Graphic Novels & Manga

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

Fans of Sisters, Roller Girl, and El Deafo will feel right at home in this story. A coming-of-age tale that deals realistically with bullying, anxiety, school drama, friendship, and forgiveness is hard to find, yet somehow Awkward author Svetlana Chmakova manages just that. This story grapples with the real trials that children face in school and avoids offering easy answers, but instead tackles overcoming anxiety to make friends, find forgiveness, and build bridges. These heavy issues are all balanced by a strong current of drama and humor throughout the story that will keep readers flying through the pages, eager to know what happens next. Suggested for children ages 9 and up who enjoy realistic stories about school.

The story begins with our heroine, Peppi, falling prey to social pressure on her first day of school and participating in the bullying of a fellow student, Jaime. The rest of the story is in many ways driven by her desire to find forgiveness and make things right. As the story progresses throughout the school year, we watch Peppi try to reach out to Jaime and the ways in which anxiety and the social structures of school create barriers to this action. Additionally, anxious and shy Peppi is heavily involved in the art club, while introverted Jaime is in the science club and the competition between the two clubs for a spot in the school fair forms an ever-present backdrop for the story. As these two characters find common ground with one another, their clubs seem to grow farther apart, creating issues not only for them, but also the school. Trying to balance these many issues and still have a good year in school would be hard for anyone, and watching these characters grapple with them is the crux of the story.

The artistic style is strongly reminiscent of anime and the colors create a hazy, dreamlike quality that helps draw readers into the story. Chmakova’s story tackles how it feels to be introverted and anxious, but she is also tackling the issue of separation between science/math and the arts and how this creates a false dichotomy that does not fully embrace the skills and interests of students. Overall, it is amazing for how many issues Chmakova manages to bring to light and it should not be missed, a truly excellent school story for the introvert in us all.

Red's Planet by Eddie Pittman

Fans of Zita the Space Girl will feel right at home in this charming graphic novel. While the bulk of the story takes place in space, featuring aliens, strange planets, and the loss of shoes, it is fundamentally a story about belonging and identity. While there are some scenes of peril that might be too much for more sensitive readers, this graphic novel tells an accessible and interesting story that will appeal to children ages 8 – 12 who enjoy action, adventure, and science fiction.

The story begins with our unnamed heroine, known only as Red, running away from her foster family only to be picked up by the police. However, before the police can take her home they are involved in a high-speed chase with a spaceship. Red ends up being mistakenly kidnapped and taken across the universe. There, she ends up in an auction hosted by an ancient creature known as the Aquilari, who collects rare and valuable artifacts from across the universe, but before the reader can learn more the ship is attacked by space pirates and crashes onto a planet nobody, not even the aliens, is familiar with. On this seemingly desolate desert planet, Red must learn to bond with her traveling companions, avoid the tiny, disproportionately hungry wildlife, and find a way to survive.

Funny and disarming, this story is a lighthearted romp through space. The colors and illustrations are vivid and dynamic, drawing the reader through the story. Pittman has an eye for color and knows how to use the art to enhance and provide comic relief for his text. While the plotting does need to be evened out for the sequel and there are several moments where the story seems to lag, overall Pittman has crafted a story that engages readers and leaves them eager to know what happens next for our stranded heroine.

Nnewts: Escape from the Lizzarks by Doug TenNapel

A war between amphibians and lizards, with humor, magic, and villains with mustaches. All of these elements can be found in NNewts, which introduces readers to a new series featuring a clash between amphibians, the Nnewts, and their scaly counterparts, the Lizzarks. Told in rich and vibrant colors, this graphic novel tells a beautiful, humorous, heart wrenching, and charming story that will appeal to children 9 and up who enjoy tales of adventure and fantasy.

The series opens on a young NNewt, Herk, whose legs are underdeveloped, which forces him to spend his days in the family pond fighting imaginary monsters, until the day the Lizzarks, commanded by the Snake Lord, attack. Herk’s family is killed in the assault and he is forced to flee through underground waterways to escape. These events start Herk’s epic journey as he tries to find those responsible for the death of his family. On this quest, he meets the first Nnewt, Anthigar, in his ruined, watery kingdom and learns what really happened to his legs. Herk also learns that his village was not the only Nnewt settlement and that there are darker, more sinister forces at work and somehow he is at the center of these events. Herk must look within and master new abilities if he is to save himself, the remaining NNewts, and defeat the evil Snake Lord.

Tennapel is grappling with many issues in this story, unabashedly dealing with death, purpose, and identity, but doing so in an accessible way. The artwork heavily relies on varying shades of green, red, purple, and orange to create a vivid and dynamic story that almost leaps off the page. While this tale does feature violence, it never veers too heavily into visual details and intersperses humor throughout to lighten the mood. This series quick space, vibrant colors, and engaging story could also draw in reluctant readers as they follow Herk’s quest. While there are some elements of the plot that need fleshing out, overall this story is excellent and leaves the ready eager to read book two, NNewts: The Rise of Herk, available now. 

Nimona

Nimona is a powerful shape-shifter who dreams of becoming a super-villain, so of course she signs up to be the sidekick of Lord Ballister Blackheart. Blackheart is already a known evil genius and arch nemesis of the country's top hero. However, this hero, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, might not be the hero after all. Nimona and Blackheart are out to prove that Goldenloin and the Institute he works for are the true evil in the land - that is if Blackheart can control Nimona even a little bit.

This graphic novel is original, creative, and hilarious. Nimona and Blackheart are great characters with intriguing back-stories. The world in which the story is set is part medieval and part modern with a bit of a futuristic twist. This is a quick read and will leave you hoping for more! Noelle Stevenson, we need a sequel please! If back to school has got you in a pleasure reading slump, pick up this fabulous graphic novel.

Cocoanuts and the Marx Brothers

Cocoanuts was the first feature film starring the four Marx Brothers: Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo.  It may also have the distinction of being the first true movie musical, that is, a movie where the musical numbers were meant to be part of the story telling process rather than a performance for audience within the movie. It wasn’t that the studio didn’t plan to have a band playing with the musical scenes.  A “band” was hired for the first day of shooting.  Apparently they were to follow the actors around ready to play whenever someone was tempted to burst into song, but the director soon realized there was no reason to have them around and that they would distract from the plot of the movie; something that the Marx Brothers were already managing to do pretty well on their own.

The Great War

If you are a fan of graphic novels or comic book histories, Joe Sacco’s incredibly detailed book about the battle of the Somme is a keeper.  The accordion style of the book imparted a narrative push to this graphic history that has no text.

The folded-over 24 foot long drawing also gave Sacco a large expanse of space to record the planning for the war on the ramparts of Montreuil-sur-Mer, the gathering of horses, laden carts and howitzers before the battle, and the trenches, explosions and destruction of the battle itself.  

The artist also vividly captured the digging of graves and the field of white crosses after the bloodshed ended.  Sacco’s drawings are very accurate, expertly rendered, and they convey emotion. To get the full effect of this book, you should spread it out across a long table or even two tables.

The one-day battle had 60,000 British casualties—the largest of any battle Britain has been involved in before or since. Included in a separate booklet is Adam Hochschild’s narrative essay that places the art in context.

Geeking Out on the 80s

ImageThe decade was only roughly ten years gone when the BBC (and then US network VH1) brought nostalgia for the 1980s to TV with I Love the '80s in 2001. America has long been fascinated with looking back on its pop-culture history, but the decade that saw PCs, video games, cable TV, and a variety of musical sub-genres explode maintains a hold on our imaginations. Two of this year's Rosie Award nominees focus on the decade, centered on what has become our true national pastime – gaming.

Classics as Graphic Novels

Interested in revisiting an old favorite classic in a new way?  Consider the graphic novel version of your old familiar favorite novel.  I recently read The Hound of the Baskervilles reimagined as a graphic novel by Ian Edginton and was pleasantly surprised.  This is the famous story of Sir Charles Baskerville who has suddenly died and Henry Baskerville, his nephew and the heir to his estate.  Henry is being warned of danger that might befall him as he takes ownership of the manor on the moor.  Sherlock Holmes and Watson travel with Henry to the moor to investigate the threat, made complicated by an escaped murderer, jealousy, mysterious family dynamics, and a possible hell hound. The characters were visually well represented including Watson, Dr. Mortimer and Mrs. Stapleton.  They mystery, though well known, has enough twists and turns to keep any reader going. The visual look and use of color does well to represent the haunting and atmospheric feeling of the moor and the danger lurking everywhere. For fans of dense novels, there is still quite a bit of dialogue which is slowed down further (for a modern reader!) by the original style.  I really loved the look of this graphic novel edition which often reminded me of an animated movie.

Beasts of Burden

Making yourself read outside your comfort zone can end up with some total misses and some excellent surprises. In all likelihood I would have missed Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites, a graphic novel about a talking pack of animals that solve supernatural mysteries in their seemingly sweet suburban neighborhood of Burden Hill. That description wouldn't peak my interest, but also doesn't do the graphic novel justice either.
The storytelling is episodic, in that there are chapters that are a complete story into itself which makes for a fast read. There is a pack of animal friends, all dogs and one orphan cat who start uncovering supernatural cases in their neighborhood. They eventually become apprentices in the Wise Dog Society to further their training in fighting these evil forces. The supernatural stories cover a wide range from an evil coven of cats, a rain of mutant frogs, werewolves, magical earthen golems, ghosts, and more.

A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse

Did you know there's a place in Antarctica where it's warm enough to swim? It's true! It's heated by an active (though not actively erupting!) volcano. Mouse and his human friend have set out on a long journey to that spot, and we're along for the adventure.

A Trip To The Bottom Of the World with Mouse, written and illustrated by Frank Viva, is the tale of a mouse in a stripey hat, and a bald-headed boy in a shirt with a bat on it, amusing themselves aboard a big boat bound for Antarctica. Mouse is antsy to get where they're going -- Mouse is always antsy -- and the boy is seasick. So they chat about everything they can think of to keep their minds occupied. The story progresses as a series of lists under discussion: things that are hard to do on a boat on a rough ocean, things to wear when it's cold, and the different kinds of penguins inhabiting the icy expanse.

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