Love comes in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s between adventurous pirates, burgeoning demon hunters, smooth spies, or even your average couple trying to make it all work. Young Men in Love, edited by Joe Glass and Matt Miner, showcases all these relationships and more, containing twenty stories from queer creators devoted to exploring the romantic hurdles and queer joy of male/masculine couples. This graphic novel boasts a variety of genres: fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal romance, contemporary slice of life, etc., ensuring that each reader will be able to find at least a story or two to enjoy.
Typical of most anthologies, not every story is going to be as hard hitting as the next one. With an average length of four to eight pages, there are some that struggle to break beyond their concept, leaving the reader more with an idea rather than a fleshed out narrative. The majority of contributors, however, manage to pace their stories so that, though we may not spend much time with these characters, they still leave a great amount of impact. Despite the varying appeal of each story, there is an admirable amount of honesty, vulnerability, and love interwoven within them all. An immense sense of pride lives in these pages that comes from an unwavering self-acceptance and the ability to love openly without shame or fear. Moments of loneliness, depression, and doubt play roles in multiple stories, but they always come around to love in the end, whether it comes from a partner or within themselves.
Given the graphic novel’s notable range in terms of content and themes, there are several stories that display aspects of queerness that are rarely discussed in the community. Ned Barnett and Ian Bisbal’s “Another Name” deals with a trans man realizing his identity and coming out to his partner in what was once a heterosexual relationship, highlighting the fears and anxiety that may come with such a discovery. “Act of Grace,” written by Anthony Oliveira and illustrated by Nick Robles, follows a teen expressing religious guilt to his priest, afraid of how his feelings for a boy may conflict with his Catholic upbringing. Editor Joe Glass, along with Auguste Kanakis, throw in a moving inclusion in “Love Yourself,” which has a character experience the fetishization of plus sized men in the community and how validation and love for someone comes from appreciating and celebrating the whole of them rather than a singular aspect. These are all facets to the queer experience that I have seen firsthand, but seldom are they reflected in media tailored to those they are meant to represent. Seeing these conflicts approached and resolved with such depth and respect allows the reader a touch of hope and comfort, even if they may not entirely relate to it.
Intent on including as many voices and experiences as possible, Young Men in Love also gives a tremendous amount of diverse representation in terms of ethnicity and body type. It shies away from solely depicting the stereotypical skinny, white, gay man, as there are several stories with black, brown, and plus-sized protagonists. What’s so refreshing about these depictions is that, aside from “Another Name” and “Love Yourself,” none of the stories make the characters’ backgrounds the focal point of their conflict. They exist as people foremost, without their identities being a source of added trauma.
As there is a separate artist accompanying each installment, there is a vast variety in art styles, ranging from charmingly cartoonish to engagingly realistic. I will forever throw praise onto Nick Robles, who puts so much life into his textures and instills a healthy dose of emotion and drama into “Act of Grace” through his use of lighting and character expressions. There is something Leyendecker-esque about his style where he captures the male form exceptionally well, making it the perfect fit for this collection. I also really appreciated the yellow tinge given to the palette and borders of Paul Allor and Lane Lloyd’s “The Way Home,” producing a nostalgic effect reminiscent of those old comics that had probably been left in the basement for too long. Overall, there is a vibrant rainbow of color throughout the graphic novel, as the reader is treated to vibrant pastels to moody, atmospheric shadows. Each story, as a result, becomes visually distinct and memorable, even if its content may not have lived up to the one that preceded it. None of the art in this graphic novel disappoints, which brings a certain coherence to all the differing perspectives within.
For fans of uplifting romantic stories with happy endings or layered depictions of queer experiences, Young Men in Love will hit that emotional, sappy spot in spades. As a romance comic, the content is fairly clean, with nothing going further than the occasional cuddle or kiss. The featured protagonists range from being young teens to full adults, so it may appeal most to readers fourteen and up. Librarians and educators looking to obtain graphic novels with positive and varied queer representation from queer creators should consider purchasing this title.
Young Men in Love Vol. By Joe Glass, Matt Miner A Wave Blue World, 2022 ISBN: 9781949518207
Publisher Age Rating: 13+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Black, Brazilian, British, Canadian, Greek, Latinx, Malaysian, Mexican-American, Bisexual, Gay, Queer, Nonbinary, Trans Character Representation: Black, British, East Asian, Latinx, Gay, Queer, Nonbinary, Trans, Catholic
Izzy Crane, Sleepy Hollow’s newest resident and paranormal cynic, is getting a little tired with the town’s obsession of its famous local legend, the Headless Horseman. Even with Halloween right around the corner, Izzy has no time to focus on ghosts when making new friends at a new school has its own challenges, like her developing crush on local teen icon Vicky Van Tassel. That all changes, however, when the Horseman himself chases her down one night, bringing with him a deadly mystery that’s been haunting the Van Tassel family for generations. To save her from a gruesome fate, Izzy must team up with Vicky and jock prankster, Croc Byun, and face the malevolent force stalking Sleepy Hollow.
The writing team of Shannon Watters, co-author and co-creator of Lumberjanes, and debut author Branden Boyer-White brings new life into this legendary tale, with Hollow standing as a fresh reimagining for a new generation. Each member of the core trio carries a great amount of charisma, sparking from Izzy’s skepticism and determination, Vicky’s need for identity beyond her family name, and Croc’s goofball good-naturedness. Their dynamic with each other easily makes them a group to root for as they face conflicts both supernatural and domestic. Izzy and Vicky’s relationship in particular serves as the heart of the story as the reader slowly sees them grow closer and navigate their feelings for each other, resulting in sweet scenes of queer teen romance, as well some comedic moments from a clueless Croc. Along with the sapphic representation, the comic holds a diverse cast, with Izzy being biracial and Latina, Croc Asian, and a side character/potential love interest named Marjorie using mobility aids.
One aspect that was somewhat disappointing was the villain, whose entire vibe just screams baddie from his first panel. Though his role is immediately obvious, I was hoping for something to make him stick out more, a hidden layer or an interesting motivation. And yet, from start to finish, everything about him comes off as surface level, which is a shame given the potential that comes from updating such an iconic story. I kept feeling like I was waiting for a reveal or explanation of his identity or actions, something to further his characterization, only for it to fizzle out at the end. While I was left wanting more in this regard, everything else about the story, from its characters to the reframing and revisioning of the Headless Horseman folklore, provided a good balance that left me satisfied in the end.
Artist Berenice Nelle captures the Halloween spirit with lovely crisp colors that ooze with autumn charm that matches the coziness of the small-town setting. While some panels have backgrounds that wonderfully utilize one or both of these aesthetics, there are several panels, especially as the story progresses, that only use a flat, solid color. The backgrounds in these panels typically succeed in getting emotions across, but may break immersion in the scene or cause it to be less visually interesting, especially if they take up the majority of the page. In this instance, the characters become the focal point of the panel and, for the most part, Nelle’s designs always manage to bring vitality to each scene. Facial expressions are emotive and carry a great deal of personality, and the character designs come together to form a distinct cast of characters. Vicky, in an act of self-expression, is constantly shown wearing different clothing styles leaning towards gothic, country, or preppy to name a few, and not a one looks out of place on her. Nelle’s illustrations hold an intrigue to them that makes readers excited to see what could be waiting for them on the next page.
Those that enjoy the supernatural shenanigans of Lumberjanes as well as the spooky style and characterization of Specter Inspectors will most likely enjoy Hollow, a story that leans more on the lighter, more comedic side of paranormal activity while still having its moments of danger and action. Teens and younger adults may gravitate towards this title for its sense of humor, moments of drama, and relatable issues, especially when it comes to living up to and trying to distance oneself from familial expectations, making it a good fit for the 13-17 demographic. Educators and librarians looking to fill their graphic novel collections with inclusive reimaginings in terms of story, characters, and tone should consider purchasing this title.
Hollow By Branden Boyer-White, Shannon Watters Art by Berenice Nelle BOOM! Box, 2022 ISBN: 9781684158522
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Lesbian, Character Representation: East Asian, Latine, Lesbian, Queer,
In the third volume of the Secret Smithsonian Adventures series, middle school students Eric, Dominique, Ajay, and Josephine have just returned from wrangling dinosaurs in volume 2 of the series to discover that their work is far from over. The present-day United States is almost unrecognizable with soldiers on the streets enforcing curfews, family members accused of sedition, and everyone preparing for Coronation Day! The four young heroes head back to the Smithsonian, this time to the National Museum of American History, where the American Presidency exhibit is now devoted to American Monarchs. A dastardly villain is rewriting history, and it’s up to our four adventurers to set things right. Using time machines developed by the Smithsonian, the schoolmates must travel to the scene of George Washington’s farewell address, where Washington’s imposter is seeking a third term instead of stepping aside for a new president.
It’s Treason, By George! relies on background from earlier volumes, but provides some additional details about the origin of the Smithsonian’s time machines and why they were created. Readers are expected to be familiar with the good-guy scientists including Smitty who can speak to the protagonists across time and space and create holographic effects, and Al who runs the show at the Smithsonian. The villain Gould, also introduced in previous volumes, has additional backstory revealed in this book. However, it is never entirely clear what is motivating Gould to wreak havoc upon historical events. Perhaps forthcoming volumes will shed greater light on this mystery.
The full-color illustrations are simple and accessible to young readers, with crisp lines, bold colors, and an uncomplicated panel structure. The racially diverse main characters are portrayed realistically with expressive features. However, a lack of clarity in the portrayal of the historical characters is problematic. Since the storyline hinges on the villain reversing Washington’s historical actions, it is critical that the reader be able to discern the difference between the real Washington and the fraud, which is very difficult at times. Hamilton, Adams, and Washington are also nearly indistinguishable in some panels, further muddling the flow of several otherwise pivotal scenes, though dialogue does help clarify the action.
The concept for this series, and this volume in particular, is intriguing. It provides an opportunity for young people to explore history, and to become acquainted with the collections of the Smithsonian museums, as well as to contemplate the merits of a constitutional republican form of government. Unfortunately, the execution of this concept is more simplistic than would be desired for the intended audience. Whereas the text addresses complex ideas such as the peaceful transition of power within a modern republic, the plot lacks the depth preferable for the maturity of most middle grade readers. Additionally, the protagonists tend to break from adolescent speech patterns to provide precocious commentary about the historical events they are witnessing, and they lack the dimension to make them relatable characters.
While I had higher hopes for this series and this installment in particular, It’s Treason, By George! is a suitable addition to school and public library collections where historical graphic novels are in demand. The brief length will also enable this text to be used as supplemental material for classroom instruction.
Secret Smithsonian Adventures, vol. 3: It’s Treason, By George! by Chris Kientz, Steven Hockensmith Art by Lee Nielsen ISBN: 9781588345868 Smithsonian Books, 2017 Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
Strange things are happening in the town of Blithedale. Teenager Claudia Jones is missing, and other odd things have begun to happen around town. In this offbeat look at teen life, a diverse cast of characters struggle with complex issues as the mystery continues to mount. Class clown Nigel hopes to find a girlfriend. Emily faces life-changing decisions. Paula longs to form her own identity apart from Emily. Handsome Brett feels misunderstood.
Each chapter is drawn in a different style representing each of the four characters’ points of view. Nigel’s chapters are in grayscale with many diagonal panels, Emily’s in stark black and white with square and rectangular panels, Brett’s in shaded grays, and Paula’s in line drawings with no panel divisions. Throughout the volume, characters are often shown as shadows, or as only faces instead of fully-formed figures. Color only enters the art in rare places near the end of the book, and its presence gives significant clues as to what may have happened to Claudia. This stylistic choice adds depth and interest to the story, though it can cause confusion in identifying characters, as they are drawn differently in each chapter.
Nigel’s narrative begins and ends this volume, yet the primary narrative lies with Emily. While Claudia’s disappearance is significant to each character, it is not the central plot. As the series title suggests, the focus of the narrative is trained upon “life on earth,” the sometimes-mundane, and sometimes earth-shattering experiences of the four central characters. Emily’s story is the main focus of Losing the Girl. This makes one wonder who the titular “Girl” might be. Claudia is lost from the beginning of the book, but there are ways in which other girls in the story could be lost, as well. As this is the first volume of a planned trilogy, it will be interesting to see how Claudia’s disappearance and possible reappearance plays out, as well as how the stories of the other characters might continue.
This title will appeal to teens with more sophisticated tastes. As some sections have very spare text and meaning is communicated subtextually, readers must bring some level of analytical skill to this work. There is much to be gleaned from analyzing the different art styles and perspectives in the points of view, and adept readers will enjoy questioning Marinaomi’s choices and what they might mean. Due to the unconventional art style, and because many questions remain unresolved at the end, some readers will find this selection too unusual, but those with more diverse tastes will really enjoy Marinaomi’s take on high school life and teen angst. The content is suitable for high-school aged teens, and does include some mild language and sexual content, though none is shown visually. Losing the Girl will be a good addition to YA graphic novel collections where science fiction and unique artistic styles are popular.
Life on Earth, book 1: Losing the Girl by Marinaomi ISBN: 9781512449105 Graphic Universe, 2018 Publisher Age Rating: 14-18
Raven Xingtao, whose story begins in the third volume of Princeless [see our review here], Jeremy Whitley’s Eisner-nominated series, is the daughter of the Pirate King and an accomplished pirate in her own right. She is heir to her father’s fleet, but her two greedy younger brothers convince her father that because she is a girl, she should be imprisoned for her safety instead.
Book One, aptly titled Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew, opens with Raven, newly freed from the tower in which her scheming brothers imprisoned her, on the hunt for a crew to sail a ship she’s stolen from another pirate. Book Two (Free Women), Book Three (Two Boys, Five Girls, and Three Love Stories), and Book Four (Two Ships in the Night) follow Raven and her crew as they learn to work together, face down their rivals, and grow strong enough to confront Raven’s brothers.
Initially, the story focuses on Raven’s single-minded quest for revenge, but as she assembles her all-female crew and sets sail, the story increasingly focuses on the connections among the women on-board and the way they protect and care for one another. The ship becomes a haven against the incompetent grandstanding common among the pirate men who challenge them along the way. Raven’s crew consists of women of diverse races, sizes, abilities, and sexualities. Multiple main characters are openly LGBTQ+, including Raven herself, and the friendships and romantic relationships among these characters feature prominently throughout the series.
Jeremy Whitley writes every issue of Raven the Pirate Princess, and it is similar in tone to Princeless. Raven and her crew are funny, resourceful, and endlessly supportive of one another as they learn to work together as a team. While this is not an Own Voices story, Whitley navigates Raven’s feelings and experiences, and those of the other crew members, with grace and thoughtfulness. Artists Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt (Books 1-3) and Xenia Pamfil (Book 4) complement the story with scenery and characters that are distinctive and rich in detail.
While Princeless is suitable for audiences of any age, Raven the Pirate Princess includes content that may be better suited to the tween and teen crowd. For example, when Raven is interviewing pirates to form her crew in Book One, most of the humor hinges on the reader understanding the references behind the sexism of the male candidates (“You’re probably not even a real pirate girl,” one laments. “I bet you don’t even know what Captain Fraction’s name was before he changed it!”). Though younger audiences may certainly enjoy the series, and there is no content that would be inappropriate for this age group, some cultural references and tongue-in-cheek jokes may fly over their heads. This title will appeal most strongly to readers who recognize and appreciate these references to real-world frustrations.
There is one caveat to my enthusiastic support of Raven the Pirate Princess: there is a sharp thematic change between the third and fourth volumes. Book four came out after a year long hiatus and features the opening arc of a new title (Raven The Pirate Princess: Year Two). The focus of the story veers sharply away from the camaraderie and revenge narrative driving the first three books and toward shallow disagreements and manipulative cat-fighting among the crew members, whose personalities deviate significantly from their Year One counterparts. The plot of books 1-3 goes unmentioned entirely. It is a significant and jarring departure from an otherwise very strong series.
Despite my disappointment in the fourth installment, it is worth purchasing the series in its entirety, as Raven the Pirate Princess is still ongoing. Book Five: Get Lost Together was released on June 26th. While Princeless vol. 3 establishes the context for Raven’s story, it is not necessary to read Princeless before beginning the Raven series. Raven is structured with new readers in mind, and the first pages provide enough exposition to follow the story fully. This series is an excellent purchase for fans of Princeless and other high-energy and relationship-driven adventure series, including Lumberjanes, The Legend of Korra, and Misfit City.
Raven the Pirate Princess, vols 1-4 by Jeremy Whitley Art by Rosy Higgins,Ted Brandt, and Xenia Pamfil vol 1 ISBN: 9781632291196 vol 2 ISBN: 9781632291295 vol 3 ISBN: 9781632291400 vol 4 ISBN: 9781632292643 Action Lab, 2015 Publisher Age Rating: 9-12 years
Wayward, vol. 1: String Theory contains the first five issues of this ongoing, popular series penned by Canadian Jim Zub and American Steve Cummings about a Japanese-Irish girl in Tokyo, Japan. The story begins with Rori Lane’s arrival in Japan from Ireland to live with her Japanese mother and quickly evolves to a strong tale of evocative characters, some human, others not so much. What fascinated me from the beginning was the respect paid to Japanese folklore within the tale and by Zack Davisson, a translator and scholar of Japanese folklore, ghosts, and manga. I must admit it was his essays in the individual issues, unfortunately not included in the compilation, that drew me to the title in the first place. It was Zub’s writing and Cummings’ art that has kept me returning to the series for four years. According to the blurb in April’s Previews, however, the final arc of the series is to begin June 20, 2018 with Issue 26. Reviews consistently mention the validity, realism, research, and attention to detail between the covers of this title.
From the onset the confused high school student not only has to face her own identity and outsider questions but Japan’s cornucopia of yokai (paranormal beings) and kami (Shinto deities) who are drawn to her own newly discovered supernatural abilities. Front and centre is the careful research that is the foundation of this series. The yokai are immediately identifiable to those who have a passing familiarity with the myths and legends of Japanese paranormal tales. There were numerous discreet treasures for me while reading this series. When encountering the kappa for the first time, for example, Rori proclaims, “I liked them better when they were cute and had li’l bowls on their heads. Now they’re bad turtles.” Those familiar with the lineage of kappas and their recent development from seriously harmful creatures to popular cultural kitsch in Japan could recognize and, perhaps, sympathize with her observations.
Rori, always susceptible to seeing patterns, can now follow interwoven red line patterns (strings), visible only to her, that lead her to mysterious and wondrous companions as well as fearsome and unearthly antagonists as the story arc races at a quick pace. Not a lot of time for introspection for Rori, she and the reader are thrown right into the mix without warning. Rori and her friends are captivating and sympathetic. They are, also, young, impressively reflecting the angst and struggles of other protagonists in coming-of-age stories and while not fully developed in this first volume, promise to be more fully rounded in the subsequent volumes.
Davisson, in his foreword, elucidates on the realism of the Japan as portrayed in the series; it is not the exotic romanticized version that frequently appears in Western novels and films. Rori’s reaction to the cultural shock of this real Japan with the different social mores of school life, the challenges to her rudimentary understanding of the language, and the strange behavior of her mother are complex elements of her abrupt and chaotic learning curve. The writing is strong and eloquent, the illustrations realistic and striking, and the use of colour is particularly effective. A feast for all the senses. Davisson points out that the Kanji signs in the illustrations are authentic and contain hidden clues for the reader of Japanese. This attention to detail is also evident in the architectural and cultural details of contemporary Tokyo.
Volume one also contains the cover art from the individual issues, first in full colour and then as a negative, an etched splash page emphasizing the terror and horror of the supernatural elements of the story. Pages of character designs and background notes of some of the characters fill out the volume. While not as fulfilling as the essays included in the individual issues, these notes sufficiently offer historical and folkloric background about the kappa, kitsune, and others that play a large role in the story line.
Wayward, vol. 1: String Theory by Jim Zub Art by Steve Cummings ISBN: 9781632151735 image, 2015 Publisher Age Rating: M
The Complete Okko by Hub follows the story of a young boy named Tikku as he meets and joins the traveling party of the ronin, Okko. If you’re like me, you might be going into this book not knowing what a ronin is. A quick online search explained that a ronin is a masterless samurai. The series is divided into five cycles, each more or less representing an element. The cycles are divided into two parts and were originally each published separately. We first meet Tikku in The Cycle of Water. He’s sitting in a tree watching his geisha sister, Little Carp, as she meets with a man. Shortly after this scene, Tikku’s sister is kidnapped and he embarks on a mission to save her. So how does he end up with the legendary Okko? Tikku pledges himself to the ronin Okko in exchange for his help in saving Little Carp. Joining Tikku and Okko on this quest are Noshin, the saké-loving monk, and Noburo, whose face is always hidden behind a red mask. Noshin also happens to be the man that Little Carp was with at the start of our journey with Tikku; he also has a vested interested in saving Little Carp.
What follows is a funny, action-packed, and sometimes brutal first volume in The Complete Okko. Tikku’s journey with Okko and the rest of their party continues in The Cycle of Earth, The Cycle of Air, The Cycle of Fire, and finally The Cycle of Emptiness. Among these pages readers will find vampires, giant combat robots, elemental spirits, and a multitude of other demons.
This series was originally released in the early 2000s so you’ll probably encounter people who’ve already read Okko. So then, what’s the draw for readers who have already enjoyed this samurai fantasy saga?
The Complete Okko boasts a whopping 120 pages of previously unreleased content. For people new to the series, adults interested in tales of samurai and demon hunters, or anyone who enjoys a thinly-veiled Japanese setting (welcome to the empire of Pajan!) will enjoy this. While inspired by feudal Japan and samurais, keep in mind that this is still a fantasy world. The author, Hub, is from France. The characters are over the top and I didn’t feel that Okko was an attempt at an accurate depiction of samurai and Japanese culture, but at the same time I also did not find that there was any stereotyping going on to be concerned about. There is some nudity, and as I mentioned before, violence, but I think mature teens would still enjoy this title along with the rest of its adult audience.
The art in Okko is beautiful, but it is also a lot more; I was constantly surprised at how thoughtful the art is. Take for example the opening sequence: we’re treated to a scene at sunset; a tree lingers over a house where we’ll find Little Carp. It’s in this tree that we’ll first see Tikku. As the opening sequence closes, the last panel closes with a scene that mimics Tikku’s opening; we see the same tree now empty and the same house where we met Little Carp, but we see everything from a new angle. The sky is grey. The house is destroyed. It’s a really beautiful example of the cyclical imagery that will follow throughout the comic and a perfect example of the power of art in comics.
A note to my fellow Canadians: Did you know that Okko was originally published in French? I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for a great French title to add to my reader’s advisory repertoire that isn’t a title translated from English. Okko is absolutely one to add to your list of options if you have the French volumes in your collection.
The Complete Okko by Hub ISBN: 9781684150434 Archaia/Boom! Studios, 2018
Occasionally in comics, it’s time to “get the team back together again”. The new Runaways series is no exception. The original concept followed Nico, Chase, Gert, Karolina, Molly, and Alex as they learned their parents were super villains in the Marvel Universe and went on the run together to escape them. With a TV show on Hulu, it is an obvious time to relaunch this series. Marvel has also brought in young adult novelist, Rainbow Rowell of Eleanor & Park fame to write the series. There aren’t many people who could follow up on Brian K. Vaughan’s well known run on a book he created, but I was genuinely excited to see what Rowell could bring to these characters. If the first volume is any indication, it will be a fun ride.
Rowell starts off with some challenges. The team is spread to the wind, several original characters are dead, and it’s hard to call a bunch of 20-year-olds who have lost their parents, “runaways”. Other than Molly, they aren’t kids anymore.
The story begins as Chase finds a way to bring a former teammate back to life. Thus, the first part of the story involves Chase and Nico catching this newly alive character (and the readers) up on what teammates have been doing since that character’s death. Once the exposition is taken care of, these three teammates go out to gather the rest of the team. What they find is that everyone is leading fulfilling lives and are reluctant to start being heroes again. When they reach their youngest and strongest member, Molly, the conflict of this first book in the series starts in earnest.
Molly is living with her grandmother and seems to be thriving. Her grandmother is warm and friendly and seems to understand everything the kids are going through. Yet, in order for them to be Runaways again, history must repeat itself. Soon, we find grandma is up to no good and the team must break free of her influence and go on the run again.
The core team is back together and Rowell captures the characteristics of each team member well. The revived character is now one of the youngest members and past relationships are more complicated (it will be creepy if they revive romantic relationships for this character as their partner is now an adult). Rowell brings a lot of humor to the team and it is welcome. It might be challenging to introduce new readers to this book because their history is so complicated, but I expect future volumes will shine since the complex part of gathering the team again is done.
One of the strongest points of this book is the artwork by Kris Anka and coloring by Matthew Wilson. Anka’s linework is clean, yet still more realistic than cartoonish. His faces are particularly good as he can convey a range of emotions with minimal drawing. Wilson brings vibrant colors to bear on the various skin colors and hair colors of the characters. Fashion is always important to young characters who don’t have costumes and both Anka & Wilson bring style and panache to these characters’ wardrobes. The art team is top notch.
Most libraries with extensive teen graphic novel or YA selections will want this book. Followers of the previous books, Rowell’s fans and people interested in the TV show will want to take a look. I’m hopeful that future volumes can shine a spotlight on these great characters and help them reach a new audience. Runaways was the first in a wave of young superhero books that led to Ms. Marvel, Squirrel-Girl, and many more great new heroes. They deserve more time in the spotlight.
Runaways, vol. 1: Find Your Way Home by Rainbow Rowell Art by Kris Anka and Matthew Wilson ISBN: 9781302908522 Marvel, 2018 Publisher Age Rating: teen
“If you write and draw, you just need a pen and a notebook. And a good pair of shoes.” Attributed to Anton Chekhov, this idea flows throughout Japanese Notebooks, a graphic novel from the artist known simply as Igort. With equal parts journal, multi-media scrapbook and existential musings, the book succeeds as both a captivating memoir and meditation on Japanese culture.
Thanks to a chance meeting with a representative from the Tokyo-based manga publisher Kodansha, Igort had the opportunity to experience the grueling life of a manga creator first hand through a scholarship that allowed him to work and live in Tokyo for six months during the early ’90s. His time spent there forms the foundation for Japanese Notebooks. Whether visiting a Shinto shrine, connecting with renowned manga creators like Yoshiro Tatsumi and Jiro Taniguchi, or contemplating apparent contradictions in Japanese culture such as its long traditions of both violent war and peaceful meditation; Igort reveals a multi-layered Japan that often lies just beyond his grasp as he tries to capture it through text and image. In the words of the artist himself, “This book is the story of chasing a dream, and surrendering upon finding that dreams cannot be grasped.”
This quest for meaning is a solitary one, and Igort conveys his isolation visually through multipaneled frames that often feature a lone figure engulfed by his surroundings. I was struck by the emptiness of such spaces, especially the almost vacant Tokyo streets and public buildings that should be brimming with the hustle and bustle of large city life. Igort’s choice of color palette also parallels the action and emotion within the storyline, with bold primary colors adding intensity to illustrations and photographs of troubling societal issues while soft tans, greens and yellows convey the calm of the natural world. In other instances, the switch to a monochromatic color scheme effectively demarcates sub-narratives and samplings of other work. Different stylistic renderings, ranging from noir to cinematic to more traditional Japanese artistry, further differentiate story threads and flashbacks. Igort also showcases his versatility through realistic sketches that capture intimate portraits of the people he meets and the historical figures he studies while in Japan.
For readers interested in gaining a behind-the-scenes perspective of manga and graphic novel production, Igort provides insight into the amount of work and commitment required, examples of ground-breaking artists and the methods they use to create their craft. The inclusion of editorial critiques also serve as great instructional tidbits for aspiring writers and illustrators to absorb. Of course, Igort does not always follow the rules, instead pushing the format’s boundaries. I appreciated the subtle humor behind his decision to place a frame in which his editor advises him to use text sparingly near subsequent text-heavy pages. And it works.
Because the graphic novel contains nudity and addresses violent topics such as rape and murder, it is more appropriate for older audiences. Igort treats all subject matter sensitively, and recommendations to younger readers should be made on a case-by-case basis for those interested in graphic novel creation, the manga industry, and Japanese culture or history. The opportunity to explore a multi-layered Japan, as well as Igort’s personal experiences and insights, make for a worthwhile and enlightening read.
Japanese Notebooks: A Journey to the Empire of Signs by Igort ISBN: 9781452158709 Chronicle Books LLC, 2017
Sixteen-year-old Chiaki is sleepwalking through life, unable to find real enjoyment in anything. As it turns out, it’s not just a teenage phase. Eight years ago, on a trip to Greece, he was bitten by a strange three-headed dog. That dog was the mythical Cerberus and that bite stole a piece of Chiaki’s soul. Now, Cerberus feels really bad about the whole incident—bad enough to come to Chiaki’s house personally and try to make things right.
But the Cerberus who shows up at Chiaki’s house isn’t a dog. She’s a cute teen girl who calls herself Kuro—and who has a dog tail. Chiaki, thinking it’s fake, grabs her tail, and Kuro transforms into another girl with a totally different face and personality! Another tug of the tail turns her back. Chiaki soon discovers that Cerberus can take the form of three different girls: Kuro, Shirogane, and Roze. These girls (a.k.a. Cerberus’s three heads) have different attitudes and priorities, but they are here to be Chiaki’s companion and bodyguard. Which is good news for Chiaki, because he has no friends and his incomplete soul has begun to attract monsters.
This is a harem manga—a story with many girls interested in one guy—despite the fact that three of the girls who are obsessed with Chiaki are kind of the same girl. There’s also his classmate, Hinata, who happens to be a monster-fighting shrine maiden, and volume two introduces another mythical canine, Fenrir, also in the form of a pretty teen with an interest in our hero. That’s not to say that Chiaki’s entire social scene is made up of girls who are into him; with the help of Kuro, he’s starting to make friends, including a socially-awkward classmate and his cat-demon companion. The characters’ personalities are distinct and make for interesting conflicts and friendships.
Chiaki is well-intentioned, if a bit of a listless loner. Kuro also has her heart in the right place, but is completely clueless. This results in a lot of humor based around an uncomfortable Chiaki frantically trying to stop Kuro from joining him in the bathtub, or in bed, or explaining to her that “put on an apron to help clean up” does not mean “take off all other clothes.” As of the first two volumes, the manga doesn’t show any nipples or genitals, and no one is actually having sex, but there are a number of sex-related jokes and suggestive scenes.
The art is crisp, polished, and detailed. All of the characters are delicate and pretty, with expressive faces. The backgrounds are intricate, but without distracting from the characters. When monsters or other supernatural elements appear, they blend smoothly with the style of the rest of the art.
So far, this is an upbeat, mostly low-stakes story. Kuro (the form Cerberus most commonly takes) is determined to help Chiaki learn to be happy. She recruits his classmate Hinata to help, and it’s cute to watch them drag Chiaki to an amusement park and convince him to throw a study party. Periodically, monsters come sniffing around Chiaki, which usually means a fight for Cerberus and/or Hinata. However, there are hints that things are more complex than they seem. For example, Roze wears a mask that blocks some of Cerberus’s power. Just what is she hiding?
Fans of wacky fantasy will enjoy the oddball premise of this series, while fans of harem-style romantic comedy will like the cast of unusual characters and their frequent, silly misunderstandings. The fanservice and some sex-based humor makes this series best for readers who are at least in their teens.
Today’s Cerberus, vols. 1-2 by Ato Sakurai Vol 1 ISBN: 9780316545457 Vol 2 ISBN: 9780316504591 Yen Press, 2016-2017 Publisher Age Rating: Teen