In Season of the Bruja, Aaron Durán depicts the conflict of surviving cultural practices vs. rampant colonialism, while also delivering a touching story of grief and self-discovery.
Being the last bruja, Althalia carries a tremendous weight on her shoulders. Immense powers dwell inside her, and she needs to ensure that the history and ways of her ancestors live on. Her beloved abuela teaches Althalia all she can about her growing magical skills and the traditions of their people, but, after a chance encounter with a fanatic priest, the young bruja’s world is thrown into chaos. Facing a centuries-old and deadly prejudice, Althalia must fully realize her role as a bruja before everything she has worked hard to protect becomes lost to time forever.
Durán, over the course of the comic, presents readers with an intriguing, yet somewhat cryptic world. At many points, it feels as if one would need a basic understanding of Mexican folklore going in, as certain creatures, concepts, and figures go unnamed and unexplained, which may confuse some readers as to their significance in the story and to the characters. It is not enough to bring down the story as a whole, but may lead one to backtrack their reading several times to make sure they did not miss anything. I especially felt the shakiness of this world going into the third act, with characters moving from place to place so quickly, mythologies intertwining, and new, mysterious adversaries cropping up in the last thirty pages with little to no explanation. I didn’t even realize where much of the climax was taking place until I had finished and was reflecting on what I had read.
Overall, the world Durán has created is not an unrealized one, but one that could have used some more definition. At several points, it feels more like the second volume of a series rather than the first as the story expects the reader to take several plot threads at face value. From the very first page, readers are thrust immediately into action as we see Althalia taking on a possessed child with her friends Dana and Chuey, a werecoyote and chupacabra, respectively. The dynamics of their relationships have already been fully developed, which makes the scene almost feel like an intrusion rather than an introduction. The reader may struggle to engage with the conflict as these characters are still strangers to them, and the reason as to why these specific characters are here is a mystery. While the rash Althalia, passionate Dana and kind, paternal Chuey become endearing characters as the story goes on, the beginning paints a disorienting view of them.
All issues aside, Season of the Bruja is essential reading when it comes to its message of the importance of preserving traditional customs and the destructive impact of colonialism. Durán does not shy away from depicting the historical and enduring prejudices of the Christian church against Indigenous practices, making Althalia and her abuela’s commitment to the survival of their heritage all the more empowering and inspiring. Though Althalia struggles to find her place in her identity, her pride and dedication to those who came before her ultimately shine through. This is a comic that celebrates its culture and the love for it is shown on every page.
Sara Soler’s illustrations only add to the magic of Durán’s story, with eye-catching, lively colors and atmospheric lighting. The designs of the supernatural characters are a real treat, especially the otherworldly palettes of Althalia and abuela’s alebrijes, as well as the sinister, imposing forms of multiple demons. Full page spreads accompany significant moments in the story, each one beautiful and impactful as Althalia’s emotions start to run high and her magic takes center stage. Unfortunately, there are several moments in which it is difficult to track the action of the main characters, whether due to the lack of a panel showing transitions between movements or a hasty layout. Characters will suddenly appear in different places than shown before without explanation or have an interaction off panel that could have contextualized the scene better. In its calmer moments, the flow is more natural and easier to grasp, though there is still the odd messy transition here and there. Still, it is a style that matches the heart and soul of Althalia’s journey, giving it a standout look that is familiar and resonating.
The world may need some settling into, but Season of the Bruja remains a graphic novel with a captivating, strong identity, and heartfelt representation of Mexican culture. Those looking for a supernatural, emotional story with a heavy mythical and familial aspects will find an engaging read here. Due to its heavier themes underlaid with a lighter tone, this title may resonate the most with teens and adults. Librarians and educators in search of materials that give meaningful representation as well as cover rarely explored topics in graphic novels, such as systemic cultural erasure and preservation of Indigenous history, should consider purchasing this title.
Season of the Bruja, Vol. 1 By Aaron Durán Art by Sara Soler Oni Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781549308161
Publisher Age Rating: grade 7-9
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Latinx, Spanish, Bisexual Character Representation: Latinx, First Nations or Indigenous,
Do you remember what it was like to be in elementary and middle school? I do. It’s frustrating! Trying to make friends, worrying about schoolwork, being called on by the teacher, worrying about whether you’re cool enough and if anyone is looking at you while you need to scratch “that place”. It’s one of the reasons I loved the original Invader Zim cartoon on Nickelodeon, created by Jhonen Vasquez which aired from 2001-2006. The Invader Zim comic was released as individual issues from July 8, 2015 – August 4, 2021. Zim is sent from his authoritarian home world to ours, to start his prison sentence with only a robot named Gir, disguised as the pet dog, to keep him company. Elementary school will not stop his plans for world domination, though, because, like most kids that age, it’s all about him. This series compiles the Invader Zim comic issues #15, 32, 37 and 45 by Oni Press into a Best of Skool trade paperback, released in November 2021.
Have I mentioned that I love creator Vasquez? He managed to capture perfectly my scary bitter 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Collins. (Though, to be fair, my mom said Mrs. Collins had a lot on her plate, so maybe that’s why she was so scary and mean.) I also loved art and English and hated PE and was the smart misfit. This Zim compilation has the two-level pop culture references that I remember, one level for the kids and one level for the adults. So, if you grew up in 2001-2006, you’ll enjoy reading this to your kids. If you get some of the other references, you’ll enjoy reading it with your grandkids! (“That’s a metaphor kids; Don’t think too much about it.”—HA!) The Skool is every bit as zany as Zim, with spontaneous moose, beavers, ham, and LOTS of slime! Zim has to figure out how to beat his archenemy Dib in the fitness challenge, give his presentation in front of an uncaring and insulting Mrs. Bitters, and care for an inanimate “baby” who turns out to be a lump of meat. But a bigger challenge is coming for Zim! (No, it’s not the chickens who don’t want Zim and the meat baby in their town). How will he deal with the big feelings of “squintz”?
This title is four complete story arcs, together in one trade paperback. You don’t need to have watched or read any other Invader Zim, but it might help to know the background. The title should go wherever you put comics for middle readers, about 7-13 years of age. There is nothing violent or of adult nature. There is a small amount of “cartoon violence” (like Looney Toons). The art mostly resembles the style of the animated cartoon, and even though there are five credited artists for the four compiled issues, the issues resemble each other in style. The panels vary in size, shape, and place on the page, with dark wide gutters, no gutters, or just manga-style speed lines, which keeps the action moving! There are lots of silly things crammed into each frame, and lots to look at. For instance, in the first chapter, the kids are making up stories to explain why Mrs. Bitters is late. One kid explains that she’s actually a “Queen Bug” that has invaded a bug home and taught the bugs how to take over the planet. The next frame is a living room with child bugs – one is sipping a fast food soda, one is doing math on a chalkboard, a couple are reading books and writing, and several are watching two sock puppets on TV. “And they also learned how to order Greezy’s Double Slammer Pizza with extra olives!” 😀
Even though I loved the comic, I would rate it an “optional” purchase for middle school libraries and public libraries.
Invader Zim: Best of Skool By Eric Trueheart and Aaron Alexovich Art by Warren Wucinich, Kate Sherron, and K.C. Green Oni Press Lion Forge, 2021 ISBN: 9781620109168
Syv is the youngest of seven snowcat princes and the most popular with the people of the realm. Since the people’s support determines the next king, his older brothers are worried. So they decide to send Syv on a quest: find the magical crown of the legendary snowcat Eldking that allows its wearer to defeat the wicked sandfoxes, who have used magic to warp and twist the natural world. Many snowcat princes have sought the crown, but none have returned. Still, armed with a map that his brothers claim shows the way to the crown, Syv is willing to try.
For all his bravery and good intentions, Syv is sheltered and inexperienced. Luckily, he soon stumbles upon a well-traveled companion: a rough-around-the-edges girl named Kit. As they follow the map, Syv discovers how badly the world has been corrupted by the foxes’ magic, which causes everything from extreme seasons to twisted wildlife. If he can just get the crown, he can fix it all.
Then Syv learns the devastating truth about Eldking. He can’t trust the legend, the map his brothers gave him, or maybe even his new friend Kit, who has been hiding a big secret. Can Syv still find a way to save the world?
Syv and Kit are both well-intentioned, but both naïve in their own ways. At first, Syv finds Kit obnoxiously uncouth and Kit finds him laughably ignorant of the world. But as they face warped wild animals and treacherous shape-shifters, the two grow to trust and value each other. Being the protagonist, Syv undergoes more personal growth and encounters more challenges, including deciding how to react when Kit’s secret comes to light. The young snowcat is devastated, but his good heart leads him to do the right thing when it matters most.
The setting draws inspiration from the author’s native Norway. The three lands Syv and Kit visit are depicted in a map at the back of the book. In the north, the snowcats lounge in their Halls of Gold; in the south, the sandfoxes have their Temple of Thorns. Humans occupy the middle, though they also make up most of the population of the north, supporting the snowcat princes with offerings. Both snowcats and sandfoxes have innate magical abilities, which are connected to aura, the magic of the land. Notes at the end of the book elaborate on this, as well as on the life cycles of snowcats and sandfoxes.
The art is vivid and appealing. The bright, saturated colors and Syv’s plush, cuddly character design could be at home on a Lisa Frank binder, while the sneering foxes and the sickly sludge of corrupted magic add an edge. In the book’s opening, when Syv’s father tells him the legend of the Eldking, the art supports the mythic tone with dramatic two-page spreads, larger than life characters, and geometric page borders framing the action. The style changes slightly once the main story begins, dropping the borders and splitting the pages into a variety of dynamic panel configurations for a more immediate, active feel. The bonus material at the end includes character sketches and alternate covers.
There is some danger and creepiness in this book: Syv uses his snowcat magic to fight, an aura-corrupted bear threatens a village and is shot by archers, and some sandfoxes menace Syv and Kit. These scenes are over fairly quickly, though, and there is no gory violence.
This lavishly-illustrated story has action, creative worldbuilding, and lots of heart. Hand it to fans of the Warriors series and other animal-centric fantasy.
The Snowcat Prince By Dina Norlund Oni Press Lion Forge, 2023 ISBN: 9781637151983
My Life Among Humans by Jed McGowan follows a lonely and misguided invading alien who tries to navigate a life hidden among humans. McGowan twists the typical alien invasion story and instead focuses on the perspective of the alien, a one-eyed bio-engineered creature with no body and 6 legs who also happens to be desperately lonely.
Alien invasions are a ubiquitous plot in popular media. These stories with strong themes of fear and suspicion are common in books, television, and film. The majority of these focus on “the other,” a manifestation of societal fears of the unknown. Even in stories where the aliens are redeemed by the end, there are usually strong undercurrents of fear and suspicion before the final resolution. That exists in My Life Among Humans, however, it is not central to the story. Instead, rather than breaking down fear, McGowan’s plot builds empathy.
I’m a sucker for redemptive arcs and misguided innocence, and well, any story that flips conventional stories. I just really loved this book. The unnamed alien has been sent to earth and assigned to study humans. It begins by sending a spore into the mind of Will, a high school boy, to observe and record his every thought, movement and emotion. Then its daily observations are sent to “the manager” who merely states, “report received.” Every day follows the same pattern until the alien is eventually asked to observe more humans, and things begin to swerve from its established plan and mission.
The alien is lonely, desperate to please (or at least not upset) its manager, and tries hard to follow its instructions – to stay hidden and merely observe. But it is curious, and lonely, and is eventually caught by Will. Desperate to fix the situation, the alien, in a panic, discovers its ability to control Will, and by extension other humans. This leads to a cascading series of unfortunate events, where the alien is left trying to pick up the pieces and cover its tracks.
McGowan’s illustrations add emotional depth to this story. At first appearance, McGowan’s visual style doesn’t match my personal preferences. His hand-drawn illustrations are reminiscent of both vintage science fiction and early computer animation, appropriately connected to the visual style of many other alien stories. The real beauty in the illustrations is his ability to capture emotion. Illustrators rely heavily on facial expressions and body language to express emotion, however, this story has unique challenges. The alien has essentially no body or face, just one eye, and tentacle-like legs. Yet, the alien’s character is developed through its emotional responses. Its loneliness, fear, innocence, and curiosity are clearly evident in every panel.
McGowan also expertly illustrates the moments his human characters lose control of their bodies. Their emotions aren’t lacking, they have been lost, a loss that is felt in the illustrations.
Upon my reread of My Life Among Humans to write this review, I fell in love again. It has emotional weight, and after each read, I walked away with a warmed heart. I recommend it for adult and teen graphic novel collections. However, I also think this could be popular with middle-grade and younger teens. The story would be appropriate for younger audiences, and the illustration style would not feel overwhelming for those who are newly introduced to the format. I will purchase (and heavily recommend) it for my high school collection. I think the initial interest will be from younger high school readers but the story has heart and poses a number of interesting philosophical questions, which will appeal to older readers as well.
My Life Among Humans By Jed McGowan Oni Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781637151990
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
When Talli’s adoptive family finds themselves under attack, her father, Lord Borin, makes Talli leave with a faithful knight in order to keep her safe. Barely able to stay ahead of their pursuers, the two make their way to a small town with a market. In the market, they find an old man and his grandson selling allegedly magic items. The old man recognizes Talli for who she is and offers to get her out of town and somewhere safe. They must fight their pursuers, Lord Ulric’s forces led by Captain Nina, but eventually get free and make their way to safety, which is when Talli begins to learn of her origins as a Summoner.
The line art is well done and shows a lot of little details and backgrounds. I had a personal issue in that the protagonist’s hair color is particularly important and it is white, but since all the art is black and white, this can only be picked up on by closely following the dialog. It seems like this was meant to be in full color but either never got colored or the publisher’s budget didn’t allow for a colorist. Either way I think that younger readers may have trouble with this important detail.
It is interesting that one of the character development and plot points is that the female protagonist has a monthly period. Normally, this natural bodily function is ignored or only mentioned to invoke fear or disdain. Blood letting is part of the (not well described) magic system that Talli starts to learn about on her journey. Unfortunately, because of this, although Talli is viewed as powerful, people are also immediately scared of her as well.
This book would be best suited for a collection aimed at younger teens (13-15). It isn’t a necessity but would help fill out a collection.
Talli, Daughter of the Moon, Vol. 1 By Sourya Hollendonner Oni Press, 2022 ISBN: 9781637150825
Publisher Age Rating: grades 7-9
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: French, Laotian
Gender Queer: A Memoir begins with an arresting image. As a student, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, taped over two pages of eir sketchbook with blank pieces of paper. The pages concealed an autobiographical comic about gender created for a school assignment, a topic that filled Kobabe with discomfort. In the opening of Gender Queer, we’re shown the censored pages—then, with an immensely satisfying “RIPPP!”, Kobabe tears away the paper, revealing the title page of Gender Queer itself.
Gender Queer is the self-portrait of a queer artist developing the confidence to tell eir story, in eir own words and on eir own terms. Narrating Kobabe’s gender journey from early childhood to the present,this graphic memoir chronicles eir efforts to build a life that affirms every piece of eir identity. There isn’t a single pivotal coming-out scene; instead, Kobabe embarks on a slow, continuous project of self-expression and self-knowledge, with results as precise and dazzling as the constellations that decorate the cover of this deluxe edition.
Maia Kobabe’s story begins with a California childhood spent catching snakes, making art, and feeling completely out of step with eir peers. A series of early crushes helps Maia to realize e’s bisexual, but this doesn’t explain the deeper discomfort e feels with eir body and assigned gender. Confused and discouraged, Maia catches hold of a pair of lifelines—coming to books as a late reader, and joining a Queer Straight Alliance at eir high school. Discovering stories that reflect eir own experiences, e begins to feel less alone.
Entering adulthood, Maia finds a word—genderqueer—that reflects the complexity of eir experiences. Just as important, e continues to collect touchstones that affirm eir sense of self instead of eroding it. There’s the first time e listens to David Bowie; the male figure skating costume that fills em with gender euphoria; the queer fan fiction that sparks eir sense of the erotic, yet ultimately makes em realize that e prefers reading about romance to experiencing it firsthand. Kobabe’s sophisticated artwork explodes to life in these moments, expressive full-color panels featuring inventive imagery such as Maia’s gender leafing out like a young seedling, or Bowie’s music as a full-body, cosmic experience (complete with rocketship).
Yet as Maia pieces together identity labels—nonbinary, mostly asexual, queer—and builds a network of supportive friends and family, the obstacles grow. Maia knows that as long as e minimizes eir gender, eir relationships and sense of self will suffer. But loved ones offer pushback when e tries to explain nonbinary identities; Pap smears are a source of trauma that medical professionals rarely take seriously; and everyday interactions come with a cost: Maia must stand up for emself, over and over, just to feel comfortable in eir own skin. This is the Maia who censored eir own sketchbook, and at the close of the memoir, this self-effacement is still palpable. Now a working artist, e hesitates over whether to share eir pronouns with students. “I think I’m carrying more fear than I need,” e realizes.
If Gender Queer is an act of bravery, it’s also a funny, sophisticated, deeply relatable coming-of-age story about charting your way alongside books and best friends into adulthood. Accessible but never didactic, Kobabe’s deft storytelling and polished, appealing artwork excels at communicating with a broad readership. For a queer and trans audience that has rarely encountered nonfiction centering nonbinary experiences, Kobabe’s memoir delivers affirmation, while for readers who are new to learning about queer identities, it educates and invites empathy. Gender Queer is also smart about the way it presents sexual material; this book doesn’t shy from frank discussions of sexuality, masturbation, and sexual health, but the content is contextualized in a way that is sensitive to the needs of younger readers, and Kobabe takes care to avoid explicit sexual depictions of underage characters.
The 2022 deluxe edition collects process pieces and select issues of the original Genderqueer comic strips, providing a snapshot of Kobabe’s creative process. An introduction by She-Ra and the Princesses of Power creator ND Stevenson reflects on the impact of Gender Queer since its initial publication in 2019. Stevenson writes about the book’s significance to himself and queer loved ones, as well as, briefly, those who have sought to remove it from public schools and libraries in “a last, desperate attempt to hammer an infinitely complex world into a small, unthreatening shape.”
Maia Kobabe’s introspective, joyful memoir is an important contribution to comics literature. It is highly recommended for any library collection serving adult and older teen readers.
Gender Queer: A Memoir, Deluxe Edition By Maia Kobabe Oni Press, 2022 ISBN: 9781637150726
Publisher Age Rating: 18+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Asexual, Bisexual, Queer, Genderqueer, Nonbinary
In horror, any writer can go through the standard list of monsters, such as vampires, ghosts, Frankenstein-made monsters, and craft their own unique story from them. There are, however, a multitude of monsters that simply haven’t gotten as much exposure (or overexposure) as, say, fast and/or slow zombies. One creature that deserves more love is the Mothman, a bizarre creature of Appalachian folklore that brings to mind deserted country roads and the distinct flapping of monstrous wings. Luckily, there are some good Mothman stories if one knows where to look. One such story is Silk Hills, a Mothman-centered mystery full of offbeat nightmare images.
Silk Hills is a lot like many tourist towns that have a local legend, but it has also seen better days. Once a thriving town, the only trades that make money now are selling Mothman merchandise and psychotropic moth dust, which is the center of the local drug trade. It is here that Beth Wills, a war veteran and private detective, has come to find a business owner’s son. She soon discovers that Silk Hills isn’t like other towns. Along with the moth dust drug trade, there are other animals unique to the area, like deer that might be hunting you instead of the other way around, and of course, there’s the Mothman.
Readers who are fans of supernatural strangeness will find a lot they love about writers Ryan Ferrier and Brian Level’s story. It’s a standard tale of a stranger entering a small town and suddenly finding themselves in over their head. But having Beth as the main protagonist means she will guide the readers through this strange place while also bringing along her own emotional baggage, from her disintegrating love life to moments of PTSD. There are some real internal struggles going on within Beth that are just as fierce as the supernatural and human protagonists who want to keep Silk Hills’ secrets secret.
Kate Sherron’s artwork serves Ferrier’s and Level’s story well. The figures aren’t really drawn in a realistic way one sees in a lot of horror comics, their shapes befitting more of a Saturday Morning cartoon, but Silk Hills is a place, and a graphic novel, that is always slightly askew. Many times the book segues into nightmare territory where the environment and the people in it twist like taffy (even the deer that permeate the book are not immune to becoming nightmare fodder). The psychotropic properties of the moth dust allows Silk Hills to melt and warp into funhouse mirror reflections, even as it draws heavily on hallucinations/symbolism to keep the reader guessing as to what is real, what is not, and which images are up to interpretation.
This book will definitely appeal to fans of X-Files and Twin Peaks, television shows full of paranormal mysteries and stomach-tightening unease, even as it deals with some very adult issues like economic hardships and PTSD. This might even be a book tailor-made for rural libraries with a dedicated horror fanbase, which might be rare. However, somebody has to be out there buying Mothman merchandise and they might just enjoy a trip to the strange and wonderful town of Silk Hills.
Silk Hills By Ryan Ferrier, Brian Level Art by Kate Sherron Oni Press, 2022 ISBN: 9781637150382
Blue is absolutely smitten with his best friend Hamal, a kind, soft spoken gardener with a heck of a green thumb. There’s just one problem: Blue is, well, kind of dead. Thankfully, Hamal also has the ability to see and communicate with ghosts, though lacking a physical form naturally prevents Blue from deepening his connection with Hamal. To make matters worse, something odd is happening to the local spirits who suddenly find themselves briefly flickering between a dark, decaying forest and the living world. To protect the one he loves, Blue must solve this mystery even if it costs him everything in the process. Keezy Young’s sweet, yet delightfully spooky romance, Taproot, presents a look into the delicate balance between life and death and all the love and sacrifices therein.
Taproot provides an engaging enough concept to pull readers into this mismatched couple’s story. Blue and Hamal’s dynamic is playful and endearing, but the story’s fast pace and short length prevents any sort of natural development of the relationship, the progression ultimately coming off as superficial and rushed. The overall story suffers from being somewhat frustratingly vague with certain scenes lacking a cohesive flow from one to another, all coming to an incredibly anticlimactic end. Even the “One Year Later” segment feels tacked on, as it felt narratively needless other than to show the reader what the characters are doing after the main conclusion. Though epilogues can feel welcome in other literary scenarios, here it only adds to the slight disconnection between events. While a struggling read at times due to these elements, I can still appreciate the emphasis of queer joy and acceptance in this comic, which also features a refreshing multiracial cast and non-white leads.
Despite the somewhat underdeveloped narrative, Young manages to create an inviting, memorable world through richly illustrated landscapes and characters. The character designs immediately provide a good sense of personality, whether it’s found in Hamal’s rounded, gentle features or Blue’s angular, expressive face complete with a cheeky grin. Opting for a bluish green hue to distinguish the ghosts from the living adds more stylistic and visual intrigue as Young incorporates a good amount of framing to ensure they do not blend into the similarly colored, detailed backgrounds where Young shows off the natural wonders of this setting. Images of flora thriving around every corner exude a cozy, magical atmosphere, as we see the entire town covered in fluffy moss and colorful flowers. Even the mysterious forest has a gothic, ethereal charm to it, with its twisted, gnarled trees housing skulls and listless, chalky plant life. The environments function almost as characters in and of themselves, experiencing the same trials of life and death as our main characters, and are just as severely affected by its imbalances. Taproot’s visual style perfectly complements the tone and message of its story, marveling at the beauties of life while also stressing the inclusion of death and rebirth as a necessary part of it.
As a blend of a heartwarming queer romance with a paranormal edge, Taproot will interest fans of Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper series and Suzanne Walker’s Mooncakes, both of which share friends-to-lovers relationships and distinctive styles that enhance their stories. Those looking for a quick, character driven comic may enjoy this title, though the lack of worldbuilding and disjointed plot threads may be a turn off for some readers. Young states that Taproot is intended for audiences of all ages, though it would likely appeal most to ages thirteen and up due to its romantic focus, as well as its more mature handling of the themes of life and death. This rereleased edition comes with a brand new cover, an afterword from Young, and backmatter material including original concept art. Librarians and educators looking to include more inclusive and diverse paranormal romances should consider purchasing this title.
Taproot: A Story About a Gardener and a Ghost By Keezy Young Oni Press Lion Forge, 2022 ISBN: 9781637150733
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Gay Character Representation: Bisexual, Gay
What does an English major college graduate, a chef at a restaurant, and a pig with fine tasting aesthetics have in common? For a studious bookworm like Ben Cook, this unlikely combination may lead him to a future career or even his life’s destiny. A bit of soul-searching propels him into an unexpected culinary extravaganza in Jarrett Melendez and Danica Brine’s artfully charming graphic novel debut Chef’s Kiss.
The story begins with a group of four twenty-somethings straight out of college who move into an apartment to start the next chapter in their lives. Ben in particular tackles multiple interviews and fails to hit the mark repeatedly until one day he spots a want ad at a restaurant. There his entry-level roasted squash soup dish wins the approval of Watson the pig, the head chef’s ultimate taste test for evaluating the quality of gourmet concoctions, thereby landing him his first job after college. Along the way, Ben befriends his partner-in-cooking, sous-chef Liam, and thus begins a crush relationship between the two, steering them into uncharted territory beyond mere culinary creations. But are they prepared to take their relationship to the next level? And what other adventures lie beyond the life that Ben is just starting to explore after college?
Melendez’s characterization of Ben, his roommates, and Liam combined with Brine’s character designs and vibrant colors of Hank Jones engenders a synergistically compelling storytelling experience. Facial expressions and subtle mannerisms amongst the characters add emotional nuances to each of their distinct personalities. Single-shot panels delineating food ingredients, prep work, and cooking tasks unfold in a montage style, animating the narrative sequences to produce a gastronomical feast for the eyes. While navigating variant pathways through life, Ben relies on the advice of his longtime best friend Liz Brooks, who serves as his conscience and guides him through the labyrinth of decision making.
A light-hearted and humorous yet constructive soul-searching quest through the afterlife of college, replete with uncertainties and serendipitous discoveries, Chef’s Kiss navigates the meandering currents of maintaining friendships, exploring queer relationships, making life choices, and finding one’s identity. Variant covers, standalone artwork, and character profiles are included as bonus extras. This graphic novel adds an enriching adult coming-of-age story to the nebulous period between graduating from college and entering the real world. Bristling with colorful panels and winsome characters makes this an engaging read for all library collections.
Chef’s Kiss By Jarrett Melendez Art by Danica Brine Oni Press, 2022 ISBN: 9781620109045
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Character Representation: Gay
When a couple StarBleep officers decide to land their state of the art ship on a strange planet and go for a stroll, they inadvertently unleash a wildly unpredictable force on the rest of the universe—orcs, in space!
Orcs in Space from Oni Press is a sci-fi/fantasy mashup from the co-creator of Rick and Morty. Finding themselves unwelcome among their own people, the orc trio of Gor, Kravis, and Mongtar stumble into the untended StarBleep ship where they quickly befriend the AI D.O.N.A. and launch themselves into the great unknown. Our orcish heroes have simple desires—violence, killing what they eat, and then a good brawl to wrap it all up. But far from home and with the most advanced StarBleep technology at their fingertips, they’ll soon discover that there is more to life in a vast universe than they could ever have imagined.
Guided by D.O.N.A., the future looks bright for the three friends, especially since StarBleep can hardly imagine that anyone would lie to them or steal their prized property. Unfortunately, other denizens of space are not so friendly. Space rats and fluffy biker gangs—bounty hunters, robots, and one very angry StarBleep officer—it doesn’t take long for the orcs to ruffle some feathers. And as maybe not so peaceful D.O.N.A. questions where she came from, the orcs may find themselves in for more adventure than they bargained for. If the orcs manage to survive the troubles they come across, then only one question remains, will the rest of the universe survive the orcs?
Unsurprising for a co-creator of Rick and Morty, the story of Orcs in Space is bursting with humor and mayhem. While maintaining a loose overall plot, the first two volumes of the series mostly take the orcs from one adventure to the next as they try to understand their new surroundings and find their place—in space! The jokes are silly and sometimes immature, but often entertaining. The worlds and characters are imaginative and the blending of sci-fi and fantasy elements delivers an excellent mashup that genre fans are sure to appreciate. With this series, what you see is pretty much what you get. Orcs go to space—complications ensue. But the creators know what they’re aiming for, and the deliver on that point consistently from start to finish with a pace that charges forward while never getting ahead of itself.
Matching the tone of the story, the cartoony style of bright colors and fast action is well-suited to both the tone and the content of the comic. Characters and plot are clear, the large panels are engaging, and the visual humor serves the story just as much as the writing. From exclusive clubs to desolate planets, there is never a dull moment from page one onward.
Oni Press does not list an age rating for this title and the target audience is honestly a little unclear. Between the barf jokes (excuse me, ha-lorp jokes) and the straightforward, humorous storytelling, much of this series could be suitable for younger teens. However, a few moments of cartoon, albeit graphic violence, nudge the target audience a bit higher. Regardless, Orcs in Space remains suitable for younger readers of Rick and Morty while still holding enough similarity to entertain existing fans of these creators. Anyone who enjoys comic space fantasy with a sometimes low sense of humor will find plenty to enjoy in these pages. And there are enough nods to existing franchises that genre fans can enjoy the elements of parody as well. On the other hand, if you’re looking for sophistication, this probably isn’t the series for you.
In summary, Orcs in Space is nothing revelatory, but it delivers on its promise of genre mayhem and wacky fun and would be a worthy addition to any collection with teen or adult genre readers looking for some light entertainment and orcish misadventures through an unwitting galaxy.
Orcs in Space Vols. 1-2 By Justin Roiland, Rashad Gheith, Abed Gheith, Mike Tanner Art by Francois Vigneault Oni Press, 2021 Vol 1 ISBN: 9781620107560 Vol 2 ISBN: 9781637150177
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)