There couldn’t be a better example of the reimagining of classic science fiction elements into diverse multicultural-themed new stories than Shobo and Kambadais’s Buckhead. This comic shows that the reinvention of science fiction even reaches into the middle school. There have been many recent great adult African- and African-American based science fiction books, and now Buckhead enters the genre. Buckhead’s story has so many allusions to well-known science fiction movies that I couldn’t keep up—I wrote them down! I won’t mention them here, though. You’ll have fun finding them and pointing them out to your pre-teens – because this comic is fun for both them and you. Boom! Studios does it again!

Tobe is a software modder and the new kid at school, and everything is weird. NO, REALLY WEIRD. It’s not just that his dad disappeared before their move from Nigeria to the US, other kids mispronounce his name, and no one knows where Nigeria is. He saw a house on the way to school that his new friend Josue didn’t, everyone has the same tattoo on their neck, and other people keep freezing in place! Good thing he’s met a few good friends—they’ll all need to work together to figure out why there’s a huge AI video game in the basement of the school, a huge 3D printer and vat of goop in the auditorium, and dark men in black outside Tobe’s house at midnight! And his mom disappears at weird times—what’s her involvement in all this?

Artist George Kambadais’s lines and coloring are sharp and vivid and express the digital tech theme central to the story. The asymmetrical borders and panels create constant movement, though the pacing is a little awkward. Your middle-schoolers won’t notice. The characters’ joking and kidding with each other even in the face of world conquest make them likable, and little touches like Mel’s mouth stuffed full of fries in the lunchroom and the digitally rendered dog Shadow make it easy to love them. Plus, the dog wasn’t hurt, so good on you, Shobo! Letterer Jim Campbell’s work makes the eeriness of the evil creature Ewon plain. I did wonder why the computer lab had the old-style CRT monitors, if the school is in the US.

There is a funny reoccurring joke about not touching things – It made me think of various science fiction movies where this is a trope. Remember kids, don’t touch things that you don’t know about! Don’t click the .exe file, don’t enter the door with the skull and crossbones…in short, DON’T.

Buckhead is a definite buy for ages 7 to 13. The trade paperback compiles issues 1-5 and is a complete story which also explores the Yoruba culture of Nigeria. Add it to your middle school library and teach a social studies lesson around it!

By Shobo Coker
Art by George Kambadais
BOOM! Box, 2022
ISBN: 9781684158478

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)

The Clock, vol. 1

The Clock

In light of the phenomenal Covid-19 pandemic, imagine what would happen if a catastrophe of this magnitude was engineered by a diabolical mastermind?  What if a widespread, unstoppable disease emerged from the brainchild of a sinister conspiracy?  Matt Hawkins and Colleen Doran tackle these questions in a thrilling tale that explores such possibilities in the doomsday graphic novel, The Clock.

The story begins in a Nigerian refugee encampment in a not so distant future, as professor and immunotherapist lead researcher Jack Davidson investigates a viral cancer that has infected and killed a wide swath of the human population in just three weeks. His own wife has died from it and his nine-year-old daughter Kimmie has recently been diagnosed with it. While heading back to the U.S., he crosses paths with a mysterious stranger who slips him a piece of paper with a single sentence scrawled on it: “Your wife was murdered.”  This note triggers a series of rapid-fire events akin to a Hitchcockian espionage thriller, and amidst this cataclysmic threat, he becomes implicated in a murder, turning him into a fugitive from the law. Like a relentless nightmare that shifts from bad to worse and rises to a feverish pitch, Jack must uncover the truth as those closest to him become targets for murder.

As the mystery deepens, The Clock unfolds at the pace of a runaway train speeding off its tracks. A global conspiracy surfaces with signs of weaponizing this pervasive cancer that could trigger the onslaught of World War III. Like the quintessential Hitchcockian character thrust into an extraordinarily maddening situation, Jack must fend for his life as he races against time to uncover the mystery behind a nefarious plot to destroy humanity. A taut thriller narrated in part through newspaper headlines, television news reports, websites, and social media feeds, the narrative momentum flows at a steady yet intense pace. Lengthy scientific explanations occupy some panels, though the jargon remains plausibly comprehensible. Doran’s artwork captures a wide range of facial expressions, nuanced in part by character interactions framed in medium close-up shots. Various shades of lighting set the mood and tone in each panel, mirroring the narrative action as each scene unfolds.

While the heart-racing plot ratchets up the tension and suspense, the conclusion fizzles out and falls flat in a rather anti-climactic way, leaving much to be desired and explained. The climax and falling action seem rushed from a storytelling perspective. Extra features include a cover gallery and penciled sketch panels by Colleen Doran. A bonus “Science Class” section highlights information on cancer statistics and a list of different types of cancer accompanied by resource links for further exploration into the scientific and ethical issues raised in The Clock. For libraries aiming to build their apocalyptic science fiction thrillers, there may be better developed stories out there, though loyal fans might still appreciate Doran’s artistic prowess in rendering the gamut of human emotions through her finely crafted illustrations.

The Clock, Vol. 1
By Matt Hawkins
Art by Colleen Doran
Image Comics/Top Cow, 2020
ISBN: 9781534316119

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)

After the Rain

Chioma, a young Nigerian American woman visiting her family in Nigeria,  opens her door for a young boy in After the Rain, and that fateful event sets the stage for a disturbing, horrific ordeal that tests her sanity and well being.

Chioma tries to help the young boy with a gaping head wound, but cries out in pain when she touches him. It is clear in subsequent days that something from the boy infected Chioma as she struggles to contain the uneasy feeling she is left with. She starts to hear noises and see strange disturbing visions as local lizards invade her family home. But is she the only one who can hear these sounds and see the visions? What follows is an eerie mix of ancient Nigerian spirits, body horror, and guilt associated with Chioma’s actions in America both before and after she became a police officer. Chioma is tested and brought to the edge of her sanity.

Based on a short story called, “On the Road” by Nnedi Okorafor, author John Jennings ably adapts the short story to graphic novel form. The original story is quite short, but Jennings and his artist, David Brame, add depth and many visual details that are not evident in the short story. Chioma’s nightmare is vividly brought to life in ways the text cannot convey. Brame effectively portrays Chioma’s horror with the expressions in her mouth and eyes. His fluid art style with heavy lines lends to the unsettled, mystical nature of the whole story. Some panels cease being solid lines as the dark power of the ancients overwhelms the story and the regular panel grid. The full color palette used here effectively draws the reader in, particularly when depicting colorful lizards and spirits. There are occasional moments when Chioma is in action or running that a more realistic style would have helped, but overall, the art effectively tells this story. Warning: the body horror depicted in this graphic story is unsettling, more so than in the short story.

Jennings has picked an interesting tale to kick off his Megascope imprint with Abrams Publishing in After the Rain. I’m definitely looking forward to the other books coming soon in this imprint. It’s also a good way to introduce readers to Okorafor’s writing if they aren’t familiar with it. I sought out her short story collection called Kabu Kabu and found several interesting stories along with ‘On the Road’. Most public libraries with adult graphic novel collections will want to get this story. Many university libraries may well want it as well. Okorafor fans will want to take a look at this adaptation and make their own comparisons.

After the Rain
By Nnedi Okorafor John Jennings
Art by David Brame
ISBN: 9781419743559
Megascope, 2021

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Nigerien-American
Creator Highlights: Nigerien-American
Related to…: Book to Comic