Whenever war is used as a theme in literature it is typically to serve the trope of condemning war’s costs beyond the buildings bombed and bullets fired. Simply put, according to these artistic endeavors, war changes people and often for the worse. War leaves scars on the body and the mind while also reminding us that people capable of love and compassion are also capable of barbarity and bloodshed. War’s effect on one young man is explored in Hound, a graphic novel written by Sam Romesburg and Sam Freeman and illustrated by Rodrigo Vázquez.
Specifically, it is World War I that serves as the backdrop for this dark descent into humanity’s baser nature. Private Barrow is a good soldier, but his new assignment has him interacting with fellow officers who have become much more than good soldiers . . . and much less. Private Barrow has become part of a unit called the Hounds, due to the shape of their gas masks, and their territory is a strip of land bombarded by mustard gas attacks. To Barrow’s horror, his new unit has formed a strange kind of cult that worships violence and they seek to initiate him. Either Barrow joins the Hounds or he is prey.
At about 96 pages of graphically told story, Romesburg and Freeman’s story doesn’t delve too deeply into the horrors of war, but epistolary captions representing Barrow’s journal does allow the reader to get into his head, not only as he sees what the Hounds truly are, but as he himself must do some violent acts in order to survive. Much of the book is Barrow trying to stay ahead of enemy soldiers and members of his unit who seek to either indoctrinate him or run him to ground. However, despite Barrow’s portrayal as an innocent, he must, as the trope dictates, commit acts that tarnish that innocence. A scene where he has to hide from the enemy is a particularly harrowing one.
As a book about the horrors of war, Vázquez’s artwork depicts a lot of graphic images of death and horror. The men who make up the Hounds are not just changed mentally, but physically. Their teeth are misshapen, their skin is covered in sores and lesions, and their howls are depicted as letters that flow across the page and into the readers’ ears. It’s a story that seems light on action but almost drips with visceral and violent imagery. Vázquez is definitely not shy about letting the red run rampant on the page.
The overall ending of the book is somewhat ambiguous, which may deter or captivate readers, but this book is, overall, a solid complement to an adult graphic novel collection. Perhaps it doesn’t cut deep enough to explore its themes of war and violence, but fans of war movies like Platoon or Inglorious Basterds should enjoy the story and perhaps be fascinated by the personal war within one Private Barrow.
Hound By Sam Romesburg, Sam Freeman Art by Rodrigo Vázquez Mad Cave Studios, 2024 ISBN: 9781952303784
I was intrigued by the story line of this book when I first heard about it as I was just completing an entry in my upcoming volume of contemporary legends on the Hoia Baciu Forest where this graphic novel takes place. This large forest has a large clearing within it which is a barren circle void of trees and other vegetation but not of supernatural phenomena. It is an area long thought to be cursed. The trees, said to once stand straight and tall, are now twisted into knots.
Locals assert the forest’s circular clearing at the center is a portal and that those who pass through it may never return. Regardless of the legends and the perceived dangers, Hoia Baciu Forest remains a popular tourist mecca with guided legend tours taking place both in the daylight and in the ghostly night.
The premise of the story line is the question of what happens when a foreigner ignores the warnings from the local inhabitants and, in search of his missing friend, travels to the middle of Romania’s most ghostly forest. Adam also ignores the warnings about the iele, a witch who hunts men in the area. Iurov familiarizes readers with the legend throughout the intense and vivid illustrations and pacing. She also incorporates some of the Romanian language to give verisimilitude both to the legend and the setting.
According to Romanian folklore, iele are reported to appear mostly at night by moonlight, as young, beautiful, naked, voluptuous supernatural creatures dancing Horas with their breasts almost hidden by long unkempt hair. They would leave the ground where they danced burned, the grass not able to grow for a long time but when it returned, it would be red or dark green. Animals would not consume it but, instead, mushrooms would thrive on it. When offended by someone who refuses to dance with them or mirrors their movements or are observed while dancing, or when people slept under a tree considered theirs, or when people step on the burned ground, they would inflict terrible punishments. A main characteristic is their stunning voices used to enchant their listeners. They are known to abduct the victim, punishing the guilty with enchanted spells before they cause them to disappear forever without a trace.
All of these characteristics are employed in the graphic novel while Adam attempts to locate his friend Vlad. Each of the three nights he spends in the neighbouring village and the forest emits more data and creates more and more threats to Adam in his quest to find his friend and then his own sanity. The illustrative style resembles that of manga. All of the actors in the drama are individuals and easily recognizable. The colour palate offers definite contrasts between the daytime in the village and the haunting darkness of the forest. The village and residents are brightly illuminated during the day, but nocturnal scenes in the Hoia Baciu forest are accurately frightening and the iele as a truly eerie supernatural being. The panel layout effectively offers an intense theatrical aspect to the story while remaining true to its oral storytelling and folklore roots. A special nod should also be made for the exquisite and appropriate lettering by Micah Myers.
In an introductory page, the author establishes the role of the folkloric iele before leaping into the story. This page and the one at the end of the story offering background information about the creator are stunningly illustrated with traditional textile designs and colours, completing the book as a compelling and satisfying package.
Highly recommended for horror fans as well as those intrigued by supernatural myths and legends.
WHISPER OF THE WOODS By : Ennun Ana Iurov Mad Cave Studios, 2023 ISBN: 9781952303746
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Romanian, Character Representation: Romanian,
A group of teenagers, selected for a terraforming mission to deep space, suddenly awakens from cryostasis ten years too early to find themselves orbiting a strange planet that doesn’t appear on any of their charts. Faced with insufficient resources, half the team goes down to the planet’s surface to scavenge while the other half stays behind to diagnose and fix the ship. Strange things start to happen to both teams as they find more and more unexplainable clues about their situation.
I found this story to be a little confusing. It felt like the middle of a story that was missing a beginning and an end. There was almost no space to give the cast distinct rounded personalities. Each one might have been shown with one major defining emotion or action in the face of an emergency, but none had backstory or much in the way of interpersonal connections. This is a horror story, and the pacing contributes to the tone as do the overly dark illustrations (which I personally thought were too dark to accurately portray background information important to the story). With the horror tone and some body horror, I would recommend this be placed in older teen or adult collections if added at all.
Bountiful Garden By Ivy Noelle Weir Art by Kelly Williams, Giorgio Spalletta, Justin Birch Mad Cave Studios, 2022 ISBN: 9781952303173
Publisher Age Rating: All
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Navigating senior year is hard enough already, but having to choose between living the life you want for yourself and living the life others think is right for you is a level up in difficulty. Nothing makes Noah feel more like himself than designing and sewing clothing, but his public servant parents are adamantly against him attending art school to pursue a career in costuming. Azarie has gotten very good at playing the part of the perfect mayor’s daughter, helping keep up the “traditional” family facade her father projects to the public as he runs for re-election, but deep down, she just wants to read comics and play video games.
When the two teens from very different worlds accidentally run into each other at the mall, it turns out they’re not so different after all: they both just want to realize their dreams. But unfortunately for them, not everyone else supports them. As Noah and Azarie navigate their double lives and work together towards a common goal, will their new friendship and confidence in themselves hold strong? Or will the actions of those determined to maintain the status quo unravel it all?
Though teens struggling to find and be themselves while under the constraints and expectations of their parents is not a new concept in teen stories, it feels fresh in David Pinckney’s Needle & Thread. The narrative decision to have Noah and Azarie stay purely platonic friends is refreshing and important, and keeps it from falling back onto the star-crossed lovers trope that so easily can happen when characters are from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds (Noah is Afro-Latine and middle class, Azarie is White and wealthy). Their friendship and character development as they discover who they are together and apart is one of the strongest aspects of the story, and readers will root for them as their bond gets tested by outside influences.
Cosplay and the world of cons are starting to crop up more in teen stories and it’s nice to see it presented as just a thing that the friends are doing, and not something that is completely out there or niche. The many scenes of Noah, Azarie, and the Cosplay Squad working on Azarie’s costume for the contest (and Noah’s portfolio) will absolutely ring true to readers who are involved in fandoms and cosplay themselves.
But of course, there could be no Needle & Thread without artist Ennun Ana Iurov’s lovely illustrations. Her line work has a pen and ink style that gives the art a fashion sketch vibe—a perfect choice for this graphic novel’s themes. The muted pastel color palette is absolutely gorgeous, and has a softness which feels right for the introspective aspect of much of the story. And yet there is still such a liveliness to the characters as she depicts both the humor and drama of teenagers trying to just exist as they are. Additionally, an especially creative touch is the intro page for each new chapter: each one has a drawing of a character’s cell phone home screen, giving little context clues like time of year (to help move the story along) and additional story teasers via social media notifications complete with hashtags, or incoming message snippets.
Teens feel pressure from a myriad of sources telling them who to be and what paths to choose. Finding the confidence to assert yourself in a world full of adults who think they know what’s best for you in order to grab hold of at least a little piece of a dream is something both Noah and Azarie strive to do. Maybe, by adding Needle & Thread to your collection, a reader might feel seen or heard enough to try for a little of that confidence too.
Needle & Thread By David Pinckney Art by Ennun Ana Iurov Mad Cave Studios, 2021 ISBN: 9781952303234
Publisher Age Rating: Grade 7-9
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: African-American Character Representation: African-American, Latine
Many people are familiar with the story of Robin Hood, the hero who, according to nearly every Robin Hood story, “robs from the rich and gives to the poor.” They no doubt also remember his daring fights with the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham. People are also familiar with the term “reimagining,” a word that might elicit groans from some as being a sign that an entity is creatively bereft. However, there are reimaginings that get some mileage by turning the readers’ expectations on their heads. Such is the case of Nottingham, vol. 1: Death and Taxes, which retells the well-known story of Robin Hood as a medieval noir.
Written by David Hazan and illustrated by Shane Connery Volk, the story recasts the Sheriff as a principled investigator looking into a series of tax collector murders. He believes that these murders are the work of the Merry Men, terrorists who even wear masks with exaggerated grins. They are led by a man known only as the Hood. What the Sheriff eventually finds is a conspiracy that soon grows, or perhaps metastasizes, into the legend everyone knows.
Hazan’s story reads at times like a police procedural, complete with the crime scene investigations and interrogations of suspects. The Sheriff in this tale is also fleshed out beyond a one-dimensional villain; he’s a grizzled veteran of the Crusades who has grown cynical of human nature. He’s also smart enough to see the shades of gray implied in the Merry Men’s activities. Indeed, Hazan’s tale totally flip-flops the dynamic of the Sheriff and Robin Hood. In this story, the Sheriff attempts to maintain his moral center if not being downright heroic, while Robin Hood and his men, especially his companion Maid Marian, are villains who commit some very nefarious deeds.
Volk’s artwork reflects the gritty and violent tone of the story. A lot of people die by various medieval weapons and in very graphic ways. The amount of blood and bloody violence in this book is comparable to what one would find in a horror graphic novel. While the masks of the Merry Men are exaggerated grins, the expressions of many of the book’s characters, while never descending into bad caricature, are either stoic or sneering. That does, however, benefit the noir tone of the story, since the shades-of-gray morality of this world gives the characters very little to smile about.
Nottingham, vol 1 has some good moments, but it also feels unfinished, especially by the end of the volume. There is a clear progression to the story arc, and there is a definitive if not wholly satisfying ending, but it also feels like this story skims over a lot of its own established nuances, like the Sheriff’s own military history and how it’s affected him. Overall, while not being flat archetypes, the characters are painted with some broad, and violent, strokes. However, their distinct personalities and stories might be explored more in future volumes. Some stories simply take a while before really finding their footing after introducing the world in which the story takes place. It should be up to librarians with patrons who might be interested in graphic novel reimaginings and crime drama whether or not they want to take a chance and see if volume 2, should it come out, goes deeper into its characters.
Nottingham, vol. 1: Death and Taxes By David Hazan Art by Shane Connery Volk Mad Cave, 2021 ISBN: 9781952303142 Publisher Age Rating: 16 years and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Australian