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.


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:


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



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:



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


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:



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:



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.



Cast Away on the Letter A


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:



Two Middle-Grade Mysteries with Ageless Appeal: “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” and Mr. and Mrs. Bunny–Detectives Extraordinaire!


“Who Could That Be at This Hour?” All The Wrong Questions #1

by Lemony Snicket

Art by Seth

Little, Brown and Company 2012


Mr. and Mrs. Bunny – Detectives Extraordinaire!

by Mrs. Bunny, translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath

art by Sophie Blackall

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2012

reviews by Tessa

Lately, even with the weather soaring to climate-change induced heights instead of wintery lows, I’ve still been craving cozy reading.  For me that usually means something funny, fast, and in a genre.  I really  hit the jackpot this week and last, with two middle-grade-marketed mysteries that could be read and enjoyed by anyone except maybe for babies, who knows what babies are thinking.

who even knows. from Open Clip Art library

who even knows. from Open Clip Art library

The only thing you have to ask yourself is: do I want to be reading something atmospheric and silly or aggressively silly?  For the former there’s “Who Could That Be at This Hour?”, the first in the All the Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket (illustrated by Seth) and for the latter, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny–Detectives Extraordinaire! by Mrs. Bunny, translated from Rabbit by Polly Horvath and illustrated by Sophie Blackall.

Seth! Seth! Seth!

Seth! Seth! Seth!

“Twice I almost fell asleep thinking of places and people in the city that were dearly important to me, and the distance between them and myself growing and growing until the distance grew so vast that even the longest-tongued bat in the world could not lick the life I was leaving behind.” (21)

“Who Could That Be at This Hour?” brings back Snicket in top form, but this time he delves into his own sad and action-packed past, reviewing all the wrong questions he’s asked throughout his life, and presumably leading to tragedy and further mystery.

We find him, at the opening of the story, (you can preview the first chapter here) in a greasy tearoom at a train station, saying goodbye to his parents at the age of 13 and going to act as an apprentice of some sort to someone.  The mystery begins at once, for he does not get on the train. A woman with wild hair drops a note on his lap, giving him five minutes to meet her out front in her roadster–but he must leave through the bathroom window.  Evidently prepared for this, Snicket finds the ladder stowed in the bathroom and exits, but is not prepared to be whisked out of the city to a new destination.

There’s someone in the city waiting for Snicket to help investigate important things in the sewer system, but there isn’t a way for him to go back. He’s now apprenticed to S. Theodora Markson, ranked 52 on the list of as many people with whom it was possible to apprentice, and on his way to Stain’d by the Sea, a seaside town no longer by the seaside.

Seth's illustrations add to the considerable atmosphere of the book.

Seth’s illustrations add to the considerable atmosphere of the book.

Markson and Snicket pass deep wells where giant needles dip in and out, harvesting ink from frightened octopi, the last of their kind.  A bell rings and Snicket is told to wear a silver mask because of “water pressure” although there is no water around. It’s just a taste of the confounding and lonely things to come. He finds that they will be investigating the burglary of a statue of a legendary sea creature–said to be taken from the home of one prominent family in town by members of the other prominent family, and yet the two families are not enemies.

Along the way there are the usual vocabulary lessons (“bombinating”, “hawser”), dryly specific advice, but not as much advice as the Snicket who narrates The Series of Unfortunate Events dispenses. “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” is about a much less assured Snicket at a much more malleable time in his life.  He’s probably still smarter than his mentor, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t acting a little impulsively and having melancholy adolescent feelings about things, as opposed to the older and more settled in inevitable sadness voice from the previous series of Snicket books. There are even two possible romantic interests and a hint that we will learn about some Snicket family members. For me this meant extra emotional depth in a quick read, just as I had hoped for and expected. The mysteries just keep begetting more mysteries, like a man whose hat is filled with men wearing hats containing ever tinier men with hats and so on. In other words: delicious complications!


Just go back and re-read Series of Unfortunate Events, as I plan to. Or start on the Mysterious Benedict Society series, by Trenton Lee Stewart, which has a similar tone and feel.

Mr. & Mrs.!

Mr. & Mrs.!

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny–Detectives Extraordinaire! has very little melancholy (unless you’re severely inclined to it) and, perhaps in its place, a lot of silliness. Fierce silliness. Unselfconscious silliness.

I admit that I initially checked this book out because of Sophie Blackall, being a huge fan of her art. And it took me a bit to get into the story, which starts out with the human side of things, explaining 5th-grader Madeline’s world, where she’s the square living with a Canadian commune of benign, marimba-playing, luminaria-loving, monarchy-disdaining hippies (including her parents, Flo and Mildred).  The descriptions came off as odd and forced-whimsical with a whiff of mockery, without being charming. I’ll get to the bunnies and then make my decision, I thought.

Luckily for me, the second chapter introduces Mr. and Mrs. Bunny. They are a couple set in their ways but given to impulse, and with a great bantering style. And the second page of the second chapter stops to note that

“Marmots, of course, were the bane of many a bunny’s existence. With their constant whining and tendency to matted fur, no one wanted to live around a marmot. Except perhaps another marmot. And sometimes not even they.”

a marmot, provided by Wikimedia

a marmot, provided by Wikimedia

I used to make zines for my sister, and one of them had a nice large picture of a marmot. I’d intended to make this an ad for the organization M.A.R.M.O.T. but could not think of a phrase to fill out the acronym. Now, any book that understood the comic possibilities of marmots was one that I would definitely have to read.

Good thing, because Mr. & Mrs. Bunny may not be great detectives but it’s fun to follow them as they bumble along with gumption.  As a couple, they don’t come off as a stereotype of an old bickering married pair, although they have been married for a long time and they do bicker.  There’s something about them that still seems fresh. It could be that they are scatterbrained. It could be that when Mrs. Bunny starts poking Mr. Bunny in the side for emphasis, she continues to do so because it’s fun, and then Mr. Bunny pretends not to notice but saves the retaliatory pokes for later, when she won’t expect it – and later in the narrative where it’s funnier to see brought up again.

It’s also a jumbled world where Foxes can learn to speak English in order to decode recipes for making food of rabbits, where bunnys can drive cars and build villages with freestanding Olde Spaghetti Factories, just like human towns, but clearly have their own bunny priorities like too much fursweating under a waterproof cap, or being called in front of the dreaded Bunny Council.

I laughed and/or smiled many times to myself while reading it, especially for the parts where the ongoing joke about Madeline having a gigantic bottom came up.  I even laughed in public while reading alone at a bar. That alone makes a it recommend-worthy, I think, and the mystery itself is solved in an escalating way filled with madcap rubbery red herrings all over the place.  There’s even a couple phrases of Fox to be learned from it, and also how to hypnotize a marmot.


M.T. Anderson’s Thrilling Tales series (start with Whales on Stilts!) is pretty close in humor, although a bit more absurd.  And you’d do well to also read Maryrose Wood‘s Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, also delightfully illustrated by a talented person, Jon Klassen.


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