No Flying No Tights review: Gast by Carol Swain

by Tessa

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I have a review of Gast by Carol Swain up at No Flying No Tights today. I thought this book was something very special.

Helen has just moved to rural Wales with her parents. She’s quiet and solitary, but she isn’t shy. She’s the kind of child whose mother must ask her not to bring any more dying animals to the house. Helen loves watching nature and recording her observations and theories in her journal, as well as the Welsh words she’s learned: “gwennol” is the name for the bird that we call a swallow, and “gast” is Welsh for woman. New to the language, Helen initially thinks the egg seller from town is talking about a dead bird when he mentions Emrys: “A rare bird. Down by here. Cuddig. I don’t know what he’d be called… took his own life… Upset my birds terrible it did.” Soon enough, she realizes he’s referring to a neighbor who committed suicide, and her inquisitive nature leads to an exploration of human life and death.

Check it out over there!

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Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: One-Off Fantasy/Magical Adventures

by Tessa

Read about the whys of this series here.

Possibly my favorite genre of comics, and one of the larger lists to be culled from the nominations this year – graphic works are suited for describing the fantastic if done well, and there’s a lot of fun and variety in these selections, so if yo u find your attention waning partway through, please take a break and come back to appreciate the back end of the list with fresh eyes.

singnoevil

Sing No Evil

JP Ahonen, writer

KP Alare, artist

Abrams

Anticipation/Expectation level: Another one I’m on hold for – excited to read this! Although the comics I’ve read about people in bands are usually disappointing, this one looks like it could be fun.

Art Taste:

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giganticbeard

The Gigantic Beard that was Evil

Stephen Collins, writer and artist

Picador

Anticipation/Expectation level: Based on the title, pretty high?

My Reality: It’s one of those gentle stunners of a book that is somewhere closer to adult picture book on the graphic novel spectrum. A fable-like story about an island named here where everything is in its place, surrounded by a sea that leads to There, an unknown place of frightening chaos. An inhabitant of the island has one hair on his chin that goes haywire, causing problems for all of the island’s society and culture.

The text is gentle, with a sure tone and an almost-rhyming feel. It is very rhythmic and I sang part of it to my cats as part of their integration therapy. The art is penciled, with a sense of lighting that adds to the otherworldliness and gravity of the story. Collins balances the softness of his pencils and the lulling of his words with the helplessness of the unknown that lurks beneath both. It is a treat.

Will teens like it?: Yes, it doesn’t have an immediate hook apart from the great title, but it’s not hard to get into and provides its own rewards.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes – much like The Arrival, this is the kind of book that isn’t marketed towards teens but would be great to use in a book club, to introduce to an arts loving teenager or foist upon a book club with success, because there’s not really an impediment to getting something from it other than the thought that it might not be like what one is used to reading.

Art Taste:

The Gigantic Beard that was Evil

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Buzz!

Ananth Panagariya, writer

Tessa Stone, artist

Oni Press

Anticipation/Expectation level: It looked fun, but I knew nothing of it going in. I like the name Tessa.

My Reality: Like Hicks’ and Shen’s Nothing Can Possibly Go WrongBuzz! is a solid entry into the teen high school slightly off adventure comic market. It’s easy to pick up off the shelf and recommend because it’s a new concept (underground spelling bees) running on standard tropes (outsiders who used to be insiders take on powerful conglomerate with the help of a talented newbie, betrayal from sort of within happens). And there’s nothing that is objectionable unless you object to a hint of magic. The action starts quickly and escalates quickly and the art is dynamic, hitting a spot between Faith Erin Hicks and Brian Lee O’Malley (as does the tone of the story). In short: fun.

For me, the action was a bit too quick and I never felt any resonance with the characters or their struggles, everyone was a bit too blithe. However, I don’t really count my feelings as meaning much because I’m not the ideal audience for this book. I don’t think it’s meant to be resonant, and I don’t think it has to be to be a successful comic. In fact, as a teen services librarian I wish for more of these fun, one-off books for my shelves.

Will teens like it?: Yes.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

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Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem

Steve Niles and Matt Santoro, writers

Dave Wachter, artist

Dark Horse

Anticipation/Expectation level: I’v always been a fan of golems.  I was interested to see what this book would do to distinguish itself in the saturated WWII market. (Pretty sure there are even already books about golems in WWII).

My Reality: A straightforward tale, as far as a tale about using a Golem against Nazis goes. A boy loses his father to World War… One, I think. Or two. Anyway, enough time that he grows up a bit in between. He’s waiting in a small village with his grandfather and other elderly people, all Jewish or mostly Jewish. He’s still waiting when a plane crashes outside of town. This is bad, because it is an Allied pilot who will bring scrutiny from Nazis. There is barely enough time to flee, so his grandfather entrusts  him with the secret of golem-making, and makes a Golem.

In keeping with the folsky, mythical vibe of the Golem, the tale is focused on the elemental parts of the story: good over evil, nobility over greed, sons discovering their strength in the absence of fathers and father figures. The Golem itself is elemental: the protection of earth and faith. The historical detail of the story adds another layer of pathos and dignity. And the art is gorgeous: detailed, black and white with a nice flowing sense of space and shadow, highlighted by brushy washes of grey and black. Unfortunately, by focusing on the elemental parts of the story, the story ends up being kind of forgettable. It’s evocative during reading, but might fade from the mind over time, merging with other golems or other WWII tales.

Will teens like it?: I can see some teens liking it.

Is it “great” for teens?: It’s good. I don’t know if it crosses over to great. For teens. But I bet someone else could argue it.

Art Taste:

bobtag1p3

lilychen

The Undertaking of Lily Chen

Danica Novgorodoff, writer and artist

First Second

Anticipation/Expectation level: High, because I read Slow Storm and Refresh, RefreshI loved those books and was excited to read a longer work with a more clearly defined plot from Novgorodoff.

My Reality: If The Undertaking of Lily Chen were a movie it would be a fast talking movie in the mold of 30s and 40s flicks and it would be a farce, only set in China and having to do with a less-loved son finding a corpse to bury with his dead, too-venerated older brother. It’s a strange mix but one that works – Novgorodoff is good at finding the groove in uneasiness.

The main story is a chase/road trip type format, with Deshi Li dealing with the abrupt and violent end of his brother (by his hands), his place within his family, and his desperation to find a corpse or someone to murder to become a corpse bride. He runs into Lily Chen, who is brassy and adventurous in contrast to Deshi’s sad and anxious mode. She is trying to get to Shanghai from the poor countryside by any means possible. She becomes Deshi’s target and companion. The story, as it is, is not the strongest part of the book. The central idea of the ghost marriage as an impetus is interesting, but not enough to sustain the whole book – that would fall on Deshi’s shoulders, and he never really proves himself as a main character. Lily, being the titular character and the more naturally active person, is compelling, but so concerned with her movement away from her past that it’s hard to admire more than her gumption.

What really pulls everything together is the art. Sweeping, melancholy vistas of mountains. Twlight and dawn-light. Out of body experiences. Novgorodoff mixes delicate watercolors with pen-line shadows and outlined characters, the exaggerated with the realistic, creating a world slightly beyond the real.

Will teens like it?: Yes. It’s intriguing and well-paced.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes  – the shortcomings of the characterization are balanced out by the art and themes that emerge near the end.

Art Taste:

lilychen lilychen2

MoonheadCoverFull

Moonhead and the Music Machine

Andrew Rae, writer and artist

Nobrow Press

Anticipation/Expectation level: I like Nobrow.

My Reality: This hit all the sweet spots for me. Palpable depictions of awkwardness that lead to heartwarming scenes of celebration of being weird. Joey Moonhead has a moon for a head. No one talks about it, but he and his family are the only ones who are visibly different from all the other humanoids. Joey is out of it and kind of shy, but he wants to build a music machine for a talent show. His first attempt is pitiful but he is discovered by a new friend – a ghost-person, dresssed in a sheet, who is kind of a musical genius, and he blows off his long time buddy to pursue the dream.  I found it to be relatable, a story that has been told, but a heartfelt, personal take on it that works. Rae’s art is all clear lines with a great sense of storytelling beats through the pacing of the panels. And he draws great creatures.

Will teens like it?: Teens might think it’s too weird or off their usual path, but I bet they would like it if they gave it a chance. Or they might think its message is too simple.

Is it “great” for teens?: I think it’s great!

Art Taste:

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moonheadpreview

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Down Set Fight!

Chad Bowers and Chris Sims, writers

Scott Kowalchuk, artist

Oni Press

Anticipation/Expectation level: Verging from neutral to vaguely wary about sports content.

My Reality: Down Set Fight! is unapologetically a book about fighting. To be specific, it’s about a football player who is most famous for fighting on field and has abandoned his career and aged into being a high school coach. Until mascots start seeking him out to fight him. (There’s also a back story with his sleazy dad.) The fun the writers had dreaming up the mascots is readily apparent, and although there’s a mystery element to the plot, it is really all about Chuck fighting mascots and figuring out why they want to fight him. It’s all done with a sense of whimsy and over-the-top violence that isn’t gruesome or realistic in anyway, and I admire that.

Will teens like it?: You could sell this to a teen.

Is it “great” for teens?: I don’t know if it’s great. I’m on the fence.

Art Taste:

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Beautiful Darkness

Fabien Vehlmann, writer

Kerascoët, artists

Drawn & Quarterly

Anticipation/Expectation level: Read a preview of this last year and really, really wanted to read it.

My Reality: Possibly one of the best books I’ve read, period. It is beautiful and terrible – terrible in the sense of being deeply frightening. Or maybe the right word is horror, or is there a word of witnessing the consequences of bad decisions or acts of god(s) and being struck by the impassive blankness of nature? It’s that. There are very visceral moments in here that will stay with a person.

So, the book is about these tiny fairy-ish people who emerge from the body of a dead girl in a forest. It’s not clear who they are or how they ended up in the body but they now have to survive in the forest. Some are oblivious to the dangers, some scheme to get power, some try to help out, some go out on their own. The team of Kerascoët is the perfect choice to illustrate this world, with their sure, delicate pen lines and richly colored, realistic backgrounds.

Why should I say more when you could be reading this book?

Will teens like it?: Yes. It might scar younger readers, but will also fascinate them.

Is it “great” for teens?: I mean… it’s great.

Art Taste:

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Great Graphic Novels Noms 2015: Memoir and Contemporary Stories

by Tessa

Read about this series of posts here.

FUN FACT: All of the selections today are by writer-artists (one person writes and draws the book). They are the singer-songwriters of the comics world.

eldeafocover

El Deafo

Cece Bell, writer and artist

Amulet Books

Anticipation/Expectation Level: I’d heard lotsa good things about this one.

My Reality: All the praise is deserved. It’s a mildly fictionalized memoir about Cece Bell growing up with deafness, outside of the Deaf community – it’s about feeling awkward because she’s afraid she looks so different and because of the challenges of navigating a world that doesn’t always make the allowances it should for a lip-reading child, and it’s also about basic growing up stuff: friendships, family, school. Bell has a good ear for social detail and her chronicles of trying to find a true friend and feeling lonely will win her many readers (I hope). And she’s also funny.

Will teens like it?: Yes. Fans of Raina Telgemeier and The Wimpy Kid/Big Nate will be into this for sure.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

ElDeafo_TXT_page1

allstarcover

All Star

Jesse Lonergan, writer and artist

NBM ComicsLit

Anticipation/Expectation Level: None. I knew nothing about this going in.

My Reality: Great realistic fiction which I think sometimes is thin on the ground in the comics world, especially for the high school level. All Star is squarely high school oriented. It’s not the baseball story that the cover may lead you to believe it is. It’s about the golden boy becoming aware of his golden boy privileges and trying to do the right thing. I’m always fascinated to read about fictional or nonficitonal characters trying to do the right thing. (All Star may seem autobiographical but it’s not). Lonergan writes clean, beautiful action pages that made baseball not so boring even for me. His characters are exaggerated – a little boxy like Jeff Lemire’s but more like walking skeletons.

Will Teens Like it?: Teens might not get all the cultural references going on, but hopefully that won’t turn them away from the story.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yeah.

Art Taste:

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Tomboy: a graphic memoir

Liz Prince, writer and artist

Zest Books

Anticipation/expectation level: I got a personal recommendation for this from several people whose taste I trust.

My Reality: Loved it! Prince doesn’t try to tamp down on the ambiguity of her feelings about how she wants to be in the world. Because these go against culturally built up norms for gender expression she struggles with how she feels about girly things, how she has been taught to think about being a girl, and how she feels comfortable and if that has to fit into a gendered behavior. But it’s told as a story that is open, using a black and white, thin-lined style that I think of as “refined sketchbook cartoon” – really accessible and enjoyable for a huge age range.

Will Teens Like It?: I put this on display on Tuesday and a teen immediately picked it up.

Is it “great” for teens?: YES.

Art Taste:

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T0724

I Think I Am In Friend-Love With You

Yumi Sakugawa, writer and artist

Adams Media

Anticipation/Expectation Level: I had read this on Tumblr or something before it was published. I thought it was cute to a point.

My Reality: I like how the format: small and square, with one text panel and one picture to each spread, makes the reading go more slowly. More like a picture book for adults. Sakugawa has a very appealing drawing style. The narrator of this book is a of a monstery design, sort of a cyclops Cousin It. She draws with a thin, textured pencil line, with a good eye for design. While I have experienced friend crushes and support the idea of more talk about the importance of friend-love and friendship as sustaining relationships, I feel like this book is more about friend-crush desperation. A reviewer at Rookie reads it as an exchange between the crusher and crushee, but I see it as a long declaration from the protagonist to an oblivious friend crush. A declaration that would make most people uncomfortable because it lacks confidence. And it is steeped in the social media world of today, and those references will become dated and take away from the chance of this being a classic book with a universal message. So I can’t fully get behind this as a great book but I do think it is cute and harmless – even maybe confidence building?

Will Teens Like it?: Yeah, this is built for sharing on Tumblr.

Is it “great” for Teens: I don’t know. I see it more as a novelty picture book?

Art Taste:

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Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: Fun Fantasy series – Adventure Time, My Little Pony, Three Thieves, Skyward, Zita and Philemon

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reading these books here.

Today I’m taking a look at the light fantasy series that have been nominated this year.

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Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake

Natasha Allegri, artist and author

KaBOOM! Studios

Anticipation/expectation level: High. I can’t remember how, but I was following Natasha Allegri’s livejournal before she graduated from undergrad and was pleased to see that she got a job on some show called Adventure Time. 

My reality: Yep, this book is the whole package. It’s gorgeous, it has humor and heart (see, respectively: when Lumpy Space Prince uses a wishing wand to make himself beautiful, the whole conclusion which I won’t spoil for you). Allegri’s genderswapped Adventure Time universe is as strong as the original, keeping the basic dynamics of the characters’ relationships the same, but still creating original situations. Cake is not Jake, but is how Jake would be in cat form. There are also little shorts at the end from writers and artists like Lucy Knisley and Noelle Stevenson. How do these comics all turn out so well? The only part that didn’t work for me is a short digression about a cat and its nine lives, which was sort of related but came out of nowhere.

Will teens like it? I know some teens who are already all about Bee and Puppycat, so yeah.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes – I realize it’s hard for me to be objective, but I did read these comics before I watched Adventure Time and greatly enjoyed them, so I think that knowledge of the show isn’t a huge stumbling block.

Art Taste:

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check out Natasha Allegri’s tumblr, you won’t be sad. There’s a small pitch for a show called Cat Mommy

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Adventure Time, Volume 5

Ryan North, Writer

Braden Lamb, Mike Homes, Shelli Paroline, artists

KaBOOM! Studios

Anticipation/expectation level: I could safely predict that I’d like this. The first 3 made it onto GGNT 2014. I’m wondering why Volume 4 wasn’t nominated? (I did go ahead and read it, and it isn’t the strongest volume but it’s not so off game as to not be nominated, but anyway).

My reality: This one is all Bubblegum – and Lemongrab. It’s a bit about how Princess B struggles with feeling like she’s a ruler when she has to rely on Finn and Jake so much, and a little about her mistakes in the past… and how they ALL COME TOGETHER. Again, it can be read as a standalone adventure.

Will teens like it?: They do.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes

Art Taste:

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My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Volume 5 

Katie Cook, writer

Andy Price, artist

IDW Publishing

Anticipation/expectation level: Low-ish. I’m old enough to have lived through the first Ponies craze, but wasn’t inspired to watch the show or the documentary about the people who love the show, even though I don’t have anything against it.

My reality: Volume 5 of the comic series is about Celestia’s history with an alternate version of Equestria/Canterlot, and the trouble it is causing everyone. She enlists the special pony brigade or whatever they are called to help fix it before reality as they know it is destroyed. The main points of the universe were easy to pick up on. I still don’t know each pony’s name, but it didn’t affect my reading of the comic as far as confusion goes. It was a nice story about friendship and magic where the stakes were suitably high. One thing that annoyed me: I was a bit irked that, in a universe built on the concept of friendship, the small dragon always gets forgotten and ignored. What is up with that? Double standards.

Will teens like it?: I think this would be popular with younger teens.

Is it “great” for teens?: It’s a solid comic. It wasn’t transcendent or something I’ll independently enthuse about. But I can’t say it’s not perfectly positioned for its audience and age group.

Art Taste: mlpmultiverse

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The King’s Dragon

Scott Chantler, artist and writer

Kids Can Press

Anticipation/expectation level: I’ve read two other volumes of this series (called the Three Thieves) and always found them to be exciting, well-plotted, and drawn with a lively, accomplished hand. Actually I’ve read all the volumes but the first one.

My reality: It might be strange to read The King’s Dragon and go back to catch up on the story, because this volume focuses on a man who has so far been the villain of the tale, the man chasing the titular Three Thieves, Captain Drake. It gives us his backstory and, as usually happens with these things, makes him a more sympathetic and complex character. There’s very little movement in the story’s plot – most of the action occurs in flashback. But I still think that it would be easy to read this apart from the other books and not feel lost. It is Captain Drake’s story. Chantler does pacing well, and his is very cinematic. I could almost hear the strings of the suspenseful soundtrack as I moved back and forth in his memory. It’s a series that should get more attention from readers.

Will teens like it? Yes, even though it’s primarily marketed for middle grade readers, it’s a good adventure for anyone.

Is it “great” for teens? Yeah!

Art Taste:

KingsDragonThe_2206_spr2

returnofzita

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

Ben Hatke, writer and artist

First Second

Anticipation/expectation level: I’m an unabashed Zita pusher to parents, teachers, aunts, and all other readers.

My reality: As a fan of the series, the last book paid off. But it’s been awhile since I read the 2nd installment, and I couldn’t recall each member of the ragtag team’s situation/quirks from where they were left off. For the most part, this is Zita’s story of defeating someone hellbent on destroying Earth out of spite and escaping a prison camp, so the intermittent flashes to her other friends all over the galaxy aren’t that much of a distraction. But they do eventually come into play. For someone coming in cold to the universe, the story won’t have much extra emotional resonance, and the emotional hook depends on being familiar with Zita’s journey. But the main things that I love about Zita are there: absurd humor, lots of cute and weird creatures, struggle overcome by pure will and help from friends, triumph over evil, and there’s the extra punch of wistfulness at the end.

Will teens like it?: It might read younger, but I think teens will like it.

Is it “great” for teens?: It’s great if you’ve read the other volumes. Alone, I don’t know if it’s great.

Art Taste:

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Skyward Volume 1: Into the Woods 

Skyward Volume 2: Strange Creatures 

Jeremy Dale, writer and artist

Action Lab Entertainment

Anticipation/expectation level: All that I knew before I read this was that its creator had suddenly and tragically died. And that people had really liked the comic.

My reality: From reading the letters from fans printed in the collected editions, I can see what people like about this title. It’s a new fantasy world. It’s imaginative, filled with warrior rabbits and other magical stuff. It’s got a bit of joking camaraderie. It’s built to be a fun ride – a search for a missing boy by the forces of good and evil caught in a war that’s much bigger than him, etc. It feels familiar. For me, it felt too familiar and it wasn’t my type of humor or art – but at least the clothes are equal opportunity painted on. When characters are alone they tend to narrate whatever they’re thinking, which always strikes me as unnecessary. I can see the merits for readers, but this one didn’t do much for me.

Will teens like it?: I don’t know if I can see heavy investment potential, but there’s nothing here that would be an immediate turnoff.

Is it “great” for teens?: I think this is decent.

Art Taste: Comparing the pencils to the colored version, I’d have to say that I prefer the pencils. The coloring makes everyone look really shiny and covered in vinyl and obscures a lot of the artistic talent.

skyward

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Cast Away on the Letter A

Fred

TOON books

Anticipation/expectation level: Neutral. TOON Books does interesting stuff. When I got this in at the library, it was very slim like a picture book and looked like it was a reprint/revival of a classic european adventure comic. (The introduction confirmed this).

My reality: Philemon is hugely popular in France, a beloved character. In his introduction to general American eyes he explores a well on his rural French property that keeps burping up messages in bottles. He finds himself stuck on the letter A in “Atlantic Ocean” – a fantastical adventure befitting such an illusory place ensues. I appreciated the imagination and history that come with the comic, and I’m glad that more European comics might get printed over here and find a wider audience, but I’m not going to rave about it to teenagers.

Will teens like it?: Due to the length and lightness of the story, plus its cultural cache, I think this will appeal to mostly young readers or adult readers. The pacing and plot don’t fit modern teen comic book standards.

Is it “great” for teens?: Nah

Art Taste:

fred-slide4

Reading the Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: spooky scary comics

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reviewing these comics here.

I love horror and I love comics. I love it when a book can visually creep me out. There are a good number of horror-y titles on the list this year. This isn’t all of them, but all of these are supernatural in some way.

afterlifewitharchie

Afterlife with Archie: Escape from Riverdale

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, writer

Francesco Francavilla, illustrator

Archie Comics

Expectation/Anticipation Level: Low. Archie comics aren’t really my bag, but I don’t actively dislike them.

My Reality: I loved this! Francavilla does a more realistic take on Archie and the gang and that somehow makes me take them more seriously as characters. Maybe because I don’t find bulbous hair attractive. Everyone is in deep shadow and the palette is strictly goth. It’s one of those zombie comics where it’s Halloween so the truth takes a bit to sink in, and then it becomes a bit of a claustrophobic survival story (with teen drama), so I’m all over it.

Will Teens Like it?: I bet they totally would. I’d bet at least a dollar.

Is it “great” for teens?: This has the qualities of GGNT greatness: great art, fun story, a bit of depth, something that makes it stand out from its genre or typical audience, and teen appeal.

Art Taste:

Afterlife-With-Archie-4

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Bad Machinery V.2: The Case of the Good Boy

Bad Machinery V.3: The Case of the Simple Soul.

John Allison, writer & illustrator

Oni Press

Expectation/Anticipation Level: Well, I knew what I was getting into because I’m a regular reader of the webcomics, so… neutral? But wait, high, because I am a fan.

My Reality: Reading these comics collected really brings out how funny and charming they are. One of the best things about Allison’s writing and drawing style is is control over whimsy – it’s always a bit weird and tender instead of being too sweet or, god forbid, wacky. Although the strips are written to be enjoyed thrice a week and thus have punchlines at the end, the story reads as a whole and it is clear that Allison has created these new stories with the collection in mind. The stories always involve creatures or some kind of supernatural occurrence, but with a light touch. The focus is much more on the team of young mystery solvers finding more out about themselves and their town via the mystery than about being terrified or haunted.

Will teens like it?: The books are published in biiiig floppy editions so hopefully teens will pick one up and be sucked in.

Is it “great” for teens?: I think so. I think it’s great for you, too.

Art Taste: If you like this, I highly recommend reading the archives and ongoing comics at Scary Go Round.

shaunashousejohnallison

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graveyard-book-2

The Graveyard Book, Volume 1

The Graveyard Book, Volume 2

written by Neil Gaiman

adapted by P. Craig Russell

Kevin Nowlan, Scott Hampton, P. Craig Russell, Galen Showman, David LaFuente, Tony Harris, Jill Thompson & Stephen B. Scott, illustrators

HarperCollins

Expectation/Anticipation Level: Medium. I liked the Coraline adaptation. (In fact, I don’t think I’ve read Coraline proper yet).

My Reality: I thought this was really solid. Most of the artists worked in complementary styles, except for changes during parts of the story where the narrative takes a side journey, and the art style changes to reflect that. (And one artist that makes everyone look weirdly Hobbity). The text adaptation retains Gaiman’s narrator and warm tone, and it still feels like a story that’s been told and retold and fished out of the collective unconscious by Gaiman. A storyteller’s story. So that even though it’s about murder and ghosts and goblins, it’s about life and it feels cosy. The only thing I really don’t like is the cover of the second book. Bod looks posed, and that scene doesn’t happen, and also it’s a bit of a spoiler.

Will Teens Like it?: Teens will be into this, especially if they know it’s by the Coraline guy.

Is it “great” for teens?: I think it’s a very successful adaptation and that makes it great for me.

Art Taste: I particularly liked the chapter openers, as seen here:

graveyard-book-chapter-open

cemeterygirl

Cemetery Girl Book One: The Pretenders.

Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden, writers

Don Kramer and ??? Rudoni, illustrators

InkLit

Expectation/Anticipation Level: Low, though I did read all of the Sookie Stackhouse novels. I haven’t had much luck finding good comic books that seem to be made just to trade on the name of an author who got famous writing prose books.

My Reality: It was funny to go from one good comic about a boy who lives in a graveyard to a bad comic about a girl who lives in a graveyard. It really brought out the reasons why Cemetery Girl failed so much. Art? Uninspired and unsure about the proportions of its main character. Some of the backgrounds looked like photos with the comic book filter on them. The story moved sloooowly, and was packed with characters who were one note: evil teenagers, folksy cemetery groundskeeper and neighbor, martyred ghost, etc. Calexa is really on top of waking up with no idea who she is and immediately parkouring around the neighborhood performing B & Es in order to get food and clothes, which makes it seem like she’s street smart and practical, but then she witnesses a murder and is handed proof of the murder that she could easily drop off at the police station or give to the groundskeeper or something and she dithers fully half of the book away not doing that because she’s scared that somehow the people who left her in the cemetery will find out. Not fun, not even easy trashy fun.

Will teens like it?: I’m sure there are teens who would like this; I won’t hold it against them.

Is it “great” for teens?: Nope.

Art Taste: I’m going to post 2 images so you can compare how Calexa’s proportions change from page to page.

lying down, looks normal

lying down, looks normal

cemeterygirl2

Standing up, has lost a couple inches on her legs, also her pants are baggy now.

baltimorev3

Baltimore vol 3: A Passing Stranger and Other Stories.

Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden, writers

Ben Stenbeck, illustrator Dave Stewart,colorist

Dark Horse

Expectation/Anticipation Levels: I think the first volume of this comic was on a previous GGNT list on one of my volunteer years, and I remember liking it.

My Reality: How weird that Christopher Golden was involved in Cemetery Girl and Baltimore: A Passing Stranger and I liked the latter and not the former. Charlaine Harris, the onus falls on you. Anyway. This is a nice little collection of short stories set in the alternate historical timeline of the Lord Baltimore universe, where vampires have laid waste to Europe in WWII. Baltimore is chasing the big baddie vampire and he meets some weird things along the way. These aren’t life changing stories, but they are nice little moody treats of the fantastical. Some alternate histories feel like they’re always poking you in the ribs, saying “See what I DID there??!!?!?!?” and this one does not. The way things are going feels appropriate and believable.

Will Teens Like it? Yes, especially if they like The Walking Dead/Game of Thrones

Is it “great” for teens?: It wouldn’t be on my top ten, but I think it’s a decent book. It’s not written FOR teens, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not appropriate and enjoyable for them.

Art Taste:

bdlr1p3

Reading the GGNT 2015 noms: X-Men and L’il Gotham

by Tessa

Read about the whys of this series here.

I’m starting off with these 2 superhero books because it’s easier for me to write about stuff that I don’t enjoy. I like categorizing things so I made categories loosely related to how I would read things for the committee, with the knowledge that I have only the other nominations to compare them to because I haven’t been reading feverishly all year, and no teen feedback, so it really isn’t like a real committee reading experience.

One of the great things about the Great Graphic Novels for Teens committee is that there are 11 people on it, all with different tastes in comics, so hopefully no type of comic is given short shrift. Being on the committee exposed me to so many comics I never would have read. I still haven’t developed a depth of knowledge about Marvel and DC, but I do have a bit of breadth now, and a few new favorites. Full disclosure of personal biases: I’ve read enough to know that I have reservations about the usefulness of the superhero story and I might be a tad reactive to overused tropes. But I’d never say that I hate all superheroes. I just want better for them.

Batman_Li'l_Gotham_Vol_1_1

Batman: Li’l Gotham V. 1 & V.2

Dustin Nguyen, artist & writer

Derek Fridolfs, writer

DC Comics

Anticipation/expectation level: Guessing I’m going to enjoy it.  I like Batman comics, like a large number of people.  I like Dustin Nguyen’s art, and this book is no exception – just flipping through it ups the appeal.

Reality: The first volume has small stories that are all centered around holidays, some more popular and some that feel like a stretch. This seems like the one concession (other than the art) to Gotham being “Li’l” – the crimes and hijinks happen around something relatively frivolous like a holiday, so it’s cuter? Instead, it feels trivial and disjointed. And as much as the art is beautiful, it doesn’t quite fit the subject. The watercolors make the action more hectic & unfollowable, the chibi-izing of the characters, especially all the Robin iterations, make their features more indistinguishable, and creating some confusion. And Damian is annoying as usual, which doesn’t help.

Good to Know: I read these in a dour mood.

Will Teens like it?: I think younger teens will, for sure. I’d put this on the upper-elementary middle grade side of the library.

Is it Great (for teens)?: I don’t think it coalesces as a comic enough to be great, but I’d totally recommend it to a teen.

Art Taste:

Batman_Li'l_Gotham_Vol_1_1_Textless

X-Men: Battle of the Atom

Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Wood, Jason Aaron,  Frank Cho,  Stuart Immonen, David Lopez, et al 

Marvel

battleoftheatom

Anticipation/expectation level: I enjoyed the lead up to this event, All New X-Men: Yesterday’s X-Men, which if I remember correctly, was on the 2014 GGNT list. In that one, the X-Men of the past are brought into the future/present to scare them into making better choices. Also, I generally like the idea of the X-Men, and reading what Bendis writes, so I was expecting an interesting and pleasant ride.

Reality: It was so hard to force myself to finish this. The basic plot is that the X-Men from the past have stayed in the future-present because they feel they’re doing good there. But then X-Men from the future-future come in to tell them they are wrong and must go back to the past-past, but they can’t say why. No one trusts anyone, everyone fights with each other, even more future X-people become involved.Unless you are really into X-Men genealogy via time travel and enjoy the type of plot that consists of people sniping at each other endlessly, I find it hard to believe that this book holds an appeal to comics lovers who appreciate exciting art combined with an exciting story. Although if you read it as a cautionary tale about the drawbacks of being born a mutant in a world that will drive you and your kind to an extinction by infighting, then it is very interesting indeed. I found myself wishing for an alternate universe where X-Men stories were told in seasons like Star Trek, and could be enjoyed on their own. Each season’s strengths would make readers want to explore the universe as a whole, without creating events, crossovers, and time travel dilemmas.

Will Teens Like it?: Probably? Most of the teens I know read manga -this is one where I’d like to hear teen feedback.

Is it Great?: It’s a great big something.

Art taste: Standard superhero

6-battle-of-the-atom

Goth Girl Vampire Comic? Heck Yes!

A review of Dark Ivory, by Eva Hopkins and Joseph Michael Linsner

Image Comics, 2011 (originally published 2010)

Dark Ivory Eva Hopkins Joseph Michael Linser

by REBECCA, March 11, 2013

characters

Ivory: dissatisfied New Jersey high schooler with a love of gothy dance clubs and a healthy fascination with the undead

Samson: Ivory’s best friend, a super responsible writer-by-night/Borders-employee-by-day and constant reality check for Ivory

Xander: Gateway drug to the vampire world

Sally: Ivory’s sympathetic grown-up friend with a vampire boyfriend, Esque

hook

From Goodreads: “Ivory is a frustrated goth girl who escapes from her everyday world by sneaking out to dance at night. Her best friend Samson is always there to help her keep her feet on the ground. As Ivory’s club world fills with attractive, vampiric strangers, she thinks it would be so cool to be like them—until it happens. Be careful what you wish for . . .”

review

I found Dark Ivory at Forbidden Planet in Edinburgh when Tessa and I were there last week. I hadn’t heard of it, but I mean, a comic about a goth girl who is into vampires? Obviously I had to get it. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Dark Ivory Linsner HopkinsIvory doesn’t get along with her family and is bored by school, so at night she takes the train to New York and dances into the wee hours at goth clubs with her friend Sally. One night, after a fight with her mother, she is dancing in her own world when she’s approached by a handsome man named Xander who gives her a private invite to an exclusive club. Distracted, as she’s walking to catch the train home, Ivory comes across a girl whose neck has been cut and is bleeding on the street. Ivory is terrified and runs home, thinking how it could have been her. And everything only gets creepier from there. When she goes to the exclusive club with Sally, she takes a pill and has the most vivid hallucination . . . or is it a hallucination? Is Ivory becoming a vampire? Suddenly, it doesn’t seem nearly as appealing as she might have imagined.

Dark Ivory was originally published in four issues, collected in this volume with an image gallery by artist Linsner and an introduction by author Hopkins. It is a pretty straightforward comic, and, for me, the art is the strongest element. It’s full color and very detailed, which matches the vivid subject matter really well. I love black and white work, but this story definitely needed the amplification of color, and I really appreciate Linsner’s bright palette, as opposed to the kind of stereotypically dark and limited palette that a “goth-y” comic could use. Bright purples, greens, and reds dominate here, and I especially like the use of color in the pages that show Ivory’s daily life, like this one, depicting a typical morning of Samson driving Ivory to school (what a mensch):

Dark Ivory comic

and this one, the recollection of Ivory and Samson’s (appropriately angsty) first meeting:

Dark Ivory comic

 

The relationship between Ivory and Samson was a really nice contrast to the supernatural elements of the book. And, while Dark Ivory is only four issues long, it manages to do a fair amount of world-building, including its own vampire mythology, even if its only gestured to. The ending is a bit abrupt, but it follows, and it enables the reader to imagine all the future adventures that Ivory will go on to have.

Skim Jillian Tamaki Mariko TamakiAll in all, Dark Ivory will definitely appeal to the reader who found her own ways to escape the workaday life of high school (or dreamed of doing so) as well as to the vampire fans in the room. Ivory’s interest in goth clubs and vampires is decidedly not the depressed, searching attraction of other notable comic “goths” like Skim, in Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s excellent Skim (see my review HERE). Rather, it’s born of an active love of dancing and the aesthetics of the subculture, which makes it a joyous portrayal, despite the, erm, rather serious repercussions of Ivory’s engagement.

Always thrilled to discover a new comic!

 

 

The Year of the Beasts: I Turn to Stone When You are Gone

The Year of the Beasts
Cecil Castellucci & Nate Powell
Roaring Brook Press, 2012

review by Tessa

Characters
Tessa – starts the year out lucky, but the year’s events don’t follow this pattern.
Lulu – Tessa’s younger sister who seems to have nicer everything
Celina – Tessa’s best friend and a champion flirt
Charlie – Tessa’s crush, but he likes someone else very close to Tessa.
Jasper – Loner boy who hangs out in the woods.  Strangely attractive. Not that Tessa would admit it.

Hook
The carnival comes to town and after that night Tessa becomes a freak.  Is it all in her head? How can she stop everyone from turning to stone?

Worldview + What is this book’s intention and does it live up to that intention?

Tessa is forced to take Lulu along with her to the yearly fall carnival. She and Celina were supposed to spend all night sharing secrets and chasing boys – especially the pack of boys led by Charlie Evans.  The girls still fall in with these desirables despite Tessa’s little sister in tow. In an attempt to isolate herself with Charlie, Tessa suggests visiting the Curiosity Sideshow, where only two people are allowed in at a time. But Charlie gets in with Lulu as a partner. After that, Tessa’s world is thrown off balance.  She loves Lulu, but Lulu is eclipsing her in what feels like all aspects of her life – looks, boys, best friendship with Celina, and parental attention.

“Sometimes Tessa wished that she was the prettier sister. When Tessa looked at Lulu, she wondered why it was that Lulu got the better nose. The nicer legs. The shinier, straighter hair. Tessa worried sometimes that people felt sorry for her because she was not round-face, but made of angles. She dread that the truth might be that the arrangement of DNA hadn’t worked quite right on her parents’ first try for a baby, and she imagined that the combination of sperm and egg had worked better the second time around. Or worse, that maybe her parents had loved each other more when they had made Lulu.”

Before I got to buy and read this book I asked what my co-worker’s teenaged daughter thought of it. “She was afraid it was going to be about, you know, boys and does he like me, but it was more than that,” was her paraphrased answer (in a wonderful South African accent).  Boys  and Does he like me are Tessa’s focus as the book begins. Then, as her hopeful plans go awry and she’s left with regret and stifled jealousy, The Year of the Beasts reveals its true self. It’s about that creeping feeling when everything is going wrong and crumbling and no one else seems to notice.  When you don’t feel like you legitimately have anything to complain about but still feel like crying all the time and are composing whole perfect wounded rants in your head to say to no one.

Though not told in first person, the book achieves a wobbly reality in line with how Tessa must feel.  It alternates prose and comic chapters that, when read together, perfectly describe something that is part reality and part gritty parable.

Castellucci’s prose style is matter-of-fact about things and straightforwardly narrates situations that still end up with secret undertones.  It delves into lists of things that end up carrying emotional weight or revealing the thoughts of the characters who are looking at the things being listed. Its tone reminded me of fairy tales, especially the breezy Californian real world with a twist voice of Francesca Lia Block, where everyone possesses a kind of knowing, but everything remains mysterious despite it.  I can see it very much in this description from Beasts:

“Jasper Kleine . . . wasn’t with anyone because he was a loner. If he did hang out, he hung out with other lost boys. The ones who cut class and got high. The ones who rode their speedboats too fast on the river. The ones who had guitars and mountain bikes. The ones who wore pieces of leather tied around their wrists as if they had made a secret promise to themselves. These boys were the ones that everyone steered clear of because secretly everyone worried that strangeness was catching.”

The comic chapters are illustrated by the wonderful Nate Powell, who is no stranger to stories featuring people haunted by their own thoughts and obsessions. My first introduction to his work was Swallow Me Whole, a graphic novel about stepsiblings, schizophrenia, and family, among other things, and his most recent book, Any Empire, delves further into childhood and its wars and then twists time to connect real war with childhood. He draws with a fluid and sure line that always seems to imbue his characters with motion, even when they’re sitting at a desk or standing in a hallway. (There’s a gallery on his website).

In The Year of the Beasts he illustrates what appears to be a parallel story of Tessa’s, one where her hair is Medusa’s: made of snakes that can turn anyone who looks at her to stone. She stumbles through a school day trying to keep herself and the people around her intact, clearly hurting but not able to make herself tell her secrets.  In this reality, her sister appears as a mermaid and her crush a kind of minotaur.  It’s not clear how this connects to the prose reality until the close of the book, but it lets the reader follow emotional truths in a natural and evocative way. (Click on the link above to see previews).

What The Year of the Beasts has most in common with old fairy tales is that it goes to twisty, dark places.  It also has something in common with fables: Tessa learns a lesson at the end.  It’s not the one that I was expecting when I saw her cobbling together a secretive happiness midway through the book, and I’m not happy that she had to learn it the way she did.  But that’s her story, whether I like it or not, and it’s told beautifully.

Disclosure/Digression
I met Cecil Castellucci at a library event in 2006 or 2007 and she was really psyched to hear my name. So psyched that she wrote it down and promised to use it in a story. I’m not saying that this means that moment led to her naming this character Tessa. But I am going to choose to believe it for my own personal satisfaction about… having… a name?

Incidentally, Cecil Castellucci is funny and nice and really enthusiastic about comics. You should read her other books.

Readalikes

Weetzie Bat series / Francesca Lia Block

I’m feeling a lot of Witch Baby in Tessa’s character.

Lowboy / John Wray

I don’t know if this is a real readalike. It does concern a teenager who feels lost and isolated and has a personal crisis. Maybe I just want to read it again. But it came to mind, and it has a great cover with a drawing of a face.

Skim / Mariko & Jillian Tamaki

I could swear that Rebecca had recommended this book before, but I can’t find it. I’ll recommend it any number of times, just try me. Loss, friendship, and outsider status, set in a private school, which is a cousin to a boarding school. You know that we like those here at Crunchings & Munchings.

Cat Break!

I was away this weekend, comicking it up at SPX 2012.

I guess Turkey missed me because whenever I tried to write anything on the laptop, this happened:

cat interference

So while I take a break to hang out with my cat, you can investigate some of the talented people and the art they make that I got at the Expo.

I didn’t have enough cash to buy everything that I wanted to, so this is just a small selection. But there’s a whole list on the SPX site to check out.

Hellen Jo / Jin & Jam No. 1 : A tale of small delinquencies and new friendship in Northern California.

Steve Wolfhard / Turtie Needs Work : A small turtle tries out different jobs to heartbreakingly cute/funny degrees. (Reminded me of the humor in the Marcel the Shell videos) (published by Koyama press, who had so many delicious things to buy, including these mysterious and beautiful Canadians and this wonderfully inventive with a twist of grotesque Canadian.)

Ines Estrada / Ojitos Borrosos : indie comics en español!

Katie Omberg / Gay Kid : a rougher, more sketchy style of minicomic about growing up gay.

I met Nate Powell! He was so nice. And I bought Year of the Beasts, his collaboration with the author Cecil Castellucci, so I hope I can review it here soon.

Miao,

Tessa

Adorable, homeless, angsty Justice: Shadoweyes, Vol. 1

Shadoweyes, Vol. 1
Ross Campbell
SLG Publishing, June 2010

Review by Tessa

Characters
Scout, aka Shadoweyes – a surprise shapeshifter
Kyisha, BFF of Scout, but not putting up with her shit.
Sparkle, upbeat and unlucky Pony Master
Noah, Kyisha’s boyf, with his own opinions about how to be a vigilante

Hook
It’s the year 200X. Humanity lives in a giant, cobbled together trash heap.  Scout finds herself suddenly able to transform into a bulbous-headed, harpoon-tailed, adorable blue creature: Shadoweyes.  Finally she can fight injustice the way she was meant to.

Worldview
Shadoweyes opens with a long view through deep space, past an asteroid and broken satellites orbiting a planet with a barren surface, towards a buried bridge, leading to a Blade Runner-esque city named Dranac, all looping highways and jumbled buildings, with trash stuffed in all the crevices.  This could be Earth’s future, or its past, or not Earth at all.  But the people of Dranac are distinctly humanoid (with cyberpunk style).

Scout and Kyisha are busy hanging out and designing Scout’s Crimewatch persona – there are apparently neighborhood groups dedicated to fighting petty and violent crime, which tells you a lot about how much the governmental structure must care about its citizens. Once the name “Shadoweyes” is decided on, they leave on their first patrol and notice a man being menaced by a brick-wielding youth.  In short order, Scout gets knocked out by said brick, Kyisha punches the dude, and a week or so later a recovering Scout goes into her bathroom and transforms into a little blue creature with a tail and light-sensitive eyes.  She can change back, but it’s really painful.

Drakan looks like this but with way more buildings and garbage everywhere.

For Scout this is a perfect opportunity to fight crime, but she doesn’t know what the hell is going on.  Does this have anything to do with the brick or is it something that was waiting to happen to her, stuck in her genes?  As it gets harder and harder for her to change back, she decides to leave home and become a full-time vigilante.  Only Kyisha knows who she really is.

Then Scout saves someone half-dead. Someone who promptly kidnaps one of Scout’s classmates, the unbelievably peppy Sparkle.  And although she’s sick of being homeless and hungry, Shadoweyes now has a real goal to achieve. And an excuse to visit her mom.

What was the book’s intention and was it achieved?
One of the things I loved about reading Wet Moon, Ross Campbell’s other slice-of-life graphic series about a subtly creepy town in the Deep South was its matter of fact depiction of goth/industrial/emo kids of all shapes and sizes.  It was like all the token characters in TV or wherever had gotten together to create a real life for themselves (without realizing they were living right next to the set of True Blood and some of that otherworlidness was bleeding into their world.)  The same can be said of Shadoweyes, but the goth aesthetic seems less notable in a cyberpunk setting.  The characters care about what they look like, but they don’t seem to be consciously dressing to be part of a subset.  Maybe that’s what everyone looks like.

Another thing that I really like about Campbell’s way of settling us into the world of Shadoweyes is how he inserts information about the society without just outright making it part of a voiceover.  Within the first couple pages we know that Kyisha has a serious peanut allergy and that Scout has asthma, which clues the reader in to the possible environmental effects of living in Dranac, without totally spelling it out.

Although the story of a weaker person (class-wise and, in this case, physical strength-wise) gaining superhero powers isn’t new, it has a renewed strength here. It has grittiness via its setting and heart via its characters, and even humor, as when we see a view of Shadoweyes’ lair, covered with newspaper clippings of her exploits, and one particularly large headline reads: “Shadoweyes helps student with biology homework.”  While the plot moves along at a quick pace, it mostly focuses on the emotional turmoil of becoming Shadoweyes–with, admittedly, a long conversation in the last issue of the collection between Shadoweyes and Sparkle that could have been shortened or used the graphic format to better effect.  There are hints of more exciting conflicts to come, though, especially between Noah, Kyisha’s boyfriend, and Shadoweyes, as their views of when to let a bad guy go differ.  I’m excited to see where this leads.

Readalikes

Malinky Robot: Collected Stories and Other Bits
Sonny Liew
Image Comics, August 2011
If you dig the gritty collapsed-society feel of Dranac, check out the world of Malinky Robot.  There’s more gentle humor in here as Atari and Oliver try to suss out the pleasures of life at the bottom of society. The cover copy hints at this when it describes the stories as “featuring stinky fish, philosopher-labourers, and summer rain.”

The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury
Brandon Thomas & Lee Ferguson
Archaia Entertainment, August 2011
For the lovers of strong female superheroes, we have Miranda Mercury. She carries on her family’s legacy of space heroism. She kicks major ass!  A complex sci-fi swirl of buried intentions rides along on sharp lines as the plot twists and sizzles.

The Never Weres
Fiona Smyth
Annick Press, February 2011
A speculative work from a Canadian author! I could take or leave (alright, leave) the narrator character, but if you focus on the story of a infertile human race a century in the future and one teenage girl who loves art and has a mysterious past, then you’ll find an imaginative work with an art style that called to mind Keith Haring, a little bit.

Disclosures & Digressions
I noticed on some Goodreads reviews of this volume that some people have a beef with Campbell’s faces – that they’re all the same or that they’re expressionless.  Obviously I don’t hold those views, but I’ll just say that if you really want to see cookie cutter, expressionless faces, you should read Birds of Prey: Endrun.  It’s a prime example of why I get frustrated when I try to get into reading the main superhero canon, and why I find Campbell so exciting.

Links
Ross Campbell is all over the internet!
Livejournal: http://mooncalfe.livejournal.com/
Deviantart: http://mooncalfe.deviantart.com/
Standalone page: http://www.greenoblivion.com/
Shadoweyes: http://www.shadoweyes.net/
Tumblr: http://mooncalfe.tumblr.com/
Oni Press Artist Page: http://www.onipress.com/creator/rosscampbell

I got this book from the library.

Photo by flickr user yakobusan
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