Staff Picks: Top Comics of 2022

Introduction

 Another year has come and gone, and the Features Team is proud to share our favorite titles from 2022. We hope you have a chance to revisit some favorites and discover new ones! 

Across a Field of Starlight

Blue Delliquanti

Fassen--a soldier in an intergalactic war-- and Lu--a member of a secret commune with a passion for research--become friends after a chance encounter. They use a special channel to communicate and develop their friendship. When they are finally reunited, trouble soon follows, threatening all they care about.

Appeals to

Across a Field of Starlight is a fantastic sci-fi story exploring how systematic factors shape us and how to break away. Delliquanti's rich artwork expertly captures the setting and characters, and I loved the diversity of characters and viewpoints. Fans of queer science fiction and fantasy and readers who enjoy stories that question systems will find much to enjoy here.

Creator Identities:

Nonbinary |

Main Character Identities:
Nonbinary |

Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands

Kate Beaton

Unable to find work in her home province, Kate Beaton worked two years in the Alberta oil sands in order to pay off her student loans. In this engaging memoir, she recounts the highs and lows of her experience—specifically the struggles of working as a woman in a male-dominated industry where isolation and grueling work are a key part of the workplace environment.

Appeals to

Beaton's nuanced portrait of working in a male-dominated field should not be missed; her discussion captures her and her co-workers' humanity while still exploring the bigger social forces at work. Her artwork captures the varied landscape and co-workers equally well and works to emphasize the humanizing message. Pick this up if you are interested in nonfiction about labor issues, gender, and inequality

Content Notes

Sexual assault; mental health (including a brief mention of suicide)

Creator Identities:

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Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Forest Hills Bootleg Society

Nicole Geaux

The year is 2005 and the location is a small town in California primarily known for its Christian boarding school; the situation is four friends trying to figure out all the big questions by selling bootleg anime to boys at their schools. Understandably, this goes poorly and things get out of hand. This is a story of how bleak life can be, and that maybe it's okay that things don't turn out well. It's complicated and dark, with gorgeous art in a limited teal color palette.

Appeals to

For readers who grew up encountering anime in the early 00s, this can be a solid pick for the nostalgia of it. Also readers of Squad who like a darker story of friendship, or readers of Slip that appreciated the way the story dealt with processing a changing friendship.

Content Notes

There are a lot of sad or difficult topics in this, either seen frequently or just briefly mentioned: Christian-based discrimination towards LGBTQ+ people, eating disorders, grief, depression, cheating in romantic relationships

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Frizzy

Claribel Ortega

Rose Bousamra

No matter what, it feels like everyone is always telling Marlene something about her isn't right: her skin's darker, she's not feminine enough, and her hair is the wrong texture. She dreads the weekly trips to the salon to have it straightened, and finally, with the help of her best friend Camila and her cool Tia Ruby, she starts to embrace her hair. Through it, she helps her mom let go of the past and embrace change as well.

Appeals to

While this is a great book to pick up for kids dealing with confidence issues around their hair, it's also a great story of a family learning to communicate better. This would be a great pick for readers of The Tryout or Miss Quinces, but also comics like the Berrybrook Middle School series.

Content Notes

Discussions of racism and colorism are kind of central to the book.

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Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Garlic and the Witch

Bree Paulsen

After conquering many of her anxieties and fears when she went to encounter the vampire who is now a friend of the farm, Garlic is faced with a new problem: she might be turning human. But Witch Agnes has been so busy, and Garlic doesn't want to bother her. So she does what Garlic does best: go on a quest. This is a perfect sequel to Garlic and the Vampire, with all the charm and sweetness as the first book.

Appeals to

The gentle nature and focus on the natural world in Garlic and the Witch is a great choice for readers of Nightlights and Pilu of the Woods, and the adventurous side of Garlic's story can appeal to fans of the Hilda series. I could see this appealing to fans of the Tea Dragon Society series, with its gentle lessons on life.

Creator Identities:

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

M is for Monster

Talia Dutton

In this Frankenstein re-telling, Dr. Frances Ai is determined to bring her sister back to life after an accident leads to her untimely death. When Maura's body rises she thinks she's done it. But is Maura the one who is in this reanimated corpse? And if it's not Maura, then who is it?

Appeals to

Fans of the original story will appreciate this new way to look at the same themes, what is life, and what responsibility the creator has to its creation.

Content Notes

Death, ghosts

Creator Identities:

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Recommended by

Tayla Cardillo

Mamo

Sas Milledge

Jo goes looking for a witch to help with a situation in her home and finds instead Orla, granddaughter of the former village witch Mamo, who is adamant she's not the new witch for this village. As they work together to figure out why Mamo's death caused so much chaos, Jo and Orla learn more about their needs and the world around them. It's a beautiful comic full of vibrant landscapes and a realistic view of small village life.

Appeals to

Mamo is fantastic for readers of comics like The Well, Coming Back, or Tidesong that have small quiet magic and long moments of reflection, as well as dealing with the consequences of someone else's actions, and sometimes that turns out to be unprocessed grief.

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Messy Roots

Laura Gao

This graphic memoir, with the color pallet of the beach sunset postcard, is a heartfelt coming-of-age story about finding your place in the world when the country you were born in is vastly different than the country you grew up in. That journey becomes even more complicated for Gao when they start to realize they aren't straight. Then COVID-19 happens and suddenly the place Gao and her family are from becomes the center of the world's attention, most of it negative.

Appeals to

This timely graphic memoir will resonate with anyone who is struggling to find their place in the world, especially if part of that journey involves reconciling two or more cultural identities within oneself.

Content Notes

Discuss of the COVID-19 pandemic

Creator Identities:

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Recommended by

Tayla Cardillo

Other Ever Afters

Melanie Gillman

A princess falls for the goose girl but is stymied when her prestige and wealth do not influence her crush. A young woman enlists the help of a trickster to escape an unloving marriage. An individual's dead name starts to burn them when they are unable to tell everyone in their village their new name. These are just a sampling of the wonderful fairy tales you will find in Melanie Gilman's newest graphic novel.

Appeals to

These beautiful fairy tales filled my heart—they were warm and thoughtful, giving comfort and visibility and provoking thoughts about how things are. Gilman's amazing colored pencils bring the stories to life. Young and adult fairy tale lovers and misfits will find much to enjoy here.

Creator Identities:

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Our Not-So-Lonely Planet Travel Guide

Mone Sorai

Uptight Asahi and easygoing Mitsuki can seem like an odd couple, always at opposite ends of things, but one thing they agree on is taking a trip around the world as a test of their relationship. If they can make it, then the two will get married! But first, they have to find their hotel. And somewhere to eat. It's part explainer manga, with tidbits of info about each country they visit, part romance as we see Asahi and Mitsuki learn to work together and communicate their needs, and all gorgeous art. Of course, this is a new series with only two volumes so far, so who knows where it will go from here.

Appeals to

While this is billed as boys' love because it is a relationship between two men, readers expecting sex scenes will be disappointed; this series will appeal more to readers of slower stories like Restart After Coming Home or I Hear the Sunspot, especially as this focuses on adults rather than high school students. So pick this up for readers who want more grown-up relationships with less pining and quiet shared moments of happiness.

Content Notes

Some discussion of discrimination against LGTBTQ+ people, but generally this is more to look at how different countries treat the community

Creator Identities:

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Space Story

Fiona Ostby

In a story that skips between the past and present, Hannah and Leah fall in love and start a family. However, their present is a struggle; Hannah is on a space station while Leah and their child Bird are stuck on a rapidly dying Earth. Leah and Bird are not about to give up though. Will they be reunited?

Appeals to

Space Story was a bittersweet yet comforting story that I wanted to read again immediately after I finished. I love Ostby's storytelling decisions in the artwork, their character designs, and the fact that they include a variety of body types. Readers looking for a warm, ultimately hopeful queer story will find much to enjoy here

Content Notes

Brief nudity but in contexts where it makes sense to be naked

Creator Identities:

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Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Supper Club

Jackie Morrow

Senior year can be tough. Classes, prepping for college, and extracurriculars, it can be hard to find time to just...hang out. Nora, Lili, and Iris come up with a solution. A supper club for a select group of their friends, held once a month so that they can make sure that they see each other before they all go away to college. But when life's demands get louder for all three girls, will they put supper club on the back burner?

Appeals to

If "sharing food with friends" is your love language, this book is for you.

Content Notes

Family member with a serious illness.

Recommended by

Tayla Cardillo

Swim Team

Johnnie Christmas

Bree was not excited about moving to Florida, but she was hopeful she'd be able to join the math extracurricular at her new school. Instead, she has to take a swimming class! Thanks to her kind neighbor's help, Bree discovers a new interest and joins her school team. With the team facing the potential loss of their pool, can Bree help them win a championship?

Appeals to

Swim Team is a heartwarming story about never giving up and discovering new passions. Readers who like the coming-of-age and realistic challenges of stories such as New Kid, Roller Girl, and Click will likely enjoy this one.

Creator Identities:

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Little Monsters

Vampire comics aren’t hard to find, but they are not all created equal. Marvel and DC will occasionally throw out the idea “what if your favorite character was a vampire/had to fight vampires” and those books don’t always land because the conceit doesn’t hold up in the existing worlds. Little Monsters, on the other hand, has created its own mythos. While some parts of the world are immediately recognizable, it has its own ideas and plenty of intrigue. The irony is that the real success here was when the creators humanized the vampires and gave us reasons to empathize with the characters we meet. The book starts slowly, drawing you in with a quiet, deliberate introduction to the characters and the city they inhabit. It builds in tension and is very measured in pace until something eventually gives, then it’s a faster, jarring experience driving towards a cliffhanger ending.

Romie, Yui, Lucas, the twins Ronnie & Raymond, Billy, Bats and Vickie emerge at night into the abandoned city that is all theirs. It is a black and white world with only the smallest touches of color, mostly provided by the drawings Romie leaves scattered around the city. They have been here, on their own, at least over a hundred years, as best as they can remember, living on rats and whatever else they can find. They play the same games, have the same arguments, read the same books and live the same day over and over. We meet them the day everything changes, as Billy happens upon a human man trapped under some rubble. This is the first regular person they have seen in centuries and while they were told never to feed on people, Billy cannot help himself. This incident will shake their world and bring everything they thought they knew in question.

Romie is the oldest of them all and theirs is the first backstory we see from The Black Forest in 1763. Romie leaves their dying parent to cut firewood, but when they return a vampire has drained the man dead. “I’m sorry,” the vampire tells Romie. “I have been traveling a very long time and I—I was so hungry. I thought he was alone. But now you are alone. Yes? Well, you need not be. You need never be alone ever again.” This type of introduction will happen again in Orange County, 2029 to Billy, Nebraska, 1933 to the twins, and Hiroshima, 1945 to Yui. They are children found alone after a misfortune befell their parents/caretakers and this mysterious figure offers them to never be alone or hungry again.

When we meet the children, they have been living without “the elders” (who we don’t meet in this volume) for several hundred years. They were told to stay in the city for their safty and that the elders would come back for them. Now that a human has wondered into their midst, the kids no longer know what to believe. Billy thinks it is time to leave and hunt more of the humans because after his first meal he realizes they have been lied to. It is the best he has ever felt and the world itself feels different. Yui, Lucas and Romie do not want to leave and they don’t want to eat people. It goes against everything they’ve been told. Romie found a young girl who followed her father (who Billy and the others have killed) and is now trying to hide her from Billy and his faction. The point of no return is when Billy and company find the human camp and in the ensuing fight lose one of the twins. This volume ends with so much unanswered and so much at stake that I’m already frustrated I have to wait for the next volume.

If you have read the series Descender or its follow up Ascender, then you already know how captivating the creative team of Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen are. Little Monsters is a distinctly different book than those, but it contains all of the hallmarks of this creative team that made their previous series so enjoyable. Nguyen is one of the most striking and unmistakable artists working today. While this book might not show off his effortless use of watercolors as it is so stark, his approach to layout and building rising action are second to none. The publisher rates this comic Mature and as it is about vampires, the blood won’t surprise you. However, there is very little in the way of bad language and nothing sexual so I would make the argument that older teens can enjoy this macabre story as well. I also wouldn’t label this has a Horror genre book, although there is plenty of suspense. The fact is that they are children in every sense except that they are now ageless. There is a lot left to explore in the next volume and as this is an ongoing monthly comic, libraries picking it up should keep an out for future installments. I enjoyed this as much as anything I have read this year and very much look forward to seeing what is next!

Little Monsters Vol. 01
By Jeff Lemire
Art by  Dustin Nguyen
Image, 2022
ISBN: 9781534323186

Publisher Age Rating: M

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

Supper Club

Iris, Lili, and Nora are three best friends, ready to take on their senior year at Seaside High and to make the most of this time together. Jackie Morrow’s Supper Club follows the girls through a school year full of changes and growth. 

Senior year is not a time for slacking and each girl’s plate is fuller than ever. It’s not just classes or college decisions hanging over their heads, everyone is just busy all of the time. Iris is always aiming to be the best at everything she does, Lili is dealing with distance from her parents, and Nora is finding it harder to deal with things that used to come easily. The creation of the titular Supper Club comes when Nora realizes the thing that’s been pulling them to after school clubs has always been the lure of free food. As long as they always have a reason to meet on Friday nights, there’s no way their friendship will suffer or fall apart!

The club becomes a safe space for the friends, along with a few other classmates, to share time with each other and to share cuisines from everyone’s cultures. The school year rages on with each of the three friends facing harder, and oftentimes more private, challenges that test their friendship and the club itself, getting to a point where the girls are barely speaking to each other. But it always comes back to Supper Club, the food they’re sharing with each other on those Friday nights, and the friendships that keep bringing them back to the meetings. 

Nearly every chapter of the graphic novel is named after a food item consumed at one of their club meetings. As one character points out, food is a special kind of comfort, just like the company of friends. Readers may be inspired to follow along with the dishes and it could even inspire some Supper Club themed book discussions. The author includes three recipes of her own at the end of the book as well. Young foodies and chefs will eat this up! 

The art of Supper Club excels at expressing the emotions of the characters, especially in scenes where the characters are dealing with anxiety and stress. The pages representing a panic attack are intense and invoke the feeling to a point some readers may need to take a minute to take a breather. Additionally, the food preparation scenes are specific and colorful, with the food holding its own in the panels. Allie Pipitone’s work as colorist deserves a mention for how often the coloring helps tell the story and guide the reader’s emotions. 

Overall, Supper Club is a cute and heartfelt graphic novel recommended for young adult readers. There is some crossover potential for both older middle grade and adult readers, as the story can be appreciated by a range of ages. Readers who loved Lucy Knisley’s Relish will eat this book up, as will readers who enjoy the friendships in John Allison’s Giant Days. It may inspire some readers to start supper clubs of their own too!  

Supper Club
By Jackie Morrow
Image, 2022
ISBN: 9781534324213

Publisher Age Rating: Teen+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)

Bolero

Bolero

Devyn Dagny’s life is falling apart. She and her girlfriend broke up, she dropped out of college, and her best friend is marrying a man who is best described as “a pair of khakis”. After relapsing into alcoholism at her friend Amina’s concert, Devyn is given the opportunity to change things and start over completely. She gains the ability to “hop” into alternate universes, essentially possessing herself in another life. She can never return to her own reality. She can only hop a maximum of 53 times, at risk of destroying everything.

Writer Wyatt Kennedy and artist Luana Vecchio make the most out of this concept in the first half of the book, showing many wildly different realities. A medieval reality with shades of Joan of Arc. A Studio Ghibli-influenced castle in the woods. A spaceship, watching as a nearby star implodes. All of the hopping drains Devyn and she starts to lose hope of reuniting with her ex-girlfriend Nat in any reality. As despair sets in, she is advised to stop running, and to make a life for herself wherever she is.

This works out for a while. Devyn meets someone new, a male music teacher named Will. She reconciles with her friends. She thinks about having kids. Then she relapses again, and things get weird. At this point in the story I have a hard time keeping track of the plot, forgive me. It’s not clear whether we are with the same characters all the way through the story, or one of their alternates. There’s at least one large time jump. There are three different chapters titled “Finale”, and they all end the story in different ways. Throughout it all a strong emotional core remains, despite the layered and confusing plot, setting, and characters.

A large factor in Bolero working as well as it does is Vecchio’s art. It is, quite simply, beautiful. The story gives her opportunity to work in other genres and settings. At times it is explicitly sexual, at others it is tender and heartwarming. The character designs are well thought out and unique, each character looks and dresses in ways that are authentic to the character and easy to tell apart. The watercolor backgrounds are stunning, as is the use of pinks, purples, and blues to highlight the otherworldliness of the story. I will certainly be on the lookout for more work by Vecchio.

All of that said, this was an incredibly difficult review to write. Despite a confusing timeline and plot, Bolero is emotionally affecting. Although I have several major differences from the main cast of characters, I also struggle with mental illness. Kennedy and Vecchio are so effective at bringing that feeling out with their art that every time I tried to finish the book I would spiral into some level of depression myself. Usually I would simply avoid things that trigger me so much, but in this case I was compelled to keep going. It’s not like watching something awful, like a train wreck. The book is too beautiful for that. It’s more like picking at a scab, something I know is ultimately not very good for me but is incredibly satisfying.

The cover blurbs draw comparison to the comic Locke and Key and the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as well as the comic Saga. These comparisons seem apt to me, and I would even throw out the movie Everything, Everywhere, All At Once as another. All of those are excellent, and are in fact favorites of mine. Bolero sets itself apart by how emotionally resonant it is, especially emotions the reader might not want to experience. There are some short-comings bring it up short of something like Saga, but it is still in excellent company.

Ultimately, this is a strangely-paced science fiction story that is about addiction and depression. It’s not an automatic purchase for most libraries, and it is definitely a book for adult audiences. Larger public libraries should have space on their shelves for this, and it will definitely find readers. It’s worth a purchase under those circumstances, but if you don’t have much of a patron base for adult comics that are unaffiliated with a larger series, you can safely skip it.

Bolero
By Wyatt Kennedy
Art by Luana Vecchio
Image, 2022
ISBN: 9781534323124

Publisher Age Rating: M

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation:  Addiction, Bipolar Character Representation: Korean-American, Bisexual, Trans, Deafness,  Addiction, Ambiguous Mental Illness, Depression

Karmen

What if you were granted a second chance to correct past mistakes and set things right in your life? What if you could influence and reshape how events would have turned out had you made decisions to achieve a different outcome? Spanish writer and artist Guillem March (Batman, Catwoman, Harley Quinn) entertains these hypothetical questions and offers a metaphysical glimpse into the afterlife in Karmen, a story packed with philosophical musings, chance encounters, and intriguing plot twists wrapped in a blend of supernatural fantasy and dream-like narrative sequences.

The story begins at a juncture in an in-between realm between life and death when a disheartened college-aged student named Catalina, having reached the end of her line from a screwed up relationship, decides to end her life in the privacy of her bathroom. Instead of succumbing to the throes of death, she encounters a capricious, pink-haired woman dressed in a skeletal outfit who identifies herself simply as “Karmen.” Awakening in a nude astral form where none of the living can see her, Cata embarks on a journey to piece together the scattered pieces of her life while helping others in the process. Although she cannot directly intervene with passersbys and strangers on the streets, making physical contact with them will “pass on” their life’s story in a flash, flooding her mind with an incredible amount of information in mere seconds. In her newfound form, she sets out to uncover the people and events leading to her breakup with her boyfriend Xisco.

In the tradition of stories like Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, the movie Ghost, and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novel series, Karmen presents a tale sprinkled with metaphysical quandaries that explore the choices we make and how they impact fate, potentially steering the course of destiny in the lives of those with whom we interact, day in day out. The plot unfolds in a visually stunning cinematic style, capturing the direct observations of Cata as she journeys on a surrealistic voyage in search of truth beyond the afterlife. Like a wraith, she glides through intricately arranged panels stitched together, some stretching across panoramic spreads.

A side plot centers on Karmen’s role, who is supposedly charged with guiding the recently deceased to their next destination, but chooses instead to help them find peace and reconcile with the consequences of their actions. Other psychopomps like herself frown upon her unorthodox methods, believing they must avoid interfering with human lives altogether. The back matter includes selected storyboarding panel sketches and a full cover gallery, illuminating the creative process of this beautifully illustrated story. With a healthy dose of supernatural intrigue underscored by philosophical musings on life, death, and the decisions we make, Karmen delivers a compelling story and an eclectic serving of food for thought suitable for adult graphic novel collections.

Note: There are graphic depictions of death, nudity, and suicide.

Karmen
By Guillem March
Image, 2022
ISBN: 9781534319882

Publisher Age Rating: 18+

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

Rogue Sun, vol 1: Cataclysm

There’s a hero way down in New Orleans they call the Rogue Sun. And he’s been the ruin of many a poor villain. But now his time is done.

This doesn’t matter much to thug-in-training Dylan Siegel, whose biggest concerns are why his girlfriend is now telling people she’s his ex-girlfriend and which of his high school’s nerds are going to “help” him with his homework this week in exchange for protection from the other bullies. No, the death of his city’s superhero doesn’t mean much to Dylan. Not until he learns that Rogue Sun was the father who abandoned him and his mother 15 years earlier and that he’s inherited the magic Sunstone that granted his father his powers.

Unfortunately, Dylan has also inherited his father’s enemies along with his responsibilities. To make matters worse, in addition to being magically compelled to spend his nights dealing with all manner of magical menace that is threatening New Orleans, Dylan’s also being haunted by the ghost of his father. And he’s rather insistent that Dylan track down the new villain who killed him and avenge his death.

On paper, there’s little to separate Rogue Sun from every other superhero comic about a teenage boy who develops great power and must learn great responsibility, save for one fact—Dylan Seigel is a jerk. Most superhero comics center around loveable losers like Miles Morales or Jamie Reyes who inspire sympathy in the reader because they face the same problems as the average teenager (i.e. balancing classes, romance, their family, and maybe a job) when they aren’t punching supervillains. Dylan does not inspire that same sense of pathos. In fact, the only thing that makes Dylan into a marginally acceptable protagonist is that most of the supporting cast of Rogue Sun are more annoyingly amoral than he is.

This makes Rogue Sun an interesting read in the early chapters, as Ryan Parrott plays against the genre clichés by making Dylan and his ghost dad as unlikeable as possible. There’s also some interesting villains for Rogue Sun to face, such as the gentleman thief Suave and a family of vampire-werewolf hybrids who have been menacing New Orleans for generations. Unfortunately, the shine quickly comes off the original concepts and Dylan’s combativeness grows tiresome. The fact that Dylan’s father is slowly exposed as being little better than the villains he condemns to eternal imprisonment in magical crystals doesn’t help matters and a series of twists regarding Dylan’s half-siblings lead to diminishing returns long before the revelation of who is responsible for the death of Rogue Sun.

The artwork is similarly capable, but not outstanding. The artist called Abel presents a dark, gritty view of New Orleans that suits the story, but the colors are frequently dull and muted, making it hard to tell the backgrounds from the characters. There’s also a distinct lack of expressions on the faces of most of the characters. One face which stood out to me was the muted look of Dylan’s mother, as a lawyer announced her son was being given the same magic artifact that destroyed her marriage.

The book is rated for Teen audiences 13 and up. I consider that a fair rating, as there’s little in this book most parents would find objectionable for a teen audience. Unfortunately, there’s not much to make them want to read Rogue Sun either, given how unlikeable the characters are and how trite the story is once you get past the core concept of a jerk being given magical powers instead of a good-hearted chosen one.

Rogue Sun, Vol. 1: Cataclysm 
By Ryan Parrott
Art by Abel , Chris O’Halloran
Image, 2022
ISBN: 9781534322370

Publisher Age Rating: 13+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)

Blood Stained Teeth, Vol. 1: Bite Me

Vampires as a horror trope are so popular because they can be metaphors for all sorts of different aspects of our society, particularly the horrific ones. They work well with themes like unhealthy relationships and negative emotions, but they work particularly well as puppet masters, or mysterious shadowy figures that are secretly in control of everything. If you were a basically immortal species that fed on humans, you would not only create a network of businesses to help protect yourself, but you’d also try to find the necessary levers of power so that you could shepherd your flock of unwitting, blood-filled humans until they were ready to be harvested. Sure, In the world of Blood Stained Teeth, Vol 1: Bite Me, written and illustrated by Christian Ward and also illustrated by Patric Reynolds, there are vampires who run the world, but protagonist Atticus Slaone is definitely not one of those vampires.

Despite being a member of the aristocratic First Born, those vampires who are born vampires, Atticus Sloane is not necessarily living the high life (or high unlife, as it were). He does have a way of making some extra money: for the right price, Atticus can turn anyone into a vampire. These Sips that Atticus created have all the immortality, strength, speed, etc. that other vampires get, but they are also potential loose cannons that could reveal the existence of vampires. The First Born are clearly not happy with Atticus’s side hustle, so he is commanded to kill all the Sips he’s created, lest there be a wooden stake and a sunrise waiting for him.

Atticus is written by Ward as a clear antihero who is far from perfect. He has his moments where he looks good in his shades and he verbally stakes both his own customer base and the First Born who think they are above it all, but he also has some clear moments where he realizes that he’s in over his head. When he’s not looking like an apex predator of the night, he’s trying to avoid being killed by the First Born and those Sips Atticus has clearly underestimated.

While Atticus is trying his best to find his misplaced progeny and stay undead (rather than completely dead), he’s roving in a world that is somehow both easy and harsh on the eyes. It’s easy because Ward and Reynolds’s artwork does a great job with dynamic angles and faces that are gorgeously expressive, even as they have blood dripping down their teeth. The colors in this universe, however, shine like the neon signs one would expect to find near divebars or barely illuminating shadowy alleyways. It’s not a natural or even pleasing brightness in these pages; it’s the kind of light that would seem natural to vampires who find their food in an artificially-brightened night.

There is the beginning of a good story here, and Atticus himself is a likable enough character, but it also feels like Ward’s pen and Atticus’s fangs have barely scratched the surface of this universe. There are plenty of Atticus’s Sips for readers to meet and watch as they meet their ends, meaning that librarians who invest in this book should consider getting the rest of the series as it comes out because Atticus might have many more neon-filled nights left to survive.

Blood Stained Teeth, Vol. 1: Bite Me
By Christian Ward
Art by  Patric Reynolds
Image, 2022
ISBN: 9781534323858

Publisher Age Rating: 16 and up

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

Newburn, Volume 1

The first thing that sets Newburn apart from other crime-genre graphic novels is that it is set in present day, this year (as of this writing.) The other thing that sets it apart is the protagonist is a retired police officer who now works as a private investigator exclusively for the mob. That premise had plenty to hook me in and while some of the story parts are not wholly original, it still makes for a compelling story.

Easton Newburn is a fit, capable, dapper man of the world. His appearance, actions and words all build this picture of a man completely in control of himself and his environment. The story opens with him investigating a murder/robbery and the detective in charge gives him access to the crime scene. The “new guy” officer character there asks why he is allowed in and the premise is laid out for us. “He used to be police. He’s private these days. A few of us give him access to scenes and info on the down low, and in return, he gives us perps and info.” From there the narrative is laid out in time blocks broken up by journal entries from Emily. She meets Newburn at this crime scene and he does not turn her over to the mob for her role in the murder of a crime boss’s nephew. He sees a lot of promise in her and asks her to work with him. Through her eyes, we learn all about New York’s different crime families and the tentative arrangements that let everyone have a piece of the city. Newburn is the center of the scale, helping keep balance and being the neutral party that keeps things civil when they cannot turn to police for help investigating crimes against them.

Throughout this story, we see Newburn find his way out of several seemingly impossible situations and snares set just for him. He has to be smarter than the police, the mob and city hall. There are parts of this story that feel a little vague and underwhelming, but those, for me, were mostly related to it being a crime story. It was the ambiguous “New York Mob Families” and some of the language surrounding what are fairly standard tropes that didn’t exactly hold water. That said, the characters were all distinct enough to hold their parts of the story and the ending especially really made a turn that should keep readers coming back for the next installment.

The art will have a familiar feel to those who enjoy crime comics as it is illustrated by Jacob Phillips, who has done coloring work for his father Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker on some of their biggest titles of the last five years, like Reckless. The coloring approach Jacob uses (and Sean’s influence which can be felt here) lend this a recognizable tone that immediately brought me in. Chip Zdarsky’s pacing is also a strength here, as does a good job keeping you turning pages without rushing any of the creeping discomfort that is constantly building. There were enough different angles to the story that it didn’t feel monotonous and the scope of this world grew throughout until the ending when the last few pages really erupt. Newburn is neither James Bond nor is he simply a beat-cop turned P.I. He is smart and very much a pragmatist who is a product of his environment and the time he lives in. Newburn may not be revelatory, but it is certainly entertaining and distinct.

Image Comics gives this a Mature rating and as a genre comic I see why. There is violence, language and adult themes. That said, this isn’t doing anything intentionally shocking, it’s simply a slow burn, mafia story. Any older teen or adult reader won’t see anything in here that isn’t found elsewhere in crime drama. This title is listed as ongoing, so libraries purchasing it should be aware that there should be future volumes coming out.

Newburn, Volume 1 Vol. 01
By Chip Zdarsky
Art by  Jacob Phillips
Image, 2022
ISBN: 9781534322394

Publisher Age Rating: M

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)

Razorblades the Horror Magazine: Book One

Razorblades

Short story anthologies are as prevalent in horror as ghosts or vampires. Most often gathered under a theme, the stories in anthologies can often be gateways to the works of multiple authors, giving readers a chance to discover their next favorite read. Even as an anthology combines a multitude of different voices, the stories in truly great anthologies somehow fit together, each individual tale creating something greater than the sum of its parts. Sadly, anthologies in graphic novels, particularly horror graphic novels, aren’t as well-known. Razorblades the Horror Magazine: Book One, created by writers James Tynion IV and Steve Foxe, looks ready to change that.

What Razorblades contains in this omnibus is not just graphic fiction, but a multitude of textual fiction, as well as interviews with such luminaries in the genre as writer Scott Snyder and artist Gou Tanabe. Some consider the books by EC Comics like “Tales from the Crypt” to be the template for a collection of gruesome stories in comic book format, featuring twists of irony and ads for voodoo dolls and X-ray specs, but many of the graphic stories in Razorblades break the mold by invoking a different kind of horror.

Many of these stories are what some might call flash fiction, a story that doesn’t spend a lot of time setting up characters and exposition but uses the few pages allotted to deliver a visceral sucker punch of a story climax. Get to the end of many of these stories, like Marguerite Bennet and Werther Dell’edera’s story “Local Heroes,” and the horror will slowly dawn on readers, that last puzzle piece fitting into place will open the trap door beneath the reader’s stomach. Plus, the interviews and solid textual pieces incorporated intermittently will create just enough variety to keep the reader engaged.

What will really draw eyeballs, however, is the artwork that is used for these stories. Relying on a multitude of art styles, from disturbing photorealism to almost cartoonish-looking minimalism, the art never becomes comically inappropriate in tone, but it is definitely for mature audiences. Even the standalone works that aren’t connected to any stories, like Jerome Tiunayan’s “Morning Routine,” tell their own little terrifying tales. The book is ultimately a showcase of the talent that is working in the horror comic industry, both writers and artists.

Thinking of this anthology as a showcase of talent is the hook that might get this book in librarian’s adult graphic novel collections. Its length of nearly 400 pages might seem initially daunting, but this collection, like many anthologies, are designed to be ingested in bite-sized bloody chunks. Many of the authors and artists featured here have had their work printed elsewhere; for patrons with the inclination, this could launch several pitch-black rabbit holes discovering the totality of a creator’s work. Razorblades, a book that shows the potential of horror in graphic storytelling, is definitely a book that belongs in libraries with a strong horror graphic novel fan base.

Razorblades the Horror Magazine: Book One
By James Tynion IV, et al.
Image, 2022
ISBN: 9781534321243

Publisher Age Rating: 16 years and up

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

Step by Bloody Step

A young girl and her giant metal guardian trek across a fantastic world full of beauty, conflict, and danger in this bittersweet tale of coming-of-age and survival.

From Image Comics, Step by Bloody Step is a wordless graphic novel which conveys a great amount of depth through its striking sequence of visuals. We meet the girl and her guardian amidst a frozen landscape beneath a tree perched atop a cliffside. However, it does not take long for them to leave this place. The girl is full of wonder, searching for flowers and taking in the vastness of the world. Her guardian, meanwhile, is love and violence, looking after the girl’s need while also fending off the multitude dangers of the wilds.

Time passes as the pair traverse the world, leaving the mountains behind as they pass by small settlements who speak a language neither girl or guardian understands. The girl grows older, chafing against the constant direction of her protector. And still more world stretches out before them—a world of imperialism and warfare which will carry the two travelers to the edges of their endurance and force them both to make decisions which will impact everything to come.

Though the only dialogue in Step by Bloody Step is presented in glyphs without translation, brief poetic passages begin each section of the story and help set the book’s tone. Even without additional words, Spurrier has scripted a simple story that carries a heart of great emotion. The guardian raises a child in a hostile world. Grief, love, and power war in the lives of every character. The violence of a dangerous existence threatens to overwhelm at every turn. This comic is a fantasy adventure, a survival story—but most of all it is a tale of growing up, of cycles of life, and of the legacy each of us leaves behind.

By nature of its form, the greatest strengths of the story come in the art. On every page, Bergara crafts landscapes that are both terrible and beautiful. Every emotional high and low is conveyed in the visuals, from flashes of fleeting beauty to the love and devastation stretching from the characters’ eyes to the depths of their souls. Bergara builds worlds and characters across these pages, creating spreads and panels worth lingering over even as the story grips your heart without uttering a word.

Altogether, Step by Bloody Step is an achievement of visual storytelling. For fans of coming-of-age narratives, for those who are parents or caregivers, and those who want to lose themselves in fantasy worlds, this creative team has a lot to deliver. Image rates the title Teen+, and with violence that is often graphic but rarely too realistic, it’s perfectly suitable for older teen as well as adult readers. It’s a comic well-worth putting into the hands of a wide audience, but anyone who connects with the emotional core of the story will find something truly special here. As a feat of both comics and storytelling, Step by Bloody Step deserves a place in any collection aimed at teens and above.

Step by Bloody Step
By Simon Spurrier
Art by  Matías Bergara
Image, 2022
ISBN: 9781534322387

Publisher Age Rating: T+

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