Super Trash Clash

It is the Golden Age of Console Gaming and Dul is an avid gamer. Her games keep her company when her mom is at work, which seems to be most of the time now, given how tight money is. Dul appreciates everything her mother does for her, but there is one gift she wants more than any other for her birthday—Encounter Champions 2. The hottest fighting game of the year!

Fortunately, Dul’s mom knows how to take a hint, and saw all the gaming magazines she left around their apartment folded to a certain advertisement. Unfortunately, she looked at the wrong advertisement! This is how Dul wound up with a copy of Super Trash Clash, a game widely dismissed by game reviewers everywhere as being so poorly programmed that it hardly matters that the game itself is boring because you’ll barely be able to play it.

Despite this, Dul is ready to suffer in silence, until she’s given a chance to trade Super Trash Clash to her best friend’s cousin for a copy of Encounter Champions 2. (He’s already bored with it and wants a real challenge.) It seems like the bargain of a lifetime, until Dul’s mom (who is just savvy enough to tell one game from another) starts asking her about what happened to her new present. This begins an epic quest to recover the worst game ever made.

Super Trash Clash reminds me of many wonderful things. Mostly it reminds me of my childhood, which was spent pouring over Nintendo Power and GamePro magazines for news of upcoming games before making the weekly trek down to the local video store to see what new cartridges they might have ready to rent. It also reminds me of my mother, who endured far more rants about the virtues of Maniac Mansion on the NES compared to the PC version than anyone ever should have.

Mexican comic creator Edgar Camacho spins a fantastic story told in flashback, as an older Del stumbles across a copy of the so-called worst game ever and buys it, taking it home to play as she thinks about why the game means so much to her—even if it is terrible. The effect is something like A Christmas Story, but for those elder Millennials and Gen Xers who argued in the schoolyards regarding the virtues of NES vs. Sega.

Camacho’s artwork invites comparison to Bryan Lee O’Malley’s work on the Scott Pilgrim series. There is a streamlined simplicity to Camacho’s art that defies convention. Yet his backgrounds are as oddly complex and vividly detailed as his characters are simple. The colors are muted, adding to the nostalgic charm of the story.

Super Trash Clash is recommended for audiences 13 and up and I think that’s a fair rating. There’s nothing more objectionable than a curse word here and there and a child lying to a parent. For the record, Dul does spend most of the story suffering for that choice while trying to make things right. Younger kids might be able to process the story, but older audiences will have a better chance of appreciating the message that one person’s trash (clash) is another person’s treasured memory.

Super Trash Clash
By Edgar Camacho
Top Shelf, 2022
ISBN: 9781603095167

Publisher Age Rating: 13+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Mexican

Doughnuts and Doom

The witch Margot and aspiring rock musician Elena are each going through a rough patch in their lives, with the former failing yet another spell license exam, and the latter struggling to get her band off the ground. Tensions are already running high as the two meet at the local doughnut shop, culminating in Margot unknowingly cursing one of Elena’s pastries. After Elena experiences an onstage accident gone viral, Margot seeks to remedy her mistake, but will it be enough to stop a doom of her own making?

Balazs Lorinczi’s debut graphic novel, Doughnuts and Doom, is a sweet treat of a story as we see the growth of Margot and Elena’s relationship, going from initially hostile to stalwartly supportive. Though they get off to a rocky start, the two eventually bond close enough to help the other through their toughest moments, whether that be Elena getting Margot through her performance anxiety or Margot standing with Elena as she faces an almost debilitating fear of failure. The connection they share through their similar conflicts of striving for success and constantly being tested on their abilities allows them to empathize more deeply with each other, something Lorinczi manages to convey in the story’s subtler moments. However, the short page length and fast pace make it a challenge for the comic to leave a lasting impression. While Margot and Elena’s dynamic is a highlight, it feels like there could have been more exploration or depth to it, something to make it stand out among the other entries in the paranormal romance genre. Character motivations also stand as being somewhat surface level, while others tend to be more vague or unaddressed, making it a bit harder to fully connect with their struggles.

In terms of world building, Lorinczi takes a laxer approach as witches and other supernatural beings are accepted and regulated figures in society, though there is not much explanation on how they function within it. Still, bits of exposition are transmitted through everyday conversation, leaving readers with enough detail to understand the world without completely breaking immersion. This falls in line with Doughnuts and Doom’s simple, relaxed tone, choosing to spend more time with how the characters interact and develop rather than fleshing out the setting. Overall, the graphic novel is one that is easy to relax to, the witchy, rock n’ roll vibes only adding more to the chill, low key atmosphere.

The cool blue color palette also feeds into the laid-back nature of the comic, which incorporates a shock of pastel pink whenever Margot uses magic. Lorinczi’s choice in contrasting the two colors creates memorable and visually distinct scenes, as the extra bit of color never fails to pop right off the page. Character designs hold a charming, alternative quality that reminds me of posters for lesser known rock groups, which, of course, is apt. Lorinczi instills so much personality in the main characters’ looks alone that it doesn’t take long for them to become endearing, as Margot’s down-to-earth appearance pairs well with Elena’s wilder style and effectively contributes to the balance of the comic’s magical and musical sides.

Doughnuts and Doom will definitely call to readers who enjoy a soft, queer paranormal romance similar to Mooncakes and Moonstruck, while also displaying an engaging sense of humor à la Fangs. The book markets itself as a “enemies-to-lovers” romance, which may not be entirely accurate, as Margot and Elena’s antagonistic moments are regulated to mostly one scene, and even then do not come from a place of working against each other, so that’s something to be aware of when suggesting the title to readers looking for certain themes.

The book has a suggested audience of 13-17 year olds, which is appropriate as, aside from the odd swear word, there is no content that would be unsuitable for younger audiences and they would have the most to benefit from seeing a depiction of a healthy, close, and supportive friendship turned relationship. Librarians and educators looking to include diverse art styles and portrayals of romantic relationships into their graphic novel collections should consider purchasing this title.

Doughnuts and Doom Vol.
By Balazs Lorinczi
Top Shelf, 2022
ISBN: 9781603095136

Publisher Age Rating: 13-17

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Representation: Lesbian, Queer,

Order of the Night Jay: The Forest Beckons

It’s that time of year again. Summer time! While most children spend their summer at home or at the local pool, some will be shipped away to camp. With camper comradery and outdoor activities galore, summer camp is a great experience—just as long as you don’t stumble upon a strange cave that may or may not house something sinister inside. Such a mystery can be found in Jonathan Schnapp’s graphic novel Order of the Night Jay: The Forest Beckons.

Frank the bear does not want to spend his summer at Camp Jay Bird. He would rather read comics and draw his own superhero stories entitled The Adventures of Super Bear. But no, he is stuck at camp with critters much smaller than him, especially feisty camp counselor Big Edna the squirrel, and older campers who like to bully the newest members. There is also the pressure of collecting badges when completing camp activities. For this shy bear, it’s not going to be an easy summer. Lucky for him he met rambunctious raccoon Ricky, a fan of comic books and who wants to hang out with Frank. Camp seems to be better with his new friend, but things take a mysterious turn when the boys discover an old cave with a secret code written at the entrance. Turns out that this new place may have something to do with the Order of the Night Jay, leading Ricky to wild speculation. Is it a secret society of giant birds? Maybe vampires or librarians? Or perhaps Bird Librarian Vampires? The raccoon wants to find out more, but will Frank be willing to break camp rules and go along on this crazy quest?

Jonathan Schnapp has created a colorful detailed world of young anthropomorphic animals experiencing the great outdoors and the pressures of fitting in. His use of shadow and light enhance scenes filled with mysteries or nature. Two page spreads expand different scenes, whether it is characters following a trail or conversing about recent events. Pages of Frank’s own comic book are interwoven in the story, usually before a new chapter begins, describing the character’s anxieties over his new friend and his experiences in summer camp. Not only are readers treated to a strange mystery but to a story about friendship and overcoming social anxieties. In fact, they may find a little of themselves in the graphic novel’s characters, or perhaps someone they may know. Everyone has a friend like Frank and everyone has a friend like Ricky. The two are definitely different from one another but they work well together. Frank attempts to reel Ricky in from time to time and Ricky encourages Frank to try something new. And with a cliffhanger ending, readers will definitely look forward to new adventures with the duo. As for the rest of the cast, readers are treated to little background stories of most of the secondary characters and different activities to try at home, such as how to use a compass and different recipes for s’mores.

Combining mystery and camping adventures, Order of the Night Jay: The Forest Beckons creates a story that will leave readers wanting more. If your readers enjoy the graphic novels by Jennifer L. Holm and Ben Hatke, this title is a great choice for their next read. School and public libraries who serve children in grades 2-4 should add this title to their collection and keep an eye out for the next volume in the series.

Order of the Night Jay: The Forest Beckons
By Jonathan Schnapp
Top Shelf, 2022
ISBN: 9781603095105

Publisher Age Rating: grade 3-7

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)

Ballad for Sophie

Ballad for Sophie by Filipe Melo

Despite finding success and fame, Julien Dubois, a pianist, is haunted by a past filled with crippling insecurities and overwhelming jealousy in this graphic novel. A collaboration between the writing of Filipe Melo and the art of Juan Cavia, Ballad for Sophie tells the story of a man who, in his old age, is still chasing the demons of his past.

The story starts in 1997, with Adeline, a young journalist who is visiting the estate of a reclusive world-renowned pianist for an interview. She is initially thrown out and denied an interview. Julien eventually agrees to speak with Adeline when she recognizes the sound of François Samson coming from the record player. Julien wants to set the record straight: it was François Samson who was the greatest piano player to ever live, not Julien, who spent his career mired in envy chasing the talent of François.

Julien studied the piano relentlessly and from a young age was exceptional at playing the notes on the page before him with few or no mistakes. In a contest for children, Julien is sure to win, until another young boy comes to the stage to compete. He is poor and self-taught. Julien, along with everyone else, thinks his entrance in this contest is futile—that is, until he begins to play. His technical precision is impeccable, but his music soars beyond basic execution, with art and weight that leaves all who listen in awe.

Despite the obvious talent of François, it is Julien who wins this contest, after his mother bribes the judges. But Julien knows who should have won, and he spends the rest of his career in a smoky haze of jealousy.

Julien’s interview with Adeline stretches into days. She is invited to stay in the house and they form a friendship. We see an old man who has humor and generosity, in sharp contrast to the pain he shows when discussing the past and the isolation he shares from his memories. The story spans decades of Julien’s life, from his childhood to his years as a young adult in Paris during the Nazi occupation, then through his dark and isolating fame, all told from the memories of an old man who sees himself as a fraud and a villain.

Melo’s story on its own is phenomenal, brilliantly exploring the trappings of fame and extreme dedication. There is little happiness when we look into the past, and the happiness that any of the characters are able to find is tainted by envy and trauma. But in the end, the story of this man and the people in his life is not depressing. Despite the pain from the past, during the interview there is ultimately a sense of untainted belonging and peace in his life.

As with the best books or stories told in collaboration between words and art, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The art by Cavia is beautifully rendered. The colors, lines, and shapes mirror the mood of each scene and character. Most notably, plumes of smoke filter throughout the memories, a motif that underscores the dark pain, anger, and envy in Julien’s past. Cavia also expertly uses parallel panels to emphasize comparisons between the present and the past or between characters in the story.

Adults are the intended audience for this title, and I whole-heartedly recommend it for adult graphic novel collections. Historical fiction is not always a popular graphic novel genre, but this is truly a beautiful book. I will definitely purchase it for my high school collection. I know I will be able to find students and teachers who adore it as much as I do.

The title, The Ballad for Sophie, refers to a song Julien wrote at the end of his life, the only music he ever wrote, despite his fame as a pianist. The novel’s author, Melo, is a trained pianist himself and composed the ballad to accompany the story. The sheet music is included at the end of the book, or you can listen to the theme here.

Ballad for Sophie
By Filipe Melo
Art by Juan Cavia
Top Shelf Productions, 2021
ISBN: 9781603094986

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Portuguese

Onion Skin

“The onion serves to season and enhance the flavor of other foods. I guess sometimes people are like onions. We complement each other and bring out the flavors that make us who we are.”

Onion Skin opens with food flying across the page as a food truck flies through the page chased by motorcycles. Then we meet Rolando. After an “accident” at work, Rolando has lost direction. He soon meets Nera who lives in a non-working food truck in a junkyard. One thing leads to another, and despite their lack of knowledge or know-how, Rolando and Nera fix the truck and start cooking. Their food truck, the Dawgburger, quickly grows a large following as they travel through Mexico, thanks to seasoning from two plants left to Nera by her grandmother.

Onion Skin, by Edgar Camacho, was originally written in Spanish and published in Mexico in 2016, where it won the first National Young Graphic Novel Award. This book, which celebrates the cuisine of Mexico in muted colors, was a hit there, and I imagine will be a hit here as well.

Camacho’s distinctive loose sketch style is worthy of praise, and I was often drawn to the unique details of the page that I might have overlooked in a more traditional tight comic illustration. One image in particular toward the beginning of the book struck me. The panel illustration shows a plate of half-eaten chilaquiles. In front of the plate sits Rolando’s discarded glasses, and in the reflection we see his frustration and tears.

Camacho also twists the traditional use of panels with the occasional word or limb that escapes the border or the use of multiple panels to break up a single image. These moments were as much of a treat as the delicious illustrations of food.

However, I was most intrigued by his narrative style. Much like onion skin, this story is told in multiple layers. The narrative alternates between two transitional moments in their relationship – the events leading to their first run in the food truck, and the events that eventually lead to the dramatic chase from the beginning of the book. The alternating scenes end in alternating panels. Each layer is different but parallel.

As the story progresses and action builds, the alternating scenes build tension and feel fast-paced, sure to capture the reader’s attention. At the same time, by creating parallels in the narrative, we are also given the opportunity to explore the evolution of character and relationships.

Onion Skin is a recommended purchase for any public library or high school library collection, especially collections where narrative graphic novels are popular.  There isn’t any content in the book that regulates it to adults, but the target audience is adults, and it would fit in the adult collection of a public library. However, this story about breaking free, exploring new ideas, and traveling the country will also appeal to teens who are ready to do the same. 

Onion Skin
By Edgar Camacho
Top Shelf Productions, 2021
ISBN: 9781603094894

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Mexican,
Character Representation: Mexican,

They Called Us Enemy

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.

They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the terrors and small joys of childhood in the shadow of legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s tested faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

(Publisher description)

They Called Us Enemy
By George Takei Justin Eisinger Steven Scott
Art By Harmony Becker
ISBN: 9781603094504
Top Shelf Productions, 2019
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)

Our Review

They Called Us Enemy