No one wants to work overtime—even if it takes facing a dragon singlehandedly in order to cut through the paperwork.
Alina Clover has a coveted job as a receptionist for the adventurer’s guild. She spends her days filing papers and assigning quests to dungeon-delving adventuring parties who battle enemies and collect treasure from progressively more dangerous labyrinths. However, Alina’s current problem comes when a particularly difficult enemy halts progress for the adventurers, leading to excessive paperwork as the heroes grind through the same challenges day after day, creating a backlog of forms. To spare herself the headache, Alina takes it upon herself, her cloak, and her magical hammer of immense power to clear the way for the adventurers to get on with things.
Unfortunately, her outburst (not the first of its kind) catches the attention of powerful figures, including the legendary adventurer Jade—who is determined to recruit the mysterious warrior to his party of warriors. Unfortunately for Alina, she’s comfortable in her employment and forbidden from taking on work outside of her receptionist duties. What started as a way to protect her position soon becomes the thing that may unravel it all as Alina finds herself caught between her day job and her secret life—a life that may also uncover secrets that will shake her world.
With I May Be a Guild Receptionist, but I’ll Solo Any Boss to Clock Out on Time, Vol. 1, Mato Kousaka delivers a fun and wildly entertaining introduction to a world based heavily in the lore and lingo of traditional Role Playing Game mechanics. With references to dungeon levels and raid bosses, this series, like a number of other recent manga titles, relies on a certain amount of reader understanding of RPG gameplay to form some of the underlying rules of the world. However, those rules only set the stage for a story that manages to carve out a unique tone of epic adventure and consistent humor. As Alina fights to maintain her comfortable life, she finds friend and foe in a colorful cast of characters who populate the wider world. The people who appear are memorable, the action is bold, and the visual humor is on point as this quiet receptionist carves her way through obstacles in an effort to pay off her mortgage and clock out on time. The writing knows exactly what story it’s there to tell and delivers beat after beat of engaging storytelling.
Capturing both the fantasy-adventure and the visual comedy, Suzu Yuuki brings the story to the page in bold fashion. The fantasy elements, action sequences, and individual characters are compelling from the start—and some of the best moments come when the unimposing Alina lets a bit of her power show as she threatens those who try to stick their noses into her business. Alina spends much of her time in the meek and respectful demeanor of many manga heroines—but when she summons a weapon the size of her own body as her face gets washed in shadow to match the threats she has no reservations making—the stark contrast and surprised terror of those around her never stops being funny. There’s minimal fan-service in the writing or visuals and Alina is largely given the space to become her own dramatic character, with party leader Jade appearing in a major supporting role as he chases down the mystery that he is sworn to solve.
Yen Press gives this title a Teen rating for language and violence and this fits well with the overall content. There are some colorful words as well as combat and death, but most of this is accompanied by a comedic tone. Teens will find plenty to appreciate here while there’s plenty to appeal to older readers as well. For audiences who like the power of Saitama in OnePunch Man or the daily life explorations of adventurers in titles such as Frieren, I May Be a Guild Receptionist should have plenty to offer. The manga is an adaptation of the light novel series and there’s expected to be an anime adaptation coming as well, so any fans of the work will have plenty of chances to spend time in this world. As much as the book draws from the rules of RPGs, it also does a fair job explaining concepts for the uninitiated. For those familiar with the genre and for those looking for an entry point into manga, this title is simple without being superficial, is delivered with skill, and is truly a fun read from start to finish. I look forward to seeing where Alina’s adventures take her next.
I May Be a Guild Receptionist, but I’ll Solo Any Boss to Clock Out Time Vol. 01 By Mato Kousaka Art by Suzu Yuuki Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781975365769
Publisher Age Rating: T Related media: Book to Comic, Comic to TV
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Japanese
After saving the world, what does it take to build a new one?
Boom! Studios presents the sequel to 2022’s Eve from Victor LaValle and Jo Mi-Gyeong. Children of the Moon finds Eve, her sister/clone, and Wexler trying to reestablish society in a world reborn, but without the guidance of Eve’s parents and with societies of rescued children scattered across the country coming to terms with the fact that the world is theirs to shape. When one known outpost fails to respond to attempts at communication, Eve and the others decide to pay a visit for themselves.
What they discover is a group known as the Children of the Moon, led by Selene. Cut off from the world, Selene and the children in her care have faced violence and it has changed them. They demand Wexler’s head as justice for past crimes, and Eve finds herself in a struggle she never expected to face—against the very people she believed she had saved. And when a new AI awakes with protocols of its own, everyone involved will face the possibilities of a world they don’t recognize.
LaValle returns to writing this sequel with many of the same themes that defined the first one while expanding on the world in new and unexpected ways. What is the world adults leave to their children? Going deeper into some of the questions established in the first volume, LaValle centers a coming-of-age story of children who have faced violence and trauma and now must each find their own way to grow beyond their pasts. Into this, he weaves questions of identity between Eve and her sister—each trying to define themselves apart from the other—and hard ideas of justice and forgiveness for past wrongs and current allies. This brings together layers of complex storytelling all wrapped up in a dynamic sci-fi survival thriller written for teens and adults alike to enjoy.
With vibrant color and action, Jo Mi-Gyeong and the rest of the visual team brings Eve and the others to life once more as they venture into the harsh and snow-covered landscapes of a brand-new territory. From the horrors of the diseased adult monstrosities to the mysteries and terrors of AI to the deep emotion of children forced to come of age far too soon, Mi-Gyeong balances a bright and somewhat cartoon style with enough grounded realism and tangible detail to keep the story tethered in reality and landing the emotional beats when they come.
While it is a sequel and functions best with an understanding of the events in the first volume, Eve: Children of the Moon offers enough of a standalone story with embedded recap that a new reader could begin here without a great deal of difficulty. Yet again, there are some intense themes and mild horror elements, but the story and visuals overall are perfectly acceptable for readers aged teen and older.
Overall, while there are a few beats and pacing elements that don’t land quite right as delivered, Eve: Children of the Moon is largely an ambitious and successful successor to the first volume. Balancing a variety of complex themes alongside an exciting and intriguing narrative, the creative team clearly cares about the lives of the characters they have created and have something to say about our world, even as they introduce us to another.
Eve: Children of the Moon By Victor LaValle Art by Jo Mi-Gyeong BOOM! Studios, 2023 ISBN: 9781646688760
Publisher Age Rating: 14+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Black, Korean Character Representation: Black
What if a bunch of spies working for different countries all landed in the same house? What if it turned out that they were also childhood friends and crushes? What if they were now each trying to seduce each other in order to gain access to state secrets? And what if none of this went according to plan?
In a world only slightly offset from our own, spies and nations compete for supremacy through violence and seduction. Seemingly immune to these seductive honey traps, unshakable master spy Hayato spreads rumors of vulnerable top-secret information and establishes a shared house to lure spires whom he plans to turn or kill as needed. Only one problem—the first person to take up residence in the house is his childhood crush, who is now a spy for a rival state. Unwilling to kill each other and falsely believing that their cover stories are intact, Hayato and Seraphy begin an uncertain dance of testing allegiances as they decide just what they’re willing to do for their countries. But as more spies arrive and a tangled web of past and present relationships takes shape, the seductive banter and hijinks that began the story may not be enough to overcome the external forces that have come looking for Hayato and the secrets he claims to possess.
With an intriguing spy story at its core, Honey Trap Shared House makes no attempt to hide that the main purpose of the book is to give page time to the sexy shenanigans and tangled relationships of the core characters. Kuji sketches an intriguing but sparse world of international spycraft and populates it with a set of characters that each have a grounded emotional core to their backstories, even if the women in the story are never allowed to exist apart from their sexuality. There are references to the harsh amorality of spycraft, marked by a trail of bodies and lies each character has left behind. The majority of the book however, takes a much more lighthearted approach to increasingly awkward and forced attempts at explicit seduction by a cast of unprepared characters who all quickly realize that they are in over their heads. There are moments of sweetness mixed into the increasingly bawdy storyline, but Kuji never lets the reader forget that the honey traps are the point, and all the rest of the story takes a backseat to the dynamic between the main characters and those around them.
If the writing left any doubt regarding the point of the book, Kozuki’s art is sure to remind the reader that the focus is on voluptuous young women in skimpy outfits failing to seduce their mark. There are some cool action sequences and engaging artistic styles, but each new female character brings with her a larger bust and fewer clothes than the previous. It’s worth noting that the male main character is never presented in this way. Even in their notes at the start and end of the book, Kuji and Kozuki are very clear that they came to write a sexy romcom, and that’s what they intend to do. Even more than the writing, it’s the visuals throughout the story that push the title solidly into adult territory.
Yen Press gives the title a Mature rating for language, nudity, sex, and violence, and the book delivers on all of these elements without inhibition. As such, Honey Trap Shared House is clearly intended for an adult audience. Overall, there isn’t a huge amount of substance here as the primary focus is on the visuals of the female characters and the situations they end up in. However, the art is effective even when not focused on women’s bodies and the writing does find plenty of humor and occasional moments of sincerity amidst the explicit fan service. It’s not a title I’d recommend for most collections, but for readers specifically looking for an adult-oriented, harem, romcom set in a world of spycraft and seduction, this book does deliver on its promises, managing to have fun even where it forsakes subtlety—which is most of the time.
Honey Trap Shared House Vol. 01 By Masamune Kuji Art by Koichi Kozuki Yen Press, 2022 ISBN: 9781975365042
Publisher Age Rating: M NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Japanese Character Representation: Japanese
For many in the United States, there are huge portions of national history that remain obscure, if not forgotten entirely. Thankfully, there are educators and creators working to fix that problem.
Ten Speed Graphic brings us Sí, Se Puede: The Latino Heroes Who Changed the United States. The comic opens with a set of guests arriving at an immersive museum experience dedicated to preserving Latino history. They are immediately welcomed by Camilo, who serves as guide to these characters and the reader through centuries of Latino history. From the early Aztec and Mayan empires right up until the modern day, the book covers politics, sports, entertainment, science, social movements—a whole range of places in society where Latinos have left their mark. Along this journey, the immersive nature of the museum drops the characters into vibrant recreations of key moments with a readily accessible mix of factual information and natural dialogue about the process of learning a history so often overlooked.
Written by Julio Anta, the book is upfront that its primary purpose is one of celebration. From broad cultural achievements to specific individuals who have shaped the nation, the book is brimming with cultural pride for the rich heritage it describes. Even with its primary focus being educational, the text never feels like a dry recitation of facts. The information is direct, but its delivery is bursting with energy befitting a celebration of Latino culture. In broad strokes, it’s a familiar style for other educational materials aimed at youth, though never so juvenile in tone that older teens or adults will be put off.
The book touches lightly on some of the terrible hardships and atrocities faced by Latino communities of the past and present, but these are not dwelled on, as Anta keeps the primary focus on the success and endurance of these historical figures. It’s a complex topic to distill down to a single volume. The text does touch on useful and sometimes uncomfortable considerations when discussing such a broad group of people—debates about terminology, colonialism, colorism, and often conflicting worldviews that have complicated the Latino journey throughout time. The book is not a complex examination of the figures it highlights, nor does it claim to be. It is not intended to be the final word on any of the subject matter it illuminates. Rather, it feels as though Anta positions the text as a first step, to ignite pride in Latino history and encourage the curiosity to dive deeper.
Yasmín Flores Montañez provides the illustrations throughout the volume, and each page of art captures a colorful palate of diverse people and rich history. Balancing moments of triumph with the multitude hardships Latinos have had to overcome, the visuals keep pace with the shifting tone of the writing, propelling the reader along with the museum guide and guests. Emotions and action are clear, the art is a pleasure to look over, and the representations of individuals across the pages show a full spectrum of skin colors, body types, ages, and genders. Through each chapter, Montañez matches the pride and energy of the writing, bringing these chapters of history to life in dramatic fashion.
Whether Latino or not, any reader seeking more familiarity with Latino heritage or forgotten moments of history will find plenty to enjoy here. The cultural pride is evident as each new story unfolds and it is both enlightening and emotional to gain insight into this wide range of figures who have changed modern life in sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatic ways—figures whose names are unknown by far too many. There is plenty more depth that could be provided about the information presented here, but Anta and Montañez succeed in their primary goal: to celebrate the tapestry of Latino history and welcome readers into a better understanding of the threads that make up the whole. The volume ends with an index of topics and a list of additional resources for anyone wishing to dive deeper, while the finale of the narrative seeks to empower Latino readers to embrace the strength of their own heritage.
As an entry point into the subject, as a work of graphic nonfiction, and as a celebration of the proud history of a rich ethnic heritage, Sí, Se Puede is a work well worth adding to any collection and can hopefully serve as a jumping-off point for further conversation, learning, and celebration of the vital diversity that has shaped the United States since its founding.
Sí, Se Puede: The Latino Heroes Who Changed the United States By Julio Anta Art by Yasmín Flores Montañez Ten Speed Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781984860910
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Colombian, Cuban, Puerto Rican Character Representation: Black, Latinx, Queer, Genderqueer, Trans
Gotta’ catch them all—“them” being a host of ultra-powerful demons set loose on earth and now largely under the control of an assortment of criminals, altruists, and opportunists. What’s the worst that could happen?
Boom! Studios brings us the opening volley in a new series from Simon Spurrier and Charlie Adlard. In voice over and flashback, the story opens with an introduction to Ellie and her uncle Alfie. Young and naïve, Ellie convinces her uncle to show her a summoning—an act he reluctantly agrees to. The moment… doesn’t go great, but no one dies and it begins Ellie’s introduction to an occult world of magic, angels, demons, and hierarchies far beyond human understanding jotted down in conflicting grimoires and notes scribbled by long-dead madmen.
Twelve years later, Ellie is not the naïve youngster she once was. Other things have changed, too. Alfie is dead, and the circumstances may not be so simple as they first appeared. More immediately, demons, once only summoned by complex rituals, are suddenly appearing at the beck and call of low-level gangsters with only the most basic understanding of magic. Something has changed. And so Ellie sets off with those few people she somewhat trusts, her trusty claw hammer, and all the magical knowledge at her disposal to figure out what happened to Alfie, stop the demonic rampages across the city, and send every one of these beings back to the abyss—even if she has to exorcise each one of them herself.
If only it were that simple.
In Spurrier’s hands, Damn Them All quickly embraces a richly textured mix of noir, dark urban fantasy, and horror. The characters are sharp, the landscape is gritty, and the action draws the reader deeper into this world where there is always some secret or paranormal mystery waiting to be revealed. Not every comic that takes on this scope of storytelling and worldbuilding manages to pull it off, but Spurrier clearly has a handle on the script and the medium to balance all the elements at play here. It’s sometimes a little tricky to keep track of all the players and developments, but the writing quickly brings it all to life and stays strong from start to finish, with snappy dialogue, careful management of time and character jumps, and a bold story that’s only getting started. As great as the demon-hunting adventure is, Spurrier takes the time to go deeper, giving us insight into the complexities of this world and characters, even as incomprehensible beings throw down in the street outside.
Hand-in-hand with Spurrier’s writing, Adlard’s illustrations do a fantastic job creating this world and these characters on the page. With realism that leaves room for stylization, the visuals feel rough and grounded except when reality is interrupted by supernatural forces. As the story continues, these two planes of existence become readily intertwined, as colorful magic courses along gritty back alleys and blood-stained crime scenes. The characters are distinct and diverse, with each page and panel engaging to look at, as investigation moves to action and back again—interspersed with ongoing narration from Ellie and other key characters.
Boom! does not list a specific age rating for this title, but Damn Them All is clearly written for adult audiences. There’s consistent strong language that those familiar with more British styles of cursing may not be surprised by—as well as graphic violence and disfigurement, drug use, and adult situations. The comic has a horror edge to it, but there’s a dark humor running through much of the story that lightens the impact somewhat. The marketing draws an unsurprising comparison to the character of John Constantine, and readers familiar with that brand of gritty but snappy dark fantasy should have an idea of what to expect here. In final summary, Damn them All is not for every collection—but if your readers like mature paranormal noir, Spurrier, Adlard, and the rest of this creative team have created an excellent first volume of a story that should not disappoint readers looking for a complex antihero who’s willing to throw a demon prince through a window just because she’s having a bad day.
Damn Them All By Simon Spurrier Art by Charlie Adlard BOOM! Studios, 2023 ISBN: 9781684159116
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: British Character Representation: British
A disgraced knight. A princess trapped in a ruined castle. It’s a familiar story. Only, this time, what if the princess shouldn’t be saved? What if she’s there for a reason?
Translated from French, NBM Graphic Novels presents Darkly She Goes from the creative team of Hubert and Vincent Mallié—a dark fantasy epic about family legacy, reputation, and redemption. The story begins with the Arzhur, a knight long since fallen out of favor who spends his time drinking and fighting in between taking whatever job will put coin in his pocket. When three strange, old women approach him with a job, Arzhur is intrigued by their promise—rescue the missing princess of a neighboring kingdom and regain his honor. It is the opportunity he has waited for.
However, upon rescuing the princess, Arzhur learns that her exile was self-imposed. The young woman is filled with dark power from her mother’s inhuman bloodline. She fears the damage she might cause her kingdom as well as well as the risk of becoming a pawn in the power struggle between her parents. With her guardians slain, and Arzhur sworn to defend her, she must find a new place of safety. But the princess’s history is full of lies and the path to safety is not unclear. As she and Arzhur draw closer, their desperate search for redemption may not be enough to shelter them from the truths of their pasts. As war rekindles, ruin bears down on them from every direction, with the princess caught in the middle and many bloody corpses scattered across two kingdoms.
Hubert is undeniably a writer who understands the fantasy and mythological traditions this story emerges from. Familiar elements take a unique spin as the adventure moves across two kingdoms, through forest, field, and city, in a story that captures epic scope and a deep emotional core in a single volume. Where some graphic novels struggle to capture a novel’s-worth of narrative in a limited number of pages, Darkly She Goes delivers events that span years, incorporating politics and fantasy alongside more personal storylines—all with the elaborate detail and complexity readers of the genre have come to expect. There are a few key story beats that falter in their delivery, and the plot ultimately ends in a familiar place with few surprises. However, Hubert has nevertheless crafted a sweeping tale with lots of dark fantasy adventure, flawed characters, and complex themes.
As compelling as the story of Darkly She Goes may be, it is the art that truly shines. From the floods of shadowy vermin summoned by the princess’s magic, across the landscapes of two kingdoms, and into each emotional encounter that brings the heroes to the edge of either ruin or salvation, Mallié delivers consistent visuals that bring the story to life, echoing the style and imagery of classic fantasy tales that have come before. As witches leap unnaturally across the kingdom or Arzhur and the princess Islen confess their pasts by firelight, Mallié renders the emotional, the fantastic, and horrific of the journey in rich and sometimes stunning detail. One of the joys of epic fantasy is the vastness of the world, and this one comes to life in Mallié’s hands.
NBM recommends this title for mature audiences and with graphic violence, sex and nudity, and mature themes, that rating feels accurate. It’s nothing mature teens couldn’t handle, but it’s a book aimed at readers of adult fantasy. Audiences need to be ready for the darker elements and themes, and also to not expect anything groundbreaking for those familiar with the genre—but with those caveats, this dark fantasy story delivers a complex narrative with rich visuals that’s worth taking the time to explore.
Darkly She Goes By Hubert Art by Vincent Mallié NBM, 2022 ISBN: 9781681123134
Publisher Age Rating: M NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: French
A massive blizzard, a missing plane, a group huddled together to weather the storm—and the thing that has begun hunting them.
From Boom! Studios and the creative team of Jeremy Haun and Jason Hurley with Jesús Hervás and Lea Caballero comes The Approach, a horror story about surviving the unimaginable when there is nowhere to run. The story opens with Mac, Abi, and the rest of the employees at a rural airport on the verge of shutting down in the face of an onslaught of winter weather. Things are difficult enough when they receive a diverted passenger plane looking for shelter, but the trouble truly begins when a second, smaller plane crashes on site, leaving no survivors.
Only, that is not entirely true. The smaller plane has been missing for 27 years, and one of the bodies pulled from the wreckage soon disappears. Cut off from help and struggling against weather that only promises to get worse, Mac, Abi, and the others soon realize that something on the plane was not human. As it begins to hunt and begins to grow into something truly terrifying, it will take all that the survivors have to escape. While tensions are already high, someone may know more than they let on about the creature, and no amount of heroism guarantees that everyone will make it out alive.
Haun and Hurley have established themselves in horror comics at this point, so it’s no surprise that The Approach aims to deliver some flawed characters facing something truly horrific on the path to survival. Comparisons to movies like Alien and The Thing are inevitable in this sort of sci-fi horror narrative. Though The Approach offers plenty of familiar plot beats and set pieces, it isn’t just a copy-paste of other similar stories. Haun and Hurley set up the key character relationships early on. Some are friendly, others less-so. Mac struggles with pills and a history he’d rather forget. Others are desperate to leave their rural landscape behind in search of better opportunities. None are equipped for the monster headed their way, and the writing delivers some tender moments even after the violence starts. Overall, however, The Approach opts to focus on creature horror and survival over some of its deeper themes and subplots. The result is a story that doesn’t offer a huge amount to latch onto emotionally and also doesn’t do anything wildly unexpected within the genre its embracing.
That being said, Haun and Hurley are a pair of writers willing to aim big, and with Hervás and Caballero providing the art for this story, readers looking for a healthy dose of monster horror will not be disappointed. The barren landscape buried in snow is evident from the opening panels, as are the harsh lines and grim tone that suffuse the book. As events escalate, the artists showcase a diverse cast through dramatic moments of terror and silence while also embracing the visceral violence and horror of a monster that refuses to be contained. It’s a naturally cinematic story, and the creators don’t miss their opportunities to deliver dramatic panels and shocking moments as the fight for survival only goes from bad to worse.
Boom! doesn’t list a specific age rating for this title, but with scattered language, partial nudity, and graphic creature violence, it’s aimed solidly at adult readers with some crossover to older teens who can handle the gore. All of this considered, The Approach is not a required purchase, but if your readership craves more horror options or is a fan of past work from members of this creative team, this book is worth considering. It’s not about to redefine the genre, but if readers want to settle in to a tense story featuring a hideous creature and plenty of horror action and suspense, The Approach has plenty to offer.
The Approach By Jeremy Haun, Jason Hurley Art by Jesús Hervás, Lea Caballero BOOM! Studios, 2023 ISBN: 9781684159086
Publisher Age Rating: 17+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
In the regency era, a marriage of convenience between two people trapped by circumstance may lead either to happiness or the risk of total ruin.
First Second presents Ruined by Sarah Vaughn, Sarah Winifred Searle, and Niki Smith, a graphic Regency romance marketed for fans of Bridgerton. The story opens with the marriage of Catherine Benson and Andrew Davener. Catherine comes from a respectable family and her situation offers a large dowry to whichever man marries her. However, she is overshadowed by swirling rumors that claim she lost her virtue under scandalous circumstances. Andrew’s family has seen a string of deaths, forcing him into the unexpected role as head of a household on the brink of financial ruin. Knowing fully that each is the other’s last chance of redeeming their situations, their wedding is agreeably one of need, not passion.
Such an arrangement naturally comes with difficulty, even before the ghosts of Catherine’s and Andrew’s pasts begin to reappear. But as the couple begins to work together to rebuild the Davener estates and put their affairs in order, something new begins to grow between them. The sparks of love are undeniable, but also terrifying to two people who have found themselves adrift in turmoil they never expected to face. And if they dare to trust one another, it opens their comfortable arrangement up to the possibility of even more heartbreak.
For Ruined, the comparison to Netflix’s Bridgerton series is inevitable. Thankfully, the resemblance goes deeper than the simple trappings of the genre. The world of Ruined embraces a welcome level of diversity. Though the two leads appear to be white, characters of various ethnicities inhabit multiple levels of society throughout the story. Additionally, sub-plots involve side characters of other sexualities and neurodivergence, and all of these characters are integrated smoothly into Vaughn’s version of Regency England. As for the central story, marriage of convenience is a familiar trope, and Vaughn plays it out mostly as expected, though not without some touching moments scattered across Catherine and Andrew’s growing relationship. The writing could sometimes be honed a bit more to the razor sharpness that shines in regency romance stories, but fans of the genre will find plenty to enjoy here nonetheless.
Searle’s art presents a distinct illustrative style, drawing together elements of realism with a decidedly more animated appearance that will work well for some readers, while it will leave others wanting. There are times when the simplicity pays off. In other moments, the story seems to want a rich complexity that the art simply does not capture. However, from lush balls and gardens to moments of intimacy and awkwardness, Searle’s work undeniably portrays the layers and vulnerability of Catherine and Andrew as they are forced to face themselves before they can take a chance on true happiness.
First Second does not list an age rating for this title, but with multiple scenes of nudity and sexual content, Ruined would live most comfortably in the adult areas of any collection. In the end, the book does not rise to the same heights as the Bridgerton show and some similar titles, but it has an undeniable charm which should please readers looking for additional Regency-era romance stories—especially in graphic novel form where this genre of romance is not as common. It may not draw in new readers to the genre, but for any readership that is already onboard with regency romance and related tropes, Ruined is worth considering.
Ruined By Sarah Vaughn Art by Sarah Winifred Searle, Niki Smith Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250769350
Publisher Age Rating: Series ISBNs and Order Related media:
Vincent Van Gogh’s story has always been a complicated one, but the strength of his art and vision has always stood strong—as has his creative and emotional impact so many years after his death.
From Black Panel Press and Jamison Odone comes The Man in the Painter’s Room, a graphic novel telling of Van Gogh’s later years of life and unexpected death. Based on multiple sources and drawing heavily from the memories of the daughter of the innkeeper who housed Van Gogh after his departure from an institution, Odone’s narrative is an intimate look at the painter’s life. The book depicts Van Gogh’s falling out with fellow artist Gaugin through his hospitalization and correspondence with his family and ultimately to his final days wandering the French countryside to create his last works, all while facing the mental illness that followed him for so much of his life.
In delivering the story, Odone gives us a simple presentation that prioritizes quiet moments—interspersed with excerpts of letters between Van Gogh and his family—rather than a detailed biographical accounting. The writing leaves many of the specifics unexplained, opting instead to simply follow Van Gogh along his journey through a selection of scenes stitched together with just enough connective tissue to understand the context. This is not a book for someone wanting an exhaustive biography full of facts and details. Rather, The Man in the Painter’s Room seeks to understand the man himself—understand how Van Gogh moved through the world and understand the conflicting parts of his soul that ultimately drove him to his death.
The book takes a melancholy tone from the beginning, capturing the sparseness of the countryside and the lone painter lost amidst a larger world. But Odone’s writing never loses sight of Van Gogh’s vision. This was a man who sought beauty in every corner of existence, and we see Van Gogh enraptured by houses and skylines, turning the natural world into art that would far outlive him. And the story, even as it relays the biographical details, never limits itself to dry recollections of history. Reminiscent of Tom Gauld’s long-form storytelling, Odone’s work is run through with a dry and subtle humor that finds comedy in simplicity and turns the mundane into something that is always entertaining—and sometimes also profound.
Odone’s art captures the simple and unassuming life of its subject. Without complex detail, the panels weave together a stylized cartoonist style with flourishes of Van Gogh’s own view of the world, embodying a quiet artist in search of beauty and peace amidst a community that did not always see what he did. Stepping sometimes into the surreal and balancing realism with the weight of Van Gogh’s own difficult mental health, the artistic style and straightforward writing complement each other and keep the book engaging.
Ultimately, The Man in the Painter’s Room is a eulogy of Van Gogh’s life and legacy. A simple man who battled his own demons for much of his life; his artistic legacy continues to hold sway. Odone makes sure to recognize the impact that Van Gogh had on his contemporaries and those that followed. The book plays out more as a slice-of-life than true biography, but in balancing subtle humor with the beauty and tragedy of its subject, Odone’s tribute to a famous artist is well worth the read.
For any fans of biography or art history—as well as those who enjoy work similar to Gauld’s Mooncop—The Man in the Painter’s Room packs a lot into its minimal presentation. It will probably be of most interest to older readers who appreciate its subtleties, but there’s not much here that would offend younger readers either. In the end, it might be a slightly niche title, but delivered with both skill and empathy, it’s a caring tribute to both the artist and the man who left so much work to those of us who followed him.
The Man in the Painter’s Room By Jamison Odone Black Panel Press, 2020 ISBN: 9781999470432
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: French, Ambiguous Mental Illness, Depression
A blink, a flash of light—only a moment for the world to be overrun. Suddenly, a mental-health getaway turns into a fight for survival when one young woman finds herself sheltering a young boy in a world full of literal monsters.
From Aftershock Comics, Ed Brisson, and Damian Couceiro, comes Losing California, the first volume of Beyond the Breach, a series about multiversal travel, horrific creatures, and the bonds people form in the midst of life or death situations.
Escaping a messy series of family and relationship situations, Vanessa temporarily leaves her life behind to take a road trip entirely for herself. In the span of a moment, electronics have died and the world around her is overrun with ferocious beasts from other worlds. Rescuing a boy from the carnage and joined by strange, friendly creature and a mysterious traveler from another existence, Vanessa and her new allies make their way through a world they don’t recognize, searching for safety as even greater threats close in around them. Soon, survival will not be enough—Vanessa will need to learn the truth about the incursion if she has any hope of recovering what she lost.
Brisson’s past work includes Deathstroke and Old Man Logan and though his gritty, action sci-fi style is on full display here, Beyond the Breach may offer something a little different for those who are familiar with his work. Though the story does deliver some key moments of character development and interaction along with the necessary world building to understand the larger events of the incursion, Brisson’s storytelling largely embraces a fast-paced narrative that matches the chaos and desperation of Vanessa’s experiences. From the initial chaos, through tense interactions with allies and enemies, right through the climax that resolves the initial arc while still leaving the story open for the next chapter. The journey often values action over an emotional core and trusts the reader to be comfortable with a bit of uncertainty along the way, but the Brisson nevertheless has shown he can deliver a cinematic story, and that remains the case here.
With bold colors and visuals that balance style with realism, Couciero brings the apocalypse to life across these pages. The action is shocking, often bloody, and leaps across the panels with each dramatic illustration. It’s the monsters that often take the forefront here, and Couciero has no shortage of things that crawl, fly, and devour their way through the world as Vanessa and those around her continue their journey. The art captures the familiar and the strange of this remade world alongside the strange beauty of the landscape and the turbulent emotions of the characters. Brisson’s writing aims high, and Couceiro is right there to deliver the story as it all plays out.
Aftershock doesn’t give an age rating for this title, but with strong language and graphic violence, it’s aimed largely at older teens and adults. Beyond the Breach shares some distinct commonalities with series such as Paper Girls and Oblivion Song, albeit with slightly more mature content. It’s not a necessary purchase for every collection, but if your readers have enjoyed sci-fi titles such as those, Beyond the Breach should sit comfortably alongside them on the shelves. Stepping on the gas from the very beginning, Vol. 1 is a brutal and ambitious sci-fi apocalypse road trip. Things get a bit weird, but for comics fans willing to leap between worlds, it’s a wild ride. Just beware—here, there be monsters.
Beyond the Breach: Losing California Vol. 01 By Ed Brisson Art by Damian Couceiro Aftershock, 2021
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)