(All works with an * are currently nominated for a 2014 Eisner Award.)
Locke & Key Vol. 5: Clockworks (2011) Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
Overall an excellent penultimate volume to the series, one that not only advances the story, but answers many questions as to the origin of the keys themselves. The penultimate book in a series is always an iffy prospect; it has to set things up in order to be concluded well in the final volume and while it can’t answer too many questions, it should at least pave the way for the answers to come in the next volume, which this does. One more volume to go...
Look Straight Ahead (2013) Elaine M. Will (Alternative Comics)
17-year-old Jeremy wants to be an important artist, but he suffers from breakdowns caused by bullying, parents who don’t understand, and the fact that he has no friends for support. Elaine Will does a great job of capturing the loneliness, helplessness, and horror of depression, yet not overlooking the ways art can help heal and sometimes make nightmares of depression worse. However, the book comes in a bit too long at over 200 pages and provides an ending that’s too easy.
Rubicon (2013) Mark Long, Christopher McQuarrie, Dan Capel, Mario Stilla (Archaia Black Label)
Astronaut Dad (2011) David Hopkins, Brent Schoonover (Create Space)
You could almost subtitle Astronaut Dad something like The Not-Quite Right Stuff since its focus is at least partially on NASA’s reserve astronauts in the late 50s and early 60s, guys who sit around waiting for one of the top shelf astronauts like John Glenn or Alan Shepard to have an accident.
Yet, like the more famous astronauts, these guys are putting in long hours away from their families, and the families are the focus here. The strain on domestic life is evident here, mainly through the stories of the children. They want their fathers to be seen as heroes, but it’s likely they’ll always be second-string players.
The art style reminds us of 60s cartoons, but Schoonover makes it work with a simple elegance that gives the story a quiet, subdued power. Definitely worth a look.
*Watson and Holmes: A Study in Black (2013) Karl Bollers, Rick Leonard, Larry Stroman (New Paradigm)
*Battling Boy (J/Y 2013) Paul Pope (First Second)
Hard to believe, but this is my first experience reading a Paul Pope graphic novel. Wow. I could describe this book in so many ways, but I think the best advice I can give you is to do what I did: go into the book with as little knowledge about it as possible. All you need to know is that it’s an adventure story, but it’s so much more. Your local library probably has it, but after you’ve read it, you’ll probably want to own it.
*The Adventures of Superhero Girl (Y 2013) Faith Erin Hicks
The Adventures of Superhero Girl draws you in with its charm and humor, and if that’s all it did, it would be a success. But Hicks has more in mind. She not only touches on the problems involved with a superhero’s double life (Just how does a superhero go to the grocery store?), but also addresses many of our cultural hangups, all the while poking fun at the superhero genre.
*Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas (J 2013) Philippe Coudray (Toon Books)
*The Big Wet Balloon (J 2013) Liniers (Toon Books)
Toon Books has done a great job of making what amounts to graphic novel easy readers. Like most easy readers published today, Toon Books also grades them according to reading level. Both Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas and The Big Wet Balloon are both Level 2 books. Both are short, beautifully illustrated, and very approachable for children.
Benjamin Bear is a lovable bear with a clever, easy-going manner, yet has a very sophisticated sense of humor. His adventures with his friends are cute, whimsical, and often hilarious. The Big Wet Balloon contains no talking bears, but focuses more on a young girl teaching her little sister how to enjoy a rainy day. Both are good choices for younger readers.
*Dogs of War (J 2013) Sheila Keenan, Nathan Fox (Graphix/Scholastic)
Dogs of War has an admirable premise, to spotlight the many different types of dogs that have helped serve our country in times of war - in this case, World Wars I, II and Vietnam. There’s some good stuff here, but the three stories are somewhat disappointing in that they frequently stick with war stereotypes which adults (and maybe kids) have all seen before. Also some of the art is difficult to follow in action sequences. Still, Dogs of War is worth a look, especially for kids who love dogs and have an interest in history.
Beautiful Scars (J 2012/2014) Durwin Talon, Guin Thompson (Archaia)
Review forthcoming at The Comics Alternative
*Odd Duck (J 2013) Cecil Castellucci, Sara Varon (First Second)
One look at the cover of Odd Duck tells you enough to get the gist of the story, which is all about accepting people who are different. Theodora considers herself a perfectly normal duck, although she wears a teacup on her head at all times. When Chad moves into the neighborhood, Theodora cannot tolerate Chad’s multicolored feathers and weird yard art. Odd Duck is both weird and wonderful without being preachy.
Be sure to tell me what you read last month!