Graveneye

GraveneyeThe sentient mansion of Graveneye is more introspective than haunted. It feels protective, fond, proud, and curious. But it tells us it does not feel remorse. The house tells the story of its beloved owner Isla. Even though Isla’s lifetime is only a quarter of its own, you get the impression that the house loves her best. No one understands Isla the way the house does. No one else hears her red voice and embraces her hunter nature. A new maid, Marie, is hired to care for the house and her timid presence pricks the interest of Isla and her home. We see her before we see Isla, a keyhole filled with bright red leads to the front door opening on its own. Marie’s entrance is marked by a bite from the house, the door’s strike plate cutting her hand open and spilling bright red drops across the greyscale panels. The relationship between Isla and Marie blooms slowly, keeping pace with Marie’s transformation from a woman curled inward by domestic abuse to one open to warmth and comfort. It’s impossible to resist being enchanted by the story, to feel the love of the house.

Even though the house is showing you Isla’s history. Even though you know Isla is foremost a hunter. Even though you know it’s a horror story, not a romance. 

The writing is spellbinding. While the subject matter is very different from Leong’s award-winning YA sports story A Map to the Sun (to label it too broadly), there’s a similar sense of the story taking just as much time as it needs to be told. With a languorous pace and gothic flourishes, it meanders through the story, showing flashbacks of Isla’s life, her hunting trips in the surrounding woods, and even speculates at Marie’s terrible home life. The house uses imagery of trees and buildings in its narration: Isla has “skin that looked not unlike the lightning struck oak in the courtyard. She was as regal as a maple” and Marie is a “young spruce-white wisp of a girl”. It reads like a fairytale. Isla is a powerful, darkly flawed character. Leong doesn’t pull any punches, we see some of the most horrifying parts of Isla’s past early on, but she remains fascinating. Marie seems to believe she’s in a different kind of story. The contrast is jarring and almost as violent as the action. 

Anna Bowles provides the art to Leong’s script. Unlike Leong’s kaleidoscope-hued A Map to the Sun, the grayscale pages of Graveneye are filled with the shades of a stormy sky. In flashes of blood and the copious gore, bright red pierces the gray. It also appears as an accent to intense emotional moments. The lines are sketchy and the backgrounds lush. The house’s finery and architecture looms large. At times the character faces can be indistinct and lacking the polish of other moments, though the various anatomical sections show a lot of skill.  The art carries a heavy load, fleshing out the characters. Seeing the emotion flit across the faces of the women makes broad changes to the house’s words. Isla is first shown in a full page splash, standing bold and strong, her clothing lining every muscled curve and angle of her body, juxtaposed with Marie’s tense body broken up by jagged panels, in a messy sweater and sneakers. There are no dialog bubbles, the house rarely feels the need to tell us what the characters are saying. Its narration comes in neat boxes or floating freely on the page. Every visual element serves the mood and motion of the story, it joins the writing perfectly. For a story told entirely in voice over narration there is a delicately balanced ratio of text to page. This is an incredible graphic novel debut for Bowles and I can’t wait to see what she does next. 

Any adult library collection where horror comics circulate well should pick this up immediately. Its closest graphic novel relative is Emily Carroll’s When I Arrived at the Castle, but horror classics like The Shining, The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle also share a lot of DNA with it. In case the blood red cover and the woman with blood coating her chin and neck didn’t tell you, there’s a lot of gore and violence in Graveneye. There’s a scientific context surrounding it in the book that makes it feel less gratuitous, but it should still be noted for content and to keep this in the adult category. There is also a lot of female nudity, but no sex. 

Open the cover to Graveneye, step into its welcoming halls, but be warned that this is a story that will linger in your mind long after the last page.

Graveneye 
By Sloane Leong
Art by Anna Bowles
TKO Studios, 2021
ISBN: 9781952203176

Publisher Age Rating: 15 and up

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation:  Chinese, Mexican,  Native Hawaiian
Character Representation: Lesbian

The Goddamned, vols 1-2

“A stick of dynamite.” I remember, at a conference, a librarian using this metaphor to describe graphic novels that were sure to cause controversy, whether with their visual depictions of sex and/or violence, or tackling situations that were sure to offend at least a few patrons. Her words, even after all these years, stuck with me because she described how many graphic novels gather reputations of being too taboo for a library to even consider purchasing them. The stick-of-dynamite metaphor sprang into my mind as I read Jason Aaron and r.m. Guéra’s series of stories drenched in blood and religion, The Goddamned, which includes Vol. 1: Before the Flood and Vol. 2: The Virgin Brides.

Many are familiar with the story of Noah and the Ark, but Aaron’s story shows why God decided to flood the land: basically, it was a brutal world full of viscerally depicted depravity and violence. Navigating this land in Before the Flood, is Cain, brother of Abel and the first murderer. He wanders this barbaric landscape searching for a way to die, and there are plenty of marauders and zealots with axes and swords who will happily oblige him. What Cain ends up finding among the carnage in this world is a reason to live. The Virgin Brides depicts a seemingly more idyllic place where there are only women, an order of holy sisters who prepare young girls to accept their place as being Brides of the Sons of God. But two girls, rebellious Jael and obedient Shaari, soon suspect that the nuns are keeping secrets, including what happens to the girls once they are married, and what lies beyond the mountain.

These tales seem to be at least a few sticks of dynamite, beginning with the setting, a reimagining of Biblical times that’s dialed up the Old Testament savagery. The celestial beings in this story, though not shown, are depicted as more monstrous than the humans who serve them, even connecting them with this realm’s monsters. The graphic depiction of these times may offend many of your more religious patrons, but these stories are also very solid. The first looks at how even a man whose existence is inexorably tied to violence can find redemption. The second looks at the dangers of groupthink, as well as presenting a coming-of-age narrative that, although present in a book full of very adult situations, is no less meaningful. Aaron shows an aptitude in creating villains who are truly despicable. Vol. 1’s villain, Noah, the architect of the Ark, is portrayed as a controlling zealot, and the nunnery that keep Jael and Shaari prisoner feel their actions, no matter how heinous, are not only justified but noble. Aaron shows he can create both heroes and antiheroes as Cain and the two girls fleeing captivity are ones the reader can root for no matter how bloody their hands get.

The fights in these stories take place in a primitive world gorgeously illustrated by Guéra, full of casual nudity, scarred flesh, and blood-soaked spears. Battles are bloody, wounds will induce wincing, and readers with sensitive stomachs may find them flip-flopping. Guéra’s skill with depicting expressions also helps the reader develop empathy with the characters, especially considering the physical and emotional wringers Aaron puts them through.

The Goddamned can seem like a book ready to explode into a selector’s face, but this series is also a great example of graphic novel storytelling. Aaron shows his understanding of a redemption arc as Cain finds something to fight for in this savage era. The writer also evokes many elements of the best high fantasy as Shaari and Jael trek away from a life they’ve always known. Guéra’s art depicts epic, foreboding landscapes and the anguish in the faces of these characters. I’m thinking that perhaps a more apt metaphor for this series might be a jalapeno pepper, or perhaps a ghost pepper. It’s guaranteed to have a spicy kick, there could even be a little bit of pain, but there’s also a good chance that people who try this book will end up greatly enjoying it.


The Goddamned, Volumes 1 & 2
By Jason Aaron
Art by R. M. Guéra
Image, 2017-2021
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781632157003
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781534317208
Publisher Age Rating: Mature

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Representation: Lesbian

The Greatest Thing

The Greatest ThingWinifred is alone and lost. It is the first day of her sophomore year of high school, and her two best friends (well, only friends) transferred to a private school. Hidden under baggy clothes and behind her shyness, Winifred starts the year alone and friendless. 

Sarah Winifred Searle wrote and illustrated The Greatest Thing, a graphic novel based on her own high school experiences that explores mental health and the importance of relationships.

Searle uses beautiful and lyrical text through Winifred’s inner dialogue as she explores her depression, eating disorder, and sexuality. A pattern of wavy lines flows like water over Winifred when she is at her lowest and most lonely throughout the book, but through genuine friendships and the help of a mental health professional, Winifred finds her way back to the surface. 

Second to Winifred’s own self-exploration, the relationships between Winifred, Oscar, and April is central to the story. Each one is struggling to find themselves and their place. Oscar is bi and love-sick over a recent ex, and despite his intelligence, he struggles in school when teachers often dismiss what he has to offer. April has parents who are often absent but also controlling. Together they help Winifred accept her body and herself. She still feels alone and struggles with her depression, but the encouragement from her friends gives Winifred the courage to find the support she needs. 

The three decide to collaborate on a set of zines. Oscar writes the story through poetry and Winifred illustrates. April then publishes the zine with the help of a photocopier. The zines explore the book’s themes of depression and isolation through the story of a cursed prince who is locked in a tall tower with no means of escape. 

The zines look exactly as they are supposed to, something done with heart by talented high school students. Searle also includes a 3-page spread that describes, step by step, April’s process for making a zine.

Winifred is fat and ashamed of her body. She often avoids eating in front of other people, and at one point has a panic attack because someone gifts her sweets and is paralyzed in how to respond. She doesn’t want to be the fat girl excited about sweets. She regularly eats dairy despite being lactose intolerant and gets horribly sick each time: “A dark feeling inside me told me that if I was going to act gross and fat, might as well eat something that would punish me later.” It is not until later in the book that she recognizes these patterns as part of an eating disorder. 

Searle has a simplistic illustration style with distinct but soft lines and colors. She uses purple for many of the outlines and shadows, a choice that mirrors her writing. Few things are spoken directly, or drawn with harsh contrast, but instead handled with a light touch. I think the purple lines might also help remind us that things are not as bleak as they feel to Winifred. 

This book includes depictions of eating disorders, self-harm, depression, and suicidal ideation. While this book is a story of fiction, Winifred’s pain and experiences are based on Searle’s own high school experience. I am not qualified to speak specifically to the ways these issues are handled, but from my point of view, it felt authentic.

Many of our students and teens struggle with depression, their identity, feelings of isolation, eating disorders, and much more. They might find comfort in Winifred’s story. These stories are important to include in our collections, but it is also important that these stories are told authentically and with hope. I recommend this for high school and teen graphic novel collections. 

The Greatest Thing  
By Sarah Winifred Searle
First Second, 2022
ISBN: 9781250297235

Publisher Age Rating: 14-18

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Representation: Lesbian,  Eating Disorder

The Grande Odalisque

The Grande Odalisque opens with Carole and Alex mid-heist, busy stealing a painting from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris under the cover of night. What seems like a familiar story of elegant thieves takes a turn right away when Alex loses focus as her boyfriend breaks up with her via text message, missing her cue, and Carole has to fight off security guards and a guard dog. Still, after they pull it off, the women are offered a bigger job from their armless underworld contact Durieux, stealing a painting from the Louvre. Thus begins the  adventure that will consume the rest of the book as it bounces around the globe.

Carole brings more talent on to the team in the way of Sam, a motorcycle-driving “ChessBoxing” champion (it’s exactly what it sounds like, a combination of chess and boxing) who lost her girlfriend in a car crash the year before. The last fact is really just mentioned to soften Alex up to Sam joining the team, as Alex doesn’t think they need help. The group also enlists the aid of Clarence, son of the French ambassador to Mexico who is an arms dealer and drug smuggler. He will ultimately help them with their plan to steal “The Grande Odalisque” by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, but not before he gets himself kidnapped in Mexico by drug cartel that has a price on his head and the women having to save him.

Award winning French author/illustrator duo Jérôme Mulot and Florent Ruppert team up with Bastien Vivès (an Angouleme prize winner himself) for this book, splitting writing and illustrating credit equally between them. The artistic style in this book is one that relies on disjointed pencil lines and a watercolor softened approach. It’s sparse in details, and faces are very loosely constructed; so while it is clearly an artistic choice, it doesn’t always aid the storytelling. There are some reality-bending moments that you’d expect from something like a Fast and Furious movie where suddenly the laws of physics don’t matter and logic is tossed out the window. This book aspires to be a sexy, fast-paced thrilling adventure, but it doesn’t always stick the landing.

The storytelling comes in waves as some pages are wordless and others drive exposition right at you. For as light and witty as parts of this book try to be, there is plenty of violence from start to finish and some rather somber moments throughout. This isn’t a realistic book by any stretch, but there are some absolute leaps in logic that pulled me out of the story. If the art was more detailed, I think the authors may have had an easier time convincing me to follow the story. This book felt like it was straddling a line poorly as it aspired to be a high-impact, blockbuster crime story, but wrapped in the trappings of a low budget, independent art project about relationships. Those two things felt completely at odds throughout the reading.

Fantagraphics has previously published work by Mulot and Ruppert and has a back catalog of translated foreign titles. They aren’t afraid to take a big swing when it comes to publishing books that are underground or risqué. This book isn’t necessarily pushing the boundaries of taste (even if there is mild nudity and some coarse language), but has an unsettled feeling to it. The women feel like they are being written by men and without much nuance. Characters’ motivations are convenient for the story if they exist at all.

Libraries considering adding this title should keep it with their adult graphic novels or 18+ section. If you don’t have a big community of readers asking for European comics, it is okay to pass on this one.

The Grande Odalisque
By Jérôme Mulot, Florent Ruppert, Bastien Vivès
Fantagraphics, 2020
ISBN: 9781683964025

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation:  French
Character Representation: Bisexual, Lesbian,

Girl Haven

It has been three years since Ash’s mother, Kristin, vanished without a trace. Now Ash lives in her childhood home, where old clothes and possessions still linger, but none more precious than her old studio, which houses the secrets of a special place: Koretis. Koretis, born from Kristin’s childhood imagination, is a female-only fantastical land, filled with magic, fanciful creatures, and anthropomorphic animals. One day, after a Pride Club meeting at school, Ash invites a few friends over to explore the studio, eventually coming across a spell to transport them to Koretis. Naturally, they attempt the spell in jest, but are amazed when they find themselves on a lush hillside, discovering that there may be more truth to the stories than they realized.

Yet, somehow, Ash, assigned male at birth, is there as well. What does this mean? Everyone has always referred to Ash as a boy. Shouldn’t the spell have kept Ash out?  Or does Ash’s entry into Koretis reveal something a little deeper, a story that has yet to be told?

The world and presentation of Girl Haven is admittedly simple, yet surprisingly accessible. Though I was not met with sweeping, detailed landscapes or a striking color palette, the illustrations still hold an almost nostalgic charm through their expressive qualities and designs. To give a comparison, Meaghan Carter’s style appears as a satisfying mixture of Molly Ostertag’s The Witch Boy and Gale Galligan’s work on The Baby-Sitter’s Club. The individual looks of the characters never come off as overbearing, although there are some instances of wonky proportions in particular panels. Adding to the overall readability of the comic, the layout and size of the panels make the images easily digestible and convey action and emotion in a way that is eye-catching and gripping. However, some scenes could have used a few transitional panels, as characters tend to sporadically appear from one location to another almost instantly, without the use of magical spells this time, of course.

What ultimately sets Girl Haven apart from other portal fantasies is its focus on gender exploration and acceptance. To see a story marketed towards children that deals with transgender identities in such a supportive and genuine way is nothing short of heartwarming. While Ash’s journey in questioning their gender is somewhat surface level, it serves as a worthy introduction to these issues. The comic showcases self-doubt and uncertainty as valid parts of this experience, while also stressing, in the preface, that this story is only one version of it, as not all transgender people share the same experiences. Since Ash’s arc is the focal point along with the journey to Koretis, this does not leave much time in this 160-page comic to develop the other characters, mainly Ash’s friends Eleanor, Junebug, and Chloe, who have the potential to be as fully developed if given the chance. Still, each of them have enough of their own stand-out moments to ingratiate them to a variety of readers.

The publisher and other sites recommend this title for the 10 and up crowd, though I believe that, due to the accessibility of its art style and layout, its simple plot structure and characterizations, and lack of serious violence or any other potentially harmful material, it is also suitable for 9-year-olds and perhaps 8-year-olds at the youngest. Positive transgender representation in fantasy materials, especially for younger readers, is still somewhat scarce, and those curious or wanting to see themselves in such stories deserve to have them readily available should they be appropriate for them. Girl Haven can appeal to children facing similar experiences to Ash or to those wondering how to be supportive to those on their own gender journeys.

Giving further context to Ash’s story, the back matter of the comic includes definitions on gender, gender identities, gender expression, and sexuality as it pertains to gender. There is also a portion highlighting the significance of pronouns and how to respectfully use them. Librarians that are interested in strengthening and diversifying their youth LGBTQ+ comic collections and have a good circulation of character-centered fantasy stories should consider acquiring this title.

Girl Haven Vol.
By Lilah Sturges
Art by  Meaghan Carter
Oni Press, 2021
ISBN: 9781620108659

Publisher Age Rating: 10-99

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  Trans
Character Representation: African-American, Lesbian, Queer, Nonbinary, Trans,

Blade Runner 2029 Vol. 1: Reunion

The year is 2029. Twelve years ago, Aahna “Ash” Ashina was the LAPD’s greatest Blade Runner – one of the elite police detectives tasked with hunting down and killing any Replicant running loose on Earth. Yet Ash had a secret that would destroy her career were it discovered by her fellow cops; she was dependent on a rechargeable spinal implant to walk.

Ten years ago, Ash left the force and went on the run, acting as the protector and foster mother of a runaway girl, to honor the dying request of the Replicant clone of the girl’s biological mother.

Three years ago, Ash returned to a radically different Earth, where the manufacture of Replicants was outlawed after an attack on the Tyrell Corporation erased every record of every existing Replicant. Naturally this did nothing to stop the rich and powerful from ordering their own custom grown Replicant “servants” on the black market.

Two years ago, Ash rejoined the LAPD and the Blade Runners, joining the hunt for the last of the Nexus 8 Replicant models: the most human Replicants ever made. But Ash had a secret beyond her artificial spine. She had become part of the Replicant Underground, working to free the new Replicants who are born as both fugitives and slaves on Earth.

Now, Ash is relatively content, having found love with the Nexus 8 Replicant Freysa Sadeghpour. But a ghost from the past has thrown Ash’s new life into sharp relief; a ghost called Yotun, who is the only Replicant to ever escape Ash’s clutches in her old life and the leader of a Replicant terrorist cell out for revenge on the idle rich responsible for the creation of the latest Nexus 8 Replicants.

Fans of the Blade Runner franchise hoping for more of the same after Titan Comics’ excellent Blade Runner 2019 series will greatly enjoy this first volume of Blade Runner 2029. Michael Green, Mike Johnson and Andres Guinaldo, the creators on the first comic series centered around Ash’s adventures, have all returned for this second series and their respective contributions are as fine as ever. Green, who co-wrote the screenplay for Blade Runner 2049, continues to expand upon the setting of the original film, while slowly building up the elements he introduced in the sequel. Ana’s lover Freysa Sadeghpour, for instance, was a character in Blade Runner 2049.

Andres Guinaldo continues to capture the essence of the neo-Noir setting of Blade Runner. There is grit and grime aplenty, as befits the mean streets of Los Angeles. Yet there is also neon splendor and bright lights concealing the dark heart of the city’s underground, well rendered by colorist Marco Lesko. Suffice it to say the unique aesthetic of the movies is replicated perfectly throughout this book.

This volume is rated 15+ and I consider that to be a fair rating. There is nothing in Blade Runner 2029 that would be inappropriate for an older teen audience and nothing likely to upset fans of the original movies, which were rightly rated R for violence, nudity and sexual themes. There is nothing so overt in this collection, though there are some disturbing images of one body being impaled on rebar, a dissected corpse post-autopsy and some loose body parts in various Replicant labs.

Blade Runner 2029 Vol. 1: Reunion Vol. 01
By Michael Green, Mike Johnson,  ,
Art by  Andres Guinaldo
Titan Comics, 2021
ISBN: 9781787731943

Publisher Age Rating: 15+
Related media:  Movie to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: Indian American, Japanese-American, Lesbian, Mobility Impairment, Prosthesis,

The Girl from the Sea

Molly Knox Ostertag, writer and artist of The Witch Boy graphic novel series, tackles the myth of the selkies in her latest middle grade graphic novel. In The Girl From the Sea, teenage Morgan finds herself enchanted with a mysterious beauty when she slips from the cliffs of her island home and into the sea.

Even though Keltie manages to save Morgan from drowning, she cannot rescue her from her problems. Morgan lives on a tiny island with her recently-divorced mom and little brother and feels trapped, unable to tell anyone, including her close-knit group of girlfriends, that she is gay.

Morgan’s plans include getting through high school and moving off the island so that she can be her true self. Her first kiss with the shape-shifting Keltie puts a giant kink in those plans. Her younger brother is still angry about the divorce and is difficult to deal with. Morgan feels increasingly isolated from her family and friends, and hiding among the cliffs with Keltie seems like the best she can manage. 

Keltie, who lives with her family of seals on the island, cannot quite understand the human she has fallen for. Morgan wants to keep her life compartmentalized and secret, out of fear and anxiety more than anything. But her secret, and Keltie’s, are on a collision course that could put people in danger.

As with The Witch Boy, Ostertag captures the fears and feelings of isolation in young teens. This graphic novel is a rich blend of fantasy and realism. The artwork is sweetly rendered. Although the review copy was mostly black and white, the initial pages feature deep, sea green colors on a black background, evoking Keltie’s underwater world. The line art is simple but detailed, with attractive characters and, what are sure to be gorgeous when inked in the final version, rocky shoreline backgrounds.

This coming of age tale is more sweet than bitter but its poignant conclusion leaves the readers with hope, for Morgan and Keltie, and also, a sequel.

The Girl from the Sea is rated for ages 12 and up by the publisher and its honest depictions of teens in love with chaste kissing and hand-holding are age appropriate for middle grade readers. This is a must-have for a library graphic novel collection. It is available as an audiobook as well as in paperback, hardcover print, and digital formats.


The Girl from the Sea
By Molly Knox Ostertag
Graphix, 2021
ISBN: 9781338540574
Publisher Age Rating: 12+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Gay
Character Representation: Canadian, Lesbian

Adler

The year is 1902 and nurse Jane Eyre is newly returned to London from the Boer War. After facing the horrors of combat in South Africa as a combat medic, Jane is having a hard time readjusting to civilian life, particularly regarding how society seems to think proper ladies should act. After years of having to do the work of a doctor in places where there was none, it is rough to be told you cannot do such things by men who have not seen what you have. Thankfully, Jane finds a sympathetic ear and kindred spirit in the Lady Estella Havisham, who helps Jane with another problem she is having – finding a suitable roommate.

Enter Irene Adler; an American and an actress, who is also in need of someone to help her pay the rent. Given Victorian London’s opinion of Americans and theatrical types, Jane is certain she and Irene will get along like a house on fire even before they meet. However, Irene is far more than a simple actress, living a double life that places her at war with both the respectable and unrespectable elements of society. Soon Jane finds herself drawn into Irene’s world and a conflict beyond imagining, as a foreign queen declares war on the British Empire for what they did to her nation and seeks the advanced science of Marie Curie to unleash a power undreamed of upon the world!

It is impossible to consider Adler without thinking of Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. (Indeed, the advertising for Adler described it as “The League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen.”) While this is an easy comparison to make, it is also an unfair one, despite both series having the same base concept of taking characters from Victorian literature and putting them into a story together. While Moore’s central conceit was to devolve the superhero genre to its penny dreadful roots and tell a Victorian superhero story, Adler’s tale is closer in tone to the pulp fiction and weird science stories that dominated popular fiction in the early 20th century.

Adler also has a stronger focus on its characters, with Jane Eyre becoming the Dr. Watson to Irene Adler’s Sherlock Holmes, but getting a bit more to do than offer Irene someone to talk to when exposition needs to be delivered. Lavie Tidhar’s focus on the characters and commitment to adding complexity to their motivations is such that one even feels a certain degree of sympathy for the villain Ayesha (aka the Amazon queen from H. Rider Haggard’s She: A History of Adventure), who shows surprising nobility by freeing the captive performers of a freak show while in the middle of plotting to kill thousands of innocents. There are also hints of a romance between Ayesha and her chief assassin, the vampire Carmilla.

The artwork by Paul McCaffrey proves equally well-crafted. The many action sequences of the story are well-choreographed and flow freely and smoothly from panel to panel, guiding the reader along. The character designs are also worthy of note, as McCaffery makes all the characters look distinctive so there is no chance of confusing any of the cast.

Adler Vol 1 is aimed at audiences 12 and up and I consider that to be a fair rating. There is a bit of bloodshed, with realistic depictions of garroting, radiation poisoning and bullet wounds, but nothing inappropriate to a T-rated graphic novel. Many of the literary references may fly over the heads of the intended audience, but adults will find a lot to enjoy in Adler beyond picking out the nods to characters from The Prisoner of Zenda and The Amateur Cracksman.


Adler Vol. 01
By Lavie Tidhar
Art by  Paul McCaffrey
Titan Comics, 2021
ISBN:9781782760719

Publisher Age Rating:  12+ Only

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Israeli, Jewish
Character Representation: American, British, Central African, Lesbian,

I Am Not Starfire

What if your mother was a solar-powered, bikini wearing, alien superhero? This is what Mandy Anders struggles with, in addition to more standard teenage problems like appearances, first loves, and college applications. And yes, her mom is Starfire. That Starfire. The most naively written character in Teen Titans is now a single mom. The “single” part of that comes up in the book from time to time, but is never really expanded on. Like many things relating to Starfire and Mandy, it is a mystery.

For her part, Mandy considers herself to be extremely different from her mother, and seems to go out of her way to be more so by dyeing her hair in the opening of the book. She is surly, chubby, and unpopular. She doesn’t have any superpowers (despite years of waiting) and seems to resent everything except for her best friend Lincoln and her crush Claire. She does not plan to attend college, which is a point of friction between mother and daughter. Over the course of the book her relationship with Claire progresses smoothly until Claire meets Starfire’s co-workers and posts about it online. Things only get worse from there for Claire…

All of this is beautifully illustrated using muted colors and lots of layering effects and abstract shapes in addition to more traditional comic book art. Taken together it means the books can range from looking like a digital collage or to looking like a space faring action book. It is to Yoshitani’s credit that those tonal shifts are easy to follow and never distracting to read. There is also a recurring set up of a two-page spread with Starfire on the left and Mandy on the right, mirroring each other. It’s a neat image to return throughout the book, showing their relationship and personalities. 

What can I say about Tamaki’s writing that hasn’t been said before? It’s wonderful and she writes incredibly believable teenagers and dialog. The Titans most resemble grown-up versions of their television incarnations, but could pretty easily be slid into any continuity. There are definite shades of Tamaki’s past works here, especially Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me. But then again, when you write one of the best teen romance stories in recent memory, why wouldn’t you build on that? 

I Am Not Starfire is reminiscent of the aforementioned book as well as Tamaki’s other works for DC Comics like Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass and Supergirl: Being Super. It also fits in with other out of continuity DC tales like Oracle Code or Shadow of the Bat. The balance of teen slice of life and space faring superheroes is excellent and means this book can appeal to a wide variety of readers. 

The publisher recommends this book for teens, and I would agree with that. There’s a tiny amount of blood in a fight scene, and copious swearing in that same fight scene.  If Tamaki’s other books have been a hit for your readers, you should definitely check this out! 

I reviewed a digital copy of this book provided by the publisher. As a digital book it was a fine reading experience, but given the number of two-page spreads I think it would be a better purchase in print. 

I Am Not Starfire Vol. 
By Mariko Tamaki
Art by  Yoshi Yoshitani
DC Comics, 2021
ISBN: 9781779501264

Publisher Age Rating: 13+
Series ISBNs and Order
Related media: 

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Representation: Canadian, Lesbian, 

Red Rock Baby Candy

Shira Spector weaves a dreamlike graphic memoir from ink, watercolor, and mixed media collage. In its nonlinear timeline the story details, among other things, Spector’s pubescent sexual awakening, her miscarriage and struggle with infertility, and her father’s decline in health and ultimate demise due to a brain tumor. The first death that shapes Spector is her Bubbie’s—a story that is interspersed with lyrics from the children’s clapping song “Down Down Baby.” One page features: “Gramma, Gramma, sick in bed. Called the doctor, and the doctor said…” when a parent interjects with the news: “Bubbie is dead.” The story jumps to a portrayal of a country/folk artist singing the book’s titular song, a “queer infertility anthem” about the magical Red Rock Baby Candy Mountain, where babies grow on bushes and are naturally well-behaved. This quick leap from trauma to comedy is par for the course in this big, beautiful, messy book.

It’s often difficult to glean the story from the art, since many pages feature poetic words splayed out across images rather than a clear explanation of what happens next. These pages are emotionally resonant and evocative; it’s possible Spector intended to give readers the opportunity to feel what it’s like to experience these things, rather than detail the minutiae of her own story. The early pages of the book are all in black-and-white pen drawings with hatched shading and occasional grey ink washes for additional shades. Spector adds pink as an initial spot color, mostly for lipstick, flowers, veins, and blood vessels, the latter two of which remind me of the external hearts and snipped arteries in Frida Kahlo’s painting The Two Fridas. Gradually, a second spot color is introduced – blue, such that the pink and blue juxtapose and seem to poke fun at the binary of genders assigned to babies before they are equipped to understand their own identities. Once the story turns to miscarriage and infertility, Spector brings in paper collage. Most of these images appear to be cut from vintage Betty Crocker cookbooks, with layers of ornately-decorated cake, hard-boiled eggs, and sliced ham forming Spector’s own miscarrying body. It’s visceral and truly unlike anything I’ve seen in a book; I could see many pages from this book featured as stand-alone pieces in a feminist art gallery.

When Spector finally has a kid, the book shifts to a realm of full color illustrations, where it remains as it delves into a history of her childhood sexual experiences (including a scene many people—myself included—can relate to, in which she discusses masturbating to Judy Blume’s seminal book Forever) and her gradual realization that she’s a lesbian. One page stands out among the psychedelic illustrations due to its computer font paragraphs and its title across the top: “On My First Fingering.” This page details a sexual assault that turns into an ad for Sexy Baby Time perfume (likely a reference to Love’s Baby Soft perfume), which girls should purchase because “Boys like the way babies smell. Brand new and vulnerable…So delicious they want to ruin them.” This is not an easy book to read.

I could go on about the fertility doctors who say Spector was having trouble getting pregnant because “it wasn’t the natural way,” or how she proposed marriage because she “secretly…hoped getting married would bring my stubbornly dead dad back,” but instead I will say this is a strange book filled with a mix of straightforward and stream of consciousness writing, as well as a blend of realistic drawing and abstract lumps. Like Lynda Barry’s work, it strikes that delicate balance between a childlike perspective and a very, very adult one. Also like Lynda Barry’s work, and like Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, most pages of this book feel like they were quickly sketched in a notebook hidden in a high school desk from the teacher’s prying eyes. It’s powerful and different and addresses plenty of important topics in a moving and thought-provoking way. I would recommend this book for most adult graphic memoir collections.


Red Rock Baby Candy
By Shira Spector
Fantagraphics, 2021
ISBN: 9781683964049

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation: Lesbian, Jewish
Character Representation: Lesbian, Jewish