Kimiko Does Cancer: A Graphic Memoir

Kimiko Tobimatsu, a 25-year-old queer, mixed-race Canadian woman with no history of health problems discovers a lump on her breast. In this powerful and honest autobiographical memoir, depicting her emotional and physical experiences with breast cancer, superbly illustrated by Keet Geniza, the reader weaves through the corridors of this disease with Kimiko. Her story commences with the newly complex life of constant appointments, evaluations, treatments, and the difficult conversations with everyone she cares about as she contemplates having breast cancer. The most appealing aspect of this novel, for me, is how the author and illustrator expand the customary narrative of cancer patients to illuminate the continual issues, rarely discussed, once a patient is deemed “cancer-free.”

“There’s not a lot of writing out there on cancer and disability. Maybe because for those of us who are now cancer-free, the ongoing symptoms are after-effects (of surgery, radiation, meds), not the result of disease still being present.  Or maybe it’s because the mainstream cancer narrative is about overcoming adversity, not about experiencing ongoing disability” (92).

Kimiko’s relative youth generates a multitude of additional concerns once the cancer has been contained. She becomes highly aware of her body, its image, the food she consumes, the relationships new and old, being queer, all while becoming attuned for the perpetual need to rest, regroup, and rejuvenate. Her relationships with her family, especially her mother, play a huge role in Kimiko’s self-discovery as does her floundering relationship with her partner. She addresses many popular mindsets, within and outside, the medical profession regarding gender expression, reconstructive breast surgery, reproduction, early menopause, and the stereotypes perpetuated by the ubiquitous “pink ribbon” campaigns. In this compellingly told story, she shares with the reader her discoveries of how she found her own approach to move forward and the energy and dedication that the move demanded on her personally. As mentioned previously this is a robust resource for others who do not see themselves in standard breast cancer tales.

Geniza’s use of muted blues, blacks, and grays intensify the gravity of the situation, highlighting, through the expressive facial portraits, the fatigue and worry that the experience has on all those involved, not only the protagonist. The illustrations add to the tenderness, the pain, and the hope of those within Kimiko’s circle. The illustrations effectively and economically enhance the text in the relating of the narrative and in bringing the characters alive for the readers.

I must add a disclaimer here, your reviewer experienced similar encounters with the upside-down experiences of being diagnosed with breast cancer and its after effects. Kimiko’s story, although quantitatively different, strongly resonated with me as I reviewed her story and especially her disclosures about the aftermath of being “cancer-free”. Ironically, perhaps, I found reading this graphic novel experience joyful and poignant. It reverberated loudly with me although I match the perceived demographic of breast cancer patients in Canada. Her story strongly demonstrates that each person’s experience is uniquely their own, regardless of common, or in this case, uncommon markers of the disease and treatment. It also points to the unexpected interconnections in the shared experiences as well.

This graphic novel is a strong entry in the genre of graphic medicine and should be widely accessible in all public libraries as well as academic library collections highlighting memoirs, health and wellness narratives, and LGBTQ dialogues.

Kimiko Does Cancer: A Graphic Memoir
By Kimiko Tobimatsu
Art by Keet Geniza
ISBN: 9781551528199
Arsenal Pulp, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Queer
Creator Highlights: Japanese-Canadian, Queer, Genderqueer, Disability

Be Gay, Do Comics

The Nib compiles approximately fifty webcomics (many of which were previously published on from forty creators on a wide variety of LGBTQ+-related topics into this Kickstarter-backed anthology. The comics run the gamut from one-page funnies to ten-plus-page detailed glimpses into queer history. Associate Editor Matt Lubchansky’s introduction explains the origin of the title’s source, the phrase “Be Gay, Do Crime.” Lubchansky also discusses the significance of comics as a means to express queer identity in a singularly accessible manner.

Some of the most interesting comics in the anthology serve to educate readers about various aspects of the queer experience. These include histories, cultural and national disparities in treatments of queer people, and procedures like embryo adoption and securing birth control as an asexual person. One historical highlight is The Life of Gad Beck, written by Dorian Alexander, which details gay Jewish Beck’s resistance under Nazi Germany. Levi Hastings’ gorgeous illustrations are rendered in black, white, and pale blue, with thick outlines (there is no art tool information in the book, but it looks like Hastings used oil pastels). Another particularly informative contribution is Sam Wallman’s A Covert Gaze at Conservative Gays, an illuminating piece about historical and contemporary right-wing activism among queer people. At first glance, Wallman’s panelless comic closely resembles a infographic by a Mad Magazine artist; Al Jaffee comes to mind. But this black, white, and pink comic strikes a perfect balance between discussing “gay supervillains” like Milo Yiannopolous and more sympathetic conservatives like gun advocates in the wake of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Kazimir Lee’s What’s It Like to Raise Kids in Malaysia When You’re LGBT? is another interesting piece which details political perspectives and individual experiences of queer people in Malaysia. The standout art is reminiscent of a mid-20th century picture book; the full-color illustrations are predominantly in earthy reds, pinks, yellows, and browns, and there are minimal outlines in the characters’ block-like head and body shapes.

The anthology balances its drier informational pieces with funny one-page strips and relatable memoirs. A memoir highlight is Dancing with Pride by Maia Kobabe (Gender Queer) and is about eir experience in a folk dancing class where dancers are assigned different roles based on their perceived genders. The simple illustrations appear to be in pencil and watercolor, and feature a page where the dancers are lined up in order so their shirts make a rainbow, a very subtle and sweet nod to queerness in non-queer spaces. Another moving piece is written by Sarah Mirk and details activist Pidgeon Pagonis’s experience as an intersex child. The piece, Gender Isn’t Binary and Neither Is Anatomy, is illustrated by Archie Bongiovanni (A Quick & Easy Guide to Pronouns, Grease Bats).  A couple laugh-out-loud funny highlights include Joey Alison Sayers’s The Final Reveal, in which the extremes of gender reveal parties are spoofed, and Shelby Criswell’s Astrological Signs as Classic Queer Haircuts

As is always the case when I read comic anthologies, there were pieces that didn’t resonate as well with me as those I’ve named above. Rather than specify them, I will argue that it is because this book features something for every reader. If a piece didn’t resonate with me, it is sure to resonate with someone else. The queer representation is so varied, with gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, nonbinary, intersex, and ace representation, and with countless intersectional queer identities, that I am confident every queer reader will find something to relate to in this book. Due to its array of art styles and queer representations, I would particularly recommend Be Gay, Do Comics for fans of Iron Circus’s anthologies, like FTL, Y’all, Smut Peddler, and The Sleep of Reason.

Be Gay, Do Comics
Edited by Matt Bors
ISBN: 9781684057771
IDW, 2020

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Traits: Asexual, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Queer Gender Nonconforming, Genderqueer, Intersex, Nonbinary, Trans
Creator Highlights: Black, Filipino-American, Puerto Rican Asexual, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Queer Gender Nonconforming, Genderqueer, Nonbinary, Trans

Monstress, Volume 4: The Chosen & Volume 5: Warchild

In Monstress, Vol. 4: The Chosen, Maika learns more about her family bloodline on her father’s side, and she is pulled into the war-hungry Blood Court, a group of Arcanics who have deserted either the Dawn or Dusk Courts. The Dawn and Dusk Courts continue their maneuvering with a marriage of two Court leaders that binds the Courts together, but this arrangement is only surface-deep—both Courts still plan to continue their scheming and pursuit of Maika. The return of a foe from the first volume, Awakening, shows just how close the Cumaean witches are to Maika as well. With enemies closing in on all sides, the reader is left to wonder how Maika will continue her quest of reassembling the Shaman-Empress’s mask and gaining symbiosis with Zinn.

The war that’s been brewing for quite a while is finally upon us in Monstress, Vol. 5: Warchild. Maika’s “bleeding heart” gets her involved in a major battle between the Federation and the Arcanics at the city of Ravenna. Maika needs something from inside Ravenna, and her hatred for the witches entangles her with the forces feebly trying to protect the city. It turns out, she is exactly the warrior that the city needs to quell the chaos of refugees and townspeople fleeing the witches, and she starts organizing who can fight and prioritizing what areas of the city need the most protection. Kippa is tasked with helping out with the city’s children, and she doesn’t listen to Maika when she tells her they can’t help any more refugees outside the walls. Her miscalculation leads to a terrible tragedy. The Cumaean witches reveal powerful new warriors that were created by questionable means, and their presence offends some of the human forces. Through flashbacks and conversations with old acquaintances, we learn a lot more about Maika’s past and what happened at Constantine years ago. 

Readers who have been frustrated by the lack of coherent backstory in the Monstress series will find this volume intensely satisfying. Liu has woven threads through all of her volumes that now come together in Warchild. In previous volumes, we have gotten a sense that Maika is an extremely capable fighter, and we’ve seen a few instances of her skills, but her talents are on full display as she takes charge of the defense of the city. 

As we have come to expect, Takeda’s art continues to be striking and intricate. There is quite a bit of action in these two volumes, which is easy to follow and still beautiful despite it’s violence. The amount of f-bombing is consistent with the rest of the volumes in this series, and the level of bloodshed and violence is taken up a bit, especially in Warchild. The intricate storytelling is reminiscent of the complexity of Locke and Key. Fans of Saga might also enjoy Monstress.

Monstress, Volumes 4 & 5
By Marjorie Liu
Art by Sana Takeda
Monstress, Vol. 4: The Chosen
ISBN: 9781534313361
Monstress, Vol. 5: Warchild
ISBN: 9781534316614
Image Comics, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Mature

Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)

Monstress, Volume 2: The Blood & Volume 3: The Haven

The multiple Eisner-winning series Monstress follows the journey of Maika Halfwolf, daughter of powerful Arcanics, as she tries to figure out what happened to her mother, and what exactly is inhabiting her body. In Vol. 2: The Blood, Maika, the fox Arcanic, Kippa, and the cat-poet, Ren, set out from the pirate city of Thyria, retracing her mother’s steps in her quest to discover the secrets of the Shaman-Empress, the first and most powerful Arcanics in history. Maika believes this quest will lead to answers about the vicious being who has taken up root in Maika. Her quest brings her to the Isle of Bones where an Ancient dwells and tortures the souls of those who unluckily end up there. 

Vol.3: Haven sees Maika, Kippa, and Ren retreat to the refugee city of Pontus, but the shield that has protected the city for generations has stopped working. Only a person with a blood connection to the Shaman-Empress can run the technology and help fix it. By now, the monster inside Maika has grown strong enough to take on a full physical form and remember pieces of who he was. Zinn seeks to know more about Maika as he uncovers Maika’s memories that have been long since forgotten, and he shows Maika more about himself and his connection to the Shaman-Empress. The list of Maika and Zinn’s pursuers grows longer, and their list of allies shrinks. 

Maika is not a stereotypical heroine in need of saving. She’s rude, unfeeling, and singularly focused on finding out what happened to her mother. She doesn’t want to kill indiscriminately, as Zinn wants, but she has no qualms with kicking the butts of whoever gets in her way. Kippa steals the scenes constantly with her childlike innocence and her oversized heart that cares for everyone, even those who betray her and Maika. Maika scares the daylights out of Kippa frequently, but since Volume 1, The Awakening; Kippa has been steadfast in her opinion that the safest place to be is with one of the most dangerous beings.

Sana Takeda’s art is one of the biggest stars of this series. The amount of detail in each panel is breathtaking. Each piece of clothing and technology is intricate and lush. The color palette is likewise beautiful—a striking mix of pastels and jewel tones with plenty of gold accents throughout. The full page splashes are definitely worth a moment to pause and take in, despite the need readers will feel to keep reading.

There are some content warnings for this title. Characters are not shy about dropping f-bombs frequently, elevating this to a rated-R movie status within the first few pages. There is also a lot of violence and bloodshed. There are a few panels of suggested nudity where most of the body is covered by hair or other objects. For readers (and library collections) comfortable with the prevalence of strong language and violence, this rich fantasy is a worthy purchase for fans of intricate stories like The Wicked + The Divine, or epic high fantasy stories like Game of Thrones and anything by Patrick Ruthfuss.

Monstress, Volumes 2&3
By Marjorie Liu
Art by Sana Takeda
Vol. 2: The Blood
ISBN: 9781534300415
Vol.3: Haven
ISBN: 9781534306912
Image Comics, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: Mature
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)

Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence

In his poem Harlem, Langston Hughes considers what happens to a dream deferred: “Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun?” he asks, “Or fester like a sore—/and then run?” Of all the visceral similes Hughes contemplates, however, it’s the final, fragmented question that rang through my mind again and again as I read Joel Christian Gill’s memoir Fights. Italicized, positioned all by itself at the end of the poem, the line punches straight to the gut: “Or does it explode?” 

Gill’s memoir is painful, fractured, and violent. A mostly chronological memoir bookended by a prologue and epilogue set in the present day, Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence tells the story of Gill’s growing up. From the deaths of Gill’s father and grandmother to unrelenting sexual abuse at the hands of family members and family friends to a barrage of violence directed at him by bullies and racists both in and out of school, the memoir shows clearly how young Gill was pushed to the point of explosion, lashing out with a combination of numbness and violence. Rays of light shine through in unexpected friendships, acts of kindness from a caring neighbor, and when Gill discovers the power and joy of reading books and creating art, but the lion’s share of the book is a depiction of a childhood almost relentlessly filled with trauma. While this relentless trauma often appears to the young Gill of Fights as an inescapable cycle, he is eventually able to escape the chaos and abuse through stable relationships and his own work as an artist.

Gill’s artistic style is cartoonish, with bold lines, mostly matte colors, and sometimes exaggerated expressions of motion or emotions. Effective symbolic motifs to represent different emotional states are used throughout, such as a flame appearing over a character’s head to indicate a flare of rage, or a character’s face sinking into deep water to indicate a sense of overwhelm and despair. Though the cartoonish style at first feels like jarring contrast to the heavy subject matter, it ultimately serves as a bridge, making both the pain and, unfortunately, the normalcy, of these traumas approachable and recognizable. Unfortunately, the narrative is at times disjointed and almost inclusive to a fault: portions of Gill’s childhood and adolescence could have been excised without any real loss to the narrative, and such paring down would have allowed space for the more aching, triumphant, and generally profound moments to resonate more strongly.

Classified as a memoir for adults, Fights would also appeal to older teens. While the book does clearly reference the multiple sexual assaults Gill experienced as a child, there is never visual depiction of said assaults. Violence, including threats of gun violence, is also an integral part of Gill’s story; however, this violence is always positioned as exhausting, stressful, and scary—a last resort and something to be avoided whenever possible. Precisely because of the frankness with which Gill chronicles his own experiences, this book could speak to older teens just as surely as to the adult audience for which it’s intended. An intense and sometimes painful read, this memoir is also a powerful account of growing up in both the urban and rural South during the 1980s as a Black boy who has few looking out for him beyond himself. 

Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence
By Joel Christian Gill
ISBN: 9781549303357
Oni Press, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 18+
Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Traits: African-American, Black

Creator Highlights: African-American, Black

You Brought Me The Ocean

You Brought Me The Ocean is not your average coming-of-age and coming out story. Sure, our protagonist, Jake Hyde, lives in a town too small for his aspirations. And, yes, Jake has not yet come to terms with his sexuality. And, of course, his best friend, Maria is tragically in love with him. You Brought Me The Ocean has all the makings of a generic YA novel. But this graphic novel is different for one reason alone: the universe of this story is inhabited by superheroes and villains.

Jake is not only struggling to come out as gay to his family and friends, he is also trying to come to terms with his superhuman ability to control water. Though this is an interesting, and certainly unique, concept the execution of the story falls flat. Unfortunately, You Brought Me The Ocean is not the intricate story of sexual identity wrapped up in themes of self-discovery, defining the “superhero”, and magic realism it deserves to be. Instead, it is a shallow depiction of both the coming out story and the superhero origin story. Neither plot line gets the attention it deserves and, quite frankly, the two concurrent plot lines are not the only victims of this narrative.

Aside from Jake, the characters in this book are all woefully underdeveloped. Jake’s best friend, Maria, is resigned to being identified solely by her unrequited love for Jake and the fact that, unlike Jake, she enjoys living in the desert. Similarly, Jake’s love interest, Kenny, has few defining characteristics. And, as is often a problem with underdevelopment, the dialogue throughout the story is stilted and unrealistic. Let’s look at the following lines of dialogue spoken between Jake and Maria, as they head out on a hiking trip:

Jake: Ready to journey to the ends of the Earth?
Maria: So long as we’re back by dinnertime.

The dialogue throughout the entirety of You Brought Me The Ocean carries this same tone. Namely: awkward and cliched.

The artwork is, regrettably, as disappointing as the text. Artist Julie Maroh is perhaps best known for her work on Blue is the Warmest Color; a famous French graphic novel about the tumultuous relationship between two young women. Aside from the fact that Maroh has previously published LGBTQA+-themed work, she seems an odd stylistic choice for You Brought Me The Ocean. Maroh’s often monochromatic coloring washes out pivotal scenes throughout the story. Take, for example, a scene in which Jake uses his water-bending powers to part a flash flood. Rather than bright, deep blues and a menacing, stormy sky painted with grays, the reader gets a wave of neutral colors. Maroh is clearly a talented artist, but her work here clashes too much with the story to be ignored.

Ultimately, this is a disappointing book with an incredibly promising premise. However, I hesitate to discourage adding this to your graphic novel collection entirely, given the dearth of LGBTQA+ representation in the superhero genre. Though You Brought Me The Ocean does not exactly live up to its premise, one can only hope this book is an indication of better—and more LGBTQA+ representative—superhero comics that are yet to come. For now, You Brought Me The Ocean may have to suffice.

You Brought Me The Ocean
By Alex Sanchez
Art by Julie Maroh
ISBN: 9781401290818
DC Comics, 2020

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: Black, Chinese-American, Gay
Creator Highlights: Latinx, Gay

Maison Ikkoku Collector’s Edition, Vol. 1

The first word that comes to mind with Maison Ikkoku is grounded. Rumiko Takahashi’s reputation precedes her, including in the west, where series like Lum Urusei Yatsura, Ranma ½, and Inuyasha served as gateway series into anime and manga. Where those series used an alien visitor, kung-fu slapstick, and fantasy tropes, respectively, Maison Ikkoku uses ordinary people. Being a product of the turn of the 80s, everyone has fairly realistic, dark hair. As another example of grounded visuals, moments of exaggerated humor only slightly distort characters’ faces or figures compared to more modern series’ chibi figures and razor-sharp hairstyles. The two main characters are Godai, a frustrated college applicant, and Kyoko, the manager of the boarding house where he lives. He falls for her at first sight, with a string of misunderstandings, rivalries, and personal revelations in their journey toward ending up together. “It must be nice to be so simple,” a neighbor says about Godai, and it’s true of this manga, too.

Takahashi’s got plenty of gags to keep the pages turning, though. The other residents of Maison Ikkoku interfere with Godai and Kyoko’s affections at every turn, to the point that Godai imagines them as antagonists in the sky laughing down at him and his ambitions. Godai’s neighbor Yotsuya is a peeping tom who blackmails Godai over his stash of porno magazines and hole in the wall that allows him to see into the room of his other neighbor, the bar hostess Akemi.

It is at this point I should mention that this series was serialized from 1980 to 1987, complete with sexual humor that makes light of men’s overwhelming desire for visual stimulation. Some chapters go several steps further, with characters accidentally or purposefully grabbing and groping Kyoko, often resulting in a hard slap that leaves a hand print. There is a daydream scene of a topless Kyoko embracing her dog as her lover (she named the dog after her late husband, which leads to misunderstandings). One night, a drunken Godai carries Kyoko to his room but passes out before any sexual assault can happen – meanwhile, Kyoko apologizes to her late husband in her mind while outwardly shouting for help. As much as Kyoko is objectified, including scenes on a tennis court that look up her skirt, Takahashi deserves credit for swapping to her perspective every so often. She is a young woman in mourning who sees the potential in Godai but isn’t committed, either. She has her own life beyond her tenants, even if they butt into her business all the time. Still, compared to Takahashi’s later works, this one leans disappointingly hard on a “boys will be boys” attitude.

Your mileage may vary, but I don’t think the misogynist humor completely ruins the overall effect of the book. Takahashi renders an incredibly sweet Japan, complete with changing seasons and weather that give the boarding house plenty of character. Rain causes leaks, howling winds keep people up at night, and on a sunny day, the road seems to curve in around people walking along. Time passes using outdoor imagery, always inviting the reader to start fresh with the cast for another chapter. A mother and young son who also live in the boarding house contribute to a feeling of nostalgia, as the son has a childhood crush that mirrors Godai’s spellbound behavior around Kyoko. The mother provides a seen-it-before perspective, one that the other tenants echo as they play peanut gallery for the would-be lovebirds. These are events that the characters will clearly remember fondly, even if they tended to get on each other’s nerves and criticize each other. This is the strength of the slice of life genre, which could be likened to a sitcom show here. Godai is always attempting to declare his love for Kyoko, but as soon as she says yes the series would lose its dramatic tension, so poor timing and alternative suitors keep them apart.

It’s great to see this series in print again as collector’s editions, having been collected before in thinner volumes in the early 2000s. Takahashi is a one of a kind talent, and there’s a satisfaction to tracing how her humor and characterization evolved from one series to the next. Not everything about this series has aged well, especially its sexual politics, but its humor and heart earn it a recommendation for older teens and adults.

Maison Ikkoku Collector’s Edition, Vol. 1
By Rumiko Takahashi
ISBN: 9781974711871
Viz, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus (16+)
Series Reading Order: (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: East Asian Straight
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator

Blood On The Tracks, Vols. 1 & 2

Reading a Shuzo Oshimi manga is like watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie: those who are familiar with the psychological play and dramatic framing will be tickled pink at all the teases on the way to the horrible lynchpin that confirms the audience’s worst fears. Newer audiences will be taken in by what seems on the surface to be an ordinary story, but for the extended pauses and close-ups signaling something is out of place to be revealed soon. The dread builds over several deliberately paced chapters like a slowly inflating balloon, and when it bursts in volume one, readers will be scrambling for volume two like Hot Ones guests reaching for milk. Blood On The Tracks is just that spicy.

Japanese thirteen-year-old Seiichi (Sei) inhabits the most milquetoast, middle-class life. His father works long hours as a salaryman, and his housekeeper mother, Seiko, is a pleasant, agreeable guardian in his life, right down to asking which of two choices he’d like for dinner each evening. His school friends are a little rougher around the edges and tease him somewhat, as does his cousin Shigeru, but all in all Sei’s got a good, stable life. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything goes wrong, so horribly, horribly wrong! Oshimi’s series are great at looking gentle and inviting one minute then veering into unexpected nightmare territory the next. During a family camping trip, Seiko goes to extreme lengths to protect her son when she perceives Shigeru as a threat to him. In the second volume, when a school crush is beginning to blossom into a relationship, Seiko again intervenes in an over-the-top, monstrous way, revealing herself as unhealthily attached to her son in a way that has quietly been sapping any potential for personal growth and social connection from his life. Anyone who’s read a Courtney Summers book and thought, “Wow, these characters go to extreme lengths, but I can’t look away” won’t be able to put down Blood On The Tracks.

When it comes to manga horror, I enjoy Junji Ito and Kazuo Umezu, but I savor Oshimi’s more grounded storytelling in a way the others’ wackiness prevents. Ito and Umezu strike at primal fears while also asking, “Can you believe what just happened?” With Oshimi, there’s no doubt what people will see, allow, and do for themselves. His use of visual direction, timing, and visual metaphor all elevate the material beyond shock value. I could tell you a child is mortally wounded in this series, but I’d also have to include how the framing of a cliff is used to suggest characters are approaching a dangerous point of no return, or are perhaps already leaping over it. I could point out an element of incest in the story (and am), but not without emphasizing the unsettling, skin-creeping nature of its use in controlling a minor. The same open, clear framing of the “safe” chapters come back around like a microscope to zoom in on the compromising of naive Sei’s soul. This is not titillation of R-rated excesses, but an unflinching look at bone-deep corruption and how far it can go. Two volumes in, this series feels like a more domestic version of Oshimi’s The Flowers of Evil.

Where age recommendations are concerned, this is definitely Older Teen, at least for now. Sometimes reading stories about toxic, harmful people and lives spiraling out of control are a good way to reassure oneself of personal balance and seeking out restorative hugs from loved ones. Stock this in your manga collection with the knowledge that readers will return it while gasping at the events that transpired, followed by demanding to know when the rest of the series will arrive. Sei and Seiko’s happy faces on the covers will be waiting for them.

Blood On The Tracks, Vols.1 & 2
By Shuzo Oshimi


Vertical, 2020
Publisher Age Rating:
Series Reading Order: (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: East Asian Straight
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator

Omni, Volume One

Doctor Cecelia Cobbina can process thoughts faster than the rest of us. After developing this power during an intense standoff with armed men while working in the Congo for Doctors Without Borders, Cecelia will analyse a situation and develop plans in a split second. She is the ultimate problem solver. So she commits to using this power to help others.

And there are ample opportunities for her to help. People are developing powers after being ‘ignited’. Some use these powers for good and others are lashing out with them. Cecelia travels around the country with her friend Mae looking for others who have been ‘ignited’. While Mae sees this as adventuring, Cecelia views what they do as a medical procedural. She knows something is wrong with their world and believes it is happening on a global scale. Once she understands it, she can help correct the problem.

Omni flirts with being a superhero book, but takes pains to say that it isn’t. Cecelia tells her partner there will be no capes and that she’s not that heroic. Eventually, they connect with a secretive group known as OMNI, who will provide much needed resources to help Cecelia continue her research. There is clearly much Cecelia needs to learn about OMNI as well.

The unique catch about Cecilia’s powers is that they are founded on Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. For those unfamiliar, this theory posits that people have nine different intelligences. Cecelia is attuned to all of them. This translates to the comic page by showing her thoughts in multiple colors that correspond to Gardner’s theories, for example: red text boxes are related to bodily-kinesthetic analysis while orange text boxes relate to verbal-linguistic analysis and so on. On the page, these text boxes of various colors are visually appealing and confusing. The reader is constantly trying to remember which color corresponds with which intelligence. Yet it makes more sense the longer you read the book.

Cecelia is an interesting main character. She comes across as the smartest person in the room much like Tony Stark or Reed Richards, yet being an African American woman injects more realism into the plot than you would have in a traditional superhero tale. When she is confronted with a police standoff, one of her intelligences cites statistics on police brutality concerning Black men and women and it informs her actions. The story relies heavily on her intellect and ability to reason with others to get them out of tough situations. If only reasoned speech was as effective in real life as it is depicted in this comic, our world would be a better place.

The artwork by Alitha Martinez tells the story effectively and is very reminiscent of a lot of art from 90s and early 2000 comic books. It is not as detailed as more high profile comic books being published these days, but it does what it needs to do.

Omni would be a good purchase for teen or adult graphic novel collections. It’s an early book from a new universe created by Mark Waid for Humanoids, which usually publishes European comics. It’s got a Black, queer main character, an experienced writer and a Black artist attached. Future stories have a Black writer stepping in to write as well. It deserves to have time to find an audience. I’m concerned that the multiple intelligences angle may drag down the storytelling in the long term as it will have to be explained frequently, but it is definitely a unique plot point and an arresting visual.

Omni, Volume One
By Devin Grayson
Art by Alitha E. Martinez
ISBN: 9781643376196
Humaniods, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: (Teen 13+)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Black Lesbian
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator

Dragon Hoops

After finishing his graphic novel duology Boxers & Saints, cartoonist Gene Luen Yang is worried about finding his next story. In the halls of Bishop O’Dowd High School (where he taught computer science), Yang starts hearing about “the big game.” Bishop O’Dowd’s men’s basketball team, the Dragons, have a chance at winning the California state tournament. Sensing a story, Yang finds himself stepping outside of his comfort zone to record the Dragons’ journey to the state tournament.

Dragon Hoops is a combination of personal narrative and sports story, with a dollop of history for flavor. Yang interweaves his personal journey with those of head coach Lou Richie and the team members to build up the journey to the big game. The inclusion of Yang’s struggle to figure out his career helps tease out the story’s main themes, which include the importance of putting yourself out there and taking risks. Yang reflects on the journey with good humor and admiration for the Dragons, although he doesn’t pull punches while addressing difficult topics. The result is an engaging, dense story that pulls you in and gets you thinking.

Yang’s artwork strongly conveys the emotion behind the story and helps make the story manageable. Yang’s dynamic panels capture the characters’ athleticism and emotions, making the reader feel like they’re in the middle of the action. The strong sports action is balanced with lighter scenes that capture the camaraderie and humor in the daily lives of these athletes. The story, with its heavy detail and topics, could feel over-crowded in parts, but Yang’s artwork makes it easy to follow. The art also helps highlight the themes. One particularly powerful recurring image is a foot crossing a line to show when someone was taking a risk or making a transition.

Dragon Hoops will appeal to readers who enjoy sports stories, and it will also garner interest with those who like memoirs. First Second recommends Dragon Hoops for ages fourteen to eighteen, and this reviewer agrees with that rating as a starting point. The narrative is fairly complex and, at various points, wrestles with ethical questions, such as how to accurately report on sensitive topics (for instance, a scandal involving the basketball team’s previous head coach). With its compelling, meaty story, adult readers will also find much to enjoy here. Libraries that have Yang’s previous works or are looking to expand their nonfiction graphic novel collection will want to purchase Dragon Hoops.

Dragon Hoops
By Gene Luen Yang
ISBN: 9781626720794
First Second, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Chinese, Black, South Asian
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator