Adulting is hard. Cannonball, written and illustrated by Kelsey Wroten, is a raw story about the trials and tribulations of living through one’s 20s. With eye-popping illustrations and a relatable, if sometimes unlikable, main character, Cannonball is a perfect time capsule of the pains of being 24 and lost.

Caroline is an aspiring writer who graduates from school. She finds herself struggling to come to terms with growing up. While her friends start to move on and find “adult” jobs, Caroline stays stagnant. This arrested development is very much her own doing, as she refuses to sell out and become a poser. Everyone is a poser to Caroline. She believes that her words are powerful and she cannot be a part of the corporate world. She fights with her friends, her parents, and anyone connected with the writing industry. She drinks too much. She is jealous of the success of school acquaintances. Caroline falls into a dark spiral of loneliness, pettiness, and general self-hatred. One night while drunk, Caroline sits down and writes a story. It becomes an instant hit and is made into a book. Will Caroline finally find peace, or will she continue her self-sabotage?

The artwork is bright with an unusual use of colors. There is a distortion to the color palette as Caroline weaves in and out of the real world and her daydreams. The androgynous style of the characters works well with the overall queer overtones to the story. Wroten takes great care to give each character some individuality. They all have their own color scheme and signature look. The use of tattoos, hairstyles, and facial expressions rounds out the characters nicely and enhances the story greatly.

Cannonball is a painfully relatable story. The writing perfectly encapsulates a morose and stubborn 20-something who refuses to see the light among the dark. Caroline is a decidedly unlikable character. She’s mean and petty and doesn’t seem that interested in the well-being of her best friend and family. Caroline comes off as two-dimensional but the reality is that some people are so fixated on their own misery that they are blind to anything and everything else around them. The writing and dialogue feel extremely real. Cannonball is as beautiful as it is bold. It’s a classic story of existential angst and raging against the machine.

Cannonball is appropriate for readers 16+. There is a lot of alcohol consumption and some sexual situations. Cannonball would be enjoyable to readers of Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, The Hard Tomorrow by Eleanor Davis, and On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden.

By Kelsey Wroten
ISBN: 9781941250334
Uncivilized Books, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: T

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Character Traits: Queer Genderqueer, Nonbinary


Stonebreaker is the second graphic novel by Peter Wartman about a girl named Anya and her demon friend Toris. Wartman originally published the first book in this series, Over the Wall, as a webcomic, and later as a printed and bound graphic novel. While Stonebreaker, the subject of this review, can be read independently, the whole thing makes much more sense if you’re familiar with Anya and her world. If you’re going to buy this book, you need to by its predecessor.

Anya is a scrappy, sixteen-year-old heroine living in a magical world that’s equal parts ancient Mesopotamia and Studio Ghibli. Her people, the Noridi, abandoned their ancient city-on-a-hill, Noridun, to demons generations before Anya was born. Anya lives in a town several miles from Noridun and supports herself and her family by sneaking into Noridun, evading the various demons that inhabit it, and finding focus stones. These stones have magical properties, and Anya sells them to a local priest to supplement her merchant father’s meager earnings.

One demon Anya doesn’t avoid (and indeed, actively seeks) while scavenging for focus stones is Toris, a demon (and librarian) who maintains Noridun’s massive library. He’s the only demon who ever goes to the library, though why that is is never quite explained.

Wartman does an excellent job of creating the city of Noridun, where most of the story takes place. Its entire aesthetic, from its architecture to its iconography, borrows heavily from Ancient Mesopotamia. The written language of the Noridi looks like cuneiform. The gods in the stories Anya’s grandmother tells her look like they stepped out of an ancient Babylonian stele, and the architecture of Noridun and Anya’s village looks like ancient Ur—the only thing missing are actual ziggurats.

For me, the most enjoyable part of Stonebreaker is the level of detail and thought Wartman obviously put into creating the city. I spent a lot of time lingering over the panels that showed Noridun, from wide panoramic shots to the smallest corner. I also really enjoyed the lore and myths Wartman shares with the reader to buttress his aesthetic choices. His character design, which I’ll discuss later, may be lacking, but the world his characters live in is rich and endlessly fascinating.

While Stonebreaker’s aesthetic leans heavily on ancient Mesopotamia, its plot and characters remind me strongly (in the best way) of Studio Ghibli movies. There’s a young girl protagonist (who is probably more than she appears), and she’s well set up to go on a journey of self-discovery. Anya is plucky, and while she doesn’t seem to be as subtly crafted as a Chihiro or a Nausicaa, I am curious to see how she’ll grow in later books in this series.

One of the book’s pervading themes, much like Studio Ghibli productions, is the central conflict of humans vs. nature, and the weaving of the supernatural into nature. The Noridi are obviously in conflict with the demons that control their shining city, but the myths present the demons as intrinsic parts of the landscape that predate the Noridi. I found myself wondering which side was in the right, and Anya’s own nonchalance about the entire conflict intrigued me. The conflict has been ongoing since before she was even born, and it’s such an ingrained part of her daily existence that she just accepts it.

Fans of Studio Ghibli will also recognize the character Kohjen. Kohjen, like Lady Hiboshi from Princess Mononoke or Kushana from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, is a foreign warrior who comes to Anya’s home seeking to extract some precious resource. Instead of iron or a long-dead mythical warrior, that resource is focus stones, the very thing that Anya is so adept at finding. Kohjen acts as a foil to Anya, and Stonebreaker is at its best when the two characters interact.

Stonebreaker gets points from me for the art, the character arcs, and its basic premise, but it falls short in storytelling and character design. The first time I read through it, I had to keep jumping back to earlier parts of the book just to try and make some sort of sense of the mythos and actual plot. Even after reading through the book twice, I’m still not sure how a lot of the different pieces fit together. I found the webcomic version of Over the Wall, but that only helped somewhat. Wartman doesn’t do a very good job of explaining the basic premises on which his world operates, and the story (and reader) suffer for it.

Compounding these difficulties is the character design. While the landscapes and cities are lovingly drawn and detailed, most of the characters are not. There are several supporting characters who look nearly the same, and it’s difficult to tell which one is interacting with Anya or Kohjen. I’m still not sure if the merchant Kohjen talks to is Anya’s father or not. Either they are the same, and the character isn’t drawn consistently enough, or they’re two different characters who look just too much alike.

Stonebreaker is an all-ages graphic novel, but I wouldn’t recommend purchasing it. You’d definitely need to buy Over the Wall with it, and since Stonebreaker ends on a cliffhanger, there’s at least one book more in the works. Once the series is complete, I would re-evaluate, but for now, there are plenty of other books with strong female protagonists navigating mythical worlds to fill your shelves.

By Peter Wartman
ISBN: 9781941250358
Uncivilized Books, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 12-17

A Book for Sad Pets

It’s a terrible thing to pick up a book knowing it’s going to make you cry. If you have pets and you care deeply for them, you might want to bring your tissues.

A Book for Sad Pets is told from your pet’s perspective. It’s about being a guardian and a parent to all our small friends, whether they are cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, or other critters. It’s a collective monologue and a plea for kindness and understanding. Even though we may laugh at the silly things that they do, pets need our reassurance that they are still pretty and smart and that they didn’t do anything wrong. They need stability and love. It serves as a reminder that a pet’s love is unconditional, that you are their whole world, and that they are not objects to dispose of but living, breathing, loving friends. It’s a sad reminder that their lives are brief (though not quite as brief as the book itself), and that we need to appreciate them and be gentle with them while they are with us.

A Book for Sad Pets is closer to a picture book than a graphic novel—it is told with sparse words and simple but emotionally powerful sentences, invoking both tears and laughter (but mostly tears). The art wonderfully fits the soft, pleading tone of the book. Tipping’s watercolor illustrations are lovely, the colors occasionally spilling out of frames and outlines, creating a gentle and dreamy effect. Her art fully focuses on the pets—in one frame that includes people, the edge of the panel is actually comprised of the outline of the people’s silhouettes, so that they are literally cut out of the scene. This distances the people in the panel from the reader, allowing the reader to effectively empathize with the fear and anxiety of the rabbit in the pet shop display. Blank space is also used very effectively, creating pause and asking the reader to meditate on what they are reading, and to fully absorb the sentiments.

A Book for Sad Pets is appropriate for teaching children about taking care of animals, but also serves as a good reminder for adults as well. It’s perfect for someone who has just brought home a new pet, or for when you are mad at your pet for breaking or chewing on something of yours. It allows you to take a breather, re-contextualize the situation, and remind yourself that their perception of what happened is different, and they likely don’t know that they did anything wrong. It’s a reminder to be kind. After reading this, you will want to hug your pets extra close.

A Book for Sad Pets
By Kristin Tipping
ISBN: 9781941250341
Uncivilized Books, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12