The Hell With It

Judas by Jeff Loveness, illustrated by Jakub Rebelka. BOOM!, 2018. 9781684152216. Originally published as Judas #1-#4.

Judas is more than simply bummed out after betraying Christ. He is so distraught he hangs himself then wanders around hell. There are demons (see Ezekiel 1:4-8 for a description, though the drawings are freakier). Judas contemplates Christ’s power and the suffering in the world (in particular Judas’s own mother’s  death). The Devil appears in answer to Judas’ prayers, but doesn’t provide the answers Judas wants. As they walk together the Devil tells Judas that they’re trapped, were used and cast aside, and that they are both the villains the story needed. Then the Devil brings Jesus to hell.

I’ve read bits of the Bible and several comics versions. I enjoy the Lucifer character from Sandman and Mike Carey’s related series. The striking gold foil thorns on this book’s cover caught my attention, and the book’s balance between the imagery and words kept me moving through it. It was hard to look away from Rebelka’s gorgeous drawings, scenes that went from dark and moody to bloody, horrific suffering, from forgiveness all the way to rage.

Other Bible-related graphic novels I recommend: Tom Gauld’s deadpan Goliath.

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.

Be vewy vewy quiet…

Usagi Yojimbo Book 32: Mysteries by Stan Sakai. Dark Horse, 2018. 9781506705842. Contains Usagi Yojimbo #159 – #165. 195pp.

This is my favorite new Usagi Yojimbo collection in years. The thing Stan Sakai does better than anyone is in drawing action scenes — Usagi’s sword fights are chaotic and carefully composed, and the frames are crowded but the action is easy to follow. They’re high stakes but really cartoony, too — perfect for adults but not too much for most kids. And it all takes place in an Edo era Japan drawn with classic shading techniques — I’m so happy these aren’t published in color!

This book is full of assassins and gangsters, and there are several thieves that are easy to love, among them recurring characters Kitsune and her sideckick Kiyoko plus the masked, Robin Hood-like Nezumi. Usagi saves a young girl, helps Inspector Ishida solve a few related murders, and has several epic fights. (In one of them Usagi even wields a fish along with his swords.) It’s a lot of fun and another classic that I’m adding to my permanent graphic novel collection.

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.

Reign of Fire

The Dragon Slayer: Folktalkes from Latin America by Jaime Hernandez. Toon Books, 2018. 9781943145294. 40pp.

This book contains comics versions of three stories: “The Dragon Slayer” and “Tup and the Ants” from Latin American Folktales: Stories from Hispanic and Indian Traditions by John Bierhorst, and “Martina Martínez and Pérez the Mouse” from Tales Our Abuelitas Told by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy. In the title story, a young girl befriends an old woman who gives her a magic wand. She uses its power (and her own moxy) to become a queen. In “Martina Martínez…” a young woman marries a mouse who falls into some soup. And in “Tup…” a young man scolded for being constantly lazy uses his brains to accomplish more work than his larger brothers, who everyone assumes are hard working.

Hernandez and his brothers have been creating Love and Rockets for years, and it’s amazing to see the level of storytelling craft, drawing skill, and joy that he brings to this graphic novel for kids (and adults with discerning taste). I can’t imagine a library that serves young people, or that has even a basic folk and fairytales collection, that won’t want this on its shelves.

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.

Starting Middle School

Sarah: A friend of mine, her daughter is going to middle school next year. The school she goes to now has a lot of kids who have been protected from the bumps and bruises of life. The don’t have testing, they don’t have grades. It feels very accepting and hippie-ish, but they get to use computers.
Gene: I have some friends whose kids went to a school like that, and they didn’t end up too crazy.
S: It’s interesting, some of them go to similarly special middle schools, and some of them go to the regular middle schools, which can be a bit of a change.
G: Kids with chains and filed-down teeth waiting for them at the door.
S: Waiting to suck their blood.
So my friend gets a letter from the school about how to help her help her daughter to adjust to the changes in going to a new school. The whole thing is about how it’s hard, and it’s harder when they’re going through puberty and social changes, and starting to argue with their parents and having their own sense of what their lives should be. They’re no longer your cute perfect darling children. It can be hard. But it doesn’t approach it as though it’s normal (which it is) and that every parent goes through this (which they do), it’s more like, “This is the upcoming tsunami that’s going to hit your home, you may be concerned. Here’s how to ensure they don’t become dead-eyed drug addicts.”
G: I think I got a letter like this, too, years ago.
S: At the end of the letter, there is a list, Great Books About — and this is actually in quotations — “Middle School.”
G: (laughs) Because we’re not really talking about middle school?
S: I have no idea. There are four fiction and three nonfiction books. The nonfiction books are fairly well-chosen. There’s some recent ones and some older ones that are pretty good.
G: Does it mention using a short-wave radio to call for help?
S: Right, no, it’s not quite that bad. The fiction books, though… my friend, who has an MLIS, who makes booklists herself, was dismayed that they were so old. Old enough that two weren’t in the public library anymore, one was available only as an ebook rerelease, one that’s just old and there are only two copies available.
G: Maybe it’s a cry for help from whoever made that list. Maybe the list had to be district-approved.
S: Exactly. I feel the same frustration with lists people get from their doctors after a diagnosis. The books are all ten or fifteen years old and the library system only has one copy left, with a long, long waiting list. I want to write back to the doctors with a list of ten newer books and tell them to pick the ones they like.
G: You should do that for the school.
S: My friend asked me to make her a list she could share with the other parents.
G: That’s great! You’re living the librarian’s dream!
S: But 99% of my booklist is graphic novels, because that’s what I read. So I wanted to ask if you had some recommendations. Here’s what I have so far:
Awkward and Brave
G: I really liked Brave.
S: Drama.
G: How old is the main character in Drama?
S: I had thought she was in high school, but the synopsis said middle school.
Jedi Academy.
G: Timeless.
S: All’s Faire in Middle School.
G: Liked it, but maybe a limited audience.
S: I added this because I like the author and it had a lot of positive reviews, Planet Middle School. It’s poems about a girl making the shift into middle school, trying out new ways of being more grown up. And these two, which are constantly being requested by kids, The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda and Dork Diaries.
G: Are those middle school?
S: As far as I can tell, yes. Though it’s tough to say sometimes, when the summary describes the characters as being in sixth grade. That could be elementary or middle school. My friend does know me, and would not be surprised if I gave her a list full of graphic novels, but if you can think of any others. There’s those James Patterson middle school comedy novels that seem to be really popular…
G: I don’t read this age very much.
S: …and I don’t know if they’re positive hopeful you-can-do-it kind of books about middle school. Because you don’t necessarily want to give them the books where it looks like everyone gets teased.
G: I haven’t read this series, but I’ve heard they’re good: Positively Izzy. And Roller Girl is solidly middle school, about finding your way.
S: But it’s a summer story more than a school story.
G: But it’s a friend story. Real Friends is good, too
S: But that’s elementary, right?
G: Is it?
S: I seem to think it was pretty young.
G: I can’t remember how old the kids are in the Sunny Books, but Swing It Sunny is middle school. And there’s now a middle school Babymouse book.
S: I think I should ask a children’s librarian, too, because kids in late elementary grades are the ones who are curious about starting middle school. The kids in middle school are thinking about other things, because they’re there already. Which is why I thought of Drama, because it’s not about starting middle school, it’s about being in it.
G: Yeah, I would never booktalk a book about starting middle school in a middle school.
S: Right. My friend thought that clearly the expert would be the teen librarian, but apparently not.
G: Ask us about the transition to high school. The indirect stories, anyway. The direct how-tos are for parents.
S: I want to have the parents read these graphic novels. I want to say, “Hey, it’s not that bad. Everything seems horrible to them because that’s their bodies and their brains going through big changes. Everything seems intense because it’s all new. But people survive this. Kids survive this every day. You’ll survive it. It’s going to be obnoxious, but you’ll survive it.”

So Prepared

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol. First Second, 2018. 9781626724457.

Gene: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, the very delightful Vera Brosgol, who I met at a dinner during Emerald City Comic Con and talked to for a bit. I loved Anya’s Ghost and… and what was her picture book about knitting?
Sarah: Leave Me Alone, which was so great.
G: She was also on a panel that I moderated. Vera lives in Portland and worked in animation, and this is her second graphic novel… Anya’s Ghost was more YA.
S: Yeah, and this one is a little more tween-y.
G: Maybe even a little younger. The protagonist is Vera when she was 9. The story is not quite factual, and she explains that in detail at the end of the book.
S: She combined a couple of years of summer camp into one.
G: There are some charming real-life things, like real letters from camp. The first one says “Dear mom, could you pick me up as soon as you get this? PLEASE! I’m desperate” (Only later on do you find out that that one was actually written by her brother.)
S: And later there’s a much, much longer real letter from young Vera that talks about how terrible camp is, all the kids are mean, I can’t deal with this…
G: It has the feel of an autobiography. I think it’s very autobiographical in terms of feelings, if not in terms of actual events. I believe she really grew up pretty poor, a Russian immigrant, going to Russian Orthodox church…
S: It was these tiny little differences between her and her friends that made her feel like a complete outcast.
G: The birthday party scene.
S: Oh, the birthday party scene! It’s heartbreaking.
G: It’s so clear that Vera is the little girl that the other kids’ parents talk to.
S: Yeah. There’s a scene where all the girls are setting up their cute flowered heart covered sleeping bags and she has a pillow and blanket with a patch on it.
G: And the other girls arrange themselves in a star shape together on the floor and she’s off by herself. And they all have these super-expensive dolls that they’re talking about and she doesn’t have one. It’s brutal and really well done.
S: Yeah.
G: And then she has her own birthday party that does not go well. You can see it’s not going to go well.  Her family is poor, her mom’s a single mom, so they have the off-brand pizza, there’s Russian lettering on the cake. And the other kids are terrible about it all.
S: Do you have memories like that from elementary school? Where it was the tiny differences that kids would be completely obsessed with? I was the kid that the parents talked to at the party.
G: I wasn’t the kid the parents talked to. I fear that I was a kid who was inadvertently terrible. I had no worries when I was a kid, but we didn’t have a lot of stuff, either.
S: There are things like that I remember from my own life, I could feel so apart because I didn’t have the right brand of pants or something like that. My family wasn’t poor, we were just spending money on things other than pants.
G: My mother was very focused on us having those things even though she was a single mom, probably to a crazy extent. I had the right brand of jeans, she used to make me wear velour shirts because they were cool. She was wrong on some things, too. I think she was doing her best, but it was strange and hard to push back against it all until I was a teenager. I want that book to be written, too. Where a kid is forced to be the on-brand kid even though he doesn’t want to be.
But, back to the story, one of the big differences between Vera and her friends is that they all go away to camp in the summers while she’s stuck at home.
S: But one day at Orthodox church another girl says that she was gone last week because she was at camp. And Vera’s like “CAMP???” Turns out the Orthodox church sponsors this camp and might be willing to help her mom pay the fee to send her to camp for TWO WEEKS!
G: So she gets to go the next year, the summer after fourth grade.
S: And she’s so excited.
G: And her brother goes to the little kid part of the camp.
S: And at the end of the book she talks about how this organization was set up outside of Russia after the revolution to maintain this traditional sort of camping with a religious background because it was prohibited in the Soviet Union. It was interesting that she went into a camp with these fully-formed camp traditions that were totally unfamiliar to me as the reader.
G: It’s really cool, right? If she went to the sort of camp we recognized from movies, like Meatballs, it would be very different. Instead they go to a place where all the kids who go are different in the same way, but then she’s thrown in with these older girls.
S: Those girls!
G: Her little brother goes off with a camp counsellor who’s amazing, but hers is a seventeen-year-old girl who seems out of her depth. Her brother has a great time. The other girls in Vera’s tent are fourteen, and she’s this pre-pubescent nine-year-old girl. The girls are both named Sasha, they’ve been to camp together for years, and they’re totally crappy.
S: They’re obsessed with a cute boy at camp.
G: Very says goodbye to her mom, then finds out about the Hollywood.
S: Hollywood!
G: My favorite part of the camp, the doorless outhouse. Three toilet seats, right next to each other, no divider. There are so many toilet gags in this book. The one where she’s in there and she looks up and there are spiders all over the ceiling.
S: Uuuuugh! It has the air of a vivid sense memory.
G: It’s terrible, because she’s really alone for two weeks, she wants to go home, the girls are crappy to her and hiding candy, she’s feeding a chipmunk, they’re washing their hair in the lake. There’s a capture the flag game going on between the girls and the boys… it’s getting just a bit better, bordering on bearable, and then her mom comes to take her home… and says she has to stay two more weeks!
S: That was a great plot twist, I enjoyed that a lot.
G: Other stuff happens, plot-wise. More capture the flag. There’s a missing hamster. She makes a friend. It’s really sweet.