Poison Ivy: Thorns

Poison Ivy: ThornsPamela Isley is going through some growing pains. Her father uses her body for science experiments, manipulating her genes to find a cure for her comatose mother. At school, she faces bullying through the forced gender norms of high school, after refusing to let some teenage boy have his way with her and claim she slept with him. Her only solace is taking care of the school’s plants in the greenhouse, and a new friend/love interest Alice Oh, who seems more genuine than her other classmates.

Poison Ivy: Thorns begins with a familiar sight for Ivy fans, as Pamela tries to save plants by unleashing a poison in a construction zone. Of course, her newly-minted friend Alice Oh lives nearby and Pamela must keep her experiments secret after discovering she probably (definitely) poisoned some people. As Alice and Isley begin to fall for each other, the seeds of Poison Ivy’s powers and trauma begin to bloom. 

Thorns was an interesting choice of subtitle for this original graphic novel. In writing a version of Pamela before the vindictive and cutting persona of Ivy was developed, author Kody Keplinger has essentially removed the thorns from Ivy. In actuality, we are seeing the very events that led to Ivy’s thorny attitude. We get a sense of where Ivy’s hatred for toxic masculinity came from, with the character of Brett and the school principal. Her early love of the goth/punk girl evokes the Harley/Ivy relationship of later years. Keplinger knows high school students, playing on similar themes as in her novel The Duff: societal pressure, public image, and self-expectations. Pamela’s journey to become Ivy felt very real, and this is in part to Keplinger’s understanding of how a young Pamela would approach these teenage social issues.

Sara Kipin’s art is very expressive on the facial features, with character closeups throughout that show a range of emotions and reactions. While her characters felt very real, I often found the background art to seem lacking or unfinished. Background people would sometimes just be black-bordered humanoid shapes with a solid color. This may have been a decision to keep the focus on the characters, as it is an origin story, but it sometimes detracted from the reading experience as the world in the comic felt less real. The closest analogy I have to some of the background art, is the Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the 60s and 70s where it seemed like the characters are more detailed moving pieces on a less detailed static background.

DC indicates this is a graphic novel for young adults, with their marketing stating 13+. I agree with this age rating and would even say some tweens could read this, as even though it touches on things like teenage sex, it does so tactfully and without being vulgar. While I did find the art lacking, the story more than overcame its shortcomings. I’d easily recommend this book to a YA fan of empowered women, even if they weren’t usually a DC Comics reader This would fit into any graphic novel collection in a library, as it walks the line between slice-of-life drama and comic origin story very well.

Poison Ivy: Thorns
By Kody Keplinger
Art by Sara Kipin
DC, 2021
ISBN: 9781401298425
Publisher Age Rating: 13+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Character Representation: Bisexual

Black Sand Beach, Vol. 1: Are You Afraid of the Light?

If your readers like creepy, grotesque graphic novels, then Black Sand Beach: Are You Afraid of the Light? will be right up their alley.

The story begins with Dash and his friend Lily, setting out with Dash’s dad and his stepmother for a family vacation at the mysterious Black Sand Beach. Once they arrive and meet up with Dash’s cousins, purple-haired Eleanor and hyperactive Andy, the fun begins. Or not, as the case may be. It’s a creepy place, where the beach is literally covered in black sand, they’re not allowed in the frightening forest, the neighbors are reputedly dangerous, and they’re stuck with Dash’s aggressive and unstable aunt Lynne. Don’t forget Uncle Frederick—he’s very quiet. And gray. In fact, there’s some doubt as to whether he’s really there at all…

When the friends and cousins investigate mysterious lights at the abandoned lighthouse, they discover frightening ghosts—but are they trying to trap the friends or is there something even more dangerous in the lighthouse itself? Then there’s the annual stampede of cows under the beach house (it’s on stilts), but for the first time someone is awake to see it—Lily. And these are definitely not cows… The creepy episode ends with a troubling incident where Lily, the only Black character, is replaced by one of the nightmarish not-cows and the family completely ignores the real Lily. However, this could also be read as Lily being the sensible outsider, the only person unrelated to the family by marriage or blood, and the voice of reason who frees them from the creatures.

The art is predominated by purple and green hues; the foreboding, dark purples of the beach and sky, bright purple of Eleanor’s hair and dark violet of Lily’s, and the nauseating purple of the mysterious “potatoes” provided to put the family to sleep during the stampede of the “cows.” Spots of green, Lily’s shirt and Eleanor’s shoes pop up here and there, with swathes of sickly green around the mysterious presence in the lighthouse and a bright, chemical green of the freaky “cows.” The adults are all caricatures; Dash’s stepmother has brightly-dyed blonde hair and a fake tan and sports pink dresses and high heels and her main concern is the lack of cell service. Aunt Lynne has a sharp, angular face, leathery tanned skin, and a messy thatch of graying hair. Dash’s dad is kindly, but unobservant; he vaguely realizes something is wrong, but is never quite sure what to do about it. Eleanor and Lily are the voices of reason, keeping wild Andy in check as much as possible and reassuring and supporting the sometimes nervous Dash as more and more frightening secrets are revealed.

Black Sand Beach is published by Pixel + Ink is a new publisher from Trustbridge Media, owner of Holiday House and Peachtree Publishing, focused on series fiction from picture books to middle school readers. Richard Fairgray is an experienced creator of comics, from picture books to the popular Blastosaurus series.

The undependable adults and frightening creatures make this title something I would recommend to younger readers with caution. However, for those who can handle the scarier elements and like their horror grotesque and their mysterious secrets plentiful, this will be a popular pick. Recommend to readers who enjoyed Alabaster Shadows by Matt Gardner, Apocalypse Taco and One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale, or are looking for an alternative to Doug TenNapel’s work.

Black Sand Beach: Are You Afraid of the Light?
By Richard Fairgray
ISBN: 9781645950028
Pixel + Ink, 2020

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation:
Character Traits: Disability, Visual Impairment

Creator Highlights: Disability, Blind