I should probably be doing a “back to school” column this week or something, since it’s that time of year, but honestly I’m still catching up from Gen Con and I don’t have a good collection of appropriate books that I’ve already read. I almost have another stack of time travel books to fill a column—give me another month or so (unless I get my time machine perfected, in which case I’ll have that column last week).
This week: more comics! I’ve got a mix of comics for kids and adults—most of these are out now, but several will be released in September (including this week) so you should be on the lookout for them.
Set in the 1860s, Compass South features 12-year-old twins Alexander and Cleopatra Dodge, whose father has gone missing. When they see an ad in the paper about some missing red-headed twins from San Francisco, they hatch a scheme to pose as the missing boys to cash in. But then there’s a run-in with another pair of twins who had the same idea, and Alex and Cleo get separated: Alex is press-ganged into service on a ship (with one of the other twins), and Cleo stows away on a steamer (with the other twin). Meanwhile, there’s a band of pirates who are after the twins—they hold the key to some lost treasure, though they don’t know it.
It’s a really fantastic story with swashbuckling and treasure maps and more than one mysterious character, and it’s going to be hard to wait until next June for the next book, Knife’s Edge. GeekDad Jamie Greene interviewed Hope Larson about Compass South earlier this year.
GeekMom Rebecca Angel has already written about First Second’s Science Comics series, but they’re worth including again just because they’re so good. Maris Wicks has illustrated other non-fiction comics before, like Primates (with Jim Ottaviani) and her own Human Body Theater (reviewed here). She has a knack for taking complex ideas and illustrating them in ways that make them easy to comprehend—and her mixture of cartoony and realistic drawings are really charming. The book is narrated by a yellow prawn-goby (with glasses), who gives a tour through the world of coral reefs: what they are, how they function, what else lives there, and some of the ways that coral reefs are currently threatened. It’s a lot of great information packed into a small book, and I highly recommend it.
I’ve actually had this one in my stack for quite a while and there’s no good reason for why I didn’t read it sooner other than, well, the other hundreds of books in my pile. Jimmy Gownley is the creator of the Amelia Rules! comics. This book is a comic-book memoir, telling the story of how he became a cartoonist to begin with. It’s a really great story—Jimmy was a teenager when he self-published his first comic and became something of a star in his small hometown of Girardville, Pennsylvania. That initial success (which did inflate his ego a little) gave him the confidence to pursue cartooning, and also taught him some lessons about friendship. If you’ve got a budding artist, this might make a great gift for them.
Bera is a little troll who grows pumpkins for the Troll King and just keeps to herself on her little island, until the day she rescues an abandoned human baby. Then, trouble comes looking for her, in the form of Cloote, former head witch of the Troll King. Soon Bera finds herself on a quest to return the baby to a human village, encountering all sorts of odd characters along the way. The interior art is all done in a sepia-toned palette that really fits the story well, and Bera’s resourcefulness and persistence are admirable. I really enjoyed this one, though I did wonder at the title a little because Bera does encounter a few other trolls who also have only one head.
If you’ve been reading GeekDad for a while, you’re familiar with Ben Hatke—he’s the author/illustrator of the Zita the Spacegirl series, along with a couple of picture books like Nobody Likes a Goblin and Julia’s House for Lost Creatures. His latest comic book targets a slightly older audience than Zita, but is still great for kids. Mighty Jack draws some inspiration from Jack and the Beanstalk, but it’s not simply a modern-day retelling.
Jack has a lot of responsibilities: his single mom took a second job to support the family, which means Jack is in charge of Maddie, his autistic younger sister who never talks. When a shady guy at a flea market offers Jack the chance to change his life forever, Jack finds himself in possession of a case full of mysterious seed packets … and in a whole lot of trouble, when his mom finds out he traded away her car keys. But it turns out (of course) that the seeds do change his life, when all manner of crazy things start sprouting in the garden.
This is just the first book of a planned series, but I’m excited to see where it goes. There are a few references to Zita’s world, so presumably this exists in the same universe as Zita, and it still has a lot of the cute, wacky creatures that Ben Hatke draws so well.
Raina Telgemeier is another favorite in our household, so we’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. (It releases on September 13, but is available for preorder already.) Catrina and her family move to the seaside town of Báhia de la Luna for her little sister’s health. Maya has cystic fibrosis, and they hope the sea air will help her lungs. Cat misses her old friends, and when a neighbor kid tells her that the town is full of ghosts, she likes her new home even less. Maya, however, is thrilled and can’t wait to meet some real ghosts.
Telgemeier’s art and writing really convey the way Cat is pulled between worlds—navigating these unfamiliar customs that are nonetheless part of her family’s heritage, her fear of the ghosts and desire to see her grandmother again, her love for Maya and resentment over her illness. Ghosts offers a glimpse into worlds that may be unfamiliar to young (and older) readers: both the Día de los Muertos and cystic fibrosis.
In a sort of weird reflection of Ghosts, Charles is not excited about his family’s move to Echo City. He’s not used to the big city, and doesn’t care for the rundown hotel his dad is fixing up. And he’s particularly not keen on the monsters. Yep, there’s a monster in his closet. A neighbor kid recommends he call Margo Maloo, Monster Mediator. It turns out she’s a kid, and she knows all the monsters in Echo City (and they know her). And when the monsters suspect Charles of kidnapping a baby ogre, he needs Margo’s help to track down the real culprit. It’s a fun story about monsters and humans coexisting in a city—but humans (particularly the adults) are mostly blithely unaware of the monsters.
When Pascal Girard was nine years old, his younger brother Nicolas died of lactic acidosis. Girard was too young to really understand what happened at the time, but this comic book chronicles some of the little events and stories surrounding that time—the sudden grief that would hit in the middle of playing, his strained relationship with his baby brother Joël, the way that kids can be completely insensitive about death at times. It’s a short comic book and the illustrations are sparse and simple, but it follows Girard through high school and college, up to 25 years later, when he was still struggling to understand. It’s a powerful little book, raw and honest.
I really love Tom Gauld’s comics—they’re deadpan humor and the characters often seem resigned to their bizarre circumstances. Mooncop tells the story of a cop in a lunar colony that’s slowly winding down. Everyone was excited about moving to the moon back in the day, but now there’s just not much to do and people are leaving in droves, so there’s not much for a mooncop to do. He picks up his donut and coffee, tracks down a lost dog, returns a wandering automaton to a museum, and then puts in a request for a transfer. It’s an evocative vignette—there’s not even that much that’s actually happening plot-wise, but you feel sorry for the mooncop at the same time as you’re laughing at the absurdity of the situation. Some of Gauld’s comics have a lot of profanity so they’re not great for younger kids, but this one is more or less G-rated. On the other hand, younger readers may not really understand what’s funny about it, but you will.
Disclosure: I received review copies or uncorrected proofs of these titles.