“She’s what I want to be…”

The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell and various writers. Alfred A. Knopf, 2018. 9781524719371.

This is the most fun, colorful, entertaining, and sweet-natured graphic novel on diversity and inclusivity that’s ever been. It belongs in your library unless you’re worried great kids comics will distract them from reading “real books.”

A neighborhood full of kids uses imagination to immerse themselves in a world full of magic and super powers where they can be whoever they like. When the young boy who likes to dress as The Sorceress falls into a pool, ruining his outfit, his sister (who wears long Loki horns) makes him a new crown. Their neighbor doesn’t want to play until she makes herself armor and a sword. There’s the beast next door and his sister, The Huntress, and the Hulk-like green banshee whose grandma thinks she should behave and be quiet (her mom supports her inner monster). I want to go on and on but this shouldn’t just be a list. The kids are awesome. My favorite was the boy who dressed as The Blob in a rock-like costume (with streamers) — he’s dispirited when no one can figure out what he’s supposed to be, but then the other kids help turn him into his inner fanged menace. A close second for me is Professor Everything, a bit of a know-it-all who uses advice from books to try to make friends after alienating everyone. (It doesn’t work out until he meets the kingdom’s Scribe, who is totally into comics.)

I ranted about this during my graphic novel presentation at the SWAN conference in Illinois. I hope you were there.

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

The Better To Eat You With, Ma Dear.

Scales & Scoundrels Volume 1: Into The Dragon’s Maw by Sebastian Girner and Galaad. Image, 2018. 9781534304826. Originally published in Scales & Scoundrels #1-#5. Publisher’s Rating: Rated E / Everyone.

This lighthearted, all-ages fantasy graphic novel reminded me of the fun moments in Scott Chantler’s Three Thieves series and the humor in Eric Colossal’s Rutabaga the Adventure Chef books. Galaad’s art and his bright colors in particular add to the tone. And it pretty much had to be fun — Girner also wrote the epic Shirtless Bear Fighter last year, which is the funniest bit of superhero(ish) nonsense I’ve read in a long time. (Bears are attacking civilization and the world needs a hero who’s got both an amazing backstory and a bearskin-covered jet (and whose junk is pixelated when he’s also pantsless, so the book is safe for kids to read). Had me in tears.)

Scales & Scoundrels starts out when a treasure hunter named Luvander is in trouble for cheating at cards. Her escape hints that she may be an urden (dragon). Then she helps out three folks who become her traveling companions: a prince, his shadow, and their dwarven guide. Soon they’re all heading underground into the Dened Lewen in search of treasure. What they find there is stranger and freakier than they expect (and is fodder for a lot more great art).

“O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here!”

Phoebe and Her Unicorn in The Magic Storm by Dana Simpson. Amp Comics for Kids, 2017. 9781449483593. 157pp.

The backstory: Phoebe helped a unicorn, Marigold, stop looking at her reflection in a pond. Marigold granted her a wish. Phoebe wished that they’d be best friends, and they have been ever since.

Now disturbing magical forces are at work, and there’s extreme weather on the way. Her less than friendly rival (bully?) Dakota, Queen of the Goblins (or something), is a bit nasty to her at school. (They carry her to school on a litter while Phoebe rides Dakota.) But that’s balanced out by Phoebe’s friendship with Max, who loves science. Phoebe and Marigold will need both of them to deal with whatever is taking both heat and magic from the town.

The marketing blurb I received with my review copy says that it’s about discovering the importance of teamwork (and it is). But it’s also some of the most skillful, fun cartooning I’ve seen in a long time. Plus there’s some nice metallic foil on the cover that gives the title and the lightning bolt glow a shiny glow in the right light.

This is the first full-length Phoebe and Her Unicorn graphic novel.  If these look familiar, it’s probably because there have been five books so far that collect the comic strips.

Ether/Or

Ether: Death Of The Last Golden Blaze by Matt Kindt and David Rubin. Dark Horse, 2017. 9781506701745. Contains Ether #1 – #5.

Boone Dias, a scientist, is addicted to traveling to the magical realm of the Ether. He’s researching how the supernatural works, trying to explain it all in scientific terms. But on this trip, the capital city’s mayor needs his help. Someone has murdered The Blaze, sworn protector of The Ether, inside a locked room. (She was the city’s strong, magic sword wielding superhero.) Boone is pretty sure Lord Ubel (an evil librarian!) is behind it, but proving that is going to be difficult. And along the way he and the realm’s gatekeeper, Glum, are going to have to face a copper golem that threatens not only the Ether but our world as well.

It’s a great start to a series that threatens to have both emotional depth (via Boone’s relationship with his estranged family) and a whole lot of magical weirdness. The weirdest thing about it? To travel between worlds, Boone has to hang himself and get kicked in the butt by an ape. The coolest thing? The colors. Rubin is an amazing artist, but somehow he’s an even better colorist. (Check out both volumes of his The Hero if you like his art as much as I do.)

Go, Gherkin. Go!

Cucumber Quest #1: The Doughnut Kingdom by Gigi D.G. First Second, 2017. 9781626728325. 189pp.

You know that kind of cartoon art I don’t have a name for? The one which features drawings that don’t have any inks at their base, they’re just layers of paint (or digital color) instead, and they just look really soft. This books is that style, and it’s cheery and fun.

Cucumber is a young rabbit getting ready to move to Puffington’s Academy for the Magically Gifted (and/or Incredibly Wealthy). But the Doughnut Kingdom’s Caketown Castle has been seized by the evil Queen Cordelia. Cucumber’s dad wants him to forget school and put an end to whatever she’s doing. The Dream Oracle shows up to put him on the right track. But Cucumber isn’t much of a hero. Luckily his little sister, Almond, is.

There are magic items, monsters that aren’t too monstrous, and lots of color. I’d give it to any kid looking for something to read, and I can’t wait for the second book, which comes out next year. But if you can’t wait, or want to read it now, the whole things still seems to be available here.

Ring My Bell

Injection Volume One by Warren Ellis, drawn by Declan Shalvey. Image, 2015. 9781632154798. Contains Injection #1 – #5. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

Sarah: The pitch for Injection. (Although you sorta don’t find out ’till halfway through the book what the premise is…)
Gene: I know! But you have to have the pitch.
S: I would make someone promise: you have to read the book if I tell them why, but then they have to forget before they read the book. So: wait six months after reading this…
G: Or, like me, put it on hold at the library and then fail to remember why.
S: So a small group of people from different backgrounds in government and computing and folklore and magic get together and ask, what is the path of the future? What’s going to happen next? And what they see is a flatline. After all of this huge technological and cultural change, we’re going to go into this big lull. They try to find out how to change the world so that that doesn’t happen. And they come up with this awesome horrible idea, to combine artificial intelligence with magic with computer learning…
G: They animate an AI but they use magic, and then they release it into the internet.
S: And all of a sudden, things are happening!
G: And it turns out it can warp reality.
S: Oops. They call it the Injection. And not many people outside these folks know what’s going on.
G: Whatever it does looks like magic. Continue reading “Ring My Bell”

Jacks

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke. First Second, 2016. 9781626722644. 205pp.

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke. First Second, 2017. 9781626722668. 207pp.

In the first book, it’s summer, and Jack has to stay home and take care of his quiet little sister, Maddy. He is not happy. At a swap meet, at Maddy’s urging, he trades his mom’s car keys for a packet of seeds that he’s told will change his life. Mom is angry. The next day, as Jack and Maddy are planting their garden, Lilly introduces herself. (Jack saw her practicing sword fighting the day before, which is good because it’s a skill she’s going to need.) Magic plants grow. Veggies grant unusual powers. And a dragon tells Jack that evil is growing in his garden. There’s a beanstalk of sorts. At the end of Mighty Jack, he and Lilly set off to another world to rescue Maddy. Mighty Jack and the Goblin King is about their other-worldly rescue mission.

The art is colorful and kinetic, and the whole story is pure upbeat Ben Hatke (Zita the Spacegirl, Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, other amazing books). For me this read like one long story — I like the books much better together than apart — when you give them to your favorite young relative this holiday season or check them out at the library, make sure you get both.

We have found a witch! (A witch! a witch!)

The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag. Scholastic Graphix, 2017. 9781338089516. 214pp.

Aster’s family can use magic. Girls learn spells and potions and how to talk to trees, that kind of thing. Boys learn to shapeshift, and have the ability to see the demons they fight. Aster isn’t allowed to learn girls’ magic even though he feels drawn to it (and practices it in secret). Worse, his grandmother’s twin brother secretly learned girls magic, lost control, and had to be cast out because he was a danger to himself and the rest of the family. He prefers the girls’ company but can’t spend time with them during their lessons, and he’s a bit of an outsider where the boys are concerned, but he makes a friend outside of his family’s land, a normal girl named Charlotte who also hates the way boy and girl stuff is split up at her school.

Aster’s witchery gets stronger while his shapeshifting skills fail to develop. His parents don’t know what to do. There’s a big bad evil beyond the boundaries of the family’s land. Bad things happen, good things result. It’s really good. In less-skilled hands it could really come off as a thinly-veiled after school special about gender roles and sexual identity, but it reads like a good all-ages story full of magic. My advanced copy’s art was mostly black and white; the finished graphic novel will be color throughout, and based on the few pages that were colored in this, I can’t wait to read it again — it looks beautiful.

∞ – 7

Seven To Eternity Volume 1: The God of Whispers by Rick Remender, Jerome Opeña, and Matt Hollingsworth. Image Comics, 2017. 9781534300613. Publisher’s Rating: T / Teen. Contains Seven To Eternity #1 – #4.

I read a few issues of this back when it started coming out, and I thought it was going to be better to read the collections. I was totally right. There’s so much going on in each issue, and the lack of explanation is wonderful. But it was impossible to keep it in my head from month to month as I waited for the next installment.

First, if I had to classify this, I’d say it’s a fantasy title. There’s lots of magic and enough different types of folks that it will immediately remind you of that D&D campaign you used to run. But it’s not quite high fantasy — there are also guns and an order of warriors that have super powers.

Adam Osidis’ father Zeb was once a powerful Mosak warrior. When one of his order, Garils Sulm, used his power to become The God of Whispers, Zeb refused to bow to him to to hear his offer and took his family into the wilderness. They are seen as traitors. (The God of Whispers grants your deepest wish, and in return you become his — he can see through your eyes and hear through your ears, and he can also control you. A huge portion of the population has accepted his offer.)

At the beginning of the book, the Osidis family is attacked by The God of Whispers warriors, including the creepiest flute player I’ve ever seen. Adam is ordered to go and hear The God of Whispers’ offer or his family will suffer. He is considering bending the knee and accepting to help himself and his family when the palace is attacked by remaining Mosak warriors. Adam is left with a choice — to help them in their quest to sunder The God of Whispers from those he controls, or to get what he wants most. Will he betray his fathers’ ideals or not?

I was a huge fan of the first Marvel Weird World comic (Marvel Premier #38), which I bought when I was 6 or 7, because the whole setting was just so unexpected. This world has as much appeal even though it doesn’t have a young female elf in a spiderweb bikini.