Canciones

Canciones from NBM Graphic Novels brings to visual life selected poems from one of Spain’s outstanding literary figures, Federico García Lorca. Drawn from Lorca’s poetry collection of the same name, each piece is combined with fantastic and dreamlike illustrations, creating a striking blend of visual and poetic artforms.

Federico Garcia Lorca published his Canciones in 1927. The title simply translates to Songs in English. Widely influential in his time and beyond, Lorca’s poetry spends much of its time just outside of everyday reality. From a tree lamenting its own inability to grow fruit to a boy searching for his voice which is now with the king of the crickets, the dreamscapes of Lorca’s work nevertheless ring true with lines of striking observation and beauty.

“Day, it’s so hard for me / to let you go away! / You leave filled with me and you return without knowing me,” he writes in “Canción del día que se va” (Song of the Departing Day). Many of Lorca’s poems are filled with longing and regret, while others find their way to whimsy or celebrations of art and beauty. Abstract without being inscrutable, imaginative without losing their grounding in real life, each invites the reader to slow down, to linger, to wander with Lorca’s verses across landscapes real and imagined. They are powerful in their brevity and simple even as they peel back corners of experience and invite the reader to look at the world from a new angle.

This version of Canciones is more than just a collection of Locra’s work, however. Dutch artist Tobias Tak has crafted a visual journey to accompany each selected poem. Weaving both the original Spanish and the English translations into each page or panel of art, the result is a true fusion of writing and illustration. Tak’s style is highly reminiscent of older children’s book imagery, particularly fairy tales. Across these pages, people who look like trees move among anthropomorphic animals while sun and moon look down in pleasure or judgment. Elevating the fantastic dream elements of the poems even higher, Tak demonstrates a clear appreciation for the poetry while simultaneously crafting his own visual narratives to supplement Lorca’s words. Tak delivers us prologues and epilogues, taking these characters on wonderous journeys across land and sea. In his capable hands, each poem flowers into its own narrative while a broader sense of story arises from across progression of each piece, from the opening “Preludio” (Prelude) to the final “De Otro Modo” (In Another Manner). There is no true story here, but as Tak brings a version of Lorca’s vision to life, the collection reaches for a higher meaning than any one of these poems would achieve alone.

The publisher does not appear to assign an age rating to this volume, and there is certainly nothing troubling in the content of the poems or illustrations. That being said, the book will likely appeal most to an adult audience. Younger readers may be intrigued by the imagery, but the sometimes abstract nature of Lorca’s work will hold greatest value for older audiences willing to tease out the complexities of lyrical poetry.

Overall, Canciones is a worthwhile read for any lover of poetry, art, or more literary graphic novels. A relatively quick read, it nevertheless is worth spending time with to absorb the full detail of Tak’s illustrations and ponder the resonance of Lorca’s poetry. While either of these artists is worth appreciating on their own, Canciones is a wonderful blending of the two, finding tension, beauty, and meaning in the melding of two rich, artistic visions.


Canciones
By Federico Garcia Lorca
Art by Tobias Tak
NBM ComicsLit, 2021
ISBN: 9781681122748

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation: Spanish, Gay

Morrison Hotel

Morrison HotelFrom 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

Another History of Art

Imagine a world where the famous female painters of the past are women and seeing art through their eyes. Another History of Art by Anita Kunz envisions a world where famous art was painted from a feminist perspective. Alternative takes are made on artists such as Picasso, Van Gogh, and Da Vinci adding a satirical look at male-dominated art. To get a true appreciation for what Kunz was going for, I found I had to look at the original works and do a side-by-side comparison. 

The first artwork shown is Kunz’s take on Botticelli’s Primavera. In her version, it is of a woman who is holding hands with two monkeys. The Botticelli version is more of a panorama, telling a mythological story of the birth of the world. Kunz narrowing her focus on what is known as The Three Graces (Pleasure, Chastity, and Beauty) is what she wants us to reflect on. She makes a bit of a joke of it by making two of the Graces monkeys. She focuses on the male perspective that a woman’s worth or quality should be based on their sexual purity or outer beauty. In Botticelli’s version, he is careful to hide the nudity with arms placed in the right areas, back turned away from the viewer, or cloth covering the intimate areas. Kunz doesn’t shy away by giving us a hint of a side boob. By having monkeys instead of women being nude the nudity isn’t overt as it shows them in their natural state.

The next piece that captured my eye is called The Daughter of Man. It’s a take on The Son of Man by Rene Magritte. Magritte’s version, it’s of a man in a suit wearing a bowler hat with an apple over his face. Magritte has said that this painting is a reflection of our inner conflict between what is seen and what is hidden. Kunz’s version of this piece, it’s full-frontal nudity of a woman with flowing brown hair. She wears a bowler hat too and a red apple covers her face. She has tattoos extending from her face down through her arms. Some tattoos extend up from her legs and wrap around her torso. While Magritte’s version hides the body of the man, Kunz’s does not. This is a reflection of the obsession with women’s bodies and that we aren’t always looking at their faces. We are not willing to look beyond the artificial.

Common themes and imagery featured in the graphic novel are nudity, primates, pop culture icons like Popeye and Mickey Mouse. In comparison with the original artists Kunz is riffing on, I found her artwork to be lighter in tone and composition. The original artwork tended to be starker and darker. When I first opened this book I expected that I would be able to breeze through it quickly, but I found I was lost in my understanding of the themes being explored. I found it necessary to look at the original art and interpretations that had been done. It enhanced my understanding of both works and added an appreciation to what Kunz was trying to say. 

Another History of Art is a tricky book to recommend. I feel that it is pretty much a niche book. It’s for those that like classical art and don’t mind a satirical look at it. It’s also for those that want to take the time to reflect on art. I found that a side-by-side comparison with the original to be necessary to fully comprehend and understand the themes. I needed to know what both sides were trying to say before I got a firm grasp of it. This graphic novel is geared more towards adults, but I could see older teens who are mature and nerdy about art find something of value in it.


Another History of Art
By Anita Kunz
Fantagraphics, 2021
ISBN:978-1-68396-446-9
Publisher Age Rating:  Adult

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)

Young Leonardo

Young Leonardo depicts the life of artist and thinker Leonardo da Vinci during his childhood, prior to beginning his formal art study under Andrea del Verrocchio. The plot is episodic, moving through a series of short vignettes of experiences in the young artist’s life.

While it may be impossible to document da Vinci’s childhood years with total certainty, the episodes are based on information from his many notebooks. Quotations from the artist are interspersed throughout the book. Through the series of lighthearted comics, we see Leonardo’s beginnings in art, as well as his curiosity about the world around him which manifested in inventions, scientific discoveries, and constant observation. Other character traits are also highlighted, such as da Vinci’s habit of working on many projects at once, often abandoning one to start another, and his style of drawing subjects realistically at a time when most patrons of the arts expected to be shown in a more flattering light. 

Young Leonardo does an excellent job showing the human side of the legendary artist. We see him deal with teasing and trouble fitting in from the neighborhood kids, at the same time dishing out some teasing of his own to his family members. His Nonna seems especially harried by Leonardo’s antics. While joking and playing like an ordinary child, Leonardo is forever engaged in lofty ambitions such as the pursuit of flight. Several of the vignettes show him testing a variety of wings he has constructed. Several comics show his other scholarly interests such as architecture and anatomy. 

The full-color artwork consists mainly of a traditional panel structure with between nine to twelve cells per page. Some pages lack borders around cells, and a few vignettes are wordless. Characters are drawn in a cartoonish style, only given four fingers per hand for example. However, astute readers will recognize the realism Augel brings to the book. Drawings from Leonardo da Vinci’s actual notebooks are woven into the story and appear throughout the book. Characters are included who match portraits sketched by da Vinci, and the entire da Vinci family is introduced in a pose reminiscent of The Last Supper. Most of the vignettes are comical with some tongue-in-cheek references along the way. One page sees Leonardo painting the borders around the cells, yet failing to finish them, a reference to the many projects he abandoned throughout his career. 

Endmatter includes biographical information which illuminates the main text, as well as activities the reader can try in order to practice one of da Vinci’s experiments, a vocabulary quiz, and a matching game. A teaching guide follows which includes additional background information, common core connections, and ideas for using the book within a classroom setting. There is much young readers can learn from the life of Leonardo da Vinci, and Young Leonardo presents these lessons well. Leonardo is a character who shows perseverance and grit, While he does abandon some projects, he never stops inventing and trying new ideas. He continues his pursuit of human flight despite setbacks. Even when others mock or question him, he continues to seek knowledge and to create. This book is a great tool for classroom instruction, and an enjoyable title for readers interested in history.


Young Leonardo
By William Augel
Art by  William Augel
Big, an imprint of Humanoids, 2020
ISBN: 9781643376417

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: French,

Seen: Edmonia Lewis

This is the first of a new nonfiction graphic novel series highlighting, as the series says, “marginalized trailblazers.” This volume tells the story of the life of Edmonia Lewis, a Black/Ojibway woman born in 1844 in New York, who triumphed over prejudices against her race and sex, the challenges of poverty and lack of education, to become a well-known sculptor.

Information on her early life is sketchy, but she apparently spent much of her childhood with her Ojibway aunts, after her parents’ death. Her brother, who supported her artistic career, followed his father’s career as a barber from the age of twelve. Supported by abolitionists, Lewis struggled to get an education despite prejudices against her race and sex, present even in the partially-integrated schools available. Her college career at Oberlin ended disastrously, when she was falsely accused of poisoning two of her classmates and attacked and left for dead before the trial. Although she was acquitted, the school continued to suspect her and, accusing her of theft, forced her to leave without matriculating.

She started her sculpting career in Boston, under the aegis of the Abolitionist movement, and then traveled to Italy with the help of various Abolitionist patrons. There she found her skin color less of a hindrance than her sex and poverty, but she continued to forge her own pathway, although she sometimes angered her patrons and fellow sculptors. She reached the zenith of her career with her sculpture, The Death of Cleopatra, exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. After this triumph, she returned to Rome, but the changing artistic trends and decline in the popularity of Neoclassic sculpture eventually left her in obscurity. She eventually moved to London and died there in 1907. Her greatest work fell into obscurity only a few years after its exhibition and was only found and restored in the 1990s. Contemporaries and visitors of Lewis reported her as continuing to work and maintain her bright and cheerful personality until her death. She maintained a close relationship with her brother, who continued to support her as well.

Notes, sources, and an extensive study guide are included in this slim volume. The art is detailed and focuses on red-tinged earth hues. Edmonia is shown as a determined, strong woman with curly black hair, dark brown skin, and a red cap perched on her curls. She moves through the panels as the central figure in a swirl of historical characters and her white contemporaries. Her Neoclassic style is well-represented in the lines and faces of her white marble statues and busts. While the art focuses primarily on faces and the eponymous “talking heads,” action and interest is added by interposing examples of Lewis’ work and shifting from panels to spreads of her surrounded by action and movement as she moves through her career.

The unique subject matter, accessible art, and extensive resources for teaching in the back (they include educational standards, a multiplicity of questions on the art and subject, and educational activities) should make this a stand-out title. However, there’s one serious problem – the size and layout of the book. It’s a tiny volume, 7×5 inches, and the font and art is correspondingly reduced. While there is plenty of detail and emotion in the faces shown, it’s difficult to catch the nuances when the faces are so tiny and many readers will find the small size of the font frustrating. At less than a hundred pages, this title will quickly disappear on a shelf or be lost and only the most dedicated readers are likely to work through the small size of the font.

Nonfiction graphic novels are extremely popular with my middle school and high school readers, the best audience for this small but dense volume, but sadly, this one is likely to go unnoticed. However, with its very affordable price point and availability in paperback, schools may find it useful to purchase in bulk for a class read. The publisher appears to be planning one volume per year (Rachel Carson in 2021 and Willem Arondeus in 2022) and I can only hope that they will perhaps consider binding them into one large volume and enlarging the art and text to correspond.


Seen: Edmonia Lewis
By Jasmine Walls
Art by Bex Glendining, Kieran Quigley (Colorist), DC Hopkins (Letters)
ISBN: 9781684156344
Boom, 2020
Publisher Age Rating:
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Character Traits: Black First Nations or Indigenous
Creator Highlights: Black

The Temple of Silence: Forgotten Works & Worlds of Herbert Crowley

Bizarre, playful, and abstract are just a few of the words that come to mind when admiring the work of Herbert Crowley. In his lifetime, Crowley exhibited artwork alongside Picasso, Van Gogh, and Renoir. And yet, Crowley’s work has been largely forgotten by popular culture. The Temple of Silence: Forgotten Works & Worlds of Herbert Crowley is a rare glimpse into the life and art of an elusive figure. 

Before delving into this work one unavoidable topic must be bridged: this is not a graphic novel. This is very distinctly an art book that, if we are going by the Dewey Decimal System, belongs in the good ol’ 745s. Yes, the text does contain comic strips. However, the majority of the text is dedicated to a biography of Herbert Crowley, scattered between images of Crowley’s distinct sculpture work, bohemian friends, and early sketches. Now, onto business.  

Crowley is most notable for his Symbolist cartoon strip; The Wigglemuch, which ran in the New York Herald  in 1910 for only fourteen weeks before disappearing from the Sunday pages. The appeal of Crowley’s work seems to derive primarily from both the nihilistic, yet beautiful, tone of much of his artwork, paired with the understated nature of the creator. These elements culminate into what is the perfect example of an Outsider artist, also defined as an artist who works outside of the establishment. 

Described by creator Justin Duerr as a “magical mascot” in Herbert Crowley’s art, the Wigglemuch are rotund, animal-like creatures serving to accompany their human companions across landscapes rooted both in fantasy and in historical imagery. Quite frankly, the drawings are gorgeous. Crowley was known for his scrupulous work and obsessive attention to detail. Upon first glance, Crowley’s artwork appears to be relatively simplistic. His human figures mimic the form of paper dolls in a toy theater. His landscapes often contain no more than a clear sky and a distant mountain range. And, yet, upon closer observation, intricate lining, near-perfect circles, and subtle emotional gestures abound. As expected in any competent comic strip, the captioning of each panel adds to the complexity of these images. 

In true Symbolist fashion, the story in these comics is told indirectly. There is no punchline. The Wigglemuch is strictly a series of actions written in verse, allowing for interpretation by the reader. The creatures of The Wigglemuch, referred to as both ‘Wigglemuch’ and ‘Wiggles’ are thrust into a series of concurrent adventures requiring liberation from their circumstances. This is, perhaps, consistent with Crowley’s constant financial struggle as a visual artist and ongoing suicide ideation. Either way, readers of The Wigglemuch are sure to find meaning in Crowley’s work. 

Duerr is clearly passionate about the work of Crowley and this passion transcends the pages of The Temple of Silence. The curation of Duerr’s research and Crowley’s artwork is stunning. I was wholly engrossed by Duerr’s enthusiasm and look forward to his forthcoming work. The Temple of Silence: Forgotten Works and Worlds of Herbert Crowley is an essential collection title for those interested in Outsider art and 20th century art movements. However, the book is not a necessary addition to a graphic novel collection.

The Temple of Silence: Forgotten Works and Worlds of Herbert Crowley
By Justin Duerr
Art by Herbert Crowley
ISBN: 9780997372991
BeeHive Books, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 18+

Almost American Girl

Robin Ha writes in the Acknowledgements page at the end of her graphic novel, Almost American Girl: “So you can only imagine how thrilled Mom was when I finally told her I had been working on this memoir for over a year and found a publisher for it. After realizing there was no turning back on this project, Mom insisted that I at least leave her out of my story completely. I told her that would be impossible. She was the driving force behind it. If she hadn’t wanted me to write this story, she shouldn’t have brought me to America in the first place. Mom was so upset with me that she avoided me for months.”

This acknowledgement is a bittersweet moment for this reader after spending time with Ha’s journey as a young teen, first in South Korea and then in the southern United States, powerless and bewildered and, at that time, totally dependent upon her single mother. Ha could not have articulated, in print and illustration, her story without her mother’s presence whom, at the beginning of Ha’s tale, was considered a superhero to her daughter. This memoir effectively and beautifully illuminates Ha’s early experiences as well as contemporary issues of immigration, the sense of belonging, parent and child relationships, the stress resulting from social hostility toward single parenthood, bullying, and, in balance, highlights the power and impact of art in determining self.

Ha’s artistic ability is the grounding for her as she presses forward counter to new step siblings that are obstructive at every junction, not understanding much of the language at school or the school culture, and being able to make friends. She also no longer has access to the volumes of manga and manhwa she and her friends devoured. This is a time of extreme tribulation and only subsides when circumstances allow her and her mother to move to a more accommodating part of the country where she finally connects with others who are much more compatible with her. Ha’s command of the written word is a testimony to this blossoming journey of self awareness and growth as an individual and artist. The comic drawing class she is encouraged to join becomes her escape from her seclusion and gloom.

Ha’s art illuminates the locations in both Korea and the United States, her realistic characters are actualized and individualized, and is permeated with a soft color palate with splashes of bright color when she is experiencing excitement or other strong emotions. Ha’s illustrations extend a glimpse into the frustrations and alienation caused by the paucity of comprehension of unfamiliar language and society. The varied employment of panels successfully carries the transitions the reader experiences from Ha’s ordinary life to that of her fictional world and back again. The chapters are all delineated by a solo snapshot page filled with dense colours that offer a glimpse to the episode to follow. This is an emotional ride for all those involved, characters and reader.

Highly recommended.

Almost American Girl
By Robin Ha
ISBN: 9780062685094
Harper/Balzer + Bray, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Young Adult

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Korean American
Creator Highlights: Own Voices

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide

Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide is famous for her haunting black and white photos. Isabel Quintero and Zeke Pena have created an enthralling graphic novel in which Iturbide’s story and photographs are brought to life for a generation who may be entirely unfamiliar with their groundbreaking work. Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide is an important graphic novel for the current culture. Mexican stories need to be told. Graphic novels like this are a reminder that the history and culture of Mexican art and artists is vast and rich. This graphic novel may be a few years old but its review is crucial.

The story opens at an art gallery with photographs on display. A group of young people ask the photographer about their style and methods. That photographer is Graciela Iturbide. She explains her methods and motives to the young attendees while the story fades into the past. The story moves through time—back and forth—from the Sonoran Desert and Mexico City to India and Frida Kahlo’s bedroom. It covers her most famous photographs as well as her childhood and relationship with her father. Graciela appears to explain in her own words what was going on at the time, the inspirations for the photographs, and her own thought process.

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide is uniquely illustrated. The artist painstakingly recreates Graciela’s history and photographs through similar yet powerful black and white illustrations. The actual photographs accompany the illustrated versions. It’s refreshing to see artwork and photography depicted in this way, particularly in a graphic memoir. It is one thing to see an illustrated version of a piece of art, but to see it held up against the real thing is entirely different and adds great depth to the story. The attention to detail is astounding and the artist made the right decision to keep color out of the book. Graciela’s medium was black-and-white and her biography should be the same.

The writing itself feels a bit stilted and that may be entirely based on the translation. It’s hard to feel a rhythm while reading. The author includes an interesting use of a second person point of view. The author addresses the reader in short snippets of text before each chapter break. These breaks in the fourth wall are a way to introduce the reader to where the story will take place next. It’s helpful in a way, but also a bit distracting. Graciela’s descriptions are poetic and imaginative while these breaks feel unnecessary. Graciela is more than capable of telling her own story in her own way. Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide is a fascinating look into the life of a prolific and iconic Mexican photographer. Their work resides in many museums around the world. This graphic novel cannot tell Graciela’s story in its entirety, but it does a great job of introducing readers of all ages to her life and her work.

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide is appropriate for readers 13+. It is enjoyable to readers of Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam, Pénélope Bagieu’s Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, and Liana Finck’s Passing for Human.

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide
By Isabel Quintero
Art by Zeke Pena
ISBN: 9781947440005
Getty Publications, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: T

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Character Traits: Latinx