Bad Kitty: Supercat

Nick Bruel first introduced Bad Kitty in picture book format in 2005 and she was immediately popular. Her alphabetical shenanigans returned with the introduction of Poor Puppy in a second picture book and then she found her true metier in illustrated chapter books with Bad Kitty Gets a Bath in 2008.

Over the years, Bad Kitty has starred in a number of humorous adventures, the later titles including some pointed commentary on refugee (kittens), the election (of cats), education (of cats) and Bad Kitty’s cell phone usage. Bad Kitty retains her stubborn nature and chaotic behavior throughout, and the latest incarnation of this perennially popular character is the reissue of her tantrums and adventures in full color.

Her latest book, published in full color, starts with Bad Kitty leisurely scrolling through her phone while her exasperated (and unseen) human asks her to help clean up or at least do something that’s not electronic! It’s decided, to Kitty’s shock, that she must have… a playdate and Strange Kitty is the selected “friend.” Strange Kitty, who wears a top hat and tie, talks (unlike Bad Kitty who communicates only in meows), and has a mouse friend, arrives with a stack of comics and eventually, after an eloquent flow of language, convinces Kitty to join them in a make-believe game of superheroes. This involves several activities for readers to participate in as well, like using a superhero name generator and following instructions to create a comic. The arrival of another friend, going by the name of Dr. Lagomorph, sets the game going and the trio enjoy a raucous game throughout the house, ending when Kitty gets a little over-enthusiastic and breaks the rules. It all ends happily however, with a rather sententious speech from the mouse and amends from Kitty—and the human’s discovery of just what their game has done to the house…

Bruel’s layout for the Bad Kitty chapter books alternates between spot illustrations with short paragraphs of text and more traditional comic panels, with the primary dialogue from Strange Kitty, Dr. Lagomorph, and Power Mouse. Kitty has retained her trademark look throughout the series, a skinny black cat with spiky fur, bulging yellow eyes, and a splash of white on her chest. Bad Kitty’s expressions are most often seen in their lack, as she stares blankly at Strange Kitty’s antics, occasionally shrugs, and periodically erupts into a frenzied attack. Most of the humor is a combination of the deadpan delivery of lengthy perorations from Strange Kitty and the rapid switch between Bad Kitty’s indifference and wild reactions. Bruel plunges fully into the imagination game in this book, cutting panels in half with the imagined superheroes and villains, sporting full armor and massive muscles, and the real “kids” playing in homemade costumes.

As I’ve watched Bad Kitty evolve over the years, I’ve personally found the later books to be a little repetitive and leaning more heavily on didactic lectures. The combination of illustration, text, and comic can be both a pro and a con, as it discourages some struggling readers who can’t handle the lengthier text and complex vocabulary as well as falling on the radar of “comics are not real books” parents, but also gives readers a little bit of extra challenge on adding more text to what appears to be an “easy” chapter book. In my experience, most young fans gravitate to the earlier titles, those which don’t necessarily include a “lesson.” However, the series as a whole continues to be wildly popular and this latest title will both get kids giggling and as well as giving a tip of the hat (Super Kitty’s hat of course) to parents and teachers concerned with excessive screen use, not to mention including some inside jokes for superhero fans.

While I would not introduce a new reader to the series with this title, it’s certainly worth adding to the collection; the only real drawback is that this and the other newly reissued full color titles are not yet available in library binding, only in hardcover, and they are less likely to last through multiple readings from eager young fans.

Supercat
By Nick Bruel
Macmillan Roaring Brook, 2022
ISBN: 9781250749987

NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)

Reynard’s Tale: A Story of Love and Mischief

There are probably few who have not yet heard of Reynard the fox. This roguish trickster has slunk his way through European folklore since the Middle Ages, stirring up trouble and defining the vulpine archetype with his cunning, charm, and mischievous nature. Wherever he goes, chicanery is soon to follow, whether by fate or his own design. In Reynard’s Tale, Ben Hatke pays homage to this mythic figure in a new story that sends Reynard to the clutches of Death and beyond, all the while trying to escape capture from his sworn enemy, the wolf Isengrim. Encountering mermaids, old flames, a mechanized sorcerer, and other wonders, the fox travels through a world that seems colder and more brutal than the one he once knew, one that may be ushering in his ultimate denouement.

With a combination of prose and illustrations to tell this tale, Hatke brings a lyrical, magical atmosphere to Reynard’s adventure that is reminiscent of the stories that made him a legend so long ago. The story itself is simple, its structure much like any fable you remember reading as a child, though the tone relishes in a vague complexity and periods of reflection. Its voice is one that, like Reynard himself, has been through a few scrapes, seeming weary at times but still managing to find the energy to keep going. Overall, it contributes to a feeling of winding down, of that one last hurrah before everything comes to its eventual end, mirroring Reynard’s journey. The landscapes he traverses only heighten this theme, as skulls and tombstones are recurring motifs in the background. Events go by incredibly quickly, though the plot never feels rushed as the clever fox hardly sticks around one place for long while trying to evade Isengrim. At times, the story manages to evoke the same trickiness as its protagonist, seemingly going down one narrative path only to take a sharp detour to a place less expected. It is truly a Reynard story told in a fresh, yet nostalgic way with Hatke encapsulating everything there is to enjoy about this perennial character.

Adding to that old world charm is the evocative art style that brings back memories of beloved fairy tales, with its rough textures and clean outlines. Though only giving snapshots of the story, as opposed to the usual flowing narrative illustrations of graphic novels, Hatke perfectly captures the emotions conveyed in the text. There is an undeniable warmth in its more jovial moments, as Reynard catches up with a former lover over a glass of wine. Stillness and depth are prevalent when he reflects on his past deeds and where his path is leading him. And there is urgency in his movements as he dashes away from those that pursue him. Even without the text, the reader can follow events from the illustrations alone, each one filled with a clear purpose and personality. Hatke’s combination of rich prose with an alluring, striking art style delivers an ambiance seldom seen, a sense of an earned weight and maturity from a character that has captivated readers for centuries, even as he is wrapped up in an entirely original adventure.

While the creator is best known for his middle grade Zita the Spacegirl and Mighty Jack series, Reynard’s Tale is for an adult audience that still enjoys the company of fables and their lasting intrigue. Along with the presence of alcohol and partial nudity, the maturity of Hatke’s writing style does not make the comic a great fit for younger readers, though it may hold some interest for older teens. Extensive knowledge of Reynard’s history as a character in the European literary canon is not a requirement for one to understand the story, but it helps to have a basic idea of what he represents for the full effect to sink in, as the book itself does not go into detail of his past. Technically existing as an adult picture book, the placement of this title in a specific collection may pose some confusion over whether to place it in general fiction or the graphic novel section. Due to its marketing as a graphic novel and First Second serving as its publisher, however, I personally recommend the latter. Librarians and educators in search of an engrossing, fast-paced fantasy graphic novel with a unique and beloved identity should consider purchasing this title.

Reynard’s Tale: A Story of Love and Mischief
By Ben Hatke
Macmillan First Second, 2023
ISBN: 9781250857910

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)

How to Win the War on Truth: An Illustrated Guide to How Mistruths Are Sold, Why They Stick, and How to Reclaim Reality

With every year, truth seems to become more and more subjective. At least that is what many forces want us all to think. In issue after issue, we are driven apart by obfuscation and subterfuge. It’s hard to imagine how we can come together to exist in the same reality sometimes. Author Samuel Spitale believes he knows how to reclaim our reality with his book How to Win the War on Truth: An Illustrated Guide to How Mistruths Are Sold, Why They Stick, and How to Reclaim Reality

This hybrid comic and non-fiction book looks at propaganda and bias. It is lengthy and detailed. Spitale tells story after story that illustrates how humans seek to reduce complexity and how our brains can fail to recognize certain facts. These blind spots allow us to be manipulated by marketers and public relations companies. He cites a wide variety of interesting research including Daniel Kahneman and his work on human error. The illustrations by Allan Whincup effectively break down some of the more complex ideas into understandable parts. The comics are more on the cartoony side than realistic and that helps when tackling such an intense subject. Graphs, pie charts, and topical quotes spoken by cartoon politicians and economists help relay the information.

The book spends a lot of time on the history of propaganda as well as U.S. political history. It rings true for the most part, but occasionally becomes a left wing polemic. The chapter on what to do about this substantial problem is slight on workable solutions, so readers may be disappointed considering what the title of the book is. Spitale is still describing the problems right up until the conclusion. Previous works on similar topics, like Unrig, had specific proposals and examples of solutions that are being tried around the country. This book could have used more of that.

The publisher states this book is an “illustrated guide.” That is more accurate than calling it a graphic novel. This is a dense book with lots of text. There are illustrations on most every page, but they are not sequential art. This book belongs in an adult nonfiction collection. Only the most interested teens are going to stick with this to the end. This is certainly an important topic, but I wonder, if they had fully committed to telling a story with pictures would the work be more accessible to a larger audience?

How to Win the War on Truth: An Illustrated Guide to How Mistruths Are Sold, Why They Stick, and How to Reclaim Reality
By Samuel Spitale
Art by Allan Whincup
Quirk, 2022
ISBN: 9781683693086

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)

Women Discoverers: Top women in science

The cover of this collection of biographies shows a background of mathematical equations and a line-up of women with varying skin tones, dressed in clothing from an astronaut suit to historical gowns, but all with the same slim silhouette and of roughly the same height.

This sets the stage for a series of overviews of twenty women in the sciences, which manage to be largely similar, despite their different backgrounds and areas of study. The collection is oddly unbalanced, starting with approximately 20 pages on Marie Curie, giving a rapid overview of her life, relationship with Pierre and other romantic entanglements, and ending with her daughter Irene continuing her work. This is followed by several more contemporary scientists, with an overview of their lives and accomplishments in text accompanied by a thumbnail image and a single graphic panel showing them with other scientists in a lab or involved in their scientific work.

Several shorter comics, about ten pages each, profile Ada Lovelace, Hedy Lamarr, Rosalind Franklin, and Mae Jemison. Lovelace’s narrative is bracketed by a modern teacher introducing her to high school students and ends abruptly with her losing “everything” at gambling and then dying. Most of the narrative with Hedy Lamarr is given over to her personal life, including a full page on her husbands. Franklin’s narrative focuses heavily on her unsuccessful struggle for equality, emphasizing that she was most accepted and happy during her work in Paris. Mae Jemison’s story is upbeat, the only prejudice shown in her family huddling around a televised report of Martin Luther King’s death and a class of smiling white children playfully tossing a paper ball at her head. There are no sources cited or back matter. The longer comics all include what appear to be quotations from primary source material, but also fictional dialogue.

The art, although depicting a wide variety of women in different time periods, has a strong similarity. The women are all shown with the same slim figure and average height. Only Marie Curie is shown to age, with her lightening hair, stooped posture, and a few wrinkles. The backgrounds are also similar, with Curie and Franklin shown against tree-lined avenues in Paris and a few sepia-toned war scenes, Jemison in darkened, indoor areas until she blossoms in the sunny, outdoor spaces of California, and Lovelace in groups of indistinguishable people. It’s ironic that, despite the introduction claiming that the purpose of the book is to bring to light hitherto overlooked female scientists, the five women given the longest profiles are already well-known and their comics focus more on their personal lives than on their scientific achievements. Even Curie’s longer comic is taken up with images of her wedding and later romantic entanglements, while Lamarr’s is mostly a series of images of her in provocative period gowns and bathing suits, with a success of husbands, and later as a recluse in Florida. Her inventions outside of the frequency-hopping idea are not referenced, but her plastic surgery is. Rosalind Franklin is, ironically, erased from her own comic, which transitions from her work with DNA to showing the male scientists laughing about her and her ideas at a pub, and then to their awards, overlooking Franklin completely with a brief mention of her later work before her early death. The comic ends with the belated and posthumous recognition of her work, shown in plaques and a statue. Jemison is depicted in the most upbeat fashion, with an emphasis on her hard work and early achievements and ending with her inspiring girls at a science camp.

The aim of the book is worthy, but it is far from the only reference on the subject and it is poorly designed. The translation is rough, with frequent exclamations, choppy sentences, and the occasional typo. Readers interested in graphic interpretations of women in science will do better to explore Primates by Jim Ottaviani, selected Science Comics that emphasize the contributions of women, like Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers, or, for lighter fare, Corpse Talk from DK.

Women Discoverers: Top Women in Science
By Marie Moinard
Art by  Christelle Pecout
NBM, 2021
ISBN: 9781681122700

Publisher Age Rating: 12 years and up

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  French
Character Representation: African-American, American-Austrian, British, French

The Temple of Silence: Forgotten Works & Worlds of Herbert Crowley

Bizarre, playful, and abstract are just a few of the words that come to mind when admiring the work of Herbert Crowley. In his lifetime, Crowley exhibited artwork alongside Picasso, Van Gogh, and Renoir. And yet, Crowley’s work has been largely forgotten by popular culture. The Temple of Silence: Forgotten Works & Worlds of Herbert Crowley is a rare glimpse into the life and art of an elusive figure. 

Before delving into this work one unavoidable topic must be bridged: this is not a graphic novel. This is very distinctly an art book that, if we are going by the Dewey Decimal System, belongs in the good ol’ 745s. Yes, the text does contain comic strips. However, the majority of the text is dedicated to a biography of Herbert Crowley, scattered between images of Crowley’s distinct sculpture work, bohemian friends, and early sketches. Now, onto business.  

Crowley is most notable for his Symbolist cartoon strip; The Wigglemuch, which ran in the New York Herald  in 1910 for only fourteen weeks before disappearing from the Sunday pages. The appeal of Crowley’s work seems to derive primarily from both the nihilistic, yet beautiful, tone of much of his artwork, paired with the understated nature of the creator. These elements culminate into what is the perfect example of an Outsider artist, also defined as an artist who works outside of the establishment. 

Described by creator Justin Duerr as a “magical mascot” in Herbert Crowley’s art, the Wigglemuch are rotund, animal-like creatures serving to accompany their human companions across landscapes rooted both in fantasy and in historical imagery. Quite frankly, the drawings are gorgeous. Crowley was known for his scrupulous work and obsessive attention to detail. Upon first glance, Crowley’s artwork appears to be relatively simplistic. His human figures mimic the form of paper dolls in a toy theater. His landscapes often contain no more than a clear sky and a distant mountain range. And, yet, upon closer observation, intricate lining, near-perfect circles, and subtle emotional gestures abound. As expected in any competent comic strip, the captioning of each panel adds to the complexity of these images. 

In true Symbolist fashion, the story in these comics is told indirectly. There is no punchline. The Wigglemuch is strictly a series of actions written in verse, allowing for interpretation by the reader. The creatures of The Wigglemuch, referred to as both ‘Wigglemuch’ and ‘Wiggles’ are thrust into a series of concurrent adventures requiring liberation from their circumstances. This is, perhaps, consistent with Crowley’s constant financial struggle as a visual artist and ongoing suicide ideation. Either way, readers of The Wigglemuch are sure to find meaning in Crowley’s work. 

Duerr is clearly passionate about the work of Crowley and this passion transcends the pages of The Temple of Silence. The curation of Duerr’s research and Crowley’s artwork is stunning. I was wholly engrossed by Duerr’s enthusiasm and look forward to his forthcoming work. The Temple of Silence: Forgotten Works and Worlds of Herbert Crowley is an essential collection title for those interested in Outsider art and 20th century art movements. However, the book is not a necessary addition to a graphic novel collection.

The Temple of Silence: Forgotten Works and Worlds of Herbert Crowley
By Justin Duerr
Art by Herbert Crowley
ISBN: 9780997372991
BeeHive Books, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 18+

Bob Marley in Comics

Bob Marley in Comics, written by Gaet’s with art by Sophie Blitman, is the newest addition to NBM’s biographical graphic novel series. Similar to their previous publication, The Rolling Stones in Comics, Gaet’s details the life and death of the Jamaican musician and his impact in the world of music and world peace. Along with the singer’s biography, short comics depict important moments in Marley’s life, adding visuals to his story.

Born in Jamaica to an English army captain and a black woman; Robert Nesta Marley found music as an escape from the poor neighborhood he lived in. He found friendship with other musical youths, writing music and practicing different beats until his group was finally discovered. As the years go by, Marley finds success the world over with his rebellious, yet peaceful lyrics, his Rastafarian lifestyle, his messages of freedom, and his sexual exploits. For each moment of his life there is a short comic that accompanies it. In addition, readers are treated to a short introduction on the Rastafarian movement and the politics of Jamaica during the 1970s. The book ends with a listing of his studio albums and additional resources for the reader to explore.

This book is not just for Bob Marley fans, but for anyone who want to know more about the musician. Gaet’s and Blitman take readers into Jamaican society, from the slums in Kingston to the birth of reggae, and it’s impact Marley’s life. A variety of comic book artists (including Clement Baloup, Simon Leturgie, Domas, Sarah Williamson, and others) give life to these musical moments, adding visuals with their own comic techniques and color palates. Thanks to artist Efix, readers are introduced to the Rastafarian movement with a ganja smoking Rasta, who speaks directly to the audience while pencil drawn pictures of political figures and the Jamaican landscape are shown in the background. The attempted assassination of Marley, which is illustrated by Moh, is shown using alternating scenes between the attempt and a possible prophetic dream that one band member may have had. Towards the end, readers are given a chance to witness his state funeral, possession and all, with Gil’s soft colors and expansive scenes of mourners. All together the book celebrates Marley’s career, from his humble beginnings to his untimely death.

Bob Marley in Comics will be enjoyed by older music fans and those who have enjoyed the book series “in comics”, from the publishing company NBM Graphic Novels. The variety of artwork will intrigue readers and give them a glimpse into his life and career. It is a great addition to any public library’s graphic novel and biography collection.

Bob Marley in Comics
By Gaet’s
Art by Sophie Blitman
ISBN: 9781681122496
NBM Graphic Novels, 2019

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Multiracial

Dragon Quest Illustrations: 30th Anniversary Edition

Ever wanted to be able to review the art of the main characters and monsters from the Dragon Quest franchise in detail and at leisure? Or maybe love the Dragon Quest games and want to get to know more about them? Then this book is the perfect choice! Dragon Quest Illustrations is a fairly comprehensive collection of finished art, sketches, and even unused art for playable characters, non-player characters, and monsters over the lifetime of this franchise.

Dragon Quest Illustrations is part of the 30th anniversary celebration of the Dragon Quest games; as such, it contains art and illustrations from all of the games, from the very first to the most recent. The book is thorough in its coverage, as it also includes illustrations from the spin-off games, not just the main series. Content is organized chronologically, and within that the spin-offs (so the spin-off games that came out around Dragon Quest VII come after Dragon Quest VII in the book). There is thankfully a table of contents page to make it easier to jump to different games’ art as needed, because it can be hard to tell where one game begins and another ends in the early generations, other than the text at the bottom of each page stating the game.

For those interested, the start of each game’s section has package art and any promotional art, as well as what systems (computer, video game console, or handheld console) it came out for and what the title was for that release. Otherwise, there’s not a lot of text in the book, aside from the introduction by Akira Toriyama, a brief section discussing the art of each game, and a closing message from game designer Yuji Horii. This is truly an art book, focusing on the images and not discussion. The analysis section rarely devotes more than a paragraph or two to each game generation, though it has some notes of interest for fans of the games and discussion of how the art changes over time.

The book itself is quite sturdy, being a hardbound edition with lovely endpapers in a chess pattern design that has silhouettes of monsters in each square. However, because the cover is primarily white, it will show wear and tear very quickly. Dragon Quest Illustrations is not an unusually sized book, if compared to graphic novels or other art books, which tend to be larger, so it will fit fairly easily on the shelf. There is also an attached poster in the front, so that would need to be removed before circulation and possibly given to the youth services or teen librarian to then distribute or hang in their area of the library. It does have a condensed history of the package art on the back of the poster, but it is very likely to get torn or torn out, so might just be best to remove it.

However, is it worth adding to the collection? I’m not sure. It’s truly an art book, so for students of video game/character design it could be useful, and as a retrospective of Toriyama’s art over the years it has merit (particularly for fans of his work), but other than that it’s a pretty narrow group this book will appeal to, unless the population contains a lot of Dragon Quest fans. It might be worth looking into whether video game art books circulate well or if there’s a demand for such items that has been overlooked.

Dragon Quest Illustrations: 30th Anniversary Edition
By Akira Toriyama
Art by Akira Toriyama
ISBN: 9781974703906
VIZ Media, 2018
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16)

Yellow Yellow

Two evocative words mark Yellow Yellow’s opening page: “One day…”

This first ellipsis foreshadows more to come, as the following pages also feature minute collections of words bookended by those tempting dot-dot-dots. Eventually, these micro-phrases accumulate to establish Yellow Yellow’s first full sentence: “One day…I found….a yellow…hat.” Narrated by a child who the reader first encounters walking alone through the streets of a city, these simple words stands in direct contrast to accompanying illustrations that absolutely swarm around them.

Drawn with teeming detail in black ink (other than the sunshiny bright yellow of the hat, of course), the pictures show an urban landscape that is part familiar, part whimsical, part evidentiary of a bygone era, and part imaginative of a cityscape more elaborate and fantastical than could ever have truly existed. Strange sights abound: a large frog leaps along the sidewalk ridden by a miniature cowboy (frogboy?); a cobbler seen through a shop window repairs a giant’s shoes, two sets of massive toes visible over his shoulder; the city-dwellers’ faces are hairy and often scowling—one figure even features a hand coming out of his suit’s neck-hole, and carries his substitute head (a football wearing a mask) aloft in the palm of his hand.

Originally published in 1971, Stamaty’s illustrations of a young child walking alone through a metropolis bursting at the seams with grotesquery and populated with adults and children of varying degrees of strangeness might strike a modern adult reader as nostalgic, wishful, or even alarming. But the young finder of the yellow hat is never harmed while ambling through the city, blissfully unaware of all the sights passing by as the comically large hat slips down over their face. In fact, the yellow hat awakens a marvelous sense of joy and possibility in the child’s imagination, a sense echoed in the book’s art. Alongside a tale that is ultimately simple (the child finds and loves the yellow hat, meets its original owner and gives the hat up, and returns home to create a hand-made yellow hat), the profuse illustrations add an entrancing Where’s Waldo or I Spy dynamic.

Both seek-and-find and choose-your-own-adventure, Yellow Yellow could arguably be classified more as a picture book than graphic novel, and while not an addition essential to most collections, a strange and delicious book sure to delight readers of many ages nonetheless.

Yellow Yellow
By Frank Asch
Art by Mark Alan Stamaty
ISBN: 9781770463585
Drawn & Quarterly, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 2-6