Three teens named Sam (Samuel, Samir, and Samantha) go for a walk in the woods and discover a gooey cocoon hanging from a tree, in Alienated by Simon Spurrier. When they take a classmate, Leon, to see their discovery, one thing leads to another and Leon vanishes. The three Sams learn that the cocoon is an alien creature they name Chip. Chip has feet, but tentacles for arms and he wears armor on his face and chest area. Chip syncs his brain with the teens’, allowing the teens to share their thoughts and feelings through their minds. Each of them is hiding secrets and Chip will be the one to bring them out.

The story appears as if it is telling a science fiction tale that will either turn out to be a version of E.T. or War of the Worlds. Instead, it turns into a story about teens struggling with personal demons and Chip being the catalyst to help them find closure. What I liked about the group was the diversity among the three leads. Samantha is Latinx and Samir is a Muslim Pakistani. Samir also struggles with being gay and coming out to his family. Samuel on the other hand was a character I had conflicting feelings over. I didn’t find him to have an issue that I related to. He seemed more like a misguided youth who felt that his views were the only ones that mattered. Another character, Chelsea, is an antagonist to the main three. She’s an influencer, always taking videos of herself and posting them online. There is the face she projects to her audience, that of being a concerned friend of the missing Leon, where in private she only cares about fame, attention, and how many clicks she will receive.

The artwork stood out and so many sequences popped for me. The artist, Chris Wildgoose, knows how to draw your eyes in and make simple scenes stand out. For instance, one scene has all the school kids hanging out in the quad. You have Chelsea in the foreground wearing purple and a greyish blue. In the background, you can see the three leads wearing orange, green, and blue. The trees and grass are yellowish-brown. I love how the artist mixes and matches colors to contrast the action that is going on in the frame. Another thing I like is that the teens look like real teens, not in an exaggerated form. In other graphic novels I’ve read you might have contorted body shapes or eyes. Realistic-looking teens are easier to identify with and it’s easier to believe the story is taking place in a more grounded world.

I can’t recommend Alienated enough. I think it’s one of the best graphic novels I have read this year. The artistry is amazing and the story is one that any teen or adult can relate to. I would rate this work for older teens 16+. This story features storylines about alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, and suicide. These are heavy topics to grapple with individually, let alone all at once in one story. Trigger warning, there is a storyline that features a graphic depiction of self-harm. I found it quite unsettling and feel the artist lingered on it for way longer than I liked. 

By Simon Spurrier
Art by  Chris Wildgoose
BOOM! Studios, 2020
ISBN: 9781684155279

Publisher Age Rating: 16+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: Hispanic, Pakistani, Gay, Catholic, Muslim

The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America

In his first work intended for young readers, Jaime Hernandez reworks three traditional folktales from Latin America. F. Isabel Campoy’s useful introduction speaks to universal importance of folktales, the complex interplay of the folklore from various countries on the folktales from Latin America, and the importance of strong independent women in the body of tales.

The title tale, “The Dragon Slayer,” has many familiar motifs from other folklore traditions. The youngest daughter’s generosity to an older stranger results in a reward of a magic wand that informs her about everything she needs to know. Armed with her courage and wit, she seeks employment at a castle, falls in love with the prince and, in a series of clever maneuvers with the help of the magic wand, slays the dragon, saves the day, marries the prince, and, in a slight twist to a traditional ending, establishes a new home and kingdom.

The second tale, “Martina Martinez and Perez The Mouse,” is adapted from Alma Flor Ada’s version of the traditional story of Raton Perez’s marriage from Tales Our Abuelitas Told. Martina and her red hair ribbon catch the attention of several suitors, but it is little Raton Perez that captures her heart and hand in marriage. Unfortunately, one day he falls into a cauldron of boiling soup creating a series of overemotional and unhelpful chain reactions from Martina and neighbours and friends. Thankfully, for Raton and Martina, a wise older woman offers wisdom rather than melodrama and another happy-ever-after-ending is the result. The final story, “Tup and The Ants,”’ is another amusing tale, this time of three brothers, none of whom are particularly clever. The youngest, Tup, is especially lazy and he manages to create an advantageous alliance with ants to win the respect of his in-laws and family.

All three folktales are told sparingly and simply in both text and illustration. The brightly coloured illustrations are generally divided into six panels with ten pages allocated for each tale. These colourful, unpretentious, and unadorned illustrations are extremely appropriate for the retelling of folktales for readers of all ages. While economically drawn, the characters, human and non-human, are imbued with expressive body language and emotions. Their eyes, in particular, are effective in developing character, tension, and moving the story from panel to panel just as the oral storyteller would use his or her facial expressions to bring the stories alive. There is a joyful movement and play that is evident in each panel, in the gutters, and, ultimately, in the telling of the three tales.

There are four pages of notes following the stories that provide background on each of these tales. The notes, aimed at older readers, include a bibliography of print and online resources and several stock beginnings for oral storytelling in Spanish and English. They explain antecedents and put the tales within context of the history of the area where the tales were traditionally found. Realizing that this collection is intended for young readers and those who share books with young readers, I will not take umbrage at the fact that a moral or lesson for each tale is spelled out in the notes. Stories from a rich heritage such as these should not have to be elucidated to the reader or listener of the tales and, as told by Hernandez, they are left for the audience to embrace their own conclusions. At the same time, I am very pleased that the background information to the tales is included in this slim, colourful, approachable, and enjoyable collection.
Also available in Spanish: La Matadragones: Cuentos de Latinoamerica. hardcover and paperback editions of both languages.

Highly recommended.

The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America
by Jaime Hernandez
ISBN: 9781943145287
Toon Graphics, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 8+

Life on Earth, book 1: Losing the Girl

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

Gothic Tales of Haunted Love

This satisfying anthology of 20 original tales begins with a well-written and well-researched foreword by romance comic historian Jacque Nodell offering the contemporary reader background information about the history of the gothic romance genre generally and, more specifically, the comic book renditions of the 1970s, accompanied by samples of cover art. As Nodell points out, the visual elements of the gothic tradition are well-suited for comic book renditions. The gothic romance tradition features “isolated and eerie locations, inherited crumbling manors, family secrets, ghosts, secret identities, and passions heightened by mysterious circumstances.” Tales in the genre “ultimately revealed to be merely a diabolical plot by a person who either abhors change, or who uses the illusion of the supernatural to satisfy their own greed.”

But not in this anthology! The supernatural and gruesome elements of the stories are embraced by the contemporary comic book authors and illustrators without discomfiture or explanation. The protagonists are all agents of their own autonomy…some victims but just as frequently, villains. Even more exciting is the celebration of marginalized people. This anthology presents a diversity of culture, gender, sexuality, race, language, and setting. One tale is told totally in Vietnamese and, rounding out the collection, a reprint of a 1973 story is bilingual: English and Korean. The authors and illustrators of the collection also come from diverse backgrounds.

Plot twists abound in this collection of vengeful, heartbreaking, and touching stories and artwork. Various comic book elements, including the effective use of black and white, vibrant and pastel colour palates and creative panel and page layouts, add to the allure of this anthology. Each story offers a fresh approach to the gothic romance genre in the portrayal of the horrors awaiting the characters (and readers) on the page.

The stories are also to be celebrated for their pragmatism and truth telling. The story “Green, Gold, and Black,” for example, does not shy away from the horror of slavery. Here the wife, incapable of conceiving children, drowns the children of slaves who have been raped and impregnated by her husband. Several of the stories remind me of inverted renditions of the horrific folktales Bluebeard and Mr. Fox. Others explore historical truths such as “Goldblind,” written by editor Hope Nicholson and illustrated by Scott Chantler in which the bleakness of the environment and the quest for gold is heart-rendering.

Highly recommended for library collections, comic historians, and readers interested in romance comics, gothic romance, and diversity in all aspects.

Gothic Tales of Haunted Love
Edited by Hope Nicholson, S. M. Beiko
Written by Nika, Samantha Beiko, Cecil Castellucci, Colleen Coover, Kitty Curran, Barbara Guttman, Janet L. Hetherington, Cherelle Higgins, Megan Kearney, Sanho Kim, Hope Nicholson, Svetla Nikolova, Jacque Nodell, Amber Noelle, Hien Pham, H Pueyo, David Alexander Robertson, Sarah Winifred Searle, Femi Sobowale, Chris Stone, Katie West, Larissa Zageris
Art by Allison Paige, LAB, Nika, Dani Bee, Scott Chantler, Colleen Coover, Kitty Curran, Willow Dawson, Caroline Dougherty, Ray Fawkes, Barbara Guttman, Scott B Henderson, Megan Kearney, Sanho Kim, Maia Kobabe, Dante L, Svetla Nikolova, Hien Pham, Rina Rozsas, Sarah Winifred Searle, Ronn Sutton
ISBN: 9781988715070
Bedside Press, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

America, vol. 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez

Superhero comics, and Marvel Comics in particular, have been making strides in representation, featuring characters, like Ms. Marvel and Moon Girl, who are not excessively sexualized, and come from underrepresented segments of American culture. With America Chavez, aka Miss America, the Marvel Universe has dipped a little deeper into the American melting pot. This queer Latina hero has been present on various superhero teams since 2011, and shone in Kieron Gillen’s and Jamie McKelvie’s 2013 Young Avengers. In 2017 the hero received her first solo title, America. This book, collecting the series’ first six issues, is an upbeat and fun comic that mixes representation politics, satire, and charming characters to make an enjoyable—if sometimes chaotic—read.

The name “Miss America” has a bit of a comics pedigree. It dates back to 1943 and Marvel Comics’ predecessor Timely Comics, which included the hero in its Nazi battling team, the All-Winners Squad alongside the Sub-Mariner, Human Torch, Captain America and (yes) The Whizzer. Having a dark-skinned immigrant from another dimension take up this mantle is a clear political statement, but fortunately America doesn’t make the mistake of letting its politics interfere with its sense of fun. In terms of powers the character is basically a teen girl Superman—cosmically strong, unbreakable, flies—though her signature move of punching open star-shaped holes in reality belongs to exclusively to America herself.

The book’s plot centers around the newly unaffiliated America Chavez searching for an identity outside of her various super teams and recently ended relationship by—what else?—going to college. At the inter-dimensional Sotomayor University, America proves semi-resistant to new friendships, and is challenged both by invasions by prep school cyborgs and by her “History of Revolutions” professor. She seeks help from her super-genius former teammate, Prodigy, and starts to refine her power to travel in time and space. Along the way she bumps into various potential mentors, including the X-Men’s Storm and the Nazi fighting Agent Peggy Carter, while she is repeatedly asked to pledge in the super-powered sorority, Leelumultipass Phi Beta Theta. The jokes and references come fast and frequent, with a fair number of them on repeat.

Sound like a lot? This is a book that suffers from the serial superhero problem of requiring a graduate degree in the history of comics. It’ also not a tightly scripted book, more the kind of plot that works best if you let it wash over you and don’t think too hard about the details. America’s connections to her surrounding characters are impaired by her pin-balling around the multiverse—bad in a book that centers around family, found and otherwise. The comic’s story (stories?) gets bogged down too, both in America’s romantic relationships and in Marvel superhero history. While the threats that Chavez faces are plentiful and colorful, they don’t always make logical or logistical sense. For example, after fighting a bunch of helicopters, America and her allies get surprised by…a helicopter? Not a science fiction stealth helicopter, mind you, but the kind that you can and do hear from miles away. So yes, a lot of fun but also just…a lot. This book is at its best when expressing its hero’s joy at finding herself, her family, and her power rather than when it delves into details like its villains’ cliched actions and unclear motivations.

Different artists tackle the pencils in this collection. The art in general is unsurprising for a superhero book, but there are important differences in style. Joe Quinones takes on the early issues with a light touch, bright color palette, and manga-influenced faces; he also excels at dynamic action. Ramon Villalobos takes over the later issues with a more subdued color scheme, and lots of strong chins and muscles, giving the title character a butch-but-glamorous look that she wears well. Villalobos’ action sequences and storytelling are muddy compared to Quinones’, but his expressive characters and unique style help compensate for any deficits in this regard.

Fans of superhero books will likely enjoy this comic, and both POC and queer readers will likely appreciate the fact that this book is filled with characters that look like them and mirror their relationships in important ways. Teen readers in particular will likely be drawn to America’s contemporary sensibilities and sense of humor—though it should be said that the Buffy references feel dated. Librarians looking to reach out to underrepresented populations should consider this book an important addition. That said, it’s not a book that will endure more than a few years, and is unlikely to join the Important Comics Club. There should be room in most comics collections for light fun, though. While America could have been more, it’s still a book worth enjoying.

America, vol. 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez
by Gabby Rivera
Art by Joe Quinones and Ramon Villalobos
ISBN: 9781302908812
Marvel, 2017

Character Traits: Latina, Queer

Ghost Friends Forever, vol 1

If you encountered a ghost on your shortcut to school, what would you do? Scream? Run? Convince yourself you imagined it? Not in Spectreville! In fact, as the daughter of paranormal investigators, Sophia Campos is not only used to ghosts, she’s eager to start investigating hauntings herself. Since a mysterious paranormal event led to her parents’ divorce, Sophia has been living with her dad while her brother, Felix, lives with their mom. When Sophia meets Whitney, a ghost with no memory of her death who haunts a local bridge, Sophia decides to solve her murder. To do that, Sophia must team up with Felix and her old crush Jake, which creates a love triangle when Sophia begins to develop feelings for Whitney.

Ghost Friends Forever, vol 1 was released under Papercutz CHARMZ imprint, which the publisher describes as targeting tween and teen girls. The age range is listed as 10+, which feels appropriate. Sophia and Felix are 15 and 14, respectively, yet they often act younger than that. Their thoughts and actions, as well as the book’s romantic elements, feel right at home with a teen/tween audience. Ghost Friends Forever is well-suited to readers who are just developing an interest in character romance, where the affection never goes beyond a kiss. There is little content-wise that would raise a flag for the recommended age group; Sophia’s mother says “dammit” once, and the story and circumstances of Whitney’s murder come across as a bit darker than the rest of the story. However, there are enough other plot elements working within this story that the murder often takes a backseat.

Ghost Friends Forever is one of those great comics where the images and text work together so well that it’s tough to talk about one without the other. For example, the text in this book is almost exclusively character thoughts or dialogue. I’ve become accustomed to narration boxes of text in many other comics I read, yet I hardly noticed their absence here, nor did I miss them. The images and speech/thought bubbles did an excellent job of conveying everything in the story. Writer Monica Gallagher captures character speech well, and all of the dialogue is natural sounding. Though a few elements of the story did feel weirdly juxtaposed (murder alongside sweet teen romance), I found the overall plot to be enjoyable, and the ending allows the book to work as either a stand-alone or the start of a series. The book is marked “volume 1,” suggesting there will be more to follow, but the last panel also reads “end,” rather than presenting a blatant “to be continued” scenario, so readers can stop here easily if they choose. A few plot points were left open or ambiguous, and readers dying to learn every detail, or those who gobble up graphic novels and character-driven stories, will be seeking out the sequel.

Kata Kane’s art isn’t overly detailed, and that works well for this story; it focuses on the most important parts of each panel, without filler, which allows younger readers to focus on the story’s progression without getting bogged down. Character facial expressions often play a crucial role in setting the mood and scene, and they are used to great effect. I truly enjoyed the depictions of characters overall; there are a variety of racial/ethnic backgrounds shown, even in background characters, and I liked that. The art style is rather cute, with occasional panels of small (chibi) characters, fitting well with a story targeted to a tween and young teen audience. Matt Herms’s colors work well with Kane’s art, setting the tone for each scene with how light or dark the color palette is.

Representation is a crucial element for me when it comes to the books I choose, both as a reader and as a librarian, and Ghost Friends Forever does not disappoint in that category. In addition to the diverse depictions of all characters throughout, Sophia and Felix are biracial (White/Hispanic), but their background is never treated as a big deal, which I liked. Characters’ sexualities are also treated as normal; Sophia’s previous crush on Jake and her realization that she likes Whitney are treated the same. Felix expresses some concern over Sophia’s feelings for Whitney, but they are focused more on the fact that Whitney is a ghost than that she is a girl. Ghosts provide an important way for characters to address acceptance, and Sophia argues that even if ghosts seem “transparent,” that doesn’t mean that they don’t still have feelings. The art, presence of a take-charge female character, and young romance mixed with coming-of-age themes make Ghost Friends Forever a great read-alike for anyone who enjoys Raina Telgemeier, Faith Erin Hicks, and Lumberjanes. The story’s few minor flaws did little to detract from my overall enjoyment, and I would happily recommend this book to any tween or teen in my library.

Ghost Friends Forever, vol 1
by Monica Gallagher
Art by Kata Kane
ISBN: 9781629918037
Papercutz, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 10+

Cici: A Fairy’s Tale: A Perfect View, vol. 3

It seems like a long time ago now, but Cici used to be a regular girl with a regular family: mom, dad, little sister Sofia, and Abuela. But then her dad left, her Abuela came to stay, and Cici turned 10 and discovered she was a fairy! Since then she’s been struggling with learning to control her powers and use them correctly, adjust to family changes and her mom’s new friend, and learn to look beneath the surface and think about her actions.

In her third adventure, A Perfect View, Cici and her new friend Kendra, her mom’s boyfriend’s daughter, are going camping with Cici’s dad and little sister. Cici has everything planned down to the last detail despite her Abuela’s warning that she should be open to surprises, especially with her magic. But she hadn’t planned for getting the wrong campsite, rain, missing marshmallows, or a mischievous forest sprite!

Page and Doerrfeld’s art is consistent with the first two books. Cici looks younger than her ten years, with her large head and eyes. Readers can see her in transition, moving from a young child to a teen, as she struggles with her feelings, her magic, and her changing family. Kendra has a more mature face and often seems taken aback at Cici’s childish behavior, but she’s also understanding of her struggles. Cici’s fairy sight continues and through her eyes we see her father portrayed as a lovable, happy-go-lucky bear, her little sister as a cautious turtle, and brief glimpses of her mother as an octopus, whose many arms are always busy. The colorful illustrations and their pink and purple backgrounds, shifting to green for outdoor scenes, are as charming and eye-catching as in the first volumes.

This series won’t appeal to readers who have moved on to the more exciting and involved middle grade graphic fantasies like Amulet or Bone, but readers who are still not quite ready to leave childhood, are struggling with family and friendship issues, or enjoy sparkly-sweet stories will be delighted by the next volume in this series. Parents will appreciate the gentle lessons about growing up that are woven into each story, and the introduction of new magical creatures, like the forest sprites, are sure to charm new readers immediately. The portrayal of a happy, suburban Hispanic family is also a welcome addition to the canon of graphic novels for elementary age students.

Cici: A Fairy’s Tale: A Perfect View, vol. 3
by Cori Doerrfeld
Art by Tyler Page
ISBN: 9781467761543
Lerner Graphic Universe, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

Bitch Planet, vol. 1

BitchPlanet_vol1-1Welcome to Bitch Planet, where crime is aesthetic, gendered, sexual, political, and most certainly racialized. In a male-dominated world, women who are noncompliant with the law are exiled from Earth and sentenced to serve time in the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost (A.C.O.) otherwise known as Bitch Planet, a massive prison floating in space. They are sent here because authority figures fear that if they are allowed to remain on Earth, their “sickness” will spread to otherwise well-behaved women citizens. The main characters are charged with crimes such as political incitement, sexual deviancy, development and distribution of gender propaganda, marital neglect, malicious manipulation, and cyber infidelity. In prison, the women are treated in order to be reformed into compliant citizens (“How long since you prioritized how others see you?”) and are forced to compete in a violent, frequently fatal sport called Megaton in order to generate profit for the prison. Marginalized women take center stage in this book; the majority of prisoners are black and brown women, with a very small percentage of women being white. About a dozen women are introduced by name, forming the Megaton team led by Kam, one of the first main characters we meet.

This trade paperback collects single issues 1–5 of Bitch Planet and includes the covers and endpapers for each of these single issues in context rather than displayed at the end of the book as a gallery. A discussion guide of eight questions is included at the end of the book, covering major themes and referencing an essay by Kimberlé Crenshaw that can be perused as further reading. The covers and endpapers are drawn in a retro art style, full of trashy adverts for diet parasites and medication to change one’s personality. The comic is packaged for consumption much like a tabloid. The cover art drives this home with quotes like “Girl gangs…caged and enraged!”

The incredibly detailed art—expressive background characters, legible lettering instead of standard lorem ipsum—contributes to both the foreshadowing and worldbuilding. The characters don’t act as extras once they shift into the background of a scene, instead the action continues to follow them, and the world as a whole is informed by their actions. They do not become insignificant simply by shifting into the background. This gives the women power in an environment where the world is doing its best to strip them of it.

Following the flow of the layout did take some getting used to. I found myself reading dialogue out of order at times. Certain pages use very small panels to break up the art, though the art is meant to be read as if these strict borders were not present. The art is thus noncompliant to the rigid borders it is forced into, reinforcing the noncompliance of the women in the story.

The pacing of the art with the writing is very fluid and natural. I’ve often found DeConnick’s other work (Pretty Deadly, Captain Marvel) to feel rushed and clipped, so reading Bitch Planet was a very welcome change of pace. The broken up panels and background details force you to slow your reading. This is anti-consumption, in a sense, in contrast to the tabloid presentation of the book as a whole. The discussion questions presented also further this goal, asking readers to not simply accept what they have just consumed, but to question it, digest it, and relate it to the world they live in.

Bitch Planet is targeted toward adults (rated M for Mature) but I think it would be suitable for older teens as well. It serves as a good introduction to learning about intersectional feminism, the prison industrial complex, and misogyny. Librarians should be aware that this book contains nudity, blood, death, violence, swearing, and some brief sexual content.

This story would appeal to fans of the first season of Orange is the New Black, readers looking for women-centered fiction, and readers who enjoy a classic dystopia.

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1
by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by Valentine De Landro, Robert Wilson IV
ISBN: 9781632153661
Image Comics, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: M

The Evil Tree

eviltreeMisha and Daren bought a cabin in the woods. They have been living there for a few months and Daren is concerned because Misha has become increasingly withdrawn and depressed. In the hopes of cheering her up and helping her to love their new home, Daren invites a few friends to come out and spend a few days. What Daren doesn’t know is that the house hasn’t been causing Misha’s loneliness. A ghost has.

To start this out, I should admit I’m a chicken. Evil Dead, campy as it is, terrified me utterly. Joss Whedon’s hilarious Cabin in the Woods? I was cowering in my seat. I will never, ever go visit a friend’s cabin in the woods — not that I have any friends who actually have cabins. That’s why I was so surprised that this book didn’t scare me at all. I actually found it rather boring. The action moved too quickly and the storyline was full of holes. The characters were flat and lifeless. The drawings were creepy, but even those didn’t engage me.

The actual story behind what happened in the cabin involving the “evil tree” is a pretty scary concept. It should have been fascinating. Unfortunately, it is explained very early on, killing any potential mystery or suspense. I would have liked the characters to flounder a bit more before figuring out the best course of action. Once the group figure out what they have to do, everything is quickly and neatly tied up in a bow. It all just felt too rushed and obvious.

The characters were also confusing. I found myself distracted by their names (Misha, Daren, Even, Amarra) and wondered if they were supposed to be foreign, despite the setting being in America. Even, in particular, distracted me. I kept thinking his name was Evan and the book contained a typo. Also, each character felt flat and one-dimensional. They were each caricatures, rather than characters I could care about and connect with. Serg was particularly frustrating in this way. As one of two Hispanic characters, he kept talking about how he was being judged or made to do work because he was “brown”. It was a little funny the first time, but as it was mentioned at least twice more, it became over the top. It made him seem like the token non-white guy, rather than his own person.

The artwork is very eerie-looking. However, many images were creepy even when they were not supposed to be. The artist used one long black line to illustrate the characters’ cheekbones, but it just made them all look gaunt and zombie-like. This worked perfectly for Misha, who hasn’t been sleeping and is depressed and withdrawn, but the other characters are, as far as we know, in good health. The color palette was made up of dark greys, deep blues, and blacks, which helped add to the drama. However, it was not enough to make even the murderous ghost disturbing.

This graphic novel had a great premise — a creepy story that might gave a new twist to the classic “cabin in the woods” plotline. Unfortunately, the plot was revealed to quickly and the characters were dull and one-dimensional.

The Evil Tree
by Erik Hendrix
Art by Daniel Thollin
ISBN: 9781926914527
Arcana, 2012

Three Strikes

Three Strikes is the story of Rey Quintana, a hispanic college kid who forgets his girlfriend’s birthday. He’s in a jewelry store and impulsively decides to pocket a pair of earrings that are lying out on the counter. Then he gets caught–and he’s already been in jail twice before, for minor crimes. The district attorney, who’s up for re-election, wants to send him to jail for twenty-two years (for a crime that would typically get him a year in prison) to give the voting public the impression he’s tough on crime. Rey’s out on bail, and when his friend Billy tells him that they should get out of town, he reluctantly agrees. But then, the bail bondsman hires a bounty hunter to get him back. How far will Rey go to avoid getting sent to jail? This graphic novel is an excellent social commentary on the problems of being young, poor, hispanic, and in trouble with the law. Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir do a wonderful job addressing real-world concerns in their graphic novels. The art is rough but striking–it fits well with a story that is, in the end, both educational and entertaining.

Three Strikes
by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
ISBN: 9781929998821
Oni Press, 2004