"review" · comics/graphic novels · juvenile lit · recommend · Uncategorized

{comics} el deafo

El Deafo by Cece Bell.

Amulet Books 2014.

Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.

Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school–in the hallway…in the teacher’s lounge…in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different… and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend? —Publisher’s comments.

Besides making many of last year’s Best-Of lists, Cece Bell’s El Deafo has also been picking up significant Honors and Awards. You’ll hear it described as important, and the insight Bell is able to share from her childhood is, indeed, valuable. I love just how familiar the character Cece is, despite her bunny-like appearance. Cece is flawed and more than occasionally frustrated and frustrating.

Many will find Cece humorous; and likely charming when she begins to identify with Batman and creates a super-heroic identity all her own in El Deafo. I think I either under- or over-identified with her earnestness to be normal and befriended. The angst felt stretched and I desired a few chapters fewer. When we tell our children that it may take time, trial and error to find a good friend, we usually hope for and suggest the BFF will show up within two errors. However, it really does take a while to learn how to communicate, to read others’ lips (words/actions) and to articulate for ourselves.

 

El Deafo is really well thought-out. It wasn’t an easy read for me, entertainment-wise, but I could immediately appreciate just how well-crafted it is, how coherent it continues to be into second and third readings. I loathe to fall into the fallacy of guessing authorial intent, but the immovable yellow box of text manning the upper edges of panels had to make sense of itself. It otherwise needed to move. (And if you find it difficult to deal with in the first half, you’ll learn to adjust to it in the end.) I questioned the choice of a bunny and the adorable-ness of the artwork in a book I wanted to pitch to the upper-grade-schoolers reading Raina Teglemeier’s Smile and Sisters. I understand the genius behind choosing an animal that is all about their ears in a book about hearing. I can get how seeing yourself as different could manifest in a decision to use an ‘other.’ For readers who are moving away from perceived childishness, it reminds us that one thing that transcends childhood is fear of isolation and loneliness. Okay, that was depressing—and the book is not depressing. El Deafo is just quite realistic and in need of the anthropomorphic.

El Deafo is going to be educational. El Deafo is going to remind people that graphic novels make for great literature for young people—especially the young grade-schoolers who won’t mind this becoming a part of their summer reading lists. It is going to make us all more thoughtful about what and how we communicate with one another. We can get creative and imagine the ways and means to cope with difficult situations.

Spoilers: Cece does find a healthy friendship by novel’s end. She learns a great deal about herself and others along the way. She’s pretty special as characters go, because she is so incredibly (painfully, at times) normal.

——

Of note: “A Note from the Author” is excellent reading as well, so do not forgo it.

recommended: for readers of Teglemeier Smile and Sisters, Hatke’s Zita Spacegirl, and Gownley’s Amelia Rules!  It will likely appeal more to readers of issue-driven books like Wonder (Palacio), Out of My Mind (Draper), and Mango-Shaped Space (Mass), but I wouldn’t eliminate those leaning toward Fantasy.

{images are Cece Bell’s}

"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · wondermous

{comics} atypical

“a sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the universe.”

Saga : Volumes One & Two by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Image Comics 2012 & 2013 respectively.

from Volume 1

This waiting for the next volume to come off hold at the Library is excruciating. It isn’t that I do not have other things to read, it’s just that Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga is that entertaining. Also, they leave you with these cliff-hangers. I just checked and I am 1 of 14 on the request list for Volume 3. Volume 4 is not even out yet; not until DECEMBER! I would like to now curse those rave reviews and that striking cover on Volume 1.

cropped from cover of Volume One

Volume One: “When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe” (publisher’s comments). This “fragile new life” is both their relationship/family and Hazel. And it is some future Hazel who is our narrator, telling her parent’s story, telling a story, shifting through past tenses. We get other story-lines as well, with rarely any of Hazel’s commentary: the unionized assassins, the prince whose head is a screen.

I immediately fell in love with Staples’ artwork. Visually, Alana brought to mind Pink!, which can only be a good thing. The creatures are kick-ass. The placement of panel on page, compositions, color-work, all crafty-goodness. The lettering for Hazel’s voice says young, but not childish; her sarcasm perfectly applied. The, ah, language is profane and if you played a drinking game for every penis making an appearance you’ll get a nice buzz. Saga will keep your fellow public transit commuters reading over your shoulder and/or blushing and gasping. Yeah, now I know why nearly every introduction to Saga uses “adult” in its marketing. I think the humor and relationship foibles make for an unexpected romantic comedy that will appeal to the older audiences as well. Then there is just flat-out smart, subversive craftiness of the comic. The out-sourcing of the war between Wreath and Landfall? Whatever would inspire such a notion?

from Volume 1

Honestly, this is one of those comics to experience to really believe just how excellent it is. The timing of the wit, the dead-pan delivery, the provocative and absolute irreverence… I was sitting alone in a quiet house with a dog staring at me as I laughed like a maniac–especially during Volume 2 and the reading of Alana’s bodice-ripper.

cropped from Volume Two cover

Volume Two: “Thanks to her star-crossed parents Marko and Alana, newborn baby Hazel has already survived lethal assassins, rampaging armies, and horrific monsters, but in the cold vastness of outer space, the little girl encounters her strangest adventure yet… grandparents” (publisher’s comments). We meet Marko’s parents, when he is both a child and now an adult. It is amusingly awkward, of course, and necessarily intense. We also get Marko and Alana’s “meet-cute” and Hazel’s conception. Neither does Volume 2 abandon other lines from the first volume, with an exciting introduction to a troubling twist. You’ll know with the first volume whether you want to read the next, but the second could be the clincher if you weren’t entirely sold on the series.

from Volume 2

The family drama set against the action/adventure in space is brilliantly balanced. I mean, anyone who’s had a babysitter like theirs understands why Marko has to hurry off to rescue her after his mother over-zealously banishes her to the nearest planet whereupon horrors compound.

Bibliophiles, certainly Lit Majors, will completely dig this volume. Saga could make for a good Book Club read. Saga might look like a farce to break up the monotony of high-minded literary works, but I wouldn’t underestimate its effectiveness in drawing out the deadly serious.

Volume Three: promises that “the couple’s multiple pursuers [will] finally close in on their targets.” What could possibly happen next? The way Vaughan cross-cuts action, splices the narrative together, his play is diabolical in that it is tricky to anticipate. Some techniques are classic to earthbound tales, but the situating it in sci-fi fantasy makes his storytelling more interesting. The cleverness of couching the family drama in SFF is in the opportunities it provides to play with expectation (as well as rescuing it from Lifetime). Saga‘s realm of imaginative play makes it all the more important that Vaughan and Staples are so strong in their characterizations and in reinforcing the core.

The core: the family: an affectionate narrator, a soldier who has sworn-off killing, and a security guard who reads bodice-rippers that are “boring.” Just my kind of awesome.

from Volume 2

recommendations: For those ADULTS who like or dislike rom-coms, action-adventure stories, SFF, comics, the obscene…you’ll find Saga gloriously atypical.

of note: Volume One won the 2013 Hugo award for Best Graphic Story; Volumes Two and Three won an Eisner for Best Continuing Series, Best Writer (for Brian K. Vaughan) & Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art) (for Fiona Staples) 2014.

{images are Fiona Staples’)

"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series

{comics} many happy returns

Zita-Cover-300rgbThe Return of Zita the Spacegirl

By Ben Hatke

First Second 2014.

Zita-Interior-FULL-91That the entirety of Ben Hatke’s The Return of Zita the Spacegirl is an epic jailbreak comes as no surprise. From the very first book in the series, Zita has been held against her will—or has she? We know her slip through the portal and into Space was an accident. We know she wants to return home. In the course of the first book, she discovers herself lost more than once and the second risks dangerous compromise. But since then, Zita has become the Spacegirl, how could she possibly go back?

The series has been packed with difficult choices for Zita. I consider such turmoil a favorite one of the adventures’ many charms. Too, that at the center of her conflicts are friendships and her desire to the right thing and do something meaningful. She rejects the accusation that she is “Zita the Crimegirl,” a “danger to society,” but Hatke throws that perspective out there. I mean, she did steal a spaceship and consort with known criminals. Then we come to learn that this particular adjudicator is corrupt. Heart matters, and it prevails; what it isn’t is painless.

Zita the Spacegirl has always been an entertaining adrenaline jolt of adventure with inventive creatures and awesome characters. Zita is sassy, earnest and resourceful. She is caring and yet heartless in the way children can be. Zita has also proven to be intelligently written by a storyteller willing to explore challenging situations that will resonate with his young audience. I love how Zita struggles to maintain courage in the face of difficult circumstances, and where she finds the friends and resources to help her along the way.* I love the persistent themes of identity and loneliness. Love how the forms of imprisonment vary.

Zita-Interior-FULL-141

I was reading through my reviews of books one and two and appreciate the consistency in this series. And Hatke’s stories do not wane, but rather quietly ups the ante. We reach a conclusion that leaves us reeling, literally. The fast-paced and heightened suspense of a spacegirl’s adventure pops and we are left with a wake.

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl was always going to be bittersweet, and Hatke does not disappoint. He writes in many returns and it is completely satisfying. He also writes a gorgeous twist or two. That ending is fantastic. I may have called Hatke a naughty name, but it was with the utmost affection as I laughed out loud and closed the book.

Must own. Add it to the back-to-school list. Shop for the Holidays already. But make sure your library (personal and/or private) has this series.

———-

*Notice how Hatke builds his heroes by trial rather than prophetic gifting. Notice how much the stories value imagination, grit, and daring.

{images are Ben Hatke’s}

fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series

{comic} brand spanking new, except not.

battlingboycoverBattling Boy by Paul Pope

First Second 2013.

One of the things I like about superhero comics is their ability to both maintain continuity and prove regenerative. Need to reboot a character or story? Will do. Has the essence of the hero and their story really changed? No. Even so, it is still hard to break into the superhero realm of comics. Someone is always there to remind you that you didn’t start reading that particular comic early enough, never mind that you have to be born in order to have done so. Comparing storylines and/or creators is a competitive sport and that in itself can be entertaining. I get it. It is also exhausting. It is exciting to have the opportunity to start at the actual beginning with the character for once.

Battling Boy is familiar to the tradition of old school superhero comics with the paneling, line work, and a pleasing color palette just this side of garish.

battling-boy-paul-pope

We begin with Battling Boy’s origin story. Yet to be referred to as any name other than Boy, our reluctant hero hails from the Hidden Gilded Realm. He is set up to perform heroic deeds for the Acropolis as his rite of passage (a rambling).

battling boy westsAnother hero is introduced in the figure of Aurora West, the daughter of the recently departed Acropolis hero Haggard West. Her apprenticeship under her father was cut tragically short, but she has nerve and weaponry. Her “Alfred” is the impressive womanly amputee Ms. Grately—the only family Aurora has left.

battling boy T RexThe villains are creepy, and the scale of some of the monsters ups the ante for our action heroes. Battling Boy’s arsenal is clever. I love the t-shirt idea (and not just for its merchandising potential). Pope evidences a well-thought out narrative. He amusingly considers the angles, like where Battling Boy is going to reside and cover expenses. The relationship between parents and child is pretty sweet, too. I am trying desperately not to anticipate some looming tragic circumstance, Aurora’s loss is sobering enough.battling-boy-paul-pope-first-second-2013

battling boy

I feel a bit late to the Battling Boy party, but only a little. And now I won’t have to wait so long for The Rise of Aurora West. Battling Boy’s second(ish) installment hits store shelves late September. Yes, already with a prequel and Miss West’s backstory told from her point of view (which we do get portions of in Battling Boy). As for the first prequel published (October 2013), not sure how dedicated I am to getting a hold of the one-shot copy of Haggard West’s story—I wouldn’t say no if you could get my hands on a copy of the limited release…

Paul Pope has hit the ground running with an Eisner for Battling Boy. Battling Boy and Aurora West promise and fantastic series of adventures to grow up with. Too, the series returns us to the warm fuzzy of old school superhero aesthetics, while being all shiny and new and clever with it.

———————

from Michael Cavna’s piece “Paul Pope: With Escapo and Battling Boy, 2014 Eisner Winner Deftly Blends the Old with the New” in the Washington Post

“There are all these classic superheroes we know, but [Battling Boy] is not another Spider-Man or Batman,” Pope says. It’s a new character — we don’t even know his name — and I think [that’s] appealing to kids.”

“With ‘Battling Boy,’ I’m trying to use the rhetoric of the classic Silver Age hero’s story, and tell a genuine story about this kind of coming-of-age — through the metaphor of a superhero being a young person moving into their own,[…] “But I’m doing it through the [comics] language of Jack Kirby, John Romita and Steve Ditko.”

“But kids are getting it for the first time,” he continues. “They’re not aware of Kirby or Romita or Ditko. They might know the Red Skull from the movie, but they’re not going to know him from the comic.

“I’m trying to make a new story using these old tools, I guess.”

———————

{images belong to Paul Pope, & remember to check out his site for more enticing fare}

"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · Uncategorized · young adult lit

{comic} Good as Grace

good as lily coverGood as Lily by Derek Kirk Kim (Same Difference, Tune, The Eternal Smile)

& artist Jesse Hamm (extensive resume)

Minx 2007

A strange mishap on her eighteenth birthday causes Grace Kwon to be confronted with herself at three different periods in her life–ages six, twenty-nine, and seventy–while she and her friends struggle to save a crumbling school play.–publisher’s comments

A typical story of the anxiety of major changes: 18th birthday aka “adulthood,” college acceptance letters, maturing relationships: takes on an atypical twist or three. I’m not referring to the presence of past and future selves; somehow that does not seem rare. I think it is that intriguing struggle between each of the Graces to control their fate.

Grace Kwon expresses significant anxieties in her different ages and situations. Kim’s resolution is not as simple as ‘there is one solution to save them all,’ nor are the Graces consciously working toward the same end (except maybe one). Each relational conflict the Graces experience address those different facets that affect a whole person: parents, friends, lovers, enemies, education/experiences. Resolving each Grace’s trouble creates a more reassured present-day Grace. Perhaps more simply put, the worry about a future where incidents from childhood and present failures/successes have an effect, is drawn into a story called Good as Lily.

Good as Lily only becomes more complicated as I think about it. Read, the story is easy. Kim and Hamm are entertaining as they carrying us through the awkward and the sweet with a deft hand. Even appreciation for the way the creators render the differently aged Grace’s as individual comes later. Each Grace is remarkably similar in look and personality, but different. That particular desires of each Grace have not changed centers their shared identity.

goodaslily4_full

The title was the only part that took its time being readily apparent. It took a while to meet Lily. Of course, the figure and the wording relay the standard by which Grace measures herself and her successes. However, it is not Lily who is actualized in order to haunt Grace–but Grace herself x3.

goodaslily03Grace is Korean-American, as are some of the other characters (see left), and Good as Lily denotes <dialog> translated from Korean and other times will asterisk a word for translation. Some great cultural readings can/will be made of this comic.* Derek Kirk Kim also writes convincing female characters. My notice is attached to an interview with author Danielle Evans that came to mind. Evans was asked if it was difficult writing a male character’s point-of-view: “His main issues weren’t really gendered, and his voice was pretty familiar, because it reminded me of some men I know.”

Jesse Hamm designs character, panel and page with appealing vitality. Some sequences are all his, yet he still manages the quantity of text with dexterity. The artwork is accessible, the play with form is hardly gratuitous/distracting. Savvy authors should have equally savvy artists and this is a team that proves itself. Hamm is amusing and sharp without drawing attention away from the story being told; even so, I could pause to appreciate moments his work delighted me with out breaking the stride of the book.

good as lily characters

 

Good as Lily provides all the drama and blushes of High School, threading the bow with that sweetest of story-lines: “I’ve been trying to giver her one of these [cards] every Valentine’s Day since 4th grade. Heh…It gets harder every year…”(Jeremy 99). There are some difficult moments in characters’ lives, but Kim/Hamm are excellent in generating the energy and humor to buoy the reader without being disingenuous.

Good as Lily is a nice addition to that Derek Kirk Kim collection of yours. Any-reader friendly, it is a nice Spring afternoon read. For fans of creators like Gene Luen Yang, Hope Larson, Faith Erin Hicks, Bryan O’Malley Raina Teglemeier, Vera Brosgol…even Buffy.

—-

*I skimmed a couple of reviews that seemed to rate the success of the book on whether it proved “important” or not; as if “important” trumped good craftsmanship; as if good craftsmanship isn’t important; as if “important” aka culturally relevant statement-making as compared to ? is where the pleasure of the art is derived, and, for them, evidently it is. I mean, I know it isn’t the best read ever! A range of emotions proceeded: fatigue, nausea, indignant, sadness. Is there an unfair burdening of certain works/creators…of readers? I wonder if we would all become misanthropes if we only read “important” reads.

a note: if you could explain the pig piñata? thanks.

{images belong to Derek Kirk Kim & Jesse Hamm}

 

 

"review" · comics/graphic novels · Illustrator · juvenile lit · recommend · wondermous

{comics} good literature

janefoxmecoverJane, the Fox & Me

by Fanny Britt, and artist Isabelle Arsenault

translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou

Groundwood Books, 2013.

orig. Jane, le renard & moi (Les Éditions de La Pastèque, 2012)

Hélène has been inexplicably ostracized by the girls who were once her friends. Her school life is full of whispers and lies — Hélène weighs 216; she smells like BO. Her loving mother is too tired to be any help. Fortunately, Hélène has one consolation, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Hélène identifies strongly with Jane’s tribulations, and when she is lost in the pages of this wonderful book, she is able to ignore her tormentors. But when Hélène is humiliated on a class trip in front of her entire grade, she needs more than a fictional character to allow her to see herself as a person deserving of laughter and friendship.–publisher’s comments.

Jane, the Fox & Me is simply stunning. I spent a long quiet moment after closing the book and muttering a ‘damn.’ Naturally, I think we should all now experience this graphic novel.

janefox1Isabelle Arsenault illustrates Hélène’s life in pencil; black and white overlay a depressing tonal grey. Hélène has not only been isolated but she is being brutally tormented. The insults written on walls, like her weighing 216, increase in her mind to 316 and more as the story progresses. However, contrary to what she tells her mother near the end, that she exaggerates, is dramatic, the story disallows us to believe all of what Hélène is confronted with is a figment of her imagination.

Her obesity is imagined. Arsenault does not depict even a mildly overweight girl. A problem that accompanies what seems real versus imagined is trying to negotiate what is normal–and how to negotiate conflict. It is horribly tense, anticipating Hélène’s school trip away for a couple of days, but there is the lovely reference to Jane Eyre just then…and the opportunity to see other students implement Hélène’s strategy for dealing with inevitable awkward moments like tent assignments.

Jane-the-fox-and-me-jane-eyre

The inclusions of Jane Eyre are beautifully done, in both the narrative Fanny Britt creates and the illustrations by Arsenault. Like Hélène, I, too, found myself preferring to linger in Brontë’s world where the aesthetic allows for lush color-work (gouache, watercolor), brushwork and a shift in a gentler drawing style. The foliage, vibrant with life, does begin to seep into Hélène’s world, though yet to find color. As with the book she is reading, she hides here in the foliage, too, aggrieved. Hélène figures that if Jane can overcome the tribulations of her youth to “grow up to be clever, slender and wise anyway” (16), surely she can as well. Even once she is grown, Jane has difficulties and Hélène wisely observes that “everyone needs a strategy, even Jane Eyre” (53). It is a subtle realization of the book that the reader needn’t be left imagining that Hélène will eventually become ‘clever, slender, and wise’ herself. She begins to demonstrate these future moments here and there as the book makes its way.

JaneFoxMe5“Its eyes are so kind I just about burst./That same look in another human’s eyes, and my soul would be theirs for sure.” note, how much this close up of Hélène looks like the young Jane.

jane-the-fox-and-me-bus

For all the angst of shifting relationships with others and self, there are amusements to be found. Britt and Arsenault shift from of harsher lights into the lyrical; tempering, too, the lyrical with the serious study of their Hélène, her Jane, and her fox.  The fox…wow–the ways in which we internalize the metaphor, and not just other people’s ways of seeing us! Jane, the Fox & Me has some amazing narrative texture. Note how Britt incorporates the quotes of what was written on the walls into the sentence of the speaker. When we often label a narrator such as Hélène unreliable, rarely do we question what causes her to be so. Britt forces the question of what creates the narrative presented to us in Hélène’s voice. What words and ideas begin to compete and crowd-out (both literally in the visual text and figuratively) the negative commentary at the beginning?

jane83

Literati’s will appreciate Hélène’s refuge in books, finding their empathic nature well-depicted in Jane, the Fox & Me. It is nice how the mother looks to music. Neither is the conversation on clothing frivolous; that effort to find expression/identity.

Jane, the Fox & Me is neither heavy in text nor incomprehensible in its visual sequences. I cannot attest for the text in its original language, but the translations create a successful telling of Hélène’s story. As the seasons change and Hélène grows (again both literally and figuratively), things get better for our protagonist, and the reader perceives new lessons on the horizon for our growing-up girl. Though Jane Eyre is finished by the reader, Jane’s return to Mr. Rochester have yet the opportunity to make sense to the young Hélène.

janefoxend

Britt and Arsenault achieve so much in 101 pages. Jane, the Fox & Me is a richly textured and engrossing story that tells all too familiar stories of the relationships so many of us find in the world, our home, our selves…and our books. I only touched on a few things. I restrained from going on about the urban and nature, of fantasy and reality…or fox lore. It is something to experience for yourself.

Jane, the Fox & Me is absolutely beautiful… and to be gifted simply. Please, do not assault a young reader with “the edification of this read” or in the company of a lesson plan on bullying or eating disorders or alienation or poverty, etc.  Jane, the Fox & Me is why artful storytelling matters. It can stand on its own and in conversations. If anything, pair it with a meaningful piece of classic literature or a trip to a nature preserve…

——————

recommendations: if not already noted: girls, boys, grade-school upwards. for those who love the color orange. it’s great to be read by each if not together, though probably not too close to bathing-suit purchases. there are strategies you know.

of note: we’ll be visiting Arsenault’s work again during picture book month–which I think will happen more Summer than Fall.

{images belong to Isabelle Arsenault}

——-

Brain Pickings‘ Maria Popova’s excellent review which includes more pictures (if you don’t mind being a bit spoiled) and this gorgeous summation: “Jane, the Fox & Me is an absolute treasure that blends the realities of children’s capacity to be cruel, the possibilities of transcending our own psychological traps, and literature’s power to nourish, comfort, and transform.”

 

"review" · concenter · juvenile lit · mystery · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · short story · Tales · Uncategorized

{comics} lost islands & found creators

Explorer: The Lost Islands 

edited by Kazu Kibuishi

Amulet Books (Abrams) 2013.

tradepaper, 128 pages, incl “about the creators.” Library Loan

The highly anticipated second volume to the critically acclaimed Explorer series, “The Lost Islands “is a collection of seven all-new stories written and illustrated by an award-winning roster of comics artists, with each story centered around the theme of hidden places. Edited by the “New York Times “bestselling comics creator Kazu Kibuishi, this graphic anthology includes well-written, beautifully illustrated stories by Kazu (the Amulet series), Jason Caffoe (the Flight series), Raina Telgemeier (“Drama “and “Smile”), Dave Roman (the Astronaut Academy series), Jake Parker (the Missile Mouse series), Michel Gagne (“The Saga of Rex”), Katie and Steven Shanahan (the Flight series), and up-and-coming new artist Chrystin Garland. –publisher’s comments

Can I begin a post about a Kazu Kibuishi affiliated anything without confessing what a fan-girl I am of his work? No. It is a goal of mine to not only own a collection of his work, but be able to gift some away. His Amulet series is an easy recommendation for instilling that comic book addiction in your young. But like his Flight anthologies for the older crowd, Explorer curates excellent talent in which to introduce the young to potential fan-girl and -boy obsessions with various industry creators. See my review of Explorer: Mystery Boxes here and lets take a look at this installment’s theme “hidden places.” [click creator name for link to their website. *=a favorite]

*”Rabbit Island” by Jake Parker (Missile Mouse, illus The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man) pp 4-19.

The rabbits have built a nice little utopia when one especially hard-working (and innovative) bunny salvages a robot and puts it to work alongside him.  Soon, it isn’t only the robot who becomes unrecognizable.

I really dig the color palette, it and the staining/wash and lettering bubbles reminds me of my worn out kids comics from well, ages ago when I was a kid. Not only does it work with the tale-quality of the comic, but it affords today’s youth the experience of their parent’s nostalgia with more contemporary sensibilities. In a way, it is like Will Eisner for kids, but with Jake Parker’s singular drawing arm. And may I say that I find the finish refreshingly absent of dramatic lighting–when I say ‘shiny!’ I want to employ the Whedon-esque meaning.

*”The Mask Dance” by Chrystin Garland pp 20-37 (d)

Nathaniel Hawthorne (minus the religious moral) meets one dancing princess in this mysterious and thrilling tale of a young lady’s night out.

The dark is just dark enough and the color dazzling into appropriately garish. The painterly quality helps animate and lend the light that artificial quality that tonally unsettles. An up-and-comer to watch.

“Carapace” by Jason Caffoe (lead production assistant for Amulet series, contributor for FlightExplorer) pp 38-55

You could easily create a moral from surviving and being nurtured by observing nature and finding a spirit guide, but “Carapace” is a story of friendship, of (im)moveable shelters. It is a nice twist on a deserted island story when the boy isn’t left completely abandoned nor is the island deserted.

Caffoe’s work with color is a stock & trade, but he tells a good story. There is a lot of text and a lot of setting, but there is also an eye for detail that draws the reader in. The island becomes less terrifying and more exotically beautiful, mimicking the camaraderie between boy and crab-ghost-from-the-shell.

{w/out text}

*”Desert Island Playlist” by Dave Roman (Astronaut AcademyTeen Boat!) & Raina Telgemeier (SmileDrama), colors by Braden Lamb (Adventure Time) pp 56-73. (d)

Wow, this one was creative with the playlist theme. The baby-toy is a stroke of genius and helps with the time-travel puzzle. I also appreciate that they aren’t willing to underestimate the youth-audience’s ability to get the “memory” pieces in juxtaposition to text and tale. This is a smart and beautiful story, but then it is Roman and Telgemeier.

The creators are good with movement and use the text with economy. They are as explicit with translating important visuals as is necessary, but engage the reader in creating meaning. The art is accessible, full of movement and just enough cartoon to lighten the tone.

“Loah” by Michel Gagne (The Saga of RexZED: A Cosmic Tale) pp 74-91.

Loah is a special creature, but what is even more remarkable is her friendship. She sees a way out of her crumbling world and she dreams for all of the others, and swears that her friendship helps her to do so.

The movement, like the story is sweeping, but the story itself small and deceptively simple. I am enjoying this thread of neither inhabiting nor leaving these hidden places alone. I’ve been impressed with the vibrant colors up to this point, but Gange’s piece is as magical as the tale he tells. 

“Radio Adrift” by Katie Shanahan (Womanthology: Heroic) & Steven Shanahan (sibling co-creators of Silly Kingdom), colors by Eric Kim & Selena Dizazzo pp. 92-109

Alright, so this one is just stinking cute. Mage-in-training, Wiya needs for her pixie egg to hatch and has attempted every sound possible. And then Radio Adrift drifts in for a limited time engagement. The focus turns outward, especially when Wiya recognizes that she has to refocus the conversation.

The style of artwork is fun, and I enjoy the light shift for the storytelling portion of the story told. This will be effortless in its candy colors, spunky characters and magical turn.

*”The Fishermen” by Kazu Kibuishi, colors by Jason Caffoe pp 110-27. (d)

The captain may have lost it (mentally and physically?), to the greed of a catch of a (literal) lifetime. The story uncovers hidden things both base and incredible, and with an old fisherman and his granddaughter at the helm it is a delightful short story.

Kibuishi is marvelous with scale as well as story. The characters are expressive. And the action sequences are fun, the illustrations managing a great deal of movement between steadying frames.

{images belong to respective artists. be sure to check out their sites, and of course, the book to enjoy more of their work!} {d=diversity in lit}