Say Anything

Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018. 384p. 9780374300289
Sarah: So I read the original novel by Laurie Halse Anderson right after it came out, which I hadn’t realized was published so long ago.
Gene: (Did we just lose power in your apartment? I think we did.)
S: (You’re on battery though. We can do this in total blackout.)
G: I read the original about 2001. It was a huge novel.
S: A big deal. To some extent it reminded me…on Last Week Tonight there was something about the Me, Too movement, and how this is great, but at the same time there have been these movements over and over again over the past decades, and things don’t always change. That’s the first thing it reminded me of: Oh, yeah, we were all going to do things differently back in 2001 and then that didn’t necessarily happen. I want to put more pressure on people — How are we going to change this? How are we going to stop the silence?
G: This book is about the aftermath of a sexual assault, and it’s not really clear until the end if you’re a young teen, but if you’re an adult it’s super obvious early on when she’s not talking about the big secret.
S: Yeah. And that’s what the novel was like, too.
G: I remember the thing about the novel, which was out back when we both started as Teen Services Librarians, was that it was powerful and serious about a serious thing and told in a way that hadn’t been done before. It was the leading edge of what teen fiction was and could do.
S: Before, if sexual assault was mentioned in a book, it was in a “problem novel.” This was not a problem novel. This was a straight up great book that didn’t back down and talked about how much this had hurt her and how much she couldn’t speak and how much people weren’t going to believe her.
G: I was really worried, as I always am by graphic novel adaptations. Most of them are terrible even if they’re based on books I loved, or maybe especially since they’re based on books I loved. There’s always a thing about pacing where a novel can relax more than a graphic novel can, because it’s so much work to convert a book into a graphic novel, it takes a lot of room, maybe more pages than are easily drawn or printed or whatever. And so some graphic novel adaptations just try to cram as much as possible onto every page, and they don’t have the same pace, and it feels like craft goes out the window.
S: And there are things you can’t hide in a visual format.
G: I don’t think this book tries to “hide” what happened as much as the novel. It’s pretty obvious what happened…
S: It’s a book that was written 17 years later, so this was written post-Speak, and the original novel did change things.
G: Absolutely. And I just want to say Emily Carroll is great. Into the Woods is fantastic.
S: I saw it was her and I was like, This is going to be fine!
G: Black and white art was a beautiful choice. I love the way this book looks, the pacing, everything about it. Carroll, even when she puts a lot on a single page, she makes you sit with it somehow, which is what the book was like — you’re with this girl in a terrible…well, it’s not a moment, but the extended aftermath.
In the beginning when she feels alienated from everyone in school, when she’s sitting and looking at everyone else, and thinking about how awful she is, and about how they get to misbehave and still feel clean, and then some girl leans in and says, Oh you’re the one who called the cops on that party and got everyone busted. And then she’s alone in the stands in a spotlight, and everyone else is grayed out around her. It’s beautiful.
S: Perfect.  I think it doesn’t start until partway through, but the rabbit imagery, and then they start popping up as voices in her head: You need to be scared right now! You’re in danger right now! You need to get away right now!  That’s the panic she feels after this happened to her. She feels like prey, like she’s helpless. And then the rabbits become less afraid as she gains strength.  I think the rabbits tell her horrible fake friend to fuck off.
G: I don’t remember those rabbits from the novel itself.
S: I don’t either.
G: But it’s amazing how much a graphic novel brings some imagery to the front because you can see it even if it doesn’t resonate with you. It makes you remember it.
There are moments for me that remind me of some of the best Hellblazer comics, where she’s looking in the mirror and her face is melting off.  She’s looking in the mirror like it’s fogged over, and then it’s like the steam condenses over it like she has no face, which is exactly how she sees herself: no mouth, no eyes.
S: It’s effective.
G: And the drawings are able to make the boy look demonic when needed. It puts us right into her mind.
S: Everyone else sees him as this clean cut jock guy. And then when he starts to stalk her, he becomes this thing that looks like a demon, an animal.
G: When he’s dating her “friend,” she’s trying to figure out who to tell.
S: You finally see the events of that night. While she’s having fun at the party, you as the reader can see him lock onto her drinking a little too much, and not having friends around her. He follows her to a place no one can hear her scream. She is not seeing that.
G: And it’s not too graphic at that moment. I remember the book handled it in much the same way. But I still think people are going to start insisting this needs to be banned, and maybe the original, too. Maybe because it’s black and white censors won’t look at it quite as carefully.
S: I know! It can be hard to get across to people, especially those who enjoy banning things, that the rape isn’t about sex. It’s about violence, control. That really came across on the page. And I think as Anderson says in the introduction, so much of the character’s recovery is about art that it’s a great fit: being able to see Melinda trying to express herself.

You’re Awesome

Supergirl: Being Super by Mariko Tamaki and Joëlle Jones. 9781401268947. DC Comics, 2018. Contains #1 – #4 of the series.

I’ve enjoyed every graphic novel by Mariko Tamaki I’ve read: She-Hulk: Deconstructed and Luisa, This One Summer, and Skim. I didn’t expect this one to pull me in as easily as it did — I’m not much of a Supergirl fan, but between the conversations Kara Danvers (Zor-El) has with her her friends, the moments with her parents, and the way Tamaki folds Kara’s feelings about being a super powered alien into being a super alienated teen, I couldn’t put this book down. Joëlle Jones art helped — her lines and layouts are beautiful — and Kelly Fitzpatrick’s colors made sure I didn’t miss essential details.

It’s great to see a new creative team put forth their version of an existing character’s origin story without some newsworthy, over-the-top detail designed to get mainstream media attention. My favorite character: Kara’s badass friend, Dolly, who has a great T-shirt collection. My favorite moment: the super explosive zit. And I LOVED the scenes of the barn fire, which is not something I ever thought I’d write.

Acid Free

Archival Quality by Ivy Noelle & Steenz. Oni Press, 2018. 9781620104705. 276pp.

After losing her previous job because of a breakdown, Celeste is hired to archive photos at the Logan Museum, a spooky building which houses a collection of medical photos, documents, and more. Things feel weird and spooky right from the beginning. She’s only allowed to work at night. Her boss, Holly, and the Curator, Abayomi, seem both overly concerned and unwilling to share information about the place, despite the fact that someone may have broken in while she was there alone. There’s also a mysterious Board of Directors, and the weird more-than-dreams that Celeste is starts to have.

This is a great readalike for Vera Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost, about a girl who falls into a hole and makes a ghostly “friend.” Librarians reading it may be disappointed that neither librarian in the story has an MLIS, and that the cataloging of the photos Celeste scans isn’t at all technical, but overall this is a good read about a young woman trying to make her way back into the library work world, and the spooky stuff all ends up having a mental health tie-in.

Earth Girl

Space Boy Volume 1 by Stephen McCranie. Dark Horse, 2018. 9781506706481. 245pp. Originally published as Space Boy episodes 1 – 16 at webtoons.com

(A white-haired boy drifts in deep space, alone in spaceship that’s silent except when the rockets make a course correction.)

Amy thinks everyone has a different flavor. She and her parents lived on a mining colony, at least until her dad lost his job. Then they had to make the 30 year journey back to earth. She doesn’t age because of cryosleep, but her best friend Jemmah, who she leaves behind, does. Amy feels super awkward at her new high school where everyone uses augmented reality glasses, and she can’t bring herself to contact a now middle-aged Jemmah. But she does make a few friends and the blue sky overhead is awesome. Plus there’s a quiet, mysterious white-haired boy who has no flavor. How did he get to Earth from the deep space? No clue. (I hope to find out in Volume 2.)

McCranie’s art has a very nostalgic-for-the-future feel, with shapes and colors that recall classic Hannah Barbara cartoons and give the story a nice flow. The next book comes out soon, but I think I’ll check out the next few episodes on the webtoons site before then — they’re posted there as scrolling vertical chapters, and they work equally well as printed books, which is an amazing feat.

The smell of familiar houses

Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt With Family Addiction by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Scholastic Graphix, 2018. 9780545902489. 310pp.

Krosoczka’s mom was the third of five kids. Her parents weren’t too happy when she got pregnant (she was pretty young), but supported her by buying her a house near them. His early memories are happy, but there’s a dark edge there — men coming over, a recurring nightmare of being surrounded by monsters. After his mother gets arrested (not for the first time), his parents move Jarrett into their house. He lives there as his mother drifts in and out of his life, seeming to get better and then relapsing. She lets him down again and again as he grows up, discovers his love of creating comics, and finally even meets his father, who didn’t want to have anything to do with him when he was born.

The book is full of drinking and smoking (I bet his grandparents’ place smelled like my parents’ houses) and even has a little swearing (though I bet there was a lot more in real life). It was a dark, difficult read for me because it all hit so close to home. It’s stayed with me, and I’ve found myself returning to its pages over and over again since finishing it a few weeks back, and I know there are kids out there who will read it repeatedly even though it’s not as funny as his Lunch Lady, Jedi Academy, and Platypus Police Squad series.

I need a Walkman to play all my old mixtapes

Luisa: Now and Then by Carole Maurel. Translated by Nanette McGuinness. English Language Adaptation by Mariko Tamaki. Humanoids, 2016. 9781594656439.

17-year-old Luisa falls asleep on a bus and wakes up in Paris seventeen years later and, with the help of a young woman (Sasha), she meets and is taken in by her 34-year-old self (they pretend they’re cousins). I was worried the book would have a wacky Freaky Friday vibe, but it’s a fairly quiet story in which the younger Luisa is horrified at how her older self has fallen out of touch with friends and settled for a career that’s not as glamorous as planned. Both Luisas are attracted to the older’s neighbor Sasha, and it’s no surprise there are conversations about a young woman Luisa just kissed in the past and hiding who they are (especially from their mother).

Younger Luisa’s clothes and Walkman took me right back to the 80s. The only time I’ve had a similar flashback to my teen years is seeing the hairstyles and shoulder pads in Papergirls, and when I see costumes in Uncanny X-men issues numbered in the mid 100s.

The Starlost

Lost Stars Volume 1 (Star Wars) by Yusaku Komiyama, based on an original story by Claudia Gray. Yen Press, 2018. 9781975326531. 256pp.

A Japanese manga adaptation of a Star Wars novel originally written in English, translated back into English. Strange thought? Yeah. Worth reading? Totally.

Thane and Ciena are friends who grew up on the same backward planet with the same dream: attend the Imperial Academy. At the academy they were on the verge of becoming more than friends, but were driven apart. Now Thane flies an X-wing for the Rebellion, and Ciena is rising in the Imperial ranks. How’d all this happen? It’s not quite clear by the end of this, the first volume of the story, which takes place in the background of the original Star Wars trilogy (the good one, the original original, not the three movies you’re trying to forget).

When I talk about comics at library staff days and conferences, I meet a lot of folks who never read manga. I often recommend they try the original Star Wars manga that Dark Horse published back in the 90s because it’s easier to relate to the manga art style when the story is already familiar. But since those are long out of print, this is going to become my go-to recommendation for such folks. The focus lines make X-wings soar and help the AT-ATs on Hoth look extra intimidating. The layouts make for some amazing pacing. And everyone has such great hair! It’s kind of a relief. (I mean, have you watched the original trilogy lately? Why did no one in that far far galaxy ever invent hair care products?)

I Know What You Did Last Summer

All Summer Long by Hope Larson. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018. 9780374310714. 172pp.

I loved this amazing middle grade graphic novel by Hope Larson (A Wrinkle in Time, Batgirl, Chiggers, and my favorite of hers, Salamander Dream). Bina (13) is stuck at home and all alone after finishing 7th grade when her best friend and next door neighbor Austin (also 13) heads for soccer camp. They’re growing up and may be growing apart — Austin doesn’t want to participate in calculating their Combined Summer Fun Index anymore, and seems to be looking ahead to high school rather than their last year in middle school. But she starts to get seriously good on her electric guitar, and finds a few bands she really likes. Has she found her thing, music? Are things about to get weird between her and Austin? Can she really be friends with Austin’s older sister, Charlie, the loudest lifeguard at the pool?

Larson’s graphic novel captures something true about the transitional time at the end of middle school without turning it into too overt a lesson, and shows that, yeah, boys and girls can absolutely be just friends for the long term.

Unruly Assassins for the Exceptional Assassin Trainer

Deadly Class Volume 1: Reagan Youth (1987) by Rick Remender and Wes Craig. Image, 2015. 9781632150035. Contains Deadly Class #1 – #6. Publisher’s Rating M / Mature.

I hadn’t read this series by Remender, and when I saw the Syfy network will soon air a show based on it, I wanted to read at least a bit of it before it aired. Based on the first collection, I’m going to give the TV series a try (but first I’m going to read the other collections — including the 7th, which comes out this August).

San Francisco, 1987. Marcus is living on the streets after the Sunset Boys Home was closed down. It’s rough, but he prefers it, and when begging isn’t enough to get by he turns to petty crime. And he’s being watched.

During a Day of the Dead celebration, he runs afoul of a police sting, and a beautiful girl helps him escape the cops (though she also helps abduct him). It’s all good, though, because a dapper bald guy with a serious mustache wants to make him an offer: attend Kings Dominion School of the Deadly Arts and train to become one of the world’s greatest assassins. The girl is already a student there so, really, in what world would he say no?

Marcus enters the school with a dangerous rep (it’s not clear why for a while), and gets a lot of the wrong kind of attention from different cliques. The cops are after him, breaking the school’s rules can have serious consequences, and there’s a disfigured redneck straight out of Preacher hunting him, too. But Marcus wants to succeed because he wants revenge. He plans to kill the man he blames for his parents’ deaths: Ronald Reagan.

Death and Catses

The Family Trade written by Justin Jordon & Nikki Ryan, art by Morgan Beem. Image, 2018. 9781534305113. 144pp. Contains issues #1 – #5 of the comic book. Publisher’s Rating T / Teen

In the Atlantic Ocean there’s an artificial island called The Float, aka the Free Republic of Thessalia, a center for commerce and democracy in a world like ours but with a little more magic. Jenn Wynn’s family has always secretly done whatever was needed to keep the Float above water, including stealing and killing. At the start of the story she’s out to assassinate a corrupt politician out to seize power for himself by getting people to believe his half truths. Things don’t go well, but she’ll try again. Luckily she can pretend to be a sweet, innocent girl if needed, and she’s also got an army of “talking” cats on her side.

Beem’s illustrations are really fun, and her watercolors bring my favorite of Richard Scala’s color comics to my mind. You can see some of Beem’s comics and illustrations here