Category Archives: Graphic Novels/Comic Strips


By Hope Larson
Published by Atheneum
Copyright © 2010
“Mercury” is, for me, the embodiment of a great graphic novel. Larson tells a strong story that is realistic with just a hint of magic. And her illustrations show so well just what can be done in simple black and white.
Josie Fraser has her heart set on her best friend’s brother Jonathan, until a stranger by the name of Asa Curry comes to the farm. He seems like a good God fearing young man and he is handsome to boot. He has come to propose a business venture with Josie’s father, he wants to form a partnership with him and mine for gold on his property. Josie falls in love with him and they plan to marry, but she soon learns that Asa isn’t what he seems.
150 years later Josie’s descendant, Tara Fraser, is living with her Aunt in the same town. Tara’s mother has been working inAlbertasince their house burned down back home. Her mother wants to sell the family property and have Tara move toAlbertawith her, butTarais less than enthused about this idea. That house and property had been in Tara and Josie’s family for a long time, andTaraisn’t ready to give up on it.
As we read Josie’s story slipping into tragedy and sadness, we simultaneously get to read ofTara’s story rising from tragedy and sadness into hope that has its roots in the Nova Scotia Gold Rush.
Hope Larson takes us to a place that most of us have never been, or even thought of going, and she takes us to a time and event that we didn’t even know happened. I had no idea that there was aNova Scotiagold rush, but there was one in the 1860’s and beyond. In truth there is still small scale gold mining there today. I love stories that can inform and transport you to such events.
In addition to the story the artwork is wonderful. The black and white frames really move the story along and Larson has a real knack for conveying emotion with facial expressions. Another thing that I noticed from page one is that her drawing style seems to be slightly influenced by Jeff Smith, writer and illustrator of the Bone graphic novels. (One of the best, if not the best, graphic novels ever.) I absolutely love Smith’s style and I love Larson’s just as much.
Mercury is suitable for most teens and the characters are very relatable. If, like me, you love graphic novels that are heavier on story and relatable characters rather than on out of this world color graphics and superheroes, then Mercury is definitely for you.

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Filed under Family, Fantasy, Graphic Novels/Comic Strips, High School, Strong Sense of Place

The Moon Moth

By Jack Vance

Adapted by Humayoun Ibrahim

Published by First Second

Copyright © 2012

What can I say about Jack Vance? Not a thing. The forward to this graphic novel by Carlo Rotella entitled “The Genre Artist” (originally published in Time magazine in 2009) extols the virtues of a Jack Vance story because of his way of creating an occasion and opulent speech in what some might consider just lowly genre fiction. I could not attest to any of this having never read a Jack Vance novel. Then out of the blue comes “The Moon Moth” a graphic novel adaptation “Based on the Classic Short Story,” and I begin to believe that their might be something to the praise heaped upon him.

In this story, Edwer Thissell has been assigned to be the new consular representative to the planet Sirene. Sirene is a place where everyone wears masks and everyone converses by singing with the accompaniment of various instruments. Every mask and every instrument used signify something about the user’s status in relation to others and it is with status, also known as Strakh that one gets what they need. Thissell threw himself into studying and preparation for his new post, but such endeavors did not truly prepare him for the odd customs and quick, harsh justice for missteps in custom. In addition to having to awkwardly stumble through the customs of this new planet he has received orders to apprehend an assassin who has made his way back to Sirene. This man is an Out-Worlder like Thissell, but in a world of masks he is going to be hard to find.

Based on the story premise and the dialogue I certainly now believe that Jack Vance is an unheralded master of words that transcend the sci-fi and mystery genre in which he writes. Just the idea of such a planet with such customs and the dialogue he creates for it speaks to a very imaginative and exacting mind.

What I still cannot speak to is Vance’s ability to set a scene. In this adaptation I am only getting Ibrahim’s take on Vance’s world. In that I am quite disappointed. What this story really requires in a graphic novel is greater detail and a more refined color palette. Just one example of why I say that is found on page 19 and 20. Thissell is preparing for life on Sirene and the computer is telling him about the planets ways; it educates him of their occupation with intricacy; their intricate craftsmanship, symbolism, language, and interpersonal relationships. On page 19 it refers to the intricately carved panels of the houseboats and the intricate symbolism of the masks they wear. These two items are visual in nature and therefore, visually, should be intricately rendered; however I did not find this to be the case. I appreciate simplicity in some graphic novels, but this story begged for more detail.

If nothing else, this graphic novel adaptation has moved me to want to read the original short story. And, maybe I missed it, but why hasn’t anyone made this into a movie?

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Filed under Adaptations, Fantasy, Graphic Novels/Comic Strips, Science Fiction, Strong Sense of Place

Explorer: The Mystery Boxes

Edited by Kazu Kibuishi

Published by Amulet Books

Copyright © 2012

“Explorer: They Mystery Boxes” is a beautiful, fun, and original collection of short graphic fantasy stories created by 8 excellent comic writers and illustrators.

Under the Floorboards (by Emily Carrol) is the story of a young girl who finds a box under the floorboards of her bed. In the box she finds a note and a wax doll. This doll is alive and while it seems helpful it soon lets its true colors show.

Spring Cleaning (by Dave Roman & Raina Telgemeier) is the story of a young boy who has to clean out his closet. His brother suggests that he sell some of his stuff online, but when he tries to sell an odd box it catches the attention of three very eager wizards.

The Keepers Treasure (by Jason Caffoe) tells the story of an intrepid treasure hunter who makes it through a land filled with dinosaurs, chest-deep bogs, and “glacial wastelands” only to find that his final destination comes replete with a Labyrinth and its guardian who will lead him to the box he’s looking for.

The Butter Thief (by Rad Sechrist) tells the story of a little Japanese spirit who likes to steal butter from the refrigerator until grandmother traps it in a box. That is when the fun really starts for her granddaughter who just has to see what she actually caught.

The Soldier’s Daughter (by Stuart Livingston w/Stephanie Ramirez)is the story of two siblings who have lost their father in a war. The daughter feels a compulsion to seek vengeance for her father’s death. A stranger with a visionary box shows her what she must do.

Whatzit (by Johanne Matte w/Saymone Phanekham)is a comical tale of alien warehouse hi-jinks. When Deet gets a big promotion by his grandpa to help with stocking the Grand Universal Exhibition he finds that the job might be more than he can handle when he finds and opens a box marked “?”.

The Escape Option (by Kazu Kibuishi ) is a story about a seemingly random hiker and the extinction of the human race. James is hiking in the wilderness where he happens upon a huge mechanical floating box which sucks him in and gives him the option of saving himself from mankind’s fate.

Kibuishi has given us a collection of graphic stories/comics that are unique and different from each other in all ways but one. Each story contains a mysterious box. Whether it is the box, that is unusual or what is in the box, these writers/illustrators have created stories that are thoughtful, haunting, and even funny. Some of the stories have morals and some have punch lines, but all of them are well written and colorful. I particularly enjoyed “Whatzit” and “The Escape Option” because I don’t think there are enough alien stories anymore. Comics/graphic novel fans of any age will enjoy this compilation, but it is most suited to children ages 10 and up. 

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Filed under Asian Influence, Fantasy, Graphic Novels/Comic Strips, Paranormal, Science Fiction

Freshman: Tales of 9th Grade Obsessions, Revelations, and Other Nonsense

By Corinne Mucha

Published by Zest Books

Copyright © 2011

The start of freshman year is the first day of the rest of your life, so you’d better get it right. Oh, life used to be so easy.

There is nothing like starting over to make you second guess who you are and where you fit in.

Annie and Richie are entering the 9th grade. They have gone from the top rung of middle school where life was great and they had everything figured out, down to the bottom rung of high school where it seems all of the rules have changed.

Annie and Richie lost the third person in their triumvirate, Beth, over the summer when she got her first boyfriend and started dressing Goth, smoking, and drinking. So each of them is trying to make new friends, but it isn’t as easy as they would have hoped. Annie stresses about her every move ruining her future and Richie just tries too hard. Throw in the obvious teenage attraction to the opposite sex and this school year is going to throw them for a loop. Fortunately they each make one new friend who seems to pull them, sometimes kicking and screaming, through the horror of freshman year.

The art in this 4 color (black, white, grey, and green) in this graphic novel by Corinne Mucha is nothing special, but she obviously wasn’t looking for exact realism or even exaggerated realism. The awkwardness with which her characters are drawn actually seems to accentuate their awkwardness and uncertainty of their situations and mental states. So while the illustrations aren’t the best I’ve seen they are certainly effective.

Obviously the graphic novel format gives itself over predominantly to dialogue writing and I think that Mucha does a great job nailing not only the speech, but the thoughts of many teens. With that in mind there are obviously way more instances of profanity than I care for. “Freshman” really seems to hit on how catty girls can get, so in that vein the word b*#!% is used way too often. Oddly enough I don’t recall seeing any other foul language used.

This story was a realistic, though slightly softened, look at freshman year in high school that If not for the language I would eagerly recommend. While I’m sure that teens are hearing language like this in school and at home that doesn’t make it right, and the frequency with which it is used in this book seems a bit unnecessary. All in all though, there is no violence, no sex, no drugs, and only brief shots of the reality of smoking and drinking among high school students. So I with just a shade of reluctance recommend this for teens 14 and up who I think will really be able to relate to it.

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Filed under Coming of Age, Friends, Graphic Novels/Comic Strips, High School, Humorous, Love/Romance, Music, Reality

The Meaning of Life…and Other Stuff

By Jimmy Gownley

Published by Atheneum Books for young Readers

Copyright © 2011

An Amelia Rules Book

Middle School – The purgatory between grades school and high school, the land of pre-teens and newly christened young adults. It is hard enough to navigate this time in your life when everything is great, but it can be harrowing when life throws you curveballs. It makes one wonder what is “The Meaning of Life…

Amelia and her friends know this first hand. Amelia’s parents are divorced. She and her mom recently moved to suburban Pennsylvania. Her aunt Tanner, a former Rock Star, has gone off on tour and hasn’t returned Amelia’s e-mails in quite a while. Joan, Amelia’s new friend, misses her dad who is in the army and is currently deployed. His helicopter crashes and he is unaccounted for. And, the members of G.A.S.P. seem to be growing apart. Throw in authoritarian principals, catty cheerleaders, and the ever changing relationship between boys and girls and life can be tough.

Jimmy Gownley has written and illustrated an entertaining and realistic graphic novel. The artistic style in his work is of the comic strip fashion made famous by Shulz, Johnston, Watterson, and many others. The lifestyles and problems that these kids face though are quite modern. Much of this graphic novel is humorous, but Gownley really portrays the transition, the uncertainty, and the pain of growing up and learning that the world isn’t perfect.

You rarely hear it said that Old-fashioned thinking is a breath of fresh air, but in this case it is. “The Meaning of Life” shows us that some things will always be important like empathy, friendship, humility, love, and loyalty. These are qualities that are often drowned out in modern entertainment.  I think I am going to have to go back and find book one in the “Amelia Rules” series so that I can appreciate his story telling more fully. While this graphic novel is suitable for children 8 and up, it will be best understood by kids who are closer to 11 and up. However, if you are 40 and still read comic strips I certainly believe you will enjoy “Amelia Rules” too.

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Filed under Family, Friends, Graphic Novels/Comic Strips, Humorous, Love/Romance, Middle School, Music, Reality

Harvey: How I Became Invisible

English Translation

By Hervé Bouchard and Janice Nadeau

Published by Groundwood Books

Copyright © 2011

Harvey is a young Québécois Canadian. His brother, Cantin, is younger than him. The universe has played a cruel joke on Harvey because his younger brother is bigger than he is, and he has to get the hand me downs from Cantin rather than the other way around.

Harvey feels like the character Scott Carey from the 1957 film “The Incredible Shrinking Man” which he stayed up late one night to watch. Not only is he small but he feels different. When his father, whom he seems to love more than his mother, suddenly dies, Harvey’s size seems to be even more of a cruelty.

Reading this Graphic novel is like watching a Foreign Film. It is seems quite muted and introspective considering that it tackles the subject of death. The artwork gives off the same muted vibe. It is some of the gloomiest, almost ugly, illustration that I’ve seen, and yet somehow it works. The illustrations very much fit the gloomy 1950’s pensive feel of the story. One thing in particular that I appreciated was the way the illustrator used successive pictures of the same scene to display grief and loneliness.

“Harvey” is a winner of Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award. While I enjoyed this graphic novel very much its art school/foreign film feel will really limit the audience that will enjoy it.  “Harvey” is suitable for children 12 and up, but it is not for the Superhero Comic set, but rather for those looking for the expression of meaning in artistic literature.

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Filed under Family, Foreign, Graphic Novels/Comic Strips, Reality, Strong Sense of Place

The Incredible Hulk: Return of the Monster

By Bruce Jones

Illustrated by John Romita Jr. and Tom Palmer

Published by Marvel Comics

Copyright © 2002

This compilation features the return of writer Bruce Jones whose depiction of Bruce Banner is emotional and haunted and whose Hulk has regained a more primitive mind. This Graphic novel contains issues 34-39 of The Incredible Hulk.

Bruce Banner has turned into the Hulk again and has gone on a rampage.  During this rampage a child, Ricky Myers age 9, dies, or so the public is led to believe. Bruce has no choice but to run and try to stay calm to keep the beast within. It is going to be very hard to stay hidden and calm though when an extremely covert government agency is out to get you, hiring some of the deadliest assassins they can find, assassins that just refuse to die.

This is a great story line and the art is fantastic. I’m not a big fan of the what could have been story arc that ends this book, otherwise it’s a fun graphic novel. Thematically and visually this book would be best enjoyed by those ages 16 and up.

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Filed under Adventure, Graphic Novels/Comic Strips, Mutants, Super Heroes