Alfred Hitchcock: Master of Suspense

Those who know the name Alfred Hitchcock might know him as the director of Psycho. They might even know him from movies he made in America like North by Northwest, Vertigo, and Rear Window, but before he became known as the Master of Suspense here in the states, he had quite a film career in England. The graphic novel, Alfred Hitchcock: Master of Suspense, written by Noel Simsolo and illustrated by Dominique Hé, gives a very comprehensive view of the filmmaker’s life and influences.

The book begins with young Alfred’s Catholicism introducing him to human evil and human guilt. As an apprentice for a director, he soon desires to tell his own stories, developing his own cinematic style. This style relies heavily on symbolism as well as dramatic camera angles and techniques that push the boundaries of the medium.

Rather than simply focusing on Hitchcock the artist, the book also looks at the director’s personal life, from his relationship with his overbearing mother to the relationship with his wife Alma. This marriage provided Hitchcock his center, no matter what kinds of temptations and setbacks the movie industry and life in general threw at him.

“Comprehensive” might be one way to describe this biographical work, but another word to describe it is “exhaustive,” or even “exhausting,” because it is obvious that Simsolo has done his research. Moving back and forth through several moments in Hitchcock’s life, the story seems to omit few details about Hitchcock’s life, from the films he made in England, through his successes and failures, to his relationships with co-stars and fellow directors. There is even a filmography at the end that lists all of his films. Simsolo’s script, however, is far from a mere information dump; the book is peppered with anecdotes and dialogue from Hitchcock that show the man’s wry humor as well as his penchant for pranks.

The artwork by Hé, done in simple black and white, is not flashy, but it makes use of the medium to tell the story. Indeed, it is a style that Hitchcock himself might have appreciatee. Not only does Hé capture the likeness of Hitchcock and the famous actors that the director knew, but he pays homage to some of Hitchcock’s most famous scenes. The narrative can be confusing if one misses the captions that denote what year each event is takes place, but Hé displays a flair for capturing Hitchcock and Alma at various stages of their lives, letting the reader know what stage of Hitchcock’s life they’re currently viewing. Rather than an exhaustive exploration of Hitchcock’s technique, this biography is an intimate portrait of the man behind the genius. Any librarian who wants to add variety to their graphic novel collection, or even add variety to their biography section, should pick up this informative book about the man who gave the world the movie Psycho and so much more.

Alfred Hitchcock: Master of Suspense
By Noel Simsolo
Art by Dominique Hé
NBM, 2022
ISBN: 9781681122892

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

The Nightmare Brigade Vol 1. The Girl from Deja Vu

The Nightmare Brigade, Volume 1: The girl from Deja Vu is a mesmerizing dive into the world of dreams. When Esteban is rescued in the forest by Professor Angus, he joins the Nightmare Brigade, a group of people tasked with entering kids nightmares, and stopping them. Professor Angus, Esteban, and Tristan make up part of the team. Esteban can’t remember his past, Tristan uses a wheelchair, and Professor Angus is harboring secrets. There is more to these characters than what meets the eye. These nightmares are debilitating, sometimes causing the kids harm.

Their newest case deals with a girl with amnesia named Sarah. Sarah is suffering from nightmares that are so terrible they are causing her to lose her memory. When Esteban is given a picture of the case patient Sarah, he recognizes her. The professor is hiding a secret that he thinks Esteban may be unable to handle. Equipped with watches called omiricohms that tell them when the patient is dreaming, the Nightmare Brigade enters dreams with the help of a computer. Entering dreams is dangerous, and the only way back to reality is to find the physical door in the lab that leads out of the dream. If a brigade member discovers what is plaguing the patient, the ultimate goal, they are able to save them from their nightmares.

This story delivers by putting the protagonists in dangerous situations including dealing with a war between adults and children. This is a story about the difficulties of growing up and the conflicted feelings that often go with it. There are further twists and turns that make the reader question the professor’s ethics as well as the Nightmare Brigade itself. 

The Nightmare Brigade is very original. It is rare that a tale is told in the world of dreams. The story can be rather scary as the lines become blurred between what is reality and what is fiction. The illustrations are very simple, yet effective. The characters are eerie looking, sporting larger than average eyes. The colors are muted tones of blue and orange, giving the story a dreamlike quality. The illustrations don’t reflect realistically proportioned people. This is what a reader would imagine what people in a dream world would resemble. 

This story works on many levels. Kids and young teens who are experiencing growing pains will gravitate towards this fantasy. Although the world of dreams is not real, many of the nightmares reflect the real fears of adolescents. This can be a difficult time in their lives, and this story is able to teach them difficult concepts in an engaging way. Readers might identify themselves in any of the lead characters. Overall, I would recommend the Nightmare Brigade to middle grade readers. I would also recommend this story to a reluctant reader looking for a good fantasy read. Readers will be anxious to join the Brigade again and enter new dreams in volume 2. A library interested in expanding their selection of middle grade fantasy would benefit by adding this to their collection.

The Nightmare Brigade, Vol 1. The Girl from Deja Vu
By Franck Thilliez
Art by Yomgui Dumont
NBM Papercutz, 2022
ISBN: 9781545808771

Publisher Age Rating: 7-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)

The Queen’s Favorite Witch, Book 1: The Wheel of Fortune

Readers will enter the vivid world of Elizabethan England in The Queen’s Favorite Witch, a story of magic and intrigue. Daisy is an ambitious young witch living near London with her mother. Her poverty and her mother’s fear for her safety are barriers to her becoming the Queen’s Witch, the most coveted role in the country for a magical practitioner. Daisy’s mother wants her to stay home and help sell their healing potions. Against these wishes, she travels to London. Through pluck and bravery Daisy gains a position competing against more wealthy and worldly witches to earn this position. 

At court, Daisy must compete against rival witches who fit a somewhat tired “mean girls” mold. Helping her with these challenges are her rat familiar Nathaniel, chambermaid Edith, Valentyne the friendly con man, and John Dee, the real-life astrologer to Elizabeth I. Various skin tones are represented in the cast of characters.

The action of the story culminates in an attack from an infamous deceased monarch, who decides that death is no barrier to rule. Through all her trials, Daisy shows creativity, spirit, and a willingness to struggle through the aspects of herself that hold her back from success.

The Queen’s Witch offers a mixed bag of appeals. On one hand is the charm and wit of Daisy’s adventures. Daisy is set the task of enchanting a group of spiders, which usually resist enchantment. Instead of forcing them to her will, Daisy offers them the dead insects stuck in her hair, and in return they weave a web that reads “Long live Queen Elizabeth.” The final crisis with the aforementioned deceased monarch is also full of narrative delights and satisfying humor. The volume ends with Daisy’s immediate problems solved, but the last page makes it clear that the larger story is only beginning.

On the other hand, the toxic court environment that confronts Daisy feels forced. We’re used to seeing modern sensibilities overlaid on historical settings, but these social politics feel more 1980s than 2020s. Daisy’s competitors are catty and conniving in a two-dimensional, female-coded way. We never learn more about their motivations, other than that a man’s influence is behind most of their behavior. 

Daisy’s relationships with her male supporters at court are in some ways just as toxic as those with her bullies. She reflects that her friend Valentyne has greatly helped in her performance of magic, but his coaching amounts to the encouragement to “just let it flow” and “not force it.” In several instances, Daisy is lectured by her male supporters, who are fond of telling her things like, “you know the real problem” You’re trying to be something you’re not,” and “can you stop thinking of yourself for one minute?” After her rat familiar upbraids about what being a witch is “about,” she replies with “I’m sorry…I’m sorry I wasn’t better.” The repeated criticism from the males in her life don’t sound like frustrated support, but as enraged, gendered take-downs.

An additional issue with The Queen’s Favorite Witch is an episode that takes a strange and disquieting turn. One of the plots against Daisy by her rivals is to take her to a pub, over-serve her beer, and drug her so that she is too seemingly hungover the next day to perform magic. The fact that she’s 12 is never mentioned in this context. Although in every other way this is a middle grade graphic novel, this instance of unquestioned underage drinking would cause most librarians to wonder if it is appropriate for that age group.

These serious plot issues aside, The Queen’s Favorite Witch is a charming and fun read. The pacing of frames brings the story forward with expertise, pausing to emphasize an important moment, or moving quickly to pull the reader through an exciting passage. The visual humor is a delight, as when Daisy’s mother catches her coming home late by magically lighting a candle instead of dramatically flipping a light switch. 

The Queen’s Favorite Witch will appeal to young fans of history and fantasy. Lovers of Dylan Maconis’ Queen Of the Sea are an obvious target audience, but fans of friendship comedies like Shannon Hale’s Real Friends will also find themes to connect with. Because of its appeal and forthcoming volumes, The Queen’s Favorite Witch: the Wheel Of Fortune is recommended for medium to large graphic novel collections.

The Queen’s Favorite Witch, Book 1: The Wheel of Fortune
By Benjamin Dickson
Art by Rachael Smith
Papercutz, 2021
ISBN: 9781545807224
Publisher Age Rating: 7-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)


Canciones from NBM Graphic Novels brings to visual life selected poems from one of Spain’s outstanding literary figures, Federico García Lorca. Drawn from Lorca’s poetry collection of the same name, each piece is combined with fantastic and dreamlike illustrations, creating a striking blend of visual and poetic artforms.

Federico Garcia Lorca published his Canciones in 1927. The title simply translates to Songs in English. Widely influential in his time and beyond, Lorca’s poetry spends much of its time just outside of everyday reality. From a tree lamenting its own inability to grow fruit to a boy searching for his voice which is now with the king of the crickets, the dreamscapes of Lorca’s work nevertheless ring true with lines of striking observation and beauty.

“Day, it’s so hard for me / to let you go away! / You leave filled with me and you return without knowing me,” he writes in “Canción del día que se va” (Song of the Departing Day). Many of Lorca’s poems are filled with longing and regret, while others find their way to whimsy or celebrations of art and beauty. Abstract without being inscrutable, imaginative without losing their grounding in real life, each invites the reader to slow down, to linger, to wander with Lorca’s verses across landscapes real and imagined. They are powerful in their brevity and simple even as they peel back corners of experience and invite the reader to look at the world from a new angle.

This version of Canciones is more than just a collection of Locra’s work, however. Dutch artist Tobias Tak has crafted a visual journey to accompany each selected poem. Weaving both the original Spanish and the English translations into each page or panel of art, the result is a true fusion of writing and illustration. Tak’s style is highly reminiscent of older children’s book imagery, particularly fairy tales. Across these pages, people who look like trees move among anthropomorphic animals while sun and moon look down in pleasure or judgment. Elevating the fantastic dream elements of the poems even higher, Tak demonstrates a clear appreciation for the poetry while simultaneously crafting his own visual narratives to supplement Lorca’s words. Tak delivers us prologues and epilogues, taking these characters on wonderous journeys across land and sea. In his capable hands, each poem flowers into its own narrative while a broader sense of story arises from across progression of each piece, from the opening “Preludio” (Prelude) to the final “De Otro Modo” (In Another Manner). There is no true story here, but as Tak brings a version of Lorca’s vision to life, the collection reaches for a higher meaning than any one of these poems would achieve alone.

The publisher does not appear to assign an age rating to this volume, and there is certainly nothing troubling in the content of the poems or illustrations. That being said, the book will likely appeal most to an adult audience. Younger readers may be intrigued by the imagery, but the sometimes abstract nature of Lorca’s work will hold greatest value for older audiences willing to tease out the complexities of lyrical poetry.

Overall, Canciones is a worthwhile read for any lover of poetry, art, or more literary graphic novels. A relatively quick read, it nevertheless is worth spending time with to absorb the full detail of Tak’s illustrations and ponder the resonance of Lorca’s poetry. While either of these artists is worth appreciating on their own, Canciones is a wonderful blending of the two, finding tension, beauty, and meaning in the melding of two rich, artistic visions.

By Federico Garcia Lorca
Art by Tobias Tak
NBM ComicsLit, 2021
ISBN: 9781681122748

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation: Spanish, Gay

Women Discoverers: Top women in science

The cover of this collection of biographies shows a background of mathematical equations and a line-up of women with varying skin tones, dressed in clothing from an astronaut suit to historical gowns, but all with the same slim silhouette and of roughly the same height.

This sets the stage for a series of overviews of twenty women in the sciences, which manage to be largely similar, despite their different backgrounds and areas of study. The collection is oddly unbalanced, starting with approximately 20 pages on Marie Curie, giving a rapid overview of her life, relationship with Pierre and other romantic entanglements, and ending with her daughter Irene continuing her work. This is followed by several more contemporary scientists, with an overview of their lives and accomplishments in text accompanied by a thumbnail image and a single graphic panel showing them with other scientists in a lab or involved in their scientific work.

Several shorter comics, about ten pages each, profile Ada Lovelace, Hedy Lamarr, Rosalind Franklin, and Mae Jemison. Lovelace’s narrative is bracketed by a modern teacher introducing her to high school students and ends abruptly with her losing “everything” at gambling and then dying. Most of the narrative with Hedy Lamarr is given over to her personal life, including a full page on her husbands. Franklin’s narrative focuses heavily on her unsuccessful struggle for equality, emphasizing that she was most accepted and happy during her work in Paris. Mae Jemison’s story is upbeat, the only prejudice shown in her family huddling around a televised report of Martin Luther King’s death and a class of smiling white children playfully tossing a paper ball at her head. There are no sources cited or back matter. The longer comics all include what appear to be quotations from primary source material, but also fictional dialogue.

The art, although depicting a wide variety of women in different time periods, has a strong similarity. The women are all shown with the same slim figure and average height. Only Marie Curie is shown to age, with her lightening hair, stooped posture, and a few wrinkles. The backgrounds are also similar, with Curie and Franklin shown against tree-lined avenues in Paris and a few sepia-toned war scenes, Jemison in darkened, indoor areas until she blossoms in the sunny, outdoor spaces of California, and Lovelace in groups of indistinguishable people. It’s ironic that, despite the introduction claiming that the purpose of the book is to bring to light hitherto overlooked female scientists, the five women given the longest profiles are already well-known and their comics focus more on their personal lives than on their scientific achievements. Even Curie’s longer comic is taken up with images of her wedding and later romantic entanglements, while Lamarr’s is mostly a series of images of her in provocative period gowns and bathing suits, with a success of husbands, and later as a recluse in Florida. Her inventions outside of the frequency-hopping idea are not referenced, but her plastic surgery is. Rosalind Franklin is, ironically, erased from her own comic, which transitions from her work with DNA to showing the male scientists laughing about her and her ideas at a pub, and then to their awards, overlooking Franklin completely with a brief mention of her later work before her early death. The comic ends with the belated and posthumous recognition of her work, shown in plaques and a statue. Jemison is depicted in the most upbeat fashion, with an emphasis on her hard work and early achievements and ending with her inspiring girls at a science camp.

The aim of the book is worthy, but it is far from the only reference on the subject and it is poorly designed. The translation is rough, with frequent exclamations, choppy sentences, and the occasional typo. Readers interested in graphic interpretations of women in science will do better to explore Primates by Jim Ottaviani, selected Science Comics that emphasize the contributions of women, like Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers, or, for lighter fare, Corpse Talk from DK.

Women Discoverers: Top Women in Science
By Marie Moinard
Art by  Christelle Pecout
NBM, 2021
ISBN: 9781681122700

Publisher Age Rating: 12 years and up

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  French
Character Representation: African-American, American-Austrian, British, French

The Secrets of Chocolate: A Gourmand’s Trip Through a Top Chef’s Atelier

Since childhood, Franckie Alarcon has loved all things chocolate, so when he gets the opportunity to follow famed chef and chocolate worker, Jacques Genin, and create a graphic novel about him, naturally he accepts. Franckie gets to experience so much more than he expects, including a trip to Peru to meet with an Amazonian tribe and apprenticing under Jacques in his shop for a few days. Make sure to have a sweet treat nearby when reading this trip through a year in chocolate. 

The art of The Secrets of Chocolate really helps to set the mood of the whole story, with loose lines and the lack of defined panels firmly establishing it as a journal or sketchbook. It can take some work on certain pages to figure out the flow of everything without standard panels cutting everything up, but it also helps allow Alarcon to shift the visual focus to whatever he wants. Colors are limited and almost every character wears mostly white, which makes them blend more into the page and again, pushes the focus to what is colored (often chocolate in some form). I don’t love the font choice. Though visually it suits the overall feel of the comic, the curlicue script can be hard to read on occasion. 

Though it isn’t really set up as one, The Secrets of Chocolate kind of feels like a frame story, or a little like it’s breaking the fourth wall, because we see illustrations of and discussions of Franckie writing and drawing the comic we’re reading. It’s fun, especially at the end when Franckie brings in the finished comic for everyone to look at, though clearly it can’t be finished or the reaction page of them seeing the pages couldn’t be done yet. Otherwise, the writing is fine but sometimes feels a little choppy or abrupt. Alarcon definitely creates the story using both visual and text, but the text is almost secondary to the art sometimes. 

There are a few instances of what felt like to me some racial stereotyping and heteronormative assumptions, but they aren’t remarkable and may not bother most readers. There is however a slight problem with lack of explanation for American readers or those not already familiar with French baking techniques; references to European brands, kinds of cakes, and methods of cooking that are never explained to the reader. I would’ve loved just a small section in the back with a glossary of terms or notes, because while chocolate is universal, not all things in this comic are. 

Also worth noting are the recipes in The Secrets of Chocolate. There are a few, but they’re as freeform as the rest of the comic and so aren’t optimal to follow as-is, but better copied out for someone interested in using this recipe for chocolate tarts or truffles. There are also few enough in the comic that it can’t be counted as a cookbook, but a story with recipes, especially without an index to easily find them within the comic. But they are a fun addition and readers of cozy mysteries or other novels that include recipes will enjoy the inclusion. 

The Secrets of Chocolate is a lighthearted look at the world of French chocolate, as well as a glimpse into the way cacao beans become processed chocolate and some discussions of the history of chocolate and how a person’s palate works. It would be a great choice for fans of books like Cook Korean!. At slightly smaller than standard paper size, it won’t be out of place on graphic novel shelves and would be a solid addition to nonfiction graphic collections. 

The Secrets of Chocolate: A Gourmand’s Trip Through a Top Chef’s Atelier
By Franckie Alarcon
NBM ComicsLit, 2021
ISBN: 9781681122786

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

The Disney Bros.: The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy

This comic book biography reflects upon the career and major achievements of Walt Disney with an emphasis on the partnership between him and his brother Roy. While the subject and format will appeal to children, this particular treatment explores the complexities of the Disney empire as a business and cultural entity along with coverage of milestones in Disney’s career. Beginning with Walt Disney’s frustration at losing control of his character Oswald the Rabbit to Universal studios, the book follows Disney’s creation of his own studio with Ub Iwerks and brother Roy, the success of Mickey Mouse, the first full-length animated feature, Snow White, ventures into TV, and the eventual construction of Disneyland. A flashback portrays Disney’s childhood in Missouri and the abuse he endured from his father. Topics such as labor disputes in the Disney studio and Disney’s testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities give this book a complexity that will go over the heads of most young readers. However, adults and teens will find these aspects eye-opening as they shed light on lesser-known aspects of Disney as a businessman.

The full-color illustrations are done in a classic comic-strip style with rectangular frames of varying sizes and traditional speech bubbles. People are drawn in a caricature style with exaggerated features. The characters are expressive, with clearly shown emotions that depict Disney and his colleagues as three-dimensional characters. However, some of the individuals are difficult to tell apart, particularly Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. This can create a bit of confusion near the beginning of the story. Otherwise, the book is well-illustrated, allowing the reader to be immersed in the studio environment, and the surroundings of old Hollywood.

In his foreword, Nikolavitch expresses the challenge biographers face adapting their subject to the graphic novel genre. Much of the subject’s life can be cut out, giving these biographies a choppy feel. However, Nikolavitch avoids that problem by focusing specifically on Disney and his brother Roy as businessmen. While this biography takes an episodic approach, it moves smoothly from event to event. Nikolavitch manages to fit a lot of nuance about Disney’s persona, business relationships, and cultural impact into a relatively short book. The reader is challenged not merely to learn facts about Walt and Roy, but to reflect upon the way they conducted their business and why it matters. Of particular impact is the post-script essay by Jarrett Kobek on the sociological impact of the phenomenon that is Disney. 

Disney fans and non-fans alike will be intrigued by this realistic look at a cultural icon. The temptation in a biography of a person like Walt Disney is to take a nostalgic approach, elevating the subject to a god-like status. This book does none of that, yet it does not demonize him either. It is certainly limited in scope, focusing only on his career, yet it does that in a candid and balanced way. Readers are left to consider how Walt Disney succeeded despite obstacles, where others did not. They are also clearly shown how his success was not achieved without the help of many key individuals working at his side, especially his brother. This book will be a great addition to nonfiction graphic novel collections for upper middle grade readers, teens, and adults. 

The Disney Bros.: The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy
By Alex Nikolavitch
Art by  Felix Ruiz
NBM ComicsLit, 2020
ISBN: 9781681122663

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  French,

Plutocracy: Chronicles of a Global Monopoly

For anyone even vaguely familiar with our current political climate, a story of corporate control of the government is not new. Termed “plutocracy,” a ruling class is able to derive governmental power from their wealth. Abraham Martinéz’s graphic novel, Plutocracy: Chronicles of a Global Monopoly, seeks to create lore behind the evolution of a plutocratic society. Set in 2051, the global government is run by the ambiguously named corporation The Company. Determined to uncover the true, unauthorized story behind how The Company came to power, an anonymous citizen begins his investigation. 

The world of Plutocracy is a vision of a distinctly American dystopia. Though The Company is a global government system, our focus remains on the Western experience. Logistically, it is difficult to accept that one cohesive power, no matter how wealthy, would be able to control all countries, citizens, and cultures across the globe. However, Martinéz is not interested in providing a detailed analysis of The Company and its reach. Rather, he is interested in discussing the philosophical implications of being governed in a plutocratic society. Many, even today, could easily argue that the U.S. government is a plutocracy. Plutocracy takes a dive into what this means now—and what it could mean for the future. 

While political junkies may be underwhelmed by the relatively introductory level of discourse, Plutocracy is an excellent primer on plutocratic systems. In fact, the economical writing style and ongoing narration often make the comic seem as if it intends to serve as a learning text, rather than a dramatic narrative. With this said, the writing is a bit dry in places and the unraveling mystery of The Company often lacks suspense. And, yet, I do believe that Plutocracy would serve as a great learning tool and is certain to prompt much discussion. 

Similarly, many elements of the art in Plutocracy are sure to promote discussion. The world of the future is one of muted colors, emphasizing the lack of artistry and bleak worldview often associated with fascism. The logo of The Company is a constant presence throughout the book. This symbol, a combination of the hammer and sickle and the electronic start button, presents the disastrous combination of what Martinéz deems “social-capitalism,” in which the rights of a human are directly connected to how many company shares that individual owns. The artwork of Plutocracy is simultaneously overwhelming and repressive. Impossibly large spaces often contrast with small, dark corners. What Plutocracy may lack in the storyline is certainly compensated for in the artwork. 

Abraham Martinéz is clearly a talented graphic novelist. Though Plutocracy is identified as a graphic novel for adults, it may serve better as a learning tool for older teens. Plutocracy is a great addition to a young adult collection. There is no content that may be viewed as unsuitable for teens, such as overt physical violence or sexuality. Plutocracy is a great introduction for anyone interested in learning about the deep, ever-strengthening relationship between capitalism and government. Those coming of age during this era of plutocratic government will find Plutocracy especially harrowing and poignant. 

Plutocracy: Chronicles of a Global Monopoly
By Abraham Martinéz
NBM, 2020
ISBN: 9781681122687
Publisher Age Rating:  OT (16+)

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: American

School for Extraterrestrial Girls, Vol. 1: Girl on Fire

Every day is pretty much the same for Tara, but according to her parents, routine is good and important. She just has to keep her head down, graduate high school, and she can work towards her dream of going into space as an astronaut. It takes just one morning of breaking the routine for her entire life to flip upside down—not just some spilled orange juice, but everything she thought she understood about herself (she’s not human), her parents (they aren’t), and the world (aliens are real?!). 

The story focuses on Tara Smith, a teen who until very recently thought she was human. She’s given the option to go to a special school for aliens seeking citizenship or to be sent into space. She chooses school, but has trouble adjusting to the apparent strangeness of everyone. Her roommate Summer is an especially bad case. Summer’s human form is pink haired and perky, which makes her feels like a Starfire or Miss Martian knockoff. When she reveals her alien form to Tara, which is of course large and not classically feminine by human standards, Tara screams, burns Summer, and runs away.

As the weeks pass and Tara gets more comfortable, she continues to be confronted with new information she has to process and use to break down old concepts. Eventually, Tara and Summer make up, but Summer is never quite as cheerful as she was and things are a little strained. Thankfully, we see Tara go through growth in her relationships with multiple characters, and the volume ends with her confronting the people she used to think were her parents, working together with her new friends, and finding out the school has to move because the site is now compromised. It’s a lot of ground to cover, but the comic gets the big concepts across well, at the cost of losing some smaller moments.

The art of School for Extraterrestrial Girls has a very smooth, low detail look often seen in webcomics that can be very appealing, especially as webcomics continue to climb in popularity. Backgrounds in panels are often simple without feeling generic, very clearly drawn to give an understanding of location and action. Facial expressions are where the art really shines; even in some of the moments that can be harder to convey, the artist captures very vivid emotion in every character’s face. Another great detail is that there are a number of body types (when we’re looking at humanoid bodies; there are myriad alien body types also represented), ages, physical ability, and ethnicities represented in the comic. Heck, the two main adults in the story are both older appearing women with very different bodies and aesthetic choices. I’m not sure if it lessens the impact knowing that also, almost no one in the comic is human, or not. 

While the writing in the comic is pretty solid, it has some weaker moments and the story as a whole wraps up awfully neatly. In some ways, it feels like an older sitcom, with the family all smiling at the camera as they discuss the moral of today’s story. I’m not sure if that’s purposeful, but I’m guessing it is, considering how much of the story is really about acceptance and understanding, both internal and external. Some of the comedic moments feel really forced, like the continued joke about the main character’s name that’s never actually explained in-text (and I will admit, took me longer to figure out than I’d like).

At first the premise may seem somewhat unusual, but the core story of learning to accept truths about the world and differences in others is pretty universal and can be a great addition to a younger teen or middle grade audience that doesn’t feel too preachy. And though it centers on aliens, the sci-fi elements are approachable for readers less interested in that genre.  Considering this is labeled as #1, I’m guessing there are plans to continue this series, something to consider for collection development if readers want more of Tara’s adventures. Currently, though, the first volume works very well as a standalone story.

School for Extraterrestrial Girls, vol. 1: Girl on Fire
By Jeremy Whitley
Art by Jamie Noguchi
ISBN: 9781545804926
Papercutz, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: all ages
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)

Willie Nelson: A Graphic History

Whether you remember his early career or his recent performances, Willie Nelson will always be recognizable with his braided pig tails and his eclectic musical style. His life and music are now illustrated in NBM Graphic Novels’ latest biographical publication: Willie Nelson: A Graphic History.

This graphic novel is similar in style to The Rolling Stones in Comics and Bob Marley in Comics, where the musicians’ histories are illustrated in mini comics by a variety of illustrators. It is written and illustrated by T.J. Kirsch, along with the artistic talents of Adam Walmsley, Coskun Kuzgun, Jeremy Massie, Havard S. Johansen, Jesse Lonegran, Jason Pittman, and J.T. Yost. However, unlike the titles mentioned before, where the artists’ color scheme and language changes from moment to moment, the artists in this biography have used a greyscale scheme, relying on detailed line work and shading, as well as forgoing narrative chapters as introduction before each comic. Nonetheless, it is an informative read, perfect for lifelong fans and new ones.

Willie Nelson began his music career when he was a preteen in Texas: performing in school dances and local bars, taking up work as a disc jockey, and writing songs while on the road. Nelson loved music and worked hard to become the musician he is today. His rise to stardom was not easy. Family troubles, job losses, money woes, and creative blocks tested the musician constantly. No matter what came his way, he was able to bounce back and play the music he loves. Collaborations with famous musicians, such as Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and Patsy Cline, aided him in his rise to stardom. His success later in life, which include his music festivals and support for legalizing marijuana use, made him a cultural as well as a musical icon. The graphic novel ends with a bibliography of books and articles about Willie and references to song lyrics that were used or mentioned in the comics.

Willie Nelson: A Graphic History is formatted with mini comics centered on the highs and lows of the musician’s career. Even though each artist uses a greyscale color scheme, they still use their own artistic style, which varies from cartoon style to photo realism. Details are included to illustrate individuals’ reactions and the country landscape that became Willie’s inspiration. The lack of a color scheme does not deter the narrative for the reader, but reminds them of the musician’s humble beginning and continued success and failures in the business. The narrative portion of the work sums up each noteworthy event very well, describing the musician’s personal feelings towards his relationships and various career opportunities and providing background information on the music scene at the time. Most comics have printed the lyrics to his songs (such as “On the Road Again” and “Healing Hands of Time”), especially during scenes where Willie is writing them or performing them. The writing and art work well together, providing readers with a perspective into Willie’s personal life and career.

Librarians wanting to include more graphic novel biographies in their collection should consider Willie Nelson: A Graphic History. It provides an informative narrative about the musician, as well as various illustrations of his life. Music lovers will discover well known songs and events in music history, along with new information about this iconic country star. Readers unfamiliar with the musician will recognize iconic country songs and singers and gain an understanding into the mind of a creative individual.


Willie Nelson: A Graphic History
By T.J. Kirsch
Art by Adam Walmsley Coskun Kuzgun
ISBN: 9781681122625
NBM Graphic Novels, 2020
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Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)