Following up with last week’s column about scary-but-not-too-scary stories, today I’ve got creepy (but maybe not too creepy) comic books, for younger kids up to adults.
Okay, I’ll be honest: this one isn’t actually creepy at all, but there are some mummies at the museum. Hammy and Gerbee are best friends who like to play pranks, and are pestered by twin sisters Anna and Hanna. When the class takes a field trip to the museum, they get up to some mischief.
This book is intended for younger readers: the vocabulary is fairly simple and the book is broken up into brief chapters. I wouldn’t say Hammy and Gerbee are probably very good role models, but the overarching comedy-of-errors plot has a fun payoff at the end.
Edison Beaker is really good at finding things, particularly when he has his trusty flashlight, the last thing his dad gave him before he mysteriously vanished into the night. Edison and his sister Tesla (along with her hamster Scuttlebutt) go to stay with their Uncle Earl for a weekend, and they find out a bit more about the family business. Turns out Creature Seeker isn’t just a fancy word for exterminator, though that’s what they’ve been led to believe.
The door to the Underwhere (“ha ha, you just said ‘underwear'”) has reopened, and the evil Baron Umbra has plans to keep it open forever so that his minions can pour into our world. This book is a bit more silly than scary, even though the stakes are high, and there is of course that bit where they get rid of Edison’s dad at the beginning of the book—though it’s left a bit vague whether he actually died or is still out there somewhere.
This followup to Cosmic Commandos (see this Stack Overflow) introduces us to Zoe, a young girl who’s more interested in watching monster movies and working on her robots than making friends. When she comes into possession of a magic ring, it brings the kaiju to her city—but not all of them are friendly, and they’re hungry for buildings. Zoe needs a plan, and she may need some friends to help, too.
Although it’s sort of a sequel to Cosmic Commandos, the story is a standalone and you don’t actually need to have read it to follow the story. (There’s a brief cameo from Jeremy and Justin from the first book, but that’s about it.) The kaiju are pretty cute, even when they’re eating up the city, and Zoe learns some lessons about getting along with others in an after-school-special sort of way. It’s not terribly scary—mostly a fun adventure.
This second book in the Margo Maloo series (for the first, see my Stack Overflow, or read Jamie Greene’s interview with Drew Weing) continues the story of Charles and Margo and the secret world of monsters in Echo City. Margo strives to keep things harmonious between the monster world and the human world (most often by keeping the monsters hidden), but Charles wants to blog about the monsters, providing useful information to kids … and maybe also exaggerating his own role a bit.
In this volume, they meet up with some vampires in an abandoned mall, and we also get some glimpses of Margo’s personal life. But they raise more questions than they answer, and hint at a mysterious past. Charles, meanwhile, has gotten very enthusiastic about exploring the world of monsters, though he still makes some blunders from time to time. This one is mildly creepy here and there, but overall it portrays the world of monsters as misunderstood creatures who just want to live their lives in peace (though certain appetites can make that tricky).
Sophia just wants to be a part of the family business—helping ghosts achieve their final rest. But her family is split up, and her mom (and brother) are the ones who got the business, plus she’s underage and isn’t licensed yet. That doesn’t stop her from taking things into her own hands when she meets Whitney, a ghost girl haunting an old covered bridge in the forest. Can she figure out why Whitney is linked to the bridge, and set her free?
GFFs has a good deal of teen drama and romance in it—Sophia’s ex-boyfriend Jake is her brother’s best friend, but Sophia isn’t on friendly terms with her brother Felix, so it makes for a tangled web of relationships. On top of that, as she works on Whitney’s case, she starts to develop feelings for the ghost, which is complicated on a couple of levels. But there’s also a weird triangle with her brother having a crush on his teacher, who seems to like their dad, and I’m not sure we need books that depict student-teacher crushes as a cute thing. Romance aside, solving the mystery of Whitney’s death does lead to some interesting revelations.
Not all of Iron Circus Comics are for kids, but this one is kid-friendly. A number of comics artists like Carla Speed McNeil, Chris Schweizer, Faith Erin Hicks, and Ma’at Crook adapt African folktales into comics. Some move the stories to a modern setting, and others stick closer to the original settings, but they’re all fun to read. “Queen Hyena’s Funeral” is like a “just so” story about hyenas; “Chief 5 Heads” is a tale from Zimbabwe that reminds me of other fairy tales about following advice from unlikely sources; the title story is about a skull who tricks a beautiful woman into marrying it. There’s a mix of art styles and story types, and the fun thing about anthologies is that you might find a few artists that you haven’t heard of before, and you can go look up more of their work elsewhere. I did wish there were some more notes somewhere about the sources of the stories, but I enjoyed reading these tales that were mostly new to me.
As far as the creepiness factor goes, it’s also a mix. The title story has some monsters, and there are also a few other tales that are a little shiver-inducing, but there are also some that are just funny or more like fables, no monsters in sight.
I picked this one up at the bookstore, and it piqued my curiosity because the story takes place in St. Johns, a neighborhood of Portland. AJ isn’t excited about the new school year—it seems his best friends have both gotten taller over the summer and they had cool adventures, and his life seems boring in comparison. And his crush on Nia doesn’t seem to be going anywhere because she’s just really into vampires. That gives AJ an idea to start acting like a vampire, and it seems to be working at first…
Fake Blood is a really amusing take on vampires, borrowing tropes from the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight. For instance, since the vampires in a particularly trendy vampire YA series are “prismatic” in the sunlight, AJ’s friends add sparkly glitter to his vampire makeup. And what should we make of the new British teacher who shows up this year?
I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s a fun mash-up of middle school, vampires, and the Pacific Northwest. There are lots of little hints sprinkled throughout the story so that you can figure things out if you pay attention (and are familiar with these vampire stories), but it’s enjoyable even if you’re new to the genre. I also liked AJ’s relationship with his older sister—they tease each other but they also care about each other, and the advice she gives AJ is actually pretty good. (Does he follow it? Not always.)
I’d read Mariana Ruiz’s review of Sheets this summer and was intrigued, so I got a copy for myself at the bookstore, and enjoyed it. Marjorie Glatt pretty much runs the family laundromat on her own; ever since her mother died, her father shut down and hasn’t been much help, so Marj takes care of the business as well as her younger brother. But it’s not easy: she’s also dealing with middle school (a trial in itself), dissatisfied customers, and the smarmy Mr. Saubertuck, who wants Marj to give up the laundromat so he can open his “five-star spa and yoga resort.”
On the flipside, we meet Wendell, a young ghost who is equally lost in the land of ghosts. He doesn’t feel like he fits in, and is constantly making up tall tales in an effort to impress the other ghosts. He finally takes off and finds himself in the laundromat, where he unintentionally wreaks some havoc before he and Marj finally meet and come to an understanding. The ghost society is pretty amusing in itself, and the ghosts are all classic sheets-with-holes (though many of them accessorize a little). The ghost world sections of the book are a dark blue monochromatic palette, whereas Marj’s world is in full color.
The illustrations are lovely, and the story is poignant and sometimes even painful to read. Marjorie is awkward and uncomfortable, and the interactions with Mr. Saubertuck feel particularly creepy in light of the #MeToo movement, simply because you can’t tell whether he’s just after the building or if he has other intentions. Either way, he’s not somebody you’re intended to like at all. But things do come together for a happy ending, and I like the way that things are all cleverly tied together.
This book also kicks off with a parent’s death, and this one is the perhaps the most disturbing one because it shows how it happens and lets you anticipate the tragic moment. Hugo and his family end up moving after the dad’s accident, into an unfamiliar neighborhood. The boy next door warns them of their other neighbor, a scary old man who eats children. They call him the Wolfman, though nobody has actually seen him. When Hugo and his friends are trying to build a time machine go-cart, Hugo eventually ventures into the Wolfman’s house, and what he finds there isn’t exactly what he expected.
Wolf is a big book at 300 pages, and the black-and-white pencil illustrations capture the swirling emotions in Hugo’s family. Things switch between a direct portrayal of what’s happening and more metaphorical depictions. For example, there’s a moment when the family is sharing memories of the father and they’re all laughing and singing, and then in the next you see all of them with giant holes in their torsos. It perfectly captures that painful juxtaposition of joy and pain that can happen when remembering loved ones.
The story does have some eerie moments where you aren’t sure what’s going to happen, particularly when Hugo ventures into the Wolfman’s house. And there are some things that just aren’t ever explained, like the tiny figure who moves into Hugo’s house with them and mostly just silently observes them every so often. But the overall storyline is about dealing with grief, the ways that people deal with it differently, and also the life that goes on despite tragedy.
This large hardcover collects several of Culbard’s graphic novel adaptations of Lovecraft short stories that were originally published in paperback versions: The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, At the Mountains of Madness, and The Shadow Out of Time. I will admit that, although I’ve grown fond of Lovecraftian themes in tabletop games and I enjoy Cthulhu references in pop culture, I haven’t really read a lot of Lovecraft’s actual stories myself (except in graphic novel form). And given what I’ve learned about about H.P. Lovecraft himself, I’m okay with that—he seems like he was a terrible person.
That said, Culbard’s adaptations are pretty well-done, capturing this “cosmic horror” genre in illustrated form. It’s hard to say whether the horror works the same way in comics form as in prose—it depends on whether the unseen terrifies you more than the seen. It’s one thing to read a description and have it shifting and changing in your mind, and another to see a drawing of it, fixed and unmoving. On the other hand, by this point there are so many depictions of Lovecraft’s creations that it may be hard for you to imagine your own version anyway.
Russ Kick and Seven Stories Press have published several Graphic Canon volumes now, with three volumes on world literature and one on children’s literature. Each one includes comic book adaptations from many different comic book artists, each prefaced by a short introduction of the work. This volume focuses on crime and mystery stories, which means it’s perfect for some spooky Halloween reading.
You’ll find Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes, some Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Allan Poe, and Kafka. There are older stories, too: Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus and “The Three Apples” from the Arabian Nights, as well as a few tales from the Bible. Some of the stories do feel like they get truncated a little too much, but there are so many that it makes up for it in sheer volume.
Rather than chronological order, this one is grouped in themed sections: The Act, Criminals, Whodunit, Judgment, and Punishment. It’s the first of a planned two-volume set, so if you have a fascination with the shadier side of society, this one is right up your alley, so to speak.
Disclosure: I received review copies of these titles except where noted.