This review refers to the hardbound trade which comprises the first five issues of Animal Castle. It’s marked volume 1 and it is a handsome volume, indeed! I read the first five issues as the individual comics, through my subscription at my favorite comics pusher, so I was curious to see what the compiled edition looked like. This glossy library bound edition shows the richly painted art from the first comic cover and includes a preamble by the author, all the variant covers, and lots of bonus material displaying the original pencils and thumbnails. The cover art wraps around to the back side. It should hold up to many circulations.
This storyline is essentially Orwell’s Animal Farm, yes, but updated and retold in a new chilling way, putting a wider variety of animals in the different roles, and exploring more intimately what each character has to give up to change their brutal conditions. The dictator and general for life, Silvio, is a corpulent shaggy bull with googly stern eyes, Texas Longhorn-type horns, a protruding lip, and large jowls that somehow seem familiar. His hench-dogs are slobbery, idiotic, and brutal, and are rendered in Felix Delep’s lanky whispy pencils. All the animals have amazingly human expressions, and it’s easy to empathize with each. Indeed, many of the scenes are heartbreaking.
The story revolves around a starving young mama cat named Miss Bengalore and her attempts to organize the Castle against the brutality of Silvio’s reign. The Hindi-sounding name is not a coincidence, as she’s shown early in the book what happens to those who speak up and riot. She has all she can handle with her three kittens and her forced work hauling stones all day to Silvio’s commanded building of a wall fortress, but, one night, she sees an old gray rat, a traveling storyteller named Azelar, do a performance about, “a little man, a fakir who fights against a king and an empire….” Is Azelar’s appearance a coincidence? Or does he have more to teach the Castle animals? When the old rat is injured trying to escape the guard hounds, Miss B. rescues him. Can he convince Miss B. and the other animals to work towards a better life away from Silvio’s grasp?
The story pacing kept my interest and the colors are muted and appropriate for a difficult story like this. The lettering is very small, so I needed my cheaters to read it. Even though this story is based on Animal Farm, this is not a story for middle graders. There is considerable violence as well as adult situations, even though those are animal-portrayed adult situations. In a country where some try to ban mouse-nakedness, librarians should be aware that this comic discusses very hard political issues, and the brutality is explicitly portrayed. I suggest putting this title either in the adult area or young adult.
Animal Castle, vol. 1 Vol. 1 By Xavier Dorison Art by Felix Delep Ablaze, 2022 ISBN: 9781684970032
Publisher Age Rating: 16+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Before opening the cover of the graphic novel, I knew that this was a true story, a memoir that had been originally told in an animated film for the National Film Board of Canada, but I had no other familiarity with the story or the reaction that it would generate within me. I was perplexed when I immediately recognized the setting of the story—I had been at that camp myself, a gift from an unknown sponsor much earlier and, while I distantly recalled much of the camp experience, I had totally forgotten where it was located until I saw the provided map. Memories came flooding back. Like my earlier experience, the author/protagonist was also attending the camp for the first time and, like this reviewer, was more excited about the accessibly of comic books and time to read than anything else!
The camp, in central Alberta, Canada, is located close to the small town of Eckville which, in the 1980s, became notorious because of its anti-Semitic mayor who also was a grade nine teacher in the local school. For several years the teacher, Jim Keegstra, taught his students that the Holocaust was a hoax. This was eventually halted by a parent campaign that resulted in a law case regarding hate and anti-Semitic propaganda. Keegstra was fired, but what was his legacy in the belief systems of those students? “Believing the curriculum was “incomplete,” Keegstra had been teaching Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in his classroom – that Jewish people had an international plot to control the world and were to blame for everything that’s wrong” (17).
To combat Keegstra’s troublesome legacy, the Alberta Jewish communities invited the students taught by Keegstra to the summer camp for a day of basketball and fellowship encouraging cultural understanding. The reader is privy to the initial worries and concerns of Hart and his fellow campers regarding the admission of these students into the camp and their lives. What follows is an illustration of misunderstandings and beliefs…and the natural healing and changing of worldviews through the game of basketball. The illustrations are simple line drawings, mostly in black and white, with spots of bright colors and backgrounds emphatically aiding in the emotional telling of the story. The perspective of the text and the illustrations is that of the children with the colored panels accentuating the outlandish monsters created by their imaginations and lack of knowledge of each other.
In the author’s note at the end of the book he discusses the effect Keegstra’s trial had on him as a grade 6 Jewish student. “Keegstra was successfully convicted of criminally promoting hatred of Jewish people, which was an important test of Canada’s hate speech legislation” (83). Hart continues to explain that the public debate surrounding this trial, although uncomfortable, forced Canadians and others beyond our borders to seriously consider the dangers of racism, the necessity of critical thinking skills, and the personal responsibilities to stand up against hate.
Although the basketball game took place in 1983, the trial in 1985, and Keegstra’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1996, the issues of racism, anti-Semitism, critical thinking, conspiracy theories and the dangers of hatred are not limited to the past.
I was a mother with two young children when the Keegstra Affair came to light. I lived locally and followed the news faithfully but was never aware of this basketball game until now. This is a story that needs to be read and revisited both the in the original filmic version and this newly published graphic novel again and again. The book includes an introduction, follow up to the trial, study questions, and a glossary. It is a concise and accessible entry to the ease of spreading conspiracy theories, fake news, misinformation, and hatred. Highly recommended for school and public libraries.
The Basketball Game By Hart Snider Art by Sean Covernton Firefly, 2022 ISBN: 9780228103912
Publisher Age Rating: 12+ Related media: Movie to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Middle Grade (7-11), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Canadian, Jewish Character Representation: Canadian, Jewish
Tommie Smith is the subject of one of the most iconic images from the Civil Rights Era, of two black men holding gloved fists high in a Black Power salute during the 1968 Olympics. In Victory. Stand!: Raising my Fist for Justice, Smith tells his story behind that moment. The graphic memoir, co-written with Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile gives an account of Smith’s life leading to the Olympics, his choice to make the political statement, and the aftermath.
The book opens with a race, specifically the 200 meter sprint finals. Despite a sharp pain in his thighs and a whirlwind of thoughts, Smith leaps at the sound of the starter pistol. We then immediately flashback to his childhood, 1949 in Texas. Throughout the next few chapters, Smith flashes back and forth between the story of his childhood and school years in the segregated South with his iconic race at the ‘68 Olympics.
Smith and Barnes juxtapose his pain and resiliency during the race with the harsh realities of living and growing as a Black boy surrounded by racial injustices. His parents were sharecroppers who were hardworking and kind, but treated in a way that was obviously cruel and unfair, even through the eyes of a young Smith. He talks about the ways he perceived these inequities, and the moment when he first came to the understanding that this was all about race. In college, Smith begins to realize that his voice matters. It is with that knowledge that he makes the decision to run in the Olympics and raise his fist to the sky. The last chapter details the trajectory of his life in the aftermath. Unfortunately, it felt rushed and included details that were not relevant to the theme of sports and the Civil Rights Movement. I also wish that the parallels with the 200 meter race and his life extended further into the story. However, these are small imperfections in an otherwise fascinating book from an important voice from history.
Anyabwile’s illustrations in gray, black, and white, are filled with texture, movement and emotion. Throughout the book, the illustrations add depth to the story. Much of the emotion and drama comes through in the backgrounds with textures, shadows or expansive black. Anyabwile also did a notable job capturing Smith’s growth from child to adult, sublely adjusting looks and style as time goes on.
At pivotal moments in Smith’s life, Anyabwile steps away from Smith’s story to illustrate more striking images reflecting the reality for Black people in America. When Smith’s family eventually moves to Southern California in hopes for a better life, the very next page features a haunting two page spread with a mother and her young children screaming in pain. In the background a Black man hangs from a tree next to a burning cross. Other images include references to such events as the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing and Martin Luther King’s Assassnation. Smith came of age at the dawn of the Civil Rights era, as he was finding himself and his place in the world, these moments and realities helped to shape who he became. Anyabwile deftly illustrates these pages. They are awash with black and expand beyond the panels typical of most pages in the book. These events are monumental and his illustrations reflect their importance.
Victory. Stand!: Raising my Fist for Justice is a notable addition to the graphic memoir genre. It is a definite purchase for my high school collection. Tommie Smith is an important voice from the Civil Rights Movement and I think this book will appeal to a broad range of readers.
Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice By Tommie Smith and Derrick Barnes Art by Dawud Anyabwile W. W. Norton & Company, 2022 ISBN: 9781324003908
Publisher Age Rating: 13 and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: African-American, Black, Character Representation: African-American, Black,
With every year, truth seems to become more and more subjective. At least that is what many forces want us all to think. In issue after issue, we are driven apart by obfuscation and subterfuge. It’s hard to imagine how we can come together to exist in the same reality sometimes. Author Samuel Spitale believes he knows how to reclaim our reality with his book How to Win the War on Truth: An Illustrated Guide to How Mistruths Are Sold, Why They Stick, and How to Reclaim Reality.
This hybrid comic and non-fiction book looks at propaganda and bias. It is lengthy and detailed. Spitale tells story after story that illustrates how humans seek to reduce complexity and how our brains can fail to recognize certain facts. These blind spots allow us to be manipulated by marketers and public relations companies. He cites a wide variety of interesting research including Daniel Kahneman and his work on human error. The illustrations by Allan Whincup effectively break down some of the more complex ideas into understandable parts. The comics are more on the cartoony side than realistic and that helps when tackling such an intense subject. Graphs, pie charts, and topical quotes spoken by cartoon politicians and economists help relay the information.
The book spends a lot of time on the history of propaganda as well as U.S. political history. It rings true for the most part, but occasionally becomes a left wing polemic. The chapter on what to do about this substantial problem is slight on workable solutions, so readers may be disappointed considering what the title of the book is. Spitale is still describing the problems right up until the conclusion. Previous works on similar topics, like Unrig, had specific proposals and examples of solutions that are being tried around the country. This book could have used more of that.
The publisher states this book is an “illustrated guide.” That is more accurate than calling it a graphic novel. This is a dense book with lots of text. There are illustrations on most every page, but they are not sequential art. This book belongs in an adult nonfiction collection. Only the most interested teens are going to stick with this to the end. This is certainly an important topic, but I wonder, if they had fully committed to telling a story with pictures would the work be more accessible to a larger audience?
How to Win the War on Truth: An Illustrated Guide to How Mistruths Are Sold, Why They Stick, and How to Reclaim Reality By Samuel Spitale Art by Allan Whincup Quirk, 2022 ISBN: 9781683693086
It begins with a knock on the door from the FBI. Two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a silent invasion permeated the United States, targeting Japanese American citizens as enemy aliens.
On February 19, 1942, Executive Order 9066 was passed, uprooting nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes into internment camps. We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration, written by Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura, with artwork by Ross Ishikawa and Matt Sasaki, chronicles the bold exploits of three intrepid Japanese Americans who challenged the constitutionality of the executive order during their internment.
This epic story begins with a montage of three incidents: An ominous rapping on the door of twenty-two-year-old Jim Akutsu, a civil engineering student living with his parents in Seattle, disrupts their peaceful evening. FBI agents are on the move to round up Japanese Americans into relocation camps. High school graduate Hiroshi Kashiwagi, nineteen, gets pulled over by a cop for staying out past curfew one night in central California. Upon closer inspection, the cop labels him a “Jap spy.” Twenty-one-year-old Mitsuye “Mitzi” Endo, a typist for a state agency in California, receives a letter one day threatening dismissal from her job on the grounds of purported affiliations with the Japanese community and thus, holding allegiance to the Emperor of Japan. This interconnected trio of stories sets the stage for the harrowing events in the Pacific Northwest impacting Japanese Americans subjected to the camps without due process. There they will be tested for their loyalty to the US government.
Meticulously researched and intricately narrated, each story unfolds from the point of view of the internees as well as the US government officials. At Camp Minidoka, Akutsu refuses the draft to serve in the army, for he believes the so-called loyalty questionnaire from the Selective Service to be a ploy to incriminate himself. Signing this oath of allegiance would equate to confessing to a nonexistent allegiance to Japan even though he was already a natural-born American citizen. Kashiwagi refuses to sign the loyalty oath altogether while in Tule Lake, testing the limits of his rights as an American. In Topaz, Mitzi Endo foregoes an opportunity to leave the camp in a strategic move to serve as a witness in a lawsuit against the US government for having imprisoned people based solely on race. Through defiant acts in the form of draft resistance, hunger strikes, and prosecuting lawsuits, the trio stood their ground to uphold their unalienable rights as American citizens.
The narrative flow of each character’s experiences unfolds fluidly, juxtaposing Sasaki’s abstracted and expressionist style of Hiroshi Kashiwagi’s story alongside Ishikawa’s more solidly rendered character designs of Jim Akutsu and Mitzi Endo. Historical documents contextualize the plot with startling and compelling authenticity. Typewritten memos to war relocation authorities, racial profiling signs, front page newspaper headlines, reenactments of speeches and discussions amongst US government officials—these visual details merge seamlessly to create a historical account of the socio-political milieu on the US home front during World War II.
On the eightieth anniversary of Executive Order 9066, We Hereby Refuse adds a critical chapter to the annals of US history and complements all library collections. This graphic novel tackles themes of racism, assimilation, survival, and resilience, centering on the lived experiences of Japanese Americans and their tenacious stand to test the integrity of the American justice system. Theirs is a story that deserves to be told and retold for future generations lest history repeats itself.
We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration By Frank Abe, Tamiko Nimura, , Art by Ross Ishikawa, Matt Sasaki, Chin Music Press Inc., 2021 ISBN: 9781634059763
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Japanese-American, Character Representation: Japanese-American,
If you’ve ever had a disagreement about history, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “It was a different time.” On its face, this is a factual statement—people in the past didn’t share our values, and understanding their worldviews requires patience and curiosity.
Yet “it was a different time” is often hauled out to excuse bad behavior—as if all people in the past shared the same mindset, rendering them constitutionally incapable of recognizing cruelty or unfairness. David Lester’s Prophet Against Slavery debunks this commonplace with the true story of an early Quaker activist who articulated a moral case against slavery decades before the emergence of the white abolitionist movement.
Adapted from Marcus Rediker’s 2017 book The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist, Lester’s graphic biography depicts the life of the little-known Lay, who protested slavery at a time when it was neither politically expedient nor socially acceptable to do so. Born in Britain in 1682 and radicalized against slavery during a stint in Barbados, Lay migrated with his wife Sarah to Philadelphia in 1731. Incensed that enslavement was practiced by Philadelphia’s Quaker elite, Lay made it his business to call out Quaker hypocrisy around the institution of slavery.
Benjamin Lay’s activism debunks a second misconception: that protest through direct action was an invention of the twentieth century. In the opening scene of the book, Lay strides into a Quaker meeting, proclaims the evils of slavery, and plunges a sword into a book titled HORRORS OF SLAVERY, spewing fake blood (pokeberry juice) everywhere. Unsurprisingly, a tussle ensues. Born with dwarfism and a curved spine, Lay’s physical difference was probably a factor in the solidarity he felt with other disadvantaged people, while his egalitarian philosophy emerged from his Quaker faith and an early life at sea. His forceful speech and public protests were forever getting him kicked out of Quaker meetings, and later life found him living in a cave outside Pennsylvania, adopting a vegan diet and spinning his own clothing out of flax.
Lester’s grayscale art has a hand-drawn quality that owes something to both old-fashioned printmaking and zine culture—lively and not overly refined, it suits the biography of a man whose politics were fundamentally punk rock. The artist is careful not to caricature Benjamin and Sarah’s dwarfism, and images of the enslaved in shackles—and in one painful image, completing an act of suicide—are sensitively rendered.
Yet wordless images depicting the barbarity of slavery point to a structural problem underlying this book: this story is about slavery, but Black voices are missing from the narrative. Was Lay speaking to enslaved Africans as well as speaking for them? The text is vague: Lay refers to his “dear friend Cudjo,” and states “I have talked with a great many Africans,” but we don’t see these conversations on the page. I counted just one line of dialogue spoken by a character of African descent.
There are obvious reasons that Lay, a white man, would be unable to form meaningful relationships with Black Philadelphians. By the end of the 18th century, Philadelphia would be known for its sizable free Black community, but this was not the case in 1731. Yet I would have liked this book to show more curiosity about the absence of Black voices from the primary sources documenting Lay’s life. We can and should wonder: what was it like to be an enslaved African in 18th-century Philadelphia? What might enslaved onlookers have made of Lay’s theatrical protests and the Quaker elites’ ruthless response?
In Lester’s telling, Quaker attitudes around slavery had begun to shift by the time of Lay’s death in 1759. This, too, is a narrative I would have liked to see Prophet Against Slavery develop more fully—the story of how Benjamin Lay was remembered and then forgotten, and his lasting impact on Quaker political philosophy. Social movements are propelled by communities as well as individuals, and I was sorry that the tight focus on the biographical details of Lay’s life didn’t leave more room for this kind of big-picture analysis.
Despite these caveats, this book is a solid introduction to Benjamin Lay’s remarkable life. It will be of interest to older students and adult readers and is suitable for library collections that emphasize the history of slavery, Quakers, and radical politics.
Prophet Against Slavery: Benjamin Lay: A Graphic Novel Vol. By David Lester Beacon Press, 2021 ISBN: 9780807081792
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Canadian, , Character Representation: British-American, Disability, Protestant ,
When sharing revolutionary stories from history, the telling often stops with the victory. Run, by the late Representative John Lewis, does not. It is 1965, the Voting Rights Act has been signed into federal law, and the organizers of the Civil Rights Movement begin to navigate the next steps.
Run, Book One is the first volume in a sequel series to the acclaimed graphic novel memoir series, March. Both series share the history of the civil rights movement through the memories of John Lewis, written in collaboration with Andrew Aydin and illustrated by L. Fury and Nate Powell. The March series ended with the signing of the Voting Rights Act, and Run explores the changing philosophies of civil rights activists and continued voter suppression in the following 2 years.
Run was published posthumously. Representative John Lewis passed during the summer of 2020, however, he worked diligently with Aydin, Fury and Powell in the years preceding his death to tell this story. They conducted extensive research through interviews, newspapers, photographs, and primary source documents, to tell this story to the best of their ability, while still staying true to the memories of John Lewis.
While the March trilogy focused on the extensive organizational needs of the powerful civil rights movement. Run tells the next part of the story. Under the shadow of the Watt’s rebellion and turmoil about the Vietnam war, the activists in the Civil Rights movement, struggle to find consensus among diverging philosophies. Voting rights have been secured by federal law, but the fight for equal rights is far from over. And to complicate matters, America has instituted the draft to fight for “freedoms” in Vietnam. A move that feels hypocritical and disingenuous to the civil rights activists who are still desperately fighting for freedoms at home. John Lewis and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) connect the struggle in Vietnam to a larger struggle of oppressed people across the world. Their stance about the war is denounced by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Urban League.
Ideologies and philosophies start to collide behind the scenes. Rifts that began before Selma and the Voting Right Act, start to take center stage, especially between Lewis and Stokey Carmichael, who follows Lewis as the chairman for SNCC. Black activists angry with the lack of progress, start to question the dedication to nonviolent action. Lewis struggles to find his place in the evolving movement.
Run is still honest about the hard work of organizers, giving credit to many individuals behind the scenes making change. The back matter also includes an extensive list with brief biographies of the many activists mentioned in the story.
The story is just as compelling as their work in March, in part thanks to the illustrations of Fury and Powell. In the “From the Artists” note in the back matter, they discuss the difficult path of navigating emotion, horror, and historic truths through illustration. They used many photos from the events as reference for their illustrations. They also researched fashion of different generations in the mid-60s, the cars made in the 50s and 60s that might be on the roads, and even studied the shape and style of road signs. This extensive focus on accuracy paired with deep shadows and explosions of ink in moments of great emotion and violence, adjusting text and font based on the message and form of speech or song, and creative use of panes made for a compelling read.
Run, Book One is essentially a story about the inner workings of civil rights organizations and the ways outside events and movements sent ripples through the activists. It tells an incredibly important story that is often forgotten or overlooked. I highly recommend the book for any young adult or adult graphic novel collection, and look forward to the rest of the series.
Run, Book One Vol. 1 By John Lewis, Andrew Aydin Art by L. Fury, Nate Powell Abrams, 2021 ISBN: 9781419730696
Publisher Age Rating: 13 and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Black, Character Representation: Black,
A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality is the latest title from Oni Press’s Limerence imprint, which tries to break down complex topics related to sexuality in 100 pages or less.
It opens with cartoon renditions of the artist/co-author Will Hernandez and co-author Molly Muldoon, who both identify themselves as asexual and set out the premise of the book. They serve as our on-page guides through the title as they explain how dating, sex, growing up, and other topics relate to asexuality. Molly warns the reader that they are not experts, but rather have lived experience and have done their research.
Asexuality is simply about not feeling sexual attraction. This seems like a fine definition until aromanticism, or until the idea of wanting sex without romance, is brought up. Then we start to discuss the gray-a, or gray-area, term for asexuality and it begins to slide from there. I actually felt like I needed a guide to the guide, so thankfully the authors include links at the end.
For those worried about the placement of the book in a library setting, it does discuss potential content warnings and triggers within before you even meet ‘Molly’ and ‘Will’. For example, it is hard to discuss researching asexuality without also discussing online comments that may be found during this research. Some may be turned away by that content, so Hernandez and Muldoon smartly include that warning before the guide begins.
I do think this title has a few faults due to trying to fit so much content into 71 pages. While they do a great job discussing most topics, because they jump from topic to topic rather quickly, it is hard to follow. That could be intentional, as I found myself re-reading sections multiple times to make sure I understood them before moving on. The art itself is rather plain, with not much on the page aside from the characters themselves or whatever they are talking about. Again, this could be intentional so as not to distract from the heavy subject matter.
Finally, I, as a queer librarian, found it a little strange that the authors did not want to take a hard stance about asexuality’s placement in the LGBTQIA+ community. They bring up how in the past ‘A’ has been used to mean ally, but it was likely meant to mean asexual, agender, and aromantic. This is more of a personal fault I had with the title, as I would welcome the opportunity to clear up something asexual people contend with in the queer community.
That being said, A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality mostly offers what the title says it does. I think it would be welcome in any library wanting to add more resources on sexuality that are easily accessible to readers of any age, but that it should really be an additive to an already present collection.
A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality By Will Hernandez, Molly Muldoon Oni Press, 2022 ISBN: 9781620108598 Publisher Age Rating: 13+ Series ISBNs and Order
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Asexual
This book opens with the free speech portion of the first amendment from the US Constitution, followed by writer Ian Rosenberg, who is Jewish, explaining the events that led to this book. Several events are referenced within the first three pages, including the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, National School Walkout protests, 2017 Women’s March, and Mollie Steimer’s arrival at Ellis Island from Russia in 1913. Steimer’s foundational court battles lead into a key consideration: “Who is truly heard in the marketplace [of ideas]? If women, minorities, and the poor are not granted equal opportunity to enter the market, how can their voices participate in the competition for truth?” This question is immediately followed by talking-head quotes from law professors Charles Lawrence III, who is black, and Catharine A. MacKinnon, who is white.
The second chapter looks at Colin Kaepernick and the act of taking a knee (originally staying seated, but changed to kneeling as a sign of respect to fallen soldiers, an oft-overlooked nuance I was glad to see highlighted). After comparing reactions for and against that act of protest, the narrative shifts to the 1935 case of a child not participating in his classroom’s pledge of allegiance. There, as in Steimer’s case and many others used in this book, Rosenberg quotes and contextualizes judges’ rulings, their immediate fallout, and what they mean for Americans’ freedoms today. In each chapter, Rosenberg cites different scholars, justices, authors, and legal precedents, ensuring that his teacherly perspective is never unilateral or unsupported by facts and expertise. This is important when debunking Donald Trump and Clarence Thomas’s hypothetical rewriting of libel laws to go after the media, for example. Further issues include but are not limited to civil rights protests, propaganda on social media, Westboro Baptist Church’s protesting at funerals, and the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville. There’s a lot to chew on in every chapter!
All of this history and legal analysis needs a skilled cartoonist to weave its various threads into a cohesive whole, and artist Mike Cavallaro is mostly up to the task. There can be paragraphs of dry text on some pages, and Cavallaro makes sure to break up each block of text with a related image, often a picture of someone in portrait. Layouts will include images designed to guide readers across the page; other times, they use broad, straightforward grids. Some metaphorical imagery underlines Rosenberg’s points, but more often than not the art is rather literal, depicting flatly delivered quotes, exposition, talking heads, and book covers. The first amendment appears as an anthropomorphic #1 wearing a red cape, battling laws aimed at restricting it. I can’t help but think back to my previous review of What Unites Us, which used color and figurative imagery more frequently and effectively. That’s not a knock against the arguments presented in this book, only its presentation.
An afterword including quick summaries of first amendment concepts, as well as a glossary of legal terms and chapter-by-chapter bibliography, provide resources for learning and recall. As one might expect in a thorough review of free speech, some of the book’s examples involve swearing, from celebrities cursing at awards shows to George Carlin’s “seven words you can’t say on television” bit, Samantha Bee’s callout of Ivanka Trump over immigration policy in 2018, and “fuck the draft” printed on a jacket during the Vietnam War. A section about Larry Flynt’s legal battles over Hustler, a pornographic magazine, does not include porn. The issues discussed in this book are undeniably pertinent to all Americans, as well as historians and legal scholars. To make another comparison to What Unites Us, this is another powerful teaching tool from the World Citizen Comics line of publisher First Second that demonstrates over and over the impact of people standing up for their rights, even (especially!) if doing so is unpopular. The presentation is scholarly, as well it should be. Close reading and factual analysis should be considered signs of respect for “the most American of virtues.”
Free Speech Handbook By Ian Rosenberg Art by Mike Cavallaro First Second, 2021 ISBN: 9781250619754
Series ISBNs and Order
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Jewish Character Representation: African-American, Russian, Mobility Impairment, Jehovah’s Witness, Jewish, Protestant ,
From the onset, I must admit to being a long-time, hardcore Doors fan. I became fascinated by Jim Morrison et al. during my early university days living in a dormitory, armed primarily with a portable record player and all of the Doors’ output. I remember adding the Doors fifth studio album, Morrison Hotel, to my collection when it was released. The album was a critical and commercial success upon its release and remains one of the band’s classic albums. I can hardly believe that fifty years have passed since then but reviewing this graphic novel magically and effortlessly dissolved the passage of years.
Jim Morrison died in 1971. The surviving members of The Doors, Robby Krieger and John Densmore, collaborated with author and columnist Leah Moore to transform their legendary album, Morrison Hotel, into an anthology with an impressive selection of illustrators to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Moore, along with the individual artists, did much more than illuminate each of the songs from the album and the history and musings of The Doors themselves. Each of the entries in the anthology dissect the historical period, especially for the United States: the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, the fight for equality for marginalized people, space travel and the moon landing, and the attitudes of the general public to the waning of the social revolution and music of the nineteen-sixties. This examination of several key events effectively resulted in a time-travel journey back to 1969, armed with the baggage of the era and a memorable and poetic soundtrack to carry the reader there and back.
Krieger and Densmore gave Moore and the illustrators access to their photographic archive and, along with the research into personal and historic events from 1969, the creators used their imaginations to develop the individual entries based on the lyrics of each song on the album while highlighting and telling a linear story of the band and the environment enveloping and shaping them during the recording of this album. The anthology is prefaced by a short introduction by Krieger about the genesis of the album photograph and cover. It establishes the mood for the illustrated journey that follows. In some instances, the lyrics are superimposed on “snapshot” illustrations evoking the tempo of the song, in others, the story is told through the lyrics themselves.
While I enjoyed all of the entries, there were several stories that I found outstanding. Colleen Doran’s “Ship of Fools” intersperses the historical renderings of the shipping boats with the then-contemporary images of the moon landing in a complex and emotive explosion of color and sensations. The following entry, “Land Ho!” by Ryan Kelly, uses gritty realism incorporating the fighting in Vietnam and post-traumatic stress disorder in an intentionally jarring manner, bringing the reader back from the sensuality of Doran’s illustrations. Several entries later, the reader vicariously experiences Jill Thompson’s light and summery rendition of “Indian Summer”. The final entry, “Outro” by Tony Parker and colorist Alladin Collar, brings the reader back to the prose introduction, recapping the discovery of the Morrison Hotel and the how and why of the infamous photograph. It also brings the reader full circle to the satisfying pleasure of listening to the album in its original format—no streaming! Chris Hunt did the art work for the cover of the graphic novel.
As Leah Moore stated in a Rolling Stone interview: “The Doors have so much theatre, and swagger and storytelling, they’re a totally natural fit for a comic. The lyrics they wrote, and the energy they played with—I think the songs don’t just lend themselves to the medium, they actually cry out to be comics.” I think she is 100% correct! Highly recommended for public library collections, especially for music lovers, historians, and aged hippies such as me! It would also be of value for high school collections studying recent American history.
Note: there is also a Limited Deluxe Edition (only 5,000 made) in a slipcase with three (3) 9×14.5 art prints with images from the book, a certificate of authenticity signed by writer Leah Moore, and an exclusive 50th Anniversary Edition 12” picture disc of the complete Morrison Hotel album. Libraries are unlikely to purchase that edition, but diehard Doors fans may want it for their personal collections.
Morrison Hotel By Leah Moore Art by various Z2 Comics, 2021 ISBN: 978-1940878362 Publisher Age Rating: Adult Related media: Music album to comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: British-American