May is still going strong, so I’ve decided to break things up a bit. Here’s the first part of what I read this month. More to come!
(All works with an * are currently nominated for a 2014 Eisner Award.)
Sock Monkey Treasury: A “Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey” Collection (2014) Tony Millionaire (Fantagraphics)
As Aaron Alexander says in his excellent review, Sock Monkey Treasury is a gorgeously-illustrated, whimsical journey into worlds of wonder and imagination featuring sock monkey Uncle Gabby, his friend Mr. Crow, and an assortment of supporting characters in a series of adventures that are charming, intelligent, somewhat Victorian in character, and sometimes tragic. Hmm... Does that last part sound out-of-place?
As Alexander points out, these tales are mostly G-rated (or sometimes PG-rated) adventures that even young kids can enjoy, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a parent reading these stories alongside them. Be aware, however, that Tony Millionaire also has a very different, very adult series called Maakies which uses these same characters. Don't confuse the two!
*Otto’s Backwards Day (J 2013) Frank Cammuso (Toon Books)
A nice, cute Level 3 book in the Toon Book series involving all things backwards, including palindromes. The characters are fun, drawn in a sort of Calvin and Hobbes style, but the "lessons" are fairly heavy-handed, even for a kids' book. An Eisner Award nominee in the Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 7) category.
*Hilda and the Bird Parade (J 2012/2013) Luke Pearson (Flying Eye Books)
Although this is not Hilda’s first adventure, it’s my first time to experience Luke Pearson’s adventuress. Hilda and her mom have moved to a new city, Trolberg, a city Hilda is itching to explore despite her mother’s misgivings. Hilda meets up with a raven who has something important to share with Hilda, if he could only remember what it is. Hilda and the Bird Parade is a fun oversized book with a decidedly European flavor (Pearson is from the UK), full of interesting adventures and a spunky protagonist. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for more Hilda adventures.
Locke & Key, Vol. 6: Alpha & Omega (2014) Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
The saga of the Locke family is over and I’m pleased to report that it comes to a satisfying conclusion. Hill and Rodriguez are to be congratulated for giving us a horror series that delivers and didn’t go on for too long. The great thing about finishing this series is wanting to start it all over again.
*East of West, Vol. 1: The Promise (2013) Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta (Image)
Hickman is a toss-up for me: I think his Manhattan Projects is one of the best titles out there, but Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four didn’t do a thing for me. East of West contains elements of interest and frustration.
In this alternate universe, the American Civil War ran for an enormously long time, leading to America being divided into seven states. Up come the four (actually three - Death is off on a mission of his own) horsemen of the apocalypse, ready for Armageddon. There’s all kinds of cultural stuff thrown into the mix, some of it interesting, some of it cliched. This is one of those titles that seems to get worse the more I think about it, but maybe I need to give it a re-read.
*Bluffton (J 2013) Matt Phelan (Candlewick Press)
(The cover of this book is very misleading. It’s not an elephant story at all, in case that’s a deal-breaker for you.)
I’m a big fan of Matt Phelan’s books to begin with, so I knew I’d like his gorgeous artwork, especially his watercolors. The story works on several different levels, that of the nostalgic reflections of a boy named Henry and his summers in Bluffton, Michigan in the early 20th century, but there's much more going on. A young Buster Keaton is one of the central characters here, and even if readers don’t know who Buster Keaton was, they’ll have a great time learning about him as Henry tries to out-do him to gain the attention of a local girl. As usual, Phelan’s work depends more on visuals than text, facial expressions and subtle touches, all of which seem like childs-play to Phelan.
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood (J 2014) Nathan Hale (Harry N. Abrams)
This fourth installment in the Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales series is the most ambitious yet, covering a rather large amount of World War I. I'm amazed at how Hale was able to make this work, providing just the right tone while mixing in his trademark humor at appropriate places. Derek Royal and I recently interviewed Hale at The Comics Alternative Podcast.
Andre the Giant: Life and Legend (2014) Box Brown (First Second)