Tag Archives: comics

{comic} questions

ACjacket_smallWho is AC? by Hope Larson, illustrated by Tintin Pantoja.

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013. hardcover, 176 pages. 12 & up.

borrowed from the Library because you know I am a big fan of Hope Larson’s work.

“Meet Lin, a formerly average teenage girl whose cell phone zaps her with magical powers. But just as superpowers can travel through the ether, so can evil. As Lin starts to get a handle on her new abilities (while still observing her curfew!), she realizes she has to go head-to-head with a nefarious villain who spreads his influence through binary code. And as if that weren’t enough, a teen blogger has dubbed her an “anonymous coward!” Can Lin detect the cyber-criminals vulnerability, save the day, and restore her reputation?

“With ingenious scripting from graphic novel phenom Hope Larson and striking art from manga illustrator Tintin Pantoja, this action-packed story brims with magical realism and girl-power goodness.”—publisher’s comments.

I know I tend to rely on the publisher’s synopsis for its precision in “reviews,” however, I quote it here because I had to use it to orient myself—after I’d read the book. Granted, it was late when I read it, but Larson and Pantoja move quickly and I found myself with questions of identification that I’m not sure the novel intended.

who is ac1_004

The story seemed straightforward enough. Budding writer and zine self-publisher, Lin has created a fictional superhero named Rhea Ironheart, but in her new town, Lin finds herself to have become a superhero of fictional proportion, strikingly similar to Ironheart. But where fantasy was just fine, being a super-heroic figure herself is problematic, and not just because of curfew or angry bystanders. A superhero was not how this author was willing to courageously put herself out there.

who is ac page

Who is AC? features a lot of courageous risk-takers from the awkward boy asking a hot girl out to self-publishing to blogging difficult emotions without regret. The problem of putting yourself out there, in print, in-person or on-line are the trolls and digital shadows, or trying to disappear or change when identity takes on additional technological complexities. And there is also the trouble with reality versus the identity projected onto a person by another. How can someone tell what is really going on if there isn’t a conversation, but a bunch of one-sided speech/documentation. Audience figures in, the need to be seen and heard—really seen and heard. We see a disconnect in reality , too: in the comparison’s between Trace’s family and Lin’s.

Hope Larson is gifted when it comes to characterization and familial and friend interaction; and this is what really anchors the story when everything else seems racing forward and far-flung. Her fluid transitions are beautiful, but end up shoving me into the action, often into another character’s sequence. “Can Lin detect the cyber-criminal’s vulnerability, save the day, and restore her reputation?” Can she? Does she?

who is ac double

I love the multicultural town, the multiracial family, that Lin rides a bike and publishes zines. The illustrations are fantastic! And the reluctant hero is a girl who should hold up to some great storylines where the magically real intersects technology. Her enlisting the talented Pantoja to render an adventure that involves concerns popular to manga. Who is AC? is an intriguing intersection of American- and Japanese-influenced comic storytelling.

According to Booklist, “Fans of Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon will find a lot to like here, and the added technological twist adds a freshness to the subgenre.” (Mar. 2013)

Who is AC? is an ambitious comic book to remain only singular volume, because it leaves plenty of strings to fill-out a series. For instance, forget who AC is; Lin’s new and strange alter-ego dubbed by an angry caller. I want to know who is responsible for creating her in the first place. Said cyber-criminal is the true oddity and just what the hell he is up to is confusing—unless confused is what he intends to render his hapless victims. Cue even weirder cyber-girl straight out of Tron. There isn’t time to possibly explain her in the novel either.

who is ac ac

What seems to matter most is Lin coming to grips with the change, to surrender herself to it to some degree and begin to ask and answer the titular question. It really is only a beginning. The question then becomes, was I excited enough to want to follow Lin and company into subsequent stories. Perhaps if I were some years younger, such as the age of the intended audience. As it was, I found myself impatient with what ultimately amounted to gestures.


a concenter-quality read: the diversity in lit qualification is evident; the protag and portrayal of family life and community yields verisimilitude and well as empowerment.

{images belong to Hope Larson and Tintin Pantoja}

{comic} jack and jane

The Cute Girl Network

by Greg Means, MK Reed, & Joe Flood (illus)

First Second, 2013. tradepaper, 180 pages.

cute girl network coverJane thinks Jack is the bee’s knees…but the cute girl network disagrees. (back copy)

Jane is brand new to Brookport (think author hometowns Brooklyn and Portland), living with an old friend and documentary filmmaker Wendy, and working in a skate shop where she defends her uterus and dreams a future when other girls get more involved in her first love: skateboarding. Open with cute-meet.


Jane meets Jack who works a food cart that sells soup.*

Enter the Cute Girl Network.

“The Network is a loose alliance of smart, beautiful young women who’ve come together to share information about all the spazzes, dorks, tools, freaks, perverts, losers, and dumbass boys in the city and to prevent yet another awesome girl from falling for yet another lame guy.” –Wendy (63)

Jane’s girl friends make a plausible case for the desire to not waste time on relationships that will not only go nowhere, but will likely include heart-break. What if there were a preventative measure? I mean, if you’d only known he was an asshole (62), or, at the very least, a really bad fit. We’ll admit to sometimes ignoring those early signs later. The Network is formed to allow the “smart, confident young woman” to make “an informed decision and mov[e] forward with […] eyes wide open” (150).

You can see how this would suck for those young men who, like Jack, are excited to find an attractive woman who is new to Brookport and has yet to discover he’s an idiot (113). On one hand, he has reason to fear the Cute Girl Network because has “major memory and tact issues” (108)–he is the source of some really eww inducing moments! Even when the book would recover some of the testimonials via Jack’s perspective, it doesn’t recover everything. On the other hand, Jane is the rare female figure in the novel who is willing to explore the idea that maybe she wouldn’t garner winning testimonials from past relationships either; nor does she have a lot in common with Jack’s past girlfriends. “I’ve taken worse falls than this” (2) she says early on , and she is willing to risk heart ache for a good lay or relationship. And as Jack’s roommate Rose tells him, he needs someone “dumb-ass tolerant and willing to work around it” (113). And Jane just might qualify.

Which brings us to another issue that Wendy is willing to raise where some of the other young women less specific about: “Major memory and tact issues” versus “two-timer [or] baby-daddy” (108) type offenses. Degrees of offensiveness are tested within the book and by the reader, just compare Jack and his other roommate Gil. Another concern raised by not only Jane’s boss: Jack’s idleness, lack of ambition, a lifestyle of financial uncertainty he isn’t looking to change… The boss is framing it in a not unrealistic portrait of: even if she is financially self-supporting, her female income is up against gender bias’ that Jack’s won’t, especially with future prospects (142).

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(excerpt from p 35); “Layabout,” a song inspired by Jack.

Jane is much more ‘live in the moment’ but does eventually conceive of a future where it has been evident that the financial concerns have not been as easily dismissed by her as they’ve seemed. And really, The Cute Girl Network artfully addresses many of the concerns of the dating world. e.g. How does one balance work/play, seriousness/grace, and gain perspective? The novel employs a lot of awkward humor, frank discussions, well-placed allusions, and accessible illustrations. The Cute Girl Network is looking for more honest portrayals of single life, striving for a verisimilitude that will have its younger (and youngish) readers identifying: this means having female characters who enjoy sex and engage in frank conversations about it. I love the playground scenes of the little girls reflecting not only societal expectations in their play-pretend, but also defying it; poop insults and all. One of Jack’s most winning traits is that he does not demean Jane, not even in his awe of her**; in fact, he depends on her self-possession. The Cute Girl Network avoids the didactic which makes this accessible for girls and boys.

An easy recommend, The Cute Girl Network would be an ideal book club read at the brew-pub for the variety of discussions it hosts. The read, text/image, are highly accessible to non-comic folk without insulting the fans. The use of flashbacks, the pacing, the buoyancy of difficult subjects, make for a fluid and entertaining read.  It’s smart and funny and leans toward skater-urban-indie over hipster, which is too appreciable to go unremarked–surely, I am not the only one to worry over this point.

recommended… for any sex/gender; reader of comics or no; for those who love indie-romance flicks, the adorable but sharp kind, the type that would cast Joseph Gordon Levitt; especially for the 23-37 set. *yes, they visit an indie record shop to peruse vinyl & know people in bands (Jane even stars in a homespun youtube music video); there is a visit to a coffee shop & tavern & bookshop; references to vegans; and an ironic, awesome allusion to Twilight via a book club read: “Vampyr Moon” (bless them for the inclusion, and thanks for the excerpt at the close).

**strikes a chord for those of us who’ve discussed “gallantry” and Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall recently.

NOT to miss Cute Girl Network extras via Flood’s blog, that if yet read will give you a sense of Jack and Jane…and Harriet, a founder of the network.

{images belong to Joe Flood, & Means and Reed}

{comics} womanthology: the past & present

Womanthology-Cover-BigI’ve a few sections more…and I’m debating hosting a giveaway.  I cannot (presently) afford the cost/shipping of Heroic, but there are installments of Space that look doable. I’ve birthday money that may persuade me to at least makes sure a copy of Heroic ends up in your local (public or school) library… Yes? No? Would you be in?

Meanwhile…three remarkable inclusions in Womanthology: Heroic that should make your comic artist heart a bit hungry.

“Women of the Past: Life Stories and Artwork by the Women of Comics History,” “Creator Interviews: In-depth Interviews with Professional Women in the Comic Book Industry” and “How to Create Comics!: In-depth Articles Teaching you the Ins and Outs of Creating Comic Books!” Highlighting the first two sections are a sentence from each and thus merely a scratch of the surface. The last is list of what articles & artists Womanthology: Heroic is offering.


“Women of the Past” (311-21) editor, Laura Morley.

womanthology tarpe

“Tarpe Mills and Miss Fury” (312-3) by Trina Robbins. June Tarpe Mills (1912-1988) was “contributing to comics the likes of The Purple Zombie and Dare Devil Barry Finn when in 1941, beating Wonder Woman to the punch by six months, she debuted Miss Fury, the first major costumed action heroine in comics.”

“Nell Brinkley” (314-5) by Trina Robbins. “By the 1920s, Nell [Brinkley (1886-1944)] was drawing an early from of comics, though without panel borders or speech balloons.”

“Rose O’Neill” (316-8) by Colleen  Doran. “At the age of 14, [Rose O’Neill (1874-1944)] entered an art contest sponsored by the Omaha World Herald. Her drawing skills were so advanced that the judges were unable to believe the winning entry was the work of a girl with no formal training.”

“Ethel Hays” (319-21) by Colleen Doran. The incredibly skilled Ethel Hays (1892-1989) “not only produced a beautiful catalogue of work, but supported and encouraged the careers of other young women cartoonists.”

womanthology hays


“Creator Interviews” (300-10) editor, Jennifer Doudney. Click on the names for links to their sites; these women are being interviewed for a reason (included info quoted from each woman’s site). The questions vary, some tailored to the specific woman, many general and of the fun/interesting sort.


Colleen Doran (“illustrator, film conceptual artist, cartoonist, and writer whose published works number in the hundreds.” the example client list is impressive): “Don’t try to be famous, try to be good.”

Devin Grayson (“Best known as a mainstream comic book writer for DC’s Batman titles, Devin is also a novelist, video game scripter, RPG enthusiast, essay writer and copy editor.”) : “I never writer anything without making a music soundtrack/playlist for it first.”

June Brigman (artist, teacher, co-creator of Power Pack (Marvel) and draws newspaper strip Brenda Starr.) “I was one of those horse-crazy girls. If I live long enough, I’ll be a horse-crazy old lady.”

Louise Simonson (comic book writer & editor best known for her work Power Pack, X-Factor, New Mutants, Superman: The Man of Steel, and Steel): she explains why she “prefers the traditional heroes to the current anti-hero trend”—and I couldn’t pick one, nor did I want to type the section out.


Nicola Scott (comic book artist out of Australia whose works include Birds of Prey & Secret Six): loves Wonder Woman and her favorite food? Bacon.

Robin Furth (personal research assistant to Stephen King, author of The Dark Tower: A Concordance, volume I.): “Meet up with other comic book writers and artists. Pair up, talk about the work. Support each other. Collaboration is a magical experience.”

Wendy Pini (co-creator of the Elfquest series, most recent project Wendy Pini’s Masque of the Red Death) : “some words of caution: self-publishing on the Internet takes technical know-how. You need to network with experienced other to learn the ropes. And only a very few web-comics manage to turn a profit.”

Posy Simmonds (British newspaper cartoonist & writer/illustrator of children’s books): answers: “what do you think is distinct about the UK’s comics and cartooning culture, as compared with traditions in continental Europe and the US?” great question.


“How to Create Comics” (277-99) editor, Rachel Deering. links to names will give you a sense of their work.

How to…Write Comics! by Barbara Kesel

How to…Draw in Ink! by Ming Doyle

How to…Ink Comics! by Barbara Kaalberg

How to…Color Comics! by Nei Ruffino


How to…Letter Comics! by Rachel Deering

How to…Draw Monsters! by Fiona Staples

How to…Color with Markers by Jessica Hickman

How to…Color Digitally by Alicia Fernandez

How to…Draw Hands by Qing Han

How to…Build a Sketch by Katie Shanahan



{images thanks to this lovely book preview page}

my most recent Womanthology: Heroic post which will have links to all previous installments. lazy, I know…


{comics} womanthology: heroic, team suzannah

I was going to start at the beginning of the book, but since Thursday morning (my intended post date) turned into Friday afternoon, I am started by read-through of Womanthology: Hero with “Part Four” (pp 179-222). [see my plan for the read-through.]


The indie anthology of female-only generated comic goodness is divided into sections. These sections are teams of writers, pencillers, inkers, colorists, and letterers who share an editor. “Part Four” is “Team Suzannah,” as in editor Suzannah Rowntree of Westchester, NY.  We meet Suzannah on page 179 (and in this interview), learning that she is Features Editor for Life with Archie Magazine, Archie Comics, and as with every editor page, was asked “What does Womanthology mean to you?”

“When I was a kid, I felt a lot of the time like I was the only girl reading comic books. Boys were, but they totally didn’t want to talk to girls at that time, whether they were doing cool things like reading about Spider-Man or not! Projects like this really help to foster a sense of community, whether you’re an industry veteran or an up-and-comer still in school.”

Womanthology has created a global community, age and experience vary, and every Part runs the gamut in story and style and character coloring. My comments on each of the comics or pin-ups will be brief (probably) and I will link the talents’ on-line info to their name. {I had considered a “grade” per offering, but it became complicated so I ditched it.}


“Swimming” (180-3)

Writer: Ashley Avard (of PA), Artist: Dani Jones (of NH) {see image from sketch}, Letterer Rachel Deering.

“Swimming” opens with a girl studying the models pinned from ads and covers on her wall above her bed (where she no doubt dreams). There is a close-up of Olivia’s hand resting near an picture of a woman in a bathing suit–well, her slender thighs, hips and waist anyway. This panel is followed very neatly by an equally close frame of a plate of “processed food” set before Olivia at the kitchen table. Here we (and Olivia) observe the mother’s conversation on the phone openly criticizing her daughter’s weight and appearance, “she’s getting to that age where her pudge isn’t so cute.” Next page, she is teased at school, brought to rage and tears. And where she meets Sheila who has curves and has come to appreciate her differences. Down come the pin-ups, out comes the bathing suit without the t-shirt cover and up stands Olivia to her mother, assuring her “It’s okay. I don’t mind.”

The drawing and the coloring are pretty. The story, despite the after-school special feel to Olivia and Sheila’s interaction, is enjoyable, and obviously relevant as it hits on the major influences of both poor and positive self-image.

“The Nail” (184-7)…a favorite.

Script by Maura McHugh (of Ireland), Art by Star St. Germain (of SF, CA)

The line work, the brown cast, the scrawling letters, are all perfect for this dark historical piece about a real heroine who was imprisoned by People’s Republic of Hungary during the early 1950s. This excerpt from Dr. Edith Bone’s 7 year stint in solitary confinement is dated 1953. The story encourages the value of a strong and well-tended mind. That the female protagonist is isolated and kept beneath the watchful eye of a male guard is not lost on the reader either.


“Pink Elephants” (188-92)

by Ellen T. Crenshaw (of Boston, MA)

What wouldn’t you do for the sake of a good night’s sleep when the pink elephants come to call? I love the hero(es) here. It would be good for the young reader to understand the reference to pink elephants, but it isn’t necessary. Crenshaw creates very expressive frames for a story that relies on the visual as much, if not more, than the text. For these short comics in this anthology, you notice some do this much better than others–or perhaps, some are more accessible than others. And what of that last page? did the mother have the key all the while, just maybe not the confidence (yet)?


a page (193) artwork by Rachel Moir (of Ann Arbor, MI)

a fierce looking everyday woman armed with paint, defining her own self-image. Accusations washed over in read, her brush ‘whiting out’, on her palette in white paint: “You’re Wrong.” [according to her tumblr, she was a last minute addition with a one night deadline, not too shabby, eh?]

untitled (194-7)

Writer: Kayla Banks (of CT), Artist: Brenda Kirk (of Columbus, OH),

Colorist: Jordie Bellaire (of Brooklyn or Dublin), Letterer: Rachel Deering.

Even though Callie isn’t keen on the “do a good deed” assignment for class, she doesn’t want to fail the class. Hijinks ensue until she discovers one good deed that will not induce personal injury. Turns out a good deed can find a person rather unexpectedly and feel perfectly natural aka perfectly effortless–and it can even mean involving awkward human interaction. Light, fun and full of attitude, even if I wasn’t sold on the style.

“Meanwhile! on Tethys, orbiting Saturn…” (198-201)

Story by Lisa Fortuner (of Kaiserslautern, Germany), Art by Cathy Leamy (of Boston, MA), Letterer Rachel Deering.

I was not sure what to do with this one at first. It was not an immediate–ooh so pretty and smart. The style felt blobby college paper comic art. But it has the kind of bright coloring and ridiculous humor apt for critiquing classic superhero depictions. The social crit is there, as bold as the color and line and cheesy flavoring. I like the turn on compliance versus liberation, because the mask is both liberating and a hindrance for the super-space-hero. It is in-your-face and the kind of absurd that won me over and made me laugh.


untitled (202-5)

Writer: Kendra Pape-Green (of Ontario), Artist: Vanessa Satone (of Brooklyn),

Color by Kimberly Ann Black, Letter: Rachel Deering.

Highly accessible art, but I totally dig the textured (mixed-media) backgrounds in some of the panels. the story is a bit of an oddity as well, a bit of a “no good deed goes unpunished” sort of tale. A sitcom feel replete with the laugh track, this is a light comic read about a young modern witch who has very naughty house guests. {image from Satone’s DeviantArt gallery, “Fairies in the kitchen,” is the first page of the story minus textured walls and speech bubbles (obviously)}

“Seeing Eye Sheila” (206-9).

Writer: Kayla Cagan (of LA, CA), Artist: Joanne Ellen Hansen (of Ontario),

Colorist: Dawn Best (of Columbus, OH), Letterer: Rachel Deering.

A girl named Sheila volunteers at a pet retirement home and on her first day takes a seeing eye dog for a walk. The dog makes some sort of supernatural connection and now Sheila can hear him. They converse and as they walk the dog encourages her to see the world differently and become a more compassionate individual–to become a seeing eye helper. “You can teach the world to see differently and look deeper Sheila,” yeah, no hidden messages, no effort for subtly here. I really like how Sheila is illustrated though.


untitled (210-13)

Writer: Jenni Goodchild (of Oxford, UK), Artist: Sherri Rose (of FL), Inker: Nicole Goff (of VA),

Colorist: Dawn Best, Letterer: Rachel Deering.

Set in a mideval fantasy, a father tells his child about the sword on the mantel. he used to be the hero of the land, but he fell in love and wanted to settle down. So a new hero stepped forward and the world was re-written–her name is Caitlin the Brave and she reminds me of Zoe (from Firefly). I really really liked that it is a story where everyone could be whom they wanted. The father wanted to reside in a different role, and Caitlin steps up from the shadows where she’d been fighting at his side all the while. The art is not my cup of tea, but the story is.


“Down the Line” (214-7)

Writer: Georgie Lee (of NC), Artist: Beatriz Bravo (of NJ), Color: Dawn Best, Lettering: Rachel Deering

This one is pretty. Vibrant colors mark out the animated (or soon-to-be) from the blue wash of the rest of the landscape. This comic is sharing an idea, the idea of “pay it forward” where there are “plenty of opportunities to do something less impersonal and more influential than writing a check.” A “chain effect begins,” the comic says and will illustrate. “Fate is always watching,” a young figure in a black hoodie and skull and sickle tattoos, and it is suggested that a good action/person does not go unnoticed, and that these acts may not only save another, but your self as well. {image, sketches of her “main bohemian girl” from Bravo’s tumblr)

a page 218, artwork by Darla G. Ecklund (of Columbia Heights, MN).

A dog resting, the front and foreground w/ text in a celtic (?) type, “Meet the hero that rescues your heart without even trying…And when you didn’t even know it needed rescuing.” the coloring and delicate lines…

untitled (219) by Nicole Sixx (of LA, CA)

A mother (a queen) tells her daughter (a princess) a “Once upon at time” where there was a “great warrior.” The warrior who is “a giver of life, and, if need be, death” is “beauty,” “power,” “light” and “love” and when the warrior meets The Great Darkness it gives way saying, “The only thing I have ever feared is hurting you.” The warrior is a knight in black and rides a white unicorn with a purple mane and tail. Deceptively simple.


a page 220, artwork by Jennifer Mercer (of FL)

An athletic woman in a full body suit (urban ninja style) stands with a sword in front of her Wanted Poster, gesturing and smiling. a nice juxtaposition with page 221’s portrait of a heroic female. {I think the artist calls the picture “revenge,” found here.}

a page 221, artwork by Meng Tian Zhang (of Toronto)

Under “Skills” it reads “Painter” which we already know from this image above it (as seen here, the 5th image “Heroic” in the portfolio, a rapunzel-like figure)

“We Can be Heroes” by Rori (of St. Louis) (222)

A look at how women in comics (both writer and character) inspire young reader. A comic providing insight and inspiration. and I adore the purple and the personality. A gorgeous inclusion for this anthology.

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sprinkled throughout Womanthology: Heroic there are “Pro-Tips.” In “Part Four:”

“Self-Employed” by Devin Grayson (188). “Almost all comic creators are independent contractors […] you’re going to have to learn to market yourself and negotiate contracts…”

“Tools” by Renae De Liz (192). “It’s not the tool that makes the artist…” an encouraging tip on building a tool kit.

“Inking Portfolio” by Stacie Ponder (193). what every Inker should include.

“Dress” by Barbara Kaalberg (195). what to and not to wear to interviews; for instance cos-play may not be wise.

“Criticism” by Stacie Ponder (207). something we all should keep in mind.

“Kindness” by Renae De Liz (218). In a world where networking keeps people in work…

“Blah Blah Blah” by Annie Nocenti (219). “Talk back to your writer.” Comics are collaborative work…

“Editing” by Barbara Randall Kesel (220). “If you’re editing because you want to be a penciller or writer, remember that you’re not the penciller or writer. your job is to inspire, motivate, and enhance their work, not substitute your own.”

“Portfolio” by Nicole Falk (221). have a portfolio that shows a work you can be confident in.

“Ruts” by Kimberly De Liz (222), “Avoid ruts. Mix up your media and try new techniques.”

–there are plenty of samples of media and technique on Team Suzannah, more on the rest of Womanthology: Heroic next Thursday (or Friday)…

{comic} french milk

frenchmilkFrench Milk by Lucy Knisley

Touchstone Book (Simon & Schuster), 2008 tradepaper edition. 194 pages.

When I saw French Milk on the comic book shelves at the library I remember I had meant to read it at some point. I recalled there being some raving, and there it was on the cover: “Wonderful…Read it and you will not be disappointed.” I’m sorry to say Whitney Matheson of USA Today, but I was disappointed. I am not a big fan of Travel Narratives—and that university course on the subject didn’t help, dragging down the Memoir with it. Understanding my bias I was determined to have an open mind. I was determined to find it “Charming” (Publisher’s Weekly). Craig Thompson’s Carnet de Voyage it was not.

Through delightful drawings, photographs, and musings, twenty-three-year-old Lucy Knisley documents a six-week trip she and her mother took to Paris when each was facing a milestone birthday. With a quirky flat in the fifth arrondissement as their home base, they set out to explore all the city has to offer, watching fireworks over the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s Eve, visiting Oscar Wilde’s grave, loafing at cafes, and, of course, drinking delicious French milk. What results is not only a sweet and savory journey through the City of Light but a moving, personal look at a mother-daughter relationship.—jacket copy.

The drawings can be delightful, very accessible and amusing. The lettering is sometimes rough, but she is sometimes doing her illustrated journal on a train so…Knisley is nothing if not authentic—something we are to look for in our travel narrators. Lucy mentions a previous backpacking adventure across Europe and David Sedaris sprinkled lessons on the French language, so she is prepared/experienced that way. She is finishing up her studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is applying to art programs for Cartoon Studies, and has friends whom I recognized right off the bat (the very talented Hope Larson who is married to a very talented Bryan Lee O’Malley). The opening pages tell us Lucy is liked, loved, found attractive, tends toward open-mindedness, adventurous, and is acknowledge by other artists and thus artistic.french milk page11_0

Lucy starts us out back home, where she has made a home as a young adult, in Chicago. She has great friends, and a serious boyfriend. She says her good-byes for the holiday and flies home to her mom and step-dad’s to stay a few days for Christmas after which she and mom head to Paris.

“The flat is quirky,” and the two explore Paris and a few places beyond, recording shopping expeditions for food, clothes, books (to include comic books) and the kind of randomness a good flea market could provide; food and dining experiences; various important museums, grave sites, and other landmarks; the lines; people watching; film and television watching; her period; missing her friends; missing her lover; having a cold, being cold, crampy, and/or feeling depressed, etc.  It makes sense for an artist, especially one who would love a career in comics to keep this kind of journal as a record, a keepsake. I’m not entirely sure why anyone thought it would be all that interesting on a grander scale than friends and family.

french milk lucyknisley09

Sure I found myself saying, yeah, that was a great place! and no kidding about getting tired of seeing naked lady paintings! But I found that the self-absorption didn’t translate into anything more, and Lucy was so typical as to be dull, recording but not saying really much of anything. French Milk’s contents are notes from which one must extrapolate greater sense of the person and her experiences.  Hemingway is referenced and lauded for his ability to transport a person to his table, while a worthy hero from whom to model, it is a risky standard in reference. The most successful read of French Milk will require the reader to bring some things to the table themselves. A black and white cartoon line drawing of a crepe monsieur doesn’t make my mouth water, but the memory of having one does.  It really relies a great deal on connecting with the reader on some value of similarity. Having spent some time in Paris or having been a student of it culturally (pop or otherwise) helps.

french milk lucyknisley02

I was really relying on “a moving, personal look at a mother-daughter relationship” to extend greater meaning to the holiday slide show where the adjectives were often lacking in both text and illustration. Am I to read something into the companionable existence of mother and daughter? Mom was an early-riser and daughter struggled to prolong sleep in their shared bed while mom yammered on and on. Lucy talks to her mom about relationship frustrations, and there is a depressing exchange on “financial responsibilities” and ?. Lucy provided more personal and direct musings on friends and lover than how she related to her mother, or how she really thought of her mother as a person. I couldn’t even read the “I wish I were more like my mother” except in the “I’m fat” and “mom’s thin” observations. French Milk really shouldn’t be as trite as it does in review.

Perhaps a better context was assumed—which is a very damaging flaw for French Milk. I was supposed to know what Lucy was talking about when she went back home (which I sort of actually got), but Lucy’s privilege makes her seem more whiney than understood. I think I was supposed to be more sympathetic being a girl and all, but I wasn’t—sorry. And here comes much of the success of the novel: finding a connection with Lucy and/or her circumstances. Her angst about getting into the right programs and trying to make a living as an artist? I get that. And that was where I drew most of the weight of the experience. I’m not a foodies so a quarter of the novel was lost to me. The making friends, a life away from your mother’s hearth: yes, okay. The “mother-daughter” quarter of the story? not so much. The half I didn’t manage, I felt frustrated by, especially thinking that this was where the title of the narrative could have been much more clever than choosing it because ‘Lucy just loved the whole milk in France and couldn’t get enough of it’ explanation. The half I could connect with intellectually still lacked any emotional resonance. I really missed opportunities at humor that I am sure was there. I think there was supposed to be melancholy (the sort of ambiance I love), but I was too bored to care. I hate that I was just bored, turning the pages in search of some redemptive moment.

If you love the idea of eating sumptuous food in Europe, like travel narratives of all kinds, are in your early-late twenties, like chick-lit, are familiar with art, artists, authors and their work—from Wilde (whom Lucy adores) or Palahniuk (an author she buys) and it makes you feel special, if you like all kinds of comics, can identify whatever encoded languages or images that proved a “moving, personal look at” Lucy and her mom’s relationship, find value in recorded shifts in moods—maybe French Milk will be a better fit for you.

I think I will look to try something else by Ms. Knisley.

{images belong to Lucy Knisley}

{comics} pluto 008

pluto 008 coverPluto 008 by Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka

viz signature edition, 2009.

see my review of Pluto volumes 1-7.

Finally! the dramatic conclusion to Urasawa x Tezuka’s Pluto.

By the seventh volume of Pluto, it looks like the bad guys have won and the Reader is left reeling from one incredible loss after another. There are also some unanswered questions, like: What is up with that cuddly-looking yet creepy teddy bear?

What that United States of Thracia related teddy bear is is confirmed in volume 8, and the “weapons of mass destruction” investigation/fall-out is completely revealed. Yes, the political maneuvering had consequences no one could anticipate—or maybe they could. And for what? Fear and hatred are not best responded to with a flexing of power and more hatred. “Nothing comes of hatred” is a message Pluto will drive home in the final book, and not in a childish way, but with nail-biting and tears and complex illustrations of empathic response. The exploration of robotics having feelings continues to indict the human characters’ abilities or inabilities to possess let alone express empathy. Similarly is the idea of not only having an affection for the future and future generations, but being invested in the future, in not only creating but parenting, i.e. caring and protecting.

pluto 008 urasawa-07

Atom appears to be the only one left who could prevent the destruction of the earth, and he is armed with another’s memory and an unhealthy dose of rage. But he reveals himself to be more than most would expect, redefining power and suggesting a new and better response to threat (on any scale). Not that Atom really is alone, there are others who play a part along the way, both on the good side and the bad.

Pluto is a must series for sci-fi fans, manga readers or no. The artwork and story-structure are a pleasure. It is violent, so I wouldn’t recommend this to the too young a reader set, even if they do excel on the levels of comprehension the series requires. Urasawa has given us an intelligent and beautiful addition to Tezuka’s Astro Boy universe.

{images belong to Naoki Urasawa}

{comic} the eternal smile

The Eternal Smile : Three Stories by by Gene Luen Yang & Derek Kirk Kim

First Second Books, 2009.

Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim are authors and artists who’ve teamed up in this collection of three short stories, or three individual comics. The three pieces find commonality in their use of cultural influences, like fairytales, products, childhood media, virtual reality, and technological communication. They play with cultural references in art and story as they explore what is real, healthy, manufactured, isolating, and malleable. They move from the psychological to the technological, finding natural cause to frequently blur the two, ultimately binding the three under an umbrella of escapist fantasy. And their sophistication regarding social commentary progresses with each story. The Eternal Smile is an excellent choice for Teen and Young Adult, but not to the exclusion of us who are older.*


Duncan’s Kingdom. Duncan is not the most adept suitor to call on the Princess (“Your eyes glisten like wet marbles”), but with a magic sword from the monk who found him as a babe, how can he not win her hand by slaying the Frog King? Or will a haunting dream and an obsession with Snappy Cola ruin everything?

The title page has the appearance of a classic fairytale cover of a heroic adventure. It fairly blares a herald’s bugling. And with the turn of a page all is silent but for night sounds and someone snoring from a room in the castle. While European medieval comes to mind initially and is illustrated throughout in a fitting fashion, the Asian influence saturates the story in lovely ways—particularly in color. I would love to say more on that influence, but there’s my ignorance. The amalgam is a delight, and works from its fantastical start: a Frog Clan? There is little that is atypical in the tale actually, until Duncan dreams. The discovery of Snappy Cola takes the story for a truly bizarre turn.

The story has a really good and challenging moral for its young (and perhaps not so young) adult audience.


Elias McFadden’s Gran’pa Greenbax and The Eternal Smile. Gran’pa Greenbax strives to create a pool of money into which he dive into without busting his nose on the bottom. With the latest venture not producing enough depth to his pool, Gran’pa and his two granddaughters (Polly and Molly) demand another inspired business opportunity from his bullied, under-paid employee. Filbert has run out of ideas and hopes the sighting in the sky will be enough to soothe the savage beast of a boss. What it does is lead them on a path none of them could have anticipated—no not the decision to exploit the masses with religion, the other thing, the thing that has to do with that Eternal Smile.

“Gran’pa Greenbax” sports a title page reminiscent of Disney’s Duck Tales w/ Scrooge McDuck comics replete with volume number and publisher block in the corner and “Elias McFadden’s” in Disney-font. Referencing childhood television, its merchants and its merchandise is no coincidence as Duck Tales meets aTruman Show twist in an indictment of exploitation, whether the institutional interests are media-, corporate- or religion-driven. What would happen if you met your creator, finding echoes in the “outside” mirrored in your own life, and the realization of an influence most unnatural? Would you find relief knowing that you were made the way you are by someone or –thing other than you? What about those recurring (hardwired) desires that had to be manipulated or worked around.

There is a drastic move, and while the violence throughout comes across as startling (eventually), it makes more than a Fight Club sort of sense. Whether internal or external something painfully disruptive might lead to the kind of return to self a character needed. There are a lot of inner- and interpersonal dynamics at play in this cartoon-rendered tale.

“Gran’pa Greenbax” also includes a nice cameo from “Duncan’s Kingdom.” That hope-filled image comes at a key point in the story.


Urgent Request. Where the other two brought more mainstream cultural images instantly to mind the third drew an indie vibe for me (Tomine meets Sunday comics section). The panels appear like screen captures, the dingy black and white apt. Beginning to read, Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan came to mind, and I hoped “Urgent Request” would not reach that level of depressing. It seemed well on its way.

Janet has worked her CommTech cubicle job for 7 years, and a scheduled performance review with an vein and inconsiderate boss doesn’t look to change things. She lives alone and has no social life at or away from work. Eavesdropping on a conversation, a co-worker (the receptionist) describes her as “Awkward? Shy? Frumpy?…insignificant.” This is a pivotal moment as she decides to seize her chance to save a Nigerian Prince who has just started e-mailing her asking for monetary aid.

Janet would be difficult to deal with if the world around her did not seem as equally despairing. The opening panel is dark and rainy. The boss clings to a triumph years before and , the receptionist comes across as pandering to the boss at anyone else’s expense. And what about this Nigerian Prince? Of all the tables Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim turn in their earlier stories, this one is the most surprising. I was delighted even as I was initially baffled by the revelation. But then one has to get over the idea that Janet is so singular and other from the likely tech-savvy, tech-world-built readership of the comic. She is painfully familiar and very typical, except for the fact that she recognizes her life for what it has become and boldly claims her choices.

What appears to be rather unfortunate investment calls become complicated as Janet appears to be investing in herself at the same time. The sun breaks through, Janet begins to decorate her cubicle, becomes more animated and more musical when she moves, we get color. And what to do with that ending? “Urgent Request” transforms its central character into someone who is not awkward, shy, frumpy, or insignificant. The getting there is odd and complicated and did I say odd? I guess it really isn’t all so very odd, just watching someone open up in the face of incredible personal risk requires a massive lung capacity for all that held breath. You genuinely hope it pays off—in some form. And “Urgent Request” does calculate the expenses. Humor manages to find a way in, but the idea that a world has been robbed of passion either in their neutered avatars, or their ergonomic work closets is a delightful indictment in this piece. Janet decides to demand more.

A moment on the format with this one. I really enjoyed the speech bubbles and text (other than sound effects) were placed outside of the panels. The frames keep their (older) on-screen quality. And when they take up white space it makes all that white on the page more comfortable. The placement of the frames require more conscious attention, as their effect is disruptive in obvious ways; the composition had me wondering if there was more to it than the distancing, the emptiness (isolation), and “out of place”/ “out of sync” visual perception–not that that wasn’t enough.


*Curious after reading Same Difference and noting Kim’s pop cultural references, I checked birth dates. Derek Kirk Kim was born in 1974, and Yang in 1973.

{images belong to Derek Kirk Kim and Gene Luen Yang}

Check out this 2009 interview I found when looking for images. Yang and Kim speak with Alex Deuben for Comic Book Resources, wherein Yang says,

“Geek culture has heavily influenced mainstream American culture. Escapist culture is all around us, and it’s big business. I think it’s easy, especially for teachers like me, to just look at the ways it interferes with real-world relationships, goals, and personal growth. But many of the roots of modern escapist fantasy – myths, fables, and even the more modern Tolkien novels – weren’t really about escaping reality. They were about illuminating it. I think fantasy videogames, movies, and comic books can do the same, if crafted well.”


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