If you and your significant other agree on most things, what happens when one big thing comes up that you disagree on? Is being almost perfect for each other enough to happily continue the relationship despite that one Big Thing?
In Just Another Meat-Eating Dirtbag, Michael Anthony (author) and Chai Simone (artist) depict a relationship between an omnivore and a vegetarian. Michael, our narrator, is an Iraqi war veteran with body image issues. Michael’s girlfriend, nicknamed Coconut, is a vegetarian who gets more involved in animal rights activism and goes vegan. Michael had to turn off his emotions in order to survive war. “But to do it all-deal with the dead, the dying…the sleepless nights, weeks, months, and to save as many lives as possible, we had to stop caring. We had to let it all go and become autonomic machines. Emotionless. Detached…and yet, after everything I’d seen and been through, Coconut thought some videos would…overwhelm me? Change my entire life? Disgust me into action? Get me to stop eating meat?” (p. 16-19). Coconut’s mother’s past damaging criticisms of Coconut’s body and her own caring, selfless nature inform her backstory. Can their otherwise harmonious relationship survive Michael’s veiled—and Coconut’s overt—conversion attempts? I hoped for a certain outcome, but I’ll let you read the book and find out for yourself what happens.
Simone’s art style is colorful and cartoony. Her characters’ facial expressions and body language convey their many moods, ranging from Coconut’s horror and smugness to Michael’s exasperation and befuddlement. She draws supporting characters with care as well. In one scene where Michael is asking event guests what made them decide to be vegetarian, it’s interesting to see how their faces change when he follows that with “What would get you to eat meat again?” (p. 69). Simone’s lettering makes the book easy to read. Michael’s narration is shown in tan blocks of text, with different lettering styles used for dialogue and for each of the protagonists’ handwritten notes.
This is an interesting, multilayered story, not merely a lecture on the harms of industrial animal agriculture. Although the book explores those harms, each character’s backstory and how their past experiences shape their current predicament is more compelling.
This book is for adult readers due to some graphic illustrations of warfare, slaughterhouse activities, and meat-packing plant scenes. There is also mention of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse among veterans. Any library with an attentive readership of nonfiction graphic novels, either memoirs or food-related books, should consider this title for their collection. Check the recommended reading list on pages 168-169 for further resources on veganism.
Just Another Meat-Eating Dirtbag: A Memoir By Michael Anthony Art by Chai Simone Street Noise Books, 2022 ISBN: 9781951491192
Many are familiar with the adage about a spoonful of sugar helping medicine go down, especially those familiar with Disney’s Mary Poppins, but there is some truth to that statement when it comes to subjects that are either too dense to completely process or too terrifying to rationally contemplate. Such subjects can be made more palatable and/or digestible when put into a graphic novel format. Writers Sarah Kendzior and Andrea Chalupa use the graphic novel format effectively in their satirical guide to dictatorship, Dictatorship: It’s Easier Than You Think!
The book’s sales pitch begins with questions like, “Do you crave the power to shape the world in your image?” and “Can you tell lies without blinking an eye?” Once the readers are drawn in with those questions, the actual book, along with its game-show-host-looking narrator, explains just how to be a dictator based on examples from the past and the present. The easy to follow instructions the book lays out how to take complete control of a country or nation and thoroughly crush any resistance, at least that’s what the book professes to do.
Much like Machiavelli’s The Prince, Kendzior and Chalupa’s guidebook is satire, not as a guidebook but as a critical dissection of how dictators operate. Its chapters are organized as a step-by-step guide to dictatorship that illustrates its points with many detailed examples from Adolf Hitler to Kim Jong Un and everyone in between. The book also details some of the horrific, murderous practices these men used to stay in power. Depicting the details of these atrocities might be off-putting in a more academic text, but framing it in a satirical how-to guide makes it more palatable without making it less powerful. Indeed, the narrator’s flippant discussion of these events helps hammer home its point about how the outlandish behavior of many of these dictators distracts from the horrors they commit.
The narrator, drawn by artist Kasia Babis, is a spaghetti-limbed, rubber-faced cartoon host in a gaudy suit. He acts as both ringmaster and tour guide through this cavalcade of history’s most reviled dictators. From history’s most notorious dictators to more modern examples seen in today’s headlines, no dictator is safe from his acerbic wit and he constantly lets readers in on the joke with knowing, conspiratorial leers in their direction. There are also many of the same caricature versions of these dictators who interact with this host with the kinetic energy of a sketch comedy show, even as the humor skews to some dark places.
That energy, and the book’s overall presentation, makes it perfect for adult graphic novel collections in need of relevant nonfiction, especially since the influence of many of these dictators, past and present, can still be seen today. This book also teaches its subject matter in a way that’s not didactic and dry. Yes, the book shows some dictators have already seen their regimes and their cults of personality collapse, but this satirical guidebook to dictatorship is ultimately a warning to anyone and everyone that can allow bad people to gain power. There’s even a part in the book where the host, discussing who and what he is, shows the reader a mirror, which is a strong message to convey in a graphical format.
Dictatorship: It’s Easier Than You Think! By Sarah Kendzior, Andrea Chalupa, Art by Kasia Babis Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250781000
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)
The cover of this graphic novel makes one assume that it’s about the author’s marriage to his long-time partner, but by the end of the 112 pages, you will change your assumption. This witty, humane, honestly perceptive story about two men in a relationship and where they are right now in their lives in this country is more of a snapshot in time, with all the attendant Woody Allen-New York-neurotic angst one would expect from a working artist.
That’s not to say this isn’t an enjoyable read. It is. It’s like sitting down with your best friend to trade personal anecdotes, hurts, and love stories, with all the warmth that connects you to them. Honestly, Kirby is so perceptive and intuitive about himself and his partner and their families and friends, you feel like you’ve known them forever. I imagined us sitting with coffee while he admits in one page that he’s sometimes “micro-aggressive” in his select use of the word “husband” to other people.
As the graphic novel advances, Kirby uses red and blue colored pencils on a monochromatic background to draw attention to main parts of the story, express emotion, and communicate extra little funny comments on the side. There are extra comments squished in everywhere! Don’t miss the “Earthlink” comment on page 34 or the “Young Rob” on page 48.
The thing is, Kirby starts the story admitting that “he doesn’t have a sentimental bone in his body” and feels apathetic about getting married to partner John. He’s also nervous about getting older, and while he’s “adept at putting off scary stuff,” after Minnesota legalizes gay marriage, they decide to do it, just for the legalistic freedom it will give them.
Despite how much he tries to convince himself that marriage is just dotting an i or crossing a t, both men look positively scared but happy at the moment they hear, “I now pronounce you married.” So, maybe it was kind of a big thing after all? This moment is repeated on eleven other pages as the author places it against the background of what was happening politically in this country and how that affected people that don’t toe the WASP-traditional-nuclear-family-choice line.
Despite how happy they are as a couple, as time passes and they get on with their lives, with all the happiness and sadness that entails, Kirby compares their familial bliss with what’s going on in the country at large, and here is where the graphic novel changes to a very different theme. Part two is more of a recounting of the Trump years, the abolition of Roe v. Wade, the killing of George Floyd, mass shootings, and how the couple navigates the constantly changing landscape of the recent United States decisions.
At one point Kirby muses, “it sure would be nice to just not think about it anymore…but that’s not the world we live in.”
I remember as a child learning about the Civil Rights Act, which was voted into law the year before I was born. My childlike brain said, “Okay, that’s solved—they passed a law. So, like, that’s fixed, right?” It took me years to learn that it’s not that easy. So…me too, Rob. Me too.
Even when Rob and John are discussing these events with their friends, they’re sensitive and considerate to possible different opinions, and the story has such a good use of framing and flow to echo the previous pages in the story. This ties the first half of the story into the second half’s discussion.
I feel like the four pages of wedding-themed music and six pages of wedding-themed movies could have been less, and it slowed the story’s momentum. But that’s a small quibble for such an enjoyable read.
This graphic novel has no depictions of sexual acts but does portray two men kissing. There is no violence. There are many, many depictions of typical day to day adult family life, like grocery shopping, dog walking, working on the computer, and dinners out with friends. It should be shelved in the adult section and is recommended for any library.
Marry Me a Little: A Graphic Memoir By Rob Kirby Graphic Mundi, 2023 ISBN: 9781637790397
Publisher Age Rating: 16+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Oh, how tough life must’ve been back in the late 1700s! Our narrator, Abigail Adams, takes the reader through the history of democracy from as far back as we know to the present day.
We are taken on a journey through the beginning ideas of democracy from Ancient Egypt to its spread and rise in popularity throughout Europe. The book focuses on how democracy came to be how it is today in the United States. It chronologically explains not only major events and turning points, but highlights lots of interesting facts.
Author, Don Brown, doesn’t sugar coat this story either. It was clearly not a smooth, straight path to arrive where America is today. Examples include startling events such as the entire Roanoke colony failing to survive, and disappearing after being one of two colonies sent by King James I to colonize in Virginia. Meanwhile the colony in Jamestown barely survived and even had to resort to eating their deceased neighbors to prevent starving to death. It is not graphic or inappropriate for children, the author simply shares harsh facts of the challenges people faced. It ends on the note that things are not perfect and there are still areas in which America can improve to ensure a free and fair democracy for all.
Author and illustrator, Brown, has a simplistic drawing style that makes reading a densely fact filled book like this a lot more fun. Oftentimes, pictures add a lot of clarity for the reader, such as providing a map of the location discussed, or visually showing the struggle that people faced. This adds a lot of clarity for readers who could be unfamiliar with some of the vocabulary used. To end tis work, there is a timeline included, a short biography of Abigail Adams and a very well done section of references that include corresponding page numbers.
Overall, this is an awesome nonfiction graphic novel. It is packed with information, nicely illustrated and includes a full reference list at the end. I have never read a middle school graphic novel that has so much detail and is so well researched. I am really impressed with this book and look forward to learning more by reading the rest of the books in this series.
Big Ideas That Changed the World, vol 4: We The People Vol. 4 By Don Brown Abrams, 2022 ISBN: 9781419757389
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
“This book is more than the story of how two Polish Jews survived; it is also a cautionary tale of what happens when people stand by and allow antisemitism, hate and prejudice to run rampant” (Introduction, xii).
This nonfiction graphic novel illuminates the story of Bluma Tishgarten and Felix Goldberg, two young Polish Jews who were survivors of the rise of fascism and Hitler’s rise to power. It also reveals the intensification of antisemitism in Europe and the rise and consequences of the Holocaust to contemporary readers. The narrative follows Bluma and Felix on their individual fraught journey to an eventual fruitful meeting filled with optimism, endurance, and promise. It does not sugar coat the horrors of the Nazi concentration and death camps but offers historical insight and background along with the pain and anguish experienced by the protagonists and their allies. It is not an easy story to read but an extremely important one, especially in our current society.
The story, opening in the present day, explains several Jewish customs before moving back through time to the explore the beginnings of the Holocaust in 1917. It paints a bleak picture for the Jewish population as events lead up to the rise of Hitler and the start of World War II. In alternate vignettes the reader follows Bluma and Felix as they are separated from everything and almost everyone they have known and thrown into the frightening cauldron of racial and religious exploitation.
Towards the end of the war, Felix is sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau where he is tattooed and where 960,00 Jews, 74,000 Non-Jewish Poles, 21,000 Romas, 15,000 Soviet POWs, and over 15,000 citizens of other nations died before liberation. At the same time, Bluma and her sister Cela are transferred to Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp which also housed Jews, POWs, political prisoners, Romas, criminals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals and where approximately 50,000 people died. Both camps excelled at humiliating treatment and considered the inmates as less than human. Eventually the three protagonists, along with Felix’s friend David Miller, are sent to a Displaced Persons camp in Landsberg, Germany. (Ironically, in 1924, Adolf Hitler was imprisoned there and where he wrote Mein Kampf.) The four young people meet, fall in love, and have a double wedding before moving to the United States. Once they are settled, they begin informing others about the atrocities they experienced and the dangers of unbridled antisemitism. They encouraged their children to continue their mission with one of the results being this moving graphic novel.
The evocative black and white realistic illustrations signify both the hardships and the joys that the families experience. Most of the written content is in text boxes augmented by some dialogue. There is a great deal of information to absorb on each panel and page. A variety of panels and backgrounds of the pages add to the depth of data and emotion in the story.
Extensive back material includes family photographs, biographies of the creators and contributors of the graphic novel, a timeline of events related to World War II and the Holocaust, a succinct glossary, recommended resources, and an index.
Highly recommended for middle and high school libraries and public and academic library collections. The title has been nominated for inclusion in this year’s YALSA listing of Great Graphic Novels but is a substantial read for older readers.
Thanks to Crystal Strang who gifted me an autographed copy of the graphic novel after attending a presentation by the author, illustrator, and publisher. She, along with the creative team, truly understands the importance of making sure this message is spread far and wide for people of all ages.
We Survived the Holocaust: The Bluma and Felix Goldberg Story By Frank W. Baker Art by Tim E. Ogline Imagine & Wonder, 2022 ISBN: 9781637610206
Publisher Age Rating: 12-16
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Character Representation: Polish, Jewish
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
Iranian Love Stories is a journalistic look at Iranians in their 20s heavily controlled by a conservative regime. Ten vignettes cover individuals and couples, their dreams, fears, and political angst. Jane Deuxard is the pseudonym of two journalists, a man and a woman, who conducted the interviews that make up the script of the graphic novel. They are also a romantic couple, opening the book by talking about the rings they purchased to make them appear married as part of the costume that would allow them to move freely in Iran, along with the woman’s veil and ¾ length coat. Most of the women in the book, including the blonde female journalist, are shown wearing loose headscarves in public in accordance with the local law. Originally published in 2016 in France, the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the Green Movement of 2009 are discussed by interviewees, but the book predates the political unrest and bloody governmental responses that have occurred in the last 5 years.
The unspoken word in the title is “forbidden.” The writers sought out specific kinds of stories that are outside of the accepted traditional social structure. One of the brief interludes between profiles shows a handful of people the authors try to talk to giving pat answers such as, “I want a good, pious husband. I’d like an interesting job and children… etc., blah blah blah.” While their work mostly likely does reveal concerns felt by a large swath of Iranian youth, the book makes no attempt to give a balanced look at all Iranians. I appreciate that the authors made their goal clear in their approach. The anger in the stories is targeted at the regime; there’s less discussion of Islam in general. It’s not about bashing Islam. Instead, it’s a nuanced look at the different perspectives of a wide variety of men and women with complex ideas about the roles of men, women, and religion in their lives. No LGBTQ subjects are covered.
Many of the interviews reveal details of sex lives and purity tests, others focus on family conflicts and precise dances between obeying and breaking laws. It’s stressed many times that simply discussing all of these matters is not allowed, let alone performing the specific acts. In one astonishing vignette, a woman discovers from the authors’ conversation with her partner that he disagrees completely on their future, where they will live, and what their roles will be. She admits to the journalists that, even though they’ve been together for more than a year, they’re allowed so little time to speak openly that she didn’t know how he thought about these things at all. Throughout there are references to revolutions of the past and frustration with the political system, especially a feeling that future mass actions are not worth the danger. It’s jarring to see the degree to which the government is tied to their romantic lives. The stories vary in length and give their characters depth and development. Between each focused profile is a page or two that places in context some of what the journalists had to do to find subjects and their time together, including a stint of being held and questioned about their motives and cavorting in their hotel room. While they are present in all of the discussions, the journalists focus on their subjects’ stories more than their own.
The art by Deloupy is arresting. With thick lines and a muted color palette, the stories come to life with a dynamism unexpected from largely depicted conversations. He captures a great deal of expression in eyes, mouths, and body language. Backgrounds provide sweeping views from the Isfahan cable cars to stark cemeteries, juxtaposed with claustrophobic interiors. You feel like you’re traveling the country with the journalists. The vignettes each start with the names of the subjects, their ages, and location. The interludes are shown surrounded by a notebook corner, similar to a moleskin, giving the impression of a journal and visually separating the sections. In the stories there are realistic depictions of the lives described as well as political cartoon style flights of fantasy, such as Pez dispenser politicians and arachnid mother-in-laws. The stories unfold in panels without lined borders, often delineated by colored backgrounds or leaving heads and shoulders floating on the page. This adds to the travelogue feel and provides opportunities for a contrasting shock in the moments the images bleed to the edges of the page. The pages are frequently dense with illustration.
This is an excellent addition to any adult nonfiction graphic novel collection. Readers of Marjane Sartrapi and Joe Sacco will especially enjoy it. The subject matter and presence of a few sexually graphic parts make it better suited to adults, though older teens may find it interesting. It could be a deep conversation starter for weighty book clubs and college classes. For a broader comparison of approaches to marriage in Muslim culture, try reading this alongside the bubbly and cartoonish memoir That Can Be Arranged by Huda Fahmy.
Iranian Love Stories By Jane Deuxard Art by Deloupy Graphic Mundi, 2021 ISBN: 9781637790045
Publisher Age Rating: 16+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Character Representation: Iranian
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 ,
Guerilla Green opens with author and narrator Ophélie Damblé on the Paris Metro to Boulogne-Billancourt, surrounded by people on their phones who are slowly driving her crazy. She snaps, begins handing out seeds (and green advice) to those around her and makes a dramatic exit by quoting Green Guerilla icon Ron Finley, “Let’s plant some @#*%!” Just like that, you are in the headspace this book will occupy. It swings between history lessons on green guerillas around the world, indignation at the state of the world we are in today and actions you can take today to start changing your city. It is a call to action book that uses the graphic novel format to reach out to a broader audience and soften the grim reality it’s trying to bring attention to.
Damblé’s entry into the world of guerilla gardening started when she was approaching age 30 and, having spent a decade in public relations, decided it was time for a life change. She saw friends her age fleeing from the city to the countryside, but she wanted to stay and put in the work to make Paris more beautiful and livable. She shares her research on the notion of rebellious gardening beginning in the 17th century through to today with examples of people and groups around the world continuing this work. Over the next several chapters we get lessons on topics including how to clean up your city, civil disobedience for the greater good, how and where to garden, saving biodiversity and her hopes for the future.
While she does admit that some of these acts and works might seem pretty big, Damblé makes the argument that every movement and change has to start somewhere and it can start with one person. This book is her pitch for each of us to become that one person. Any one of us can start to make a positive change in our city and help the planet by doing a little digging. She’s giving you an outline on how to get started and at the end of the book there is even a list of both French and English resources to keep reading and a list of websites to check out to stay motivated. There are interstitial breaks after each chapter titled “Ophélie explains it all” with a real life photo of Ophélie and friends from that chapter. Ophélie then elaborates on some of the facts from that chapter and any of the details she feels could use more context. These were helpful sections and I could appreciate that they were set aside to give them more serious weight.
The art by Cookie Kalkair feels reminiscent of Noelle Stevenson’s work on Nimona and Lumberjanes (which was also published by BOOM! Box) and the art is the saving grace of this graphic novel. It’s lighthearted, whimsical, and helps with the rather uneven pacing of the storytelling. The earnestness of the message was undercut at times with some curmudgeonly jabs at younger readers and an unspecified rival’s book, as well as some ill-advised references to historic figures like Rosa Parks. The pacing also varies wildly throughout the book and reading feels stilted as such. While there are some pie-in-the-sky ambitions in Guerilla Green, the hope it exudes, that we can all make a difference, is undeniable. The militaristic mindset, some of the history lessons, and the nature of the topic makes this book better suited to high school teens and older readers. Younger readers may have trouble with context for some of the biggest planetary issues addressed. Big city dwellers will also have more familiarity with some of issues addressed, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be enjoyed by those with the luxury of a backyard.
Guerilla Green By Ophélie Damblé Art by Cookie Kalkair BOOM! Box, 2021 ISBN: 978-1684156634
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: French