A massive blizzard, a missing plane, a group huddled together to weather the storm—and the thing that has begun hunting them.
From Boom! Studios and the creative team of Jeremy Haun and Jason Hurley with Jesús Hervás and Lea Caballero comes The Approach, a horror story about surviving the unimaginable when there is nowhere to run. The story opens with Mac, Abi, and the rest of the employees at a rural airport on the verge of shutting down in the face of an onslaught of winter weather. Things are difficult enough when they receive a diverted passenger plane looking for shelter, but the trouble truly begins when a second, smaller plane crashes on site, leaving no survivors.
Only, that is not entirely true. The smaller plane has been missing for 27 years, and one of the bodies pulled from the wreckage soon disappears. Cut off from help and struggling against weather that only promises to get worse, Mac, Abi, and the others soon realize that something on the plane was not human. As it begins to hunt and begins to grow into something truly terrifying, it will take all that the survivors have to escape. While tensions are already high, someone may know more than they let on about the creature, and no amount of heroism guarantees that everyone will make it out alive.
Haun and Hurley have established themselves in horror comics at this point, so it’s no surprise that The Approach aims to deliver some flawed characters facing something truly horrific on the path to survival. Comparisons to movies like Alien and The Thing are inevitable in this sort of sci-fi horror narrative. Though The Approach offers plenty of familiar plot beats and set pieces, it isn’t just a copy-paste of other similar stories. Haun and Hurley set up the key character relationships early on. Some are friendly, others less-so. Mac struggles with pills and a history he’d rather forget. Others are desperate to leave their rural landscape behind in search of better opportunities. None are equipped for the monster headed their way, and the writing delivers some tender moments even after the violence starts. Overall, however, The Approach opts to focus on creature horror and survival over some of its deeper themes and subplots. The result is a story that doesn’t offer a huge amount to latch onto emotionally and also doesn’t do anything wildly unexpected within the genre its embracing.
That being said, Haun and Hurley are a pair of writers willing to aim big, and with Hervás and Caballero providing the art for this story, readers looking for a healthy dose of monster horror will not be disappointed. The barren landscape buried in snow is evident from the opening panels, as are the harsh lines and grim tone that suffuse the book. As events escalate, the artists showcase a diverse cast through dramatic moments of terror and silence while also embracing the visceral violence and horror of a monster that refuses to be contained. It’s a naturally cinematic story, and the creators don’t miss their opportunities to deliver dramatic panels and shocking moments as the fight for survival only goes from bad to worse.
Boom! doesn’t list a specific age rating for this title, but with scattered language, partial nudity, and graphic creature violence, it’s aimed solidly at adult readers with some crossover to older teens who can handle the gore. All of this considered, The Approach is not a required purchase, but if your readership craves more horror options or is a fan of past work from members of this creative team, this book is worth considering. It’s not about to redefine the genre, but if readers want to settle in to a tense story featuring a hideous creature and plenty of horror action and suspense, The Approach has plenty to offer.
The Approach By Jeremy Haun, Jason Hurley Art by Jesús Hervás, Lea Caballero BOOM! Studios, 2023 ISBN: 9781684159086
Publisher Age Rating: 17+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
A request that can’t be ignored. Three semi-estranged friends on a road trip after years apart. Though they don’t understand the reasons that brought them back together, all three know that this trip may be a turning point in all their lives—and that’s before things get weird.
Polly, Moho, and Piter, along with their friend Héctor, once bonded over their love of music and their dreams of where life might one day take them. Years later, those dreams have not come to pass and their time together has turned into memories tinged with bitterness—until a final request from Héctor draws them together to carry their friend’s remains to an X he marked on a map where each hopes to find some sort of resolution.
It sounds like a simple road trip, right? It should have been, but add in an ex-circus monkey and two mercenary brothers in cowboy hats, one of whom carries a banjo. The journey takes them away from an angry cowboy, through a ship graveyard, and into the sights of a stranger whose livelihood may be less than legal. At first, it seemed that the greatest struggle would be getting along with one another, but as each situation spirals more out of control, finding what lies at Héctor’s X may be the least of their difficulties.
From IDW and Top Shelf Productions, Ashes is the debut English-language graphic novel from acclaimed Spanish cartoonist Álvaro Ortiz. Blending dark comedy and drama with touches of absurdity, the book weaves the characters’ pasts and presents together with glimpses of broader history in a thoughtful whole that considers the way human stories play out across the years. Bold and unique, the result is a fun road-trip adventure with action and surprises that ultimately reveals itself to be a simple but moving examination of grief, growing up, and finding your own way in a world that doesn’t always go quite the way you want it to.
Ortiz’s illustrations are stylized and cartoonish, but with a seriousness to the characters that works well in capturing the blended tones of the writing. Though it occasionally takes a touch of effort to separate flashback from the present story, the art largely succeeds in bringing together the pieces of the story as it unfolds. Capturing subtle moments of humor as well as the grander moments of stillness, the art is distinctive, fun to look at, and connected tightly to the story Ortiz builds here.
IDW does not list a rating for this title. Throughout the story, there are instances of strong language, violence, nudity, and drug content—among other things—and though the visual style does lessen the impact of the content, it remains a title best suited for older readers. In the end, Ashes is a quirky book with some truly touching moments. Not every scene lands perfectly, and a brief appearance from a strongly queer-coded villain feels somewhat cheap, but overall it’s well worth the investment for readers looking for something a little different, comics in translation, or stories with some dramatic themes that still manage to have fun along the way. Additionally, fans of Kyle Starks work such as the Six Sidekicks of Trigger Keaton will likely appreciate both the artistic style and storytelling present here. It’s a bit of a chaotic graphic novel, but that’s clearly intentional, and Ortiz ultimately does bring it all back home again with touching sincerity.
Ashes is a wacky road trip with heart and it’s worth tagging along with these characters as they discover what lies at the X on the map that brought them back together.
Ashes By Álvaro Ortiz Top Shelf, 2023 ISBN: 9781603095174
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Spanish Character Representation: Spanish
In Season of the Bruja, Aaron Durán depicts the conflict of surviving cultural practices vs. rampant colonialism, while also delivering a touching story of grief and self-discovery.
Being the last bruja, Althalia carries a tremendous weight on her shoulders. Immense powers dwell inside her, and she needs to ensure that the history and ways of her ancestors live on. Her beloved abuela teaches Althalia all she can about her growing magical skills and the traditions of their people, but, after a chance encounter with a fanatic priest, the young bruja’s world is thrown into chaos. Facing a centuries-old and deadly prejudice, Althalia must fully realize her role as a bruja before everything she has worked hard to protect becomes lost to time forever.
Durán, over the course of the comic, presents readers with an intriguing, yet somewhat cryptic world. At many points, it feels as if one would need a basic understanding of Mexican folklore going in, as certain creatures, concepts, and figures go unnamed and unexplained, which may confuse some readers as to their significance in the story and to the characters. It is not enough to bring down the story as a whole, but may lead one to backtrack their reading several times to make sure they did not miss anything. I especially felt the shakiness of this world going into the third act, with characters moving from place to place so quickly, mythologies intertwining, and new, mysterious adversaries cropping up in the last thirty pages with little to no explanation. I didn’t even realize where much of the climax was taking place until I had finished and was reflecting on what I had read.
Overall, the world Durán has created is not an unrealized one, but one that could have used some more definition. At several points, it feels more like the second volume of a series rather than the first as the story expects the reader to take several plot threads at face value. From the very first page, readers are thrust immediately into action as we see Althalia taking on a possessed child with her friends Dana and Chuey, a werecoyote and chupacabra, respectively. The dynamics of their relationships have already been fully developed, which makes the scene almost feel like an intrusion rather than an introduction. The reader may struggle to engage with the conflict as these characters are still strangers to them, and the reason as to why these specific characters are here is a mystery. While the rash Althalia, passionate Dana and kind, paternal Chuey become endearing characters as the story goes on, the beginning paints a disorienting view of them.
All issues aside, Season of the Bruja is essential reading when it comes to its message of the importance of preserving traditional customs and the destructive impact of colonialism. Durán does not shy away from depicting the historical and enduring prejudices of the Christian church against Indigenous practices, making Althalia and her abuela’s commitment to the survival of their heritage all the more empowering and inspiring. Though Althalia struggles to find her place in her identity, her pride and dedication to those who came before her ultimately shine through. This is a comic that celebrates its culture and the love for it is shown on every page.
Sara Soler’s illustrations only add to the magic of Durán’s story, with eye-catching, lively colors and atmospheric lighting. The designs of the supernatural characters are a real treat, especially the otherworldly palettes of Althalia and abuela’s alebrijes, as well as the sinister, imposing forms of multiple demons. Full page spreads accompany significant moments in the story, each one beautiful and impactful as Althalia’s emotions start to run high and her magic takes center stage. Unfortunately, there are several moments in which it is difficult to track the action of the main characters, whether due to the lack of a panel showing transitions between movements or a hasty layout. Characters will suddenly appear in different places than shown before without explanation or have an interaction off panel that could have contextualized the scene better. In its calmer moments, the flow is more natural and easier to grasp, though there is still the odd messy transition here and there. Still, it is a style that matches the heart and soul of Althalia’s journey, giving it a standout look that is familiar and resonating.
The world may need some settling into, but Season of the Bruja remains a graphic novel with a captivating, strong identity, and heartfelt representation of Mexican culture. Those looking for a supernatural, emotional story with a heavy mythical and familial aspects will find an engaging read here. Due to its heavier themes underlaid with a lighter tone, this title may resonate the most with teens and adults. Librarians and educators in search of materials that give meaningful representation as well as cover rarely explored topics in graphic novels, such as systemic cultural erasure and preservation of Indigenous history, should consider purchasing this title.
Season of the Bruja, Vol. 1 By Aaron Durán Art by Sara Soler Oni Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781549308161
Publisher Age Rating: grade 7-9
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Latinx, Spanish, Bisexual Character Representation: Latinx, First Nations or Indigenous,
A fictionalized story of Edita “Dita” Adlerova, The Librarian of Auschwitz follows the daily life and motivations of Dita as she lives through World War II as a Jew and eventually is forced to move to Auschwitz with her family. Upon arrival, they are forced to strip for disinfection and given tattoos. But they are not subjected to the same horrible existence as the other camps. In the Family Camp, BIIB, Dita can see her family every day, wear her own clothes, and keep her hair. She also meets a man named Fredy, who works to keep the camp orderly and stands up to the Germans and the Kapos to get the prisoners various privileges.
Dita’s first job is being the replacement stage prompter in the children’s block, but after the performance, Dita is no longer needed until Fredy approaches her with a dangerous request: to become the camp’s librarian. In charge of the small number of books that are forbidden within the camp and carried with them a death sentence. Dita took her job very seriously and cared for the books and made sure people had access to them. She even starts setting up meetings with living books (people who tell stories from memory or share their own experiences). Before the end of the war, Dita experiences the loss of her parents, hunger, illness, and hard manual labor in addition to the constant threat of death. Fortunately, she was able to make a friend, Margit, who she reconnected with once the war had ended.
Included in the end material is a note from the adapter, who explains what types of changes were made for the graphic novel adaptation as well as a brief historical dossier about the novel’s creation and biographical information about some of the key characters.
I haven’t read the original novel this adaptation was based on; however, I did find the story easy to follow. The illustrations keep a good balance between showing stark truths and maintaining suitability for younger readers. To that end, there are some panels that show naked bodies, but nothing gory or sexual is on page. Mengele’s experiments are spoken of in order to showcase the terror felt by the prisoners but never explained in detail or in illustration. I liked the way the artist used muted neutral colors throughout the story. It set the tone and brought the reality of this part of our history into stark light.
This adaptation could be shared with readers as young as third grade and would appeal to readers through sixth grade. It would make an excellent addition to any public or school library in the historical fiction section.
The Librarian of Auschwitz: The Graphic Novel By Antonio Iturbe, Salva Rubio Art by Loreto Aroca Hollendonner Godwin Books, 2023 ISBN: 9781250842985
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Spanish, Character Representation: Jewish
What if you were granted a second chance to correct past mistakes and set things right in your life? What if you could influence and reshape how events would have turned out had you made decisions to achieve a different outcome? Spanish writer and artist Guillem March (Batman, Catwoman, Harley Quinn) entertains these hypothetical questions and offers a metaphysical glimpse into the afterlife in Karmen, a story packed with philosophical musings, chance encounters, and intriguing plot twists wrapped in a blend of supernatural fantasy and dream-like narrative sequences.
The story begins at a juncture in an in-between realm between life and death when a disheartened college-aged student named Catalina, having reached the end of her line from a screwed up relationship, decides to end her life in the privacy of her bathroom. Instead of succumbing to the throes of death, she encounters a capricious, pink-haired woman dressed in a skeletal outfit who identifies herself simply as “Karmen.” Awakening in a nude astral form where none of the living can see her, Cata embarks on a journey to piece together the scattered pieces of her life while helping others in the process. Although she cannot directly intervene with passersbys and strangers on the streets, making physical contact with them will “pass on” their life’s story in a flash, flooding her mind with an incredible amount of information in mere seconds. In her newfound form, she sets out to uncover the people and events leading to her breakup with her boyfriend Xisco.
In the tradition of stories like Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, the movie Ghost, and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novel series, Karmen presents a tale sprinkled with metaphysical quandaries that explore the choices we make and how they impact fate, potentially steering the course of destiny in the lives of those with whom we interact, day in day out. The plot unfolds in a visually stunning cinematic style, capturing the direct observations of Cata as she journeys on a surrealistic voyage in search of truth beyond the afterlife. Like a wraith, she glides through intricately arranged panels stitched together, some stretching across panoramic spreads.
A side plot centers on Karmen’s role, who is supposedly charged with guiding the recently deceased to their next destination, but chooses instead to help them find peace and reconcile with the consequences of their actions. Other psychopomps like herself frown upon her unorthodox methods, believing they must avoid interfering with human lives altogether. The back matter includes selected storyboarding panel sketches and a full cover gallery, illuminating the creative process of this beautifully illustrated story. With a healthy dose of supernatural intrigue underscored by philosophical musings on life, death, and the decisions we make, Karmen delivers a compelling story and an eclectic serving of food for thought suitable for adult graphic novel collections.
Note: There are graphic depictions of death, nudity, and suicide.
Karmen By Guillem March Image, 2022 ISBN: 9781534319882
Publisher Age Rating: 18+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Spanish, Character Representation: Spanish,
Private Detective John Blacksad considers it a good day when he can get home with peace of mind and his knuckles intact. Sadly, days like that are all too rare, particularly when Blacksad is more frequently employed as hired muscle than for his keen insight. Such is the case when Blacksad is hired by a union president with no confidence in the police to hunt the hitman he’s sure is after him. His paranoia proves well founded and Blacksad soon finds himself embroiled in a mystery that will take him from the depths of New York City’s underworld to the lofty heights enjoyed by real estate magnate Lewis Solomon.
Coincidentally, I had the Blacksad series recommended to me as a Film Noir fan just before I had a chance to preview Blacksad: They All Fall Down—Part One. Somehow, it had flown under my radar, despite the Blacksad books being critically acclaimed and published in translated editions in 39 countries. This is largely because the original English translation went out of print before Dark Horse comics picked up the American license. Throw in the complication that the series was originally written for the French comic market by two Spanish creators and it is small wonder Blacksad is still relatively obscure in the United States outside of a few niche fandoms.
It should be mentioned that the world of Blacksad is populated by anthropomorphic animals, but this is no children’s story. Like Art Spiegelman’s Maus, different species of animals are utilized as metaphors for racial and social strife, with John Blacksad himself facing suspicion both because of his mixed-race status as a tuxedo cat and his being a predator among prey animals. The effect is like a gritty version of Zootopia, aimed firmly at adults.
The English translation of Juan Diaz Canales’ script by Diana Schutz and Brandon Kander is excellent. The pater of a 1950s detective story is replicated perfectly, despite the original French text being translated literally. Thankfully, an afterword explains some of the linguistic oddities and literary allusions, such as Blacksad’s reference to the folly in sending a fox police officer to the henhouse, when the police break-up a Shakespeare in the Park production. (Henhouse is a slang term for the cheap seats in France.)
Thankfully, the artwork of Juanjo Guarnido transcends language. Beyond the sheer variety of colorful creatures he has created to populate this world, Guarnido is a master of expressive faces. The emotions of each character is clear, despite the delightfully alien nature of their features. Guarnido is also a master at working little details into every panel.
This volume is recommended for readers 18 and older. Having not read the earlier volumes of Blacksad, I can’t vouch for the series as a whole, but that seems a bit high for this particular chapter. There is bloodshed and murder, but nothing in excess for an Older Teen series. There is also some sexual content, with a perverted peeping tom spying on one of his neighbors and slapping a woman on the bottom, but no nudity. I would still advise keeping this series in the adult collection, however, given that the sensibilities and historical context of this series are more likely to appeal to older audiences.
Blacksad: They All Fall Down Part 1 By Juan Díaz Canales Art by Juanjo Guarnido Dark Horse, 2022 ISBN: 9781506730578
Publisher Age Rating: 18+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Spanish, Character Representation: African-American,
In A Chance, Spanish comics duo Cristina Durán and Miguel Giner Bou chronicle the experience of becoming parents to their daughters: Laia, who was born with cerebral palsy, and Selam, whom the couple adopted from Ethiopia. First published as separate volumes in 2009 and 2012, this engaging graphic memoir captures the day-to-day emotional and logistical complexities of Cris and Miguel’s parenting journey, one that calls upon the couple to embrace uncertainty and difference and lean into a network of professionals and loved ones to support their daughters’ complex needs. A Chance succeeds on many fronts, but its uncritical treatment of the international adoption process results in an uneven read.
Part One, “One Chance in a Thousand,” opens with the news that the couples’ newborn infant, Laia, is experiencing a brain hemorrhage. Cris and Miguel spend the next weeks in the neonatal unit, sitting with fear and uncertainty as they wait to learn more about their child’s prognosis. The medical details of Laia’s cerebral palsy are interwoven with the intimate experiences of bonding with a baby under medical care, an early infancy that’s nothing like the one they’d expected.
Once Laia is stable and at home, the family embarks on a tightly scheduled life of medical appointments and grueling physical therapy, punctuated by further health scares. Yet these tense first months and years are underpinned by Cris and Miguel’s love and gratitude for their daughter. Laia’s disability is a challenge, but it’s not a tragedy, and her happiness and quality of life are their focus. Cris and Miguel also emphasize that caring for Laia is a team effort; family members, doctors, and childcare workers step up to support the family, a vision of community care that’s radical and uplifting.
As Laia makes developmental progress and settles into a happy childhood, Cris and Miguel embark on the process of adopting a second child. Part Two, “Efrén’s Machine,” details this experience. While Laia’s complex needs were unexpected, their long-anticipated path to become parents to their second daughter is complex in entirely expected ways—a years-long process involving waitlists, screening processes, and finally, an international flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where they meet three-year-old Selamawit at her group home and finalize the adoption.
Cris and Miguel document the emotional and practical demands of navigating the adoption process and bringing their daughter home. As with Laia, becoming parents to Selam requires a great deal of personal fortitude but gives them the opportunity to build relationships with a new community, one made up of fellow adoptive parents, adoption workers, and Efrén, the warmhearted driver in Addis Ababa who gives his name to this part of the book.
Three years before A Chancewas published in English, Ethiopia’s parliament banned international adoptions. Cris and Miguel nod to uncomfortable aspects of adopting a child from another country; they describe their feeling of being out-of-place as white people during their visit to Addis Ababa, highlight adoption myths held by other white prospective parents, and contrast their experience with that of Tigui, an Ethiopian-born woman returning from Europe to her home country to adopt a child.
Yet A Chance never acknowledges critiques of international adoption as a system, one that is characterized by power differentials between rich and poor countries and, in the view of the Ethiopian government and others, has the potential to cause harm to children and families. These are thorny issues, and to be clear, what’s in question here is not two parents’ individual motivations for adopting a much-loved daughter. It’s the structural pitfalls that are missing, from falsification of documents, to economic pressures resulting in families having to give up wanted children, to the impact of being removed from a culture of origin. In the first half of the book, the authors reflect on moments when systems of care fail their daughter Laia—nurses who discourage Cris from trying to breastfeed, a daycare unwilling to accommodate Laia’s disabilities—so the absence of a critical eye here felt jarring.
Durán and Giner Bou have produced an impressive parenting memoir. Readable and emotionally engaging, there’s much in this book to interest readers who’ve had similar parenting experiences, as well as those seeking to learn more about parenting disabled and adopted children. A preference for dialogue over exposition gives the story a novelistic feel, and blocky, stylized art matches the gentle optimism that defines Cris and Miguel’s parenting story. Crafting a coherent narrative with a strong emotional arc out of a chaotic time in the authors’ lives, this book will be accessible to a wide range of readers, from longtime comics fans to those new to the medium. But the memoir format, with its tight focus on the authors’ personal experiences, may be frustrating for readers seeking insight into Ethiopia’s now-banned international adoption industry.
A Chance By Cristina Duran, Miguel Giner Bou Graphic Mundi, 2021 ISBN: 9781637790038
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Spanish Character Representation: Ethiopian, Spanish, Cerebral Palsy, Disability, Mobility Impairment
In this book’s opening, the titular Waluk, a young polar bear orphaned as a cub, happens upon an older bear named Manitou. The two form a beneficial partnership in which Manitou shares his wisdom with the young Waluk, and Waluk helps Manitou (who’s missing a few teeth) hunt for food. The story moves through a series of episodes in which the two polar bears interact with other bears, humans, a snowy owl, and a team of sled dogs. The events of the story highlight real challenges faced by animals in the Arctic. These include difficulty finding enough food, which leads a mother polar bear to team up with Waluk and Manitou, and the encroachment of shipping lanes into the bears’ habitat as the ice caps thaw. While portraying realistic conditions, the book also contains fantastical elements such as great animals who appear in the sky to assist in times of trouble, and a giant white dog who comes to the rescue when sled dogs are threatened by their owner.
The full-color watercolor illustrations present the animals and the Arctic landscape in beautiful detail. The book is laid out with typically four to six panels per page in a landscape style, allowing the art to take center stage, while the text per page is minimal. Characters are clearly defined, with a few brief moments when some of the polar bears can be difficult to tell apart. A clear contrast is shown between the animals with their shades of white, brown, and black, and the humans who introduce colors unnatural to the setting such as red, and yellow.
While episodic, the events of the book tie together as Waluk and Manitou encounter a pair of humans and their team of sled dogs in multiple circumstances. One small episode that stands apart from this continuity is when Waluk is briefly entangled in a research robot of some kind. This event seems out of place, though it does continue the theme of the bears facing off against human intervention. The majority of the humans present in the book cause trouble for the animals, whether intentionally or through ignorance. Nevertheless, while humans might meddle with nature, the story shows the natural world with the power to overcome those challenges.
While Waluk: The Great Journey contains beautiful artwork and a positive message about conservation, its portrayal of the culture and mythology of indigenous Northern peoples is problematic, and the book has proved controversial. The many animals which appear in the sky at the book’s climax, along with a great dog which helps the animals, seem designed to mimic Native beliefs while not corresponding to the true mythology of any indigenous group. Furthermore, the character of Manitou was named “Eskimo” in advance copies of the book and later changed. Scattered textual errors, probably due to translation problems, make the text awkward in places. It is unfortunate that a book with such beautiful artwork and an important message about protecting the environment is marred by cultural insensitivity.
Waluk: The Great Journey By Emilio Ruiz Art by Ana Miralles Abrams, 2021 ISBN: 9781951719050
Publisher Age Rating: grades 4-6
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Spanish Character Representation: First Nations or Indigenous,
Princess Shuri of Wakanda may be just a kid, but she has invented a weather-control device. Surely this will win her the kind of respect accorded to her older brother, T’Challa. And when the sacred Soul Washing Ceremony is threatened by rain, Shuri sees her chance. Fancy tech isn’t allowed at the ceremony, but surely this is worth making an exception! But when she tries to use her invention to clear up the weather, T’Challa steps in to stop her and things go terribly wrong.
Now a frightening illness is striking people who were at the ceremony—including Shuri’s mother. Is it a curse brought on by Shuri and T’Challa for angering their ancestors? Shuri has to fix this, and she might know a way. A cure is said to lie in the fabled Heartlands and while most people don’t believe the Heartlands are real, Shuri thinks she knows how to find them. Since no one will listen to her, she’s going after the cure alone. Or she would, if T’Challa didn’t insist on following her…
This action-packed story features much younger versions of Shuri and T’Challa than we see in most Black Panther stories, but with the seeds of their adult personalities: a serious T’Challa who desperately wants to live up to his title and responsibilities, and a brilliant Shuri who loves making fun of her brother. Readers are treated to the rich backdrop of Wakanda, including technology, traditions, clothing, and more. There is also a secondary setting, the Heartlands, where over a third of the story takes place: a fantastical jungle in which Shuri and T’Challa meet strange creatures and uncover secrets about themselves and Wakanda’s history.
Our two young heroes have some typical sibling arguments and resentments, but they come through for each other when it counts. The events of this story prompt them to talk about a tough issue: Shuri only exists because her mother married their father after T’Challa’s birth mother died, leading Shuri to wonder if T’Challa resents her. This question is handled with sensitivity and warmth. The siblings clearly love and support each other, though with a hearty dose of good-humored ribbing.
There is a small amount of comic-book violence, with no blood or serious injury to anyone. The “techno-organic virus” is visually creepy, and the illness adds high stakes to the story, threatening the lives of Shuri’s mom and others. The story does not shy away from serious and emotional issues like complicated family dynamics and the importance of doing the right thing even when it might have a heavy cost.
The art is vividly colorful, with many panels flooded with pink, purple, turquoise, and other lively colors that emphasize the vibrant setting. The characters are expressive, but at different levels, suiting their personalities: exuberant Shuri has her big emotions on display, while T’Challa can be more restrained. The outfits—from ceremonial finery to casual wear to uniforms—contribute to the immersive setting, as do the various backgrounds, ranging from jungle to laboratory to the palace library.
This fun and heartfelt stand-alone story presents a kid-friendly adventure with relatable versions of two popular Marvel characters. Hand it to young fans of Black Panther and other Marvel properties.
Shuri and T’Challa: Into the Heartlands By Roseanne Brown Art by Claudia Aguirre, Dika Araújo, Natacha Bustos, Ellen Willcox Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2022 ISBN: 9781338648058
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Brazilian, Ghanian-American, Mexican, Spanish, Lesbian Character Representation: Black
Canciones from NBM Graphic Novels brings to visual life selected poems from one of Spain’s outstanding literary figures, Federico García Lorca. Drawn from Lorca’s poetry collection of the same name, each piece is combined with fantastic and dreamlike illustrations, creating a striking blend of visual and poetic artforms.
Federico Garcia Lorca published his Canciones in 1927. The title simply translates to Songs in English. Widely influential in his time and beyond, Lorca’s poetry spends much of its time just outside of everyday reality. From a tree lamenting its own inability to grow fruit to a boy searching for his voice which is now with the king of the crickets, the dreamscapes of Lorca’s work nevertheless ring true with lines of striking observation and beauty.
“Day, it’s so hard for me / to let you go away! / You leave filled with me and you return without knowing me,” he writes in “Canción del día que se va” (Song of the Departing Day). Many of Lorca’s poems are filled with longing and regret, while others find their way to whimsy or celebrations of art and beauty. Abstract without being inscrutable, imaginative without losing their grounding in real life, each invites the reader to slow down, to linger, to wander with Lorca’s verses across landscapes real and imagined. They are powerful in their brevity and simple even as they peel back corners of experience and invite the reader to look at the world from a new angle.
This version of Canciones is more than just a collection of Locra’s work, however. Dutch artist Tobias Tak has crafted a visual journey to accompany each selected poem. Weaving both the original Spanish and the English translations into each page or panel of art, the result is a true fusion of writing and illustration. Tak’s style is highly reminiscent of older children’s book imagery, particularly fairy tales. Across these pages, people who look like trees move among anthropomorphic animals while sun and moon look down in pleasure or judgment. Elevating the fantastic dream elements of the poems even higher, Tak demonstrates a clear appreciation for the poetry while simultaneously crafting his own visual narratives to supplement Lorca’s words. Tak delivers us prologues and epilogues, taking these characters on wonderous journeys across land and sea. In his capable hands, each poem flowers into its own narrative while a broader sense of story arises from across progression of each piece, from the opening “Preludio” (Prelude) to the final “De Otro Modo” (In Another Manner). There is no true story here, but as Tak brings a version of Lorca’s vision to life, the collection reaches for a higher meaning than any one of these poems would achieve alone.
The publisher does not appear to assign an age rating to this volume, and there is certainly nothing troubling in the content of the poems or illustrations. That being said, the book will likely appeal most to an adult audience. Younger readers may be intrigued by the imagery, but the sometimes abstract nature of Lorca’s work will hold greatest value for older audiences willing to tease out the complexities of lyrical poetry.
Overall, Canciones is a worthwhile read for any lover of poetry, art, or more literary graphic novels. A relatively quick read, it nevertheless is worth spending time with to absorb the full detail of Tak’s illustrations and ponder the resonance of Lorca’s poetry. While either of these artists is worth appreciating on their own, Canciones is a wonderful blending of the two, finding tension, beauty, and meaning in the melding of two rich, artistic visions.
Canciones By Federico Garcia Lorca Art by Tobias Tak NBM ComicsLit, 2021 ISBN: 9781681122748
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Spanish, Gay