The bold cartooning knight is back, and she’s ready for her biggest adventure yet! She wants to travel to new and fantastic worlds—but first, she’ll have to draw them. Her horse, Edward, is no help at all; he can’t seem to draw anything but food. When the knight gets frustrated and yells at him, Edward leaves. Well, she doesn’t need him, anyway! She’ll draw her own fabulous worlds! She just has to figure out how.
Luckily, the Magical Cartooning Elf is here to help. He shows the knight some tricks for drawing worlds, like how to use a horizon line and how to show distance and scale by overlapping objects. When the Elf leaves to help other budding cartoonists, the knight starts drawing world after world: islands, cities, alien planets, and more. But each one is missing the one thing she really wants: Edward. How can she get him back?
Readers of the Adventures in Cartooning series will enjoy learning about world-building with the impetuous knight and the Magical Cartooning Elf. The Elf explains some helpful basic techniques for drawing settings, while the knight demonstrates brainstorming methods to help fill out those settings. For example: “I started jotting down all the things that make a city a city… I had to look at pictures to remind myself of everything!”
Then, of course, there’s the story. (After all, this is Adventures in Cartooning, not Instructions in Cartooning.) The tips and tricks all fit into the tale of an impatient knight realizing that even the wildest adventures aren’t much fun without her best friend.
The characters are drawn using simple shapes, and the worlds start that way, too. Beginning cartoonists may share the knight’s frustration at having to practice and learn to draw more complex elements, and will be encouraged by the book’s assurance that even simple shapes can create complex worlds—and if you start with the basics, your skills will grow as you go. Readers can enjoy this book on its own or along with others in the series, some of which cover other elements of cartooning, like drawing characters, speech bubbles, and more.
Adventures in Cartooning, Vol. 3: Create a World By James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, Alexis Frederick-Frost Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250839411
Publisher Age Rating: 6-10
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)
Cade is a shy, horror-movie-obsessed teen living in rural Texas. Surrounded by homophobia, he figures he’ll never be able to come out as gay, let alone find a boyfriend. Anyway, he has other things to worry about. His family is low on money, so his parents insist that Cade get a summer job at a ranch, which pays better than the more comfortable indoor jobs he would prefer. It’s hard labor, but on the plus side he gets to work with Henry, the teenaged son of the ranch owner. Henry is attractive, mysterious, and possibly interested in Cade. But there are rumors swirling around the ranch. People have died. In fact, the whole situation reminds Cade of a horror movie. Will he be the next victim?
This is a retelling of Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey, in which a young woman allows her love of Gothic novels to color her perception of the real world. Like the heroine of that novel, Cade sees and hears a few strange things and lets his imagination fill in the gaps with terrifying theories. Changing the Gothic novels to horror movies and the setting to a lonely ranch in modern-day Texas makes for a creative update. Cade’s unease and sense of being in danger are supported by encounters with racist and homophobic locals—a situation based on the author’s own experience growing up queer, closeted, and Latine in rural Texas.
Cade comes from a class background that is underrepresented in teen fiction: his blended, multiracial family is struggling financially, living in a rural area where military service and religion play a large part in many people’s lives. This adds to Cade’s isolation, as there is a lot of homophobia in the local culture. Even his generally well-meaning stepdad casually uses homophobic language. Henry, too, has struggled to reconcile his identity with his church’s condemnation of queer people.
A content note at the beginning advises that the book contains “moments of homophobia, misogyny, racism, domestic violence, animal cruelty, and confronting death.” There is a character whose past includes becoming suicidal and spending time in a mental health facility, and another character uses stigmatizing language about it. And although he is seeing a therapist and working on his anger issues, Henry can be violent, which is an alarming quality in a love interest. There are also a handful of swear words, up to and including the f-bomb. Despite all that, though, this story is not grim throughout. It is, after all, a romance, with plenty of sweet moments and—eventually—a hopeful ending.
The art is cute and expressive, with a simplified realistic style reminiscent of Faith Erin Hicks. The book is two-color, with shades of red and pink punctuated by bold black and lots of deep shadows, especially in the creepy parts. Horror movie fans may notice a few classic film posters in some of the panels.
This is a creative retelling that stands alone. Sometimes sweet and sometimes gripping, it addresses tough topics but also brings humor and smooches. Hand it to fans of Kevin Panetta’s Bloom and Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper.
Northranger By Rey Terciero Art by Bre Indigo Harper Collins Harper Alley, 2023 ISBN: 9780063007383
Publisher Age Rating: 13+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Hiromi Sakura is a burned-out office worker. He once dreamed of heroically helping people, but now works long, unappreciated hours for a toxic boss. He does have one friend at work, Saotome, but otherwise, Sakura’s life is pretty bleak. Then, on his way home from work one day, he sees a child being attacked by a bizarre and frightening creature. Sakura pulls off his tie and rushes to the rescue, but he’s no match for the monster—until he unexpectedly transforms into a magical girl, complete with super-strength, incredible reflexes, and fast healing. After winning the fight, Sakura changes back to his usual self, full of confusion. Aren’t magical girls the stuff of fiction? And even in fiction, isn’t it usually girls who transform into them? Why is this happening to Sakura? And what was that monster?
When Sakura’s work friend Saotome discovers his secret, he enthusiastically volunteers to help. Saotome pushes Sakura to learn more about his abilities, and also assists Sakura using his incredible wealth and influence (for Saotome, a citywide security announcement or a helicopter ride is just a phone call away). Which is good, because more monsters are turning up, and the entity responsible for them is interested in the city’s new magical girl. Sakura is going to need all the help he can get.
This manga offers an oddball spin on the magical girl trope. Most magical girl stories center on teenage girls who, when not transformed, usually attend school and live with their parents. This one follows a tired, insecure adult who lives alone and spends his days at the office. Indeed, a lot of this volume is devoted to Sakura’s work life, especially after he is assigned to mentor a new employee. Sakura is kind and welcoming, even shielding the new recruit from the ire of their abusive boss. This plotline later intersects with Sakura’s magical girl adventures, but the workplace scenes show that Sakura can be heroic in quieter, more ordinary ways.
Neither monsters nor magical girls seem to be part of the generally-accepted reality of Sakura’s world, as people are shocked and confused to see either one. However, Sakura is certainly aware of the concepts and tropes: during his first battle, he complains, “So I’ve got the costume but no weapon? Not even a helpful little mascot thing?”
Like most magical girl stories, this manga contains violence, mostly in the form of supernatural battles. The monsters Sakura faces were once human, and their transformations can be quite creepy. Sakura’s everyday, non-monster-fighting life is also decidedly more adult than that of most magical girls: he works for a jerk who mocks the notions of safe spaces and work-life balance and claims that accusations of abuse are just employees being “wimps.” There is also a little swearing and one reference to porn magazines, though no actual nudity or sexual behavior.
The art is active, with dynamic character poses even in the scenes that are set at Sakura’s corporate job. The page layouts vary, adding visual interest. Sakura’s magical girl form and the monsters he fights match the rest of the art in terms of style, but they stand out for being bizarre and different in the otherwise ordinary city setting.
The magical girl genre has inspired many spinoffs, including grim ones like the Puella Magi series and Magical Girl Raising Project. This is a more comedic take, though not without some serious elements. Its corporate-office drama and zany after-hours hijinks might appeal to fans of Aggretsuko, though obviously Magical Girl Incident has more combat and fewer cute animals.
Magical Girl Incident, Vol. 1 By Zero Akabane Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781975360368
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Best friends Grace and Lola talk about everything together—and lately, they’re talking a lot about love. Relationships and boys are a mystery to both girls, but they are curious,. They decide to launch a project together to find out more: the Love Report.
In a shared notebook, they record everything they learn as they interview people who might have a useful angle on love: the school gossip, a couple who just started dating, two female friends who are feuding over a boy, the pretty girl who all the boys like, and the tough girl with a bad reputation. Lola even gets up the nerve to talk to the boy she likes! But heartache is coming for both girls. Will their friendship get them through? And will they ever understand love?
This story features close friendships, school drama, and family issues. Grace is a little jaded and skeptical, with a string of short relationships behind her, while Lola is less experienced and more hopeful about romance. The rest of the cast—mostly their classmates, with occasional appearances by their family members—brings other backgrounds and personalities to the mix. The story is set mostly at school and at various character’s homes, with a few forays into other parts of the unnamed city where it takes place.
In all the talk about love and relationships, the story acknowledges, but does not thus far actually show, the existence of LGBTQ+ people. For instance, Grace suggests that the boy who keeps dodging Lola’s attention might already have a girlfriend, or “maybe a boyfriend.” Characters take it in stride when the possibility of same-sex dating is mentioned, but we don’t actually see any of it happen.
This book collects the first two volumes of The Love Report, which were originally published in French as Coeur Collège (BeKa is a two-person writing team based in France). The illustrator is Italian. There are a few traces of the original French, including characters whose names have changed: for example, whenever Lola’s name appears in the illustrations, and at least once in a speech bubble, she is called Linon. There are also a couple of places with possible missing words or other small editing slips, but nothing big enough to cause confusion.
The illustrations are rich with detail. The delicate line art and varied but low-intensity color palette give a sense of cozy softness that is underscored by a lot of the visuals: fluffy hair, puffy or slouchy jackets and sweaters, rumpled beds, even poofy autumn trees. The style is realistic, but with clear manga influences. The characters are lively and expressive.
While the book has zero nudity and doesn’t show anything more sexual than a few kisses, there is discussion of one girl having a reputation for being “easy.” The words “bimbo,” “slut,” and “bitch” appear once or twice each, though the latter two are used by unpleasant characters and clearly not meant to be viewed as acceptable. There are some tough family situations, including parents who fight and a verbally abusive stepmother. There is also one scene of mild danger when a man chases and threatens our protagonists before being scared away.
With sympathetic characters exploring a topic of near-universal interest, plus a cozy and colorful art style, this book will appeal to fans of realistic fiction and school stories. Hand it to older readers of Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, and Shannon Hale’s graphic novels, especially if they are open to an art style with more of a manga feel.
The Love Report Vol. 1 By BeKa Art by Maya Hippo Park (an imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers), 2023 ISBN: 9781662640407
Publisher Age Rating: 10 and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: French, Italian Character Representation: Assumed Black
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