landscapes dotted with forests and Roman architecture. But a Kid Beowulf story would not be complete without some comedy. Brotherly banter between twins Romulus and Remus will bring a smile to the reader’s face and the liberation of Hama the pig and Nagling the talking sword is reminiscent of slapstick comedy and the antics of animal sidekicks. As with his previous novels, Fajardo includes background information on the history of Ancient Rome and the mythological tale of its founding, pictures from his trip to Italy that provided inspiration, character descriptions, a bibliography, and a detailed account of his creative process.

Public and school libraries, especially those who have the first three volumes of the series (The Blood-Bound Oath, The Song of Roland, and The Rise of El Cid), should collect this title. Readers in grades 4th-6th will enjoy scenes of comedic action and become interested in the historical and mythological references that are found within the story. And with a cliffhanger that drives the story in a new direction, they will definitely ask for the next installment.

Kid Beowulf, vol 4: The Tarpeian Rock
By Alexis E. Fajardo
Kid Beowulf Comics, 2021
ISBN: 9780990950554

Series ISBNs and Order

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chosen Ones

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chosen Ones

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chosen Ones is a collection of six short stories set in the world of the TV show. The collection was released in 2020, over 15 years after the series finale, and investigates the show’s legacy through five historical Slayers and one story about Buffy herself. Each story explores either how the Slayer was told she was chosen or examines a time in a country’s history where the Slayer worked to make things better for women.

“The Mission” takes places in 1808 America as the indigenous Hutash works against the Spaniards and shows the origins of a Hellmouth, which fans will immediately recognize from the TV show. “The Eating of Men” shows how Silvia must stake her own nanny after witnessing the vampire kill her father in 14th century Bologna—this just after we are shown how much Silvia adores her vampiric nanny and the way this woman encouraged Silvia to develop her cleverness. “Behind the Mask” is a delightful piece that follows Adelaide at a masque ball in 1820 Paris. She’s seen discussing the recent disappearances from other high society events just before being led away from the ball by a mysterious gentleman, where it is revealed that she was hunting him. “Where All Paths Lead” features Buffy and is the most confusing story in this collection. She appears to be trying to stop the opening of the Hellmouth by battling the demon mother amidst little recollections of the past during conversations with a helpful demon full of dire news. “The Hilot of 1910″ is set in the Philippines and combines Western vampire lore and local aswang lore into a story that has our protagonist, Matay, questioning how to define a real demon. Our last story is “The Sisters of Angelus.” Set in 1947 Dublin, Una knows that she is the Slayer, working with her tinkerer grandmother, when her friend is sent to an asylum for unknown reasons. While trying to rescue her friend, Una discovers that the nuns running the asylum are actually vampires who worship Angelus and feed on their charges. 

Overall, this collection expands on the diversity seen in the Buffyverse while examining historical prejudice or stereotypes. Each story looks at a cultural aspect or stereotype of women while challenging the truth behind it. The art ranges in style to match the time period or culture while managing to be cohesive, which is not always the case in anthology graphic novels. The artwork does get a bit graphic during the violent scenes that accompany each of the six stories, so it probably shouldn’t be placed in a collection where younger readers will easily find it. If you have adult or older teenage fans of Buffy, this book would do well in your collection as they will pick up on the hints and Easter eggs nestled within these pages. (Fans of Buffy who have been conflicted about reports of creator Joss Whedon’s abusive behavior will likely be relieved to know that Whedon himself has had no involvement with this title.) This collection might also be of interest to anyone that likes to read vampire stories in general, although it may not resonate with them as well if they’re unfamiliar with the lore of the Buffyverse.


Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chosen Ones 
By Mairghread Scott, Celia Lowenthal, Alexa Sharpe, and Nilah Magruder
Art by Ornella Savarese, Lauren Knight, Moran Beem, and Caitlin Yarsky
BOOM! Studios, 2020
ISBN: 9781684155972

Related media: TV to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)

Young Leonardo

Young Leonardo depicts the life of artist and thinker Leonardo da Vinci during his childhood, prior to beginning his formal art study under Andrea del Verrocchio. The plot is episodic, moving through a series of short vignettes of experiences in the young artist’s life.

While it may be impossible to document da Vinci’s childhood years with total certainty, the episodes are based on information from his many notebooks. Quotations from the artist are interspersed throughout the book. Through the series of lighthearted comics, we see Leonardo’s beginnings in art, as well as his curiosity about the world around him which manifested in inventions, scientific discoveries, and constant observation. Other character traits are also highlighted, such as da Vinci’s habit of working on many projects at once, often abandoning one to start another, and his style of drawing subjects realistically at a time when most patrons of the arts expected to be shown in a more flattering light. 

Young Leonardo does an excellent job showing the human side of the legendary artist. We see him deal with teasing and trouble fitting in from the neighborhood kids, at the same time dishing out some teasing of his own to his family members. His Nonna seems especially harried by Leonardo’s antics. While joking and playing like an ordinary child, Leonardo is forever engaged in lofty ambitions such as the pursuit of flight. Several of the vignettes show him testing a variety of wings he has constructed. Several comics show his other scholarly interests such as architecture and anatomy. 

The full-color artwork consists mainly of a traditional panel structure with between nine to twelve cells per page. Some pages lack borders around cells, and a few vignettes are wordless. Characters are drawn in a cartoonish style, only given four fingers per hand for example. However, astute readers will recognize the realism Augel brings to the book. Drawings from Leonardo da Vinci’s actual notebooks are woven into the story and appear throughout the book. Characters are included who match portraits sketched by da Vinci, and the entire da Vinci family is introduced in a pose reminiscent of The Last Supper. Most of the vignettes are comical with some tongue-in-cheek references along the way. One page sees Leonardo painting the borders around the cells, yet failing to finish them, a reference to the many projects he abandoned throughout his career. 

Endmatter includes biographical information which illuminates the main text, as well as activities the reader can try in order to practice one of da Vinci’s experiments, a vocabulary quiz, and a matching game. A teaching guide follows which includes additional background information, common core connections, and ideas for using the book within a classroom setting. There is much young readers can learn from the life of Leonardo da Vinci, and Young Leonardo presents these lessons well. Leonardo is a character who shows perseverance and grit, While he does abandon some projects, he never stops inventing and trying new ideas. He continues his pursuit of human flight despite setbacks. Even when others mock or question him, he continues to seek knowledge and to create. This book is a great tool for classroom instruction, and an enjoyable title for readers interested in history.


Young Leonardo
By William Augel
Art by  William Augel
Big, an imprint of Humanoids, 2020
ISBN: 9781643376417

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: French,

Seen: Edmonia Lewis

This is the first of a new nonfiction graphic novel series highlighting, as the series says, “marginalized trailblazers.” This volume tells the story of the life of Edmonia Lewis, a Black/Ojibway woman born in 1844 in New York, who triumphed over prejudices against her race and sex, the challenges of poverty and lack of education, to become a well-known sculptor.

Information on her early life is sketchy, but she apparently spent much of her childhood with her Ojibway aunts, after her parents’ death. Her brother, who supported her artistic career, followed his father’s career as a barber from the age of twelve. Supported by abolitionists, Lewis struggled to get an education despite prejudices against her race and sex, present even in the partially-integrated schools available. Her college career at Oberlin ended disastrously, when she was falsely accused of poisoning two of her classmates and attacked and left for dead before the trial. Although she was acquitted, the school continued to suspect her and, accusing her of theft, forced her to leave without matriculating.

She started her sculpting career in Boston, under the aegis of the Abolitionist movement, and then traveled to Italy with the help of various Abolitionist patrons. There she found her skin color less of a hindrance than her sex and poverty, but she continued to forge her own pathway, although she sometimes angered her patrons and fellow sculptors. She reached the zenith of her career with her sculpture, The Death of Cleopatra, exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. After this triumph, she returned to Rome, but the changing artistic trends and decline in the popularity of Neoclassic sculpture eventually left her in obscurity. She eventually moved to London and died there in 1907. Her greatest work fell into obscurity only a few years after its exhibition and was only found and restored in the 1990s. Contemporaries and visitors of Lewis reported her as continuing to work and maintain her bright and cheerful personality until her death. She maintained a close relationship with her brother, who continued to support her as well.

Notes, sources, and an extensive study guide are included in this slim volume. The art is detailed and focuses on red-tinged earth hues. Edmonia is shown as a determined, strong woman with curly black hair, dark brown skin, and a red cap perched on her curls. She moves through the panels as the central figure in a swirl of historical characters and her white contemporaries. Her Neoclassic style is well-represented in the lines and faces of her white marble statues and busts. While the art focuses primarily on faces and the eponymous “talking heads,” action and interest is added by interposing examples of Lewis’ work and shifting from panels to spreads of her surrounded by action and movement as she moves through her career.

The unique subject matter, accessible art, and extensive resources for teaching in the back (they include educational standards, a multiplicity of questions on the art and subject, and educational activities) should make this a stand-out title. However, there’s one serious problem – the size and layout of the book. It’s a tiny volume, 7×5 inches, and the font and art is correspondingly reduced. While there is plenty of detail and emotion in the faces shown, it’s difficult to catch the nuances when the faces are so tiny and many readers will find the small size of the font frustrating. At less than a hundred pages, this title will quickly disappear on a shelf or be lost and only the most dedicated readers are likely to work through the small size of the font.

Nonfiction graphic novels are extremely popular with my middle school and high school readers, the best audience for this small but dense volume, but sadly, this one is likely to go unnoticed. However, with its very affordable price point and availability in paperback, schools may find it useful to purchase in bulk for a class read. The publisher appears to be planning one volume per year (Rachel Carson in 2021 and Willem Arondeus in 2022) and I can only hope that they will perhaps consider binding them into one large volume and enlarging the art and text to correspond.


Seen: Edmonia Lewis
By Jasmine Walls
Art by Bex Glendining, Kieran Quigley (Colorist), DC Hopkins (Letters)
ISBN: 9781684156344
Boom, 2020
Publisher Age Rating:
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Character Traits: Black First Nations or Indigenous
Creator Highlights: Black

Liquor & Cigarettes

Liquor & Cigarettes is the latest Boys Love (BL) title by artist and writer Ranmaru Zariya. Unlike Zariya’s supernatural BL series, Coyote, Liquor & Cigarettes is a sweet, romantic one-shot. Despite it’s vice-ridden title, Liquor & Cigarettes is a sweet, friends-to-lovers plot between two childhood friends.

In a vaguely Italian small town, Theo and Camilo run small shops across the street from each other. Theo inherited the liquor store from his parents and Camilo took over the tobacco shop from his parents when they retired. The attractive young men see each other every day.

The openly bisexual Camilo flirts with the naive Theo. Theo has feelings that he can’t quite admit to and a low tolerance for alcohol (a problem when you’re expected to drink as part of your career!). When Theo is pushed into entering a drinking contest for the upcoming grape harvest festival, he’s determined to do well and asks Camilo to help him build up his tolerance. In return, Camilo asks Theo to consider a trial run in dating a man—specifically, him.

It’s a slow, sexy dance with Theo coming to terms with his feelings. Theo becomes more open and honest the more he drinks, but Camilo never takes advantage (a refreshing relief from dubiously consensual encounters in BL works).

These are popular tropes within the BL genre but they are done with stunning artistic style. Besides Coyote and Liquor & Cigarettes, the only other current English translation of Zariya’s work is a digital-only title, Void. These bishonen (beautiful boys) aren’t just beautiful, they are ethereal. The backgrounds are reminiscent of an Old-World, European town, but the artist is truly at her best in close ups and facial expressions.

I think Zariya is one of the best new manga artists emerging in the BL genre, and Viz Media’s BL imprint SuBLime is set to release another’s of Zariya’s works in English later this year.

This is an explicit, adult title, appropriate for adult manga collections, especially ones cultivating a BL collection.

Liquor & Cigarettes
By Ranmaru Zariya
ISBN: 9781974711628 and 1974711625
SuBLime, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 18+

Browse for more like this title
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Bisexual

The Red Zone: An Earthquake Story

With so many natural disasters occurring all over the world, children find themselves witnessing the loss of their homes and dealing with the drastic change in their lives. Even those not affected by disaster can see how hard it is for others.

However, tragedy never lasts forever, as long as you know how to move on and find others who can help. Author Silvia Vecchini and illustrator Sualzo provides an example of this life changing event in their graphic novel The Red Zone: An Earthquake Story. This Italian import tells the story of how a community moves on after they have lost everything in a devastating earthquake.

Three preteens Matteo, Giulia, and Federico find themselves homeless after an earthquake damages their community. Along with their neighbors, they try to adjust to their new homes and move on from the experience. However, it becomes difficult when they realize how much they have lost. Seeking to find some sort of normalcy within their lives is not easy, but with help from friends and family, the children soon learn that hope can be found after tragedy.

With its positive message, The Red Zone: An Earthquake Story is a great choice for those searching for a story about overcoming tragedy. Vecchini’s story takes young readers into a society they may or may not be familiar with. Those who have experienced a natural disaster and the loss of their home will find similarities with the characters and see themselves trying within the story. As for other readers, they will understand how difficult moving on after a disaster can be and how people cope with the change, whether it be healthy or destructive.

The story also moves from one experience to another, providing readers with different points of view. Sualzo uses natural color tones for the characters and the scenery, as well as darker tones for the scenes that take place at night. He provides just enough details in the environment that readers will not get lost but notice how terrible the effects of an earthquake are. Scenes of crumbled buildings and destroyed statues are shown throughout, with characters attempt to rebuild their lives piece by piece. The characters’ anxieties, sadness, and comfort are visually shown in their dialogue and body language. Graphic novels such as this provide enough visuals and emotions to explain how a society is affected after the disaster and how they can cope with it.

Public and school libraries, especially those that have experienced any type of natural disaster, will want to have The Red Zone: An Earthquake Story in their collection. It is a great source for those who are unable to move on from disaster and need a little help. With its emotional storyline and dialogue, this graphic novel is well suited for children in grades 4th-6th. It is best to point out that there are scenes of adolescent smoking and dialogue with a few bad words thrown in, but these add to the story’s plot and some of the characters’ development.

The Red Zone: An Earthquake Story
By Silvia Vecchini
Art by Sualzo
ISBN: 9781419733680
Amulet Books, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 8 and up

Marco Polo: Dangers and Visions

Marco Tabilio’s dreamy depiction of Marco Polo recording his famous narrative Il Milione, also referred to as The Travels of Marco Polo and The Book of the Marvels of the World, begins with Marco Polo relating his many adventures to fellow prisoner Rustichello while imprisoned in Genoa after the defeat of his fleet. Tabilio’s drawings transport the reader into this absorbing tale of world geography, politics, and the international trading culture of the 13th century. But Marco Polo: Dangers and Visions is not a straightforward travelogue; instead, it is a speculative and occasionally anachronistic illustration of a man and his coming-of-age.

Dangers and Visions doesn’t deviate from or challenge Marco Polo’s historical memoirs. He begins with Polo’s youth, during which he reunites with both his long-absent father and his uncle and joins their expedition to the court of Kublai Khan, and ends with his return to Venice and subsequent capture during a disastrous sea battle against the neighboring republic of Genoa. Marco is curious and tolerant, talented with languages, and favored by powerful rulers. Even so, it’s hard to take Marco at his word: it’s clear from the events depicted that he withholds elements of his story from Rustichello, and Il Milione has a historical reputation as a creative story, not a factual one.

The art is the supporting framework of the story. Many of Marco’s recollections are studded with dreams, nightmares, and bouts of illness, including a memorable episode where, in a transition from youth to adulthood, the skin of his face crumples and sloughs off, revealing an older version of himself. While dense with text in some pages, other sections of Marco’s memories are soundless and nearly blank. Each new destination on Marco’s journey is treated to a stunning and detailed map. These maps are reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts and copperplate engravings from Polo’s era (1254-1324). Monsters twine themselves through oceans and around the borders of the known world, a political map of the Holy Land depicts men at war, and the body of Genghis Khan demarks an almost anatomical division of his kingdom.

The more regimented panel art is also full of content, surprisingly so when you realize how much Tabilio makes use of negative space. Perhaps to offset these details, Marco and other human characters are gestural figures with wide, empty eyes, and unadorned clothing. Tabilio is capable of human depiction—Marco is recognizable no matter what the scale is—but for the most part, people are background noise. The result is a captivating story that requires re-reading to absorb its many layers.

Rustichello remarks that Marco’s tale “makes for a coming-of-age story.” It is, and it’s also a mid-life crisis. Marco is in his mid-40s at the time of this prison-imposed storytelling, and his thirst for travel and more youthful ambition have been quashed by a melancholy love affair, his father’s death, and his catastrophic losses at sea. During his year-long imprisonment, Dangers and Visions implies that Marco is on his last legs (“I can’t die before I finish,” he says, whereupon Rustichello begs the prison doctor to save his protagonist). Never mind that the historical Marco Polo lived another 25 years after his release; it was by all accounts a quiet life. For Tabilio’s Marco, that might have seemed like dying after all.

Graphic Universe recommends this title for readers in high school, though it’s appropriate for a younger audience, if that audience really enjoys fine print. The content is on par with Hergé’s Tintin.

Marco Polo: Dangers and Visions
by Marco Tabilio
ISBN: 9781512411829
Graphic Universe, 2017