What would happen if our online world entered our real lives? This funny dystopian graphic novel explores an eerily possible reality from next level advertising to essentially no true privacy.
The book starts off with a comical scenario of briefly looking at purchasing some runners, to then images of those runners literally following our main characteraround everywhere. A human with photos of the runners that were looked at once briefly keep popping up all over the place constantly reminding him of the shoes. He can’t grocery shop or get anything done without photos of those shoes appearing with a person chatting to them about buying them.
Next a far more dismal scenario. We see our main character trying to get insurance, which is now impossible to get without signing away all of your privacy and being forced into living a healthier lifestyle. All of his internet searches, everything that he does online, in emails, and what he physically does in real life will all be transmitted back to the insurance company. If he doesn’t live well according to their standards he loses coverage, but if he opts for the option that doesn’t completely invade his personal life the insurance is unaffordable. He’s stuck. As he goes through everyday life out and about we see people with chip implants, and businesses that don’t accept cash. Weird cultural changes have happened too, such as song names don’t exist anymore they are simply numbered.Things get increasingly depressing.
This book is an exploration of where things could go in the future. There is a lot of humor tossed around, yet all of the scenarios, however silly, certainly have an edge of reality to them. The book has a dark overall feeling to it that doesn’t offer a lot of positivity or sprinkles of sunshine here and there. The future is bleak.
Algorithmic Reality is full of a variety of different styles of panel arrangements providing the reader with much more interesting pages to flip through. The color palette is realistic as are the images. It’s very much been created in a lifelike and authentic style, so don’t expect big word bubbles with action words or characters exploding off the pages.
Overall, this was a quick read. It’s an intelligent, humorous and gloomy view of what could possibly happen if the digital world were to blend into the real world. It is absolutely for an adult audience as there are more mature themes discussed and a fair amount of profanity is used to play up the emotions the characters are experiencing.
Algorithmic Reality Vol. By Damien Bradfield Art by David Sanchez NBM ComicsLit, 2022 ISBN: 9781681123066
Katie the Catsitter is back in another installment of her eponymous graphic novel series! This time, she’s preparing to officially become the Mousetress’s sidekick but things like friendship, jealousy, and, oh yeah, robots just keep getting in the way. Katie the Catsitter #3: Secrets and Sidekicks, written by Colleen AF Venable and art by Stephanie Yue, is a fast-paced, colorful adventure in Katie’s New York City.
Katie and her best friend Beth are ready to start their sidekick training. They even have the perfect sidekick names picked out: Aluminum Foiled and Cheesy Justice. Madeline, aka the Mousetress, is one of New York City’s top superheroes, even if the media likes to paint her as a supervillian (but Katie and Beth know the truth!). Along with her literal hundreds of extremely intelligent powerful cats, the Mousetress uses brains and technological know-how to protect the citizens of the city. Meanwhile, Katie’s mom is so busy working all hours of the day that she doesn’t even know what her daughter is up to.
Suddenly, a giant yellow robot is stomping its way through the city, about to destroy everything in sight, until it’s hit by a puddle splash. Turns out, this robotisn’t waterproof. Katie knows this robot is from the heinous Buttersoft Bionics but how can she prove it? No one wants to believe her.
On top of everything going in the world of superheroes and supervillains, Katie’s got regular middle school drama. Her skateboarding crew, the Wheel-las, is dealing with too many third and fourth wheels (pun intended). Katie’s friend Jess really feels the brunt of this, on top of Katie’s suspicions about Jess’s boyfriend’s family who owns Buttersoft Bionics, even though Jess swears they aren’t evil people. Plus, the threat of robots is threatening NYC PopCon, where Katie and her friends are cosplaying. With everything going on, can Katie do the right thing, defend her city, and prove who are the real villains after all?
While some readers might find Secrets and Sidekicks easy to dive into, it’s recommended that readers are familiar with the previous two books in the series, as they’ll give them the world building to help understand Katie’s world of superheroes and supercats. The names and skills of the many featured cats are both adorable and hilarious, readers will love meeting them. The book’s back matter includes Yue’s sketches, as well as words from the creators, some facts about them, and a friendship bracelet making guide, appropriate even for an arm with a paw.
There is a lot of action in the book but there are points where it feels more drawn out, making Secrets and Sidekicks appropriate for a more solidly middle grade audience. Katie’s friendship troubles will be relatable to readers her age. The superheroes aspect gives the book more appeal to readers who might not otherwise pick up a book about cats. As previously mentioned, the art is bright and cartoony at times, matching the action and the vibe of the book perfectly.
Katie the Catsitter #3: Secrets and Sidekicks is a charming addition to the series. Any cat loving reader will enjoy this book, as well as readers who enjoy the Paws or Making Friends graphic novel series, both of which have similar elements (cats! magic!) to Venable and Yue’s series.
Katie the Catsitter #3: Secrets and Sidekicks By Colleen AF Venable Art by Stephanie Yue Penguin Random House Graphic, 2023 ISBN: 9780593379691
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
When I first saw Wolverine: Snikt! I thought I was simply reading the next installment from Viz Media of Marvel characters that were being given their own manga book. I was both right and wrong; this book is a Wolverine story told in magna formatting, but it isn’t new.
Wolverine: Snikt! was originally published by Marvel Comics as a five-issue series way back in 2003. It was part of a Marvel short lived “Tsunami” line of comics that were “manga-style” so they could try and jump on the growing demand for manga in United States. This edition is being formatted by Viz as a traditional manga and it is being labeled a deluxe edition with an introduction from Nick Dragotta (East of West, Fantastic Four) and an art gallery at the end.
On the third page of this book, and with no dialog to tell us why, Logan is pulled into another time by a young mutant girl. She loses track of him in the transfer and he finds himself alone in a dystopian future where a weird biomechanical monster starts to fight him immediately. It has the ability to self-repair and Logan would be lost if not for The Colonel, a man-shaped machine with the only weapon capable of taking down a Mandate. They are running out of ammunition for the gun and they are running out of warriors. Fusa, the girl who brought him here, explains that 11 years ago in 2047 the Mandate attacked and wiped nearly everyone out. It turns out the Mandate itself is a mutant, sort of. It’s a mutant disease that started out as a lab experiment where they hoped to turn a bacteria into a microorganism that would decompose the toxic materials poisoning the Earth. However, once it was outside of the lab environment it couldn’t be contained and it gained sentience. Now, they have to destroy the original Mandate, called Primogenitor, otherwise it will never stop producing more Mandates. You have to destroy a Mandates orb-core to kill it, otherwise it will keep knitting itself back together. By now, you can guess what element will destroy an orb-core and what The Colonel is made out of, Adamantium, making Logan their only hope.
This story is going to be a tough sell to an audience older than tweens and teens. Viz rates this Teen+ for older teens, but I think Teen is fine rating for this. It’s violent, but they are fighting robotic monsters and it is only 136 pages with credits. The story itself is tissue-paper thin and there are no surprises anywhere along the way. A teen reader might give this a pass and enjoy the action, but I found myself mostly disappointed. I appreciate that Tsutomu Nihei had the unenviable task of trying to get the entirety of a story into five issues, but I’ve seen other creators do more with that same task.
The art from Nihei is a lot murkier than his later, much lauded work Knights of Sidonia. That is to say, this art feels like it’s from 2003 and the artist is still evolving. His later work is a lot cleaner, here faces are tough to tell apart and are very sparse on details. Some of the larger vistas that he illustrates show the range of his talent, but Logan hardly looks like the character most comic fans know. Marvel made the choice to have this colored, which probably hinders the work more than it helps. I don’t know that this book is going to make a convert of anyone, but it is hard to deny Wolverine’s appeal and ability to sell books. I think there is certainly an audience out there for this story and there are plenty of teen readers who will enjoy both the manga aesthetic and “otherworld” approach to the storytelling.
Wolverine: Snikt! By Tsutomu Nihei VIZ, 2023 ISBN: 9781974738533
Publisher Age Rating: Teen+(older teen)
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Japanese,
When people think of space adventure, they may think of series like Star Wars, Star Trek, or perhaps Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Just like laser guns and faster-than-light travel, storytelling tropes about the exploration of what is out there feel sometimes too familiar, perhaps even cliche, much like the cliche of being stranded on an unknown planet.. That particular trope can seem tired, but Dan McDaid’s science fiction castaway tale Dega attempts to forge its own identity by differentiating itself from such stories, relying more on an unsettling tone instead of whooshing rockets and zipping lasers.
Dega follows the story of the survivor (no name given) of a crashed ship on an alien planet. Her only companion is a small droid who monitors how the planet is changing her. There is a dark secret beneath the planet, one that could help her get home, but will she discover that secret before it’s too late?
Dega is not a long work, but it is an atmospheric one. This is, in part, to McDaid making his protagonist virtually alone. It forces the survivor to carry most of the narrative through her internal monologue and earlier memories. Even the droid’s purpose is merely to provide a sort of countdown (any further details could spoil some major plot points). The story mostly consists of the survivor trying to find her way off planet while avoiding marauding aliens and her own body betraying her.
McDaid’s artwork, which shows some nods to Frank Miller and DC’s Vertigo titles, showcases the bizarre landscape and aliens the survivor encounters and even manages to reveal some of the unreality in the survivor’s experience. Mostly, McDaid uses warmer tans and reds for the desert look of the planet, but he then makes the confusing choice of doing some pages in black and white, which can be a disservice to his imaginative designs, along with their details. McDaid has done art for such sci-fi comics as Doctor Who, Judge Dredd, and Firefly, and the brilliance of that resume shows in these pages.
As to whether libraries should have this particular book in their collection, it might depend on how many of that library’s patrons are hardcore science-fiction fans. It has some beautiful artwork, and it tells a solid mind-bending story, but its short page count means it sacrifices a deeper story for a shallow yet still creepy atmosphere.
Dega Vol. By Dan McDaid Oni Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781637151969
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Asking for help isn’t always easy … and what do you do when that help causes you to develop superpowers overnight? Welcome to Hannah’s world, told in Side Effects, a graphic novel by Ted Anderson with art by Tara O’Connor.
Hannah’s in her first year of college and things just don’t feel right. She’s overwhelmed, her roommate walked in on her crying, and she feels like such a failure she’s not sure she’ll make it through the semester. She doesn’t want to disappoint her parents and the pressure is getting to be too much. Hannah meets with Dr. Jacobs, the on-campus doctor, who prescribes her medication for her mental health. Despite not being fully on board, as she believes those pills can change your personality, she decides to take them anyway, just to see if they offer any help in dealing with her anxiety and depression. Suddenly, she feels almost superhuman as she develops different superpowers with each new medication! Are the meds really causing her to read people’s minds? How will these powers affect her relationship with Iz, the cute girl she’s been seeing?
Before the story even begins, Side Effects has a content warning, a helpful tool for readers to be aware of some of the more intense parts of the story. It is never graphic or explicit and no real medications are named. Hannah’s side effects, however, can be read as exaggerated versions of those found in real life medications. Her ability to shoot electricity from her hands? Similar to brain zaps. She experiences other realistic side effects, like dissociation and drowsiness. Readers who’ve dealt with the process of finding the right medication will find themselves understanding what Hannah is going through. Framing Hannah’s side effects as superpowers makes the book accessible for readers who might be tentative regarding their own mental health care. The focus on therapy, as well as medication, is appreciated.
O’Connor’s art is expressive; the character’s faces are excellent. The coloring, also done by O’Connor, matches the changing situations dynamically. The scenes of Hannah and her superpowers are very superhero comic like, just like she feels her life is turning into when she develops them.
Side Effects is appropriate for an older teen audience and up. The book deals with some very heavy topics, including attempted and implied sexual misconduct from a professor, hence the appreciation for the content warning before the story begins. Anderson’s storytelling is easily readable, but late high school and early college readers will find more relatability to Hannah’s experiences. While it takes place in modern time, adult readers long out of college can enjoy the graphic novel, too.
Side Effects is a book about mental health acceptance and not being afraid to ask for help when you need it. It wants to break the stigma of mental health medications and does a good job of showing them in a realistic but not irresponsible way. There’s always a need for stories about mental illness that still have happy endings and Side Effects is a welcome addition to that world of graphic novels.
Side Effects By Ted Anderson Art by Tara O’Connor Seismic Press, 2022 ISBN: 9781956731088
Publisher Age Rating: 13-17 years old NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Ambiguous Mental Illness Character Representation: Lesbian, Anxiety, Depression
A blink, a flash of light—only a moment for the world to be overrun. Suddenly, a mental-health getaway turns into a fight for survival when one young woman finds herself sheltering a young boy in a world full of literal monsters.
From Aftershock Comics, Ed Brisson, and Damian Couceiro, comes Losing California, the first volume of Beyond the Breach, a series about multiversal travel, horrific creatures, and the bonds people form in the midst of life or death situations.
Escaping a messy series of family and relationship situations, Vanessa temporarily leaves her life behind to take a road trip entirely for herself. In the span of a moment, electronics have died and the world around her is overrun with ferocious beasts from other worlds. Rescuing a boy from the carnage and joined by strange, friendly creature and a mysterious traveler from another existence, Vanessa and her new allies make their way through a world they don’t recognize, searching for safety as even greater threats close in around them. Soon, survival will not be enough—Vanessa will need to learn the truth about the incursion if she has any hope of recovering what she lost.
Brisson’s past work includes Deathstroke and Old Man Logan and though his gritty, action sci-fi style is on full display here, Beyond the Breach may offer something a little different for those who are familiar with his work. Though the story does deliver some key moments of character development and interaction along with the necessary world building to understand the larger events of the incursion, Brisson’s storytelling largely embraces a fast-paced narrative that matches the chaos and desperation of Vanessa’s experiences. From the initial chaos, through tense interactions with allies and enemies, right through the climax that resolves the initial arc while still leaving the story open for the next chapter. The journey often values action over an emotional core and trusts the reader to be comfortable with a bit of uncertainty along the way, but the Brisson nevertheless has shown he can deliver a cinematic story, and that remains the case here.
With bold colors and visuals that balance style with realism, Couciero brings the apocalypse to life across these pages. The action is shocking, often bloody, and leaps across the panels with each dramatic illustration. It’s the monsters that often take the forefront here, and Couciero has no shortage of things that crawl, fly, and devour their way through the world as Vanessa and those around her continue their journey. The art captures the familiar and the strange of this remade world alongside the strange beauty of the landscape and the turbulent emotions of the characters. Brisson’s writing aims high, and Couceiro is right there to deliver the story as it all plays out.
Aftershock doesn’t give an age rating for this title, but with strong language and graphic violence, it’s aimed largely at older teens and adults. Beyond the Breach shares some distinct commonalities with series such as Paper Girls and Oblivion Song, albeit with slightly more mature content. It’s not a necessary purchase for every collection, but if your readers have enjoyed sci-fi titles such as those, Beyond the Breach should sit comfortably alongside them on the shelves. Stepping on the gas from the very beginning, Vol. 1 is a brutal and ambitious sci-fi apocalypse road trip. Things get a bit weird, but for comics fans willing to leap between worlds, it’s a wild ride. Just beware—here, there be monsters.
Beyond the Breach: Losing California Vol. 01 By Ed Brisson Art by Damian Couceiro Aftershock, 2021
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Life is difficult and emotions get in the way, so when surgery to numb the pain and remove hearts becomes available, people are intrigued. No need to suffer through the pain and grief from loss. Everyone, it seems, signs up for the procedure. Everyone, but June. The Faint of Heart by Kerilynn Wilson is a beautifully crafted graphic novel that explores the importance of emotional connections.
June feels alone with a heart in a world without them. Her family is dismissive, she no longer has friends, and teachers chastise her for imperfection. With no heart, all emotions are numbed, not just the painful ones. No more emotional distractions to get in the way of success in school and work. Relationships lose their importance, and family life becomes cold and calculated. But once numbed, these sacrifices no longer feel relevant.
June is different, She is an artist and she cherishes her emotions. She observes her friends and family that alongside the loss of pain, also lose empathy and interpersonal connections. June becomes more and more determined, not only to keep her heart but to help those who are numbed to begin to feel again. It is more complicated than she anticipated, but with the help of a friend, who despite the loss of a heart, is beginning to experience emotions again, June goes on a mission to find the scientist who started this whole thing.
The Faint of Heart is being marketed as a YA mixture of Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind and Severance. It is a well-crafted story that explores some of the same themes related to love, loss, and definitions of success or happiness. It is an analysis of our relationships with ourselves and each other. These themes may resonate with teens who face a daunting future as they navigate new and difficult emotions and relationships.
Wilson’s artwork is gorgeous. Just as our emotions bridge connections with others, wisps of fibers connect panes across some page spreads, She also expertly uses color throughout the book. Many of the illustrations are in black and white with splashes of yellow, orange, and blue to illustrate heart and emotion. As the story progresses, and the emotions begin to shift, so does the use of color. Her illustrations help to illuminate the beauty in life that would be lost without emotional connections.
This is Wilson’s debut graphic novel and hopefully is an indicator of great stories to come. The illustrations in The Faint of Heart are exquisite and beautifully capture the characters and themes from Wilson’s story. It will be purchased for my high school collection, where I am confident it will find a number of readers. With a mixture of science-fiction and a character-centered story, it will appeal to readers from a number of genres, whether or not they are new to the graphic novel format. I recommend it for graphic novel collections serving teens and older middle-grade readers.
The Faint of Heart By Kerilynn Wilson Harper Collins, 2023 ISBN: 9780063116214
Publisher Age Rating: 13 and U
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Set on an alternate Earth that was invaded by an alien race that calls themselves “Agartha,” three teenage girls have been gifted with the ability to transform into powerful magical girls. Wielding fruit wands, they are nicknamed Flavor Girls by the humans they protect. A fourth, Sara, is selected after being chased by the Agarthians through the streets of her hometown. Sara decides to leave her friends behind to join the Flavor Girls to train at the Temple of Mother Tree. Mother Tree provides the power each Flavor Girl uses to transform and defend Earth. Unfortunately, Sara has a lot to learn about fighting and teamwork and not much time before she is called to defend one of the relics protecting Mother Tree.
After the Agarthians manage to steal one of Mother Tree’s relics, the story follows them back to their spaceship. The Agartha celebrate their success and explain why they are hunting down the relics while showcasing their structure of power and personalities. There is also a short side story included at the end that deviates from the main story, which follows the Flavor Girls as they investigate a missing person and discover a haunted house.
My favorite aspect of this graphic novel is that the backstory sequences are told without words and with muted colors, relying on the action portrayed in the illustrations. This is very successful when juxtaposed with the colorful main story elements. Locatelli-Kournwsky has paced the story well, with a good balance between character development and world building. Nothing feels extraneous to the plot. The inclusion of the aliens’ point of view in the second half of the book, gives the audience new information about the ongoing war and raises questions about why they originally came to Earth and their relationship to Mother Tree and the relics. I’m looking forward to seeing how both sides’ stories progress in volume 2.
This would make a great addition to any public library collection for teens (since it does contain the usual superhero violence, making it inappropriate for children’s collections). It would also appeal to teen fans of magical girl manga and anime and would be a fantastic diverse addition to superhero collections.
Set in a steampunk world reminiscent of a fairy tale, Dreams Factory tells the story of Indira, a young girl working in the mines to help support her father and little brother. Unfortunately, she has fallen ill, so her brother Eliott tries to take her place, but is too short to be allowed to work. The mine’s owner, Ms. Sachs, overhears that Eliott can’t work and offers him a different job in her factory making mechanical insect toys. When Indira learns that Eliott and other village children have gone missing, she looks all over town for him. When someone finally tells Indira that her brother went with Ms. Sachs, Indira tries to confront this highly respected woman and finds herself arrested for assault. After escaping the police, Indira follows a mechanical insect into the factory and finds the missing children, who have lost their memories. It seems that the factory feeds on children’s memories in order to power the mechanical insects being produced.
The illustrations in this graphic novel are magnificent. The artist and colorists brought the world and characters to life so well that few words were needed to flesh them out. Many panels are devoid of speech bubbles, so the illustrations can appear in their entirety without interruption. I do wish there had been a little more description or explanation of how the mystical elements of the factory work exactly, or its origin. The climax gets very confusing, so something to help slow things down would help readers to better understand both what is happening and the characters’ motivations. Perhaps it makes more sense in the original French, but the English translation could have been longer to address these issues.
Although there is a small pacing problem with the plot, I still recommend this book be added to public libraries or collections that focus on splendid illustrations. Because there are heavier topics of child labor, some body horror (limbs replaced with mechanical versions), and on-page death, this story is more suited to teenagers.
Dreams Factory By Jerome Hamon Art by Suheb Zako Magnetic Press, 2022 ISBN: 9781951719524
Publisher Age Rating: 14 and up NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Shuna’s Journey is inspired by an ancient Tibetan folk tale about a young prince on a quest for barley in time of famine that fascinated creator Hayao Miyazaki. In Miyazaki’s hands the tale grew wings to tell the story of Shuna who, after hearing about the coveted golden grain seeds confined by the god-men in a land to the west where the moon resides, journesy to that land.
The original reworking was published in 1983 and was adapted into an hour-long radio drama broadcast in Japan in 1987. This is the first English translation. While the pages read right-to-left manga style, the layout largely resembles an illustrated picture book with limited dialogue and the text in non-bordered narration boxes abundantly sprinkled throughout the delicately rendered and coloured illustrations. Clothing styles, artifacts, and landscapes offer clues to the story’s cultural origins while also illuminating the fantastic. The result is an eerie, magical, and thoughtful tale reminiscent of an orally told tale. It is told simply with short sentences and not excess descriptions. The language is evocative and precise.
Shuna travels with his mount Yakul, an elk-like creature who was the source of inspiration and the namesake of Ashitaka’s mount in Princess Mononoke. Their adventures over the bleak and dangerous landscapes bring them into contact with female cannibals, slavers, and the young slave Thea and her young sister. After rescuing the two girls, Shuna reaches the western edge of the land. He leaves Yakul with them and crosses the wide water to the land of the god-men. There he witnesses the role of the moon in the creation of the giants and the planting and miraculous growth of the barley. He manages to take some of the golden grain, causing a great deal of pain to himself. He escapes and returns to the land to the east, but at intense cost.
In the short afterward, Miyazaki discusses his fascination with the folktale, “The Prince Who Turned into a Dog”. In the much longer following essay, translator Alex Dudok de Wit discusses his journey with the adaptations, Miyazaki to his origin tale, and its publication history beginning in 1983. De Wit explains that this format is a emonogatari—illustrated with exquisite and detailed watercolours—rather than a manga. De Wit also contrasts this novel to Miyazaki’s later animated works considering this work as a prototype for Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke. Like these later works, this story addresses questions of morality and greed, especially relevant today. The story also delineates the transition into maturity for the main characters.
Shuna’s Journey is both a fascinating look at the creator’s earliest work and a dramatic but quietly reflective narrative that I highly recommend for readers, especially for those over the age of 12. The adventures are often blood curdling but, at the same time, understated. The main characters look rather young throughout the book, but are definitely mature enough to weather the hardships and challenges continuously thrown at them.
Shuna’s Journey By Hayao Miyazaki Macmillan First Second, 2022 ISBN: 9781250846525
Publisher Age Rating: 12+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Japanese Character Representation: Tibetan