A request that can’t be ignored. Three semi-estranged friends on a road trip after years apart. Though they don’t understand the reasons that brought them back together, all three know that this trip may be a turning point in all their lives—and that’s before things get weird.
Polly, Moho, and Piter, along with their friend Héctor, once bonded over their love of music and their dreams of where life might one day take them. Years later, those dreams have not come to pass and their time together has turned into memories tinged with bitterness—until a final request from Héctor draws them together to carry their friend’s remains to an X he marked on a map where each hopes to find some sort of resolution.
It sounds like a simple road trip, right? It should have been, but add in an ex-circus monkey and two mercenary brothers in cowboy hats, one of whom carries a banjo. The journey takes them away from an angry cowboy, through a ship graveyard, and into the sights of a stranger whose livelihood may be less than legal. At first, it seemed that the greatest struggle would be getting along with one another, but as each situation spirals more out of control, finding what lies at Héctor’s X may be the least of their difficulties.
From IDW and Top Shelf Productions, Ashes is the debut English-language graphic novel from acclaimed Spanish cartoonist Álvaro Ortiz. Blending dark comedy and drama with touches of absurdity, the book weaves the characters’ pasts and presents together with glimpses of broader history in a thoughtful whole that considers the way human stories play out across the years. Bold and unique, the result is a fun road-trip adventure with action and surprises that ultimately reveals itself to be a simple but moving examination of grief, growing up, and finding your own way in a world that doesn’t always go quite the way you want it to.
Ortiz’s illustrations are stylized and cartoonish, but with a seriousness to the characters that works well in capturing the blended tones of the writing. Though it occasionally takes a touch of effort to separate flashback from the present story, the art largely succeeds in bringing together the pieces of the story as it unfolds. Capturing subtle moments of humor as well as the grander moments of stillness, the art is distinctive, fun to look at, and connected tightly to the story Ortiz builds here.
IDW does not list a rating for this title. Throughout the story, there are instances of strong language, violence, nudity, and drug content—among other things—and though the visual style does lessen the impact of the content, it remains a title best suited for older readers. In the end, Ashes is a quirky book with some truly touching moments. Not every scene lands perfectly, and a brief appearance from a strongly queer-coded villain feels somewhat cheap, but overall it’s well worth the investment for readers looking for something a little different, comics in translation, or stories with some dramatic themes that still manage to have fun along the way. Additionally, fans of Kyle Starks work such as the Six Sidekicks of Trigger Keaton will likely appreciate both the artistic style and storytelling present here. It’s a bit of a chaotic graphic novel, but that’s clearly intentional, and Ortiz ultimately does bring it all back home again with touching sincerity.
Ashes is a wacky road trip with heart and it’s worth tagging along with these characters as they discover what lies at the X on the map that brought them back together.
Ashes By Álvaro Ortiz Top Shelf, 2023 ISBN: 9781603095174
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Spanish Character Representation: Spanish
What if you were granted a second chance to correct past mistakes and set things right in your life? What if you could influence and reshape how events would have turned out had you made decisions to achieve a different outcome? Spanish writer and artist Guillem March (Batman, Catwoman, Harley Quinn) entertains these hypothetical questions and offers a metaphysical glimpse into the afterlife in Karmen, a story packed with philosophical musings, chance encounters, and intriguing plot twists wrapped in a blend of supernatural fantasy and dream-like narrative sequences.
The story begins at a juncture in an in-between realm between life and death when a disheartened college-aged student named Catalina, having reached the end of her line from a screwed up relationship, decides to end her life in the privacy of her bathroom. Instead of succumbing to the throes of death, she encounters a capricious, pink-haired woman dressed in a skeletal outfit who identifies herself simply as “Karmen.” Awakening in a nude astral form where none of the living can see her, Cata embarks on a journey to piece together the scattered pieces of her life while helping others in the process. Although she cannot directly intervene with passersbys and strangers on the streets, making physical contact with them will “pass on” their life’s story in a flash, flooding her mind with an incredible amount of information in mere seconds. In her newfound form, she sets out to uncover the people and events leading to her breakup with her boyfriend Xisco.
In the tradition of stories like Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, the movie Ghost, and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novel series, Karmen presents a tale sprinkled with metaphysical quandaries that explore the choices we make and how they impact fate, potentially steering the course of destiny in the lives of those with whom we interact, day in day out. The plot unfolds in a visually stunning cinematic style, capturing the direct observations of Cata as she journeys on a surrealistic voyage in search of truth beyond the afterlife. Like a wraith, she glides through intricately arranged panels stitched together, some stretching across panoramic spreads.
A side plot centers on Karmen’s role, who is supposedly charged with guiding the recently deceased to their next destination, but chooses instead to help them find peace and reconcile with the consequences of their actions. Other psychopomps like herself frown upon her unorthodox methods, believing they must avoid interfering with human lives altogether. The back matter includes selected storyboarding panel sketches and a full cover gallery, illuminating the creative process of this beautifully illustrated story. With a healthy dose of supernatural intrigue underscored by philosophical musings on life, death, and the decisions we make, Karmen delivers a compelling story and an eclectic serving of food for thought suitable for adult graphic novel collections.
Note: There are graphic depictions of death, nudity, and suicide.
Karmen By Guillem March Image, 2022 ISBN: 9781534319882
Publisher Age Rating: 18+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Spanish, Character Representation: Spanish,
What happens when five middle school children from different walks of life wind up working together to complete their community service hours? Well, they complete their assignment, just not the one they were given. And while doing so, they discover that they are more than what their school perceives them to be. Invisible, written by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (award winning author of The Red Umbrella and Concealed) and illustrated by Gabriela Epstein (contributing illustrator for the Babysitter’s Club graphic novel series), gives readers a story about overcoming expectations and being seen as someone who can make a difference.
Conrad Middle School students George, Sara, Dayara, Nico, and Miguel have one thing in common: they all speak Spanish. They don’t know each other nor have they ever hung out together, but that all changes when they need to complete their community service hours. Their assignment: cleaning up the cafeteria each morning under the stern gaze of cafeteria lady Mrs. Grouser. As they take out the garbage and organize utensils, the group meets a mother and her young child who live in a car next to the school. Throughout the week, the children provide them with food, books, soup kitchen notices, and a job listing, meanwhile getting to know each other and becoming friends.
What makes Invisible different from other middle school graphic novels is its cast and dialogue. Not only do you have five Spanish speaking students from different parts of Latin America, but most of their conversations are spoken in their native language. For those who are unfamiliar with Spanish, Epstein prints the speech bubbles in both English and Spanish, reminding readers where these children come from. However, author Gonzalez gives each student their own background story with situations that most children, no matter what nationality they are, may experience. As the story progresses, the readers see the children as regular middle school students who want to show others that they are more than their language. Readers are also treated to a story centered on helping others and how a language barrier should not hold you back. Epstein’s artwork provides a diverse look at the many different Latin nationalities there are and their visible differences. Any emotions from the characters, especially in difficult situations, are expressed vividly without having to use dialogue of any language.
With relatable characters and a heartwarming storyline, Invisible is a must have for both school and public libraries. With its use of bilingual text, libraries that cater to Spanish speaking communities should be willing to purchase it for their collection. As for elementary and middle school students, (preferably those in grades 4-7) they will be intrigued with the methods these characters use to help someone in need and be inspired to do the same.
Invisible By Christina Diaz Gonzalez Art by Gabriella Epstein Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2022 ISBN: 9781338194548
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13) Character Representation: Latine, Spanish, Spanish-American
In A Chance, Spanish comics duo Cristina Durán and Miguel Giner Bou chronicle the experience of becoming parents to their daughters: Laia, who was born with cerebral palsy, and Selam, whom the couple adopted from Ethiopia. First published as separate volumes in 2009 and 2012, this engaging graphic memoir captures the day-to-day emotional and logistical complexities of Cris and Miguel’s parenting journey, one that calls upon the couple to embrace uncertainty and difference and lean into a network of professionals and loved ones to support their daughters’ complex needs. A Chance succeeds on many fronts, but its uncritical treatment of the international adoption process results in an uneven read.
Part One, “One Chance in a Thousand,” opens with the news that the couples’ newborn infant, Laia, is experiencing a brain hemorrhage. Cris and Miguel spend the next weeks in the neonatal unit, sitting with fear and uncertainty as they wait to learn more about their child’s prognosis. The medical details of Laia’s cerebral palsy are interwoven with the intimate experiences of bonding with a baby under medical care, an early infancy that’s nothing like the one they’d expected.
Once Laia is stable and at home, the family embarks on a tightly scheduled life of medical appointments and grueling physical therapy, punctuated by further health scares. Yet these tense first months and years are underpinned by Cris and Miguel’s love and gratitude for their daughter. Laia’s disability is a challenge, but it’s not a tragedy, and her happiness and quality of life are their focus. Cris and Miguel also emphasize that caring for Laia is a team effort; family members, doctors, and childcare workers step up to support the family, a vision of community care that’s radical and uplifting.
As Laia makes developmental progress and settles into a happy childhood, Cris and Miguel embark on the process of adopting a second child. Part Two, “Efrén’s Machine,” details this experience. While Laia’s complex needs were unexpected, their long-anticipated path to become parents to their second daughter is complex in entirely expected ways—a years-long process involving waitlists, screening processes, and finally, an international flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where they meet three-year-old Selamawit at her group home and finalize the adoption.
Cris and Miguel document the emotional and practical demands of navigating the adoption process and bringing their daughter home. As with Laia, becoming parents to Selam requires a great deal of personal fortitude but gives them the opportunity to build relationships with a new community, one made up of fellow adoptive parents, adoption workers, and Efrén, the warmhearted driver in Addis Ababa who gives his name to this part of the book.
Three years before A Chancewas published in English, Ethiopia’s parliament banned international adoptions. Cris and Miguel nod to uncomfortable aspects of adopting a child from another country; they describe their feeling of being out-of-place as white people during their visit to Addis Ababa, highlight adoption myths held by other white prospective parents, and contrast their experience with that of Tigui, an Ethiopian-born woman returning from Europe to her home country to adopt a child.
Yet A Chance never acknowledges critiques of international adoption as a system, one that is characterized by power differentials between rich and poor countries and, in the view of the Ethiopian government and others, has the potential to cause harm to children and families. These are thorny issues, and to be clear, what’s in question here is not two parents’ individual motivations for adopting a much-loved daughter. It’s the structural pitfalls that are missing, from falsification of documents, to economic pressures resulting in families having to give up wanted children, to the impact of being removed from a culture of origin. In the first half of the book, the authors reflect on moments when systems of care fail their daughter Laia—nurses who discourage Cris from trying to breastfeed, a daycare unwilling to accommodate Laia’s disabilities—so the absence of a critical eye here felt jarring.
Durán and Giner Bou have produced an impressive parenting memoir. Readable and emotionally engaging, there’s much in this book to interest readers who’ve had similar parenting experiences, as well as those seeking to learn more about parenting disabled and adopted children. A preference for dialogue over exposition gives the story a novelistic feel, and blocky, stylized art matches the gentle optimism that defines Cris and Miguel’s parenting story. Crafting a coherent narrative with a strong emotional arc out of a chaotic time in the authors’ lives, this book will be accessible to a wide range of readers, from longtime comics fans to those new to the medium. But the memoir format, with its tight focus on the authors’ personal experiences, may be frustrating for readers seeking insight into Ethiopia’s now-banned international adoption industry.
A Chance By Cristina Duran, Miguel Giner Bou Graphic Mundi, 2021 ISBN: 9781637790038
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Spanish Character Representation: Ethiopian, Spanish, Cerebral Palsy, Disability, Mobility Impairment
The house has been vacant for over a year, nestled in the Spanish countryside within view of the ocean. Three adult siblings, José, Carla, and Vicente, have decided they’re going to fix up the house and sell it. The house is a family project through and through—their grandfather bought the land, but that’s all he could afford to do. Their father commissioned the outside structure of the house to be built and, since then, every weekend and vacation has been spent pouring time and love into the house. The children have been helping since they were barely old enough to help, and many of their childhood memories, for better and for worse, are deeply connected to the house. As they grew up, they visited less frequently. Now as adults, a year after their father’s death, they must reunite and step back into their father’s world and process their relationship with the house, their emotionally distant father, and each other.
The book has a color palette of earthy tones and muted shades of green, brown, peach, and turquoise that tie well into the themes of the book. The dusty shades seem to directly tie into the house as a site of abandonment and neglect. Green features fairly heavily in the book; José’s first task when he arrives is focused on trying to revitalize the garden and literally bring life back to the house.The need for healing and growth is strongly evident.
There’s no consistent visual pattern for when a shift is made from present to memory. Sometimes memories are shaded in stark contrasting colors—dusty rose, warm sand—and once bleeding into an ombre when the past and present blur together. Sometimes the color change is a subtle shift, a dull yellow growing a shade brighter and sunnier. Sometimes memories are the same color as the present, and you have to reconsider the dialogue to remember what is taking place when. Sometimes memories take place within the same panel, with the same characters from two timelines experiencing the past and present simultaneously.
Ultimately, Roca shows that memory is a complicated thing.
Distance also helps us understand things differently. As the children recount bitter anecdotes about their father to their spouses and children, their family members reinterpret the memories, unclouded by resentment. Vicente’s son offers clarity to how their father handled the death of their mother; it wasn’t that he didn’t care, it’s that he was lonely, and he handled this loneliness by working on the house rather than opening up to his children.
There’s a shift in the writing in about the last quarter of the story. The storyline of the siblings seems to be wrapping up in a fairly tidy matter, but these scenes are interspersed with the last days of their father, and we learn more about his sudden decline in health. The two storylines are paced differently, showing the children speeding up and moving on after his death, while their father slowly breaks down, his whole world coming slowly to a halt. Though the siblings seemed to have resolved their feelings of guilt and bitterness around their relationship with their father, the story ends on a heavy note, resting solemnly with the reader. Roca’s divergence into parallel storylines reminds us that there is often more to people than what appears on the surface, and how heartbreaking it is to lose that perspective without ever truly understanding it.
The House would be an excellent addition for any library looking to expand their selection of comics for adults, particularly if they are looking to expand their selection of graphic novels in translation.
The House By Paco Roca ISBN: 9781683962632 Fantagraphics, 2019 NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Browse for more like this title Character Traits: Spanish Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator
Genie, a purr-fect orange cat, has disappeared after a series of earthquakes. Lupe Impala, Elirio Malaria, and El Chavo Octopus must close their garage and follow tiny paw prints to track down their missing furr-end. Along the way they discover more than they bargained for: a giant corn maze, a tricky coyote, a weeping mother, and Mictlantecuhtli: the Aztec god of the Underworld. The Lowriders must rely on their mechanical skill and creative thinking to outwit their latest foe.
Lowriders to the Center of the Earth is the punny, adventure-filled sequel to Lowriders in Space. The series follows the adventures of three best friends/mechanics as they navigate their world in their tricked out ranfla, or lowriding car. Spanish phrases are seamlessly integrated into the text, adding cultural flavor and making the story more fun to read. Readers may well find themselves reading out loud—I certainly did! Translations for the text are offered at the bottom of each page, while a handy glossary of all terms and phrases can be found at the back of the book.
I love puns and Lowriders to the Center of the Earth is full of ‘em. English puns, Spanish puns, and BILINGUAL PUNS! Camper does an excellent job of writing dialogue that seems naturally bi-lingual; it’s never awkward or forced. Conversations feel authentic and characters are well developed. Science and cultural history are also interwoven into the story. While the three mechanics are on their journey, they encounter geology lessons, Aztec myths, Mexican wrestling, and a Day of the Dead celebration. The narrative almost resembles a Magic School Bus plot, albeit one that is hipper, a little edgier, and infused with Latino culture.
The coolest thing about the artwork is that it was created using a humble material: ballpoint pen. Raul the Third’s drawings have great detail and a street art flair. Some of the coolest panels combine Aztec imagery with Mexican wrestling Lucha Libre costuming. The colors are simple and effective; blue, red, and black pop off of the cream colored pages. The drawings are stylized like notebook doodles but sophisticated enough propel the story forward. Young readers might be inspired to create their own ballpoint comics!
Teachers and librarians might be interested in sharing the downloadable activity kit that accompanies Lowriders to the Center of the Earth (http://www.chroniclebooks.com/landing-pages/pdfs/Lowriders_ActivityKit.pdf). The kit includes a Spanish language activity, drawing activity, and comic creation activity. Put some printouts on a table with pens and paper and you have an instant activity station!
“Bajito y suavecito” (low and slow) might be the way Lupe, Elirio, and El Chavo travel, but it’s not the way this graphic novel reads. Although Lowriders to the Center of the Earth is a sequel to Lowriders in Space (2014), the story can stand alone, leaving readers furiously flipping pages to find out if these amigos will rescue their gato and get their ranfla back to the garage!
Lowriders in Space; Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, Book 2 by Cathy Camper Art by Raul the Third ISBN: 9781452123431 Chronicle Books, 2016 Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
It’s always a busy day at Cartinflas Used Cars/Carros Usados. Lupe Impala (mechanic extraordinaire), Elirio Malaria (small, winged, and talented detailer), and Flapjack Octopus (fastest car washer north of the Salton Sea), exemplify teamwork in all that they do and the customers appreciate it; too bad that their boss is a jerk. They hope someday to save enough money to open their own shop. And they want a car to get around in—”They’d seen some cars blast by fast…and others that could shift and drift… but they wanted a car that would go low and slow…bajito y suavecito.” They don’t get paid a lot, so their best chance, as they see it, is to to use their teamwork, talents, and free resources to win the Universal Car Competition, “the most mechanically inventive, exquisitely detailed cosmic car wins!”
In Cathy Camper and Raúl the Third’s world, the streets are filled with dust, faded signs, and anthropomorphic creatures. The pages of Lowriders in Space are textured and faux stained by coffee, setting up a base layer of worn-in atmosphere. The panels and characters are drawn in shades of black, blue, and red, like a tri-color ballpoint pen wielded by a very imaginative and car-obsessed Mexican-American dreamer. It’s gritty and hopeful, sparkles shine out from under a layer of dirt, and street art and old-school handpainted billboard art inflect style that matches the tone of the tale.
Throughout the book, Lupe, Elirio, and Flapjack joyfully code-switch, and their Spanish phrases are translated in footnotes and a glossary at the back. The friends have to travel far beyond their streets to find the key to winning the Universal Car Competition. In search of the perfect steering wheel they embark on a cosmic journey through the universe, powered by old rocket parts found in an abandoned airfield. Their lowrider whooshes and flames, and they meet every small bump in the road with a smile and a can-do attitude.
The joyfulness of Lowriders in Space, partnered with its matter of fact embrace of Mexican-American culture, makes it a shoo-in for younger readers who want to read something with some diversity and a great sense of fun. They’ll have a blast taking in all the details of the cityscapes, learning some Spanish vocabulary and phrases beyond what they got in Dora, and maybe have an urge to help wash the family car afterwards. And as the title page states that this is Book One, hopefully this is not the end of Lupe, Elirio, and Flapjack’s adventures.
Lowriders in Space, volume 1 by Cathy Camper Art by Raúl the Third ISBN: 9781452128696 Chronicle Books, 2014 Publisher Age Rating: Ages 8-14