It begins with a knock on the door from the FBI. Two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a silent invasion permeated the United States, targeting Japanese American citizens as enemy aliens.
On February 19, 1942, Executive Order 9066 was passed, uprooting nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes into internment camps. We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration, written by Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura, with artwork by Ross Ishikawa and Matt Sasaki, chronicles the bold exploits of three intrepid Japanese Americans who challenged the constitutionality of the executive order during their internment.
This epic story begins with a montage of three incidents: An ominous rapping on the door of twenty-two-year-old Jim Akutsu, a civil engineering student living with his parents in Seattle, disrupts their peaceful evening. FBI agents are on the move to round up Japanese Americans into relocation camps. High school graduate Hiroshi Kashiwagi, nineteen, gets pulled over by a cop for staying out past curfew one night in central California. Upon closer inspection, the cop labels him a “Jap spy.” Twenty-one-year-old Mitsuye “Mitzi” Endo, a typist for a state agency in California, receives a letter one day threatening dismissal from her job on the grounds of purported affiliations with the Japanese community and thus, holding allegiance to the Emperor of Japan. This interconnected trio of stories sets the stage for the harrowing events in the Pacific Northwest impacting Japanese Americans subjected to the camps without due process. There they will be tested for their loyalty to the US government.
Meticulously researched and intricately narrated, each story unfolds from the point of view of the internees as well as the US government officials. At Camp Minidoka, Akutsu refuses the draft to serve in the army, for he believes the so-called loyalty questionnaire from the Selective Service to be a ploy to incriminate himself. Signing this oath of allegiance would equate to confessing to a nonexistent allegiance to Japan even though he was already a natural-born American citizen. Kashiwagi refuses to sign the loyalty oath altogether while in Tule Lake, testing the limits of his rights as an American. In Topaz, Mitzi Endo foregoes an opportunity to leave the camp in a strategic move to serve as a witness in a lawsuit against the US government for having imprisoned people based solely on race. Through defiant acts in the form of draft resistance, hunger strikes, and prosecuting lawsuits, the trio stood their ground to uphold their unalienable rights as American citizens.
The narrative flow of each character’s experiences unfolds fluidly, juxtaposing Sasaki’s abstracted and expressionist style of Hiroshi Kashiwagi’s story alongside Ishikawa’s more solidly rendered character designs of Jim Akutsu and Mitzi Endo. Historical documents contextualize the plot with startling and compelling authenticity. Typewritten memos to war relocation authorities, racial profiling signs, front page newspaper headlines, reenactments of speeches and discussions amongst US government officials—these visual details merge seamlessly to create a historical account of the socio-political milieu on the US home front during World War II.
On the eightieth anniversary of Executive Order 9066, We Hereby Refuse adds a critical chapter to the annals of US history and complements all library collections. This graphic novel tackles themes of racism, assimilation, survival, and resilience, centering on the lived experiences of Japanese Americans and their tenacious stand to test the integrity of the American justice system. Theirs is a story that deserves to be told and retold for future generations lest history repeats itself.
We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration By Frank Abe, Tamiko Nimura, , Art by Ross Ishikawa, Matt Sasaki, Chin Music Press Inc., 2021 ISBN: 9781634059763
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Japanese-American, Character Representation: Japanese-American,
In her new home of Piedmont, Becca yearns for what every high schooler desires: a place to fit in and a squad to call her own. Much to her surprise, the most popular clique in school immediately accepts her into their fold, bonding over shopping trips, gossip, and… bloodlust? On a full moon’s night, Arianna, Amanda, and Marley reveal their secret: they are werewolves, preying on skeevy boys who target unsuspecting girls at parties, and they want her to join the pack. Filled with a need for acceptance, Becca embraces the transformation, feeling a kind of strength she never had before. But with this power comes a dangerous hunger that rattles her to her core and tests her morals. Tensions only flare higher as longstanding rules are broken, authority in the pack is questioned, and one wrong kill threatens to expose them all. In this fast-paced, strikingly illustrated graphic novel, Squad perfectly balances its elements of drama and horror, though unfortunately does not live up to the full potential of its story.
Personal tidbit about me, I love werewolves, they’re my favorite monster, star in my favorite horror films, and can be abundantly diverse in terms of storytelling and design. I also love the girl gang trope found in films like Heathers and The Craft, which this comic utilizes perfectly, as I found so many parallels between this comic and the latter film. Naturally, I was excited to dive into a story about a pack of female werewolves taking a bite out of the patriarchy in a way only werewolves can, but was ultimately disappointed once I reached the final page.
Most of my issues with this comic comes from its story and how certain elements do not receive any development that would have made it more memorable. The themes of Squad, such as finding community, reclaiming agency and control from potential aggressors, and challenging oppression towards women are all there, but become muddled due to its fast pace and short page length. Standing at around two hundred pages, this does not give Squad the time it deserves to properly flesh out its message, characters, or lore and, as a result, its impact is compromised significantly. Though the comic strives to highlight female empowerment, the internalized misogyny shown by the main characters, exhibited through fatphobic remarks and moments of victim blaming, is seldom addressed or even combated. There are also several microaggressions committed against Becca, who is Asian, that receive the same treatment, which is odd considering they mainly come from her eventual love interest. Seeing this, I was waiting to see how the climax would handle these moments, if they were to serve some purpose for a more nuanced message about feminism or the effects of, as Ms. Norbury so eloquently put it in Mean Girls, “girl on girl crime.” Unfortunately, those scenes just sit within the story, unanswered for.
Some of the characters and their dynamics almost exist as afterthoughts, appearing through the uneven character development of our main cast, or the tacked-on romantic relationship between Becca and Marley that begins nearly fifty pages before the end of the comic. While it is always wonderful to see more LGBTQ+ representation in young adult graphic novels, it still needs to be quality representation that has enough time and focus devoted to make it truly resonating. What is truly disappointing about Squad is that its lacking elements could have worked, if only given a little more time to breathe, develop, and not feel so constrained by its own page length.
The saving grace of the comic would definitely be Lisa Sterle’s illustrations, which evoke an engaging atmosphere that revels in the story’s horror aspects. In the more suburban scenes, the colors are flatter, more evenly toned to match the domestic setting, but, in moments of high emotion or violence, Sterle incorporates a startling scarlet red, making these scenes stand out in a perfectly visceral way. The character designs are memorable, giving off a more modern Archie Comics vibe while having their own identity. Sterle deciding to give the squad’s wolf forms a leaner, more emaciated look is a good touch, tying in nicely with their insatiable appetites, though having them all mostly be different shades of brown makes it difficult to tell who is who at times.
Fans of series like Riverdale, Teen Wolf, and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina will appreciate the dramatic and horror elements of the story, and for teen readers there is the additional appeal of connecting with a high school setting and the social issues brought up in the story. As Squad has multiple instances of gore and violence, along with one moment of near sexual assault, I would agree with the publisher-given age rating of 14 and up. While I would not recommend this comic as a must have for a collection, it may interest librarians and educators looking to include titles that share the appeal of the previously mentioned series or have a high circulation of female-centered, character-driven stories.
Squad By Maggie Tokuda-Hall Art by Lisa Sterle Harper Collins Harper Alley, 2021 ISBN: 9780062943149
Publisher Age Rating: 14+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Japanese-American, Bisexual, Jewish Character Representation: Black, Japanese-American, Lesbian
George Takei is known for his role as Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek and for his passionate commitment to civil rights. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Takei and his family—along with over 100,000 Japanese Americans—were imprisoned in internment camps for the rest of World War II. Their crime? They were Japanese. They Called Us Enemy portrays Takei’s family’s experiences in the camps and the impact they had on his life. The result is a compelling and powerful narrative that lays bare the continuing prejudice, injustice, and passion in America.
Takei and his co-writers, Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott, have developed an engaging and relevant narrative. The story goes back and forth between the World War II era and contemporary times as it traces Takei’s family’s experience in the internment camps and his career as an actor and activist. The authors also provide accessible explanations of the political forces and factions at play, but it’s the personal story that drives home Takei’s points. Takei narrates his family’s experience from the perspective of an adult who has come to understand what happened, yet goes on to show how this experience and his family’s support have helped him in his career as an actor and activist. The mix of the past and the present with the personal and the political gives the story a balance between sad and hopeful. Takei also draws connections between the Japanese internment camps and the cruel treatment of immigrant children at the border, thus sending an important message about injustice and the importance of action in a democracy.
Illustrator Harmony Becker’s black and white illustrations both capture key historical events and figures as well as the emotional impact of Takei’s experiences. The illustrations portray historical figures in recognizable ways, yet the particular strength of Becker’s work lies in the emotional impact her work carries. Deceptively simple with strong manga influences, Becker’s illustrations portray the difficulties of Takei’s family and a child’s youthful exuberance and innocence with equal aplomb; the illustrations work well with Takei’s reflections, contributing to the surreal and painful mood that arises from the contrast between a child’s experience with an adult’s understanding of the injustice.
They Called Us Enemy is a powerful work that, thanks to its important message, the discussion of historical events, and Takei’s popularity, should find a readership in both public and academic libraries. The book explains the internment camps and themes of injustice and activism in a way that should be accessible to a range of ages. There are a couple of violent scenes (portrayed with minimal gore), and there are some difficult topics whose subtle presentation might go over the head of very young readers; therefore, this reviewer would recommend early middle school and up as the audience for They Called Us Enemy.
They Called Us Enemy By George Takei Justin Eisinger Steven Scott Art by Harmony Becker ISBN: 9781603094504 Top Shelf Productions, 2019
Browse for more like this title Character Traits: Japanese, Japanese-American Gay Creator Highlights: Own Voices, BIPOC Creator
Things have changed in the town of Blithedale. Since the first volume of the Life on Earth trilogy, teenager Claudia Jones has reappeared after a lengthy unexplained absence, but everything about her seems different. Where she was once unremarkable, she now seems to have a magnetic pull on everyone, especially Nigel. And who are the two mysterious figures who accompany her everywhere? Meanwhile the rest of the main characters from Book 1 continue to face their own struggles. Paula and Johanna, once rivals for Brett’s affections are now discovering feelings for each other. Brett deals with rejection from his girlfriend, and faces his mother’s deteriorating health. Emily finds a new group of friends, but things go awry at a house party.
Like the first book in the series, each chapter is drawn in a different style representing each of the four main characters’ points of view, with the addition of a chapter for Claudia. Some of the art styles remain similar to those used in Book 1, while some have evolved in certain ways. Nigel’s chapters are in grayscale as before, but the panels are more rectangular than in the first book. Emily’s chapter has changed from a stark black and white to a grayscale until near the end when the addition of red is used in a scene she shares with Brett. Brett’s chapter is similar to the first book using shaded grays with mainly full-page panels, and Paula’s chapter is also similar using line drawings with no panel divisions. The chapter for Claudia is the most unconventional, consisting of colored pencil drawings on a graph paper background where the images progress from simple shapes to complex scenes and back to shapes. The artwork in Claudia’s chapter is wordless in places, and where words are included, they indicate that she is reading the thoughts of others and responding in strange, stilted dialogue. Throughout Book 2 of Life on Earth, as in Book 1, much needs to be inferred by the reader, as characters are often shown as shadows, or as only faces instead of fully-formed figures. Color enters the art in rare places and its presence is always significant. The reader is challenged to interpret the meaning of Marinaomi’s stylistic and symbolic choices.
As with Book 1, Nigel’s narrative begins and ends this volume, yet each character experiences significant events. The occurrences at the party and their impact upon Emily are probably the most central piece of the plot. However, Book 2 functions very much as the transitional piece of a trilogy in asking more questions than it answers. As Losing the Girl was an apt title for the first book, applicable to multiple characters, there are many people in Book 2 who feel Gravity’s Pull in one way or another. The book leaves many loose ends, and one wonders whether Book 3 will be able to tie them all up. It is, however quite possible that this is not the type of series where everything needs to be tied up.
As with the first volume in the trilogy, this title will appeal to teens with more sophisticated artistic and literary tastes. Much of the meaning in this work is communicated subtextually, and readers must bring some level of analytical skill to bear upon the story and artwork. Some readers may find this book too abstract. However, there is much to be gleaned from analyzing the different art styles and perspectives for those willing to put in the effort. Teens with more diverse tastes will really enjoy Marinaomi’s timely take on high school life, relationships, consent, and values. The content is suitable for high-school aged teens but does include some implied sexual content of a non-consensual nature. The main characters make their disapproval of these actions known. Gravity’s Pull will be a good addition to YA graphic novel collections where science fiction and unique artistic styles are popular.
Life on Earth Book 2: Gravity’s Pull By Marinaomi ISBN: 9781512449112 Graphic Universe, 2019 Publisher Age Rating: 14-18 Series Reading Order
Browse for more like this title NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18) Character Traits: Black, Latinx, Lesbian,
Strange things are happening in the town of Blithedale. Teenager Claudia Jones is missing, and other odd things have begun to happen around town. In this offbeat look at teen life, a diverse cast of characters struggle with complex issues as the mystery continues to mount. Class clown Nigel hopes to find a girlfriend. Emily faces life-changing decisions. Paula longs to form her own identity apart from Emily. Handsome Brett feels misunderstood.
Each chapter is drawn in a different style representing each of the four characters’ points of view. Nigel’s chapters are in grayscale with many diagonal panels, Emily’s in stark black and white with square and rectangular panels, Brett’s in shaded grays, and Paula’s in line drawings with no panel divisions. Throughout the volume, characters are often shown as shadows, or as only faces instead of fully-formed figures. Color only enters the art in rare places near the end of the book, and its presence gives significant clues as to what may have happened to Claudia. This stylistic choice adds depth and interest to the story, though it can cause confusion in identifying characters, as they are drawn differently in each chapter.
Nigel’s narrative begins and ends this volume, yet the primary narrative lies with Emily. While Claudia’s disappearance is significant to each character, it is not the central plot. As the series title suggests, the focus of the narrative is trained upon “life on earth,” the sometimes-mundane, and sometimes earth-shattering experiences of the four central characters. Emily’s story is the main focus of Losing the Girl. This makes one wonder who the titular “Girl” might be. Claudia is lost from the beginning of the book, but there are ways in which other girls in the story could be lost, as well. As this is the first volume of a planned trilogy, it will be interesting to see how Claudia’s disappearance and possible reappearance plays out, as well as how the stories of the other characters might continue.
This title will appeal to teens with more sophisticated tastes. As some sections have very spare text and meaning is communicated subtextually, readers must bring some level of analytical skill to this work. There is much to be gleaned from analyzing the different art styles and perspectives in the points of view, and adept readers will enjoy questioning Marinaomi’s choices and what they might mean. Due to the unconventional art style, and because many questions remain unresolved at the end, some readers will find this selection too unusual, but those with more diverse tastes will really enjoy Marinaomi’s take on high school life and teen angst. The content is suitable for high-school aged teens, and does include some mild language and sexual content, though none is shown visually. Losing the Girl will be a good addition to YA graphic novel collections where science fiction and unique artistic styles are popular.
Life on Earth, book 1: Losing the Girl by Marinaomi ISBN: 9781512449105 Graphic Universe, 2018 Publisher Age Rating: 14-18
One of my favorite graphic novels of all time is I Kill Giants, not only for its powerful story, but its evocative and moving artwork. What does that have to do with Henshin, you wonder? Well, Ken Niimura, of course! He was the artist of I Kill Giants and this is his first book printed in English since then. In Henshin, Niimura weaves together multiple short stories showing the reader a side of Tokyo they’ve not seen before: a lonely girl discovering herself, a young child with superpowers, and a rather…eccentric uncle.
The book is read in typically manga-style fashion, back to front (at least in the European sense.) Niimura’s writing in the series is often sparse, like his artwork, but conveys a great deal of emotion that builds during the story….although sometimes it doesn’t translate so well to English. This isn’t the fault of Niimura, but more that he writes about customs and humor that would be familiar to Japanese readers, but that require a bit more effort at times for English readers to understand. Overall though, most of the time the story shines through, making for a delightful read.
Niimura shares the story of his characters in short, but moving vignettes. Each showcasing different aspects of life, such as moving to a new and unfamiliar city, experiencing growing old, experiencing loss for the first time. Each vignette is relatable to the reader because even though the characters are in a different part of the world, its something that we’ve all had experience dealing with in our life.
His lines are spare, but evocative easily conveying emotion and the character’s thoughts in simple linework depicting the squint of an eye or the quirk of an eyebrow. Expression lines are also used to great effect, to show running or fear for the characters. Niimura uses the backgrounds just as effectively, often just a few lines to give us a building or the stripe on a baseball field. But when the backgrounds are slightly more complex, such as the equipment in a hospital room, Niimura continues to use sparse lines, just putting together the shape of what needs to be in the room for effect, without overwhelming the story.
My favorite story in this collection is actually the first one. A young woman travelling to live with her aunt and uncle for a while. She’s quiet. Like really, really quiet. Doesn’t say anything, but has the subtle air that something has happened and gone wrong. Perhaps she’s seen too much and needs to hide for a while. Her uncle comes off as that goofy, somewhat eccentric uncle that has a heart of gold. And then you find out…well, maybe he isn’t as goofy as we think he is.
The best readalike for this book, at least in terms of art style, would be I Kill Giants. In terms of story, at least for some of the stories in this collection, would be Yotsuba&!, which has the same sense of eccentricity and fun that Henshin does, even though it is aimed at a somewhat younger audience. Henshin‘s content would be appropriate for most teen readers, but it will likely appeal most to adult readers.
Henshin by Ken Niimura ISBN: 9781632152428 Image, 2015
Allen Say is the rightfully acclaimed illustrator and author of a number of beautiful children’s books, many of which focus on Japanese stories or cross-cultural issues. One of my childhood favorites was a book called How My Parents Learned To Eat, written by Ina Friedman and illustrated by Say, about a young American sailor falling in love with a Japanese woman, both of them struggling to learn to use each other’s utensils of choice. His tender tone and detailed, precise illustrations belie a deep well of affection for humanity in all its forms and across cultural boundaries, and his work has helped to foster that affection in his readers.
With his recent entry into autobiography, lovers of Say’s work and new acolytes alike have a chance to find out how he developed such a keen sense of cultural complexities and such an observant artistic eye. This story began with Drawing From Memory, a fantastic examination of his childhood in Japan, with a troubled mother, an estranged father, and a burning desire to express himself through the artistic medium. In this first volume, Say managed to apprentice himself to manga master Noro Shinpei at the age of 13, and began to hone his talent. Say’s family life was a bit strange, and his childhood was unique, to say the least. His choice to reflect on his journey to art through art blurs the lines between mediums, drawing from the conventions of both picture books and graphic novels, and touching down at other points along that spectrum.
Say continues his story in The Inker’s Shadow, recounting his equally unorthodox teenage years in the USA. He moves to Southern California with his father, but is soon left at a military academy, where Say lingers somewhere between grunt-work employee and student, even though the student population is mostly comprised of wayward kids at least three years his junior. Through necessity as well as, perhaps, his true vocation, Say seeks solace elsewhere, taking art classes, making friends and trying to learn about the world beyond his bunk. Eventually, through a series of events, some fortunate and others unpleasant (it’s not as though post-war California was a great place to be a Japanese teenager), Say leaves the academy, rents a room in a small town, and secures a spot at an arts high school, where he finds friends and teachers who encourage him in his artistic pursuits. Perhaps the most touching part of this book is his tribute to his teachers and mentors, which show how much one person can change the course of your life just by encouraging you to be who you are. His high school teachers clearly share a place in his heart with his manga mentor Shinpei.
As Say brings mediums other than cartooning into his wheelhouse within the story, those methods are reflected in the book—with photographs, photorealistic art, and the occasional cameo by his manga alter-ego introduced in book one. Say reminds us of how an artist’s life and talent builds on itself beautifully, using a format lingering somewhere between picture book and graphic novel to relate his experiences. It’s almost like his personal scrapbook, cut and pasted together to capture the moments that mattered most to him.
Since The Inker’s Shadow only covers Say’s teenage years, there is an incompleteness about it—it is simply an intermediate moment in his artistic development. It’s a necessary one, of course, but Drawing From Memory felt so foundational in a way that The Inker’s Shadow can’t on its own. It seems almost certain that Say will continue this series of memoirs on to his adulthood, where he worked seriously in photography before finding his singular voice in illustrated work for young people. The Inker’s Shadow is an important, but incomplete part of the puzzle that is Allen Say, and I can’t wait for it to take it’s place nestled into the greater arc of his life’s story.
The Inker’s Shadow by Allen Say ISBN: 9780545437769 Scholastic Press, 2015 Publisher Age Rating: 10-14 years
After pausing to recover from an illness and to draw the Harry Potter paperback covers, Kibushi returns with the anxiously awaited book six in his Amulet series.
Plunging in where volume five left off, Amulet #6: Escape From Lucien immediately throws the reader into the action with no recapping of where the story left off. Our heroine, Emily, is established as a leader in the fight against the Elf King. She is on Lucien, helping the citizens escape the Shadows who plague the city. Her younger brother Navin, while supposedly fulfilling a prophecy about a child pilot prodigy, is stuck in flight school and not doing very well. As Navin struggles to find his place in this conflict, the Elf King is plotting his next move. The action is nonstop and multiple plotlines are being juggled at once. Many new facts are revealed, but no stories are resolved.
While Kibushi clearly seems to know where he is going with this story, it is not always evident to the reader. Its easy to start feeling frustrated as one plot line lies dormant for a while. You want to know everything, right now! This volume really brings home that the story is about more than Emily, Navin, and coming of age. It is about good, evil, and shades of grey. It is about finding yourself swept up in the larger world where not every scene has you in it.
There are so many different stories to follow, with new storylines and new characters continuing to be introduced. In general, this volume felt like one big set-up for the next volume, not that this is necessarily a bad thing. It is always a dilemma for an artist to reveal all the information the reader needs in the most compelling way possible. It is more a comment that this book does not stand alone. The series is wonderfully complex and weaves in elements from many types of fantasy in a perfect mesh of a story. Just start reading the series from the beginning. Readers who know the series will want to re-read book five before picking this one up (there was a two year gap between the books).
Kibushi is a gifted artist and the lushness of his scenes often carry the day. A large two-page spread showing an air battle does more to convey the perilousness of our heroes’ situation than would a page of text. The art definitely has a voice of its own, speaking volumes about the world of the Stone Keepers, without a single word from the characters. The characters are all distinct from one another, a fact I appreciate as the cast of characters continues to grow.
This series continues to achieve excellence and is a great addition to any library, home or public.
Amulet #6: Escape from Lucien by Kazu Kibuishi ISBN: 9780545433150 Graphix, 2014 Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
The latest Explorer anthology explores the concept of doors and what’s behind them in a series of shorts that are by turns humorous, fantastical, sad, and inspiring.
Kazu Kibuishi opens the anthology with “Asteria Crane,” a mysterious story about a brave doctor tracking a boy through a strange landscape and, despite the warnings of her colleague, following him through a door that leads…where? Although some answers are given at the end of the story, it remains open-ended, allowing readers to think about the mysterious doors that lie within their own minds and memories. Kibuishi’s well-known style is cinematic and smooth, with expressive faces and deep landscapes that stretch away into the distance, hinting at more hidden secrets. The characters are intermittently outlined in softly glowing white or blue lines, increasing the story’s otherworldly feel. Fans of the Amulet series will be pleased to see another offering from Kibuishi, even though they might want more closure or exposition of the plot.
The second story, “The Giant’s Kitchen,” is written by Jason Caffoe, a frequent collaborator with Kibuishi. His style is different, though, with fuzzier lines and more cartoon-like faces and expressions. The story features two magic-users with very different approaches to magic who get lost on a wild adventure. Briar, the main character, encounters a magical world where she learns a different perspective on spells and life. Many of the strange characters and dialogue are reminiscent of Miyazaki’s film Spirited Away, and fans will definitely connect to this short story.
After these two fantastical adventures, the book moves into a more realistic vein with Jen Wang’s short, “Lius 2.0.” Luis is an ordinary boy who, after a particularly miserable day at school, makes an extraordinary discovery that allows him to reinvent himself. But is that really what he wants? The art has a sketchy, doodled style with lots of pencil-strokes and crosshatching. The “be yourself” message isn’t unique, but it’s a different perspective on it and will definitely resonate with kids who don’t feel like they fit in anywhere.
There’s no explicit fantasy in Faith Erin Hicks’ “Two-Person Door,” but the possibility of a fantastical adventure is right around the corner…or is it? In a rural, loosely Asian village, a young boy dreams of exciting adventures and fighting monsters. When he finds a mysterious door he thinks his dreams are about to come true, until the Guardian of the Door tells him he can’t pass through without a companion. And not just any companion—he has to have a girl. Where will Shiro find a girl willing to go on a dangerous adventure? If he does find one, will they have the adventure he’s always dreamed of, or will he get a different perspective on life? Hicks’ wide-eyed characters display strong emotions, and their status as children on the brink of an adventure is emphasized by the looming trees of the mysterious forest. There is a sharp contrast between the dark greens and blues of the forest and warm earth-tones of Shiro’s home, a contrast that reinforces the story’s struggle between adventure and family.
Steve Hamaker brings back his characters “Fish n Chips” in the short “Spring Cleaning.” Jaxer, a super-intelligent fish in a robot suit, and Clave, his anthropomorphic cat assistant, are doing a little spring cleaning in the lab when they discover some old experiments behind a hidden door. But the experiments aren’t the kind of thing you want on the loose, and their close friendship will soon be tested on a dangerous adventure. There are lots of explosions, deadpan humor, and a slick, digital animation style to the artwork, but the story somehow still falls flat, with not enough humor to sustain the bland plot and characters. Fans of the Explorer anthologies will probably be pleased to see these recurring characters, but those new to the books will be confused by the lack of plot or character development.
I was personally thrilled to see a story by Johane Matte included, one in which the cat Horus plays a significant role. “Mastaba” is set in an Egyptian tomb, as a grumpy spirit laments his descendents’ lack of proper respect and his boring and lonely days. But things get a lot more exciting when visitors show up; unfortunately, they’re not the people he’d hoped to see! Will his unwelcome visitors discover the secret door hiding his mummy, or will an unexpected friend save the day? Matte’s humorous cartoons are richly colored and skillfully drawn, with every panel advancing the action from the quiet beginning in the tomb to the wild chaos of the city streets. Although some of the more thoughtful parts of the story may fly over the heads of kids, the humor and antics of the various characters are sure to tickle their funny bones.
The final story, “When is a door not a door?” by Jen Breach and Douglas Holgate, returns to the fantasy adventure genre, with a door reference that caps the anthology neatly. Lato, an adventurous girl, is off on a wild journey through a Scandinavian fantasy world, dodging the many strange and dangerous creatures she encounters with skill and confidence. But when she encounters a mysterious door and gets into trouble, will her knowledge of the forest and its inhabitants be enough to save the day? The art in this story has a more rustic, earthy feel with lots of leafy detail, squirming worms, and grotesque creatures. Lato is a spindly, determined character with lots of enthusiasm and stubbornness, even if she hasn’t quite grown into her feet or herself yet.
The book ends with a brief listing of the contributors and a few sentences about each one. The theme of hidden doors, whether they’re real, magical, or in your own mind, permeates each of these stories, binding them together into a solid roster of shorts that cover a wide range of interests and styles in graphic art and stories. Although anthologies can be a hard sell, the outstanding artistic ability and intriguing subjects of these shorts make this a worthy addition to a must-have series of anthologies.
Explorer: Hidden Doors, vol. 3 by Kazu Kibuishi, Jason Caffoe, Jen Wang, Faith Erin Hicks, Steve Hamaker, Johane Matte, Jen Breach, Douglas Holgate ISBN: 9781419708824 Amulet, 2014 Publisher Age Rating: 9 and up
Kazu Kibuishi returns to the complex world of Amulet in the fifth book in the series, Prince of the Elves. While this book continues the story of several main characters, it focuses mainly on Emily’s journey to discover why she was chosen as a stonekeeper and her role in the fate of the alternate fantasy world. The story opens with a flashback to the childhood of the renegade stonekeeper, Max Griffin. In a desperate attempt to save his elf friend and himself, he defied his father and the king and became an outcast fugitive. Back in the present, Emily and her friends are scrambling to keep up with events after Max’s betrayal and the discovery of deep-rooted corruption and dark secrets in the previous volume. Under the guidance of Vigo, Emily discovers more unsettling truths about the stones and continues her uneasy alliance with the elf prince Trellis. More of Trellis’ history is revealed through a dangerous trip back through time. Meanwhile, Emily’s younger brother Navin and their human, animal, and mechanical friends are experiencing their first battle. In a final sequence, Emily accepts the stone’s challenge to play its mysterious game.
The galley provided for review had color only for the first 28 pages, Max’s flashback. However, Kibuishi’s gorgeous art shows through even the gray shades. Mysterious caverns and islands, the strange dream world of the stone, explosive air battles, and more spread out through the story in Kibuishi’s trademark cinematic style. There’s nothing lost in the smaller details either; there’s a simple poignancy expressed in just the shape of Navin’s eyes as he watches a friend and her father, Trellis becomes a more relatable character as the reader follows his facial expressions during his interactions in the past, and Emily’s calm resignation and the haunting atmosphere of the mysterious cavern and statues she passes through to accept the game in the tense final moments of the story, are all drawn with imaginative detail and perception.
The Amulet series has a powerful theme of choices running through it and this latest title continues that theme, facing the characters with decisions that will impact everyone. Emily and Navin continue to struggle with the responsibilities thrust upon them: Navin in the army where he has his first experience with war, and Emily on the metaphysical and physical planes, as she fights to control her stone and understand the deadly secrets that surround her. The story takes a darker turn as the reader begins to see the darkness behind the stones and the grim consequences of choices made decades before.
It’s necessary to read the previous four volumes to figure out what’s going on and who the characters are in this latest installment. There have been major changes in loyalties and alliances and without the backstory the many different plotlines can get confusing fast. However, this won’t be a problem for the many enthusiastic Amulet fans waiting for the next story. The price for the library bound edition is a bit painful, but well worth the investment. Hand volume one to fans of Bone and Missile Mouse, as well as middle grade kids who like fantasy adventures with plenty of plot twists and cliffhangers, and stock extra volumes of this latest installment for dedicated fans who can’t wait to see what happens next in the world of Amulet.
Amulet, vol. 5: Prince of the elves by Kazu Kibuishi ISBN: 9780545208895 Scholastic Graphix, 2012