From the creative imagination of Pornsak Pichetshote (Infidel) and Alexandre Tefenkgi (Outpost Zero) comes a gritty crime thriller set in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the socio-political climate of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The year is 1936, the maid of an ailing millionaire has gone missing, and his son has hired a Chinese American detective from Honolulu to unravel this conundrum in the first volume of The Good Asian.
In classic pulp fiction style, Pichetshote delves into a spiraling mystery that unreels like a noir film starring Edison Hark, a Chinese American detective who tackles the case in a cool and collected manner. He is initially hired by Frankie Carroway, son of the millionaire Mason Carroway (and Edison’s adopted father), to track down the whereabouts of twenty-five-year-old Ivy Chen. In a slick, calculating persona like the Benedict Cumberbatch version of Sherlock Holmes, Edison dives into this mystery with a keen eye, collecting details meticulously and leaving no clues unturned. In each scenario, he absorbs information with laser-sharp focus, whether it be the frayed sleeves of a colleague, unlatched locks on a door, or a bloodied hatchet at the scene of a crime. The trail leads him through a vibrant cast of characters and locales. The story begins in the barracks of the Angel Island Immigration Station, shifts to the mansion of the wealthy comatose Mason Carroway, segues into the soiree of an extravagant Chinatown night club featuring flamboyantly adorned dancers, and through the dark back alleys of Chinatown where lurks a reputed hatchet man. One clue leads to the next as he assembles clues that snowball into a daunting mystery that may even connect with his mother’s death.
Complementing Pichetshote’s plotting are monochromatic and dull colors that amplify the noir tone in this seedy atmosphere where malevolent forces strive to elude the self-effacing sleuth. Deftly illustrated scenes packed with action, drama, and nuanced character expressions unfold cinematically like the Kuleshov effect, challenging readers to connect images and actions occurring in between panels. Most intriguing is the characterization of Edison Hark, who navigates the labyrinthine streets of a criminally infested, racially discriminating society while wrestling with his own identity as a Chinese American.
While scores of pulp fiction mysteries abound, few have positioned Asian Americans in positive leading roles. Thus, The Good Asian will enrich adult genre collections, transcending standard tropes by addressing themes of immigration, identity, and racial prejudice. The back matter includes historical notes on the Angel Island Immigration Station that detained Chinese immigrants arriving in America and an annotated chronology of anti-immigrant legislation to contextualize the socio-political milieu of this era. This first volume delivers a fascinating twist on a noir mystery in the vein of Raymond Chandler and Cornell Woolrich, presenting an alternate view of the American experience and subverting the Charlie Chan stereotype of Asian Americans as model minorities, spotlighting them instead as agents of change to achieve social justice.
The Good Asian, vol. 1 By Pornsak Pichetshote Art by Alexandre Tefenkgi Image, 2021 ISBN: 9781534320949 Publisher Age Rating: M
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Thai-American Character Representation: Chinese-American
In this imagined tale of fifteen-year-old Princess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, a camera mysteriously arrives as a welcome gift, first to photograph her life behind the palace walls, and then beyond the liminal space that the Russian revolution has generated for her and her family.
The story begins on a snowy winter day with a moth attending the birth of the fourth Romanov princess. The disappointment in the birth of a fourth daughter is only mitigated by the subsequent birth of her brother. His illness, while often a large part of this family historic record, is only a side note to both Anastasia’s historical and fantastical experiences with the revolution and the filmic documentation with the mysterious camera. Although she never discovers the identity of the gift giver, the camera becomes an integral part of her daily life. She carries it everywhere with her, seemingly having an unlimited supply of film that is developed on a regular basis. At first, the photographs are benign pictures of the monotonous life of the children behind the palace walls but soon Anastasia is visited by vivid dreams and then, in her peripheral vision, discovers that she is being followed by a creature that may not be human. The most haunting aspect of this creature, and ultimately the story itself, is that it is not a foreshadowing of the devastation and death that we know is coming for this family but a personal connection for Anastasia that becomes violently disconnected at the end of the tale. The reader is left with many questions and no distinct answers.
The moth returns at the end to this succinct and partially wordless narrative to replicate the feeling of the circular action of many folktales, which initially attracted this reader to the storytelling in the book. Also, previously, eons ago, I had been fascinated by the Romanov story, and this book, while not factually truthful, brought me full circle to my earlier self which was an additional unexpected gift for me. While not an uplifting tale, The Gift satisfied and delighted me in so many ways.
Canadian illustrator and writer, Zoe Maeve, undertook a great deal of research on the Romanov family history for the story but soon deviated from historical accuracy to create her own backdrop for her tale. While not adhering to the historical record, this research is paramount in making her story rich and inviting for the reader. The generally unadorned but detailed illustrations, done in delicate inks and rendered in varied shades of blue, establish, and embellish the evocative and poignant dreamscape of the story.
This is not an uncomplicated novel to ignore and easily forget. Initially intended for a young adult audience, this book should appeal to a wide age range of readers interested in the supernatural, horror, Russian history, and photography.
The Gift Vol. By Zoe Maeve Conundrum, 2021 ISBN: 9781772620559
Publisher Age Rating: YA Series ISBNs and Order Related media:
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Canadian, Character Representation: Russian, Chronic Illness,
Shortly before her thirtieth birthday, Forney was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Flagrantly manic and terrified that medications would cause her to lose creativity, she began a years-long struggle to find mental stability while retaining her passions and creativity. Searching to make sense of the popular concept of the crazy artist, she finds inspiration from the lives and work of other artists and writers who suffered from mood disorders, including Vincent van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, William Styron, and Sylvia Plath. She also researches the clinical aspects of bipolar disorder, including the strengths and limitations of various treatments and medications, and what studies tell us about the conundrum of attempting to “cure” an otherwise brilliant mind.
This title has not (yet) been reviewed by our staff, but it is a title that we highly recommend for the majority of libraries building collections for this age range. Marbles By Ellen Forney Art by ISBN: 9781592407323 Avery, 2012 NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Socrates is believed to have once said: “The more I learn, the less I realize I know.” It may seem strange that a fictional graphic novel set during the latter years of World War II should make me think of classical Greek philosophy, but Son of Hitler does just this. With a provocative title and storyline to match, co-writers Anthony Del Col and Geoff Moore, along with illustrator Jeff McComsey, have created a narrative filled with espionage, mystery, and intrigue that keeps readers guessing from beginning to end. Just when you think you have it figured out—think again.
This alternative history is equal parts war story, personal quest, and mystery that takes its readers on a tour of war-torn Great Britain, Germany, and France as well as the United States to follow its many threads. Central to the fray is British intelligence officer Cora Brown, a woman so dedicated to the destruction of Adolf Hitler that she is willing to disobey orders from above in order to follow up on a tenuous rumor about an illegitimate child fathered by “Der Fuhrer” while he was stationed in France during World War I.
This quest leads her to Pierre Moreau, who may be the key to Hitler’s downfall if the two are indeed father and son. After some convincing, the young Frenchman joins Cora on her mission to assassinate Hitler, an uphill battle that involves meeting with the German resistance, near misses with Nazi soldiers, and enough hidden agendas, ulterior motives, and sinister characters to keep readers questioning and reassessing what they believe to be true until the very end.
The complicated yet charismatic characters are a main gateway into the story as they often times embody major thematic ideas through their actions and inner dialogues. In Cora, readers find a tough-as-nails heroine whose penchant for sniffing out the truth is as constant as the cigarette in her hand, perhaps a nod to so many classics within the noir genre. As one of the only female characters in an otherwise male-dominated world, her confidence and high rank serve as a counterpoint to the inner struggles she hides from most. And it is this duality, the disconnect between appearance and reality, truth and deceit, that forms the crux of thematic exploration within the multi-layered story.
Pierre also has his share of dissonance, seesawing between acts of violence and compassion. In fact, it is often his protectiveness for those he loves that fuels his propensity for impulsive and uncontrolled aggression. Because of this, he escapes typecasting as either “good” or “bad,” in part based on his sympathetic backstory revealed through a series of flashbacks. The authors use this device to provide more information about a troubled childhood rife with bullying and isolation caused in large part to his single mother’s line of work, namely, prostitution. With the newly acquired knowledge that Pierre is the alleged son of Hitler, things get murkier as it begs the question: Is Pierre’s behavior predetermined by his very genetics? In a classic nature vs. nurture conundrum, readers are left to weigh the influence of DNA against the loving environment Pierre finds himself in as the local baker-turned-mentor, Monsieur Petit, takes him under his wing.
Through food, Pierre finds solace, calm and even a sense of belonging as he pours his emotion and energy into each new batch of handcrafted madeleines. After all, is there anything more life affirming than nutriment itself? Interestingly enough, the French pastry also has its own duplicitous role to play, serving as the perfect vehicle for Petit to smuggle hidden messages to the German resistance, which ultimately results in his untimely murder. We are left to figure out the culprit, sorting through a plethora of plausible motives from both the German and British camps. Talk about muddying the proverbial waters.
Add to this mix a scheming and sadistic Nazi doctor, three purportedly defecting German soldiers, and a myriad of sketchy minor characters, and the search for truth grows ever more elusive with each new tidbit of information revealed. Perhaps my inclination to quote Socrates was not so far-fetched after all.
Complementing the story’s narrative are illustrations that enhance and build upon the text. Through organic and expressive lines rendered in sketch-like fashion, McComsey deftly conveys the characters’ emotions. Colors indicate both setting and mood, offsetting flashbacks through cool blues with the addition of warmer sepia tones as the story moves toward its climax. Intense shading that contrasts light and dark in tandem with enlarged panels to enhance dramatic plot points also manipulate mood.
In Hitchcockian fashion, the images also supply readers with more information than the characters themselves possess, relying on suspense more than surprise to build anticipation for things to come. Only we see the gun hidden under the pillow or tucked discreetly within the trench coat, giving us an almost omniscient presence enhanced by the birds-eye view of the action as it unfolds below. Text bubbles that present French, German, and English dialogue in a common language also allows us to move fluidly between the different languages that serve as barriers for the characters within. We alone have access to all sides of the equation, or so we are led to believe, providing a framework from which to tackle the questions that become more complicated as more pieces of the puzzle come to light. Ironically, the more we learn, the less we know.
McComsey also uses the montage as a clever way to cue readers in to the passage of time. As he interweaves panels depicting salient battles and events such as D-Day with those documenting the malicious activities of one evil German doctor, the resulting combination of history at the macro and micro level makes the reader writhe with anticipation for things to come.
On the other hand, readers may border on the impatient when they encounter disruptions to the narrative’s overall flow. For example, the authors’ unexpected and somewhat didactic foray into the dangers of big business involvement in politics and war may lessen the story’s appeal. To be fair, some may make the valid argument that such content is both timely and appropriate, and I would not disagree. Overall, this is a well written, complex, entertaining, and thoroughly researched graphic novel. Due to the publisher’s “M” rating along with the abundance of gore, violence, profanity, and sexual content, this title is most appropriate for adults.
Son of Hitler by Anthony Del Col Geoff Moore Art by Jeff McComsey Moore ISBN: 9781534302242 Image Comics, 2018 Publisher Age Rating: M
How many of us remember the photo booths that dotted the urban landscape of the fairly recent past? How many of us think about them with nostalgia, sometimes remembering group photographs sprinkled with laughter, grotesque facial expressions, or memories of those who were leaving on long journeys, perhaps not to be seen again for a very long time? The winner of the 2015 Doug Wright Spotlight Award in Canada, Photobooth: A Biography, follows author and illustrator Meags Fitzgerald’s ongoing journey with these ephemeral relics in an illustrated account of photo booths that once were widely available in bus depots and shopping malls.
Fitzgerald’s historical and autobiographical hybrid documentary begins in Edmonton, Alberta as a high school student and continues as she discovers others worldwide who are equally fascinated with the medium of photo booths that is quickly facing extinction. She interviews international artists, collectors, technicians, and museum curators as part of her exploration, with realistic yet tender illustrations of the people and their booths in textured, black and white images. Many of Fitzgerald’s images, carefully executed renditions of actual photographs, offer readers a glimpse into her own level of devotion and research. Her writing is factual with numerous references to technical and historical data, yet at the same time, it is warmly personable and honest. The research and memoir comes alive through both her text and her illustrations, but the page layouts deserve much of the credit for the overall success of this title. Several pages of notes and a bibliography of selected sources round out the package.
Fitzgerald has created a book that celebrates not only her home country of Canada but also offers a connection to the wider world through a well-established respect for history, fervor for these vestiges of the quickly-changing technological landscape, and strong friendships that are formed along the way. It would be superb if we could all celebrate our own fascinations as successfully as has been done here.
Photobooth: A Biography by Meags Fitzgerald ISBN: 9781894994828 Conundrum Press, 2014 Publisher Age Rating: 16+