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
Collect bands of bravery, find weapons, fight monsters, and solve puzzles: these elements and more await readers of the interactive graphic novel series Knights Club. With the tagline, “The Comic Book You Can Play,” the series is part choose-your-own-adventure and part fantasy tabletop game like Dungeons and Dragons, setting out to engage middle-grade readers and inviting them to participate in the action.
For this review, I explored the first two graphic novels in the series, Knights Club: The Bands of Bravery and Knights Club: The Message of Destiny. Though both books have largely the same central characters, and allow readers to carry over character stats from the first to the second book, they can stand alone and are fairly different in terms of game elements offered. Both books, however, share the same choose-your-own-adventure style of navigation through the comic. Each panel is numbered, and somewhere within the art of a panel, readers are directed to specific numbered panels to continue. In some panels, there is only one option, while others may have a few to choose from: for example, a panel depicting a crossroads where each path is marked with a different number. Occasionally, numbers are subtle or intentionally tricky to find in order to create something of a puzzle.
The first book, The Bands of Bravery, is focused on gathering as many bands (bracelets) as possible within an allotted period of time. This is largely achieved with a hidden object-style approach, where readers must scrutinize panels to spot them. In a similar manner, players can pick up gold pieces, weapons, or items. Occasionally, there are choices about where to go next or how to proceed in an interaction with another character. Players are given some basic stats, strength, agility, charisma, intelligence—and can track their adventure with one of the Quest Tracker sheets provided in the front of the book, with extra printable sheets available online.
In The Message of Destiny, the interactive play gets a lot more complex. The Quest Tracker includes many more stats, ranging from abilities to experience points to strike points (essentially, hit points or health points). There is a simple (“squire”) level of play, in which battles involve readers comparing two numbers to see which is higher and who wins. The book is primarily designed for the more advanced (“knight”) level of play, in which readers must keep track of these changing stats and spin a paper wheel to determine actions within a battle. There are also cards readers can obtain through the story that allow for special actions or improve certain stats. The Quest Trackers, cards, and spinning wheel are available as pages within the book or online as printable sheets.
Both of the Knights Club graphic novels overall left me with mixed feelings. Neither book has very much story to speak of, with many of the panels simply showing an empty path or some natural scenery along with the number of the next panel. Each has an overarching idea of a plot (collect bands or deliver a message), but otherwise, encounters with other characters or creatures are random and the world-building is basic. Players also get very little sense of the character they are playing; each one is mainly a collection of stats without much personality or background. The role-playing and storytelling elements of games like Dungeons & Dragons simply aren’t found in these books.
Since navigating the book means jumping from panel to panel, and since many panels only take a moment to absorb, “reading” can often feel like quickly and repeatedly flipping from page to page. Many elements also depend on the honor system and how good a reader’s memory is. For example, the books explain that if you end up going through the same panel twice in a journey, you don’t need to fight the creature depicted a second time. The same holds true for picking up items or gold if you pass through a panel again. A number of panels look similar, and if you do multiple play-throughs of the book, it’s easy to forget when you have already been through a panel or fought a creature. More than once, I forgot to adjust my stats when I was supposed to. It’s also easy to simply skip things you don’t want to do or backtrack if you hit a bad ending.
For my tastes, The Bands of Bravery was a bit too simple, and mainly felt like endlessly flipping through panels looking for small details. On the other hand, I found The Message of Destiny too complicated, to the point where keeping track of all the complex elements felt like work rather than fun. I had trouble feeling invested enough to put in that work, as the story and characters are so one-dimensional. There is also very little diversity or variety among the characters. In the first book, players can choose from one of three generic white boys, while in book two, a player can choose from the same three white boys or an adult female knight (also white). Most of the human characters (quite possibly all) encountered within the books are also white, and are all generally similar-looking fantasy peasants, farmers, warriors, and royalty. Men and women fill mostly stereotypical gender roles, and male characters appear far more frequently.
Another issue I ran into with the comics was when things were confusing or did not work as intended. Since this game is played alone through a book, rather than in a group of friends like most tabletop games, players are left without a way to ask questions, gain clarification, or troubleshoot issues. For example, I printed some of the Quest Trackers and other documents from the comics’ website, and initially found myself confused during the instructions portion of the book, as some of the terms used in the text were different than what was on my printed Quest Tracker (i.e. force vs. strength, endurance vs. resistance). For other instructions, I would have liked to ask clarifying questions. I also found myself uncertain how to use the battle wheel provided for the second book. The text of the comic recommends spinning it between your fingers (which does not work well), while the instructions on the wheel itself say to spin a pencil on top of it (which also did not work well). Overall, I wished there was an online system or app I could use to interact with the books instead to make things simpler.
While the Knights Club books were not appealing to me, it may be a matter of taste, and there may be young readers who would enjoy them as an introduction or supplement to more typical tabletop games. The books are not a great choice for a library or for classroom loaning, however, unless use of them is being carefully monitored to make sure readers use separate printed pages and do not write in the book or tear out the trackers. Though the series tries to mimic playing a tabletop role-playing game, it’s certainly a different experience than playing together with friends in a more structured and collaborative setting with more focus on storytelling. Readers will likely have a wide variety of feelings on how enjoyable they find the interactive elements.
Knights Club, Volume 1 and 2 By Shuky Art by Waltch Novy ISBN:
Quirk Productions, Inc., 2018 Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 Series Reading Order: https://www.goodreads.com/series/242719 (Wikipedia or Goodreads)
Browse for more like this title NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
What are these cute little purple blobs? With their cheery curiosity, you can’t help but be amazed at their antics. There is just one thing you need to know…they are around when life on Earth has ended. This is all you know when you start reading Michelle Gish’s We Are Here Forever. Based on her webcomic, each episode takes readers into the lives of the Puramus, who have settled into a vacant world with only the remnants of human civilization left behind.
The Puramus have occupied Earth sometime after a catastrophic event that has destroyed the human and animal population (except for birds, but that is never explained). They are curious little things with childlike views of the world, understanding little about technology and why things are the way they are. They appear and act the same, but as the years go by, they develop their own personalities. Characters include the King and his three brave warriors who collect items from the “old world,” such as books, pillows, and skateboards. There is also Jingle, a young poet who tries to find the meaning of art and why there are no animals to be found. In a far-off planet, a group of Puramus try to find food and fulfill a mysterious vision. Lastly, there is the floating voyage of PuffPuff, a lone Puramus who finds himself floating in space and meeting strange beings.
An obvious draw with this comic is the cute Paramus. They populate the cover with their short tails, round purple bodies, small black slits for eyes, and wide pink mouths. With everything wrecked and overgrown around them, they tend to find amazement in everyday things and learn quickly how they can better their world. They are also polite creatures who have no disagreements with each other, except for one scene of battle that ends with a soldier using anger management practices with two feuding rulers. With that in mind, readers may not be fully aware of the post-apocalyptic world they inhabit but pay attention to the adventures of these little creatures. True, there is obvious evidence of the end of times (human skeletons, wrecked buildings, various items strewn around the streets), but you are able to look past that and see a humorous story. Gish’s artwork is cartoony with a bright color scheme, while providing more and more details about the landscape and the Puramus themselves as their world develops. Using these colors takes the gloom and doom out of the setting, as well, providing readers with funny stories and charming characters.
This is a great addition to any library’s graphic novel collection. Even though it may be geared more towards adults, high school students will find enjoyment in this book, especially those who are avid readers of webcomics and humorous graphic novels. The stories found within this graphic novel are only a sample of the series. Further adventures can be found on Michelle Gish’s website, along with her blog and links to her social media pages.
We Are Here Forever By Michelle Gish ISBN: 9781683691204 Quirk Books, 2019 NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
In this sweet story of perseverance, Manfried the Man and his anthropomorphic cat owner Steve must band together to help save the Catlanta Man shelter from city development. Manfried Saves the Day by Caitlin Major and Kelly Bastow is a nice continuation of the series about a pet man and his loving but frequently exasperated owner. Made for cat lovers and sane people alike, this graphic novel is funny, heartfelt, and relevant.
Steve is your average cat. He’s got a loving girlfriend who runs the local man shelter, an exciting comics career, and an adorable man. Manfried the Man is the inspiration for Steve’s web comic. When a wealthy banker, Mr. Meow decides he wants to buy the shelter and build new developments, Steve and co. must band together to raise enough money to buy the shelter out from under Mr. Meow. Their solution? Enter their men into the local Man Show in which the grand prize will be more than enough to purchase the shelter! Manfried Saves the Day follows the trials and tribulations of preparing to enter the Man Show and introduces a whole set of men with a plethora of looks and personalities to match.
Manfried Saves the Day is appropriate for readers age 13+ though there is a smattering of cartoon-y male nudity. The writing and art are both clever enough to make pet-sized men believable and doesn’t trivialize this world. The antagonist comes across as a bit Scrooge McDuckish—all bark and no bite, so to speak—but overall Manfried Saves the Day is a great story about overcoming obstacles and learning to compromise.
Readers looking to find similar titles should read the first Manfried the Man book by Caitlin Major and Kelly Bastow. This may help readers confused by the rules of a world where cats are anthropomorphic and men are their pets. Readers would also enjoy the Bone series by Jeff Smith.
Manfried Saves the Day By Caitlin Major, Kelly Bastow ISBN: 9781683691082 Quirk Books, 2019 Publisher Age Rating: 13+