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+)
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)
From Chisaki Kanai and Yen Press comes My Dear, Curse-Casting Vampiress. In an unfolding conflict between humans and vampires, one captive vampire woman will prove to be the weapon that shapes all their futures.
The story begins with Isuzu, who is a member of an elite government military squad tasked with taking down vampires who threaten the safety of Japan. After a battle with a particularly ferocious enemy, Isuzu and a coworker discuss rumors they have heard of a vampire named Baroque, a beautiful vampire known for expertly killing other vampires. Seeking to protect his country and his comrades, Isuzu decides to learn for himself whether Baroque exists. Only, the moment he finds her locked in a secure government facility is not the end of his fight—it is the beginning.
In breaking Baroque out of prison, Isuzu and his new companion end up battling the vampire who escaped Isuzu the previous day, and Baroque displays her ability to cast curses, dark magic many did not believe to exist. When they are captured, Isuzu is stripped of his military career, but top officials have realized that there is a connection between their former soldier and the vampire they have been unable to force to cooperate in all the years they have held her captive. They order Isuzu to become Baroque’s handler, and with their new weapon secured, they will bring the fight to their vampire enemies.
The only problem is, there are plenty of vampires with their own reasons for hunting Baroque. As for Isuzu and Baroque—they each have their own reasons for cooperating, but agreeing to work for the military, as well as work together, may have more consequences than either of them realizes.
The premise of My Dear, Curse-Casting Vampiress is not an entirely surprising one for manga, but it does set up an engaging dynamic nonetheless. With paranormal action and a tentative partnership/romance at the center, there are lots of engaging storytelling dynamics to be had here, and Volume 1 only barely scratches the surface of what is sure to follow.
While the overarching story is fun to read and sets up some exciting future adventures, the story does feel a bit rushed in its development and sometimes choppy in its execution—particularly in the hurry to introduce Baroque and kick off the main plot. The consequence is that character decisions and plot points do not always feel fully realized as the story charges ahead to its next scene.
In similar fashion, the art offers some excellent moments, both for characterization and action sequences. However, there are other points Where the rush of movement or combat somewhat obscures what is happening in a given moment. Beyond that, the mixture of stylization and realism fit the story well, and the manga is largely a dynamic visual experience that serves largely as an extended prologue setting up what is still to come.
Isuzu presents a familiar enough style of character within this sort of manga, but with enough personality that he is still entertaining to follow. And while much is made of Baroque’s beauty, and she often acts with the quiet timidity characteristic of female characters, the story gives her enough agency as well as combat ability and competence that she rises above simply being a token presence in need of guidance.
Yen Press does not offer an age rating, but My Dear, Curse-Casting Vampiress is solidly suitable for teen readers and older. There is regular violence along with some mildly suggestive content and language, but nothing that will be surprising to established manga readers. As far as collecting the series is concerned, this is not the strongest paranormal action manga on the shelves. If you’re light on budget, there are probably better options available. But if this is the sort of thing your readers can’t get enough of, there are enough promising elements in volume 1 that it’s at the very least a series worth keeping an eye on as the story continues to unfold.
My Dear, Curse-Casting Vampiress Vol. 01 By Chisaki Kanai Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781975364908
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Japanese, Character Representation: Japanese,
When two high school students, one who believes in spirits and one who believes in aliens, challenge each other’s beliefs, it sets off a series of paranormal encounters that quickly spiral out of control in dramatic and absurd fashion.
One day, Momo Ayase intervenes to protect a boy at her school from being bullied, accidentally sparking a tense rapport with the loner she nicknames Okarun. This interaction leads to a challenge. Momo does not believe in aliens. Okarun does not believe in spirits. Because of this, Momo will go to a spot known for alien activity while Okarun will go to an area rumored to be haunted. The pair will then report back on whether they have become believers based on what they find. Neither of them is prepared for the consequences of this simple dare.
In a secluded tunnel, Okarun encounters the spirit known as Turbo Granny who tries to possess him while also stealing… shall we say, a specific part of his anatomy? Meanwhile, Momo runs across the Serpoians, a group of aliens searching for a way to reproduce other than cloning themselves. The encounters leave Momo and Okarun changed—through a mix of psychic abilities and spiritual possession—while also drawing the ire of Turbo Granny and an entire alien race. From this point on, life will never be the same. The pair is launched into an adventure of giant supernatural crabs and randy aliens as they try to make Okarun whole once again while also dealing with the increasingly eccentric cast of characters, human and otherwise, who are drawn into their orbit. Okarun and Momo have become believers—now they just need to survive the beings they never knew existed while also sorting out how they feel about each other. What could go wrong?
Dandadan is created by Yukinobu Tatsu and published by Viz Media. The story begins simply enough, but quickly gains a momentum that rarely lets up as Momo and Okarun are thrust from one situation into the next. Alongside alien encounters and supernatural attacks, Tatsu manages to deliver two characters the reader has no trouble rooting for, even with their personal complications. Moments of sincere emotion intersperse increasingly absurd battles against the paranormal enemies our heroes keep encountering. From early on, this series promise a wild ride, and Tatsu keeps delivering on a premise that has no issue being silly, horny, and wildly dramatic at every turn without overshadowing the characters and relationships that keep it grounded.
The art is fun to look at, too, often richly detailed and capturing the characters and settings in all their complexity. The action sequences play out in familiar enough manga style, but the visuals are bold and easy to follow as the super-powered action keeps raising the stakes. Tatsu also does a great job capturing the visual humor of the series, balancing absurdity and threat to create an epic adventure that never takes itself more seriously than it should. In the end, Dandadan is distinct, wildly fun, and over the top enough to be exactly the sort of story it sets out to be.
Viz gives the series a mature rating with a warning of explicit content. The violence is never overly strong and the tone remains mostly comedic, but there are scattered moments of serious character death and other thematic issues aimed at more mature readers. The larger reason for the rating is simply the constant thread of sexual humor and innuendo that runs through the adventure. The visuals are limited to characters in their underwear and occasional non-graphic nudity, but the suggestive tones of the story—from recovering Okarun’s stolen “family jewels” to the Serpoians’ quest to reproduce—is clearly aimed at an adult audience. There is also occasional sexual threat and other thematic content that, despite the consistently humorous tone of the story, may not be for all readers.
The final verdict is that Dandadan is a madcap paranormal adventure that keeps raising the bar for how weird it’s willing to go. The series is a lot of fun as it introduces an increasing number of complications and fascinating side characters alongside Momo, Okarun, and their uncertain relationship to each other and the very strange world around them. The series is clearly aimed at mature readers, but it is absolutely worth picking up—both for those who are established manga readers and those who haven’t encountered the form before but are open to the sort of chaotic adventure and humor presented here. The first three volumes of Tatsu’s series are a fascinating ride, and I’m curious to see where it goes next.
The epic story of Beowulf comes to life as never before in the incredible clash between a group of neighborhood children and one fun-hating neighbor in the graphic novel reimagining Bea Wolf from First Second comics.
The story of the ancient hero Beowulf battling monsters is a familiar one. Though at a glance, Bea Wolf appears to be a dramatically alternate telling, at the heart of this graphic novel the spirit of Beowulf’s legend lives on. For the children of a comfortable neighborhood, the mighty treehouse called Treeheart is a legendary place of feasting on junk food and freedom from the rules of adults. Passed from one child monarch to the next, the children maintain their riches of toys and sweets as they defend their borders against teens, adults, and responsibilities. It all threatens to fall apart when they draw the anger of a neighborhood adult named Grindle who wants to silence Treeheart once and for all. In this dire moment, a hero will rise. This is where the legend of Bea Wolf truly begins.
Told in epic verse, the ancient poem lives on in these pages, just with a few more fart jokes and modern references than were in the original. In place of all that gruesome death, Bea Wolf finds its tension in the struggle between youth and aging, between the freedom of childhood and the perceived dread of adulthood. The story is bursting with youth run rampant. Among other things, Beowulf is a story of mortality and Weinersmith reframes that in a way relatable and accessible for children who long to run free.
Bea Wolf also maintains some of the complexities of the original in other ways. Though the children are set up as the heroes of the narrative, there is a measure of recognition that Grindle/Grendel is just trying to live his own life in constantly-disrupted peace. Bea’s bosting is not diminished in this child form of the title character and there are shifting power struggles throughout, even as the children gorge themselves on candy and carve out their refuge from the larger world. As an introduction for young readers to Beowulf, Weinersmith follows up the story with readily accessible backmatter explaining the history and significance of Beowulf, providing a launch pad for further discussion and future learning.
Illustrated by French cartoonist Boulet, the art of Bea Wolf is a delight to look at. With cartoon stylings and fun energy, the visuals capture childhood in a larger-than-life fashion that perfectly fits the grandeur of the telling. At the same time, the pictures embrace the aesthetic of a medieval manuscript as well as the historical epic that inspired this volume. With chapter breaks, dramatic scenes of confrontation and revelry, and a keen understanding of what this reimagining is meant to be, Boulet brings together the best of ancient and modern illustrations to create Bea Wolf as a modern story of epic proportions. And with natural diversity woven throughout the various children that cross the pages, lots of children should have the chance to see themselves reflected across the story.
First Second lists Bea Wolf as being for ages 8-12, and this seems like an ideal audience. Even with the modern touches, the epic verse style of the writing may be a bit difficult for younger children to work through on their own. But for young readers willing to embrace an unfamiliar writing style, or for children sharing the book with older readers or educators, Bea Wolf is a lot of fun and has plenty of richness to delve into along the way. (There’s lots here to love for older readers on their own, as well.)
All in all, Bea Wolf is a highly successful reimagining of an ancient classic, making the story of Beowulf accessible and enjoyable to young readers without sacrificing the spirit of the original. It should make a great addition to any graphic novel collection for older children on up.
Bea Wolf By Zach Weinersmith Art by Boulet Macmillan First Second, 2022 ISBN: 9781250776297
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: French
A request that can’t be ignored. Three semi-estranged friends on a road trip after years apart. Though they don’t understand the reasons that brought them back together, all three know that this trip may be a turning point in all their lives—and that’s before things get weird.
Polly, Moho, and Piter, along with their friend Héctor, once bonded over their love of music and their dreams of where life might one day take them. Years later, those dreams have not come to pass and their time together has turned into memories tinged with bitterness—until a final request from Héctor draws them together to carry their friend’s remains to an X he marked on a map where each hopes to find some sort of resolution.
It sounds like a simple road trip, right? It should have been, but add in an ex-circus monkey and two mercenary brothers in cowboy hats, one of whom carries a banjo. The journey takes them away from an angry cowboy, through a ship graveyard, and into the sights of a stranger whose livelihood may be less than legal. At first, it seemed that the greatest struggle would be getting along with one another, but as each situation spirals more out of control, finding what lies at Héctor’s X may be the least of their difficulties.
From IDW and Top Shelf Productions, Ashes is the debut English-language graphic novel from acclaimed Spanish cartoonist Álvaro Ortiz. Blending dark comedy and drama with touches of absurdity, the book weaves the characters’ pasts and presents together with glimpses of broader history in a thoughtful whole that considers the way human stories play out across the years. Bold and unique, the result is a fun road-trip adventure with action and surprises that ultimately reveals itself to be a simple but moving examination of grief, growing up, and finding your own way in a world that doesn’t always go quite the way you want it to.
Ortiz’s illustrations are stylized and cartoonish, but with a seriousness to the characters that works well in capturing the blended tones of the writing. Though it occasionally takes a touch of effort to separate flashback from the present story, the art largely succeeds in bringing together the pieces of the story as it unfolds. Capturing subtle moments of humor as well as the grander moments of stillness, the art is distinctive, fun to look at, and connected tightly to the story Ortiz builds here.
IDW does not list a rating for this title. Throughout the story, there are instances of strong language, violence, nudity, and drug content—among other things—and though the visual style does lessen the impact of the content, it remains a title best suited for older readers. In the end, Ashes is a quirky book with some truly touching moments. Not every scene lands perfectly, and a brief appearance from a strongly queer-coded villain feels somewhat cheap, but overall it’s well worth the investment for readers looking for something a little different, comics in translation, or stories with some dramatic themes that still manage to have fun along the way. Additionally, fans of Kyle Starks work such as the Six Sidekicks of Trigger Keaton will likely appreciate both the artistic style and storytelling present here. It’s a bit of a chaotic graphic novel, but that’s clearly intentional, and Ortiz ultimately does bring it all back home again with touching sincerity.
Ashes is a wacky road trip with heart and it’s worth tagging along with these characters as they discover what lies at the X on the map that brought them back together.
Ashes By Álvaro Ortiz Top Shelf, 2023 ISBN: 9781603095174
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Spanish Character Representation: Spanish