Translated from French by Aleshia Jensen, Camille Jourdy’s novel follows Juliette’s trip home from Paris to visit her more provincial family. She is also on a journey to revisit her roots and to handle her own growing, crippling anxiety and fears. While her family is delighted to see her, they do not actually pay any attention to her and her increasing vulnerability because they are busy with their own lives, issues, and family ties. Her family is complicated and entirely relatable and authentic to readers of this gentle slice-of-life graphic novel.
While the graphic novel is filled with people of all sizes and backgrounds the main characters are members of Juliette’s immediate family. Juliette’s older sister Marylou, a married mother of two children, has a lover, a man who works in a costume shop and visits her dressed as a bear, a wolf, a white rabbit, and as a ghost. They have lustful and joyful sex on Thursdays in the greenhouse in her backyard.
Marylou is happy with having an illicit affair, but nameless Lover Boy wants more of a permanent relationship. The sisters’ parents have been divorced for a long time but still torment each other each time they meet. Their mother dresses and behaves as a free spirit, taking on a series of younger lovers as well as painting large abstracts that are displayed in a local gallery. Their father, who Juliette is staying with during her visit, is the opposite, he is filled with self-doubts and convinced that he is developing dementia. Juliette’s grandmother no longer recognizes family members or has a reliable memory except when she reveals a long-kept family secret to Juliette.
The only non-family main character is Georges, the current tenant of the apartment where Juliette and Marylou lived as children. He is also a lost soul and someone seeking restoration and love in the local bar. His encounters with Juliette offer the possibility of a romantic closure for the two of them and the duckling they adopted but, sorry for the spoiler, this is not the direction the author takes the reader.
This is a novel of close encounters and careful observation of the setting, the people, and their relationships. It is done without judgment and the reader glides along with Juliette as she maneuvers through emotional and timeless passages of disappointment, mortality, and fading dreams to a place Juliette and Georges refer to, the “tragic dimension.” At the same time, it is also a novel filled with wonder, humor, and enjoyment for the reader.
Jensen’s translation from the original French presents, with sharpness and amusement, a natural cadence of family discussions. We can see, hear, and feel each of the individual characters in the town and they look and sound like members of a close-knit community anywhere. The point of view often shifts without warning from small encounters to larger ones but the shifts do not feel disjointed as the details in each of the panels slow the reader into a meditative state where moving from one situation to another seems natural and organic. This is a novel to be savored and not rushed in the least.
First published in French in 2016, Juliette is Jourdy’s eighth book, and her expertise is immediately recognizable as she is effective in control of the pacing, the panels, the color, the storyline, and her characters. Her illustrations are precise and filled with minute details of family and small-town life. These details are even more pronounced because of the simplicity of the background and the shortage of borders. Most pages are filled with simple vignettes, snapshots of the characters, their relationships, and environment. These busy pages are interspersed with full page drawings that are filled with deeper color tones that often indicate a change of tone or staging. A caveat for public library collections: there are numerous pages filled with Marylou and Lover Boy’s sexual encounters in the garden. These are tastefully done but I think some North American communities may not be as open as the French may be in their depictions of humanity in all their encounters.
The subtitle, ‘or, the Ghosts Return in the Spring’ is evocative and revealing by the end of the novel. It may refer to the rather humorous adventures of the ‘ghost’ hiding from disclosure or, more possibly, the ghosts of memory, family relationships, and our own selves.
Juliette or, the Ghosts Return in the Spring By Camille Jourdy Drawn & Quarterly, 2023 ISBN: 9781770466647
Publisher Age Rating: adult
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: French, Character Representation: French, Anxiety, Depression
Vincent Van Gogh’s story has always been a complicated one, but the strength of his art and vision has always stood strong—as has his creative and emotional impact so many years after his death.
From Black Panel Press and Jamison Odone comes The Man in the Painter’s Room, a graphic novel telling of Van Gogh’s later years of life and unexpected death. Based on multiple sources and drawing heavily from the memories of the daughter of the innkeeper who housed Van Gogh after his departure from an institution, Odone’s narrative is an intimate look at the painter’s life. The book depicts Van Gogh’s falling out with fellow artist Gaugin through his hospitalization and correspondence with his family and ultimately to his final days wandering the French countryside to create his last works, all while facing the mental illness that followed him for so much of his life.
In delivering the story, Odone gives us a simple presentation that prioritizes quiet moments—interspersed with excerpts of letters between Van Gogh and his family—rather than a detailed biographical accounting. The writing leaves many of the specifics unexplained, opting instead to simply follow Van Gogh along his journey through a selection of scenes stitched together with just enough connective tissue to understand the context. This is not a book for someone wanting an exhaustive biography full of facts and details. Rather, The Man in the Painter’s Room seeks to understand the man himself—understand how Van Gogh moved through the world and understand the conflicting parts of his soul that ultimately drove him to his death.
The book takes a melancholy tone from the beginning, capturing the sparseness of the countryside and the lone painter lost amidst a larger world. But Odone’s writing never loses sight of Van Gogh’s vision. This was a man who sought beauty in every corner of existence, and we see Van Gogh enraptured by houses and skylines, turning the natural world into art that would far outlive him. And the story, even as it relays the biographical details, never limits itself to dry recollections of history. Reminiscent of Tom Gauld’s long-form storytelling, Odone’s work is run through with a dry and subtle humor that finds comedy in simplicity and turns the mundane into something that is always entertaining—and sometimes also profound.
Odone’s art captures the simple and unassuming life of its subject. Without complex detail, the panels weave together a stylized cartoonist style with flourishes of Van Gogh’s own view of the world, embodying a quiet artist in search of beauty and peace amidst a community that did not always see what he did. Stepping sometimes into the surreal and balancing realism with the weight of Van Gogh’s own difficult mental health, the artistic style and straightforward writing complement each other and keep the book engaging.
Ultimately, The Man in the Painter’s Room is a eulogy of Van Gogh’s life and legacy. A simple man who battled his own demons for much of his life; his artistic legacy continues to hold sway. Odone makes sure to recognize the impact that Van Gogh had on his contemporaries and those that followed. The book plays out more as a slice-of-life than true biography, but in balancing subtle humor with the beauty and tragedy of its subject, Odone’s tribute to a famous artist is well worth the read.
For any fans of biography or art history—as well as those who enjoy work similar to Gauld’s Mooncop—The Man in the Painter’s Room packs a lot into its minimal presentation. It will probably be of most interest to older readers who appreciate its subtleties, but there’s not much here that would offend younger readers either. In the end, it might be a slightly niche title, but delivered with both skill and empathy, it’s a caring tribute to both the artist and the man who left so much work to those of us who followed him.
The Man in the Painter’s Room By Jamison Odone Black Panel Press, 2020 ISBN: 9781999470432
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: French, Ambiguous Mental Illness, Depression
Trailblazing French filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché was present at the birth of modern film, a contemporary of the Lumière brothers and Georges Méliès. In Alice Guy: First Lady of Film, writer–artist duo Catel & Bocquet draw on original research from late media critic Francis Lacassin to document Guy’s career as the first major woman filmmaker and a pioneer of her industry.
The graphic biography opens with Guy’s 1873 birth and childhood in Europe and Chile. Lively and outspoken, Alice has an early interest in acting that is deemed unsuitable by her middle-class French family. Instead of taking to the stage, she goes to work as a secretary for what will soon become the Gaumont Film Company. Catel and Bocquet depict the chaos of these early years of film, with competing firms squabbling to dominate the new market. In this cutthroat environment, Alice is able to demonstrate business acumen and gain professional standing despite her gender.
In addition to business savvy, Guy has a vision for what film could be—a vehicle for telling stories. She teams up with a cinematographer to film the 1896 film La Fée aux Choux, a fantasy of cabbage-patch babies that may have been the first narrative film. As Alice finds success directing films for Gaumont, she and her collaborators develop the conventions that will define their industry, from filming on location to creating special effects to hammering out the logistics of public film screenings.
Alice also grapples with the ethical issues that face any unregulated new industry. She must take decisive action when an underaged actress is sexually assaulted by an older male professional on her set, or when a script about bullfighting raises questions of filming animal cruelty. Alice’s status as a woman filmmaker informs the way she handles these challenges and inspires her to take risks, from an attempted collaboration with activist Rose Pastor Stokes on a film about family planning to the production of A Fool and His Money, likely the first film with an all-African American cast.
Alice’s personal and professional life brings her to the United States, where she starts a family and New York-based studio with her husband, film producer Herbert Blaché. But their once-happy marriage ends in divorce, and business troubles bring Alice’s career to a premature close. Decades later, her role as a woman film pioneer has faded from memory: “The history of cinema has completely forgotten about me,” she tells Francis Lacassin.
Alice Guy’s story is an extraordinary one, and this biography is an exhaustive documentary source for information about her life. An appendix with a detailed timeline, bibliography and filmography, and 50 pages of biographical essays about historical figures depicted in the book makes this a valuable reference work for those interested in Alice Guy’s life and times.
As a casual reader, however, this book didn’t hook me. Catel’s elegant monochrome illustrations are versatile enough to capture both the domestic scenes of Alice’s personal life and the exciting variety of her film sets, but the story itself feels bogged down by the kitchen-sink detail of Bocquet’s script. A number of characters and episodes seem as if they’re present for the sake of completeness, giving the story a choppy, episodic quality. The result is a book that lacks a strong narrative arc, without a clear throughline of who Alice Guy was and what compelled her, creatively and personally, to succeed in this challenging new industry.
This book is recommended for larger graphic novel collections, particularly those that emphasize women’s history or media history. For those interested in learning about Guy’s remarkable life, it’s absolutely worth picking up, but general readers may not find it the most accessible entry point into her story.
Alice Guy: First Lady of Film By José-Louis Bocquet Art by Catel Muller SelfMadeHero, 2022 ISBN: 9781914224034
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: French, Character Representation: French,
Even before graphic novels took off, several publishers, notably Lerner and Capstone, featured graphic nonfiction produced in a similar vein to the series nonfiction that most librarians are familiar with. The series nonfiction in graphic format continue to be a staple for nonfiction collections, although there are more literary options, like the Science Comics series.
Lerner’s Graphic Universe imprint produces new series twice a year, in January and August, and they usually pick timely topics. The January 2022 series Medical Breakthroughs is no exception, with titles on vaccines, germs, antibiotics, and more. The particular title we’re looking at today is the history of incubators.
The information is collected briefly in 32 pages with a short framing story showing two White children and a White, male-presenting doctor looking at a miniscule infant in a modern incubator while the doctor explains what incubators are used for. The story then jumps back to the 1870s and the work of two French doctors who. while trying to raise France’s falling birth rates, were inspired by the incubators they saw used with birds’ eggs at the zoo.
The incubators these and other doctors developed were funded by the exhibition of the premature babies, culminating in a semi-permanent exhibit on Coney Island. By the time the exhibit closed in 1943, thousands of babies had been saved and incubators became standard equipment in hospitals. Incubators continued to be improved, with interest and funding reviving after the death of President Kennedy’s premature son and culminating in the invention of a rechargeable and affordable incubator called the Embrace Nest that would be accessible to all people, especially in developing countries. The story ends with a return to the premature infant at the beginning, now a healthy toddler with their older siblings and parents.
The artwork is not memorable, but it is neatly done, with carefully drawn images of the various machines, and people shown in the appropriate period clothing as the story moves through time. All but a few people in the background and some nurses are depicted as White, which is a drawback, as one of the points of Couney’s work (the doctor who established the “Infantorium” at Coney Island) was the acceptance of infants of all backgrounds in sharp contrast to the eugenics movement. Most panels show the doctors and occasional nurses moving through bland scenery and exchanging a few remarks while the narrative is carried on in descriptive paragraphs. The appeal to readers who want the story told primarily through art is limited, since, as in most series nonfiction graphic novels, the narrative is told primarily in prose or through multiple “talking heads.” There is enough detail in the art to show the change in time periods, from the 1870s to 2008, and some additional information is provided through the pictures, like a nurse feeding a premature infant through their nose or the doctors explaining what they are doing to spectators and anxious parents.
One title is listed as a source, and there is also a glossary, index, and brief list of information to explore further.
The length of these titles naturally limits the amount of information that can be included and these titles tend to be brief introductions, which will hopefully engage interest in exploring topics further. Like most series nonfiction, they are available only in paperback or expensive library binding, which can be prohibitive for smaller budgets. If you have to watch your pennies it can be difficult to justify an extensive outlay on nonfiction that may quickly become dated. However, this series primarily covers historical events and so should have a longer shelf-life. With an ever-increasing number of struggling readers as well as graphic novel fans, Medical Breakthroughs should be a solid purchase for most school and public libraries and a good choice to interest young readers in history and science.
Incubators: A Graphic History By Paige Polinsky Art by Josep Rural Lerner Graphic Universe, 2022 ISBN: 9781541581517
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
Deep within the mountains of northern Spain lies a hidden temple. Here, the secret order known as the Knights of Heliopolis labor to shepherd the destiny of humanity and guide them towards enlightenment. As selective as they are secretive, the Knights of Heliopolis make up for their lack of numbers in divine power, having mastered true and holy alchemy and acquired the secret of long life.
Set in an alternate 18th century, the story opens as the ten Knights of Heliopolis on Earth are preparing to induct a new member to their order, a youth known to them only as Seventeen. After Seventeen completes the final trial to secure their place among them, Seventeen’s master, Fulcanelli, reveals the secrets that made it necessary for him to hide Seventeen’s identity and origins from the rest of the Knights. For Seventeen is Louis XVII, the secret child of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI of France!
This is a matter of great import, as the Knights of Heliopolis’s gifts include the power of prophecy. Their dogma speaks of the coming need for a warrior who must balance both the masculine and feminine aspects of themselves—along with body and soul—to save the world from the Knights’ greatest mistake, a would-be emperor now known as Napoleon, who has corrupted their guidance and teachings in a bid to make himself into an immortal god-king that will rule the Earth forever! In addition to their royal lineage, Seventeen is also of great interest due to being intersex (within the text referred to by the historical term “hermaphrodite”).
The Knights of Heliopolis is an interesting graphic novel that is hard to pin down into a single genre. It is a work of alternative history and includes several historical figures among its cast, yet it is far more fanciful than most alternate history works. Yet those fantastic elements and the Alchemy employed by the Knights are based on real-world mystic traditions. It also draws upon several literary works, most notably The Man in the Iron Mask. Throw in a little bit of science-fiction in the fourth and final chapter (as the Knights are revealed to have acquired their knowledge from ancient aliens) and you have a book whose setting is both familiar in many respects yet uniquely its own beast.
The script by Alejandro Jodorowsky is more concerned with mythology than character development. The Knights do not get much in the way of personality apart from Louis XVII. Even then, their chief conflict centers around their belief that they are destined to destroy Napoleon yet love him as a fellow mutant manipulated by fate. Thankfully, the story is engaging, and the ideas put forth intriguing.
The artwork by Belgian artist Jérémy is simply stunning. Intricately detailed and beautifully colored, Jérémy does a fantastic job of depicting the various period costumes as the story progresses from the French Revolution through World War II. The action sequences are well-blocked and even the static conversations seem eternally active.
Knights of Heliopolis is rated for audiences 17+ and that is a fair rating. The book is full of sex and violence and does not shy away from the gritty details of both. There is full frontal nudity of men and women, several sexual assaults and severely grisly deaths and dissections. This book is not for children or the faint of heart, but it is memorable and well worth reading if you are a fan of alternative history tales.
Knights of Heliopolis By Alejandro Jodorowsky Art by Jérémy Titan Comics, 2021 ISBN: 9781787736085 Publisher Age Rating: 17+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Belgian, Chilean, French Character Representation: French, Bisexual, Intersex
Cici Armand has a huge secret, one which threatens her relationship with her mother. It is only through Cici bringing people together in her community that she will be able to solve family secrets and heal her relationship with her mother.
Cici’s Journal: Lost and Found opens as Cici bridges the gap between childhood and adolescence. Cici is a shy twelve-year-old girl who is more comfortable writing than speaking. It is nearing Christmas and she still holds on to her childhood belief in Santa Claus. She has a strained relationship with her mother and occasionally lies to avoid discipline. Cici uncovers her first mystery through her local friend Sandra. Sandra is her mother’s age and lives in Cici’s hometown. Sandra introduces her to the art of book binding that was passed down by Sandra’s father. Cici lands herself in a multi-part mystery that helps Sandra discover her father’s dying wish. When Sandra’s mystery is solved, Cici once again finds herself engaged in another puzzle. This time, she travels with her mother to a mysterious mansion that has more secrets than meets the eye. These secrets lead to shocking discoveries about Cici’s mother and reveals the reason behind their strained relationship.
Lost and Found, by author Joris Chamblain, is the sequel to 2017’s Cici’s Journal: The Adventures of a Writer-in-Training and is a coming of age story that reveals a mother and daughter’s crumbling relationship. The story is split into three separate chapters. Each chapter chips away at the family mysteries, revealing more character development and backstory. Chamblain uses realistic dialogue. Cici often argues with her mother, reflecting a realistic portrayal between a pre-teen and their parent. Cici faces numerous obstacles but is able to solve them with the help of her close friends Erica and Lena. Erica and Lena are well drawn and believable. Erica is an athlete with quick wit and Lena is an academic who can speak two languages. Chamblain’s writing is sincere and reflects emerging adolescence. Cici’s often says how she feels anxious, sometimes for unclear reasons.
The targeted audience will identify with this emotion and connect with Cici. What child hasn’t felt anxious when dealing with new situations? Illustrator Aurélie Neyret incorporates beautiful orange and red tones that add emotion to this coming of age tale. There are a combination of split panels and scrapbook entries. This is not confusing as the journal entries reveal information that drives the story. Cici also add her own commentary to the letters and scrapbook entries. Incorporated in the margins are cute illustrations that reflect Cici’s childish nature. She draws Christmas trees and cartoon versions of characters in the story. The story even incorporates recipes that will leave readers hungry to try at home. There are characters of different skin tones. This book is recommended for any library where mystery fiction and graphic novels are popular. Middle grade readers will relish in the mysteries and relatable issues such as loss and emerging young adulthood.
Cici’s Journal: Lost and Found By Joris Chamblain Art by Aurélie Neyret First Second, 2021 ISBN: 9781250763402
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 Series ISBNs and Order Related media:
One of the recommendations I suggest in making folktales your own to my students in my storytelling courses is to add a new character and/or to tell it from a different point of view, all the while staying within the basic structure of the traditional folklore. This is what M.T. Anderson and Jo Rioux have done in this evocative adaptation of the legend of the mythical city of Ys, situated below sea level on the coast of Brittany.
Various versions of the legend exist and all contain the element of the dike with a gate that allowed access to ships at low tide. This gate could only be opened with a key, held by the king. In some variants of the legend, after King Gradlon’s malevolent and degenerate daughter Dahut takes lovers to bed, she makes them wear a black satin mask that would cling to their face and strangle them. The bodies of the lovers would be then thrown over the cliff tops as her tithe to the sea. When Dahut steals the key from her father on the advice of a mysterious lover and opens the gates during a harsh storm, she dooms the city. Both Gradlon and Dahut, on a lone horse, try to flee the rising sea. Gradlon responds to an ethereal command to throw his daughter off the horse to save himself and, this he does, leaving Dahut to drown. He rides to safety and makes Quimper his new capital.
The illustrations effectively enhance the freshness of the author’s words in the innovative adaptations of the legend canon. These include a backstory for the creation of the city of Ys, two daughters instead of one for the king, details of the pact with the devil, and a marked shift in point of view. Gradlon, the hero in the traditional legends, merely becomes a catalyst and an onlooker to the tale of his two daughters, Rozenn and her ambitious and vengeful younger sister Dahut. A key adaption, and yes, the pun is intentional, by the author is the fact that it is Dahut who is the keeper of the key, not her father. She is the one responsible for annually opening the gates to allow the sea monsters to entertain the citizenry with their frolicking antics. She is not, in this version, the primary agent of the destruction of the city. The key is snatched from her by the devilish lover and she and her family try desperately to stop his actions. Rozenn and her father both survive the destruction and, as in the legend, Dahut is sacrificed to the sea by her father.
The holy hermit is another refreshing addition to this tale. His wisdom, along with his melancholy relationship with the fish that feeds him, offer an opportunity for the creators to move above the legend itself to seamlessly foreshadow the coming dire events. “We live by devouring those we love. How can we help it? They’re the ones within closest reach” (p. 69).
The mournful and powerful pencil illustrations by Ottawa’s Rioux are equally evocative in the telling of this legend. The pages of wordless passages add depth and texture to her dynamic depiction of events. There is constant movement in her water scenes, a sense of harmony and calm in the woods of Rozenn and the hermit, and an effective portrayal of the tumultuous emotional conflicts of the main characters. She exposes the city of Ys as opulent, sophisticated, dangerous, and doomed in contrast. The intensely saturated color palettes for both settings are elegant and appropriate. Rioux’s style is reminiscent of the Anglo-Saxon art of the tale’s earliest setting in the fifth century. The faces of her characters, while having flat eyes and minimal features, are expressive and alluring. There is a flow of energy in the bodies of the characters that activates the telling of the story, bringing it alive and matching it to the strength and pacing of the text.
Anderson closes his tale by blending the legendary with the historic record of the area. He points to the equestrian statue of King Gradlon in Quimper and the statue of Virgin Mary that stands in the moors where Dahut once walked. The illustration of this sculpture has been adapted for the graphic novel, deleting a third character at the base of the actual statue. “There is no trace of Ys, though sometimes fishermen say they hear the bells of the sunken steeples ringing in the deep, rocked by the tides. Or a singing of a maiden beneath the waves” (p. 204-5). Source notes for several variants of the legend are also incorporated in this enchanting graphic novel.
A caveat: although the novel is recommended for young adults, there are several instances of lusty sexual intrigue (tastefully illustrated) and gore that may bring pause to those who wish to share it with younger teens. Neither the text nor the illustrations are especially explicit.
I recommend it for older teens and adults. I highly recommend it for enthusiasts of reworkings of traditional folklore.
The Daughters of Ys By M. T. Anderson Art by Jo Rioux ISBN: 978162728783 First Second, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: Adult
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+), Character Traits: French Related to…: Book to Comic
The very first page of Black Stars Above is a large, white box with small, cursive narrative text; so let’s start with the lettering by Hassan Ostmane-Elhaou. This comic is not only a slow-burn horror story by way of historical fiction, but it is also strongly dependent on characters’ journal entries providing the narration. Other textual effects include more standard lettering on spoken dialog, which uses carats to mark whether characters are speaking Michif or French, and white-on-black lettering inside of jagged speech bubbles for noises made by an alien creature. At the midway point of the story, the comic transitions into eight full pages of journal entries, with a couple of sketches included. Ostmane-Elhaou’s use of small, cursive font for journal entries will force readers to slow down as they scan through pages, and the effect this has on purely visual pages cannot be understated.
The second page of Black Stars Above is a wordless, four-panel sequence of some lynx traveling across snowy land; so let’s talk about more of the visual elements of this book. At the brightest of times, the Canadian wilderness is depicted as a gray wilderness with snow storms either taking over the horizon or directly flurrying the panels. A good deal of the comic takes place during dusk or nighttime, with lanterns and moonlight acting as dramatic light sources for the protagonist. Brad Simpson’s coloring is able to find a suitable range of hues for each situation, whether it’s the warm fireplace colors of a cabin, the cold blues and silvers of the snowy dark, or touches and waves of red as the story becomes more disturbing and violent. As mentioned before, the wordless segments of the story feel carefully paced to complement the dense use of text, making this a difficult comic to skim or skip through unless readers want to cheat themselves by “fast forwarding” to the horror reveals. Jenna Cha’s artwork and thoughtful paneling, which considers characters’ movements throughout each scene, deserves full consideration from beginning to end. Her talents include rendering a silhouette in a snowstorm, use of upside-down perspectives to visually suggest transitions that physically occur later, and eldritch creatures given a wintry spin that makes them simultaneously off-putting and kind of cute.
The third and fourth pages see the narrator and lynx meet; so let’s describe the actual story here. Lonnie Nadler’s script can be broken into three acts, each centering on Eulalie Dubois, a young woman on the Canadian frontier who yearns to escape her rural existence. In the first act, she struggles against the constricting expectations of her parents, including her First Nations mother and French father, who plan to marry her off to a nearby suitor. In the second act, Eulalie attempts to deliver a mysterious package on her own, with the hope of earning enough money to buy her independence. In the third act, the senses are assaulted as Eulalie travels to the eponymous black stars and discovers all kinds of freakiness and rituals. Images of cosmic horror that are briefly displayed or hinted at in the first couple of chapters receive thorough payoff in the latter half of the book, like a prestige horror film that plays with themes and setting but doesn’t forget to deliver the bloody goods. Far from schlock or grindhouse thrills, the journey of Black Stars Above could be described in Eulalie’s words as, “delirium walking hand in hand with awe.” People aren’t getting graphically murdered, or at all, but the book’s surreal imagery around madness, alien creatures, and disruption to the natural order is highly suggestive.
Where content warnings are concerned teens and older who know the word “cthulu” will be uniquely excited to follow this book’s immersive bread crumbs into madness. Animals are skinned and gutted, including the sight of an animal fetus dead in the womb. Creatures’ eyes drip black goo, and there is a brief scene of a topless woman. The literary tone that permeates the text, along with the less than accessible cursive font, means a good amount of focus will be required, but will also lead toward immense satisfaction and hope for a sequel in the same vein.
Black Stars Above By Lonnie Nadler Art by Jenna Cha ISBN: 9781939424532 Vault Comics, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: 12+
Browse for more like this title NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+) Character Traits: First Nations or Indigenous Characters Multiracial, Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator
The Rose of Versailles helped define shoujo manga when it was originally published in 1972. Creator Riyoko’s original plan was a biographical manga about Marie Antoinette, but this historical manga tells the story of Oscar Francois de JarJayes, the last of six daughters born to a nobleman of France, raised as his heir—educated and trained as a man in military and weapons, to serve the French king at the Court of Versailles. Lady Oscar is serving as her father’s successor in the royal guard when 14 year-old Marie Antoinette arrives to marry the king’s grandson, the dauphin. Oscar is brave, intelligent, and loyal to the new dauphine, who is fated to become the future queen of France.
Shoujo manga, geared towards young, teenage girls and featuring large, sparkling eyes and lush character design, finds its full bloom in The Rose of Versailles. The young, flighty princess is thrown headfirst into the cutthroat world of royal intrigue as she runs up against the first of many historical characters who will shape her future, the king’s royal mistress, Madame du Barry. Oscar, raised in the French court, is astute and protective of the young queen. She does her best to advise and protect Antoinette, who is honest, sweet-natured, and chafes at the strictly enforced etiquette in the royal palace. They are outnumbered by the grasping nobles, scheming courtiers, and courtesans.
Udon Entertainment is releasing three deluxe, hardbound omnibus versions of The Rose of Versailles, translated into English for the first time, starting in January of 2020. These books feature colored pages and include the original covers from the 1972 serialization of the manga in Margaret Magazine.
The artwork on this 48-year old work holds up. The classic shoujo style and effects are simple but gorgeous. Oscar is androgynously beautiful. The story flows from one chapter to the next with decent historical accuracy, although the context is entirely unnecessary. This could be any intense teenage drama. The main characters are literally teenagers, so their actions and feelings are entirely relatable to their audience. The first volume covers the first years of Antoinette’s time in court and introduces some important historical characters, including the Cardinal de Rohan, Jeanne de la Motte (a conniving lost heir to the House of Valois), and Count Axel von Fersen.
These volumes seem made for library manga collections. They are historically important to the medium, and their binding makes their high price worth it to circulating collections and manga collectors in general. It seems to be a recent publisher trend to release new versions of classic manga, like VIZ Media did with Kazuo Umezz’s Drifting Classroom and Junji Ito’s Uzumaki, and I would encourage libraries to take advantage, if their budgets allow.
There is no publisher age rating on The Rose of Versailles. The steamier historical details are glossed over in volume 1 and this is age appropriate for middle-grade through young adult manga collections.
The Rose of Versailles, vol. 1 By Riyoko Ikeda Art by Riyoko Ikeda ISBN: 9781927925935 Udon, 2020 NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)