Constantine: Distorted Illusions

It is said that a little knowledge is a most dangerous thing, and one defiant magician from the pages of Alan Moore’s classic Swamp Thing inevitably maneuvers past perils standing in his path to sneer in the face of danger. A wise-cracking, double-dealing supernatural detective who escaped the jaws of hell, he is known as none other than the enigmatic and self-proclaimed John Constantine. In DC Comics’s trend of reimagining classic iconic characters, Kami Garcia (Teen Titans: Raven, Beautiful Creatures) and Isaac Goodhart (Victor and Nora: A Gotham Love Story) conjure forth a younger version of the notorious laughing magician venturing into adulthood in Constantine: Distorted Illusions.

The story starts off in London with an 18-year-old Constantine who, at the beckoning of his stepfather, secretly exploits an opportunity to hone his magic powers from the Lady Maguerite Delphine—a high-ranking sorceress of an elite magician’s society—as an excuse to take a trip to the U.S. Instead of serving as a magician’s apprentice, he would prefer to hook up with his best friend Monica and jam with a punk band dubbed the Mucous Membrane. While hanging out in Washington D.C., he pays a visit to Lady Delphine only to be booted out of her mansion for his reckless curiosity, but not before swiping a book of spells from her arcane collection, thus triggering a series of dangerous misadventures. Constantine teams up with a ragtag group of friends and dabbles with trick illusions to amplify the visual effects for their punk band gig. One spell leads to another until a vengeance spell is unwittingly cast, summoning forth an unspeakable evil that threatens to consume the very soul of one his friends.

This inventive take on the hellblazing magus presents a daring, self-assured Constantine whose heedless actions catapult him into a heap of trouble with deadly consequences, and drags his friends into messy predicaments. Along the way, he falls for a brunette named Luna at a night club, oblivious that she harbors a secret of her own. The plot unravels rapidly across different locales with panels shaded in dark purple and midnight blue, casting a mystical aura. As the action escalates, panel borders twist and bend, creating a supernatural, psychedelic ambience, throwing the characters into pandemonium. Garcia highlights a youthful rendition of Constantine whose impetuous boldness casts him into a whirlpool of misfortunes.

Packed with thrills, intrigue, romance, and deadly magic of supernatural proportions, this chapter in the Constantine saga navigates the delicate terrain of relationships, trust, dangers and consequences of taking risks, and assuming responsibility for one’s actions. Longtime fans will also witness a more down-to-earth and inexperienced Constantine whose moral compass steers him on a path towards redemption. Constantine: Distorted Illusion will add a lively dose of supernatural horror and edginess to young adult graphic novel collections.

Constantine: Distorted Illusions
By Kami Garcia
Art by Isaac Goodhart
DC, 2022
ISBN: 9781779507730

Publisher Age Rating: 13-17
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)


Originally published in 1993 in Angels & Visitations, this short story was apparently written in one weekend and is one of Neil Gaiman’s most reprinted stories.[i] The story is charming with a medieval knight on a quest, a wise, delightful elderly woman, and, of course, The Holy Grail found in a second-hand store. Mrs. Whitaker spends a good deal of time checking for bargains at the store and this time she finds the perfect ornament for her fireplace mantel. She barely puts it into place when Galaad arrives hoping to purchase the Grail from her to complete his quest. But, you know, it is the perfect knickknack for that spot! He continues to visit her with additional items to trade for the Grail but to no avail. He does get served tea and cake however and to visit with the enchanting woman. Eventually she makes a worthy trade for two of the exotic items he offers her: the Philosopher’s Stone and Egg of the Phoenix.

The prose story is whimsical and romantic, filled with grace, loyalty, honour, and friendship. The collaboration with Colleen Doran’s illustrations moves it beyond the charm of the prose and into the realm of magic and alchemy. Doran, a long-time collaborator and friend of Gaiman’s, wears this story with pride and her own tenure. She has created a masterpiece, interweaving the ancient tales of the Arthurian knights with a more contemporary story of a widow surrounded by memories and a quiet lifestyle in a small British village while remaining faithful to Gaiman’s writing style and text. I particularly appreciated the sharing of stories between Galaad and Mrs. Whitaker, his about his mother Elaine and other members of the Arthurian circle, illustrated in three full pages each with a series of vignettes, while Mrs. Whitaker’s stories of her husband are accompanied by images and artifacts from World War II. Doran was responsible for adapting the short story, the illustrations, and the Illuminated Manuscript Lettering. Todd Klein did the rest of the lettering which also adds to the charm and whimsy of the tale being told.

Working in watercolours, the delicate illustrations have a soft and dreamy look, harking back to the ancient Medieval illuminated manuscripts that Doran employed as inspiration. The brilliant blues and reds that make a frequent appearance on the pages add to the enigmatic and tranquil spirit of the story. In the Notes section at the end of the book she clarifies that she used 18K gold for some of the illumination, while attempting to evoke the watercolors of one of her favorite artists—Peter Rabbit creator, Beatrix Potter. The two styles compliment each other and complete the fantastical experience for the reader. No one is surprised that a medieval knight wearing armor and riding a horse visits the neighbourhood or that he finds a grail of another sort at the same second-hand store. The varied panel layout moves the story at a measured pace—this is not an action tale, this is one where the reader takes time to savour the illustrations, the prose and, perhaps, too, the idea of another cup of tea. Expressive faces and body language add an additional dimension to the story being related, especially with the incidental but important story of Marie.

I highly recommend this exquisite graphic novel for the story and the illustrations, but even more so for the collaboration between the text and art.

For those interested, there is currently an exhibition of this work at the Cartoon Art Museum: The Cartoon Art Museum presents Chivalry: The Art of Colleen Doran, an exhibition of original artwork from the Dark Horse graphic novel Chivalry illustrated by Doran and written by Neil Gaiman. This exhibition features Doran’s beautiful cover painting and twenty original pages personally selected by the artist and is on display from April 23 through September 18, 2022.

[i] Wagner, Hank, Christopher Golden & Stephen R. Bissett. Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman. N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, 2008, 381.

By Neil Gaiman
Art by Colleen Doran
Dark Horse, 2022
ISBN: 9781506719115

Related media:  Book to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Representation: English

Evil Thing: A Villains Graphic Novel

Follow Cruella as she tells her own story from childhood to prison. With a mother focused on fashion and appearances, a father who dies when Cruella is only 16, and a husband who dies young as well, it’s no wonder she struggles with her emotions and how to show affection. From presenting fancy gifts to show her “love” to trying to marry her daughter off to gain access to her husband’s inheritance, Cruella’s mother makes it clear that she’s only interested in money and not her daughter’s well-being. 

Cruella’s best friend is Anita, a young girl from a lower social standing. Over the years, Anita is the voice of reason and familial love, as is Miss Prickett, Cruella’s tutor. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to help Cruella develop deep feelings of love and respect for others. Instead, she makes the choice to put her mother’s approval above all things. Because of this, after the violent, fiery death of her husband Jack, Cruella falls into a deep depression. And when she’s finally roused, her demeanor has drastically changed, as has her physical appearance. 

The minimal color usage (black, white, and red) is reminiscent of older comics, which speaks to the time period of the story. Although there isn’t a lot of color, the artist puts it to good use and makes sure to include enough details that the lack of other colors is less noticeable. I think this choice matches the tone and setting of the story quite well. Another aspect that is quite fun is the connections between characters in this retelling that first appear in the animated Disney movie. 

I haven’t read the original novel that inspired this graphic novel adaptation, but I have seen the recently released Cruella movie, which does not have the same story line, but shares a similar character arc. Preteen readers will enjoy this book, but note that grief and loss are covered heavily throughout the story. 

Evil Thing: A Villains Graphic Novel
By Serena Valentino
Art by Arielle Jovellanos
Disney-Hyperion, 2021
ISBN: 9781368076104

Publisher Age Rating: 12-18
Related media:  Book to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)

Paul is Dead: When the Beatles Lost McCartney

The “Paul is Dead” conspiracy theory is well-known in the Beatles fan community. Basically, for years, conspiracy theorists have said that the real Paul McCartney died on November 9, 1966 and was subsequently replaced by a lookie-likie. He died in a car accident they say, and they only know he’s dead because of all the clues left behind on subsequent Beatles albums. Now, who’s to say whether this bit of folklore is true—well, maybe the real Paul McCartney has repeatedly said—but, regardless of his thoughts, the rumor has continued to circulate up until the present day. Luckily for readers, this spooky and fascinating story is brought to glorious illustrated life in Paolo Baron and Ernesto Carbonetti’s beautiful graphic novel, Paul is Dead: When the Beatles Lost McCartney.

This fascinating tale will intrigue both those new and seasoned to the tale of poor Paul. It’s November 1966, and John Lennon has just received the terrible, horrible, and heartbreaking news that his musical partner, best mate, and longtime friend, Paul McCartney, has been killed in a car crash. In just a moment, John knows the Beatles cannot move on without him. But, he has to know what happened, no matter how painful. So, he enlists the help of George and Ringo to find out the truth and say goodbye to their friend. All of this is happening during the recording of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and readers experience jumps in time as recording scenes are shown mixed amongst the modern day sleuthing of the traumatized three.

From the very beginning page, readers will be transfixed. Baron tells the story in words that are mesmerizing. I could hear the voices of the Beatles as I read his words, and I would recommend that readers unfamiliar with the band should listen to their voices (and their albums, by the way), to further intensify the realness that Baron’s words bring. The story that he creates, the dialogue he imagines makes the story seem real, that this is a graphic novel about an event that really happened.

As a perfect accompaniment to the words are Carbonetti’s illustrations. The illustrations are perfectly indicative and representative to the psychedelic 1960s. The drawings are a perfect mix of surreality and reality in a way that makes readers feel like they are floating in space. Carbonetti’s uses a spectacular and gorgeous color palette, with striking and vivid primary color scenes that highlight depth and perspective in a very unusual way. Panels flow into one another effortlessly, and full splash pages are unexpected and striking. Speech bubbles are well placed amongst the controlled chaos with beautiful and precise lettering. This is a book that begs to be looked at and studied over and over again due to the intricate illustrations contained within. I can’t think of more perfect illustrations for a book about this day in the Beatles life.

Paul is Dead: When the Beatles Lost McCartney is a spectacular work of fiction with a sneaky and surprise twist at the end. Perfectly paired story and illustrations bring this haunted conspiracy to psychedelic life for all readers to enjoy. Pick this book up and be prepared to be transported to another world, full of mystery and dripping, trippy colors. A beautiful book that will be enjoyed for years to come.

Paul is Dead: When the Beatles Lost McCartney
By Paolo Baron
Art by Ernesto Carbonetti
ISBN: 9781534316294
Genre: Nonfiction – Myths
Image Comics, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 13+

Paul is Dead: When the Beatles Lost McCartney
By Paolo Baron
Art by Ernesto Carbonetti
ISBN: 9781534316294
Image Comics, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 13+

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)

By Night

By Night, Volume One is the newest comic from writer John Allison from the Boom! Box line of Boom Studios. He is joined by artist Christine Larsen, colorist Sarah Stern, and letterer Jim Campbell. If Allison’s name sounds familiar it’s because he is the writer behind the award-winning Giant Days, which wrapped up last year. While Giant Days is a realistic fiction story focusing on the life of university students, By Night is a completely different animal. It’s an adventure mystery story with Allison’s well-known wit shining through.

The plot focuses on two ex-friends that had gone their separate ways in college. Now they’re both back in their small hometown of Spectrum, South Dakota, where not much ever happens. Spectrum was once a booming manufacturing town fueled by business tycoon Chet Charles’s company Charlesco. When Charles mysteriously disappeared, his factory slowly wound down and people moved away. Jane had hopes of being a film documentarian, but now she’s just a college grad with student loans who lives at home with her parents while working in a boring medical lab. Flighty Heather dropped out of college just shy of graduating with a dual degree in philosophy and marine biology. Heather reconnects with Jane who begrudgingly agrees to go to the local bar where they find Heather’s dad, Chip, celebrating with his coworkers. They’ve just been laid off from Charlesco where they worked security for the past twenty-five years. Heather steals her father’s keys and convinces Jane to go urban exploring at the Charleswood Estate that houses Chalesco. She lures Jane into the adventure by saying she should bring her film gear so they can make a documentary.

The adventure begins when the pair find a locked filed cabinet in Chet Charles’s office. While looking for something to pry it open they find a secret door in a supply closet that leads to what looks to be a movie theater with a weird projector. Heather tries to wrench off a lever to use as a crowbar. Instead, she starts up the machine which leads to the ceiling opening to reveal the moon and the night sky. Then the projector starts up and a portal to another dimension opens! Jane, of course, does not want to go through until Heather pushes that this could be the material she’s looking to document on film. Through the portal they go, where they end up in a fantasy land and meet a green gremlin/troll character named Gardt who helps them escape a scary wolf-man and get back home. The rest of the story follows the pair roping Jane’s friend at the lab, Barney, and Heather’s dad into this adventure. It’s clear there’s more going on at the Charleswood Estate and through the inter-dimensional portal than any of them could ever know.

By Night is an intriguing comic, but the first volume leads the reader to have more questions than it answers, which is a good lure to read the second volume. It’s interesting, because the characters are not really interested in the disappearance of Chet Charles, but the reader should be, with all the clues that are dropped. This comic is slanted toward teen readers. They may not get the 80s television references from the gremlin/troll creature who we find out was friends with Chet. The art is reminiscent of Giant Days, but different enough to make this comic stand alone. I really liked how Larsen draws the inter-dimensional portal with patches of purple mixed with swirls of an inky night sky. The colors are more muted than you would expect from an Allison comic, but it makes sense for the atmosphere of a dying small-town setting and the nighttime scenes in another dimension.

By Night, vol. One
By John Allison
Art by Christine Larsen
ISBN: 9781684152827
Boom Studios, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Teen

Jane Austen: Her Heart Did Whisper

What we know about Jane Austen’s life is very little. We know when and where she was born, lived, and died. We know she wrote six books that are considered some of the greatest in English literature. We also know, to some extent, about her family from their private records. We know she liked to brew beer and loathed doing what was considered women’s work. She was well educated for her time and her astuteness of social classes was unparalleled. But to know Jane herself? Who she was as a person, what she loved and enjoyed, who she loved and loathed, for that we know very little. Upon Jane’s death, she made her sister, Cassandra promise to burn all of her letters, so what we do know of Jane as person outside of public records almost does not exist.

Jane Austen: Her Heart Did Whisper takes that little information available and turns it into a charming story of a young girl coming into her own as well as introducing her fabled romance with Tom LeFroy. It also explores Jane’s later life until she dies at the age of 42. Manuela Santoni, writer and illustrator, begins with Jane as a teenager and early days as a popular writer for friends and family. She meets Tom LeFroy at a local gathering and they trade quick barbs and eventually falling in love. Tom proposes before he heads back to London to finish his education. Jane promises to write to him every day (none of the letters exist). As time goes on, however, Jane finds that her remembrance of him is fading. His physical features and his person are blurred. Six months after he left, she goes to London to announce her engagement to Tom only to eventually break it off. “I don’t want a life that isn’t right for me,” she says. She wants to marry for love and not money but even then she found love was not enough when there is little passion. The story ends with Jane going on to some fame as a writer before dying, single and childless, at the age of 42 however, with a string of books that have captured the nation. She will not be forgotten.

Most of Santoni’s re-imagining is true. Jane did meet Tom LeFroy at a local gathering and from what little we know of that time, they engaged in some sort of flirtation (exactly what is up for debate among Austen scholars). They “broke up,” as it were, but the details are muddled. LeFroy was studying to be a lawyer and eventually becomes Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. There is speculation she bases one of literature’s greatest lovers, Mr. Darcy, on LeFroy but there is no concrete evidence to support it. However, Jane was engaged for a short time, but to Harris Bigg-Wither, and the reasons why she broke it off are not known.

Her Heart Did Whisper is a gloss of a life, but Santoni captures what we think to be Jane’s personality well. While the prose is a bit on sparse side, and the book is quite short at under a 100 pages, its minimalist style doesn’t lessen the impact of the story. Santoni’s use of action panels fills in the story quite neatly and the artwork, in black and white strokes, seems right for the book, which is surprising to me since Jane’s life was filled with color and wonder. The one hiccup to the story was as she dies, Jane tells Cassandra to burn her letters from Tom because she wants to remember him as she did in her youth; which is the complete opposite of how the Tom story arc is presented.

Originally published in Italy in 2017, Her Heart Did Whisper is translated by Matteo Banassi from Italian and the English translation doesn’t seem to be missing any nuance or meaning, which is important since quite often translations into English can go horribly wrong.

While the story is most delightful, what really endeared me to the book was the eight-page history and biography of Jane and her times at the end of the book, written by Dr. Mara Barbuni, an Italian academic who specializes in women writers. If you hunger for more information on Austen, it is easily available at the end of the book in a non-Wikipedia format.

The book is characterized as middle grades and up, but the language is simple enough that younger children would enjoy it. I would definitely recommend this title for biography and historical fiction lists. However, I would not treat this an autobiography since it is a re-imagining, but it is a superb way to introduce new readers as well as entice old fans to Jane Austen.

Jane Austen: Her Heart Did Whisper
By Manuela Santoni Matteo Banassi
Art by Manuela Santoni
ISBN: 9781541526433
Graphic Universe, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Teens (13+)